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Friday, May 28, 2004

What Would That Look Like...Part 2

In my last entry, I asked the question, "What would the life of a "saint unknown look like?" It is in looking around at the people I know that the question began to form in my mind. I'll explain.

I've noticed, in my experience, many children in the Orthodox Church, that were raised in the Church, and are...let see how shall I put this...a little different than other kids. Not in a bad way (though the world might tell us otherwise), just different. They are children who instinctively ask forgiveness, who cry when they perceive that harm has come to another, who hurt when someone doesn't say "I'm sorry" when they should (adults are particularly adept at not asking children for forgiveness), in short, they are very perceptive of the needs of others, and of their own shortocomings.

Now certainly these are not a trait only found in Orthodox children, but it is one I find much more frequently in these environs. But they are the kind of kids, that at the average elementary school would be spoken of as weird or sissies or some other similar trait. But they are, in my mind, beautiful children. They are different, very different, but holy in a great many ways.

So how much more might these children be different from the rest of us if they continued in living the life of the Church? Would they even resemble us at all? Or would they be just like us, except that they pray more, and give of their possessions. I'm not trying to pigeonhole saints into a defined place. Certainly all of the children I mentioned are very much their own person, and different from each other in their own ways. But they are also collectively different from the rest of the worlds children.

So maybe I'm asking, what would we look like, had we the same opportunities that many of our children, who've been raised in the Church. How different would we be? Would we recognize ourselves?

Thursday, May 27, 2004

What Would That Look Like?

Been thinking lately about the saints. In pondering their saintliness, I've noticed the abundance of what in my mind are akin to "Super-saints". By my definition these would be the clergy and monastic Saints.

Now granted, my knowledge of the panacea of Orthodox Saints is extremely limited, and I am sure there are some that would fall into my other category of "regular saints", and by regular and super, I do not mean to imply that one or the other is greater in saintliness. I'm just wondering, what exactly would the life of the "saint-unknown" look like?

Suppose for a minute that there was a living saint that lived next door to you, or that stood on the other side of the church from you. And suppose that you had prophetic knowledge to know that this "regular" person would someday be recognized as a saint for the way they lived their life. What might that person live like now? What things would we notice about such a person that would mark their holiness as exceedingly great. How might this persons everyday life, attitudes, and activities be different than our own. Is it likely that a person living everyday in the world will become a saint?

I am so far away from this kind of saintliness, that I can't even begin to understand what this kind of life looks like. I'm not sure I have any categories of consideration to put that kind of life in, being that that kind of life is so different from my own. Maybe my thinking on this is all screwed up, and I really think it might be, so I'm wondering if anyone else has any thoughts on this.

Or perhaps you know someone like this. Tell me about them if you like. I'm looking for role models....

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Please Excuse the Mess, Under Construction

If things look funny or don't load the way you're used to, please be aware that I am attempting to work on my template and I know absolutely nothing about HTML. I'm just tinkering, trying to make this all a little easier on the eye ( White backgrounds are painful on my eyes).

Monday, May 24, 2004

I Exist

No, this is not some sort of conclusive statement about the reality of my being. I’m quite secure there (though I’m not telling you which way).

But upon some serious self-reflection recently, I’ve begun to notice a pattern, a theme, a consistent but curious state of be-ing. It hit me like two tons of cinderblocks (my weak attempt at avoiding cliché) while reading an excellent article in Road to Emmaus , which for what my opinion’s worth, is one of the best Orthodox publications in existence.

In this particular issue (Spring 2001), I was reading part three of an interview with Fr. Artemy Vladimirov , who has written some fantastic children’s books on Orthodox Spirituality, including Bless O Lord and The Path to Confession. He is a Russian priest, who in this series of articles relates his experiences and insight into working with English-speaking converts.

But it was something said as almost a side note in this article that stood out to me. It is an idea that I have encountered in other readings, but not really had a perspective to incorporate into my thinking until I encountered it in light of my thinking about my own life. At the end of the article, which in total is almost 90 pages between the three issues, after all of his wonderful insight into both the Orthodox and the western minds, he writes the following:

Yes, I think that the days we are living in are the very days that were prophesied by St. David: Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men, and we are to understand the spiritual measure of modern people-both shepherds and sheep....The last decades have brought us great changes; our real spiritual fathers have gone the way of the earth....We live on the earth by God’s Providence, but we are all chicks and neither the shepherds not the sheep have yet broken out of their shells.

