A good fight

“Some people fight to get back what they’ve lost. I fight because I don’t know how to do anything else.” — Lt. Kara “Starbuck” Thrace in season two of (the new) Battlestar Galactica.

As a kid, I used to rip the branches off our neighbor’s mock orange trees to make bows and arrows. Younger branches for the arrows (they grew remarkably straight and flew pretty well) and mid-age branches for the bows (green enough to be flexible and thick enough to be strong). The neighbor hated me (I get that now as a home owner) but my sisters and the neighbor kids had access to functioning weapons as long as I hadn’t lost my pocket knives. (Strange, strange girl I was) We also used old broomsticks and walking sticks as quarter-staffs and wailed away at each other on the front lawn. I really don’t know why CPS was never called. It’d be easy to put some of that, and how I am now, on what was going on inside the house, but some of it is just that my poor mother had three daughters who refused to play with dolls or sit still. Instead we hooked the dog up to the wagon and made her pull us down the street. We wouldn’t stay off the muddy river banks and we shot arrows at each other from the cover of the bushes in front of our house.

I’m not naive. I know some of this conflict- and rough-and-tumble orientation is some of what helped me get through and keeps me going. Some of it, though, is just fun. And as I’ve grown older, that love of fighting and a deep appreciation for scrappy characters has not waned — Starbuck, Katniss, Lisbeth, Veronica… My greatest respect, though, remains for my sisters who are always willing to stand alongside and throw down.

I’ve had no problem seeing life here as a war, externally and internally. (I’m going back to the why-I-am-Orthodox discussion again here) I know I’m broken. I know I’m not the person I’m supposed to be. I know I’m not the person I’m going to be. I know that I too often give in and give up to the pull of this place, this culture that swamps the moral boats and/or tries to obliterate the image of God carved into our souls.

Modern American Christianity/Evangelical Protestantism never gave me the right tools with which to fight. I would read the Epistles of St. Paul and his war imagery, his descriptions of contests and I would wait for someone to tell me how I was to wage war as a good soldier of the King. But all I had at my disposal were endless praise and worship tunes, happy thoughts and crossed fingers.

It never worked for me. Orthodoxy gives me actual weapons, sturdier ones than mock orange tree branches, and ways to train to wage the fight. The part of me that loves those fictional characters, the deepest part of my humanness that wants to be brave and strong when the time comes, that part is daily fed and nurtured by the life of the Church. My priest offers me concrete orders and direction. The lives of the saints surround me, showing me how and offering me hope. I fast. I read. I kneel. I stand. I cross myself. I pray. I bow.

I fight.

Last night at church, we celebrated the Feast of St. Demetrius, a Roman soldier martyred for Christ. His icon depicts him in battle dress, holding a sword and leaning on a shield.

My own patron, St. Eunice, has her day later this week. She also died a martyr, along with her family, after refusing to back down and recant. My sister’s patron, St. Maria Skobtsova or St. Maria of Paris, was a converted atheist, born to privilege who became mayor, a wife and then later a nun. She refused to live in a convent, instead living in the city, where she had fled to escape the Bolsheviks, and hosting theological discussions and debates in her home. The church contemplated excommunicating her, she was so bad at following the rules. Then, when the Nazis came, she and a priest began providing Jews with fake baptismal certificates to save their lives. She died in a concentration camp, taking the place of someone who was to enter the gas chamber that day.

Feisty people, these.

We’re going to need their examples in the days ahead, I believe. I retain no optimism about the future health of our democracy and our safety as human beings. We’re already being eaten alive by the greed and selfishness that our culture has packaged as “appropriate interaction for human beings.” We may not be willing to release our dreams of iPads and comfortable retirements until it is much too late. The barbarians have already crashed the gate.

So I will try to ready myself, waging wars against my own passions and my own ghosts, making myself able to carry on the way I should when I have to. I will try to be a better example for those around me, and live a life worthy of the calling I have received.

I have to. This is my duty.

But they did not receive Him…

…and when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?’

But He turned and rebuked them and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.

Luke 9: 53-56 (today’s Gospel reading)

Hold tight

Yeah, yeah, I know, three posts in 24 hours. My boyfriend’s out of town and a girl’s got to amuse herself somehow, right?

The post this morning, about how this is the end of all that is for us here in shiny happy people land, I don’t think I’m backing off that at all. In fact, I seem to feel it more acutely tonight. And I’m kind of wishing I was a pre-trib rapturist again. It sure was easier when I was one.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think we’re going to wake up tomorrow and we’ll be stripping the bark off trees for fuel and food. It’s going to be more subtle then that, more the constricting like a boa sliding around our waists than a knife to the heart. Does that make any sense? I just think we’re scrapping the bottom of the peanut butter jar here and we’re soon not going to have enough to put on the bread. But really, why should be any different than anybody else?

