Wednesday, March 31, 2010


"Neither will I give Thee a kiss as did Judas"... and once again, I lied. 

For the podcast click on THIS

This is the transcript for the few of us left on earth without i-Pods:

There was only one movie theater in town. It cost a dime to see the matinee on Saturday afternoon.  That dime would get you a couple hour’s entertainment; more importantly, it would give you a wealth of vital information that could save your life in sixth grade.  Every Saturday the kids from school were there.  This was the place where you found out who was going with whom that week if you weren’t in with the crowd that was privy to that kind of information.  The cool people sat with their boyfriends and girlfriends. The rest of us sat in groups of the same sex and observed each other’s groups trying to pretend they were not observing the other.

This particular Saturday was a light turnout.  “Old Yeller” was showing for two weeks.  Most everyone had seen it already, but I missed it.  Kit and Donna showed up anyway, just to make out in the back row in the dark.; rumor had it that they had “gone all the way”.  Looking back, I think our concept of distance was slightly off, nevertheless they had done something that had put them beyond the boundaries of movie house hand holding and kissing on the lips.  Bob and Barbara showed up, and Paul was now with Janie, Kit’s old girl.

I hung around the candy counter trying to look like I was making up my mind what I wanted while I kept an eye on the door to see if another “single person” might show up.  There were few things worse than seeing a good, sad movie by yourself unless you wanted to be by yourself.  I didn’t, not particularly.  Then I saw her.  Jackie Burger.  She was paying her dime and tip toeing, looking through the smudged glass ticket booth to see who was hanging out in the lobby.  She waved. I waved back.

Jackie Burger.  Jackie was plainer than generic white sandwich bread.  Not ugly by grade school standards, just ordinary. Like most of us were.  “Jackie Booger” we called her. Boogers for short.  I think the name originated one day at lunch when she was seen picking her nose.  She suffered greatly at recess that day for her public offense and the name stuck ever since.  She bore it with a blue steel gaze, never lashing out, never crying to the teacher, never running to the recess monitor.  I’d seen many others crumble- I’d crumbled – under far less persecution.

Jackie was by herself.  I was by myself. So we sat together, more by default than agreement since neither of us had the nerve to come to such an agreement.  We sat toward the front because we were there to see the movie.  The others sat in the back because they were there for other, more brave activities.

“Old Yeller” did to Jackie what it does to most everyone who sees it. Steely and tough as she was, Boogers started to cry. I wasn’t exactly dry eyed myself. Somehow our arms ended up on the same armrest and neither of us flinched nor made an effort to move.  And so we sat, both afraid of looking at each other and both knowing what the other was feeling.  Two worlds, parallel, touching, but both afraid of entering the other.  We left the theater having shared something about one another that would not allow us to see each other as “Robinson” and “Boogers” again.

Monday morning at school we did not acknowledge one another publicly.  We had a wordless agreement that there would be no visible signs of our moment to the casual observer.  I did catch her eye, often, and there was a softer, less steely look in it for me that I liked.

At lunch I sat closer to her, but not WITH her.  Unfortunately, I sat close enough for Patrick Grady to notice I’d closed some distance between me and Jackie.

“HEY ROBINSON!!! Who was that you were sitting with at “Old Yeller” Saturday, huh?” Patrick shouted across the lunch room.  “Wasn’t that you with Boogers?”

I was nailed.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” I half shouted, with a quiver of fear in my voice at my impending social doom.

“Yeah you do!  Robinson and Boogers were holding hands at the movies… I SAW you Robinson!”  Patrick announced to the whole lunchroom with a sing song lilt or ridicule in his voice.  “Robinson li-ikes Boo-gers… Robinson li-ikes Booo—gers!” he sang.  Laughter filled the room.

I exploded from my seat, livid.  I screamed, “I DO NOT! I DO NOT! I HATE HER! SHE sat by ME…” I choked and gasped, stumbling for something more convincing. I looked around at the mocking faces, the gaping mouths filled with obscene laughter.

Then I saw Jackie.  She sat, still… staring at me. Her steel blue eyes were full of tears.

I bolted from the lunchroom.  Tears flowed down my cheeks, tears of helpless anger, but mostly tears of something I did not understand… tears that had more to do with the way Jackie looked at me than with my anger at Patrick’s orchestration of mockery.  In my attempt to save myself I knew I had destroyed something precious somehow.  I had violated some law within.  I had desecrated a holy place I did not know existed until that moment.