We are all in darkness. What are we all talking about? No one knows. What does this or that statement mean? Nothing! Who can say anything for sure? No one! Who is truly enlightened? I don’t know! Therefore, the only thing left to do is to pray and to wait for the time when God himself will help us to peck through the shell, when we will become sons of Light, and walk without stumbling. Until this day comes, let us cry without despair, smile without arrogance, pity one another without sentimentality, be patient, be tolerant, bear our neighbor’s burdens without irritation-for we are all patients of one hospital.


He finishes here with an idea that I very much long for. He describes the unmoved life, the life that exists, that is not shaken about or stirred by the winds. He describes a goal, and then the ways of life that help us to stray from it, the passions we embrace that distract us. He describes what we strive for, that place of living constantly in the reality of God; the simple existence of that place.

But you see, I already live a constant existence. My entire life is already almost always unshaken. As I said a couple of entries ago, even those things that probably should shake me do not most of the time. Karl, in the comments, offered, “It could be that you don't feel panic because you are really putting your trust in God. Just a thought...” I would like to believe this, and I really do appreciate that thought Karl. But the reality, I think, is that I do live a fairly constant existence, but it is one of my own choosing and not one that always glorifies God.

You see, I like my life the way it is, for good and for bad. Add to that the fact that I only know how to live in very patterned, habitual ways. Without my habits, my life would fall apart. I am not someone who can just one day decide to change, and then never be like I was formerly. Some people can, but change for me happens when I establish new habits. I cannot even begin to comprehend the flexibility that some people have. I don’t really know how to be flexible. This is both a blessing and a curse.

So when something new or unforeseen comes along, I don’t have a place to put it. When my wife is sick, it is difficult to deal with, because I don’t have an established pattern to fit it into. When it’s time to change anything, from the mundane to the serious, I fail a lot, because I have to establish new patterns. In this existence, I don’t have a means for incorporating these changes easily into my life, so frequently I just keep existing the way things were before, even when I should be another way.

I picture it this way. There is a cavernous divide that separates my constant existence and the one I ought to strive for. But at one end of the divide, there is this crazy zipper that slowly pulls the two sides closed (please, bear with my lame analogy here). But kinda like when your packing for a three day trip and you decide you need to fit your entire wardrobe into that damn suitcase, closing that zipper is torturous. It pulls at my fabric, stretching it to the point that I think it’s just gonna rip. Sometimes, I know I just can’t do it, so I have to pull something out, but only one thing. That won’t affect me too much, and then I spend another ten minutes (or ten years) trying to close that zipper another inch.

And it’s not even that I really like that shirt. I’ve just always had it, and like an old pair of underwear, it may not even look good, but damn it’s comfortable.

Maybe someday I’ll peck my head out of the shell too......

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Last Night and Sleepers

I had an interesting night last night. On the one hand it was quite enjoyable. Cyb and I spent it with two couples, both of whom I have known since Jr. High School (the male portions of them anyway), and both of whom I have been musically involved with at various times in my life. There is a lot of history there.

As with most people you know for any extended period of time, this history makes for some very fun (and funny) reminiscence. I haven't laughed that much in while. But there was this other strange accompanying feeling that I couldn't really place at first.

Anyone see the movie Sleepers with Kevin Bacon, Robert Deniro, Minnie Driver etc.? There were five childhood friends who, after experiencing a severe trauma together, all went their separate ways in life. But something happens that brings them all back together, and at the end of the movie, their all sitting together at a table eating and reminiscing. All these years had passed, and they were just like old times.

A lot of people like that, and to an extent, I do to. But just like in the movie, after that dinner, they all went back to their regular lives. They went their separate ways again, because their lives were already separate, with only the past in common. They had changed since that time in their youth, some for the better, some for the worse. Only by living in the past were they able to enjoy themselves. They were no longer people whose current lives would intertwine short of a severe external event.

