Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Grandfathers, Fathers and Sons

I've not had a lot of work lately, so I've been able to spend some time with my parents and kids.

The last time I went squirrel hunting was when I was seven years old somewhere outside of Millington, TN with my Father. That was 51 years ago. My Grandfather taught me how to shoot a gun when I was five. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents in Arkansas while my Father was assigned to sea duty.  To keep me occupied my Grandfather put me on the back porch of their farm house with a single shot .22 rifle and a box of "snake shot", and I shot blackbirds out of their five plum trees all day.  I became quite the "crack shot" and always had a love for guns even during my 60's pacifist days.

My eldest son is 31 now. The last time I took him "shooting" was over 20 years ago. We went out to the desert with some friends and I let him shoot my .22 rifle and then my Smith and Wesson .357 mag revolver with hot loaded 180 grain wadcutters to show him why he shouldn't play with guns. The "ex" was quite mortified. She was of the mind that if he pointed his finger in the shape of a gun it was a "mortal sin". We never went shooting again. A few years ago he inherited a custom 20ga. double barrel shotgun from his maternal Grandfather. Last week my Father, my son and I went squirrel hunting for the first time together. We took a small arsenal of various weapons that none of us have fired for decades.  We didn't take the .303 British, the 30.06, or the 7mm mag since it would have been tough to explain them to a Game and Fish guy as squirrel guns during elk season. So we settled on my old .22 Marlin, my Dad's Makarov 9mm and two shotguns. 

We parked the truck and my Father took my Son and their shotguns into the woods. As I walked the forest with my .22, I heard several shots. The echo of the gunfire seemed to come from decades past and I recalled my Grandfather showing me how to shoulder the gun, sight down the barrel and breathe while squeezing the trigger. The tradition of Robinson manhood was again being passed on from Grandfather to Grandson.



My Father has emphysema and a total of 11 bypasses and stents in his heart over the last 30 years. We were close to 9000' and he didn't bring his oxygen bottle. So he would walk a little then drive the truck up ahead and we'd meet him. He'd walk a little more, then he'd drive ahead again and we'd walk until we met him again sitting on the bumper of the truck. Both he and I were more interested in being in the woods with all of us together than in squirrels, really... which was good because we saw nothing.  So eventually we set up some targets on a tree and took turns shooting the .22 and the 9mm just to burn up some 30 year old ammunition my Father has had sitting in his gun cabinet.  In a way I believe it was him facing his mortality to use up good ammo on a tree trunk for grins instead of for sighting in a gun or in the direction of an animal.   

When we got home, he showed my son how to disassemble and clean his shotgun. 


But, it took him a while to break down and reassemble the shotgun because his hands were shaking.

About 20 years ago I noticed my Father's hands began to tremble. He was about my age back then. It only happened when he was trying to do something that required fine motor control, like cutting his food or writing something.  While we were "hunting" we set up some targets and my Father tried to shoot the 9mm pistol. His hand shook and he missed the target entirely. The pistol jammed and while we had our backs turned it went off while he was trying to clear the chamber. We suspect his hands were shaking and it misfired, but he didn't say anything and we didn't ask. He put some new ammunition in it and I shot a few rounds at about 30 feet.  This will be my Christmas card to my daughter's boyfriend that I've had a couple "man to man" talks with.


Yesterday I drove the 90 miles and took my Mother flowers and went out for lunch with my parents for Mom's 82nd birthday.  Dad had an open faced roast beef sandwich with extra gravy.  His hands shook so much my Mother asked if he wanted her to cut it up for him.  He said no, and she said, well, don't splash gravy on everyone then. I suspect she does that for him when no one is looking. 

A couple years ago I was eating supper and was cutting something. My hand wouldn't stop moving. It was brief, but uncontrollable. I knew what was coming. The tremors have progressed.  If my hand is stationary, it will stay that way which accounts for my nice grouping on the target. If I move it a certain way, it won't stop, which already is a problem when I'm cartooning certain things. Eventually the slightest movement will result in bigger and bigger tremors, and I figure that my fine motor control that permits me to cartoon at all will probably be gone in two or three years.  It is an undeniable signpost of my mortality. 

