The routines...

Yesterday I had the chance to take a group to from my work site for a tour of St. George Orthodox Church in West St. Paul. Although my assignment is at St. Elias there are times when I assist as services or otherwise get the chance to visit my "home" parish and this visit had a bittersweet quality to it.

The sweetness was the church itself, so beautiful and familiar. Even the smell says home and everything is in its proper place. The bitterness was in what I myself was missing as I watched the new Priest tend to his chores. It was the sense of belonging to a place, of having those ministry routines, the little things that sometimes bother us but are really tasks that identify the place as home.

For the time being I live in suspension, somewhere between being the Priest I was called to be and the Activity Coordinator I must be to keep a roof over my head. Each is a ministry of a kind and neither is to be despised but in life between the two each overlaps the other and both, in some ways, suffer in the divide. And I miss all those little things, the time to visit the sick, to really dig in and prepare good homilies, the freedom to keep ahead of the administrative tasks and stay in the loop, as it were, in the comings and goings of the Diocese. I miss being able to do all those "other" services like Kneeling Prayers that are so important even if hardly anyone shows up.

I sometimes tell the people at St. Elias that what we're struggling for, what all our work is about is really just the ability to be a "normal" Orthodox Parish. And what I miss sometimes, especially when I visit St. George, is just being a normal Priest.

Some day. Some day.

Before All Saint's...

In anticipation of All Saint's a short article on the glorification of Saints in the Orthodox Tradition.

An interesting take...

An article from First Things with a different take on the interplay between Islam and Europe.


Wonderful news...

The Orthodox Study Bible will be out in a complete version, Old Testament, New Testament, and Deuterocanonicals in February 2008. You can go here to vote for your favorite cover and if you wish you can call Thomas Nelson and pre-order (or at least so I was told by a Customer Services Rep). If you do don't forget to thank them for taking the risk, as a largely Protestant publishing house, of exploring the Orthodox market and supporting this work.



The clock on my compter says its just a little past 11 at night and in the quiet of my hotel room I see an unvarnished image of myself, lit only by its screen, in the mirror over the desk. My wife is alseep and so I try to type quietly. It may be one of those nights when you get to sleep early in the hopes of rest only to wake up in the small hours of the night with no chance to get back to sleep. We'll see.

I suspect I would still be sleeping if not for the football dream. I have them once in a while and the basic theme revolves around having an opportunity to play once again for my high school football team or wanting to and getting close but somehow something gets in the way. Its like the dream some people have when they're waiting for something or have to get somewhere and find they just can't catch the bus.

The root of it is in my own high school football career and perhaps in high school as a whole kind of archetype for frustration. Football was the sport of my childhood, the sport of my passion. In the weeding out process that comes when kids go from playground to organized ball I was probably destined to be somewhere in the middle of the pack had our family stayed in Wausau and I went to the very large Wausau West High School. But we moved to the small suburb of Mahtomedi, Minnesota in the middle of my eighth grade and I went from small fish in big pond to larger fish in a smaller one. By my sophomore year I was already on the varsity and slated for a back up role and the steady climb through the next two years to something better.

In a scrimmage in the summer of that year I came through the line on a very successful stunt, a play for the defense, and pressuring the quarterback tackled him just as he let go of the ball.In the twist to the ground my left ankle gave way. At first everyone thought it was a sprain and I walked on it for several days but when the pain finally became too much and I had to crawl up the stairs at home I was taken to the doctor and the break became apparent. I remember sitting in the stands the next week with my crutches and cast and crying while the game went on below.

Nothing was the same after that. I did make it back that year but by then the tide had already turned. It wasn't like it is now in high school with doctors and trainers and all kinds of people to help rehabilitate things.Back then when you were out of sight you became out of mind and only a miracle could change anything. By next year I had been relegated to a kind of nowhere hell that was the lot of those who came out for football and truly had no chance but were allowed by the coach to suit up anyway. We called it the "burger squad" the place where teenage boys first learned what it was like to be a human tackling dummy for their superiors on the starting team. I couldn't run fast enough, hit hard enough, or do anything to get noticed and escape. In the middle of my junior year there was a dance, there was Southern Comfort and nothing to lose so football ended and for all extents and purpose so did high school.

