I have not come to bring peace…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how God challenges us. Well, challenges me. I tend to be a little bit of a stickler about certain things. I guess what it boils down to is that I like rules. I prefer being in a box, rather than free ranging it. For years, I always felt my children operated best when they knew the limitations of what they can and cannot do. Borders. Edges. Limitations. Expectations. I realize that as a person, I am not the one to stand at the podium and give the speeches. I am not the one to be in charge. I am basically a background person. I can make you look great. I can help anyone, by working “back stage,” as they say. I do not need to be the leader. Although because of my personality, it is often thrust upon me, it is not where I am best, nor is it where the best in me is played out for others.

And I believe it is this tendency within myself that led me to love organized religion. I am a historian at heart and an anthropologist by training. I love getting to the roots of things. One of those things is that I love knowing that I belong to a religion that has come down to us, unchanged, from the Apostles themselves. There are no surprises, nor am I expected to be in charge. And I have loved learning about how our faith came to be, how it works, and has worked, for thousands of years. And I don’t need to change, edit, or alter a thing. God gave us His Church through His Son, and His Apostles. Done. Each time someone disagrees with how the Church does something, they leave. When someone gets angry at a priest or deacon, they leave. Many are upset at the caliber of the men in the Church. What they forget is that they are just that – they are men. No one claims to be a Saint or Christ Himself. There has only been one “Perfect Man” and He died for each one of us, on a Cross, over two thousand years ago. We all strive to be good, but no one is perfect, except for Christ Jesus.

ChristPantocrator

This past week, with the increased violence and the shootings in San Bernardino, California, the realization that people are not perfect came to a dramatic head. This shooting touched me personally, in many ways, and through many relationships, past and present. My heart hurt. My spirit was heavy. And I was soooooo angry. And I immediately jumped on the anger train and was unsympathetic to anyone who did not share my anger and my hurt for those who were killed, and their families.

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.…” Matthew 5:44-45

Boy, is that a rough lesson to learn. And it cuts deep and close to what we consider our faith. I have experienced, in the past, being excluded. When my children were very young, I attended a weekly bible study. It was called non-denominational and everyone attended different churches. There was a local school that many of the teachers of the bible study, and many of the attendees, sent their children. It seemed like a great school. I applied for a position for our eldest son to attend Kindergarten there. I received a very awkward phone call from the principal who told me that although we were all Christians, our practices differed substantially and it would be a falsehood to deny our differences. He also said that as of that time, they did not accept students who were not their particular type of Christian and our family worshipped too differently for us to be accepted at the school. About the same time, our bible study spoke about Mary and I found myself standing up to defend Mary. Standing and speaking was to defy the rules of the bible study, which stated you did not interrupt nor give opinion during presentations, only during private classroom time. I could not stop myself. They were promoting heretical notions. I could not let it stand. I found myself unwelcome and I was forced to discontinue my membership in this women’s group, and pull my children from their program. It was disheartening and I was so very sad. I lost friends over it. Faith can be so divisive. (Politics, too).

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10: 34-39).

evangelical-divide

We are becoming a nation, a world, of factions. It is historically significant that Christians (aka the Catholic Church) have been pitted against Muslims for centuries. The times that are the most famous are those surrounding the Crusades, when the Pope sent armies to defeat the Muslim invaders; to stop them from coming into Europe and decimating the Christian populations. The Muslims acknowledge Mary as the Mother of Christ (and are actually more accepting of her than most Protestant denominations) and believe Christ was a preacher sent by God. They do not, however, believe He is the Son of God. They believe Mohammed is equal to Christ, even slightly more important than Christ. We agree with Muslims that there is but one God, and there is no other God before Him (they refer to Him as Allah).

I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:5-7).

But apart from that, our essential belief system is extraordinarily different. Our value systems were formed through adherence to our belief system, and those differ vastly in some very basic precepts. In our Christian world, the Lord Jesus Christ calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And I agree with that; I struggle with it on an almost daily basis. He also called us to arm ourselves:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:10-18).

ephesians6_11

 

And yet, how do I reconcile my feelings of being apart and separate from other believers, because of the differences in how we worship? Not to mention the theology of the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Mother? There are many aspects to highlight how we are different, but how does that help the cause of ecumenism in our world? How do we battle what we have been fighting for generations, if our faith is not united? Yes, as Americans we feel united against terrorism on our lands, much as our recent family members felt during World War II. We feel united. Much of the Judeo-Christian world feels united against a common foe. In some ways we truly are. We value human life, for the most part, differently than those from the Muslim world. Females are not valued at all. Abortion, rape, genocide…those are all common in the Muslim world. But how can we, as Christian Americans, judge our Muslim brothers when we kill babies in the womb? When we fight one another over religious differences, here at home? No, the Muslims do to want to convert me; they want to erase me from existence. I truly understand that, and I struggle with those realities in light of the Gospels. I recall that as an aware child I knew that our country was horrified that President John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, had been elected President. He simply could not be a good president because many felt his loyalties would be divided – “What if the Pope tells him to do something?” That statement, alone, explains how little our Protestant brothers understand about Catholicism. There are more Catholics who serve in governmental positions, but how many of them live by the tenets of their faith and are good examples of Catholic Christians? (As in not supporting funding abortion or supporting anyone or any legislation that is not pro life). Misperceptions still persist, even today; many Christians are Christian in name only; many because it’s sort of cool at the moment to declare your love of God, even if you don’t treat others “as yourself.” My country is not as united as we like to think we are. When we face a common enemy, we stand together. But when that enemy recedes, how do we love one another?