Tomorrow we'll all go and visit my parents for Thanksgiving.  It will be a time of thanks for my parents and I. We've been discussing things like funerals, wills and what if who dies first kinds of things lately. We all know that our bodies are weary, most of our days are spent, and there is more to look back on in gratitude than to look forward to in hope.  What we leave to our children and grandchildren will be handed on long after our hands are stilled and our voices a memory.

I've come to the conclusion that the best we can hope for is that we live long enough and eventually well enough that our children and grandchildren will be able to tell some good family stories to their children and remember us with some fondness. 

May your Thanksgiving be one of those fond memories and a good story to your generations to come.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Why I Wept...

It comes unannounced. It has no warning signs.

You may be driving and you find yourself miles from the last remembered intersection. You realize at odd times that you have been staring through someone, the bank teller, the cashier, or your spouse sitting across the dinner table. You may be washing your hands and look up into the mirror. For a moment you see someone else, a stranger with your face. You may be holding a half-ripe tomato at the produce counter, and somehow, somewhere inside you go empty, empty as a beggar's plate. There comes a disquieting want within you. It leaves you hollow for a moment and then is gone. You make the turn, cash the check, dry your hands, and you shake off the feeling like a cat-nap and go on, distracted by a magazine cover, a familiar tune, a hastily engaged shallow conversation.

This feeling, like all inexplicable feelings, weaves itself into the fabric of your days. It may be a brief sigh, a momentary sadness, sometimes a deep weariness of the heart. It is not quite darkness. It is not truly light. It is not quite despair, it is not hope. It is not quite fear, it is not peace. It is a vague notion that you once possessed something precious and it is now missing. Or perhaps that you were once possessed by someone precious and it is you that is missing. It is a twinge of homesickness, a feeling that you belong somewhere but are not there; or that you belong to someone but have lost touch. This fleeting melancholy is easily dismissed in the frenzy of the day because it does not paralyze you or cause you to break out in uncontrollable weeping. It can be evaded by turning up the radio, finding a conversation, making the phone call or searching for the perfect tomato.

But in the night, when there are no distractions, no tasks, when there is no one but yourself and all that is in you and all that is missing within you, it is then that the feeling is no longer a vague notion but a troubling and persistent void. It is then that even if you claim to know no God you have within you an empty and hungering place that you fear to name because to name it would be to know to whom it belongs and for whom it hungers. You know with fearful certainty Someone precious is missing. You almost know for whom it is you are longing. It is a lover whose face you would know if you saw it, whose name you would recognize if only you could hear someone speak it, whose heart you know is longing for you.

In perhaps such a night the night the Shepherds, wearied from the ordinariness of thousands of days walking the same hills, lay staring, like thousands of nights before, into the vast familiar sky. And in the night comes one who is unfamiliar, whose presence is at first strange and fearful. But it is an Angel and the fear breaks into wonder.

And the stars begin to sing.

"Hallelujah!"

From somewhere in the ordinary, familiar sky breaks forth Angels, Archangels, Cherubim, Seraphim six winged, many eyed, soaring aloft on their wings singing "Hallelujah!" for into the vast ordinariness of our existence the One for whom we long has come to take a face, to have a name, to be bread to fill the hunger, to be light to shine in the darkness, to be wine that makes glad the troubled heart of man. "Hallelujah!"

There is one born who lies among the lowliest of all, unremarkable, indistinguishable from ten thousand other humans born in the same night. And yet the angels sing, Hallelujah, Glory to God in the highest!

The transcendence of the ordinary breaks forth from within the ordinary. The glimpse of eternal heaven shines forth from the mundaneness of the earth. Peace and goodwill among men is both within each and in the face of every human.

It is for this we are preparing. We prepare for the transcendent by attending more closely to the familiar and ordinary things of life, to food, to the hungering, dirty face of our neighbor that is before us every day, to our own inner longing for peace and joy. And perhaps on one ordinary day, in an ordinary place, among ordinary people there will perhaps come one who cries "Hallelujah!" and the heavens will break open and all that is ordinary around us and within us will stand up and sing in wonder and glorious unexpected joy.

I think that is why I weep when I watch this.
(For full screen video click HERE)



H/T to Mrs. Josephus (for the video)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Vote for Pedro!

