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Posts from the ‘Belief’ Category


Finding Diamonds in the Dirt


Diamond Miner


I found something today, buried in the ruins of my so called life, I found something that has identified a slow and steady change.

I’ve been a man without a mystery, it was only recently that I began to wear my little wooden cross around my neck, strangely it’s the one cross that I own that has not been blessed by a priest, so in some respects it’s ornamentation. But as of late it’s with me more than not, I wasn’t sure for a long time, but I got a startling clue this afternoon.

We had to move again, it wasn’t something we wanted to deal with, but circumstances forced our hand, and so we packed it all up, sold off a bunch of stuff we didn’t need. Today I’m working on my office, unpacking memories, and trying to give myself a place where I can be fully me.

In my stack of papers I found some cards, one was a sympathy card from my former team at work, expressing their compassion at the loss of the matriarch of my Mothers family, the year before I lost my hero when my Grandfather passed beyond his mortal remains. It’s a touching reminder of loss, and how we all share in the grief of living and dying.

But in that same stack was two cards, one from a little lutheran church in Corpus Christi, it is signed by a group of volunteers who knit prayer shawls, and give them out to those who desperately need hope, the shawl is prayed over constantly. It was given to me by my aunt during the time I was healing from my concussion, and with it came a second card signed and written by my aunt.

This little act of mercy touched the heart of a man who lost his faith, still recovering from the loss of someone close, and dealing with the brutal, maddening, unfairness of life. Inside the second card is this inscription:


We are praying for you. I hope you will heal fast.

God Bless You!

Auntie Dulce

I stopped my unpacking and sat down to reflect, the last few months have been emotionally draining. Michelle has given me room to breathe and mourn, and I needed it, I had a very emotional talk with Fr. Mark about what I was feeling. The parish has not treated us any different, which for an old Baptist is something that I really have a hard time coming to grips with.

When the implications of a group of women who I have never met, would take the time, and skill to create a prayer shawl, for someone they never met, settled on me. Well, I consider it a diamond in the dirt of my being fallibly human, it touched something deep inside, it’s going to hasten a change that I have seen coming for a while now.

Around my neck is a small wooden cross, it has no monetary value, it’s simple and plain. I wear it because I like it’s simplicity, and it doesn’t irritate my skin. It sat for a long time on my night stand, I wasn’t sure if I would ever wear it again, but in the last few weeks it has started to hang around my neck more and more.

It’s part of a change, a metamorphosis if you will, starting deep within where the hurt and loss once ruled supreme. Overshadowing all parts of my life, that endless darkness is now being replaced slowly and steadily by a new light. I even considered going to service tomorrow, which surprised me. I’m not ready, but the fact that I even thought about it, and could feel the warm embrace of standing in the grandeur of the Divine Liturgy in my mind, tells me that the change is picking up speed. I still need some time to process everything, as Michelle and I settle into our new home, it will only accelerate the change.

There are other questions that will have to be dealt with, but those will have to wait, I’m not going to force the change, I’ll let it happen naturally. But happen it will.

Divine Providence, or Random Occurrence?

Maybe, just maybe, that Shawl was meant for a different type of sickness, and only now is it’s true intent coming to light.

Only time can tell at this point…


The Really Hard Part – Part 2

I was driving home with a friend the other day, and we started talking about Church. He was raised Lutheran, was an acolyte, and went through the whole confirmation process. For years they attended a large Mega Church, but lately they started to grow tired of the endless war on morality, and now spend weekends at home, and watch Olsteen to get their uplifting message every week.

I have challenged him before about ‘Why’ they go to church, and pointed out that for the Ancient Faiths, church is about US worshiping God, and for most evangelical it’s about US getting something FROM God..

Big Difference..

That stuck with him, and now his question is why even go anymore? It’s a valid question and I’m glad they are working through it, I would love to warn them about Osteen, but eventually they will figure it out.

But what struck me, was that even in the safe and happy confines of a mega church, the moral wars are starting to take more and more victims and are turning them away from their faith. I see it in the dialog of our elected officials who are more and more becoming the vast right wing conspiracy every time they open their mouths. I’ve been shocked at just how much hate and vitriol is being poured forth in the name of Christianity and morality.

I’ve been highly critical of the Church’s reaction to homosexuality, we have reached a tipping point, where we are beginning to lose the argument and are playing the very role that our detractors are charging us with. It’s especially heinous, when elected officials step in, and let their ignorance and hatred show in how they declare laws. Who in their right mind, would support Arizona’s lawmakers, Brewer did the right thing, but I’m not sure for the right reasons.  On the other hand, a private business should have the right to refuse anyone service, we should not be legislating morality, which is essentially what is happening in our day and age. So those of use who think Civil Unions are fine, and don’t have a real problem with anyone who is LBGT, are left trying to pick up the pieces.

I’ve begun to question the whole take on morality and societal norms. Humans, by and large are drastically unique individually, but tend to be monochromatic when taken in large populations. The church, in it’s war on anything and everything it sees and sinful, has lost the touching grace of our Savior, and has become a scourge that is afflicting mankind. As much as I dislike Dawkin, we are becoming characters in his dissertations against religion, which is a sad statement to be sure.

Last week we finally met with our parish Priest and his wife, it was time, I held out as long as I could but I knew at some point I would have to discuss where I’m at. It was honest, brutal, tearful, and in the long run something that I think I needed. I could not describe my feelings of abandonment without breaking down, the brutality of life, the hopelessness of being human. Their response was gentle, and loving and finally his wife commented that maybe, instead of divine planning, it was simply something physical that took Weston’s life. That forced me to stop and re-consider, I had not put it into those terms, and if she’s right it has deeper impacts philosophically. I can see where a Sovereign God would set the wheels in motion, granting true and utter free will, with both it’s gift, and it’s terrible consequences. Only stepping in when prompted or necessary. Being finite, I cannot fathom the infinite, but it does put things in a different light.

