I saw that – God.

For some weird reason, I get daily comments on my blog that are moved to the Spam folder, that are in Russian, French, and some other languages that use a different alphabet – some are Arabic and others Asian. I am not sure why I attract them, but some of them are pornographic and solicitous. Life continually amazes me. I have no clue what draws them to this particular blog. Misinformation? Misrepresentation? Am I not clear as to what I believe? Do they think I will actually click on their comments?? Seriously???

Today I saw firsthand how erroneous information can spread. And boy, did it spread quickly. When people were informed that fake news had struck a Facebook group, they simply refused to read the facts of the story and were actually upset that the story was exposed as fake news! The vitriol was incredible. And yes, it was a Christian FB group. There are still posts going back and forth, some denying it is fake information and still others are refusing to back down at their condemnation of someone based on false information. What is going on???

Somewhere down this road/timeline of life, we have forgotten manners. We have forgotten to say “please” and “thank you” to others. We use profane language like any other adjective. We don’t look shocked when someone posts graphic photos of people online for the world to gawk at. We accept perversity as normal and do not hold people accountable to much of anything. There seems to be a lack of a standard – a line drawn in the sand that no one should cross. There are few absolutes – just a lot of gray, allowing lots of wiggle room in life.

I saw a funny meme once about how the 10 Commandments were not suggestions! They were COMMANDMENTS! The Law of God, given to Moses, on the Mountain, written by the Hand of God. Not something to edit or play around with. The Big 10 Do’s and Don’ts for mankind. How are we doing? Well, not so good. Have you actually read the 10 Commandments recently? Let’s…

The Book of Exodus is pretty clear on what is and is not a commandment. Over the centuries, we have shortened them. But let’s look at Exodus (From Bible Gateway):

Exodus 20:2-17 New International Version (NIV)

 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

 “You shall have no other gods before me.

 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

“You shall not murder.

“You shall not commit adultery.

 “You shall not steal.

 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Well, as a country, we are doing poorly. We do all sorts of things that could be construed as wrong in the eyes of these Commandments and the first error is removing the Commandments from the public square. They are not around in public to remind us how to behave. But worse than that, they are not taught in the home. I know that is using a broad brushstroke, but have you seen the public square?

Yes, those were taken today at the G20 Summit. *Sigh* It makes me sick and sad, all at the same time. I get protesting – I grew up in the 60s (and survived). But civil unrest is one thing. Evil and killing and just destruction – that serves no purpose, other than to promote Satan’s agenda. Sorry, but I am drawing some lines in the sand today. There is good. There is evil. It is black and white. And we need to start calling what is evil just that – evil. We need to start standing up for what is right, to stop this horrifically fast cultural slide down into chaos and mayhem.

To say you are part of something and then say you do not speak on behalf of that organization, and are expressing your own opinion, is acceptable, in some cases. But not from clergy. Not from our nuns and monks. Not from world leaders. Not from those who purport to speak on behalf of millions, or worse, on behalf of the Church founded by Christ, Himself. It is not okay as a person of authority to go off on tangents of your own, citing it as personal opinion when you represent “Church” to so many people. Nor is it cool to mislead millions of people who came out to participate and vote in all these national elections. You need to do what you said you would do, when running for office. And for clergy, you need to keep your vows. Period. I think we need to check those 10 Commandments a little more often. Just 10 simple rules to live by. Just 10.

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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

Technology, Yoga Pants, and God

Blogging has become something of a chore of late. WordPress (who I blog through) is changing how you blog, and my computer is not playing nice. It is old and although it doesn’t seem to me that it’s so old that I need to replace it, it’s so old that I need to replace it. I have a MacBook and I love it. But its operating system is so ancient, I cannot upgrade. My keyboard is starting to stick and more often than not, spaces are not where they should be, or keystrokes are flat out missing.  Some keys have no letters on them any longer; others fly off when I type. So, I get frustrated. I had this amazing post all ready to go last week and each time I saved it, it deleted it. So frustrated. I am trying again, using the new format. Another new factoid for you – did you know that double spacing between sentences is no longer required? The typesetting abilities of computers space each letter, according to its need, so we no longer have to leave big spaces between sentences. If you do, your typing will look all off-kilter. I often have to go back and re-space things.  Another frustration! Ha-Ha!

