Sunday, April 29, 2012

New Bishop's Image for American Orthodoxy

I think we need to replace that Old World intimidating "old grumpy man with a stick" image with something more American and happy.

And it's "Trinitarian":  Three scoops, individual flavors in one nature.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Love is as Strong as Death

My parents have become my teenagers.  They are independent, but not.  They are discovering more and more that they are becoming more dependent than capable of being on their own. They are facing a stage in life that they don’t know much, if anything, about and they are scared. Interspersed in the bravado are intimations and hints of asking for help, advice and permission. 

They are in their mid-80’s.  After several bypass operations, aneurisms  and various illnesses, they have squarely faced their mortality several times over.  They know their days, as the Psalm says, are as the grass of the field, their flowers have flourished, the wind has passed over them, they are withered and dry and waiting to be plucked up and be pressed into memories.  They will soon become a picture hung in the hallway, the remembrances of better, more beautiful days will eventually be less and less frequently invoked at family gatherings. Eventually there will be a generation that knew them not.

I think it because she has no illusions of immortality that my Mom has decided to quit chemo.  The first week she spent nauseous and exhausted. The second week they adjusted the dosage. She spent an early morning in the ER dizzy and unable to remember how she got there.  When they got home in the light of dawn she barely made it up the flight of stairs. Dad had to carry her to their bed where she slept for the rest of the day.  They talked it over and they decided neither of them were able to endure their mutual and individual pain due to chemo for another three months.  I am sure it was a hard conversation between them.  My Mom is probably more concerned about the toll it is taking on my Dad as the toll it is taking on her. I think he reluctantly has to admit he is probably not capable of dealing with it either physically or emotionally.

“At my age, what is the point? I’ve had a full life,” my Mom said to me, a thinly veiled request for permission from her children.  “I might live a year or ten years with or without the chemo.”  Of course my sister and I gave her permission to make her own decision about her own future.  We agreed the crap shoot odds weren’t compelling enough to us either.  She will continue with a mild "maintenance" type of chemo if she can tolerate it that may keep the cancer at bay. But the doctor says either way there are no guarantees.

Indeed, what is the real point? In one way it is not only about life and death, it is about letting go, something we have to learn to do both for the living and the dying whether we are parents or children. For now it is letting my parents make decisions that I might not want them to make. Stopping chemo addresses the short term pain but may result in something worse later, a slow lingering death in Hospice that I have seen before. 

But the reality is that The Psalmist is correct, “if we be in strength our years may be fourscore years, but what is more than these but toil and travail?”  It really does come down to enduring three months of chemical poisoning now or three months of making her as comfortable as we can while we gather and wait for her last breath later.  The reality is at her age we will wait for that last breath with or without chemo sooner or later.

It is not so much the pain or avoidance of pain nor the length of years added or subtracted but it is the waiting that is important at this point.  It is that Mom is surrounded by her husband, children and grandchildren who wait on her.  Death is inevitable.  Having people who love you and wait with you is not.  Death is the curse.  Being “gathered to your people” who are waiting is the blessing. 

So for we who wait there is the pain of being involved in the decision to die and there is the comfort of being involved in the decision to die.  To be invited into such a private and sobering decision is a weight of blessing I suppose some cannot bear.  But “love is as strong as death” and it bears the burden gracefully.

And so, we begin keeping an indeterminate vigil that is more real now, more intensely focused on the final benediction while attempting to attend to the present moment of blessedness. 

“Love is as strong as death”, and indeed, in death love is perfected and like the flower of the field that withers and returns to the earth, love will blossom forth life anew in the Eternal Spring.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


At 8:36pm the blog hit 500,000 page views. But who's counting.... and why?

Thanks for keeping it real, 'Mudge.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Pithless Products Presents...

Holy Friday, 15th Antiphon

The departed Bishop Job of blessed memory sings the 15th Antiphon of Holy Friday.

Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the tree,
The King of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in a purple robe of mockery.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan is struck on the face.
The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the Cross with nails.
The Son of the virgin is pierced by a spear.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Just in Time for Holy Week... Again.

