By Alex Patico
Between yesterday morning - October 18 - and now, three birds have flown into one or another of the windows of our house, two of them fatally. Maybe the strong northwest winds just blew them into the unfamiliar territory of Maryland, or maybe it's related to global warming, but I take it as an omen - an omen in the sense of God nudging us to pay close attention to what is happening around us.
The arrival of a cold front let us know that summer is finally over, as did the maple tree at the end of our street. It's always the first in our neighborhood to show autumn colors. There are no more summer flowers in our garden. Clearly it's time to change our wardrobe.
But the change going on around us is not only meteorological. There is also social, political and psychological change in the offing. Here in the US, we're nearing the end of the longest-ever political campaign, a campaign being closely followed all over the world. What has seemed at times like years of primary races, speeches, debates and TV ads is finally reaching its conclusion. Whoever is declared the winner (so far the polls show Obama has a commanding lead), we are surely entering a new era.
The near-collapse of the financial sector, two wars in progress and an ambiguous and befuddling situation in the Middle East - these and other indicators mean that Americans, and the rest of the world with us, must raise ourselves, like tornado or flood victims looking over what once was their quiet, orderly town, saying, "What now? Where to start?"
Along with the disturbing disorientation of destruction, though, comes an up-side. With every such enforced starting-over, every building-up-again-from-scratch, we have an opportunity to do it better. The home that in fact was never quite suited to its inhabitants can now be built to fit their own personalities and real needs. The landscaping that had grown up helter-skelter can be done more thoughtfully. Now that we've been knocked on our collective backside, we have the opportunity to create a better political, social and economic landscape than the one that seemed indestructible but in fact served all of us badly.
At War with the World: We may not be able immediately to construct , out of the rusted and twisted swords we have forged with such zeal and deployed at such great cost, some usable plowshares. But can we Americans not at least begin to institute an approach to national security that will restrain our vaunted military strength a bit with responsibility and humility? Can't the widely-held perception of the United States as arrogant and bullying be replaced with an image of a superpower that actually deserves the name B one that preserves the peace, protects the weak and offers creative alternatives to violence?
Focus on the Family: As we approach the end of this first decade of a new century, can individualistic Americans leave the me-ism behind and realize how critical families really are? Will we eschew current cravings and start saving and sharing more, thereby paving the way a more sustainable long-term economic security? Will we find ways to unite on how to reduce abortions - whether through tuition in morals and a better appreciation of the consequences of promiscuity, or through more enlightened sex education as happens in countries like the Netherlands (which has the lowest abortion rate of any country keeping reliable records)? Will we act as though children really are precious, and provide them with stable home life, decent health care, quality education and assurance of protection from abuse?
Camels and Needles: Will this be the century in which we reexamine the prudence of trying to maximize growth and glorify ever more extravagant consumption? Can't those who lead corporations recognize that a percentage-point raise in their compensation package often equals a poor family's annual income at bare-survival levels? That their latest superfluous acquisition - replacement hardware for their yacht or an engraved elephant gun - may be a year's nutrition for the child of one of their employees? Might we see a few more people eschewing the building up of what is vulnerable to moth and rust, and starting to accumulate no-expiration-date kinds of wealth, through service, caring and sacrifice?
Amnesty for the Environment: Will the earth, now groaning from insult and injury, be given a reprieve by its "noblest" species? If both presidential candidates had to at least pay lip service to renewable energy, lowered consumption and life-style change, dare we hope that this is a harbinger of something more than a momentary energy tee-totaling, maybe a true environmental sobriety?
Faith: We receive mixed signals from the culture that surrounds us. Atheist books fly off the shelves, but the growing communions are those that actually ask something of their flocks. Casual sex seems omnipresent and selfishness has long been a way of life for many, but a remarkable number of young people seem to be rediscovering selflessness. Many are searching for authenticity and rejecting the superficial. Might this become a trend that marks an upcoming generation? We can only act to ensure that, if those ready to live in a way that isn't driven by selfishness knock on our doors, they are not turned away by a cold shoulder or cynicism or condescension as they make their costly pilgrimage. If they have the spirit of searching, they have already been blessed. Let us further bless them with Christian fellowship and God's truth B in all its challenging, eye-opening, transformative profundity.
The Church: We who are Orthodox Christians are better known for hanging on to our ethnic roots than for responding to the desperate needs of those in need. Can we claim to love God if we are blind to our neighbor? St. John warns us that those who say they love God and are indifferent to their neighbors are liars. We have taken great care to preserve the Liturgy and truths and traditions that others churches sadly threw overboard - thank God for all that we have preserved! - but how well are be giving witness to Christ's mercy and Christ's peace? Is it not time for renewal for us as well?
The season is changing. Do we have the right clothes in our closets? It's time for a change.
Alexander Patico coordinates activities of OPF in North America. He has written previously for In Communion and authored a forthcoming book on U.S. Iran relations. At times he writes poetry. Alex is a member of the US Committee of the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence. He attends Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Church in Linthicum, MD.
Fall 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 51