What if free will is the ultimate, terrible prize? How far adrift would any of us let the gift go? that is an interesting question, I need to wrestle with, it certainly doesn’t lesson the loss of a dear friend passing, but it could put it into perspective. Of course there would have to be a mystery element, as I am only clay.

From dirt I am made, incomplete, corrupt and corruptible, in the likeness of an image that I don’t understand, or can’t comprehend, at least in this existence.

Sitting on the shelf above my bed, is a small wooden cross. I bought it years ago in a little Catholic book store, there’s no gold, no silver, no fine craftsmanship to denote it as special. And yet it held deep meaning for many years, and I would wear it over even crosses given to me in my confirmation and illumination. I saw it as a form of a very simple faith, unadorned, unassuming, and utterly devoid of worldly value.

It sits there because I no longer are sure what I am, who I am, or why I believe like I do. It’s a constant reminder that even simple faith can become complicated in the face of tragedy. It will continue to sit there until I either give it away, or once again let it hold the center of my faith.

Only time can answer that question…


The Book Of Questions…

Life would be so much easier if God had put in a book of questions, with all the answers to the pressing problems that plague us daily…

But alas, no such book exists, so we the finite, try to make sense of the infinite. And that’s when things start to go awry, the minute a finite being gets his sticky little fingers on anything relating to the infinite, it’s bound to get screwed up.

I’ve been wrestling with my faith since Weston’s passing, it was the proverbial straw on the camels back. It also showed me just how brutal life can be. I knew, but it had been a while since it hit so close to home. So maybe I was due for a reminder, but as I stepped back to re-evaluate,  a common theme kept rising to the surface…

No one on this planet understands who, or what God is. And I mean no one, especially the churches (and yes this includes the ancient ones as well). I don’t know why, but it seems that God rather than being clear, left a book of stories and examples all written by the hand of his broken vessels, and then he stepped back and let chaos reign. If there’s a divine purpose in the way religion has been woven into the fabric of our history, I sure can’t see it. Even something as basic as God being all about love, can be argued when put into the hands of men, look at the Westboro Baptist, or any of the reformed who make God into a capricious monster, demanding complete obedience to their message, OR ELSE!

Even in the ancient faiths, a parishes tone is set by the priest (who is just as fallible as the rest of us), and not the faith being taught. This holds true for protestant, Catholic and Orthodox, no one is immune. Some are focused on the rules like a bureaucrat looking for fault, and others are more focused on reaching out, or just mentoring the flock. Even in the Catholic faith you find this disparity of application to the way a parish is run, and like it or not this goes all the way to even how the sacraments are managed in some parishes.

I’ve been involved in this Christian thing since I was 19 years old, I’ve had the opportunity to experience a great many of the protestant faiths, I’ve been Catholic and recently Orthodox. Each has had it’s share of pro’s and con’s, each has some point of emphasis, be it rules, scripture, tradition, asceticism, or morality. Normally one is not emphasized to the exclusion of the others (though some come close), but all have one they tend to focus on more than the others.

I will say that the ancient faiths on the whole are much more likely to allow an open discussion about difficult topics, while many of the protestant faiths take a much more inclusive view of anything foreign to their paradigm. Part of that in my opinion, is that when your faith has a long  and solid history (and by that I mean more than the 500 year nonsense we get today from the protestant religions), you have a tendency to be more open to hard discussions, because your faith isn’t going to change with the weather. The one thing I very much appreciate about both the Orthodox and the Catholic churches, is that you cannot just join them, you have to study and move into the lifestyle, because in their eyes once you commit, there is no going back. Plus each puts incredible emphasis on the Eucharist, which if your going to follow scripture, and the teachings of Christ is as it should be.

So where is all this leading…

I’m not sure anymore, I’ve become a pretty solid Agnostic Believer, meaning I believe in God and Christ, but I don’t really believe in any of the organized religions. That might change, given time, and I might ultimately decide it’s the best thing for my sanity. I’m certainly not interested in Atheism, I’ve done too much study to make that leap of faith, but where I land in all this is a big unknown at the moment.

I have come to view religion as a kind of members only club, with each offering it’s view of how salvation works according to their interpretation. The honest ones, and there are a few, freely admit that salvation is something God is responsible for, and they are in no position to say who is and who isn’t saved. Philosophy and Apologetic’s in the end are just tools used to defend our ideas and concepts of how we see faith and religion, as I’ve mentioned before the biggest downfall that I’ve seen with apologists is an innate drive to always have the right answer. I remember while converting away from Catholicism reading a very famous Catholic Apologist, who summed up Papal infallibility in one little neatly trimmed quote from a church father. It was such a pathetic attempt to shore up his and the Catholic churches opinion on the matter, that it offended me. The quoted text was hardly conclusive, and there has been a great deal of discussion about what it does and doesn’t say, but none of that matters, and why burden seekers with such menial and unimportant details?

But we can’t just blame the apologists, the reason so many are popular is not because they are right, but because they tell us they have the answer all buttoned up nice and neat, it’s what we want. It’s a fools errand to base your salvation or belief on the mumbling philosophy of another man. In fact this applies to the Church Fathers as well, because God knows the ancient churches love to quote them as proof positive that they are in the right (and trust me, there are many quotes that no one agrees on). What they say really depends on what you believe, this goes for all involved, sorry but it’s true. Much like quoting scripture out of context, humans on the whole are more than content to quote those who have come before them to shore up their system of belief.

