Sunday, January 21, 2018

Bleeding edges

I, once upon a time, loved to draw and paint.  I truly loved pencil and ink.  Mostly because it was basic and stark and simple yet very expressive. But also because it was precise.  A pen or pencil put a mark where I put it and nowhere else.  That was very comforting to me.  Paint (I mostly worked in acrylic) was less of a joy for me.  I loved the added vibrancy the color added to my expression of reality or imagination.  But I didn't like how easy it was to lose control of the edges.  Blending colors on the pallet was fine. If a color didn't work you ditched it.  But once it hit the canvas you had to be quite knowledgeable of what color two edges blending (accidentally or not) would form.  I was not very good at that.  I truly disliked water colors.  One edge bleeding into the next is just about the name of the game with that medium.  I could never get it right. 

Watching an expert paint by blending colors on canvas is meditative for me.  Although I could never master it, I love what a true artist can do.  Edges effortlessly come together in new colors and representations that ultimately form a whole picture of what the artist intends. It is beautiful and sometimes even breathtaking.  I still, to this day, love watching Bob Ross paint. Yes, he was somewhat of a goofy hippie, but boy could he make painting look effortless. And the end product was always beautiful to me.

How would it be if instead of enjoying what the artist was doing I sat behind him or over his shoulder and started to shout instructions?  Criticizing him for making blobs and swoops and swirls and, clear to my mind, not having any idea what he is dong.  Worse yet, what if I grabbed his brush and started adding my own ideas to the canvas?  What do you think the end result would be?  Probably either a work of modern art or a punch in the nose!

Christianity is a bit like those bleeding edges to me.  I have always seen things in black and white. I liked neat, well defined lines and I regularly railed against or ran from any semblance of ambiguity.  I was comforted by definition and theological exactness.  But I am starting to change.  I am seeing now that Christianity isn't just a bunch of borders on a map, clearly defining where God is and where he isn't. Or who is a follower and who isn't.  I'm starting to see the edges bleed and I am beginning to enjoy it.  Not because it lets me off the hook from studying God's word and seeking His will.  But because I am beginning to trust that God is in charge and he knows what he is doing.  He knows how to blend edges, He knows how to keep colors separate and when to bring them together to form new, sometimes completely unexpected, colors. 

In short: I am beginning to trust God when it comes to the Church and the body of Christ.  He doesn't need me shouting instructions at him or trying to grab the brushes. I just need to sit back and enjoy.  That blob?  It turned out to be a tree.  That swirl?  A whole bunch of clouds floating lazily over a swoosh.  That swoosh turned out to be a distant mountaintop covered in late spring snow.  It turns out that the artist actually knew what he was doing all along.  Imagine that!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Worshiping with St. Herman

Today we celebrated St. Herman of Alaska (also called "the wonderworker").  In the Orthodox Church we don't believe death is final. Neither do we believe that death has separated us form each other.  We and they are both alive and in a common fellowship, worshiping the God of glory.  This gives a whole new dimension to worship.  We aren't just worshiping here and they are doing so there (although there is an element of here/thereness) rather we are worshiping together in a very real sense of the word "together".  Because there is no division we are free to ask them (yes! All of them!) for prayer and help in times on need.  This has been a great comfort to me and millions upon millions of Christians throughout history.

St. Herman of Alaska was one of the first missionaries to our neck of the woods.  Alaska still belonged to Russia and the church there was very keen on sending out missionaries to every part of the world.  If you want to read more (and you should!) here is a link to a site with a biography and some other information:

I commented above that we don't believe death  separates us from each other.  Oddly enough most Protestant Christians do believe that death separates, like some giant wall.  When some discover that I've joined the Orthodox Church and that we pray to saints, they ask, "Why do you pray to dead saints?" Or when they ask why we pray to saints I will respond, "Why not?". To which they inevitably respond, "Because they're dead".  Or they might reply, "Because we are suppose to only pray to God." To be honest I said the same sorts of things when I was Protestant.  But the answers betray a pronounced theological misunderstanding or ignorance.  Where in the Bible does it say we are never suppose to ask for help from brothers and sisters?  Oh, that's right, we've made the logical jump that "pray" means something theological.  In truth to "pray" only means to ask or make request.  Even that aside where in Scriptures does it command us not to ask for help from the church body?