I know now that the holiness of relationships is wrought by entrusting our most private and secret places to another.  In a relationship there is an altar we erect and upon that altar we offer our sacrifices for the sake of love. The unspoken law of relationships says “You will keep my holy things as your own, and you will guard them with your life, lay it down for them if need be.”  But we do not.  And over the years since then, I have desecrated several holy places in my life.  I have desecrated the altars of the people who loved me.  I’ve denied my lovers, I’ve betrayed my friends to save my own skin. I’ve thrown what is holy to the dogs in an unthinking heartbeat, and in premeditated betrayal to feed my ego and gratify my lusts.

I denied Jackie to save my sixth grade respectability, my status, my pride.  I’ve betrayed others since then for far less.  I don’t need a mob to press me to choose anarchy over love, I just need my own legion of disordered desires. I don’t need thirty pieces of silver to tempt me to deliver a friend to judgment, I’ve fallen down before Satan for the loose change of looking like I know something other people don’t.  I don’t need the threat of death to make me a coward, I’ve cut and run to look cool and not be ostracized.  I don’t need the threat of the loss of my high status and all I own to put up a false witness, I’ll do it to raise myself up in the eyes of others.  I don’t need a garrison of armed opponents to make me lash out in violence and anger, I just need a perceived insult or criticism, even from someone who loves me.  In short, as the hymns of Holy Week teach me, I am the Pharisee, I am the disciples, I am the crowd, I am Judas, I am Peter.  I nailed Him to the Cross.

Though it is not told, I imagine Jesus looking at Judas as he approached Him in the garden to betray Him.  As Judas drew back from his kiss, he opened his eyes to look one last time into the face of Christ.  I see Judas and Jesus suspended in a timeless moment, the sounds of rattling armor and the shouting all fading to silence.  There was, for that solitary moment, that look.  And Judas was swallowed by a darkness deep as death.

When Peter had denied Jesus for the third time, St. Luke says, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter”.  Jesus was taken away.  Peter went out and wept bitterly.  Judas went out and died of remorse by his own hand.

Yes Peter, yes Judas, I understand.  I have seen the look of Jesus.  And I too went out and wept bitterly because in my weakness I denied everything that was precious to me.  I have felt hopelessly lost because I desecrated a holy trust. I have died within because I betrayed my innocent beloved to save myself.
I know the look.

It was not “I told you so”…

It was not “You REALLY blew it this time…”

It was not “You jerk… look how bad you hurt me….”

It was not “I hate you….”

Those are devastating looks.  I’ve seen them all.  And they hurt because they are true, and we know we deserve them fully.

The look Peter saw, and Judas probably saw too, was the same look I saw in the lunchroom of St. Williams Elementary that day.  It was the hardest look of all looks to take, the most devastating because we know we don’t deserve it.  It leaves us with no way to redeem ourselves and no illusions about ourselves and where we stand with the one we betrayed.  It will kill us, and if we humble ourselves and accept its truth, it will raise us from the dead.  It is a fire that will consume us, or it is a flame that will warm us if we open our hearts to its truth.

It was the Gospel in Jackie’s tears and in the eyes of Christ. 

It was a look of grace, a wounded Lover, eyes filled with tears, still in love with the one who knows now beyond a doubt how undeserving of that love he really is.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Give me the choice and I will usually choose:

The largest cookie in the batch.

Two slices of bread from the middle of the loaf rather than the first and slightly stale ones.

To give advice rather than to receive it.

A glass of Coke from the new bottle rather than pour one from the one sitting open all evening.

The slice of pizza with the most pepperoni on it.

To spend more on better stuff I buy for myself than what I buy for others. 

The larger slice of cheesecake.  If there are only two left, I will slice a bit off the other and take it.

To be thanked for giving rather than to be given to.

To think and talk about the "big picture" of anything rather than pay attention to the details of my life.

The white meat.

An evening with someone I enjoy being with rather than with someone who needs an evening to enjoy with someone else.

The second slice of baloney rather than the slimy one on top.

To be recognized and praised rather than have my good deeds go unnoticed.

The apple and banana without the bruises.

A new jar of peanut butter rather than finishing the nearly empty one.

Given my track record for choices and what they say about me, I think if I am honest with myself, given the choice, I would have chosen the 30 pieces of silver and shouted for Barabbas.  Which has all to do with why I need a Savior.

Given Jesus' track record, He would have chosen Judas or Barabbas too... or me.

Which has everything to do with why He is the Savior.

Waiting and Watching

As a Protestant I said to myself what the disciples said to themselves on Lazarus Saturday, and it is what I say to myself every Holy Week:  "I will go with Him to Jerusalem and die with Him." 

I will take up the Cross.  I will lay down my life.  I will follow Christ to Golgotha.

