Sunday, May 29, 2005

Two Down and Two to Go

I attended my step daughter's Master's Degree Graduation in Lubbock, Texas last week.
I saw what I missed by not attending my own Master's hooding, walking and wellll... a LOT of sitting. I was struck by the vestments worn by the presiding faculty. Gold and silver medallions hanging around their necks, ribbons, hoods and robes of many colors with velvet stripes, funny hats, all worn slightly differently. I was reading the program that described all the regalia and their meanings. If you wear this color you are that, if your hood is this long you are this, if your robe has this many stripes you're another thing. I'm watching the leader of the procession solemnly stepping, holding in his hands an ornately carved staff with a silver sculpture of some kind on the top. Following him are the faculty, all in order of rank and seniority, all which could be interpreted by "reading" their vesture. I'm thinking: Didn't I see something like this when our Bishop visited a few weeks ago??? Yeah... the irony is that most of the folks in the picture this IS Lubbock, Texas, the Buckle of the Bible belt... if not the buckle, it is at least the "Billy Bob" engraved name on the back...I lived there, I know.... and most of them are more than likely Baptists, Church of Christ, Bible Church, etc. They would be the first to holler "FOUL!" at the concept of a robed, vested, mitred pastor carrying a jeweled staff with a gold cross hanging around his neck in procession down the center aisle of the church, followed by his entourage of priests, deacons, subdeacons, and altar boys all distinguishable by their vestments and regalia, and having the gall to take a seat on the high place.

And yet... and this not the "church" of our western culture: Academia? And are these not our "clergy": the robed, vested and mitred, medallioned doctors of philosophies who preside at the passing on of the holy tradition of scholasticism? I'm not a historian of garmentology, but I'd wager that the academic vestments were originally designed after, or maybe were, priestly garments. Modern protestantism may have dumped the priesthood and all of its glory in the Church but it still holds fast to it in the arena that "really counts": Reason and logic, learning and scholasticism.

So, yes, mankind WILL have its priesthood. Mankind WILL have its vestments and processions. Mankind WILL elevate others to offices above themselves and honor them. Mankind WILL surround itself with regalia and dress funny and walk funny and endure assemblies that go on and on and on for the sake of giving itself status and proper dignity of its offices. However, the church of Texas Tech, in the middle of the Bible Belt has nothing on the Orthodox Church. Our vestments are a lot nicer and our processions go around the buildings three times not just once, and our services may be as long as theirs, but we at least get to stand and not be considered rude.

The Bishops and Priests of Our Culture

Friday, May 13, 2005

Graduation Day

We travelled to University of Arizona to see my step son graduate from the College of Liberal Arts with his degree in French Literature. It was the "College Graduation Luncheon" instead of the mass graduation the following day. We got to eat lunch with strangers at a big table instead of sitting on a football bleacher for 3 hours. Definitely a more intimate affair but there were still about 900 people present at the catered luncheon. We had a hard time getting the attention of the wait staff for water refills and exchanging our meals for the correct ones. "Where's a Spanish Major when you need one?", I wondered.

Anyway... the Dean of the College is calling out the students in groups of about 15 so the parents can take pictures. No one is paying any attention until their kid's group is called. John is an "S" so we had a long way to go. Bout half way through the salad, I hear the announcement: "Letters H through L please come forward....That would be H, I, J, K, and L, please come forward....."
Hmmmmmm... Maybe he should have announced the "H through L" in French, Russian and Spanish, the students might have known THOSE alphabets.

The majors were interesting. There was a "French and Genetic Engineering" kind of combo. Maybe that person was studying how to genetically alter the French. There would probably be grants for that from the government. There was one "Religion and Math". Well, we know there's at least one Liberal Arts grad that will be able to count change. Mostly there were a lot of Creative Writing Majors. I tell my daughter there's probably going to be some good Blogs coming out of this college. There was a "Religion and Creative Writing" grad. Hmmm...Maybe there's room on the Jesus Seminar for another person. I know I'VE made a great living with my religion degrees and creative writing classes. The best graduate announcement was "Jesus Avila Lowell the Second", Religion Major. Well, duh. What else would Jesus major in?

