The voices of financial doomsday are waiting for Monday.

As we begin to fall asleep here the Asian markets are waking up and looking at their world. What they see, that mixture of fact, figures, psychology, and gut, will start the day and by morning here the alchemy will be running its course. Speculation abounds. And if the herd panics, what then?

There's a helplessness in it all, the idea that a handful of people on phones halfway around the world or halfway around the country can destroy, in a moment, the savings of a lifetime, the thin line between enough and want when work is no longer possible. Where is the trust? Where is the responsibility? Where is the sense? And what will happen when those words become like litter on the floor the morning after a party?

One thing is certain. We're all about to wake up from the American dream. Whether the morning finds all the fine strings of the financial world still together or if it all comes unraveled the idea that the horizon is limitless, that wealth is unending, and acquisition is the content of life is doomed. In fact it was from the start but we, as Americans, have been able to borrow our way from the reality of the world for longer than most. Bills are coming due and the checkbook is empty.

What remains is the shape of the world which emerges from these days. Will the apprehensions of these days call us to ponder that which is greater and enduring or shape a culture where people turn on each other for whatever remains? Will we see the futility of the life we believed was right, a life divorced from transcendence, centered on materialism, and lived without the sense of a future? Can hardship and uncertainty burn away our conceits or will we become hard and bitter? How will the end of our illusions find us?

And how will it find the Church? It is for these moments, these times when the dreams are over and all the bills are due that her Truth becomes more stark against the background and more alive as well. When the facades of a culture dancing in illusion's ballroom fall there will be a hunger that only Christ can truly fill. Will we be ready? Will I?

I don't know, but as Sunday gives way to Monday we may all find out.


This is not a new finding. In his 1983 book "The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener," skeptic and science writer Martin Gardner cited the decline of traditional religious belief among the better educated as one of the causes for an increase in pseudoscience, cults and superstition. He referenced a 1980 study published in the magazine Skeptical Inquirer that showed irreligious college students to be by far the most likely to embrace paranormal beliefs, while born-again Christian college students were the least likely.

Read more here.

Hat tip to Paradosis


I had to do something...

I had to do something today that I never wanted to do, cancel services.

I'm on vacation now, and whether it was a matter of mixed up communications or people just not stepping up to the plate there was nobody available to serve Typica this Sunday. I spoke with our Dean about it and he advised me to cancel if no one stepped forward but I have mixed emotions about it all.

I hate the thought of our little church being empty and alone on Sunday. I hate the idea that some person may be searching for something and find our doors locked and the lights out. A part of me wants to make the trip myself, even if only a few people come, and serve what I can. It all seems like a failure to me. But I also can't make people do what they don't wish to do and I can't make people care for a parish if they can't, or won't. And I need to rest if I'm going to keep on traveling. I'm no good to anyone if my nerves are burnt and there's nothing left to give.

Tomorrow I will be at St. George Church here in the Twin Cities because even on vacation I want to be at church on Sunday. Yet my heart will be far away in LaCrosse in the empty quiet of St. Elias.



Ahhhhhh vacation...

Vacation starts today, a week off at home with a few projects and a Twins game thrown in. Suffice it to say I'm tired to the bone, road weary, and in need of a week or so of nothing in particular and I plan to take it, a sabbath for all the sabbaths missed.

Why you should consider "Salvo"

From Salvo magazine...

Christianity is antithetical to the culture. Our devotion to it makes us offensive from the get-go. In other words, you know something is wrong when your values no longer offend; it most likely means that you are becoming a part of-and not merely engaging-secular society. And as I said earlier, we have a moral obligation to help keep others from caving in to the culture's value system, because it will likewise prevent them from making choices that have the propensity to deteriorate their mental, physical, and spiritual health.


All along the highway...

Sunday morning, 6:30 AM, south on highway 61.

The light is beginning to break through the fog on the valley floor and the tops of bluffs are catching the first sun as it reaches over the Mississippi. It's a good time to travel. Most everyone is asleep, the tourists will show up after lunch and only people with a purpose are out this time in the morning, farmers, truckers, and folks on the day shift.

