Ironically, you can read about it here.
I wonder if I'm spending more time on the www or just replacing the time I would normally spend reading newspapers and watching TV news with the web. My guess, though, is I'm probably on line way too much. Blame it on curiosity or laziness or whatever but I know that if I don't get away from the screens every once in a while I could turn into Jabba the Hutt.
Apparently frankincense, a major component in many liturgical incenses, helps you relax and feel calm. I personally enjoy the "pine" incense we use at St. Elias and also like encountering what other churches use when I travel. If I go to a church where incense is not used it smells, for lack of a better word "bare" and something seems missing. I also feel at peace with the sight of it coming from the censer and ascending.
What do you like about incense? What scent? What aesthetic?
Hat tip to westernorthodox
An interesting article addressing possible relationship between television viewing and autism in children. Anecdotally I can tell you that television has ruined the art of the in depth sermon by creating a whole generation of people who's brains have been rewired by TV and can't endure more then ten minutes of the same person in front of them.
Oh and you might want to visit here as well and report back.
After all, by our own choice we live in a racially mixed neighborhood, I've had black friends, even a date or two, but I was raised in the whitest of white worlds as a child in a small Wisconsin town and as a teen in the suburbs. From those safe distances it was easy to pretend that there wasn't a prejudiced bone in my body. But somehow, some odd way, next door is another thing altogether.
I'm feeling exposed. It's not about hate or that dreary and unintelligent KKK kind of stuff but I am being stretched by the new, the unexpected, the challenge of putting theory into practice, ideals into action. I'm embarrassed by a part of me that, despite all the facts, despite all my education, despite my daily interactions with people very different from myself, despite it all, is struggling, at times, with the arrival of the new neighbors next door, a nice couple with three kids and a dog.
Now if I was smart I would just shut up about all of this and pretend it wasn't there. But I want this out in the air and sunshine because I want it gone. To be who I was meant to be means that I have to find a way, like Christ does, to see the humanity in every person regardless of how they present themselves and love that person as myself. It appears the new neighbors have reminded me I have a ways to go on this, more things to sort out, and new ways to grow.
Thank you, Lord, for new neighbors.
He’s skinny now, a fragment of his old self with watery eyes and a weak voice. You can almost put one hand around his whole body and he looks tired. It’s like all the air has left him and only the heart is left. But he still has the eyes that look at you with a kind of gentle trust and he still gets up slowly to come to you for a gentle touch and the odd meow that’s his alone.
Something happens to old cats, happens too quickly. One day they seem sleek and alive and then suddenly without warning all the age catches up with them. No growing old in stages just everything all at once, or at least so it seems. It can be hard to look at, the sight of the ghost of a cat marking time. And yet something even more wistful looms.
In the wild, far from our eyes, nature herself would bring about both the beginning and the end. Her terrible laws would be enforced and something, some accident, some predator, some illness, some fate would return a cat to its cycle of life and death. But when they live in our world they endure our captivity but enjoy our bounties, the freedom from cold and fear and all those happenstances that normally make life a vapor by our standards. And so something happens to them that rarely happens outside our walls, they grow old, very old, and we must decide when there is too many years and too little life.
It’s not the techniques for this that are difficult. The sad duty, the thing we euphemistically call “putting to sleep” is quick and without pain, a matter of seconds. Many of us wish our own death could be so. The question is always the when. When is it right? When is it good? When is enough, enough? There is no numbing medicine for that, no anesthetic to ease the pain. In some ways this is good because it means we naturally shrink back from taking life, a trait we humans should always develop, but for us it brings to bear all the fears that come with being finite and still having power over life and death.
And they don’t make it easy for the most part. Even when an animal is desperately ill and deeply in pain they retain some of the spirit, the dignity, and the earlier form that attracted us to them. An old broken cat still purrs, still holds on to that something that makes them so unique, and we see that, and we remember in their faces all the times that have passed so quickly by and it makes it hard to let go. We want to hold on to every minute we can because we know that even if it is just an animal it still is, in its own way, a unique soul of a sort, an irreplaceable life.
Then at some point a kind of love takes over, a love stronger then our sense of loss and we realize that such a creature as this must not be allowed to endure another moment of a fragility which they cannot comprehend and deterioration they cannot transcend by faith or hope or meaning as we know it, and our fingers find their way to the phone.
It’s time, now, for Buddy to go. Buddy the beautiful old cat turned skinny and frail with time, true friend of an old lady till the day she died and companion for a whole floor of people who slowly but surely are losing their memories. Blind in one eye he had to turn in circles to look over his shoulder and walk with his whiskers to the wall for direction but every hand that reached out was rewarded with his gentle response. His life was a token of what will one day be, the time when the ancient fears dividing animals and man will disappear into Light. How different the world would be if each of us made as many people happy as that old cat with the funny meow and the beautiful, soulful, eyes. And if there is a life of some sort beyond this for him I wish him a well deserved rest.
