Giving in a Time of Crisis

Giving in a Time of Crisis

It’s really, really tough to be a college student in a time of crisis.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently–how could you not? In the football-related work that I do, I interact with a really large network of people around the country–which is awesome, but also quite eye-opening. As such, I worked directly with a few people who had to evacuate and experienced flooding during Hurricane Irma; because it’s football work, I was exposed a ton to Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt’s national campaign to raise money for Houston following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey; a lot of media folks live in California, where fires have been burning homes and polluting the air; and that doesn’t even touch those in Puerto Rico, many of whom are currently without clean water.

Things are not good on the natural disaster front.

As a college student, this can be incredibly frustrating. Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to have the funds with which you can make a monetary impact on these events as each arrives–if so, count your blessings. I would venture to say that many of us aren’t there.

The question becomes, of course, what can we do? I don’t have a comprehensive list, nor am I well-versed in all of the various opportunities/outlets that exist (please comment below and on social media with cool stuff you do), but I can tell you about what I think and what I’ve done.

I think it’s very easy to forget that our greatest agency, whether we can give $1 or $1,000, isn’t in the money we give, but rather our prayers. And we really have to be careful of muddling that priority list: reducing prayer to “well, at least I’m doing this” or “well, I can’t really give that much, so I’ll pray instead.” Because donations are more publicly visible, more empirically tangible, they feel more impactful.

When you give money online to relief funds, bright little graphics pop up, and you’re thanked by the program and so on. Why? To make you feel that initial jolt, that rush of altruism. When you pray for the suffering, when you pray for the first responders, when you pray for the safety of the world, you’re usually rewarded by the same stillness and silence of the room in which you are. Little emoji prayer hands don’t start popping up, as if you’re gaining experience points in some video game.

The hope is, of course, that your prayer is so fervent and heartfelt that you might truly experience, viscerally, that interaction you just had with God’s grace and mercy. The reality–at least for me–is that I’m not nearly a good enough supplicant to regularly have that experience. And, as such, it is easy to feel effete and irresponsible–like we are not doing enough. But there is nothing we can do–mankind, in all of our combined efforts–that holds a candle to what the Lord can do, through his long-suffering and compassion. It is important to remember this.

via Wikimedia Commons

It is also important, however, to do what we can in the world with our resources. Remember the tale of the man on the roof in the flood who denied the boat and the helicopter and the rescuers, because he was so faithful God would save him. When he died and saw God, he asked why God had not rewarded his faith: God said that He had…with a boat and a helicopter and rescuers.

So, what can we do, in the face of our limited resources? The first, easiest answer is to give what we can. Sure, one college student may not offer much–but there’s quite a good deal of us in OCF, you know. Through our community, our efforts are multiplied.

We can also recognize that immediate aid to places in dire need, while primary and necessary and invaluable, isn’t the only aid. On Real Break New Orleans this past March, a few of my fellow students and I toured through the Lower Ninth Ward, beholding destruction you wouldn’t believe happened twelve years ago. OCF offers many activities that are service-based–primarily a giving of time, rather than a giving of money–throughout the year, including YES College Days and Real Break trips.

Finally, I think it’s important to do little things–no matter how small. Not simply for the sake of it–just to say you did–but because, as an Orthodox Christian, giving to those in need should become a fixture of your life. Remember, the values and habits you construct now follow you into adulthood–without a dedication to helping those in need now, you’ll struggle to develop the habit when you have the resources. Using small, convenient outlets like freerice.com or Charity Miles help you have a consistent impact, without putting you in a financial bind.

Welcome to college: with an increase in choice comes an increase in responsibility. One of my favorite Bible quotes comes from Jesus (shocker), when He was hyping the disciples up in the upper room before His Crucifixion–I’ve probably told this to every camper I ever had:

If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

 – John 13:17

You know things. But that isn’t enough. That just gets you to the battlefield–now, you’ve gotta do stuff, too. It’s time for action.

Why I Read the Scriptures Every Day

Why I Read the Scriptures Every Day

Why is it important that we read the Scriptures?

It’s a question that has bothered me, over my time as a young adult making the effort. You all know that kid in your one discussion class? The one who has an opinion about, um, everything? Always dropping unnecessarily big words that they don’t even properly understand? Convinced they have great insight worthy of sharing at the drop of a hat?

Sometimes, that’s how I felt about reading the Scriptures at a personal level. I don’t think I’m nearly as good at reading and understanding the Scriptures as, say, the priest I see every Sunday who went to seminary and learned how to interpret the Bible. I mean, if understanding Scripture were easy, there wouldn’t be a big talk right after the Gospel reading to unpack what was just said. I didn’t want to become the “that guy” who reads through something incredibly complex and fools himself into thinking he understands it.

