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.

 

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)

My bad

Another day, another court hearing with horrific autopsy pics. This time, I actually hugged the court reporter after the hearing. I couldn’t help myself and she’s been in just about all the hearings with me lately. So much for emotional distance.

I make mistakes. And when I make mistakes in my job, thousands of people see them. Some of them take to the email or the phone and leave me messages about what an idiot I obviously am, or question whether I have a soul or something. They do not give a thick skin when you graduate from j-school. It’s developed over time, or you quit.

My mom always taught me when you make a mistake, you own it. If you bump into somebody, you say excuse me. You say you’re sorry. In my line of work, though, the wrong apology can confirm all the lawyers need for a lawsuit. So I have to be careful, judicious even.

One of the things I learned about three years into my career at the paper where I work now is that the stories that I write matter to people sometimes. You forget when you cover a city council meeting and you talk to people who talk to people like you as part of their job. But when you have to talk to John or Jane Q. Public –the victim’s parents or the subject of your profile –what you are doing is almost sacred. They are trusting you with something important, a part of them. Maybe they didn’t even ask to give it to you, you just swooped in and said, “oh, that’s interesting/tragic/odd. Tell me more.”  I learned this lesson when I attended a viewing for a county councilman who had just passed away. A profile I had done of him a few months before was matted in a massive and gorgeous frame, sitting on an easel right next to the foot of the casket. I hoped it had been typo-free, accurate and fair.

Just about 30 days ago, I misspelled the name of a dead guy, an actual honest-to-goodness victim. I got the obligatory emails and phone calls and took them like a kind of penance, I guess. Seriously, who is that careless? I am apparently. Yesterday, the young man’s family was in court for an emotional hearing – the sentencing for the man who shot their beloved son, brother, boyfriend.

I met the mother outside the courtroom, notebook closed and metaphorical hat in hand.  “I am sorry,” I told her. “I pride myself in being careful and I was not careful with something very important to you.”

I waited. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d belted me in the face. That’s what I would have done, I know me. She cried. She said thank you. Then she wanted me to quote her for the next day’s story. I came into the newsroom today to a phone message from her husband, also saying thank you. I cried at my desk. (I know, I know, there’s no crying in baseball.)

Grace is an odd thing. I see it a lot in what I do, in weird places and strange situations, from people who would be the least likely to show it.  It’s always weird, too, when you’re on the receiving end of it. There was no reason for that woman to be nice to me, no reason for her to give me the time of day.

In Orthodoxy, we view grace a bit different than how it is viewed in Western Christianity. For us, it is not merely being treated in a way different from how we deserve, but it is actually the presence of God. It is the Divine Energy of God. It is how we/I know Him.

That woman showed God to me and so did her husband. I didn’t deserve that, but God in His great love doesn’t remove Himself from us ever. Even in the cavernous hallways of the courthouse. Even when I make a mistake.

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…

On Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve

This is something I’ve been meaning to write about for awhile, something that occurred to me a few months ago but it has just been sitting in the back of my head, growing like one of those little whirlybird seeds and now it’s a full-grown thought and it has to come out.

In my life as a fundamentalist Baptist, which I’ve been rightly told I’m a bit cranky about (to that I offer an apology for anything said out of anger or that was hurtful), to say women were treated as second class citizens of the church is an understatement. Some women in my church weren’t allowed by their husbands to wear pants, ever. Some didn’t wear makeup or perfume (even deodorant). If a girl got herself pregnant, she went before the church and publicly confessed. The boyfriend was nowhere to be seen. Schools we played in basketball wouldn’t allow the girls to wear shorts. Other schools made our cheerleaders demonstrate their skirts didn’t swish too much (i.e. make boys think bad thoughts) before they were allowed to cheer for games. Recently I stumbled across the work of one pastor affiliated with the churches I attended who wrote that he prayed his daughter married a mean man in order to keep her properly in line. And the past few weeks, I’ve watched so many of my dear sisters and brothers in Christ draw their swords against evil in their midst.

This, my brothers and sisters, is not how it should be. But I think I know why it is.

In the beginning, when the wheels fell off the wagon and everything went all to hell, there were two: Adam and Eve. And you know what happens next: Eve falls for the worst line ever, takes the fruit, gives it to her man and you know the rest. The redemption story starts there and the Holy Triune God intervenes to restore mankind to his rightful place and to help him become what he was always supposed to be.

