This Sunday's Homily...

It was said that in his youth a man named John who lived on Cyprus had a dream in which a beautiful maiden named Compassion appeared to him and told him she was the eldest daughter of God.

As John grew, then married and had a family, the dream never left his mind. When he became a widower and then an ascetic it stayed with him. As popular acclaim required he serve as the Patriarch of Alexandria that dream followed him to his palace. And as Patriarch he made it his mission to give to many, to all, to people he did not know, and people far and wide, and by generosity express compassion and so serve God.

These acts were not always met with approval. The Church in Alexandria in the early 600’s was wealthy, prominent, and there were those who would keep the wealth intact. But Patriarch John understood something greater than the economy of those times, and ours as well, an economy based on acquiring and storing for ourselves. John understood that in God’s economy what was given away, what was shared, was what came back to you and that the glory of the Church was when she lived not for herself but for God and those outside her walls. It was that attitude that made John notable in his life, acclaimed in his service, and eventually glorified by the church where he is now known as St. John the Merciful.

And it’s this attitude that’s found in our Epistle and Gospel readings today. Our Orthodox faith teaches us that we truly own nothing in this world. All that we acquire in our time here is given to us by God, the source of all good things, and we are required to hold it in trust and use it for the glory of God and the benefit of all. At the end of time we will be asked to give an accounting of what we have been given and the basis of that accounting will not be in how much we acquired by how much we have shared.

We Orthodox often use the hammer of “tradition” against each other, arguing about what kind of music we have, what language we speak, how the Priest served, what kind of food we need to make, a million things we all think are tradition. But the truth is if you want to know the heart of Orthodoxy none of those things matter in any particular way at all. Jesus himself said it best we he urged those follow him to love God with all their heart and soul and mind and love their neighbor as themselves.

If you love God in this way, you will trust him for all your needs. If you love your neighbor this way you will understand that you find your own true life in living for others and all that you have, all that you are exists for the benefit of all. If you understand this you will have mastered the tradition of our faith in a way that people obsessed with rubrics and cultures and liturgics and who does what and who has the power will never know. Whatever they may gain they gain for only a short while but those whose lives sow bountifully into the lives of others for the sake of the love of God hold on to their treasures for all time.

It is said of St. John the Merciful that he commanded his coffin to be made but left unfinished and his grave to be partially dug. At various times during the year he instructed those in charge of making coffins and digging graves to approach him and say “Master, shall we complete the preparations for your death…?” In this way St. John reminded himself of what things truly matter in this life.

Perhaps something like that would be good for us as well. We should ponder our end not as some kind of exercise in morbid introspection but rather as a way to give our lives focus and meaning. The Psalmist asked of God, “Teach us to number our days so that we can increase in wisdom” and another has said “The shortness of life underscores the value of giving ourselves to the right things.”

If we did we would soon come to realize that we truly own nothing in this world, even the clothes they bury us in will one day turn to mulch. We would understand that everything we think we possess, including this church, is not our own and what matters is not what we hold close to ourselves but what we give away. And perhaps the most remarkable thing is that as we draw nearer to understanding this we become more free from the tyranny of life, more alive, more whole, more real, and more focused on the things that last. And we begin to know what it is to have eternal life.

He's Orthodox...

The story here...

It's Sunday Night in Minnesota...

It's Sunday night back at home in Minnesota. Vacation is done, work awaits in the morning.

Some weeks ago the plans were ambitious, a trip to Seattle to get in a baseball game or maybe a flight to New Mexico to view archaeological sites. A hard month of work and the preparation for our Bishop's visit took that all off the table. We settled for a trip to Bemidji, Minnesota and followed the fall colors to Marquette, Michigan on the Upper Peninsula.

Even on vacation I enjoy driving, miles under the wheels and simply seeing things I've never seen before. Planes are faster but cars are more real, what you see from the air as little squares of ground and distant roof tops fill with people and houses and the palette of life. From 30,000 feet you'd never know that below you was a place called Ball Club, Minnesota or see Agate Falls hidden under the Michigan trees.

Moments with nothing to do are rare for me. I usually get a few hours on Saturday morning and the quiet of the ride home but often not much else. Yet work and family found their way into this time as well. Even if you go away from it all it seems to have a way of finding you and dragging you in to its own whirlpool. I remain convinced that cell phones and the internet have played havoc with the whole idea of vacation. You can never seem to get "away" because whatever you've left behind can track you. It was good to leave work for a while but I never did get a few hours on a beach or a long walk in the woods. I miss that and as Monday morning looms I feel like I only had part of what I needed and that it will be months before I find it again.

Yet sleep is coming and I'll take as much of that now as I can and we'll see what tomorrow brings.


It's around 9:30 at night...

It's around 9:30 at night and I'll be in bed soon.

These past weeks have been busy beyond belief with arrangements for an episcopal visit, the change of staff at work, vacation plans, an illness in the family. I've pushed through more paperwork and dealt with more people asking for help then I can remember.

But one part is done, work is over for this week and the time for church things will begin tomorrow morning. I'm sitting and writing and waiting for a load of laundry to get done and then my pillow beckons.

