Lazarus Saturday...

In a few hours I'll be on the road again, there are services tomorrow and its easier if we make it to LaCrosse tonight. The greatest week of the Christian faith is at hand and all is ready. Lazarus Saturday, full of promise and life, is less then a day away.

I don't know how many will be present for Liturgy tomorrow (truthfully its possible that, God forbid, I may not be at Liturgy tomorrow) but over the years Lazarus Saturday has become a special time, a ray of hope that flavors all the week to come. In Lazarus Saturday, no matter how many may be physically present we sense the presence of those gone from our sight but with us mystically in the reality of glory and the assurance of resurrection. In it the Church says that no dark time is beyond the reach of the love or power of Christ and even the darkest time, death, is powerless before a word from our Lord.

In some ways this has been the greatest gift to me from Orthodoxy, the understanding of the depths of our mortality always flavored with the light of Pascha and resurrection. Even in the depths of my own struggle I cannot escape this hope. Every evening when I fall alseep and by the mercy of God awaken with the sun I'm reminded of it all. When my heart is laid bare and broken in confession and made new in absolution I am given a taste of that which has been promised. When I, the unworthy presbyter John, receive the most precious body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I literally ingest it.

From it also flows an understanding of those I love who are an eternity away and as close as a prayer. They, although their bodies sleep in death, know the light of Pascha in a direct and certain way and though we sometimes think them distant from us they are but a heart beat away from us, part of us, cognizant of us with a kind of life that we can only imagine but whose affects we often feel even if they are subtle to the point of being unrecognizable.

As a child I was told that those who had died were away from me, inaccessible to me, with the Lord for sure but on one side of an impassible chasm. There was no malice in this, just a desire to avoid a kind of worship or obsession with those who had gone before. But Orthodoxy called me to remember that even death is filled with the life of Christ and those who live in him are never ultimately extinguished and share in a mystical way some of the unseen closeness that Christ has for all who follow him. I pray for them as a sign of my love for them and the remembrance of them that continues to be part and parcel of who I am. I ask them to pray for me because Christ has made them alive in a way that I cannot understand but which allows them to remember all of us in the Church militant with a purity my feeble prayers cannot achieve in the bonds of this life. Jesus could call to his friend Lazarus because he was alive and Lazarus could respond for the same reason.

So tonight I'll drive on and get ready for the days to come. It promises to be busy and fatiguing yet the light of it will find a way to stay with me whatever happens in the days to come a light that begins with the spark of Lazarus Saturday.


Orthodox ringtones...

From time to time I check the cluster map indicating where visitors to this blog come from in a sort of general way and usually on the top of the world map with little red dots are advertisements. I presume they help pay the way for Cluster Maps to provide free service.

As an aside you need to know that I don't track any of this in anything more than a generic way. I don't have, or want to have, the IP addresses of visitors and don't collect any private data other than a general area where the "hit" comes from. So, for example I know there have been visitors to this blog from the south of India but specifically who or where is unknown and I'd like to keep it that way.

That being said one of the recent advertisements was for "Orthodox ringtones" for cell phones. I haven't clicked on it yet but there is a certain amount of curiousity about it all. First I'd like to know what they mean by "Orthodox" and second if they really are Eastern Orthodox ringtones I'd like to see the menu.

I personally would like to have the Cherubic Hymn as a ringtone because it remains for me one of the greatest treasures of Byzantine music. For the sake of my soul, though, I probably need the Prayer of St. Ephraim "O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust for power and idle talk..." That would be a helpful thing to hear several times a day but I might find myself doing prostrations in the oddest places.


On Holy Week...

Holy Week is the story of two loves. One love was human, fickle, and cringing in the face of death. The other was divine, enduring, and shattered mortality with its power even as it gave all that could be shared. In doing this it showed us beyond words what it means to be Christian.


The Monday after...

The next several weeks should be a blur as the preparation for, and celebration of, Holy Week services begins. It's all about staying on the move and one step ahead and this can be a problem.

There is no equivalent in the Eastern Church to the "low" or spoken Mass found in the Western Rite of Orthodoxy and the Roman Church. Most Eastern liturgies seem to be a blend of the sheer duration of monasticism with the pomp of Byzantine court life and assume a Parish with all the resources to make that real even if most don't. In a large church with several Priests or Deacons and a competently staffed and led choir there is little that rivals the sheer numinous quality of the Eastern liturgies, especially at Holy Week. In a small church with no assistants and everyone just trying to hang on for the ride the usual liturgies are sometimes problematic and Holy Week moves beyond exhausting.

