Monday, June 18, 2018

A Dad's Pride in Some Good Things that God Is Doing

My daughter and son-in-law live in Kigali, Rwanda.  They are missionaries there, teaching at the Kigali International Christian School.  Their school enables them to go home to reconnect with supporters and family every year and that's where they are right now, visiting in Florida, South Carolina and Virginia.  But with the help of their home church in Orlando, they have put together this short video describing something of what they do. They are Protestant Christians, as was I for most of my life.  May God raise up more Orthodox men and women who, like Caroline and Will, are willing to say yes to God's call, willing to go wherever God wants them to go and do whatever God wants them to do.  This is where discipleship, missions and stewardship starts for individual Christians, and where mission-mindedness and obedience to the Great Commission starts for churches and parishes.

Here is the link: 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Living with Depression

Another known person has been found dead, according to the media.  Cause of death?  Suicide.  But as the long days go by, stories come out.  He suffered from depression.  She had been seeing a counsellor and was on medication.  For depression.  And it is always, to many of us beyond their immediate circle, such a shock.  We had no idea he was depressed.  She looked and sounded so happy last night.

For those who suffer with depression, our culture, especially our Christian culture, has so stigmatized weakness that we feel we cannot admit our need, admit our weakness.  Even our own family members cannot understand why we just can’t get better.  We live in fear that the wrong person will find out, that we might lose our job, that our spouse might reject us, and so we adopt the only safe posture we know - denial - which turns out not to be safe at all.

You may have noticed that I have rather quickly shifted from the third person to the first person.  And that is because I suffer from depression. I live with depression.  I was in denial for decades, thinking I was just moody or melancholy.  And when I was floored by a major depressive episode 17 years ago, I determined it was a reaction to some anti-malarial medicine I was taking.  But then the episodes recurred, again and again.  I explained it to myself by saying I wasn’t handling the stress of being a missionary very well.  But what was really happening was that I was not handling the stress and the terror of a failing marriage, and there was no place I felt I could go to get help.  And so I stuffed my stress and my terror and fear and anger into a hole in my heart, out of sight and far away from the people I lived with and worked with.  And my heart and my mind responded by becoming septic.

Most people, even Christians, maybe even especially Christians, do not want to be bothered by another person’s troubles.  I don’t want to know about your terrible marriage, I don’t want to know about the verbal abuse you endure. I don’t want to know about your medical problems.  I don’t want to know that you have been banished from your own home.  These things trouble our tidy worlds. And the platitudes on which so many of us construct our flimsy lives.  But they also communicate in no uncertain terms to the one who is depressed that there is no safe place to run and hide.  And the church, so full of the so-called ‘saved’, who supposedly have experienced the love of Christ first hand, the church is often the least safe place of all.  This I know from experience.

I was the senior pastor of a mega church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  I had been struggling with depression for several years, but I had responded well to medication and one would never have known I had been ill if I didn’t choose to tell you.  We had scheduled a leadership retreat and I decided to lead by example and demonstrate vulnerability and weakness as a mark of the kind of leadership Jesus was calling his followers to be in their interaction with and ministry to one another.  So I shared my experience of depression and some things I had learned, in the hopes that this might motivate my fellow leaders to own their own weakness, and learn how to receive and give grace.

The following Tuesday I received a delegation from our elders and they demanded that I resign.  They said I was sick and that I needed to go away.  I was stunned.  And I explained to them that their very response told me that they actually knew little if anything about depression and how it was treated.  I told them that I was fine, and that if they wanted to remove me from office they would have to find a real reason to justify it.

While I had a very good relationship with my staff and my congregation, my relationship with a few people on the leadership team seemed poisoned from then on.  Oh they were friendly enough when I was with them and other people, but I heard that things were otherwise when they were discussing (gossiping about) me in other contexts.  They finally succeeded in making things impossible for me to stay when they undertook to destroy one of our best staff members, and then went after me when I defended her in one of those jaw-dropping meetings that, even now, I cannot believe what was said and what malice was shown and what complete ignorance was betrayed.

A handful of people stood with me, but I spiralled down.  Even my wife said, after a year or so, that it was time for me to ‘get over it’.  But I could no more ‘get over it’ than a person locked in a barrel going over Niagara Falls can get them selves out and to safety.