I started this post about living in a box, within rules and limitations. I spoke to how my faith reflects my love of order, and even rules and responsibilities, and behaviors. I believe we should all be free, free to choose which Church we want to worship in. I do not believe law should reflect any one religion, which is the basis for our Constitution. Sharia Law does not belong on American soil. But I am still saddened by the vehemence with which people who are “Christian” treat one another. Yes, I am determined to gird myself with the “belt of truth.” Oh yes, I believe in eternal truths. I also believe God, through His Apostles, spoke that truth throughout the world, establishing His Church around the world. Men have taken that Church and torn it into pieces; into “denominations.”

Denominations. A denomination is defined in this Encyclopedia as an organized aggregate of worship centers or congregations of similar ecclesiastical tradition within a specific country; i.e. as an organized Christian church or tradition or religious group or community of believers, within a specific country, whose component congregations and members are called by the same denominational name in different areas, regarding themselves as one autonomous Christian church distinct from other denominations, churches and traditions. As defined here, world Christianity consists of 6 major ecclesiastico-cultural blocs, divided into 300 major ecclesiastical traditions, composed of over 33,000 distinct denominations in 238 countries, these denominations themselves being composed of over 3,400,000 worship centers, churches or congregations.” (World Christian Encyclopedia, 2001).

A denomination refers to an actual name, or the naming, of something. That means that there are over 33,000 “names” for Christianity and Christian in this world. The Church that Christ established with just 12 Apostles, their families, and the early community established after Pentecost, grew to be over 3,400,000 “worship centers” throughout the world. Worship centers that are not united around one faith, one Church, but are made up of communities by someone who disagreed with the tenets of the established Church, and started their own “brand” of Christianity. It’s sort of like those of us who opt to homeschool and not participate in a national indoctrination program, called public education. We start our own little community, at home around the kitchen table, and call it “Bob’s School.” Well, in that same vein, there are all sorts of “Bob’s Church”(es) around this world. How do we fight the one or two Muslim denominations who are determined to wipe us off the face of the earth? How do we unite, truly unite, down to our most basic units (the family) when people continue to disagree about fundamentals of our faith?

Mother Theresa.Peace
The only thing I can come up with right at this moment is to just LOVE. Overshadow all we do with LOVE. The Love of God for our fellow man. Our priest gave an excellent homily last week about loving others. He said that we open our arms, tell God that we love Him, embracing everything that is Him. We truly do. Then God asks us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31). But that’s where it all falls apart. That guy over there? You want me to love that guy? Oh, I can’t do that. We don’t get along. I can’t love someone I don’t get along with. Or we say  – I can love my husband(wife) and my kids, but my sister? My brother? My parents? We had a disagreement years ago; they hurt my feelings. I can’t love them; I don’t even like them. If that is the case, how can we truly love God? How can we expect to get along with everyone if we do not start right at home, with our own families? If we cannot love our co-workers, those who even attend our same Church but with whom we had a disagreement? How can we conquer something like the Muslim faith with LOVE of God if we cannot love those most known to us? How can we, as a country, continue to survive as a nation, without love of our neighbor?

I am sick over all this violence. I will not lower my awareness and just blithely give into it.  But I am so tired of the energy it takes to hate someone or be angry with them. My heart aches over the shootings in San Bernardino and the loss of life there and around the world. But I cannot hope to solve this problem of hatred around the world if I cannot love the guy next door who drives me crazy, can I? How did those 12 Apostles do this? How diid they spread the LOVE of God around the world when it does not exist around my block, in my parish, my family, or in my little corner of the world? Some days, my heart just aches, thinking about all of this. And so I blog…

World PEace

It is not easy being green…

 

kermit

Well, up here, spring sprung! It is amazing to barely be able to see through thick stands of trees, where two weeks ago, there were still “sticks.” It happens so quickly here. And now that we’ve had a drop in temp accompanied by some much needed rainfall, the greenery is all over the place. I was worried about newly planted flowers and some berries drying out, and now they’ve been flooded with water. We could not believe how hard it rained yesterday, which definitely put the damper on bar-be-queing. So we didn’t! Ha-Ha! They always say that if you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes because it will change. I think I’ve heard that about several places we have lived, but here in Alaska, the changes can seem almost quantum! We have had temps run from the the zeroes in the morning to well over 60 by the day’s end. And I have tried to explain about the sun here, but my SoCal buddies don’t get it. In SoCal, you look up and you can see the sun. If it’s not right overhead, you can find it in seconds. In Alaska, the sun is never over our heads in the winter time. There are days I never see the sun itself. We get the light from it, but do not see it.

