The final hours...

The DrudgeReport headline says "Saddam may hang in hours..." and I understand the judgement but still hope for his soul.

In our Liturgy we pray for captives and their salvation, first for those imprisoned for their faith in Christ, second for those wrongfully imprisoned, and third for those justly imprisoned in the hope they would come to repentance and salvation. Saddam Hussein is such a case yet in these final hours as he faces justice for his crimes against humanity I still wish that somehow, some way, he would come to see the light of Christ, repent, and be made a new creation.

God's grace is that deep and wide and although few in this world will miss him in his death and many may rejoice the thought of even this soul being lost should give us pause and perhaps we should pray that even to the point when he takes his final walk to the gallows some part of his heart would leap from its captivity towards the only one who can save him, not from his execution, but from an eternity broken from God.

Lord have mercy on Saddam Hussein and we sinners too in the hours and days and years to come.

New Year's Eve Sermon...

New Year’s Eve
Sunday, December 31, 2006

In just a few hours the frivolities will be beginning as we mark the passage of this year to the next. And it’s probably at this point we should engage in a little calendar trivia.

The Romans originally celebrated March 1st as New Year’s Day. With the arrival of the newer, more accurate Julian calendar the date was officially moved to January 1st, the beginning of the Roman Civil Year.

In the 6th century AD the practice of celebrating the New Year on January 1st was abolished in the West as being Pagan and various dates, including Easter, were celebrated as the first day of the year. By the middle of the 16th century the Gregorian calendar began to be established with January 1st as the beginning of the year and gradually became adopted throughout Europe. The last holdout was England, which, along with her territories, did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752 and continued until then to celebrate March 1st as New Year’s Day.

Now for Orthodox the actual new year starts on September 1st, the beginning of the Liturgical year. And January 1st for us is the Feast of St. Basil with today being not New Year’s Eve but rather the Sunday after the Nativity of Christ and commemorating St. Joseph the Betrothed, David the Prophet and King, and James the Brother of our Lord. Those of you who were here last year remember we celebrated Sunday, January 1st, as the Feast of St. Basil with the magnificent Liturgy of St. Basil.

All that is for your own insight, because we are creatures of our culture and today is the eve of the civil New Year and many of us will celebrate in some form to mark the passing of the old year and the arrival of the new with many of us having tomorrow off as a holiday.

So, first, just a reminder. When I was a health care Chaplain I served the residents of a nursing home populated largely by chronic alcoholics and they liked to call New Year’s Eve “Amateur Night” because people who normally didn’t drink to excess did and didn’t know how to handle themselves.

It seems every year in LaCrosse some sad person gets drunk and gets to meet God face down in the mighty Mississippi. Our faith allows us, at various times, to consume alcoholic beverages in moderation and by moderation we mean if you have any doubts about your ability to control your drinking you should not even start and if you choose to you do not have the moral right to endanger others. I don’t want to have to do your funeral knowing you were embalmed long before you were dead, so don’t be a statistic.

Second its part of the tradition surrounding this time of year to make resolutions. The truth is we Orthodox should always be resolved to be the best person, by the grace of God, we can and to always strive for that which is right, good, true, and faithful. In fact we have any number of fasting times during the year to help us lay aside ourselves, draw close to God, and in doing so become a better human being, but we’re creatures of our culture and resolutions will be made.

So consider making this year a year of growth in faith and Christ.

Believe me there’s nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight, get the finances in order, find that new job, or spend more time fishing. There are many good things that can be accomplished with the fresh start a new year brings.

But sometimes those worthy things overshadow the truly important things and there is nothing more important than having your life right with God, to be in relationship with Him, to enjoy His presence, and to worship. Jesus tells us it profits nothing to gain the whole world and lose our soul and again he says to us that when seek first the Kingdom of God all the other areas of our life will find their true meaning, their true value, and their true purpose.

Studies have even been undertaken and they show time and again that a deep and abiding faith helps people, on average, life longer, cope with stress and change better, be less prone to depression, recover from injury faster, and be far less likely to take our own lives in despair. Devout people even do better if they smoke, so if you can’t quit right now at least pray, read your Bible, and show up for Liturgy.

And while those results may surprise researchers we in the Orthodox Church have known this from day one. We understand that people were created by God to be in communion with Him and when we’re not we’re cut off from the very source of our life. We wander because we’ve lost our true home. We become disoriented because Truth is distant. We stumble in the dark because we cannot see the Light. The truth is we need God more than the air we breathe because long after breath has left our body God will still be the true life, light, hope, and salvation of the world.

