It’s really not political.

Humans, being. Again.

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I know I post a lot of stuff. (I really just try to keep ya’ll informed. Doing the news thing, social-like.)

But I want to be clear: to me this is a moral thing.

If you give me a Democrat who recognizes the inherent dignities of every human being, born and unborn, I will vote for them.

If you give me a Republican who recognizes the inherent dignities of every human being, born and unborn, I will vote for them.

Since neither does either very well, I base my choices on which candidate does so better.

And I try to do journalism that amplifies the voices of those who get drowned out, to make sure that truth is told, to be ethical.

Repeat after me:

Holy InnocentsThe unborn baby is being made in the image of God.

The Honduran immigrant baby being pulled out of her mother’s arms is made in the image of God.

The transgendered person using a restaurant bathroom with you is made in the image of God.

The rural unemployed mom struggling with opioid addiction and keeping the lights on is made in the image of God.

The Syrians fleeing violence across the Mediterranean Sea are made in the image of God.

These are icons. These are what we must protect.

Jesus Carries the Cross
From “The Stations of the Cross” at the Church of the Advocate in downtown Philadelphia. All of the icons or religious artwork have been replaced with photographs of refugees or the poor. A heartbreaking reminder.

I try to keep it simple:

Is this a human being? yes.

If yes, is its dignity being threatened? Yes or no

If yes, help it. If no, applaud its victory.

Humans do not infest or inconvenience.

Humans are.

 

The beach ball of Holy Week

DSC_0809I love Holy Week. I love Pascha and the longer I’m Orthodox, the more I like Lent (or grow to appreciate what it does for me).

Some years, I’ve been able to unplug from life during Holy Week, coming into a rhythm that allows the week to almost seamlessly merge into the celebration of Great and Holy Saturday and Pascha. Those years I’m usually with my sister, godson and their family at Holy Assumption Orthodox Church in Canton, and I’ve taken days off and am plugged into only the cycle of services and my family there.

This year is not that year. A new job and new responsibilities means less time off. Teaching made for a Lent without one Presanctified Liturgy (one of my favorite services). And life backed up into Holy Week this year, putting me in places other than the pews on days I would normally be in church.

I had a sneaking feeling this would happen. I usually care A LOT and my frustration of missed expectation causes an anxiety and frustration that are the exact opposite of the mindset I tried to cultivate during the Lenten season. I tried to do better this year, and it helped.

I finally got to church tonight, for Holy Unction. I missed the Bridegroom matins services earlier in the week (though I subjected Huntington University’s CO342 to a video of the hymns. My class, my rules.)

As I stood before Fr. Andrew, my palms open to receive the holy oil, I almost felt as if time closed in around me. The feelings I battled all week, like trying to keep a beach ball under the water while sitting on it, dissipated and nothing else seemed to exist.

I never wanted to leave.

Those who know me, know how much anxiety the current political situation is causing me. You know that, for someone committed to truth-telling, the constant lying, gaslighting and nonsense is beyond a challenge. I have not done a good job of keeping what matters in the foreground. I surrendered Lent in some very real ways to that which I cannot control. Another beach ball: something too big to keep under wraps, and too buoyant to keep under control.

I have three more days of services left in this journey: the Liturgy of St. James with the marathon service of Holy Thursday (the 12 Passion Gospels) that takes us to the Cross, and the Lamentations service of Holy Friday leading us up to the Feast of the Resurrection, Pascha.

There will be some work in there, a rubble pile, weather to complain about and distractions aplenty. If you’re thinking of it, I’d welcome your prayers for continued growth and focus during the remainder of this journey.

The beauty of the weeks leading up to Pascha–the Sunday of Mary of Egypt, Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday, etc.–is that I am constantly reminded that it is never too late, I am never so far gone that I cannot welcome the King.

After Fr. Andrew anointed my head, my throat and my palms with the oil, I kissed the Gospel book, the icon of the Theotokos and Christ, and I slowly left the santuary.

The journey of Holy Week continues.

Advent

What is on my mind when left unattended on Christmas Eve…

I’m alone right now on this Christmas Eve. Aa answered a fire page, so he’s either on his way to a family interrupted by their CO alarm, or a vehicle sliding into a nearby pond. The roads are terrible, which is why we didn’t go to church, and that made me sad.

The Nativity Vigil is one of my favorite services, but as I crept down the road on what should have been a 40-minute drive and was clearly going to take much longer than the time I allowed, I made the decision to head back home. I didn’t feel like being the reason for someone else’s fire page tonight.

I love the Nativity because it is a study in contrasts, as are all our Holy Days. Darkness gives way to the light. Morning dawns. Stars shine and lead the way. Pascha is explosive–the shock of the Resurrection. But the Nativity? It’s a gentle beckoning to come and see, the Giver of Life in a manger, a foreshadowing of His stone tomb. It was just a baby, after all.