So here I am, musing over many things today. Let’s just say, I have little, annoying “peas in my mattress.” For me, when something keeps popping into my head, it means I have to deal with it or I don’t get restful sleep or good days of accomplishments. One thing for me is the whole area of education, Common Core, standardized testing. Ugh. We opted out of testing this year. It took some courage, but we decided it was not in the best interest of our family. So we did not play. In addition to that, I discovered that our homeschool program requires participation in statewide, national standardized testing (aka Common Core) and will not compromise (as in allowing other tests or not testing at all). So now I am feverishly looking for schooling alternatives for our son. He only has two years left!!! And here I was, thinking we could cruise through the next two years! Unfortunately, because dollars yell louder than parental rights, Common Core is becoming required in all districts who take federal funding (and all programs who taking funding, homeschool or brick-and-mortar schools). Add to that the ACT/SAT are now CC aligned, and recently, even the GED became CC aligned. You can’t get away from it. But I am certainly going to try. It infuriated me, when I learned the details of CC and the annual testing. What the government wants to do with our personal data (I am not fooling myself; I know there really isn’t much personal privacy any more) makes me so angry, I am just not going to play their game as long as I can. Today I have been researching independent programs that do not take funding and do not test, and are not CC curriculum, either. The list is not that long. How sad. Moving to the “Last Frontier” is life saving in the sense that there are a lot of independent thinkers here. I was able to connect up with a few and will be attending a statewide conference this next weekend. Vendors will be there, so I can look at actual curriculum and decide what we are going to do.  Constitutional attorneys will be speaking. Legislation will be discussed. Good opportunity to learn about our options. Check that off my “pea in the mattress” list.

I finally filed my taxes on Saturday. Yes, I was avoiding it. I learned a valuable lesson – again. I need to trust more. I need to pray more. I need to realize the sky is not falling. It was a piece of cake. I sat there after e-filing my return and just sighed. We are even getting a small refund. Yay! Better than owing! Another check on my list.

As some of you know, we started working out and watching what we eat. We are overhauling our lives. We joined a health club and my husband even engaged a personal trainer for me, for just 1/2 hour a week. It does help. The other help is that we are doing this with our son and his wife, too. My husband, our married son, and our teenage son all meet at 5:00 AM, five days a week, Monday – Friday, and workout together. It’s funny, because there is not a lot of chatting going on, but being together just makes it better. My husband loves watching our sons interact and he is enjoying the “guy time” with his sons. My daughter-in-law and I work out in the afternoons together. Our health club offers free childcare, but she leaves the kids with my son when he gets home from work. They get time with Daddy each afternoon, and my DIL and I get girl time. Once again, not too much chatter going on, but we’re together and I love it. I miss her when we go separately due to scheduling conflicts (not much conflict at 5:00 AM!!).  Along with working out has come some realizations for me.

When you are not your best self, you can fall into habits that are not promoting a good life for you. Somehow, over the past 30 years, I became a couch potato. I am not sure how it happened, but it did. I’ve never been overly athletic, but I could hike and camp and fish. Now, taking a long walk hurts. It was one of the motivating factors to lose weight and get in shape. (Along with wanting to be there for my grandchildren). There is just so much to do outside here, that I wanted to be able to do it all and not be hindered by my lack of physical shape. I also realized that when someone is overweight, we don’t really see ourselves. I look down and think, “This looks good. I look okay today.” And then I see a photo and realize that I did not look great. I was fooling myself. When I look in a full length mirror, I see the truth of how I have let myself go. I am reminded of the Scripture passage from Corinthians, “We see darkly as in a mirror.”  Well, I actually looked and what I saw surprised me. I did not honestly realize what a large person I had become, because I don’t feel that way inside. I am the same as when I wore a size 8 and weighed 115 pounds. But that is not my reality. My trainer brought this to my forefront of thinking, having me work out in a mirrored weight room. You can’t get away from yourself. It was not on purpose for him; it is natural because most weight rooms are designed that way. I don’t think he even realized it was an issue for me. He also asked me why I did not wear work out clothes. I told him I could not find any my size. He told me to look harder. I have been working out in sweats. Let me tell you, working out being overweight creates enough sweat without adding to it by wearing “sweat pants.” I don’t need any extra help sweating. I wanted to find better shoes for both my son and myself, and so I went shopping with my daughter-in-law, my son, towing our adorable grandchildren with us. I had a sale coupon sent to me by my favorite deal app, “RetailMeNot” and so we headed out to Sports Authority (who had also sent me a coupon). I found shoes! Yay!  But, I also found work out gear specifically for heavy people. Imagine that! I had been looking at my local retailers and online, but honestly did not think Sports Authority would have work out clothes for me. I bought a pair of work out pants, or Yoga Pants, as they are called. I was nervous, but excited.

