Justice comes, eventually

But that which is broken cannot be unbroken, at least on this side of eternity. A few years ago, I wrote this post, and linked to this blog, and put my name next to those who were fighting for truth.

It took years longer than it should have, decades longer than is conscionable. But finally, after much arm-twisting and tearful pleading, they finally admitted what was just as true 40 years ago as it is today.

Donn Ketchum, M.D. of Grand Rapids, Michigan, is an unrepentant, vicious and enduring pedophile. Thankfully the State of Michigan yanked his license four years ago, but who knows what he did in the 20 years between the time when ABWE should have told them what he was and what he did.

And he kept preaching and teaching at churches, shaking hands, kissing babies. Alongside of him, Mike Loftis and the other good ol’ boys in the fundamentalist Baptist mission organization tried to sell themselves as something else. And all the while they fed the beast behind the door, allowing Ketchum to remain uncharged, un-arrested, unnamed and unknown.

But we knew. Some of my friends knew more than they should have. (Remember, the tree of knowledge of good and evil was that thing we weren’t supposed to touch. It’s doubly bad when its poison fruit is fed to you by others. A whole lot of people should go get fitted for their millstones.)

So now the world knows. It’s about damn time.

I’m out of words to pray for this one. I’d like to be out of tears to cry, but I know that as I pour over the report and digest the scope of what he did to my friends, those girls with whom I played in the woods, rode bikes and dangled from the monkey bars, I know I will cry some more.

I pray for them the prayer of Orthodoxy, the Kyrie eleison.

Lord, have mercy.

I guess it’s better late than never.

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A massive rescue operation

It’s Great and Holy Friday. Christ hangs on the cross in the center of the church. I will go later today to sign hymns of Lamentations, to mourn alongside His mother and disciples. Tonight we will bury Him. Tomorrow night we will await His Glorious Resurrection.

In light of all this, I want to make sure you know something. I knew it, but I forget it all the time, because I live here, in the West, where Christianity is all about a God who is so angry at us being us that He had to sacrifice His own Son to appease Himself. (Ridiculous, isn’t it.)

This was never about that.

Fr. Andrew reminded me of this no less than four times this week, in a couple of homilies and in confession. And he didn’t use these words, exactly, but it’s how my brain is wired these days, so I’m using them.

THIS WAS ALWAYS ABOUT RESCUE.

Always. From the absolute moment we decided to do what we did, and every moment of every day that we do what we do, this has been about that.

It has been about Love. And Sacrifice. About Healing. And Wholeness. It is about Death, but it is, oh boy is it, about Life.

It’s about a Divine Hand, two actually, outstretched and reaching. It’s about moving heaven, earth and the gates of hell to free us from the rubble of our own brokenness, our own hurts, our pain, our shame, our loneliness and vulnerability. It’s about pushing the broken pieces of our lives aside to get us out.

I have a lot of friends who do not believe what I believe. And that is OK with me. I love them and I love the way they challenge me and walk alongside of me and talk with me about these things, regardless of our differences.

But if you do not believe what I believe, because you have distinctly chosen to reject the god of “substitutionary atonement” (doesn’t that sound lovely), the god who “hates F#%$” and leaves tracts in restaurants in lieu of tips, the god who worries more about what people do than what people are (icons, made in His image), it’s OK. I rejected him too. I had to. That other “faith” was killing me.

And this God came for me. He showed up on a commuter train in Washington D.C. when I was on the edge, in the words of a new friend. He carefully and methodically moved aside those broken pieces in my own heart, freed me from the traps I made and is gradually putting me back together. We’re not done yet, but this isn’t a simple process. It’s always been about healing. It’s never, ever, ever been about hell.

God is Love. He kept saying that. I choose to believe Him.    The Icon of Christ the Bridegroom (Ο Νυμφίος)

Are we there yet?

In which I try not to step in it anymore

“The wise thief didst thou make worthy of paradise in a single moment. By the wood of Thy cross, illumine me as well. And save me.”