"But they are dead!"  Really?  Does the Bible say that when we die a wall is thrown up so that we can no longer interact one with the other?  That we go into the ground and turn to dust and float off into oblivion?  Of course not. Their bodies are gone, true. But they are quite alive.  Doesn't the Bible teach that?

"But the Bible doesn't say anything about asking dead saints for help."  To the "dead" part of that sentence, see previous paragraph. As to the rest, didn't we just establish that the Bible does not forbid us asking for help from one another? In fact, the Bible commands us to help one another.  So why wouldn't I ask for help from those who have successfully lived a life that resulted in God saving them and bringing them into communion with Him?

Part of the problem here is not really a mere confusion about what the is state of saints who have gone to be with God or what it really means for us to be "dead".  The confusion is much deeper than that.  It has to do with the question of what do we mean when we use the word "Salvation"? Or some other variation of that word. There's the real crux.  I'm not going to lay that topic out here because this post is already longer than most moderns have the patience for (myself included). So I'll save that discussion for another post.  I also hope to post some thoughts on what the Church means by the word "Saint".  In the meantime feel free to think deeply about what it means to be saved and how that salvation ultimately comes about.

Saturday, May 27, 2017


An old forgotten and rusted can of paint thinner
Chimes in time with the rain.
The rain hissing and running down from the gray sky
Twists and shifts with the wind.

Pools fill in the divots and channels left by winter,
Leaves in trees drinking it up.
The tarmac glistens like a skating rink
Worn but warm from the hidden sun.

Birds bathe in makeshift showers and baths
Singing and bringing more music
To the percussion of the intermittent downpour.
Hop on top the soaked forgotten clothes,

The sun is sure to shine again, sending down its rays
Scattering the smattering of water left
After the storm disipates into foggy memory,
Seething and breathing behind the mountains.

Happy yet?

Are you happy yet?  Do you feel the breeze?
The midsummer cicadas roar at it, satisfied with their lot.
The frogs fill their throats and voice their pleasure
but what about you? Are you happy yet?

A state of mind is much harder to achieve when the brain
locks itself into the wrong room (or unwillingly is sequestered).
Knocking to get out or for someone to hear,
years go by while the dust gravitates to scattered objects hidden or not.

Even the windows are full of green and bird scat
and guano gathers in lonely piles on the floor
and although the sounds are muffled, you can hear
voices through the thick musty smell of old rotted wood hidden by lead paint.

Rain comes and goes, pounding the roof, wind
driving it against the walls in sheets, while rainscent
wafts through the minuscule gaps in your confinement,
leaving its taste on your tongue and in your nose and on your mind.

Are you happy yet?  Not yet?  Your heart bequeathes a tasteless,
sightless dourness to the visual and auditory senses,
touching cloudless mornings with tainted, dirty hands.
Happy yet?  Sure, why not?  If you say so.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


Every religious system has its own traditions. I am not here talking about Holy Tradition as understood by Eastern Orthodoxy or even Catholicism, although there is some application.  Rather, I am talking about the rubric that is developed and used to explain how we got from there to here by other faith groups; specifically those as used by the protestants.  Holy Tradition certainly is used this way but it shouldn't be understood as being on the same level.  Holy Tradition is seen as encompassing the Truth passed down from God, to the Apostles and to the Church.  The traditions (lowercase 't') that I want to write about now doesn't have the force of producing dogma but certainly does hold important sway over the development and defense of doctrine within the protestant churches.

