Archive for January, 2010

Lost Kids

January 28, 2010

Would you be a little worried if your 18 year old identified herself as a werewolf, ate raw meat, collected skulls and wore a tail out in public?   Would you be freaking out if the kid was also into bondage, wore a dog collar, and hung around with others of her kind in a ‘wolf pack’?  Did I mention the Tourette’s Syndrome, dropping out of school in 9th grade, and the supposed brain damage from a prior auto accident? 

Wolfie Blackheart, not your average San Antonio teenager, is making news this week  with the revelation that she decapitated a dog (road kill or live family pet is the  legal question right now), then cleaned and prepared its skull for display.  No one, especially the owner of the dog, might have known about this if the photos hadn’t been posted on Wolfie’s My Space page.   Dog lovers and animal rights groups are howling mad and want Wolfie’s head on a shelf, and they’re pressuring the San Antonio Police Department to file charges of animal cruelty.

I’m not at all disturbed by Wolfie’s interest in taxidermy in itself, but when it’s just one aspect of her rather bizarre life, it isn’t such an innocent little hobby anymore.  What sets off alarms for me is her involvement in  sexual fetishism, bondage, and extreme self-delusion, compounded with an incomplete formal education.  That seems experimental and edgy when you’re 18 but what are you going to do with your life at 30?

Anyone care to argue that our children aren’t under attack by demonic forces?  Wolfie isn’t the only teenager adrift in our society.  I see plenty of runaways and street kids downtown every day; they were once someone’s baby, now they are alone.  I titled this post “Lost Kids” but I have to believe that anyone is not so far gone that they’re lost forever, not while there’s the hope of Christ.   To a loving God, Wolfie Blackheart and other kids like her are children created in His image and likeness, worthy of respect and love.

She’s gonna blow…

January 26, 2010

A volcano is rarely in a constant state of eruption.  For most of the time it simmers, puffing a little smoke, tremoring slightly, for all the world appearing like a mountain with  character.  And then one day the geologic stresses build up, the magma explodes violently and there’s no going back from there.   Anger is often like that.  A cheerful veneer of Christian jovialness is suddenly unmasked by one thing, one person, that sets us off with an actual or perceived wrong, a slight on our character, an unkind word, a misunderstanding, or a deliberate attack. 

Recently, I got crosswise with a fellow parishioner over an issue that could have turned into the kind of conflict that burns bridges and ends friendships.   I was the volcano and it took just one email to unleash an  exploding caldera of anger, hurt pride and indignation.  The only rational response I acted on, thank God, was to call my priest before I hit send on the angry reply I composed.  

As a Christian what do we do with anger?  Is it OK for a Christian to exhibit anger?  Our Lord in the Gospels of  Matthew (21:12–13) and Mark (11:15–17)   displayed a fit of anger when he turned out the merchants and moneychangers from the temple, knocked over tables, and scattered their goods on the ground.  It must have been a shocking scene.    I don’t picture my Lord and Savior screaming and hollering when he did this, but the very act of driving someone away and knocking over their merchandise can’t be accomplished without a certain amount of forcefulness.   However, the difference between Christ’s anger and mine is the sin of pride.  Jesus Christ wasn’t abusive towards the money changers, but was stopping their sinful business.  His motivation was doing His Father’s will.   My motivation?  “How dare someone criticize me!”  My response?   Defend and counterattack.   

The fight against the sinful life is the true purpose of righteous anger, observed 4th century desert monastic Abba Evagrius in his work Texts on Active Life No. 15.   Righteous anger is not used against out fellow human beings, but is

…by nature designed for waging war with the demons and for struggling with every kind of sinful pleasure. Therefore angels, arousing spiritual pleasure in us and giving us to taste its blessedness, incline us to direct our anger against the demons. But the demons, enticing us towards worldly lusts, make us use anger to fight with men, which is against nature, so that the mind, thus stupefied and darkened, should become a traitor to virtues.

One thing I’ve learned about this incident is that being right is not the same as being righteous.  Even if you’re right, getting angry and lashing out is never appropriate.  You can count to ten, say the Jesus Prayer, call your priest, but do everything possible to not act out in anger.   It’s the practice of the spiritual life that cools the volcanos inside each of us, giving us the tools and the patience to resist every stress and strain, allowing us to step back from the edge when we’re  ‘ready to blow’.

