“…grant me to see my own sins…”

The readings at Mass last night were some of my favorites. They reminded us that God wants us to trust Him. That worrying cannot add a day to our lives. (Matthew 6:26). Our priest spoke about his early days, as a new driver. He was so concerned with staying in his lane, he would focus on the lines, often missing what was around him, and even what was in front of him.

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From this example, I readily laughed at all the times I, too, get so concerned about lines, that I am missing what is around me. Every year, I endeavor to keep all the rules of the Great Fast – during Great Lent. One great quote I love is an exchange between two people. One asked the other, “How do you plan to keep the fast?” And the other replied, “By paying attention to what is on my own plate.” Sometimes I get so concerned over thoughts like, “Am I doing this right?” “Am I fasting enough?” “Did I remember my prayers?” “Are my kids doing it right/enough/with the right attitude?” And somewhere in there, I am forgetting that I need to prepare my heart.

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Matthew 5:21-23

The Book of Matthew exhorts us to leave those Pharisaical ideals and be simpler. How can you fast and do prayers and make prostrations, when you are in a long-standing fight with your brother? Your friend? Your boss at work?

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This Great Lent, which for those of us who practice in the Eastern Catholic/Orthodox Churches, began today with “Clean Monday,” I am trying to pursue different sorts of Lenten practices. I am going to get rid of behaviors that are not good for me, and I am going to foment those that help me. The lines I follow will probably not look like your lines, as in Father’s story last night about driving.

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Up here in Alaska, the lines in the roads are pretty much blurred, at best. We have snow. Then we have ice on top of snow, with some more snow on top of that, just to make driving more interesting. Last night we had some thawing, along with some amazing road plowing, and we could see the roads, and the lines. About 7:00am today, it started with icy-fog and crystals floating around. By 8:00 am, we had falling snow. It wasn’t even swirling; just falling straight down. It has been doing that for the past 4 hours. We have at least another inch or so on top of that morning ice fog. The lines are gone, again. So we make our own lines; our own lanes. And so it goes until Spring Thaw (which is looking more and more like May). You learn to ad-lib and be flexible while driving. And I am taking this analogy about snow driving without lines to my approach to Lent. I will be flexible and learning to adapt to new ways of looking at it; looking to my own plate, so to speak.

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I have had priests and spiritual fathers caution me over the years to try adding something, rather than giving something up. Yes, we should curtail our diets and definitely fully fast on specific days the Church requires, but generally, we should work at adding things to our lives that we normally leave out or ignore. How often do we spend time in silence, perhaps reading a book by one of the Early Church Fathers? How often do we sit in silent prayer, perhaps praying the Rosary or the Jesus Prayer? Have you read through the Psalms and made notes? One Orthodox writer I love suggests keeping a journal of everything we are grateful for. And also one on our readings of the Psalms and other spiritual works each Lent. It helps to journal, to see how we grow. Each year we can give up chocolate or sugar or coffee…we can abstain from foods, but what about behaviors? In the words above, there are ideas of things we can abstain from during Lent.

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But what can we add, to make Lent more meaningful? Have we forgiven those who have wronged us? Have we sought forgiveness from those we have wronged? Do we repent for the evil in our lives and what we have done to add to it? Do we abstain from harmful music or movies or books? How can we develop a culture of true, Christian love for one another when we read “50 Shades of Gray” or go to those types of movies? How does a book like that generate so many sales? And it is just the first in a series. People laud it as a love story. Really? (The book sold 29 million print and 15 million digital copies in 2012. It topped the 2012 best-seller lists in the categories adult fiction and romance). What sort of love are we sharing with others? I’ve often blogged about that hole in our hearts that only God can fill. I believe this example shows us where people lack spirituality in their lives. For those of us who identify as Christians, how are we presenting ourselves to others? Do you know that today, you may be the only “Christ” people see – perhaps ever? Especially during Lent, we need to turn inward and focus on our personal relationship to our Spirituality and our core beliefs, so we can present ourselves to others.

“Ever the lawyer, Tertullian the apologist subscribed to the view that the best defense is a good offense. His treatises To the Gentiles and Apology directly attacked pagan beliefs and practices as superstitious and immoral, and argued that the Christian life as taught in Scripture and practiced in the church was morally superior. He imagined pagans looking at Christians and saying, “Look . . . how they love one another (for they themselves [pagans] hate one another); and how they are ready to die for each other (for they themselves are readier to kill each other).” (Tertullian, as quoted on the website, Christianhistoryinstitute.org)

Can you imagine if people knew we were Christian just by watching us? How we drive? How we shop? How we live in our homes? How we treat others in the workplace? In our families? And all the other interactions we have daily? How can we make Lent a time for us to reconnect to our base in our faith?

This year, for the first time in many years, I am going to participate with the Roman Church and try to attend some Lenten offerings at our local parish. I haven’t see the “Stations of the Cross” or prayed those prayers in decades, literally. I haven’t participated in a lot of things over the past few decades. I dearly, dearly miss our Liturgy of the PreSanctified Gifts. And I dearly miss our prostrations during the Prayer of St. Ephraim. I carry that prayer with me always. Our Eastern practices offer us so many opportunities to reflect and repent. Almost daily services, like Vespers, where we can pray the prayers of the Church with others who are working on their own salvation. Salvation is not an event; it is a process. And one that the Church offers us to work on over and over again. We are blessed with the words of the early Saints and Martyrs; those closer to the time when Christ walked the earth; simpler ages. I love the stories of St. Ephraim, the Syrian. And the writings and prayers he left us are priceless. “Lord and Master of my life…” is just a magical way to address God in prayer.

