I've gotten some critique...

regarding my calls for civility as people are engaged in on line discusssions of the decision of the Holy Synod of Antioch changing all Diocesan Bishops to Auxiliaries. I don't mind, it's what happens when you step out in public on any issue. You're guaranteed to be misinterpreted, mostly innocently, occasionally deliberately. We often only see our piece of the puzzle.

But there is some context to my efforts to promote a calm dialogue on this and the largest part of it comes from my past. I grew up the Evangelical world and was a Baptist Pastor before becoming Orthodox and while there were some very good things there were hard times as well. There's a reason there's hundred of Baptist groups out there and it has to do with the propensity of congregationally ruled churches to fight. The Baptist reputation for conflict and schism is part stereotype but also a whole lot of fact. A handful of determined malcontents can make life a living hell for an Evangelical Pastor. I know it, been there, done that, and its part of the reason I walked away.

There are people out there in churches who just plain enjoy a good fight. It makes them feel good. It gives them power. It makes up for whatever is lacking in them and somehow gives them the "jolt" that grace apparently couldn't. They leave bitterness and resentment in their wake and use the church as the playground for their personal demons. And I've learned many hard lessons from them, lessons I don't want to repeat in my life as an Orthodox Christian.

It's inevitable that we in the Orthodox Church are going to disagree. It's been that way since day one and probably will be until that final Day. That in and of itself is not a problem. We are one Body comprised on many members and that means different perspectives. For the most part these disagreements are minor and good things can even come from the interaction they provoke. But much depends on the spirit of those who are engaging each other.

Things can get heated but they should always stay Christian. Points can be debated but if the only purpose is to put another notch on our gun then even winning is meaningless. Yes, we do have to confront each other but what good is it if our directness is lacking mercy? We should be drawn into conflict only because it is a painful necessity and not because we lust after the blood of those we oppose. I've seen the dark side, people who play conflict in the Church like some kind of game and relish inflicting wounds as a mark of their own power. It kills parishes, it destroys communities, it creates wounds that sometimes never heal. It drives good people out of ministry and cripples those who remain.

I have my opinions on what is happening and I hope enough humility to learn more if I need to. But one opinion is just front and center. I dearly love my Orthodox Faith, it took me decades to find and I treasure it even as I'm not always its most shining example. It would break my heart to see the issues we really do have to face be used by Satan to rip us apart not based on truth versus error but on emotions, passions, and unkind things directed at those with whom we disagree, things said not for any good reason but rather because putting someone else down somehow feeds a dark need.

As I've said before I've been there, done that, and experienced enough to hate the whole possibility of revisiting it again; enough to be willing to stick my nose out there and say "never again". If people read any more into it then that they're misinterpreting my intent and I regret that but what can I do?


Sunday night...

was music night again, three hours at the SOS Club putting tunes together on the fly. It's an experience both frightening and enlightening. Frightening because you're up on stage and people are calling out tunes that we, about a dozen of us, play on the fly. Enlightening because the best kind of ear training is to do it over and over again, learning the art of finding notes and chords simply by what you hear.

A lot of it, as well, has to do with the temperament of the group. Some jams can be rough, full of hard core musicians with matching personalities each trying to top the other with no mercy shown to anyone who struggles. Thank goodness we're not that kind of group. Even if you plunk around a bit you're still welcome to drop in. Yes, there are some very good musicians hanging out at SOS but the attitude is laid back and that allows people to get up to speed.

I just like the feeling. Playing music is a great joy. Playing it with others is better.

I'm keeping an eye...

on the various sources of information regarding the process of coming to terms with the recent decision of the Holy Synod of Antioch changing all Diocesan Bishops to Auxiliaries. Unfortunately there are only bits and pieces of information trickling out so it looks like we'll all have to sit tight and wait.

All the more reason to keep them all in prayer.


One thing I've been reminded of...

in the face of all the disucssion and challenge that have rippled through the Antiochian Archdiocese following the decision of the Holy Synod to change its Diocesan Bishops to Auxiliaries is that the deepest wounds always seem to be inflicted in the holiest places.

It's one thing to be called a name or subject to harsh words by an atheist or an enemy of the Faith, its on another level completely to have the same being done by a fellow Christian. The whole framework of our relationship with each other in a hierarchical Church rests on the trust that we are all working for the greater good and the vulnerability to place ourselves in submission to each other. When that breaks down in angry words and deeds the damage is profound and the wounds go deep.

We'll have a lot of work to do when all of this blows over.

Well the bass...

needed some repairs, used instruments usually find a way to bite you one way or another, so its at the shop for an endpin (that's the piece at the bottom of the bass used to raise and lower the instrument and hold the tailpiece/string assembly in place. Oh well, I knew it was coming and once again I'm reminded to enjoy things but not to make idols of them because they all, no matter how good they seem at the moment, pass away. Point taken.


There's a new...

bass in the house today, a 3/4 size upright bass made in the Czech Republic and roughly ten years old. It's used, in generally good shape, and sounds decent for a reasonably inexpensive bass (remember these things can cost thousands). A little polish and its looking good and ready to play tomorrow at work for a hymn sing program and then this coming Sunday night at the acoustic jam session.

