These are extracts from recent postings to the OPF’s e-mail discussion list. If you are an OPF member and wish to take part, contact Mark Pearson or Jim Forest .
Global warming: The evidence is in: global warming is happening in our time. What remains to be seen is that the global warming now occurring is, in whole or in part, the result of human activity. Do we or don’t we contribute to, or even accelerate, these natural cycles? The jury is out on this one.
I suggest we behave as if global warming in our time is connected to our activity, even if it finally proves otherwise, and do our best to minimize whatever human activity contributes to the problems attendant to the rise in Earth’s temperature, and work to avoid the deleterious effects of that warming in historical time.
A greener coffee hour: I’m doing research on what our parish could do to have a “greener” coffee hour, so I’m interested to hear what your parishes have done. The stipulation is that it has to be as easy and as low-effort as possible – the easier it is, the more people will participate.
One example: In our parish, we have divided the alphabet roughly in half, making sure an equal number of families are in each half. If it is your week to supply the food, then it is also your week to clean up. Some Sundays we use disposables, but usually we use regular plates, cups and flatware.
We have three women who have taken on maintaining the kitchen and doing the extra stuff each week as their ministry. They keep our paper products stocked and make sure the kitchen and social hall are cleaned. One of them always takes home the towels and wash cloths and launders them. On any given Sunday, many other people pitch in and help, so the division of labor isn’t as rigid as it may seem. Once a month our youth group has to do the dishes.
Styrofoam banned: In our parish styrofoam is banned – a good start. Folks use a selection of coffee mugs provided by the parish, and wash their own. Recycled paper products are used for the food line for easy clean up, metal utensils are used.
Real dishes: Here’s what we have done in our parish. With donations from members, we bought a portable dishwasher. We asked the congregation to bring a few mugs – everyone drinks out of mugs, be it lemonade, water, tea or coffee. We bought plates. Each month two or three people sign up to clean up. It’s working well. One of our members brought some very plain glasses she didn’t need anymore.
Though we have banished styrofoam, we use paper on Pascha night when we have so many people.
Death penalty: The main argument used by proponents of the death penalty is that it protects society in two ways, by removing the opportunity for the condemned criminal to recommit and by deterring others who would commit the same crime.
The deterrent effect of capital punishment may be irrelevant in an absolute sense, but social and justice problems are never without context. Discussing whether or not capital punishment deters is perfectly relevant in our social context. If we can remove deterrence as a justification of capital punishment, we can move on to other things like what is truly an effective punishment and how exactly do we serve justice.
The first of the proponents’ defenses, that capital punishment prevents any reoffence, is bogus since no one believes it is the only way to do so. Proponents do, however, believe that deterrence is an absolute argument in favor of capital punishment; therefore, rebutting that argument with evidence does justice an absolute service.
Revenge: Most people agree that capital punishment is not a deterrent but nonetheless want to retain it for reasons of “justice,” i.e, revenge. That’s a gut level human response. I think we need to expose the desire for “justice” as really the desire for revenge. For those who call themselves Christians, we have to challenge the desire for revenge as being incompatible with being a follower of Jesus Christ.
Paul del Junco
Justice: Justice is a value to which we mere mortals can only aspire. Yet, even at our best, the most “justice” we can hope to accomplish is restitution and restoration, a return to equilibrium; it’s not for nothing that one of the nearly universally recognized symbols of “justice” is a set of balancing pans or scales.
It remains to be proved that imprisonment somehow satisfies the barest demands of “justice.” It would be more coherent to require convicts to adhere to strict standards of restitution and restoration. In the case of murder, convicts might be sentenced to support the families of their victims.
It is unthinkable for a Christian to be in favor of the death penalty, since no Christian may serve as an executioner. This is a self-evident truth of our faith, as can be understood by a close reading of the canons and patristic literature.