The next years were things to be endured, a perpetual sense of being dislocated from everything, of never fitting in, with the only the band room piano to help me through the most terrifying hour of all, the lunch hour when you have no one with which to sit. And everyone once in a while those times reach out over the years and touch me when I sleep, a dream where I realize I still have eligibility to play but something, a shoe that can't be tied, the absence of a helmet, or like tonight the discovery that practice was already well underway and I was stuck watching from the fence outside the field, always got in the way.

Perhaps somewhere in the recesses of my life there is still a sadness for those lost days that has never been completely mourned. Perhaps it is only in dreams that this long ago pain is able to emerge and seek release as I sleep and my guard is down. Or maybe there is something in my life at this very time which is incomplete and the best way my soul can tell me is by drawing on the images of the time in my life when I felt the most unrealized.

Its now almost midnight here in LaCrosse and in less time than I think the sun will have emerged and the day will begin. Duty calls, the things I must do. How strange it is that a grown man, a man whos tired eyes and emerging wrinkles stare back from the mirror over the hotel room desk with the eerie glow of computer light, would be touched again by the ghost of those years. Stranger yet is the continuing mystery of what it all means, the secret codex in my soul that calls these things back from some deep part of me in the hope that one day the cause will be discovered and the dream will need return no more.

This week's sermon in advance...

Pentecost Sunday 2007

Not far from here just north of Westby is a coulee once owned by Ervin Lotz. In its past the soil had yielded tobacco and the remnants of an old tobacco shed stood in a kind of dilapidated grandeur, a reminder of what had once been where the road met the valley floor.

My father and I came to the Lotz farm many times in the summers of my childhood. Long abandoned for agricultural use the coulee had become a wild vista as prairie plants began to reclaim the land. We came to build a bible camp and in the early years we lived in tents with rotating work crews as the buildings slowly arose and the valley wild was claimed as sacred space, our Plymouth brethren equivalent of monastic seclusion if only for a week or two.

Yet however the valley was transformed the hills remained untamed. Only a few trails penetrated their mystery and only young boys with time on their hands and the will to take on the slope routinely explored the terrain. The hills were pocketed with crevices and caves and from their side flowed small trickles of water, decades and even centuries, old purified by the journey from the sky through the rock and into the sunlight.

When the work was done but the sun still warm I clearly recall dipping my hands into some small rivulet and drinking water as clear as glass and refrigerator cold. And from those springs in the hills came the camp’s eventual name, Living Waters.

Jesus choice of the image of living water, flowing freely and without reserve as a picture of the Holy Spirit in the life of his disciples was deliberate. In a land that would be considered perpetually in drought by our standards water was a precious thing, wells were fought over in pitched battles, and life itself was tied to whatever water was to be had.

What could be more precious in a dry land then ever flowing water? And what is more precious to a thirsty soul than the life giving presence of the Holy Spirit flowing in and through and out of it? Its the primal hunger of humanity and nothing with which we can fill our lives, no matter how good, can ever satisfy in the same way because we were designed to live with God and will always be parched of soul in His absence.

And yet its probably true that many, perhaps most of us who hear these words of jesus would not describe our life, our faith, our Christian path, as being like a bubbling fountain of cool water flowing from the depths of our soul. Some of us may have had moments where this was the case but most will sadly live our lives with only drops of the life giving water that’s all around us if only we had the eyes to see.

The Christian life can sometimes be very difficult, nothing good always comes easy, and yet there is so much truth, so much glory, so much peace, so much power, and so much joy to be had as well. Those who catch even a glimpse of the great grace given us cannot help but be transformed and for those who walk in it the difference between heaven and earth is often small.

But where, and how do we find this water, this life of the Holy Spirit so that it may flow in, through, and from us and quench the deepest thirsts of our soul?

Some would point to movements and revivals and there is some substance to that. God does move in and through his people as he providentially directs and people’s hearts, grown cold and dry, are refreshed again and renewed. Too often, though, what is identified as revival is simply emotion. While emotion does have a place in our faith (we Orthodox celebrate the cleansing tears of repentance and shout for joy at Pascha) when it becomes the substance of our vision it becomes shallow and because it is shallow, addictive.