This coming Holy Week I will stand at the altar largely alone and through the valiant efforts of my wife and a few very dedicated lay people we will get through as best we can and make the careful adjustments needed to celebrate faithfully with the resources at hand. But I guarantee you they and I will be tired for days after Pascha. And there's a sadness in that.

One of the hardest parts about being a Priest is the lack of worship. That may seem puzzling to people who see a Priest stand at what appears to be the very center of the Liturgy. But that place is all about making sure things flow smoothly, sweating out the details, handling the glitches, and perpetually working under the master's lash of time. With assistance it may be possible to snatch moments of the holy from the flow of things but without it its mostly about rubrics. When I was learning to dance I remember missing the whole point of the dance because I was whispering the steps under my breath and I often feel that way about the Liturgy. I would like to feast on the words and have even a moment or two where I understood not just in my head but in my heart that heaven and earth were joined but there's a prayer I have to say because I don't have a Deacon and a couple of things I need to do and an altar boy jumping up and down because he forgot to go to the bathroom before the service and so any moment of transcendence, if it comes at all, rarely lasts for more than a passing moment.

Of course I can always hope for better and perhaps with time and experience I will be less tied to the rubrics and more tied to the larger picture. But roughly this time next week the services will be beginning in earnest and people, even those for whom this is the only time of year they will be in church, will have expectations. And I want them to know the resurrection and perhaps be changed as they walk with Jesus through His Passion. It really does matter, perhaps even more now than ever.

It's just kind of sad that when I was first Orthodox I couldn't wait for Pascha and now that I'm a Priest part of me can't wait for the Monday after.


I love this one...

If you're not from the United States you might not get this so just smile, nod, and humor us.

Terry Mattingly on Wilberforce...

A columnist you should know on a historical character you should know as well.

Garbage in, garbage out...

Lent is half over and again I'm learning the simple lesson "Garbage in, garbage out".

I have to choose not only what I fast from but what I consume as well. If I eat, as it were, my culture's trash (and we're at a very trashy moment in American culture right now) that food, like all food, becomes part of me and changes me at the core. If I take in good the process is the same but I am transformed by holiness.

A strong argument can be made that the larger society at this era of history is less supportive of the true and holy. I'm not sure it ever really was, every generation seems to kill its prophets and saints, but certainly the veneer of pretension has worn off and people no longer feel shamed by embracing raw passions. Those who seek sacred things often have to search deeper, endure greater hardship, and more often travel without company, or even the illusion of company, in our wealthy and decayed state then perhaps was true even a generation ago.

And the speed by which we are immersed in this decayed culture has exponentially increased. In my childhood there were limitations of technology and therefore of time which allowed the larger world out there to be digested a bit as it percolated down. It is not so today. Only the most isolated person today can avoid feeling like a goaltender being constantly barraged by players from all sides and unable to stop the hundred of shots per minute aimed by our internet 24 hour news cycle world. Some are going to slip through even the most adept, vigilant, and quick of reflex.

So we, so I, have to make deliberate and planned choices about what I let in and what stays out, what I eat, as it were and from what I abstain. Its is the maryrdom of this age with the stakes as high as in the days of fire and sword. Compared to it walking past a McDonald's is child's play.

The Thrill of the Chaste...

Udolpho's comments on "The Thrill of the Chaste", a must read book.

Here is "The Thrill of the Chaste" author Dawn Eden's blog.


First day of spring...

It's the first full day of spring and the sky is the color of dirty cotton balls and misting just enough wet to be annoying. Here in Minnesota a warm sunny spring day is always welcome and even a rain has its place but everything in between is just miserable. That's today in a nutshell.

Maybe its about the dirty snow. Snow around here stays beautiful for just a few days after it falls and then the plows get a hold of it and color it with salt and sand. As the seasons change most of the beautiful snow that's left on lawns and parks quickly melts away and we're left with piles of dirty gray snow on parking lots and boulevards where it's been placed by the process of clearing the street. It has all of the cold forlorn of snow with none of the romance. It's just a pile.

If the sun is hot even the most stubborn deposit of the stuff on the north end of whatever will quickly disappear. If the rain comes it'll wash away through the storm sewers and eventually find its way to the Mississippi River, a salty dirty gift no one wants and New Orleans has no choice but to take. But when the day is gray with only a drab of rain it stays put, a reminder of winter's cold and spring still to come.

This is that kind of day, a day somewhere in between without the first warm rays of the spring sun or the clean washing of a good spring shower. It's a day to watch and wait, take of care of inside things and have patience for the inevitable change of seasons. There is a truth in nature that supersedes even the emotions of a gray day in March.

A matter of timing...

Thank goodness God doesn't hear our prayers with the same level of promptness we have for coming to church!


The side roads...