I will sing this hymn late next week as we move closer to Pascha. I have never needed to sing this hymn more than I need to sing it now. Lent is always hard. ALWAYS. You try to turn your brain more inward, make it function alongside your soul, make yourself one being: Mind/Spirit/Body. You try to clean up, clear out and make a firmer move toward holiness, toward becoming deified. You mean it.

And I meant it this year. I always do. But things are getting so damn complicated anymore. The Job That Doesn’t Pay takes up a good 12 hours a week, on average. Add that to the Job That (barely) Pays and it’s 40+ and the 6.5 hours of commute time to get to that one…sigh. I’ve been a bit busy. And recent events and ridiculousness are leaving my faith frayed to dangerous extremes.

I do guilt extremely well. It’s an aggravating holdover from my Western Christian days, the days obsessed with legal standing and paying debts and all that other crap. So I feel really really guilty about missing Lenten church services (for TJTDP) to get my stuff together for a search, and for missing last weekend for a 48-hour training. There’s going to be Lazarus Saturday skipped for more training.

The corrective to that guilt, though, was the live rescue of a missing person by a K9 on our team. This work with TJTDP is necessary and I need to do it. My dog’s good at it and it’s a skill we can share. So we’re getting over that right quick.

In the middle of all this, the actual obligations, my home state decided to wade into controversy up to its eyeballs. I tried very hard to hide under a rock and ignore it, but I found it discussed everywhere, by everybody. It was as inescapable as the wind in an open field, even in places I felt were safe. It’s personal to me because I know the people behind the bill, and I know their care and concern for the “least of these” extends only to those who are adult white males, married to women. They advised my old churches on how to hide child abuse. They lobby to keep states from cracking down on abuse in religious schools, colleges and mission organizations. They are getting fitted for their millstones. (And no, I am not sorry I said that.) They miss, of course, that the Golden Rule (and pretty much all the teachings of all the Gospel) is best distilled down to “Don’t Be an Asshole.” I know, it’s hard.

I found out one of my favorite humans in all the universe suffered a terrible loss. My heart broke for her.

So I hid this week, flat out. Skipped a Wednesday liturgy, where I knew the controversy would be hanging out at the potluck. I took my pup and went to a rubble pile. Nothing makes you “present” like trying not to fall into a jagged piece of concrete, rebar sticking out everywhere, looming up where you want to put your foot.

I guess I just found my analogy. This Lent has been an absolute disaster. And I have misstepped, over-stepped and caused landslides of anger in my own heart. I find myself now, as the thief, in the last minute, the midnight hour, trying to get it right. I am reaching out and reaching up. If you read this, and you are so inclined, I ask for your prayers over the next nine days as I approach the Feast of Pascha. Pray I might find a quiet place inside my soul to retreat, even when all around me seems to be going all to hell.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a very obvious sinner.

He wasn’t my pastor (only technically)

But that never seemed to matter. Bishop John M. D’Arcy, then the head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend seemed to take every conversation with me as some kind of pastoral encounter, even if it was a professional interview.

The good bishop died yesterday at 80. I am sorry that I hadn’t made it to see him since he retired a couple years ago, if for no other reason than we could talk about the Great Schism and how it seemed to be getting smaller.

I wouldn’t be Orthodox if it wasn’t for that Catholic priest. True story.

In 2002, the Boston Globe was tearing up the Boston Archdiocese and their criminal handling of the rape of children by priests in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Cardinal Bernard Law looked worse with each story and each allegation. John Goeghan went to prison for raping dozens of boys in his parishes and other priests and bishops were shown to be woefully inadequate to the daunting task of “doing the decent thing.”

Except one: Auxiliary Bishop John D’Arcy. Throughout all the documents–thousands of pages of evidence of crimes and concealment, only one name came up as having done anything at all about it: D’Arcy. The son of Irish immigrants, whose sister was a Sister, the new bishop wrote letter after letter to Cardinal Law saying, in effect: “Look dude. You’re handling this wrong. These people need to be turned over to authorities, not moved to different parishes. I don’t think this will end well for anybody.”