Too often we value the Liturgy, or the sermon, or whatever we do in the church solely on the basis of how it satisfies an immediate emotional need. When it feels right to us it must be God, or at least good, but the effect is often short lived and we are quickly hungry for more. There are millions of Christians who’s whole life is a pilgrimage from one experience to another. When the high wears off they scrounge, like addicts do, for more of the same and without it they go into withdrawl. Only a very deep and unsatisfied hunger for good things could drive a normal person from place to place measuring their faith by the depth of the catharasis at the altar call or whether they dropped to the floor under the spell of the man in the spotlight.

But there is something better for us than a moment in the emotional sun. Something greater than throwing a gallon of gasoline, as it were, in our spiritual fireplace once a Sunday and hoping the fire will stay lit for the whole week. There is water for us, cool, steady, and always flowing, the presence of the Holy Spirit inside us and satisfying every true need.

We were given this Holy Spirit in our baptism and chrismation. We continue the original practice of the Christian faith in baptizing and then by anointing giving, in a mystical way, the living presence of the Holy spirit to the one who receives it, even as a child. Despite our humbleness and the sinfulness of every Priest, myself the first, God in mercy really does, motivated by a transcending love, come and dwell in us.

But the gift, like any gift, must be cared for and used for the full value of it to be experienced and understood. One may purchase an amazing automobile but the fullness of it is missing if it never leaves the garage and a garden untended soon becomes weeds. A great Orthodox saint described the Christian life as the acquisition of the Holy Spirit and that implies a certain responsibility on the part of those who receive Him to take positive action to release the presence and work and glory of His place in our lives.

We, being good Americans, would like this all to happen in a big bang, a quick fix, a moment when we are transformed. We’d like something great to happen, something that shakes us to the core and leaves us without doubt, without struggle, and without having to change. But the truth is often less immediately exciting.

Some people really do have profound moments when they encounter God and their whole life is transformed in ways we would describe as miraculous. But like Christ who came to us humbly as a child in a non descript village and used mundane things like bread and wine and fish and simple stories to transform the world so it is with us. The life giving water of the Holy Spirit within us most often bubbles through us in the day to day things, the prayers we say, the worship we offer, the acts of righteousness we do, and the generosity we show. While we are always open to God moving in and among us in ways that take our breath away the truth is that the less spectacular things, the everyday faithfulness of our lives, is what most often releases the living water of the Holy Spirit within us and our church. Pentecost was the birthday of the Church but the everyday surrender of the lives of the faithful to God was the spring of water, cool, and refrigerator cold, that still touches our lives today and bids the thirsty come and be refreshed.

And that is the invitation of this day, not the hunt for some great moment but rather the quiet opening our hearts, our lives, our parish, and this community to the cleansing, refreshing water of the Holy Spirit. This is life for us, and for the world, without it we can do nothing and with it all things are possible.


It really does matter...

A link to an article in the Jerusalem Post about a Christian man arrested for being inside Mecca as a Christian. Imagine the uproar if authorities detained a person at the gates of the Vatican, checked them through a fingerprint security system that identified not only the person but their religion, and then arrested them for not being the right religion to enter! Sometimes we need examples like this to get an idea of the kind of futures being offered to us and some perspective to choose wisely.

The God stuff...

Sometimes people query high schoolers about what college they plan on attending and what major they'll choose. Some will have a very precise answer and others none at all. Most will drift in and around the topic for a while, often right in to college itself, the experience of being at college the catalyst for change and new direction.

I was one of those folks who bopped around a bit. I though about ROTC. I thought about just getting out there with a band and playing music. I wanted, for some reason, to go to Drake University in Des Moines and study English but there was going to be no help as I was a child of the suburbs caught between parents who couldn't help with the costs and the powers that be in the world of grants who said they were too rich. For a while my dad had this idea that I was supposed to study nursing because apparently nurse anesthetists make good money. I ended up at a local community college and solved most of the larger questions by partying the first year away. I suppose that's what can happen when your life is spinning full of dreams with no place to go.

Those who saw me from the outside probably saw me as the drifting child, but not all who wander are lost. I was the inquisitive kid on the block, the one who asked adults hard questions and was often told to shut up because they couldn't answer. So for most of the time I drifted along on the surface of the world, my silence pregnant and evertyhing else enigmatic. One day the tide took me to northern Minnesota and Bemidji State University where I ended up writing press releases, took a strange wierd pentecostal type acid trip of a summer at KJNP radio in North Pole, Alaska (that's King Jesus North Pole to you all) where I did a drive time show without ever once mentioning my name on the air because the guy who ran the joint only wanted people to know who he was and the rest of us were cogs. And yes there really is a town called North Pole just a little bit away from Fairbanks, which itself is kind of surreal, and letters to Santa often get sent to the North Pole Post Office so kids can think they got a real letter back (sort of like what happens when you're not a campaign contributor and write your congressman). Whew!

