December 28, 2012

A Letter to Anger

Dear Friend,

All I wanted to do, while listening to your pitiful story last week, was fling my fist at your face. Waiting and waiting I was for some break in all the maleficence, turmoil and your perennial anger. But no break came. Story and after painful story is your collection, your ruined heap called "my life." I realize the last thing you need from me--or anyone--is some further articulation of the gravity of your sins. You don't. And I also realize you are, for the first time in your life, genuinely mourning and repenting of your sins against yourself, your family, your friends, your church and God. Because they are so grave, this will take time. By no means, don't rush this process.

My heart is afire as I peck away on this keyboard, burning it is for you. Because I don't want the rest of your life to succumb to the hells of its first sixty years, of lying to and failing your dying wife, mercilessly taking out your rage on your kids, your own flesh and blood, and deep bitterness toward God. You have wasted and ruined your life and others' with your impassioned soul. You were a slave to anger and rage. You did only that which they requested. They shackled you down like a dog, letting you venture out only to the end of your leash. But not anymore, and I'll be damned if you shack up with them again.

If there is one thing your hot tears, streamed as they did down your old weathered face, told me as you shared that evening it was you have, finally, had enough of living in anger, which is just a fancy way of saying living in death. Only Jesus brings life. Everything else is death in a pretty bow. Only Jesus and His Spirit can lead you out of hell and away from temptation and into paradise, virtue and freedom in obedience. So hear these few words, as they come from a place of friendship.

Defeating Sin: Overcoming Our Passions and Changing Forever is a book I recently finished by an Orthodox pastor, Joseph Huneycutt, from Texas. He wrote it for struggling people like you and me. About halfway he dedicates a section to what he calls the manifestations of the Passions. You probably know the Passions by their more popular name: The Seven Deadly Sins, pride, anger, lust, envy, gluttony, avarice and sloth. He takes each passion and briefly writes what he sees as the manifestations of each, or how they are expressed in everyday people.

You must understand now that Jesus brings freedom from sin, but, more often than not, we struggle, fight and even wage war against habitual lifestyles. Jesus has saved your life, here and later, and now, because the Scriptures tell us to strive for holiness--godly difference from the world--we do our part. Extremely important is also the realization that it is not just about the snuffing out of anger we desire. There's more. It's about the acquisition of, the obtaining of anger's opposite, the virtue that starts to sprout when we stamp anger out. In our case, patience. A word that seems dull to our modern ears because of its dearth of meaning. But it is absolutely vital for your flourishing.

Huneycutt quotes Elder Joseph the Hesychast:

You are delivered from this passion through love towards all humanity and true humility. Therefore, when anger comes, close your mouth tightly and do not speak to him who curses, dishonors, reproaches, or bothers you in any way without reason. Then this snake will writhe around in your heart, rise up to your throat, and (since you don't give it a way out) will choke and suffocate. When this is repeated several times, it will diminish and cease entirely. (77)

Now, listen to Huneycutt's manifestations, reading them slowly, letting them wash over you. And think not only how anger expresses itself but also how patience would be expressed, as anger's opposite, as our vitreous goal.

Resentment. Refusal to discern, accept, or fulfill God's vocation. Dissatisfaction with the talents, abilities, or opportunities He has given us. Unwillingness to face up to difficulties or sacrifices. Unjustified rebellion or complaint at the circumstances of our lives. Escape from reality or the attempt to force our will upon it. Transference to God, to our parents, to society, or to other individuals of the blame for our maladjustment; hatred of God or antisocial behavior. Cynicism. Annoyance at the contrariness of things: profanity or grumbling.

Pugnacity. Attack upon another in anger. Murder in deed or desire. Combativeness or nursing of grudges. Injury to another by striking, cursing, or insulting him; or by damaging his reputation or property. Quarrelsomeness, bickering, contradiction, nagging, rudeness, or snubbing.

Retaliation. Vengeance for wrongs real or imagined, or the plotting thereof. Hostility, sullenness, or rash judgment. Refusal to forgive or to offer or accept reconciliation. Unwillingness to love, to do good to, or to pray for enemies. Boycotting or ostracizing another for selfish reasons. Spoiling others' pleasure by uncooperativeness or disdain, because we have not got our way, or because we feel out of sorts or superior.

