Broken

It took hours of 4-wheeling, a motorcycle trip and church to get last week put somewhere safe in my head. I didn’t truly feel like “myself” until last evening after some projects were finished around the house and I climbed into bed.

In church on Sunday, I still wasn’t quite right. Everyone came up to me, telling me how much they “liked” my stories. I actually got a book from the library and read it at a table by myself during coffee hour because I just couldn’t talk to anyone about it. Weird? Yeah, probably. (The verdict was guilty on all counts, by the way.)

During the motorcycle trip, I was mostly alone in my thoughts under my helmet. Our group was made up entirely of EMS and police officers with the exception of this girl. Early on, we came upon stopped traffic — a line of cars with drivers watching in horror as an injured deer stumbled across the highway on two broken legs. I asked the cops in my group, all armed, if they could do something about it, but the deer was moving fast enough that any attempt to put it down could have been dangerous or resulted in a disturbing sight to motorists of armed men in biker gear running off into the woods. As we rolled away, I said a prayer for a speedy death for God’s creature, and my mind, of course, went back to what I saw last week.

And I thought about a passage in the catechism book I read:

The entrance to paradise is closed, for if man tasted of the tree of life after tasting of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, evil would become eternal. Therefore death is both a result of the Fall and, at the same time, a remedy against evil. It prevents evil from becoming eternal.

Can you imagine if we didn’t die? Forget the grief death brings for just a second and think about living forever in this place — where we find new ways to hurt each other every single day and where we are ourselves are hurt in new ways nearly as often. We are like that deer, stumbling across the highway, confused and broken.

I know, this is depressing, but I don’t mean it to be. The analogy breaks down a bit because unlike the deer, which has no remedy but death, we know that we have new life in Christ. The wise Fr. Stephen said on his blog this weekend that Christ did not die to make bad men good. He died to make dead men live. Eventually our physical wounds will take our lives and earthly suffering ends for us. There will be no more plastic-tub-baby-coffins or cancer or molesting. Those things add to our spiritual deadness.

More from the book:

Sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all have sinned (Rom. 5:12). But we have hope of salvation, hope of returning to the Tree of Life.

There is a way back across.

Cover me

I felt alone today. I felt very small, very vulnerable and absolutely isolated for much of the day.

Covering trials can be that way. Your world shrinks down to just one room, maybe a hallway and the bathrooms. My schedule becomes whatever the judge says it is. I stand when they say stand, I sit when they say sit and I come back when they say it’s time to start. Throughout the day, my world got even smaller: it shrunk to the witness stand, the pictures, the words on my notepad.

And it’s my job to absorb it all: the way the youngest witness flipped the toy around with his hand because he was so nervous, seeing those who normally have no visible problems with such cases become sad, hearing the change in the voice during the testimony. I bring it all back with me to the newsroom, sort through and try to figure out what you need to know and what you don’t. But it doesn’t really clean off your soul so well when it’s time to go home. So I wander around the city like a zombie looking for dinner, trying not to snap at the clerk and buying more beer at the Cap & Cork. Days like this make me feel very exposed, like I’m somewhere I don’t belong. Weird, huh? (BTW, tonight’s writing juice: Buffalo Trace)

One of the nicest things that happened today was a text from my priest, just to let me know he prayed for me today. It was like this cool little thing, to know that someone had my back spiritually. This particular case is odd in the spiritual category, and is weighing on everyone in that room in that way, I can tell.

It’s dangerous to be out there on your own. At least it is for me.  I always want someone to know where I’m at, where I’m going and if I got there — physically, geographically, emotionally and spiritually. I need a priest. I need someone who is willing to take on the responsibility of me, and let me tell you, it’s a special responsibility. I needed a spiritual father, and not just because the physical one wasn’t all that hot.

I don’t trust myself. I know that I wander off too easily. I chase the ball into the weeds of my anger and get lost out there.

Fr. Andrew hears my confessions. He knows where I struggle, where I hurt. He stands there, not between me and Christ, but beside me, with his stole on my head. And he prays.

Looking for a place to land

I could blog about what I saw today, but I don’t really need to do so. You all know what I saw today. It was upsetting and gross but it is what it is in this world in which we live…so I’m gonna write about something else.

The shift mentioned a couple posts ago is not so much me doing anything differently but rather a conscious acknowledgment of where I was already headed: explaining not so much the reasons why I joined the Church, but maybe to talk a bit about why I was looking in the first place and why I need it so desperately.