Imagine something if you will.

Experts say it takes 21 days to establish a pattern of behavior as a habit. Now imagine what would happen if starting tomorrow as you clean up after the events and start getting things together you made the decision that for the next 21 days you will pray for at least 21 minutes per day and not miss a Liturgy.

Imagine how your life would be different. How would you grow? How would you be challenged? Where would you have peace? What joy would you have? What struggle could you better endure? What new life would stir? What old fear would die away?

You could use the forms in your Orthodox Study Bible. You could take home one of the service books. You could simply sit quietly in front of an icon of Christ or his Mother and pour out your heart. Eloquence is not what matters, commitment does, a heart that desires God is the sacrifice that God accepts.

And by the end of those 21 days would this seeking God for even a short time every day become a practice, a holy habit, an essential part of the day like taking a shower or brushing your teeth, or having breakfast? Would a day without it seem unnatural? It very well may be, because a heart that truly touches the face of God will soon desire nothing less and rejoice in every moment when God is near.

There’s nothing wrong with losing weight, exercising more, or stopping smoking. They, with any number of others, are very good things to do and worthy of increased effort in a new year. But don’t forget the things of the spirit as you look towards the New Year. In an instant any good thing we strive for on earth can be changed, even undone, but those who keep their treasure and their heart in heaven have the good which can never be taken away even if the diet doesn’t last until next week’s slice of cheesecake.

God bless us everyone...

I'll be on the road just before the main frivolities of New Year's Eve get underway and with any luck at all I'll be safe in home and bed before the year changes.

I've never been much of a New Year's Eve person. I don't know why for sure, maybe its because when I was growing up we usually spent at least part of the evening in church. Perhaps it's just an act of self preservation. The chronic alcoholics I used to work with as a Chaplain often called New Year's Eve "Amateur Night" and I'm not sure I want to be out and about with folks who have no idea how to really drink. It's one of those things I've noticed that really old drunks know how to handle themselves in ways that Joe Accountant on his one big night has no clue. Of course being an old drunk requires a certain savvy for survival just to get "old" in the first place. Alcohol has this way of thinning out the herd.

And home and bed seems to be the best place for me to be this New Year's Eve. There's a part of me that wishes this year was a bad dream and if I could just wake up and everything would be okay. Too much loss, too many sharp edges, too many gray areas, too much staring at the sky and asking unanswerable questions. It's been a year when I've often felt like I was at the wrong end of a bowling alley so why celebrate it's passing. Just to sleep, and perchance to dream, and then buoyed by an artificially constructed date left to us by our Roman overlords by magic the past goes away.

I'm a creature of my culture so I have resolutions. Lose weight, exercise more, lose anger, pray more, be healthier, hope we all stay as intact as possible, world peace, the usual. I'll write about this time next year and tell you how it all came out. I hope your resolutions work out as well. I've learned, though, not to hold my breath. Slow and steady usually wins the race.

Perhaps the most important thing I've learned in this past year is how precious life is, and how we musn't dawdle when it comes to the important things because things change, sometimes literally in a heartbeat.
Little by little time, life, and the grace of God are burning away the unimportant, the chaff, the temporary. I'm probably more prepared to die now then I've ever been because there is less to cling to but I'm also more preapred to live because the important stuff has become more precious. I'm older now and so I get to see the doctor more often but that is an inconvenience. When my soul isn't right is when I really start to hurt and in whatever time is left I'll care for the physical stuff for maintenance but the spiritual stuff for the long haul, actually the longest haul.

In that light there seems to be just one piece of priestly advice for the new year that comes to mind. Pray for the peace of the world. We see all the darkness of the world and it's overwhelming sometimes but it also calls us to lift this tired old world up to God in prayer. We're not perfect, the world's a far ways away from perfect, but beyond the fear, paralysis, and frustration lies prayer and we always and everywhere need to lift up holy, and not so holy, hands for the sake of this world. It matters.

That all being said I wish you the deepest presence of Christ in this year, all the years to come, and as we Orthodox like to say "unto ages of ages". Amen.

Happy New Year.


Priests and cars...