Just south of Lake City the highway winds narrow along Lake Pepin and apparently this past Saturday an accident opened up a tank of ammonia. Ammonia, specifically ammonia nitrate I believe, is used as a fertilizer in farm country and if a tank truck of the stuff rolls over or a train carrying it derails it can poison the air for some distance so the authorities weren' taking any chances. All traffic moving south was diverted to the side roads.

So off we went and it soon became apparent the sheriff told us where to divert but we were on our own to find the road that would take us back to highway 61. Around Minnesota highway 60 we flagged down some folks stopped at a light and found out that 60 was closed as well so out came the map and we decided to make an adventure of it.

And our risk was rewarded. Not only did we find the trip south to be a beautiful run between bluffs and valleys we also discovered the county roads were actually in better shape then Federal highway 61. Our journey took us to towns with names like Plainview, Elba, Altura, and my favorite, Rollingstone. Along the way we traveled through a state park and though the road was winding we lost little time. This fall, when highway 61 is full of tourists looking at the leaves and the river, we're going to take these side roads and see everything they're missing by playing it safe and sticking to the main highway.

I suspect there's a lesson in there somewhere, something about the narrow less traveled way and heaven or just about how sometimes good things come from unforseen happenings, or maybe about risk and reward. Plain old living life is sometimes the best textbook and I'll get back to you when I figure it out.


The morning before...

Its around 10:20 am on Saturday morning and its time to get ready for the trip ahead. The sun is out and the air is crisp, temperature in the 30's (farenheit), and it feels like early morning in late October. In the nearly two years I've been on the road most every weekend I've gotten the routine down to the point I basically never panic and packing is easy when all you wear is black.

Usually every morning I get up and spend a little time in front of the computer. I've always been curious and I like to find out what's been happening when I was asleep. About half the world is always awake or asleep at any given time and its good to see how the other half has been living while I've been in bed. I'll type a few notes here and then get on to work or travel or on a rare day off some precious hours watching Westerns on TV.

I like the scenery in Westerns and the subtle shifts of character and story that occur wrapped in and around the obligatory shoot outs. Sometimes I think Westerns are a kind of dream world, a genre where you reach beyond the characters as you see them and find the greater meaning somewhere in the panorama of place and people. A good western like "Pale Rider" or "Rooster Cogburn and the Lady" simmers with life and meaning just below the surface and despite the usual violence often speaks of a longing for something better even if its just the next valley over the mountains in the distance.

There is that restlessness in the human soul, a restlessness in me, that understands why places only hold a person who's truly alive for so long and then its time to ride off into the sunset. And you can feel that way even if you've lived in the same place all of your life and only have those feelings when you look up from chores out the window and for a moment your heart travels where you yourself, bound by invisible ties, could never go.

So on the morning before the road calls me back to LaCrosse I'm looking out the little window in the upstairs front of my house, thinking about life somewhere else, time that has past, people long gone, and perhaps something better in the next valley over the mountains in the distance.

Time to ride.


Muslim witness to a Christian past...

We've had some recent dust ups here in Minnesota about the role of religion and the workplace centered on Muslims doing, or rather choosing not to do, certain things like handling pork or taking dogs in taxi cabs because of their faith, or at least what they believe is ther faith.

Most of the feedback has been fairly harsh and filled with words about how this is America and you should go back to your own country if you don't play by our rules etc., etc.. Some of it has been very vicious and racist but I think there's something more underneath it.

People complain about Muslims asking for rooms to pray because they have a cycle of prayers which must be said throughout the day. Well, so does historic Christianity of the both the East and West. We call them things like sext and lauds and compline and in the East 3rd hour and sixth hour and so forth but they're there, always have been. The difference is that somewhere along the line we just dropped the idea of actually saying them. Oh there's a shadow or two of it in the daily Mass at some Catholic Churches or the Lenten schedule of the Orthodox but largely we've just jettisoned the idea of taking time out of the day to pray.

And Christianity has food rules too. There have always been days and seasons when the Church calls upon us to refrain from eating this or that and they've been around for a long time. But for the most part we've tossed them aside as well. If we're Protestants we've just thrown them out. If we're Catholics we keep chipping away at them until they're basically meaningless. We Orthodox, who've actually and officially preserved the historic cycle of fasts get out from under by saying we believe in them but grant ourselves "economia" for the smallest of reasons to pretend that were complying even when we're not.

So when we see a Muslim taking time out to pray or refusing to handle pork a part of us is perplexed, I think, not so much because of racial or cultural things but rather because we've grown so secularized, so out of touch with the reality of our faith that we find a person who actually believes what they say they do and is willing to live that faith to the point of being inconvenienced startling, even freakish. In a world where our true god is more often than not commerce a person who refuses to bow stands out and the powers that be scream and holler and threaten.