I got home and tried on my new shoes (which are neon green and blue – Go Seahawks!) and my Yoga pants, which are black. My teenager laughed at me when he saw my new outfit. I guess I shocked him, as I usually dress very conservatively and am mostly, “covered up.” I cried. And then we hugged. And then I went and sat down and prayed about it. Should I wear these Yoga pants in public? Euww… would I gross people out?Could I do this and be okay? And I realized a bunch of things about myself. God loves me. He loves me fat, skinny, sick, or healthy. He loves me as a sinner or in a state of grace. He flat out loves me. Regardless. No strings. No attachments. He loves me. He certainly doesn’t care if I wear sweats or Yoga pants; He is happy I am taking care of myself. But I don’t really love myself. I am disappointed in me and now that I really see me, I am sort of embarrassed. My sloth and gluttony are there for everyone to see. And wearing Yoga pants is truly no big deal. Everyone around me has been seeing me as I am for years – I’m the one who is just catching up. And because I realized I am joining the game pretty late, it spurred me on to keep at it. We’ve been taking the weekends off from working out and I can honestly say I miss it. And trust me, that is quite something for me to say. I showed up for my session with my trainer in my Yoga pants and shoes. I also wore my hair in a tight bun, exposing my white hair – ha-ha! But he greeted me warmly and we worked out for 45 minutes. Two ladies came by to ask me where I got my shoes (how funny is that? More Seahawks fans than you think up here!) and I was not embarrassed walking around the gym, mirrors and all. I am there. I am sweating this out, but I am present. And I am proud of myself for finally allowing myself to really look in a mirror. God taught me something about humility and unconditional love. All these years of being overweight, I still made friends; I was always welcomed into women’s groups and homeschooling groups. I stayed married to my best friend (who tells me all the time how beautiful I am. I love that man so much). And my Lord and My God loves me, even on my worst days or ugliest moments.

God never stops keeping us company; He patiently waits for us. He loves my frustrated pecking on this darn computer, and whispers thoughts to me to actually share with others. He walks with me as I deal with governmental over-reach and decisions for our youngest son and his future. He is there as we struggle through homeschooling and being a family. He encourages me to meet my debts and walks with me as I try to offer to Caesar what is Caesar’s (taxes). And God wants me to live a full, and long, life. So He is walking with me at the weight room and on the elliptical. He is in my daughter-in-law’s smiles and her high-fives when I get past my newest goal. He is in my husband as he texts me happy faces as I am working out. He is in our teenager as he scrounges for goodies in the cupboards and only finds healthy foods to eat, and eats it without grumbling. He is in my oldest son, hugging me and telling me how proud he is of me finally taking my health into my own hands. He is with me in the affirmations from our son who lives out of state. He is with me in my brother, calling out of the blue to encourage me. And He is with me in all the friends who stand with me and pray for me, and with me, for success in these areas and so many others. I am so blessed.

There is just one more thing that is bugging me today. When we are resurrected with Christ, we get our best selves, right? So if this getting into shape thing kills me, maybe the effort will get me bonus points and I’ll resurrect as my 20-something self? I am tongue-in-cheek kidding, I hope you know! But think about it. What is our best self? Is it when we are kneeling in prayer, covered in grace by Our Lord? Is it as a 20-year old, who thinks they have that “tiger by the tail”? Is it when we cross that finish line in our first marathon in our late 20s? Is it when we show up to work out, bravely wearing work out gear? Is it when we help our brothers, friends, and especially, our enemies? Is it when we work for the glory and money and fame? Or is it when we feed the poor or visit the shut in? Is it when we share our successes and try to help others? I’ve been ruminating on this over and over again. We are called by God to always strive to be our best selves. But when will we know we’ve accomplished our best self? Is it one of those moments where we reminisce about the “good old days?” I have memories of especially close moments to God, when I have felt Him touching me. Can we peak and then slide down again? (Since we are human, I automatically think, yes, we can slide down again). And every so often, I am glimpsing what I can become and what I can be, for God. Not for me, but for God. Will He tell me when I have reached that moment of Theosis, or being “one with God”?

