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Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Most Immediate Need

People have been asking me what I think the most pressing need for the Church here in America is these days.  It is very simple: I think we need to stop thinking like we are a mission and start acting like a Church.

This does not mean that we declare 'Autonomy' or 'Autocephaly.'  It does not mean having a Patriarch or an Archbishop or a Metropolitan.  It does not mean that we have two, three, or four seminaries that are fully stocked with competent teachers that actually prepare men for ministry (read into that as much as you'd like).

It means that we stop thinking only of ourselves and start ministering to those around us in need.

The Orthodox Church here in America was founded as a mission, but in a backwards way: it was a mission to only some people... Our People.  There was never a greater vision or a greater calling.  And, frankly, we are still largely about getting our people in.

This leaves us with a gut instinct that tells the average parishioner that he is a 'person in need of missionizing.'  People come to our parishes knowing that they are thought of as being 'needy,' and then they go about acting that way.  In most cases, they never stop.

That's right: they never stop being needy.  That's bad.

They may exercise power and authority, but they do so with a sense of neediness rather than real concern for others.  They never grow up.

And, because our parishes often have a high percentage of high-needs people, we burn up a lot of energy trying to manage endless neediness and bottomless desires.  We struggle just to make ends meet in a tug-of-war with parishioners who don't feel responsible for anything other than their own desires and cravings.

So, in the end of the day, we are too exhausted to help others.  So, we don't share the Gospel and we don't really grow the way we should.

In Africa, quite the opposite is happening.  The Orthodox Church is growing in sub-Saharan Africa, with a great deal of support from OCMC and American missionaries who are assisting... wait for it... a local African Orthodox Church.  The Patriarchate of Alexandria is 'Greek' in many respects, but their missionary work is not about making Greeks out of the Μαύροι.  Rather, the Church is finding ways to express the Gospel in a way that the locals respond to.  And, they are.

So, back to the original topic.  We have people, but their attitudes are wrong.  Some folks are waking up to this, and so you have FOCUS as a start.  This is darn important.

I think our most immediate need is to work on building treatment homes for addictions, largely because the problem is pretty bad and there are lots of treatment failures because addicts are getting treatment for the wrong reasons or with spiritually-weakened approaches.  Many of the AA Old Timers have complained that the spiritual component of AA and other 12 Step groups has been weakened by a 'therapeutic' approach to the group, along with the commonly-known excuse of the 'door knob god' (for those of you who are wondering what that means, in order to excuse a newcomers resistance to God as He is, some 'helpful' people will tell newcomers they can have anything, even a doorknob, as their god.  If you are shaking your head, congratulations, you see the problem).

There are lots of addicts who are fresh out of rehab and have nowhere to go over doing their 28 days.  they often return home with very few life skills that will help them, which is why there are so many 'rehab retreads.'  Addicts need to learn to grow up, and you can't do that in four weeks.

Neither can we assume that there are adults around them.  Look at the average American male above the age of 20.  Adult?  Where?  The Baby Boomers and the Slackers (my generation) are in perpetual identity crisis... and we're talking about the people who are supposedly functional.  Real adults are in short supply.

True spirituality produces real adults, and I think the best thing we can do is put the Church's spiritual adults in a place where those who want to grow up can find real adults to model themselves after and receive advice from.  This may sound underwhelming and mundane, but it is the underwhelming and mundane that gets you.  Relapses are made out of the underwhelming and mundane parts of life rather than the big traumas.  It is daily life that can catch you with your guard down and edge you even closer to the cliff without you ever knowing it.

Sober living homes are not profitable, and so they are not as prevalent as out-patient facilities, especially the court-ordered variety.  Those things make money, which is why there are so many of them.  The problem with many of them is that the money or, in the case of government enterprises, demand for numbers means bad decisions are made about who and how to treat.

So, as a Church rather than a business or a bureaucracy, we can take on the 'losing propositions.'  I say we go right to the bottom and find those with the least hope.  Sure, we can talk later about walk-in treatment for the well-heeled middle class addict (there are plenty of those as well), but right now there are a lot more folks that are falling through the ever-widening cracks.  Oh, and if we have another economic downturn, we can look forward to even more people in need of treatment not getting it.

This is what we need to do: we need to grow up, and we need to show the world what grown-ups look like.

It is our most immediate need, as it is the world's.

1 comment:

  1. Good point, Father!

    As for role modelling by spiritual adults, there is a wide need for this, far beyond addiction counselling (but I am sure you already know that!).

    For example, I never knew what a truly functional, working family (defined as a family where people actually love each other and enjoy being around each other) looked or felt like, until I joined the Church and came to the parish where I now worship and serve.

    American families are, or course, practically non-existent nowadays. Even in the 1950 and '60's, when I grew up, they were nothing to boast about. They typical "nuclear" family in America consists of mother, father and children, all of whom are engaged in ceaseless power struggles, and who don't actually like each other. Until I became Orthodox, I literally had no idea that families could be any other way.

    So, that is where we need to do our mission work, indeed!