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I will always pray that prayer. This year, I will revisit some other prayers I have long ago treasured. It is beautiful to know our Church is truly universal and we can gain from all her rites and prayers, songs and chants, and places of worship. This year, I am praying for enlightenment and a different approach to life that will stay with me. And perhaps I will find my own lines in the snow. And perhaps I will look up and see what is right in front of me, keeping my eyes on my own plate and not the plate of others. I think that is a good start, here on Clean Monday.

“I love you every day, not just on Valentine’s Day..”

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So, yeah, it’s Valentine’s Day. I don’t really put a lot of value on some of these “Hallmark Holidays.” Throughout history, we have taken something holy or sacred, and turned it into a twisted and spun holiday that truly has no relation to the original celebration. There are so many things I could think of that ring of consumerism or commercialization. Chocolate covered cherries are something I really dislike. I love marachino cherries in drinks; I even love to chomp on them. But the chocolate covered ones? They are just awful. My husband got me a large box of them when we were first married. Once. LOL  We joke about it now. There are so many varieties of chocolate devoted to this particular holiday, they are even too numerous to mention! Then, there are those darn peeps, now sold on every holiday. They used to just be for Easter, which was bad enough, but now they are all year long! Which makes my husband, a Peeps devotee, very happy!

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The reason for Valentine’s Day goes back to the story of Saint Valentine, who risked his life insisting on performing Christian marriages, which were ILLEGAL at the time, under the Emperor Claudius of Rome. Valentine continued and was arrested. He was beaten and tortured and released. Once again, he returned to performing Christian marriages. He was arrested again. This time they scheduled his death. As he was waiting in prison, he communicated with a young woman he had been counseling (and reportedly cured of blindness. And some stories say she was the daughter of his jailor; other stories that it was the daughter of Claudius himself) and signed a note to her, allegedly with “from your Valentine.” And that is where we get the tradition of Valentine cards and notes from. He was soon beheaded on February 14, 269 for his crime of insisting on Christian marriages, and not renouncing his faith in Christ. The color red is associated with his holiday because the color red in the Church is the color of martyrdom. And a red heart seems appropriate because he was beheaded for celebrating Christian marriage. In a way, it is a fitting holiday to celebrate love. In one story, the girl he cured planted a pink, flowering almond tree outside the Flaminian gate where he was martyred (and the gate’s name was later changed to the Valentine Gate) and it still blooms pink flowers; another reason for flowers to be associated with his feast day. Below is a photo of how the gate looks now. It is now called the Portal del Popopola – the “door of the people.” (I don’t see the tree but apparently it is safe and still blooms…perhaps they moved it. Another one of those pesky traditions we cannot verify).

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I don’t know why we take these wonderful stories of our faith and make them so different. Christmas and Easter are so far removed from reality. The sad part is, these holiday (see that word? Holy-day??) celebrations could enrich our lives and not the pocketbooks of retails giants like Hallmark Cards and Hershey’s Chocolate! And so many people get angry because they say that the Church took a valid pagan holiday and stole the date for their own use. Uhm, well, yeah. In some cases, they did that. Why not? If that became the practice of the people, why keep something outdated on the books? Gee? Does this sound like how people want to remove Christopher Columbus and replace him with Indigenous People Day? What is the difference? Well, it’s who holds the calendar and who holds the strings of the historians (the victors write history, don’t they?? Ha-Ha), and who writes the books.

One of the most exciting things about being a history nut, and college-educated anthropology student, is that I have been able to string things together. It’s like standing outside of the timeline and watching things progress. Ever see one of those timelines in a classroom, along the tops of the walls, wrapping its way around from the formation of the earth to present-day events? That is what studying history is like. Anthropology is the study of peoples as they are associated with timely events…it’s like being able to touch history. And so much of what we know, and who we are, is interwoven with our historical story. And each generation takes this precious history and messes with it, to match our current cultural miasma. We can always strive to find the original, and learn to appreciate where we have come from, and what the origins of what we celebrate, really are. And that’s why I love history and anthropology.

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So my rant for the day is to stop the silliness. Tell those you love that you love them everyday. Don’t wait for the brightly colored and packaged peeps to arrive in the store, or for the retail world with all their decorations entice us into buying things representing the love we have for one another – things we don’t really need. Tell each other you love one another. Show how you love one another by doing kindnesses for each other. Open the door for someone. Let someone ahead of you merge onto the highway. Make the bed. Pour another cup of coffee. Empty the dishwasher. Throw in a load of laundry. Make their favorite meal. Write a love letter. Put little notes into the suitcase of a traveling spouse. Write a note and stick it inside your child’s lunchbox. Make something for the person you love, that comes from your heart. Do something that demonstrates how you feel. You can do it without going into debt or buying more things you do not really need. So celebrate our holidays, with a look back to what they really are, where they came from, and who we really are. Celebrate with full knowledge, and enjoy these special days on our calendars even more!!

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**This is dedicated to my husband of 32 years and the love of my life for 34 years. You are my life and I love you everyday, not just on Valentine’s Day.**

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world…”

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I am sort of all over the place today. My hubby is off on a business trip again. He is gone 2 weeks of every month. Lately he has chosen to take them back-to-back so he has more of a steady time at home. The house felt sort of empty this morning. Getting old is weird. Hormones are all over the place. Squirrel. My hair is gray. I am trying new products to tame the frizzes. I tried the method where you wash just with conditioner. Not pretty. Tried for a week and could not stand it. Discovered my hair needs keratin. Who knew? Conditioning today. We got 18″ of snow the past 3 days. We are using either our wood stove or floor heating and it makes the air so dry. And my hair flies all over the place. Lovely when you add wool scarves and sweaters. Not. See? All over the place.

I just reconnected with a friend from High School. She and I were so close, for so long. I am not sure why we stopped being in touch. Perhaps me getting married and having kids and she was seriously in school and having a career…and we moved away from one another, too. But it is so good to get connected via Facebook, and to relaunch our relationship. I was so excited!! It gave me a spring in my step today.