Today, if I understand things correctly, there'll be a new family moving in and that should make five groups of folk who have tried to make that house a home in the nearly fifteen years we've lived in our neighborhood. Two families fled for the suburbs, one collapsed into foreclosure in a sea of dysfunction and drugs, the last couldn't make the rent after the father of her baby became allergic to child support. Now a new family will give it a try.
Up and down our street the block has been fairly stable and the upkeep crucial to maintaining a quality neighborhood has by and large been done. But this little pink house has been our crazy uncle, the guy who drinks too much at family reunions that we put up with in embarrassed silence. I've lost count of the times when we needed to shovel the walk or cut the grass or kill weeds and clean doggy stuff in self defense. It was all I could do to resist going over with a hedge clippers while the place was empty and taking out the tree growing in the front hedge and the six foot tall weed by the door.
Perhaps this sounds petty but the truth is that when you live in the city you don't have to be fancy but you do have to be clean. We live close together and our defense against the bad guys coming in and making us a block of crack houses is that united front of clipped lawns, pruned hedges, painted buildings, and shoveled walks that says "We pay attention here and you had better just move on." Poverty doesn't cause crime, crime causes poverty and if a block can be compromised the people holding fast for the good will leave and when they do the neighborhood collapses into house after house of people there only because they have no other choice.
So I'm hoping for the best. I'm hoping that this new family, however they're constructed, will be vigilant and responsible and even though they're just renters will still have some pride in the place they live. You gotta stay positive, but just in case it looks like things are going south I'll keep my hedge trimmer handy and the phone book open to the office of the city housing inspector.
Usually on the evening of the festival itself all the things that need to be returned to the church are put in the basement and left, unsorted, for a few days while people recover. A day in the hot sun wrings everyone dry and any kind of ambition has been long poured out on the festival. Have dealt with the public and each other for eight plus grueling hours we gather up everything we can to take away, turn on the fire house to wash the grounds, and scatter home.
One of the interesting things about a festival is how much it reveals about the character of the people in a parish. When the crowds are big, the lines long, and a group of people are in a hot kitchen together trying to make it all work you quickly discover the nature of the person passing you rice, and yourself. Whatever else one could say about St. Elias her people, for the most part, can bind together, work hard, and willingly assume tasks with a minimum of complaint. Visitors from other Orthodox parishes were astonished at how efficiently and thoroughly our small parish approached the event and one visitor, comparing parishes, said "These folks at St. Elias have just kicked our $@#." I'll take that as a compliment.
It was good, as well, to have a decent group of people from our sister parish up the river, St. George. They came down seeking to help and learn how to hold a festival but at the same time they got to know us as well. The people of St. Elias needed to see they're not alone, and the people of St. George need to know there's a little church down the river they can pray for and visit if they so choose. There have always been family ties between the two churches but my hope is that there will also be ties of the heart that come from our working together.
The numbers aren't in yet, they matter but then again in a certain sense they don't. We banded together, we worked hard, we gave of ourselves for something greater and opened ourselves to the community. Yes, it would be good to make money from it all and we could sure use it but at the same time I hope it reminds us, again, of the possibilities in many parts of our life as a parish if we put that same spirit and effort to the other tasks that lie ahead for St. Elias.
We'll see, but right now I think I'll just stay in the shade for a few days.
Whatever our jurisdictional differences in this country we Orthodox share at least one thing in common, most of us have festivals of one kind or another. At festivals we feed strangers, dance for strangers, hold raffles for strangers, and find other ways to entertain them, for a price. Of course that's a hard and cynical view of things. There's more to festivals than that, but the financial part is certainly important. Many parishes make significant income via their festivals and over the years we've gotten really good at giving our friends and neighbors quite an afternoon or weekend for their tickets.
St. Elias is no exception. The people plan ahead, work hard, and produce an amazing five hour Sunday afternoon event where we can feed and entertain anywhere from 500 - 1000 people. That's not bad for a parish of around 50 plus active members. And the food really is good, in fact having been in several denominations over the years I can assuredly tell you the food in Orthodoxy is simply the best. I've had stuff to eat at St. Elias during Lent that's better than many people could do on their best day.
But the truth is I'm torn about the whole festival thing. It takes weeks to plan and execute a festival and about 20 seconds to write a check. If every Orthodox Christian simply tithed we could rid ourselves of the hours spent sweating in front of steaming pots and smoking grills. I hate that feeling that hangs over all of our plans, the hope that everything turns out okay, that the weather is fine, that people come, that nothing too strange happens, the knowledge that we really do need this money to make ends meet. The atmosphere of a festival can be quite fun but underneath, for many Orthodox parishes, is a kind of grim, make or break, determination.
And yet the work of a festival can draw us together in that most ancient of ways, a shared task. It also gets us out in the community and in LaCrosse, like many small cities, church events are also community events. It's not unusual for the local television stations to provide some coverage and friends of members and just the curious attracted by the smells (did I tell you that we can really cook?) drop by. It's also kind of a family reunion for us. Orthodox who rarely attend church, people who have left but still have an emotional connection, and family friends stop by. We can reconnect at a festival, the picnic being a kind of safe ground where we catch up with each other.