One of the most powerful Christian arguments against the death penalty is that it shortens the time which God’s Providence might allow even convicts to come to repentance. If it is a sin to kill people, no sophistry will ever make it a virtue. It is incumbent on us to work for a “consistent pro-life ethic” if we hope not to share in the bloodguilt of others who commit murder in our name.
Monk James Silver
Repentance: The possibility of a person guilty of murder coming to a state of repentance seems to me the strongest support a Christian could have on opposing the death penalty. Who are we to close the door on a life that might return to God?
I have always found it deeply moving to hear from murder victims’ families how, after an execution, they didn’t find any resolution or sense of justice but who felt their sorrow only deepened when one more life was lost. I favor the idea of criminals working in prison to pay some kind of reparation to victims families. I would be interested in how European countries sentence criminals that we would put on death row.
Suicide prevention: One of the people I was fortunate to meet on my recent lecture trip in the US was David Miller, an associate professor of school psychology. We discovered we had a common interest in suicide prevention. He is the author of Suicidal Behavior in Children and Adolescents: School-Based Prevention, Assessment, and Intervention. It’s due out December from Guilford Press and is already available for pre-order on Amazon.com. Miller focuses on how school staff can respond to potentially suicidal youth. He recommended two other books:
November of the Soul: The Enigma of Suicide by George Howe Colt. Written by a journalist, it provides a broad overview of suicide for the general reader.
Why People Die By Suicide by Thomas Joiner. Joiner is a distinguished professor of psychology at Florida State University who, Miller writes, “is the most prominent researcher in suicide alive today…. Joiner lost his father and his grandfather to suicide, so he has personal experience with this topic.”
Hiding the pain: One of the books that I highly recommend is Dying to be Free: A Healing Guide For Families after a Suicide, by Beverly Cobain and Jean Larch. People need not wait until someone they know dies by suicide to read any of these books. They can help teach people how to minister to wounded families and they also give information of the warning signs of suicide.
One myth that I keep hearing is that it is only people who seem really down or depressed that are in danger of a suicide attempt. Not so. Many people who are depressed cover over it with a buoyant personality to hide their pain. I was extremely depressed most of my life growing up – in fact I wanted to grow up to find a way to die – but no one had a clue because I was a good student, active in athletics, drama, band, cheerleading, etc. etc. I wore a smile all the time. Inside I felt as if a bomb had gone off and left me mangled, but no one could see it but me.
Our son Joshua also knew how to hide his pain, and I think he felt society expected that of him – “to be a man.” He was a risk taker since the time of being a young boy – so that what could have been real attempts at suicide were not clear to us.
There is such an apathy in the world when it comes to suicide – it really feels that people don’t care and want to stay far away from the families involved. But I must admit that I was the same way before it happened to us. I didn’t give suicide much thought. I thought that our family had immunity. I was wrong.
One issue politics: I had an interesting exchange with an Orthodox priest recently via Facebook. He had posted a link about voting “Pro-Life” in which he said that Christians should use a voting guide in order to know who to vote for. The link provided names of politicians whose anti-abortion stand is demonstrated by their voting record.
Our exchange amounted to me expressing concerns that a priest was telling people how to vote and basing it solely on one criterion. I laid out a few concerns about other life issues. I was told I “didn’t understand abortion” and what the Bible and Orthodoxy taught about it. I got analogies to the Nazis and genocide, was told it was my Christian duty in a democracy to vote as he suggested, and I was told my approach (which I don’t think he understood) was “helping increase evil in the world.”
It was a very hard conversation to have.
Another kingdom: As a parish priest, I do not endorse political candidates or parties. All candidates represent a host of positions, some acceptable to Orthodoxy, others not.
The church represents a kingdom not of this world, and acknowledges this world is not the Kingdom. Our agenda is very different than political candidates and parties who represent nothing but this world.
I know my views would be condemned by those (some of them priests) who feel that anyone who votes for a “pro-choice” candidate should be excommunicated. But there are many issues which are pro-death issues that we end up voting for if we simply base our votes on one issue.
