The last thing we did in Vegas...

Was to see the Bellagio Hotel fountains and this song...

The Star of "Alien Nation" speaks...

on abortion and his change of conscience.


Pass this video on...

A little wisdom from Vegas...

I was watching a TV show about the history of Las Vegas and Penn of Penn and Teller (you can see their faces everywhere around here) explained the theory behind why there will always be a Las Vegas. Vegas, he said, was entirely based on drawing people from around the world who are bad at math and since that's a renewable resource there will always be a Las Vegas.

Oh, and did I tell you that I saw a man in the wee hours of this morning carrying his girlfriend piggy back into a hotel while his pants were falling down? That's why there will always be a Vegas too.

Anyway, loved the sunshine, loved the temps, loved being able to walk outside without looking like the Michelin man. I called my mom this morning and found out its 5 below farenheit in Minnesota.



Kids cost too much...

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, says that millions for contraception in the economic stimulus package will help save money by keeping the surplus population down.

For another alternative I suggest going here.

Google wants...

Everything. Your hard drive. Your information. Your writing. Your soul?


Why this is a moral crisis...

More support for the hypothesis that a moral crisis lies at the heart of our financial woes.

Thoughts on Roe v Wade...

An article worth reading.


When Thou O Lord was baptized...

An article with video (rough and grainy because it was taken by a cellphone) related to a 2006 phenomena/miracle when the waters of the Jordan river reversed their flow following being blessed on Theophany. Very interesting, and apparently this is not a one time event.

Check it out and tell me what you think.

An article of note...

On Paradise and Hell in the Orthodox Tradition.

What do you think?

Interesting thoughts...

On the fear of doing nothing in the current economy...

A lot of our economic troubles could be solved if we could just keep our emotions in check. Seriously. It seems that fear, greed and the thirst for power have swept the country like an airborne virus. The fear of doing nothing rules the day -- not logic, not study, not knowledge or analysis. Certainly not patience. Our leaders, whoever they are, are acting like third grade schoolchildren who have been told by their teacher that a snake is loose in the room. And by the way, wouldn't you like to know who that teacher is? Who is in charge?

Honestly I believe our financial crisis is, at its core, a spiritual and moral crisis, the markets reacting to the weirdness of a culture obsessed with wealth, consumerism, and bereft of the historical moral precepts that normally would have kept some of this in check. People have no idea what is right or wrong, they have only their possessions and their ledgers to help them make sense of things and these are very fallible guides. Jesus is right, we have gained the whole world and lost our own soul, and remarkably because of it we seem to be losing the whole world as well.

I think we have two choices. The first is the one the government seems to be taking, pumping money into the very structures that have failed in the hope that if they have more they will do better. The hope seems to be that if you give a thief enough money they'll stop stealing. The other is to come to terms with the moral, social, and spiritual insanity of our culture, and take steps to abandon it in favor of those principles of human life that have stood the test of time. We can print as much cash as we want but what is truly in short supply is common sense, humble hearts, and people who realize they're not gods.


Viva Las Vegas...

Next week my wife and I will be off to Las Vegas. Ahhhhhh vacation!

I'm not much of a casino guy, in fact the bells ringing and the feeling of being trapped like a rat in a maze when you just want to walk through is annoying. Plus, quite frankly, I'm too cheap to give just someone my money for the privilege of pushing a button or looking at cards in a place where they give you free booze to loosen you up and the odds are already stacked against you.

But I do love the desert air and moderate temperatures in Las Vegas this time of year and tons of Nevada sun. I find no charm at all in cloudy weather except when it needs to rain and then move on. I lived in Kansas for a year as a Baptist pastor and the best thing about Kansas was the big open sky. Las Vegas can be like that and since they figure I'm going to blow my money they give out cheap flights and hotel.

They're in for a surprise, though, when they see us two thrifty folks walk right on by the machines and tables and straight on over to the Star Trek museum at the Hilton. Maybe we'll drop into the M and M store for some treats and the Coca Cola store for a pair of Tab socks for my wife and then we'll rent one of those little electric cars for a trip up and down the Strip and some light watching. Mostly, though, I just want to stand outside in the sun.

Someone will be staying at our house to care for the cats and since my computer will be along I'll probably blog away wearing a wild Hawaiian shirt, funny tan shorts, and whatever other garb shouts out "tourist" in the most conspicuous way.

Viva Las Vegas!