We've made some changes, as well. We serve the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning before the festival outdoors and on the grounds. It calls us to higher things and in its own way sanctifies all that follows. We pledge a tithe of our income to a special need. Last year it was orphans, this year we'll give the money to help with flood relief. I hope it reminds us that all our blessings are from God and that we should always return a gift as a sign of gratitude. We provide literature and books for those interested in the Faith. Is it perfect? No. Is it a start? Yes.
So if you're Orthodox you know what the next few days will look like. Say a little prayer for us for all the usual things, good weather, good attendance, and good service. If you're thinking about Orthodoxy just know that some day you might get the tap on your shoulder asking you to take up a task for your parish at the festival. And if you just happen to be passing by the Oktoberfest grounds in LaCrosse this coming Sunday stop in, the food really is that good.
So the mixed emotions come in. It was a good thing to simplify and get down to the basics. Clutter has its own kind of weariness. But I came to understand again, that things are passing and no matter how valuable you may think they are in the passion of the moment their price fades and and all things will eventually be rendered worthless.
Now I think I'll go upstairs and rediscover why I got the new instruments in the first place...
I wanted to simplify, to move from six basses to just what I need. I wanted to add a guitar to increase my range for songwriting. So I traded in my six string, my fretless, my four string, and an electric mandolin in for a single four string (Fender Precision) and an acoustic (Dean Exotica). And despite the brand new instruments at home, each wood grain with great tone and function, I still miss the old ones.
That's natural. An instrument channels your thoughts, your faith, your emotions, and some of your deepest passions to the world. Yes, it's a thing but it's a thing that becomes part of you and sometimes part of your identity. I will miss the late at night moments with each of them, that quiet time when I could think about the day and life and let the music carry things through. Yet there was also a hunger to let the clutter go, to focus, to find the "one" in the many and to expand in a new direction. Eventually that won out.
Things change and perhaps some day the new instruments in my attic studio will take that ride in the back seat to a music store. But right now I'm in between, missing the old, enjoying the new, and only the music remains the same.
In this case it was a double bill free concert at the Taste of Minnesota festival featuring The Zombies and Eddie Money. My sister was my accomplice, we came early and sat close drinking Sprite to combat the heat and eating popcorn well, because it was cheap.
Eddie Money was loud and in your face, doing his best to generate energy from the crowd and catch a bit of the groove that made him famous in the 80's. The mix blurred out his vocals and sometimes the distinctions between the instruments but at its best it produced that jumpin' up and down live concert feel where lights and sound and moment blend together.
The opening act, though, was actually the best. 60's British group, The Zombies, back and touring again after who knows how long, took the stage for their third concert of an American swing and it was hippie time in St. Paul at least for an hour. Now it wasn't actually the entire Zombies of those days gone by, but it was the lead singer and keyboardist, in effect the core, that came to play with a quality group of support musicians. And yes, while there were a whole bunch of folks with grey hair and tie dyed shirts in the crowd, The Zombies also played a great show for a new audience of people, like myself, who were children when they first toured.
Most folks, if they know of The Zombies at all remember a couple of songs including "Time of the Season" and "She's Not There" but their set included other popular but lesser known songs, a few from their current CD, and the hit "Hold Your Head Up" from the group Argent which emerged from the remnants of the Zombies in the 70's. But there was something else happening at the show.
I think the popularity of some of these "dinosaur' acts lies partly in their ability, by just being present, to recall what many perceive to be better times, some long ago youthful past. But for newer people the appeal seems to be bands that actually play their instruments. Its kind of a shock for kids raised on rap and shredding to see music featuring changes of tempo, musicianship, and varying volume levels. There's mood there, not just tons of faux cynical anger and posing, and vocal quality as well; words that mean things without profanity. There's a world of difference between Eminem's nasal rantings and The Zombies "A Rose for Emily's" tale of lost love and heartache. And some of the folks seemed to be getting it.
Anyway, now its Monday morning and I'm tired and making the best of my day off with a bit of the music still swirling around in my head. To whoever called me from LaCrosse during the concert I'm sorry you couldn't hear me because I had great seats by the stage but I left a message between concerts and I'll call back today.
I've been thinking about the shape of things lately, the way of the world and the future of this land. We're in a crazy time now, possessed of a politics of selfishness and a culture grown tired. It looks like another election where we'll have to choose which person hurts us less and a year when most of us will watch with open mouths as forces larger than us play the game with our lives as pieces.
Yet I know that some of this is real, some of this is hype, some of this is our foolishness, and some of this is just a generation coddled by materialism coming to terms with limits. And as bad as it can get sometimes I still am glad that over a century ago my great grandparents made the trip from what was then Prussia and came to this land. Things were hard for them, too, in their own way and they made it and I'd like to think that some of that spirit remains.
I've traveled to other countries. I respect other countries. But this one, the United States, is home and always will be.