Could it be that these Muslims, who worship a harsh god birthed in the arid desert are actually shaming us and exposing how far we have fallen, how unwilling we are to actually live our faith, how little what we claim to believe matters in the business of the day? We can dismiss it as "fanaticism" or "medievalism" but the truth is that in moving from a world where the sound of church bells could actually stop the tasks of the day to the point where faith and church and God are profoundly peripheral we have lost something and continue to pay a terrible price.

You may think it's foolish to stop a line at a cash register for a few seconds so your Muslim cashier can get someone else to scan the pork, after all we've got to keep that assembly line rolling and every second counts. But doesn't God choose the foolish things to shame the false wisdom of the proud and couldn't God be using the devotion of that person, even if we don't understand or accept its motivation, to to remind us of how cold and distant and estranged we've become from our own God? And if we as Christians don't accept Mohammed as a prophet could it still be that the woman with a head covering is still prophesying to us by calling us to remember there are things larger than us, our machines, our money, and the puny sniveling gods of commerce?


Our news is a mirror of ourselves...

A link to a Miami Herald columnist on the nature of the news and the nature of ourselves in these times.

It's always easier to blame the media then to change that part of myself that craves spiritual. social, and emotional junk food media.

In search of peace...

As I get older I ponder more, and a lot of the time my ponderings have been about peace.

Now I'm not thinking about peace as in the lack of war but rather peace as the ability to live in the ebbs and flows of time without being overcome. Its the discovery of that personal place somewhere between mindless and never ending involvement in the world and escapism. Its the ability to see things as they are and move through despair to the constant redemption of time and history that is the mandate of humans in a broken world. Compared to that the end of war is probably easy.

And I see very little true peace in the world. Some days it seems like the world is a very mad place where everyone seems to be grabbing for any sliver of whatever they think helps them get through the day. Would a person really at peace with themselves and their faith feel the need to kill someone else in its cause? How could a person with a settled heart trample over others in their pursuit of power? Does one with rest in their soul go from person to person, body to body, thing to thing to keep feeding the emptiness inside? There are people out there who'd sell their children for 15 minutes of air time, follow movie stars and pro wrestlers as if they really mattered, and know everything about their favorite team but never read a decent book. So some days a person with any bit of sanity might actually wish global warming was as catastrophic as the fear industry would like it to be just to stop the noise.

The older I get the less I trust organizations and structures to be instruments of authentic peace. Your company doesn't want you to be whole, they want you to feel the endless urge to do more, to get paid more, and climb their ladder. Governments are made up of people with selfish ambitions who spend endless energy trying to get others to enable them and a global government would just be about enabling a selfish bastard of global proportions and we already have enough of those. Academia often speaks of peace in broad strokes, the world of theory isolated from reality and often truth itself. Even the Church gets caught up in the cultural winds and neglects its core gifts to the emptiness of souls.

Nothing from the top down will bring the lasting peace we humans crave. Something has to change within and then life touches life like one candle touching another and change begins. There is no other way and to the extent we don't get that we'll continue to wander, empty and troubled, through the night.


The need...

One of the things every Priest comes to face in the course of their service is the reality they'll never be everything everyone wants them to be. It won't be for lack of trying or soul searching. It won't be for a shortage of a certain sadness that some may be lost and others found. It just is the way it is.

If a Priest takes this personally they'll chew themselves up from the inside. It's just one of those things you don't have to like but have to get used to. Your life is a screen on which those for whom you care project their hopes and needs, their strengths and pathologies. And it can all change in a moment, in a word, in a second of something, anything, beyond your control.

The truth is that Priests should examine themselves, but sometimes they should be careful about examining themselves too much, or at least every time they find themselves up against the reality that despite their best intentions they can't be all things to everyone. At that point its not about growth but rather about banging your skull against an unyielding wall.

And its not worth the headache.


Ironies of our times...

Had a chance to meet another "east sider" from St. Paul today and the topic went to a local watering hole called the "Cherry Pit".

It seems that St. Paul, in its desire to protect the common welfare banned smoking in all of the bars but soon discovered that people have cars and can go to bars not in St. Paul if they wish and so came up with a solution. No it wasn't letting people be grown ups and choose whether they want to be in a smoky bar or not. Instead the city, at taxpayer expense, decided to build outdoor patios for bars with fireplaces, heaters, and lights so the customers can still smoke, and what's more important for tax purposes drink, in St. Paul.

So if I get this straight its okay in St. Paul to drink a lot and go home with a stranger and do whatever as long as you don't smoke while you're in process. Unless, of course, you're thinking about doing that outside of St. Paul then the city will use all that spare taxpayer's money to build a nice place outside for you in the hope that you'll be lured to satisfy your alcoholic urges where they can get that precious per drink tax money.

And they wonder why people don't vote.

The truly heroic...

In these days it seems the truly heroic person will be the one who has learned to transcend their immediate emotions, wants, and desires for higher things. Those who seek to do this will find their enemies are not merely armies but the whole force of culture arrayed against the quest for the noble but financially unprofitable authentic humanity.

In whose image do we die...

An interesting article on the topic of death and bio-ethics and a good reason to drop in to "Paradosis" every once in a while.

Apocalyptic visions of weather...

An article on apocalyptic visions of weather and human history.

Are the "global warming" folks the secular equivalent of the religious purveyors of various "end times" scenarios?


The Cross...

This Sunday is the Sunday of the Adoration of the Holy Cross and I still am in wonder.

When I was a small child I read and re-read the classic "Pilgrim's Progess" and remember quite vivdly the place where Christian, guided by Evangelist, comes to the cross, falls on his knees and the burden he carries falls of his back and into an empty tomb never to be seen again. I grew up knowing that somehow, some way, Jesus was able to bear the pain and sin of the world, mine included, and years and many sins later I still have a special sweet sadness when I think of what has been done for the world, and for me.

Yet the older I grow the less I understand the "why" of it all. I have no idea why God would bother to come to us and endure so much for so little in return. How could my feeble, twisted, and intermittent love, if its love at all, be worth all of that? It isn't in any way I can figure. But I guess the figuring isn't up to me.

Some time ago I wrote that either God is absolutely insane for bleeding even one drop for humanity or loves us in some way that renders our words useless. I still believe this is true and as I stand before the cross the wonder remains and only silence can speak of it all.

Potty mouths...

A great dust up has occurred about Ann Coulter's use of the word "faggot" when talking about a Democratic presidential candidate. I'm glad.

It has nothing to do with embracing my inner gay (I have none) but rather with a growing weariness of potty mouthed adolescents on all sides of issues who offer increasingly vulgar rhetoric in place of actual problem solving. It's just time the adults among us finally, peacefully, and completely pull the plug on these types by boycotting their words wherever we find them and regardless of whether they're on our side or not.

Its simply time for civilization to return to culture.

On grace...

I have been, in my life, the recipient of grace more times that I can count but events of yesterday brought two such instances to my mind.

The first happened many years ago. My wife and I were newly married and very broke. It was Christmas and we still gave gifts to all the members of her family but were unable to provide for all and so we, as they say today "regifted" a few of our wedding gifts for Christmas. Among them was a set of glasses which we gave to our sister in law, who, as I recall, had actually asked for kitchen items. Unfortunately we had forgotten to take off a label under the box which identified who had given it to us for a gift, a label which was immediately uncovered when the box was opened. I remember my sister in law looking at my wife and I, who were profoundly embarassed, smiling and nothing more of it was ever said. She understood what it was like to be newly married, in seminary, having little money and a desire to give something, anything, for Christmas.

The second happened just yesterday evening. My brother and I were moving appliances in my mother's home, looking through old photos, and browsing through my dad's collection of tie tacks. In that collection was a pocket watch, not particulary fancy, but one that had surely belonged to my father and perhaps my grandfather as well. I did, for some reason, want that watch but the collection of tie tacks was for my brother and I to share and I invited him to choose. Somehow he knew that i wanted the watch. Was it a slip of the tongue? Something I did? I don't know but he chose the tie tacks and let me have the watch. I was prepared, as I have often been, to take lesser things out of a place in my heart that still recoils against ahything being unwanted or alone, but yesterday what I wished and what I received were the same because of my brother's thoughtfulness.

I have no idea whether my sister in law remembers that Christmas over 20 years ago, but I do. And years after that watch has stopped working its value will lie not in who it belonged to but what larger good was given to me in a simple act of Lenten grace.

On revival...

Simply put, I believe we may be on the cusp of a revival in the life of the American church.

Now I'm not talking about those phony staged "revivals" where people desperate for an emotional "fix" from their dull lives fall on the ground weeping, have their moment, and then two months later show up at another church for another fix. Any good preacher can bring the show but when he leaves the show goes with him.

True revival changes the culture in which it occurs altering the fundamental way in which people see themselves and in turn act. The glory of the Pentecostal movements in the early part of this century had little ultimately to do with ecstatic experiences, which have been part of humanity's religious landscape since people walked the earth, but rather that it provided a common spiritual ground for people of different races and cultures to worship together, to see each other in Christ in a way that rigidly segregated American culture did not. When the Holy Spirit came to those gathered at Azusa Street a movement was born but racism in the American Church itself was fatally wounded and though the task is ongoing a great cultural evil met the power of the Holy Spirit and lost.

In this current age we'll know when revival occurs not by the emotions involved, although there may be an intitial emotional expression, but by the pornographic web sites that don't get visited, the marketers of consumption for its own sake who find their stores empty, the decline of decadent entertainments (imagine singer famous for, well, singing) and people in public life who speak remorse for their part in making our culture coarse and inhumane. People's hearts will be turned to each other and the poor will be lifted up not by government programs but by caring hearts. Our obsessive focus on self and gratification will fade away to be replaced by a life given to higher things. Drugs, violence, gangs, corporate greed, and cold hearts will be broken by the power of God. We will change not because a group of politicians passed a law but because the law of God lives in us.

And I believe it may be coming.

There are a few markers that have historically been present in American culture in the time immediately before a religious reawakening which seem to be present today. First there is a growing realization of the depths of cultural decline and its bitter aftertaste. In our present age more we are starting to slowly but surely recover a sense of what is proper by hard experience. Cultural decadence is the fuel which powers revival and the more we experience the more people, in their pain and sense of being lost, look for something else. They may not experience this as a spiritual thing. It may be felt only as a utilitarian thing ie this life I'm leading, this path we're going is a dead end, but its fuel awaiting a spark.

Second there needs to be a weeding out in the Church, a time of pruning off dead wood so that the faithful can be unburdened. In our time some churches are doing this by themselves, that is they have so abandoned the faith they simply don't matter anymore. Sadly the prime example of this in our country is the Episcopal Church which is a media darling noted for its baptizing anything the cultural winds blow its way but frankly doesn't mean much to anyone outside of its walls and on its present course will be a non entity in a few decades. From those ashes, though, new and more dynamic forms of Anglicanism have emerged and will, if they remain faithful, have significant impact. Simply put the future, for all communions, belongs to the faithful. As part of this pruning a process of scandal and judgement is underway for the cleansing of bodies maintaining some form of faithfulness. The sex scandals of clergy, the financial misdeeds exposed, the lack of seriousness brought to light among the faithful may be, strangely enough, the hand of a loving God . God will not waste his purifying discpline on those who have no hope or whose hearts have been profoundly hardened but He will seek to cleanse the faithful, even if their faith is small and weak, to make them more faithful still. Such a time of cleansing seems underway.

Finally, there needs to be a spark, or a series of sparks to light the fire. For a while the situation after the horrible attacks of 9/11 brought some people to church, but that has largely waned. We've seen a move towards historic faith with the result of whole parishes and many seekers embracing Orthodoxy, and Catholicism, and other communions who have refused to compromise, but that's still a trickle in the larger picture. There is, outside of the electronic shouting of the media, a growing sense of loss, dislocation, and even disgust with our society, its leaders, and its institutions but it still is only in the simmering phase. Somewhere and somehow an event will occur or the weight of the darkness will reach such proportion or a heart of significance will turn towards God and the fire will be lit.

At this point we can only wait and pray because this is totally in God's hands. If we force it it will not be genuine, and as the old saying goes "God leads and the devil stampedes." However the scenario plays out we need to avoid the listlessness of simply waiting and watching without doing. This time, with all its darkness, is a time for us to grow strong, live lives of faith, and lift the world up in prayer. In God's good time, and it is God alone who knows the right time for all things, our commitment may have dramatic impact but if we must wait then at least we will be counted faithful. We cannot afford to be paralyzed like so many of the "end times" speculators who keep looking into the sky in fear while their neighbors perish anymore then we can be like the unfaithful servant who feared his master and hid his talent.

Still, there is something inside that says it may be close.

A good reason to read...

Even if you don't always agree with his politics this article shows why you should always pay attention to the work of Mark Steyn.


On global warming, the environment, religion...

An interesting article on the religion of enviromentalism and global warming.

And another here.

The thaw ahead...

A thaw is on the way and winter is slowly releasing its grip one finger at a time. That's a good thing around these parts where spring, because of its scarcity, is a treasured commodity.

Those who've never lived where the snows flies horizontally propelled by cold winds screaming south from Canada may not realize that the charm of winter diminishes exponentially by its distance from Christmas. What's scenic and beautiful in a Currier and Ives sort of way on December 24th becomes an annoyance by the middle of January, veritably loathsome when March rolls around and capable of making decent Christians swear bloody oaths if it lasts to April, which it often does.

So when the warm winds start rolling up from Colorado and begin their path through Nebraska and the Dakotas to us we wait with anticipation and track them on the weather reports with an intensity that rivals brokers scanning stock tickers. That warm bubble of orange, and sometimes even red, on the weather maps is our beacon of hope, our sense that we can, even for a moment, shrug off the cold, see each other without sweaters and remember what grass looks like. People's moods actually improve and the slog leaves and bounce returns to our steps.

So this Thursday it may crack 30 degrees farenheit and by the weekend 40 and next week perhaps even 50. Every street will be wet with little rivers trickling down their sides. Roofs will reappear in patches with icicles growing and then finally dropping to the newly exposed lawn. Heat begets heat and with the insulating snow gone even the air will grow warmer and stay that way. By the end of March a few courageous tulips will already have stuck their heads above ground and the sidewalks will be open enough for kids to ride their bikes. People who huddled around their tables in the dead of winter with seed catalogs for consolation start thinking about real gardens and their faith returns. Birds stop huddling in whatever shelter they can find and start staking their claims to this tree or that.

Its always been that way. Winter, no matter how long it seems, gives way to spring and the intensity of winter amplifies the passion for its arrival. There's something in that all about life and death and resurrection and Pascha (Easter) but I'll let you decide what you think it may be.


North on 35...

The truth is I'm not in much of a hurry to get home on Sunday afternoons. I have one world in LaCrosse and one in St. Paul. Each has their own joys and struggles and both demand something from me with the time in between often the only time truly my own. So why hurry?

I suppose it would be different if there was nothing to see, but the road along the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River from St. Paul to LaCrosse is among the nicest trips around. Everywhere there are trees, bluffs, sleepy farms, quaint river towns with names like Maiden Rock and Alma, and old houses with fresh coats of bright paint clinging to the hills. On its best day Minneapolis seems contrived and mechanical compared to, say, Trempeleau or Stockholm. More often than not a part of me just wants to pull off the road, find a job, and spend the rest of my life looking at the river, writing poems, and watching the sun set.

The truth is that I'm charmed by it all and the vision of quiet nights listening to nothing louder then the bugs on a front porch swing. Life seems to be too precious to blow it all on commutes and standing in long lines at enormous stores. As my car moves along the road thoughts like this tug at me and touch a place inside that's beyond the reach of the various roles I'm asked to play in a production not of my own choosing.

And its not the first time I've felt this way and it probably won't be the last. Some day, when the time is right, I'll park my car somewhere along the river, say "enough" and find an old house with a big window for the cats, floors that creak in all the right places, and walls full of time.

If not now then at least in my dreams...

Despair and transformation...

My weekends are filled with the tasks of serving St. Elias Church but my weekdays take me to an assisted living facility just outside of Minneapolis where I oversee the activities program. It's good work, work that helps people, work that pays the bills. And every so often I pick up on something.

Several days ago I was tending "Valentino", our facility hamster, and a thought returned to me. "This animal" I thought, "is my moral superior". In his life, however long it is, our hamster will do nothing to deliberately offend God or neighbor and anything he may do that we would consider to be "wrong" is nothing about intent and all about an instinct broken, not by his beligerance, but by that of my species. If it were a matter of simply stacking up good things versus bad our hamster would make it to heaven with saintly speed and the best I could do was hope to pick the lock on the gate.

The truth is that we humans are what's wrong with the world. Absent our presence this planet would still be an Eden floating in space with clear skies, peace, and lambs sleeping with lions in the noonday sun. Everything that makes life here insufferable has a single cause, us. In our baser moments we are a virus infecting this world, a virus with the capability to wipe out all existence by virtue of the heights of its technology and the depths of its pathology.

Most of us rarely stop to think of how far we've sunk or how much damage we've caused or how even the best of still often slash and burn our paths through life. Most of the time I just go with the flow myself and madly shop without a care or let any potential deep and transforming thoughts be carried away on the sea of daily noise. I'd like not to think there are parts of me as ugly as that, a little Hitler just beneath my skin.
I'd rather not see the truth because it would be overwhelming.

But sometimes it shows up anyways, the uninvited guest crashing my party, the pain beyond medication, the inevitable morning hangover. Some times I can't trick my eyes into seeing illusions. Some times I can't drown out that still small voice that speaks veritas in my ear. Some times I don't see through a glass darkly and there is no comfort in this clarity. Despair is the inevitability of the honest soul, even if that honesty only lasts a moment.

It would be easier, probably, to be like our hamster whose life is all of eating, sleeping, and making more of the same without the burden of even recognizing the face in the mirror. It would seem a kind of blessing to not even care about life in a cage or what happens when everything finally goes dark one day. But such is not to be. In the scheme of things the benefits and the terrible cost of intellect and conscience and responsibility has fallen to all of us near naked bi-peds with the glory of language and the curse of knowing we are going to die.

