Category Archives: Personal

A New Gift from an Old Friend

I try not to get too involved with Facebook. Sometimes this is difficult, because using and understanding Facebook is part of my job, and because Facebook has also been a great way to keep in touch with friends and family on opposite sides of the country. And yet it is not difficult to see how Facebook has fostered a rampant societal narcissism, filled with people who are publishing online fictions of their “lives,” portraying themselves as they wish to be seen, rather than who they truly are. It is a false interaction, and a spiritually dangerous place for those who are not careful.

For this reason, I tend to share very little about my personal life on Facebook. Apart from occasional prayer requests and the odd re-share of goofy pictures and videos and whatnot, most of my Facebooking is passive: viewing pictures of my nieces’ and nephews’ latest antics, reading news about friends’ job searches. Things like that. I do my best to ignore the grandstanding, politics, whining, and announcements about one’s latest bowel movement or trip to the grocery store. I make judicious use of the “hide story” option and customized feed lists to keep this detritus out of my main feed. (I’m not trying to thump my chest and brag about my own Facebook self-control or technological prowess–far from it. By all means, everyone who uses Facebook should learn how to use the site’s tools to shield themselves from unwanted content, and I’d be happy to show anyone how if they would like to know.)

But something happened to me recently on Facebook that has unnerved me a bit. In truth, it has unnerved me far more than it should have. I have discovered that someone I know–one of my best friends, in fact–rejected my recent Facebook friend request. Not only did they reject the request, but they did so by blocking me–utterly obliterating my name from their Facebook universe, and becoming totally invisible to me on Facebook in the process.

I know that this should not bother me–and it really shouldn’t, as I’ll describe in a minute. But in truth, it has bothered me. A lot. And after a bit of reflection on this, I think that the fact that it has bothered me so much is just as troubling to me as the fact that the block happened in the first place.

There are many perfectly legitimate and mundane reasons why this old friend might have chosen to refrain from connecting with me on Facebook. I have not seen or spoken to the person in question in more than 15 years. I have no idea what has happened in this other person’s life since 1996, or what is going on in their world today, or with their family, or their health, or their state in life. No idea whatsoever. This person and I may have been really good friends in 1996, but that was 1996, and I was an idiot in 1996. People getting drivers’ licenses today weren’t even born in 1996. A lot has happened since then.

So why I am I so tied up in knots? Isn’t it obvious? Someone doesn’t like me! My online sensibilities have been offended! And isn’t that really it? Isn’t that why I am so upset about this? I think so… and the thought of that is humbling, and frightening, because it shows me just how far I still have to go in my growth as a human, and as a Christian. It shows me that, despite my best efforts, I remain caught up in the same stupid narcissism that I see all around me, caught up in my own reflection. Instead of concern for this old friend of mine and hope for the person’s well-being, I’m more concerned about myself, and of the person’s impressions of me. As the old joke goes, “Enough about me, how about you? What do you think of me?”

In truth, this person has a perfectly legitimate reason to steer clear of me, and I know it. This friend was one of only two people to stand up to me and warn me many years ago when I was about to embark on a very major and very stupid change in my life. Everyone else in my life–friends and family alike–were patting me on the back for my decision to engage in this new endeavor, no doubt believing they were helping bolster my self-esteem by their encouragements. But this person had the courage to let me know that my decision was ill-advised, and dumb, and that it would cause pain–all of which ultimately proved true. Yet at the time, I persisted in my detour into what Dave Ramsey might call “the land of stupid.” In fact, I made it a point to boldly announce to this old friend that was embarking on my new adventure and that I was actually quite proud of the fact, the friend’s objections notwithstanding.

It was, without a doubt, one of the most dumb decisions and regrettable moments of my life. I finally came to my senses several years ago, glory to God. But for all I know, this old friend may believe that I’m still wandering in that same land of stupid. Maybe that’s the motivation behind the “block”; that would certainly be understandable. But maybe not. Maybe it’s something else entirely. And at the end of the day, I know in my heart that it really should not matter. It really cannot matter.

What should matter, if my head were screwed on properly, is that this old friend gave me a tremendous gift, even if it did take me many years to recognize and appreciate the gift for what it was. This old friend helped to save me from my own stupidity, because that lone word of caution truly did echo through my head for fifteen long years. I am sitting here today, comparatively safe from my prior stupid, in no small part because this person’s courage. I should be rejoicing for this old friend, thanking God for sending him to plant that seed exactly where and when it was planted. That is where my heart should be, and that is where I am trying very hard to redirect it now, rather than at the shame and hurt of offended online sensibilities, or at the fear that others may not perceive me in the way that I might want them to.

