Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Our Many Faces: Judging, Gossip and Slander

YOU KNOW WHY I like sports fans? I mean, the super die-hard, deeply-absorbed ones? Because, when they "gossip," it's about trades, batting averages, free agents and wild card races. Most of them don't care what you do for a living or what you did last summer.
Take my friend Dave, a.k.a. "Ouza." Dave likes the Giants, a lot. He also likes the Mets. Everything else is only marginally interesting. Everyone likes Dave. Dave doesn't want to hear about who's dating whom or what a rotten guy someone is, no less express an opinion about it. Dave just wants to watch the game. So, please stop talking.
I did not ask Ouza's permission to use this photo. He won't care.

What is slander, anyway? St. Anthony proposes, "It's anything you wouldn't dare say in front of the person whom we are complaining about.” Pretty clear. They're not here. They won't see the text message (at least not immediately). Would I say it? Would I hit "send?" 

Gossip, suggests St. John Chrysostom, should offend me. Why? Well, he puts it like this: "If a person stirred up a cesspool as you were walking past, wouldn't you berate him?" Put another way, if you were standing near a muddy puddle and someone drove straight into the puddle, wouldn't it bother you? If so, he continues, then why not also be offended at the person detailing another person's bad deeds? "The exposure of an offensive life," he notes, "offends and disturbs the soul of those who hear of it."

And, if we can't discourage others, let's at least not pitch in our two cents. St. Isaac of Syria writes, "If you are not a peacemaker, at least do not be a troublemaker. If you cannot close the mouth of a man who disparages his companion, at least refrain from joining him in this.”
Besides, what's the real attraction of gossip? St. Seraphim of Sarov has an idea: "We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves." He continues,
When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a swamp that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we turn away, and make much of the faults of others.
We need assurance that other people's lives are scrambled, too. He proposes a better way:
Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgment. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.
We might even take our eagerness for gossip as a gentle ping, signalling that we need to stop and look inside. 
And, for Heaven's sake, find yourself a hobby or something.  

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Price of Shady

Walk in the light. (1)

FOLLOWING THE LAST ELECTION cycle (yikes!), one thing repeatedly hit me: These people must be pretty nervous

I mean, if the accusations --  e.g., destroying evidence or doing horrible things to people long ago in far away corners -- are even remotely true, I am not sure how these people ever get a good night's sleep. 

It all brought back the following lines from a novel: "And it flashed across his mind: 'What fools people are who leave the straight path. A clear conscience -- that's all one needs in life. With that you can face the world!' He felt suddenly very much alive -- very strong..." (2)

It seems to me that truly honest people are truly free people, too. They're ashamed neither of who are or what they've done. An honest guy isn't forever looking over his shoulder.

I once got some funny job-interview 
advice from a nerd: "Don't pretend you're interested in something just so the interviewer will like you." In his case, it was football. "They always ask follow-up questions," he lamented, "and then it gets awkward."


When you lie about who you are, you have to build up a false persona. You've got to remember an entire backstory. Who needs that? I think it's why Mark Twain (reportedly) said "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything."(3)

Often what's called being "defensive" has its roots in being dishonest, or in having done something shady. "There is no greater illusion than fear," wrote Lao Tsu,"no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself." (4). 

We're most at peace when we're most authentic and honest, when we're totally cool with others knowing what we're up to. Marcus Aurelius takes it a step further: "[Only] ...think about things which if suddenly asked, 'What are you thinking about right now?', with perfect openness you can immediately answer This or That...So that from your words it should be plain that everything in you is simple and benevolent. (5)

Seneca points out that, even when you get away with something, you really don't get away with it: 

A good conscience wishes to come forth and be seen of men; wickedness fears the very shadows. That the guilty may haply remain hidden is possible, that he should be sure of remaining hidden is not possible...it is no advantage to wrong-doers to remain hidden since they have not the assurance of remaining so. ...[C]rimes can be well guarded; free from anxiety they cannot be.
He continues, 
[T]he first and worst penalty of sin is to have committed sin; and crime...can never go unpunished, since the punishment of crime lies in the crime itself: constant fear, constant terror, and distrust in one's own security...bad deeds are lashed by the whip of conscience, and that conscience is tortured to the greatest degree because unending anxiety drives and whips it on. Good luck frees many from punishment, but none from fear. (6)

Put another way: You can get away with something, but you can't really get away from it. 

(1) 1 John 1:7.
(2) Christie, Agatha. The Labors of Hercules.
(3) Source Unknown.
(4) Tao Te Ching, par. 46.
(5) Meditations, Book 3.
(6) Letters to Lucilius, Letter 97, pars. 12-16.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Bonus Footwear Recommendation

GREETINGS Clerics and Laity! 

Sneakers and Books proudly announces the (un)official walking shoe of the Coptic Orthodox Church. 

During a recent meeting with Fr. Daniel Meleka, we received an inside tip: The Skechers GoWalk is the shoe for those seeking the utmost in comfort and style.  Well, comfort for sure.  

Fr. Daniel's Actual Feet