Who Am I?

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 38

Posted: May 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 38

77.  A man endures suffering either for the love of God, or for hope of reward, or for fear of punishment, or for fear of men, or because of his nature, or for pleasure, or for gain, or out of self-esteem, or from necessity.

The mere fact that we suffer means little. It’s important to know why we endure suffering and it’s rarely from our love of God. St. Maximos the Confessor suffered a great deal for his faithfulness and love of God. He was banished and imprisoned. He had his tongue removed so he could not speak against the ruling heresy. He had his right hand cut off so he could not write against it. And he died without ever seeing the fruit of his faithfulness through suffering.

I’ve endured the suffering of poverty and hard, manual labor for little pay — but that was from necessity. I’ve endured the suffering of a childhood that was not always the easiest, again from necessity. I endured the suffering of Army basic training, but that was for gain, out of self-esteem, and perhaps from some fear of men (drill instructors cultivate a fearsome image). For my own self-esteem, I’ve endured at different points in my life the suffering of strenuous exercise and training. When I am injured, it tends to be my nature to endure that suffering stoically and fight through it. (That last frustrates my wife no end.)

But have I endured suffering for the love of God? Not that I can recall. Would I even be willing to endure suffering for the love of God? I find I don’t know the answer to that question.

The Hole In Our Gospel

Posted: May 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Hole In Our GospelI stumbled across The Hole In Our Gospel by Richard Stearns, the President of World Vision, because it was offered this month (May, 2010)  as the free audiobook download at christianaudio.com. I hadn’t heard of the book before and the description sounded interesting, so I decided to download it and check it out.

I’m glad I did.

This book weaves autobiographical stories from the author’s life with compelling stories of other individuals, statistics, and scripture to expose the gaping hole in the American Christian gospel. He graphically exposes the way we have reduced Christianity to the point that it is about little more than what happens to me when I die. We’ve made it into something useless and largely meaningless — no earthly good at all.

I include myself in that indictment. Perhaps I have some sense — some awareness — that Christianity should be more. But I don’t think I do any better than other people and I’m probably worse than many. As the richest Christians who have ever lived (half the global wealth of Christianity lies in the US), we have the financial ability to tackle some of the world’s worst problems. We have the knowledge and technology available to turn our unprecedented wealth into real solutions. And yet we largely choose to do little to nothing. As long as it isn’t our children who are suffering and dying by the tens of thousands every single day, what is it to us?

Poverty is a deep and complex problem. There are no simple solutions. Richard Stearns outlines some of those problems and explores some of the complexity. He doesn’t pretend that there is some quick fix that will make it all better. However, the fact that it is complex does not relieve of us our responsibility to act in love. Cain was better than us. He at least acknowledged Abel as his brother, even as he murdered him and then denied responsibility. It doesn’t seem that we even want to acknowledge our kinship with the world, much less love them.

Stearns exposes the lies embedded in our excuses. I’ve never believed many of them. In particular, I’ve never blamed the poor for being poor — something that is all too common in conservative American Christian circles. I have been poor by US standards. And though that does not compare to the worst poverty in the world, I also don’t minimize poverty here. Even in the US, poverty hurts and strives to strip you of hope and of your humanity.

I am not poor now. And though my abilities and strengths have played a part in my relative success, I’ve never shared the delusion that many have that I did it all on the basis of my own strength. A great deal of any success I’ve achieved has simply been luck. At most, I had the foresight and ability to grasp an opportunity. But I can’t really take any credit for the opportunity. Even here, I can easily see how people can become trapped in poverty. I could have been.

I happen to have a sharp mind, unusual memory, and strong will. (I call it that. Others might use words like stubborn or pig-headed.) And while those have served me well, I’ve also had a family rich with academic credentials and accomplishments — if not necessarily rich in other ways. I never had boundaries placed on my hope, on what was considered at least possible. But I’ve seen others in situations that deprived them of such hope. And if you lose hope then, even in this country, you’re trapped.

However, none of my innate abilities would have done me any good at all if I had, for example, been born in Sudan, or Somalia, or any of the countless places in the world where people must devote all their energies to simple survival. No, any success I have achieved is as much an accident of the latitude of my birth as anything else. I know that deep in my bones.

Stearns describes many of the problems of poverty and all his descriptions and examples are worth reading or hearing.  However, I do want to highlight one — the problem of water. An enormous proportion of the world’s population does not have access to clean and safe water. I’ve been poor enough at different points in my life to have done without many things Americans tend to take for granted. I know from experience that, if you can afford no other utility and little else, water is the most important utility to have. I lived through a few periods without running water and I don’t recommend the experience. And that’s in the US. Magnify that problem by moving the nearest water source two miles away or more and make it full of parasites and bacteria. That’s the situation billions of people are in. Life is consumed by the struggle to get water. And the water they do get is making them sick.

That’s also one problem we could solve — almost completely — with just a fraction of our wealth. We know how. We simply don’t care enough collectively to actually do it. Instead, we choose to use our money in other ways.

I recommend this book for anyone, but especially for Christians. Especially now, when for a couple more weeks you can get the audiobook for free, there’s no reason not to check it out.