I'm not going to pretend that, on some fundamental level, some of your feelings are not justified. Life has been difficult on you. But you have taken seriously wrong turns in blaming your dying wife on God and transferring your anger and bitterness to the aching bodies of your beloved children. It is time you took responsibility for your disgraceful actions and with inspiration for redemption and sanctification, in Jesus' Spirit, journey toward healing and wholeness and the acquisition of the virtues, starting with patience. You never journey alone. Look up to the history of worthy saints before you, that great cloud of witnesses, who have modeled in blood, sweat, and tears what it means to be holy.




All quotations taken from, Joseph Huneycutt, Defeating Sin: Overing Our Passions and Changing Forever, (Salisbury, MA: Regina Orthodox Press, 2007).

photo credit: ecstaticist via photopin cc

December 22, 2012

A Letter to Pride

Dear Friend,

As you know, making a good confession can be both surprisingly liberating and absolutely dreadful. What you did in opening up your heart and coming clean to me and, more importantly, the Lord will, I pray, be the doorway to something new. In your case--and I really believe this--a new way to live, to be human.

Let me just say quickly how proud I am. Of you of course. Your heartfelt confession to me that night under the stars was the seal--many, including myself, are thoroughly impressed by your growth the last 3 months. For I was struck, upon meeting you that first week, at how haughty you were, towering over others with your ego, shooting any passerby down with words and gestures if you felt wronged in anyway. And you were, according to yourself, more than justified in your actions, always demanding your way or making exit, ignoring family wishes, neglecting close friends, carelessly using girls as if some toy, grossly demeaning critics--you had plenty--crediting only yourself for your gifts and talents, in the acquisition of your local fame. Nearly every rotten thing I heard from people’s stories you confirmed. Your pride had taken you and hadn’t planned on relinquishing.

Yet after that night, hearing your vulnerability, my heart began to burn for you and your future. Thus this letter. It almost seems like perfect timing, but I have recently finished reading a book about the Passions and the Virtues and overcoming habitual sins that spring to life in an impassioned soul. Your love affair with pride shaped you into the sinner you were. It’s fruit is death, and you ate without restraint. But as we talked about, Pride, like the rest of the Passions, dies at Jesus’ cross.

We both know, though, that pride, after living with, in and through it for so long, isn’t just going to go away. We struggle. Even if it takes the rest of lives, we fight for what we believe to be the good life, the best life, the life Jesus has shown us, a life of, amongst other virtues, humility. Because we can't talk about the putting-to-death of some passion without talking about the acquisition of its opposite virtue. In our case (ours because I stand with you in this), we strive for Humility.

But in order to do this, and the main reason for this letter, I want to share with you the manifestations of pride--or how I have to come to know them from the book I mentioned, Defeating Sin: Overcoming our Passions and Changing Forever. Pride has many forms in many contexts and illuminating them here, I hope, will inspire deeper reflection and effective soul-searching. Introspection is paramount in these affairs.

And so, as a starting point, in what follows is author Joseph Huneycutt's thoughts on the manifestations of pride, summarized. Note the idiosyncrasies of each, which, by the way, extend beyond what is mentioned here--think about how else they could look. And reflect on how they have taken shape in you (I've bolded them below to help you see, remember and return to them).

Pride takes the form of irreverence, deliberately neglecting the worship of God and adequately expressing thanks and gratitude. 'Worship is a foolish enterprise, a wholly waste of time,' it declares. Also, pride can be sentimental in "being satisfied with pious feelings and beautiful ceremonies without striving to obey God's will."

Failing to bring to God the persons or causes that should stir in us compassion is pride as presumption. Presumption remains stagnant, fully content and satisfied in one's spiritual activities and achievements.

Pride can also crop up as over-sensitiveness, which, I'm sure you would agree, was prominent in you. As over-sensitiveness, pride is the "expectation that others will dislike, reject or mistreat us" and "timidity in accepting responsibility, or cowardice in facing difficulty or suffering. Surrender to feelings of depression, gloom, pessimism, discouragement, self-pity, or fear of death, instead of fighting to be brave, cheerful and hopeful."

Listen, these words, the quotes I'm pulling from this book should be read slow. Humility, what we want to cultivate in you, will recognize the wisdom of a spiritual man and take heed, but not with haste. And don't be discouraged if you see yourself in all these forms. The struggle is day by day, moment by moment. When you're ready, continue reading.

