It's nearly four in the morning...

It's nearly 4 AM and yes, I'm awake.

From time to time this happens, especially if I go to bed early, and over the years I've learned to make the best of it. My theory is that when I was a teenager I worked the 3-11 shift at a nursing home and because of it I sort of set my rhythm in a night owl direction and have never really recovered. In my ideal world I would go to bed around 8 and then get up at 11 and work for three or four hours, go back to sleep, and then start up again about 10 in the morning. Alas, there are no jobs out there with those hours.

So when the times come when for one reason or another I can't sleep through the night I make the best of it. It's a great time to pray, these hours when everything is quiet. And it's not a bad time to get work done free from the usual interruptions. It's even possible to combine the two by, say, washing dishes and praying. Since my wife is a sprawler when she sleeps it all works out. Prayers get said, work gets done, and she gets the whole bed. Such a deal!

PS - Apparently I'm not the only one up at this hour. My stats have just recorded a visit by googlebot slinking around the web and dropping in on my place to see who's home.

A little wisdom from Willow Creek...

Willow Creek Church in Barrington, Illinois has a reputation in the evangelical Christian world as the center, perhaps even the originator of "seeker friendly" churches, the kind of parishes you see springing up all over the country with subdued architecture and casually clothed pastors leading low key, pop music powered, worship.

According to this article from TownHall.com Willow Creek has done an internal audit of its life and programs and found that while its practices have attracted large numbers they have not created disciples of Jesus Christ to the depth they had hoped. Lots of people have come but large numbers have remained spiritually immature and unable to grow in their faith to a level where they could become as the report says "self-feeders", people who could take responsibility for practicing their faith.

Lest, however, we Orthodox become too critical with our "I told you so's..." and perverse pride in being small it should be noted that while we have it right that the development of true disciples of Jesus Christ with a deep and living faith is a priority we have failed to do that ourselves AND neglected the basic kind of open door hospitality that marks the "seeker" churches. Large numbers of Orthodox Christians are basically uneducated about their faith AND our parishes often have the feeling of ethnic clubs or insular communities where people have to jump through any number of hoops before they're welcomed.

In the end it's all about balance, being in that place where we are firmly established in our faith and a place of welcome for the throngs, and yes they are there, of people seeking spiritual solace in the materialistic desert of American life.


The long way home...

The sun was bright again today and so we took the long way home on the Wisconsin side of the river, highway 35 from LaCrosse and then crossing over at Red Wing, Minnesota.

The topography is different on the Wisconsin side, less open areas and few areas for towns or substantial farms. Once you're past Trempeleau the road narrows to two lanes and snakes along the very edge of the river through tiny towns that hang on to the bluffs in any space even close to flat enough to hold a home. I've often wondered why people simply didn't build on top of the hill but apparently these towns were founded when the river was the focus of life and horses were incapable of pulling wagons up snowy roads. People must have quickly become content with the idea that their little place on the big river was never going to be much of anything people-wise and those who wanted to stayed and rest went up the Mississippi for larger venues.

The blessing of that is the scenery, which because of its inaccessibility has retained its beauty. The road hugs the bluffs and even at this late time there's still color in the trees mixed with the deep green of the coulee floor. Eagles have found shelter here in these places where even the best of plows are useless and the river provides a constant source of fish. Along the way there are markers calling to mind where a river fort once stood or a battle was fought in the days when there were no roads, no wires, and an amazing kind of quiet.

I like to take the slow road more often than not. There are enough freeways in the world where people sit behind their steering wheels grim faced and obsessed with their dashboard clock. What a precious and unusual treasure to find a road without billboards, a road that winds because nature does, a road without generic restaurants. And since I have take the trip I choose to make the best of it, to enjoy every moment and if I lose 15 minutes so be it.

After all, not everyone who wanders is lost.


The tie that binds...

By this time next Saturday I'll be at St. Mary's Orthodox Cathedral in Minneapolis getting ready for my niece's wedding. I'm not actually the celebrant so I need to get dressed up nice and smile piously and handle a few things, but that's okay.

As I get older I come to see my age not so much in terms of the face I see in the mirror but rather by the transformation of those around me. I remember when my niece was born and suddenly it seems she's done with college, on the job, and getting married. What did I do in all that time? I'm not sure I remember but I don't recall it moving as quickly as it did. Time does move on and with each ritual, each ceremony, each event of passage for those around me I see its rhythms. One generation does indeed give way to another and some day I will be that old man sitting off to the side while the young folks dance.