So, to all the Liberal Arts graduates out there, hats off to you! And yes, I will supersize that and it is for here.

Proud Mom and Sister with the French Major College Grad at $17.00 a Plate "Marie Antionette Memorial Cake and Water Luncheon"

Terrorism Emergency Response Team Deciding How to Put Out Cigarette Butt Smoldering in Trash Receptacle Outside Student Union Building

Liberal Arts Major at Work outside Starbucks

Thursday, May 05, 2005

God Damned Circle of Life

We really have Disneyminds. The Turtle was so… cute. It was moseying across the parking lot, obviously an orphan, and we adopted it. It turns out it was a water turtle. And we have a pond. Our pond has Disney fish in it. When I walk to the edge of the pond, 15 fish dart toward me and their mouths start kissing the surface. I throw fish food flakes into the water and they frolic, gobbling the sinking flakes, like giggling children catching huge snowflakes on their tongues. For a few minutes each morning I communed with my 15 best friends.

I should have known. The last couple mornings they didn’t come to the edge, there was no greeting, no joy. They laid still, stiff as fish sticks, at the bottom of the pond. The pet store kid said it wasn’t the pond water, they weren't sick. It was a reaction to a predator. The fear of death had paralyzed them. But the turtle was so… cute. We put "feeder fish" in the pond. The others were big fish now, too big for the turtle to eat. They'd get used to it.

This morning I go to the pond and I find 5 fish floating. Bitten in half. Disemboweled. The head of one is at the bottom of the pond. Several more are missing. My Disney Pond stewn with corpses. Disney lied. The Circle of Life isn’t The Lion King and Fantasia, the Fish and Turtle dancing like Hippopotami and Crocodiles in tutus and ballet slippers, it isn’t wildebeests and lions and snakes and elephants dancing on each other’s heads singing show tunes. The Circle of Life is death. The Circle of Life is randomly, wantonly having your life cut off. The Circle of Life is making a mangled carcass out of what was a graceful, feathery creature that only God on a good day could have imagined creating. The Turtle was just being a turtle in the fallen world. The Reptile Store Kid said, "Yeah, its a male. They are bad. They kill just to kill." The Fish were just victims of its Turtleness…and my Disneymindedness. Ever since Adam ate the fruit, nothing fasts. The lion lies down with the lamb but only after it breaks its neck and disembowels it. This is the Circle of Life: everything dies, and if our prayers are answered it might be painless. But mostly it is wracked with suffering, sometimes inflicted by someone else. Intentionally or not, our lives are often taken from us. And we live paralyzed by fear of death. We cannot move toward joy, toward the One who feeds us, toward each other, toward our Life, our Sun, our True Food. The fear of death turns us wooden, we become mere images of the reality of our true selves. We are stiff, lifeless, unconnected, motionless…dead yet living. St. Paul says the sting of death is sin, falling short of our real life, our true self, our fullness of being. The fear of death paralyzes, we live in constant dread of the Circle of Life because we know life is not a Disney cartoon, but a pond with beautiful, rotting corpses floating on its surface while certain death lies camoflaged, waiting on the bottom to ravage us as we drift by. (Hebrews 2:14-15).

And yet…Christ is risen from the dead, damning death by death and to those in the tombs bestowing life.