So I blow dried my hair and it is still so fly-away-ish. Had to re-apply the leave-in conditioner. We will see how this formulation works for me. Gray hair is so picky.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

My hubby and I have been dealing with issues regarding our parish and the practicing of the faith we have come to love (and were so well instructed in, by an amazing priest and many friends – priests and monks among them). And it has caused a little friction. Nothing like damaging to our relationship, but in our 34 years together, our faith journey has always been a joint one. Perhaps friction is not the right term. It’s more like there was a pea in our mattress and we just were not comfortable. We always walked together in faith. Our journey has amused many, and confused even more! And over the past 6 months or so, we have sorted of marched to a different drummer. And that is never good. I was always cautioned to not marry outside of my faith practices because people who are “un-equally yoked” do not work out. And I experienced it once, in a long term relationship. I was even engaged to him. He was Jewish. (Reform, not Orthodox, or it probably would never have happened in the first place). But eventually, especially after having developed such an amazing relationship with his rabbi and knowing I was firmly a Christian woman, his cultural adherence to many Jewish traditions, and me not fitting in well with his family, caused me to call things off. He was a great person and I did not wish him ill. I just realized we could never work. His rabbi and I remained friends, up until his death, often meeting for coffee and chats, long after my relationship had waned. I knew I needed a good, strong, Christian man in my life and was wise enough to call the wedding off. And when I met my husband, he lit up my life. And the more I got to know him, the more I wanted his faith. I wanted that relationship he had with God. I used to watch him pray, and while kneeling next to him, prayed that I could be like that. He has been good for me. I often tell him that he saved me from my worst self. He dragged me into a more pious life and I loved it. Over the past 6 or more months, that has waned. And I admitted to him that I miss it. At this same time, my husband realized our relationship with our faith practices needed to change. We spoke and realized we felt the same way about things. About some pretty important things. Whew. A good talk is sometimes all you need to realign your northern star – in my case, that is my piety and sense of faith permeating everything; my relationship to Christ and His Church.

 

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I have taught my kids that it is better to be that lone person, standing for what is right, rather than going with the majority. I believe that to be so in pretty much everything. You can apply it to your chosen career – be the best you can be at whatever it is you do, even if you are not a part of the crowd. In politics, for me, I rarely follow what the majority is calling for. I am conservative – socially, financially, spiritually, and pro life. Period. It permeates even the voting booth. In my faith, I prefer historically connected, profound, and deeply rooted worship. Throw in beeswax candles and icons, and I am there! I was raised next door to Russians, whose parents immigrated from Russia. They had such an interesting spin on life. From the father of the family, I learned to fence, using rapiers from the Royal Court in Russia. I learned to drink Russian tea made in a Samovar. And I learned about Russian tales and foods, traditions and history. I fell in love with Russia, reading everything I could find on it. The old, the traditional, the historically connected has always grabbed me. As an adult, I found myself learning all about my faith at a secular university, funnily enough. I converted to Catholicism as an adult. Coincidentally, about this time, I met my husband. (When I was dating my Jewish boyfriend, I was Geneva Presbyterian – until I converted to Catholicism at age 27). Over our 32 years of marriage, as we have journeyed through a very “orthodox” Catholic life, we discovered the Eastern Catholic Church. It was then that I truly began to breathe with both lungs. I was hooked. We moved over to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which is culturally Arabic, but Byzantine/Greek in worship style. My husband became a Deacon, after attending the Melkite seminary. We made life-long friends we dearly miss, during this time period. I literally fell in love with Church. I was there 2-4 days every week. I helped with our homeless kitchen and soon found myself transporting donated food weekly in my suburban, dragging my homeschooled kids with me. I loved working in the kitchen with all the Arab ladies. We had so much fun. And they taught me Arabic traditions, histories, foods, clothing styles, and how they raised their kids and the many faith traditions they held precious. When we moved to Alaska, we discovered there was no Melkite Church up here. We have been adapting. Our youngest son found a youth group he loves, at the local Roman Catholic parish. We support him in attending their “young men’s bible studies” and trips, and youth group every week. (He is well-known in the local parish and usually brings up the gifts on Sundays at Mass. He’s quite the popular teenager. We joke that he knows more people in Alaska than any of the rest of us does). We attend there as a family and it has been good. It is not our beloved Eastern tradition, but it is Church.

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We’ve adapted to this culture up here. (It’s cold and white everywhere these days, because we have so much snow!!) We have become sort of bland. Ha-Ha! And I got pulled away from the practice of what I love, into a rather generic sort of Christian expression. Even in these posts, I was more inclusive, even of the photos I would use to illustrate my posts. I have stopped explaining about my faith practices, letting people just assume I am a generic “Christian” woman. Which I am, but I realized that I have been compromising myself. It is not all of who I truly am. I cannot please the public; I cannot continue to “pose” as something I am not. And I was caving into the pressures I had warned my kids about all these years. I was not being true to who I really am. I am an Eastern-rite Catholic woman. I love the smell of incense. I love the Divine Liturgy. I love chant. Not Gregorian, but old world, eastern chant. I love icons. I love being in a church where you can scent the incense from a previous Liturgy, and light the beeswax candles and be transported to a holier place; a place of oneness with God. It eases my soul. And even if I am “all over the place” and a tad bit scatterbrained today, I am also more at ease because I have realized these things about myself. And it comforts me.