I had nowhere else to go.

So I’ve poured myself a tall, frothy glass of writing juice (Mighty Arrow from New Belgium if you were interested. Hoppy is happy!) and I’ll try to explain a bit more.

No atheists in foxholes, right? That’s what they say. But I know I was pretty close once upon a time. And let’s face it–we’re all in a foxhole most days, pushing ourselves up against the muddy sides, whispering “dearGoddearGoddearG0d” until whatever it is passes.

Nothing made any sense at all to me. Nada. Zip. Bupkis.  My family didn’t make sense. My churches didn’t make sense. My “salvation” made less sense. I was paying a truck load of money (still am) to go to a good Evangelical college and have them help me have it make sense. They only seemed to make it worse. But what can you expect from people who don’t seem to understand that the God of Calvin and the God of Arminius are NOT the same.

After graduation and a job as a police reporter and then as a bureau reporter and my first dead-kid trial (the standard by which all court cases in general are measured in my head) and a couple honest-to-goodness disasters, there was absolutely NO way I could sit in a mega-church and not completely lose my mind.  There was no way I could sing “Shine, Jesus, Shine” one more time without just giving up completely. (I am not saying this does not work for you. If it does, fantastic. For me, it gave me spiritual hives.)

Theologically, nothing I heard in Sunday matched up with anything I saw during the week. And it had been that way forever for me. I saw no victory in my own life, no joy, no peace, and most certainly no trust. My heart was as dry as those salt flats they use in all the car commercials.

I needed somewhere I could be. I needed a spiritual home for my heart. Forget my mind, it was fickle and flighty anyway. My soul needed rest.

(Oh, fine, about today…) I thought of this whole thing earlier, while I tried to wrap my soul around the grief that filled that courtroom. I am not so different. I am not so unique. We are all tired. We are all so sad and lonely most of the time. Most of us don’t believe a lot of the time and when we do, it’s more a stubborn refusal to “not believe” than it is a choice to believe.

Most of us, if we’re honest, we’re just looking for a place

to sit down.

Reality bites

I know, I know: two posts, one day. Stop the presses. (The following post may be disturbing…)

What’s occupying my time this week is particularly tragic: a toddler, dead at the hands of a parent.  We only finished with jury selection and opening arguments. The hours of selection gave me plenty of time to feel really bad for the potential jurors.

The court pulled in about 79 people, interrupting their daily routines of dropping kids off at school, running errands, sitting in board meetings, whatever. They get a questionnaire in the mail, do their civic duty and  fill it out. They send it in and their number gets pulled.With a pretty busy court system, the odds were good for those poor souls they’d end up hearing a garden-variety burglary case or something. But what is it they get? Oh, they get the lady who stored her dead child’s body in a plastic tote. The 14 good citizens picked (two alternates), they’re going to get autopsy photos and tearful testimony. They’re going to get a crap-ton of the kind of stuff that makes cops divorce their wives, turn  lawyers into miserable people and lead journalists to drink too much. Hey, citizens, thanks for playing!

As the attorneys worked their way through the jury pool, I started reading a new book: The Living God, a Catechism. (Church nerd…)

In the catechism, the author reminds me of this great gulf created between God and man, that thing that We Did. We chose to know That which we were not supposed to Know.  We thought we could handle it. So Adam’s eyes were opened, not just to his own nakedness, but to a world gone all pear-shaped, a world full of sorrow and pain. He knows, now. We all know now.

So into this world we come, like those poor jurors. The cold hard reality of our situation should hit us full force every day, like a stream of water straight from the garden hose. We live in a world now of autopsy photos and plastic storage tubs. And no amount of busying ourselves can separate us from that. Like Cain, we wander in a world gone mad.

It is exhausting. I wish I could un-know sometimes, OK all the time. I am sure there are people who can un-see the things they see. I am not that girl. I can close my eyes and conjure up dozens of horrific photographs, hear terrible stories and watch awful scenes. And there are so many people who see so much more than I. Maybe we all risk our salvation to tell these stories, I don’t know.

This mess is not the world He envisioned for us. We did this. It’s all on us.

(unrelated, congrats to me on 100th post)

A blogger’s note

Or finding my voice…

When I first started this blog, seven years ago, I was writing about religion every now and then for my work. I wanted to put my thoughts about the how and why of my decision to join the Orthodox Church into a form for family and friends to see and, hopefully, understand. I made a clear line of demarcation between the professional and the personal, much of it self-imposed or self-inflicted, depending on your view.