Yes… God damned the Circle of Life. He entered the circle and broke it. By death He rendered powerless him who had the power of death and delivered those who were held in slavery to the fear of death, St. Paul says. Satan is cast down and he and this fallen existence will gasp their last rotting breath some day when death and Satan are cast into the lake of the second death, and in the power of the Resurrection, Life will reign triumphant and eternal. (Rev. 20:14) The lion will lay with the lamb, not because the lion has become a lamb but because Life reigns.The Turtle will swim with the fish, not as a fish but in all its Turtleness because Life reigns in it. And we will live in true communion, the image of God fulfilled in us, swimming in joy because of Him who damned death by His death. God damned the Circle of Life, Mr. Disney. It is in Christ that your cartoon life is fulfilled and takes on reality. Until that day when Life embraces creation and all is transformed, I wait, like all creation waits in hope, groaning and weeping at the fallen Circle that encompasses all that is beautiful and joyful in this world. (Rom. 8:19)

By the way. We excommunicated the Turtle. Its still alive, but not in our Pond Fellowship any longer. The Reptile Store Kid took him.

Its Friday afternoon:
I took one of our remaining 5 fish to the pet store for a diagnosis this morning. Its eyes were clouded over. It was lethargic. We looked in the disease book. It said the introduction of a predatory or aggressive fish to the environment will cause fish to die. There are latent diseases that stress will cause to flare up and it will kill them. The Pet Store Kid gave me some antibiotic. 5 hours later we have one fish left. Hebrews 2 says we are held in bondage to the fear of death. So are fish. Damn it. We buried our Fish in the corner of the yard with our Dog and Hamsters and Rats.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

My Stubborn Will

I wrote the words to this in the front flyleaf of my Bible 35 years ago. I still love it.
My Stubborn Will, Mrs. C.H. Morris

My stubborn will at last hath yielded
I would be Thine and Thine alone
and this the prayer my lips are bringing
"Lord, let in me Thy will be done."

Sweet will of God, still fold me closer
Til I am wholly lost in Thee
Sweet will of God, still hold me closer
Til I am wholly lost in Thee

I'm tired of sin, footsore and weary
The dark paths have dreary grown
But now a Light has risen to cheer me
I find in Thee my Star, my Sun.


Thy precious will O Conquering Savior
Does now embrace and encompass me
All discords hushed, my peace a river
My soul a prisoned bird set free.


Shut in with Thee, O Lord, forever
My wayward feet no more to roam
What power from Thee my soul could sever?
The center of God's will, my home.

Sweet will of God, still fold me closer
Til I am wholly lost in Thee
Sweet will of God, still hold me closer
Til I am wholly lost in Thee.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Laying on of Hands

Bp. Benjamin St. John the Evangelist Mission April 9, 2005

Even though its "only" a Reader's tonsure, it was as humbling as any event in my life.
The only other time I've been in this place was when I was in second grade and travelled to somewhere far away to have the Bishop lay hands on me as an altar boy in the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church. It was as holy and awesome an event this time as it was 45 years ago.

Sunday, May 01, 2005


It is 8:30 AM Sunday morning. About four hours ago the last member of our entire Mission trickled out our front door. We began the Mission on Meatfare Sunday and have travelled Lent together, built liturgical furnishings, learned new music, endured opposition and naysaying, met new people, formed a parish council, embraced a new jurisdiction and our new Bishop, set up, took down the Church every weekend, did reader's services every other weekend, manned our posts through family crises, puking kids, demanding businesses, kid's gymnastics and karate classes, and Grandpa's downward spiral into total helplessness. We arrived at our chapel at 9:30 last night, exhausted, apprehensive about choir, music, rubrics and kids. Father Damian intoned his first prayer at 11:00 and the Spirit descended. Or perhaps we ascended. Whichever it was, we entered the timelessness and otherness of the kingdom. The light shone in the darkness and the darkness of all the human frailty that laid the path for the beginning of this new Mission did not overcome it.

The hours between 9:30pm and 4:30am last night were only matched by the first Pascha we had 5 years ago in another Mission we had begun with dear friends. It was the taste of new wine that I have never forgotten but hadn't tasted since.

It has been too long since I've experienced the inexpressible joy and sense of the triumph of the resurrection, the communion of the saints, the holiness of the 8th day, the glory of the Church and the taste of the sweet fruit of the labor of Lent. For the first time in years Pascha was a bright flame of glory and a resurrection of my spirit and not a dimly burning candle of wistful hope for something more.

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!