And, funnily enough, that fear has shaped a lot of my experience reading through the Scriptures so far. If you flip through my copy of the Bible, you’ll find way more question marks in the margins than anything else. Focused on my lack of understanding, I’ve had the experience of learning some while reading the Bible, but asking and wondering even more.

Public Domain image from dustytoes on Pixabay.

But it’s not a bad wondering. I’m not at the place where I feel I don’t understand my faith or that the Bible is saying things that surprise me and shock me. It’s a good wondering–it proves that my faith is dynamic, layered, and alive. Sure, there are question marks in the chapters and verses not read in the Sunday cycle of Bible readings, but there are plenty of question marks in the familiar parables as well.

Also–and this may shock you–reading something daily is better than reading something weekly. Honestly, it surprised me–my experience reading the Scriptures consistently has helped color in the gaps between the Gospel narrative provided by only a weekly dip. I promise you, I had no idea how often Jesus “got on a boat and went to the other side” until I started reading Matthew every single day of the week.

But that’s just a casual example: reading the full narrative elucidates the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees, Jesus and his disciples, the people and Jesus Christ. You come better to understand how immediately Jesus starting challenging the law and foreshadowing the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

If you’re like me, you’re reading something for class every single day. If you’re reading something for Classic English Lit on the daily, and you’re not reading Scripture on the daily, which is important to you? Which will have a greater influence on your life? You’re getting to class every day (at least, you’re telling your mom you are)–but you can’t get to church every day, can you?

Me? I watch football literally every. single. day. If I’m not finding a way to actively, intentionally, hungrily engage with my faith on the daily, I’m losing spiritual ground to a game. That’s not good.

So I read the Scripture because I’m quite fearful of what might happen if I don’t. I’ll distance myself from my Lord, keeping Him at a distance and keeping my faith as a static, placid entity that I’ve fooled myself into believing I fully understand. That sounds lazy, irresponsible, and scary. And I want to avoid things like that.

I use MyBiblePlans.com to create my schedule (it’s fully customizable). It uploads directly to my Google Calendar, so I can get handy little notifications on my phone.

 

It Could Go Either Way

It Could Go Either Way

College and the Church can be…oof.

That’s a sad reality, a tough reality, but let’s call it what it is: a lot of the experiences offered and knowledge presented to us create some degree of friction with the practices and teachings of the Church. Not all of it, of course!–but a good deal.

And this isn’t exclusive to college–that’s important to note. A lot of the experiences and knowledge of the world itself, fallen and broken, create some degree of friction with the Church. College is just our current context for that friction. It is the environment in which we are.

I want to tell you a story. It’s an amazing story, but in order for it to be amazing, we’ve gotta start with a bad story.

In my first year at the University of Chicago, I was put in a temporary dorm–Broadview Hall, almost a mile away from campus. It was a retired hotel in which us lucky first-years were holed up as Campus North Residential Commons (audience: oooh!) were constructed. Some griped, but I loved it. I had a single dorm with my own bathroom, there was always breakfast in the fridge downstairs and a rickety elevator that broke every other day.

I was in Room 527. Across the hall, in Room 524, was a young woman who we will call…Hannah. Hannah and I were both first years, so we went through the glorious rigmarole of orientation week together. Obviously, there were a ton of first-years with us, but Hannah was aggressively outgoing and friendly. For those of you who know me, I’m also socially…exuberant. So we chilled and had a good time.

via Wikimedia Commons

Hannah was obsessed with trains. Every time we rode Chicago’s L into the city, she was over the moon. Her room, across the hall from mine, faced east–you could only see buildings. My room faced the Metra line.

When Hannah discovered this, she immediately asked if she could come study in my room so she could also watch the trains. I mean, I was down. Hannah was super entertaining and was struggling to make any solid friendships early on, so I figured it was a good thing to do.

And then one day, Hannah asked me about the ‘pictures’ on top of my fridge. They were my icons.

I don’t know if I thought we could have avoided the topic entirely, somehow–or maybe, naive as a first-year, I imagined the conversation going far easier in my head. You see, Hannah had made it very clear from the first day of orientation that she had strong views on a ton of tough contemporary issues–and I knew those views would put her at odds with a lot of the Church’s teachings.

So she asked me about the pictures; I told her they were icons and that I was an Orthodox Christian. So, she asked me what that meant, what I believed, and so on. As best as I could at the time, I tried to communicate the Orthodox views in a sympathetic and non-confrontational manner, also asserting that I wasn’t nearly the ideal source for some of these difficult questions.