My body is God’s temple and it needs an overhaul and deep cleaning. Great Lent is over and we are in the light of the gift of Easter. How am I honoring that gift? His patience with me? I plan to pray; I plan to keep working out to become healthier. I plan to remind myself often that God stands with me; my guardian angel stands with me; all the saints who have gone before me, they also stand with me. My husband, children, and friends – we stand together in faith. We are all working out our journey to God and together, all of us, we are the Church. We hold each other up and in prayer and love. And together, we can conquer all of this, in the name of Christ, Who gave His life for us.

He is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

Is it really Monday?

Minion Monday Quote

My grandma liked to say, “You can’t put a old head on young shoulders.” She had so many great sayings that got me through the early years of parenting. I could not help but think of this as my teen and I struggled with homeschooling today, a Monday.

And today, well, today is “such a Monday.” We had Daylight Savings time kick in yesterday, and when you get an hour stolen from you, it takes days to get yourself right again. I am not sure why this is so, but I think the days are past when we even need to have Daylight Savings time. Several states opt out; other countries think we’re nuts; most people I know think it’s stupid, too. Our state legislature was discussing it and I even think something may have actually made it to the voting stage, but once again, the government wheels grind ever so slowly. Which annoys me most particularly, on the type of Monday where I just want to crawl back into bed. But that is not what this post is about.

Today I struggle with ideas regarding authority. And I blog because I find it a wonderful way to sort my thoughts out, and have a chat with myself. And if I annoy you with this particular post today, chalk it up as a particularly nasty Monday!  Because, today I struggle with authority in so many areas within my life and living circumstances, so even on a Monday like today, I still need to sort things out. For example, today I had a chat with my father, who is 88 years old. He has always been an authority figure in my life; I have always respected him and honored his decrees in my life. As I have aged, our relationship has tweaked itself a little bit. I am no longer a youth under his direct authority, but he tries to reenact that sort of dance between us now and then. Today we had a chat that I would like to think friends would have, although some mention of the disparity in our ages came up (he loves to say how young I am, but at 58, I’m not feeling it! Ha-Ha!). We sorted through some things, and as we said our goodbyes, I was smiling. The smile was because we communicated today – he didn’t pontificate and I listen – we talked to each other. It was sublime in its simplicity. The authoritative relationship I had with him has changed. Sometimes aging does that to you; sometimes you just get older.

My teen and I had a little difference in opinion today regarding the work accomplished over the past two weeks. I was explaining how he holds his future in his hands. What he becomes tomorrow is predicated on what he learns today. I cannot give him a career. He has to gain that for himself. And our world has to have some sort of measuring stick. For most professions, it is a certain skill set you have to obtain, either through a hands-on sort of training, or book learning, or a combination of both. No one simply decides they want to be a neurosurgeon and they hand you gloves and a scalpel. It requires years of dedicated study, practice, and you have to perform with a certain amount of competency in order to practice on people. There are lots of jobs that are like that; many career paths take years and years. And there is always a governing authority in regards to careers. It may be someone in an HR capacity who allows an application to get through; a resume review that someone feels says the right thing and it gets passed to the person hiring; it could be an entrance exam for a college or trade school; it could be passing exams to graduate from high school so you can begin your journey towards a career. Again, an authority figure determines who passes and who fails; who moves on and who remains behind.  He doesn’t like me very much today.  The joys of parenting.

Orthodox Protest.Ukraine

I saw this meme posted on Facebook today. I commented that I thought it was amusing that we would show a picture of the Ukrainian Orthodox protesting in Ukraine, and caption it with a saying by the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. First of all, I mean no disrespect to the people who put this together, the Pope of Rome, or the people in the picture. I just found it amusing. My amusement was not appreciated. Once again, I was struck with the issue of authority. I am certainly not denigrating the comment the Pope of Rome made; the sentiment is wonderful. It is especially wonderful during Lent, as we approach the week of suffering wherein we remember in detail Christ’s hours on the Cross for each of us. It is also appropriate for the events pictured. Nor am I not cognizant of the world-wide implications of the actions of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, as well as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, during these tense days in Ukraine. I was struck by the stance against governmental authority in light of the Gospel Message of Christ.