Some thoughts...

I haven't been feeling like myself for some time now, a variety of symptoms, some days better then others. The travel, long weeks, and my own lack of self care are taking their toll. That all being said I was moved by this verse from today's readings...

Brethren, it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, "I believed, and so I spoke," we too believed, and so we speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God...

2 Corinthians 4:6-15

I know I haven't endured even a fraction of what St. Paul has endured but the words bring comfort anyways.

I am God's wheat.

This just in...

Sin is bad for you. Really.

Some time ago I told the good people of St. Elias "Go ahead and sin, do whatever you want, and if you're actually alive in six months you'll be very miserable." I didn't want them, or me, to actually put that into practice, of course, but I wanted to make a point. The stuff the Tradition of our Faith calls "sin" can really wipe you out, physicially, spiritually, emotionally, financially, your choice.

Don't believe me? Underlying this whole financial mess we're in right now is not the market but sin. People got greedy. People wanted what their neighbors had. People ignored the rules because they wanted theirs. Look where it got us. Things like what we're experiencing now are the blowback of moral failure, yours, mine, and ours. Nobody wants to talk about that dimension, of course, because ideas like "sin" are considered medieval and primitive but in all the debates about stimulus packages and economic changes morality is the elephant in the kitchen. None of it will matter if people don't relearn a simple principle, "Thou shalt not steal."

The great irony of our time may be that the recovery of our economy, our culture, our health, and our general welfare may depend not on some new technological acheivement and certainly not by the fiat of this government or that but by the recovery of the conciousness of sin, in ourselves, our culture, and the world. If we can recover that, and it normally takes a tremendous amount of pain to get the average person (myself included) to face this, then we're on the road to health. If not, then all, for now, may be lost.


This Sunday's sermon in advance...

What is the meaning of the sanctity of life?

Immediately, of course, the issue of abortion emerges. It’s often the flash point in these times when the topic is the sanctity of life. As Orthodox we share the historic Christian understanding that abortion is a grave moral wrong. Our teaching has not changed even when the proponents of abortion try to hide its reality with the use of words like “choice.”

But the sanctity of life is more than simply the Church’s position on abortion. Because it is so prevalent today, people often focus on abortion as they speak of the sanctity of human life from the Christian perspective and in doing so forget that this issue is woven into a larger understanding, a greater whole.

At the core of the Christian understanding of the sanctity of life is the reality that human beings were created by God and given something that even the animals, as intelligent as they can be, do not possess, the breath of God the capacity to be a living soul. Even the darkness of human sin and mortality has not completely extinguished that light, that life from God.

Because human life comes from God is has sanctity and this sanctity is absolute because of its origins. We see ourselves as we are and we often, by default, accept this current way of existing as being natural and normal. But we were not designed by God to harm, demean, sacrifice, or kill each other and the way we often live is actually unnatural, out of sync, and dysfunctional, contrary to the purpose and design of our creation.

As Christians we’re actually seeking to return to our “normal” state, the primal innocence and union with God that marked our beginnings and from which we chose to stray. We live in a world where we see the consequences of our choice to reject God, war, hatred, dysfunction, brokenness, pain, hurt, and death, and we are trying to find our way home. Our Lord Jesus Christ shows us this way, in fact He is the way because to bring humanity back to God, God chose to become human allowing us to come back, as it were, to the Eden we had forsaken. And because of this, because we have been reunited with God, we are called to live in a different way. We are called to embody not the values of the cultures around us still languishing in darkness but rather to live as children of God, as people who have been sanctified, illuminated, and regenerated. We have Christ for our example, the Tradition of our Faith for the assistance we need, and the presence of the Holy Spirit within us to give us the grace and power to accomplish this.

The implications of this understanding are far reaching and touch every facet of our existence. This is something we must understand. Our Faith is not simply something we add on to whatever else we have going on in our lives but, when properly understood, should become our lives. No hyphen is allowed before the word “Christian” in our lives, any modifier to the word means we still have not understood what it means. If we wish to be saved Christian must become the only term by which we describe ourselves, the only motivation for our life.

This, of course, has far ranging implications but among them is how we view human life, ours, the life of those we share affinity with, and even the life of those we do not know or who are our enemies. Being illuminated we understand that often our culture’s understanding of the value of human life is broken, misplaced, commercialized, exploited, harmed, and mutilated. For the sake of a better way we try as best we can to live beyond a broken world’s understandings of humanity and embrace, even in this world’s darkness, the original God given understanding of who we are.