Hannah left my dorm room and never spoke to me again. She would up and leave tables if I sat down at them for a while, though she stopped with that eventually. Still, she hasn’t said a word.

Now, obviously, Hannah is an extreme case. As I said, she was a little socially awkward, so I don’t think she was adequately equipped to handle such a situation. But that experience soured me–hard–on how college and the Church interfaced. Reading through Genesis and St. Augustine and Dante across my first year of school, and hearing all of the…different interpretations thereof, didn’t help either.

But fast-forward to the amazing part of the story: right now, in my third-year at college. I’m taking a Russian Civics class, and the second week has been all about the varying religious and cultural beliefs of the Slavic regions, and the eventual onset of Christianity and precipitation into one giant big ole Russia.

via Wikimedia Commons

I mentioned during a comment in class that I’m Russian Orthodox. Since then, my professor–who won’t stop calling me Sam incidentally–has turned to me multiple times for my input on comments he makes or to help answer questions from students. I passed my cross around class so folks could look at it–I modeled what the three-bar cross looks like, because it was on the frocket of my AV Male Staff 2017 shirt (shoutout AV Male Staff 2017).

I had this awesome experience of Christianity in college. Just rad and a half. I got to stand there and explain what I believe, field questions, and make clarifications to a group of people that–for the most part–seemed interested in and respectful of what I was saying. And it was so dope.

Maybe to them I was just a peculiar echo of a long-passed novelty; someone clinging to silly beliefs. If that’s their judgment, that’s okay. College has always been a place for me where my faith isn’t treated with respect or as legitimate. But last week, that changed a little bit–I got a taste of the greener grass on the other side.

We always hear about the persecuted fathers of the Church–of St. Paul getting scorned and stoned and chased out of town for trying to live, unashamedly, a good and holy and just life.

And we remember St. Paul and the church fathers, not only because they went through this, but because they weren’t embittered, jaded, worn down, or defeated. They remained thankful (#GloryToGod), resilient, faithful, and humble.

I had written off college, I think. I’d encourage you to avoid a similar trap. The world has beauty if we don’t dull our eyes and relinquish our efforts in finding it, and every once in awhile, someone out there has ears to hear.

Redirecting

Redirecting

Image from Phil Whitehouse on Flickr

I had two of my best friends in my 11th grade physics class, which was a lot of fun. One day, we came in and our teacher presented us all with paper and some masking tape. Our teacher was going to drop eggs from different heights, our task was to build something that we could drop the eggs onto that would prevent the eggs from breaking. My approach was to build a tower and put crumpled up pieces of paper inside of it to absorb the fall.

But one of my friends had a different idea: he built a much smaller tower, about 8 inches tall, and put a curved ramp on the inside with an opening in the tower wall at the end of the ramp. It looked like a quarter-pipe, that you would find in a skate park. The egg would be dropped in the tower, go down the ramp and roll out of the side of the tower. He explained that instead of using his resources to try to stop the egg’s energy, he would simply redirect it into horizontal momentum, which is not harmful for the egg. His tower did better than mine did.

Here’s the bad news: the devil knows well the power of redirection. He sees the gifts that God gives us, and he tempts us in a distinct way. He tempts us to use that the very gifts God gives us, not to move toward Him, but to make us drift further from God. He sees the momentum that our gifts can give us toward spiritual progress, and so he redirects our momentum so it draws us away from God.

Here’s the good news: this means our approach to “fighting” sin doesn’t have to be as complicated as we often make it. We can, through prayer and God’s help, figure out the hidden good concealed in our sins.

For example, if you find that you are too concerned with what people think of you and it is preventing your spiritual growth, there are so many good qualities hidden in this sin that are simply being misused. For instance, if you are simply worrying what people think of you instead of God, redirecting that back to God can help. Also, it shows concern for how your brothers and sisters around you are feeling, which in itself is good, but you are expressing it in a way that is harmful to you. So instead of fighting against this passion directly, your new task is that whenever you find yourself being concerned with what others think of you, try to keep your concern about them, while caring only for what God thinks of you.

More good news: God also knows the power of redirection, and He likes to use the bad things in our lives–whether or not they are brought about by our own doing–for our benefit. When we think back to the worst times of our lives, we often see so many blessings that have come out of them, sometimes because beautiful situations were born out of them, other times because of personal growth. Regardless, it is critical that we recognize these blessings and even thank God for them, because then we can make the most of these redirections.