The Cardinal’s response? “Get thee to South Bend” and banished D’Arcy to my local diocese.

When I met him I was trying not to be Protestant anymore. I encountered Orthodoxy a few years prior, but wasn’t really doing anything about it. Priests kind of made me nervous, and bishops, well…

When D’Arcy’s name came up in the Globe’s investigations, my bosses sent me for interviews. D’Arcy refused to talk to the national press because he said he owed them no statement. This was his flock–the Irish and Poles in South Bend and the Germans in Fort Wayne. He would talk only to the local press. So for months, I talked to him about sexual abuse, about what makes a good priest, about how grieved he was about what occurred. He never cast aspersions on his former boss, never blamed him for exiling him here, hundreds of miles from his aging parents and the rest of his family. No, he said, it was God’s will.

As I talked with him, my personal discomfort around men in vestments went away. I heard him use the same language of faith I heard from my grandfather, the Baptist minister. My professional curiosity gave way to a personal affection and I took spiritual encouragement from this little Irish priest.

In 2004, I joined the Orthodox Church. (I never was a papist)

When Pope John Paul II died, my bosses sent me off with the bishop again, this time to watch D’Arcy minister and comfort his flock. Inside the rectory at St. Andrews Cathedral in South Bend, after an early morning Mass, D’Arcy and I shared a doughnut and coffee. He asked me how I was doing, if I found answers to my questions. Had I found a home?

I told him about my recent conversion. He grinned, those blue eyes dancing. Oh, this is glorious! But why not Catholic, he asked. I told him, no offense, but I’m not a fan of the whole pope thing. He laughed.

“Why didn’t you ever talk to me more about this,” he said. “I’m a pastor.”

“You’re not my pastor,” I said.

He grinned again. I hadn’t persuaded him.  A few days later, D’Arcy hosted an interChristian memorial service for the Pope at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne. He invited the Orthodox clergy in town and grabbed me afterward, like we were some kind of co-conspirators. Look, he said, Orthodox!

D’Arcy was, in a strange way, my pastor at that time. I know that God used my professional encounters with him to prepare my heart for Orthodoxy. He once gave me a book by an Orthodox priest, in spite of my loud protests about my ethics policy. His secretary told me it was no use, he liked to be inspirational. So I wrote out a check for the amount of the book and donated it to the church. Even-steven. D'Arcy

I don’t know that I ever met a better Christian. I say that seriously. He refused to share the stage with the President over abortion. He protested the Vagina Monologues. He was everything my atheist editor found wrong with conservative faith, but yet the two frequently met for drinks and debates. D’Arcy loved his people, he loved his parishioners, he loved his cities–the poor and rich alike. He kissed babies, hugged adults and laughed well. (the Irish always have great laughs)

His death this weekend makes me truly sad, but I rejoice for him because I know he is where he spent all his time anyway: in the presence of God. I know that I am a better Christian for having known him, a better journalist for having covered him and a better person for having hung out with him over doughnuts and coffee.

Eternal be his memory!

Morally mandatory

“The devil he wore such a fine, fine shirt
And it stayed so clean, While he dragged me through the dirt.”

Rocks and Water by Deb Talan.

I am not sure exactly why we’re here again, but we are. Ten years after Cardinal Bernard Law was exiled to Rome and the Boston Archdiocese left in ruins, the reputations of another American institution, this time big time college football and an iconic coach are caught doing the same thing.

Repeat after me, boys and girls: if you see a grown man forcing himself on a young boy in a shower, you do not call your boss. You call the police. I don’t care what the law says. I don’t care what your university policy says. You call the frakking police. Are we clear? OK, moving on…

Somewhere around 1996, my mom and sisters and I returned to Baltimore for a vacation to catch up with old friends. I was in my early 20s and a complete emotional disaster. The thing about abuse is how crazy you feel trying to make sense of it. Your brain can’t make sense of it, of course, because, by definition, it is senseless. But it tries, you try, and in the effort you usually end up tied in an impossible knot, your soul at the center and stuck.