In this we understand that life, even from its conception, is sacred and it’s always and everywhere more than whatever is convenient at the moment, more than the value the powerful may place on it, more than even the damage the person themselves may have done to it. Because of this we refuse to dispose of each other, refuse to define each other by any other category than what can found in Christ and refuse to ultimately identify ourselves in any other way as well. In Christ enemies are reconciled, brokenness is made whole, sins are washed away, humanity is reunited to God, and peace is restored. Because of this we are called to live like Christ if we wish to have true life and define ourselves and each other as He would.

As these principles are understood the sense of our ethic becomes apparent. We pray for our enemies because Christ calls us to remember they are still human even if they seek our hurt, subject to the same mortality and passions as we are. We cherish the life of the unborn because our Faith teaches us that all life is a gift from God, even that of the most vulnerable among us. We oppose the commercialization, the exploitation, the slavery of human beings because this disfigures the image of God still within us, both for those who are its victims and its perpetrators. We, as children of the Prince of Peace, see war, even if the cause is just, as deeply regrettable and whenever we can we avoid it and when we cannot we seek its quick end and commit ourselves to the care of everyone regardless of their side because they are human. We understand that those who are rich must share with those who are not so that no person created in the image of God is left in degradation.

The list could go on but the point is made. At various times various issues will present themselves to us as we grapple with what it means to be human and how we should live with each other in the world. Yet underlying them all are inviolable principles; life as a gift, a sacred trust, from God, the call to live as people who see ourselves and each other not in the vision of the world but with the eyes of Christ who by taking on humanity restored its sanctity, and the challenge of the practical, and sometimes radical, ways these truths work themselves out in our lives. Understanding this is the beginning of knowing what we mean when we speak, as Orthodox, of the sanctity of human life and applying it helps us grasp what it means to be called Christian.


Wisdom from Michael Novak...

On the complementary nature of man and woman.

Euphemisms of eugenics...

An interesting take on the recent work by British scientists to eliminate a potential cancer gene before birth.


Tired of the cold..?

The temperature outside...

The temperature outside is dropping like a rock, down to 25 below zero Farenheit in some areas, and I took a day off from Valerian to let my body chemistry readjust so I'm awake and writing. All I can hear is the furnace kicking on again and again as it struggles against the cold and I wonder how much that's going to cost when we get the bill in February. Oh well, I'll be back in bed in a minute or two and this won't last forever. They say we could be in the 30's by next week and it'll be nice to go outside without looking like the Michelin man. One more hard day and the mercury starts rising.

BTW I'm not sure what kind of original equipment battery comes with a Saturn Vue, probably an AC/Delco, but mine is amazing. Yesterday morning, below zero, cranks right over. Takes a few miles to get warmed up but starts like a charm.


Thoughts on the Middle East...

It's hard to watch, sometimes, the endless fighting in the Middle East, two cultures with a hand on each other's throat and an unwillingness to let go. From a distance and the safety of these shores it seems unreal, senseless like two street gangs doing battle over the same dank street corner save for the advanced weapons.

One wonders, how many will have to die? When will two people looking at each other across the divide finally think to themselves "This is insanity, honor, country, people, everything distorted and the only thing real is the blood flowing out of our children." People long dead started it all and fresh bodies join them on an assembly line powered by grudge. Larger forces play the greater game but like everything else the pawns get brushed off the table. Young men pay for old men who can't forgive or forget and young women join their mothers in the black clothes of widows.

On the face of it there is no answer. Contemporary Arabic culture is steeped in hatred of Jews, those people whose very life affronts their sense of honor and whose survival calls to mind their ongoing defeat. Jews, with wounds still raw and bleeding from the Holocaust, vow "Never again" and fight to claim a land for themselves and the safety of borders as if the people who've lived there for centuries don't matter. Will the last Palestinian and the last Israeli left alive at least agree turn out the lights when they leave this world?

And here we are as Orthodox Christians, somewhere in between the apocalyptic fueled love for Israel from the right and calculated and oft manipulated Palestinian rage of the left. Somewhere in the middle trying to make sense of it all even as in our hearts we probably have already figured out that sense, at least in the world's understanding of it, may never come. The diplomats burn fuel trying to make it go away but the fire never stops.

