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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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.

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.

Picking up rocks

 

 

Confession last week, just me, my priest and the icons. And all the things I drag with me.

This time, the lesson of this year’s Great Lent, it was resentment. It really wasn’t pretty.

I really should ask Fr. Andrew if Helo can come to confession with me. I guarantee he knows EXACTLY what I need to tell him, because whatever it is about that little dog and our SAR journey together, it reveals my character: constantly, in all its ugly glory.

(Aa could probably chip in too, but he comes to church, so if he’s really fed up, I guess he could corner the priest.)

Over the past few months, as frustration continued to build in my professional life, and training Helo in this new task of human remains detection did not take off as easily as I thought it might (read: felt entitled to), I found myself struggling with a creeping resentment.

Here’s the funny thing about that: resentment undoes any good you might have done, it adds fuel to anger, and just really makes you feel miserable. It is as emotionally untenable as picking up a good-size pebble and sticking it in your boot, then going on a lengthy hike.

As I drove away, back to TJTP which is nowhere near as fun as I wish it was, I thought about where resentment came from, for me.

I resented a whole bunch of things, and what they were will remain between me, God, Fr. Andrew and the saints who were listening in.

In general, though it was disappointment + entitlement – motivation. Whatever I thought I earned (read: entitled to have) and didn’t get, minus the motivation to either go reclaim it, get better or move on…

It was a mess. It made me nag my dog, badgering him to fix problems that were really mine, over-correcting him for mistakes he made because I sent him bad information. It made me sleep in too late, stay up too late, grumble too much and generally just not give a shit.

And I never would have noticed, or would have noticed much later, had it not been for Helo and his special nature, the way he tried to fill the void of the absence of leadership in our team. He did this by making decisions (incorrectly) or just flat ignoring me and my wasteful words and negative energy.

Saturday, a few days after this all occurred to me, I sent him out to find some of the stuff we find, this time on a longer training problem. I worked on handling me, more than him. As the heat rose on the gravel pit where we had placed the source, Helo chased it into the cool spots and up around the ridges, doing exactly what I asked him to do pretty much most of the time.

I worked on realizing that this is where we are. If we were supposed to be someplace else, that’s where we’d be. This was, as a friend told me the week before, the place where the universe wanted me for the higher purpose.

It’s where I’m supposed to be to be saved, to cook off the ego and the entitlement, shake free the rocks of resentment.

A few hours later, I was back in the gravel pit again, this time watching the boss work the same problem with her K-9. The problem had become much more complicated by time. The sun was higher in the sky, the scent more diffuse and harder to chase, but they got there. She remained calm, never nagged, listening and watching the dog communicate with her in the way they do–with flicks of tails or ears, changes in body language, a glance up, a nose down.

As she worked, I found a small white rock, worn smooth by the sand and the water and the years. I worried it with my fingers as we walked back to our trucks to finish the day. I carried it home in my pocket.

I will, however, be sure to keep it out of my shoe.

(Gratuitous photograph of Helo taken by my sister-in-law on a day when my character was particularly revealed. Sigh)_DSC0221

 

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)