January 22, 1973

January 22, 2010



Sanctity of Life Sunday

January 21, 2010

Tomorrow, January 22nd, marks the 37th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.  What’s there to say after all these years.  America is still killing its own children, and the good fight is still being waged against it.    

Metropolitan Jonah’s Sanctity of Life Sunday message to the Orthodox Church in America has now been posted on the OCA’s website.  Please don’t skip reading it with the idea that you’ve heard everything that can possibly be said about abortion and a Christian’s duty to stop it.  Every soldier, no matter how long in the fight, needs to be reminded about the importance of their mission and encouraged to keep going on, despite the hostile forces waiting for them.    This is a war, but our enemy is not the desperate sinner fallen into hopelessness so great that abortion seems the only way out.  Our enemy is not the deluded and morally fallen abortionists who convince themselves of the charitable service they’re providing to women in crisis.   This is a war, and the enemy we fight against is the same Great Enemy that has always opposed mankind.

The birds of the air…

January 19, 2010

Lesser Goldfinch

I’ve added a new page to this blog – The birds of the air…  It’s simply a bit of  dabbling in one of my biggest passions – bird watching.   It’s not remotely related to Orthodoxy, except in the sense that it’s an appreciation of the creatures put on this Earth by a loving God.  I’ve been an active birder since I took some ornithology classes related to my wildlife science major at Texas A & M, but it’s much more than a scientific study for me after 25 years.  And yes, Orthodoxy and science are not enemies.  I just happen to believe in the Orthodox teaching that some stuff is just a mystery.  Science is great, but don’t look for it to explain the unexplainable.

For me birding is the most immediate contact with the natural world and its animals.  Birds are everywhere around us; they are the most visible and accessible creatures, and picking up a pair of binoculars and “hunting” for them satisfies a human desire to understand and be a part of the natural world.  I’d go so far as to say that in some sense it’s also a spiritual experience, but not so far as to say ‘nature is my religion’ or ‘the outdoors is my church’.  Too many people these days substitute a worship of the creation for worship of the Creator.   Anyway, if you’re interested, check back once in a while and I’ll update the list with reports about my backyard feeders or any birding trips I’m taking. 

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.     Matthew 6:26

Up a Tree with Zacchaeus

January 14, 2010


The past few days I’ve been enjoying Fr. James Coles’ postings on his blog Schole  about Zacchaeus and his encounters with our Lord in the Gospel of Luke.   Fr. James’ writings are simple, straightforward and very applicable to our own lives, much like the meeting of Zacchaeus and Christ.  

I’ve often wondered why the Gospel writer troubled himself to actually describe the species of tree Zacchaeus was perched in.   He identifies it to species, Ficus sycomorus, the Sycamore Fig or Fig Blackberry, named for the blackberry-like shape of its leaves and fruit resembling the fig.  This is a bit confusing for us in North America  because the sycamores of the Americas are actually members of the unrelated Plane tree family, misnamed sycamores for the tree in which Zacchaeus sought to view Christ.   However, for the 1st century readers of the Gospel account, a reference to the “sycamore” was immediately known to them.  They were familiar with it as a common shade tree of the valleys and river bottoms throughout the Middle East and Egypt – a tree that was widely cultivated in Egypt before the 3rd millenium B.C., considered both sacred and an important food source and carpentry wood for the construction of coffins for mummies. 

In the Old Testament the sycamore is mentioned in several places.  During the time of King Solomon, “the king made silver common as pebbles, and cedars plentiful as the sycamores of the lowlands” (I Kgs. 10:27).  In Psalm 78:47, one of the plagues of Egypt comes “By killing their vines with hail and their sycamore trees with frost . . .”   The Prophet Amos identifies himself as a simple shepherd and tender of sycamore trees, rather than a great prophet, when he said, I was no prophet, neither did I belong to any of the brotherhoods of prophets. I was a shepherd, and looked after sycamores: but it was Yahweh who took me from herding the flock, and Yahweh who said, “Go, prophesy to My people Israel’ (Amos 7:14-15). 