One thing people have to remember is that for a Priest a car is a tool, part office, part transport, part hauler. In the course of a week a Priest may put a whole lot of road under their wheels and there are times when those wheels can't fail, say two o'clock in the morning for that emergency baptism in the neonatal intensive care unit.

So some Priests have some pretty nice cars. But there's a secret you should know. A lot of clergy need nice cars for work but can't afford them fresh off the lot. The secret? Buy a nice car a few years old and still get value without all that depreciation.

I knew a Lutheran pastor who really liked Volvos but could only afford them when they got in the neighborhood of 100,000 miles. Fortunately Volvo's routinely leave 100K in the rear view mirror and the people who own them aren't prone to taking them out boondocking. Same goes for Lincoln Town Cars, which a close Priest friend of mine enjoys (they're literally a traveling living room) but never buys new. Recently I met the former Priest of St. Elias Church and his wife while he was visiting family in the Twin Cities. They were in thier Audi station wagon purchased the same way. All it takes to turn an out of reach Mercedes into an affordable pastormobile is a few years.

So if you see your Priest, Pastor, or Minister scooting by in, say, a Cadillac it isn't because your paying them too much or they're on the take. Just like you learn in seminary to stretch noodles for a few meals it doesn't take long in parish life to figure out how to get a good car cheap and make it last.

You might even want to try it yourself sometime.

I hate this stuff...

Perhaps hate is too strong a word but "loathe" seems just about right. That is, when the topic is buying cars, which I did yesterday.

First there's some of the folks who sell cars and seem to be inspired by a primal masochism. I believe there are people who would choose a simultaneous root canal and prostate exam without benefit of anesthesia or glove over the process of stepping in to a car dealer.

Second, there is my own baggage in all of this. I despise debt and have a tendency to second, third, and fourth guess myself which, added to the original pain of just doing this whole thing, makes for a mad, mad tilt a whirl of the weeks surrounding this process. And believe me it takes weeks for me to do the painful and minute research to feed my obsessive approach to all of this. That my wife has stayed married to me through the purchase of roughly a half a dozen cars is a testament to true love.

But facts are facts and my venerable Suzuki, she of good speed, pleasant seat height, and satisfactory mileage, was beginning to show her age and my own body began to ask, in various aches and pains, for more comfort and a few extra conveniences.

Of course there was nothing that was perfect. Perfect would be a car that gets above 30 mpg on the highway, has the performance of a sports car, the reliability of the sunrise, and enough space to haul a lot of suitcases. There are cars with great gas mileage but they force one into yogic poses. There are sports cars that have two doors and an open top but I need four and convertibles and kayak transport don't mix. There are cars that are big on storage but drink gasoline by the bucket.

I ended up with a 2004 Saturn VUE, red, with a five speed manual transmission and 2.2 liter four cylinder motor. It won't win any races but the seats are comfortable, the amenities good (cruise control and ABS), the carrying space large enough and some, and the highway mileage is close at 29. Gently used at less than 30 thousand miles it's a little of most, none of all, and did I say it was red?

Being a Saturn dealer there wasn't the feeding frenzy about buying that usually accompanies these rites. It was actually quite serene and if anything I was getting tired of them taking up time trying to make sure I understood everything and had every question answered. Washed up and ready I took her home with that funny fake new car smell stuck in my sinuses.

Now the fun part comes. After every car purchase I've ever made comes the sleepless night. Did I do the right thing? What happens if it breaks down? How about a crisis in the Middle East and here I am stuck without a Prius? What if I lose my job? Didn't I hear that an asteroid could hit earth? Lots of late night television.

And this morning thoughts of taking it back, running away, selling off a few guitars to pay for the car, blah, blah blah. This too shall pass, they say, but this stuff always passes like a baseball size kidney stone. Two months from now when I'm driving through the snow to LaCrosse and I can see down the road because of the good driver's seat height, am able to stretch my legs and actually immediately walk away from a car after getting out, and feeling safe with ABS and traction control none of this will matter. Right now it's just a tired unfocused hell.

You'd think that a person in the faith business would be better at this. I'm not, and I'd better snap out of it quickly. If this continues for too much longer my wife will kill me and there won't be a jury anywhere that would convict her.


The greatest gift of all...

And the race is on...

Winter will arrive around 6:30 PM today and with it the Christmas rush like the snow storm scheduled to hit us in the next few hours. Everything is about as ready as it can be and anything less then essential has now been placed in the "see you next week" file.

