Truth is stranger than...

Hat tip to Get Religion for this link to the story about the number 666 and a recent piece of legislation in Britain attempting disestablish the Church of England.

Oh, by the way. If you remember all that stuff about scholars and the discovery of the "Gospel of Judas" which apparently challenged the established Scripture's version of the events of the betrayal and crucifixion of Christ? The media usually trots out these stories every Easter to poke the Church's eye at their holiest time (Amazing though, they don't do it at Ramadan) and this story, like the others, turns out to be, again, a hoax. This time it was poor translation and reporters who apparently were more interested in the splashy headline then examining the context. Sounds familiar.

This Sunday's semon in advance..

June 1, 2008

In days gone by it was often the custom for Orthodox to plant a new church simply by gathering a group of the appropriate immigrant ethnicity, sending them a Priest, and then let time and birth rate do its work. If there were enough of the appropriate group and they were reasonably pious and fertile the Parish would take root, and if not it would struggle, wither and die. Looking back it probably seems like a haphazard way of doing things, little planning, little support, limited strategic thinking, a recipe for failure. But if often worked and many of the larger and “successful” parishes in any number of Orthodox jurisdictions were built in just this way.

And how could they have known better? For the most part the Orthodox who came to this country came from two contexts. Either their church was the state church or it was a minority church living in varying levels of persecution or struggle. Either way these contexts often meant Orthodoxy was the faith of the tribe, the clan, the nation and planning, intentionality, and evangelism were either culturally unknown or considered unnecessary or impossible. The American context free of both a state church and persecution, a context where churches had to stand on their own effort and grow by conversion was unlike anything most Orthodox had ever experienced and the adjustment was, and still is, difficult. The great exception to this was Alaska where Orthodox missionaries worked hard to develop parishes drawn from the native population with indigenous leadership and liturgies in the native languages. But the lessons from that experience were largely lost on the rest of Orthodoxy in this country where, even to this day, many parishes are considered to be cultural outposts with leadership still drawn from the old country and liturgies in languages only a few can understand.

And it appears that in a general way this was the context in which St. Elias was brought into being, a gathering of an immigrant population sent a Priest in the hope that a shared culture, piety, and fertility would do their work. It was an old country model in a new world and in St. Elias’ case it didn’t succeed. There simply were'nt enough of all the things those who founded the church counted on and the parish lapsed into a netherworld of needing leadership and direction to grow but being too small to support the leadership it needed. Precious time and its potential were lost and a generation drifted away. Only the services of traveling Priests and the faith of a remnant kept St. Elias from disappearing from history until the parish was reborn. And now here I am, and you too, in this moment just a short while away from a Parish meeting to discern God’s will for the future.

The stated topic is about whether there’s enough to provide for Jane and I in full time service. Can the Parish not wishfully, not crossing their fingers and hoping the Festival turns out okay, support a Priest, any Priest, in a legitimate full time ministry? But I believe larger things are being called to mind.

Among these is one of the simplest lessons from our history, one that because it has become part of the background of our Parish is often neglected. There must be a reason why we’re here. For whatever else St. Elias is it’s a church that’s tough to kill, a church which should have been a footnote in some dusty book but has somehow managed to endure through the years. There is no rational reason why we should be here today because this Parish violates all the basic rules of how to plant, grow, and sustain a church, yet here we are. Some parishes are graced with a miraculous weeping icon as a sign of God’s favor but our every day miracle is that this Sunday the doors were open. And this quiet miracle calls us to consider that we are still, despite our circumstances, under divine favor. God still has a plan for us, some reason why we should be here, some call on our lives as a Parish. The book is on St. Elias is not yet closed, in fact we may not have truly even opened it yet.

The Scriptures tell us that without a vision the people perish. And far more then the nuts and bolts of how we can afford a Priest there is the question of our vision. It makes no sense to just send Priest after Priest into a parish without a plan, without a direction, without a sense of the call of God on their lives. The Church is a living movement, the vital transforming Kingdom of God placed in the world for the sake of the world’s salvation. The Church does have an institutional dimension, we need to pay the bills and keep the lights on, but that institution is a servant of the larger vision and not its substance. If we come to understand that God wants us here the first question we have to ask is not “How can we afford a Priest?” but “Why has God placed us here and allowed us to remain?” We are part of something infinitely larger then ourselves that wishes to show itself here.
Discover that and the rest will follow.