Let’s take this example a step further and go the core…

The Eucharist, which Christ himself commanded, is a cause for celebration among all Christians, regardless of faith. But in the West they used Unleavened bread, and in the East they use Leavened, both use wine, and the protestants don’t know what to use. East and West core ceremonies are similar in many ways, but protestants are usually very different in form (and in some cases, disrespectful!). Men got involved, and now I cannot take communion with anyone, without going out of communion with the others. Certainly all sides have doctrinal differences, I’m not going to try and minimize that, but I will tell you that ALL claim to be the one true church, left behind by Christ. I will say that the Protestant faiths get the Eucharist wrong for the most part, and that the Eastern and Western churches give it the honor and reverance it deserves. But even there I cannot commune with East or West, without going out of communion with the other, Technically I’ve not been ex-communicated by either, so I could go to reconciliation, ask for forgiveness and commune with one side or the other. But since both believe in THE SAME GOD, THE SAME CHRIST, THE SAME FLIPPING BIBLE, and in many many cases THE SAME EUCHARISTIC PRACTICES.


But apparently it does, at least Pope Francis seems willing to begin to try and heal the rift which is probably the most Christ like thing I’ve seen in my lifetime. I am sick to death of men who cling to their traditions, and practices with a death grip, not willing to budge even an inch out of their comfort zone. It’s almost as if God is not big enough to get around the kind of bread, the position you receive in, the liturgy you practice, or the vessel used to hold the wine. It’s all so infuriating, and it’s something that I’m not sure I can deal with anymore. So many I have met on this journey have an almost fanatical adherence to what I could call arbitrary traditions that have morphed into rules, which are then declared as part of the faith. I certainly can’t imagine Christ turning someone away because they didn’t follow some man made set of rules, he certainly didn’t follow those kind of precepts while he was here.

Maybe this is the protestant in me coming out, but I have a brain, I have free will (regardless of what the reformed think), and I’m capable of making my own determination of what’s right and wrong. I have a very deeply embedded rejection of anything that smells of extremism or thoughtless obedience, in point of fact it makes me hyper-sensitive to to some issues, and I have to be careful to keep it in check. But when we are arguing over the details, aren’t we missing the whole point what we are trying to do in the first place?

Christians are being murdered for their faith all over the world, and Bill Nye the science idiot, and Ken Ham the young earth, literal genesis moron, are going have a debate about science and the bible. Boy howdy, that will really help those people in Syria.  The Crouch’s are having a war over their satellite empire, Joel Osteen is selling another feel good book, and Mark Driscoll is out using twitter to sell his latest interpretation of his belief system all while showing just what a classy guy he is by doing it at the Strange Fire conference. And all over this great land, we are worshiping at the altars of our celebrity pastors/rock stars.

The world is full of very intelligent people who want nothing more than to be led, to let someone else set their boundaries, and tell them how to live. It’s why even the worst of cults rarely have problems finding acolytes, all you need is someone to convincingly believe, and your all set. Again, this is why so many Apologists and Preachers become celebrities in their own right.

They can have it, I’m done with it all.  Maybe there is some type of divine humor in Christ talking about believers as sheep. Bah!!

As for me.. I’m spent, I’m empty on the inside. The man that was is, is becoming no longer…

I’ve taken my seat on the sidelines, and until the ringmaster shows up, I think I may just stay right here.


Traditions, Protestants, things essential and otherwise

As someone who is newly illumined into the Orthodox faith, it’s really quite odd (for a westerner) that for forty days you wear your Chrismation clothes (or baptism gowns), carry your baptismal candle, and go first for communion.

Coming from the Catholic faith, and further back the Protestant faith, all this fuss makes us very uncomfortable. Our biggest excitement as Catholics was the first Mass that we took communion quietly on our own, one of our RCIA teachers was there and gave us a HUGE smile, but she didn’t intervene. It was at that moment, and not during the Chrismation that we felt truly Catholic, it was a seminal moment for us. It meant that we had truly been accepted as members of the faithful, and that we could now get on with the business of being Catholic.

But as new Orthodox we are chafing a bit at having so much fuss worked up over us, we just want to be Orthodox. We don’t want to make a big procession with Candles and other things every time we commune, it’s an awkward position. The tradition is that by going first the church is praying for us, that is all fine and well. But throw in Candles, the same white clothes each week, and this big fuss of us going RIGHT after the subdeacons (which is not widely known apparently, since each time we have to cut to the front of the communion line). And it begins to wear thin, in fact three weeks ago we forgot our candles, and the subdeacon commented on it, AS I WAS WALKING UP TO TAKE COMMUNION… I eyeballed him, and then rolled my eyes, because what was I going to do? seriously, stop the whole parish and run into the narthex and starting rooting around for candles and matches?

We asked to please not be singled out any longer, it was becoming a deterrent to the Liturgy for us, Fr. called and was very kind in explaining it to us, but it’s a tradition (that is not always practiced), and he wants to keep doing it until we hit forty days. It’s a frustrating position to be in, and it puts us in a very uncomfortable place. So we each made a choice, he decided to continue to require the tradition, and we decided to step back for a bit and let things settle. Once things calm down, then we call sit and talk and work through the issue.

Michael Patton always talks about the essentials and non-essentials, and he’s exactly right. There are things that really matter, that we need to observant of, but there are other things that just don’t mean much outside our little sphere of influence.

Here’s the thing…

Protestants, in their own way, have a valid point about the traditions of men. The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are what I would call essentials things, we find writings for them all way back to the time of the Apostles in the Didache. The liturgy of the Eucharist is especially important, given that Christ commands us to do so in memory of him. I would put a number of things that I can reference with clear ecclesiological material and a solid scriptural foundation as essential traditions.

But there are things that are simply not essential, and we as humans have a tendency to focus on them and lose sight of the bigger picture. Fr. Len at the Catholic church tells about when he was first a young priest, he wore his collar all the time, made sure he followed all the rules. It took him only a couple of years to realize that in the big picture it wasn’t that important, and he loosened up and stopped being a rule follower. He was much happier once he figured out that while wearing the proper attire while doing reconciliation, or serving at Mass are important. It’s not so much if he’s going to work out, or dig in the garden, or just go have a beer and talk theology. When we met with him to discuss theology, he was wearing a simple black T-Shirt and we had a great conversation, it was nice to not have to deal with the presence of the priestly garments, and just talk theology. He will always be a Priest, but it was good to see the man behind the collar.