This is especially true when we begin to talk about Scripture and doctrines like Sola Scriptura. The gripe that I have with most protestant teachers and scholars is that they do not have the fortitude to admit that this is in fact what is going on. I've heard some fairly complicated defenses of the origins of the canon and for the sola doctrine, typically more complicated then most believers can follow, and yet in the end it always comes across like so much thrashing about.  The fact remains protestants believe what they do because they must. To believe anything else is to run the risk of admitting the Orthodox may have had it right all along (and they've been around a lot longer than the protestants). 

To state, "Scripture is to be the only source of doctrine", sounds elevated and grand and the defense for such a statement as complicated as you like but one word seems sufficient to bring at least some clouds to the picnic: "Why?".   It certainly wasn't what pre-reformation leaders believed, even though the church has always held Scripture in the highest regard and as pivotal in all she has done.  But it never held the centristic and exclusivistic flavor it held for the reformers until fifteen centuries after the founding of the church itself.  The New Testament, ironically enough, held absolutely no sway for the early church for the first few years for the simple fact that it did not exist.  Even after all the books were in circulation there was no such thing as "The Bible" for people to torment each other with challenges like, "Show me where that is in Scripture!  Chapter and verse".  And even afterward there would be quite a number of years before they were available as a canon, a few more years before the Church officially recognized the canon and then many more years before that canon would be available to the regular man on the street. 

But trying to explain the origins of Sola Scriptura and the Scriptures themselves isn't where Protestant tradition comes into full force.  It is when the matter of interpretation is brought up by the simple and unsuspecting masses. I say here simple not because they are idiots but because thy typically don't have an PhD or some other advanced degree in the Bible, theology or biblical languages to guide them into a proper interpretation of Scripture.  I say this tongue-n-cheek because even the biblical scholars cannot fully agree. And although I do not believe, when it comes to the matter of truth, consensus is alway deciding factor, the fact that many protestants believe it is only underscores their need and use of a consistent tradition to replace the Holy Tradition they and the Western church rejected.  And if the scholars cannot agree, with all of their years of study, how can we simple people hope to come to an understanding of the truth?

Some would argue that this is overstating the case and the importance of the disagreements.  In some manner this is true.  True Christians all agree about Trinity, the efficacy of Christ's blood, existence of God, etc.  Things we call essentials to true belief.  But that is small consolation when we can't agree on the nature of the communion elements, salvation, sanctification, miracles, prayer, icons, the priesthood, the nature of the Church, hell, etc.  When taken as a whole the differences far outweigh the similarities.   And although we could convince ourselves they really don't make that much of a difference, we should be at least ready to acknowledge the niggling in the back of our minds that should keep us asking, "But why are there so many differences in the first place?".

Luther decided (and I believe it was a novelty) that Scripture was to be the only source of doctrine and that every believer was, as a priest, to have ready access to a copy and make decisions concerning doctrine, faith and practice.  Luther believed that the Scriptures were so clear that everyone who read them would see the truths and, amazingly enough, all agree.  All agree with what?  The Scriptures?  No, with Luther!  But in the end Luther was greatly disappointed in the results.  Results that seems to have surprised him but looking back with hindsight should have been expected.  Not only did interpretations disagree with one another but each interpretation quickly took on the weight of papal infallibility.  As the Roman Catholic church pointed out, Luther had gotten rid of one pope and made everyone their own pope. 

Most people I speak to are turned off by the Orthodox Church because, among other things, it is full of traditions.  Here I am definitely speaking of Holy Tradition, but coming from an outsider looking in, they see little difference.  Fine, let us go with that.  Everything that is done in the Orthodox church that doesn't find explicit expression in Scripture can be called tradition (Even though, to be clear, the Scriptures themselves are a part of that Tradition).  But, and this is where my real criticism of protestantism comes in, so can her interpretation of Scripture where, by the way, all of those other things find final root and authority; and all this means to me is that the Orthodox Church has all along and at the very least, been willing to admit a fact that the protestants have, as far as I can tell, refused. 