midnitesun.2.2015

They call Alaska “the land of the midnight sun” and it truly is. But one thing that’s hard to imagine, is that we are situated so far north, and at a particular angle, so that there are areas that never actually see the sun, itself. We get the light from it, but do not see it. The above photo was taken here, but note that the photographer is north of where the sun is, and the pathway of it. It is never directly overhead. In the summer time. it never sets; not truly. We get a twilight effect all night. We can see without headlights at 2:00am, with twilight coming around 3 or 4 am and the sun is up again at 6 or so. It is quite something to get used to. (Love my blackout curtains!) And when the sun is up, it is very close to the earth. Sunburn is so easy!! I freckle right up. And temperature is different here, as well. When I tell my friends in SoCal it’s 70 or 80 and we are melting, I am not kidding. It feels like well over 100-degrees. And the homes here are built to keep heat in, not let it out! Ha-Ha! We’ll have all our windows open, have fans blasting the air through the house, and be wearing shorts and flip-flops and it’s only 70 degrees. It’s so hard to explain, unless you’ve experienced it. And now, with the temps climbing back up again later in the week, blooms will be everywhere. The sun is so bright for so long during the days, that flowers and vegetables go crazy up here. That’s why you see so many very large vegetables – they are exposed to almost constant sunshine during the spring and summer.

cauliflower

That is a cauliflower, holding a large tomato. It is hard to understand how large some vegetables can grow, or how quickly they get that big. We have undertaken a garden this year. We just need to get the soil loaded in it and we are off and running. I have 4 berry plants ready to transplant, as well as some bulbs for other veggies. We are excited.

And trying to make people understand that life is different up here and that because it is different, we live differently, can be so difficult.  And it brings home an issue I have had for years, trying to explain differences to people. We adopted our youngest son without thinking about it. He is of a different race than we are, and it can occasionally rear its ugly head for some people. Our son looks different than the rest of us, and when he is carrying around his niece or nephew (as happened recently) people will look at us 2 or 3 times. I want to shout, “Yes! We are different! And yes, it is OKAY to be different!”  But I usually just smile and nod at them, as they notice that I notice they are staring at us. And when I found the meme below, I had to share it with people:

Different color skin, same souls.

God loves variety. Look at the variety in nature. There are how many breeds of dogs, cats, horses? There are how many varieties of roses?  What about tomatoes? There are how many nations on this earth? My major in college was Anthropology, and so I feel like I am in tune with the wondrous variety of cultures around the world. I learned, young, to appreciate cultural differences, which is partially why I chose that major. My parents moved to the USA in the late 1950s. It was a different time. People were different. My parents came from New Zealand. It is an English-speaking country, allied with Britain and pretty socialist in political structure. My parents were only allowed so much money to come with them to the USA. It took over 5 years for their immigration to be approved. It was a long and difficult process. My dad came here to work in the space industry and was immediately caught up in the Cold War and the struggle to get man into space. My mom was content to manage the home front. When my mom went to the grocer, the butcher, the dairy, the dry cleaner (in those days, they were all separate establishments) to do her weekly shopping, many of the shop owners refused to do business with her “until she learned to speak English.” It wasn’t English she needed to learn, it was to drop her New Zealand accent. And she felt rejected by the local residents, because she was different.  It took years for her to feel comfortable here. I find it ironic that she turned to soap operas to learn an American accent (she loved “How the World Turns!”). Now in her late 80s and suffering with Alzheimer’s, some of her New Zealand accent and parts of speech are coming back – and I love it. She never could pronounce an “r” and instead it sounds like “aw” – and today it is thicker than ever. As a child, my mom would yell out to my brother and me, “Ja-aw-n, Maw-awk, dinn-ah.”  And the whole neighborhood would re-tweet it out, only make it worse by saying, “John, Mock, dinnah!”  Our names are Jan and Mark.  Ha-Ha. I grew up with feeling different. We did not dress like the other kids (my parents did not allow jeans to be worn) and we ate differently (Marmite, anyone?). So I learned early how to fit in, and to be like everyone else, so I did not stand out. I know different.

When it came to my faith, as I grew up, we were baptized each time my parents switched their church affiliation. I have 7 baptismal certificates. When I chose, as an adult, to become Catholic, our priest asked me names of several types of Protestant churches, going through my history of church affiliation, trying to find one that was trinitarian. When I told him I was baptized as an infant in the Americanized “Church of England” (aka – Episcopal) he jumped with joy and said, “We’ll take it – it’s trinitarian!” I laughed. Even when it came to my faith, I was different. But I appreciated the differences and have not stopped learning, even now. I have been Catholic more than 30 years. About 10 years ago, we discovered the Eastern Catholic Church (who knew??) and have been evolving ever since. We formally joined the Melkite Greek Catholic Church and my husband is an ordained Deacon. In Alaska, there are no Melkites, so he is on assignment with the local Ruthenian parish. And we are learning Ukrainian, Polilsh, Russian, and lots of eastern european traditions in liturgy and food. It has been so much fun. I love learning about new culture and traditions. I feel it makes me that much more “universal” in my approach to things, harkening back to my anthropological training. I am accepting of differences. I embrace them. I love learning about differences.