I have a friend who has been sitting by her husband’s bedside for nearly two months now, awaiting his recovery from a near-fatal heart attack. He’s far from out of danger, and I pray for them (when I’m disciplined enough to get that task accomplished in my day). I have another friend who has received a bad diagnosis. Another whose mother just died. And still others who have also recently lost their mothers or are awaiting the loss of their mothers. Friends are recovering from divorce. Friends are awaiting justice.

I have friends who are so very sad. I am sad for them. I am sad with them.

For me, this has been an odd season. I started a new Job that Pays, and am back in the news business. I am happy and grateful for a chance to rejoin the fight with The Fourth Estate, especially in this difficult period in American history. My family is healthy. We are, metaphorically, inconvenienced by things like CO alarms. We are well.

We are not currently in the ditch, or hanging off the road too close to the water. I have an acute awareness this is not a permanent condition. We will be there, someday. Probably soon.

I do not know why there is suffering. And I have long-ago tried to stop offering the simple platitudes of “purpose” or “reason” or “God wanted him/her/them home.” But I really do wish it were that simple.

We all sit in the darkness, I guess. Sooner or later it gets scary. I want you to know we do not sit alone. We have people, and family; our tribes and our packs. If you are reading this tonight, this Christmas Eve,  you are not alone. I hope you see the daylight breaking, really soon.

Aa just sent me a text as I write. The car-into-the-water was a “disregard.” The disaster didn’t materialize. No one is at risk.

It’s not a big thing. But it’s something. It might be grace.

Merry Christmas to you all. May 2018 find you in a safe, peaceful and healthy place. God bless.

(Thank you for indulging my little blog post.)Icon of the nativity

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)

Bless this mess

In my head, I know that someday I’m going to have one of those homes. The ones that look like a perfect picture on Pinterest (hey, look, alliteration). But I am here to tell you, this is not that someday. My stuff is still in boxes, going on two years now from the wedding day (yes, I know I should pitch it. I’ll likely never use it again). We have mismatched carpet, mismatched couches, mismatched recliners covered in throws. My husband and I are both “droppers.” We come in the door and dump it on the table. One of us (me) is way, way worse.

Once a year, the priest comes into the homes of the Orthodox with his holy water and his sprinkly-thingamabop. He puts on his stole and we kiss an icon and say some prayers and go around the house, singing “Lord, your baptism in the River Jordan taught us to worship the Trinity…” Monday was that day for me.

I spent Saturday night into Sunday morning running around a shopping mall training dogs. Last week was the week of murder and mayhem, the anniversary of a friend’s death and I just generally was pooped by Sunday evening. I tried to clean, I swear I did. Monday morning dawned with the dog puking at the foot of the bed (lovely wake-up call).

I really wanted to cancel, tell Fr. A something came up, whatever. But I didn’t and he showed up.

Funny thing about leading your priest around your house…you notice all the things you should have noticed like an hour before. Things that do not belong “out” for “company.” Things that would result in a lecture from your mother. These things. Sigh. Were. OUT.

And they got sprinkled with Holy Water. They did, along with the .45-caliber handgun on the book shelf, the pocket pistol by the television, the tac knives, and the search dog. My icon corner did as well, along with the, um, girl things, sitting on a dresser near by.

He blessed the sun porch–filled with diving gear, a flag from the fire department, EMT med bags, 24-hour search packs and the dog food. He blessed the barn, including my heavy bag and a gopher hole, a log splitter and the quads.

I was mostly appalled. I still blush.

Grace is never really convenient for me. I never get to clean up, wash my hands, straighten everything out and stop cussing loudly when it knocks on my door.

My life is EXACTLY like the house. Every single thing strewn about in our living space is exactly what we deal with every single day: the stresses of emergency response, life as a crime writer, two middle-aged adults trying to figure out married life.

And grace always shows up in the middle of it, knocking the snow off its boots and marching right into the intimate places, the vulnerable places and the mess.

Thank God. If it waited for me to straighten up first, well, nothing good would ever happen.

Emmanuel

So it’s Christmas.

For most of my life, I hated this time of year. I know I’m not alone either. If you have any “thing” at all, this time of year, this season of “festive family fun” is a tablespoon of lemon juice on whatever open abrasion is on your heart. If you’re like I was, it begins somewhere after Halloween and by the time you get to Christmas Eve, you’re an anxiety-ridden depressive, clinging to your sanity like a cat to a screen door. And who would blame you?

When I was 21, it was a particularly rough Christmas season. One night that year, in my friend’s car, after she peeled me off the emotional ceiling, she handed me a tiny little ring, one made for infants. Inside, in even tinier script, it read “Emmanuel.”

