Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Swimming the Bosporus, Chapter 3: The Slough of Despond

 

As noted in my last post, I was officially disillusioned with megachurchdom. My family was understandably tired of trying different communities, so it was time to strike out on my own, Lone Ranger style. Since I didn’t care about the music or the surface-level social interaction, I’d just listen to great preachers on podcasts and online. Get the good word from the big names and avoid the stuff I didn’t like. (Which included waking up before Noon.)

This went okay for a while. Friends told me about liturgical Protestant options, which definitely drew my interest. But the closest option was a tiny place 30 miles away and the family wasn’t down.

Chapter 1 is here. Chapter 2 is here.

The previous few years had been rough. Laid off, stepdad died, dog died, mom died, laid off again — that was a fun 15 months. Both of our girls experienced a wide spectrum of apparently undiagnosable behavioral issues and the resulting violent mood swings and school crises. Add in our own health and financial issues, and it made for a bleak time.

I kept reading contemporary Christian books and one or two vaguely discussed the importance of suffering. That message was nowhere to be found in the many churches we had attended. The unwritten rule was to plant a broad smile on your face, follow the three sermon tips of the week, and all will be well. Seemed to work for the other shiny, happy congregants but it didn’t help this guy.

Researchers coined the term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” to describe a major current running through American evangelicalism. Their study focused on teens but it was evident in many megachurches. Be good, however that’s defined this month, and you’re moral. Pop into church where the pastor will focus on your happiness, providing therapy. God won’t require too much from you or unduly interfere in the day-to-day, i.e., Deism.

No pastor came out and said any of this, but when you’re delivering TED talks from the pulpit, it’s hard to deny. They planted churches in upper-middle-class suburbs and gave the target market what it wanted.


“This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of sovereign divinity, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God’s love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, et cetera. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people.”
— Christian Smith and ‎Melina Lundquist Denton on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism


When no one was looking, Christ was pushed off the throne and replaced with the self. Okay, the passive voice there is weaselly — I pushed Him off the throne and took His place.

My actions followed accordingly. I drifted away from the boring online sermons and studied philosophy of the West and East. I read wisdom literature old and new. I listened to scientists and historians who were often skeptics “debunking” Christianity.

I’ve always had doubts, but was a poor candidate for agnosticism, let alone atheism. I already went through my college doubting phase. Even decided to “live as an atheist” for a month to see how it would work; made it about three days. Agnosticism makes sense to me in the abstract, but I never had enough faith to be an atheist.

I would still dip into Christianity, but wasn’t living it. I was increasingly selfish, morally indifferent, and cut off from those around me.

My wife would dutifully attend church and the kids, getting older, would join her less and less. There I was, sleeping in and doing my own thing like a big, dumb jerkface. It made me feel guilty, but I couldn’t get myself to listen to “three weird tricks to be a winner.”

The kids were disaffected as well and Dad wasn’t setting much of an example. Again, I felt bad, but many “children’s ministries” seemed designed to entertain and distract kids so they would think church was cool. Competing with iPhone screens is tough business.

My personal funk (i.e., lifelong clinical depression) was deepened when my dad was diagnosed with dementia. We’d always been incredibly close and now he was drifting away for good. I really had to find a silver lining to the suffering every one of us endures but kept coming up empty. Others were going through far worse and were handling it fine.

Finally, my philosophical dabbling began to bear fruit in the form of Stoicism. I read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic, and The Enchiridion by Epictetus. Of course, they offered no reason for suffering outside of “life sucks” but provided an effective toolkit for enduring it.

Much of their advice could have come straight from the Book of Proverbs but any gods were pushed to the margins. Virtue alone wouldn’t save me, but it was a helpful route out of my selfish jerkfacery. I still craved the transcendent.

Around the same time, I became obsessed with “The History of Byzantium” podcast, which followed the Eastern Roman Empire after the fall of the West. I knew nothing about this Christian dominion and was fascinated by its history and unique religion. A vast world of secular and church history opened up.

