Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Seeking the level

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

She is from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!

There are more stanzas to this glorious hymn by Samuel Wesley, and I’ve left off one other that is my favorite, because we’re not there yet, eschatologically. We’re still at stanza three. My cry goes up with everyone’s, ‘How long, Lord, how long!’

I think back to that very brief time of my life in Christ almost as if I had just reposed and were reviewing it with the Lord, a brief thirty-six years, to God ‘a thousand years are a single day, a yesterday now over, an hour of the night’ (Psalm 90).

My first church, a little Episcopal parish in a working class neighborhood, the pews populated by lots of white heads, smily and bespectacled and welcoming, a gregarious contingent of settled householders with their sprinking of youth, and a tiny gaggle of young twenty-somethings with toddlers in tow. My little family of three was in that gaggle.

Fr Rankin was an old, really past retirement age, vicar, a classic small town America clergyman, and his wife, blondly twenty years younger in look, at his side, to sugar his way through a sometimes cantakerous crowd of coffee hour critics.

Critics, yes, but still lively, jocular, generous and unharmful. Father was a poor man in many respects. He had been brought up in the Salvation Army, became enamored with the theatre in his youth, a forbidden entrée, and escaped into Episcopalianism.

Already past his enthusiastic days, the gospel had for him settled down to the humdrum of keeping an aging congregation happy with small blessings. In his poverty, he bought a set of sermons for the Church year, and he read them, the same ones, year after year, on the appropriate Sundays. It got to where we had them memorised just as we had internalised the responses of the Book of Common Prayer.

A pleasant little church, humbly hospitable with its undercroft coffee hours, its parish house next door full of windows that used to be an old public library, still full of books and comfy chairs to while away the fall afternoons with others getting ready to join the great cloud of witnesses in the sky. A youngster like me could only feel cared for by these gentle folk.

We knew we weren’t perfect, but we tried to follow Jesus, from childhood to young adulthood to middle age and then to venerable elderhood, and we lived together, knowing we were doing what had been always done, in the same place, the same way. This was the simple life of faith that had been handed over in our corner of the wild earth.

Now it seems that my first years as an adult Christian were the last years of the Church as people, the Church as the spirit of the land, the Church as home ‘where everybody knows your name.’ A vanished Christianity, last locale of the Church universal of Constantine, yes, the state Church maybe, but something that went deeper. It was always there, and we probably expected it always would be.

This is America, of course, where there is no state Church and where there has never been one, but from olden times we too, here in the New World, had imitated without knowing it, the patchwork religious quilt of our European forbears. We felt our parish to be our village in the larger world, a vast Christendom surrounding us, of which we were a part.

Denominations were there, yes, but there was something underlying it all, this experience of living in a Christian commonwealth, that unified us in spite of our differences. You might not fraternize or marry into certain groups, but you knew where they stood, and you lived and let live. America knows no establishment of religion, but there was no doubt back then, that ‘in God we trust’ was more than a mere monetary motto.

Whatever you call what it is that we have moved to, morphed into, the Church of today is quite different, in America, in the world. It has left behind its innocence and simplicity for sure, having no place of rest anymore, but anxious to appear approved, to be successful.

Excellence as a human endeavor leads to spiritual paralysis. Only what rains from above on thirsty soil brings forth harvestable wheat. Christianity, the real thing, is most like water that seeks its level, filling in cracks and taking the lowest place. It is not what we do or what we look like doing it that matters.

The Church’s one foundation, yes. We all know Who it is that we have believed in, but do we know why, and what it means, and what has been done to us, and by Whom, and where we must go from here? Are we seeking to make waves, or are we seeking the level?

Horse and rider

Psalms for the 31st Day
Exodus 15, Deuteronomy 32

Song of victory

It was then that Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song in honor of Yahweh.

Yahweh I sing: He has covered Himself in glory,
horse and rider He has thrown into the sea.

Yah is my strength, my song,
He is my salvation.
This is my God, I praise Him;
the God of my father, I extol Him.

Yahweh is a warrior;
Yahweh is His name.

The chariots and the army of Pharaoh
He has hurled into the sea;
the pick of his horsemen lie drowned in the Sea of Reeds.
The depths have closed over them;
they have sunk to the bottom like a stone.

Your right hand, Yahweh, shows majestic in power,
Your right hand, Yahweh, shatters the enemy.
So great Your splendor, You crush Your foes;
You unleash Your fury, and it devours them like stubble.
A blast from Your nostrils and the waters piled high;
the waves stood upright like a dike;
in the heart of the sea the deeps came together.

‘I will give chase and overtake,’ the enemy said.
‘I shall share out the spoil, my soul will feast on it;
I shall draw my sword, my hand will destroy them.’
One breath of Yours You blew, and the sea closed over them;
they sank like lead in the terrible waters.

Who among the gods is Your like, Yahweh?
Who is Your like, majestic in holiness,
terrible in deeds of prowess, worker of wonders?
You stretched Your right hand out, the earth swallowed them!
By Your grace You led the people You redeemed,
by Your strength You guided them to Your holy house.

Hearing of this, the peoples tremble;
pangs seize on the inhabitants of Philistia.
Edom's chieftains are now dismayed,
the princes of Mo’ab fall to trembling,
Canaan's inhabitants are all unmanned,
on them fall terror and dread;
through the power of Your arm they are still as stone
as Your people pass, Yahweh,
as the people pass whom You purchased.

You will bring them and plant them
on the mountain that is Your own,
the place You have made Your dwelling, Yahweh,
the sanctuary, Yahweh, prepared by Your own hands.

Yahweh will be King for ever and ever.

Sing of Yahweh: He has covered Himself in glory,
horse and rider He has thrown into the sea.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Preparers of the way

Everyone exists to prepare the way for someone. And everyone who lives has been waited for, even longed for, and the way for them has been prepared. There have been for everyone, for you, for me, preparers of the way.

First, there were our parents, who wanted us. That is too obvious, yet for many that is also not true. They may have been ‘an accident,’ an unwanted, but mercy intervened somehow, or fear, but for whatever reason, their lives were allowed to continue. They escaped being aborted. Yet, though their mother or father didn’t really want them, someone else did, and that person was waiting for them, preparing the way even before knowing why.

This is no speculation, nor even a solid guess, this is a certainty.
It is written all over the facts of life, on both sides,
and in the acts of God. Do we see it?

Everyone is preparing the way for someone, usually for many, and in general, and once we think about it, it’s obvious. But we also are preparers of the way for another individual, not all of us are, but some are. It is a type of call. We see this in holy and divine scripture. Every prophet, in fact, is qualified by this call to prepare the way for ‘One who is coming who is mightier than I.’

We know the name of the last of these special preparers of the way. It is the holy, honorable prophet and forerunner, John the Baptist, the one who said, ‘a man can lay claim only to what is given him from heaven.’ Ruthlessly honest.

We don’t have to be prophets to be preparers of the way,
but what if we are?

