Archive for December, 2008

This Is My Idea Of A Fresh Start For 2009

December 31, 2008

dirtylaundry

If there are any mothers out there who read this blog you can understand why I’m so happy right now.  My idea of a New Year’s celebration is not to go out dancing, tie one on or generally do anything more exciting than have my mom over and let the kids stay up as late as they want.   But, right at this very moment I have achieved a mothering milestone.  A pinnacle of parenthood.  A freakin’ fantastical feat of housewifery.

At 10:23 pm, Dec. 31, 2008, I finished all 2008 laundry.

If Sisyphus had been condemned to doing laundry for eternity in the Underworld instead of pushing that stupid boulder up a hill, I think he’d have been much less of a jerk while alive.    Meanwhile in present day LaLa Land, my kids and husband expect clothes to suddenly animate themselves like the Apprentice’s broom, magically washed and dried, then march up the stairs and obediently fling their cloth bodies around  coathangers, with lines of tighty whiteys and boxers queed up to hop into dresser drawers; matched socks bouncing two-by-two behind them.   (In all fairness, my 8 year old must hang up his clean clothes, but it is never done without grumbling and procrastination.)

So, before the stroke of midnight  I resolved to finish every bit of dirty laundry in this house.  I did not want to be looking at last year’s clothes baskets waiting for me in 2009, and with a little perseverence, everything is washed, folded, hung up and put away.  Woohoo!   I can finally see the bottom of all four laundry baskets.  What a feeling of accomplishment, even if I know it’s only going to last one day, two at the most.   

Get a life you say or aren’t you just the slightest bit envious? 

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Orthodox New Year’s Resolutions

December 30, 2008
San Antonio New Year's Celebration

San Antonio New Year's Celebration

I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions, usually because they are doomed to failure and really seem a bit unrealistic and almost superstitious.  The only one I seem to fall into is the “loose 10 pounds” resolution.  Ironic that I’ve been gaining and loosing the same 10 pounds for 20 years.

If I was to make a list of resolutions I’d like to commit myself to Fr. Thomas Hopko’s 55 Maxims on the Christian Way of Life that have been circulating around for a while.  If you want to hear them click here  and scroll to the bottom of the page.

  1. Be always with Christ, and trust God in everything.
  2. Pray as you can, not as you think you must.
  3. Have a keepable rule of prayer, done by discipline (every day).
  4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times each day.
  5. Repeat a short prayer when you mind is not occupied.
  6. Make some prostrations when you pray.
  7. Eat good foods in moderation, and fast on fasting days.
  8. Practice silence – inner and outer.
  9. Sit in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day.
  10. Do acts of mercy in secret.
  11. Go to liturgical services regularly.
  12. Go to confession and Holy Communion regularly.
  13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings.
  14. Reveal your thoughts and feelings to someone regularly.
  15. Read the scriptures regularly.
  16. Read good books, a little at a time.
  17. Cultivate communion with the saints.
  18. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
  19. Be polite with everyone, first of all family members.
  20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.
  21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  22. Exercise regularly.
  23. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.
  24. Be totally honest, first of all with yourself.
  25. Be faithful in little things.
  26. Do your work, then forget it.
  27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  28. Face reality.
  29. Be grateful.
  30. Be cheerful.
  31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
  32. Never bring attention to yourself.
  33. Listen when people talk to you.
  34. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
  35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
  36. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.
  37. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis, figuring things out.
  38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.
  39. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
  40. Don’t seek, or expect, pity or praise.
  41. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
  42. Don’t judge anyone for anything.
  43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
  44. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
  45. Be defined and bound by God, not be people.
  46. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
  47. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
  48. Do nothing for people that they can and should do for themselves.
  49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.
  50. Be merciful with yourself and with others.
  51. Have no expectations, except to be fiercely tempted until your last breath.
  52. Focus exclusively on God, and light, and never on darkness, temptation and sin.
  53. Patiently endure your faults and sins peacefully under God’s mercy.
  54. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
  55. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.

This is the kind of list we all think we cannot possibly fulfill.  I could quote the famous passage, “with God all things are possible”, but do we always believe this promise?  I’m more inclined to fall into the doubting category.  Experience has shown me that humans are either pathologically cynical or hopeless defeatists – traits of our fallen nature which fuel so many failed New Year’s resolutions.  And it’s for that reason I suspect Fr. Hopko puts in #54 – “When you fall, get up immediately and start over”.   The Apostle James didn’t see failure as an impediment to our “success” as Christians, but as a spiritual aid.  In Chapter 1:2-3, of his Epistle he advises,

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials [temptations in the King James version], knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.