Only one thing remains and that is prayer. Prayer not for one side or the other but prayer for peace, for hope, for wisdom, for that moment when somehow, somewhere, the Holy Spirit touches two people burning with anger and allows them to see the person in the body they are about to exterminate, the child of God under the uniform and say "Enough." Only our Lord will be able to heal the land of his wayward family, this struggle between the sons of Abraham and until that time comes we cannot forget to pray for that sad, hurting, chunk of the globe, engaging the spiritual forces and principalities which have woven themselves in and through every human experience in anticipation of the day when faith becomes sight.

In your mercy, Lord, let this day be soon.

My nominee for best rock love song...

Help a mission church...

If you are so inclined there is a great opportunity to help an Orthodox mission parish in Iowa City, Iowa, raise money to buy a much needed building. St. Raphael Mission has been meeting in a rented facility so small that people have to do synchronized metanias to avoid smacking each other in the back (that's not necessarily a joke) and they have the possibility of purchasing a Christian Science church building that could meet their needs for years to come.

Click on this link to find out how you can help.


Staying warm...

It looks like snow for tomorrow and below zero temperatures through Friday. That's the bad news. The good news is that weather wise this coming week is historically the coldest of the year and as the days keep getting longer the warmth will have to break through. I'm not cancelling my trip to Las Vegas though. There's a trip to the Star Trek museum with our name on it!

Electric Cars...

News from Th!nk of Norway on the development of an electric commuter car for the US in the near future. When I was a kid I used to draw "cars of the future" in my doodles and now some of those doodles are coming to life. I'm ready for an electric car for making pastoral calls and around town trips if they can make it cheap enough to not bust my budget.

BTW my reservation for a new Smart Car is on track for September - November of this year.

Interesting blog...

Interested in some substantial reading on a blog? Try "Postmodern Conservative".

Clergy health...

A link from "Get Religion" related to an ongoing study of clergy health. As a Priest realizing, again, that I'm not indestructible all I can say is "Amen".

A proud moment...

Today our little parish decided to donate money to help a mission in Iowa and work on forming a Mission Committee. Well done St. Elias!


Valerian update...

Three days of Valerian, 500 mg just before bed time, and so far so good. Refreshing sleep free from the "medicine hangover" that comes with pharmaceuticals and a generally calm day. It's amazing what just a good run of regular sleep can do for your wellbeing.

Just a note, though, about the product itself. When properly prepared it has a kind of smell you won't forget, a smell that fortunately is not passed on to the consumer. Oh, and did I tell you that cats go after it like catnip?

Regardless, as I've pondered this my mind wandered to the creation story and how God gave humanity all the plants of the earth for sustenance (Genesis 1:29-30). Everything God created was for our good and even in a world disfigured by sin where people are restless and the night is devoid of sleep that goodness, in the root of a common flowering plant, still shines through. How unaware I have been of the countless ways I'm sustained by what God has given, those silent taken for granted things that keep body and soul together, and how ungrateful I've been as well.

But that can change.


A Duluth, Minnesota, woman survives hypothermia that dropped her body temperature to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Truly, as the Psalmist said, we are "fearfully and wonderfully made". (Psalm 139:14)

Many thanks...

Many thanks to visitor 12,000 arriving on this blog. Whether you came on purpose or just drifting along on the waves of the web I appreciate each and every guest.



I invariably don't keep New Year's resolutions. In fact a few weeks ago I joked with some of the residents at work that in 2009 I planned on gaining 30 pounds, stopping exercise, and taking up smoking knowing that I would inevitably fail at it just because they were resolutions and may end up healthy by default.

I have a stirring, though, for what I should be doing now that the year is fresh. I would like to draw closer to God and become more human. They're tied together, of course, and they sound grandiose but its what I know I need to do whether its in resolution form or not. Some of what I must do is already apparent and I trust that God will clue me in for whatever else needs to be done.

And then, one foot in front of the other...


As some of you have noticed by the time/date stamps on some of my postings I can have occasional bouts of insomnia. Have any of you tried Valerian and if you have how have you experienced it?


This Sunday's sermon in advance...

Tarpon Springs, Florida, Epiphany, and the crowds have come early. The Bishop will be present and standing at the edge of the water. At the appropriate time, a group of young boys at the ready, he will throw a cross into the water and the young men will dive in the hope of recovering it and gaining a little bit of celebrity and blessings for the year.