In most cases we are preparers of the way for others just as ordinary as ourselves. We think us and them so ordinary that we don’t give it much thought. Why make a big deal out of nothing?
But is it, are we, really nothing?

I don’t think so.

Again, back to the premise, whether you think it true or false, that we are wanted, which means that there is a preparer of the way for each one of us, and the more we listen up, the more we’ll hear,
and the more we hear, the more we will believe,
since faith comes by hearing.

One day, doing your ordinary job, whatever God called you to do, it could be working in a factory or behind your teacher’s desk at school, or sorting the vegetables if you happen to be a green grocer; you could be driving your cab or bus, working a booth at the farmer’s market, or cutting hair in a styling salon; you could be on an Alaskan fishing boat, or working the oil rigs, or any number of jobs that you think are just ordinary, even demeaning or boring; and suddenly, someone crosses your path, and something inside says, ‘that’s the one.’ Not talking romance, not talking fantasy, not talking at all.

Remember John? He baptised Jesus, and then let Him go. Only later, when he saw Jesus walking by, he pointed Him out to his disciples and said, ‘That’s the One. That’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’

We’ve grown so used to this story and seeing this pattern of preparers of the way in relation to religion that it never occurs to us that the same pattern is happening all the time, around us, and to us. Sometimes we are the preparers of the way, sometimes we are the one who is prepared for. This pattern is part of the drive train of the universe, and we know Who the Force behind it all really is.

We prepare the way for one another.
‘He must become greater,
I must become less.’

This is the way it works, this is how to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect, to undergo a contraction within us, so that another real person can be born into the world.

To make room for the ones that are sent to you.
Yes, ‘every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain,’

this is the work of the preparers of the way.

Black and white

My world is not a world of black and white. My house is not an abode of absolutes. When I say things, though I try to mean what I say, and say what I mean, I yield the floor to the Only Teacher of Mankind. He alone is the Only Absolute in my life. He tells me to move, I move. He tells me to stand, I stand. He says, give this, I give it. Take that, and I take it. Speak, and I form the words. Be still, and I watch and wait. His way is the high way. He shows me the field paths, and night or day, high or low, wet or dry, black or white, I follow. But don't ever take me at my word, since only He can be trusted, with you, with me, and with all. Only He can lead you out of the land of black and white, of yes and no, of true and false, so just let go. Let go, let go, O my soul, just let go.


Losses, yes.

I have this saying, ‘There is no loss with Jesus.’
It probably sounds to most people like some pat cliché drummed up by ‘Christian’ marketing agents to promote some ‘ministry’ or maybe a new line of evangelistic apparel and accessories, like my favorite bible pouch, that has ‘Witness Gear®’ on an embroidered tag sewn to the front of it.

But when I say there is no loss with Jesus, I speak as a sixty year old man who, though he has seen and experienced a lot in this world, is still a reckless and hopeful twenty-four year old at heart, who can't believe that his once smooth long neck is now short and decorated with a double chin.

No loss with Jesus means for me,
what can they cut off, and I still be me?

I have played this game with myself mentally for many years, even before I realised that my life was no longer in my own hands, that from here on out, I was a prisoner who had to take what comes, and do what I was told—but a prisoner of Jesus.

Like what happened to Job, someone has followed my every move and snatched away my initial happiness and prosperity in this world, to see what I would do. ‘He only worships You because You take care of him so well. But just let me…’

So, one by one, the layers of finery that took such pains to apply were stripped off, just as Martin Luther writes in his great hymn, ‘Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also…’ And driven home were the words, ‘Anyone who loves… more than Me is not worthy of Me.’

Is this what it takes to be worthy of You, Lord? To be raised so high, blessed with family, profession, reputation, wealth, health, happiness—though tempered by hardship—and then to have these snatched away, and oneself cast down to the dust of death, left in the bone fields at the mouth of She’ol?

Sometimes I feel—yes, the flesh pities itself—like the writer of Psalm 88, who ended his lament with the line, ‘now darkness is my one companion left.’ But I rest a moment, take pause, and reconsider, rehearse the blessings that holy prophet David the King sang in another psalm,

Bless Yahweh, my soul,
and remember all His kindnesses:
in forgiving all your offenses,
in curing all your diseases,
in redeeming your life from the Pit,
in crowning you with love and tenderness,
in filling your years with prosperity,
in renewing your youth like an eagle's.
Psalm 103

Are any of these things untrue? Even for one who, like Job, feels justified to sit and lament in the ash pit, scraping his sores with broken pottery? No, no one has yet fulfilled the damage from heaven that that prophet endured. Yet even he, once he took refuge no more in his own innocence but in Divine Majesty, could have read the restoration of his life in the yet unmanifest Divine Son in the words of His forefather David.

All my offenses, forgiven.
All my diseases, cured.
My life, saved from annihilation and imbecility.
My place, defined by love and tenderness.
My years, prosperous as earth’s bounty flows.
My youth, winged and renewed every day.
Thus, there is no loss.

Whatever we think we have, whatever we think we are, this is nothing, until we learn this, ‘the king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; He directs it like a watercourse wherever He pleases’ (Proverbs 21:1), and then we will hear from inside us, speaking, ‘The blessing of Yahweh is his, and vindication from God his Saviour’ (Psalm 24).

Yes, in the world there is loss, but there is no loss with Jesus.
‘In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33).

A word on forgiveness

‘I will not judge who is worthy of forgiveness (since I also need forgiveness), but will leave that final judgment to God…
…it is as close as I can come to forgiveness of predators and sociopaths at this point in my Christian development.’

It is not an essential condition of your salvation, I don't think, to have to forgive predators and sociopaths, except, of course, for any that have committed aggression against you personally.

If you do have predators and sociopaths in your life that you have not forgiven, then I would ask, who is there, who is being unforgiving? Is it you, really, or is it the image of your injury that you call yourself?

In my life, a great injury has been done, life-changing if not life-threatening. The person who injured me is alive and well and thinks that no wrong was committed, thinks that God is pleased.

How can I forgive that? How can I live with that? How can I see that person standing a few feet away from me in church? How can I speak to that person, if I am addressed? How can I live day to day without resentment?

The Lord is good. He purifies us of ourselves when He sees we cannot cleanse ourselves, which is most of the time. He renews us. He makes us into different people. Though we may live in the same house, wear the same clothes, go to the same church, or work, He has changed the inner man. It is a different heart inside, a renewed mind.

If it weren't for that, to live next to such injustice, such triumphant denial of one's being by another person who thinks they are doing you a favor by destroying you, would be impossible. It would certainly lead one to suicide. It would have led me to that door.

But no. God is good. He is always there, patient and receptive of our tears. He dries those tears and puts us to sleep, so He can allay our loneliness, and when we awake, if not a helpmate in the flesh taken from our side, then what is better.

‘For me the reward of virtue is to see Your face,
and, on waking, to gaze my fill on Your likeness.’
Psalm 17

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Worth more than medals

Today, the Sunday of the Blind Man, the last Lord's Day of the sarakostí (40 days) of Pascha, the season of the great reversal, the beginning of death's turning around and working backward, because the Sinless One submitted to the sentence pronounced on us the sinful. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, our preacher proistámenos reminded us to remember our faithful war dead, those who gave their lives in the defense of their country.