And this is how I felt last night with two of them. While Matt (the newly illumined) and Katie (the future catechumen from what I hear)are now going to St. Andrew's and he comes to our men's group on Sunday nights, B and T aren't really a part of our lives anymore. I often lament this fact, but it is reality. B and I have spent many good years together as friends, years I wouldn't give up for anything, but over time we've gone different directions. Neither one of us for the worse, just different. I found myself thinking that the only things we had to talk about were things that neither of us were anymore. It was funny, but it was kind of strange and awkward too.

Their moving to Oregon next month, and it's possible we may never cross paths again. There are people in my life now that, were they to move across the country, I know I would make an attempt to keep in contact with, and likely they with me. We share enough of our current lives together. Most of these are either family or Church relationships.

I'm just thinking in digital format is all. It was fun and strange and sad. The Church has changed me. There was a time when my love for music was pre-eminent in my life, and those relationships that evolved within that sphere were likewise. Now I attempt (rather poorly at times) to live my life within the embrace of the Church, and those relationships found there mean more than any I've had before, and I can no longer enjoy the life I had outside this place.

I don't really know if I'm going anywhere with this, but to say...."Huh.......how weird."

Friday, May 14, 2004

Click....Click....Click...

James’ post has got me thinking about my own past. I hesitate to even write about it, as invariably there will be people who don’t like what I say, probably on both side of the spectrum. So let me throw out my disclaimer, “These are just my thoughts. They may not be Orthodox, and to the extent that they are not, I need reproving”.

Many of you know I was raised in the Pentecostal movements. As a kid, I’m not sure I even knew what that meant. I just went to Church, and wanted to love God. I really did. I think children innately want to love God. (This point will cross reference with another idea the Munkee and I were throwing around the other day, and coalesce into a future blog entry.)

But the question raised in the comments of this post was, “Is there grace in the Pentecostal movement?” We Orthodox like to hem and haw about how “We know where grace is, but won’t state where it is not…” and all that, and while there is truth there, if that is all we have to say on the matter, there’s an untruth there too. THERE IS GRACE IN THE PENTECOSTAL MOVEMENT…….there, I said it.

I’ll go ya one further. There’s grace in Buddhism; there’s grace in Mormonism; and there’s even grace in Islam. In almost every prayer service of our Church we affirm that God is “everywhere present and fillest all things”. David stated that if he descended into the depths of hell, God is still there. Where can we hide from his presence? Nowhere. Does it make sense for God to be somewhere, but he just left his grace back at the house.

No God’s grace can be found anywhere. I found it in the Pentecostal movement. Yes, there is error and heresy running rampant through that movement. I found the grace of God there in spite of that. The other movements and beliefs I mentioned above, I know people who found God’s grace there too. In spite of the things we believe intellectually, we can find the Grace of God.

Obviously, the more error present with that grace, the more we have to change. What we believe does not just affect our minds. It will also play a part in determining how we live, and how we respond to God’s grace. Here is the danger of these other faiths (yes, in my opinion, the Pentecostal movement is another faith). What we believe will of necessity affect how we respond to God and his grace.

We cannot err on the one side and say that it does not, nor or the other and say that we cannot be saved or relate to God unless we believe rightly. I am quite sure I believe wrongly still on a great many things, and I pray God gives me many years to repent where I am wrong. There is a right truth, and I thank God I have found His Church, wherein I can be corrected in my error as I draw closer to its head, who is Christ, truth himself.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

I’ve been struggling…

This struggling takes on many different dimensions. I’m not specifically meaning here the struggle against sins (though I have that daily as well), but more a struggle for my own personhood. If this is sounding vague and unintelligible, just you wait till I get started, and then it will be completely incomprehensible.

I liken it to that state of numb semi-shock the body goes into after being injured. I remember once when I was working on a saw-line up in Washington. The normal procedure after each job was to shut down these enormous saws and wait the five or six minutes for the blades to stop spinning before cleaning out the drop off pile. But in practice, most of the time we just left the thing running and used a long stick to clean it.