And from that vision comes intention and intention is key.

We as Orthodox in this country too often live without intention. We came from countries where our Faith and its life were either universal or persecuted and we became used to floating in either of those tides. We are decades past the time when we can count on our nation, our clan, our language, or our culture to sustain us. We speak in this country of cradles and converts but in truth in this country and in every country where we find ourselves whether as an established church or in persecution and struggle we must all be converts, people of intention for whom our Faith and our Parish is a central fact of our lives shaping and molding how we live in a world often deeply alienated from God.

In our personal lives this means that we have to live as actual Orthodox Christians not as Americans with an Orthodox veneer. We struggle with our ethnicity at times but truly the most dangerous ethnicity to Orthodoxy is our general acceptance of the materialistic and secular values of this country. A few words here and there in Greek or Arabic or Bulgarian are not nearly as great a threat to us as our wholesale adaptation to the values of our times. One makes some of us puzzled at times, the other kills our souls. It’s important to ask “How can we support a Priest?” but its more important to say “How do I grow in my faith, how can I let it’s life shine through me, how can I be truly Orthodox?” Answer that question and the other will be easy.

In our Parish it means we have to rediscover who we are. The dullness of so many in Orthodoxy, truthfully, often lies with those who wear these vestments. We have not taught you what the Church is and what it means and so too many have been going through the motions, feeling a sense of obligation but none of the lively substance of who we are. It becomes easy, then, when the choice is between the temporary thrill of a football game or a pleasant morning’s sleep to let the Church slide. Often when we do take part in the life of the Parish it’s out of guilt or even the sense that we have to do something so we can stand before God with our pile of good things and use it to pry open heaven’s door, but our heart is far away.

Yet the Church was never meant to be this way. The Church is a movement established by God to radically transform the world into blessedness. People have a religious fervor for politics because they’ve come to believe that politics matters because it has the power to change things. And when faced with a sleeping, passive, Church who could blame them? Too often when we see the Church we see buildings and programs, none of which are bad in themselves, but when our Lord speaks of the Church he uses words like “salt”, “light”, “yeast”, “kingdom”, words that call to mind images of life and vigor and transforming change. People who see this see the Church as powerful, dynamic, and life giving and when they do they see themselves not as passive spectators watching a show but active and intentional members of the most revolutionary group of people ever. It’s good to ask “How can we pay the bills?” but if you ask first “How can I rediscover the reality of the Church and my place in it?” the other question will be answered.

And all of this leads us to our desperate need of the Holy Spirit. We are literally lifeless without Him in our lives. Our life as Orthodox Christians, the saints tell us, is about the acquisition of the Holy Spirit and more than anything else in these days we need to open up the windows of our lives and our parishes and let a fresh wind of the Spirit blow in and through us, cleaning out the dust, scrubbing away our defilements, and calling us to heavenly things. Our friends in the Pentecostal churches can sometimes take this to emotional excess but at its core they are right when they see that in our own strength this Christian life, as individuals and parishes, is impossible but by the power of the Holy Spirit everything is possible.

In our baptism and chrismation the Holy Spirit came to us and lives in us even still but I must confess there is much in my life that has choked His life out. I am consumed by cares and sins and the sheer weight of my own mortality and I presume that my state is not unique. The truth is that before we gather and work out a way for any Priest to come to this parish and serve we first need to ask the Holy Spirit to come to us, warm us, cleanse us, and give breath again to our dry bones. As we are filled again all our other questions and needs will find their answer in God’s good time.

So, in truth I, in some ways, don’t care at all if a plan is developed today to allow Jane and I to come and live in LaCrosse. I can travel if I need to and God, in time, will provide. I would much rather have you use this time to make a more important decision. I would much rather have you unchain yourselves from the struggles of the past, open your hearts and lives to the quickening power of the Holy Spirit, and resolve today that you and this parish will never be the same again. And from this day forward if you would decide to change your lives and our lives, as God gives us strength, and become fervent in prayer, lively in faith, and full of good works the one who said “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness and all these things will be added unto you…” will answer all our questions and care for us all the way home.