The trees are here and there just starting to turn. Fall colors in this part of the world are like paint poured over the land flowing north to south. In two weeks the fiery colors will have rolled down from Lake Superior but right now there's only a drop or two, a spill from the world a few hours north.

September can be the best month of all, cooler temperatures, clear nights, a respite from the hot craziness of summer. Things feel more like routine and even though the sun goes down earlier the daylight seems more precious and more alive. People like to get married in September because of it and go to football games too.

But I'm driving south, listening to something on XM and thinking about the day ahead. There are things to do, things under deadline. September is about the reminder of tasks that need completion before the cold sets in and changes everything. A swirl of colors settles over the world in September but so does a swirl of tasks and when I park the car in front of St. Elias I know there will be much to do.

But not now. The car is fine. The sun is breaking through the valley fog and the tops of the bluffs are coming into view at sunrise. I have the road mostly to myself and my phone is on but everyone who could call is asleep. Minnieska slips by in the quiet and that's good enough.


Why we need hell...

An interesting article from Frederica Matthewes-Green...

Is God judging America?

The front pages are clogged with stories of economic failure. Politics is partisan, nasty, and ineffective. The culture appears to be growing more coarse and immature with each new season on TV. The America I knew as a child seems like a dream and the one I live in now a nightmare without the relief of morning.

Is God judging America?

In the time following the tragedy of September 11, 2001, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell suggested something to that affect and was roundly critiqued for expressing his opinion that the hand of God could have been behind those events. The critiques, though, were often more about the unfashionable nature of the idea that God would judge America, or judge anyone or anything, and less about the actual content of Rev. Falwell's theory.

But could God be judging America?

The answer is "Its possible." As Christians we understand that God is active in history and can use the ebb and flow of events to hold both people and nations to account. There is no asterisk in that understanding for the United States. Only a distorted sense of our exceptionalism would have us believe we're immune from the possibility of God calling us to task and using the events of history as tools of His sovereignty. Why would there be one standard for say, the Philistines, and another for us? Why should there be?

The problem, given that understanding, is not about whether its possible that God is using the events of these times as a kind of judgment but whether we can state that with certainty. There have been times, as our Faith tells us, that certain people have been given a gift from God to proclaim with specificity that events were being directed to chastise and call a culture to repentance, and in the perspective of hindsight we can affirm that gift. But in throes of immediacy and without such a charism it would be good to proceed with caution. History is full of date setters and "prophets" who have only one thing in common, they were wrong. Are the events of these times the beginning of the end or the birth pains of a coming revival? God knows, we don't. What is heaven's take on 9/11? God knows, we don't.

But we do know something with certainty. We do know ithat ideas, constructs, and behavior have consequences. We have fallen prey, for a variety of reasons, in this country to a kind of life that is at once technically advanced but spiritually, emotionally, and socially selfish, materialistic, and bankrupt. Our institutions, as reflections of ourselves, have become poisoned as well with the results being fodder for the headlines. To what extent God's hand is in all of this remains unknown but perhaps we're bearing the consequences of our own actions, the pain of our abandonment of sense and the emptiness of a life detached from authentic moral order. One does not need a prophet to suggest this, one simply needs to read the Book or, for that matter, the newspaper.

So is the craziness of these times an example of God's judgement, the consequences of our own choices, or some mixture of both? I haven't the gift to say with certainty. I only know that the sickness of my culture begins to end when the I address the illness of my own soul. The rest, as one politician of note has said is "Above my pay grade..."


Got to laugh...

A must read article...

"We are not led to undo the work of creation or to rectify the Fall. The duty of the Christian is not to leave the world a better place. His duty is to leave this world a better man."

Read the rest here.

Hat tip to Five Feet of Fury

My sister's wedding part two...

It's said that if it rains on their wedding day the couple will be wealthy so the future looks bright for my sister and her new husband. Suffice it to say among the readings there was the passage from the Song of Solomon recalling how "many waters cannot quench love..." and such was the case.

