Icons, part the infinity

(This is the theme of my life. This is apparently what I am to always remember, to never forget, to paste to the front of my consciousness.

The Icon and The Human. The Image of God.)

It’s another December with a sad story about a girl gone missing, albeit one a long time ago. It’s also that time of year when my heart feels heavy for a variety of reasons unconnected to anything obvious. I feel dark.

Helo and I have been busy with searching, seeking out those who are not with their people at the time of their passing and to return them to where they belong in some form or fashion. That can add to the darkness, even when there are answers, because the questions themselves are heavy, and block out the light.

So I need very much the Advent, the arrival of The Word and the dawning of the Light.

We’ll start at the end, with the sentencing Friday of the man guilty of modern Fort Wayne’s original sin, the first girl missing and killed near the high Holy Days.

My new job, back in news, takes me occasionally back to the courtroom, though I have much more control over the what and the when. (It’s nice to be the boss.) On Friday, I spent the morning at the sentencing hearing, and helping my reporter craft her story on the matter, while I put a written version together for our website.

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The courtroom was filled with the image of the little girl, a picture I could conjure in my sleep having seen it so much for so long. On Friday, it was all over the t-shirts of her family, an innocent image reflecting nagging grief. I saw how tired they were, and heard their exhaustion as they spoke of what he took from them. I observed the still-smoldering rage of those who hunt the monsters. I saw, again, the ripples of the Fall, spreading out and contaminating all that it touches, breaking and distorting on its way through time.

I cannot reach this time of year without thinking of the other A-named girls: Alejandra and Aliana, whose stories intersected mine through journalism and drove me to search work. I will likely again light candles in their memory, pray for peace for those who miss them, those who hunted their killers and all of us impacted by their deaths.

My church has new icons up, a magnificent project with the Theotokos and infant Christ above the altar. Before court, I listened to a story my arts reporter did on the project, her interview with Fr. Andrew as he discussed the importance of the image to us who worship in this way, the Icon as connection of the physical and the spiritual, the Holy Scriptures without words.

I thought about all I’ve seen in recent weeks in both jobs, my heart heavy with the thought of what those families carry in the waiting, albeit 30 minutes or 30 years.

The recovery work, like the journalism work, is so intricately connected to Orthodoxy I do not believe they could exist without each other. Every time I unclip the leash and tell him to “Search”, every time I uncap the pen to capture the story, I feel like I am chasing icons, chronicling the image of God as it presents itself around me.

I don’t mean this to sound too holy, but I think it might. I’m sorry about that. I just cannot seem to shake this feeling that I need this hunt to remind myself of my own nature, to aid in my recovery from the fall.

I have often wondered if the thing our cadaver dogs detect, what distinguishes human remains from all other organic material, even that of other mammals, is this strange thing, this image of God we carry. I wish Helo could tell me, but he only tells me when he finds it. I still don’t know exactly what he’s sussing out. I’m sure some will cringe at the spiritual way I approach such an odd and grim task. I am not sorry about it though.

Anyway, I’m sorry for the meandering. It’s been awhile since I’ve been here. There’s been sadness and success since my last post. I guess I needed to process. Thanks for listening.

Advent is upon us. The light is dawning soon.

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It’s really not political.

Humans, being. Again.

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 Stranger

When I backed out of my driveway this morning, I noticed a guest: a small juvenile robin sitting on our door frame. It’s mother chattered nervously nearby.

When A trimmed the hedges this evening, he maneuvered around the little one, again to the chatter and now with added dive-bombing activity of the parents.

I took Helo outside tonight, to take some pictures and enjoy the freedom of a cool-ish evening before summer heat settles in. It was a long week at TJTP and I needed a breather.

I knew what was coming in the afternoon, and I made sure to spend some time in the prayer corner Thursday morning. A reading from Matthew:

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

A visit from the Attorney General demanded coverage, and I sat in room filled with old sources, old friends, and new sources and new friends. I listened to the words of my Holy Scripture being twisted into knots to justify the unjustifiable, to explain the inexplicable.

