Love and Love in Return

This post by Fr. Andrew Damick on his “Roads from Emmaus” blog is truly inspired: Love is Not a Two-Way Street. I highly recommend everyone to go and read it. It touches upon not only loving your enemies, but loving those who don’t always love us back, which sometimes can be even harder. However, it makes the progression of that passage in Luke 6 make even more sense – ” But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return”

Now, there’s not much that I can add to what he’s written on the subject, it’s that good. 🙂 However, in one of the comments, there’s a question that kind of intrigues me, and since it hasn’t been ‘answered’ in the months since, I figured that I might take a shot at it. The question is as follows: Other than the love of God, do we need love? If the answer is no, we don’t need to be loved by anyone else, since God loves us, how do we react to a spouse that doesn’t love us? We need to love our spouse. We need to loved by God. We need to love our neighbor. But it seems to me that we don’t need these people to love us in return, since we are loved by God. Needing to be loved by people is an addiction in a way. What say you […]?

I don’t know that we don’t need to be loved by others; on the contrary, we need and long for love from others just to find our place in this world, to have a chance at encountering this world in a healthy and adult manner. We need and crave the love from parents (and children who don’t get it have tons of problems) and from friends and, as we get older, often from ‘romantic’ interests, leading to such relationships such as marriage. The Love of God is always there, but a lot of the reason that we can experience God’s Love is because we have experience of love, imperfect as it may be, in others.

That being said, there are those who will devote themselves to God, and through their spiritual development, can learn to detach themselves from this world, including earthly relationships, and live solely in the Love of God. This, however, is extremely rare, and probably shouldn’t be attempted by 99.9% of the population. For the rest of us, then, these relationships on earth remain extremely important for our overall well-being.

Is it an addiction though? I would argue that it doesn’t have to be. Someone who is living a generally ‘balanced’ life can love and be loved in a very healthy manner. It’s kind of like food – just because one must eat pretty much every day doesn’t mean that one is addicted. It’s when things get ‘unbalanced’, that there’s a problem. Someone who craves food all the time will tend to overeat. Someone who craves ‘love’ – and a lot of times it’s less love than just general attention – will often do really bad things to try to get this attention, be it sleeping around or having an insatiable need to be the center of attention or whatnot. That’s where the danger lies, but at this point, it’s not even love anymore, because there is no such thing as too much love.


Going where God leads us (being faithful on the big things… starting with the little)

One of my favorite Biblical parables is that of the talents, and it is one that was often taught in elementary school. There are two versions, that which is found in Matthew (25:14-30) and the other in Luke (19:12-27). In any case, one question I remember coming up is why the servants were given different amounts. In one sense, it doesn’t really matter; we see that the master has chosen correctly, and those servants who were given more were faithful with what they were given.

The other day, though, I was trying to recall the passage about being faithful in the little things, and I found it in Luke 16:10. Those who are entrusted with big things don’t usually start off in doing the big things; they are entrusted with little things, do what they should, and are rewarded with being entrusted with even bigger things. Those servants who were given larger amounts were, assuredly, servants who previously had been faithful in smaller things.

This touches on things going on in my own life at the moment. I feel as though I am on a journey of faith, and that I have been called to do something of great consequence. I feel as though I need to accept this and follow, performing my role in the story, and God will do His. It’s kind of frightening, for it’s like Peter walking on the water – in faith he can do it, but without, he can’t. But it has also been working to deepen my faith, to trust God more, and to reach out to others who strive toward that same type of faith for support. It’s a big thing, yes, but I feel as though I have been being prepared for a long time toward this with the little things. I pray that I am up for the challenge. I don’t know exactly where this road will go, but I work on trusting God in this matter.

A bit about religious experience

Life has a funny way of getting crazy. For us, these last couple of years have been crazy, filled with both the good and the bad, lots of stress, and an abundance of God’s grace. As a result, I’ve really had very little time to sit down and write, though the thoughts are constantly going through my head.

As a kid who was raised around Protestants, one thing that was constantly emphasized was having an “experience” of God or of Jesus. This, of course, makes sense, because without any sort of Liturgical consistency, without believing that what we partake of in Communion is the true body and blood of Christ, basically the best one can hope for is some sort of religious experience.