Disobedience is another. This is the "rejection of God's known will in favor of our own interests or pleasures." It could even be "slow and reluctant obedience." Disobedience would rather drown itself in its own affairs, leaving the scraps of its time, energy and interest for the things of God.

In the garden, Adam's impenitence was his refusal to face up to his sins and confess them before God. As well, pride sees no shame in justifying or discounting its sins as insignificant, natural or inevitable. Or perhaps it fears injury to reputation more than it feels sorrow for what its sins are in the eyes of God. Impenitence can even be doubt that God could forgive our sins.

Vanity, in our day and age, is accepted as a virtue in many circles, but it's surely an offspring of pride. Vanity credits itself instead of God for talents, abilities, insight, accomplishments, good works. It ignores indebtedness to others. "Undue concern over, or expenditure of time, money, or energy on looks dress, surroundings, etc., in order to impress others."

And finally pride can reveal itself as both arrogance--insisting others conform to our wishes or leadership, or accept our estimate of our self worth--and snobbery, "pride about race, family, position personality, education, skill, achievements, or possessions."

That's a ton I just dumped on you, I know. Pride is a diamond with many faces, one for every area of life. You and I both know the lure of it all, how it calls to us. My hope though is that reading these manifestations will pour water on its fire and even help you see it for what it is, a failed way to be human and an appalling stench in God's nostrils. My prayer is that you would come to hate it, but not as an end in itself. Ultimately, it's about loving God and striving to be fully human as Jesus was.

Take a few moments everyday, because pride will continue to visit as often as you don't want it to, to sit in prayerful silence. Give yourself to God. Entrust yourself to him and him alone, since he is the one who sanctifies you. Listen. Where is pride cropping up? Write down your thoughts. Take inventory on your heart and soul. And diffuse your pride more and more with the practice of humility. Because it isn't just about the killing of pride but the acquisition of humility, for this is Christ's way.

Blessings on Your Journey,



All quotations taken from, Joseph Huneycutt, Defeating Sin: Overing Our Passions and Changing Forever, (Salisbury, MA: Regina Orthodox Press, 2007).

December 16, 2012

December 14, 2012: Nourishment Amidst Tears

"My tears have been my food day and night..." - Psalm 42:3

Found on Jason Goroncy's post, here are two sermons--No, Not Now and A Voice in Ramah--written by retired seminary professor and United Church of Christ pastor J. Mary Luti. Hopefully not too soon, and since tears sustain for only so long, I found these words helpful and beautifully pieced together.

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

December 15, 2012

December 14, 2012

In yesterday's wake, I was speechless. Today: what the fuck?

December 10, 2012

The Passions and the Virtues

Reading Defeating Sin: Overcoming our Passions and Changing Forever has left me stricken with the thought, “There is much wrong with me” (on a rare occasion a book will leave a reader, in this case, disillusioned at the state of one's soul). Now, this isn’t to make little of the Holy Spirit’s sanctification in my life. I’m only recognizing the profound truth that the road stretches far in both directions. I’ve come a long way yet have much to travel. Indeed, for the rest of my life.

Joseph Huneycutt, the author, clergy at St. Joseph Orthodox Church, speaks and teaches on sin, the Passions and the Virtues, of which the latter two he thoroughly explores in his book.

Apparently, and I had no idea, the Passions are a big deal in Orthodox teaching, as became clear to me reading the scores of Orthodox teachers and theologians Huneycutt quotes throughout his discussion. The Passions, in some places known as the Seven Deadly Sins, are Pride, Anger, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Avarice and Sloth (or, for memory’s sake, PALE GAS). For me, the movie Seven immediately comes to mind, though not in this order.

A bit of the beginning of the book explores the labyrinths of a theology of the Passions, navigating through the implications of, both, God creating man and woman with the Passions and God creating them without them. In the former, the Passions, before Adam and Eve’s transgression against God in the garden, would have been pure with God-intended ends. After their sin, though, the Passions somehow “fell” and would no longer have taken after their proper God-intended ends. They would have been aimed “lower”, so to speak. In the latter, God creating man and woman without them, the Passions would have been a consequential fruit-bearing of that first sin.