I pray that we can all look more deeply into the things in our lives, and that we can see them in the ways that will be most beneficial to us. How we see things has a massive effect on what we do about them, so may God help us to see them in the right way.


headshotPaul Murray is a senior psychology major and Spanish minor at Franklin & Marshall College, and he attends Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Lancaster, PA. His home parish is St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in New Kensington, PA, and he has spent the past three summers serving as a counselor at the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh Summer Camp and the Antiochian Village. In his free time, Paul ties prayer ropes and writes descriptions of himself in the third person for blog articles.

Lenten Reflection | Spring Cleaning

Lenten Reflection | Spring Cleaning

Each household has its own set of routine chores that needs to get done. Vacuuming, sweeping, making the beds, doing the laundry, and so on. However, many families will set aside a time for a deeper and more thorough cleaning of the home. Spring cleaning. Spring cleaning is a time to undertake the chores that we don’t make time for on a day-to-day basis.

Great and Holy Lent is the Spring cleaning of our interior lives.

In its eternal wisdom, the Church calendar gives us a yearly preparatory time to take a richer and more holistic examination of the entire universe that is within us.

Each of us has wounds that stretch down deep inside of us; painful experiences, insecurities, fears, jealousies, and many other things that keep us from the eternal Joy of God’s Kingdom. These things can debilitate us, rendering us unable to be as joyful, as loving, and as compassionate as the Lord calls us to be. We make poor decisions, we find it harder to love those that hate us, we stress out and have anxiety, and we miss out on the glory of the Kingdom.

Image from Eikonografos. Used with permission.

St. Andrew of Crete puts it better than anyone:

I fell beneath the weight of the passions and the corruption of my flesh, and from that moment has the enemy had power over me. Instead of seeking poverty of spirit, I prefer a life of greed and self-gratification. Therefore, O Savior, a heavy weight hangs from my neck.

And this is where it gets really good…

I persist in caring only for my outer garment, while neglecting the temple within me, one made in the image of God.

How much time do we spend worrying about the external world? How much do we care about nurturing social images and external appearances? Unfortunately, our obsession, and I daresay addiction to these things, never strikes us as being abnormal because all around us people are doing the exact same thing.

While we keep busy trying to manipulate everything going on around us, and spend so much energy on our “outer garments”, we completely neglect the temple made in God’s image, that is divinely placed within us.

“The Kingdom of God is within,” the Lord tells us in Luke 17:21. Ask almost any Christian what the goal of the Christian life is, and they will almost certainly say, “heaven.” If Christ, our Lord and our God, says that the Kingdom is within us, why don’t we go there?

We are scared.

We keep our headphones plugged into our ears, we spend hours mindlessly scrolling through pictures and videos of other peoples lives, and we avoid our inner life at all costs because we are uncomfortable with what goes on inside of us. There are thoughts we don’t understand, feelings we cannot articulate, and an entire universe that we do not know how to navigate.

When those things are brought to the surface, we mistakenly think that our problems are outside of us. We blame other people and lash out at them, we spread gossip, and we try to change everything outside of us without ever considering that maybe the problem lies within.

Lent is our time to reorient ourselves and to remember that there is quite possibly more work to be done inside of us than there is to be done outside of us. Maybe a better way to say this would be say that without the internal work of Lent, our external work will be meaningless. St. Paul says it like this:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  –1 Cor 13:1-2

Without the internal work of Lent, we will be unable to love perfectly. If we are unable to love perfectly, then nothing else matters. So we must dig deep, and begin the journey within.

How do we do this? 2,000 years worth of spiritual literature covers this topic. Some of my personal favorites are The Kingdom Within by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, The Roots of Christian Mysticism by Olivier Clement, and Into The Silent Land by Martin Laird. Read up!

Also, making time for silent prayer and reflection is an integral part of our spiritual practice. St. Basil the Great calls silence “the beginning of the purification of the soul.” Turn off the TV, close Snapchat and Instagram, and simply take time to be still. The Psalms tell us to “be still, and know that I am God.”

Just as a family takes the time to clean their home more thoroughly, we as Orthodox Christians take Lent as a time to be more intentional in our spiritual practice, so that we might find deeper healing for our infirmities.

May this Lent be to our spiritual edification and enlightenment. May we answer the Church’s call to dig deeper within ourselves. May we seek the everlasting Kingdom of God within ourselves.


Mark Ghannam is a Junior at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor pursing a degree in economics, and serves as the Vice-President and Head of Clergy Relations for his OCF chapter. In his free time, Mark enjoys reading, rock climbing, and long walks on the beach while discussing Liturgical theology.