Fr. Greg posted the following quote from Tony Campolo in response to my web post yesterday. It was said on a college campus when he gave a talk there:
“I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a sh*t. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said sh*t than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”
Most of you gasped at reading that quote and, if you notice, I did not dare put the full word he used on this blog post. But, in defense of Tony Campolo, he was addressing a particular problem at that Christian campus. Look at this next quote:
“I think that Christianity has two emphases. One is a social emphasis to impart the values of the kingdom of God in society – to relieve the sufferings of the poor, to stand up for the oppressed, to be a voice for those who have no voice. The other emphasis is to bring people into a personal, transforming relationship with Christ, where they feel the joy and the love of God in their lives. That they manifest what the fifth chapter of Galatians calls ‘the fruit of the Spirit’. Fundamentalism has emphasized the latter, mainline churches have emphasized the former. We cannot neglect one for the other.” (Source: www.beliefnet.com)
And here is the challenge for all Christians, not just the Orthodox. How do we maintain the balance in an appropriate fashion? As we enter into Lent, we are called to fulfill both parts of that calling. On the one hand, our fasting and the thrice weekly services during most of Lent are deliberate steps in the direction of growing in our relationship with Our Lord and Savior. Particularly the first and last week of Lent hammer at our bodies, our minds, and our souls, with services that repeatedly call us to the commitment of attending every night, praying every night, and opening ourselves to God in repentance every night. The last week takes us on the journey of our sins and the last week before his death of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In extensive verses, we are called to meditate, to reflect, and to remember all the reasons why Our Lord Jesus had to come to save us. At the end, we are brought to our lowest pitch.
But, we are also called to increase our giving to the poor during this time. When we fast, we are not only supposed to abstain from certain foods, but also to eat less so that we might be able to give the money we did not spend on food, to the poor. That is why several jurisdictions have the Lenten boxes that urge you to put money in them to be given to the poor. They are aids that remind us that Lent is not simply about growing in our “personal, transforming relationship with Christ,” but is also about relieving “the sufferings of the poor.” For us Orthodox, it is not sufficient to simply grow in our personal holiness apart from the rest of the world. Even the most remote hermit is enjoined to pray for the peace of the world, for those who are sick, who hunger, who travel, etc. (Look at the Litany of Peace.). Orthodoxy has no room for navel-gazing Christians. Even our hermits look outward and join themselves to the world in prayer of intercession. And, many are the stories in the writings of the Desert Fathers of hermits who were encountered by thieves, travellers, seekers, etc., and who responded in grace, love, and even with the uncreated light of Mount Tabor.
But what about the speech, you ask? Well, let me point something out. Saint Paul does speak against wrong language. “?Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. … But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” So, clearly Saint Paul does wish us to control our tongue, as does Saint James.
But, here is the interesting point. Though Saint Paul wishes us not to joke about those things, because those who do them are bound for hell, nowhere does it say that a coarse mouth will send you to hell. Yet, more than once it says that a lack of empathy toward the poor, the sick, the suffering, and those in jail, may very well send you to hell. (Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.) So, Tony Campolo was right. It was and is horrid that more Christians would be offended by one four letter word than by 30,000 people who die.
Lent calls us to return to an appropriate balance.