It is this refusal that finally made me throw up my hands in despair and give up on protestantism all together.  I believe in Holy Tradition, but even if I didn't I would take no small amount of comfort in the fact that the Orthodox Church is living consistent with reality. And that, to me, is far more important then coming up with complicated theological frameworks to try and explain one's conception of reality.  If one has to go to that much work maybe it is time to admit that maybe you have the wrong picture in the first place.  Maybe it is time to dumb things down a bit and join the rest of us nobodies on the street and in the pubs.  The Orthodox Church has always ministered to the poor man and woman on the street, the farmer and the maid.   Oh, it has ministered to the king, prince and scholar too but the cost is much, much higher. A cost many are unwilling to pay.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Baptism

Cold biting winter wind, merciless
in its' endeavors. Scratching, clawing, desperate to win
gives way, once again, to warming spring breezes and
green buds, frog song and bird love.

Light a candle or three.

Death, sometimes slow halting movements,
other times sudden like a unexpected stunning slap to the face.
Now life, resurrected, death spun backwards and on its head
Weak, useless legs strengthened, eyeless sockets budding, growing, filled.

Water becomes wine, the wedding can go on!

The procession of catechumens, an army of priests.
The Archangel Micheal, sword drawn, shoulders back, chin forward,
voice the sound of trumpets, "The Lord rebuke you!"
The enemy quakes, the catechized pray.  They are ready.  Amen.

The bridegroom! Parousia!

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come...
Kingdom here, the song of thousands upon thousands,
ten thousands upon ten thousands sing, pray, worship!
Another sheep for the fold, ten-thousands plus one.

The wise virgins have lit their lamps! 

The waters, oily and cold in the environment clouded with smoke,
open wide their arms to embrace the penitent.
They both hold their breath. In all the excitement they forget to breath!
The voices sound like rushing water and thunder.

The trees of the fields clap their hands!

What will be your sacrifice O! nomore-catechumen?
Some locks of hair? Snip - Snip - Snip.  Much more than hair.
Stretch forth your arms, someone else will dress you.
Stretch forth your arms, someone else will lead you.

Sower, sow your seeds!

Take into your mouth the blood shed for you; your blood will be shed.
Take into your mouth the flesh torn for you; your flesh will be torn.
Juxtapose kingdom, lovely, full of light, healing, life and forever
with road to it narrow, hard, full of suffering, pain and tears.

Mara natha!  

Sing! Rejoice! Christ has risen from the dead, trampling down
death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
Sing! Rejoice!  Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you.
God grant you many years - live long and prosper.  

Amen, amen, amen!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Missing the point

I while ago I wrote a post that was, in part, written in frustration.  I received some criticism for that post particularly from the church I was in the process of leaving because they saw my article as an attack on, as they put it, "the bride of Christ".  I didn't mean it to be taken that way and fortunately others have written or spoken to me in order to tell me they appreciated it. But in all fairness I do have a particular way of writing that sometimes comes across as less than loving.  That post can be found here.

Recently I came across another post that was much better written and I think hit the nail on the head.  That post can be found here, and I encourage you, even implore you, to please read it.

The church my family was a part of is full of very loving people who also love Jesus with all their hearts.  I'm not just saying that.  I spent over ten years with them and I know it is true.  However, like many modern churches, they have become quite focused on being hip and approachable by the unsaved and unchurched.   They have also become very focused on what these days is called "outreach".  There is nothing inherently wrong with the desire to reach people for Christ.  But what I discovered is that if approached the wrong way these good desires can easily lead to a lack of "inreach".  That is, people who are already following Christ and especially those who have been for a long time, are assumed to be o.k. and left to fend for themselves.  It wasn't until my wife and I went through some really hard and dark times that we discovered that we were pretty much on my own.  I am certain that for a few people they thought they were reaching out to us. But because of how we've been taught to "do church", the efforts were much to little to late (I apologize in advance to my dear friends, but I am speaking from my perspective and my heart).