For me, this didn’t sit right, though I didn’t understand why. I think part of it comes from the fact that when one “accepts Christ into your heart”, there is supposed to be some sort of feeling of certainty that one does, in fact, “belong to Jesus”. Even from the time I was very little I tried to do the thing that God instructs in the Bible, and I wanted to go to Heaven and be with God when this life ends. But I don’t know when I “accepted Jesus”, because I think I asked for it each time we were invited to in school, and I daresay a good number of other times as well. I don’t want to say it was meaningless, because, of course, it’s not, but I never had the kind of religious experience I figured would accompany the certainty of the enormity of such an action.

Many years later, I became an Orthodox Christian. It was comforting, on many levels, that the idea of religious experience is really downplayed. One doesn’t need a miracle to worship, to pray, to integrate ones’ self into the fabric of the Church. Things ‘otherworldly’ are met with some skepticism, with the realization that we, as mere mortals, can be tricked and confused by many things disguised as ‘religious experience’, and that we ought to be wary of it.

The down side to this is that it seems like many believe that the only people who have genuine ‘religious experiences’ ought to be monks, nuns, and clergy. Therefore, now being an Orthodox Christian, when I do feel like there has been something in my life that one could call ‘religious experience”, it’s hard sometimes even to discuss it. I’m sure that this is the case for some Protestants as well, but I grew up around people who regularly told stories of the inexplicable that they chalked up to God’s working in their lives; God called them to do this, God made something happen, etc. Surely it’s not a bad thing to acknowledge that when we endeavor to follow God, He works wonders in our lives. However, when this is the only thing that people have to try to ascertain whether one is on the right path, it can be a dangerous thing as well.

An Indecent Proposal

In 1993, a movie came out by the name of An Indecent Proposal. In it, a young couple who are struggling financially are propositioned by a very wealthy man who offers them $1,000,000 if they allow him to have one night with the wife. While the plot may seem pretty tame right now, at the time it garnered a lot of ‘buzz’ because of the scandalousness of it all. After all, the notion that every man has his price flies in the face of an absolute morality and that such a thing as a noble poverty can exist. Furthermore, it cements this notion, which is so prevalent in a non-Christian society, that the only thing that is important is power (which can be attained through wealth), only an idiot would not recognize this and play by those rules. In any case, I’ve never seen the movie.

However, there is an interesting situation which has happened at Annunciation Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin”. If the reports are to be believed, a donor offered the church there $92,000 if the parish council treasurer would resign. Again, if this was the case, the only moral thing that could have been done was reject the offer outright. As much as people may have their hangups about parish councils, their purpose is to assist in the day-to-day running of the Church. They are members of the parish, and usually sit on the body with the approval of the congregation. Offering an amount of money contingent on someone either being on or off the board is extortion, and should not be tolerated. To allow for this sort of thing sends the message that what the congregation wishes is not relevant; that as long as someone has enough money, they can mold the Church to their own whims.

Unfortunately, if the reports are to be believed, this is not what the priest at Annunciation Church did. Instead, as reported, he demanded that the treasurer resign, and when she refused, he ‘excommunicated’ her (much against Church protocol). In protest, more than half of the remaining members of the parish council also resigned. On one hand, it’s a tough spot for a priest to be in, especially since this parish is still really struggling in the aftermath of the scandal caused by their former priest, Fr. James Dokos, who stole over $100,000 from the parish. The number of families that are part of Annunciation has plummeted, as have contributions to the church. Although that amount may have been repaid, as required by Fr. Dokos’ plea deal, the damage to that parish continues on, particularly considering the actions of the diocese to help cover up the wrongdoing done.

Despite this, I would have expected a priest to refuse money on this type of condition, if for no other reason than it invites even more ‘hostage taking’ in regard to donations in years to come. This is why I tend to be suspicious that there is more to this ‘donation’ than meets the eye; that somehow this situation is connected to the Fr. Dokos scandal, in particular since he just had his felony conviction reduced to misdemeanor charges, and these legal proceedings coincide with this new situation almost perfectly. Also to be considered is how much the Chicago Diocese of the Greek Orthodox Church in America pressured and acted toward parish council members who wanted the truth about Fr. Dokos in the past. Maybe I’m wrong, and these are two distinct situations, but it certainly doesn’t look good on any count.