It’s hard not to despair. It’s hard not to whine and complain about it. The other night I was driving back from my sister’s baby shower with my grandma, just the two of us in the dark car and she was talking about how her family made it during the Great Depression. Her father owned a hardware store and carried half the farmers on credit, until he couldn’t do it anymore himself. He then parlayed a small electricity course he took into a job with rural electrification and the WPA and all that and saved the family. I don’t think we could pull that off now, I truly don’t.

I said my prayers last night–“thy kingdom come, thy will be done…” and I wonder what that means, really. For me, for us, for the Church here and now. We are, as the brilliant Fr. Stephen said on his blog today, living in a strange time, and in a strange land. These things that are going on around us, these earthquakes of culture and winds of conflict, they will not leave us unchanged and untouched. But, as Fr. Stephen went on to say, the goal for us as Christ followers remains the same:

The goal of my life in Christ is to remain faithful to Christ. Despite changes that inevitably shake my world, the goal remains the same and Christ is without change. Thus there is a Rock which cannot be shaken and whose purpose remains the same.

I have a sense that many things are being shaken in our world just now – and far more than we can see at present. I encourage my readers and friends to remain faithful to the Rock upon whom our lives are present. We have no “abiding city,” no political philosophy, no marriage to the transient things of this world. Many things seem to be shaken at present – though the Kingdom we seek cannot be shaken.

So there you are. Hold on, my friends and go with God.

Fixing to get real

I have a bad feeling about this thing, kids. And it’s not that I think the protesters don’t have the right idea(s) or that taking the Constitution for a walk every now and then isn’t a good thing. It needs a little exercise, more than just carrying copies in your pocket and then confusing it for the Articles of Confederation.

Anywho, I don’t think this is going to end well. There are those in the blogosphere who seem to think we’re in the last days of Empire, but, frankly, I think we’re past that already. You know when a person dies, there’s that last breath, the gasp and the rattle in the chest. We’re living in that — the vapors expelled right before there is.no.more. We’re done, as a country, as a culture–as the “land of the free, home of the brave/in God we trust, red-white-and blue” stick a fork in it, kids.

A really smart guy (who uses dirty words, so beware) predicts the #Occupy Wall Street movement is just one testosterone-crazed young man with bigger ideas away from a full-on violent, French Revolution kinda outburst. I tend to agree with him. Right now the populace is adequately entertained with its Real Housewives and its X-Factor and its Monday Night Football, but give it time and we’re going to have the roiling masses throwing park benches through office windows and the police are going to be doing more than just pepper-spraying the inconvenient protesters. Heck, they already arrested a woman who closed her bank account at Citi. True story.

I see it in the faces of the people waiting in the hallways of the courthouse, trying to make ends meet, trying to save their homes, their dignity, their whatever-they-have-left. I feel it sometimes in myself when I open another bill, put those student loans back in deferment, or wait to see how bad my health insurance is going to go up.

We, as a country, could have fixed this years ago. The president could fix this –make those useless bureaucrats in the SEC and elsewhere do something about the crimes that were committed, make the U.S. economy to stop functioning like drunken Midwesterners on a First Nation casino bus tour through Michigan. The GOP (and a handful of Democrats) could fix it too by stop saying NO, by knocking off this non-stop “if I don’t get want I want, I’m going to hold my hand over the country’s mouth until it turns blue”.

We’re done. We’re done because the churches (particularly the Evangelical masses) have long since stopped being a prophetic voice against the wanton accumulation of wealth at any costs. We’re done because the churches (particularly the mainline) have long since stopped being a prophetic voice for morality. We’re done because we’ve confused partisanship for patriotism. We’re done because we allowed our representatives to make campaigns secret. We’re done because we’ve decided that corporations are people too! Yippee!! We’re done because, while there’s no I in team, there’s I in “I want” and “mine.” We’re done because most Americans (largely of Evangelical bent) think that we’re Exceptional because we’re here

We ain’t nothing new and people like us have existed and been wiped off the map of history countless times before by impatient masses who start chanting “mine” louder than the people in power.

Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field until there is no more room. Who chase after rewards and love a bribe; who do not defend the orphan nor does the widow’s plea come before them. Isaiah 5:8, 1:23.

How would sorrow find a home?

If we lived in a world without tears, how would heartbeats know when to stop? How would blood know which body to flow outside of? How would bullets find the gun? —Lucinda Williams

The court cases I cover almost always force me to ask myself what I think about repentance, forgiveness, grace and mercy. Some days it’s pretty clear –a victim behaves in a way that is totally atypical, offering forgiveness and hope to the guilty; or the guilty makes a truly genuine gesture of repentance, having clearly turned around and forsaken the former action.