In my own family, I have no war dead to honor, and only one war veteran alive, one who served in both the Japanese phase of the World War, and then in the ‘police action’ usually called the Korean War. But I honor as best I can the war dead who did in fact pay the ultimate price of freedom for this, and all lands. Our tradition is ages long, beginning with such as the Three Hundred who laid down life at the Hot Gates, and the Maccabees, and the heroes of Masada's siege. All these foundations of America's and humanity's liberty, to this very day, which will see life laid down in the war against Islamic jihad. We are all one, all united in honoring you, fallen brothers and sisters, and we await the Day when we join you, to salute you fully.

Now, a story I've told here before.

An old man sitting in his tiny room on a day bed.

On the wall behind the bed are two glazed picture frames, the one on the left full of awards and ribbons from his American Legion days, the one on the right displays an arrangement of military decorations, bars and medals hanging from ribbons, with a sepia tone photo of a young soldier in his early twenties. He has company with him in his room, a rare event.

His visitor asks him about the medals, “What was this one for? And what about that other one?” The old man’s eyes get a far away look in them when asked about a medal for his service in Korea during the war almost sixty years ago. “What did you do when you were in Korea to earn that? Were you in combat?”

“No, not exactly what you’d call combat, but I was surrounded by it. Me and another soldier, we were assigned to carry mail between Pusan and the front lines. When we landed in Pusan, that’s about all there was of Korea, the Chinese had overrun everything. My original army unit was almost completely wiped out. I got placed in a different unit, and we took the mail back and forth.

“We lived in the railway car that carried the mail, like a postal unit on wheels, it got hauled from the base at Pusan to wherever we had to get the mail to and from our troops. We took in a Korean boy, must’ve been twelve years old or so, named Kim Mun Heup. He spoke good English, he was from a rich family in Seoul, but both his parents were killed in the fighting. We took him in as our house boy. He cooked, washed our stuff, helped us buy food and supplies in the towns wherever we went. He lived with us in the railway car.

“We paid him, of course, but I got a hold of a Sears Roebuck catalog, and we let him look through it and pick out clothes and other things. We sent away for them, and when they finally got here, boy, was he ever happy! He had a baseball cap and real American clothes, tee-shirts and blue jeans, and shoes. Boy, was he ever proud! Kim found about six other boys, all orphans like himself, but younger, and became their manager. He got his orders from us, and gave them their work. He paid them, and shared with them, of course.

“I was proud of him, too, and I wanted to adopt him and bring him back to America, but I knew that wouldn’t go over well. I’d just gotten married before being shipped off, and I had a baby on the way. I knew my wife wouldn’t want to see me bring home a kid just ten years younger than me, and not ‘one of us,’ if you get my meaning.

“When we were in the north, at the front, refugees would come to me and my buddy, maybe Kim told them about us, and we’d give them a place to stay and a ride in our mail car back to the south. We’d drop them off at various places along the way, where they had friends or relatives to take them in. Times were pretty rough, and they’d lost a lot. Once we even hid a bunch of Catholic nuns who escaped from the north and dropped them off in a safe area. They were Koreans, of course, but spoke good English, as did most of the people that came to us for help.

“Boy, would we ever have gotten in trouble for hiding these people, if the base commander had found out! But he never did. That’s because we always dropped them off before the train got back to Pusan. We didn’t see any harm in it, helping those folks. What else could we have done?

“I didn’t stay right to the end of the war. Our replacements arrived, and me and my buddy returned to the States. Like I said, I really wanted to adopt Kim and bring him home, but it just couldn’t happen. So before we left, we gave him a couple of thousand dollars and dropped him off in a small town where he had some relatives. The money was for his education. I hope he made it. We didn’t stay in touch after the war. Life had just changed too much for all of us.”

The visitor listened to the old man release his secret story and wondered, had anyone else heard this told in many a year? Was the buddy still alive, staying alone in some cottage like this old soldier? And where was Kim? Three whole lifetimes were lived completely apart, that once for a year or a little more had been more closely knit than family, two young men and a boy riding the rails together in a war-torn land, carrying messages between danger and safety, carrying souls secretly from oppression to freedom.

That’s worth more than medals.

Αιωνία η μνήμη

At their first meeting, Reginald Fleming Johnston, the British tutor of the last emperor of China, Aisingioro Pu Yi, the young prince asks him, ‘Where are your ancestors buried?’ Comes the reply, ‘In Scotland, Your Majesty.’ This was the emperor’s first personal question to his new tutor, after which the conversation quickly moved on to other things, but it demonstrates how important it was to know where one’s ancestors are buried.

When we think of East Asian culture, one of its features that comes to mind is the idea and practice of ‘ancestor worship.’

When I go to an Asian store, anything from a humble grocery to a full-fledged shopping mall, there I always see a shelf or an entire aisle or two devoted to merchandise necessary to the cult of ancestors: statues of Chinese gods, memorial tablets, incense pots and vases, joss sticks (incense) by the bundle, ‘hell money’ in bank notes and gold foil ingots, and joss (burnable) versions of everyday articles and clothing, consumables for the afterlife.

But it isn’t only the East Asians that have this concern for their ancestors. This is intrinsic to many cultures, in my own in fact as an Orthodox Christian, except in my case, and for many Americans and others living a mobile lifestyle, I don’t know where most of my ancestors are buried, and even when I do, there is little or no possibility that I will ever visit their graves in my entire lifetime. Yet, in my childhood I remember visiting graves with my parents, and leaving flowers.

Cemeteries. In theory I love them, and whenever I drive past one, something in me always pauses and I feel like my heart is on the edge waiting for something, waiting for a voice to speak, or for faces to appear: There are people buried there under those stones, hundreds of people, hidden under that vast blanket of comforting grass.

A child said
What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child?
I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition,
out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners,
that we may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child,
the produced babe of the vegetation.
Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means,
Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff,
I give them the same,
I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them,
It may be you are from old people,
or from offspring taken soon out of their mothers' laps,
And here you are the mothers' laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.
O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues,
And I perceive they do not come
from the roofs of mouths for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints
about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers,
and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life,
and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas'd the moment life appear'd.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

(Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, Book 3, ‘Song of Myself,’ Canto 6)

The nature god lover and praiser Uncle Walt’s words come to mind because they announce so well what I feel inside me, though my rational mind rebels against this as mere sentiment, rebuking my heart’s hopes while envying it for them. Like the rest of the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve, I want to believe that my life and their lives are not, were not, all for nothing, that the universe is tamed and given meaning by love, that all that goodness doesn’t just run to waste.

If there is a God—and I do not doubt this—He must have made provision for us. He too must not want all this goodness to just run to waste and disappear. Those corpses in the graveyard once were men and women and children. That’s what they were once, and that they will be again, but now? What are they but objects waiting to be revivified? Is there any real connexion between those endless iterations of decay prevented by vaults and boxes from returning to feed the earth, and the living beings they once were?

