Tag Archives: materialism

On What is Truly Important

We live in an age of materialism and self-gratification. We are surrounded by stuff, and the message of society in general is “do what you want, when and how you want, as long as it feels good to you.” It is easy to begin living a lifestyle that looks much like that of our non-Orthodox counterparts, unknowingly disillusioned by the culture in which we live. Activities, busyness, money, things: all are very important to current culture. It is so easy for us to be sucked into believing that these things are necessary, that they are very important, and that pursuing them is how we should be spending our lives.

But we are Orthodox Christians. We are to be set apart from the world and living our life for Christ. So, what is truly important? On what should we be spending our time and our resources? St. Anthony the Great, considered by many to be the father of Christian monasticism, had the following to say about what is truly important in life. Although he lived on earth in the third century, his words apply just as much to us, today:

“Why do we not voluntarily abandon what must be destroyed when this life comes to an end, so that we might gain the kingdom of Heaven? Let Christians care for nothing that they cannot take away with them. We ought rather to seek after that which will lead us to Heaven; namely wisdom, chastity, justice, virtue, an ever watchful mind, care for the poor, firm faith in Christ, a mind that can control anger, hospitality. Striving after these things, we shall prepare for ourselves a dwelling in the land of the peaceful, as it says in the Gospel.” – St. Athanasius, Life of St. Anthony, 17

It is important for Orthodox Christians in today’s culture to study these words and keep them in the forefront of our minds. We are also responsible to help our Sunday Church School students to think about these life-changing concepts. In order for us to understand what St. Anthony said, so we can pass it on to our students, we must study his words well and consider how to pass them on.

If we were to truly take St. Anthony’s words to heart, what would that look like? Voluntarily abandoning “what must be destroyed at the end of this life” would mean making a deliberate choice to let go of anything material, to relinquish things’ control over our time, our focus, even our desires. “Caring for nothing that [we] cannot take away with [us]” could mean not only not taking the time to nurture/acquire things, but also not even to have a desire for them. Sometimes we hear kids saying, “I don’t care about ___!” If we choose to live truly Christian lives, according to St. Anthony’s statement, we should be able to say the same about all earthly/material things! We should also challenge our students to do the same!

Releasing ourselves from the grip of earthly stuff opens our time, our hearts, even our very thoughts to the things of God. But don’t worry, St. Anthony immediately offers ways in which to fill the “gap” that worldly concerns take up! “We ought rather to seek after that which will lead us to Heaven…” This declaration is thorough in and of itself, but he goes on with specifics: “wisdom, chastity, justice, virtue, an ever watchful mind, care for the poor, firm faith in Christ, a mind that can control anger, hospitality.” Any one of those can take a lifetime to truly acquire. Aspiring to all of them together will easily fill whatever time we may have previously been pouring into the acquisition of material things! As for teaching these to our Sunday Church School students: each could be a year’s curriculum on its own, but we do not have enough time for that, so the best we can do is lightly touch on them while encouraging our students to continue studying (and applying!) them at home.

So what is truly important? “Striving after these things” (wisdom, chastity, justice, virtue, an ever watchful mind, care for the poor, firm faith in Christ, a mind that can control anger, and hospitality) which lead us to heaven is what we must care about and what we must do. This is the lifestyle that we should be living and teaching to our students. This is how we ought to spend our lives. Pursuing these things is how we can truly “prepare for ourselves a dwelling in the land of the peaceful, as it says in the Gospel.”

Thank you, St. Anthony, for your timeless wisdom. Please intercede for our salvation!

Read about the life of St. Anthony, as well as more of his wisdom (at the end of this page): http://stanthonylc.org/about/who-is-saint-anthony/. Find information on his feast day, as well as his troparion and kontakion here: http://orthodoxsanantonio.org/lifeofstanthony.html.

Read St. Athanasius’ book The Life of St. Anthony online here:  http://www.orthodoxebooks.org/node/213

Screenshot 2015-05-22 at 8.56.41 AM - Edited

Print copies of this poster for your students, so they can take one home to remind them of how to spend their life:  http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/poster.pdf.

Following are some related links for each of the specific pursuits that St. Anthony encourages us to work towards. Find ideas of a way to teach each to our students, as well as quotes/readings for further pondering.

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This activity can begin a class discussion about wisdom: http://freebiblelessons.net/object-lessons/is-it-wise
Find a quote from St. John Chrysostom on wisdom here: http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2013/10/teach-them-to-love-true-wisdom.html

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As a class, study the life of a chaste saint, such as Venerable Melania the Younger of Rome. (See http://oca.org/saints/lives/2015/12/31/103701-venerable-melania-the-younger-of-rome.)