Whatever I was doing, even if it was rather unholy at any given moment, I did like the God stuff. For some reason even though the faith of my childhood was often stern I was not ultimately put off by it. I guess I just put those voices in the same compartment with the rest of the adults who were yelling at me, telling me to sit still, pay attention and blah, blah, blah. When I was old enough I left and drifted around those tides as well, not lost, just curious and explored the Catholic church for a while, bumped into a cult group called The Way, hung out with Quakers for a bit, dropped in on the Assembly of God in college because glossalalia was the drug of choice for kids in InterVarsity, and ended up mooring myself as a Baptist. Wherever I traveled the God stuff stuck and it became like a sail on a life raft at least sending me somewhere. It got me to seminary anyways.

And seminary was okay althought the same adults who were yelling at me as a child sometimes reappeared as seminarians. I loved the classes, they expanded my mind, set me free in certain ways, challenged my capacities, forced me to pour over old things in new ways. Some of the seminarians, though, were even then rapidly shedding their humanity and getting into the whole stereotypical prissy mode. There's nothing wrong with being righteous but everything wrong with being a dork about it. Maybe it was just what they thought they had to do to survive but I decided to fit in just enough to get by and no more. I had no choice because I knew what a bar stool looked like from above and below and everything that went along with it and although I had dropped that whole thing years before I got to seminary it did make me human and I never forgot that even though I can't for sure always recall where I was or what I did when I was "out there" in the world.

And still the God stuff stuck. It became my life. It became part of my dreams, the stitching that held what seemed like wandering but was really a quilt of many pieces. I don't go anywhere without God any more, even when I'm upset at God and the world and the way things seem to have to be. If I lost everything, my job, my titles, whatever, God would somehow be around and as i write this it suddenly has dawned on me that in all my life, with those who love me and hate me and don't care about me or some mixture of them all God has been the one truest friend. Even if all was fake, like a child who has invisible people to play with when everyone else is gone, I'd still believe for the love of it.


Rode hard and put away wet...

When I was a Baptist Pastor in Lindsborg, Kansas I first encountered the phrase "Rode hard and put away wet..." It was a cowboy colloquialism from the vestiges of the days when Kansas was the frontier. "How are you doing?" "I feel like I've been rode hard and put away wet." Tired. Overworked. No chance to clean up or rest. A horse pushed hard and just stuffed back into the barn with no care.

I feel like I've been rode hard and put away wet.

But I knew it was coming. I knew one day the whole idea of holding down a full time job and trying to help St. Elias get up and going in a better way was going to require some kind of payment and the bill is now due. I can see it in my eyes, in the utter inability to get much done, in the way I stare at the TV, and that particular paralysis of the overwhelmed.

In a younger and fitter time I used to run five miles 3 times a week, sixty laps around the track at the health club. I would count the laps by reverse order in my head and repeat the number over and over like a mantra as I breathed in and out with my steps. Lap sixty to lap one. There were barriers at certain points along the way. Lap 48 in the countdown marked a mile as the stiffness worked its way out of my system. In the 20's parts of me would start thinking about how nice it would be to stop just for a little bit. After all I could start up again. Keep counting. Keep running. By the last ten laps my body would be screaming but I kept on running, kept on counting, and when the screaming got too loud I'd start to sprint the last few laps and then walk another half mile or so to cool down.

There's no other way right now for St. Elias unless we find oil on the property or someone wins the lottery. One generation must endure for something better. One Priest must choose to sometimes be rode hard and put away wet so that the next one won't. No complaints, its just the way it is, and sparks of life are starting to be struck. No time to give up now.

Keep counting. Keep running. Almost there.

Perhaps one day in America...


A question of the will...

There are any number of components that make for a vibrant local parish but one of the most significant is simply the human will that it be so. Parishes can thrive in hard ground or wither in the midst of plenty if the people so choose.