Service bulletins are done. Travel plans are in. Schedules are set. Events are locked and loaded. All has been spooled onto a bobbin and awaits only the precise unwinding. As if! But that's part of the texture of this time as well.

Tomorrow will be on to western Minnesota and time with my wife's family. Then Saturday evening is return home, Sunday morning travel to LaCrosse, then return home for time with my family, then Monday morning travel to LaCrosse, then return home and then some sort of rest on the 25th and 26th. We've even stashed enough food in the house so once we finally get home we don't have to actually leave the premises.

For clergy this is a working weekend, one where you must shine and still find a way to get snippets of time in with your family. To be married to a Priest means you'll never have a normal Christmas again so forget about anything that looks like Currier and Ives because you, too, are on stage and on the road. Oh well.

The actual serene moments will be during the Liturgy, as they always are, when time and space seem to be on hold and you can rest as the great words wash over you and the smell of incense mixed with candles wraps around the altar. It's always like that but on this busy weekend the peace, the refuge will be deeper. Whatever else the coming events bring I will cherish this the most.

So before it all starts you have this last post. By God's grace I will write again sometime after the Feast of the Nativity but until then I wish you, yours, and the world all the peace, joy, love, and light that come with these holy days and above all the abiding presence of Christ.

Merry Christmas!


Christmas Message...

Christmas Message
Monday, December 25th, 2006

The stories of Christmas are full of miracles, angels appearing in dreams and worshipping with shepherds, magi guided from the east by a star, and above all a virgin conceiving a child in a supernatural way. And all along the story’s paths we see the hand of God bringing time, place, person, and events into order to the end that He himself would come and take his place among us.

But strangely while we focus on those events as we read the stories and sing the carols there is perhaps the greatest part of the story, the most miraculous, that remains largely untold.


Why did God choose this way?

To be God is to have infinite options, all moral and good, to achieve any desired end. We humans make our decisions based on time, money, resources, our health, any number of things but God is not limited in the slightest by any of those considerations. God can simply will and it comes to pass. And knowing that I remain at a loss in the face of it, this incarnation, this day so long ago in Bethlehem.

We speak of God coming to rescue us, as the carol says “To save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray.” But God could have just as easily and with perfect justice looked down on what we had become and what evils he knew we would still do in the future and simply said “Enough” and willed it all into non-existence in the hope, perhaps, of starting over.

God could have, as well, just simply left us to our own devices like an exasperated parent and said “If that’s the way you want to live have it your way” and moved on.

Perhaps our Lord could have come in blazing glory, the glory that was rightly His and once and for all set all things aright in a flash of His power. The Bible tells us that even holy men tremble in the face of angels how so more would evil rulers, sinful people, and practitioners of any darkness fall before the face of Christ in His majesty?

Only time prevents the mentioning of all the possibilities of God in relating to His creation and especially to us human beings and when our imagination runs out it does not mean they end.

Yet why this way?

Why would the Almighty come so obscurely, not even bothering to arrive in Jerusalem or Damascus or Rome?

Why would the eternal God take on something so frail and temporary as humanity?

Why would the all powerful one subject Himself to becoming a creature that is so limited, so prone to evil, and broken?

There seems to be no answer that makes sense in the way we humans define that term. There is no logic which allows our intellect to understand. Our imaginations pushed to their limit can only touch the edges of the depth that lurks below the surface of the simple stories of Jesus’ birth.

The miracle transcending all others which we call to mind in this day is a miracle of love. Love of a kind and scale that makes child’s play of our deepest thoughts and renders our loftiest ideals small and mean in comparison. Love which always threatens to overwhelm us in its strength, drown us in its depth, and pull our feeble words out of our mouths in a holy silence. Love of a kind to the end that ours is similar only as a grain of sand resembles a desert, a single stem the prairie, an eye dropper the ocean.

It is a love that has seen us in our smallness and chooses to come in the smallest most gentle way possible.

It is a love that knows how little we often understand and so comes among us with a body and words and bread and wine so that we are not overwhelmed by it all.

It is a love that remembers that we are but dust and so takes dust upon itself in the hope that it can be divinely transformed.

It is a timeless love that knows we are prisoners of time and so takes on time for itself so that we can share in eternity.

It is a love steeped in the knowledge that we are sinners and despite our limitations are defiant and prideful and so chooses to humble itself in the hope of our deliverance from our dark state.