Throughout the years, as I struggled with the discipline to keep this going, I also jotted down some of my thoughts about how my faith affected my daily life, what life inside this Ark of Faith was like as the storms rage outside. But in my effort to maintain a bit of anonymity (professionally), I was often vague or indirect. Now, though, I am wondering about the wisdom of that. It tended to create a bifurcation, even in my head, that sometimes prevented me from adequately processing what I’ve seen or figuring out its spiritual import.

As a journalist, I am paid to write. Writing personally always felt like work, so I didn’t do it very often. I never really kept a diary. I cannot for the life of me write a poem and I’m a horrid fiction writer. So writing is never something I’ve done for pleasure.  But in recent weeks, for whatever reason, I’ve been feeling an almost compulsion to write personally, to try to put these experiences I have professionally, spiritually, and emotionally into this space, working Orthodoxy into it like kneading a little water into the pie crust dough.

I’m hoping this can continue to be that. I need it to be that. I will endeavor to leave my opinion about what I cover professionally out of this space, other than to describe how some of the things I encounter impact me, change me and  teach me. I’m hoping it doesn’t get me in trouble with my bosses. I hope, instead, it is what I identify above as the purpose of the blog: occasional musings from a bumpy road to Salvation. I hope that my words here offer me encouragement as I write them, and if there’s anyone that reads them, that they give you an honest window into the heart of someone who really wants to be a Christ-follower, even if she has a potty mouth, a hair-trigger temper and a generally crappy attitude.

I am a human, with the Divine spark, that image of God, inside of me. I hope this place becomes a space where I can uncover a little more of that.

The rest of the story

Today, May 22, many of us left behind or whom missed out on the scheduled end of the world yesterday went to church.

Today my church recognized the fifth Sunday of Pascha-The Sunday of the Samaritan woman.

Ever wondered what happened to her? She had a name. Clearly she had had a family. The Gospel said she went back to her village and prepared the way for the Lord, telling people Who was sitting outside at the well.

She had a name too–Photina. St. Photina to my church.  (Svetlana if you’re Slavic.)

And I can tell you what happened to her (at least the website of the Orthodox Church in America can):

During the time of the emperor Nero (54-68), who displayed excessive cruelty against Christians, St Photina lived in Carthage with her younger son Joses and fearlessly preached the Gospel there. Her eldest son Victor fought bravely in the Roman army against barbarians, and was appointed military commander in the city of Attalia (Asia Minor). Later, Nero called him to Italy to arrest and punish Christians. 

Sebastian, an official in Italy, said to St Victor, “I know that you, your mother and your brother, are followers of Christ. As a friend I advise you to submit to the will of the emperor. If you inform on any Christians, you will receive their wealth. I shall write to your mother and brother, asking them not to preach Christ in public. Let them practice their faith in secret.” 

St Victor replied, “I want to be a preacher of Christianity like my mother and brother.” Sebastian said, “O Victor, we all know what woes await you, your mother and brother.” Then Sebastian suddenly felt a sharp pain in his eyes. He was dumbfounded, and his face was somber. 

For three days he lay there blind, without uttering a word. On the fourth day he declared, “The God of the Christians is the only true God.” St Victor asked why Sebastian had suddenly changed his mind. Sebastian replied, “Because Christ is calling me.” Soon he was baptized, and immediately regained his sight. St Sebastian’s servants, after witnessing the miracle, were also baptized. 

Reports of this reached Nero, and he commanded that the Christians be brought to him at Rome. Then the Lord Himself appeared to the confessors and said, “Fear not, for I am with you. Nero, and all who serve him, will be vanquished.” The Lord said to St Victor, “From this day forward, your name will be Photinus, because through you, many will be enlightened and will believe in Me.” The Lord then told the Christians to strengthen and encourage St Sebastian to peresevere until the end. 

All these things, and even future events, were revealed to St Photina. She left Carthage in the company of several Christians and joined the confessors in Rome. 

At Rome the emperor ordered the saints to be brought before him and he asked them whether they truly believed in Christ. All the confessors refused to renounce the Savior. Then the emperor gave orders to smash the martyrs’ finger joints. During the torments, the confessors felt no pain, and their hands remained unharmed. 

