Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 1

Posted: August 31st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 1

3.  When we misuse the soul’s powers their evil aspects dominate us. For instance, misuse of our power of intelligence results in ignorance and stupidity; misuse of our incensive power and of our desire produces hatred and licentiousness. The proper use of these powers produces spiritual knowledge, moral judgment, love and self-restraint. This being so, nothing created and given existence by God is evil.

We all have power and we all must choose how to exercise that power. We can act in love or we can choose to act otherwise. And we can always see the true use or misuse of our power in that which it produces.

But when we abuse our power and produce evil, we must not then blame God. We worship a good God who loves mankind. He is the light in whom their is no darkness and indeed which destroys darkness.

Not even the one called the devil or satan was created evil. He was created good and chose evil instead. He was created to be light and instead made himself dark.

The question lies always before us in our every act: Will we choose to love?


Four Hundred Texts on Love 19

Posted: May 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

70. You have not yet acquired perfect love if your regard for people is still swayed by their characters – for example, if, for some particular reason, you love one person and hate another, or if for the same reason you sometimes love and sometimes hate the same person.

We can always find a reason to hate. In fact, hatred is probably the easiest place for us to rest our heart. It’s sad that Christians in the US today are generally better known for who they hate than for who they love. It doesn’t really matter what justification we use — and we have little difficulty justifying hatred — when we hate instead of love, we are not ‘Christian‘ in any discernible way.

There is nothing ‘Christian’ about loving those who are like us or who do good to us and hating our enemies and those unlike us. We are only ‘Christian’ when we love our enemies, when we do good to those who want to hurt us, when we care for the least of these, and when we pray for those who wrong us.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 17

Posted: May 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

61.  ‘But I say to you,’ says the Lord, ‘love your enemies … do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you’ (Matt. 5:44). Why did He command this? To free you from hatred, irritation, anger and rancor, and to make you worthy of the supreme gift of perfect love. And you cannot attain such love if you do not imitate God and love all men equally. For God loves all men equally and wishes them ‘to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4).

I’ve come to realize over the years that not all Christians really believe that God loves all men equally and is ‘not willing that any should perish.’ I don’t mean they would necessarily come out and say that God doesn’t love everyone equally (though possibly some of them would). But when, for example, something like two-thirds of evangelical Christians in America believe that torture is sometimes justified, that says as much about the particular God they proclaim as it does about them.

I’m not claiming that I manage to love my enemies or those who hurt me. Most days I’ve done well if I can avoid actively wishing them harm. I’m certainly not free from irritation, anger and rancor. But I’m deeply aware that’s because I’ve not yet attained the love that Jesus showed us. I do try to find a way to pray for those who might have hurt me at least a little each day. I strive not to respond in anger. I strive to love. And I pray for mercy.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 7

Posted: April 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love 7

29. When you are insulted by someone or humiliated, guard against angry thoughts, lest they arouse a feeling of irritation, and so cut you off from love and place you in the realm of hatred.

I have discovered that a dangerous moment for me arises when my ideas or thoughts are attacked or put down. And I am right. And I can prove it.

As we have discussed, a passion in the patristic sense does not necessarily appear explosive, overt, or even wrong — at least at first. Rather, it is the process of taking a step down a path in response to external stimuli without the conscious intervention of our will. What often happens when that begins, at least in my experience, is that our wills can become ruled by the passion rather than the other way around.

People have often called me strong-willed, though not infrequently in less flattering terms. And, in truth, a strong will is rarely a good thing when it is ruled, marshaled, and focused by a passion rather than the other way around. Too often in my life, my irritation at the words or actions of another has been a passion which has merged my intellect and expressive talent with my will for the purpose of destroying another.

Oh, I don’t believe that’s my intent at the time. I’m just defending myself or my ideas. Certainly I don’t hate the other person or want to hurt them! But that’s a lie. And it’s even worse when I am demonstrably right and others around me see and acknowledge that I am right. For now I am justified in my passion! And that makes it even harder to break free.

I became truly and consciously aware of how dangerous and insidious this passion is, at least for me, many years ago at work. I don’t remember exactly how or why it started, but another person on our team either didn’t understand my ideas or strongly held a different idea about the direction we should take. I’m not even sure which one it was or what triggered my passion. It had to be something small at first.

However it began, I look back and see how I began to dismantle his proposals or ideas in our meetings. Oh, I was always careful to focus my discussion on the idea and never the person the way you are supposed to act in business settings. (I would note that our ideas our perhaps more closely entangled with ourselves than we might think.) And I was never directly insulting or otherwise inappropriate. Moreover, my ideas about the direction our project needed to take were actually the right ideas (and that has since been proven over time) and most of the people on the team agreed with me. That created a lot of positive reinforcement, which is not a good thing when it is feeding a passion.

Finally, some weeks or months later, I remember sitting in a meeting having a discussion on something. I was dissecting something that particular coworker had proposed. I had others joining in with me as I often did. Suddenly, as we were laughing at something somebody had said (I don’t even remember if it was something I said or not), I looked over at my coworker and had one of those thoughts that stops you cold. It felt like somebody had thrown a bucket of cold water in my face.

There’s more than one way to be a bully.

Yes, I know that as adults, especially in professional settings, that’s not a word we typically use. But I endured quite a bit growing up and that’s certainly one area where I suffered. There are many reasons that was the case. I went to a lot of different schools growing up, so I was often the “new” guy trying to find a place. I didn’t fit into easy categories. There was the part of me who was the intelligent, shy bookworm. There was another part that was the highly creative actor, writer, and performer. There was another part that loved sports, riding bikes, and exploring the world around me. So I rarely had a “group” and even the friends I thought I had sometimes flipped against me. So the thought that I might have become a “bully” myself was devastating for me.