Jesus says to His disciples, "Watch."

And I watch.  I watch for the Cross.  I watch for the Bridegroom.  I sit with a dim lamp and I look for signs of Him coming. I stand in the crowd along the Via Dolorosa and believe I will be the one called out to bear His cross the final steps for Him.

My lamp sits beside my computer.  I watch my bank account.  I watch my work schedule.  I watch youTube. I watch comment boxes.  I do not see my lamp sputtering.

I look for the heavy Cross on the Path of Sorrows so I can carry it before the awestruck crowd.  But the  Crosses I have chosen for myself are decorations, those hanging on my walls, around my neck on silver chains, on the end of my prayer rope. 

The crowd will not see me carry the Cross of Christ. They will see me falter and fall under the weight of the dirty dishes left in the sink, a perceived insult, a change in my schedule, a lost set of car keys, a last minute request, a bad waitress, being put on hold, someone being late... 

I am distracted by my life, and I do not see my lamp's flame fading.

And my lamp goes out.

I was watching for the Bridegroom.  I was looking for the Cross. But He had already come to me and offered me the Crosses I could bear to go with Him to Golgotha. 

But I laid them aside and instead, stood in front of my wall, with a silver chain around my neck and a woolen cross between my fingers...  in the dark.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Fig Tree

We walk the path to the Passion with Christ for 6 days. But the Passion began in eternity, before the earth was formed, before the first fig tree grew, before God breathed Life into a handful of dust and endowed it with the Image of Himself, a God who hungers.

God walked in the Garden with His creation. He desired them.

When Adam and Eve hid from Him, He called out for them.

God walked toward Jerusalem with His disciples, the City He breathed life into and endowed with the Image of Himself.  They hid from Him and He called to them because He desired His people.

God hungers and so He walks among men. 

God hungered because He walked among men.

God curses the barren fig tree, and it withers.  The disciples marvel that the fig tree withers immediately.

But God does not destroy the fig tree.  Fig trees wither and die every day because that is what we brought into the creation.  A barren tree is sick.  A barren tree is dying.  A barren tree has no life in itself.  God merely manifests what is inevitable.  The disciples marvel at what is truly common.

They do not marvel that death is not intended to be common.

They do not marvel that God is hungry.

God hungers.  He who is Life desires His dying creation.  He who is Food desires to consume us.

But we will take our Hungry God and with our reason created to see God, with spears fashioned from the gifts of the earth, with our mouths fashioned for praise, we will feed Him.  We will feed His hunger for us with our sins, our sickness, our death.

On the Tree of the Cross hangs the Hungry God.  The Tree is not barren, it buds forth the Fruit of the Vine.  

God hungers still... and I marvel.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Getting From Here to There

Beginning today, Palm Sunday, in the space of 96 hours, we go from "Hosanna in the highest, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!" to "Give us Barabbas!  Crucify Him!" 

Of course we know the end of the story.  We know the printed record of the good guys and the bad guys.  We truly believe we learn from other people's mistakes.  We really believe we are the "good guys" even though in false humility tell everyone we are the "bad guys".  During Holy Week I am a voyeur, an outsider watching someone else fall.  I am intellectually astute enough to know that I should see myself in the failure of everyone surrounding Jesus.  I am phony enough to tell the world "I am Pilate, Herod, Judas, Peter, Caiaphus,  the Pharisee, the crowd, the Disciples." I am deluded enough to believe I am John, Mary, the Centurion.

How do we get from Here to There?  The scriptures tell us it was by envy, cowardice, ambition, security, political expediency, white lies and half truths told, fear, and well placed silence.  No adultery, no child molesting, no murder or fornications... no mortal sins. All common circumstances, all common situations, all common temptations.  In the end, it was common sins that crucified Christ. 

I know the end of the story.  It is because I know the end that I believe.  It is because I know the end that I am more culpable for not acting as if I know the end. 

What is my price to sell out my integrity? What do I envy? What of my life do I wish to preserve at the cost of someone else?  What do I fear?  What will I say that is half the truth to save my skin? What expectation of God and man do I have that I cannot endure being shattered?

To answer these questions is to know why I put palms before the Son of God on Sunday, and why I nail Him to a cross on Friday.  To not know the answers to these questions is to be doomed to putting palms before the Son of God on Sunday and nailing Him to a cross on Friday.

I am the Crowd.  I am the Pharisee. I am Peter.  I am Pilate.  I am Herod.  I am Caiaphus. I am the Centurion. I am the Disciples.  I am Barabbas. 

I am, like all of these, loved by God.

Now... Who will I become?