Until one day my stick wasn’t quite long enough…

What happened is that my hand got pulled into the 36” blade, and I almost lost my thumb. As I stood there staring at my bleeding hand that was cut down to the bone, all I could think was “Whoah, that looks weird…” It didn’t occur to me for what seemed like minutes that it was my hand I was staring at. I knew it was cut, I knew it was bleeding, but there was no pain and no connection to reality. Not until the lineman standing six feet away started gesticulating wildly (it was too loud to hear someone yelling), did reality set in and I thought, “WHOAH…THAT’S MY THUMB!!!!” Then the pain came.

You see, as I stated a few posts ago, my wife and I are trying to have children. But there have been some complicating factors that are really starting to worry me. Without going into details, let’s just say that four doctor visits (between three different doctors) later we still don’t even know what the problem is. There’s another doctor visit next week planned, but I feel like no one’s taking us seriously. Just so you know, this isn’t a “there might be something wrong” kind of problem, but a “there is most definitely something severely wrong” kind of problem.

But like the incident with my thumb, I’m not distressed yet. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not. The problem’s been there for three months now, and it could potentially mean children aren’t in the cards for us. If you know me, you know how much this should bother me. And it does, but most of that concern is for my wife and how she would take this rather than for myself. It’s the strangest place I’ve ever been in. I’m not the typical emotionally disconnected male, and lesser things have crushed me in the past. But I’m still just staring at that thumb.

I was hesitant to put this out before the whole world, but then I remembered that there’s only eight of you who read this. Actually though, I really covet your prayers. More than anything right now, I ask you prayers for us.

It’s kinda funny...I just now realized while I was writing this that there’s this guy...six feet away....and he’s doing some kind of wild gesticulating....HEY…this is MY life...yep...now I’m starting to feel it.

Monday, May 10, 2004

My Own Fall in the garden of Eden

Something that got me thinking lately. On Saturday I went to Life Giving Spring Bookstore, an Orthodox bookstore in Glendale. We went there for a few reasons, one of which was to talk to Anastasia, the owner. We got to talking about life in Greece, comparing and contrasting life in a small village with that in the larger cities.

I suppose in some senses, the differences aren’t all that different than the differences between rural Appalachia and Los Angeles or New York. But one of the differences got me to thinking about something else. There seems to be, in my experience, a different kind of spirituality represented in these two kinds of places.

In the larger cities of both Athens and Los Angeles, technology and innovation rule. Whatever is new is good. Fast paces are the order for the day, and a simple life is frowned upon. Church life is acknowledged as a good thing, but regularly practiced by relatively few. Communal life is almost non-existent, it almost has to be forced to exist at all.

But in my experiences in both rural Kentucky and the more remote villages of Greece, there was a thriving communal life. People ate together, played pickup games of baseball and cards, or in Greece, backgammon and soccer. Old women walked across their little towns to visit family, old men tended their gardens with their grandchildren. It was something I saw in almost every small village we drove through, and we drove through literally hundreds of them.

Bear with me for a second, I’m going to go somewhere different, then bring it back around. On Sunday, my high school students and I were discussing in what ways have the messages of secularism creeped into our thinking, both personally and societally. From such things as a) a particular protestant talk show host who boldly proclaimed that a democratic form of government is the only kind in which true Christianity can thrive, b)the idea that we ought to limit childbearing so that we have more financial resources to shower upon them, c)our lives are better because of the technological advances of the last 50 or hundred or thousand years, and many others.

We discussed these messages that our society promotes, and then I just played antagonist with them, asking them to examine their personal views and how they measure up to the values of the Church.

But it seems that we have accepted lives, especially in metropolitan areas, that must be bombarded with messages from everywhere. I long for that simple life of the farm of my youth, where I was one step removed from the distractions of the world, and the messages it wants to pour into us to keep us individualistic and out of community. It seems that as the level of urbanization increases, the more complex and complicated our lives become. It also seems that with these increases, there is a decrease in childlike faith in God.

With our complicated lives come complicated faiths. It seems to me we’ve substituted our simple childlike faiths for complicated ones. Maybe this is unavoidable, or maybe, as Fr. Thomas told James, this is unnatural, and we’ve substituted truth and beauty for a lie. But I always find myself coming back to the question “How much can we strip ourselves of these things, before we do more damage than good?”