Our oldest friends as a family lived in a beautiful rural area just outside the city. We stayed with them in a house my parents helped them build and one that my sisters and I ran around countless times as little kids. Mr. Jack and Miss Marian. Their names make me smile, just seeing them on the screen. Mr. Jack and I ran an errand one evening during the vacation, buying milk or something at a convenience store up the road. Earlier in the afternoon, the house lost power and BG&E came out to fix it. Because of the single lane going to their house, Mr. Jack and I were trapped in the driveway for awhile while we waited for the trucks to leave. I will never, ever forget that conversation in the darkening car.

He looked me square in my eyes and apologized. We should have done something, he said. We knew there was something wrong with your father, that there was something wrong with how he treated you and the others in that house. And we didn’t do anything. We prayed for you, but we should have done more.

What could you have done, I asked.

Something more, he said, tears in his eyes.

That conversation pushed me a huge step forward on the path to un-knotting my life and how I felt about it. It made all the difference in the world, particularly since I held nothing against them because of their inaction. It hadn’t even occurred to me at that point that what was going on may have been visible to others.

Over the years, a few others along the way have made similar statements to the women in my home. All were welcome, but none so blindingly gracious as that encounter in the driveway. Someone knew. Even when we didn’t know (or more accurately, didn’t know we knew). And yes, they should have done something. But they realized it and did the best they could years later. They owned it and took responsibility for the damage their inaction may have caused.

I am sure that we’ll be here again, as a culture, as communities, as churches, as brothers and sisters in this place gone mad. But by God, it does not have to be this way. My friends on the blog are still looking for a similar, heartfelt encounter with the POTB at ABWE. Maybe the grand jury that took at shot at Penn State just 90 miles up the road will prompt some fearful action on their part. But I ain’t holding my breath.

We, as human beings, should not concern ourselves with the legal minimum responsibility to each other. And we need to understand it’s always going to be hard. It’s always going to be the respected coach, the medical missionary, the beloved parish priest. It’s always going to be a shock, a horrible surprise. And if you fall asleep at the switch, for the love of all that is good and holy, do NOT stand there and say, well, I did the least I could do. It doesn’t matter the LEAST you can do. The LEAST of US trumps that, every time.

Taking action, being accountable, protecting them…it’s morally mandatory.

Not an option.

But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Matthew 18:6

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.

Searching…

So much is on my mind tonight…I could write about most of it. How I feel about the rising gap between the top 1% of Americans and the rest of us. (Outlaw motorcycle gangs call themselves 1%ers. FWIW.) How another Father’s Day passed with estrangement. How nearly 70 of my colleagues at the Indy Star lost their jobs today, a few months after Gannett’s CEO gave himself a $1.5 million bonus. About how proud I am of my mom because of how hard she fights for her patients.

So much.

What do you want to know?

I want to know about justice. I want to know when this all makes sense. I want to know when I’ll attain theosis and behave the way I’m supposed to, when I will uncover the mirror of that Divine Image within me.

I want to know where my favorite verse in the Protestant Bible — Jeremiah 29: 11-13 — went in the Orthodox Bible. Our Bible has the additional,  original, canonical books and Jeremiah is one  of the books numbered differently, based on the Septuagint.

I’ve been looking for that passage for a week now and cannot find it to save my life.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord…”

I hope He does. I’m counting on that. I always have, I guess. Not in some kind of Jesus-is-going-to-pull-my-butt-from-the-fire way, but in an I’m-glad-someone’s-watching way.

All those years, all those different pews I sat in, sermons I listened to.

“plans to prosper you and not to harm you…”

All those times I ran and ducked to avoid trouble in my house as a child. All those fights, all the arguing.

“plans to give you hope and a future.”

All the times I tried to make what I knew about God, all His vast unknown-ness, fit into the little box of what I was taught.

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”

All the times I struggle and fall, grow weary and discouraged about the way things are. All the times I forget to pray, ignore study and fill my mind with idle thoughts that tumble out of my idle lips.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart.”

I’m going to keep looking, I guess. I know it’s in there.