And therein lies the rub. How can the vital importance of the local parish be explained to people to the end that they choose to place their precious time and energy into it as opposed to other things that vie for their attention? It's not an easy thing and its particularly difficult in the United States.

We are an instant culture accustomed to having both needs and wants met within an easy time span. A parish, unlike a local shopping mall, is not always, or even usually, a place for instant gratification. We deal in eternal things and the often slow progress of the sanctification of humans and their cultures. In the shouting world out there where effort or money put in often has an immediate return the parish may seem like some antique, a relic of a bygone era and charming in the way people look at the old cars as they speed past down the freeway.

Often what a parish means is only felt in its absence. When a parish closes people will often gather and recall all the blessings and cry for its passing without thinking for a moment the apathy of those mourning was the reason for their parish's passing into history in the first place. Sometimes we see what the parish means only in the long term social consequence. A good case can be made that the rudeness, consumerism, immorality, and decay of our culture has followed a path almost in lock step with the increasing push of religious belief and institutions to the periphery of American culture. Christians are often shocked, just shocked, at the state of things and shake their heads in wonder even as they themselves see what they believe and the structures of their faith as a mere convenience to the larger pursuit of happiness. If the faithful aren't why should we expect the pagans to be anything else?

And again the power of the will rises. People must choose to make their faith, their parish, and the larger Church a vital thing. They have to be able to see why it matters and the consequence of what would happen if it is gone. It can't be forced or finessed. It must come from within even if that means that sometimes it won't and the doors will be forever closed. The longer I serve the more I understand that planning, and fate, and circumstances, play a part in making parishes vital but at the core are hearts that choose to seek the Kingdom of God first and then have all the rest added.

Without this nothing else matters. With this everything is possible.


Jerry Falwell...

His faith was the faith of my childhood, direct, exposited by the verse, and with a kind of severity born of true love. And he did, with all his strengths and weaknesses speak, as he saw it, truth to power for the sake of saving the culture from its own darkness. Because of this he was often pilloried by those who desire in the occasional failings of those seeking righteousness a justification for their own narcissism. People will always disagree on tactics and terms yet this Priest cannot help but at least admire the raw courage it took to be Rev. Jerry Falwell and endure the kind of abuse that comes to those who speak when others are silent from fear or cowering under the need for approval. I hope that this, at least, will be rewarded.


There is a garden...

There is a garden I can see through my office window. And while my body is inside my heart is often out there among the living green.

Originally it had been a standard suburban sort of thing with everything in place and hedges to cover where planning had not. It made sense on the architectural drawing but without care and without color it became a kind of designed frenzy and unpleasant to see. Nature has a kind of beauty but not everything natural is automatically beautiful.

Over the years when time allowed and the budget could be nipped and tucked I, and a handful of others, have planted new and colorful, weeded that which existed, and ruthlessly removed the faded and dying. All some gardens need is a hand to pluck weeds and the willingness to prune for the long term. And bit by bit it has become a more habitable place with those who live here now stepping out of thier apartment coccoons and spending time among the flowers.

This is a very noisy world, a place where everything shouts with ear drum breaking effect and there are only a few places where I can find rest and quiet. On my kayak as the sun sets over the lake. On the front porch with my mandolin. In the timeless flow of the Liturgy. And in my gardens.

I was born for Eden, we all were, and destined for now to live outside its gates. Some days everything seems shadows and screaming. But once in a while the fearsome angel stands aside and I can get a glimpse of what could have been, just outside my office window, and I know everything is going to be alright.


Memory eternal...

Here is a link to the obituary of Dr. Robert Webber who served as a Professor during my time at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. It was his love for things ancient and Christian that planted the seeds of my journey to Orthodoxy.

May his memory be eternal!

Western Orthodoxy...?

A Western Rite in Orthodoxy? Absolutely!

Those who know me personally know I came in to Orthodoxy via the Western Rite a small but significant part of the Antiochian Orthodox Patriarchate and a presence in ROCOR as well. Completely canonically Orthodox, the Western Rite celebrates this faith with the traditional liturgies and ethos of the West, a recovery of those Rites to thier home in the undivided Church. The Western Rite is, like Byzantine Orthodoxy, beautiful, and speaks to the heart, the culture, and the soul of those who have been shaped by Western European culture.