I think he got it right, and I think our protestant friends have a good point, some traditions, are just that. And they are not always going to help us grow, they may make us and others feel better, but in the big picture they just don’t matter. Some people like to follow every rule, observe every fast, and can be technically pious. We have friends like that, who make huge and great efforts to follow all the rules. For us, there is so much going on, all the time, that sometimes we just forget, or at other times we just don’t. Asceticism is a tool to help us grow, and like all tools the more you use it, the better you become at it. We decided at the beginning of this journey to not get caught up in the rules and trappings, and not to burn ourselves out.

But there is a danger in replacing the important things, with the things that don’t really matter. I’ve said it before, there is no perfect church, and we never expected to find one. And we knew that becoming Orthodox would not make things magically better, but it’s interesting to see some of the differences in focus between Catholic and Orthodox traditions. I think a great of the difference stems from the fact that most Catholic churches are large, and it’s easy to find a way to fit in. In Orthodox churches you have a more community based dynamic, and while it’s not supposed to be about the rules, it’s unavoidable when your small and all very connected.

I’m not saying that Tradition is not important, it certainly is. But it’s also not the end all and be all, and sometimes it can cause others to stumble. It’s those times that we need to show wisdom and separate the essential from the non-essential.



Stop and say a prayer

The faithful in Egypt are facing extinction, by the always gentle and peace loving Muslims, churches are being burned, destroyed, and vandalized. A Catholic Priest was martyred for his faith, and two Antiochian Bishops have been in captivity, held as prisoners for months now.

The current administration has done nothing but bluster and puff up with strong words, and yet the violence and bloodshed continues. The media, who should be zeroed in on this tragedy, shouting about the injustice of it all from the rooftops, is instead chasing down the latest sensational headline, that has nothing to do with the tragedy we see happening before our eyes. There is some coverage, but the Royal baby, or Lady Gaga’s latest album seems just as important to them.

It breaks my heart, we live in such a fallen world. Human’s killing Human’s is as old as time, but it doesn’t make it right, or morally acceptable. That’s not to say that I would not defend the life of my family by taking another life, but I know that there will be heavy burden to pay. But to kill others because of your religious beliefs, makes me understand why so many are turning to Atheism…

I keep a little card on our altar, and every morning when I pray I go down the list to make sure I didn’t  miss anyone. It started with just the two bishops, but has grown now to include all of Egypt.

Please say a prayer that God will protect our brothers and sisters being persecuted in Egypt no matter what you believe (what can it hurt, right 😉 ), and that the country can finally find some peace.

That’s the most effective thing I can think of right now…




Of Saints, Men, and Tradition

St Clement Of Rome

Choosing a saints names for your confirmation is a tradition held in both the Eastern and Western ancient churches. When Michelle and I were in the RCIA program and converting to the Catholic faith, I struggled with purpose of the tradition of choosing a saints name. My reasoning was that my mother had already named me after the guy who wrote most of the new testament, and I never saw the point in tinkering with that. I resisted, and at first I was told you have to choose a saint, but when I pushed back I was finally told that it’s only a tradition, and it’s not necessary for confirmation. So using my protestant stubbornness, I did not fill out any name and kept the one I was given, never even choosing a saint to help me on my journey.

In the ancient church it was common practice that once you where baptized you where given a new name, so for instance Saul become Paul, names in the ancient world where more than just a monicker, they where expressive of who you were as a person. And it was common in the Jewish tradition to name children after patriarchs and other holy figures. The idea was that baptism was creating a new person, and that should be reflected in everything you do, including your name.

But when you come from a protestant background, you learn to be suspicious of tradition, the line of thinking goes like this:

“Is this just a tradition of men, or is it something that I can find in the bible?”

That thinking is based on ‘Sola Scriptura’ which almost all of the protestant world holds today, it can be even held with those who practice ‘Prima Scriptura’ (or those who hold tradition and scripture as equal). So even with the clear biblical reference to this tradition, I was never comfortable enough in the Catholic Faith to allow myself a little grace to some of the rules. Looking back it was partly the lightweight nature of the RCIA class, and the speed at which we converted. Nine months sounds like a long time, but in reality it’s a short time to absorb so much information. And the fact that our RCIA classes where more about how we felt, learning the true foundations of the Church, didn’t help the situation.

But now things have changed, I’ve had a lot more time to dig, study and ponder. I left the Catholic Church and am moving East to a church older than the one in Rome, Antioch. And this move has taken a lot longer to even commit to being a Catechumen, in fact Michelle figured out that it’s been a year since we started talking to the Antiochian Orthodox Church. That time has been very helpful to building my faith and confidence in the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, I’ve been able to absorb more information, and have spent that time talking to people who have gone before us, learning their experiences as well.

When Fr. Mark asked me about a Saints name, my off the cuff answer was St Paul, since we both shared the same name. In fact Fr. Mark did the same thing, saying it was an easy choice. But I’ve began to rethink my position, and while St Paul is a wonderful Saint, and someone I would be proud to have for my confirmation name. It almost feels like I’m cheating the process, Michelle is taking St Michael the Arch Angel for her patron saint (figures since he was a warrior and she is the toughest person I know). Her decision has caused a good bit of fun ribbing on my part, but I was surprised to know that people choose Saint from the opposite gender all the time, who knew?!!!

I started thinking about all the different Saints out there, I dug, researched, poked, prodded. And nothing… I couldn’t find any that seems to be worthwhile or should I say fitting, I wanted someone who crossed over between East and West. I know I wanted someone early, and someone influential, and that’s when it hit me like a thunderbolt!!