It is love that sees the terror of death and our struggles in the face of it and wills to endure our greatest fear so that its ultimate power is broken.

There will never be a way to fathom such love, a love beyond human that nevertheless choose to become one with us. To see it as it truly is is to stand in pure holiness, unfettered goodness, and undying light. We may travel to the end of our thoughts and still only realize we are on the thin edge of the love of God. And when we do there can only be worship of the deepest kind.

Yet for reasons beyond our comprehension this love is for us. Unearned, undying, and burning with holy passion. Our greatest response is to simply receive it, embrace it, and share it, and in so doing be ourselves transformed into the likeness of the child who came to us so long ago and far away and lives in us still.

As we do that we will truly begin to understand and live the miracle of Christmas


Christmas Eve Message...

Christmas Eve Message
December 24th, 2006

Among my very favorite Christmas carols is “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.

Composed in 1865 by the Rev. Philip Brooks, an Episcopal Priest, following a visit to the Holy Land and first performed in 1868, it’s a five verse poem that captures a timeless sense of that long ago night we remember today. It’s prose is simple but elegant and the music simultaneously conveys a sense of reverence, joy, and longing.

“Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in they dark streets shineth the everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

And its that longing our Epistle speaks of today, the longing of those saints who lived, struggled, and sought God before the arrival of Christ motivated only by the promise of His coming. Some we know like righteous Simeon and Anna who spent their lives in holy reverence and were blessed in their old age to hold the young Christ in their arms. Others only saw the promise as something far away, something true and real but defined only as the hope that God would come to rescue His people and save the world. In types and shadows they received a foretaste of the gift to be given and carried on in faith. We read of these great men and women of faith in the Old Testament and marvel.

And their longing is ours as well.

There is still a kind of darkness to the world, a basic sort of brokenness, a senselessness to things that makes us shake our heads in a perverse kind of wonder. The Apostle Paul, writing in Romans, speaks of the creation groaning hoping for redemption, and we know in our own lives both the taste of beauty, grace, and light, that are the remnants of primeval Eden and the bitterness of existence broken by sin.

We long for hope, for something beyond ourselves, for certainty to cling to and a way back to our home. Even the most pleasant of life still has within it the seeds of exile, a kind of wandering, the realization of impermanence and the knowledge that although Eden’s gate is now closed and guarded by an angel the door of death is always open.

We differ from those saints of old not in the understanding of our human dilemma because they faced what we face. All the human eras have had a sense of yearning, a will to transcend, and a struggle with the abyss of death. We differ only in technology but not kind.

Yet while the dilemma, the need, the exile remains the same so too does the rest we seek, the salvation we crave, and the heaven for which we journey.

From the eyes of Abraham who left the security of life and home to wander the earth for the sake of God’s promise to the person sitting in an office in front of a computer, overwhelmed by work, by life, and the meaning of it all the hope is the same. From those who endured horrendous discomforts for the sake of faith to we who sit here in a kind of luxury that would have astounded even those who brought this church into being the answer to the hopes and fears of human history remains unchanged.

The man in the bar trying to drink his troubles away. The lady in her office with power and money to spare but a hollwness inside. The dreamers who write poems and the folks who travel from empty bed to empty bed in the hope of someone to love. The children who are afraid of the storms. Those who place their hope in other people only to be disappointed because we all have feet of clay sometimes. The hungry and oppressed of the world and those who starve and oppress others for the sake of their own dark hungers. The young girl looking at her face in the mirror and wondering what she sees and the old man looking at the ceiling of the hospital and gasping for that final bit of air.

All the hopes and fears of all the years are met in one moment when somewhere in the darkness of long ago Bethlehem a baby cried out in the night and angels and shepherds responded in worship and the world was destined to never be the same.

All that will be given tonight and tomorrow will fade away. That is the nature of earthly things. But if you will receive the gift that is given, this Christ who comes in such humble form, your hopes and fears and wandering and struggle will find a place of rest, if not always now then in that day to come.

How silently, how silentlyThe wondrous gift is given !
So God imparts to human heartsThe blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming;But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angelsThe great glad tidings tell,
O come to us, abide with us,Our Lord Emmanuel !


The ice thaws...

I drove home alone from shopping tonight after a cold walk through the mall parking lot and a pleasant evening with my mother. So many thoughts.

