The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Creeds and Deeds

Mystical Seeker mentioned a church that professes to be about "deeds rather than creeds."

It is easy to understand the appeal of such a statement--wanting a church that is more about actions than talking, more about justice than empty dogma.

However, creeds are inevitable. At some point, any group of people has to be about something. That means, by default, they are not about something else. Every group has some kind of organizing principle, something they rally around. Even churches out there that profess to be "non-creedal" often have a mission statement, criteria for membership and a list of values.

Ironically, "deeds rather than creeds" is, in fact, a creed.

Creeds are unpopular because a lot of folks grew up in churches where dogma was rammed down their throats by folks who hardly even understood what they were preaching. Something like the Nicene Creed becomes just an empty statement about abstract theology that hardly makes sense or has any relevance to life. The Creed just looks like an assertion of power and conformity, rather than an educational opportunity and a chance for a group to pass down traditions. It becomes like the Pledge of Allegiance--just a patriotism test.

The amazing thing is that every social justice statement of the Christian churches comes directly out of the creedal statements. The "deeds" they are talking about are derived from the "creeds." It just takes a lot of theology to see how that all works.

Charity and social justice are fundamental to Christian theology. However, they are rooted in something much deeper--our very concept of God: God as Trinity. God as something other than us. God Incarnate into human existence. Creation as a gift that didn't have to be. All these most basic, fundamental notions--axioms--of orthodox Christian theology all feed directly--and explain--the impulse to "do good."

How can the concept of Trinity compel us to act toward social justice, for example?

Tradition has handed down the belief that God is one. Tradition has also handed down the belief that God is three--Father, Son and Spirit. How can both be true? Christians wrestled with this and came up with an understanding that our God is Trinity--one and three at the same time.

St. Gregory of Nyssa does a good job of making the connections in his Sermon on the Beatitudes 7. God as Trinity is the living embodiment of unity in diversity, because the Trinity is truly one, but also distinct in three-ness, too. Christ says, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (New American Bible Matthew 5:9). God is a force of peace, maintaining distinctions but in perfect unity. When peacemakers are able to bring this about, they are, in a sense, doing something very fundamentally God-like--easing divisions without tampering with the dignity of individuals. They earn the right to be called children of God because they are manifesting what God is.

The very reason we think that being a peacemaker is a good thing is because it jives with how we understand how God and the world relate. The fact that everyone calls God "Our Father" is an outrageously radical statement. If God is the Father to all, then that must mean that all are sisters and brothers, and if we are all family it helps us understand our deep kinship and responsibilities to each other.

I recently took a class on Catholic Social Teaching. During the whole semester, I struggled with the reading choices of the professor. You would think that we'd be reading and endless stack of papal encyclicals on justice and getting into the nitty gritty of how to approach issues as a moral dilemma. And we did some of that. But we also spent an outrageous amount of time reading some rather abstract theology that was all about axioms of Christianity.

One book was The God of Faith and Reason by Robert Sokolowski. It was all about "the Christian distinction"--the idea that God is other than us and that Creation is a gift that never had to be. These are some of the most basic truths on top of which the entire Abrahamic tradition is based. The idea that God did not have to create the world means that God did it as a gift. As a result, the only proper response from us is gratitude. This sense of gratitude is at the foundation of our respect for the world and for the fruits of Creation. After the semester was over, I finally understood why this book was chosen and why it was more important to understand this concept than to have a cursory understanding of the minutiae of the papal encyclicals.

I'm suspicious of a church that is about "deeds rather than creeds." I would want to know which deeds they value and why. If they don't have an answer to that, then that leaves a couple of options: Either they have a very innocent instinct to do service that they can't explain, or else they are leaving the heavy lifting to other churches who have worked out the theology. If the latter is true, this church exists in orbit around the orthodox Christian churches and cannot exist with them.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Having an Ulcer and the Need to Be Politically Incorrect

I hardly ate or slept at all last week. I spent most of the time dealing with abdominal pains. How does one exactly deal with abdominal pains on those sleepless nights? Usually by clawing and clutching the floor and groaning and twisting for hours to find a momentary position of comfort.

My trip to the emergency room yielded a verdict of "unexplainable abdominal pain/inflammation, perhaps caused by stress or a virus." So they prescribed me an anti-inflammatory drug.

Coincidentally, that anti-inflammatory drug should not be taken if one has an ulcer, according to the warning label. Yet, that's what I seem to have.

When I went in for a follow-up to see my family doctor, with even greater stomach pains than before, she joked that the ER doctors must have wanted to make sure I had an ulcer based on their prescription choice. Talk about gut busting humor.