One of my brothers boldly stated that if he had been in the garden instead of Adam, he would have chosen better; he would have cut the tree down. Well, perhaps he would have, but I doubt I would have. I made my own fall from grace, my own denial of the simple faith of my childhood, and I suspect, as Fr. Wayne has said so often, I'll spend the rest of my life trying to regain that which I already had as a child. Suffer not the little children...indeed.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Sunday Night Joy (Part 2)

Like I said, after On the Incarnation, we started working through St. John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent. This was a tough book. It wasn’t tough to read per se, but tough sometimes to assimilate. Sometimes, because the concepts were foreign, we’d have to wrestle with what was being said. But more often we wrestled because these were hard teachings.

This wasn’t your average self-help book you’d find in your local Christian bookstore. This wasn’t of the same vein of thought as the sermons from one of my old churches, where we were more likely to hear about “the four biblical principles of money management” or “three easy steps to spiritual renewal”. This had chapters titled On Remembrance of Death, and On Continual Mourning. St. John not only had the heart for the salvation of those under his tutelage, he understood the means to accomplish it.

Looking back, I can’t really isolate one single thing in this book that changed me. I don’t really learn that way. I absorb the big scope of things, and as the larger picture becomes clearer, I begin to understand the importance of the small strokes that comprise it. But this is the kind of grand vision this book presents.

And because this book speaks to everyone on any point on the spiritual path, we began to see things that had only occurred in sporadic moments with our previous books. Real discussion. We began to open ourselves to each other. Where previously we talked about concepts and their meaning, we now exposed our weaknesses to each other. Our discussion became characteristically and qualitatively different. St. John was interested in the salvation of the whole man, and his teachings began to sink into places in us that quite frankly, many of us didn’t know needed to be saved.

There was a humbling that happened in our group, as the truth of the lifelong process of our salvation began to sink in. As we began to understand that we are saved in community, we began to chip away at our individuation. As we began to understand mourning, we began to bear the burden of each others sin. As we began to comprehend to darkness of our hearts, we became pinpricks of light for each other. To the level that we could comprehend the remembrance of death, we began to be sources of life and resurrection. Life became Eucharistic in our group.

Last week we finished St. Gregory Palamas’ Treatise on the Spiritual Life. This was a laborious book. It literally has more footnotes that text, and going through it was an arduous task. But I think I speak for all of us in stating that the last chapter made the whole book worth it. Just like a movie that seems mediocre until the surprise ending that puts it all together, the import of this book was made for many of us by the last chapter. But also like that movie, it would have no context for the ending without having first gone through the beginning and middle.

But in all, this group has become what I’d always hoped a group of men could be. Sure, we’re still rough on the edges, really rough for some of us, but somehow through all of this, we’ve acquired a vision for salvation, both personally and corporately, for the two are the same. We’ve become but one trickle in the stream of life that is the Church, but sometimes that trickle is life-giving hydration in the desert of our souls. I love these men, and I am thankful that God has taken our misguided attempts at growth and baptized/transfigured it into something beautiful and valuable.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Sunday Night Joy (Part 1)

For those of you who don’t know (probably not many of you don’t), we have a Sunday night men’s study group. It’s not a bible study, and originally it wasn’t even Orthodox (none of us at that time were Orthodox). But now we have what is essentially a de facto Orthodox study group, as sadly we have no more non-Orthodox attendees.

Our group has, obviously, changed over the years. Of the original 15 of us that began this journey about five or so years ago, only three of us are still here. There have been a few weeks when those three were the only ones who showed up, but somehow we’ve kept a fairly steady weekly cast of 7-10 men. But what has been more exciting to watch than the development of the group, is the development of the men involved.

Our first week, we were fifteen young men with a ton of zeal and no direction. We just knew that we needed some kind of regular place and time where we met to try and grow as men and as Christians. We didn’t necessarily want a “Bible study”, I think because so often they fail when there isn’t a leader of said study. Just as the Ethiopian Eunuch stated, how can we understand, unless someone explain it to us? So we opted to do something else.