At the end of the day Annunciation Church may get its $92,000 donation, and that might do a fair bit in keeping a Frank Lloyd Wright National Register of Historic Places landmark open a while longer. One has to ask, though, at what cost does this come, and does the hierarchy even really care.

Christ is Risen! (Music on Monday)

In the Christian world, Pascha (Easter) is the greatest celebration of all, even eclipsing Christmas. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who was born of a virgin. Easter, though, celebrates the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and in so, the destruction of death itself, and the foreshadowing of the final destruction of evil. Every Sunday is a little bit of a reminder of this, but Easter is the pinnacle of this.

Forgive me for the “blog silence” as well… Things just get crazy, and it’s hard to sit down and write!

Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen – Remembering William Christopher

If it weren’t for the part of Father Mulcahy in the television show M*A*S*H, it’s hard to say if the death of actor William Christopher would be one “of note”. However, as Loretta Swit is quoted, “He became TV’s quintessential padre as Father Mulcahy on M.A.S.H. It was the most perfect casting ever known”

The character Father Mulcahy was quite a bit different in the book upon which the movie and television series were based on, as well as even the pilot to the series. First credit must be given to the M*A*S*H writers for creating a character that was religious but not a religious parody or caricature; someone set in a place of constant struggle and suffering, but who had not given up hope; a man who strove toward virtue, but was aware of the faults of his comrades and loved the sinners whom he served; someone with a unshakable faith and quiet strength of character rather than a hypocrite or acting in a holier-than-thou manner. In the history of television, it is incredibly rare to find a member of the clergy written with such depth and care, and even more extraordinary is finding it in a show that was not meant to be in any way religious. Mr. Christopher rose to the occasion, even in limited screen time managing to embody this character well, portraying the nuances above, but also keeping the character of Fr. Mulcahy human, interesting, and relatable.

That being said, Mr. Christopher was not just merely a good actor, someone who could take a well-written script and play it well. While good writing can certainly help a show, it is a process that doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Especially in long-running series, the writers don’t just write a character, but often write a character for a specific actor, allowing the actual personality of the actor shine through. I never met the man, but William Christopher always struck me as an especially kind and good person, like Fr. Mulcahy, and while the writing for Fr. Mulcahy in the series remained consistent, Mr. Christopher never allowed himself to play the part with any sort of creeping cynicism or irony. He very much demonstrated the types of qualities that make chaplains important – faith in God, love of people, patience, humor, and self-sacrifice, to name a few.

In his own life, though, Mr. Christopher and his wife Barbara were married in 1957, and ended up adopting two boys. The younger of the two, Ned, was eventually diagnosed with autism. Rather than accepting the idea that Ned was retarded and disabled beyond help, the family struggled through many years of trying to figure out what the actual issue(s) were and in finding treatment that would help him. In the 1980s, the Christophers wrote a book, Mixed Blessings that chronicles that journey. William and Barbara stayed together throughout, only death bringing an end to their nearly 60-year marriage. There is an episode of M*A*S*H from Season 4, Dear Mildred, where Fr. Mulcahy ends up in a performance singing with a couple of women who are either nurses or nuns. While I was watching, there was the way that he just looked at the one woman, as if he were totally smitten and in love with her, and I couldn’t help but thinking, “Oh, Fr. Mulcahy, you have to be careful there or people will get the wrong idea”. In reading Mixed Blessings, I learned that this woman was his wife. Furthermore, when one considers that by this time they had been married well over 15 years and were going through all the issues with their son, it’s even more amazing that even through all of that, this look of true love and adoration could not be quelled. Things like this lead me to believe that besides being a good actor, he was truly a good man as well.

In today’s world, where celebrity deaths often bring about days of maudlin public mourning; I doubt Mr. Christopher’s death will be considered ‘great’ enough to set off such a grotesque public spectacle. Better so. However, of all the celebrity deaths of 2016, it is his that is the only one that saddens me on a personal level. As is now customary after a celebrity death announcement, the tweeting of tributes has commenced, and while most will always be of little substance, the one by Alan Alda, star of the show M*A*S*H, is as touching as it is succinct; “His pals from #Mash miss Bill powerfully. His kind strength, his grace and gentle humor weren’t acted. They were Bill. #WilliamChristopher”.