After my resignation I spent one more year in a kind of no-man’s land in Ethiopia until we finally moved to Kenya.  I was still teaching courses.  But several times every day I drove by the church that I had pastored and led, and not a single person in the church reached out to me.  It was as if I had disappeared.  Word came back to me that the men who had orchestrated the circumstances which led to my resignation had let it be known that the former pastor was a very sick man and wouldn’t be coming back even though my friends and ministry colleagues there knew I was still teaching down the road and would occasionally see me in the grocery store or at my children’s school.  After the shock wore off I found myself embarrassed, angry, hurting, grieving.  But once again, even though I was a Christian surrounded by Christians, where could I take any of this?  My mission directors were nice people, but they seemed to have no idea how to deal with what I was going through except to say that the Lord was in control and that I could trust him to bring me through this.  No offer of help.  No willingness to intercede on my behalf.  I began to suspect they thought I was the source of the problem, just like the elders.  Home was also not a safe place.  I was listened to up to a point and then my spouse grew bored and suggested it was time to move on.  Not to mention the growing relational trauma that I had been experiencing over many years.  I had no place to go.  There was no safe place. Not church.  Not even home.  So I ate it.  With almost immediate detrimental consequences.

After we moved to Kenya, the floor fell out from under me almost as soon as I got there.  I was teaching, I was trying to process leaving and grieving over the place I had lived with my family for 8 years.  I was trying to navigate living in a new city and a new culture and a new institution.  Things were increasingly bad at home.  And the day came when the world never resolved into color but became dull grey in every direction.  I was listless. I couldn’t focus.  I couldn’t read.  I didn’t want to see anybody.  I just wanted to get out of my unhappy house and hide in my office, where I stared at my laptop screen.  I felt constantly on the verge of tears.  And because I was a Christian.  I cried out to God.  I prayed and prayed and prayed for help.  But God felt absent.  And none of the people around me really had the awareness, interest or even capacity to do care.  And there certainly wasn't room for a man with a dark cloud over his head at the mildly Pentecostal church where my wife insisted on attending.  Everyone was too busy being happy and praising the Lord.  Unfortunately, I was still very much in denial that my marriage was tanking, for the simple reason that conservative Christians in missionary work don’t have a very good track record of handling problems like this.  Also, I actually, sadly, believed my spouse, who had said for years that it was my fault, that our problems were a result of my selfishness/stupidity/unwillingness to care for her, etc.  It would take many years more before I realised that none of this was true, that there were other dynamics at work in her life and in mine that caused our relationship to die an unnatural death.  There were also other things in my life that I had struggle with for years, and I was inclined to think that these were the cause of my internal distress.  But I have later realised that I was wrong about this, too.  The point being, I had become profoundly depressed and was confused about why.  I felt the only option was to face it alone, and there was no one who seemed to care.

It was at this point that I began planning to end it all.  There was a row of huge trees along the road on my way home.  It would be so easy to forget to buckle my seat belt.  To pick up speed down the straight away, up the rise and veer into that first massive tree.  And that would be then end.  All the pain, the confusion, the brokenness, would be over.  And I could end that most painful relationship and all the hurtful words and sad scenes.  And that, by the grace of God, is when I realised that I was really in trouble.

When one listens to advocates for those suffering from mental illness, they will always say again and again, ‘Get help!’  That’s what I did.  Mercifully, in my city, there was a counselling centre staffed not by amateur mission administrators, but by psychologists and psychiatrists.  They were able to get me in almost immediately, and I began a five year process of unpacking what was happening and why.  The first step was a medical one, which was to treat the illness of depression with medication.  But it took several tries to find the medication that worked for me.  I have been on this particular medication for 8 years, and I understand that I will be on it the rest of my life.  But the heavy clouds of depression have long ago lifted and I have felt as normal as I ever feel for the longest stretch in my life.  For this I am very grateful.