‘I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.’ With every new translation of the original Greek προσδοκώ, proz-dho-KOH, ‘I expect, I anticipate,’ comes a new muddling of the real meaning. ‘I look for’ is about as weak a translation as I can imagine. It implies that something has been misplaced, or lost in the shuffle, but maybe in fact something has been lost: whatever it is that, beyond all appearances trimmed to visible size by time, really joins us to one another and to our ancestors.

C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity,

Human beings look separate because you see them walking about separately. But then we are so made that we can see only the present moment. If we could see the past, then of course it would look different. For there was a time when every man was part of his mother, and (earlier still) part of his father as well, and when they were part of his grandparents. If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees it, it would look like one single growing thing—rather like a very complicated tree. Every individual would appear connected with every other.

Every year Memorial Day comes round, at least here in North America, a ready-made ‘holy day’ piled on top of other memorial days that have migrated with every culture that has ever come home to these shores. I live two thousand miles away from the graves of any of my recent ancestors and have never gone to visit their graves. It puzzles me and mystifies me, the feelings some of my ethnic neighbors have for the actual sites and contents of their ancestors’ resting places.

I envy even those of my own ethnic heritage whose little walled graves in church yards, some even surmounted with stone tables for memorial suppers, still understand what it means, still feel it, still feel them, the ancestors, alive and hidden in their own living flesh, and can therefore truly stand firm and confident in their προσδοκώ, in their expectation of the resurrection of not only the dead, but of their dead, their loved ones, who now live only by being carried in the memory of God.

Yes, Αιωνία η μνήμη, aionía i mními, ‘eternal [be] the memory,’ of all my pious and God-fearing ancestors, and yours, and all those who have cried out to Christ, ‘Remember me, Lord, in Your Kingdom.’

Prayer of a hunted man

Psalms for the 29th Day
139 140 141 142 143
Psalm 142
Prayer of a hunted man

To Yahweh, my cry! I plead.
To Yahweh, my cry! I entreat.
I pour out my supplications,
I unfold all my troubles;
my spirit fails me,
but You, You know my path.

On the path I follow
they have concealed a trap.
Look on my right and see,
there is no one to befriend me.
All help is denied me,
no one cares about me.

I invoke You, Yahweh,
I affirm that You are my refuge,
my heritage in the land of the living.
Listen to my cries for help,
I can hardly be crushed lower.

Rescue me from persecutors
stronger than I am!
Free me from this imprisonment,
and I will thank Your Name once more
in the assembly of the virtuous,
for the goodness You show me.

(Yes, Lord, You know my path!)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

I’ll be seeing You

Waiting for you
with nothing on my mind
between you and time,
I’ve been watching very long, so very long, here
Waking for you
with nothing in my eyes
between you and the sky,
I’ve been looking up to see, to see you appear

But all I can see
is that you’re teaching me
a little more about carrying,
a little more about caring for you
And when I sit down
and rest a moment upon … the thought I have of you,
I know you’re on your way
The dawn will break the day … I’ll be seeing you

Waiting for you
with everything in mind
when comes my time,
I’ve been working very hard, so very hard, here
Working for you
with someone in my eyes
that makes my spirit rise,
I’ve been laboring to see, to see you appear

But all I can see
is that you’re teaching me
a little more about carrying,
a little more about caring for you
And when I sit down
and rest a moment upon … the thought I have of you,
I know you’re on your way
The dawn will break the day … I’ll be seeing you

Waiting for you
with only you in mind,
I won’t be confined
I’ve been wanting you so much, so very much, here
Walking for you
with somewhere to arrive
to finally be alive
I’ve been longing just to see, to see you appear

But all I can see
is that you’re teaching me
a little more about carrying,
a little more about caring for you
And when I sit down
and rest a moment upon … the thought I have of you,
I know you’re on your way
The dawn will break the day … I’ll be seeing you

— Romanós


‘Anyone who welcomes you welcomes Me…’

Anyone who is part of a family or other closely related group knows this situation. You come home, or you wake up in the morning, or you walk into a room where the others are. It can be husband or wife, it can be children, it can be mother or father, brother or sister that are already there, and suddenly, there you are too. You expect to be greeted with a smile, with words of greeting, comforting words.

In Japan, we say when entering the house after being out, ‘Tadaima!’ And if anyone at all is home, we hear the response, ‘Okaeri nasai!’ and then see the smile of welcome following on the words. This is what we expect in our hearts, because God made us that way, to expect love, to expect welcome. He made us that way because He it is who is waiting for us to return to Him, so that He can drop everything and run to embrace us, to make us feel welcome, to love us face to face.

To continue, you expect to be greeted with a smile, with a welcoming word or gesture. Instead, you hear words of unwelcome, you hear words of criticism or judgment, you may not hear a greeting at all, and the face that you see is not what you expected. As in a dream, you pursue someone whom you know, and when you catch up to them, they turn around, and they are a stranger, and you back away, confused. Only this is happening now, in the ‘real’ world. You are awake. The words you hear cut into your heart, the face you see flashes unwelcome eyes. You know you are not wanted, and there is nothing you can do about that.

It is not with the one who comes, but with the one who receives, that the power of welcome lies. This is one of the most painful of experiences.

Jesus has much to say about this situation in the gospels.

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—your enemies will be the members of your own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes someone known to be a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever welcomes someone known to be righteous will receive a righteous person's reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is known to be my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly be rewarded.
Matthew 10:34-42

Everyone, without qualification, that comes to us deserves our welcome, and if we follow Jesus, and if we do what we see Him doing, we will welcome them. If this is true of any human creature, how much more is it true for members of our own household, for our own family members, for those who ‘have a right’ to hope for a welcome from us. Yet often this is not what we give, or what we receive. Still, we need that sense of welcome more than anything else, even more than food, more than life itself.

Following Jesus separates us from people. A friend of mine asked me the other day, ‘I’ve heard people say that to follow Jesus is a very lonely road. Is this true?’

Yes, to follow Jesus is in a sense a lonely road, because you find that you are no longer welcome to many people, to your neighbors, to your erstwhile friends, and even to your own family members. Jesus Himself tells us this. Yet there, at that table, was the proof of the love of Christ, the incarnate gospel, that although we might be outcasts from the world, maybe unwelcome by those to whom we should be welcome, at that table, where He was present with us, we were more than welcome, to Him and to one another.

So there is a sweetness to the bitter edge of martyrdom. With Jesus, who draws us together around Himself like a belt, we are welcome, and of that welcome we can be the ambassadors, passing on to those around us the good news that God has reconciled all of us to Himself through the sacrifice of His Only-Begotten Son. We can offer to others the welcome that has been denied us. We can do this because we are now really free to choose.

And so we choose to follow Jesus.

‘… and anyone who welcomes Me welcomes the One who sent Me.’

