Thursday, May 21, 2009

On Compliments and Podcasts

Mark Twain, great American humorist, journalist and satirist

Mark Twain once said, "I could go for a whole month on a good compliment." I think that almost all of us feel the same way. Everyone likes to hear that his or her efforts are appreciated. But we have to be careful. The Church Fathers often warn about compliments. They say that we should never seek them out; some even say that we should avoid them at all costs. One contemporary monk of whom I have heard, when someone compliments him, holds up his hands in a gesture meaning "Stop!" and says, "My enemy! My enemy!"

Why is receiving a compliment so dangerous? The reason, the Fathers tell us, is that it can lead to vainglory, the constant desire to have people praise us. Vainglory, in return, leads to an even more harmful problem: pride, that is, thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. In other words, compliments can lead us to think that we are really great, that we are (as I used to say in junior high) "hot stuff." They make us forget about how sinful we are, how far short we fall of God's will for us. And they are addictive: the more compliments we get, the more we crave, until we start living for them. We base our self-worth on what others think and say about us, rather than in God's great love for us. And then when people stop complimenting us, we start to think that we might just be worthless. So, we have to walk a fine line.

I can say without a doubt that I am not yet to the point where I never crave compliments--not even close! I crave them less than I used to, but I still have far to go. In that regard, then, I am still much more like Mark Twain than the monk I mentioned above. I get a lot of nice comments about this blog, for which I am appreciative. But I rarely ever receive any feedback about my podcast "Thy Word." In fact, in the nearly nine months that I have been doing it, I have received only about 5 comments on it (all far). Sometimes, I flirt around with self-pity, wondering if anyone is really being helped by it, and wishing more would say so. And then, a couple of weeks ago, when I received the following email from a listener to my podcast "Thy Word," it made my month (not just my day!):

Father Early,

I live in [a small city in the Western US], and there is no parish here. I have studied Orthodoxy for more than a year, almost two years. I live in an isolated area in which the nearest parish is about 2hrs drive away. Therefore I am not Orthodox but it has been a prayer and desire of mine to become one. The nearest parish is just to far away for me to take advantage of benefits of attending. I guess I can say I live with the Orthodox vicarously through podcasts such as your own.

You should realize that podcasts are a great evangelizing tool and have helped me see the truth and the One Holy Apostolic and catholic faith as it really is. I was raised a Jehovah's witness. Podcasts and prayers and the grace of God have helped deprogram me. Now I know where God wants me to be. Baptism and chrismation and being a part of this great faith is my goal.

Recently, the Lord has answered my calling to become a part of the church. I met an Orthodox subdeacon living in my community and recently we have been starting a mission parish together. We were able to get the mission priest to visit us and have a conference meeting to annouce a chapel to start for the local community. We have recieved the blessing of the Bishop and in the fall we may have the opportunity to recieve him here to worship with us.

Our little tiny chapel is all we have right now and there are only two of us (that are known), in a city of some 60 000 residents, mostly Mormon. We do Vespers on Saturday evening and Orthros and the Typika service on Sunday. I was privileged to help in all this. Truly God has blessed me and us here in St[my town]

The Holy Spirit goes where it want to go, as told by our Lord in the Gospel of St. John chapter 3. Podcasts that you have made and the many others from radio programs, such as Ancient Faith radio, are a blessing in disguise.

Wow! I was floored. Thank God! I started my little podcast last fall mainly as a ministry to members of my Sunday School class who have to miss a Sunday, and to others who cannot attend the class at all for whatever reason. A few people had been asking me for a couple of years to record my classes, but being the technologically-challenged person that I am, it took me a while to discover an effective way of doing it. But now, any time someone misses class, or just wants to hear a lesson again, I tell them to download the podcast.

Little did I know at the time that people all over the U.S., and even around the world, would start listening to it and be helped by it. Now don't get me wrong -- by now there are many excellent Orthodox podcasts available. Many of them are much better than mine. My podcast will never be as popular as (say) Our Life in Christ or The Illumined Heart, nor should it be. And I have no desire to become an internet radio "personality" or to achieve any level of "fame." I only hope that the recordings of my Sunday School class that become the Thy Word podcasts will be used by God to help others to find the Ancient Christian Faith, and to help people who are already Orthodox to grow in their faith and their knowledge of the Scriptures and the Fathers.

And even if all the podcast ever accomplishes is to help one Jehovah's Witness living in Mormon country to find and fall in love with Orthodoxy, it's worth all the work.

One more thing: Please, no least not for a while! :-)


Paul said...

Ok, fine no compliments. How about then a warm THANK YOU? You are appreciated even if no one verbally says so.

And as I keep telling you; There is only One that is Good and I (we) aint' Him. :)

Isabel said...

I think of compliments like sound hitting a soft surface, it sort of sits there and goes nowhere else (a good thing?) Feedback, however is useful, and like an echo hits the receiver and goes forth again - hopefully as a reminder to keep on perfecting the effort, and as an encouragement that the effort is indeed worthwhile.
But...aren't there times when we must trust that the effort is pleasing to God and possibly (although we may not hear about it here on earth) useful for bringing about the Kingdom of Heaven in the present? Just being as faithful - and creative - as we can. Loving God and loving the community and trusting to the higher purpose.

Please forgive me if this sounds like rambling, but like the topic of "use of time" I have also been thinking a lot about "purpose of effort" lately.

Also, please keep in mind that some people may not have a way to communicate feedback, but use "compliments" to express it as best they can. They are still growing, and -I hope- so are we.

So, thanks for the blog, the podcast, the class, etc, etc. Keep up the good work? May God grant you many years.

elizabeth said...

Thank God! That is lovely - beautiful. This speads hope of God using us small ones. Thanks for sharing!

s-p said...

Hi Father, Don't feel slighted due to lack of comments. With over 50 million views on Our Life in Christ in the last couple years we only get 2-3 emails a month from listeners, and some of those are from people who have already emailed us before. I've gotten maybe 5-6 on "Steve the Builder", but I meet people all the time who say they love the podcasts and they were influential in their journey to don't judge your influence by feedback. We all do this to the glory of God, its nice to get a little glory from men, but as you say, its nice but its not about that, but it does keep us going when it happens. :)

Jessica said...

Well... I guess this might be Satanic, then, but... I love your blog and your classes, Fr. James! I think it's just that people (i.e., myself) get so wrapped up in our own little lives that we don't take the time to let others know we appreciate them.

I need to send in an e-mail about the Steve the Builder podcast, then! It's my new favorite -- I actually like it better than My Life in Christ (don't tell Bill Gould).