You can and should spend a lifetime following Fr. Hopko’s Maxims, but most importantly, our faith gives us an opportunity to fail and keep trying.   It’s not an excuse to live a life of conscious sin, but for many of us it won’t be our perfection that’s a testament to our faith, but our willingness to keep getting up and trying again when we do fall.   My prayer then is ‘God give me the strength and desire to keep getting up’.

Happy New Year!  Prospero año nuevo!  Prost Neujahr!

Remember The Holy Innocents

December 29, 2008

holyinnocents

Today the Orthodox Church honors the Holy Innocents.  Please remember the 14,000 baby and toddler boys killed by order of King Herod 2000 years ago, and the thousands of children that will die this very day from the hands of abortionists.   And if you must argue the difference between living babies and ‘fetuses’, than you won’t believe the unborn have no less humanity and value than the children that died by the sword in their mothers’ arms.

Illumined Heart Interview With Metropolitan Jonah Part 1

December 27, 2008

desert

In anticipation of Metropolitan Jonah’s consecration tomorrow, Ancient Faith Radio has posted a new Illumined Heart podcast.   Host Kevin Allen asked many background questions the average layperson has probably been wishing he could ask, particularly about his Beatitude’s  conversion to the Orthodox Faith.  It’s a voyeuristic curiosity among converts that we never get tired of listening to these stories.  Not to compare our faith with another believer, but as a reminder of where we came from.  I think it’s a way of renewing our zeal for the faith.

I loved the questions about Metropolitan Jonah’s favorite movies and books.  I think you can tell a lot about a person by what they read (Met. Jonah cites Edward Abbey among others), the movies they like and their childhood hobbies and interests.   For the record, my 8 year old thinks our new Metropolitan is officially cool.  Anyone, even a hierarch, who lists Star Wars among his favorite films is ok with him.

During the early 80’s as a college student studying wildlife science and parks and recreation, I think reading Edward Abbey, particularly Desert Solitaire, was as close to a spiritual experience as I’d ever had at that point.  To this day, a hike through the desert Southwest can feel like a second baptism.   It wasn’t until I became Orthodox years later that I got the same “religious” feelings from any other writer.  Some people think of Abbey as an eco-terrorist, a liberal radical, an anarchist.  Well, he might have been all that but he was also a philosopher.  The man who could say “Love implies anger. The man who is angered by nothing cares about nothing”, can’t be totally without a spiritual core.

Two things really struck me about Metropolitan Jonah’s interview – one,  just how calm,  easy-going and sensible he sounds.  This is someone who knows people and how to deal with them; that is the strength that made him a good abbot and also what being an abbot taught him about dealing with people.

The second was how the Holy Spirit was working in his life even as a college student and Orthodox newcomer.   In the Orthodox college fellowship  that he founded, at least eight persons went on to become  priests, priest-monks, a nun, deacon and matushka.   That is a remarkable number considering most average parishes can count on one hand the number of priests, deacons or monastics ever produced during the community’s entire history.

I’ll post Part 2 as soon as it’s out on Ancient Faith Radio.  In the meantime, please keep praying for our Metropolitan.

Mmmm…tamales

December 26, 2008

I can’t think of anything better than Christmas tamales for breakfast (except maybe Thanksgiving pie).   Straight out of my microwave.  I wish I could invite y’all over for tamales since I’ve got 4 dozen left.

tamales

Twisted Marketing at Restoration Hardware

December 26, 2008

Somebody needs a good smiting and I think it ought to start with the marketing or advertising department at Restoration Hardware.

give1

This gem of spiritual advice was in the window of the Restoration Hardware store in the Alamo Quarry shopping center.  I was driving around looking for a parking place on Monday and this caught my eye.    The sad thing is that for most of the scripturally illiterate people in this country, this ad might register something slightly familiar with them.  Kind of like a few words from a song they know they’ve heard before but just can’t remember where.  We have now come down to twisting our Lord and Saviour’s own words to sell s#$@! to people who may or may not be aware of the true significance of Christmas, aside from shopping, presents, and feasting.  It’s all about giving so you can get in on the receiving.

(My ranting rings a bit hollow I think as yours truly shoves Christmas cookies and tamales into her mouth for breakfast, and is surrounded by the detritus of wrapping paper and toy carnage.)

The original context for this bit of propaganda is the Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 11:9-11.

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?

 

St. John Climacus in the Ladder of Divine Ascent spells out clearly what this passage means and why and how we petition God through our prayers.