Many, perhaps most in Orthodoxy do not know the Western Rite even exists and some, in a fit of cultural bigotry masked in theological language, have challenged its validity. ( Both our Patriarch and Metropolitan have continued the approval of the Western Rite granted in 1958 in Antioch and in 1870 by the Holy Synod of Moscow). But for those who have found it it has been a well spring of joy and a pearl of great price worthy of sometimes deep sacrifice. Although I serve an Eastern Rite parish there will always be a place in my heart for the Western Rite and before I came to St. Elias we had hoped, alas in vain due to circumstances beyond our control, to form a Western Rite parish in the Minneapolis / St. Paul, Minnesota area.

If you have the least bit of curiousity about the Western Rite in the Antiochian Archdiocese here is a blog you must read. From there you can explore the Orthodoxy who's heart is ancient and whose voice sings with Gregorian chant! Check it out!

Just a caveat, though, as you search. Please note that just like googling "Eastern Orthodox" will get results ranging from the sublime to the bizarre doing the same for "Western Rite Orthodox" will also be a mixed bag. There are many who use the term "Western Rite Orthodox" for narrow sectarian groups or very bizarre groups who love to add titles to themselves and play church. Only the Western Rite Vicariate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese and the small Western Rite presence in ROCOR are actually Orthodox. The rest, despite the icons, beards, and robes, are whatever they are and rarely what they claim to be.


In case you missed it...

Jesus has already returned, in a reincarnated form of course, according to the followers of this man . But until he dies and comes back again after three days I think I'll take a pass.

A subversive thing...

The older I get the more I am convinced that Christianity is the only true counter culture.


Still pondering...

I miss my brother tonight. I hope he misses me as well.

It was his picture that brought this all to mind, a slight smile with his hand on his chin that graced the cover of his funeral service bulletin. It was a photo from better times yet it called to mind the worst time of all, the sucker punch of a phone call that told me he had died.

Too soon, too young, too much left to do, none of it made sense. It still doesn't. Probably never will. The medical facts wash right over me. The larger meaning eludes me. A bitter part of me could write a list of all kinds of people who should have died instead of Paul. Go figure.

And although I'm very sure it happened it all seems still to be unreal to me. My brain knows it but everything else is numb. I'm suspended in some kind of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual stasis. All I can do is ponder the mystery with a complete silence, the kind that comes with having the wind knocked out of you.

Yet remarkably my faith hasn't gone away. I am totally and utterly without explanation for what happened and at a loss for any answer and yet somehow I believe. I suppose it could be a delusion, the only medicine for a sickness like this. I have trouble seeing it as some level of my maturity because I know myself better then that. Perhaps God is just holding me far enough away from the reality of things to keep my soul from shattering like a glass thrown in an angry fight.

No reasons for it all on the horizon I am left with the simple fact of his absence. Admittedly our lives took very different courses as adults and so we weren't with each other day in and out like many friends and some brothers, yet he mattered to me in that unique way only explained by the connection of family, of the similar flesh, of the shared struggle to life, of the soulishness shaped in a common womb. And when he died a part of me died as well because of it.

So tonight I see his picture and it all comes to mind again. I pray for him in the small hours of the night when I'm too restless to sleep and hope he prays for me too as I crawl along through this world, my journey still incomplete. For some reason all this had to be and I wish I had some clue because if I did I'm sure I wouldn't feel quite as alone as I do right now.

Back from Branson

Made it back from Branson, Missouri, last night and all is reasonably well.

Some time last fall we promised my mother in law that we would take her to Branson for a birthday gift and we knew she liked Branson. I like it too, not because I'm necessarily a fan of a city where "Hee Haw" is a 24/7 way of life, but rather because the Ozarks have a kind of charm and natural beauty that feels like a lonesome banjo sounds.

But Branson is definitely another world. If Las Vegas is America's raunchy old uncle Branson is our spinster aunt, neatly groomed, sitting on her front porch with a Bible in her lap and an old photo of her brother who died in WW2 over the mantlepiece. Branson is up, clean, a perpetual Bible camp with very good performers, the best sound and light systems available, and a kind of patriotism that would make a President blush.