And here is my conundrum, and my impetus to post today:  Why can’t people accept that there are different expressions of the same faith? There are 23 rites (I think) within the Catholic faith. That’s 23 very distinct expressions of the same Catholic faith. They are largely cultural. Some are liturgical and cultural, all are very different. The world at large only really knows about the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope in Rome, and local Catholic customs. But our Church is truly universal, and a very large tent. We are all brethren under the auspices of Catholicism. Do I listen to the Pope? I do, after I check what my Patriarch says. I am loyal to Rome; yes I am. But I am Melkite first, Greek second, Catholic third. Melkite as in the traditions and riches of the Middle Eastern culture from which the Melkite Church took life. I am Greek in the style of liturgy I prefer. And I am Catholic, in that I am in union with the barque of Peter, the Roman Pontiff, and the teachings of the Church. I embrace my differences and I rest in them. I love them. It is sometimes, however, like trying to explain how I have the sunlight here, but not direct view of the sun itself. People just do not get it. 

Greek Catholic.

I wish we were all one Church. I wish there were no disagreements about dogma and theology. I wish we could all embrace and accept the differences we find in one another, and celebrate them, not try to erase them. Teenagers (I have one left, still in the nest) are pushed and pulled into trying to be the same. None of them wants to stand out in a crowd of other teens. The culture of high school is downright frightening. I am praying that because our youngest is already different, and proud of his differences, confident in himself, and proud of himself, that he won’t fall into the trap of trying to blend in.  

When we first attended the Melkite Church, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, and how drastically and significantly our lives would change. Our first visit was during Lent. We all sat in the back row, trying to hide and not stand out in the congregation. My eldest is tall and blonde, #2 is tall and dark haired, #3 is dark everywhere, I am overweight and my husband is bald. In a parish of relatively new Arab Americans.  We stood out like crazy. Then, we realized no one sat back there because it was the row where the bell pull was located. Each time they rang the bell, we had to move. They ring the bells a lot during Morning Prayer and into Divine Liturgy. We did not hide; we were not blending in, in the least. It was comical, later on in years as we chatted with parishioners and their comments about our first attendance at Divine Liturgy! But as different as we were, we were welcomed with open arms. The Melkites hug, a lot. We were different but we wanted to learn, and they welcomed us warmly, and plied us with Arabic food (oh my gosh, so yummy!) and did I mention the hugging? We became Melkite a few years later and have no desire to be anything other than Greek Catholic. Even now, we are embracing another change by becoming more eastern European in our approach to Liturgy and the celebration of feast days. I can now make perogis and I love them!

There are differences everywhere we look. Can we not appreciate and embrace them? Learn to cook from another culture (and to eat and dine in another tradition. It is so much fun!). Learn how to say hello in a new language. Welcome newcomers to your neighborhood and your church. Embrace change and growth and knowledge. Do not shuffle along in your routine, digging trenches for yourself so that you cannot see out over the top of them. There is a big world out there, it is in trouble, and we need to pray for each other and unite around our common faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are very few Christians left in the Middle East because no one would just stand up and say, “NO!” “No! This is not right!”  We now will be welcoming more and more people from other parts of the world, fleeing because of their faith. Let us prepare to embrace them and meet them where they are. We need to embrace and shelter those who have left all for their love of Christ and His Church. Do not let language or liturgy stop you from loving people coming to America to be free from oppression. Welcome the influx of believers fleeing tyrants. Love the differences they bring with them. Try to understand them as Christ would – what would Jesus do? As Kermit says, “It is not easy being green.”  Well, it is not easy being a Christian, but we can do this!!

Christians in the world.

The Work of Our Hands…

I’ve been reading some great blogs lately, as well as some yummy novels. I love to read. It keeps me grounded and peaceful.  And I am loving my Young Living Essential Oils. I apply “Joy,” “Peace & Calming,” and “Stress Away” almost daily and just enter this zone of zen and peace. It is awesome. Before I work out I add “En Er Gee” to my liver and along my spinal cord. It keeps me in my workout, with energy to spare. One of the trainers at the gym calls me her “Zen Lady” and asks to come and stand by me each time I am there (I work out 5 days a week, at least).  I love that she senses my peace, and enjoys the scent of the oils.  And in the past few days, I am getting excited for, and enjoying, the onset of spring. You can feel it in the air. Even the bugs are out! (Stupid mosquitos). We are planning our garden and already have the wood for it. (Raised beds work best here). We got a couple of starter berry plants and have great plans for what we’ll grow this year. My pantry is almost devoid of food, with my son eating the last of his Top Ramen, I think. We are trying to get out of the habit of packaged foods! And now, our refrigerator is full of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with some healthy carbs and lots of fresh, lean meats and fish. We are changing our lives and it feels pretty good.