But the roof of St. Clement's didn't leak and everything inside was warm and very properly Episcopalian in its aesthetic. A small choir of men accompanied by organ led the music and the rector was dressed in cassock and surplice. The people of the church had taken great care in remodeling the facility not to destroy its classic charm, the rood screen, chancel choir, wooden arched ceilings, and high (but unused) east altar. The building was stone, the doors were red, the bride was radiant, the groom steady and tall, the mother nervous. All in all fairly typical.

The liturgy itself was orderly and tight. This is the Episcopal Church after all, the place where they painstakingly keep all the architectural details but can celebrate the Liturgy as a kind of avant garde jazz. The taste of St. Clement's, though, is country parish high church, small but well done and such was the case here. Of course, being the Episcopal Church the rector had to add the word "partnered" throughout the service like shards of broken bottle on a village green but otherwise she wisely kept to the book. When Western liturgies refuse to succumb to the temptations of "relevance" they are marvelous, elevating, things.

In the hours that followed we danced and talked and renewed old acquaintances in the way that always seems to happen at such events. As the night wore on we, one by one, began to take our leave, at once tired by the events and refreshed by their renewing effect. I was among the early departures as I needed to be up and ready at 4 the next morning for the journey along the river road now in its fourth year.

And so their journey, my sister and her tall, shy, Italian scholar, begins.


My sister's wedding...

This coming Saturday my sister will be married in a tidy and well appointed Episcopal Church here in St. Paul. For our family it will be, as they say, "The event of the season..." and a time of joy. I will read an epistle, everyone has some job to make it all fit together, and my sister will, in my humble and unbiased opinion, be stunning as she walks down the aisle on my uncle's arm.

There will be tears, of course, but they will be tears of memory for those who are not with us mingled with tears of joy for this day. It's been a long time coming, this wedding, a journey of more then a few struggles and heartbreaks mixed in with the craziness of bureaucracy and flavored throughout with the kind of love that only comes when a man and a woman stand before God and look each other in the eyes. I wish them the best and godspeed always.

I have a wistfulness about it, though. I wish it could have been a crowning but alas it was not to be. There is much in Orthodoxy about how people are coming to the Faith but this one, my sister, is one we let get away. Chrismated, faithful, a member of the choir, my sister was an asset to her Orthodox church but events, personalities, and the feeling of never quite belonging took their toll and she left for the Episcopal Church. It goes to show that we can possess truth but if we do not also possess love the truth loses its value.

How I would have loved to have led her around the table just once as Isaiah's song was sung. What joy to say those words "The handmaid of God is crowned to the servant of God..." Yet what is done is done and these thoughts will never throttle my happiness on her behalf or the joy of this day. Everyone grows up, everyone makes decisions, and little sisters magically become women and lead, as they should, their own lives. It's the way of things, we leave our families and make new ones, we say goodbye to something but even in that parting life is renewed.

And it begins tonight in a tidy and well kept church in St. Paul

Most-holy Master, accept the prayer of Your servants and as You were present at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, be present among us now, granting all of us Your unseen protection. Bless this marriage and grant unto these Your servants a peaceful life, length of days, chastity, love for one another in a bond of peace, long-lived children, the joy of grateful children, and a crown of glory that will never fade away. Make them worthy to live to see their children's children. Keep their marriage bond undefiled. Give them of the dew from the heavens above and the richness of the earth. Fill their home with bountiful food, and with every good thing, that they may have enough to share with those who are poor and in need. Grant to all those who are present here this day, all of their prayers that are for salvation.

For You, O Christ, are a God of mercy, compassion and love, and to You do we offer up glory: together with Your eternal Father and Your all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages.

Genuinely befuddled...

One of the things that has emerged from the coverage of candidate's religious beliefs in this current election cycle has been the extraordinarily clumsy handling of religion and religious ideas by large swaths of the mainstream media. The focus of this comedy of errors is on Gov. Palin at the present but no candidate has been handled well. Misquotes and half truths abound, and context is often non-existent.