Add to this my eldest daughter’s classical education. I couldn’t abide a child more well-read than myself, so I stole her reading list and got to work. Homer, Xenophon, Virgil … I couldn’t get enough.

After finishing the Greek and Roman tomes that interested me, I scoured the web for another classic. All the myriad threads I mentioned above converged in one little book.


“The answer is this. The Lord did not come to make a display. He came to heal and to teach suffering men.”
― St. Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation


Athanasius wrote On the Incarnation in the fourth century, clearly and succinctly explaining some of the deepest theology I had encountered. The 100-page book featured a wonderful intro by C.S. Lewis, who I already loved, and addressed the then-unified church with an undistilled message about Christ. No three tips on getting the next promotion, the latest trends in ministry, or new jargon to impress your congregation.

It was just … Christ.

I needed more.

Chapter 4.


This is third in the series “Swimming the Bosporus,” on my journey from the megachurch to the Orthodox Church. Installments every Sunday morning. Chapter 1 is here. Chapter 2 is here.

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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  1. Kevin Creighton Contributor

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: I kept reading contemporary Christian books and one or two vaguely discussed the importance of suffering. That message was nowhere to be found in the many churches we had attended. The unwritten rule was to plant a broad smile on your face, follow the three sermon tips of the week, and all will be well. Seemed to work for the other shiny, happy congregants but it didn’t help this guy.

    1. Nice R.E.M. reference. 
    2. One of the last albums Johnny Cash put out was “My Mother’s Hymn Book.” It was him literally singing songs taken straight from his family hymnal. Every song, every single song on the album was a classic Gospel hymn, and all of them were about how much life on this earth sucked and how we should be trusting our hope in God. But heaven forbid we sing such songs in today’s church! Why, thinking about things eternal and not what is temporal and corrupt might get in the way of our puppet ministry! 
      Christian life is supposed to suck. We are not meant to be here. We are homeless, and more than that, the default setting for everything in this world is set against us. Yes, the glory of the Lord shines through from time to time, but it is a world of sin. Why, oh why, then, do we want to tailor our message so it fits in better with this world? 

    And now here’s J.R. Cash to express how I feel.

    • #1
    • July 12, 2020, at 8:18 AM PDT
    • 14 likes
  2. Songwriter Member
    Songwriter Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thanks for this series, Jon.

    • #2
    • July 12, 2020, at 8:40 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  3. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I am reading and appreciating this, even though sometimes by way of contrast. Judaism views suffering as the single worst way to have to learn to grow a relationship to G-d. Everything else (love, joy, prayer, relationships, etc.) is better. Suffering is for when G-d cannot get your attention any other way, when you have a bad case of cranial rectosis.

    • #3
    • July 12, 2020, at 8:48 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  4. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
    But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
    When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away.

    A mix of joy and pain encourages us to mix celebration and thanks with pleas for intervention and deliverance. But in long stretches of either comfort or distress, we struggle to see beyond the moment. Sometimes even a moment feels like forever.

    Every liturgy is a mix of drama and comedy. It’s a curious feature of human nature that in sadness or anger, as in joy, there is a desire to linger. A liturgical script that attempts to move from celebration to contemplation and repentance and back again is a challenge. Embracing that challenge is easier some days than others.

    • #4
    • July 12, 2020, at 9:11 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  5. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    iWe (View Comment):

    I am reading and appreciating this, even though sometimes by way of contrast. Judaism views suffering as the single worst way to have to learn to grow a relationship to G-d. Everything else (love, joy, prayer, relationships, etc.) is better. Suffering is for when G-d cannot get your attention any other way, when you have a bad case of cranial rectosis.

    Think about it this way. Does God suffer? If so, then some temporary suffering is good for our relationship with Him.

    You can grow close to someone by sharing only joy. But you can grow closer by sharing everything.