The more I think about it, the more I see this friend’s “block” as yet another gift. My mistake long ago might mean that I’ve lost this person as a presence in my life in 2014, or at least as a presence in my Facebook timeline. As Roy Hobbs would say, there are some mistakes that you never stop paying for. But this new gift from this old friend has also shown me how attached I still remain to others’ perceptions of me. It has highlighted more rough edges in my life that still need filing down.

But this time, I won’t take fifteen years to acknowledge the gift. Old friend–and if you are reading this, you know who you are–thank you very much, both for your true friendship so long ago, and for this new gift you’ve given me as well. May God grant you many wonderful years, and many, many happy days.

[Note: I do still intend to keep this blog relatively dormant, notwithstanding my prior post, but as this post shows, I do on occasion have something to say that won’t exactly fit elsewhere. I’ll try to keep my blathering to a minimum.]

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Thank You

I do not see any need to continue this blog further. The Internet is filled with far too much chatter. Most of it is useless. Much of it is destructive. While I pray that nothing I wrote is of the latter variety, I am convinced, at the very least, that my time is better spent elsewhere, rather than blathering away online. There are certainly others on the Internet who are far better sources of information than me, especially as I am only just beginning my own road. I will leave my prior posts up and available for those who are interested. But those who need edification and enlightenment should look elsewhere–and you should start with your nearest Orthodox priest.

If you have been offended by anything that I have written, please forgive me. If you have enjoyed anything that I have written, give thanks to God. If you need to track me down individually, you can find me (for now) on Facebook, on Twitter, on my law firm’s blog, or on my law firm’s website. I’ll also try and keep my about.me page reasonably up-to-date.

Glory to God for all things.

Pelicans, Owls, and Sparrows

Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto Thee.

Turn not Thy face from me; in the day of my trouble, incline Thine ear unto me; in the day when I call upon Thee, quickly hearken unto me.

For my days have disappeared like smoke, and my bones are burnt up and kindling.

I have been smitten down like grass, and withered, for I forgot to eat my bread.

From the voice of my groaning hath my bone cleaved unto my flesh.

I am become like a pelican in the wilderness, I was like an owl in the ruins.

I have watched, and was even as it were a sparrow, that sitteth alone upon the house-top.

Ps. 101:1-8 (from A Psalter for Prayer, Holy Trinity Publications 2011)

What Scooby Taught Me

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My cat, Scooby – the one in the front in this picture – unexpectedly passed away this past month.  I miss him tremendously.

Since it happened, I have been reflecting on the fact that God apparently saw it fitting to take him from me, just when I least expected it, and on why He may have allowed this to happen. Ultimately, like all things, Scooby was sent into my life – and then taken from me – in order to help show me the path to my own salvation.

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A Christian Reflection on Texting While Driving

My CopilotThis week, multiple news outlets reported that the National Transportation Safety Board is now recommending that each state enact a law banning the use of mobile phones by drivers.

As someone born and raised in the United States, I reflexively cringe when someone wags their finger in my face and tells me not to do something that I might want to do. I especially cringe when that “someone” is from the government. And I cringe even if what is being forbidden is something that I know that I shouldn’t be doing. It’s not the healthiest of reactions, but it’s a product of the culture in which I’ve been raised.

Once I settled down, I began thinking about what the proper Christian response should be to the whole texting-while-driving phenomenon. On the surface, it seemed obvious: the government should butt out, but on the other hand, we shouldn’t need the government to proscribe something as manifestly foolish and dangerous as using mobile phones in the car.

Full disclosure: this is a subject that I struggle with myself. I am constantly fussing with my phone in the car, and constantly having to swat my own hand down away from my HTC Trophy and back onto the steering wheel. I struggle with this, sometimes mightily. I know better, and yet I keep failing.

But the more I reflected on this, the more I see that this problem – my problem – of texting while driving is evidence of several larger spiritual problems at work in our culture, and that not only endanger our cars, but our souls.

Materialism

This life has been given to you for repentance; do not waste it on other things.

– St Isaac of Syria

Earth you are, and to earth you shall return.

– Gen. 3:19 (LXX)

That we so willingly endanger our lives to update our Facebook status illustrates the relative importance of Facebook compared to our own physical safety. We have become immersed in a culture of materialism, defined – and mastered – by the toys and technologies around us. We can’t put this stuff down, no matter the cost. And we hardly give it a second thought.

I see this as a natural extension of our materialistic culture. Our culture has become founded upon raw consumption. From the endless barrage of advertisements, to politicians, to the encouragement of our friends and family, we are nudged at every turn to buy and use more crap than we could possibly need.  Crap to fill our houses, crap to fill our faces, crap to fill our computers, crap to fill our brains. In theory, the steady stream of dollars from the purchase of all this crap keeps the jobs growing, the wages flowing, and the engine of society humming. Of course, we have to use this crap.  As a result, devices are constantly at our fingertips. Spotify, Facebook, a music library, Angry Birds, and a thousand friends just a few fingertaps away. We cannot separate ourselves from them.