Anyway, back to the yard.

So I am trying to both take a picture of Helo and throw his tug, and I hear a cacophony from the sycamore over the woodshed. It’s both robin parents, beside themselves. The baby is nearby.

Keeping a close eye on my dog, who would eat it in a minute, I try to find the bird. There it sits, tucked in the root of another tree on the other side of the yard. My heart is glad it’s there, and worries about the barn cat catching scent. There’s nothing I can do, other than allay the parents’ fears and keep Helo out of the way. I put him up as quickly as I can, keeping him moving quickly on the opposite side of the baby.

A natural instinct: protecting your offspring. The killdeer stagger and flop around to keep Helo away from their poorly-planned nest sites. The robins, they shriek in terror, clattering and calling to their beloved.

If I am filled with compassion for a baby bird, how much more so is my God. How much more so should I be for the parents approaching our southern border to find a twisted knot of American ideals and misapplied Scriptures.

They are of more value than many sparrows.DSC_0118 (3)

Don’t stand silent. Do what you can do to keep the predators away. Move them to safety if you can. Don’t just pray and cross your fingers that it will all work out because that is not going to work if you don’t do something.

If you are a Christian, this cannot be you. He’s been clear about it from the get.

Leviticus, Job, the prophetic books–It’s all over the Old Testament.

Then there’s this verse: Matthew 25:35

I was a stranger, and you invited Me in.

That’s unequivocal. Don’t pretend it only applies to the four-walled auditorium where you spend a couple of hours on Sunday.

It applies to all of us, out here in the open. In the yard. Under the tree. Along the border. At the ballot box.

I hope the robin is OK. I’m not going to stress them out by taking her from them.

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Presence

I finished the book. It took me longer than I thought it would because it hurt, remembering what she went through, learning new details about the events and their impact.

I’m so glad I read it. I’m so glad she wrote it. I’m so grateful for her bravery, then and now.

But the book left my brain rummaging through the metaphorical drawers of that period of time, picking up the photos, the memorabilia of the upheaval of my early 20s and the wreckage of my family.

There was a photograph taken of PT (the writer), me and the third of our little pack that summer, sitting on a rock wall at the shore of Lake Charlevoix. PT and I were wearing baseball caps, Polo of course. Someone’s brim was backwards. Our arms were cast around each others’ shoulders, but our faces were far from carefree. PT later sketched the photo from the back. I’m not sure who has possession of the photograph or the drawing, but it is the drawing that remains the most vivid in my mind.

You can’t see our pain. You can only see the love.

The lyrics to that summer were Jagged Little Pill, or Candlebox, or the Indigo Girls. She taught me how to smoke, how to properly use the F-word as all parts of speech. I lost my fundamentalism, which later led to me finding my faith.

We stressed everyone out. Our sweaters were on backwards or inside out. We were sad but laughing. Brave but chicken shit.

She was struggling. I was struggling. Our friend, M, was trying to keep us on an even keel. M, the oldest, had a great theory of how to help people: If the person who is hurting is with you, they are safe.

I tried to do it for PT. I know she tried to do it for me. M did it for me. We were juvenile raccoons loose in a kitchen, emotionally, so it was messy and probably not always the BEST thing.

I survived it. I learned, through those girls, the value of presence. Of being with each other, even if there aren’t words, even if you can’t find your words. Especially if you can’t find your words.

There’s been so much discussion in recent weeks, necessarily, of how to appropriately respond to mental illness, to reach out if you are hurting, or how to find the proper resources, etc.

I know I struggled with thoughts of suicide during that period. There were times I wished that my family’s violence ended that way. It would have been neater. Simpler.

It didn’t. I didn’t. The reason I didn’t, in part, is because of two girls, arms draped across my shoulders, even in the midst of their own pain, their own struggles. We were with each other. We were safe, or as safe as we could be.