We were looking through ornaments and a wave of images passed through me, people I had lost, the passing of time, the state of things, and a quiet melancholy that sometimes comes with the season. But heaven was close too and so were the kind of cleansing tears we Orthodox like to think of as a second baptism.

Somewhere beneath the layers of work, a few hard months, and the cold evening wind there is still a heart and a soft spot that can be reached. I was beginning to worry, you know, that I was much too tired or perhaps was doomed to pass through this time of year with robotic efficiency. Yet the quiet place inside that was lost has been found and if it doesn't last at least I have it now and I'll enjoy the moment.

How I wish a deep and enduring peace in Christ for myself and those I love but even more for this tired old world! And part of me thinks that maybe, just maybe, this holy season will be just that for the world. I'm probably foolish, of course, but I'm glad I can still feel that way, still hold out for something better, and believe that it's not all useless or a night without end.

Thank you Lord, for that gift given to us sinners a glimmer of light that the darkness cannot overcome.

Couldn't resist again...

Warning this site has extreme satire.

I couldn't resist...

You can get tee shirts like this and others here


The ice thaws...

It's been a good day today and the ice is thawing.

Yesterday was spent making fruitcake and having a good conversation with my mother. Today comes good news from the doctor regarding my cholesterol levels which have taken a dramatic decline (almost fifty points). The schedule is starting to get under control and the mandolin practice is starting to pay off as I practice carols for the folks where I work. A good sleep last night makes a difference as well.

I think everyone in our family knows this will be a hard Christmas. My brother's death will touch everything but that's not bad because it means he's missed and we're inconvenienced and lost in a certain way without his presence. It would be more frightening if all of this had happened and it meant nothing. The irony is that in some ways he will be more present to us in his absence then he was when he was with us and we sort of took things for granted. In the normal course of life we often are not truly present to each other because we never ponder that things can end. When they do we seem to value what, or who, was lost in a different way. Death and loss are a jolt that wakes us from the slumber of the everyday and teaches the value of what matters. But it does so at a horrific cost.

So Paul will be there in every gift, every thought, every moment of our time together in a way that he should have been, and each of us should have been to each other, had we not just made the assumption that everything will be as it is always has been world without end. Again that is as it should be because he mattered and still matters and will always matter. While the years may change the way we understand this the fact of it will remain.

The moral of this story? Whenever and however you and yours get together at Christmas go beyond the gifts and the food and the parties and be present with those who share your life and this moment. It goes by too fast to just put everything on autopilot and assume there will be some future time when you can put in the time and effort to bind your heart to those you love.

Now and only now is available. Always has been, always will be. World without end. Amen.

More defections from the Episcopal Church...

A link to a story about a larger Episcopal Church in Virginia that has voted overwhelmingly to leave that Church.

I spent several years recovering from life as a Baptist Pastor in a wonderful evangelical and charismatic Episcopal Church in St. Paul. Church of the Messiah was a healing place, a place that helped me understand liturgy and began the process that brought me to Orthodoxy and for which I will always be grateful.

And what has happened to ECUSA grieves me. The leaders and members of that once great body have traded thier inheritance for a bowl of pottage, or better said a thin watery soup that has no ability to nourish or sustain the soul. There are, of course, individual parishes where the lights are still on but they are like healthy tissue surviving in gangrene and every day the illness threatens to consume it.

I have acquaintances who are Priests in ECUSA and a sister who remains there and all I can do is hope for the best. God can do great things but in a church fascinated with baptizing whatever the culture sends and symptomatically celebrating anything, it appears, at variance with historic Christian faith it would seem to be an uphill thing. It is one thing to be a church that has struggled through persecution from without and another to be a body of people grossly deformed by choice.

My best hope is that this is a temporary thing and somehow something good and decent and dare we say even Christian emerges from the ashes. Some people gloat over what has happened to ECUSA and point fingers and say "See, I told you so..." In one sense they're right. Having left, for the most part, the historic faith or any pretense to it the church is in a death spiral and it may be only a few years before the numbers and the declining endowments mark the final fiery crash. But what joy could there possibly be in that? ECUSA's decline means that souls are being lost and faithful remnants stretched to the breaking. Taking a perverse pleasure in that is at least as bad as the heresies that made all of this happen.

Until then we can only pray.


Still Waiting (Part 2)

The Christmas spirit hasn't hit yet, but at least there's a sense of hope.