We hear, almost daily, of the atrocities being committed by ISIS against Christians in the MIddle East. If you do not hear it daily, it is because your are not tuned in to what is happening there. You are not aware of the very real possibility of an entire ethnic group being removed from the lands they have inhabited for generations upon generations, as Christians. The atrocities are being committed against men, women, and children. They are not only killing men who can fight against them; they are killing women and children so no one else grows up to fight them. In those situations, who has the authority of life over death? ISIS believes it has supreme authority, given by Allah, through the Koran. But who has the ultimate authority?  God.

In the Muslim faith, they recognize and acknowledge God. They call him Allah, but they believe it is the God of Moses and Abraham, the God of the Jewish people, and of those who follow Christ.  They do not acknowledge the right of people to believe in these other faiths, but they believe it is the same God. They just believe their version of God is correct and the rest of us are wrong.  Which is where they derive their authority from.  We, as Christians, believe God has given us authority when we trample the rights of those who disagree with us, and go to war in the name of our God.  It is hard to hear those sorts of things, but we Christians have been doing it since the time of the Apostles.

Jihad.crusade

See why I struggle with authority? There are instances all through history where different factions have acted against one another, both believing they were correct, both believing God was on their side. Who wins? Or rather, who loses? In the case of ISIS, a complete ethnicity may lose it all – their homeland, their lives.

We had to choose to play with the current administration this year in regards to healthcare. We chose not to play. We use an alternative to standard insurance, and we went with a cooperative, religious approach (that was approved by the Obamacare writers as a valid alternative). We choose to educate our kids at home, and have done so since the 1990s. We are now facing being complacent and allowing something to take place in regards to our son’s education (something the current state/local government recently snuck in on us) or to standing up to the authority the school district has over us. Do we comply? Do we acknowledge their authority over what my son learns? Do we allow their data mining of our son to begin and the recording of said data to follow him through to his career choices? Or do we stop playing?  Sometimes I hate being the grownup. And that is another issue today with authority.  Mondays can be so cursed. Ha-Ha!

Today, I just wanted my teenager to take responsibility for his actions, and to accept my authority over him, as his mom and home educator.  I don’t want to slay dragons. I don’t want to overturn governments.  I just want schoolwork to be completed. Today, well, today I was able to fast and feel good about it, obeying the authority the Church has over me in decreeing fasting during Lent. I believe in the precepts of the Church, and so fasting is not a burden for me. It is sometimes hard to make work, but not a burden. And I accept the authority Christ gave His Church over me, as a believer in Him. I don’t buck it; I don’t complain about it. Sometimes I do question aspects of it, but I usually accept it. I am not what you would call a “cafeteria Christian.” I accept the whole of it, even if I do not understand it.

Authority is such an interesting concept/construct in our lives. When we are young, everyone is in authority over us. We buck it; we protest it (heck, I lived through the 60s and flower power! Far out! Cool!), but eventually we become it.  How freaky is that?  Eventually, we all go through that generational shift where we realize we are our parents and our kids are us! This government we have? It’s all on me. It’s my generation who is the authority in the world. And what a mess we have. What a mess.  It’s not just stupid Daylight Savings time. We have people beheading people; burning children alive in cages. We have millions of unborn slaughtered every day. We have millions of people starving all over the world while tons of food is thrown away, wasted, daily. We have people dying of illnesses in the Third World that have been eradicated here. We have thousands of acres of fallow land because our government is controlling agriculture and the amount of food available for harvest, when we could feed the world – and still have grain to store against famine (just ask a farmer).  Who has authority over us and why?  When can we say “no” to this authority and make changes for the good?  Boy oh boy my head is spinning today.  Maybe I do just need to call “uncle” and ask for a “do-over.”

Fast.Chrysostom

“What do we do with it?”

IMG_5362We had the most wonderful time yesterday.  We have friends who we have known since we were all much younger and their eldest son was married yesterday. Boy, what a great wedding.  The thing that set it apart was the simplistic sincerity in each detail.  There were few of us (about 50 or 60) in a large parish church that was not overly decorated and the decorations they did use were all hand-made.  The clothes worn by the attendants were simple and tasteful (the girls wore cowboy boots, as did the bride) and the ceremony was simple, the readings perfect for them, and the singing was wonderful (the sister of the groom did a phenomenal job!).  Father’s homily was really good and you could tell he spent some time with the couple. We laughed with his stories and we just felt blessed to be there. The light coming in through the casement windows cast a surreal look over it all and I just sat there and smiled; I couldn’t help myself!

