I absolutely could not resist...I mean it...

From the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and "Jihad the Musical" a wonderful parody in music and song.


A Little Bit of Heaven on Earth...

For those who love us and those who hate us...

Ethnic Albanian Muslims desecrate an Orthodox Church in Kosovo.

Now you won't see this on American Mainstream media where they've painted the Serbs as the "black hats" and rarely show evidence that contradicts the offical story line of Muslim "tolerance". Yet the point of this is not to hate but first to pray for those people venting their fury on an Orthodox temple for they are still persons made in the image of God and second to be wise and realistic about what it is we often face as a radicalized segment of Islam strides to the front of the world stage.


Remembering Tasha...

The year I spent in Kansas as Pastor of a Baptist church was often a painful one. Simply put it was not a good fit and I suspect there were some at First Baptist, Lindsborg, Kansas who were as relieved to see us go as we were to leave. I was changing, they wanted to stay the same, or at least that's my side of the story. Looking back it all makes sense and I see the hand of Providence in it all. I was destined to find my way home and so I could not stay and nothing was left behind.

But two cats did come with us from Kansas strays who found a home with us and made that large Baptist parsonage, and every home we've had since then, alive in a way that only cats can. Bo, an athletic tuxedo cat with dark fur over his eyes that made him look like Zorro and Tasha, slight and delicate, walking through our home like a shadow. Bo has been gone over a year now, a tired old man, top cat to the end, who even in his dying let the vet know of his contempt and Tasha who yesterday took that same car ride and was mercifully put to sleep.

Never a large cat, she was so skinny and frail that she was a shadow of even her own slender self. Wracked by all the maladies that come to old cats she was tired, had gone blind, and wandered the house for a few days bumping into things and crying in a way only cats in distress can. We agonized for days and then our not wanting to see her suffer out weighed our desire to keep her with us and the decision was made. The vet sent
a sedative home with us and after my wife and I spent the afternoon with her I gave her a shot and she fell asleep. While we gathered her favorite blanket to carry her to the vet's office I placed her in our doorway for one last brief rest in the sun and then we carried her off. Before the needle was a quarter empty her tiny heart stopped and she went limp.

We stayed for a little while looking at her lying there, quiet and still, no longer crying and pacing through the house in a sightless fog and then we left. In a week or so a small box will be waiting for us with her remains, a swatch of hair, and one last paw print in clay. It will all go into a little box on our mantle next to our other Kansas kitty, Bo, and I suspect every once in a while we'll open it up and remember.

Although the Scriptures, and, to my best knowledge, the Tradition are silent on this I do have a part of me that hopes there is something of the life of animals that lives on in some way. In prior posts I have mused that animals are perhaps the most innocent of God's creatures because they did not sin and are broken only because of the mortality that came to the world through our rebellion. I don't think we ponder that as much as we should, the idea that when animals hurt each other or get old, blind, and ill that this, too, is on our shoulders. Regardless, for the love they give I hope there would be some reward. But I don't know and like so many things I don't completely comprehend I trust that God will do what's best.

So now the house seems a little more empty, empty of her presence, empty of the era in our life that her stay with us marked, empty of her soft footfalls and her thoughtful chatter when she answered as best she could whenever we asked her a question. In time the images of the old and fragile cat will fade away, replaced by so many happy memories. What stories we could tell and we will. Because of that she'll always be our little girl, the shy cat who loved to lay in a sunbeam and made a hard year in Kansas, and every day until her last, a little better just by being ours.

And if there is a place for her that's known to God alone I hope she's there, her eyes bright, her body full, her fur shining, with gentle breezes coming through her very own window on an endless summer day.

When a politician says...

When a politician talks about how bad things are someone should ask "But aren't YOU in charge?"


The Bishop is coming, the Bishop is coming...!

A few weeks ago His Grace, our Bishop MARK, set a date to visit our little Parish, September 21-23 to be exact, and so ready or not here he comes.

It's not that fearful at all. OK, I'm lying. I am a little bit nervous, but we're getting everything into high gear and preparations are under way. There are things to be cleaned, arrangements to be made, and services to be prepared. In a certain way there are things that needed to be done anyway that a visit by the Bishop will get done with a renewed intensity. We're having an all church clean up day in a few weeks and we'll soon be in proper trim and ready to go.

Perhaps all of this sounds desperate but its really not. Sometimes Orthodox Christian just need a jolt, even a crisis, to get them to do what they should have been doing all along. A good Priest can use these events to help the Parish discover some of its own inner strength and goodness, its ability to rise to the occasion and the realization of how good things can be when we put our hearts and hands together. The people of St. Elias will shine not because of me or the events but because they have it in them but they just don't always know how to let it flow.

It will also be good for the people of St. Elias to have a whole weekend with our Bishop. We need to understand our connection to the larger church that he embodies and I know that he'll impress people with his presence. Our Bishop speaks of his being "drafted" into the episcopacy and that's probably true in one sense but I think as he continues on that people are also seeing why it was that he, and not some other Priest, was drafted in the first place. A modest first rounder is still a first rounder.

The question is, and my pride is showing up here, will we impress? I think we will. We've made some significant progress in the past two years and there is a sense of hope for our future. I think we're at that place where the snowball is just starting to roll at the top of the hill before it picks up speed and snow in its descent. There are people at St. Elias who are Orthodox to the core and have real dreams for St. Elias' future and the willingness to put their money where their mouth is. We've got a ways to go but we're starting to get there and I know he'll see that as well.

And now to the paperwork and phone calls...


The Counter-Revolution?

Has a counter revolution against the "sexual revolution" begun?


Hints of Revival in Europe...

An article on the emergence of evangelical and independent churches in Sweden and other countries that are tapping into Europe's spiritual hunger despite the official secularism of the larger society.