Car anxiousness...

I watch the price of gasoline go up, sometimes every day, and I wonder what to do.

When I first bought my current car, a 2004 Saturn Vue, I had some concern about the efficiency. It's quite thrifty for a small SUV, usually around 28 mpg in combined driving with occasional post 30 mpg performances. But I was used to very efficient cars. My first new car was a Ford Festiva, tiny as a shoebox but routinely getting over 40 miles per gallon, so I had my doubts. In the end I chose to go with the size, safety, and storage capacity of the VUE, and for the most part it has been a great car, a wonderful multi-tasker and steady in rough weather.

Yet as the price of gas has gone up so have the second thoughts. Did I do the right thing? Should I try to trade it off for something else? I hear about dealers refusing to even take SUV's in trade because they have such a hard time selling them. My head says that for the most part everything is okay but I have to admit there's a part of me that panics a bit as well.

Economically its probably better to keep the car. We're down to one year's worth of payments and the cost of fuel is not yet so high that better fuel efficiency will make a difference over and against the car payments. Trading it in now just makes the payments go up because they'll roll the current loan into the next one. With less then 70 thousand miles on the odometer there's still a fair piece of life in the vehicle and unless fuel jumps to even more unbelievable levels we're still money ahead.
Someday, I suppose, there'll be no more travel and then the mileage (over 1000 miles per month just going back and forth) will level off as well. And I must say I do like the ability of this vehicle. Traction control and ABS for safety, a high riding position, absolute stability in the rain, and the capacity to haul groceries and boxes with ease. I once sat in a Honda Insight, 70 mpg but no back seat and no trunk; not exactly the car for a long highway trip.

Now if gas would only go down to $2 a gallon...

Another reason to avoid buying from China...

Death camps for cats. No. Really.


I've been posted...

I've had a comment posted on Orthodoxy Today's blog. Check it out (I'm comment 15) and check out the site, a politically and morally conservative spot on the www for Orthodox Christians.

An interesting site...

Check out xxxchurch an evangelical site with resources regarding porn addiction and sexual healing. With the internet full of the stuff having resources like this can make all the difference.


The numbers game...

An interesting link from "Get Religion" detailing the LA Times efforts to play fast and loose with poll numbers regarding Californians opposition to same sex marriage. I've already seen this article, with the misleading headline, in my own hometown paper. When it comes to yours make sure you do the numbers.


Did you know that German Christian Youth at a recent rally were harassed and physically assaulted as they peacefully gathered for meetings? Find out more about this and other acts of persecution of believers at http://www.christianophobia.eu/.

Another Obama email...

Got another Obama email today. I've had a few over the past months.

Some have been conspiratorial, some have had facts, some have been a little of each. In this case the email was an article written, apparently, by a New York journalist which attempted to bring the "real" Sen. Obama to light. Large portions of it were accurate. Sen. Obama is very left leaning for an American politician and despite his rhetoric about change and unity his voting record indicates a person occupying a fringe of the political spectrum. People who appreciate his speaking skills, and like many politicians he is adept at saying much about little, probably have never taken the time to actually examine his record and if they did some of them may be shocked.

One of the great problems in the politics of our country is that too much of what we see and hear is filtered through media and people in this country are still naive enough to believe what the television tells them without learning for themselves. At present the television loves Sen. Obama and to date very few hard questions have been asked. The article, written by an African American journalist (therefore avoiding the Obama campaign's not so subtle argument that any criticism of the candidate is, in fact, closet racism) opens up the record and exposes what, for traditional Christians, may be some significant issues in the realm of life, family, and marriage among other things.

The hard part came at the end when the person who sent the chain email, not the author of the article, added "The book of Revelation teaches that the antichrist will be a man of Muslim heritage in his 40's...". and then went one to describe this antichrist as a person with flowery language who persuades the world to follow him by offering peace and harmony and then suggests that perhaps "you know who" might be that figure. Talk about a stupid addition to a thoughtful article.

Conspiracy thinking is lazy. There is a simple reason that our culture may be on the verge of electing someone to its highest political office whose values on issues of life, family, and marriage are only tangentially connnected to historic Christian faith. We're lazy. Given the freedom to proclaim our message and live our faith we've chosen largely to do neither and because of this our impact on the larger society has drastically decreased. In large swaths of America the church is no longer taken seriously because, quite frankly, the people inside the church don't take it seriously either.

