Tag Archives: Fr. Stephen Freeman

Seeing below the surface.

Repentance is not self-flagellation;
it is an opening flower.

-Met. Kallistos Ware

In the last weeks I’ve been more aware than ever of the truth that What We Need is Not More Information  – all the while collecting more books and reading, reading, reading. When I read Neil Postman in Technopoly say (in 1992) that our society’s glut of the stuff makes information into so much garbage, I was primed so that the word and image brought me great clarity.

“From millions of sources all over the globe, through every possible channel and medium—light waves, airwaves, ticker tapes, computer banks, telephone wires, television cables, satellites, printing presses—information pours in…. The milieu in which Technopoly flourishes is one in which the tie between information and human purpose has been severed, i.e., information appears indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, in enormous volume and at high speeds, and disconnected from theory, meaning, or purpose.” -Neil Postman in Technopoly

Even more recently Fr. Stephen Freeman re-posted this little meditation on simplicity, When Belief is Complicated, which, though it wasn’t particularly Lenten in focus, brought to mind Metropolitan Kallistos’s quote at top. Now I have two images in my mind, garbage overwhelming and weighing me down, and my soul as a tender flower struggling to open to God’s love and grace, but nearly crushed by the weight of a myriad of non-essentials. And Fr. Stephen introduces another metaphor:

“Kierkegaard wrote that ‘purity of heart is to will one thing.’ But we don’t will one thing. We will everything, regardless of the contradictions.

“Faith is not a matter of ‘belief,’ an act of intellectual willing. Faith is a perception of things that do not necessarily appear obvious. In the language of Scripture – ‘faith is the evidence of things not seen.’ But the perception of faith is similar to the perception of objects beneath the surface of a lake. If the surface is disturbed, the objects disappear. The objects do not go away – but we can no longer perceive them.

“In a world of manifold complication – the surface of the water is rarely still.

“The journey of faith thus becomes a movement away from complication.”

For those of us who feel that life is too complicated; that we ourselves are difficult to understand; and that trust and faith are impossible, Father Stephen has suggestions. My favorites:

  • Quit caring so much. The world does not depend on you getting the right answer to life’s questions. Answers often come when we learn to wait patiently for them.
  • Quit thinking so much. If thinking would solve the problem and make things less complicated, you’d be through by now.
  • Look for beauty. Beauty doesn’t make us think so much as it makes the heart a better listener.
  • Take some time off – from as much as you can.
  • Get some sleep.
  • Give away money. At least someone will benefit by this discipline.
  • Sing (beautiful things). The part of your brain that sings is much more closely wired to your heart than the part that thinks.

To put my hopes in terms of these evocative images: I am encouraged in the work of throwing off the garbage, opening like a flower, and peering down through the limpid water of a quiet lake, to glimpse the beautiful realities that my heart craves.

The most cruel master of all.

“A spiritual life without canon, without custom, without tradition, without rules, is the ultimate democratic freedom. But it unleashes the tyranny of the individual imagination. For with no mediating tradition, the modern believer is subject only to his own whim. The effect is to have no Lord but the God of his own imagination. Even his appeal to Scripture is without effect – for it is his own interpretation that has mastery over the word of God. If we will have no hierarchy, we will not have Christ as Lord. We cannot invent our own model of the universe and demand that God conform.

“It is a great spiritual accomplishment to not be ‘conformed to this world.’ The ideas and assumptions of modern consumer democracies permeate almost every aspect of our culture. They become an unavoidable part of our inner landscape. Only by examining such assumptions in the light of the larger Christian tradition can we hope to remain faithful to Christ in the truth. Those who insist on the absence of spiritual authority, or demand that nothing mediate grace will discover that their lives serve the most cruel master of all – the spirit of the age.”

-Father Stephen Freeman, in this article.

Imaginary versions of the good.

In the spring of 2018 Father Stephen Freeman wrote on “The Inherent Violence of Modernity,” and at that time his thoughts prompted me to browse definitions of violence. Many of them are along the lines of “causing or intending to cause damage,” but the most succinct was “extreme force.”  Father Stephen’s use of the word is based on the idea of us trying to “make it so,” improving society, changing other people, making the world a better place. I offer a few selected paragraphs from his article, and from his replies to comments on it:

“The philosophy that governs our culture is rooted in violence, the ability to make things happen and to control the outcome. It is a deeply factual belief. We can indeed make things happen, and, in a limited way, control their outcome. But we soon discover (and have proven it time and again) that our ability to control is quite limited. Many, many unforeseeable consequences flow from every action.”

“Modernity has as its goal the creation of a better world with no particular reference to God – it is a secular concept. As such, that which constitutes ‘better’ is, or can be, a shifting definition. In Soviet Russia it was one thing, in Nazi Germany another, in Consumer-Capitalist societies yet another still. Indeed, that which is ‘better’ is often the subject of the political sphere. But there is no inherent content to the ‘better,’ nor any inherent limits on the measures taken to achieve it. The pursuit of the better (‘progress’) becomes its own morality.”

“Keeping the commandments of Christ is not doing nothing. It is, however, the refusal to use violence to force the world into ever-changing imaginary versions of the good.”

“We do not have ‘responsibility as citizens.’ That is the rhetoric of the modern state. We have responsibility to God, to keep His commandments. That might very well exceed anything we think of under citizenship. Frankly, we need to quit thinking like ‘Americans’ and think as Christians. Most people’s idea of engaging politically is nothing more than the cheap, never-ending notion of having opinions and occasionally yapping about them. There is no commandment to have opinions and express them. There is no commandment to take political action. Modernity suggests that the political realm is that actual definition of ‘reality.’ It is where we do things. This is false and makes an idol of the state. The political realm is the place of violence.”

“Do not ask, ‘How can we fix the world?’ Instead, ask, ‘How should Christians live?’ and give the outcome of history back to God.”

What is the answer to “How should Christians live?” At the end of his article Fr. Stephen gives a few ideas, which are very appropriate for Christmastime, as the first of them all is:

“Live as though in the coming of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated into the world and the outcome of history has already been determined.”

I think my favorite on his short but broadly useful list is: “Love people as the very image of God and resist the temptation to improve them.” I know that each of us has our own unique set of circumstances to deal with, including people who want to change us or who obviously “need improvement” and are not fun to be with. May God give us grace to be thankful for even them, and to love them “as the very image of God.”

 

To think about the nature of lies.

“A lie seeks to make true something that has no true existence. It is an ‘alternate,’ make-believe universe to the one in which we live. Our desire for alternatives (and our fear of reality) are among the many motivations behind lies. It is revealing, however, to think about the nature of lies (which also reveals the nature of the truth). It is, at the very least, a matter of existence.”

“That which is true, is that which truly exists. As such, it is always its own strongest argument. If it truly exists, it will continue whether I believe in it or not. The truth does not require ideology. This carries the corollary of a lack of anxiety. If the truth abides, whether I believe it or not, then I am not bound to ‘make it so’ through the efforts of a culture war. It is, rather, for me to live it, to give thanks for it, and enjoy its fruit in the world.”

-Father Stephen Freeman, in this article: “‘Make It So!’ vs. ‘Let It Be!'”