Ask with tears, seek with obedience, knock with patience. For thus he who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened…[but] all who ask and do not obtain their requests from God, are denied for one of the following reasons: because they ask at the wrong time, or because they ask unworthily and vaingloriously, or because if they received they would become conceited, or finally because they would become negligent after obtaining their request.

God knows exactly what we need even without our prayers, but it’s through prayer that we we are trying to understand His will and communicate with Him in a united, cooperative manner.  In the passage from Luke above, Jesus is speaking about our boldness before God through prayer, but that doesn’t mean you should ask Him for retro door knobs and 700 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.   That’s the same heresy the health-and-wealth gospel preachers have been passing off for years.   Jesus doesn’t owe you anything, certainly not a new set of furniture, a new car or designer clothes.  You want stuff like that,  ask Santa Claus.

When God is Born As A Little Child…

December 25, 2008

nativity

how can anything else seem important?  We should be out in the streets shouting for joy.  We should be falling down to our knees and praising God for this miracle.  We ought to be crying with happiness and amazement at what God has done for us.  Did I do anything remotely like this today?  Not at first…first I had to have a nose-out-of-joint, indignant snit, followed by a good ‘ol fashioned spell of feeling sorry for myself.  The cause?  Unfulfilled  expectations about the perfect family Christmas celebration.   Fatigue and stress caused by incessant cookie baking, house cleaning and meal preparation.  And unsympathetic and uncharitable feelings towards the entirely human nature and weaknesses of those closest to me, which at any other time of the year I freely exhibit, but which are more easily excused or overlooked without the magnification of Christmas hopes and dreams.  Basically, I’m a sinner with a Yule log in my eye.

So what pulled me out of my funk?  I went to Divine Liturgy this morning at 9 am and several things happened that brought me back to the reality of the Nativity.  The funny thing is that all of them weren’t even things that you could consider spiritual, but God isn’t always going to whack you with a cross to make you see what an idiot you are.

A beautiful, white Great Egret flying across a sun-broken cloud bank….angelic little babies and toddlers dressed in their sparkly, frilly Christmas dresses and suits….bright red Cardinals hopping in the leaf-strewn churchyard…the sound of a dearly loved former priest’s voice as he helped serve Christmas Day Liturgy….my kids playing happily with their new toys and giving me Christmas hugs.

As the Grinch learned, Christmas comes no matter what.  So how you spiritually profit from the day depends totally on your outlook.   If you’re looking for perfection in the human celebration of the Feast you will always be disappointed.  The only perfection is in Christ himself who was perfect God and perfect man and appeared this day as a little child.

God bless you all and I hope you didn’t have to go through the spiritual spanking I had to appreciate our Saviour’s birth.  Enjoy the video below that has been making the rounds of a few Orthodox blogs.  It is just beautiful and gets right to the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

Metropolitan Jonah and Mission Statements

December 23, 2008

For you Metropolitan Jonah-philes out there, see a  new interview posted on the Religion News Service.   I kind of wish everyone would let him move on and talk about something other than his surprising election or his similarities with Barack Obama.   He’s a brilliant person and has a lot more to rehash then how he wasn’t expecting the vote, how his bags were barely unpacked, yata yata.   But it sounds like he’s hitting the ground running and really is moving on.  The next few months will be very busy.

The bishops will be meeting on December 29th for a strategic planning session, part of which will include refocusing on the mission of the OCA.  I’m a little “ehh” about the Metropolitan’s idea of summarizing this meeting into a new mission statement.    I’ve never been a fan of these wordy, lofty-goaled bits of organizational fluff.  Look, I’ve managed to function pretty well as an Orthodox Christian without once ever looking for guidance to the OCA’s existing, ho hum mission statement (and actually I never knew we had one until I just looked it up for this link).  In my opinion, these things always say a lot but mean little and once drafted their only function is to decorate letterheads and business cards.  For example, do you think anyone at this company is really reading their mission statement?

The Mission of United Tobacco Company is to function as the vital link between the best tobacco growers in the world and the best manufacturers in the world. We aim to accomplish our mission by focusing on personal service to our customers; rewarding initiative and creativity; promoting the quality of our grower group; responding to social and environmental challenges; and positively impacting our community.

If you want something more “churchy”, how about this inspiring statement from a non-denominational church somewhere in Alaska (name changed to protect the innocent and rudderless):

At Golly Gee Community Church we’re not about “having it all together” or even pretending we do. We’re just a family trying to grow together toward a God who knows us and can help us put all the pieces of this sometimes bizarre world into perspective. We may not have all the answers but we know someone who does. In fact He not only knows the answers…He made up the questions.