And that's what I wrote back to the those who received the email. Conspiracy thinking is just a way for Christians to avoid responsibility and blame others for the world they let happen. When Christians bend their knees and roll up their sleeves we'll really have the "change we can believe in". It's as simple as that.



When the prices rise you look for bargains and so an old friend has made a return. Pepsodent was the toothpaste I remember from my childhood, one of those products like Tide and Ivory soap that were just part of my life. Somewhere along the line we just started using other things and then when saving a dollar or two makes a difference we rediscover them. In this case Pepsodent is basically identical, in its core ingredients, to most toothpastes at about half the price. Oh, and it actually tastes pretty good too

Wierd hours...

I've been looking at some of the time stamps on my posts and it occurs to me that I keep some really wierd hours. It reminds me of the 36 hour, as I recall, day adopted by the Men in Black in the movie of the same name. I think the line went something like "Well either you get used to it or you go totally insane..."

The truth is I do sleep, but my mind keeps working and sometimes I get a dose of "holy insomnia" where I've had enough sleep and something seems to want my attention. I use the quiet of the wee small hours to pray and think and write and sometimes play music at a very LOW volume. One of the cats usually comes along to join me, they keep odd hours as well, and we watch the sun rise or listen to whatever sounds travel through the night.

The truth is I dislike sleep, it seems like wasted time. I know I need rest and and I do rest but it seems unfair that a third of my life is spent in semi-conciousness an the rest is spent in 21st century America which, sometimes, is another form of semi-conciousness.

Oh well...

An interesting conversation...

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to speak with a woman who was attending an Orthodox church's annual dinner. From what I could get from our talk she was a nurse who had once been Presbyterian but had converted to Catholicism. I appreciated her insights but I think at one point I offended her.

She spoke of her experience of coming to the eucharist before she converted to Catholicism, and that while it was a 'technicality" (as explained to her apparently by a Priest) that non Catholics should not receive she did so anyways and found that the experience was part of her coming to Catholic faith. It was clear from the conversation, at least to my ears, that she didn't see the inconsistency of violating the canons of a faith as part of her journey to embrace it. What mattered was her experience. And that's where the offense probably started.

I gently reminded her that non Catholic receiving the eucharist in a Catholic church is not a "technicality" but canon and then I pushed a bit. Seeing that she was of the same general era as myself (I'm a late baby boomer - 1960) I began to speak of how our generation was among the most arrogant ever in the world, we Americans who came of age in the 60's and 70's really do think we invented sex, and religion, and music, and the what matters is what matters to us, we are ruled by our experience, and anything else is, well, anything else.

One thing baby boomers do not want to hear is that they're arrogant and selfish, even though we are to an astonishing degree. And we don't want to hear we're wrong on anything, even though we often are. We don't believe in much outside of ourselves but we do believe in the mythology of our own enlightenment with a dogmatic power that makes historic religious belief look shallow in comparison. We change laws and cultures based on our whims and the sheer force of our demographic. We've laid waste to institutions and then recreated them in our own image, and our image is "we want what we want when we want it". We live in the vacuum of this moment with nothing past and nothing future and we call this wisdom.

So, although I believe all that and hope and pray enough of us recover some sense of sanity and preserve a shred or two of civilization for a future time, I didn't give her the full dose but enough to get her face scrunched up. And then I talked about Orthodoxy and how there was faith that transcended time and even the individual but by then the wall was probably up. When I spoke with her later she kind of mumbled about how this was one point on my "journey" (dang it all if we are always journeying and never arriving at anything except ourselves) and so on. At first I was concerned but then I realized I was running up against the real American religion and sometimes it takes a while to wake a sleeping person.

Some time later it occurred to me how much I still buy into all the "stuff" of my generation. I would hope that I am aware of at least some of my delusion but the truth is that I've got a long way to go. Our culture is in a messy place right now, top to bottom, and this is largely because the generation in charge of most things, mine, has bought into a whole set of lies about life and faith and reality which are bearing bitter fruit even as we seem unwilling to change. It seems that to admit we were wrong and that parts of our wisdom are foolish and even dangerous is too much to ask. We're the monkey with the hand in the gourd grasping on to the fruit and unwilling to let go even when we see the hunter approaching.

