E-mail Conversations Summer 1999

The Littleton High School Tragedy

This sad event underlines how few resources young people have as long as exclusion, ridicule,harassing, bullying, are accepted as “normative” in the social nightmare of high school.

With violence continually glorified, and fewer resources it is not a surprise that some rejectedstudents will turn to guns and bombs. This is not a situation which will be identified ahead oftime because no one really wants to get involved with the outcasts, signals will be ignored, nocurriculum will address the dynamic of violence involved in high school cliques, nor willfamilies be able to identify the problem since they too don’t want to get involved with thesekids; however they are not the cause of their kid’s crimes. All the sentimental regret and calls for a return to family values on the airwaves is not a response which addresses the realproblem.

In my class, we discuss what schools can do to put in place a curriculum which begins bysaying that exclusion is a real problem. That, along with prayer might help us begin to look atwhat goes on.

Alice Carter

The president of Bard College, speaking on improving high schooling, suggested cutting thefinal two years off high school and using a mix of work and education beyond that. His pointwas that much of the dysfunctionality in high school are a result of boredom in school. Ithought there was some merit in his argument. It’s not the total solution, but getting kids out ofhighschool can be very freeing — it certainly was for me. It gives them a chance to escape thestereotypes others have of themselves and remake themselves. Work enforces a certain levelof discipline that many do not gain in school.

Daniel Lieuwen

The lesson of Littleton is that none of our children is expendable. They each must have our attention and devotion, or none of us is safe from disaster. Society does not work at 60% oreven 85% of capacity, because just one vandal can deface what took a year to build. Just one alienated gunman can disrupt a community.

Either society is 99% cohesive and integrated, or it can come apart at the seams. Therefore,each person — in their formative years — must have what any person needs: food and shelter,love and caring, structure, predictability and stability, and peace. We reap what we sow.

Alex Patico

Bridges of Light

We had a good “bridges of light” action Sunday night on the bridge nearest our house here in Alkmaar — about 12 people present from 7 to 8 pm. The organizer brought a large candle and wooden candle stand. We also had a poster with the words, “Show Wisdom, help the people, stop the war.” The words were set against the famous wood engraving by Edvard Munch, “The Scream.” The poster design was by one of the participants, Dragor Odradovic, a refugee from Belgrade who used to work on Yugoslav television. Not often does the word “wisdom” figure on a poster.

There was a mixture of spoken prayer, silent prayer, a few songs in Latin from Taiz, also some quiet conversation and finally introducing ourselves to each other: a mixture of Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants plus a disciple of Plato. The spirit of prayer was often deep. One person quietly cried through much of the hour.

It was small gesture but perhaps will grow. We will continue next Sunday.

Jim Forest

Our vigil in Stroudsburg, PA, on May 16th was truly a blessing for our little parish but not without some growing pains.

As the day of the vigil approached, many of our more established parishioners began to feel uncomfortable with it. They feared that it would send the wrong impression to the local community. No other area Orthodox clergy were willing to join — some said that to do such a thing in their large communities would definitely cause problems. My spiritual father, on the other hand, encouraged me to continue but to try to keep it as apolitical as possible.

I asked one of my parishioners who wanted to make signs not to, but he strongly protested that our message would not be understood. We compromised on three signs: “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” “Orthodox Christians for Peace,” and “Build Bridges, Don’t Burn Them.”

In my sermon Sunday morning, I spoke about having the spiritual vision to understand and do Christ’s will regardless of the consequences. After services, I again encouraged our parishioners to participate and assured them that we would not be misunderstood and that we were praying for peace for all involved in the war and supporting no side of the conflict.

Around 40 people attended, most from our parish. We chanted the entire Paraklesis to the Theotokos with special petitions for all involved in the war. We concluded with the reading of several texts I had found on the OPF web site and a prayer for peace given to me by Met. Maximos of Pittsburgh. The Vigil lasted from 9 to 10:30 pm.

I led our Monroe County Clergy Association meeting devotion this morning with some of the prayers from the Prayer Service provided on the OPF web site.

At a discussion group that we have called “Truth-seekers” last night, we asked ourselves thequestion, “How can we arrive at the truth about world events especially about wars?” Weconcluded that we must attempt to find as many perspectives as possible to try to see thewhole picture, but ultimately, we must search our hearts to discover the passions that war stirsup in all of us. Cleansing them from our hearts through practicing our Orthodox Faith we willunderstand more fully the causes of all wars and the atrocities that they promote.

My sensitivity to the suffering and the deceit that is happening has been heightened. I havemuch pain in my heart for those suffering and much anger toward the misuse of the media andthe manipulation of words to justify wrongful actions.

I cannot live my life any longer ignoring the evil and the plight of those who are innocentlyabused. May God help us to remain always aware of our fallenness, but without despair. We will continue our vigil for peace!