Most of the Orthoblogosphere is by now aware of the "Eastern Christian New Media Awards" hosted by Josephus over at Byzantine, Texas.  I've been notified this blog has been nominated and Josephus has asked that we bloggers mention the awards voting site so other people can go there to see who else is writing and doing interesting stuff on the internet that you might not be aware of yet.

So.  Here's the "orthodilemma":

1. If I mention the nomination and the voting site, I can be seen as self-aware and not humble, which of course I want to avoid because I don't want to burst the bubble of all my deluded readers who think I'm humble (in all humility).

2. If I don't mention the nomination but mention the voting site people will go there and see that I was nominated and think I was being sneaky to get them there to see that I was there so they'll vote for me, which will make them think I'm not humble AND disingenuous (but stupid) too.

3. If I don't mention it at all, period, it's like "this guy's all over the 'net, surely he knows he's on there by now" and they'd be right, and by not mentioning it I'm trying to do the false humility and pretend I'm unaware, and people will think I'm pandering for the "humility vote" because I'm not campaigning for recognition like some others are.

4.  If I put up the voting site and say "but I don't care if I win anything or not", that will be seen as duplicitous and falsely humble because if I REALLY didn't care I wouldn't have mentioned it at all.

5.  If I put up the voting site and put up 4 disclaimers that will be seen as being overly analytical and falsely concerned about how humble it all looks because true humility isn't that self aware and doesn't really care what anyone thinks.

6. If I put up 5 disclaimers and then pull down the link to the voting site and nuke this post altogether as if I never wrote it, then it is truly falsely humble and I'll know that at least one person voted for me because I DIDN'T put anything up on my blog about it because he threatened to NOT vote for me if I did.

7. If I win by one vote then I will know I won on the basis of caving in to the threat to look falsely humble by not mentioning it in order to get that vote and I won by pretense.

8.  If I don't win and say I didn't really care one way or the other then this whole post looks disingenuous because if I really didn't care I wouldn't have posted anything at all, especially about the threat of a "no vote" (see #'s 1-4).

9.  If I do win because people read the blog and think its "AXIOS!" then I have to write another whole post like this one about whether or not to put the award in the sidebar, which is a lot of work.

10. If I don't win then I just looked really arrogant to have wasted half my morning writing all this for nothing when I could have been drawing a new Curmudgeophan cartoon instead.

So there, I did it, Josephus.  And thanks to the readers who thought enough of the blog to take the time to click a couple links for it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

New Bishop Selection Method Instituted in America

Alleged Press International, Englewood, NJ

In order to appease the outcry for a more "American Orthodoxy" and independence from the "Byzantine intrigue" and "Old Country" control of the Orthodox Churches in America, SNOB-A (Synod of Neurotic Orthodox Bishops of America) has introduced a new distinctly "American" method of selecting new Bishops.

MP PHILODYNAMIS, Chairman of SNOB-A said, "Just because we live insular lives and only show up at your parishes once a year for a nice supper and sit at an isolated table up front doesn't mean we don't see what people are posting on blogs on the internet.  It was getting irritating and the reality is we're getting old and cranky, so we met and discussed what we can do in the context of the American culture to select the new Bishops who will be the next generation of leaders of the American expression of Orthodoxy."

"It was a difficult task to find a new distinctly 'American' selection method," said ALBOTP (Auxilliary Low Bishop on the Totem Pole) MARGINDOULOS, "because it had to be familiar enough to all Americans for them to embrace, and yet not mirror the American political system which was established by Protestant heretics, in which popularity and demagoguery could actually put someone in office who might not fit in with everyone else already here." 

"After extensive Bible study and exploration of American customs we believe we have chosen something that will both resonate with the laity of America and still reflect in many ways the inner integrity of the selection process as it has been practiced in reality for centuries, if not, millenia," said MP. PHILODOLLAR.

"This new method works on many levels. It fulfills the Gospel demand that we 'be like little children', but it also lets the Bishops still do the selection in the manner we've grown accustomed to:  the opportunity to push and shove people around, screech and yell, and strategically position ourselves  to win... but all in the name of good, clean fun... just like little kids!"