Last night we went to dinner with some dear friends at this amazing restaurant, located on the 20th floor of a hotel in downtown. The view was stupendous. I could not stop looking out, gazing at the awesomeness of where we live. The bay and all the inlets were beautiful, with the tide slowly easing out. The snow-capped mountains out another window just made the view perfect. My husband and I want to return when summer is in full swing and green is everywhere. The view in each season would be amazing, I am sure! I’m going to add a photo below of the view. I hope you like it, too!

CrowsNest2015

We are feeling very blessed lately and it is a good feeling. We are still walking carefully and listening to God and His Word for our lives. But I think He’s been speaking and perhaps we weren’t listening as we thought we were. I say that because I find myself living in an absolutely amazing location, surrounded by evidence of the Providence of God every day as I gaze out at the sea or onto the majestic mountains. And I find myself among some friends who I believe will remain friends for years to come. I feel like I am finally home. I miss my life in SoCal, somewhat. I certainly miss my kids and grandkids who live there, my mom, incredible sister and brother, but not the lifestyle. I miss some of my Church family there. But lots of them moved away, too. I miss WA and the glorious weather and the terrain, the beauty of both spring and fall. But I know this is where I am supposed to be. We are settling in here and making a life for ourselves and the blessings are beginning to flow. I think we were looking back to where we had come, without fully embracing where we are. And we certainly weren’t looking forward, nor planning for our Happy-Ever-After being here. But now I know God has been guiding us, and making our path for us. We just didn’t realize it. God is so good to us, even when we don’t see it or realize it.

I know God blesses the work of our hands and the devotion we give to our labors. I have always felt that God blessed work because Christ demonstrated it Himself, being a master carpenter. (Opus Dei was begun specifically to honor our work and to help us focus on devoting each moment of our work to the good of God). You have to apply your hands, the sweat of your brow, and your mind to become good at something. Christ gave 100% of himself to being a carpenter until He was called by God to begin His ministry. Can you imagine living in the town with Christ, prior to His ministry? What an example of exemplary work and work ethnic He must have shared with those around Him. Work is a good thing. And I believe we all have a lot of work to do.

Today I watched a video about leaders and leadership. It was an interesting video of a man, dancing shirtless on a hillside, and trying to get other people to dance with him. The setting looks like a summer concert in the park, on a hillside. This dancer gets one to dance with him, then two, and finally a crowd joins him. In the background you can hear someone saying, “How did he do that?” He gathered a crowd around him and they were all dancing with him, with just his enthusiasm and joy in dancing to entice others to become one with him. I thought of Christ and how He gathered His Apostles, with His love and joy.  He then told them, “Go out and baptize all the nations.” What a job description! The Apostles fearlessly did just that, spreading the Gospel into each and every corner of the world. And in the video, the shirtless guy dancing is called the nut; the shirtless nut. Can you imagine how nutty the ancient world thought the Apostles were? As nutty as they were, they did not deviate from the simple message of the Gospel, and they changed the whole world. And yet, even now, we are called to do the same. Are we the nut, dancing on the hillside, getting others to join us, for the pure “joy of the dance”? Are we calling others to Christ? I think we, personally, are being blessed now because we are slowly gaining what the Oola Guys call Oola Balance. We are getting all the 7 F’s of Oola in balance (Faith, Family, Friends, Fitness, Finance, Field, and Fun. I’ve talked about the Oola life in previous posts). More importantly, as we build the “F” of “Faith,” we are also building community. A community of like-minded people who truly love God and want to share His message with others. If we think about it, 12 men changed the world. Can you imagine our world if each of us who profess Christ actually did something about it? If we stood up and said “no” when it needed to be said? If we voted our conscience and our faith in every election (even small, local ones)? If we helped our neighbor, even if we dislike our neighbor, when they needed it? In cities around the country, there is death and destruction, rioting and lawlessness. An athlete opined on his FB page today about the violence and that the only way change can truly take place is if we change ourselves, through returning to a faith-based culture, and if each of us shares the love of Christ with every person we meet. Legislating change just becomes more laws on the books, with a culture becoming more and more hedonistic by the day. How do we change? It starts in our own backyard, in our own families. A simple smile, an assist to someone in a grocery line, letting a car get in front of you on the highway, inviting someone to attend Church with you, offering childcare to a worn out mom, bringing meals and comfort to the shut-ins, visiting the weak and the sick. We can all affect change and it can be very easy. The work of our hands, the sweat of our brow, the concentration and dedication in our minds and hearts… God has always dignified work and blessed those who work. Let’s work for the Kingdom of God, right now, here in our midst, for as Scripture tells us, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

“…we hear them in our own tongues…”

 

12247844751816776100wsnaccad_feather-pen.svg.med For some reason, I have been having “writer’s block,” or at the very least a “dry spell,” in regards to my blog.  I have been reading like a crazy woman, spending time with my son and husband, and some special time with my extended family.  But I haven’t felt the urge to write much.  Not sure what is up with that.  The sunshine is glorious and things are growing, so maybe I’ve been hit with Spring Fever! Ha-Ha!