We each must answer to God for all the choices we make. When we make pro-war choices, we will have to answer for each civilian – child, man or women – murdered during the war. We cannot escape these realities. We cannot abdicate our responsibilities because these choices are hard and mean we fall under God’s judgment. In a democracy we are faced with voting – making difficult choices that have multi-implications for good and ill. It is what led some ancient Christians and kings to avoid baptism until they were on their deathbeds. They hoped to avoid the judgment of God. We are judged by God even if we try to avoid judgment!
Let us not be deceived into thinking that as long as we reduce the world to one issue that we reduce God’s judgement of us to only that one issue.
The political divide in America has widened, and those on either extreme often no longer recognize their rivals as fellow Americans, fellow Christians or even fellow humans.
Fr. Ted Bobosh
Abuse of authority: There are priests who are into everything concerning their parishioners lives, apparently drawing on a monastic concept of the spiritual father who commands absolute obedience from his spiritual children. Add in someone with a personality that lends itself to a “cult of personality” and you might get a priest who attempts to dictate to his parishioners how they’re to conduct themselves in every area of their lives and who, via the internet, may be tempted to control the lives of those who are not his parishioners. It used to be that such priests could only pontificate via the printed word. Now they’ve got Facebook, blogs and e-mail. I could tell you stories that would make your toes curl.
Consistently pro-life: When my wife was pregnant with our first son, she had a doctor who suggested that she have an abortion due to a past medical event in her life. Fortunately we went to see a specialist who informed us that the advice we had been given was based on information “long out of date” and that there was nothing to prevent my wife from delivering a healthy baby. Later we went for “genetic counseling,” which we concluded was a money-making scam, closely aligned with the abortion industry. This was years before I joined the Orthodox Church but I could see the twisted priorities in play, and my view on the abortion issue was irrevocably changed.
However, that didn’t mean that I stopped caring about poverty, war, racism and all of the other social/political ills that inflict our country – on the contrary. I don’t particularly like getting into a numbers game when deciding which “evil” is worse. Clearly the number of abortions performed in the country is horrific, but so is the thought of people being allowed to die of a treatable disease because they can’t afford health insurance. In the latter instance, not only is a human life lost, but a person who has been living by the social contract, going to work, paying taxes, etc., is betrayed by their own country. Supporting any politician who takes money from large insurance companies to thwart change in American health care strikes me as morally bankrupt.
During the Bush years, hunger increased. There was also an increase in infant mortality. This most recent leak of secret documents about the Iraq War shows that the Pentagon is aware of some 100,000 Iraqi civilian casualties – incomplete figures that do not reflect, for example, individuals who simply “disappeared” or those with chronic medical conditions who died because they no longer had access to the drugs and medical services. For anyone who wishes to be truly pro-life, these facts matter.
We need to count not only abortion deaths but deaths caused by social neglect. African Americans die younger and more frequently of diabetes, stroke, heart disease and cancer than do their Caucasian counterparts. Native Americans have their own set of issues that shorten their life spans. Both these populations share decreased access to regular preventative healthcare and testing that are commonplace for more affluent whites.
Social policies have real life and death impact. If you want to run a coal mine, but you don’t want inspectors around to get in your way, back candidates who will oppose mine safety regulations. Too darn bad when a handful of guys gets killed now and then. This sort of scenario follows through worker safety and in matters of consumer safety where tainted meat or lettuce can literally kill you. It just takes a little more brain power to see the threat to life posed by a worldview in which profit and political domination are the dominant factors.
St. Maria of Paris icon available: We often get requests for mounted icons of St. Maria of Paris (Mother Maria Skobtsova). Now there is one available from Come and See Icons, a reproduction of an icon that Nancy and I commissioned from the iconographer John Reves. See it here:
The icon page includes a short biography of St. Maria.
The icon is 8 by 10 inches. It sells for $27 plus postage, $5 of which is donated to OPF by the producer.