I went back to my desk, stepped back, and looked at what I had done. Nobody on our team respected our coworker. He had become an object of ridicule and scorn. However, it didn’t end there; such things rarely do. The whole team was a mess. The dynamic between my coworker and me had become one of the dominant dynamics of the entire team.

I did the only thing I could think to do. I crafted and sent an apology to my coworker and the entire team that simply outlined the things I had done wrong. I did not justify them, though I certainly had justifications, as that would have accomplished nothing. And then I said I wasn’t going to act in those ways anymore. An apology didn’t magically fix the problem, but it at least allowed a healing process to begin, especially when I quit feeding the negative feedback loop that had engulfed us.

I’ve noticed that Christians often tend to think of being ruled by passions in terms of the dramatic passions like lust, addictions, and rage. And those are indeed extremely destructive to you and to everyone around you. But the fact that many of us can avoid or break free of such passions does not mean we are truly free. The less overt passions are all the more insidious because they are difficult for us to see. And yet anytime we are ruled by a passion, anytime a passion is able to bypass or control our will, we will think and act in destructive ways.

I think when we begin to recognize the reality of our situation, we truly begin to see how much we need grace, which is to say that we need God.

Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.


The Monstrous Within Us All

Posted: February 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

As I’m sure most people are now aware, this past week an Austin resident snapped and flew his small plane into one of our IRS offices. Due to a well-designed building, some fast thinking and good reactions from those in the building, small acts of heroism, and a healthy helping of good fortune, it appears that only one person died in the attack. While I did not personally know Vern Hunter or his wife Valerie, I’m still discovering those within the web of my friends and acquaintances who did know Vern. The IRS is a large employer in Austin, but I suppose you can’t work for them for a quarter of a century without developing connections that leave you one or two degrees of separation from many of the other employees. My thoughts and prayers have been and remain with the Hunters.

Nobody I personally know was injured or killed in this attack. As such, I would not describe my reaction to it as grief. Nevertheless, as my coworkers and I (and our immediate families) fielded calls and texts all day Thursday from friends and loved ones across the country checking on our well-being, I experienced a sense of … unreality. I suppose that sort of reaction is a natural insulating effect of mild shock. This particular attack hit uncomfortably close to “home,” to the immediate environment over which we all of like to feel some degree of control. It drove home how little we are able to truly control.

Of course, we all immediately wish to demonize people like Joe Stack. We want to strip them of their humanity and turn them into monsters. We want to turn them into the “other”, distance them from ourselves, and make them into objects of scorn and hatred. The message of that hatred is, in part, that “we” (our network of family and friends — our tribe, if you will) are not like that monster. We could never act in such a way.

It is, of course, true that most of us will never act as Joe Stack did. But that is not quite the same thing. And though we wish to deny it, we do share in Joseph Stack’s basic humanity. It’s in that shared human nature, which those of us who are Christian would call an icon of the Creator, that we have the capacity for acts of incredible goodness and heroism. But it is also in that same damaged nature that we all have a capacity for the monstrous. It is perhaps only when we acknowledge that fact that we find the ability to love those who make themselves into monsters. The reaction of the Amish when their children were gunned down is the example of humanizing love that comes to my mind. Of course, I am a Christian. And I would say that ultimately our capacity to love flows from the one who is Love. But that does not diminish the synergy of our participation in that love or the dissonance when we refuse to participate.

I’ve been following the reports of neighbors, acquaintances, and family of Joe Stack. They all describe a man not unlike us all. He was a man who loved and was loved. It’s become clear that he was more tormented by his demons than those around him realized, but they were pretty ordinary demons. There was nothing that stood out about Joe Stack, that marked him as anyone unusual, until that moment when he chose to act.

I was heartbroken by the comments of his daughter, who lives in Norway. They spoke often. She loved him and had no sense that anything was wrong. Her children, his grandchildren, loved him. At one point, she says, “Maybe if I’d lived in the states… a little closer to him… I don’t know.” My heart ached for her as I read that statement. There is, of course, no answer to that question. But who among us has not been tormented by the question: What if? It’s a cruel question and yet one we cannot seem to avoid.

The reality is that people are not monsters; they are not demons. Human beings perform monstrous acts; they try to dehumanize themselves. That is absolutely true. But at one point in their lives, they were that helpless infant, that small and hopeful child, a son or daughter, a husband or wife, a parent — a person with dreams not unlike the rest of us. Almost everyone has loved and been loved. Even the “monsters” leave behind people who love them, confused and heartbroken. Even the most monstrous cannot escape their basic humanity.

And when we recognize that fact, we are forced to acknowledge that the capacity for the monstrous exists within us all. As a Christian, I turn to Jesus and pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,” for I do not know what else to do. He is the only human being who, fully sharing our nature, defeated the monstrous within it. If we cannot find our true humanity, a humanity worth embracing, in Jesus of Nazareth, I don’t know where else to turn. I’ve explored so many other paths and found nothing like the promise Jesus offers. But sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s real, especially when forced to face the monstrous.

My heart also breaks for the family and friends of Joe Stack. I can’t imagine their pain and heartbreak. And so I pray for them. But I also pray that God has mercy on Joseph Stack III. After all, he was a human being, created as an eikon of God. If I deny that fact, if I let myself turn him into a monster, then I am denying my own humanity and life itself, at least as I understand it to be hid with Christ in God.

Lord have mercy.