Mar 1, 2011

What Charlie Sheen could learn from John Cassian


Normally, I am not one to comment on current events. And really, this is not a commentary about what Charlie Sheen has done. Instead, this morning in my reading of John Cassian's Conferences, I was struck by the stunning opposition of what Abbot Moses says and what Charlie Sheen is saying on the Today Show. We all know who Charlie Sheen is, but in case you are wondering, John Cassian was a monk in the fourth and fifth centuries, and his conferences are his transcription of what he learned straight from the Desert Fathers. Ironically, the Orthodox church celebrates Cassian on February 29th, which would be today if this were a leap year.


The Cassian's first two conferences are with Abbot Moses. In the first conference, Moses discussion how the goal of the monk is purity of heart. This goal is achieved by living a love filled life. For Moses, the greatest virtue, and the one from which all other virtues come. The second conference, is about discernment or discretion, depending on the translation. Discretion teaches us how to live a virtuous life. Love is the chief virtue and discretion teaches us when and how to be loving. This morning I read out of the tenth chapter of this conference. Moses said, "True discretion, said he, is only secured by true humility. And of this humility the first proof is given by reserving everything (not only what you do but also what you think), for the scrutiny of the elders, so as not to trust at all in your own judgment but to acquiesce in their decisions in all points, and to acknowledge what ought to be considered good or bad by their traditions."

If you've watched morning news you've probably seen Charlie Sheen. He speaks of how he, by the powers of his mind, has beat drugs and alcohol. He speaks of how awesome he is and that Chuck Lorre, his producer, doesn't realize it. Throughout everything he's said, the theme is look at how great I am and how I can do it all myself. He even said this morning that he did not want the help of his father or family.

It struck me how the wisdom from Abbot Moses is directly opposed to this. Moses teaches us to be humble and not even listen to our own thoughts, and instead to listen to the thoughts of elders. Listening to the thoughts of those who have gone before will teach us how to discerning of how to think and act in our life. Sheen lacks humility and refuses to listen to others. He has "fixed" all of his problems on his own. If I could speak to him, I would urge him to listen to what Abbot Moses said to Cassian. The road to virtue begins with discretion. True discretion has its root in humility and turning to the wisdom of elders who can tell you what is good or bad.

A very similar event took place in 1 Kings 12. Rehoboam, the son of King Solomon, rejected the advice of Solomon's advisors (the people who advised the wisest man on earth) and went to his friends. Rehoboam ending up splintering the Kingdom of Israel, which his father and grandfather made great, into two.

The moral of this this story is that we need to listen to the wisdom of our elders and not the wisdom of our selves. Discretion and discernment does not come from inexperience, but humility and the experience and wisdom of those who has lived a virtuous life.
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