Of course that hope isn't about the world, or at least the way it is at present. This "post Christian" era has become the era where things like common sense, decency, intellectual rigor, and civilization have joined faith as a thing of the past. And we're paying for it big time. Having cut ourselves from the moorings of that worldview (Christianity) which made us civil, prosperous, educated, and less prone to say, running into battle naked and painted blue, we now are what have conned ourselves into thinking is "free", that is we are adrift on an ocean of our own thoughts, emotions, hungers, and deficiencies in a rudderless ship with no sails. I sometimes wonder why God hasn't just taken a look at all of us and decided for the sake of mercy and the good of this planet to hit the "delete" button and send humanity back to wherever failed experiments go. That is if we don't do it ourselves first.

So I don't have much hope in people, myself included. We're just at a real stupid stage right now and the best I suppose we can hope for is getting out of it without a wholesale slaughter. And anyone who claims they can solve it only indicates thier delusion.

I have to throw my hope in with God. Although from my little world the current evidence for some sort of control in all of this is not at a high point I still believe. I still think that Jesus just plain makes sense and although I'm far from a perfect example of what that means I'll still give it my best shot. And as to Christmas, well, devils in human form visit us all the time and do thier worst so why couldn't God visit and give His best?

After all it would only take once...


What I want my soul to sound like...

To be who we are...

I must confess there is a part of me that sees the Middle East and the struggles of these times with a jaundiced eye. On the way to work today I said to my wife "Maybe what we should do is realize the Iraqi's are just not intellectually, socially, and emotionally capable of civil government and put Saddam back in power." Perhaps, I think in dark moments, they need to feel the iron fist and hear the sound of the chipper shredders at work again to realize that using thier freedom to settle centuries old grudges is just plain stupid.

And I think sometimes as well about what would happen if Christians stood up and administered the same kind of harsh justice and retribution that seems to be so much a part of the Islamic world these days. When the Pope is insulted by Turks just do what thier mob would do and rampage in the streets a while and burn the embassy to the ground. The truth is the Islamic fanatics are able to do what they can do because they have only felt the smallest edge of our power and truthfully have no idea what hell could be unleashed if were truly angry.

But therein lies the point, we are not called to anger, to destruction, or revenge. It is not our way and when we resort to it we degrade ourselves. Our Lord, our Prophet, our King calls us to a different way of life and it's not always an easy way because we must sift everything, even our thoughts and emotions, through His teachings. In a broken world this puts us at a short term tactical disadvantage against any agressor even as we hope for the salvation of the world and the Kingdom come. At times that Kingdom has come only through our own bodies being broken, like His, for those who hate us.

I will tell you that I do not always understand this. I know it in my brain as factual but it does not always touch my heart and certainly often misses influencing my attitudes. Can I truly, as Jesus asks, love someone like Osama Bin Laden and any number of those people in the angry mobs who really do want to hurt me and make my life a kind of slavery to thier warped vision? Can I pray for them? Will I be strong enough? And what happens when push becomes shove and they are not somewhere over there but right here and in my face?

I have no answers. I probably won't until the time comes. But faith is only true when its challenged and these are challenging times indeed.


Do we worship the same God?

An interesting article, actually a review, of a book that addresses this issue.

Betcha everyone shows up for services...

A link to this story of one Somali town's methods to encourage daily prayers...

For what it's worth...

An article with some seldom heard insight on Constantinople, Islam, and double standards with regard to holy places.

Free Constantinople items available here.


I'm a big fan...

Lost in the shuffle...

Lost in the shuffle of the press coverage of the Pope's visit to Turkey was the actual purpose of the visit, namely to meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch and continue dialogue aimed at healing the rifts between the Roman and Orthodox churches.

From the Orthodox side of the divide there are still issues of substance that need to be resolved in all of this, pesky things that can't simply be covered over by theo-speak papers and pronouncements. Ironically the very concept of what the Pope has become is one of those things. Yet pressed by secularism in the West and the rising tide of angry Islam in the East the divides are getting smaller, the inconsequential issues are losing thier power, and there may be some movement towards talking about and dealing with the major items like Creed and Papacy that won't be settled by "live and let live". We'll see.

And therein lies a related point. What crisis, what threatening horizon will finally force the various jurisdictions of Orthodox Christians in North America to return to unity? Its obvious that in peaceful times with the cash still flowing the people who can make a difference on this issue seem to be moving very slowly. Everyone agrees the current situation in North America is non-canonical, even sinful, hampers the work of the Church, and keeps us from having the resources, will, and voice to truly impact our culture but when push comes to shove there is neither.

They say these things take time and there is a truth in that but time for what? I don't believe its about the time needed to negotiate the merger of structures, the arrangements of dioceses, and the building of a cohesive national church. We could live with that. I think it's more about ethnic turf, hanging on to sentimental old world arrangements, money, and the fear of change even for the better.

The worse part about it may be that it will take some catastrophe, some threat, some real harm to provide the impetus to make unity happen. What could be done peacefully, deliberately, and with care may have to be put together at the last moment under the gun and at terms not nearly as favorable as those which presently exist.

Regardless I believe God will guide us and bring us together. It is His will that Christians be one. I just hope we are blended together by joyful obedience to His desire and not melted together in the furnace.


Still waiting...

It hasn't hit me yet. The Christmas spirit that is.

In the past few years I've just been a slow starter, a man going through the motions of preparing and doing this and that until one day it hits me. Until then it's just business, a kind of detached working through task upon task while the clock ticks away.

Now it's hard to say what will be the trigger this year. Sometimes its a song. Other times its something I see. Once in a while I will be just sitting there by myself and it arrives. Who knows? But one thing is certain. Right now there is nothing, like someone from Mars seeing everything for the first time and not having a clue as to what's happening and no particular curiousity about it at all.

The truth is right now I mostly want everything to get done and over with and the sooner the better. My day will be December 26th, the Feast of the Most Tranquil Sleep, when all that lies between me and my happiness is a pillow. That all being said it should be noted that I'm not some Scrooge with a primordial loathing of this time. I'm really a guy for whom this time is mostly about work and a kind of exhaustion based game of chicken with December 25th. The magic and holiness and grace of this time has not left but finds, over the years, more clever places to hide with a correspondingly harder task of seeking. Right now not even Nat King Cole's Christmas CD, usually a fairly effective unearther of the holiday spirit, works.

It'll come, though, maybe only when I'm driving back from LaCrosse on Christmas morning. Maybe sooner. I don't know. Until then I'll just work and wait.


A little something on the Packers...

I came home yesterday to find the house completey redone in Christmas style with my Green Bay Packer Santa hat on the bedpost. Tis the season.
It's been a very bad past few years for the Packers. Teams that aren't doing well on the field like to call these times "rebuilding years" as if they are in the process of making something better out of what they have but the truth is these are just plain lean years for the Packers and thier fans. With a quarterback who is sure to be in the Hall of Fame but whose best years are in the rear view mirror the Packers have eked out just four wins this year, flashes of sunshine in a two year long gray day.
But they have a part of my heart. Probably always will.
I'm certainly not as fervent as some fans. They do, after all, have Packers caskets available for the person who wants to declare thier loyalty for the ages and I have no intention of using one. There are those, too, who will go in to a real depression when the team loses and truthfully need to get a life. The fact is my work schedule (Sunday is a work day for Priests) gives me little time to actually watch a football game and the best I often do is get some snipits of action on the radio as I drive home.
Still there is a part of me that's a Packer at heart even when other teams with better uniforms and records come calling for my favors. It's a combination of things really, growing up in Wisconsin in the glory days of the Packers, the 1960's, when everybody played the season just for the priviledge of being beaten by Green Bay in the championship game, the happy memories of childhood pretending we were Packers, and the idea that real heroes with names like Bart Starr and Ray Nitschke still roamed the Earth. The truth is it might best be said I'm a fan of all of those memories and not so much any particular Packer's team on the field in the present. But fan I am regardless.
There is a malicious part in all of this as well, a kind of response to the snobbery of some Minnesotans, folks convinced after a lifetime of living here and going nowhere else that this place is somehow the kingdom to which we all aspire and citizens of lesser realms are at best objects of the kind of pity reserved for the savages in missionary slide shows. The walloping of Minnesota sports teams, which happens more often than not, is a painful reminder to such folks that life exists, thrives, and even conquers outside of this place and for those of us who have come from other places gives a silent pleasure in the misery of those who remain perplexed as to why such terrible things could happen to such sanctified folks.
But this is a waiting year, a year to grab for any sliver of hope and remember the great days past when we were kids and played schoolyard football and dreamt of great days to come. They will, always do, and until then I'll take out my stuff every once in a while and show the colors. Go Pack!!!