The mind immediately thinks of "stress" whenever someone mentions an ulcer, and I don't exactly have to go way out on a limb to trust that intuition. My stress management is in need of an overhaul. I knew that I have been approaching burn-out with the activity at the Catholic Worker, but I didn't realize until this happened how deeply I have been holding onto stress.

Lately, I have been taking the role of the stress absorber. Being in a position to so often be the public voice of the Catholic Worker, I work hard on building bridges, nurturing relationships and diffusing problems. I am constantly aware that I am in public, that words can be overheard and that blogs and emails can find themselves in the hands of anybody. As a result, I am constantly vigilant, focused and fair. I'm always "on." This is by far more stressful than the workload itself.

There are, of course, numerous flare ups and outbursts that any community would experience, both coming toward us and within. I make it a point not to pass that on like a good peacekeeper. People come to me to mediate. All day long it's a balancing act to weather these forces while still trying to push a community forward with vision.

Most of you who know me well know that this doesn't always come naturally for me. I tend to be outspoken and opinionated. I detest being political or overly diplomatic. There are, however, some things you can cut loose about when you are with your close circle of long-time friends and those are often not the kinds of things appropriate for a general audience. Having an inquisitive mind, I have many half-baked ideas, and I'd love to have a forum where I can just let them loose and work them out without a public lashing if I say something stupid. Lately, I don't have many places to go where I can just vent and be politically incorrect or even just explore ideas openly without fear of being judged just for taking the chance to try an idea on for size or even to vent.

The problem is that Newton's Laws of Physics apply here--energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed from one form to another. Only God can create energy, the rest of us just pass it around. If I take in stress and don't expel it, it won't magically disappear. It must be transferred somewhere. If I have no outlet, then it will simply reverberate throughout my body and eventually end up as an injury wherever my body is weakest.

Usually I consider myself to be rather self-aware, but when something like this hits so suddenly it becomes apparent that I can hide an awful lot from myself. As I ponder my future in the Columbus Catholic Worker, I really need to figure out a way to keep myself healthy or else risk my long-term viability in this role. Maybe I'm not an effective peacemaker if I am soothing the problems of others only to bring them on for myself. I probably have a long way to go to live into this better.

I'm looking at carving out strict days off. I am already screening calls and checking email less regularly, but there's more to it than that. There's a need to just get together with some buddies and talk about all the assholes I have to deal with, and not be polite or cautious or diplomatic or list the endless stream of disclaimers ad nauseum. I need to find time to be with people who are not going to misunderstand me or be quick to rush to conclusions against me, but someone you can just shoot the shit with, make off color jokes and move on. I used to do very good with this, but my balance has gotten thoroughly out of whack, lately. Time to get back in whack.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Complex Stress

I tend to wear a lot of stress. At the end of the day, my body is tired and my legs can't go no more. I don't sit down much and I'm constantly pacing around. It's not all driven by stress--I do like to be active. But whether it is the cause or the end result, stress is definitely in the mix.

My super-rich tastes in foods are probably my attempt to cram essential nutrition into my worn out body. I'm rarely content with a dish of cold spaghetti or simple foods--no, I eat like a pregnant woman in all the variety and combinations you can imagine. Pickles and shrimp on a whole-wheat pita with hot sauce and grilled veggies? Yum!

So I figured I'd try this handy dandy supplement: Vitamin B Stress Complex.

Sounds like a winner, right? I'm stressed and probably depleting my body, so this vitamin would compensate for that. Sounds reasonable.

The vitamin is well-named--it really does address stress. But what I found is that instead of giving my body the nutrients that I need to be less stressed, all it actually does is give me the nutrients I need to be even more stressed.

Yes, it's a stress enabler.

Normally, it is weariness alone that forces me to slow down. I'm finding out that that is probably a healthy response. With this vitamin, there is nothing stopping me from being as charged and stressed as my mind can imagine and my legs ache even more at the end of an even busier day.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Choice Crazy

I had a rough day. Been through the wringer. I just wanted to stare out into space. Walked into a Frisch's Big Boy restaurant, thought a big pile of protein and starches might be good for the soul.

I'd love to just say to the hostess, "fix me sumthin'" and retire to a table to return to staring off into space.

Oh, no. They want to do me a big flippin' favor by telling me all these choices I have. There are first 2,000 items on the menu, but not that many pictures. Each one is a paragraph. I can get a sandwich, but sides are extra. 2 sides cost a certain amount. The soup & salad bar costs another amount. And a combo deal of one side and the S & S bar is still another price. What do I want to drink. Just some water... I step up to go to the soup bar, and she still has more questions: Do you want ice? Do you want a lemon?

Look, just fix me sumthin'.

DISCLAIMER: I don't want to turn this into another abortion thread, although by intentionally poking at our usage of the word "choice" I'd certain deserve that. There may be a real relationship here to abortion, but I'd rather not go there . . .