Up here where the snow falls and the water gets hard around December we try to avoid doing this. It’s not that we don’t cherish Epiphany, we do, but we prefer those who dive into the water to come out intact so we put the cross in the hands of a Priest and plunge it into a bowl of water to bless it. If the weather is better and the people more inclined they may process to a local river or lake and bless the water from the shore or through the ice.

Regardless the symbolism is the same. In Tarpon Springs the cross symbolizes Christ and the boys who dive for it call to mind St. John the Forerunner lifting our Lord from the water following his baptism. And in places grand and humble Orthodox Christians will symbolically repeat that action, crosses in water calling to mind the baptism of Christ. But there is more to the story, truths the various customs call us to remember.

The word Epiphany itself means “to show” or "to reveal” and occasionally the word will be used to describe when a person has a moment when they finally understand something. As Orthodox we understand three things are made known to us in the events commemorated by this Holy Day.

The first is the truth of the Trinity. In the story of Jesus baptism we see the first time when in a very explicit way the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are present to humanity. Those who witnessed Jesus’ baptism heard the voice of the Father declaring that this person being baptized was indeed the Son and above it all the Holy Spirit hovered, as at the beginning of the world, over the waters.

As Orthodox Christians we need to be reminded that our view of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, did not arise out of some inner need to be esoteric or mystical but rather because God chose to reveal Himself this way. At times it’s difficult to conceive of a God who can be three persons in one essence, the uniqueness of God leaves us with nothing with which we can compare. Yet we know, as well, that there are things in the world which are true even though we cannot exhaustively understand them.Rather than seeing the Trinity as a puzzle which must be solved we understand this revelation as a gift given by love, an infinite God showing finite humanity the truth of His being in a way that we can at least grasp on to even as it challenges our senses and categories.

The second truth revealed in the Epiphany is the solidarity of God with His creation and with its redemption. People who study the scriptural accounts often wonder why it was that Jesus was baptized. We understand that baptism for us is regenerative, that is it brings us forgiveness of sins, enlightenment, salvation, and the grace of God to grow in a continuing life of faith. But Jesus had no need of any of this. So for Orthodox it was not the waters that sanctified Jesus but Jesus who sanctified the waters, and all creation, by his baptism. The waters of the Jordan and through them all creation were blessed by contact with Jesus in his baptism, a kind of preparation for the day when all creation will be returned to the goodness and glory with which it was endowed by God.

Related to this is our Orthodox understanding that as Jesus entered into physical matter, in his birth and in his baptism, matter itself, far from being crude or base, can be a channel of grace. This is why we bless people, objects and animals, use water, incense, oil, and a wide variety of physical items in our worship and life, and of course celebrate the icon. It’s also why we don’t cremate our dead; a body that has been, like all physical matter, touched by grace in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit becomes itself a sacred thing. When Jesus stepped into the water phyiscal matter began its return to sanctity and while many think of us as a mystical faith in reality Orthodoxy is very organic, earthy, and sacramental.

And finally there is a call to us as well, in remembering the significance of the Epiphany, to reveal the reality of God in our own lives. We’re challenged by our faith to allow God to be revealed in us so that through us God can be revealed to the world. The Epiphany is not just something we recall or an event that we can study for its significance but it should also be our lived experience, the reality of God living in us revealing God to a world that now more than ever needs to see his face.

Understand this and you'll begin to know your Faith.


A prayer for those in depression...

I was browsing the www looking for resources on Orthodox faith and anger/depression and stumbled across this prayer...

O my beloved Queen, my hope, O Mother of God, protector of orphans and protector of those who are hurt, the savior of those who perish and the consolation of all those who are in distress, you see my misery, you see my sorrow and my loneliness. Help me, I am powerless, give me strength. You know what I suffer, you know my grief -- lend me your hand because who else can be my hope but you, my protector and my intercessor before God? I have sinned before you and before all people. Be my Mother, my consoler, my helper. Protect me and save me, chase grief away from me, chase my lowness of heart and my despondency. Help me, O Mother of my God!

The prayer is from a Priest who suffered much in the Russian gulag and is quoted in an article from Fr. George Morelli which can be found here.

Small pleasures...

New Year's Day. Sleep in for a while, health club before lunch, return home and find a three hour nap with my name on it. Wake up and discover a Looney Tunes (the old stuff with Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Sylvester & Tweety) marathon on Cartoon Network and I get to be a kid again.