The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 21 “Entering a Foreign Land”

We’re late today. 

A heavy rain preparing us for what are sure to become April showers is falling and with it comes a phone call from our son asking for a ride. Along with this, one of the transit system lines is under repair about a mile from our church and all traffic has been diverted.

When we enter, the sanctuary is full and all are standing. And it struck me that my journey to Orthodoxy has been like entering a foreign land. A land where the customs, the words, the actions, the clothing, the language have been unfamiliar, have had to be learned. And I have made mistakes, and I have wondered and questioned and shaken my head – just like I’ve done in the past entering other foreign lands.

Seeing it this way helps me to breathe. Entering foreign lands is something I’ve done since I was a little girl. I was taken to Pakistan at three months old to an already established home. I didn’t walk on American soil until I was four years old, and then only for a year before returning to Pakistan.

Entering foreign lands is something that those of us raised between worlds know well. We know that for a time there will be acute discomfort, even alienation. We know that it will take all our energy and skill set to settle in and learn what is considered ‘normal’. We also know that slowly by slowly we will settle, a part of us still in the place we were before, but settle we will. And through this we will grow.

The candles are flickering in front of me, casting a glow over the gold of the icon to the left of the candelabra. The choir is leading us in the Beatitudes – the blessings from the gospel of Saint Matthew. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled….”

This hungering and thirsting is what has led me to this foreign land. It’s why I have come Sunday after Sunday and sometimes during the week. It’s why I have learned to venerate icons and to understand the significance of many of the symbols. It has been because I hunger and thirst for a faith that is more than form, more than a service that I dreaded once a week.

And the God who has led me into other foreign lands has led me here. A God who guides, loves, and protects.

The thing about entering foreign lands, they don’t remain foreign forever. So the land is different, but the God who is leading me is the same.

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The Problem With Blessing

Google the phrase “Is America blessed by God?” and you will be blessed in .29 seconds to have over 24 million results.


This is a strongly held opinion in the United States. In a 2008 survey conducted for the PBS news program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly and the United Nations Foundation 61% of 1400 respondents said America was “specially blessed” by God.

Writers and scholars far more articulate and learned than me have diced this idea and penned a plethora of articles on both sides of the argument, some that I will link to at the end of this article.

But here is my struggle. Too often we talk about both individual and collective ‘blessing’ in material and military terms. We use the book of Deuteronomy as our guide and neglect the Beatitudes in Matthew.

Material: America is ‘blessed’ by God because we have more wealth than other countries, because we have houses and bank accounts and cars and college price tags of $160,000 and a plethora of other things unknown to much of the world. How often have you heard someone talk about being “Blessed” with a house? That’s wonderful – but if they had an apartment would they be less blessed? Does the blessing include cathedral ceilings, designer paint, and a pool in the back yard? Is the family of four living in 3000 square feet more blessed than the family of six living in 1000?

5641-God Bless AmericaMilitary: America is blessed by God because we have a strong military. Really? Are we using “Blessing” in the correct way?

The book of Matthew speaks a lot about blessing in a chapter called “The Beatitudes” literally meaning “blessings”. As I read it I realize that Jesus again excels in turning things upside down, challenging the crowd who is familiar with an Old Testament view of blessing –not once is a strong military or material wealth mentioned. Rather we have a dire list of adjectives that include poor in spirit, meek, mourning, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, pure in heart, peace makers, and persecuted for the sake of righteousness, insulted….At this point I want to scream: “Are we through yet?” No, there’s more – we end the ‘blessings’ portion with more persecution and false accusation.

The list is long, and drones, bombs, military intelligence, American exceptionalism, Wall Street, bonds, bank accounts, investments – none of these are included.

The struggle intensifies as I consider the idea that I as a Christian now living in America would be considered more ‘blessed’ than my Pakistani friends who claim Christ. This is unpalatable to me. The idea that a Christian living in a Pakistani village in a one room mud hut, one light bulb hanging on a string providing electricity for 4 hours of a 24 hour day, four children to provide for, and unable to read is less blessed than I am makes bile rise in my throat.

Because it’s false. A Biblical world-view tells me that all are created in the image of God – Imago Deiblessed by God for no other reason but that we are created in His image. And if I believe the words of Matthew then my Christian friend in Pakistan is far more blessed than I

I’ll put my idiomatic cards on the table: I do not believe it is Biblical to say that America is blessed because of a strong military and material wealth. I believe that this is making the military and money into idols, something that is strongly condemned in the Bible. To quote William Doino Jr. from an article in First Things:

“….Nothing is more alien to the Old and New Testaments than to sacralize the unholy, or divinize material things. To regard secular America as some kind of Messiah nation, or geo-political golden calf, is sheer idolatry.”

The problem with blessing is the meaning we currently ascribe to the word and the misuse of the word. Many continue to hold to primarily Old Testament meanings on prosperity and military success. The New Testament turned all that around and we are given a new picture of blessing, a picture that is spiritual rather than material. A picture that offers grace, and that in abundance, to all people of all times. Would that we recognize a Gospel of Grace and proclaim that as the one, true, never-failing, all-encompassing Blessing.

Blogger’s Note: So, this is a huge subject and it is ridiculous to think that a few more than 600 words can do it justice. But it’s been on my mind and heart and as always I have faith in you as readers, in your wisdom and insight; your ability to offer thoughtful comments and recognize the need for further study and discussion.

On that note here are some of the articles I mentioned above: