And after the laughter dies down the really scary stuff starts. She means it. And there are more like her, maybe many more. They really have no idea of the radical disconnect from reality required for a millionaire rock star to lecture all of us "unenlightened" about the dangers of toilet paper. They have no framework to see the irony of promoting environmental awareness and then flying home on a private Boeing 707 .
But the truth is if you cut yourself loose from a solid anchor you drift wherever wind and tide may take you and one way or another you become mad as a hatter as sense and nonsense merge. The world you inhabit is the asylum you have created where you, as the most insane of all, have free run of the place. So up can mean down and this that and a person can think using one piece of toilet paper on the trip home in a private jet will save the environment.
And we have cut ourselves loose in a big way. We have given God the metaphorical middle finger and set about creating ourselves, reality, and everything we touch in our own image. Its the oldest sin in the book and while we're thinking we're novel and radical and chic and adventurous the downside of it all is the consequence, death of soul and body, is still the price we pay. Along the way to that inevitable end the road is paved with confusion, intellectual drift, the gnawing pain of unsatisfied spiritual hunger, and a million blind alleys.
Modern culture, unaware of its own irony, often suggests Christian faith is the product of delusion, of fanciful myths to soothe those unable to live in reality. But as our society grows increasingly dysfunctional a question should be asked. Which is the more strange and delusional; a world where people are obsessed about toilet paper, carve themselves into mannequins in the fear of a wrinkle, drug themselves into oblivion, work themselves to death, and pursue with fascist passion the very things that are murdering them or the carpenter from Nazareth who asks those who follow him to "love thier neighbor as themselves"? Who is more together, more grounded, more in touch with the truth of life? Who do you want to call the shots?
I thought so.
Uhhhhh Sheryl, how about giving up that electric guitar, and all those speakers and lights, and that really big house, and the tour bus and....
And maybe someone needs to remind her that paper products come from trees which, you know, can be planted again after they have been harvested.
And for Pete's sake lady, limiting yourself to one or two squares of paper for every time you, let's say, have need of them. No way am I ever going to shake your hand. Ever!
That screaming by the way is the noise that common sense makes when its being killed.
But www.jihandwatch.org is a must see www site if only to get an idea of the scope of what people of all faiths are up against when it comes to the global vision of hard line Muslim groups. To know the times is to see things as they truly are and then work to overcome them by the force of good. We need to see the panorama of these groups, individuals, and acts to remove the blinders from our eyes and come to terms with some very horrible "might be's..." if thier dark dreams become reality outside of narrow pockets of the world.
Yet panic or blind hatred would not be the order of the day. Our Lord promised us that we would have troubles in this world but to not be afraid because he had overcome it. So we need to see all things truly, not just the gruesome outworking of fanatics but also the very much more real assurance that the Kingdom of God, beset about throughout history, is still the final destiny of the universe. And we need to fight as we should, not so much in the military way (although we do have the right to defend the powerless against agressors) but in the way of Christ himself who instructed us to overcome evil with good. The most effective witness for the Christian way of life is simply and always a Christian who, God giving him strength, actually lives as a Christian.
So learn and become aware. Dismiss the haters that sometimes crop up in the comments section of www.jihadwatch.org and are usually promptly removed when discovered. Gain knowledge not for the purpose of mindless speculation or mongering in conspiracies but rather for the purpose of knowing that which we have to face in this day. Then, in the middle of this darkness, light your Light, the Light which we were recalled again this Pascha, the Light that shines in the darkness and has never been overcome by it.
People sometimes ask Orthodox about our ritual life, the vestments, the "smells and bells", and the sometimes complex movement of people and objects that mark our worship. Its because we understand that humans are creatures of ritual and even in a bastion of intense secularism like the modern University campus that primal call to understand the world in the movement of "liturgy", if you like, cannot be quenched.
And the goal is the same as well. The rituals at Virginia Tech are designed to begin a process of human transformation from intense pain and loss to some future time when the more regular rythms of life will once again prevail. In Orthodoxy we seek a transformation as well, one not rooted in a response to a specific moment but rather to the love of God and the continuing hope that we can always be drawn through that love into a union with Him.
Over the centuries the things we do, despite thier appearance as unnecessary complexities in a world that worships efficiency above efficacy, have been the numinous things whose effects have radically changed people and even cultures towards holiness. They are powerful and touch the deepest part of the human soul even if that soul is unaware. They call us to ancient and heavenly cycles of life, remind us of our place in life, and carry us through the moments of struggle to our true home.
The European press is talking about America's gun control laws while ignoring thier own bloody past and the whole idea that a maniac would take the time to make sure he had all the paperwork in order before going on a rampage. People are asking for the President of the University to be fired as if he should have been omniscient and able to know every bit of the future and protect every person on campus by himself. People are looking for someone to blame, some structure, some program, some group, or maybe just one person but the truth is right in the faces we see in the mirror every day.
We have given up as unfashionable the idea that evil exists and that in every human and every group of humans there is a dark part that can overwhelm us sometimes without our even seeing it. Sometimes that evil emerges horrendously like shooting rampages or wars but most often it's just a silent killer lurking underneath all of our skins killing us slowly every time we give in to it. And we'd like to think we can master it, subject it to some superior system of management, to a better environment, or a more perfect structure. But it never seems to work and having long ago given up looking at the content of our souls for answers we look for someone, anyone, to blame.
But the shooting is about us, that part of us that is dark and foreboding and full of unholy trash accumulated over the years. Without the resources to fight it its just a matter of time before it, like a deep infection, finds its way to the skin of our life as a boil. There are many ways this happens but only one source and until we deal with that we'll all find ourselves at that moment in our life when one way or another we stand faced with the choice to pull our own particular trigger and we do.
No law, no structure, no environment, or program, as good as they can be, will change a thing until the inside of a person is redirected away from darkness and towards the Light. We are not mindless beings subject to the whims of our environment but embodied souls with the capacity to transcend and when we fail to do so the results are always tragic even if there isn't 24 hour press coverage of the results. A man can have access to a hundred guns but if his heart is turned away from killing there will be no death. And the same is true for whatever darkness we shelter and nourish in the secret part of our hearts.
This is why who we are and what we seek to be as Christians matters, because at the heart of our faith lived in this world is a desire to be transformed deeply and truly from what we are to what we by grace can become. Each act of repentance is not merely a response to a past embrace of darkness but also a positive act for the betterment of our selves and the world. A person who renounces killing saves thier soul but also saves the world from whatever harm could have been done by virtue of their forsaken murders. And so it is with all sins and struggles and moments of dark despair not embraced in the pursuit of the Savior.
Yet what has happened in these past hours cannot be undone and so we are left with another reminder of the savage that lies within us all and the call to care as best we can for those who suffered from its manifestation at Virginia Tech. Some day the world, and we ourselves, will not be this way and so we urge our Lord to come and return heaven to earth and make all things new. And as we do we hope ourselves, in some small way, to be continually be made new from the very core of our being for as long as we live here in hope.
But the old hymn says:
We have an anchor, that keeps the soul
Steadfast and firm while the billows roll
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move
Grounded sure and deep in the Savior's love.
As I've stated before there seems to be only two ways to live. Follow Christ or descend in to some kind of madness. As crazy as I am sometimes I'm still sane enough to choose the former to avoid the latter.
It seems to me that for most Orthodox who live outside of monasteries it may not be about watchfulness at all but about sleep. The world is busy and growing busier. The pace keeps quickening. The amount of time for any one thing grows shorter even as the list of things to do grows longer. We may soon approach the point where our souls and body simply cannot bear the accumulated weight of the time and events of our life.
We need to sleep.
Now some of these thoughts can be attribued to the fact this is Bright Week and the hangover from Pascha is still upon me. But studies also show that we Americans, anyways, are chronically sleep deprived. We have a million things to do and just a few hours to make it all happen and the one thing that gets set aside is rest. How much caffeine is in the average American's blood at any one time? That would be an interesting question.