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I realize that many of you do not worship this way, nor understand why people would. Our democratic ideals have permeated our styles of worship, and that is okay, if it sits well with you. I have always been a history-oriented person. I majored in Anthropology and minored in Biblical Archeology. History – church – faith. It has alway been a part of who I am. When I walked the parapets of a castle in Wales as a 16-year-old, I felt those walls speak to me. I would run my hands down them, marveling at how ancient they were and how connected to that antiquity I felt. I was walking the lands of my ancestors and I felt truly at home and very welcome, in among all the artifacts and tapestries, old walls and artwork. Walking through Churches and Cathedrals while we visited England, I constantly had a backache because I spent the entire time bent over, looking at all the engravings on the stones. I took so many rubbings. I felt rooted. I could really breathe at some of these places. It is the same for me in the way I choose to worship. I love tradition and the fact that I can historically trace my Church back to the Apostles. We have songs that are so old, there is no written record of them, just references to them by the Church Fathers, talking about how old they were back in the Apostolic days. Those of us who are Melkite like to tease our Roman/Latin Rite friends that we had St. Peter before they did, because he established the Church in the east before he meandered his way to Rome (wink-wink). And so I have decided that I am not going to hide who I am any longer. I am not going to water things down. I am not going to represent an American Jesus for the palpability of my newer friends. (And those in my business world). I believe in Jesus Christ and I do that in communion with them. However, I also believe in the traditions that brought Protestantism its lifeblood. We had the traditions long before they were put into a book – the Bible – the same one we all read, before all those pesky books were removed out of it. And we were an oral people – sharing our faith and our traditions with others through the practices passed on to us from the Apostles themselves. This is not a haughty or conceited viewpoint, nor is it meant to put people off. But it is the Church I choose to worship in; it is the tradition which gives my lungs breath. It is part of who I am.

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[By the way, my hair feels amazing right now. The blow drying has cooled and it feels like silk. Still gray, but not so much frizziness. Maybe this stuff is working!?!?! Keratin – who knew??]

And so my friends, from here on out, I will be sharing honestly about who I am. I will share through an Eastern lens, through the faith I practice. I am ecumenical because I believe we all hold the same God in our hearts, but I won’t apologize or hide that I prefer icons and a Jesus prayer, Divine Liturgy and incense, the iconostasis and beeswax candles, confession in front of an Icon of Christ the Pantocrator, and cantors with no musical accompaniment, to pretty much all the rest of it. It just fits me and I will no longer apologize nor hide it from you. It is part of what makes me, me. And it is part of who I am when I communicate with all of you, on this blog. I hope you will continue to read, if you do. I am still who I am! It’s just me going back to the me I was a few years ago.

May the Lord grant you many blessed years.

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“They began to go away, one by one…”

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Many years ago, my then-teen-aged son admonished me for making snap judgements about a girl he was seeing. I did not think she dressed very well. She looked, to me, to be “easy,” to put it in words from my generation. And I have never forgotten that conversation. He will be 31 next month, he’s been married for 10 years this week, has a wonderful wife and two kids. And that admonition came to the forefront recently. Judging a book by its cover!

“But Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with His finger. When they continued to question Him, He straightened up and said to them, ‘Whoever is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her.’” John 8:7

I have always loved that passage. Christ taught us in that moment that we are not all how we seem. If we take a moment to explore that passage, I think it is interesting to note that the Pharisees were trying to trip up Jesus, and he caught them at their own game, reflecting their accusations back on them!

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There is a saying that goes, “Remember that when you point at someone with one finger, three more are pointing back at you.” And lately, more than ever, I have noticed judging. From me, yes, and towards me, yes.

“When they continued to question Him, He straightened up and said to them, “Whoever is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her.” And again He bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard this, they began to go away one by one, beginning with the older ones, until only Jesus was left, with the woman standing there.…” (John 8:8-10)

I find it interesting that when the “pebble meets the pavement” there is not much left. When people yell and shout, most often they are the ones with dirty hands. When I criticized the young woman my son was seeing, I now realize I was seeing me in her. When I was young, having parents from England and New Zealand made my teen years interesting. “Dungarees are for farm workers. You will not wear those kind of pants.” They were talking about jeans. Took me until my junior year to be allowed to wear them. I recall days of pants worn so low, I had to be careful my backside did not hang out (hip huggers! LOL!) and how my parents would not allow me to wear that style of pant with crop tops. At the time I thought they were being stuffy Brits, not used to American culture. But they were concerned for the image I was putting out there. And I just did not get it.

Image. Perceptions. All this relates for me, to the issue of tattoos. As I said in a previous post, I was considering getting one for my 60th birthday present to myself. And I got one! I will show you a photo later in this post. It did not hurt. It is healing nicely and looks amazing. But not everyone is pleased by my choice. I had someone tell me that I have “defiled the temple of the Lord.” This person was so upset, they could not continue our chat, getting off the phone with “I love you” and such, but still quite upset. Another person close to me said, “Welcome to the world of the stigma of having a tattoo.” And that really got me thinking. And since I now have one, I see tattoos everywhere. And I am noticing the stigma.

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Tattoos were what “merchant marines,” sailors, and military had. It was what bikers and prisoners had. Good girls did not have tattoos. They were a sign of loose morals in all areas of your life. Pierced ears! Wow! Those were only allowed after I was a teenager. And only one piercing per ear, and no dangling earrings. Those were what strippers and dancers wore. Coloring your hair? Well, we could use lemon juice or “Sun In” on our hair, but no dying your hair. Only old ladies dyed their hair, and it usually turned purple. And if you did dye your hair, no one was supposed to know it. And you never had roots (they call it “ombre” now!) because that meant you were not keeping up on your personal hygeine! Tacky!

Smoking is pretty much a social taboo these days. I used to smoke, as did my husband. When we were in high school, there were designated smoking areas! In high school! My husband took up smoking while he was active duty Navy because smokers got breaks! He had to stand in a painted circle by a trash can, but he got a break! I started smoking when I was around 21 or so.  As I melded into the workforce in the late 70s, I smoked because I was so stressed (accounting) and everyone in my office smoked. Later on, after I was married and our oldest kids were still not quite teens, I was smoking a cigarette one time outside our home and a neighbor’s daughter came up to me and said, “You smoke? But you go to Church!” That really made me stop and think about the image I was projecting. I haven’t had a cigarette in almost 20 years, partially because of her comment, which reflected her view of me. “Out of the mouths of babes,” as they say!