Branson is politically the reddest area in the United States and culturally the most white. Somewhere there must be someone drinking or smoking or cussing or doing something bad with thier neighbor's wife but if they are they've found a way to keep it all under wraps. You can leave your car open in Branson and your 80 plus mother in law has nothing to fear except the people trying to sell timeshares. I've been there twice and have yet to see a bar.

But lest one thinks this is all about good attitudes it should also be known that Branson is a huge apparatus designed to separate visitors from their money in return for a few days of being in a place where Jesus matters, America is always good, and Veterans get a standing ovation at the end of every show. There is big business behind the comedians with buck teeth, the skinny polished girl singers, and the endless stores. But if Las Vegas leaves you feeling broke and whored out at least Branson takes your money and leaves you with some hope.

There's one other side benefit, if you're in the 40's Branson will make you feel positively young. I'm 46 and I can assure you I was the kid on the block, the young man in a sea of gray heads. Every one my age was working somewhere and my wife and I may have been the only tourists in town without an AARP card.

And the music, the music is really good. In a world where everything is synthesized, rapped out, and karaoked there are people in Branson who can really play thier instruments and if you have a taste for bluegrass or country some of the best working pickers around. Top tier musicians tired of the road often retreat to Branson to ply thier craft in a place where they can go home at night so don't try getting a job here unless you can really sing or play or dance or tell a joke. The image is hokey but the show is all business and when the sidemen get set loose to show thier stuff the music is glorious.

That all being said I don't know when or if I'll be back. At a two show a day clip I'm kind of hillbillied out at the moment and four days was enough. It was good to be there, especially with my mother in law but I like home too and I could use a little rest.

An inconvenient truth...

A link to a story about a hotel that has removed the Gideon Bibles and replaced them with Al Gore's book "An Inconvenient Truth".

The saddest part of it all, perhaps, is that the Bible they got rid of is probably the most "green" book in existence, calling those who read it to a stewardship of the Earth as God's creation in which we are all merely tenants. Had those who currently practice environmentalism as a kind of religion actually bothered to open it and read they would have discovered it advocates letting the land rest from the stress of growing crops every seventh year, the sharing of our planet's resources with the poor, and calls us to hope for a day when the lamb and lion together possess the earth.. It admonishes us with the reality that we reap what we sow and bring upon ourselves the consequences of endless consumption. It calls those who have much to voluntarily give for those who have little and we are called to care not just for the planet itself but to love our neighbors as ourselves and live lives of peace and moral purity so we do not destroy our own bodies, the summit of creation.

What they will have missed is the context of it all, and context makes all the difference. There has never been anything wrong with the idea of conserving, of living as simply as possible, and seeking to move through our short time here with a minimum of impact on our island home in the depths of space. But its never an end to itself, it must live, like all things in a proper framework or suffer from a kind of faddishness which never transcends any moment in history. The Bible puts all things, including the way we live in our environment, in proper context, in right relationship with God and each other and the larger meaning of things. Absent that we go lurching from one movement to another, on scare to the next, one theory to whatever follows, ideas unrooted from the whole and ping ponging through history.

Years after the current environmental hysteria runs its course and "An Inconvenient Truth", if it exists at all, is relegated to the bargain rack at Half Price books, the original environmental book, the Bible, will still call us not to fear but to a reverence of God the creator and all He has made, to right relationships with each other and our Maker providing a larger and consistent whole which transcends us and any moment in history with something greater than any inconvenient truth, namely wisdom.

That all being said the good thing, of course is Al Gore's books can be recycled and used for Bibles. Imagine that.


Selling fear...

An insightful article from Peggy Noonan about how we in this country are selling fear to our children and, quite frankly, each other. Worth the read.

Like many related articles, though, it identifies a problem without providing a solution (a common phenomena among our current roster of pundits). I'm not sure why that is, maybe its the same culture of fear, maybe its about our relativism and the widespread understanding there can be no real understanding about anything (the one dogma of modern man). Perhaps its just a matter of column inches.

And while some think the solution is technical or environmental and see a world where people have implanted chips and everything is locked up and tracked as the solution to fear (then, of course, we'd have to fear the people controlling the technology) there is something more. The beginning of the cure for fear is metaphysical, something inside a person needs to be transformed by a world view that allows them to step out of the moment and see everything beyond mere flashes and emotions, a way of life that embodies ethics and purpose and meaning and transcends life as we understand it.

Say Christianity?