Still the same

Week by week you come to the Lord's table to receive bread and wine. What do these things mean to you? Do you regard them merely as some kind of spiritual medicine, which will purge your soul, like a laxative may purge your body? Or do you sometimes wonder what God is saying in these simple elements?
Bread and wine represent the fruits of our labor, whereby we turn the things of nature into food and drink for our sustenance. So at the Lord's table we offer our labor to God, dedicating ourselves anew to His service. Then the bread and the wine are distributed equally to every member of the congregation; the poor receive the same amount as the rich. This means that God's material blessings belong equally to everyone, to be enjoyed according to each person's need.
The whole ceremony is also a meal at which everyone has an equal place at the table. Thus we are celebrating our fellowship as brothers and sisters, with Christ as our unseen elder brother at one end of the table, and God as our unseen father presiding at the other end.

Patriarch of Constantinople
AD 398-404


Και εις το Πνευμα, το Αγιον, το Κυριον, το Ζωοποιον,
το εκ του Πατρος εκπορευομενον

Et in Spíritum Sanctum, Dóminum et vivificántem:
Qui ex Patre Filióque procédit

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Creator of Life,
who proceeds from the Father
and from the Son

Filioque, ‘and from the Son,’ is more than a word, represents more than such a short phrase should imply; it has affected the whole life of the Church, has driven a wedge between Christians for more than a thousand years, and continues to do so. It shouldn’t have this power, but such power we have given it. Those who accept it have accepted a whole history and an entire mindset that has relegated the place of holy and divine scripture to the tool of man, to something he can play with. Those who reject it have paid the price of fidelity to the Word of God, to the testimony of Jesus, but often that rejection has colored their thoughts and actions in such a way that they become blind to the plain meaning of other words of Jesus. Yet the fact remains, that the rejection of the filioque is important because it is a kind of ‘red flag’ that we are breaking with the plain words of Jesus in the Gospel of John if we accept it, and the ground zero of faithfulness to the Word of God begins here.

Holy apostle and evangelist John writes in his second letter: “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 1:9)

Adding the filioque is “running ahead and not continuing.” This is by far the major problem that Orthodoxy has with Rome. They have run ahead, and they’re proud of it.

Orthodoxy, and I mean real Orthodoxy (not the kind that can be sold either ideologically or culturally), is a strange ‘something,’ that you seem to be able to see more clearly as you approach it from afar, but when you get closer, it almost seems to dissipate, as you realise that what it looked like from the outside and could be given a name,
‘Orthodoxy,’ yields to something that is too close to us to be able to extract, throw on the table and examine.

And Jesus Christ, who once seemed a Being great, mighty, loving, faithful, whatever it is we experienced of Him, and which we wanted somehow to ‘tabernacle’ as Peter wanted to tabernacle Him on the mount of the Transfiguration, is no longer something or Someone we can glibly think or speak about. He too has become too close.

A song I love, runs “We were so close, there was no room. We bled inside each other’s wounds. We all had caught the same disease, and we all sang the songs of peace.” Even that song had a different meaning before than it has now. Before, I could explain its meaning, now, I can less so, I almost can’t, because as soon as I try, I break into tears. This is how it is with real Orthodoxy and with Jesus Christ who lives among us.

Truly, Christ is in our midst; He is and ever shall be. But what do these words really mean, what can they mean, for us, for today?

Prepare to meet your Maker, and more than that, to be unmade, and remade in an image both strange and beautiful, but to which you will be forever blinded, as you will be standing in the Light Uncreated that shone, that shines, on Tabor.

Again and again, Christós anésti! Christ is risen!

Ποιητής ουρανού καί γής

May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,
give you a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed,
to bring you to full knowledge of Him.

May He enlighten the eyes of your mind
so that you can see what hope His call holds for you,
what rich glories He has promised the saints will inherit
and how infinitely great is the power
that He has exercised for us believers.

This you can tell from the strength of His power at work in Christ,
when He used it to raise Him from the dead
and to make Him sit at His right hand, in heaven,
far above every Sovereignty, Authority, Power, or Domination,
or any other name that can be named,
not only in this age but also in the age to come.

He has put all things under His feet,
and made Him, as the Ruler of everything,
the Head of the Church,
which is His Body,
the fullness of Him who fills the whole creation.

And you were dead,
through the crimes and sins in which you used to live

when you were following the way of this world,
obeying the ruler who governs the air,
the spirit who is at work in the rebellious.

We all were among them too in the past,
living sensual lives, ruled entirely by our own physical desires
and our own ideas,
so that by nature
we were as much under God's anger as the rest of the world.

But God loved us with so much love
that He was generous with His mercy:

When we were dead through our sins,
He brought us to life with Christ—

it is through grace that you have been saved—
and raised us up with Him and gave us a place with Him
in heaven, in Christ Jesus.

This was to show for all ages to come,
through His goodness to us in Christ Jesus,
how infinitely rich He is in grace.

Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith;
not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God;
not by anything that you have done,
so that nobody can claim the credit.

We are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus
to live the good life as from the beginning
He had meant us to live it.

Ephesians 1:17 - 2:10 Jerusalem Bible

Friday, May 27, 2011

Night driver

When I was a young dad with wife and four sons in tow, we used to travel every year, at least once, but sometimes several times, from Portland, Oregon, to Kelowna, British Columbia, usually for a vacation stay at Nana’s house (my mother-in-law) in the summer time, but occasionally even in late autumn with snow already on the roads.

Until my boys grew up, I was the only driver in the family; my wife never learned to drive. The trip was, with two or three rest stops, a twelve to fourteen hour drive each way. When the journey got a late start, it would be dark night near the end of it, and there was always the possibility that I could fall asleep at the wheel. Thank God, that never happened, not even close. But I had a method to keep myself awake on those long drives.

I would alternate the heater with the air conditioner, so that when I began to get drowsy, I’d change from one to the other. The passengers were usually by this time all asleep and didn’t notice or complain about what I was doing. When the heat was on and I got drowsy, I’d switch to the A/C, and when it got so cold in the car I was again beginning to fall asleep, I’d turn the heat on and point the vents at my face. Hot, then cold. Cold, then hot.

Not the heat, not the cold, were what mattered, were what I was all about, but getting my family and myself to our destination, that was the ticket. The alternative to a safe arrival was unthinkable, so whatever it took to get us there, that’s what I did. I think the application of scripture to our lives is something like the heat and the cold, alternating back and forth on our night journey, keeping us awake, so we reach our destination.

Even the Law of God, even the Sabbath, is not more important than the salvation of a single human soul, ‘for the Son of Man is master even of the Sabbath,’ and He has also given us the authority, His authority, to choose what is best, when, why, where and how, so that we reach the place of safety, and joy, that He has gone to prepare for us. The love of God is undoubted, it is His essence. His wrath is what we see when we look at Him without wanting Him.

And it was to want Him, that’s why He created us, so ‘Face could look upon face,’ because He first wanted us.