And that fatigue that's part and parcel of what we now know as "normal" life is the devil's playground. Tired people, overworked people, stressed out people are ripe for the picking, prone to making bad judgements, too busy to mull things over and separate the good from the bad, unable to reflect on the meaning of things by being perpetually in the heat of the moment and vulnerable to temptations in the weakness created by restless doing. The world has become a whining selfish child and even the best of us may say yes to something we know isn't good just to shut the little brat up.
Without the constant noise of the world the monastic or hermit may truly be able to keep watch through the night. But those of us who live outside that solitude may more often then not just need to get to bed and be rested for the challenges of the next day.
Pascha is always a busy time but at a small parish it can be thoroughly hectic. A small group of people really have to put themselves out to make it all work and a liturgical cycle rooted in a time when time itself was marked in a different rhythm often stands in sharp contrast to the present. Our little church, of course, was full with old friends, those who are Orthodox for this week only, and family. We live the reality of St. John's Paschal Homily that some will come even at the 11th hour, but all are welcome at the feast and will continue to be welcome. Such is the mercy of God and those who wish to complain would do well to be reminded that this mercy is for them as well. We never know if we ourselves will wander and one day need that 11th hour mercy so we dare not begrudge it to others.
I had pictures taken of it all and I hope to post some here and some on our parish web site. We made the local paper as well, the colorful nature of Orthodox faith always makes for a great front page photo. We've by and large resisted the urge to turn our churches into large and faceless corporate style "worship centers" and so there is still something to look at besides a jumbo-tron when you visit. The picture was actually of me lighting candles at the bier on Great and Holy Friday but lest I get too proud the story directly underneath the caption was about the need for more child porn enforcement, so there you have it.
One of the things Pascha always brings out is the closet Orthodox in the LaCrosse area. There appear to be little pockets of Orthodox hidden all around the area and if all of them showed up on a regular basis we'd have quite a parish. I encountered a Serbian man who walked in our door and stated he lived in Sparta which is just about a half hour away but normally traveled all the way to Milwaukee for services, a trip of nearly four hours! We also have Bulgarian and Russian immigrants in the area that come out for Pascha alone but never seem to make it back for anything else. I sometimes ask myself, "What haven't we done, or what could we do to give these people a home for more than a few hours on one night of the year?" This good man, tall and sturdy like many Serbs, was genuinely unaware there were Christians of Arabic descent or that we long ago have become, despite our name, a very muti-ethnic Orthodox home, in fact most of the major Orthodox bodies have been that way for years as well. Alas our work at just being Orthodox without hyphens attached still has a ways to go.
And of course there were glitches in the service. That always happens. For some reason we've scheduled perhaps the most complex service of a liturgically complex faith at that hour of the night and morning when we are most tired. I don't remember the details but I know I missed my lines, as it were' a few times and once inadvertently bounced the censer off the altar. But what can we do? Can anyone go through a three to four hour service with utter perfection? The humanity of the time is just part of it all.
But beyond the fatigue I hope the people there were reminded of a great truth. We believe Christ's resurrection wasn't a metaphor, a vision, a dream, or a myth that somehow describes the rebirth of the Apostle's hope. We believe a very live being, a unique hybrid of God and human, actually died, was actually buried, and actually returned to life again of his own power. We know the early Christian movement preached this and could have been stopped in its tracks but just producing a rotting corpse or one soldier on site that night who could identify the people who overwhelmed them and took the remains. They could not, and because of it all of reality has to rearrange itself around this event. If Christ died and then came back to life again nothing can be the same, ever, and everything about our lives must be different no matter how difficult that may be to accomplish. And the hope that would emerge from that would change the universe. No matter how beautiful the service if people miss that they might as well have just stayed at home. But I hope they got it because it means everything, it really does.
The truth is that to date there have been many major break throughs using adult stem cells and basically none using embryonic cells. This is a case, like the clear linkage between a Judaeo-Christian sexual morality and health, where the science is being ignored by partisans who have political and social agendas.
But facts are stubborn things and in this case are on the side of the most innocent of us, the unborn.