Our Mission found a new place.  Of course, nothing is "turn key" for an "Orthodox space", but in the grand scheme of stuff we have looked at over the past 7 years it wasn't overwhelming.  I started the demolition on a Sunday afternoon. 
(clikon'em to embiggen'em)

We had to remove a couple walls that opened up 3 spaces into one long space for the sanctuary.

The problem was, the electrical panel was in one of the walls and had to be moved.  No matter how we designed around it, it would block too much view of the altar. Fortunately the ceilings of the two rooms were laid out on the same grid and at the same height so I could eventually join the two ceilings together after the center room was removed.
We bought a lot of stuff at Stardust, the Habitat for Humanity construction thrift store.  We got these two 8 foot french doors for 150.00.  It took a day to fabricate the jambs and hang them, but it gave us a "dramatic entrance" into the sanctuary area.  Much nicer than an office door.
The panel took the electrician 3 days to move and re-wire.  This is "panel artistry".

Once the panel was moved I could repair the drywall and paint. We built the platform for the altar area then some of the members came in during the week and installed the "Pergo floor". I took "Western Good Friday" off and finished repairing the ceilings and started on the iconostasis. The one from our old building fit almost perfectly across the room with very little tweaking.
On Lazarus Saturday, the choir moved all of their stuff from the old building, we found all of our icons, we finished assembling and painting the iconostasis and pre-painted all the baseboard.  We were about at this stage when Fr. John Erickson, our visiting priest, showed up for his weekend with us.  I had just finished cutting the new top for the altar. He and our altar servers started putting the altar area together while we continued to work on the nave.
At about 5:00 we installed baseboards, icons, moved tools and materials out, swept the floors, the choir set up their area in the back.  We assembled an Ikea cabinet for the chanter's area and located the hanging lampadas for the iconostasis. The altar servers found all of the necessary cups, plates, oils and supplies for Lity and Vigil.

At 5:45 we had a functional Church building for the Vigil of Palm Sunday and Holy Week.

This is our first Sunday communion.

Our congregation seated during the homily of Palm Sunday.
Outside of the entry doors we still don't have a narthex because the entire fellowship area is still under construction.

We didn't have an extra icon stand so we put St. John on the Ladder for people to venerate as they entered.  He's been around this kind of thing a lot with this group....

This Lazarus Saturday was the 13th anniversary of our reception into the Orthodox Church. It was a good way to spend the day.  I've always really enjoyed the "down to the wire" Church buildings I've been involved in over the years. Even Fr. John commented on how exhilarating and amazing it was to see all this come together even in the hour and a half he was there while everyone was doing the finishing touches.  As Silouan said, "Instant Church, just add sweat." 

Then, I ended up with a "cough" on Sunday night during Bridegroom Matins. I never get sick and my pain threshold is really high, but by Monday night I felt like someone had beaten me with two by fours.  I was hoping it was a 24 hour thing, but I've spent the last 4 days in bed and finally went to urgent care today.  3 scrips, rest, plenty of non-alcoholic liquids (but codeine and beer are SO good together and my wife won't let me drive the bulldozer in our bedroom anymore anyway....)

I wish I could say that I at least spent the time I've been sick meditating on the nature of suffering, pain and resurrection of the body or something really "spiritual" but I was too busy coughing, blowing my nose and eating and drinking massive quantities of over the counter drugs to try to get some sleep.  I didn't even try to pretend  to convince myself I was "suffering with Jesus".  I was too miserable to even want to pretend to be enduring anything nobly or quietly.  If someone offered to martyr me on the spot I might have taken them up on it Wednesday night. Sigh.  Even a quick death can be self serving.

Well.  I intended to make good for at least Holy Week but I guess God had other plans.  As my friend Joe used to say, "How come every time God works in a mysterious way I get kicked in the ass?"

Maybe it is the fitting end to this Lent.

No matter what, Pascha is tomorrow.