IMG_5358It is fun to see our friend’s children grow up and become husbands and wives, and eventually, parents. It was another example of the continuity of life.  A couple found each other on their first day of college and 5 years later, they are married.  They knew from that first day and never wavered in their love or commitment to one another. I am such a sap for a good love story!

This couple gave me confidence in our young people! They chose to keep things very simple and they made so much of what they shared with us. The most amazing was their flowers – all made of paper! They had to let me see them up close to believe they were paper!  So wonderful.  They also took the time to learn to dance and their first dance had us all in tears.  It was just such a beautiful way for them to start their marriage. One of the groom’s brothers played his Ukelele and serenaded his brother and mother for their dance – not a dry eye in the place! (Somewhere Over the Rainbow!! The same version as in the movie, 50 First Dates!).  Even their centerpieces were crafted by the family and it helped to make it so personal and tight – like a community of families had come together to worship and celebrate together. It felt like a glimpse into another realm.

1069393_737670656253509_1832234864_n“Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved!”                    St. Seraphim of Sarov.

And for me, it just became so clear.  We were surrounded by all these people who had one thought – to support and love this couple who were starting out together.  They all shared it with one mind; it was almost palatable.   For the record, there were quite a few people I had never met before, most of whom had come to our area specifically for the wedding.  So these people came together, as one, without knowing each other, but with one heart and one goal in mind – this young couple. It shows just how much we can affect those around us.  I love that quote above.  Imagine if we all acquired this sense of deep-seated peace, where we know, to our marrow, that regardless of our behavior, regardless of our doubts, regardless of our words or action, God’s got our back? Or as Mark Hart the Bible Geek likes to say, “God’s got this”!!!

Fr. Stephen Freeman said, “Each of us (certainly in our Baptism and Chrismation) have been given the grace of God for our salvation – that is to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit and to conform us to the image of God in Christ. The question is what do we do with it?”  And in his article, “What St. Seraphim Meant,” he goes on to quote the Saint again:

You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives.”

He tells us that we simply cannot be too kind.  It is a stark reminder that the world around us is NOT a kind place.  Yesterday we shared a beautiful day with people all around us that were sincerely joyous. There were guests present who had flown in from as far away as New York.  They could not get over the beauty of the place in which we live.  They were overwhelmed by what we see, and are privileged to see, everyday. They kept rushing outside to take photos as the sun made its play on the snow and trees.  As the sun began to set, the colors and light on the mountains were overwhelmingly beautiful. The environment made their joy even greater! Everyone in that small lodge was there, laughing, feasting, dancing, and celebrating. You could not help but smile at people you did not even know.  I wanted, so much, to bottle that up and share it with everyone I see, day after day, after day.

1972401_737024466318128_1850487592_nAs Fr. Stephen said, we are all given this grace, but “what do we do with it?” Yesterday I was shown that we share it.  We certainly do not hide our light under a bushel basket, but rather we place our light on a candle stand, where it can light the whole room (Matthew 5:15).  And isn’t that part of the Great Command from Christ, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)?  

Through Grace we are given glimpses into heaven; glimpses into what eternity can, and should be.  One of the readings they chose yesterday, in which love was explained (1Cor13) has this phrase that I treasure, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” (1Cor 13:12).  This line promises me everything will come, in its time. I have had these moments of complete clarity, but they have been fleeting, coming in spurts, with no regularity to them.  As I progress on this road of salvation, or Theosis, God allows my glimpses to be more clear, regular, and far more enticing. It seems like the more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know, and the more you want to learn.  Our process of salvation occurs over our lifetime.  We struggle, we fall, but we get back up and we keep on trudging forward.  And that is the beauty of this Divine Grace we have been given…we have the strength, the fortitude, and the resolve, to get back up again! We keep growing and learning through God’s Grace acting in us, and on us.  And that same Grace drives us to love more fully, and to want to share this love with those around us.

This Lent is becoming more fortuitous the longer it goes on.  It’s wonderful that God allows such a simple thing like a Thursday-afternoon, sunshine-filled, lovely wedding to become a lesson in my salvation.  And a glimpse into what being a part of the Heavenly Kingdom will be like.  We’ll be laughing, feasting, dancing, and celebrating together, filled with the joy of Christ in our hearts.

Blessed Lent.

Holy Season of Lent

“…scoffers will come…”

Acts 26.18“Know this first of all, that in the last days scoffers will come to scoff, living according to their own desires and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? From the time when our ancestors fell asleep, everything has remained as it was from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3: 3-4).

