Saturday, June 22, 2013

Excerpt: Finished Manuscript

Fr. Joseph Huneycutt and I finished the final (probably semi-final) draft of our book project. It is at our "test readers" now.  We'll do a final/final edit based on their proofreading and suggestions, then it goes to the publisher.  

I was originally just going to illustrate Fr. Joseph's text.  We spent a weekend together several months ago discussing the project and pretty much checking each other out (we had never met in person).  We both decided the other was "the real deal".  As we talked, the vision for the book took some dark turns.  The more we talked, the darker the theme of the material became.  We've both lived long enough and done enough sinning and pastoral care to know being a Christian is damn hard and it isn't nearly as pretty as our Sunday faces show.   We wanted to address the valley of the shadow of death and not put a smiley face on it (though there is some humor in the book).  

We wanted it to be from an "Orthodox perspective" but something that any Christian could pick up and not feel like they were being slapped around with Orthodox apologetics. He ran it by John Maddex and told him up front, this isn't Conciliar Press's brand of stuff. John said, "Bring it."  (We haven't submitted the manuscript, so there is no contract, just an approved proposal.)

By the end of the weekend, we both were confident we and the other could check our egos at the keyboard, so we decided to jointly author also.  We've written, edited, suggested, added to and subtracted from each others' work. I have to say, (and those of you who know me know I don't say this about clergy often or lightly), "Behold a priest in whom there is no guile." It has been effortless to work with Fr. Joseph. 

This is an excerpt (with illustration) from one of the first chapters represents the general theme and tone of the book:  

At some point, whether in the act or after the fact, we come to the  realization of how far we’ve fallen,  how weak we are,  how much light we have closed our eyes against, how chaotic our universe has become, the depth and stench of the filth we are immersed in.  No rationalizations suffice.  No resolutions made in the middle of the night are convincing. No guilt is motivating enough. No consequences are fearful enough.  The grip of our addiction to our own vomit becomes an inescapable reality.  It is when sin is an inescapable reality that God becomes equally inescapable.  It is then that sweet mercy beyond ourselves is our only hope, our only desire, our last resort. ...

When we have wrestled and lost, eaten the apple and vomited it up and eaten it again, fallen and see no human hand to help us get up again, St. Paul succinctly sums up our experience, “Wretched man that I am! Who will free me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24)  

This is the turning point, the “metanoia”. When we see ourselves so clearly that we can only see God is the moment we do the desperate thing.  We will crawl on our hands and knees through the crowd to touch a hem of a dirty robe with an unclean hand, start out in hope on the long walk toward home smelling like a pig, annoy a crowd by shouting “Have mercy on me!”, and shamelessly throw ourselves in front of God and wash His feet with our tears no matter who is watching and judging.  No humiliation, no distance, no commandment is too great to hope to be freed from ourselves.

Man calls this “desperation”.  

God calls it “faith”. 

Wednesday, June 05, 2013


My oldest son worked for Apple for several years. He now works as an Executive Secretary for a founder of a Fortune 500 Company.  I remember him talking about "living the brand and being the brand".  I'd heard about people trying to "be a brand". Last year I went to Las Vegas for an international "Brand/Licensing Conference" to look at buying licensing rights to a "brand" for a business venture (it ended up I couldn't afford it).

The theme of the conference was "branding yourself". There were several booths with people (lawyers and marketers) who would help you "create your brand". While I was there I heard several talks on "branding one's self".  There were PEOPLE there who were "brands" and you could buy the rights to put their name and face on stuff you invented.  I can't name any of them because I'm not media savvy, but think about Martha Stuart.  If I have a cool pot-holder or a paper towel rack that I can't sell on its own merit, I can pay Martha Stuart 75K plus commissions for a 3 year contract to put her name on them and get them into K-mart and Sears.  There are cheaper celebs, but apparently you get what you pay for when you buy someone's name to put on your stuff. Don't even THINK about putting Iron Man or Spider Man on a pencil or a shoe lace unless you are going to make 3 billion of them in China for tenths of a cent a piece.

Anyway, apparently the current culture among Gen X, Y and Z is to "be a brand".  The goal of the human being is to be "branded".

When I was a kid there was a TV show (in the early 60's) called "Branded".  (Take 90 seconds to hear it through if you aren't over 50.) 

Every time I hear someone talk about "being a brand" I think of the tag line: "What do you do when you're branded... and you know you're a man?"

I know that can go a lot of ways, but bear with me.

The quest for "being a brand"/being "branded" is ultimately an existential/ontological quest.  A "brand" is unique, distinguishable from all other things of even similar or exactly the same function and form. It seems to me that the quest for "being a brand" is ultimately a quest for personhood. But being branded isn't a good thing.  It is an identity, a "false self" created from the ego and marketed to others. We are commodities in a marketplace to be consumed (or rejected), labelled, objectified and limited to a niche no matter how big the niche market is. The brand is created from a comparison of my "self" to other's "selves" and I pick and choose the variations and characteristics I want to project to differentiate myself from everyone else and my ingredients go on my label and that defines my personhood.

 Ultimately, I am defined in relationship to a zillion other  self created and promoted "brands" created to do the same thing I'm doing. My reference point is my own experience, my own relationships and my own perception of the world and everyone in it as far as I am able to perceive it.  If I'm intellectually honest and break out of my parochial vision of the world I'll find I'm a derivative, a clone, a poser in someone else's eyes, insecure, depressed and lonely person for it all.

The tag line really is Truth: Once I'm "branded" by my own devices or by other's judgments (which we welcome when we conciously attempt to put ourselves forth as a "brand"), what do we do when the whole illusion crashes in and we discover "we're a man"?

Therein lies the truth for this generation, I think. The quest to be a brand is a shadow of our true self. We truly are "branded" already, we need not create anything, we need only live as we know we are. We are "men" (pardon the sexist gender generality). We humans, all, bear the Image of a Trinitarian God who exists as Three Persons in One Nature.  We are indeed unique, distinguishable, never to be repeated, individual persons. And yet we share a common nature. We need not strive to distinguish (brand) ourselves artificially if we could only just be the unrepeatable person we are without self-conciousness, without ego, without comparing ourselves to every other unrepeatable person, without pretention, insecure self-awareness and judgment of others.  In other words, if we could only learn to "love without hypocrisy" as St. Paul says, our true "manhood", the Brand/Image in which we are created will be evident to all. The Image stamped (branded) on us shines from within: It is not a mask or act or persona that we create, take on, project or carefully craft. It is effortless through humility. It is darkened by ego.

Indeed, "be the brand, live the brand" and don't worry about the labels either on yourself or the ones people put on themselves or the ones you put on them. The "Brand" is as limitless as God, no label can describe it, limit it nor define it... but you'll know the brand when you see it.