So many journalists seem genuinely startled at the idea that a candidate even has a religious belief they take seriously. I suppose this is what happens when your life is lived in horribly provincial places like New York and Washington D.C. and you travel in small circles of both friends and ideas. But a person doesn't know whether to laugh or cry when you see grown up people, people who've supposedly traveled the world and possess a wide range of interest, stumble over themselves and stammer away at the thought that a politician prays and actually means it.

Where we these people born? Where did they go to school? Don't they have family? Maybe as part of their journalism training they should be required to live in say, Kansas or Alaska, for a year so they get a little bit of grounding about life beyond the studio. Perhaps they should go to a real church or synagogue every so often to be reminded about how people in the "fly over country" really live. "You mean you really believe in God and that's part of your life?" "How curious!" "How interesting!" "I can't wait to get back to my people and tell them about this strange and different America I discovered."

Well you get the point and the point is that the vast majority of the news you get about religion, especially the interplay of religion and politics will be flawed, folded, spindled, and mutilated by people who have lots of cameras but no clue. So be careful out there and take everything with a very large grain of salt. Ask the questions the journalists themselves are too ignorant of incompetent to ask and always remember "reader beware."


This Sunday's sermon in advance...

September 14, 2008

The impetus of the Christian life is gratitude, the response of love to Love, of receiver to Giver, the gratitude of the lost who has been found, the wounded who has been healed, and the broken who has been made whole. But many, even those who spent their lives in the Church, have missed this, living for years under a shadow of untruth which robbed them of the vital joy, the dynamic, and the sheer awesomeness of this life to which we are called.

In his song “Only the Good Die Young…” Billy Joel states “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, the sinners have much more fun…” and the reason we understand those lyrics is because too often we’ve lived under an illusion, the idea that our Faith is about rituals, rules, regulations, and tasks all under the watchful and harsh eye of a god who uses fear to achieve his ends. In our world the free person, the person who is most alive, is portrayed as the one who has thrown off the chains of gods and rules and lives each moment to their own pleasure while the devout struggle in ignorance and slavery, doing what they do from some primal disturbance inside. And too often we believe it ourselves.

Now we won’t say it out loud but it comes out in our actions; the marginalizing of godly things in our lives, the sense that we’re doing what we do like a child who’s mom told him to finish his peas before he gets dessert. It’s amazing how we can travel for hours to make a game or concert and find a few minute’s drive to church tiresome. How is it that we can watch television for hours but not pray or read the Bible for even a few minutes? We spend thousands on toys and give God the lint from the inside of our wallet. So much of this is rooted in the fact that we see God like we see the worst boss we ever had and hope to do just enough to keep from getting fired, or in God’s case thrown into fire. So we keep the “rules” like the person who set his cruise control just enough above the speed limit to avoid getting a ticket and our faith withers because of it.

But that’s not our God and that is not our Faith. Our whole life as Christians is supposed to be about love returned to the One who loves us; a life lived in response to life given, the created responding to the Creator with the harmony of Eden’s first light. As we cherish those close to us on earth and give our lives to them so it should be with our life in God. The rules and the regulations, as it were, are not the ends but the means to assist us in what should be a life transforming love relationship with God. Yet this is too often a rare thing, the province of saints and ascetics even though this was not meant to be.

We need, as Orthodox Christians to rediscover the depth of the love of God for us, the unspeakable grace which flows to us from the very heart of His being, and if we truly catch this vision gratitude will rise from us in waves. We rattle off John 3:16 without pausing to think about it means to say that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” but the implications of this are profound. The God of the universe burns with a holy love for us, as fallible and minute as we are, and in the distress of our brokenness has come to us to teach us how to live, to willingly bear all of our darkness, and even break the power of our greatest enemy, death.