Pope Clement

He was the 2nd or 3rd Pope in the Church (depending on who you read, there is a theory that Linus and Clement both where the bishop of rome for a time, until Linus was martyred, leaving Clement), regardless he is a Saint in both the Catholic and Orthodox faiths, and was a Pope regardless of what Anti Papacy writers think. His writings where long held as part of the canon of the new testament, not making by the fact that he was not a direct apostle. I’ve read his works, there’s not much of them, but boy are they powerful. And he was a man who helped guide the church right at the very beginning, there is even speculation that Paul refers to him in the new testament.

More importantly to my way of thinking, he crosses the bridge between East and West, which for me is important. Because while I am becoming Orthodox, I don’t want to abandon all that the Catholic Church has given to me. There are some great Saint that are exclusively Eastern and Western and I didn’t want to go down that path, I’m not trying to make a statement with my conversion, I was looking, and found the church of the book of Acts.

So hopefully, if the Bishop approves, this easter (which is May 5th year for the Antiochian church), I’ll be confirmed as Clement. There is a chance that the Bishop may want me to spend more time as a catechumen, but he’s the Bishop and I’m not, and I’ll accept what ever he says. This is certainly a transformation for someone who just two years ago was digging in ready to make the RCIA class PROVE that a saints name was needed :)

Thank God for his mercy, to let a stubborm sinner like me, see the truth of his word, and the church’s traditions.



-Clement (who was formally Paul)-



I guess I need to work on a signature line.




The Pope, My Head, And Some Good Friends

I read the news today about the Pope stepping down at the end of the month, it was a little surprising but for me it shows the character of the Joseph Ratzinger. Even before becoming Catholic I admired Pope Benedict, I think he did a great job during a very difficult time for the Church, and I have been encouraged as he began to stamp out the odd liberalism that has plagued the Catholic Church since Vatican II. In the next month we are going to be inundated with opinions about what the Catholic Church should address next, I’m sure there will be no end to the homosexual and women as clergy nonsense. I also expect contraception to be high on the list, while I don’t agree %100 with the church on this issue when it comes to marriage, I do support the church on the rest of the issues surrounding contraception, and I’m %100 with them on Abortion.

But here’s the thing, I think what Pope Benedict is doing shows just how good of a Pope he is, we live in very fast times, the information age has changed the way we  do theology, live our lives, and learn about who we are. It has allowed an uprising of opposition voices to overwhelm the Church’s message at times, and the Vatican has been a little slow in coming around. It’s part of the history of the Church, when your two thousand years old, let’s see how fast you can react. But I think in this time of rising apostasy the church needs someone at the helm who can take charge and deal with the worlds changes head on. Ratzinger knows this, and it’s been obvious for a while that he has not been well physically, so the move to retire is the best move he could make. It shows his love of the Church, and his desire for her to confront the onslaught she faces in today’s world. I know Catholics are sad he’s leaving, but you could not have asked for a better man to fill that position, and it’s clear that rather than hold onto the position, he desires more than anything, that the Church go forward. The man is a Saint in my book, and I have nothing but respect for what he’s doing.

Now to my noggin:

Two weeks ago I was walking into work, carrying a box of cookies in one hand, and my iPad Mini in the other. It was a very cold January morning, it had been snowing and was warm the day before, as I approached our office I noticed a co-working walking about 30 feet in front of me. What happened next I can’t tell you, because the next thing I knew, my co-worker was sitting over me patting me on the fact trying to wake me up. It gets a little fuzzy after that, I remember my fingers tingling like crazy and two co-workers helping me walk into the building. I sat at my desk and started to feel bad, it was about that time that my boss called an ambulance. Next thing I know I’m surrounded by men who are talking to me, checking my vitals and finally strapping me to a board and carting me out the front door. This was not how I wanted to leave work that day!

I always wondered what it would be like to ride in the Ambulance, and now I know, and friends, it’s not good. First they roll you in, your strapped down 20 ways from sunday, and your stretcher locks into the frame of the vehicle, which means any bump it hits, you feel. As we got rolling the paramedic pulls out and I.V. kit, I asked him if he was seriously going to do that while we where moving?, and he said “It’s not a problem, I do this all the time”. Well maybe not a problem for him, but for me it hurt like hell, so not only was I dizzy, he poked with an 18 gauge needle!

Once we arrived at the emergency room, my shirt was removed and I was sent to get a CT scan to see if I had scrambled my noggin. The E.R. however was packed with other people who had suffered my same fate, so I sat, or rather laid, with a neck brace in a room waiting to be seen. Uncomfortable does not cover it, Michelle showed up and I not afraid to admit that I shed some tears, it was all so overwhelming for me. Finally after about 30 minutes they pull me in to scan my noggin. Now I’m a big guy, and it took four nurses to move me onto the CT machine, they do it just like you see on T.V. shows, hup, heave, and over. I laid there unable to move while the machine spun away, then I was hup, heaved, and back over to my stretcher, and back into my room.

It was then they gave me some pain killers and nausea meds through the I.V. and for a time, Life was good. Then the Doc showed up, no visible damage, but most likely a concussion, and a good one at that. He wanted to me to try and sit up, little did I know that my brain had other insidious plans… The moment I moved from laying on the stretcher to sitting upright, the room transformed into Mr. Toads Wild Adventure, and spun like crazy. I almost lost my breakfast, so the nurse, being the angel that she was, gave me more drugs. And that did the trick I was able to slowly sit up, and eventually walk. After about three hours, they let me leave, but I had to see a specialist later in the week. It turns out that I have a level 4 concussion, and walking for the first week was an adventure, just going to the bathroom was like a funhouse of evil. And laying down to go to sleep, well, have you ever watched a cat watching a ping pong ball bounce up and down. That was pretty much what my eyes did, it was loads of fun.