    When orthodox Christians say “pick up your cross and follow Jesus”, that is what we mean — joining our trials and sorrows to His. That way, we can better understand Him through experience. We can better endure suffering in charitable and merciful love as He does. And upon the completion of our trials we can join Him in untarnished joy, having become more like our loving Creator by cooperation of our own wills and not merely by design.

    • #5
    • July 12, 2020, at 9:23 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  6. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    I am reading and appreciating this, even though sometimes by way of contrast. Judaism views suffering as the single worst way to have to learn to grow a relationship to G-d. Everything else (love, joy, prayer, relationships, etc.) is better. Suffering is for when G-d cannot get your attention any other way, when you have a bad case of cranial rectosis.

    Think about it this way. Does God suffer? If so, then some temporary suffering is good for our relationship with Him.

    I had never even asked myself this question before!

    The G-d of the Torah does not suffer in the way that the G-d of the NT does. The Torah has no Original Sin, no huge atonement problem, no cross, etc. The Torah tells us that as and when His people do not seek to grow our relationship to him, then we will suffer. But the Torah does not describe G-d as suffering, as far as I know. G-d can be jealous or angry. He can have regrets and frustrations. But suffering? No, I do not think so.

    The closest we could go is to say that G-d is lonely. He wants us to talk to Him. But it would not follow that to be closer to G-d, we should be lonely, too. Loneliness is something we should avoid – and G-d does not want it, either.

    You can grow close to someone by sharing only joy. But you can grow closer by sharing everything.

    So this is a theological gap between us. I had not quite thought of it this way before. Thank you!

     

    • #6
    • July 12, 2020, at 10:08 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor

    I’m saying this off the top of my head, but suffering occurs when we dwell on something–an idea, a condition, an illness. When we seek G-d, and find Him, suffering is left behind. Suffering often occurs because we want something, or want something to be different. But when we acknowledge our situation, and seek a relationship with G-d, the suffering goes away. For example, when I was so worried about a health issue–my suffering (I now realize) came from dwelling on the unknown, on my fear, even my discomfort. But when I let go of obsessing about it (and I think I finally got there!), the suffering dissipated. Buddhism says that we suffer because we cling to things–and I would add that G-d is not available to Buddhist practitioners. But even when I practiced Zen, I always sensed G-d was there. And on my return to Judaism, I realized G-d was always there. I may not realize His presence, but that’s on me, not G-d.

    Thanks for this series, Jon. I so appreciate your sincerity and candor!

    • #7
    • July 12, 2020, at 10:40 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. danok1 Member

    iWe (View Comment):
    …when you have a bad case of cranial rectosis.

    I’m so stealing this.

    • #8
    • July 12, 2020, at 11:15 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  9. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    iWe (View Comment):

    G-d can be jealous or angry. He can have regrets and frustrations. But suffering? No, I do not think so.

    The closest we could go is to say that G-d is lonely. He wants us to talk to Him. But it would not follow that to be closer to G-d, we should be lonely, too. Loneliness is something we should avoid – and G-d does not want it, either.

    Anger and frustration are not suffering? Loneliness is not suffering? 

    The Lord created us for Himself. An inventor or artist is sad if any design turns out less than intended. The Lord makes not just machines but living, willful beings. We may choose not to be as designed. We may choose to neglect, reject, or even hate our Creator. His relationship with us is even more intimate than husband and wife, parent and child. That does not cause Him distress? 

    Bear in mind, He chooses that vulnerability. He gives us that power to cause distress. Love is His nature and love dares to extend such charity — self-sacrifice for the sake of another. 

    I agree that we should not seek loneliness or any pain to draw closer to Him in this way. Fasting — to deny oneself comforts and make oneself more fully dependent on the Lord for sustenance — is not equivalent to self-mortification. The latter too easily drifts into self-punishment, self-hate, and other corruptions; even if it could be justified in perfect practice, which I doubt. 

    Catholics pray “miserere nobis”, which is often translated “Have mercy on us” but might more accurately be translated as “Suffer us” — like you suffer a foolish and disobedient child. 