I know I wasn’t always as helpful as I could have been, or should have been. I wasn’t always my best self.  But I remembered the value of presence. I tried to be present for my sisters, and my mom as we moved forward. I try to be present for my friends now.

If you are with me, you are safe.

It’s harder as an adult. Work calls us in the morning, and we are no longer able to be awake until 4 a.m. and function. We have husbands, and wives, and dogs, and kids, or whatever, all things that take us away from the necessary sometimes.

Depression. Anxiety. Grief. Worry.  It doesn’t have to be “mental illness.” It doesn’t have to be diagnosed. It is the human condition.

Don’t wait for them to ask. Don’t wait until you’re “healthy enough.” You don’t have to be a therapist. You don’t have to have all the words.

Just drape an arm over the shoulder, and look out in the same direction. Sometimes that is enough.

God knows, it’s a start.

 

I promise.

Here’s what I have. I ask you, my sisters and brothers, to hold me accountable, to add to this list, or to expand it in your own life where it applies.

Or ignore it completely. That always remains an option.

I want to go on record.

I promise to do my dead-level best to:

  • Love mercy
  • Do justly
  • Walk humbly with my God
  • Expand the Garden of peace beyond the borders of my own spiritual community whenever possible
  • Pray more
  • Love better
  • Do whatever I need to do to build stronger connections, maintain the bridges between us, and to repair the places that have eroded due to neglect and error.

I promise I will step in when I see injustice. I promise I will try to always stand on the side of the oppressed, the minority, the wounded, the suffering, and the wandering.

I promise I will help you find your words, perform your duty, carry your burden, and find rest.

I promise there is no such thing as alternate facts.

I promise you Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and the people who voted for them, are icons, made in the image of God.

I promise I will always try my best to tell the truth, to call out falsehood when I see it, and to encourage others to do the same.

I promise to continue to mean what I say every liturgy “we pray for this country, its ruler, its people, civil authorities and armed forces.”

I promise to speak out against greed and injustice.

I promise to listen to your stories.

I promise to have “Lord, have mercy” on my lips as much as possible.cropped-mg_6828.jpg

 

Peering into the depths

We’re in an odd spot.

I saw the sunrise this morning.

That rarely happens on Tuesdays, when I get home around 11:45 p.m. from the late night police-reporter shift I work on Mondays.

But the big gray pickup truck picked me up at 05:45 so we could go back out on the water and try to find a guy.

We spent yesterday out there too, before I went to TJTP. I spent the midday with my hand marking waypoints on GPS screens so we could better triangulate the position of the missing man, hidden from us under more than 100 feet of water. Each time the dog barked, I marked.

Our job was made trickier Monday by the presence of other people on the lake, a big, heavily-populated recreation haven. As we tried to get our K9s in the best position to work, we had to dodge water skiers and inner-tubers, fishermen and pontoon boaters. They seemed oblivious to our presence, or couldn’t really care.

They knew, though, why we were there. Conservation officers, sheriff’s deputies and firefighters had been patrolling, diving, pinging with SONAR for days in an attempt to find the man. One game warden told me that it had been nearly impossible on Saturday and Sunday to get any work done with all the boats and the wakes and the people.

They couldn’t close the lake, though, because the people would be too mad.

Too mad.

Too concerned about what they wanted to do to let the family do what they needed to do: find their loved one and mourn.

This is where we are: pulling your kids across a grave site in a tube behind a speedboat on a sunny Monday is more important than a body recovery.

Our connections are so frayed anymore, I really don’t know how we hold together at all. We shoot police officers guarding protesters, we assume the worst about our neighbor, we are impatient, unkind, and concerned only with pleasure.

We play Pokemon Go in the Holocaust Museum.

I’d like to pretend I don’t know what’s wrong with us, but I do.

We have no framework anymore for our connection to each other. The individual has been all that mattered for so long, we don’t see anyone anymore.

We’re all invisible.

It’s time we wake up and take a look.

 

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)