So what was the purpose of identifying the tree?  And would it have made any difference if Zacchaeus had climbed a palm or olive tree?  Was it simply a matter of availability and ease?  Maybe the sycamore fig’s wide, spreading branches could have been more easily climbed by a small man like Zacchaeus, at least more easily and comfortably than a palm.  The palm achieves its significance at our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem as a banner announcing the coming King; the oil of the olive as part of His anointing and blessing.   But in Zacchaeus’ meeting with the Lord, Christ enters into Jericho as a simple traveller, hungry and tired, greeted from a fruit tree by a hospitable man, ready to offer him a place at his table.   It seems there’s something special about climbing up to Christ; about one’s willingness to look for Him and to accept whatever He asks of you. 

Please read Fr. Coles’ posts here and here for some real knowledge.    Father offers you five minutes of reading and a lifetime of spiritual application.  Don’t waste the opportunity; rush out like Zacchaeus and climb up to meet Christ! 

Fruit of the Sycamore Fig

Why Cool Should Not Rule

January 13, 2010

I’ve never thought of myself as particularly cool, or if I once was, a 47 year old mother who drives a Volvo and bird watches for a hobby has no hope of ever reclaiming that title.  I still might be considered marginally cool in my choice of music or my laissez faire attitude towards the horticulture of weed, but that’s just ’cause I’m an old hippie at heart.  These days I’m more apt to criticize the vanity and emptiness of trying to achieve ‘coolness’ – the pointlessness of a life lived in search of ‘the next big thing’.   It seems parenthood and mortality are the great equalizers of the hip and young. 

Recently a news piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer has been popping up across Orthodox message boards and news aggregators.  It’s the sad profile of an Eastern European neighborhood called Northern Liberties and its declining churches and synagogues, now gone to the dogs, literally, with its discovery by urban hipsters looking for things with “good bones”, dog parks and a critical mass of other like-minded cultural zombies.  The churches merely add to the neighborhood’s character.  While the more melancholy Inquirer piece gently laid out the shallow hipsters for some reproach, it was author/journalist Thom Nickels who cleanly gutted them with a  follow-up piece in the Philadelphia Weekly Press.  It was brilliant!  His commentary wasn’t merely about the loss of tradition in one gentrified Philadelphia neighborhood, but a profile of pop-culture-as-religion across the nation. 

But may I also say I agree 100% with Mr. Nickels when he rightly points out that the Northern Liberties parishes (or any Orthodox Church in the U.S.) are not without blame for their own decline.  The ethnic social club atmosphere that substitutes for real faith in some parishes has got to go.   Any Orthodox Church that preserves their Liturgy like a museum piece, is hostile to Christ’s call for evangelism, and is unwilling to adapt to the language and culture of America, is doomed and rightfully so.  I’m not talking about changing the Truths of our faith, or pushing novelty and political correctness,  but reaching out to potential converts in English, through new media, and through an active presence in the community.  And this doesn’t mean ethnic food festivals.  It means offering Inquirer’s Classes, Vacation Bible Schools, coffee house lectures on Orthodoxy, icon exhibitions during arts week, National Night Out programs to meet the neighbors, etc…   To be an evangelist is to be generous in sharing your faith.  Hipsters may not immediately come flocking in, but for those few who are looking for something deeper, they’ll recognize the real thing when they see it practiced.   The Orthodox Church doesn’t have to be ‘cool’, but maybe through a sincere desire to follow Christ and live a holy life we can change the definition. 

The Dead Sea Scrolls of L. Ron Hubbard

January 8, 2010


From beyond the grave comes the voice of L. Ron Hubbard, (bad) sci-fi writer, tax evader, and shrewd founder of a very profitable business venture, er, pseudo-religious cult.   Scientology spokesmen made the announcement during a New Year’s celebration in Los Angeles and likened  the finding of more than 1000 hours of previously unknown lectures and numerous writings to the collected written wisdom of the Buddha.  Ah, ringing in the New Year with the sound of cash registers, but be prepared to spend $7500 for your own copy of this drivel.  What’s that old expression?  Fools and their money….