Challenging as the medical aspect was, the counselling part is still a work in progress.  I can only say that my understanding of myself has been transformed.  I have learned not to be in denial about who I am or what I struggle with. I better understand my past and how I responded to people who hurt me.  I also saw clearly for the first time the dynamics that characterised my marriage and what I contributed to our mutual dysfunction.  And I attempted to take responsibility for what I could change.  All of this has taken years of work - my own reading and reflection and praying, meeting with a counsellor.   And though I am no longer seeing a counsellor, the process of understanding, responding, repenting, and changing continues.  During this time I ended my marriage, putting a stop to the most painful thing I have ever experienced.  This, of course, was incredibly scandalous in the circles where we had served.  And as is so often the case, sadly the stories circulating made me to be the bad guy, though not a single one of these people (who are all ‘strong Christians’ and had previously been friends) has bothered to talk to me in person about it and find out if any of what they had heard was true.  But that is water down the river.

The reason I mention this is not to fight old fights in public or to try to justify myself at another’s expense.  Rather it is to say that depression is very complicated and one of the must human of all diseases. Its causes can be a messy complex of circumstances or a chemical issue out of the blue.  It affects everything - what we see, what we hear, how we cope, what we do, what we think, what we choose.  It’s like a heavy bag tied to even the strongest swimmer.  No matter how hard I stroke and pull and kick, I just keep sinking down, down, down.  Unless I get help, I will drown.

Ironically, Christianity, which has some of the most wonderful and powerful tools that a person and a community can use when dealing with someone with depression - Christianity is full of adherents who may mean well, but whose own inability to understand what depression is or what one can do to help, force the one who is suffering either to go into denial that anything is wrong or to abandon the faith because of the apparent cruelty of the other believers.  I certainly have experienced that cruelty and that ignorance and that stupidity first hand, and it is disorienting and painful and would have been a contributing factor to my suicide had I gone through with my plans.  But things will not improve - people will continue to fall so low that they lose the will and capacity to live and want only to end the pain - unless we begin to give people in our midst permission to be broken.  There is nothing sinful about depression - it is a disease, like diabetes is a disease.  There is nothing shameful about depression - it can be helped and treated.  There is nothing disqualifying about depression - people can recover and become even better than before because they are more adept to understanding themselves and the people around them.  The problem is not depression, it’s all the people in churches, in offices, in schools, and in homes, who believe that someone suffering from depression is somehow deficient, somehow weak, somehow sinful, somehow shameful or scandalous.  But it is the people who think these things that are the real menace to a church or an office or an institution.  Because if church cannot be a safe place for the sick, the hurting, the struggling, even the sinful, then it is no longer the church, regardless of the name and pedigree.

People are committing suicide around us. People are profoundly struggling all around us.  People are deeply hurting all around us.  But the time has come and gone for any of us to profess ‘shock’ or to be able to say, ‘I didn’t know’.  The time has come when such statements are not a reflection of some failing of the sufferer, but of our own moral culpability, as individual Christians and as churches.  We are our brother's keeper, and our sister's keeper, too.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Buy This Poor Man a Bus Ticket. Please.

So evidently Jesus, the risen Lord of the universe and the Savior of the world, has given his approval, no - has asked this television evangelist, a Mr. Jesse Duplantis of Jesse Duplantis Ministries, to buy a jet.  The Lord Jesus evidently even provided the specs.  The one the Lord has in mind is a brand new Dassault Falcon 7X, the $54 million dollar version.  Of course the humble evangelist let slip that this will be his fourth jet ('I burned through the others,' he said with great humility).

The Dassault Falcon 7X.  Gosh I can see why he might want one...

This sounds like the stuff of Gospel parables.  But the scary thing is that this is all too true.  There are actually people who call themselves 'Christians' who think that this is precisely what abundant life is all about and that this is what the Lord Jesus is busy doing - buying Jets, Houses, Cars, super-ginormous ministries as a sign of his blessing on his blessed special people, blessed special people who have enough faith to accommodate all the special blessing, all the health and prosperity, that Jesus exists to provide for his special favored people. (And notice how, by making this jet business to be Jesus' idea, Mr. Duplantis has not so subtly made the rest of us to be disobedient to the King of kings and Lord of Lord's if we don't kick in our contributions to make this desire of Jesus a reality for this poverty-pleading very rich con man who seems to be just off the set from Ezekiel's chapter about wolves ravaging God's flock.  Does anybody else besides me feel very manipulated?)