I finally got in to see the Doc, and he basically told me to go home, rest, no computer, no laptop, no tablet, short amounts of reading and T.V. And that it would take a couple of weeks to heal, my balance would be wonky, and I was not to drive. So I have spent the last two weeks driving the recliner, watching terrible old T.V. shows, lots of documentaries, read theology and Lee Child books. I’ve been bored out of my mind. Finally today I saw the doc, did my third test, and was finally cleared for work starting next week, which is the best news I could get. It’s been quite an adventure, I’m considering a hockey helmet at all times, and we actually bought strap on spikes for my shoes.

This episode while painful and frustrating, has taught me a valuable lesson. We have people who love and support us no matter what, it’s been humbling how much support we have gotten through this. We are not yet fully Orthodox, but the family has stepped up in such a big way to support us that I’m at odds on how to say thank you correctly. We have friends who are from a different faith completely, and have shown more grace and the love of Christ than anyone else we know. I think the lesson here was to learn to let go, it’s a hard lesson for both of us, especially me the control freak. God has blessed us through both the church family at the Antiochian parish, and through friends who just want to make sure we are taken care of.

I’m not sure how many more CSI reruns I can watch on Hulu, computer time is still limited (I’m just about out of Gas on this now), but I can’t help but to feel truly blessed by God, and the people around us.



Answering Devins Questions Part 2…

I realized after writing my last piece that I didn’t fully answer Devins question, it had been on my mind for a few days. So I sat down last night and wrote it out while it was still freshin my mind, then ran upstairs and started working on our renovations…

Here again is Devins question:

“But if you became Catholic while believing that the Catholic Church was in error in one or more of her doctrines, that perhaps reveals that you never fully accepted that God has guided and is guiding her into all truth. Do you believe that God is guiding the EO Churches, protecting them from error in their doctrines? Not accusing, not trying to trap you, just curious.”

So the last part of his question about if God is guiding the EO churches protecting them from error in their doctrines. It’s a complicated answer, and something I have thought about for a long time. But first let me state that I am not a theologian, or an apologist. I’ve been studying Philosophy when my schedule allows (hopefully will get a degree one day), and I love to dig and study, but by no means should someone bank their salvation on anything I say. I have done some study under Michael Patton over at Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, and have a huge debt of gratitude for his program that teaches lay people theology.

So let’s start with some biblical references to set the stage:

St Paul in talking to the church in Philippi makes the following statement:

    Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
(Philippians 2:12-18 ESV)

He goes on to explain that he is straining and pressing on toward the Goal of being Christ like. His admonition has always stuck with me, I never stop trying to make sure that what I am doing, believing, practicing, helps to make me a better man spiritually.Then we get to 1st John:

    Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
(1 John 4:1-6 ESV)

Finally there are the Bereans:

    The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.

(Acts 17:10-15 ESV)

The Bereans have influenced me greatly since coming back to find my faith, I love the fact that they didn’t just take Paul at his word, but went and studied everything he said before believing. So today in our Christian world, we have three main divisions all claiming to have some type of Apostolic succession and the “truth” about the Gospel:

  1. The Catholic Church
  2. The Eastern Orthodox Church
  3. The Protestant Churches

I can easily dismiss the Protestants with a minimal amount of study into both history and scripture, been there, have the funny hats, not doing it again.

But the other two are harder to deal with, much harder.

Protestants by and large, have gone on a rampage against the Catholic faith since Luther introduced his own unique view of the Gospel in 1516. Granted Luther had some very valid concerns about the Catholic Church, but those things eventually got fixed.

So now you have two Churches both claiming Apostolic succession, and both can show a direct historical lineage back to their foundations from the Apostles. So that’s a tie…

Both claim to be the ‘One True Church’, and here comes the rub in this whole thing. Both churches have been plagued by bad decisions, neither side has been ‘Protected’ by God. Catholic apologist will split hairs and say that the dogma of the faith has only been changed by the Papacy a few times, and that is the only time that Papal infallibility comes into play.

It’s true in one sense, but in another, the view from the Catholic side that the Papacy was handed universal authority on matters of faith here on earth, has been problematic. Adding the Immaculate Conception in 1854, the doctrine of Papal infallibility in 1870, and the Assumption of Mary to the dogma of the church in 1965, should give anyone pause. In my view the issue with the Papacy is not being the Primate of the Bishops, I think that role is desperately needed. But when you translate Christs words to Peter in the Gospel of Matthew to mean that suddenly Peter and his successors have this divine control over the whole church, things get a little weird. You are putting the very fate of the church into the hands of one single man, who by his very nature, shares the same sinfulness as Adam did. Humans are sinful, all of us, and to claim that somehow the Papacy is specially protected is not something I can find a good solid argument for. Either from the writings of the early church fathers, or scripture. After all, we either have free will like Adam and Eve, or the Pope has some special providence that again I can’t find any reference material for.

The Orthodox Church views changing the dogma of the faith differently, they believe that only in ecumenical councils, with the Primate of Rome attending, can the dogma or the teachings of the church be modified. I think that’s a good thing, because having one person other than Christ making those kinds of changes is terrifying. On the other hand, as Devin correctly points out, without Rome, the Orthodox Church has not made any dogmatic changes since 1032.

There has been all manners of bad things that have come from both the Catholics and the Eastern Churches, and it seems that some don’t want the schism to end, I’ve already run into that nonsense on the EO side, and I won’t stand for it. But I am stuck in the middle, so I have to choose what is right. I have to work where I want to worship, and give freely of my talents. And it sucks, this is not a fun place to be. I’m tired of polemics, apologetics who don’t concede anything, or worse, take history out of context to bolster their case.