The wrath of God

Without an inspiration to inseminate me I am quite barren. Without the wind to fill my sails, I drift aimlessly in a dead sea. It is interacting with others whose hearts are on fire that I am warmed enough to speak, or to express myself. Otherwise I am just what I am, a cold lump of coal. Reading this post at Walk in Wisdom has ignited life in me for one more day. ‘One day at a time, Lord, one day at a time. Thanks be to Thee who hast created us as Thou art, to be not alone…’

I don't know why more Unitarian Universalists and freethinkers don't become Orthodox Christians (in fact I have never known any of them to), unless it's because deep down they can't stand the thought of a God who is One yet not a monad, because in that mysterious Church of the East the wrath of God is so abundantly appeased by poetical words of divine Love going in both directions—God to man, man back to God—that the average Christian there feels too at home with the God of heaven to even consider that ‘the wrath of God’ could be anything but a metaphor for our own peevishness, which God's grace will most assuredly evaporate! ‘Well,’ says Yiayia, ‘if snow’s white, it’s white; if it’s black, it’s black, and even God can’t change that!’ which is her way of saying that the strangest things are sometimes true (d’après Joice NanKivell, Again Christophilos, p.5).

Stranger still than that we should overlook God’s wrath as revealed in the letters of the holy apostles, we (perhaps maybe better said, I) daily read and pray the divine Psalms where nearly every one of them repeats and reinforces the notion that God loves virtue and the virtuous, in the Tehillim, the ‘tzaddiqim,’ but detests, even hates, sin and the wicked, the ‘resha‘im’: as Psalm 1 has it, ‘Yahweh takes care of the way the virtuous go, but the way of the wicked is doomed.’ In the Hebrew the last few words have such a sound of finality, ‘v’dérekh resha‘ím tovéd.’ Yes, ‘tovéd’, doomed, the word is loaded with every bit as much threat in Hebrew as in English, even the sound of it as it is pronounced is an audible ikon of ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Matthew 25:41).

It’s a good thing to keep in mind the wrath of God, even if we don’t understand exactly what it means, because what it does mean in the rough and tumble, aside from all intellectual or poetic skirting of the issue, is that there can be no play acting, no fooling God, even if we can fool others and ourselves: Love can heal all men of all dis-eases, even of death, but only if our hatred we are willing to lay down.

Lay down, lay down, lay it all down
Let your white birds smile up
At the ones who stand and frown

We were so close, there was no room
We bled inside each other’s wounds
We all had caught the same disease
And we all sang the songs of peace

So raise the candles high, ’cause if you don't
We could stay black against the night
Oh, raise them higher again, and if you do
We could stay dry against the rain

Some came to sing, some came to pray
Some came to keep the dark away…

—Melanie Safka, Candles in the Rain, sung at Woodstock

I love this song, have loved it since I first heard it, but now forty years later I wonder how we could have been so naïve, how we could have missed its real meaning, how Melanie Safka its author could have not known what it really meant while she composed it, sang it, how we could have been so blind to our own self-centered and childish rebelliousness. How self-righteous we were! How confident, but of all the wrong things! All the wrong things except one. Our need for love, to receive it, yes, but also to give it. And how ignorant we were, and how ungrateful, unaware that the very muddy soil on which we camped ourselves in huddled tents was the very stuff of which we were made, and that rain, that which made us pliable enough to be fashioned into images to be brought to Life only by the inbreathing of the God who wanted us into being.

The wrath of God, the flip side of His love? Or does holy and divine Scripture speak to us as does a mother to her little child, using baby talk? Through the words of our mother is the will of our heavenly Father intimated to us in a way that will warn but not crush us, warm but not burn us? The holy, unearthly, divine Triad, who alone is the One God, yet who chose not to be alone eternally, but unsplit and undivided from before all ages is, was, and will be Three, opening narrow a cleft in the Rock into which He places us so that we can see, Him passing by and showing us only His back, so that we can follow, hearing His name called out to us, our new names receive.

Yes, the wrath of God, what is left to us when we do not look upon Him whom we have pierced by our sins, our sin, our willful disobedience, when we do not mourn over Him as over an Only son, what is left to us when we have pushed away the Other, so that we can be alone with ourselves. If the wrath of God is a metaphor for anything, it is a metaphor for ourselves, it is we, it is I, when I choose to be everything that I was not created to be, when I want and work for at all costs that which never could have existed in this or any world. Yes, the wrath of God: ‘Is it I, Lord, is it I?’

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Just to make sure

Defined by what I don’t more than by what I do.
That’s how many people look at themselves and the world.
It’s a ‘me against them,’ or if they’re some kind of Christian,
it’s an ‘us against them’ mentality.

I am, or we are, right and everyone else is wrong,
and they’re gonna know it.
I speak up and stand up for what I believe.
Who cares who’s listening.
Who cares if someone’s feelings get hurt.
Somebody has to tell the truth.
I like what you say, but as for those other guy’s,
they’re just plain wrong, and I don’t mind telling you.
Yeah, you can be my friend, but watch out!
You’re under my gun the same as those other fellows.
If you don’t think like I do, you’ll hear from me.
Though as a Christian man I can’t say this out loud,
‘it’s my way or the highway.’
But God approves, because I’m rightly dividing His word.
If you know what’s good for you, stick with me.

Yes, brothers, this world is an arena, not a battlefield.

In a battlefield, we are heavily armed and we know who our enemy is, and we fight, we fight for our lives, and it all depends on us.
It’s a winner takes all scenario. If we lose, well, we lose our lives.
No one is watching, no one cares.

In an arena, we are competing. Some enter the arena thinking like they are entering a battle against an enemy, and they fight tooth and nail, not caring if they fight fair. All they want to do is win and make sure everyone watching knows it.

But that’s not how we enter the arena, brothers.
That’s not how we are sent into the ring.
For us, if there is a battle, it is only against ourselves, not an opponent. For us, the arena is where we are tested, where we are trained, to be what our Teacher is, to show Him that we have learned how to present ourselves, blameless, in a fair fight.

He knows we have no choice but to be placed in the arena, so He has taken us under His wing and teaches us, day by day, letting us enter the ring now and again to see how we are learning our lessons, to see if we’ve absorbed His martial arts technique. Violence not for its own sake. Passionless and without hate. Respectful and generous in courtesy. We spar with our partners, knowing them to be under the same Teacher. As for the spectators, some of whom will soon join us, what will happen if they see us make a false move?

In the end, perhaps, but not now, not at present, the arena will be our last encounter. We may be thrown into the ring with a real gladiator, or worse, thrown weaponless into the lair of wild beasts, and there will be no exit for us except through the gate of death, death to the world, which is life’s Gate for us.

But until then, let us be merciful, brothers, to ourselves and to each other, and mince our words and deeds so that they will not choke our neighbor, but gently feed them. For the love that is shown us now by our Teacher, for the sake of the prize that awaits us, let us also be at peace, and love one another.

Let’s live by what we do, not by what we don’t, just to make sure.