The readings today were pretty awesome. Sometimes you read Scripture, that has been planned for a particular day, and in God’s grace it fits perfectly into your day!  Tonight our priest is coming (hopefully with his wife and children for dinner, too) to bless our house.  I am righting things, disrupting the dwelling places of the ever-elusive dust bunnies, and making our home shine.  Why go to all the trouble?  Because tonight, through the holy hands of our priest, and through the prayers of all of our family, our home will become a place of blessed repose; a safe-haven, if you will, from all the negative, evilly-induced ugliness outside our doors.

Now, saying this, there will be those who scoff.  They see no reason to bless a house.  They will tell me that God is present, blessing or not, and when we gather in prayer as a family, He is there.  I know all of that.  But we have some beautiful traditions that make our lives “supernatural” in the sense of allowing the divine to enter our everyday lives through prayers, incense, and blessings.  You know how you feel better, sort of have a sigh of relief and comfort, when you get all your various insurance policies in place – just in case?  Or how much more confident you feel, knowing your dad has your back?  Or when you have asked people to pray for you and you can feel the power of that prayer, helping you through a rough time?  Just holding the hand of a friend or loved-one during a rough patch can comfort you beyond anything you thought?  Blessing our home is like that, in a supernatural way.  There will always be those who scoff, who believe nothing has changed, nor will it ever.  But Peter has something to say about that further along in his letter, “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard delay, but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. ‘But the day of the Lord will come life a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved in fire,and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.’  Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion…Therefore beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace…Therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, be on your guard not to be led into the error of the unprincipled and to fall from your own stability.  But grow in grace and in the knowledge of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To him be glory now and to the day of eternity.” (2 Peter 3:9-18)

Holy Water Bottle2I think that our culture is riddled with those who scoff at people of faith, who make fun of those trying to abide in peace, in Christ.  And people make fun of those of us who try to do that little bit more, that extra, like having our homes blessed.  I will confide that I have already blessed my home myself. I always bless things.  My kids will attest to bottles of Holy Water in the oddest places…I keep them on hand, just in case, like an insurance policy. I blessed our car and rental truck before we ventured on our 2,000+ mile move; before my son left to war, I blessed him.  Whenever my kids were off on their own, I blessed them. I would often go into their rooms as they slept, checking on them, and making the sign of the cross on their foreheads, in blessing.  We do these blessings all the time.  We often say, “God Bless you,” even when people sneeze! Ha-Ha.

Archmandrite Karelin. FamilyThe prayers that are cited when a home is blessed are some of the most sublime the Church has given us.  “God Our Savior, you willed to enter the house of Zaccheus for his salvation and the salvation of all who were in the house: now keep safe from all harm those who dwell in this house, and who, together with us, unworthy though we are, offer you prayers and supplications.  Bless this their dwelling and preserve their life against evil.”  And the priest then walks through the house, sprinkling holy water and saying, “May this house be blessed in the name of the Father (+), and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit (+), Amen.”  Another of the prayers says, “Deliver those who dwell therein from every attack of the enemy.”  They are simple prayers.  They are short prayers.  A blessing can take, maybe, ten-minutes. (Unless your home is huge or you want outbuildings and your entire property blessed). But the time spent blessing your home is a time when we have asked that God come into, and be a part of, our domestic Church.  The place where we raise our children, share our lives with one another, and where we truly live – we rejoice here, we cry here, we live and we die here.  Home is the place from which we go out into the world, sharing God with all the people we bump into along the path of our days on this earth.  How comforting to know it is a blessed place.

Elder Sophrony1Scoffers will always scoff; detractors will have their comments.  But I would prefer to have my home blessed, to further enhance the life we live in our home.  I would prefer to ask God’s blessings on all I do, even to where I live and if I sneeze.  And speaking of sneezing, I need to go chase some dust bunnies before Father arrives this evening….