So blessed.
The rest of us, not so much. Evidently.

I preached at our university chapel once on the whole issue of the health and prosperity heresy.  I can be somewhat Pentecostal in my own delivery.  And I gave an opening illustration of how Pentecostal pastors in Nigeria were in competition with each other as to who had the biggest jet, as evidence of whose ministry God was blessing most.  I remember reading a quote from one of these pastors, the one with the biggest jet, who said essentially 'God has blessed me and given me the ability to have this jet, and I will fly this jet all over the world and get even more, because God has blessed me and wants me to have it.'  My student audience actually broke out in applause and cheers!  Because this is exactly the kind of thing they are hearing on Sunday mornings at their own churches.

The caption that came with this:  'Check out this mega-pastor's private plane!  Nice!
Nowadays owning private jetsis the new trend among pastors worldwide'...

We have a lot of issues and concerns in our churches here in Kenya and the rest of the continent, but the health and prosperity heresy is in the process of eating the heart and life out of the gospel and of the churches.  Like termites, this pernicious set of unChristian teachings leaves the form of Christian structures and doctrine, but the inside is rotted completely.  Any hint of persecution, opposition, struggles, and the whole structure collapses of its own weight.  A few enterprising  people have learned that they can make a fantastic living off the hopes and gullibility of poor people.  'If you have enough faith, God will give you whatever you need, whatever you want,' they say.  And to demonstrate to God and everyone else the faith you have, plant some 'seed money' and give back to 'God', and you will call God's blessing down on  your head.  Of course, the person is being manipulated by the preacher to give, not to 'God' but to the preacher, who is the one who takes the offerings straight to his bank account.  So the one who ends up 'blessed' is the preacher, and the poor are impoverished further by their ignorance of the Scriptures and by the preacher/bishop/prophet/apostle's greed.

All around me people in and out of churches are chasing after money, trying to find a way up and out of their poverty.  And all around me, like crocodiles in a swamp, are others seeking to drag the unwary into their lairs, I mean, 'churches' where shilling by shilling they will consume them.

The health and prosperity 'gospel' makes a lot of noise about 'Jesus' and does a lot of 'praising the Lord'.  But really this 'gospel' is all about me and God meeting my needs, and me getting what I need and want.  We don't do discipleship in this 'gospel'. We don't do picking up our cross and following Jesus in this gospel.  We don't do suffering or martyrdom in this gospel.

Kenya has it's own versions of the health and prosperity heresy.  But the results are the same.  Crowds run after these people because they are giving the poor what their itching ears want to hear.  They boast of great miracles, of signs and wonders, but proof is never forthcoming.  They play loud music and dance and shout, and for so many people the noise and 'praise' and shouting and 'tongues-speaking' is a counterfeit accepted as of equal value with genuine spirituality.  In the meantime the gospel, at least the one Jesus and the Apostles preached, is derailed.  Churches are hijacked for the personal gain of the leaders.  'Faith' treats God as a vending machine from whom I can get what I want if I just insert enough of it.  The poor and the sick and the downtrodden are judged as being deficient in faith and deserving of their judgment, rather than as being seen as opportunities for us to demonstrate love, kindness and sacrificial giving.  The highway down which these crowds of adherents are dancing is broad and easy, but no one is warning them that they are heedlessly rushing towards the cliff of destruction.  'What profit is it,' says Jesus, 'if a man or a woman gains the whole world and yet loses his or her soul?'  Indeed.

The health and prosperity heresy has its origins in early and mid-20th century Pentecostalism.  But it has increasingly separated from its Christian roots and grown into something else, something no longer Christian.  Mr. Duplantis may believe he's being a splendid witness for just how good the Lord is.  And sure, may God give us all jets.  But it's pretty clear that the Gospel of our Lord has identified a deeper, darker, more profound need at the center of our hearts and lives, something that a jet, or prosperity or health could never address, something that Jesus himself came to deal with.  And it took an incarnation; it took living our life; it took announcing the inbreaking of the kingdom of God; it took a cross and an ugly death; it took a resurrection; it took a great commission; and it took Pentecost, and men and women willing to be Christ's disciples and give themselves to the utmost, without jets, or mansions, or huge media ministries, or fancy cars or, or...