All I can say is wow, now that’s powerful and focused.   And no, I did not cut and paste this from a Saturday Night Live skit – this is not Sarah Palin’s Church.  These folks are seriously missing something if the best they can come up with is this ‘let’s all muddle our way together’  mantra.   At least Sarah Palin’s Wasila Bible Church isn’t messing around – they know where they’re going.  I can’t agree on the path these Christians are taking but their clearly worded Core Commitments make me believe they are not too concerned.

Some of our greatest Orthodox saints drafted their own mission statements.  I’d like to see St. Ephraim the Syrian’s words on a business card

The Church is the salt that salts the whole world, preserving it from putridity.

How about the familiar words of St. Cyprian of Carthage

No one can take God as his Father unless he takes the Church as his mother.

This one is pretty popular in Orthodox circles though I don’t know who first came up with it.

The Orthodox Church is evangelical, but not Protestant. It is orthodox, but not Jewish. It is catholic, but not Roman. It isn’t non-denominational – it is pre-denominational. It has believed, taught, preserved, defended and died for the Faith of the Apostles since the Day of Pentecost 2000 years ago.

Whatever the Synod of Bishops comes up with, I believe it will be and should be centered on the Gospels.   There can be no mission statement greater than Christ’s own words.  Not a short, sweet sound bite of scripture;  not a one sentence summary of what the Church is and isn’t.  You need the whole Gospel, and really the whole of Scripture to summarize the Church and it’s mission.   So if you want to understand the longest, most detailed mission statement  ever written, you’re going to have to come and hear the words in the place where they achieve their truest context – the Divine Liturgy of the Church.

Christmas in San Antonio #2

December 19, 2008

bunuelos

Means buñuelos.  Who doesn’t like big discs of light-as-air fried dough dusted with sugar and cinnamon?   The story goes that the local version was really popularized back in the 60’s for Hemisfair.  Someone always drops off a big bag of them at my office and they are fabulous.  If you can eat them right out of the hot oil they are ethereal, but cold with hot chocolate and I’m not complaining either.   If you want to learn about more San Antonio Christmas traditions read on.

It’s my lunch hour now so I’m off to order the biggest, most important local Christmas food staple – tamales.   Six dozen ought to do it for my family.  The debating about where to buy the best tamales in town occupies a  good deal of time for San Antonians starting about Thanksgiving.   So unless your mama hosts a tamalada you are pretty much going to have to buy them, so getting the best is very important.   Some places take orders, but others are first come, first served, so you could be standing outside a West side hole-in-the-wall at the crack of dawn.   This year the economy is pushing the price for good tamales up to at least $7 per dozen.  But that’s the price you pay for holiday tradition around here.

The Future of The Russian Orthodox Church

December 18, 2008

st_basils_cathedral

Here’s an interesting little commentary  by John Couretas of the Action Institute about the future of the Russian Orthodox Church as it relates to the long history of Soviet repression and church accommodation or some would say, conspiracy. 

The Russian Orthodox Church has been coming into its own for a few years now, and the path it takes towards a supremacy of faith or some form of accommodation for non-Orthodox religions depends on the election of the new Patriarch in February.

I think it’s hard or a bit galling for Americans to look at a church/state structure like Russia has traditionally maintained and is trying to re-invent, and equate that with the religious laissez-faire we have in America.  Our free and easy way with religion has ensured its vibrancy but at the cost of traditional doctrine and the preservation of “the Church”.  When Americans speak about going to church they do not have the faintest idea of what it means to have a unity of faith.  Give credit to the Russians, that despite the most brutal repression, they still preserve the vision of a common Orthodox faith for an Orthodox country.  

The reality of modern Russia is that non-Christian fringe faiths (Hare Krishnas, etc..), heresies (Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses) and various Evangelical or mainstream Protestant denominations have popped up or been resurrected.   Some of these Protestant denominations, such as Lutherans and Baptists, and the Roman Catholic Church  have had an historical presence in Russia since at least the 17th century, due to the expansion or contraction of borders, or the large numbers of European advisors and merchants who came into Russia at the invitation of Peter the Great.   Would I feel so strongly in support of the predominance of  Orthodoxy if I was a Baptist or an Evangelical rooting for the missionaries and house churches of Russia?  Or turn it around completely and I can even understand how Muslims must feel about the singular position of Islam in the Middle East.  At least it’s an easier position to accept with regard to Russia, that for 1000 years it’s been an Orthodox land and unless you’re planning on reverting back to paganism, Orthodox it should remain.