We look at styles, fashion, social trends and we see all sorts of things that were not permissible when we were younger, but seem okay now, and visa versa. I am not trying to justify my choices, at all, I am just noticing things because I am now forced to, because of those choices. For example, smoking is certainly one of those things we used to think was okay. Science finally caught up to our habits! Hairstyles…we go around and around with our son. In my youth, hair was long. Sometimes too long. Now it’s all over the map. But how we present ourselves still matters. And it is sad, because we are not often who people see when they look at us. Perceptions are so fascinating and I am as guilty as the next person of prejudging others based on the image they present to me, or their attitude in my presence. I still struggle with weird or too numerous piercings, but that is on me. And now I am seeing this stigma happen towards me. And it is for many reasons, not just my tattoo. Being a part of the aging population (so many people think my youngest son is my grandson because I do not cover my gray hair!!!!). Being overweight. My license plate that announces I am a grandma, and the looks while driving down the road. Preconceived notions are everywhere.

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And I get it about tattoos, I really do. “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD.” This is from Leviticus 19:28.  And it is the quote many Christians will whip out when confronting someone who has tattoos, or recently got one. The chapter quoted was in regards to the process for preparing the dead, “cuts in your body for the dead,” and reflected the pagan rituals around marking one’s skin to show to whom you had an allegiance. People would cut and tattoo themselves at the death of a loved one. Slaves were marked for their masters. They would also tattoo images that would be considered pagan, and the passage is warning those of Israel to not participate any longer in these pagan rituals. The same passage also forbids shaving your beard and other practices that are now commonplace. There are literally dozens of articles discussing this passage on the internet. An apologist, Jimmy Akins, writes, “There is no reason why one cannot color one’s skin, which is what tattooing amounts to. One can apply color to one’s skin by make-up (as is common among women), magic markers (as is common among children), press-on tattoos (as are common in Crackerjack boxes), or with real tattoos. The mere fact that the ink goes into the skin in the latter case does not create a fundamental moral difference.”

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And so what are we to do? Keep on judging one another? Selectively eliminating those we feel do not reflect well upon us from our circles of friends and family? As in pointing our fingers at others, while not seeing the three fingers pointing back at ourselves?  Remember that when the Pharisees were convicting the woman of adultery, that when Christ admonished them with, “Whoever is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her” that they all slowly walked away because they all had sins? We all have sins. Some of our sins are visible for all to see and comment on. Gluttony is visible on my body. My sin that I carry around in my grandma jeans and big shirts. And now I am adding a tattoo to that! Ha-Ha! I must be a glutton for punishment. Many Christian theologians caution against permanently marking your body because of the witness to others. It taints their opinion of you and perhaps you are not being the best witness of the faith. Which is interesting, because it is a reflection of our upbringing and prejudices that we have been taught. Trust me, when my oldest son accidentally showed me his first tattoo, I was not happy with it. It was a crown of thorns, and an ugly one. To which he said to me that the crown of thorns was indeed, ugly, because the Crucifixion was ugly. But, it reminded him of his faith, and he liked it. And now, my perceived witness to others is something I am grappling with, every day, now that I have gone ahead and permanently marked my body. I have to keep reiterating that it is permanent, because so many of those who know me are in such shock over this, and keep thinking I am pranking them. I am not pranking anyone. It is real. And here it is…

jerusalem-tattoo

When I went to get the tattoo, the tattoo artist had a long and wonderful conversation with both my husband and myself. Don, the tattoo artist, said that people will negatively comment, and some I have known a long time will not understand and be upset with me. He has experienced it for years (he had more tattoos on his body than I had ever seen on a person, in person. Seriously). And when I showed him the photo of my desired tattoo, he delightfully commented, “Oh, it’s a Jerusalem Cross! On my many pilgrimages to Israel, I saw a lot of them.” You could have knocked me over with a feather. Then he said, “Now I’m not a religious guy, but I’ve been to the Holy Land more than once, and if anyone gives you grief, use it as an opportunity to teach. Share with them the meaning of the cross. And quote them Revelations 19:16 – “He has a name written on his cloak and on his thighs, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” If it’s good enough for Jesus Christ when He comes again, I figure a tattoo is okay for me and you, too!”

rev-19-16-2

I feel good about my tattoo, because it is part of my journey to my faith. Not everyone understands why I would choose to do this at my age, but that is okay. I am a good person. I believe in the Lord, and I try valiantly not to lead a life of sinfulness. Occasionally I will fall. That is the beauty of our faith – it allows us to get back up again and work at becoming better than we were yesterday, more committed to living a life pleasing to the Lord. Each time I put my organic coconut oil and Young Living’s Melrose Essential Oil on my tattoo, I reflect on it. I see the central cross, symbolic of Christ. I see the four crosses in each corner, symbolizing the four Gospels. There are other interpretations, but I love that one the most. And it reminds me that this cross was created when the Church, when our entire Christian faith and very way of life was under attack. It is one of my favorite times in history to read about. The Medieval era was one of growth in learning and architecture, and exploration and discovery, of gallantry and knighthood, damsels in distress, and one of so many saints. Don’t get me wrong, I realize horrors were perpetrated on the innocent, on both sides. But I also see it as a time when the world was galvanized to stay strong in the faith and defend it, to the death. They defended it at home and on foreign soil, against incursions by those who would deny Christ and opt to wipe out His memory and those who would not forsake Christ. They were not looking for converts, but rather were focusing on conquering the western world. And I feel it is still a battle we all need to wage, one person at a time, one family at a time, and one neighborhood at a time, until we take this land, and our faith, back. And so I witness that on my wrist. And I will share all of that when asked why I did this, and why that particular Cross. It’s not for everyone. Not everyone will understand. But between me and the Lord, I am feeling excited, almost giddy, about my new tattoo.