"We actually gave it a test run at the last SNOB-A meeting to elect our new Chairman," said MP PHILODYNAMIS, "...and I won!!  Yay ME!"

"We were so pleased with ourselves that we took a picture of the final outcome of the selection process in order to unveil it to the Churches of America." 
                                                   Hierarchical musical chairs.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Help a Monastery

The Wifey and I spent last weekend helping our Monk son move from St. John's Monastery in California (where Fr. Meletios Webber is Abbot) to his new home at St. Michael the Archangel Monastery in Canones, New Mexico where he is one of three monks living there now. This is the chapel and grounds from the dirt road coming into the Monastery.



I've known about St. Michael's almost since its beginning because we have ties to Holy Trinity and Fr. John Bethancourt in Santa Fe, NM, but I had never been there. I'm glad I went, and I'm going back.  But this is where you come in.

St. Michael's is under "reconstruction" by Mp. Jonah.  All but one of the former monks and novices have been moved out, not for scandalous moral offenses but simply the community was too dysfunctional to continue as it was.  That just happens sometimes when you have people who are working out their salvation with no one to guide them properly.  So Fr. Silouan from St. John's was sent by Mp. Jonah (who was Fr. Silouan's Abbot at St. John's for years) to be the Superior and re-establish order and rebuild the Monastery.  I met Fr. Silouan a few years ago when I began visiting St. John's.  Fr. Silouan is a recent cancer survivor and was finally living as a hermit, which was his long time desire, when he was called out to lead a community.  He is the poster boy for God's ironic will:  what you THINK you are called to do, you'll do the opposite.  But because Fr. Silouan has no "ambition" he is the perfect person to do the job.  He is one of the most genuine people I've ever met in my life.

The monastery has basic infrastructure.  There are small three cells that were built several years ago. They have no water or electricity to them and are heated by a wood burning stove by design.  This is the one our son is moving in to.

There is also a beautiful and well constructed guest house that was donated by a patroness of the Monastery years ago.  The guest house is about 100 yards from the "monks' area". Unlike some other Monasteries, there are not common meals with the guests and monks, the guests prepare their own meals and eat in the guest house common living/dining room kitchen area.






One can wander the grounds, help out in many ways and attend all the daily services in the chapel which was completed several years ago.  At this time there is not a "priest monk" so all of the services are done as "Reader's Services" by the monks.
But there is a lot of work to be done at the monastery.  The original buildings on the property are over 80 years old and were built "al ojo" (by the eye).  None of them are insulated and need major repairs and upgrading.  The candle factory which was housed in an old "potato cellar" (which is the only source of income for the monastery) burned down and was moved into a another small storage shed.  The kitchen/office/monk's dining room is the large tin roofed building on the left and needs major attention. Fr. Silouan's cell is half of an old storage shed (the white building on the right with two blue doors) and has no insulation and a flat roof.  The night we stayed there it got down to 20 degrees and his cell drops to about 40 degrees.  When it snows he will have an ice cube sitting on his uninsulated roof. I'd like to remove the sheetrock, insulate the walls, seal up all the cracks etc. and put a pitched roof on the shed that will keep snow off of it. There is a lot of winter left in Canones and if possible I'd like to go there for a couple weeks at the end of November or early December to do some of the critical work. 

Here is the need:  They have basically no money.  Fr. Silouan is overwhelmed just keeping up with the day to day needs of the monastery (he was digging a trench to fix a broken drainage pipe last Sunday to try to get it done and reburied before the freeze that night).  Fr. Ephrosynos will be a big help in the day to day operations.  If you can donate toward a "construction fund" for the Monastery it would go a long way to easing some of the pressures of trying to prioritize what to fix and when.  And frankly, part of the fund will have to go toward some kind of stipend for my work at this time.  I usually donate my labor to churches and monasteries, but I can't even afford the gas to drive there right now.  If you can help out, just go to their website HERE and send a donation with a note or earmark for "Construction Fund".  Fr. Silouan knows I am making this appeal and sends his gratitude and prayers for all of you who read this blog.