I was reading a post about a family who’s been trying to have their daughter receive communion at a local Roman Catholic parish and the priest has been denying them.  Their daughter is an infant and was baptized, chrismated, and received communion at a Melkite parish some distance away.  For their local church attendance, it seems like they are going between RC and Orthodox, as there is no Byzantine parish nearby.  It is such a hard place to be.  I have lived it.

When we relocated from So Cal to WA State up near Seattle, we were not worried about attending a Church.  We had been spoiled in So Cal by having 3 parishes, Melkite parishes, within an hour of our house in 3 different directions.  There were other Byzantine parishes within the same distance, and I lost count of the number of RC parishes around us.  But we never had to attend a Church that we were not familiar with.  We did not have to expose ourselves to other rites, or comments by other parishioners in these rites.  We were not “causing scandal” by exposing other rites to the ways of the east, or visa versa. We were safe in our own little world.

When we moved to WA, there were no Melkite parishes.  There was a Melkite mission that was more than an hour north of us, and a local Monastery (Romanian) whose pastor was a retired Melkite priest, which was about an hour south of us.  An hour in WA weather can seem an eternity; trust me!  Locally, we tried to attend an RC church. They did not know what to do with us.  We were eastern rite Catholics and the RC hierarchy just did not know where we fit in, to worship with them.  To be fair, the pastor loved our input and loved eastern Catholicism; he joyfully welcomed us.  But the diocese, some of the diocesan hierarchy (although not the Bishop) and most of the people, were not familiar nor comfortable, with us.  We then began to explore the Byzantine world there. There was a parish in the downtown area that we tried to attend. But my husband was not welcomed there by the pastor. He was uncomfortable with us.  We tried, but my husband was frustrated.  He’d spent 4 years in the seminary,  preparing to serve his community.  And no one wanted him on their altar.  He was not welcomed to even receive Our Lord with the other clergy.  His vestments were not acknowledged. It was a very dispiriting time for us.

We then relocated, yet again, to an area with just one Byzantine parish to serve the entire state.  Once again, not Melkite.  The initial pastor, when we arrived, was also flummoxed.  He just did not know how to make use of my husband.  Our Bishop corresponded with the Bishop for this parish, loaning my husband indefinitely to the parish.  The pastor still did not know what to do with us.  Then he was transferred.  We got a new priest, from Ukraine, who is not the same rite, either.  It is like the UN up on the altar these days…a Ukrainian, a Melkite, and a Ruthenian…and the parish is full of all sorts of nationalities.  But isn’t that what Church is supposed to be???

I laughingly commented on this post today that the family was truly “universal,” and isn’t that what our Church is supposed to be?  Christ instructed the Apostles to go to all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And they did!  I’ve mentioned this before, but it still amazes me how exclusionary we can be to each other.  Look at all the diversity of people who followed Christ.  And when the Church was founded on Pentecost, what happened to the many different languages? Everyone could speak to each other and everyone understood one another.  What has happened?  Has our Church become so insular that we can no longer understand or speak to each other?  It makes me sad.

“They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”  (Acts 2:7-11)

I am offering prayers that this Pentecost, for all of us, the Holy Spirit once again cleans things up and removes these barriers to communication, sharing, and being Christian to each other!!!  Sharing Christ with one another….not excluding our brethren from receiving anything they should be allowed to, and welcome to, receive! Allowing the burning fire of faith instill us all with the sense of community, that “communion” brings with it.  (And for my Pentecostal family and friends, can I get an AMEN??)

Pentcost Icon 2

 

 

 

“…but with true love.”

Elder Porphyrios2As Elder Porphyrios reminds us, we need to remember that this war we are waging against the pull of the world, more often than not will be won with “true love.”  I admit that I am on Facebook to stay in touch.  I moved an inordinate number of miles away from all that is familiar to me, and while I settle in and make my way, I stay in touch with friends and family on Facebook.  I also belong to several online pages where we discuss various subjects, and offer prayers for one another.  And my journey of mileage has also become a journey of philosophy and theology…a journey of “theosis.”

Theosis is a term that many who study purely western theology and philosophy often disagree with.  As found on OrthodoxWiki: “Theosis (“deification,” “divinization”) is the process of a worshiper becoming free of hamartía (“missing the mark”), being united with God, beginning in this life and later consummated in bodily resurrection. For Orthodox Christians, Théōsis (see 2 Pet. 1:4) is salvation. Théōsis assumes that humans from the beginning are made to share in the Life or Nature of the all-Holy Trinity. Therefore, an infant or an adult worshiper is saved from the state of unholiness (hamartía — which is not to be confused with hamártēma “sin”) for participation in the Life (zōé, not simply bíos) of the Trinity — which is everlasting.”  This definition quite often frightens people because they think, that you think, that you can become God.  And that is not the point, at all.  The point is that we strive for the perfection that is God’s.  We cannot be God, because God is God.  But we can become as God when we strive to obtain that mindset, outlook, and philosophy of the attributes attributed to God.  Basically, we live the Ten Commandments.  And I mean really live them.