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“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass…”

Symbolism is so much a part of what we do and how we live. We I am scrambling to be sure we have our “spirit wear” all ready for the homecoming game tomorrow. It’s important to show team spirit by wearing our school colors! We clang cow bells painted the right colors and are sure to sit in the booster section, where we can yell without embarrassing our other children! Ha-ha! But we cannot wear colors that are from our opposing team, because that doesn’t show support to our players and cheerleaders. We have to have all the right symbols.

Football

I was recently in a discussion about wearing our wedding rings on the right or left hand. In the west, people wear them on their left hands. People in Eastern European cultures (and Russian Orthodox and other Orthodox Churches) all wear them on the right hand. But in America, it confuses the average person if you wear your wedding set on the right hand with people thinking you are divorced or widowed. The symbol isn’t right; it does not fit into their notion of how things should be. It can unsettle people, seeing the wrong image in the wrong place.

There are logos and symbols all around us. If you give most people quizzes on company logo recognition, they can name many corporations just by seeing their logos. That means their marketing team has been doing their jobs and doing them well!

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There are some images that people enjoy and some that make people uncomfortable. Some images can evoke such strong emotions. If you see something that reminds you of your childhood, it can bring back happy memories, or bring you to tears. Other images are quickly forgotten and we don’t give them another thought.

crucifix-2-flash

When many Christians see a crucifix, the image of Christ hanging the cross, they get very uncomfortable. I have had people say that it is like looking at photos of a murder scene over and over again. I can see that. I can feel that sort of emotion. For most Catholics, the crucifix reminds them of the mercy of God and of His great sacrifice for us. It evokes feelings of safety and comfort. There is a prayer called the Anima Christi that is often prayed while gazing at a crucifix:

Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Permit me not to be separated from Thee
From the malignant enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That with thy Saints I may praise Thee
Forever and ever
Amen

It makes looking at that particular symbol not as gruesome as some would think. There are other symbols and ways of representing the Cross of Christ. And I have been pondering these symbols recently. It is easy to have a symbol mean something to you, but when others look upon it, they see something very differently. There are all kinds of crosses out there, and each means something to the culture they are associated with. For many of us in western society, these crosses confuse us, because they are not what we are used to seeing, when we associate them with our faith. This is a wall hanging I have in my home:

images. wall crosses.

I like it because it shows all different ways of looking at crosses. It’s made of metal and 3D. It has engendered many conversations. And some Christians do not have any crosses in their homes, nor do they display paintings or statues. Very few have icons. We are probably the odd-man-out but we have all of it. We have statues, paintings, crosses from all over the world, and icons. We have lots of icons. We have very little secular art, actually.

I have been pondering symbols in other ways, as well. Permanence is something that is not common in the corporate world, although many older companies are very recognized just by their logos!

apple microsoft  pepsi flag2

Each of these logos is very familiar and we all have an opinion about each of them. One of them is not a logo per se, but a symbol. There is a difference. A symbol is a representation, a pictogram, whereas a logo is a trademarked corporate identity that may contain a symbol. Like Apple’s logo with it’s iconic symbol of an apple with a bite out of it, and symbol of our homeland, the American flag.

The cross, of course, cuts through all the corporate hype and is not owned by one corporation or church. It is a universal symbol. For many it evokes comfort and peace, and for others it is a sign of divisiveness. For me, it symbolizes a part of who I am and what I believe. And my faith does not waiver, it does not fade, it does not change. I am a Christian woman. Where I choose to worship, the style of how I worship, may change. Those are externals. But my belief does not change or waiver. So the symbol of my faith, the cross, does not waiver. Which is why I am considering getting a tattoo of a cross for myself, for my birthday. It’s not really for anyone else. It is something that would remind me, each time I look at it, what I believe. But which representation, for me, do I choose? It’s had me up nights, because inking is permanent. Which is why it has also taken me this long to even consider it. And I have pondered this whole issue of logos and symbols, recognition and the emotions they evoke. And I am thinking and praying, and searching my heart. Who knows? Maybe it will be a new purse. I’ll let you know.

Tattoo

 

“…do it alone, person-to-person.”

Saint_Innocent_Orthodox_Cathedral_Anchorage_Alaska

This is Saint Innocent’s, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Anchorage. There have been some amazing stories about the influences here in Alaska from the Russian Orthodox Church. There are gorgeous onion domes all over this state. We just celebrated the wonderful, “Seward’s Folly” anniversary in March. The United States paid Russia $7.2 million in 1868.

Holy Assumption_Kenai_Church

The oldest Orthodox Church is Holy Assumption in Kenai, pictured above. It was built in 1840. I love that! And it is still in use today. We have so much to thank the Russian Missionaries for, here in Alaska. The combined Orthodox and Native cultures are such a blessing here. I love learning new things and have thought of learning a native language…just not sure which one I would choose, as there are over 20 of them to learn!

Alaskan Native Map

Our Alaskan heritage is rich, in both culture, foods, and also in faith. There are so many differing faiths in such a relatively un-populated state. There are more than 36 denominations of Christian churches in Alaska, which include the Orthodox. But there is no list that contains other faiths, such as Jewish or Muslim. The variation is amazing, considering this state only has about 600,000 year-round residents in 663,300 square miles. The population density, if it were to be placed in Manhattan, would have 14 people living there. Ha-Ha! Conversely, if Alaska had the same population density of Manhattan, then there would be 40,843,544,807 people in Alaska. Or approximately 5.8 times the current population of the entire world. It is fascinating to me that a state as large as Alaska, with as few people as we have, expresses itself so diversely. We have the top three most diverse high schools in the entire NATION. It is really interesting.