Regardless it was a time for me to see how much I live in the matrix of this world, still, collar and all.



Old friends...

From time to time I'll browse the web looking for old friends. As time goes by the memory of them grows more special and it's interesting to see how life is treating them.

Tonight I browsed through the reunion site for Wausau West High School, class of 1979. Had we not moved to Minnesota in 1975 this would have been my class and as I looked through the names many of them were still familiar. One of my classmates is a minister in the suburbs of Minneapolis, another works in public affairs at an electric company in Wausau, many are still around town and some who I would like to have found were simply lost. It's all part of life I guess.

I find myself praying sometimes for people who've probably forgotten I even exist. Some are friends who drifted away over the years, some are people who I've hurt by my own selfishness, some are just passing acquaintances. Either way I truly do desire that God's blessing would follow them wherever they are.

This is especially true about Mahtomedi High School. The truth is that those years were hard years and I felt liked I never belonged there but its something that can't be undone. Over the years, though, I've tried to pray for everyone in the class of 79 in the hope that somehow it would, behind the scenes, make a difference for them and for me as well. For them I hope its an unseen blessing helping them along the way. For me its an ongoing opportunity to give and receive forgiveness in the act of prayer.

On these nights when I see the names and remember the faces and the times past as I google folks in the hope that someone familiar may appear my heart feels tender and a little bit melancholy. A part of me wants to get on the phone and say "Hi, do you remember me?" in the hope that somehow the old connections can be reanimated. It's probably not to be but the thought of it is comforting.

However time has taken us apart I do hope to see them in heaven.



Today as I heard the news that the California Supreme Court had decided in its wisdom to declare same sex marriage a civil right I felt a wave of sadness.

On a constitutional level this decision was horrendous. The people of California had already voted in a referendum to affirm the traditional definition of marriage and the Court, like in Massachusetts, simply decided it knew best and did whatever it pleased. Why have people vote and a Legislative branch if Courts feel they can simply decide any issue? We have created a government here in the United States where basically five people, any majority of the federal Supreme Court, rule. Each time a court acts with the cavalier disregard for history and the rights of people to enact law through referendum and legislation democracy and representative government dies. And every time the people and legislatures meekly submit to these kinds of abuses the stage is set for either revolution or tyranny.

On a personal level I feel sorry for the people in California. At some point in the future the folly of these actions will bear bitter fruit. No the sky hasn't fallen in now and may not for some time, after all the mill of God grinds slow but exceedingly fine, but there will be a time when the pain, disease, and suffering caused by people who believe their right to sexual expression transcends common sense and even science will come to a head and it won't be pretty. Already we have spiraling rates of STDs, broken homes, psychological wounding, and the extraordinary social costs that come with them all. Yet instead of seeing these as calls to reexamine our vision of sexual and moral life we plunge in further, "waist deep in the big muddy and the big fool says march on..." Some future generation will have to clean up this mess and until sense returns a lot of people are going to be hurt and some will die. What a shame!

I have to admit there is a part of me that would like to grab, as it were, a musket and take back my country from the selfish and short sighted fools who often are in charge of things. That's not, however, our way, but one thing is certain. We Christians have got to look at events like this and realize its time to end our passivity and live our lives as Christians knowing that the only way this will change is to change our culture from the ground up, one person coming to Christ (and sanity) at a time. The people who have made these horrible decisions will have to stand before Christ for what they have done, but so will we if don't hear the call in all of this and realize that we need to combat this darkness the only way with can, with the Light of Christ.

A site worth considering...

From time to time I post the www addresses of sites worth considering. One such site is Lifesite News. Here you can get information on life issues, moral issues, and coverage of government actions in a way that you'd probably never find in the mainstream press either in Canada or the US.

Like any other site I recommend you need to visit and make up your own mind as to what you'll keep and what you'll toss but this site is certainly worth a look.


Re: Circumstances follow up...

Now we know why our vacation plans fell through. Had a visit from a plumber and electrician. The plumber was cheap but the electrician was around $2000. Oh well, to everything there is a season...