Nero ordered that Sts Sebastian, Photinus and Joses be blinded and locked up in prison, and St Photina and her five sisters Anatola, Phota, Photis, Paraskeva and Kyriake were sent to the imperial court under the supervision of Nero’s daughter Domnina. St Photina converted both Domnina and all her servants to Christ. She also converted a sorcerer, who had brought her poisoned food to kill her. 

Three years passed, and Nero sent to the prison for one of his servants, who had been locked up. The messengers reported to him that Sts Sebastian, Photinus and Joses, who had been blinded, had completely recovered, and that people were visiting them to hear their preaching, and indeed the whole prison had been transformed into a bright and fragrant place where God was glorified. 

Nero then gave orders to crucify the saints, and to beat their naked bodies with straps. On the fourth day the emperor sent servants to see whether the martyrs were still alive. But, approaching the place of the tortures, the servants fell blind. An angel of the Lord freed the martyrs from their crosses and healed them. The saints took pity on the blinded servants, and restored their sight by their prayers to the Lord. Those who were healed came to believe in Christ and were soon baptized. 

In an impotent rage Nero gave orders to flay the skin from St Photina and to throw the martyr down a well. Sebastian, Photinus and Joses had their legs cut off, and they were thrown to dogs, and then had their skin flayed off. The sisters of St Photina also suffered terrible torments. Nero gave orders to cut off their breasts and then to flay their skin. An expert in cruelty, the emperor readied the fiercest execution for St Photis: they tied her by the feet to the tops of two bent-over trees. When the ropes were cut the trees sprang upright and tore the martyr apart. The emperor ordered the others beheaded. St Photina was removed from the well and locked up in prison for twenty days. 

After this Nero had her brought to him and asked if she would now relent and offer sacrifice to the idols. St Photina spit in the face of the emperor, and laughing at him, said, “O most impious of the blind, you profligate and stupid man! Do you think me so deluded that I would consent to renounce my Lord Christ and instead offer sacrifice to idols as blind as you?” 

Hearing such words, Nero gave orders to again throw the martyr down the well, where she surrendered her soul to God (ca. 66). 

I love that about my Church…I always wanted to know more about the people mentioned in Scripture. How did their encounter with Christ change them? It had to have, right? I mean isn’t that the point. What became of them?

In case you’re ever curious, that kid Jesus picked up and put on His lap, that was St. Ignatius. He too was martyred, but not before giving us some seriously foundational documents for the Christian faith. Lazarus, well, he became a bishop. So did Zacchaeus, who was also an apostle, preaching the Gospel alongside St. Peter.

Just another reminder that we’re not so alone in this. And we never have been. There are generations full of godly men and women who came before Luther and Calvin and Billy Graham that lived out the Christian life through unimaginably difficult circumstances, without blinking or flinching. But they all started out so similar to us. That should give us hope: God can use anybody. He already has.

On this, the end of the world

(I feel fine, by the way)

I’m still waiting, though, for Christ to return in 1988. Edgar Whisenant said he would, printed out a bunch of books and Christians of a fundamental/Evangelical leaning went on full prep mode.

I remember sitting in the front row at 1st Baptist Church in Elkhart in September, days before the event, and listening to our pastor talk about how kids had come home from college to be with their families at the end. I remember my stomach tying itself in knots.

What if I wasn’t Christian enough? What if all the times I prayed the sinner’s prayer, over and over and over again, didn’t work? Maybe I hadn’t meant it. Maybe I hadn’t been serious enough. I looked around at my youth group-mates. They didn’t seemed stressed at all, so maybe they were better Christians. Maybe I wasn’t a Christian at all.

I know I’ve blogged about this before, and I will probably do so again. I guess the reason is this: this terror of being “left behind” constantly occupied my mind, sometimes like a low, steady hum but other times like crashing cymbals. It literally drove me nuts as a kid, and even a bit into college. (Taylor U helped me grow out of it a bit.)

God does not want us to come to Him out of terror. He does not ordain some for heaven and others for hell. The patchwork quilt of rapturist theology, cobbled together from disparate texts in both the old and new Testaments, is not the security blanket He intended for us.

He said trust in Me. Follow Me. Believe in Me and My word. He, the Triune God, who built a road back to fellowship with Him, is good and full of love for mankind. Terror breeds hate and that always interferes with love.

I hear it’s 11 p.m. in New Zealand, five hours post-apocalypse there…