The Monastery does not have a Paypal account (yet), but if you would like to donate online I will take donations (tax deductible) through the "Our Life in Christ" Paypal donation account and pass it on to them.  You can donate HERE with a Paypal account or a credit card (please note it is for St. Michael's).

Email me if you have any questions. Please link to this and pass it on if you would. Thanks, all.

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Chopping Block

I pretty much stay out of “Church politics”. I find that focusing on and ranting about the “big picture” of anything is usually a distraction at best and a delusion that I’m actually influencing changing anything about it at worst. That doesn’t mean I don’t think that some of the antics at “the top” aren’t scandalous, sheer idiocy and even evil. I don’t surf the net looking for crap, but when ortho-sh-t hits the fan, some of it gets on some of the places I go. And I admit, instead of clicking on that little red “X” in the upper right of my screen, I read. And I’ve been reading about the current drama in the Antiochian Archdiocese and MP Philip’s alleged financial improprieties, his political demotion of his bishops, the attempted exile of the convert Bp. Mark to the Siberia of American Orthodoxy where errant priests and bishops are sent to do one’s ecclesial penance, and the removal of a convert priest for the stated reason he did not adhere to the Antiochian clerical dress code (which was intended at least partly to prevent zealous converts from monkabee exhibitionism under the guise of “Tradition”). Of course all of this has more backstory and Byzantine intrigue than an ecumenical council, but in the end it comes down to “what is ecclesial reality”. (Of course every archdiocese has its own brands of scandals, so I’m not flaming Antioch per se, they are just the scandal du jour in American Orthodoxy.)

I was introduced to ecclesial reality when I was 21 years old and attending a small private Bible college in Texas. The head of the Bible department taught several of the classes, he was an old timer and a survivor of congregational ministry. Every once in a while in the classes someone would raise their hand and say, "Dr. Smith (not his real name, he’s still alive) what do you really think about…" He would pause, slowly walk over and close the door, then walk back and sit on the front edge of his desk. He would look across the room as if he was our dad, and then say," Now boys…" And then he would give us the straight dope. 

We got a new college president one year and he began targeting the old-timers and people in positions that he wanted to fill with his friends. People were fired, retired or were offered positions in more menial positions over various trumped up charges, infractions, or there was no place for them in the new organizational chart (which was re-reorganized after they were gone) I lost my job and half tuition scholarship as editor of the school paper because I was editorially critical of his administration. (I was married and my wife was also attending the school fulltime, so it was no small loss. I had to work two part time jobs while taking 16-21 hours to pay for school.) Our professor and we all knew that he was one whose head was on the chopping block. One day in the Minor Prophets class it was perfectly legitimate to ask," Dr. Smith what do you do when you know something wrong is going on in the church?" He paused, walked over and closed the door, and stood behind his desk. He leaned forward and put his hands on his desk and looked up at us and said, "Boys, most of you are going to graduate with a degree in Bible and you're going to go out and get a job with the church and think you're going to change the world. But the world is in the church. There will always come a time when your elders will tell you “you will do this or you're fired”. And then you have to decide what your integrity is worth. If you have a wife and children they will have you by the balls and they'll know it. So my advice to you is before you go out and get a job with the church, you stay in school and get a practical degree or learn a trade. If you work for the church you HAVE to have a fuck you backup plan if you if you want to keep your integrity someday."

A few years later I sat in an elders meeting when we adopted our son and was denied a raise for something I don't even remember now. What I do remember are the words of Elder Jack. He said, “You don't have any choice. We all know that the only reason a man becomes a preacher is because he can't do anything else useful. You're lucky to even have a job here.” He was half right, I was lucky to have a job in 1981 in the middle of a big recession. But I did have a choice and I chose to not stop doing what I was doing and got fired. While I applied for jobs with two useless degrees, I worked for 10 bucks an hour sweeping floors, moving sheet rock and mowed yards. My wife did day care in our home. A few months later I ended up self-employed with my construction company.