God with us.

That ring. That idea. That notion that Someone from the great Out There was intimately concerned with where I found myself, it was not a new idea to me. I heard it growing up in the fundamentalist church. I heard it at the Evangelical college.

But it meant nothing to me, in that context of grief and despair, until right that minute. It found me. There. In the front seat of her Chevy Lumina, somewhere around two in the morning.

That night began my journey to Orthodoxy, I know that now. That night, that ring, that idea, cast a thin thread of light into a very dark place.

God, my God, the Triune Creator of the Universe, the One who Is and Is to come, that One, is not distant. He is the One who seeks out. He searches until He finds us wherever we may be, in the sharp and jagged rubble piles of our lives, trapped by our own guilt, or the shame others have put on us, frozen by pain and anger and grief. In the Nativity, we have this idea, this promise kept. “I am coming to get you out.”

He uses us to do it. It’s really the most efficient way. We’re here. Now.

Even if you are not a person who believes in the God whom I worship, even if you believe in no God at all, you have to admit: there’s something about this time of year, this promise of something connecting us to each other, to something in the beyond pulling us up and pulling us in. It’s the kind gestures, the love of friends, the warmth of an embrace of one who comes alongside. It’s wine at the table and kind words between family. 

It’s grace.

In Orthodoxy, we recognize that as the energy of God. We cannot know Him in His essence, but we can know Him by what He does, for us and in us. And since we are in His image, we can do that thing too. We can reach out to others, connecting them to that thing beyond themselves. We can love, and hug, and cry with, and slip little gold rings, like life preservers, on fingers that say “you are not in this alone.”

It’s been nearly 20 years since that night. Twenty years makes just about all the difference. I’m not stupid, though.  I know that, as a human being full of frailties and vulnerable to my core, it would take very little to put me in another bad spot. 

But I know that if I am ever lost and trapped again, the God Who Keeps His Word will be Emmanuel.

With me.

With us.

A new way

I know everyone says this, but I really don’t like change. I wish things could stay the same. Actually, no. What I wish is I could have new good things along with all the comfortable old things. I believe that is what is colloquially referred to as “having’s one’s cake…”

But whatever. Change gets my knickers in a bunch. Feeling a pull of two competing obligations makes me completely crazy and renders me totally incapable of enjoying anything. That means that, for example, if I am at a Holy Week service by myself, and my husband is at home eating a frozen meal (having an affair with Marie Callender), I will be feeling guilty for not being there. Or, conversely, if I am at home, eating a Lenten dinner of mixed bean salad, after having cooked him some chicken dish, I will feel guilty about not being at Church.

What’s a girl to do?

She’s to relax, and calm the heck down, that’s what.

Welcome to my first Lent, my first Pascha and my first four months as a married person. It’s also the first time I’ve not lived within a super-convenient 15 minutes from church. I’m 40 minutes from everything now, and while I just smiled a second ago when the rooster crowed down the road, I was struggling last night to keep the car on the highway as I wandered home from the late-night Lamentations service.

In 12 hours, we’ll be at Pascha. My poor husband, who had never seen or heard of Orthodoxy till he met me, will be experiencing his first Pascha — in which the church will be filled with about 70% of people we’ve never seen there before. There will be all kinds of “ritual” as he calls it that could not be more different from the country church he grew up in if you plunked him down on Mars. He’s quite the trooper. He had an Orthodox wedding in January, and in a week, we’ll be the godparents at the baptism of my nephew (a baby).

But for me, this has been this completely frustrating 50 days or so of trying to balance what I used to do with what I need to do. I told Fr. Andrew in confession the other day I wished I had fully enjoyed my single-life when I had it, spiritually-discipline-wise. I wasted so much time because I had it to waste. Now, I’d kill to have more time. (And be married…there’s that whole cake saving-eating problem again).

Fr. Andrew, because he’s smart like that, reminded me that this marriage is a sacrament. Being married works for my salvation, and A’s, as we figure out how to live together, build a life together, etc. Being a wife, a partner, one joined to another sacramentally works for my salvation, and A’s. I should not knock it, or feel guilty about it. I should, and am trying, to embrace this new thing, and all that it will bring me and us.

But it sure is different (good-different, in case you think I am griping. I am not).

So tonight, I’ll process around the Church and my hubby, who is so non-demonstrative, will help the men set up the inside of the Church for the Pascal liturgy. He will plug in in his way, while I do my thing. And then, together, we will say the portions of the service that he says every week–the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, etc. And afterward we’ll gather with our church family in the hall to eat, laugh, drink and celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord.

We will do so as a family — this new family, this sacramental unit known legally as the Knights.e367d08cb41911e282a322000a1f9709_7

To all, have a blessed and peaceful Pascha.