Read what St. Nicholas says about chastity here: http://orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2013/12/05/st-nicholas-of-myra-children-i-beseech-you-to-correct-your-hearts/

The Chastity Project, a Catholic bookstore, offers materials that may be useful in a class discussion on chastity. http://shop.chastityproject.com/

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Here is an activity that can be a good discussion starter for a lesson about justice: http://www.playeatgrow.com/2013/12/helping-kids-to-begin-to-notice-needs.html

Ponder justice by reading this blog: http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2009/09/tribulation-in-life.html

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Use these scenarios to help your students use real-life situations to apply the concept of virtue: http://www.thrivingfamily.com/Features/Web/2012/what-will-you-do-scenarios.aspx

Older students can read and discuss portions of this book that talks about how virtue is implanted in the soul: http://www.amazon.com/The-Struggle-Virtue-Asceticism-Secular/dp/0884653730/ref=pd_sim_14_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=00HNK2N9HY8J1AX1X124

Find a quote from St. John Chrysostom on cultivating virtue in our children’s lives here: http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2015/05/virtue-in-their-souls.html

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Teens can read and discuss this book about watchfulness: http://www.amazon.com/The-Watchful-Mind-Teachings-Prayer/dp/0881414751

Find encouragement to maintain watchfulness in your life here: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2015/02/watchfulness/

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Here is a lesson for teaching young children about caring for the poor: https://teresaklassen.wordpress.com/2010/06/05/caring-for-the-poor-k-1-free-sunday-school-lessons-for-children/

Read about what St. Thomas did to care for the poor, in this story: http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2012/10/for-consideration.html#more

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Challenge your grade school students to fill their lives with faith in Christ with this simple object lesson: http://www.kidssundayschool.com/332/gradeschool/unseen-faith.php

Find encouragement to stay strong in your faith in Christ in this blog: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2014/07/faith-in-secular-world-being-orthodox-2/

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Find practical suggestions for children to apply when they deal with anger here: http://www.kimscounselingcorner.com/2012/09/16/50-activities-and-games-dealing-with-anger/

Read this blog on the importance of controlling one’s anger: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2014/05/anger-in-every-way-we-must-strive-to/

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Here are practical ways to help children learn about hospitality, including a printable chart that they can take home for the next time their family has guests: http://heatherriggleman.com/2013/11/4-tips-to-teach-your-kids-hospitality-includes-sticker-chart/

 

Find out what St. John Chrysostom says about who should participate in hospitality in this quote: http://orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2013/09/06/st-john-chrysostom-every-family-should-have-a-room/

On Materialism

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal;” (Mt. 6:19)

 

In this age in the United States of America (and, indeed, throughout the world), the acquisition of “stuff” is what many people embrace as their goal for life. With the forthcoming holiday season, the fight-to-convince-everyone-to-acquire-more-stuff will be intensifying all around us. But is more stuff really what we or the children in our care (such as our Sunday Church School students) need?

 

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos) said, “I have realized that the destruction of man lies in the abundance of material goods, because it prevents him from experiencing the presence of God and appreciating His benevolence. If you want to take someone away from God, give him plenty of material goods. He will instantly forget Him forever.”

 

As Orthodox Christians, we do not want to forget God forever. (Nor do we want our children or Sunday Church School students to forget Him.) Neither do we want (them) to miss out on experiencing God’s presence and appreciating His benevolence. Therefore it is imperative that we be careful to set an example of simplicity and contentment in our own lives; and also encourage our students to place their hope in God, rather than in their things.

 

Beyond setting an example for them with our own lives, there are many ideas available to help us further teach our students to guard against materialism. Here are a few:

Ask your students what is their most prized possession. Have them write down what it is or draw a picture of it. Then, talk with your students about what is truly important in life. An idea of how one teacher did this is found at: http://www.5thgradecommoncore.com/blog/my-most-prized-possession-lesson. After the discussion, ask the students to look again at their original “most prized possession.” Is it still their most prized? Or is there something else that is more valuable? Ask them to tell the class, and explain why they ended up with what they did.

 

Encourage your students to focus any comparisons they may make on those less fortunate than them. Because, as Theodore Roosevelt so aptly put it, “comparison is the thief of joy,” we must be careful not to compare ourselves and our stuff to others. If we do compare, then  we should compare ourselves to those who have less than we do. We can work to this end by teaching our students that not everyone has as much as they do. For example, we can show them the pictures on this page http://borgenproject.org/children-and-their-most-prized-possessions/. The page features pictures of children from different parts of the world, photographed with their most prized possessions. Talk together as a class about the photos and how it feels to have so much more than these real kids do. Brainstorm ways your class can help provide for children in your neighborhood or around the world who do not have enough.