Yet hamsters are as hamsters will always be but within us is planted the understanding that we were to be something more. That we were designed to be so gnaws at us with a primal despair. That we could be greater than angels but are often the cruelest of beasts tears at us in any moment when even one second of truth is within us. But we can be transformed as well, the one benefit of the kind of knowledge that separates us from our pets.

And if that is also true just imagine what could be...

Must read article...

A must read article for those who have come to Orthodoxy, myself included.


Setting the record straight...

Contrary to rumors circulating through the blogosphere I am not the father of Anna Nicole Smith's baby.

I'm a different kind of Father.

Time after time...

In my just over half decade as an Orthodox Christian I have had many opportunities to observe "Syrian Time" in its operation.

For those who aren't Orthodox "Syrian Time" is the rather casual relationship of the faithful to the starting times of services and sometimes attendance in general. Depending on where the immigrants in a parish may come from it can also be called "Greek Time" or "Slavic Time" or, you get the drift. But its not unusual for people to trickle in and out of liturgies at will and if you're twenty minutes late or so, well that's just the way it is.

Now anyone who has been Orthodox for more than a day or two knows the services of the Orthodox Church, even thought they are often the condensed versions, are still long and especially so by our everything has to be done in microwave time culture. If you think for a moment you're going to get out in an hour think again, we're just warming up, and if you visit an Orthodox church in tight clothes and bad shoes you won't do it twice. Depending on the ebb and flow of things and what time of year it is the services, which on Sunday morning basically flow into each other, may not start right on the dot either.

But there are starting times and if morning prayer runs a little long it doesn't hurt to catch that service as well. I believe there are many Orthodox who've never attended a complete Matins (Orthros) Service. Its sad that this great service, rich with prayer and scripture and time to let the world out there slip away, is often about a Priest and a chanter or two or the odd visitor who is under the impression that since the liturgy is scheduled it would be good to be there. And as to the starting times...

Apparently that's another story. Somehow the normal rules of life seem not to apply and what would be considered rude if done in the business world or even a casual affair is apparently appropriate for our dealings with God. There are a lot of reasons, of course, but about 99 percent of them are pretty much just air. Occasionally the weather is bad, sometimes there are emergencies, a few parishoners may be on call or medical personnel but mostly its just about the will. If a person wants to be on time they will make the adjustments.

Now beyond the normal inconveniences to others that comes with being late there is something more important. In coming to Orthodoxy you cannot imagine how relieved I was to know that all I needed to do was be at the Liturgy. The success of the services had nothing to do with whether I "felt like it" or not or my emotional state. I need not generate any false enthusiasm. I could be tired or less than happy to be there. And if all I could do was just stand there on any particular Sunday morning at least I was there in the presence of holy things and even if I didn't leave emotionally "charged" or changed in some life shattering manner I was still blessed just for being there in ways that I could not always understand. If only one short phrase or word mattered that day it was still time well spent. What a joy it was not to have to pretend or feel bad about not being able to conjure up the appropriate feeling for the day. What freedom to come, even if I was a mess, to worship. No matter how I was at the moment, even if my worship was through clenched teeth, just being in the presence of God in some small way was all that mattered.

And you miss the fullness of that if you come late or wander in or out. What hymn, what prayer, what word did you miss when you decided to hit the snooze button on Sunday morning? When you left to have a cigarette what part of the feast that God provides for even the least grateful of us passed you by? In the casualness of your attendance what benefit from just taking an hour or so out of your day to acknowledge God was lost forever? That's the real reason a person should come to every Liturgy they can at the right time. Anything less means fragments, scraps, or sometimes an opportunity to bless or be blessed that may never come again.

And, oh by the way, don't forget to set your clock one hour ahead (in the United States) this coming Saturday or you may be later then is usual even for you. : )


A world in white...

St. Paul is covered in snow today, a foot or so already and some inches to come. The Global Warming event planned by the good folks at Public Radio was cancelled. I guess there's nothing like the actual weather to get in the way of the best laid plans.

The secret to handling a big, heavy, wet snow like this is to take it a little at a time. Some folks may look out the window and see the person pushing a shovel or walking behind a snowblower while the flakes are falling and think "What a fool". But the next morning when they're out there with an enormous shovelful and a later aching back they'll get the wisdom of lightening the load a bit at a time over taking one large painful scoop.

Same thing with sin, by the way, since I should be writing about something to tie this in to Lent. It takes us a while to get in to a sin and therefore a while to get out, a little at a time sometimes because it may be too much for us to handle at one time.

Ask me how I know this.