StAndrewsEagleRiver

Why bring this up? Well, we have started attending (fairly regularly) a parish, pictured above, very close to home. And yesterday, as I looked around the Church, I noticed this diversity. It was not only in race, but in gender and age, too. There were several families with handicapped children of various ages. There was this one couple where the husband struggled with his wife’s wheelchair, commenting to us, “Thank goodness the way back to the car is downhill!” One of the men helping to organize the upcoming Mass asked our son to assist in bringing up the gifts (something he’s been asked to do more than once before). And as they walked in with the gifts, I noted the diversity of those walking up. Two boys, two girls. One hispanic, one black, one white, one native. How cool was that?

And so we worship as a family…all of us gathered under that roof. We knelt as one body, in worship of Our Lord. The Russian Missionaries came to this land, not able to communicate with the native peoples living here, and yet they brought many to the Church. Our local parish offers us anonymity and yet allows us to share and be a part of something larger than ourselves. We come together, sharing a common faith, sharing at a common table. We come so very damaged, in search of the Divine Physician. Our souls ache with all the disparity and violence in this life, seeking a commonality with like-minded believers. We struggle, each of us, with our personal salvation. Each of us, when it comes right down to that last breath, have a personal salvation we need to work out. Each of us approaches our Lord a little differently, and He is there for each of us, in our differences and in our likenesses. But He encourages us to seek one another, to share in our life of faith. He encourages community, because “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” (John Donne).

Racial hands prayer

When we chose to adopt outside of our race, we knew many on both sides of the issue would have problems with it. Most who did, had the problems because they were (1) unfamiliar with interracial adoption, or (2) had never interacted with someone of another race on such an intimate level before, or (3) were afraid it would not last and the child would be rejected because of the interracial communion within a family, or even (4) could not imagine one race wanting a child of a different race. Of course, for us, it was all unfounded. I love the son of my heart like I love my sons of my flesh. I forget he is of another race, because he is just my son. He shared that all this “Black Lives Matter” thing is messing with his mojo. He said people are afraid to talk to him, thinking he’ll get upset or something. And he says it is hurting the mixing of races, which is something he has never had a problem with until recently. He also told me, “Mom, we really are not different races. We are just the human race. The rest is just dressing.” We talked about how under the skin, we all look the same. All our parts are in the same place; surgeons don’t learn different procedures for different races. So why is there still so much separation? Anger? Hatred? Distrust?

Mother Theresa

It’s funny that the organizations that purport to want racial equality are the very ones who are inciting unrest and violence. They are not fomenting peace when it is so desperately needed. They are not protecting the “least of these,” but rather further the disintegration of the society they are supposedly trying to save. When the Russian missionaries came to Alaska, they did not wait for someone to tell them what to do. They saw a need and they fulfilled it. Mother Theresa was like that. She did not wait for the government to act. She took children off the streets and cared for them. She took people no one else would touch, and washed their wounds and fed them, giving them her undivided love and attention. She did not care who they were, what their creed was, or where they came from. She cared for everyone equally. The communities that are the most downtrodden have the most violence. There is the most unrest where there is the least work. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” was a saying derived from Scripture: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop; idle lips are his mouthpiece. An evil man sows strife; gossip separates the best of friends.  Wickedness loves company—and leads others into sin.” Proverbs 16:27-29. Perhaps we need to encourage all that brain power that goes into organizing protests, into organizing their communities. Perhaps organizing clean ups or job fairs or child care options. Helping each other out of the conditions they are in, and making them better. Mother Theresa established her missions in the poorest areas of the world, and started by just picking up a broom.

Broom

We all need to stop pointing fingers, as I sort of was above, and put our shoulders to the wheel, as they say, and doggedly pursue peace and love throughout our communities. We cannot wait for leadership to show the way. We need to reach out, quite literally, to the people who live next door. I ashamedly met my next door neighbors this weekend. We have lived next to them for over three years, but quite honestly never see them. They had a garage sale and we went over, introduced ourselves, and purchased a couple of goodies from them. What a shame we wasted all this time, because we enjoyed them so much. It’s wasted because they are putting their house up for sale, and will soon thereafter move away. What could we have had, these past three years, had we met them sooner? We had an amazing soup kitchen, homeless program at our old parish. We were told it could not be done. So many in our own church told us it could not be done. It has been going on every week for over 10 years now, reaching out to the people who live around that little mission church, feeding them, bringing them in from the rain, counseling them, and being a presence in that very poor neighborhood.  It has to happen, one person at a time, one prayer at a time, one choice at a time. We cannot wait for directions on how to do this, we all just need to reach out…one soul at a time. Person-to-person.

one person at a time

“…can go with a stream…”

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.                 Martin Luther King.

This is just such an ugly day in America. There have been so many ugly days. And it seems to be escalating. It makes my heart just sick.

Our family has had an interesting history in America. My parents immigrated here in the 1950s. They were met with extreme prejudice by shopkeepers and others they had to interact with. They put their money in Bank of America because they thought that was the bank for all Americans. They tried to buy their goods at local shops. They collected “Green Stamps” and joined local civic organizations, trying to assimilate. They even attended American churches, so they could learn how “they did it.” My mom watched soap operas, trying to learn American culture. They were repeatedly turned away from retail establishments like the butcher shop, because they could not be understood. My mom was told to come back when she could speak “English.”  The funny part? My parents are from New Zealand.