If we get this for even a moment, if we see the cross which we celebrate today and realize what’s been given to us, then the way we see God will change and our life of faith will stop seeming like an endless series of rituals and rules but rather that which would naturally arise from a profound gratitude. We’ll flee from sin not because we’re afraid of God but because it sullies the love we share. We’ll worship not because we feel such a thing will appease God but because our hearts cannot help but give praise to One who has given everything to us. We’ll give of ourselves not as some kind of bribe under eternal duress but rather as an expression of love with joy. When we realize who God truly is, come to terms with even a fraction of the depth of his love for us, and have our heart stirred by the reality of it all it will become impossible to remain stingy of soul, to live the minimal life of faith, to settle. Even the fasts will be filled with joy and our hearts will find rest. Gratitude is what makes this Christian life an easy yoke and in the shadow of the holy cross may such gratitude be stirred in our hearts today.

A pause today...

I pause in the business of this day to call to mind my brother, Paul.

Two years ago on this day a sudden heart attack took him from us at the age of 44 so this day is quiet, reflective, and probably always will be. At times I used to forget his birthday, was it the 26th or 27th of October, but this day is locked in, seared, and in a headline print too obvious to ignore.

Now I would like to tell you that faith has triumphed over death and loss as we bask in the power of the resurrection but for me, at least, it is not so and may never be. Only the eyes of eternity see the why's and wherefore's of that day. I have no clue. None of it makes sense and I still have not seen the good of it. I rarely cry, am basically never angry. I'm just numb and the every time I would like to speak there is only silence.

On the far edges of my faith there is a place of rest in all of this and I see it as I plod along but that's just about the pace of things. I have no fear for my brother but I am silenced by the helplessness of it all. I don't question God but we haven't really spoken much about it either. The whole of it is like a bone stuck in my throat, not enough to strangle but easily enough to leave me with a perpetual cough.

I pray for his wife, for his children, for my mother who had to bury a child, and I hope for the best. Tonight I'll visit his grave and light a candle. I'll cry there and then spend the night awake in thought one step closer to home, one step closer to home.


Old friends...

I had the opportunity to speak with two old friends yesterday. One of them had a mother in the hospital on life support and the other was just someone with whom I had lost touch. Our friendships were formed in the crucible of high school, that place where people who don't fit in find each other and hang on for the ride. Over the years we've been together, moved around the country, kept in touch and then drifted away. An email brought us together this time after a two year silence.

We've changed over the years. My tumultuous late teen life has long ago drifted away and I hardly remember the person I was when these friendships were born. I still love music, we're all musicians, and still have a restless streak, but age is perspective. One of us left for the south and never came back. His mother is in the hospital and as we talked I was impressed with the depth of soul that had emerged in his life. Time and struggle has shaped him and the fire has burned away dross. The other was as I had left him some years ago, a core of personality and life that seemed locked in a coating of anger. Whatever else had happened along his path this had not changed, or at least my perception of it had not. I miss the happy fellow he was and even as we talked I realized that I still care for him even as I keep a cautious distance. The thread, at times, may be thin but it will stay intact.

One thing is certain. As time and distance have taken us apart and circumstances bring us together over the years there will always be something inside of us that holds us together. We pick up off right where we left, whether that place was good or bad, and we can still talk for an hour without coming up for air. Whether or not we can be together, or even want to be together at any one time, we are still connected, if by nothing else, by the past we have shared. A million miles away there will always be a place in my heart for these two guys.

Time always takes people away but I'm always amazed by the ability of friendship to span the gulf. it is one of the great wonders of being human.


Oh my...

I received a call this morning from a family member about one of their in laws who, some years ago, drove past a church and told everyone "This is the place where I rejected Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior..."

She died early this morning.


A letter to Democrats on abortion...

Here's the link.

If as a Party you pursue with Senator Obama and Speaker Pelosi some clarity about the status of the human embryo (a question they both consider important), you will eventually have to make a decision. You will either decide pre-born babies have rights because modern embryologists say they, too, are unique human individuals, or you will be forced to take the very hard line of saying some human individuals just don’t deserve human rights, for whatever sordid reason.

The feelings expressed by this, I presume, Roman Catholic Priest are many of my own.

What say you?