I'm always torn, of course, about buying an instrument. I've spent some real money on good instruments but at the same time the music has always been a source of both consolation and pleasure for me. As I get older I play more blues, old country, folk music, and gospel and hope to perhaps find a small local fiddle band to play with when I finally get off the road and settle down. I guess most of my rock has just rolled away with time. If I could build my own house it would have a large screen porch so I could invite some friends over on a summer night and we'd play for the neighborhood.

In an odd way as I get older I'm gravitating to acoustic instruments. I like the look of them, there's nothing quite like the look of fine polished wood, but I also like the idea that I could play them without plugging them in. I'm not against electric instruments (I own them) I'm just for the idea, the dream really, of being able to drop everything and play a barn dance without having to look for a plug in or spending an hour or so on a sound check to get the right mix.

Anyways, there'll be pictures to follow and tomorrow I'll join my wife at work to play old American Protestant hymns for our hymn sing at work the old fashioned way, upright and unplugged.

I have a thought...

about one aspect of the current challenges facing the Antiochian Archdiocese related to the decision to essentially eliminate Diocesan Bishops and I've been pondering it for some time.

There has been much analysis of canons and history and possible motives for all of this but very little, practically nothing, about what might be playing behind the scenes. By this I'm thinking about St. Paul's statement that we "wrestle not against flesh and blood" but rather against "principalities and spiritual powers".

I'm not particularly crazy about what passes for "charismatic" these days. I remember being the only person in a room not jabbering or singing away in tongues and wondering what was wrong with either me or everyone else, but there is a sensibility there that, properly applied, could shed light on all of this. First there is the sense that there are two teams on the field, including adversaries who would desire to harass and destroy everything of God. The second is that Christians have the ability and authority to engage in the larger spiritual struggle.

In reading the many posts on the topic of the Holy Synod's decision I have found some wise ones full of valuable information but also a lot of expressions of hurt, anger, name calling, and division. There is certainly disagreement and concern about what has transpired but this has also brought up old hurts, fears, and unsettled things as well. These things are real and I think they're going to have to be faced but the anger with which they are expressed seems to indicate that there is more here then meets the eye.

Now I'm not saying that the people who have expressed their struggle, their hurt, and their challenges are agents of Satan or that the Holy Synod, in making this decision is diabolical in its intent. But events like this, real events and the struggles they call to mind, can be used by our adversaries to keep us off focus, to turn us against each other not just on principle but also on emotion, and to lay the groundwork for years of broken relationships all of which would do great harm to our Archdiocese and in some senses the larger Church just at the time when there needs to be a consistent and coherent Orthodox witness in our decaying society.

I remember an episode in the old Star Trek series in which the Enterprise (the ship they traveled on) is inhabited by an alien entity that feeds off from the emotions and destruction of war. This entity brings two cultures together with a history of war and then watches and gains strength as they do battle, even preventing the beings involved from dying just so the hatred and fear it needed to survive would continue. The being only goes away when both sides see that they are doomed to an endless war to feed it and at least temporarily set aside their hatred.

I know this is kind of an odd example but I think one of the things that if, in this time of challenge and struggle, we give in to unholy anger we risk not only not solving our issues but also feeding an adversary who draws nourishment, if you will, when the Church is angry, impotent, and divided. The differences the decision of the Holy Synod has exposed are real, but its the anger that has the potential to do the most damage. If this becomes about turning on each other then only Satan will win.

That would be a terrible thing because right now, perhaps more than ever, the world needs everything that Orthodoxy has and is. But if all we can think about is how to score points against other Christians things can only get worse.


Our Bishops...

are meeting this Friday in regard to the recent directive from the Holy Synod of Antioch changing their status from Diocesan to Auxiliary Bishops. If you are of a mind please lift these men and this situation up in your holy prayers. There could be much at stake.


Little things...

I'm learning again this Pascha.

A little meat can still make you sick. My diet is largely vegetarian even outside of Lent and so I tried to take it easy in the wee small hours but it wasn't good enough. I'm now in bed at the hotel waiting for everything to settle. Sigh.

How good it is to have a full church. They were standing in the aisles last night and the church was warm with the energy and life of that holy night. How I would love for that to be every day!

To appreciate the effort that everyone takes to make Holy Week a reality. Of course the Priest works but there were many others who took the time from their day to lend a hand. Thank you.

That even when the services seem to be a matter of getting up there and getting through there are still parts that speak to your spirit. They're the same words for sure, but there is always a new place in your life where they can fit.

A sense of gratiude for my own home and bed. I live in hotels every weekend and the hospitality is great but I'd trade it right now, and every time, for my own bed with a cat sticking his nose into my face.

A story of...

faith rediscovered in the secular wilderness.

Truly He is risen!


Many blessings...

to all of you on the occasion of Pascha.

Christ is Risen!


The Passion Gospels...

are probably the hardest service for people to attend during Holy Week. It's a long service, two hours and change, there's not much movement, and plenty of standing. It's the one service some long time Orthodox avoid.