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Today marks our eleventh liturgical year being Orthodox.  We were received into the Antiochian Archdiocese with a group of friends from the Episcopal Church on Lazarus Saturday.  It was a glorious beginning, full of hope, good intentions, love and faith.

I knew I was coming to the Church of the New Testament.  I knew I was putting my feet on the clear road to spiritual discipline, to humility, to love of God and neighbor.  It was not a different road really, I had just been walking a well trodden but unmarked path in the wilderness toward the same place.  What I didn't know was... I was coming to the Church of the New Testament and I was on the road to spiritual discipline, humility and love of God and neighbor.  And even on a clearly marked road one can still take off ramps, park, back up, fall asleep at the wheel and hit other cars when you change lanes without looking in the mirror.

I soon found out that the Church is still the Church.  2000 years later, we still have Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians.  We still have Pharisees, wranglers over words, slackers, posers and all manner of sinners.  We still have living saints. We still have Diotrephes (the presbyter who loved authority and the praise of men), Tychicus (of good report), Lydia (who gave alms), Barnabbas (the encourager), Demas (who went back to the world), Priscilla and Aquila (whose house was a Church... I figured I'd save you the time looking them up).  We still have those who are "of Philip, of Jonah, of Bartholomew, of Kyrill". 

And I am still me.  For eleven years I have not looked in the mirror often enough and have caused wrecks, I've taken the off-ramps that looked like short cuts, I've looked too far ahead on the road instead of where I am and hit the people right in front of me. I have a lot of zeal to be forgiven for. I had a lot of agendas and visions and ideas that overshadowed people and the Cross and my own salvation.

I've learned that humility is not gotten any way but the hard way.  It is not learned quickly.  Even the hard lessons can be forgotten in a heartbeat. There are a lot of glittering and close substitutes for anything Orthodox that are cheap, look like the real things and are a lot easier to attain.  In the end they are fueled by vainglory and pride and are hard to maintain in the long run. I've learned that the real thing is always just plain hard work, unglorious, costly, unpredictable, death on the ego and always Cross-ways to an agenda or a dream or a vision.  As my friend Joe used to say,  "Why is it that when God works in mysterious ways I always get kicked in the ass?"  The real mystery is, why don't I get it yet?

Even though nothing I imagined or dreamed or hoped has come to pass, more than I ever dreamed or imagined or hoped has come to pass.  Though I doubt that I might have done it if I knew what was coming, I plan on sticking around even though I know that in the next eleven years God will continue to work in mysterious ways.  And I will continue to bow low even though I know God is probably behind me and not in front of me....

Friday, March 26, 2010


There is something about precision that touches the human soul.  We react with awe at precision of thought and word, of line and shape, of tolerances and balance of machinery, and of action and movement.  I doubt that any animal has the capacity to appreciate precision even when they are precisely doing things specific to their unique being.

This is a precision drill by the US Navy Presidential Ceremonial Honor Guard Drill Team that won a competition in Norway.  Precisely. (And yes, those are bayonets... I wonder how many stitches it took to get this routine down.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Perks of Blogging

One of the funnest things about blogging is getting to meet the people you only know through their words and "avatars". Yesterday James the Thickheaded, whose hilarious yet pointed stream of conciousness Rorschachianesque blog and comments here have mystified readers, was in Phoenix for a last minute conference.  I juggled my work and he graciously bought me lunch.  The two hours together was way too short.

My wife said, "Get a picture of you guys together!  I want to see who that is who writes like that."  So we had the receptionist at the hotel take our picture.

Saturday, March 06, 2010


A new personality on the blog.  He is an amalgam of a few colorful people I've known since I've been Orthodox. The main personality is Walter (memory eternal), a crotchety old Russian Orthodox man who was a member of our Mission. Before you read any further, click on that link and read about him.

Walter is my hero. He called it like he saw it, but not because he was bitter or mean, not because he was arrogant and condescending, but because he loved people enough to mess with them.  The twinkle in his eye as he looked away from you after sucker punching you in the gut was a glimpse of pure joy.  If you could take the hit and stuck with him he was a clairvoyant elder whose cell was either his trailer, his seat in the corner of the coffee hour room, or a 3 legged folding stool he kept in the trunk of his car so he could sit in the parking lot and smoke during the sermon. 

So, here's to my friend and hero, Walter. He's going to pop in here once in a while and visit in the character of

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Orthgraph #56 - Speaking of "speaking of"

Do you fast?
Let the ears by not listening to evil talk and gossip.
For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes,
but bite and devour our brothers and sisters? (St. John Chrysostom).
H/T: CoderforChrist's comment for the idea and Silouan