The old joke is that you never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul. But you never see its occupant updating his Facebook status, either. As St Isaac noted above, this life was given to us for repentance, not the pointless acquisition of stuff. A life of repentance and a life of materialism are mutually exclusive. Focusing our attention on “stuff” diverts our attention from Christ. If we are so engrossed in our devices and toys that we’re not even willing to be bothered with our own physical safety, then our spiritual safety is not even on our radar screen. If our hands are full of toys, we have no hands free to offer up to God:

We cannot live a life of prayer, we cannot go ahead Godwards, unless we are free from possession in order to have two hands to offer and a heart absolutely open…

– Met Anthony (Bloom), Beginning to Pray, p. 43

Pride

Every time I use my cell phone in the car, I not only put myself in danger, but I emperil everyone around me. Even worse, I risk causing serious emotional trauma to the families and friends of those other drivers, each of whom would be devastated if their loved one became killed or grievously injured as a result of my mobile phone use.

Yet I do it anyway. Why? Because I have decided that what I’m doing is important – evidently more important than the safety of those around me. My Facebook friends, my Spotify playlist, and my conference call are far more important than your life.

Each of those other drivers and their families are, like all others on earth, living Icons of Christ. By endangering them, I am endangering Christ. By disregarding their safety and comfort, I am disregarding Christ:

“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'” And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into everlasting life.

– Mt. 25:44-45 (NKJV)

Noise

Then there’s the noise. Our inability to put down the mobile devices in the car is a symptom of our need to be constantly entertained wherever we go. The tweets, status updates, text messages, and whatnot that pour in through those devices are merely a form of entertainment, and add to the cacophany of “noise” that surrounds us wherever we go. There must be music playing (preferably our own music from our own collection or playlist), or a TV in the background, or a video game within easy reach. Every device must have Angry Birds and Netflix inside. Every office PC has a Facebook page open in some browser window. The car stereo occupies the place of honor in the center of every car’s console. Many people cannot even fall asleep without a TV or music droning on “white noise” in the background.

Smartphones and other mobile devices merely fuel our need for “noise” – both audible and visual.  But with all of this noise – with all of these status updates, tweets, games, and garbage flying past our faces – how are we going to actually hear anything? How are we going to hear God? How are we going to pray?

Be still, and know that I am God.

– Ps. 45:10 (LXX)

More than all things love silence: it brings you a fruit that tongue cannot describe. In the beginning we have to force ourselves to be silent. But then there is born something that draws us to silence. May God give you an experience of this “something” that is born of silence. If only you practice this, untold light will dawn on you in consequence … after a while a certain sweetness is born in the heart of this exercise and the body is drawn almost by force to remain in silence.

– St. Isaac of Syria

It is not out of words that prayer is born: prayer is not merely the sum of our requests addressed to God. Before being pronounced, prayer must be heard within one’s heart. All true masterpieces of music and poetry were not simply composed out of disconnected letters or sounds: they were first born in the depths of their authors’ heart, and were then incarnate in words or musical tones. Prayer is also creative work, born out of a deep stillness, out of concentrated and devoted silence. Before embarking upon the path of prayer, one must inwardly fall silent and renounce human words and thoughts.

– Met. Hilarion

Inattention

Lastly, there is the spiritual danger of inattention. When I’m driving my car with a cell phone in one hand, and a cup of coffee in the other, and try to pretend that it does not impair my driving, I am fooling myself. By trying to do so many things at once, I do none of them well. My attentiveness and focus with respect to both tasks is diminished.

This sort of multitasking isn’t limited to the car. At home, we carry on conversations with our spouses with a dinner plate in front of us, the TV blaring, and an iPad our laps. At work, we plod through our tasks on our office PC’s with Twitter and Facebook running in the background and earbuds dangling around our neck.

In other words, we have come to have our mind in so many places at once, that we don’t know how to keep it in just once place. We don’t know how to pay attention anymore.

This is spiritually dangerous, because meaningful prayer requires attentiveness, or else it’s just empty words:

Prayer requires the inseparable presence and cooperation of the attention. With attention prayer becomes the inalienable proeprty of the person praying; in the absence of attention it is extraneous to the person praying. With attention, it bears abundant fruit; without attention it produces thorns and thistles.

– St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, The Arena, p. 70

If you cannot be attentive to the words you say, why should God?

– Met. Anthony (Bloom), Beginning to Pray, pp. 49-50

In Closing

Pray for me, please – as I noted, this is something I struggle with. At the end of the day, the issue of whether or not an actual legal prohibition on using a mobile phone in a car is wise is really besides the point. As a Christian, I shouldn’t be doing it. And that’s where it has to start.