A month ago I knew this was going to be a very busy time. Yet somehow things got done. Some people let me down but I was often amazed at who stepped in, who added a little bit of help to take some of the load. Events that seemed impossible for a moment somehow found a way to resolve themselves. When there was tired there always seemed to be a little more strength. Nothing about me, everything about grace.

It's not done by a long shot. I've got three more days of an episcopal visit. Our Bishop is a very nice man but I still have to study the services and will be flying solo in all of this for the first time. I'm nervous but not because the Bishop makes me nervous but because I want everything to be perfect and too often snare myself in that and miss all the good things along the way.

I want everything at St. Elias to go so well that I think I have to do it all. Now that's arrogance!

There's a lot of things I wish would have happened this past year, buildings painted, things started, progress made, things that would make a good impression and help the parish but I have to be careful that I lead and not drive people. There's a big difference.

More than anything else I would like our Bishop to see what we've been doing, how hard we've been working, the progress we've been making. We've got a long way to go but we've also traveled far and I hope he sees the progress. I would like the people of St. Elias, as well to know our Bishop and be hoonored by his visit and sieze this moment to get a sense of their own future.

Bu now I've got to sleep. Lots of things to do. Lots of miles to travel. And lists everywhere.



We had some family over this past week and their dog ate through the 50 feet or so of cable that went up from my basement to the upstairs and the DSL modem. Time to go wireless and after a few tries, okay more than a few, I'm up and running with my own wireless network in my house. And I remember when someone who had a 14.4 modem thought they had the world by the tail!

Anyway this should be just about the busiest week of my life, so much to do and His Grace Bishop MARK coming on Friday. I'll be out of circulation for most of this week and blogging on vacation for next, so say a few prayers for us all and I'll see you on the other side of this week.


A Year and a Day...

Today marks a year and a day since my brother Paul died suddenly while on a business trip in California. And as I type I think.

I'm amazed at how quickly a year goes by these days. I know time is a constant but as I get older it seems to be picking up steam and sometimes I feel like I'm riding a comet through space. The Psalmist's passages about the temporary nature of human life in the greater expanse of eternity become more real as each day passes.

I've seen again the resiliency that faith creates in a person. In the larger scope of things I suppose my brother's death was just one of who knows how many that occurred that day, just as mine will be. But to those who knew him and cared for him it was like fate sucker punched them and yet those closest to Paul still endure. Faith makes a person resilient, able to flex in the winds of time by virtue of being rooted in something larger. It handles the larger questions of life not so much with answers but rather assurance and hope.

And my faith has not died. To this day I have no answer as why this all happened. There is no logic, no sense, no heavenly vision in which all is explained. I will probably never know anything concrete about this while I still have breath. Yet I'm not angry with God, perplexed sometimes maybe, but not angry for all of this. Perhaps if it had been my wife who passed I would be, I don't know and there is a certain comfort in whatever distance we have, no matter how small, from hard events. But somewhere inside there is a still and calm place that remains secure in this storm.

My sadness now is mostly not for me but for a future that will be remarkably different and less because of Paul's passing. Every future wedding, children, events, gatherings, anniversaries, all of it will be a kind of mourning. We''ll say, "If only Paul were here..." or "If only Paul had seen this..." That will be sad but I suppose in a way those yet to be spoken words will also mean that he still matters, is still part of the equation, still loved, and still with us in some way.

A year and a day, oh my!


Miscellaneous Thoughts...

I took a look at the date of the last post and realized I haven't done any writing for nearly two weeks. What can I say? I've been busy. My boss retired in early August and left me with a job and a half and our Bishop is set to come in two weeks. I hope that the folks who regularly visit here won't have forgotten about me. Hello? Still there?


Today the sky was sunny and the temperature about 69 degrees Fahrenheit. Just about a perfect day. The road back north was smooth and the journey uneventful. I think being in the hills and valleys somehow makes the drive more interesting even if you've done it literally over a hundred times. I've never had a similar experience when I've driven through the prairie country. In a few weeks the leaves will begin to change and the drive will become even more pleasant.


I suspect the next few weeks will be about studying and being very busy at work. Study because every time a Bishop comes everything gets complicated and the choreography, if you will, becomes more complex. Busy because even though the hell month of covering two buildings will officially end tomorrow when the new boss arrives there are still a lot of things that need to be done until she gets up to speed.

In that same vein getting a new boss is sort of like getting your first college roommate. You hope they're nice, don't snore, and are reasonably clean. I met her for about 20 seconds when she toured our campus for her second interview and now she and I will be in the same office figuring out how to make it all work out. Hope for the best, do what you can, make it work.


Oh the joy of being able to sleep with open windows! September is Minnesota's way of apologizing for the cruddy weather that's the norm around here. Every state has some part of the weather they do well. Kansas, for example is very hot and dry in the summer with temperatures that often go into the triple digits, but fall is warm and long and spring early. Minnesota only has September and for the rest of the year its too something or another.

A lot of Minnesotans take vacations and get married in September because its the basic window of opportunity climate wise and my wife and I plan to do the same just before October, not get married (although we actually DID get married in September), but take a vacation. In a few weeks I'll be writing from Michigan's Upper Peninsula where some of the best autumn colors in this neck of the woods can be found even if hardly anyone actually lives there all year round.


And thank you to all the visitors who've kept coming back even when I was tied up.