I have been reading several different sites recently and I have noticed that all of them seem intent on out-doing one another in their use of terminology and their “holiness” factor.  Personally, one of the reasons I find myself veering more and more to the East is the simplicity of it all.  God just is.  Forgiveness just is.  Love is love.  Prayer is to God.  We act, we live, we believe quite simply that God is LOVE…and we try to live that each and every day.

I read a blog the other day by a single dad. He was lamenting the treatment of a young boy in line, in front of him at Costco, by the boy’s father.  The man belittled his son and made him cower in fear of him.  And I could relate to that so much.  I do not believe for a moment in breaking a child.  I believe we need to guide them and mold them into the adults we see the potential of them being.  And words can be everything to a child.  In explaining the concept to my son, I explained that parents are like the bumpers in bumper bowling…we allow them to sway from side to side, but we keep them heading to the pins at the end of that alleyway.  They may bowl slowly; the may throw the ball; they might just push it to begin rolling.  Regardless of how that ball was put on the alleyway, the bumpers keep it safely on its way to the pins. (Unless it’s me bowling, and the people two or three lanes on either side need to be on guard…I am the worst bowler, ever!  Bumpers or no bumpers!!).

Reaching people with words and sermons and theology sometimes does not allow them to proceed where they need to be headed.  Sometimes our lofty terminology and theology turns them completely away from organized religion.  Sometimes our words make them walk out the door, and opt to never go back inside.  When I read some posts and I see things like, “There is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church,” I get a little “sideways.”  Mostly because people who say that often mean that unless you attend a Roman Catholic Church, are baptized, confirmed, and receive communion in a RC Church, you are going to hell.  There are those who feel that Catholicism brought Christianity to the world, so all Christian religions are tied to the Catholic Church. Protestant sects are ones that have “some” of the truth, but do not live in the “fulness” of the truth, but can find salvation.  Then they talk about the Orthodox as Christians gone astray through politics and governments running their Church, when in fact their theology was brought to them through seekers sent by Tsars and others to investigate Christianity around the world. They loved the Byzantine worship they came across the best and took it back with them to their homelands and there developed their version of it.  So it has some of the markings of the Church (apostolic? not so much) but once again, do not enjoy the fulness of the truth to be found in Catholicism.  See how hurtful words can be?  What is interesting to me is that there is no mention of all the Eastern Churches who are independent Churches but align themselves with the Bishop of Rome (sui juris).  People speak, using words that are often hurtful to those they speak about, without knowing what they are really saying.

We had a group at a former Latin parish that were very much a part of the exclusionary ideas of Fr. Feeney. (Feeneyism is a term for the doctrinal position associated with Leonard Feeney (1897–1978), a Jesuit priest and founder of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Fr. Feeney favored a strict interpretation of the doctrine extra Ecclesium nulla salus (“outside the Church there is no salvation” – Wikipedia).  They did not believe that anyone who, even if they led a good life but did not know Christ, would enter heaven.  It caused many heated debates, even though the Church excommunicated Fr. Feeney for his “opinions” in the late 70s.  Words can hurt.  Sermons and posturing can hurt.

I have many relatives who are not Catholic.  They believe that I am going to hell; that my husband, children, and now grandchildren will go to hell with me.  They have talked to me, my children, and extended family members about my family’s terrible predicament.  They have never accepted that our faith is true, and honest, and real.  One family member is a former Catholic, who left the Church as a young adult, with an 8-th grade-confirmation-class-understanding of the faith.  Making adult decisions based on knowledge gained at 12 or 13 is not the wisest road to choose.  And words can hurt.  They have hurt – for years.  Non-acceptance is hurtful.  Using words to try and drum-home a point of view that is contrary to the one you are talking to, can hurt.

Elder Sophrony of EssexWhen my heart is heavy, and words become a noisy gong in my life, I tend to retreat.  I know that a cup of tea, as Elder Sophrony shares, can be a great reliever of stress and despair.  And I quite often retreat to enjoy a hot “cuppa.”  But my mind is still rolling over words.  I am finding myself more and more put off by strong rhetoric, be it in the marketplace (the mess with Target and identity theft comes to mind), sports (a previous post when I addressed the NFL playoffs), politics (so much, SO MUCH, comes to mind there), and even my faith.  Why is it that we have to resort to harshness when GOD IS LOVE?  WWJD?  Indeed, what would Jesus do?  He sat with sinners; He laughed with them and dined with them, and He loved them.

The Church is not a place for those who have “made it.”  It is not for those who “are saved.”  The Church is a huge tent, in which there are many rooms: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way I am going.” (John 14: 1-3).  Christ tells us that there are many rooms and that if we believe, He will come for us and receive us “to Myself.”  It like a previous post when I spoke about the grace and healing we find in confession – the mercy that envelopes our whole self, all of who we are, all at once.  God is mercy; God is forgiveness; God is love.