My in-laws are from Russia. They are called “Germans from Russia” because they are Germans who were brought to Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great, who was German, and wanted to bring Russia into the more modern age. She brought skilled workers to Russia, to share their expertise with her new country. My husband springs from these “Volga River Russians.” When they came to America, to escape communism, they settled in the farmlands of Kansas and Colorado. It resembled their homeland. They developed communities and built churches, but they were not allowed into the “white” areas of these towns. They could only attend schools and churches they built themselves. They were not particularly welcome. During WWII when German distrust was at its highest in the USA, our last name was definitely a hinderance to them. My father-in-law had stories of his youth that made me just shake my head. He was going through all of that in the heartland of the USA at the same time my parents were trying to assimilate on the west coast. Just a bit prior to my lifetime.

I have friends who were “Creole” and escaped the South because they were not welcome in either community – black or white. They relocated to the melting pot of Southern California, where there is pretty much representation from every country on earth. They were strong Catholics and became well-known in local Catholic circles. They brought their deep faith, nurtured in the Deep South, to Southern California. Their mom told me they escaped the South because she could not sit on the same bus or eat at the same restaurants that she could in SoCal. She said it was easier to “pass” in California, but that in the South she had a rough time of it. She said in SoCal she could just be a woman…not hyphenated by black or white. This was very much in my lifetime. *Shaking head* *Sad face*

blackwhitehands

Fast forward 18 years ago and we adopted a child outside our race. Last night, as news of Dallas was shared around the dinner table, I laughed as my very pale grand daughter cuddled with her favorite uncle, many shades darker. I asked her if she loved her uncle and she squeezed his neck and covered him with kisses, saying over and over, “My uncle, my uncle…will you jump on the trampoline with me?” Pure bliss and love and no thought to color.

As a mixed race family, my joke has always been, “I can never have a bad hair day, because people always notice us.” And it is true. I have been hassled by both communities. But truthfully, prejudice is a learned behavior. It is introduced to children. As Webster defines it (it can be both a noun and a verb):

prej·u·dice
ˈprejədəs
noun

preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.

verb

give rise to prejudice in (someone); make biased.

My parents raised me in a very mixed race area. I attended inner-city schools wherein I was in the minority. We lived through the Watts riots, up close and personal. My best friend was black and I often stayed with her family, attending Church with them where I was the sole white person for miles around. I was set upon and beat up in the 8th grade because I liked a Mexican boy (oh, the memories of Armando!!) that a black girl also liked. She set her “gang” on me when I had my legs in casts (my knees were a problem as a girl). My little 4’11” mom saw a pile of girls with chunks of hair flying and dove in, not knowing I was on the bottom! Mom to the rescue. Later, my younger brother was attacked by her younger brother. We decided to sell and move out. We relocated to a very white area, with a few Mexicans thrown in, and I was in culture shock. Seriously. I missed my multi-cultural life and my friends who were black. Several made the trek out to see me, taking busses to get there. But it was too hard to maintain a friendship being so far and having no means to get to each other.

God gave me this opportunity, I believe, so that I do not see color. When I look at my youngest son, I just see my son. When we were in the adoption process, the social worker asked us if we were prepared to raise a good black man. My husband’s response was, “No; I am prepared to raise a good man.” We have never differentiated between our children. And my son never realized he was different until a kid in 4th grade said to him, “Dude, your dad is white. I saw your mom. Dude, you are adopted.” My son’s response, “What’s adopted mean?” He had no idea he was different. He always said he was chocolate and we are peach. He said that when he gets a cut, he has skin like me…peach. And when I get a cut, I get scabs that are brown like him. He also commented that our feet and hands match. He’s hanging out right now with his best friend, who is strawberry blonde, blue-eyed, and freckled. They don’t see color first, either.

love your enemies

The only way we are going to free our country from becoming something none of us recognize, is to love everyone. And trust me, I know it is hard. I find it difficult to love everyone. I have practiced selective elimination of people from my life who are toxic. I get that not everyone can be tolerated. And I don’t espouse blind love, either. We need to keep our eyes open, yes. But we also need to not judge people, prejudicially. How can you hate someone who is different, just because they are different?

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”…Genesis 1:27

God created every creature that roams the earth. Everything. Everyone. No, I do not agree with some creeds and beliefs. I do not. But I believe that God will reach each person in the best way they can be reached. I do not believe that because they have not been “saved” nor ever heard the “Word of God,” that they will be eternally damned. That’s the anthropologist in me! But it is also the Mercy of God. I cannot be friends with everyone. Some people just rub me wrong. And I am sure I rub others the wrong way, too. God did not intend for this world to be perfect; that is for the perfection of Heaven, in an eternity of Grace with God. But on this world and in this life, we are called to love others, even those who persecute us. We are called to allow others to make their choices in how they believe, where they live, how they act, what they eat, what they wear, who they marry, what career they choose, etc. Which is pretty much what freedom is all about and why so many come here. So many come here to have a better life, or to escape persecution. Some were brought here, generations upon generations ago, against their will and have lived here for 100s of years, assimilating as best they can, into our American melting pot.

jesus prayer 2

The only way we can affect true change in America is to change ourselves. We cannot expect our government to change for us. We cannot expect our neighbor to change for us. The change has to start in my heart and my soul, in my relationship to God and those around me. It would create a ripple, reaching all the corners of our world. We cannot always go out and fix the world at large, when our backyard is a mess. I really hate it when people criticize how people keep their house, when they are secret hoarders or something. My opinion is that we have to stop criticizing our neighbor and get out a mirror and affect change in ourselves. I am a poor sinner. A poor sinner. And I fall to my knees every, single, day! The choice I make is to seek my Maker, and get back up again. Each and every Christian needs to examine themselves and then reach out, refreshed in the Spirit of God, to their neighbor, one heart at a time. And we have to stop being dead in the political world, the marketplace, the schools, the neighborhoods. Enough is enough.

logjams

“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” – G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 1925