Fr. Theodore Petrides

Sorrow and grief

I don’t think it is irrelevant to voice the deep grief and sorrow this war must cause all who callthemselves Christian. It has been a disgusting, horrible, nasty, and vicious war, not least on thepart of NATO and most assuredly on the part of the US. To be a citizen of this country hasbecome the most onerous burden. The citizens of the Third Reich have fewer deaths toaccount for than we do. This country is a giant cancer on the world, eating our waycontentedly through other people’s resources. The third world must grow what we want, notwhat they need. We are sucking every consumable resource in the world, and leaving behindpiles of bones.

We starve Iraqi children with nonchalance, and will now do the same to the Serbs. We have norespect for human life, none. We have a national self image of being good, generous,kind-hearted folks, an image which faded years ago but is still being held up as our “humanitarian banner.” History is a sleep walk, undisturbed for us, and a nightmare for ourvictims.

Having said this, I wish to refer to the Gospel of Matthew. The readings for this month havebeen a total invalidation of our “survival instincts,” our “needs.” There is no reasonwhatsoever for a Christian to see survival as a priority of any kind whatsoever. We have beeninvited to enter the Kingdom, we have been given life, we are called to discipleship and toserve others. Christ has entered this world, and by taking on our human nature has sanctified it– that’s all humans, not just Christians, but every human being. By His death on the Cross andHis Resurrection He has renewed the face of the earth. All the earth is holy, all the world isHis temple, not just the monasteries or churches which when destroyed can fan the flame ofhatred again. If we see ourselves as members of an in-group (outies are bad), members of areligion (others are deluded), we are in deep trouble.

It is important to experience the division of the Church as a bleeding open wound for whichwe are responsible, and to remain committed to the vision of unity which does not meancomprising the faith. The Church in its historic path has wedded itself to nationalism so manytimes that every ethnic war is a consequence of that fact and a revelation of sin. We can makeno meaningful response to any of this if we put our survival as individuals, and our nationalcommitment to greed, as the most important things in our lives. I live in this country, I love many people in it, but I am not obliged to condone US policies. We are a dangerous people.

Alice Carter

Social activism

A friend mentioned that his frustration with most activist causes “is the seeming neglect of the things we need to be doing in our immediate (family / neighborhood / parish) community. I assume his frustration is not with activism, but with those who are active in wrong ways. Doing good in the public square does not have to be antithetical to doing good at home; why must it be either/or? And though his model is not enviable, St. Peter did have a wife whose cross to carry may have been his “activist cause” of the Gospel.

A man shouldn’t be in his study reading a book on sanctity, writes C.S. Lewis, when he is needed downstairs helping his wife with the dishes. But much of the debate around social activism seems plagued with the language of extremes — either you stand in a peace march or you take out the garbage; either you pray with a homeless man in his shelter or you pray with your son in his bedroom.

We know of St. Seraphim’s observation that if we “acquire the spirit of peace, a thousand souls around us will be saved.” Surely, since the Body of Christ is made of many limbs, thatpeace we acquire can be manifested in many ways. One person may express that peace through a letter-writing campaign; another may express that peace through a demonstration;and another may express it by not demonstrating, if that would bring more peace to hishousehold.

I heard a discussion recently about whether or not an Orthodox Christian should be involvedin political action. But my question is this: If you live in a democracy or a republic, aren’t youpolitically active by default? Isn’t our system of government in the US such that supports “onevoice, one vote” (at least, when it’s working)? If an American speaks out against abortion, thegovernment gets the message. If he doesn’t speak out against abortion, the government getsthat message, too.

John Oliver III

Slippery slope

It seems to me that the challenge of “selective” categorizing of types of killing lies in the selection process — it’s the “slippery slope” problem. If killing to save an innocent (a baby, forinstance) is good and just, then killing to save an ordinary adult human being who has tried tolead a decent life cannot be far away in moral terms, do you think? Now, if that is admissible,then surely every child of God deserves our same protection — if we are in a position to help –for who are we to say that one is worthy and another beyond the pale? Moreover, if this is thecase, then are we not ourselves to be protected in the same way (even if we must be the onesto do it)?

Then, if saving life is permissible as a justification for killing, saving the means to have orenjoy life must also be — killing to protect a food supply, to protect the city’s drinking waterreservoir, to protect the animals that provide us with nutrition — or the plants, for that matter.So, the “tree-hugging” Earth First activity might be justified in shooting the person who isdenuding the good, green Earth of its foliage or the contractor who is bulldozing poor people’shouses…or the abortionist …or the young woman who patronizes him.

After “Thou shalt not kill,” it’s a downhill ride with no places to pull over if the brakes go out,all the way down to the valley floor, where we find “law of the jungle,” “survival of the fittest”and “winner take all.”

Could it be that the commandment actually means “Don’t kill”?

Alex Patico