So thirty years removed from my own situation, when I read about all the current issues I have mixed reactions. All the allegations about financial improprieties and ecclesial manipulation aside, a Bishop (or in my former case, my elder), regardless of how pious or impious he is, can do basically anything he wants to do with his priests even if it's unpopular. The bottom line is a priest is ordained, serves and is moved or removed at the whim of the Bishop. The Bishop does not have to give a reason to anyone for his pastoral decisions. Whether or not that is wise or expedient is another issue. And until that Bishop is moved or removed by a canonical process he can continue doing what he's doing even in the face of a riot. So faced with ecclesial reality, the question I have to ask myself is, “What am I willing to sacrifice to keep my job and ministry, and does the Bishop have me by the balls?“ 

Frankly, I don't know what to make of the virtual complete silence of clergy on the Internet. I can honestly see that there is some wisdom in riding out the storm, sitting down and shutting up and waiting for the Bishop to die which realistically may be any day now. And then when happy days are here again you're still a priest, you're still serving your parish, you haven't put your family through hell (or at least any more hell) and ultimately, isn't that the goal. Sacrificing all that you went through to perhaps become Orthodox and then to get ordained for one public grandstanding act of conscience against a temporary situation perhaps just isn't worth it. However, I have to say I find it ironic that most of us ended up Orthodox because of a costly act of conscience in regard to the ecclesial weirdnesses of our former churches. But, on the third hand, I also have to say that when I was faced with the same situation it was hard for me to voluntarily look at going back to cleaning restrooms at the mall and washing dishes and sweeping floors after all I went through to be in the clerical position I was in in the Protestant church. And if I was Orthodox it would be doubly hard to think about giving up the black dress, the gold cross, the vestments and the respectable greetings in the marketplace. But that's just me being brutally honest with myself, I'm passing judgment on no one else.

Looking back, the other thing I wrestled with after my elders meeting was the idea that I can't get myself fired because my congregation needs me, and if I'm gone what will happen to them. Even then I realized there was an element of pride in that. The Orthodox word for that is prelest. And to be honest, I struggle with this also because for most of my Orthodox life, I have been a member of churches that suffered under bad priests and it is no picnic. I fully admit reality is there are qualitative differences between priests, and bishops for that matter. And a legitimate question is, should a good priest set himself up to be axed by a “bad bishop”, especially one that is possibly on his way out soon. And I see the wisdom of self-preservation in that situation. However, that said I look at St. Athanasius who was exiled six times and St. John Chrysostom who died in his seventh exile and I wonder how many times they struggled thinking, "Maybe it would be better for me to sit down and shut up because my church needs me and if I'm gone they will be left in the hands of evil men". But, what it comes down to is, in the Orthodox Church we are not Donatists, a parish doesn’t “need” a “good priest”. Anyone at the altar regardless of how good or bad a priest he is, can give us communion. A collar is not required for us to seek spiritual advice and wisdom from a man who is wise with or without a collar. Anyone can give us the sacrament of absolution and confession even if they don't understand a word of English. In reality God can raise up priests from stones if He needs someone at an altar. True ministry and priesthood is a function of all believers, and a robe or collar is a blessing, not a necessity. Personally, I eventually realized that when I thought of that as a necessity was when I ceased living in the present moment, I lost my faith in God’s providence, and I lost the authority and power to be a prophet to my people. 

So all that to say, being a Christian isn't easy. It never has been and sometimes it is the church that makes it hard. And sometimes when we hang being a Christian on having and keeping a function or a role in the Church, we make it harder than it really is. May God have mercy on us all.

(An addendum: Some FB comments have connected a couple dots that I think are worth mentioning.  Mp. Philip has forbidden clergy organizations to be formed or to meet.  Basically he has reinforced and is using to his advantage what I think is the intrinsic error of the American "congregationalist" mindset that has infiltrated the American Orthodox Church: if he can through fear of losing their congregational existence keep the clergy and laity from standing up with one voice as a diocese to him and the Patriarch, he wins. As long as the clergy see their ministry congregationally and are watching out for themselves and their parish, they have by default divided and conquered themselves and Mp. Philip's directive is moot.  Just a thought...) 

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Will Draw For Food

A blog friend is starting a new business teaching piano and asked if I'd like to give a shot at designing a logo for her website and business cards etc. because she likes my drawings on the blog. So instead of drawing Curmudgeophan I spent the day drawing pianos. Here's a couple ideas I sent off to her.



(clikon'em to embiggen)