But it's important. First it continues the Orthodox way of immersing those who attend in Scripture. Some people think that because they have a Bible study and a text of two in the service that they're a "Bible Church" but we Orthodox are soaked in Scripture every single liturgy. The Passion Gospels are the epitome of this, the whole service is Scripture held together by the framework of an Orthros service.

Second, the Passion Gospels tell the story of Holy Week, the "why" behind all of what we are doing. Why is Great and Holy Friday "great"? What is the story behind the Resurrection? The Church wants us to know and so we read not just a snip or two but the whole story, from multiple viewpoints so when we ask like they do at Passover "Why is this night different than all the others?" we have, on our own passover, our Pascha, an answer.


I'm reporting on things...

like the DHS report identifying abortion opponents as potential "right wing extremists" not to create a sense of paranoia but rather to help people be wise about the times. God is still God, our Faith will endure, and ten thousand years after the United States, or any other country for that matter, is a curiousity of ancient history the Church will remain.

But there is another truth in play. Truly the Church has been sleeping and events like this should, as one poster to this blog has said, "Wake us up..." to see that we have to be alive, vital, willing to reach beyond ourselves, and willing to come to terms with and act on the idea that Christianity is powerful and subversive to the dominant paradigm. The time for discussion is over, it is time to do and be.

I don't know, does that mean I'm a potential "right wing extremist" too?

The Department of Homeland Security...

lists people opposed to abortion as potential "right wing extremists".

From page 2 of their recent report.

Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.

Some time ago I spoke of how social and political conservatives eager to give the last President sweeping powers in the name of fighting "terrorism" were placing themselves in danger because Presidents, and their vision of what the word "terrorist" means can change and the power we thought we gave the President to fight one kind of person can easily be applied at home to people and groups unpopular with whatever Administration is in power.

Well, it looks like that has happened. We were willing to give a person our civil rights for the illusion of safety and now the table has turned.

I plan on...

being tired come Monday but its the best kind of tired in the world, the tired of Lent completed, Pascha celebrated, a tired full of the anticipation of spring.

I suppose I'll write a little bit along the way but mostly I plan to soak it all in.

By the way, I hope you like the picture. I took it last fall outside the church in Wausau, Wisconsin where my family and I spent much of our lives. All I can say is that I have traveled far.


A scholarly view...

of the coming collision between sexual orientation and religious rights.


Had the chance to look in on Orthodox Christians for Accountability and their coverage of the stories resulting from the recent decsision to return the Diocesan Bishops to Auxiliary status. I was grateful to see that others have taken up the call for civility and Christian conduct in how we approach this issue.

I feel better.



As we come into Holy Week the recent decision to return the Diocesan Bishops of our Archdiocese to auxiliary status is still front and center. Of course it has to be. This is a dramatic thing and many people remain puzzled about why its has happened. Right now there are more questions then answers.

I've tried to go on websites like Orthodox Christians for Accountability to find out information and make sense of all this. I have an obligation to do this so I can help the people I serve make sense of what is happening and how this will affect their lives. I hate to have to go to such sources but the truth is that the official word right now is largely silence. Sadly, I think that silence has made things worse.

The problem is that something has to fill the vacuum created when an action is taken without an explanation to follow. In this case that vacuum has been filled with a lot of name calling, speculation, and people taking anonymous pot shots at each other. To get to the valuable information you have to wade through a swamp of conspiracy and speculation and that makes finding and seeking out the truth difficult. And all I want to know is the truth.

I've written ad nauseum about how we need, even in our disagreements, to at least be Christian with each other but I feel like my words are falling to the ground. Not only are people still not understanding what has happened but they have also added a mountain of harsh words that, even when this is all over, will still be open wounds for many years.

I don't know why our Metropolitan did what he did. I find it difficult to comprehend but isn't there a way to say that without calling him names and implying all kinds of dark nuances? I don't know why certain Priests in our diocese don't like Bp. MARK, the person they describe in their letters isn't even close to the Bishop I know, but why does this struggle have to become a matter of open letters and taking sides? It seems like we had a small fire started and then the rumors began raining down on it like gasoline.

The truth is that whatever happens to our Bishops may be less drastic then the damage we're doing to each other by the way we're discussing their status. We're in the process of creating caricatures out of each other and that may be harder to undo then anything else. But who cares about that? This is war and the object is to win even if we've forgotten about what we're fighting for.

Sigh. I just feel sad about it all. I'm sad that we can't talk about this like adults, like Christians. I'm sad that valuable time and energy will be dissipated not in seeking out the truth and that which is good for the Church but rather in flailing about in senseless and unncessary combat. We have to talk about this. We have to work this out. But first everyone has got to take a deep breath and count to ten.

And I'm still waiting.


A gift...

I just called the American Red Cross today to schedule my regular appointment to give blood. This coming April 21st I will have given three gallons, which, according to the Red Cross' calculations, means I've helped save 72 lives. I'm not trying to toot my own horn because I was shocked at the number myself and also reminded how valuable a donation can be. If I do nothing else with my life I'm glad I was able to do this. Perhaps you might consider this as a ministry as well.

If you're interested in helping others by donating blood please call 1-800-448-3543