Who can stand in the way of the flower of youth? And yet there is a sadness in this because the blooming of it all comes at the cost of many goodbyes. I suspect that jobs and life and the flow of things will one day take us all apart and all that we've managed to maintain through these years by staying close to each other will one day rust away.

It's just the way of things, so as I go through the work of the Liturgy next Saturday I'll sear each image into my memory, all the hellos, all the good byes, every color, sight, sound, and dream. When we are someday apart it will be the unseen tie that binds.

In case you want to know what real country music sounds like...

My Brother's Birthday...

Tomorrow will be my brother Paul's birthday, his 46th had he remained with us.

Paul and I are 14 months apart and when we were kids we teased him about being an "oops".
Usually on his birthday I would give him a call and say "Hey, you're old" and he would respond "But you're older..." , remind me of those two months when I was two years ahead, and we'd have a conversation. Over the years our lives took different paths and like all brothers we had our own lives but that call was something we had in common and would often be the prelude to a longer talk that helped keep that which knitted us together even though we were different people.

I remember thinking sometimes that time was on my side and I would have the last laugh. One day I would die and then he would, perhaps, finally be older and if by grace I made heaven I would look down and mischieviously smile. Sadly, it was not to be.

However he shines in the presence of God, Paul will always be 44 and time for the rest of us will march on. In God's eyes, of course, it's meaningless, all time is present. But we choose to mark our lives by it, often distress ourselves over it, and watch it pass by too quickly when times are good and too slowly when they aren't. I will grow old as God gives years but all is not lost.

One day, too, I hope to make the short leap from here to the arms of God and live in timeless joy. We'll talk then, Paul and I, not about age or anything else but rather in worshipful tones about life in the sight of God, heavenly things, and everything good and right. And we'll have all the time in the world to do it.


My Morning...

Another Mandolin...

A few weeks ago I was on vacation in Marquette, Michigan and drove in the night through downtown and past a music store. In the window was, hanging among other instruments, a mandolin.

It has been over a year since I started playing the mandolin. Originally I thought it would be a way to challenge myself by having an instrument strung GDAE and directly reverse of a bass. Over the months, though, the mandolin came to have a life of its own. I love the high lonely sound, the two finger chords, but most of all how it has given me a different voice to express my heart.

The upstairs of my house has a room of instruments, a key board, four basses, three mandolins, a dulcimer, and a recorder stashed somewhere along with the various electric gadgets needed to make some of them work. I’ve cleared a few away over the years but there always seems to be room for one more, like the Portugese style mandolin from Marquette with it beautiful wood and soulful sound. One day I believe we may add a hammered dulcimer (this one for my wife) and I think that some day a Native American flute will follow me home and I’ll have to keep it.

I’ve never been content with one instrument. Each instrument has its own qualities, each its own sound, and each elicits something in and from me. They, or rather the music they produce is a solace for me, a world apart where that which is physical and spiritual and intellectual and spiritual are one for a moment. I would like to think that the sounds are still out there somehow, too quiet for hearing but floating through the ether in some mystical way. I’d like to believe that everything I’ve played, good or bad, is still traveling through space.

Who knows? Maybe heaven will be the place where I catch up to my music or where whatever tears have been shed, anger expressed, joy revealed, or fears made known in a hundred songs as prayers will find their perfect purpose, their intended beauty.

Regardless, I’ve got another mandolin, spruce, sycamore, rosewood, and soul and I’ve got to go play.


I'm moving...or at least I thought I was...

I had planned to move my blog to Wordpress because they have better templates, still do, but its harder to post and so I'm back. I guess its just a guy's perogative to change his mind.


Moral Revolution...

Another terrible school shooting, this time in Ohio and you can hear the clock ticking.

How long will it be before you hear the activists seize on this tragedy and demand less guns or more school counselors or cameras in schools. Amazing, though, you'd think by now with all these programs and laws and such in place that all would be well, or at least even on the way to well.

But none of it, as well intentioned (or not) as it might be will matter until there is a moral revolution, a revolution of the heart. You cannot take morality out of a society and expect that something else, something more sinister will not fill the void. It has, it will, and we continue on this path to our peril if we do not wake up and realize that all the laws in the world will not make a difference if a person is not transformed within. Take away the guns they will still murder, take away the murder from the human heart and guns will gather rust.