 

Use the plethora of advertisements (perhaps bringing in one copy of the Sunday paper would suffice to this end) which appeal to our greed as an opportunity to talk with your students. Discuss how the companies who pay for the advertisements are trying to make you feel discontent with what you have, and convince you that you need to buy their product. Talk with your students about the products being advertised. Do the students really think the items as amazing as they are advertised to be? What makes them think so/not? (Idea from  http://www.parenthood.com/article/10_simple_ways_to_combat_greed.html#.VEf6AseJOuZ.)

 

Consider challenging your students to join you in the Minimalism Game (see http://www.theminimalists.com/game/ for details). On day 1 of the game, each participant gets rid of (gives away, recycles, or otherwise shares) one item before midnight. On day 2, two items; day 3, three; etc. The participant who keeps at it the longest is the winner! (Actually, everyone who participates wins because of eliminating excess in their home while helping others!)

 

‘Tis the season… to face materialism head on and find ways to combat its influence in our lives and in the lives of our students. As we successfully turn away from our greed and toward Christ and His people, we will, indeed, be storing up “treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:20-21)

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Additional lesson ideas:

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Show your students (of any age) the book Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel. If you don’t have access to the book you could print out and show (or show on your computer screen) several of these photos from that book: attp://menzelphoto.photoshelter.com/gallery/Material-World-Family-Portraits/G0000Ip09fSBViW8/C0000d0DI3dBy4mQ. After looking at the pictures, discuss what your students see in them, as is appropriate to their age level: How are these different families doing with their material goods? Which families look content? Does their contentment seem to have anything to do with how much stuff they have? If your students took a picture like this with their family and their stuff, what would it look like? Would they look content?

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Teachers of very young Sunday Church School children can read a book such as More by I. C. Springman to their class. After reading, use the story to begin an age-appropriate discussion about materialism.

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Students in grades K-6 will benefit from this lesson on (not) loving money, which focuses on 1 Timothy 6: 6-10. Find the lesson at: http://ministry-to-children.com/the-love-of-money-bible-lesson/. The lesson is well documented and printable!

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Older elementary or middle school students could begin a discussion on materialism with this skit on “stuff”: http://www.kidssundayschool.com/618/gradeschool/stuff.php. It is available for download as a pdf, so that you can print copies for the students who will read/perform the skit.

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Middle or high school Sunday Church School students can read and the discuss this article about one couple who pared back their lives: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/business/08consume.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1414166722-C2NoCO+I+Pw8Upcc5k4g1Q. What are the results of their simpler living? How does this simpler living work for the pair?

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 Print and cut apart the following quotes (or any others you may find and add) about materialism and/or contentment. High school students can select a quote from a basket in which you have placed the cut-apart quotes. The students then take turns to read their quote to the class, and begin a discussion about the quote by stating whether or not they agree with it, as well as why. Together as a class, read 1 Tim. 6:6-10. Compare that quote to the others that had been read. Students can then each select their favorite quote, and illustrate it. Hang the illustrations around your classroom to remind you all to be content with what you have; and to avoid materialism.

Contentment vs. Materialism Quotes:

“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have. ” ~ Socrates

“To be content with little is difficult; to be content with much, impossible.” ~Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, Aphorisms

 

“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

 

“We’ve got a sort of brainwashing going on in our country, Morrie sighed. Do you know how they brainwash people? They repeat something over and over. And that’s what we do in this country. Owning things is good. More money is good. More property is good. More commercialism is good. More is good. More is good. We repeat it–and have it repeated to us–over and over until nobody bothers to even think otherwise. The average person is so fogged up by all of this, he has no perspective on what’s really important anymore.

 

Wherever I went in my life, I met people wanting to gobble up something new. Gobble up a new car. Gobble up a new piece of property. Gobble up the latest toy. And then they wanted to tell you about it. ‘Guess what I got? Guess what I got?’

 

You know how I interpreted that? These were people so hungry for love that they were accepting substitutes. They were embracing material things and expecting a sort of hug back. But it never works. You can’t substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship.