    There’s a funny joke that summarizes both Old and New Testaments thusly: 

    GENESIS
    God: All right, you two, don’t do the one thing. Other than that, have fun.
    Adam & Eve: Okay.

    Satan: You should do the thing.
    Adam & Eve: Okay.

    God: What happened!?
    Adam & Eve: We did the thing.
    God: Guys!

    THE REST OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
    God: You are my people, and you should not do the things.
    People: We won’t do the things.
    God: Good.

    People: We did the things.
    God: Guys!

    And so on. 

     

    • #9
    • July 12, 2020, at 11:37 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  10. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I’m saying this off the top of my head, but suffering occurs when we dwell on something–an idea, a condition, an illness. When we seek G-d, and find Him, suffering is left behind. Suffering often occurs because we want something, or want something to be different. But when we acknowledge our situation, and seek a relationship with G-d, the suffering goes away. [….]

    There’s truth in that, but I think it can go to far.

    Love is not stoicism. It is not indifference. It is not fatalism. Love passionately seeks the good — especially of other persons but also truth, beauty, etc.

    Emotions are our fuel, our impetus. Logic shows us the path, but passions propel us forward on that path.

    Joy is a response to harmony and confirms (according to imperfect wants and perceptions) that we have found the good. Anger is a response to injustice and pushes us to correct those problems. Sadness is a response to separation from the good and slows us down to reflect on what is missing.

    Stoicism is more comfortable than passions. Intelligence should govern our emotions and temper them, but not overly suppress them. “For everything there is a season.” There are times for passions to be given powerful expression. But the general ideal, of which we all fall short, is controlled engagement with the world. We must live actively but wisely.

    Often I have heard friends advise each other “Forget him / Forget it” and suggest that the point of hurt (a boyfriend, a job, etc) was never worth the frustration. It’s tempting to respond to pain by shutting out the things and persons we love; to stop caring. But Christ suggests we should grow strong, not grow hard of heart. Care for those who will not care for you. Continue to hope. Reconciliation and accomplishment are only possible through hope.

    • #10
    • July 12, 2020, at 11:59 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  11. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Around the same time, I became obsessed with “The History of Byzantium” podcast, which followed the Eastern Roman Empire after the fall of the West. I knew nothing about this Christian dominion and was fascinated by its history and unique religion. A vast world of secular and church history opened up.

    This too was where I first encountered Orthodoxy – in Byzantium. Not the podcast, but a Military History course in my senior year of high school. Our teacher was a Byzantine Catholic, and we spent a solid week on the evolving military technology and tactics of the East. My prior Medieval History course had ignored the East, save for Justinian, so this was fresh territory. From there I found the then new book series Byzantium, by John Julius Norwich, and I was hooked. John of Cappadocia? St. John Chrysostom? Simeon the Stylite? Iconoclasm? As you say, an entirely new world revealed. Pre-internet, though, so I had no idea where to go after that. Shame too, I found out years later that there is an Orthodox monastery about half an hour from where I went to college.

    • #11
    • July 12, 2020, at 2:00 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  12. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I’m saying this off the top of my head, but suffering occurs when we dwell on something–an idea, a condition, an illness. When we seek G-d, and find Him, suffering is left behind. Suffering often occurs because we want something, or want something to be different. But when we acknowledge our situation, and seek a relationship with G-d, the suffering goes away. For example, when I was so worried about a health issue–my suffering (I now realize) came from dwelling on the unknown, on my fear, even my discomfort. But when I let go of obsessing about it (and I think I finally got there!), the suffering dissipated. Buddhism says that we suffer because we cling to things–and I would add that G-d is not available to Buddhist practitioners. But even when I practiced Zen, I always sensed G-d was there. And on my return to Judaism, I realized G-d was always there. I may not realize His presence, but that’s on me, not G-d.