Mr. Osteen's house.  So blessed.

The health and prosperity heresy represented by Mr. Duplantis (or Mr. Osteen, or 'prophet' Owour, or so many others) would be shocking enough as a parable or some cautionary tale.  But this is reality for too many of our so-called 'Christians'.  So many people are absolutely persuaded that the Vending Machine God of these so-called tele-evangelists is the Triune God of the Holy Scriptures.  They believe that God and his powers can be summoned, controlled, manipulated by their 'faith'.  They believe that acquiring all these material blessings is the result of securing God's favor my means of our faith.  And that this is the goal of the Christian life.  But they are wrong.  They have redefined the clear teachings of the New Testament and the Church's Tradition and have created a new and different religion in which the god Mammon plays a prominent role.  I do not doubt that Mr. Duplantis and Mr. Osteen are utterly sincere. But sincerity is not the issue here.  Another, earlier heresiarch named Arius was also utterly sincere.  And he succeeded in leading perhaps millions of people away from the Jesus of the Apostles' teaching and the Church's belief, creating a new and different Jesus, who was neither fully God nor fully human and who could in fact save no one.  Arianism was exposed almost immediately for what it was by people like St. Athanasius, and the Cappadocian fathers.  But it lingered and pestered the Church for several centuries, eventually unable to sustain its own theological weight.  

The Health and Prosperity has similarly been exposed by many apologists for what it is.  But its many followers seem impervious to critique, unable to see and unable to hear anything other than what they want to see and hear.  They can't fathom that the teaching foisted upon them by these seemingly 'spiritual' men and women will destroy them.  And it will, unless they have the courage to open their eyes and ears to see and hear what these people are actually doing and saying.  May God have mercy on these lost and wandering sheep, and may God raise up many men and women with the courage to say that these fabulously wealthy 'Christian ministers' with their jets and mansions, are, like the emperor with no clothes, theologically naked before the world, enriching themselves off the ignorance and greed of the poor and struggling..  May God help the rest of His Church live has His disciples in this world and demonstrate by alternative example the power of Christ's love where He as called us to be.  Because if we don't take the initiative to demonstrate and explain the gospel, then it is we who have impoverished the world.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Not Always 'From Victory unto Victory'

The ol' 'Elisha, there's death in the pot' experience.

The missionary life we full-time Christian workers portray in our prayer letters and post cards from the field is often filled with glowing reports of accomplishments or exploits meant to inspire thoughts of how good God is, and by extension how good the missionary is as well.  In the meantime, most of the reality is edited out, reality being the tedium of trying to survive in a different culture, the uncertainty of whether I am understanding or being understood, the loneliness of not having things to do on a Friday night or making yet another cup of instant soup for supper.

Well this missionary certainly missed the victory train yesterday.  I am hosting a good friend who is also the new priest in charge of our new Kisumu parish of St. Moses the Black.  Everything went wrong.  I was teaching myself how to make prosphora, the Orthodox communion bread.  So after spending a couple of hours carefully going through all the steps, I put it in the oven.  At the appointed time I took it out and let it cool.  But it was pretty obvious that the inside was still mostly uncooked.  So it wasn't even any good to snack on.  Total fail.  At least I had given myself another day to try again.

And then there was supper.  I had bought dried beans and presoaked them. My thought was to make chili beans and rice for my Kenyan guest.  So I followed the recipe from a trustworthy cookbook.  But evidently the chili powder that the authors of the recipe had in mind was rather different than the chili powder that I bought at my local store.  It was burn-my-mouth, cry-my-eyes-out hot, and for my poor Kenyan guest who comes from a culture that thinks Mchuzi spice is living dangerously, it was inedible.  I just had to dump the whole pot in the compost place.  Total fail II.