Now Your Word is a Lamp

Psalms for the 26th Day
119: 105-176 — 97-176 (Hebrew)

נ (Nún)

Now Your Word is a lamp to my feet,
a light on my path.
I have sworn to observe, I shall maintain
Your righteous rulings.
Yahweh, though my suffering is acute,
revive me as Your Word has guaranteed.
Yahweh, accept the homage that I offer,
teach me Your rulings.
I would lay down my life at any moment,
I have never yet forgotten Your Law.
The wicked have tried to trap me,
but I have never yet veered from Your precepts.
Your decrees are my eternal heritage,
they are the joy of my heart.
I devote myself to obeying Your statutes—
compensation enough for ever!

The Hebrew discipline of daily psalm reading starts the reading for the 26th day at verse 97, at the letter Mém…

מ (Mém)

Meditating all day on Your Law
how I have come to love it!
By Your commandment, ever mine,
how much wiser You have made me than my enemies!
How much subtler than my teachers,
through my meditating on Your decrees!
How much more perceptive than the elders,
as a result of my respecting Your precepts!
I refrain my feet from every evil path,
the better to observe Your Word.
I do not turn aside from Your rulings,
since You Yourself teach me these.
Your promise, how sweet to my palate!
Sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Your precepts endow me with perception;
I hate all deceptive paths.

Meeting again the verses of the psalm for the 26th day is always, for me, like running into a faithful and comforting friend at the end of a long and arduous day of struggle. He holds me closely to him for a moment, then looks me in the eyes and says, ‘Don't worry! That day is over. The new one is here, when we can serve the God of heaven together and joyfully keep His commandments! You are Home!’

It is fitting that the psalm for the 26th day falls on Thursday this month, the day of Christ's holy eucharist, His giving thanks to the Father, and by the mercy of Christ our God, I too give thanks, for I am home, in His Word, where I want to live, and where He lights up my path.

The psalm of this day is so precious! Listen to this, just one more stanza, starting with verse 129, at the letter Pé…

פ (Pé)

Your decrees are so wonderful
my soul cannot but respect them.
As Your Word unfolds, it gives light,
and the simple understand.
I open my mouth, panting
eagerly for Your commandments.
Turn to me, please, pity me,
as You should those who love Your name.
Direct my steps as You have promised,
let evil win no power over me.
Rescue me from human oppression;
I will observe Your precepts.
Treat Your servant kindly,
teach me Your statutes.
My eyes stream with tears,
because others disregard Your Law.

As anyone who prays the psalms will have noticed, much of their content forms the basis of Orthodox liturgical chant. The familiar doxology at the conclusion of the orthros (dawn) service includes a whole series of psalm verses after the original text of the ancient hymn Δόξα σοι τω δείξαντι το φως (Glory to Thee who hast shown us the Light), and among them is the thrice-chanted verse from Psalm 119, "Blessed are You, O Lord, teach me Your statutes" (Psalm 119:12), in Greek, Ευλογητός ει Κύριε, δίδαξον με τα δικαιώματα σου (Evloghitós ei Kýrie, dhídhaxon me ta dhikaiómata su), and in Hebrew (omitting the Hebrew script), Barúkh attá Adonáy, lammedéyni hhukéykha. This hymn is so deeply engraved in my consciousness that I often wake up in the morning singing it.

Glory to You who have shown us the Light!

By the way, the full text of the doxology in transliterated Greek with an English translation is hymn #38 in my booklet Singing the Work of the People, which can be downloaded by clicking HERE.

But wait, there is more…

First, we know that we are not our own, we do not own ourselves, we did not create ourselves. We owe our existence to our parents, yes, but even more to God.

Second, we are also not our own because by being born into this world, we along with Adam and Eve have sold ourselves as slaves to sin and death.

But wait, there is more.
God who created us is the Father of Jesus, His Only-Begotten Son. This Son of God became a human being, a man, and remained God. By His death on the Cross, and by His resurrection, He has paid the price for us, and now we are no longer the property of sin and death, but the property of God.

The Word of God says about us, ‘You were bought at a price. Do not become the slaves of other men!’

But wait, there is still more.
Not only did the Son of God purchase us for Himself by His blood, being the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, but He has also adopted us into His family. We are now His brothers, we are the children of God, and we can now call God ‘our Father.’

The Word of God says, ‘To everyone who accepts Jesus, He gives power to become the children of God.’

So we are not our own property, yet the One who does own us has changed us from mere property, mere slaves, into His own children.

Being now His children, we are his heirs, we inherit His Kingdom as one of His own family.

Knowing the truth of all these things, let us give ourselves back to Him every day, Who is our good and loving God, Who has transformed slavery into freedom, and death into life.


I learned this lesson,
‘You were bought at a price. Do not become the slaves of other men!’ from my mother, Irene, who never stopped telling us this at every opportunity. She reposed in 1986.

Holy Church in Korea 한국 정교회

Here are three very short videos of the Orthodox Christian Church in Korea. I think these are from the Saint Nicholas church in Seoul. Orthodoxy in Korea originates from Greece, just as in Japan it originates from Russia. The main difference is the style of music and the icons. The church singing in Korea is the same as in other Greek churches. The faith believed and practiced is the same as in all Orthodox churches throughout the world.

For additional information on the Korean Orthodox Church, visit their site in English or Korean.

How many crosses?

How many crosses will it take
To counter all my sin?
How many crosses on the wall
To make me good enough?
How many crosses, row on row,
To make me a real saint?

Can they be little, or must they be big?
Can they be wooden, or must they be gold?

How many crosses will it take?
A few? A whole house full?
How many crosses? Lord, I know.
You died on only one.

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Galatians 6:14

Poem by Jim Swindle, and bible verse quoted are from the blog Vine and Fig: Poems and Comments for the Lord.

Even as an Orthodox Christian who has a cross or two hung up in my house, and maybe a dozen ikons, I cringe when I see displays of crosses such as those in the image that accompanied this excellent poem.

I think perhaps I have never forgiven myself for not taking the Cross seriously when I was a new Christian, and that's why I removed the cross I used to wear around my neck (and which all Orthodox Christians are supposed to wear).

Even the crosses I have hung at home, one very small one on the front door of my house, for example, are there to remind me how unchristlike I can be in not welcoming everyone as I should. The Cross of Jesus stands between me and my sin, as a testimony against me, but more importantly, as a testimony to His forgiveness.

I want to follow Jesus on the way of the Cross, but my flesh wants to wear the Cross but not bear it, and so, as a witness against myself, I have taken off my cross, to remind myself that I am no different from every man, even the unsaved: I no less than the next guy am a sinner, and lost, without Jesus.

And His Cross is too big for me to wear, but with His grace not too heavy for me to bear, if only I would. He laid down His life for me, and so I hope to always be willing to lay down my life for my brothers.
John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16 go together. And by grace alone, which is alone sufficient, I can do all through Christ who lives in me, by faith (Philippians 4:13, Galatians 2:20).