Fast forward a few millennium, and we reach the place where He intervened more directly, one of the Godhead coming to live with us, to show us the way back to the Father, to die for us and to conquer death. Christ could have hatched in an egg in the desert. He could have just appeared, fully formed as a child or as a man. But He didn’t. He developed as a baby, in the womb of a woman: a gracious, obedient and humble woman who consented to be the first Christian and to have Christ living inside of her.

Fast forward a few millennium, and we now have a place where the Theotokos, the God-bearing woman by whom Christ took human flesh and entered the world, is barely mentioned in a good chunk of American Christendom. In the more rigid and virulently anti-Catholic communities of fundamentalism-some Baptists, Pentecostals, etc.  – she is flat out ignored and shunned. My protestant brothers and sisters ignore the truth of Mary at great spiritual peril to themselves, and at times at great physical peril to the women in their lives.

Luther (a monk, let’s not forget) had a great love for the Mother of Christ. In an explanation of the Magnificat, first spoken at the Annunciation, Luther said, “The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God’s grace . . . Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, but for the sake of Christ . . . Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God.”

Calvin (don’t get me started) really didn’t like her, so that’s probably where things went all pear-shaped with regard to her rightful place in Christian hearts. In the super-fine straining out of all things liturgical, all things “Catholic,” all things deemed unnecessary, Mary got tossed.

What that leaves them with is just Eve, the beginning of the story, but not the ending. It leaves them with a seemingly silly creature who could be argued to have spoiled the good thing they had going on. (Forgetting of course that Adam seems equally silly for needing nothing in the way of persuasion). It leaves men in a position of constant vulnerability to the wiles of women, who when given one minute alone will figure out a way to lead the men in their world astray. So men must be protected from them and they must be protected from themselves, and one of the key aims of living a godly Christian life becomes then, not the working out of our salvation as brothers and sisters in Christ, but in making sure women don’t make men think bad thoughts and act inappropriately. If the men do, well, doggone it, it must be the fault of the closest women: the wife for not meeting his “needs”, the child for acting in a flirtatious manner (I kid not), etc.

My dear Protestant brothers and sisters, this should not be. This grieves God our loving Father who offers us the example of Mary as that of the true Christian: who was open to Him, who followed Him and who even now points the way to Him through the example of her obedience.

We know our God is concerned with Rightness, not merely being correct, but in things being True. In the mechanical sense of the word, it means accurately placed as part of a mechanism. Mary’s “true” place, then, is within the context of the church, within our theology, because it shows the accurate depth and breadth of our redemption. It shows the reality of the Incarnation. Mary’s place in Orthodox iconography is always near the altar, pointing literally with her hand to Christ: Here, look at my Son, accept Him, believe in Him rightly and find peace.

Don’t be afraid of her. Embrace her story, love her obedience and know that it is God wants for all of us, both Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve.

Oh Most Holy Theotokos (God-bearer), rejoice Oh Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, for you have born the Savior of our souls.

Hope

I love the icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos, in fact it may be my favorite icon.

Go ahead, ask me why.

Why?

Because of the “baby soul.” Just look at that picture for a minute–the apostles are gathered around, Jesus has come to escort his mother’s soul to heaven and carries it in His arms, a reverse image of icons of the Nativity. Every time I see this image I nearly weep and I cover it with an almost embarrassing number of kisses. I love it.

It gives me hope. I believe, in fact, that darn near everything you need to know about the Gospel of Christ is in that icon. We too shall be made new.

To someone who traffics in human misery at what may be great personal expense, it is a beacon of Good News. When we follow Christ, when we listen to Him as “She who gave birth to God the Word” did, we too will rise for like her we only sleep.

Today at church, Fr. Andrew baptized a baby girl, just a few months old. As he carried her around the front, bringing her into the church and presenting her before the altar and introducing her to all the saints who surround us, I noticed how similar the image was to the icon. Like our earthly spiritual fathers carry us and shepherd us through this life, we will one day be carried home. Even those of us who say things we shouldn’t, who do things we ought not, who try and fail, run and fall.

One day, all will be made new, even after we sleep.

Happy feast day, everyone!