And then there was the night.  I live next door to a compound that has two dogs.  And evidently the two dogs spend their life cooped up in a tiny 'dog house' just on the other side of the compound wall, probably about two meters from my open window (open because Kisumu being Kisumu is like summer time in SC without the benefit of air conditioning.)  There are nights where the dogs in question do not bark at anything.  And then there are nights, like last night, where they barked at everything, ALL NIGHT LONG!  And I hear everything when I 'sleep', so I didn't sleep much.  But most of all I was anxious about my guest, who had traveled from Nairobi the night before and then had been fed an inedible meal while watching another example of my culinary incompetence unfold before his eyes.  I found myself awake again at 5 AM and pried myself out of bed to go for my morning run.  And even letting myself out the gate, it squeaked and set the dogs to barking again.  And they continued barking as I headed down the road.  So in terms of providing my guest with a comfortable, restful place to prepare for his ministry in a new parish - Complete fail III.  Even now, midmorning, they are still barking.

Living is hard.  Doing so in a cross cultural situation adds degrees of complexity to the hardness.  And trying to live with all the shortcomings, weaknesses, personal idiosyncrasies and outright sins that I add to the recipe makes this living seem impossible.

The real story about being a missionary is not that I am able to do so much.  It's that God is able to do anything at all, given what He has to work with.  I think it's called 'mercy' and 'grace'.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Churches With No Memory

I live in a city heaving with religion, bustling with religious people.  On my way to my favourite coffeeshop, I walk between an enormous Catholic Church on one side and an even bigger Anglican Cathedral on the other.  On the Ring Road, where I run the last couple of miles of my dawn run, I pass by maybe 10, maybe 15 tin shacks built in a long row on land provided by the county government across a ditch from the road.  Each one of these tin shacks is its own church, complete with it’s own impossibly loud sound system, and its own self-appointed shepherd.  May of the congregants of the various churches have their own colourful uniforms and their own church flags.  I often see one or another on a Sunday procession, complete with drums, with colourful dresses and scarves for the women, a rainbow of coloured cassocks for the men.

I recently took a walk through an unfamiliar neighbourhood and passed by more than 8 small churches (and one ginormous church, a sister to the Nairobi Pentecostal Church in Nairobi, AKA CITAM or Christ is the Answer Ministries).  A drive several days ago through the other side of town took me past church after church, each one with a name that indicated it was not connected to another.

CITAM Kisumu

Some of these churches are started by men (or women!) who have observed that being the ‘bishop’ or the ‘prophet’ or the ‘apostle’ of a church, even a tin shack church, is a good way to make money.  And there certainly are a plethora of examples of such religious leaders who have nice cars, nice houses, nice investments, and nice bank accounts, all off the offerings of the poor, often extorted from them by claiming without their ‘seed money’ God will not bless them because their seed money indicates the measure of their faith in God.

Others of these churches were started as a result of church conflicts.  In churches like this, there is no way to civilly much less Christianly resolve differences.  Too often, one party simply absconds and takes part of the congregation with him or her.  A church that I know in Nairobi suffered one such conflict.  The associate was disciplined by the church board for some malfeasance.  But he didn’t stay around long enough to hear their decision.  Instead he went a few miles down the road, rented a tent and started services.  He began as the ‘pastor’, but the inevitable title inflation took hold and I think he is now Bishop Prophet Dr. So and So (and soon to be an 'apostle', I'm sure), and his ‘church’ is a roaring success.  At least he seems to be doing well by it.

Much fewer are those churches established as a result of evangelism.  Most seem content to attract the disgruntled members of other congregations.

But what nearly all of these churches have in common is that they are churches without a memory.  If there is an awareness of Church history, or of what God has done in the past in and through his people, it is a well-kept secret.  Most of these Bishops/Prophets/Revivalists/Pastors/Preachers are busy looking around at what their neighbours and competition are doing, or going on line to download the latest from the really successful American or Nigerian or even Kenyan health and prosperity heretics.  And it’s not just the Pentecostals.  An Anglican preacher was caught mid-sermon preaching word for word the same sermon from an American prosperity preacher’s website by a friend armed with a smart phone when he became suspicious of some rather non-Kenyan turns of phrase. 