In that line of thought it may be good to say one more thing. Critics of Christianity speak often of the violence caused by religion. They ignore, of course, the reality that nations and people have used Christianity and distorted it to justify violence and that Christianity is not the actual source of the violence and they carefully forget one more important question. How many violent acts have NOT been committed because of Christianity? How many times in the history of the world has a violent thought or consideration come to mind that the moral framework of Christian faith has redirected towards better solutions? Unfortunately there's no real way outside of anecdote to measure this but one thing seems certain, where Christian faith is truly and rightly practiced violence decreases and that's where the revolution must begin.


Leaves and sun...

As per usual this time of year the vistas along Highway 61 are radiant with the colors of fall. (Yes, that's really a picture) From the sky I imagine it looks like blotches of paint have been dropped to Earth by angels transforming the trees and the whole world with shades of red and orange and yellow.

It's a good time to drive, listen to the radio, and let the tires roll the miles away. I suspect that if I had to drive to some other place these journeys would have long ago grown tiresome. It wouldn't be the same to live, for example, in Phoenix and drive two hours over the open desert. Along my particular road there are hills and valleys with small towns as the highway winds along the Mississippi River. At places you drive through a tunnel of trees and in others the road clings to a high point on a bluff and you can see the fire and light on the Wisconsin side.

It's Monday, the time for tired, the time for trying to catch a breather, the time when for a minute or two you realize that you've been at this for over two years, every Saturday south on Highway 61. Just this year a 30,000 mile car has become a 50,000 mile car and the people at Microtel know my voice on the phone. I know just where it's hard to get cell phone service and just how far north you can drive before WKTY and the Packer's game fades out. Lake City has a Dairy Queen that serves twist cones and the gas is always cheapest in Red Wing. And when Dresbach emerges on the way I know I'm almost there.

Some day there'll be no more need to make this run and I sometimes wonder what I'll do when I can make to church in a few minutes and sleep in my own bed on Saturday. We'll see. Until then the colors are vivid, the road is open, and there's work to do; White bear Avenue to Interstate 94, left on Highway 61 and two and a half hours south to St. Elias.

A part of it all...

I was driving home this weekend, thinking about things and it occurred to me. We Priests get credit for a lot of things where God is actually doing the heavy lifting.

It's not that we do nothing, we do a lot, but when we pray for a child and they get better we often get the credit but it was God who healed. When we preach we use our skill but true inspiration comes from heaven. Our words of counsel when they are at their best only mouth what God has revealed. It may be that our basic task as Priest's is to simply pay attention to God and then pass that gift on and maybe more often then not its just to get out of God's way.

A Worthwhile Read...

An article by Phillip Jenkins about the "next Christianity" and the future of the Faith.

One of the things we Americans do is think of Christianity on our terms and rarely see the larger global context. Jenkin's article is important to help us refocus and see the emergence of Christianity in the world outside our cultural and physical borders.

What do you think?



If you spend time at all on line you know there are a zillion sites all about this and that and who's doing what to whom and pro and con on just about anything. It's a world of complaints. It's depressing, a lot. Everyone has a sword, no one a plowshare.

There seems to be be several choices. Ignore it all and hope it goes away. Thrive on it and live for the daily combat and gotcha scores. Enjoy it as some kind of sign of the coming apocalypse in which you and yours will be safely snatched away so that God can burn a few billion folks to set the score right. Or do something about it.

As terrible as these times may seem, and some of the darkness of these days has little to do with a sheer amount of darkness but rather about how we get to witness it all over and over again in a 24 hour media world, it's also a good time to be a Christian. We're free from the burden of being the culture. The powers that be are not us and frankly they're making a huge mess of it all. In time the sheer volume of pain will wake up a society still drowsy from all its drugs (materialism, relativism, etc.) and our moment will arrive.

Will we be ready? Will I? When the world seeks answers will they find them among us? I hope so. Because what the world needs now is not more wallowing in its own painful filth or another hundred dead ends. What the world needs now is a way out, something better, and that's all about Jesus Christ.


On Men and Orthodoxy...

Frederica Matthewes Green on men and Orthodoxy.

Been There, Loved That...

Then and Now...

Standing at my first Baptist church and with

Bp. MARK this past weekend.