Ultimately, for my ends, it matters little the position taken. What is obvious here, today, is the Passions, whatever they are and however they have come to inflict us with temptation, are real and powerful. But things mustn’t remain this way.

That which I found intriguing from the beginning was Huneycutt’s discussion of the Virtues, the opposites of the Passions. But what are the Virtues' place within such a discussion on overcoming sin? Simply, the center.

The argument here, implicit in the book, is that it isn’t enough to simply overcome the Passions. Employing the story of the Exodus, it seems strange to imagine the Israelites, as the slaves they were, being freed yet remaining in Egypt. The people were led from Egypt to the Promised Land. So: in dealing with the Passions and their manifestations (which is what I’m trying to actually get to), we are led, by God’s grace, from the Passions to the Virtues, Humility, Patience, Chastity, Contentedness, Temperance, Liberality and Diligence, the Promised Land of spiritual liberation and freedom.

When we wage war against the Passions, simultaneously, we are striving toward their opposite, the virtue we long for. In the battle against pride we strive for humility, against anger we strive for patience, against lust we strive for chastity, against envy we strive for contentedness, against gluttony we strive for temperance, against avarice we strive for liberality and against sloth we strive for diligence.

For me and my quest against the Passions, it has been helpful in thinking this way, that I’m going toward the Virtues--ultimately, Christ-likeness--as my end and goal, for Christ's glory. Not just the squelching of the fires of anger or envy but the acquisition of patience and contentment. And in all this fighting and striving, we are fighting the good fight of faith, conforming more and more to the image of God’s Son, moving from one glory to another, resulting in honor and praise to Him we trust and find our lives, Christ Jesus.

December 6, 2012

Recognize Adam: Me

Let it seep down, deep down to the marrow:

If any of us does not recognize that he is Adam, the one who sinned before God in Paradise, how can he recognize and think that the coming down of the Son and Word of God was for him?

-St. Symeon the New Theologian, The First-Created Man

December 3, 2012

Let It Speak: Writing Songs with Gordon Ramsay

Some friends and I have been hooked on Gordon Ramsay’s show Kitchen Nightmares. It’s seriously addicting. If you don’t know, Gordon Ramsay is a world-renown chef and a professionally cussing Brit too who, on this show, travels around Europe to distressed restaurants, pointing out, to the usually delusional staff, weaknesses and implementing much-needed leadership and simple business strategies. I admire him in a lot of ways.

In one episode, while rattling off an award-winning slew of cuss-words, he tried to get the head chef, an experienced and accomplished man, off his high horse to realize he was over complicating his food. As the plate was sent down the line every other kitchen staff added his own flourish, seasoning or ingredient. By the end, the food on the plate had been covered with unnecessary additions. According to Ramsay, its simplicity was compromised.

Commenting on this, Ramsay told the head chef: “let the ingredients speak.” The unnecessary additions, like siren calls, crowded out the main voice, the main ingredients. When there is too much going on, in food, the mind is overwhelmed and can't "land down" on the richness of taste and thus is drown out. Tragic. Gordon suggests 4-6 ingredients--tops--for any superb plate. That's it.

Now, on to what I’m getting at--no, this post isn’t actually about cooking. Sorry.

My friend Bijou and I have been writing music. If there was a musical one--like musical musical--it’d be Bijou. He livens up my boring chord progressions. I often scratch my head at his idiosyncrasies. Both of us wanted to, specifically, write songs to be used during the musical worship sets at the local youth group we’ve been getting involved at. So far we have one full song, which we’ve sung twice now, with a collection of unfinished tags, choruses and lyrics.

On a number of occasions though, as we sat, leaning over our guitars, we made songs that were overly complicated, bombarding ears with busy bass lines and frivolous instrumentation, earnestly filling every nook and cranny with "just the right part".

We had given into that callow songwriting trap: we thought more was more.

Nope. It’s not.

It’s striking how Ramsey’s advice carries over perfectly to the art of songwriting. What sets really talented bands apart--besides tremendous skill, etc.--is the maturity to restrain, the wisdom to remove. Sometimes songs sound best stripped bare. And often true moments of inspiration come back at square one, back for simplicity’s sake.

Just one instrument can be super powerful when used right. This is just one example of a band that lets their instruments speak: