Archive for July, 2008

Plastic Fuzzy

July 25, 2008

When I was young, there was nothing more important to me than my friends. I spent a lot of my energy making sure that I was in the group, accepted and loved. My friends didn’t come from the “country club” side of town. They weren’t the rich, the popular, or the honor roll kids. My parents objected to some of my friends, and I resented it.

I would like to say that love held us together, but it wasn’t love. The Beatles came on the scene and suddenly we had heroes that we could emulate. We began to grow our hair in a long Beatle style, and dress like the Beatles. Of course, we discovered marijuana and we bonded around it. Curiously, some of the country club kids began to come around to join our party. We often took trips to the principal’s office to be threatened with expulsion if we didn’t cut our hair and dress differently. Altogether, it gave us a sense of solidarity.

Over time, it became clear that it wasn’t love that held us together. Almost all of those so-called friends are not in my life and I am not in their’s. We never really cared enough to stay in touch.  The same applies for most of the college friends that I had.  In truth, it seems that our relationships were shallow and plastic. Maybe I’m a romantic because I always thought that if love was real, it would last. The Beatles sang, “All you need is love,” and then broke apart over money and control. 

St. Paul must be a romantic as well because he wrote “Love never fails.” I’ve felt what I thought was love, and it most certainly failed. I’ve had people tell me that they love me, and that love failed as well.  So love can fail, or what I thought was love wasn’t love at all. St. Paul also wrote that love should be genuine and without hypocrisy, so there is real love and there is fake love, too.

I heard this analogy many years ago: real love feels like a warm fuzzy. When my wife hugs me and tells me that she loves me, I know  its real love and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside (BTW, she’s been doing this for about 37 years now). When I take the time to consider how much God loves me, I get the same feeling because despite my constant failing and falling away, He remains faithful to his love for me (BTW, he’s been putting up with me longer than my wife has).

The Old Testament has a word for genuine love, one that never fails: Hesed. Hesed love is God’s covenantal love. When God makes a commitment to us, his commitment is eternal. No matter how many times Israel fell away, God remained faithful to his part of the covenant. I had a real warm fuzzy when I was baptized because I felt the genuine love of God for me. God made an eternal covenant with me that day. I’ve come to understand how unfailing that love is. Sadly like Israel, I have been faithless to my baptismal vows, yet God has remained true. Every time I go to confession, God renews my baptism and sets me up on my feet again. Now that is real love.

So, I should be a good son, and be like my Father. Like Him, my love should be genuine, without hypocrisy and never failing.

Most of the time, my love is  fake love. Fake love looks like a warm fuzzy, but it feels plastic and not really fuzzy. Here’s an example – I’m sure you’ve had these kinds of conversations. You tell someone, “Let’s get together for dinner.” They reply, “Oh, sure. Ah, let me check my schedule and as soon as I have a free day, I’ll call.”  Ugh! Plastic fuzzy. 

I would like to be able to say that since I’ve been Orthodox my love has always been genuine. I would also like to be able to say that those who were Orthodox have loved me without hypocrisy. I’d like to be able to say so, but I cannot. So often my love has been shallow and plastic and hypocritical. On the other hand, I have had those who said they loved me, and then stabbed me in the back on their way out.

Besides warm fuzzies, and plastic fuzzies, there are also cold pricklies. A cold prickly makes you feel really bad. There’s no denying a cold prickly. Unlike the plastic fuzzy, it is what it is.  I had a few of those in my life. I remember times when a teacher would give me that cold scowling look and I would feel really bad. There are times when I really hurt my wife, and she would look at me with that pain in her eyes, and I really felt that cold prickly. Of course, I had just given her one, and she was returning it to me. I try to not give cold pricklies but sadly I often give plastic fuzzies.

Because our love is not genuine and lasting, the church does not grow spiritually or numerically. Without genuine love, there is no real community. How is genuine love demonstrated and experienced? Again, St. Paul has an answer in Romans 12. Genuine love hates evil and clings to what is good. Genuine love is expressed with affection. Genuine love honors others above self. Genuine love is not lazy, but is fervent in service. Genuine love rejoices and is patient. Genuine love seeks to meet the needs of others and is hospitable. Genuine love rejoices when others rejoice and weeps when others weep. 

Genuine love builds the church by building  up the members of the church.  We should realize that this will not occur on plastic fuzzies. There are simple ways that we can test if love is genuine. When is the last time you invited a member of the Church to your house? When was the last time anyone invited you? What do you know about those who stand next to you? Have you ever bothered to learn their story; do you know their joys and sorrows? Do you pray for them, or do they pray for you? Whose burdens have you every carried lately?

I wonder if I will ever have genuine love. God invites me to spend time with him, but I say “Lord, let me check my schedule, and when I have a free moment, I’ll call you.” Plastic! He invites me to his Feast, but I cannot come because I’m busy with bills, concerns and commitments. So, I tell the Lord that when I get things in order, I’ll be glad to come. Plastic!

It would be a hopeless situation if not for the fact that  I am pursued by the love of God. The “hounds of heaven” chase me and they will not leave me alone (check the 23rd Psalm -or the 22nd in some versions). They even have names: goodness and mercy” and they have followed me all the days of my life. Down every dark trail that I have chosen, they bark and nip at my heels until I turn from my hypocrisy. They show me God’s hesed love, never failing, never ending, and willing to go to the Cross for my sake.

I pray that someday, the love of God in Christ Jesus, a love so faithful and true, will melt all the plastic in my heart and give me genuine love.

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and put a right spirit within me.” Warm fuzzies! Make it so, Lord.

Banana Pudding

July 11, 2008

Most of my life, I have been bound by fears and anxieties. My family was dysfunctional (the term has been used so often that it’s almost become trite to use it) and I had a lot of anger and self-hatred. I didn’t believe that there was anything that I could do well because I was told that I couldn’t do anything well. And so I hid myself, and humor was the best place to hide. If I could get a pretty girl to smile or laugh, then no matter how ugly I felt, at least I had a chance. If I made a group of people laugh, then I felt accepted. Of course, if it meant that my jokes became ever more crude, sexual, or racist to keep them laughing, then so be it. Oh, I didn’t leave it at humor. I addicted myself to pleasure as a way to escape from the fear, pain, and self-hatred that lurked in my heart. Above all things, I tried to eat my pain away. A bowl of banana pudding can really put you on that carbohydrate high that makes you forget a lot of things!

I read this verse of Scripture some time ago and it shocked me.  It shocked me because it was like a mirror in which I saw my whole life.  Consider:  “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”  (Hebrews 2:14-15)

At first, I found the idea that the devil had the power of death most objectionable. Then I realized that his power comes from fear, and by fear the devil is able to bind me to sins. When I consider the fears that run rampant in my heart from my earliest years, it is now clear to me why I became such a slave to unrighteousness. .

My greatest fear was that when all was said and done, my whole life would have been a sham and a waste. Then I would face an angry god who would punish me for wasting the gift that he gave me. What could I do? Easy! “Eat, drink, and be merry: for tomorrow we die.” See, sin pays and it pays on time. It is wonderful when the pain ends and all of the accusing voices (many of whom sound like my father’s voice) drift into oblivion.

The first thing that Adam and Eve did after eating from the Tree was to hide in the bushes because they were afraid. The problem is that when you are behind the bush, the demons beat the crap out of you and your sins tear you to pieces.

Christ changed all of this because we are His slaves. He broke the power of death upon the Cross so that fear can no longer rule us. Christ tells me who I am -the devil does not, my parents do not, my sinful past does not, even a spouse cannot tell me who I am. I am not even allowed to define myself for only a master defines the slave, and so only the Lord can tell me who and what I am. So, I don’t need to be afraid and I don’t need to hide.

Confession is a good way to come out from behind the bushes. Maybe that’s why I don’t go to confession very often. When I go, I feel too naked and vulnerable. What will Father think when he hears what I have done? I think I won’t go, and just hide a while longer.

Can you see me there, behind the bushes? I want to come out, really I do, but I am afraid. While I’m back here in the dark, I think I’ll have another bowl of banana pudding!