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Monday, August 5, 2013

Why Are Addicts Afraid of Being Identified in the Church

This is how so many of my conversations with addicts in the Orthodox Church begins:

"Please don't tell anybody.  My parish would not understand..."

Very sad.  This discloses a lot about our parishes and how they operate here.  Yes, we pay a lot of lip service to the idea of the Church being a hospital, but then look at how we react to the most basic illnesses.  Allow me some examples.

1) The Typical 'Ethnic' Parish: we don't accept people with personal problems unless everyone shares the same problem.  For example, dysfunctional anger.  Everyone is allowed to be crazy (which is why the younger generation presses the 'eject button' at adulthood, because they become embarrassed by their weird families) and nobody gets treatment because they are not even aware they are crazy or, if they are, they are not embarrassed enough by it to do anything to fix it.

When people in the ethnic parish start grappling with addiction or other problems, they go to secular sources for treatment.  Many times, these folks will continue to hang out at church and even find a deeper spirituality as a result.  However, they know that if they are identified as being different from the parish 'Borg' hive-mind mentality, the gossip train will depart the station and emotional chaos will ensue.

It does not help that many Orthodox 'ethnicities,' once they get to America, revert to their Bronze Age roots.  If you visit Orthodox parishes in Orthodox countries, you will find their attitudes are far more cosmopolitan than Orthodox parishes in cosmopolitan America and elsewhere outside the 'Motherland.'  That's why overseas parishes will start AA groups and temperance unions while their American counterparts throw raucous parties in the name of fundraising or engage in 'ethnic preservation ministries.'

If you want help, you don't go there for it.  You can still hear the Gospel and receive the Body and Blood of Christ, but most people there are totally uninterested in helping others.  After all, they see the parish as a 'mission' and they are the ones needing the 'help' of the mission. No Outsiders Need Apply... our neediness is bigger than yours.  After all, you guys have the rest of the country to play in, we just have the church hall and the parking lot to reconstruct our imaginary mud-walled village from Absurdistan.

2) The Typical American Convert Parish: these are usually made up of Middle Class (or the children of the Middle Class who got college degrees in the quest for self-fulfillment, and then 'followed their hearts' into poverty) Whites with a rather strong hint of Puritanism.  Or, at least some form of Calvinism or Fundamentalism.  That is to say, they have enormous hang-ups when it comes to tolerance, which is only overshadowed by the vast collection of food allergies their children seem to get.

That being said, they convert largely for intellectual reasons, and will agree to almost anything written in the first Orthodox book that they read, but put very little of it into practice when it comes time to interact with others.  Then, it is all Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God and moral indignation, with little interest in actually helping people overcome their sins.  Some of them would make Augustine seem absolutely libertine with their sexual hang-ups, which they usually medicate with their new Orthodox 'dope.'

They also have their own form of  'Borg' hive-mind mentality, usually centered around fatwas issued the latest scholar (or cult leader) in vogue.  They are just as intolerant and unwelcoming of those with serious problems, given their Puritanistic tendencies, as the ethnics.  Bad people are not helped, they are shunned.  That's also because they see the Church here as a mission and they are the missionized.  After all, Orthodoxy is "America's Best Kept Secret"™.

Seems pretty bleak, doesn't it?  Am I exaggerating... a bit.  But, I am trying to make a point.  The point is that all of our parishes share problems: their behavior and their Faith do not line up.  That's the bright side... no need to get a new Faith.  The one we have works fine.  It welcomes the stranger and offers healing to the suffering.  If we did it better, then we would benefit as well as others.

There are more and more parishes and individual Orthodox who are awakening to the problem.  More and more, Orthodox Christians are also finding out that the parish is not a mission to them, but rather we have a real Church and there are a lot of people in our neighborhoods who need what we have.

Rather than sharing the message about how right Orthodoxy is, there are more people nowadays who are interested in sharing the transformative aspects of the Faith.  The Ethnic and Convert communities have both fought this: the Ethnics are trying to preserve 'Our People' (which is inherently about preventing change), whereas the Converts assume you have to change first before being accepted by God (again, no change inside the Church that is not 'backsliding').

All of us must work together to make honesty an acceptable value of our local communities.  This means we need to get honest with who we really are (sinners in the hands of a merciful God) and our real duty (not to preserve our spirituality in some 'pure' state, but to serve others).  We have to make our parishes safe for addicts to come and see.

We also need to find healing for ourselves.  Otherwise, being a Christian is pointless.

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