There is a future for Orthodoxy in all of this if we understand the need to be proactive, entrepeneurial, counter cultural yet culturally savvy, and willing to get up and out of our pews to reach the world and seize this moment. The future will belong to Orthodoxy if we have the courage to grasp it and apply the wealth of our faith to the real world.

Fasting = Green

Japanese scientists have discovered that producing 2.2 lbs of beef for the table expends as much greenhouse gas as driving three hours in a car at 50 mph. So not only are the meatless days of Orthodoxy good for your body and your soul but the environment as well.

Goes to show that a lot of those rules we modern think are relics of those repressive days of yesteryear actually make a lot of sense.


On the Church...

If you wish to travel on over to Ancient Faith Radio (www.ancientfaithradio.com) there will be in the podcasts section a short and remarkably clear presentation by Clark Carlton on the Orthodoix understanding of the Church. With recent proclamations about the church by the Pope and the enguing ripple of attention to the question "What is the Church?" it might be good to have an informed Orthodox responseand Professor Carlton provides just that without a lot of theological jargon.

Festivals and Other Stufff...

It was 8:00 PM bfore I got on the road this past Sunday. It was the day of the parish festival and well after events closed down there were still buildings to clean and things to haul back to church.

I had been standing for nearly twelve hours and my voice was hoarse from moving from table to table to talk to people. But the truth is that others had done a whole lot more. There were folks in the kitchen who kept meal after meal coming without air conditioning to take the edge off. Someone had to scrub pans in the back with clothing glued to their body by steam and sweat. Two men stood in front of a grill for hours. Compared to that walking around and making sure people were schmooozed was down right child's play.

I'm amazed at these festivals how many Orthodox are actually in the LaCrosse area. If everybody showed up we'd probably have around 100 or more in church on any given Sunday. They show up for festivals and Pascha and sometimes Christmas and often when they die but alas even in this neck of the woods its hard to find a way to convince them to take part in the everyday life of the church. I wonder sometimes. Do I have bad breath? Body odor? Is there some magical thing I can do to help them see the value of their faith? And more often than not I think to myself "What happened at some time in the past that switched the devotion "off" and brought them to a place where the faith that many in their own countries paid for with their lives means little more than a ceremonial convenience? I wish I knew. I pray I would come to know. I pray for all those who should be with us almost every time I prepare the gifts before Liturgy.

There's no judgement there, just sadness. Some day people will need their faith and all the things it bestows and the problem is that if they haven't developed it over time there's no way to bring it all back in a moment of crisis. I was a health care chaplain for some years and so many times family members would contact me and ask for help in a moment of trouble and I would discover they had never practiced their faith in any real way until this moment when their family member was lying in the hospital unresponsive with tubes and machines everywhere. There was little I could do except pray and hope that somehow God could penetrate the moment with the kind of grace that catches a person just before they fall over a cliff.

I pray, too, that these good people I meet only at Festivals who, like so many in this culture, have probably been slowly weaned off the need for the holy by the constant allures of a consumer culture and "right here, right now" mentality will be touched by grace. I hope they will see there is so much more to life and far from being a place for rituals the church is the nerve center for a whole way of life, a whole world view, that transforms, heals, restores, and saves. I really do believe that and it's what keeps me a Priest.

That all being said, the Festival was a good day, warm but not too hot (except in the kitchen) and a time where the whole community got to see and meet us. People had fun, enjoyed each other's company, and old acquaintances found each other with laughs and smiles throughout the day. Everything was permeated by the devotion of our small group of folks to hard work for an object of love, the little Parish of St. Elias where a dozen or so people fed nearly a thousand and let our light shine. And as tired as I was the drive home was peaceful and beautiful with the kind of light that only can be seen at dawn or when the sun is ready to set behind hills.


Site of Interest...

Check out Orthodox Circle, an Orthodox answer to MySpace and more!

Memory Eternal Pastor Will B. Dunn...

From GetReligion.org an article about the death of Douglas Marlette, creator of the "Kudzu" cartoon character Pastor Will B. Dunn. I collect church cartoons, something I started to help me through the hard days of being a Baptist Pastor, and the character of Will B. Dunn tickled my funny bone.


If you do nothing else today...

If you do anything today please go to the home page of Ancient Faith Radio and look for the audio file of Lynette Hoppe an Orthodox missionary in Albania who resposed in the Lord in August of 2006. Two weeks before she died she gave a talk that must be heard. It is a magnificent testimony of the grace of God.


Festival time...

Next Sunday marks our 28th Annual Mediterranean Festival at St. Elias.

It's quite an event for such a small church with entertainers, a bookstore, a silen auction, and meals for over a thousand. We'll fill, with good fortune, a building the size of an American football field with people and for such a small parish that means a lot of work.

There's a love / hate relationship in Orthodoxy with Festivals. Sometimes they can become an end in themselves and frankly we need the money they raise. On the other hand they are a common project that can bind a community together and a nice way to get some exposure in the community. Obviously we'd rather have everyone just tithe and end the need of these events to cover operating expenses and yet even if that happened I'm sure we'd do them almost entirely for charity and as a way to celebrate that we're here.

I'm proud of St. Elias for taking the step of tithing our festival income. Ten percent of our income will go to charity, probably our own funds for charitable ministries, and that's quite a step of faith to take ten percent off the top when the budget is tight. Yet it's the right thing to do and so we'll press on.
God has and will always take care of us.

And the hard work binds us together. After almost thirty years its amazing how about twenty people can plan and implement a whole program that includes feeding hundreds. It would seem daunting, but it does work and somehow we make it through. This coming Sunday night, weather being good and all things working, we'll be tired to the bone but grateful for all that God has done and hoping for the future.

Pray for us!