But most times, it’s just a muddled mess — pride and denial waging a battle on one side of the courtroom while anger and betrayal war on the other. Somewhere in the middle is a judge trying to sort it out and craft some kind of thing that will resemble justice in the end, whatever the hell that is.

Today was one of those days, I guess, where things were less clear, at least at the end. A particularly difficult defendant to see as a soul (he lured a pizza deliveryman to a robbery and then shot him to death) and a victim’s family worn out by all the drama and pain of the past few years.  The case had more than its fair share of twists and turns on the way until today, and it kept it up right up until the end.

The defendant’s family characterized him throughout the hearing, and much of the case, as a generally respectful person raised in church and someone with a call on his life. The victim’s family begged to differ, knowing him only as the one who left their son and brother dying in a gutter.

Again, I was amazed at the callousness with which we treat each other, astonished at the blinders we wear in regards to our own behavior and that of those we love, and just generally saddened at the state of things in this place where the default is to grief.

I’m always glad I’m not the one on the bench. And it’s a good thing I’m not God.

Hanging out there

Feeling kind of vulnerable today. Not sure why. Nothing happened other than more bills, less money. But that’s nothing new and like most days I wrestled with the desire to stick my head in the sand and wish it would just go away.

I want to blog more tonight, but I’m tired. I should be in bed. But I’m not. I should have gotten more done today, but I didn’t. I probably could use a good cry, but I won’t. Maybe I even need a good fight, but I shouldn’t.

Isn’t that weird? Restless…pacing inside. Feeling unsafe and not able to do much beyond locking the doors and closing the windows. But it’s not even that kind of unsafe…it’s just that unsafe, like you’ve gotten yourself up to high or out too far and there’s no getting back without risk. Your throat and the pit of your stomach have met somewhere in between. It’s not anybody else’s doing or anybody’s particular fault, but rather the realization that this is where you find yourself.

I don’t mean this to be fussy. It’s just one of those odd statements of fact. I will drag myself in to say my prayers and I will try to drag myself out of bed for a run. I will feed the dog. I will go to work and I will cross my fingers, say more prayers and hope that the routine brings some sense of stability, that in getting the necessary accomplished, I can find some quiet. At least, for now, the illusion of safety.

Just again to reiterate, for my mom, who reads this…nothing is wrong. Just one of those days.

Point taken

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. –Mark Twain

Pretty great quote. A timely one for me, I guess, this week.

I am working really hard in this relationship with A to let my better angels do the talking and to keep those old destructive impulses at bay as best I can. The other night I was clearly in the wrong. And in the wrong because of a long-standing pattern of “things I do because of my overdeveloped sense of guilt and responsibility” (somewhere there’s some friends nodding in their understanding of this). Anyway, the older me would have figured out a way to make it not my problem, to make this non-function of my self necessary to the relationship, i.e. take it or leave. So while we sat in relative silence over salads at Texas Road House, I let my better angels and my self duke it out. Before the main course came, I figured it out, but I didn’t really mention it until the waitress brought the bill.

So I said, “A, I did this because of this…”

A says “I know and I can live with that, but you just have to let me know.”

Me: “Sorry.”

A: smile

As I chewed on my iceberg lettuce, I could feel myself becoming angry at him–not because he did anything (he didn’t) but because he wasn’t being unreasonable which didn’t give me any room to be unreasonable back. He just kind of sat there with a mostly placid look on his face, no doubt internally amused at my obvious frustration.

This quote (which came into my twitter feed via the mayor of Newark) makes me think of that, how my anger was trying really hard to chew a hole in the fabric of the relationship, which would have damaged me in the long run much more than A.

It makes me think of some of what’s going on at work, how that place so full of silliness is now filling up with anger and how it’s damaging relationships, and eating away at the fabric of functionality. I know I so easily contribute to that because all the unreasonableness allows me to feel justified in seeing their unreasonableness and raising them by grumpy.  It’s mostly overwhelming, and exhausting. I need to figure this out, too.

Do not be irritated either with those who sin or those who offend; do not have a passion for noticing every sin in your neighbour, and for judging him, as we are in the habit of doing. Everyone shall give an answer to God for himself. Everyone has a conscience; everyone hears God’s Word, and knows God’s Will either from books or from conversation with other people. Especially do not look with evil intention upon the sins of your elders, which do not regard you; “to his own master he standeth or falleth.” Correct your own sins, amend your own life. —St. John of Kronstadt