What’s wrong with being “secular”?
Take a moment to think about what you did yesterday. Did you get up to the morning news or the Today Show? Did you go to work? Hang out at the gym? What fast food did you eat recently, or did you meet someone at Starbucks or for a meal? Towards the end of the day, did you drive anywhere besides work? Use your cell phone? And finally, did you take a long hot shower and put up your feet to watch your favorite live or recorded TV show?
If any of this sounds familiar, then you have experienced the secular life. This is a life which is mostly YOU-centered. One in which you go about your daily routine using the time-saving technologies available and participating in the hustle and bustle of a modern life. We seem to be in such a hurry, and we have so many cool technologies, but what exactly are we saving our time for? K-cups and washing machines, and for what reason? Where does the time go?
Here’s a harder question for you: do you pray? Do you even consider God at any time throughout the day? Or, is your attempt at prayer a failed one as you lay your head on your pillow and fall into a minor coma every night? If you DO pray, then how many “please provides” and “please gives” are in your prayer as opposed to the “forgives” and “have mercies”?
Now you’re probably defensive. Are you thinking of all the many ways you can defend this way of life?
“So what if I’m ‘SECULAR’? I work!” may be your natural response, or perhaps it’s more like,
“Well, I’m a modern person in a modern world. I’m no nun!”,
“Not EVERYONE can be a monk!”
Sound familiar? You are not alone. Most of us think that the ascetic life is unattainable in our realities.
True, we can’t all be called to the ascetic life in the same way monks and nuns are. And, honestly, why would anyone try NOT to be secular? Is avoiding secularism even possible in this day and age? It is, after all, ALL we know as modern Americans, am I right?
But is it all we know? As Orthodox Christians, we have amazing examples of the Christian life to draw upon. Let’s just stop for a moment to think about what Orthodox Christianity really is:
—Orthodox Christianity is an ALL-ENCOMPASSING religion. This means it should permeate ALL areas of life. This is Biblical. This is what the Church teaches. This is what Christian martyrs die for. It’s not just about Sunday mornings. It’s a way of life.
—Orthodox Christianity is old-fashioned. Christianity in its truest form seems old-fashioned to the modern mind. Complete with the clear RIGHTS and WRONGS that our grandparents would have taught us. Christianity hasn’t changed. Mankind hasn’t changed. God doesn’t change. So why do we think the things that USED to apply to the Christian life do not apply to us today? Fast? You mean, NO WATER before Church, no McDonald’s for 40 days?! Ludicrous. Who does that nowadays?
—Orthodox Christianity predates modern addictions, but I’m sure early Christians had their addictions too. While the Apostle Paul did not have a smart phone, distractions have always been around. Phones have changed our collective psyche, and its temptations are effective at providing alternatives to a life of reflection and quiet. Look around church next Sunday and notice how many people glance at their phones, or sadly, just give the smart phone to the toddler to keep him quiet throughout the service. Why do people do this? Because we are all on schedules! We can’t sit still for more than three minutes. What if some person needs to contact me? What if I MISS something important (i.e. something MORE important than the church service I’m attending at this moment in time). That, and we are a culture of entertainment and instant gratification. We are a generation of addicts.
—Orthodox Christianity is not to be confused with the practices of the general population. Ask Abraham. Ask Jonah. Ask Ruth. Faith always comes at a cost. Beware of being too “NORMAL”. Never in the history of Christianity have Christians eagerly sought to be “part of the crowd” (shout out to those martyrs who flatly refused to render their pinch of incense to Caesar). Being anti-abortion, anti-same sex marriage, and anti-all inclusive will become harder and harder. Be ready.
Finally, remember that the point of not being secular is to point people to Christ. Nothing else matters. No one is more important. No thing can stand between YOU and GOD. Not job, not friends, not even family. If God is the most important focus in your life, everyone else will eventually accept their place. Give your kids to God; He owns them anyway. Christians are NOT to be lost in the secular culture.
SO, WHAT ARE CHRISTIANS TO DO TO AVOID THE SECULAR LIFE?
–Pray. Pray often. Pray aloud. Pray privately. Sing prayers. Pray in the shower and everywhere you go. Learn to use a prayer rope and learn to pray the “JESUS” prayer. Why? Because when you talk to God all the time, it becomes habit. Eventually, it will become who you are and you will seek His company often.
–Study. Read the Bible. Read books about the Bible. Read about people who pray. Read about the saints and martyrs. Why? Because these things strengthen us. They make us realize that we are NEVER alone in this struggle. They show us what is required of us now and what will be required of us later.
–Let life pass you by. When things conflict with church, fasts, feasts, and your Christian walk, it is time to walk away. Do not make excuses; the world doesn’t accept them anyway. This is, by far, one of the hardest parts of being a modern Christian.
–Dare to be defiant. Don’t forget that it was most often the defiance of the saints that led others to salvation. Be ready to be the “ONLY ONE” who objects.
–Don’t fall for the tricks of the world. Life will encroach. Coaches will scream at your kids for missing Sunday games. Jobs will pass you by. Opportunities will be lost. People will roll their eyes at you and call you “silly” and “religious fanatic”. Let them. Do not care. Find new friends. Get another job.
–Guard your kids. Recognize the dangers. Game of Thrones, had it been on prime time 20 years ago, would have been considered soft porn. If it’s popular, then it’s dangerous. Set limits to technology and keep up your guard. Try to recognize sin disguised as pop culture. Be ready for your kids to call you “old”; they are enslaved to the culture.
–Expect your children to be worldly. If you hand them computers that fit in their pockets, then you must expect them to know more than you think they know. About everything. Innocence is lost early. Have hard conversations with them. The kind of honesty required is surprising; don’t be timid. Realize that you too can fall victim to the culture.
Finally, know that everything in this life is preparation for another, better life. Keep your focus and guard your priorities. At the end of it all, what we want is a “Christian ending to our lives”.
You will not be “secular” when you willingly reject the culture of modern society. When you recognize the traps that are laid before you, and when you strive to keep The Kingdom of God in your sights. You will know that you are living rightly when you face struggle and the contempt of this world. This is OK; it just means that you are correctly focused and doing life the right way! Embrace the “weirdness” of being ORTHODOX ON PURPOSE.