There is a rush, even a desperation for adherents at all these churches, and the preachers employ all the latest gimmicks and strategies to get people in their doors. This is because, crassly put, more people mean more money.  So there is this constant we must figure out and channel what is popular in order to get more people to come. This of course is the old Church Growth movement gone to seed, with all sorts of unintended consequences (or perhaps more appropriately, all sorts of chickens coming home to roost), the result of which is neither ‘church’ nor ‘growth’, at least here. This has the unintended but equally soul-killing consequences of equating Christianity in the eyes of the consumer public with entertainment, with feeling good. with bouncy music and dancing, and with God will give you everything you need (of course if you have enough faith).  Having received this kind of inoculation, it is almost impossible to preach to any of these people a sermon on genuine discipleship and following Jesus and be taken seriously by anybody.

The 'Mightiest Prophet of the Lord' Dr. David Owour

Contemporary Christianity here in Kisumu seems to be all about ME.  There is no interest in reading Church history or theology.  It’s about God doing for me what I need him to do for me.  In this regards, popular Christianity is reverting to a kind of African Traditional Religion, where the religion exists to ensure that God or the spirits or the witch doctor or the holy man protects us from these bad things (curses, sickness, death, accident, infertility, crop failure, drought, etc) and gives us these good things (blessings, children, rain, fecundity, prosperity, etc).  There is no sense of a relationship with God that we destroyed to our great harm that needs to be reconciled, no sense that any of the brokenness around us and in us was in any way caused by me, thus needing repentance by me.  Salvation is reduced to ‘pie in the sky by and by’ with no implications whatsoever for how we might live our lives today.  In other words, ‘Christians’ are coming close to forgetting what it means to be Christians.

Having lost our memory, we Christians spend our time making things up.  We make up what a church is supposed to be.  We make up what ‘worship’ is supposed to be.  We make up what clergy in the church are supposed to be.  We make up what the ‘sacraments’ (or ‘ordinances’) are supposed to be and we make up how we are supposed to do them.  We make up what morality we want to enforce and then pick and choose which issue to be outraged over and which issue to ignore.  We make up what theology we want to endorse.  We make all these things up because we don’t remember.  We don’t remember (or choose to ignore) what Jesus said, nor do we remember what the early Christians practiced.  We have lost our memory.  And as a result, what we think is Christianity is, less and less, not.  We are increasingly busy making up religions in our own likeness.

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia have their own set of disturbing and heartbreaking symptoms, and their own progressions as the various diseases carry a person down the path of no return.  But one symptom is common to almost all of them.  One begins to lose one’s memory.  I have seen this happen in people that I know and love.  He may start repeating himself, no longer sure that this thought or that concern was something he said already.  But he just said it three minutes ago.  And he will go through the same thing in another three minutes.  She can read the newspaper and comment on an interesting story, not realising that she has already read the same story five times this morning and made the same comments.  When I lose my memory, I forget to eat.  I forget to get dressed. Most distressingly for me and everybody else, I forget who you are.  I don’t recognise you.  I become increasingly walled off from the rest of the world, because I can’t remember anything.  We cannot live without our memory.  We were created to be connected with our past.  It’s how we learn.  It’s what defines us.  It’s who we are.  Without our memory we become less and less human.

Without no history, we Christians have no memory.  And our religion descends into an exercise of selfishness, because there is no loanger any other point of reference than ourselves.  A lot of very intelligent, even well-meaning people can pull off this kind of religion for their whole lives.  But what they are experiencing or describing is no longer Christianity.

This is one of the main reasons I converted to Orthodoxy after a very long season of spiritual discontent.  I have not found the perfect Church.  No, these people manage to be just as maddening as everybody else, just as maddening as I am sure I am to many.  But this is a Church that has not lost its memory.  We are still connected to the ministry, the theology, the priorities, the agenda, the worship of the Apostles on whose faith Christ built His Church.  I don’t think we have lived up to our calling and identity, nor are we doing so now.  But Christ used fishermen, tax collectors and other assorted men and women to establish the beachhead of His Kingdom on this planet.  He simply requires us to be willing to be used similarly for the same thing to happen today.  Besides, being his witness from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, and being the Body of Christ right here in our local place, is a whole lot easier when we remember who we are and why we’re here.

Because we want to remember, we have named our parish after the
4th century African saint and church father,
St. Moses the Black.  It's good to be reminded that Christianity isn't Western nor is it Greek and that
Africans and Christianity didn't just happen yesterday.