God is not angry with you

What follows is quoted entirely from Of Dust and Nations, a blog of brother Andrew York, a witness for Jesus Christ, to whom be all glory and honor, who alone works wonders in His saints.

In light of wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, I've heard so much about God's judgment. So many influential voices seem to point to a God of wrath, and the idea that things are going to get worse, but to ‘take heart, because (God) has overcome the world,’ and we just have to hang on. I feel as though my response to these things should be to beg Jesus to appease the wrath of God for this world... then I realize that He's already done this...

His wrath was satisfied in the cross.

What does that mean for us? ...The PERFECT love of Christ casts out fear...and in a fearful world, what have we been given? The ministry of reconciliation... we carry on what Christ came to do - which was bring Heaven to earth and show the world a Father who loves them - so in turn, their fear can be cast out.

We need revelation of the Love of God. I've recently listened to a teaching that impacted me deeply - the pastor in essence said ‘If we don't show the world the love of God, then the world will interpret God through earthquakes.’

Jesus rebuked a storm... So obviously the wind and waves carried within them a demonic spirit that needed to be cast out. If it was from God, then Jesus rebuked His father..???

We're called to make this world look like that world.

HEAVEN... no tears, no chaos, no sickness, no fear, no competition, a complete unveiling of the God who the Bible says IS LOVE. How much of Heaven do we want to see on earth? It's not time to run to a cave and pack with us as much as we can so we can ‘stick it out’ in the end times - we have a responsibility, let's face the storms head on.

Let faith, hope and love arise, and let's apply the solution which God's equipped us with. I feel that we've lost some courage - thinking that we're not holy enough vessels to be priests and kings. But, we've been made holy, and blameless. We need to dust ourselves off and keep going...Repentance then is not fearful, it's freeing. Repentance means to change the way we think. We need to think rightly of Him and ourselves...repentance further lines us up with the truth - and He is patient in this process of sanctification. Are you aligned with faith, hope and love?

I've had an amazing time with the LORD in a short season of drawing away with Him here in Korea. Much of my time has been given to prayer and process. I'm so blessed... it's ridiculous.

I had the opportunity to share in a church in Korea on Easter. I shared on the Father Heart of God, I've never really done that before, but as the Spirit began to minister to the crowd, I realized how important the message of God's love was here. After I spoke for close to an hour, the pastor asked if I would personally meet each of the small groups, and help ‘council’ them. I felt that all I did in each group, after hearing there problems, was tell them ‘God is not disappointed with you. He's not angry with you’ - It was so refreshing to see that this simple revelation brought smiles to many that day.

God is not angry with you...

O God! O God! I thank You, that this message of love has been handed over by Your Son into other willing hands and hearts, and that these secrets which You have handed over to me, who am so small and helpless and alone, are being shouted from housetops, have been taught to Your children, who for love of You, are not afraid to walk in Wisdom, to walk in Light, to go ‘where angels fear to tread’ but where only human feet can go, following Jesus. Glory to You, O God, glory to You!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A childlike religion

It was through this post, originally published at Cost of Discipleship blog on May 4, 2009, that I first met Yudhie Kristanto, my adopted son in Indonesia, who is about to graduate from Universitas Pelita Harapan and will soon be a high school teacher. His major is mathematics, but he is also a talented writer and linguist, translating Orthodox literature into bahasa, the common language of his country.

I want to repost this so when he reads it, he can remember with me how the Lord placed us in each other's path.

Selamat, Nanda, pada wisuda Anda. Saya bangga padamu.
Saya berterima kasih kepada Tuhan karena Anda, setiap hari.
Tuhan memberkatimu, dan memberimu bertahun-tahun.
Aku mencintaimu, putra saya…

It's not often that I get to tell people about Orthodoxy, because we don't promote it: we usually wait to be asked. If someone wants to know about it so bad that they have to ask, then it's worth telling them, I think.

For me, this happens mainly during the Greek Festival on the first weekend of October at Aghía Triás, my church. I have been standing watch in the church for the last probably twenty years—I don't think I've missed a single year—not bragging, I just like to do it. I am a doorkeeper of the Lord's temple, that's my job, 24/7. At festival time, it takes on a literal meaning.

What brought some thoughts to mind was reading an excellent post at Fr Milovan's blog, Again and Again, which I think is very pivotal, both to the significance of his blog's title, and to the Orthodox faith in general.

I won't spoil it this time by copying whole swatches out of his post, Our Father Is Younger Than We, but I want to invite you to read it, by clicking on the linked title. What makes it intriguing starts with the title. The Father he's referring to is not a priest or someone's dad; it is God Himself, our Father. How can our Father be younger than we? Read the post and find out!

I just love what Fr Milovan has to say. This is the Orthodoxy that I adhere to. Everything about it is paradox and irony.

People ask, ‘How can you stand for so long in those services? They're hours long!’ and ‘How do you put up with all that repetition?’ and ‘Why do people seem to be crossing themselves all over the place, and not just once, but three times?’ The list of questions goes on, interminably.

While I'm on duty, the Lord gives me infinite patience in dealing with them all—and their questions, what's more ironic, are just as long and repetitive and spontaneously ceremonial to me as our Orthodoxy seems to them. It's a perfect match!

The mystery of Orthodoxy is not what most people think. It's not arcane and secret doctrines or impossibly complex—‘byzantine’—theological dogmas. It's not the apparent rigidity of ceremonial which, for unsympathetic (or too grown-up) outsiders, seems empty and meaningless. It's not even (what appears to some as) the pomp and fussyness of worship, which combined with the Oriental chanting and the fragrant frankincense smoke filling the sanctuary, creates an almost psychedelic experience—a living, moving three-dimensional hieroglyphic, it's been called.

No, the mystery of Orthodoxy is that, underneath what the eye can see, lies a childlike religion, startling in its simplicity, a following of Jesus in the world, almost incognito.

What the five senses perceive in the encounter with Orthodox Christianity in its traditions, is the luxuriant, redundant joy of the childlike heart exulting ceaselessly and seamlessly in the Presence of God. What some experience as ‘too much’ from an adult point of view, others receive gladly and can't seem to get enough of.

That's one reason, I think, why Orthodoxy isn't for everyone. It takes a child's heart, simple enough to trust that the Father is so totally caring and careful, that it doesn't just believe, it knows that nothing happens without Him knowing, and therefore, all will be well. That's also one reason why we immerse our young in every aspect of the faith, even giving communion to unknowing infants. It is this foundation that every Orthodox can fall back on, rebuilding, if need be, after suffering the damage that the world is sure to inflict.

A childlike religion, lighting candles and standing them up in sandboxes in the church, bringing flowers—even the most humble—and leaving them in front of the ikons as a love gift, taking part in dozens of small ceremonies—not very different in some ways from Judaism, another childlike religion—and always asking questions, and full of wonder at the Presence of God. None of us ever really leaves our childhood behind, but not all of us will admit it. But it is to such as these that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs.

‘Suffer the little children to come unto Me…’ is a much wider invitation than most people realize, and that too is the invitation of true Orthodoxy, wherever it exists.