“..not theory, not philosophy…”

Icon wallToday it has been raining almost all day. It rained most of the night, too.  It was the sort of day where you want to wrap yourself in a cozy blanket, hold a cup of tea, and sit before a warm fire.  But we rarely do that on Sundays.  First of all, my husband is a Deacon and so we are obligated to attend Sunday Divine Liturgy.  But more than that, our Sunday would seem hollow if we did not get ourselves out and off to Church.  So off into the rainy day we went.  I have often posted photos of the interiors of Churches and I tend to favor those with candle-lit scenes.  The one above is one of my favorites; the Icon wall.  In our parish we are blessed with an amazing array of icons and our Iconostasis (the Icon screen that goes across the altar area) is beautiful.  We are also blessed with beeswax candles! Many parishes use the thin tapers, but they are not beeswax.  I feel blessed that we have them.  As I lit a candle each for the intercession of the Theotokos and Our Lord, I stood before their icons, bathed in the mystery, the awe, the solemnity of them.  But I was also awash in my other senses.  I could hear the rain spattering along the roof line and into the downspouts.  Everything smells wonderful when it rains.  And I could smell the incredibly aromatic beeswax candles.  Trust me, if you have never experienced them, they do make a difference.  The light they emit and the scent surrounding them is heady and enhances the whole experience.  So instead of snuggling on my couch with my blanket and cup of tea, I was surrounded by the essence of my faith in sight, smell, and once morning prayers and then Divine Liturgy began, the sounds of my faith.  It was truly a morning of heaven on earth!

St. NikolaiI have used the above photo quite often, too.  I truly believe that a large part of our faith is the faith we experience in our community.  As I stated in my post of the Dormition, we come to our faith in a corporate way, as part of a larger community.  Even if you have a “born again” experience as a Protestant, it is normally within a faith community; the community that brought you to that pinnacled moment in time.  I am often asked, “When were you saved?”  I have pondered it many times and have come to the conclusion that my salvation is a process.  Yes, I have come to know and experience Christ in my life. I am blessed to belong to a Byzantine faith where encounters with Christ happen quite regularly.  My personal encounters have been shocking, sublime, timely, and extremely profound.  And they keep coming.  Each time I am in contact with that moment where Our Lord touches me, I am deeper into my relationship with Him.  I am blessed in that.

Today, after Divine Liturgy, I met some wonderful women.  One of the women in our parish is an incredible soup-maker.  Today she provided the parish with broccoli soup that was so incredible, with warm bread to accompany it.  As we sat around and gabbed, enjoying our soup and the company, I realized how much I would have missed had I chosen to remain on my couch!  My faith was enhanced and I met some wonderful ladies, and enjoyed some incredible soup.  Our conversation was as edifying in many ways as our experience during Liturgy.  Because when you sit and talk with people and share your faith, you serve God.  His kingdom is solidified and strengthened when you share your faith with others.  There was so much wisdom at that table.  I find myself sitting with the widows and older women, rather than the younger moms with small children;  I suppose it is because they are closer in age to me, but I am not sure.  I do chat with the other moms who have children, as I have a teen still at home, but I sure enjoy sitting with these older ladies.  Today I shared the concept of “Holy Silence” and also the concept that “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” and it generated a lively chat.  Since most of them have numerous children and grandchildren, keeping Silence is often not something they think to practice first!  I was praying the entire time we chatted and I loved their insight and wisdom and I think they gleaned something useful from me, as well.  Experience…it is truly a great teacher.

CandlesI am glad that I roused myself and went off in the rain to Church. I came away edified and strengthened.  Father’s homily today reminded us of our great responsibility for our own faith.  God waits for us; He does not force us to welcome Him into our hearts.  He invites us to experience Him in our Church, in our fellow Christians.  We may not all worship in the same style or the same environment, but we are all believers of the True Faith.  Our corporate experience of the Divine makes Our Lord more present to each and every one of us…together and in solitude.  Let us also remember those who gave up everything, and are still sacrificing for their faith.  They are part of our faith, too.

Egyptains prayingIn our Silence, which I do try to practice as much as I can (being a homeschooling Mom, I am often relegated to moments of solitude to keep Silence.  Those are the moments when I choose Silence over distractions or chatter and are sometimes the only quiet I may have in a day) we commune with God and are part of the Church Militant – those of us still here, combating evil and seeking the Divine.  We share in the state of this militant Church through our prayers, our actions, and our thoughts.  Let us hold one another up as we struggle to combat the evil in this world.  Let our common experience as a community strengthen us on our personal roads to salvation, as well as helping each of those we come into contact with on their own journey towards the Divine.  Some areas of our world are rife with war and violence; there is little of the Holy Silence available in places where gunfire is more common.  Let us all unite in our common faith, holding up the Church Militant and conjoining the with the Angels and the Saints in the Church Triumphant.

I know I am glad I got off that couch this morning and enjoyed Our Lord and our community, celebrating the gift of the Divine in our lives!!