    “Suffer” is often taken to solely mean “deal with prolonged pain”, but really it means at its core “to endure”. Many of the Saints suffered great physical torments, for instance (and not always due to martyrdom, many just were ill, or injured, or bearing great burdens for themselves and others), but they were suffering (enduring) the torments with joy for the sake of others. They were not necessarily dwelling on their own distress, they were afflicted but joyful in their afflictions because they were serving GD and serving others.

    • #12
    • July 12, 2020, at 2:06 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  13. Podkayne of Israel Member

    iWe (View Comment):

    I am reading and appreciating this, even though sometimes by way of contrast. Judaism views suffering as the single worst way to have to learn to grow a relationship to G-d. Everything else (love, joy, prayer, relationships, etc.) is better. Suffering is for when G-d cannot get your attention any other way, when you have a bad case of cranial rectosis.

    Yes, but one can build a rich relationship with p)

    Hashem during and through suffering. 

    • #13
    • July 12, 2020, at 3:15 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  14. Jon Gabriel, Ed. King
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    This too was where I first encountered Orthodoxy – in Byzantium. Not the podcast, but a Military History course in my senior year of high school. Our teacher was a Byzantine Catholic, and we spent a solid week on the evolving military technology and tactics of the East. My prior Medieval History course had ignored the East, save for Justinian, so this was fresh territory. From there I found the then new book series Byzantium, by John Julius Norwich, and I was hooked. John of Cappadocia? St. John Chrysostom? Simeon the Stylite? Iconoclasm? As you say, an entirely new world revealed. Pre-internet, though, so I had no idea where to go after that. Shame too, I found out years later that there is an Orthodox monastery about half an hour from where I went to college.

    Raised in Protestantism, church history went like this:

    Jesus

    The Apostles & Acts

    [1,500 years of people missing the point]

    Martin Luther

    • #14
    • July 12, 2020, at 3:18 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  15. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jon Gabriel, Ed. (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    This too was where I first encountered Orthodoxy – in Byzantium. Not the podcast, but a Military History course in my senior year of high school. Our teacher was a Byzantine Catholic, and we spent a solid week on the evolving military technology and tactics of the East. My prior Medieval History course had ignored the East, save for Justinian, so this was fresh territory. From there I found the then new book series Byzantium, by John Julius Norwich, and I was hooked. John of Cappadocia? St. John Chrysostom? Simeon the Stylite? Iconoclasm? As you say, an entirely new world revealed. Pre-internet, though, so I had no idea where to go after that. Shame too, I found out years later that there is an Orthodox monastery about half an hour from where I went to college.

    Raised in Protestantism, church history went like this:

    Jesus

    The Apostles & Acts

    [1,500 years of people missing the point]

    Martin Luther

    I was raised Lutheran too. You guys skimmed past some stuff there.

    • #15
    • July 12, 2020, at 3:23 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  16. Susan Quinn Contributor

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    “Suffer” is often taken to solely mean “deal with prolonged pain”, but really it means at its core “to endure”. Many of the Saints suffered great physical torments, for instance (and not always due to martyrdom, many just were ill, or injured, or bearing great burdens for themselves and others), but they were suffering (enduring) the torments with joy for the sake of others. They were not necessarily dwelling on their own distress, they were afflicted but joyful in their afflictions because they were serving GD and serving others.

    I can’t say for sure, @skipsul, but I don’t think there is any honor in suffering. “Joyful in their afflictions” doesn’t resonate with me, unless you mean joyful in spite of their afflictions.

    • #16
    • July 12, 2020, at 3:39 PM PDT
    • Like
  17. Front Seat Cat Member

    iWe (View Comment):

    I am reading and appreciating this, even though sometimes by way of contrast. Judaism views suffering as the single worst way to have to learn to grow a relationship to G-d. Everything else (love, joy, prayer, relationships, etc.) is better. Suffering is for when G-d cannot get your attention any other way, when you have a bad case of cranial rectosis.

    Then God is surely trying to get the attention of the world these days……….?