Your Brain on Video...

An interesting article on how technology actually changes brain chemistry and the way you think.

A website worth visiting...

The www site of Fr. Zakaria Botros a Coptic Priest with a profoundly influential ministry reaching out to Muslims with the truth and love of Christ. It speaks to a profound truth; we cannot change the Islamic world by offering them capitalism, secularism, and consumerism, indeed these in the extremes often practiced in the West are destructive of authentic life, but rather by offering something spiritual, true, and transcendent which can only be found in Christ.

This amazing man has been led to gently and truthfully confront the Islamic world with the reality of its own faith (he was the one, for example, who challenged Islamic scholars in Egypt to justify a hadith that suggested grown men should breastfeed with women so they would be considered "sons" and therefore unavailable as sexual partners ostensibly to get around that religion's strict rules regarding the mixing of genders) yet lovingly and without rancor provides an invitation to consider the claims of Christ. Thousands have responded.

In this we may have a model for reaching our own culture, stuck in the rigid orthodoxy of secular materialism and suffering from the results of that worldview's essential illogic. With love and truth we can confront that worldview (also embedded in ourseles) and call people not simply to a religious version of it, but to something better and higher, authentic life in Christ.


From 1936...

An interesting article on Islam written in 1936...


My wife and I are scehduled for vacation time this weekend and we had grand plans. We were hoping to travel to Milwaukee and Chicago to catch a few baseball games. Actually we had hoped to go to Denver for the same reason but the costs was too high, flying, hotel, meals, game, etc..

So we got on the computer and began to attempt reservations. No go for Milwaukee, no go for Chicago. Tickets unavailable for games. We even tried Kansas City because we've never been to Kaufmann Stadium (we like to experience new baseball stadiums as we travel). Nothing doing there. So what to do?

From time to time we've had these experiences where plans seem to fail and all doors are closed. In this case rather then force the issue we came to the conclusion that for some reason we need to stay here this week. Now we don't know why, and we certainly hope it isn't something bad, but it looks like circumstances or fate or perhaps the hand of God have directed us to remain where we are this weekend. So we'll do a little traveling, catch a Minnesota Twins baseball game and watch events unfold.

Stay tuned...

A Day Off...

It's the first Monday off and we'll have to see what happens.

For the past several years I would come home on Sunday and simply go to work on Monday through Friday and return to church on Saturday to start the whole thing over again. But a few weeks ago I applied for a reduction in hours and got it sooner then I expected. Be careful what you wish for!

So now I have a whole day with, well, nothing. I don't doubt that I can fill the time its just that, like a lot of Priests, I'm a workaholic, addicted to the motion if not the substance, of work. Feeling busy makes me feel alive and after a few days of vacation I start itching to get back at it.

One thing that for sure will happen is a lot of home chores will get done. With both my wife and I working and traveling, the home front gets short shrift as we both come home tired. So I've got some raking to do and some picking up around the place and maybe a supper to make and given my nature I'll probably fill the day with different tasks.

I could try resting but that's just no fun!


Cell phone picures...

I have a new cell phone, a Palm Centro, attached like the last one surgically to my hip. But the old one is still around and I'm not ready to let it go quite yet.

It's not the phone, that's just the cheap LG they give you when you sign up for two years. But the phone has a camera and of the pictures taken is one of my brother, Paul, now with God for what seems like forever. The smile is typical, just a slight grin but it was taken in better times, one of those impulses of mine when we were all together. And I can't let it go.

Of course there are better pictures of Paul that exist but there was something about knowing it was there with me and the possibility of losing it when the signal goes dead that makes all the difference. In our adult life we traveled in two different worlds and this was the memory that was mine, the slight smile at a birthday or some kind of event when we all left our little universes and were a family again, a grainy picture on a cell phone.

I followed the instructions carefully, and sent the message to my new phone. And I will wait until morning to go on line and see if it is where I sent it. And when its firmly mine, and only then, will I take the phone off line. For some odd reason as long as that picture is with me, and no other picture will do, Paul somehow stays real and alive. The whole thing probably sounds stupid and corny but as the years pass and everything changes and we all end up wherever fate takes us I don't want to forget his face, not now, not ever.