So who is right? Neither in my opinion, or at least fully. When you involve mankind in anything holy, they screw it up, its our very nature since Adam and Eve took the first bite. I don’t believe that either side can show with full certainty that they are the ‘One True Church’, they will claim it, boy will they claim it. But Johns words live in my heart, test all things by the spirit, don’t be easily deceived.

After all my study, listening, thinking, praying. I believe that the Orthodox have a closer handle on what the Apostles handed to them, I don’t think they are perfect. My hope is that East and West can unite, with Rome as the primate of the bishops, and the ancient churches living in unity. But until that time, I’m a man caught in the middle.

I will only truly be satisfied when I finally get to meet Christ face to face, then and only then will I trust another human being fully with my salvation. That’s no small thing, given that literally everyone thinks THEY have it right somehow. So for my own part, I have to weigh the options, and then make the choice that I believe God is telling me to make. What irritates me is when people assume that they are the only ones who know the full truth, because in that sense the words of St Paul could not be any clearer:

    If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

(1 Corinthians 13 ESV)

I have definitely found a more comfortable, loving environment in the Orthodox church, if I can just get past the alien nature of their liturgy and pious nature, I’ll be set :)

Come quickly Lord Jesus and fix this mess.



Answering Devins Question Part 1…

In my last post about crossing the river to begin my journey to the Orthodox faith, Devin asked this question:

“But if you became Catholic while believing that the Catholic Church was in error in one or more of her doctrines, that perhaps reveals that you never fully accepted that God has guided and is guiding her into all truth. Do you believe that God is guiding the EO Churches, protecting them from error in their doctrines? Not accusing, not trying to trap you, just curious.”

It’s a great question, and I mulled it over for quite a while before answering, partly because I wanted to make sure I gave an honest response, and partly because I had to stop and go back and think about my (our) reasoning.

I left the Evangelical world in 2008, and Michelle was not far behind. We are wired differently, she can let things slide that drive me up a tree, it makes a good combination for a long stable marriage. When I began too question things that we were being taught in church, she knew where I was headed, but was never really bothered over the inconsistencies like I was. It took her a while longer to reach the point of simply giving up and going Apostate.

A year later we started looking again, tired, empty hearted, but still believing. We wanted to find a good solid, biblical church home, what ensued was a very difficult period for us, where we tried all the major flavors of the evangelical world. We ended up in the Anglican church for a while, but finally came to the conclusion that there wasn’t enough oversight and structure. We loved the people, but we had concerns with how things were run, so we stopped going to church altogether for a while.

When we finally ended up at the doors of the Catholic Church, we were worn out, emotionally drained, and very cautious. After our first mass (which was the feast of the Annunciation, the worst thing a cautious Mary fearing protestant should see on their first visit). We met with the RCIA director at the largest parish in town a few weeks later, and then two days later the first RCIA of the year was being held. We took that as a sign of providence, because we had been debating about if we should even go and ask about RCIA. That started a long 9 months of study, struggles, questions and endless discussion.We stopped receiving communion, and did everything that was asked of us.

I wanted to quit more than once, I loved the people, but there was no deep study or discussions (I did what study I could, but had not strong mentors who could answer theological questions). There where bright spots to be sure, but it seemed that they were more concerned with how we felt, rather than teaching the true orthodoxy of the church. When we started to get near confirmation, I asked a very pointed question about what we where agreeing too. I was told that all I needed to believe in was the Apostles Creed, that was all that was required. I tried in vain to get my fingers on the confirmation text the Church was using, but there was a desire on the part of the administration to keep those details safe until the day of confirmation.

I was very frustrated more than once with need to keep things secret from us, when we where accepted as candidates, I asked repeatedly what the ceremony contained. I was told it would ruin the surprise, I would have quit then if not for my wife. I take oaths very seriously, and it still gets under my skin that I could not get direct and solid answers to my questions. When we sponsored our candidates I made sure that nothing was held back from them if they wanted to know, I know that the Church means no malice. But these things matter, and with all the dangerous religious garbage out there, being fully open about ceremonies and details is crucial in my opinion.

When we finally got to confirmation, I was a nervous wreck. More than once I wanted to bolt, and had it not been for my wife, and my need to once again take communion, I would have avoided the whole mess. I wanted to enter into the Church quietly, without fanfare, and begin to serve. But I was forced into a large, crowded ceremony (which for me is a hard thing to deal with), with no idea what was going to happen. I could not find out what I was going to be asked to agree too, or the scope, and by this time I just wanted it over with.

So on Easter Sunday 2011, we did everything we were asked, and against what my head was telling me, I agreed to be confirmed into the Catholic faith.

A year later I still have mixed feelings about that day, all I wanted was someone to sit down with me and explain what was about to happen in detail, go over what I was agreeing too. And to make sure that all my questioned where answered, but there where so many in our group, that simply never happened. I tried to move more than once to our local parish RCIA where I could get more personal attention, but my wife wanted to stay, so I stayed.

What I realize now is that I would have probably never gotten those answers, the Church uses a program that is geared towards feelings, or what I call “Touchy Feely Nonsense”, and it strays from hard Orthodoxy. Bibles where trucked in for the class, and then taken away, as if we had never seen one before. The whole thing felt like a government training program geared to the lowest common denominator, I’m not trying to be unkind, it’s just hard to explain how bad it was for us. Making matters worse was that getting an appointment with a priest was nearly impossible, the Church has a serious shortage, and one priest for a parish of 10,000 parishioners is just nuts! I met with Deacons when possible, but when you start asking technical questions about salvation, original sin, free will, and things like monergism and synergism. Well you get some pretty strange looks…

So did I have questions when I joined?, yes a number of them in fact. But after reading Francis Beckwith’s book on his conversion, I took his same idea which was if the Church got the big things right, then the little ones would fall in place. Never once where we handed the Dogma of the faith, and told this is what is required to be a Catholic. Those kind of hard discussions sadly never happened, I’m not sure I would have joined or not, but it would have made me more comfortable with the whole process.