We started with a two collections of Christian writers put together by Richard Foster. Some were ancient, some were modern. These books worked well ecumenically, but often we found the readings wanting in content. Sometimes they were quite good, as we read Aquinas, Chesterton, Lewis, and others, but often they were terrible, and occasionally they were what I would now quantify as heretical. But they kept our group going, and either way often sparked discussion.

Halfway through the second book, we decided as a group that we wanted something more substantial from our reading than weekly topical readings by different authors. We longed to stretch ourselves, to change our persons and not simply our minds. We wanted something meaty that we would have to chew on. So we quit Foster’s book and started in on Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. The introduction by C.S. Lewis alone was worth the read. This was a radical paradigm shift in thinking. I found myself thinking, "if this is historic Christianity, why haven’t I ever been taught this." Never had I been taught why the incarnation was important, especially as it pertained to the fall of man. Not like this.

Sadly, at this time we began to see some of our more consistent non-Orthodox men stop coming. Not all of them did, but some did.

Next, we spent over a year going through St. John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent. Again, it was spiritually revolutionary, as we grappled with how to take these teachings and not just change our thinking, but change our lives. And it was during this time that we saw the remainder of our Protestant men stop coming. Each had their own reasons, and I regret them nothing except that I miss them. The diversity of thought made for great discussions, and great challenges to grow through.

So that’s where we’ve been. In part 2 I’ll say more about where we’re at.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Crrreeeaaaak...(that's me coming out of the blogging cellar)

Well hello all. It's been six months, and for those of you masochists who kept coming back hoping to be rewarded, only to be let down....BRAVO, I say, BRAVO!!!! Your efforts have been rewarded. Now for the update.

I kinda quit blogging because there came a point where I felt my time was better served looking for work. I graduated with my B.S. (how appropriate, as I'm not really any smarter for having done it) in Human Development on December 13th. Of course this meant the beginning of the next chapter in my life, looking for the real payoff for all that "busy work". And so began my quest for a job, and a long hiatus from blogging.

Every time I would think about blogging, I would remember that my wife was at work supporting us. She really is a remarkable woman. This time was a severe test of the stuff our marriage was made of. Thus far, it seems we passed.

But now I have a job. As of three weeks ago, I joined the great sub-culture of "slaves to the man". It's not what they promised me when they (the academic "man") told me I would be much more employable with a degree. Granted, I do make more than before, but just barely, and truth be told, I probably could have landed this one without the paper. Sure, I applied for hundreds of better jobs that paid better money, and I worked my tail off in follow up, but nothing come of them. But whatever, I'm not bitter or upset about it.

Seriously, I'm really not. I'm thankful that God has seen fit to get me to the place in life that I'm in. Sure, all of my previous expectations have been shattered. Sure, all of the things I thought I would have accomplished by now are still sitting out there in the future, but my life is good. I have a wife who loves me dearly. I have a job that we could scrimp by on when my wife quits working, and we're finally trying to conceive our first child.

YEP....WE'RE FINALLY TRYING. Honestly, and I mean this as much as I've ever meant anything, should God deign to bless my life with a child, that will be the crowning accomplishment of my life. It's been very difficult for me, watching the years slip by and in no position to have a child, mostly due to not being married until 11 months ago. All I have ever wanted out of life, and I do mean ever, is to be a good husband (I'll let you know when I reach that one) and a good father (as of yet to be tested). Sure there were other goals, but they were all extremely inconsequential to me in light of this.

Sure, I used to think I'd raise a family as large as the one I grew up in (I have seven brothers and sisters), in fact I longed to do so. But then I used to think I'd have been married no later than 22, and look how that turned out. I'm glad I didn't now, as one smile from my wife lights up my entire day; it really does, and I didn't even know her at 22.

I guess what I'm getting at is this. I could bitch and moan and complain about all the things that went wrong in life, that didn't work out the way I though they would or should (those of you who've known me throughout many years can attest that there are many freak occurrences in my life that just don't happen to the average person). But doing so would rob me of the joy I have in the blessings God has seen fit to shower upon me. A wonderful parish in our most glorious Church, a wife who has and does sacrifice herself daily for me, a job that can support a family, and hopefully in the months to come, now a child.

I'll keep you updated, and hopefully with some regularity now. Thanks for checking back.

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