 

Money is not a substitute for tenderness, and power is not a substitute for tenderness. I can tell you, as I’m sitting here dying, when you most need it, neither money nor power will give you the feeling you’re looking for, no matter how much of them you have.” ~ Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie

 

“It is the preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else that prevents us from living freely and nobly.” ~ Bertrand Russell

 

“Life isn’t about having, it’s about being. You could surround yourself with all that money can buy, and you’d still be as miserable as a human can be. I know people with perfect bodies who don’t have half the happiness I’ve found. On my journeys I’ve seen more joy in the slums of Mumbai and the orphanages of Africa than in wealthy gated communities and on sprawling estates worth millions. Why is that? You’ll find contentment when your talents and passion are completely engaged, in full force. Recognise instant self-gratification for what it is. Resist the temptation to grab for material objects like the perfect house, the coolest clothes or the hottest car. The if I just had X, I would be happy syndrome is a mass delusion. When you look for happiness in mere objects, they are never enough. Look around. Look within.” ~ Nick Vujicic

An Orthodox Christian Perspective on the Movie “God’s Not Dead”

“The most committed atheists were once Christians.”

Whether or not this statement by Professor Radisson in the movie “God’s Not Dead” is true is uncertain. But the storyline of this 2014 movie directed by Harold Cronk would certainly lead the watcher to believe that it could be true. In the movie, the professor himself sets out to “unconvert” the Christian students that come into his philosophy class: employing logic, sarcasm, put-downs, and even threats to that end.

The movie follows student Josh Wheaton through his initial months in college, beginning with the first day of his philosophy class, where all students in Professor Radisson’s class were required to write down on a piece of paper, “God is dead;” and hand that paper in to the professor, or face difficult consequences. Undeterred, Josh chooses to not write the statement, and is thereby challenged by the professor to logically prove to him and the entire class that God does, in fact exist, and that He’s alive. Throughout the movie, the viewer also meets the professor’s girlfriend and part of her family, a few fellow students in the class, other students at the college, a cynical reporter, and a pastor and his missionary guest; all facing challenges of their own. As in real life, all of these people’s stories are going on simultaneously, and the viewer wonders until the end why they are all included in the movie.

There are parts of the movie that seem a bit forced. Some would say that, to a degree, the movie is somewhat of an advertisement for the Christian singing group “The Newsboys” and the show “Duck Dynasty.” Culturally-sensitive types may dislike the portrayals of the vengeful Muslim father or the seemingly-uncaring Chinese father as they interact with their children who are exploring Christianity. As a whole, Orthodox Christians will notice that parts are overtly Protestant/Evangelical in their approach to God, faith, and conversion. Remembering that the movie was filmed with an American Protestant Christian audience in mind may be the best way to approach the film, see past the weaknesses, and focus on its strength.

This movie’s best strength is the underlying message that the Faith is worth standing up for in the face of difficulty. The message is crystal clear, and the viewer finds themselves rooting for Josh every time it is his turn at the philosophy class podium. Numerous characters in the movie face the opportunity to stand up for what they believe in, and the viewer is able to observe whether or not they do, as well as the results of their choices. The movie makes the viewer think about standing up for his/her own faith in the face of adversity.

Because it is an opportunity to think about defending one’s faith, “God’s Not Dead” is a good movie for young Orthodox Christians preparing to enter high school or college to watch and then discuss with their parents or youth leaders.

Discussions questions could include:

  1. What is the main message of this movie? What do you think about it?
  2. Have you ever faced a situation such as Josh’s? What did you (or would you) do?
  3. Do you remember Reverend Dave‘s answer to Josh’s dilemma, at the beginning of the movie? How does Matthew 10: 32-33 apply to your life?
  4. Discuss the following quotes (or others) from the movie:
  • “How did I not see this in you?” ~ Kara “Because you saw what you wanted.” ~ Mark
  • “Some of the most important work God wants us to do seems meaningless.” ~ Rev. Jude
  • “The most committed atheists were once Christians.” ~ Prof. Radisson
  • “Sometimes the devil allows people to live a life free of trouble, ‘cause he doesn’t want them turning to God.” ~ Mina’s mother

Youth leaders/parents may also want to point out the differences in theology between Orthodox Christian teachings and those expressed in the movie (for example, salvation as a continuing process aided by the Eucharist and the other sacraments/teachings of The Church vs. use of the “sinner’s prayer” as the chief means of salvation).

The premise of this movie is nothing new: people have been trying since the days of the first martyr, Stephen, to dissuade others from their faith in God (and His son). This movie provides the viewer with the opportunity to think once again about his/her own faith and encourages the viewer to stand for Truth despite the opinions of all those around them. The movie has the potential to embolden the watcher to stand firm as Josh did before the “Professor Radissons” in his/her life. And then, maybe it can one day be said of those professor-types that

“The most committed Christians were once atheists…”

According to http://godsnotdeadthemovie.com/, this movie will be available on dvd/blue ray on August 5, 2014. Information about the movie itself can be found at:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2528814/?ref_=ttqt_qt_tt