    • #17
    • July 12, 2020, at 4:01 PM PDT
    • 1 like
    • This comment has been edited.
  18. Front Seat Cat Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    I’m saying this off the top of my head, but suffering occurs when we dwell on something–an idea, a condition, an illness. When we seek G-d, and find Him, suffering is left behind. Suffering often occurs because we want something, or want something to be different. But when we acknowledge our situation, and seek a relationship with G-d, the suffering goes away. For example, when I was so worried about a health issue–my suffering (I now realize) came from dwelling on the unknown, on my fear, even my discomfort. But when I let go of obsessing about it (and I think I finally got there!), the suffering dissipated. Buddhism says that we suffer because we cling to things–and I would add that G-d is not available to Buddhist practitioners. But even when I practiced Zen, I always sensed G-d was there. And on my return to Judaism, I realized G-d was always there. I may not realize His presence, but that’s on me, not G-d.

    Thanks for this series, Jon. I so appreciate your sincerity and candor!

    You describe suffering in personal terms and your response was very observant, but what if the suffering didn’t go away, even if you acknowledged your situation and sought a relationship with God?

    • #18
    • July 12, 2020, at 4:06 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. DrewInWisconsin, Doormat Coolidge

    The parachurch ministry to which I attribute much of my growth as a Christian I also believe screwed me up quite a bit by making Christianity feel more like an MLM scheme than a personal relationship with the creator.

    • #19
    • July 12, 2020, at 4:42 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  20. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    I’m saying this off the top of my head, but suffering occurs when we dwell on something–an idea, a condition, an illness. When we seek G-d, and find Him, suffering is left behind. Suffering often occurs because we want something, or want something to be different. But when we acknowledge our situation, and seek a relationship with G-d, the suffering goes away. For example, when I was so worried about a health issue–my suffering (I now realize) came from dwelling on the unknown, on my fear, even my discomfort. But when I let go of obsessing about it (and I think I finally got there!), the suffering dissipated. Buddhism says that we suffer because we cling to things–and I would add that G-d is not available to Buddhist practitioners. But even when I practiced Zen, I always sensed G-d was there. And on my return to Judaism, I realized G-d was always there. I may not realize His presence, but that’s on me, not G-d.

    Thanks for this series, Jon. I so appreciate your sincerity and candor!

    You describe suffering in personal terms and your response was very observant, but what if the suffering didn’t go away, even if you acknowledged your situation and sought a relationship with God?

    Since I believe my suffering, over time, is self-induced, it’s hard for me to believe that in some way, G-d wouldn’t be there for me. I already feel I have a relationship with G-d, however tenuous it is at times.

    • #20
    • July 12, 2020, at 5:08 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  21. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    I’m saying this off the top of my head, but suffering occurs when we dwell on something–an idea, a condition, an illness. When we seek G-d, and find Him, suffering is left behind. Suffering often occurs because we want something, or want something to be different. But when we acknowledge our situation, and seek a relationship with G-d, the suffering goes away. For example, when I was so worried about a health issue–my suffering (I now realize) came from dwelling on the unknown, on my fear, even my discomfort. But when I let go of obsessing about it (and I think I finally got there!), the suffering dissipated. Buddhism says that we suffer because we cling to things–and I would add that G-d is not available to Buddhist practitioners. But even when I practiced Zen, I always sensed G-d was there. And on my return to Judaism, I realized G-d was always there. I may not realize His presence, but that’s on me, not G-d.

    Thanks for this series, Jon. I so appreciate your sincerity and candor!

    You describe suffering in personal terms and your response was very observant, but what if the suffering didn’t go away, even if you acknowledged your situation and sought a relationship with God?

    Since I believe my suffering, over time, is self-induced, it’s hard for me to believe that in some way, G-d wouldn’t be there for me. I already feel I have a relationship with G-d, however tenuous it is at times.

    You’re in the palm of His hand, Susan.

    • #21
    • July 12, 2020, at 5:19 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  22. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Percival (View Comment):
    You’re in the palm of His hand, Susan.

    Bless you, Percival. And so are you.

    • #22
    • July 12, 2020, at 5:28 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  23. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    You’re in the palm of His hand, Susan.

    Bless you, Percival. And so are you.

    Sometimes I think I’m probably under a fingernail.

    • #23
    • July 12, 2020, at 5:31 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  24. The Reticulator Member

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Add to this my eldest daughter’s classical education. I couldn’t abide a child more well-read than myself, so I stole her reading list and got to work. Homer, Xenophon, Virgil … I couldn’t get enough.

    Did your daughter find out? If so, how did she react? 

    • #24
    • July 12, 2020, at 6:45 PM PDT
    • Like
  25. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    Jon Gabriel, Ed. (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    This too was where I first encountered Orthodoxy – in Byzantium. Not the podcast, but a Military History course in my senior year of high school. Our teacher was a Byzantine Catholic, and we spent a solid week on the evolving military technology and tactics of the East. My prior Medieval History course had ignored the East, save for Justinian, so this was fresh territory. From there I found the then new book series Byzantium, by John Julius Norwich, and I was hooked. John of Cappadocia? St. John Chrysostom? Simeon the Stylite? Iconoclasm? As you say, an entirely new world revealed. Pre-internet, though, so I had no idea where to go after that. Shame too, I found out years later that there is an Orthodox monastery about half an hour from where I went to college.

    Raised in Protestantism, church history went like this:

    Jesus

    The Apostles & Acts

    [1,500 years of people missing the point]

    Martin Luther

    I was raised Lutheran too. You guys skimmed past some stuff there.

    Bingo night was fun.

    • #25
    • July 12, 2020, at 7:34 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  26. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    “Suffer” is often taken to solely mean “deal with prolonged pain”, but really it means at its core “to endure”. Many of the Saints suffered great physical torments, for instance (and not always due to martyrdom, many just were ill, or injured, or bearing great burdens for themselves and others), but they were suffering (enduring) the torments with joy for the sake of others. They were not necessarily dwelling on their own distress, they were afflicted but joyful in their afflictions because they were serving GD and serving others.

    I can’t say for sure, @skipsul, but I don’t think there is any honor in suffering. “Joyful in their afflictions” doesn’t resonate with me, unless you mean joyful in spite of their afflictions.

    What of the civil rights leaders? Were they not honorable? What of people who stand up for what is right but are punished for it?

    Regarding joy in afflictions – many are the stories among the saints of people who were leading rather terrible lives, but who received punishments or injuries or illnesses, and due to those afflictions confronted GD. They found joy in their afflictions because those afflictions were from GD, and those afflictions saved them from the wreck of their former lives. You often read of saints praising the Almighty for these afflictions, for those afflictions were the pathway to redemption.

    • #26
    • July 12, 2020, at 10:42 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  27. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Father Barnabas Powell, rather coincidentally, has an essay up about Suffering in the Christian context.

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/faithencouraged/2020/07/made-perfect-by-suffering/

    • #27
    • July 13, 2020, at 1:18 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  28. The Reticulator Member

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    I was raised Lutheran too. You guys skimmed past some stuff there.

    Bingo night was fun.

    I thought bingo was what distinguished Lutherans from Catholics.

    • #28
    • July 13, 2020, at 1:39 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  29. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    I was raised Lutheran too. You guys skimmed past some stuff there.

    Bingo night was fun.

    I thought bingo was what distinguished Lutherans from Catholics.

    We Lutherans don’t really do bingo. Not that I’ve ever seen.

    Euchre for a buck a point? Sure.

    • #29
    • July 13, 2020, at 1:42 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  30. The Reticulator Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    I was raised Lutheran too. You guys skimmed past some stuff there.

    Bingo night was fun.

    I thought bingo was what distinguished Lutherans from Catholics.

    We Lutherans don’t really do bingo. Not that I’ve ever seen.

    I’ve never seen Lutheran bingo, either. If Lutherans want to get in on some bingo, they go over to the Catholic parish hall. 

    • #30
    • July 13, 2020, at 1:48 PM PDT
    • 3 likes