There also appears to be, in many of these churches, confusion as to what Sunday worship is intended for. Sunday worship is really for the true worshiper of God.  Biblically and historically Sunday was never intended to be evangelistic in the literal sense of that word. But because of our misguided understanding of outreach we turn Sunday into a crusade of sorts and forget the hurting masses right in our own pews.  This is the result of a church model based upon modern evangelism paradigms that themselves are often based on modern business and entertainment practices and not truly biblical or historical.

The above post by Kimberli is a perfect case in point.  It is a very sad and thus difficult article to read but needed in today's consumerism oriented churches.  It is too easy to have a form of godliness but completely lacking any real power;  the power to see, help and heal those in our own midsts.  If we manage to get people through our doors and onto our membership rosters only for them do discover that the people in the church are just as lonely, hurting and depressed as those outside it can we be surprised when they leave or, in our case, simply fade away? 

Friday, March 10, 2017

How's it going?

"They were drilling my teeth and I kept thinking....this should NOT be the best part of my day"

This was said to me by a friend I work with. She had been to the dentist the day before and that day was a particularly rough day for her.  When your day is so terrible that the dentist drilling your teeth becomes the highlight of the day, you know things are bad. I certainly can identify with that.  I suppose we all can.

I wish I could say I'm honest with people whenever they ask, "How's it going?".  I'm not.  I lie.  All the time.  I usually answer, "Good, and you?".  There's another lie.  I really don't want to know most of the time.  I only have a handful of people in my life I ever want an honest answer to that question from and I have an even smaller circle of people I will give an honest answer to.  My wife is one that falls into both groups.  We share almost everything (even marriage has some personal boundaries). And then there's a really, really small circle of friends I will share things with or want them to share with me.  The aforementioned workmate is one. I have perhaps two more I can name off the top of my head.  One I only see maybe once a year.

But that isn't my point. My point is I wonder how I should be responding to people.   I don't really want to be honest.  And unless they fall into that really tiny circle I spoke of I am certain they really don't want to hear an honest answer to their pseudo inquiry anyway.  And I really don't want an honest answer to my forced response.  If we are going to be honest the question and response are merely social expectations and that is the end of it. 

I am thinking that the next time I am asked the question and the inquisitor is not in my very exclusive network I will respond, "Why do you care?"  or, "What's it to you?".   I know that isn't really polite and I am a jerk, but it is honest. I could just say, "Good" or "Terrible".  That may be honest and less offensive if not binary (which works for me as a programmer).  But instead of a follow up question I could just say, "I don't care about how you feel, so let's just end this".  But again, that sounds awful even if it is honest. So maybe I will just stare at them.  Creepy, but effective.  Or maybe I should just walk away.  I'll have to think that one over. 

My priest, when he asks that question and thinks you are being less than honest, will call you a liar. So there's another possibility if you really truly want an honest answer. That's if you really want to give an honest answer.  Maybe you don't.  Maybe I don't.  That is fine.  But maybe we are afraid you don't want to hear our answer and need a bit more encouragement to share.  I once was asked by a pastor how I was doing and when I started to tell him he saw someone else he needed to talk to and walked off with me in mid-sentence.  So you'll forgive me if sometimes I need a good show of faith concerning your sincerity. 

In the end I really don't have a good answer to how to answer.  Honesty is good policy most of the time, but not all of the time (regardless what you were taught in kindergarten with mythical stories of our first president).  But with those people you call "friend" there will be an understanding.  A special understanding that allows you to be honest while at the same time acknowledging your dishonesty with a knowing wink.  Not the "friends" on social media but real friends. I have found they are very difficult to come by mostly because such friendships take a lot of time and effort and pain and growing.  But when they do come along they are well worth it.