Why cannot our words reflect that? Why cannot our methods of reaching one another reflect that?  Why do we strike out at those who are different than we are? If it is not exactly what we think it should be, it obviously has to be wrong?  Why do our perceptions of the Divine Truth separate us from our families, our friends, or even fellow believers, who are also seeking the Divine Physician in His hospital, the Church?

 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” Matthew 10:34-40

We come into this world alone; we leave this world alone. The very least we can do is to be kind to each person we touch, every day we come into contact with others.  We need to begin in our homes, in our families, with our friends, and in our parishes.  God is Love!  True Love!

Eph 5-8

“…death before your minds…”

St Cosmas of AitolosHave you ever had one of those nights when you awake in a complete panic because you were realizing, in your sleep, that you have already lived at least half of your life?  That perhaps you do not have many more decades stretching before you?  I did.  And boy, was I in a sweat, breathing heavily, and completely panicked.  I sat there, realizing that I am in my “late 50s” and I doubt I will be living to my 100s!  My parents are both in their “late 80s.”  And the clock keeps ticking.  And there is not a thing I can do about that.  And I began to weep.  I wept for my children – how I love them so and do not want to leave them.  I wept for my grandchildren, because they are so new to this world and I want to get to know them, and have them know me.  I wept, and reached over and touched my husband (he did not notice through his rather exuberant snoring).  This man who I have spent my life with, loving and often disliking (I will always love him, but some days he’s not on my “favorites” list.  But that’s the reality of marriage!).  We just celebrated 29 years of marriage and I cannot imagine a life without him next to me.  And I know his life would be so much more difficult without me next to him, too.  We need each other to keep each other “our best selves.”  He is good for me, for my soul.  And I am good for him.  It’s why it works, and has worked, for so many years. But I wept at the thought of not being with him, next to him, loving him and feeling the warmth of him near me.

God tells us in so many places in scripture that we are not to worry.  One of my favorites is Matthew 6: 25-34:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

And as I sat there, catching my breath late last night, I tried to think of this, to think this way.  As St. Cosmas said in the first photo, “There is no better teacher than death.”  And I really think that when we put our very few days here on earth into a global perspective, we truly need to focus.  Life truly is short and the older I get, the shorter it seems.

There are so many little things I should be doing right now.  Why do I procrastinate?  Why do I waste time?  And no, for those of you who read these posts, I have not completed my office, yet.  My daughter-in-law offered to come over tomorrow and said that we can tackle it together. I bought a curtain rod for the drapes I have for the window (a very old wool blanket my parents brought from New Zealand more than 50 years ago hangs there now).  I have file folders ready to go. I even filed and labeled some of the stuff.  So why does her offer frighten me?  It’s almost like I won’t have anything to do if I do complete organizing that space.  And I thought about this and I realized that I am a big baby in many ways. I am afraid of what’s around the corner, because I know I don’t have that many corners left to go around!  And what do I have to show for myself?

St IrenaeusAs St. Irenaeus reminds us above, “The business of the Christian is nothing else than to be ever preparing for death.”  In this photo of an ossuary in Eastern Europe, the monks keep the skulls of their brethren who have passed before them. Their names are etched on the skulls and the monks often come to sit and commune with their fellow monks.  We believe that when we die, our souls rise to be with God. If we have lived a holy life, we know, and we expect, that we will be with God.  By looking to those who have gone before us, certain of their salvation, we can emulate their lives and make similar choices in our own.  We also believe that the Church Triumphant, filled with those in the presence of God who have gone before us, await our prayers and will pray for us and with us, the Church Militant, here on earth. There is great comfort in knowing our community is larger than we can even fathom.  At Divine Liturgy, we are reminded that all the angels, “six-winged, many-eyed and soaring on their pinons” are before us at the altar.  We are in the midst of the Holy Communion of God and His people.

We are called to have our own “domestic Church” in our homes.  Places of refuge, prayer, comfort, and safety, where we bring and welcome Our Lord, our family, and our friends. A place where the Word of God is commonplace, prayer is daily, and we have reminders of God and His Saints before us always. I re-arranged our Icons from a wall to more of a corner.  I mushed them all together and left a corner section bare, waiting on my husband to construct an icon corner shelf for me.  Our incensor is waiting, with our candle and an icon of Christ Pantocrator, to be placed in the corner.  I love seeing the Icons, paintings and statues we have around our home; they give me comfort.  On the wall next to our bed is a beautiful painting of the “Flight into Egypt,” a photo of modern-day Jerusalem and the Tomb of Christ from above, another of a painting of the Theotokos holding the Christ Child while the angels serenade Him, and many more, including icons of our patron saints, St. Joseph and Ruth.  And as I panicked in the dark last night, I knew these images were all around me and I took comfort. I offered prayers to Our Lord and I prayed for strength, comfort, and peace. And I laid back down and promptly fell asleep.

Psalm 25-4-5…and all night long, too!