Being a Chooser


WALKING TO WORK YESTERDAY I saw one of the multitudes of unhoused that roam our streets. He was hunched over, draped in his blanket, and wearing a large floppy hat. He looked, it struck me, exactly like so many ancient engravings (such as heads up this post). And as he passed me, he was engaged in a very adamant discussion with unseen partners. The craziness of the homeless is not legendary but real.

Two things came to me.

On the one hand, the thing that stands between him and me, that prevents my craziness from ending up in the street is no mystery.

I’ve only worked with the homeless for (nearly) two years, but I also worked in a rehab clinic in North Carolina for four years as well. The painful reality is I suffer from many of the same issues expressed in the lives of our guests: OCD, control issues, depression, addictive tendencies, PTSD, shattered families, financial risk, etc. Once, chatting with our guests, it felt as if I were looking into a mirror. It’s not the choices we make – this man had made many of the same ones as myself – rather there must be something else. But, again, it is no mystery: I have family and friends to call on who are not addicts, etc. I have a community of support in the Church and in my jobs. Even living thousands of miles from my parents, I have a strong enough relationship with them that I can ask for help. Before I fell too far, strong hands would lift me up. I took the job I currently have exactly because a predecessor told a friend of mine, “You’re a member of this parish. You will not be homeless.” That’s what love is all about: and many of our guests do not know love in their lives. Love stands between us and them.

And it’s our job to show them love even though they are so broken that they cannot now even see what we offer as love. We must love them even if it hurts us to do so. Over and over. For they are the abandoned icons of God, that need calling home.

And as these thoughts ripped through my brain the second thing arrived, as it were, from God.

As that man is in his addiction, I see all of you in your sins.

We are all that crazy man, wandering the streets wrapped in smelly blankets of our sins. Some of us decided on sexual sins, some on financial ones. We pick sins of infidelity or pride. We take up blankets of greed, gluttony, or sloth. Yet the deeper we fall into our sins the more – spiritually – we just become raving lunatics. We are all of us wrapped in the odor of our immorality and repellant to God and to each other.

And God chooses to show us love even though we are so broken that we cannot now even see what he offers us as love. He loves us to the point that it hurts him to do so. Over and over. He will not abandon his icons even as we scream against his voice and block our ears, preferring to talk to our imaginary friends which are – in fact – the demons instead of listening to our Divine Eternal Lover whispering our names: calling us home.

Thomas Hopko’s 55 Maxims


ALONG WITH THE “Rule” of the Late Fr Alexander Schmemann, which he wrote in his Journal on Tuesday, January 20, 1981 (see my copy here) the 55 Maxims of the Late Fr Thomas Hopko are, for me, a sure guide to living a Christian life as a single man living in the world. I can keep neither perfectly, so don’t read any claim into this post! These two together – adapted to my situation – are my personal rule.

Fr Tom was Fr Alexander’s Son-in-Law. Both served as Dean of St Vladimir’s Seminary. The maxims were originally part of a podcast. The Episode is archived here, along with a full transcript. Below is a condensed version of the 55 points. Although they were written for an Eastern Orthodox context, both the Maxims and the Rule are applicable in any Christian Journey.

  1. Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.
  2. Pray as you can, not as you think you must.
  3. Have a keepable rule of prayer done by discipline.
  4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times each day.
  5. Repeat a short prayer when your mind is not occupied.
  6. Make some prostrations when you pray.
  7. Eat good foods in moderation and fast on fasting days.
  8. Practice silence, inner and outer.
  9. Sit in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day.
  10. Do acts of mercy in secret.
  11. Go to liturgical services regularly.
  12. Go to confession and holy communion regularly.
  13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings.
  14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings to a trusted person regularly.
  15. Read the scriptures regularly.
  16. Read good books, a little at a time.
  17. Cultivate communion with the saints.
  18. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
  19. Be polite with everyone, first of all family members.
  20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.
  21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  22. Exercise regularly.
  23. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.
  24. Be totally honest, first of all with yourself.
  25. Be faithful in little things.
  26. Do your work, then forget it.
  27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  28. Face reality.
  29. Be grateful.
  30. Be cheerful.
  31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
  32. Never bring attention to yourself.
  33. Listen when people talk to you.
  34. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
  35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
  36. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.
  37. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis, figuring things out.
  38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.
  39. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
  40. Don’t seek or expect pity or praise.
  41. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
  42. Don’t judge anyone for anything.
  43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
  44. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
  45. Be defined and bound by God, not people.
  46. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
  47. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
  48. Do nothing for people that they can and should do for themselves.
  49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.
  50. Be merciful with yourself and others.
  51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
  52. Focus exclusively on God and light, and never on darkness, temptation and sin.
  53. Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy.
  54. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
  55. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.