Michelle and I talked a great deal before we entered into the Church, we were so bruised and worn out, that we needed to become part of something. We LOVED the liturgy, the reverence for the Eucharist, and all the trappings. And I couldn’t break her heart and bail at the last minute, so at the time it seemed like the best of all options to simply join. And I actually have not regretted it, I’ve grown by leaps and bounds in the faith, I love our parish and the Catholic way of life.

But I never stopped digging for answers, and the more I dug, the more I started to find things that didn’t seem right. Papal Infallibility, the assumption of Mary, and immaculate conception being made dogma (all within the last 14o years or so). The Churches stand on contraception and Natural Family Planning, liturgical nonsense that takes place even still today. When I started to seriously look into the Orthodox faith, I learned more about my Catholic faith, than I did from the Catholics. And I started to see that so much of what the Orthodox church believed, aligned with what my studies had told me.

So I’m now in the process of leaving, not because I want to, but because if I don’t, I can’t say I’m being honest with myself. I love the Catholic Church, I really do. But there are things I just can’t sit by and ignore anymore, and for me personally, I’m either committed to it fully, or it’s just going to be painful because I’ll know in my deepest parts that I simply don’t agree.

The hardest part for me has been putting my wife back through another long search, I feel terrible. It was so painful the last time, she has been very stern about not just jumping ship. But the more we have talked the more she has come to realize that there are issues we would need to compromise on, and so she has followed me on this new journey.

So there it is, in all it’s dark glory. We are on a new journey, and the Orthodox church is like entering an alien landscape, they even cross themselves the opposite of Catholics! We have done two vespers services, and it’s not getting any easier. What helps is that everyone is a convert and knows exactly what we are going through, people have shown us so much love and patience, that it takes the edge off (but not by much yet). So my heart knows this is the right thing, but my head is screaming “RUN YOU IDIOT, RUN!!!”




Rivers Old and New


Last night, Michelle and I had the extreme pleasure of spending an evening sharing Vespers, faith, questions and much laughter with Fr. Mark Fenn and his Wife Michelle, of the Antiochian Orthodox Church here in Boise.

We learned a great deal about the Orthodox faith, a lot of questions were put to rest, I learned some things that floored me, and we felt loved and welcome. From the moment we tentatively walked through door (late as usual), we were made to feel at home. We had never attended vespers, it was other worldy, simple, austere, and moving.

When Vespers ended Fr. Mark sat with us and gave us a lesson on how the Orthodox faith is structured, showed us around the Sanctuary, and answered a lot of questions, his wife Michelle was headed over to the Russian Orthodox church to see parishioners who where celebrating a baptism. That was my first shock, that parish members from one Orthodox church would go visit the other one, when I inquired, I was told all three Orthodox parishes in town consider themselves all one faith. That’s certainly different than the divisions I had read about.

Fr. Mark, was beyond gracious and patient, showing love and compassion to our questions. Later in the evening his wife Michelle came back by, and the four of us discussed the faith. Both answering questions and concerns with grace, it was very moving for us. One thing that we have missed in the Catholic faith, is loving fellowship. It’s something that Protestants get right (when it’s not out of balance, it’s a wonderful thing), and something that we have missed for a long time. That’s not to say that Catholics are cold, they aren’t. We have met some warm and wonderful Catholics. But let’s be honest, in our experience Catholics by and large don’t really open up until you have been around them a while, we felt like interlopers for the first 4 months or so at our Parish.

What we found last night, was the one thing that we felt was missing from the Catholic faith we have been part of for a couple of years now, that is Grace. Not some conceptual, theological term, but real, down to the core, loving Grace. Let me give you an example, in the Catholic Church, if you miss a day of obligation (mass on Sunday, or certain calendar events) on purpose, you have committed a Mortal sin, and you must seek reconciliation or your very soul is in danger. Orthodox don’t think you should be missing Mass, but they aren’t about to declare you in mortal danger of losing your soul if you skip a service.

Another difference that we keyed in on, is that both Faiths do confession, but the Orthodox treat it less mechanically than the Catholic faith does, in fact your priest becomes your confessor. Getting to know you at a very personal level, and confession becomes a tool to not only forgive sins, but to help your faith grow. Reconciliation for us has been more mechanical, you go, confess, are forgiven, do your penance and off you go. It’s vastly more intimate in the Orthodox faith, part of that could be that the Catholic Church is in dire need of priests.

For the first time, I found someone saying, what I had found in the bible, and the early church fathers. There was a foundation that was built on love and grace, and it flowed into every word spoken. Michelle has been hesitant about this direction, but has allowed me to follow the truth and see where it lands us. She’s still wants to search things out more, and we both still have more questions that need to be answered.

But I’ve finally found the shore I was looking for, I’m sure of it, my heart settled in for the first time last night, there are more questions to be sure, but no more deep nagging ones. I love the Catholic Faith, I will always be in love with the faith of Rome,  I can’t express that enough. I wish with all my being that the Schism of 1032 could be repaired, because the Orthodox could benefit from Catholics, and the Catholics could learn so much from the Orthodox faith. But there are things about the Catholic Faith that are just so unnecessary, the dogmatizing of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, the legalistic nature of the catechism,  infallibility. The reactionary nature of the Church to contraception, while endorsing Natural Family Planning (and yes, I mean in the sense of using it as contraception).

Those and many other inconsistencies have nagged at me for a long time, I don’t have all the answers I need just yet, but after last night I discovered what my study had told me was so, that the Orthodox have held TIGHTLY to the original teaching of the Apostles. They haven’t added onto it, or constructed a bunch of rules around it, they leave it as is. It’s what I hoped the Catholic Church had done, but I just don’t believe that anymore. I will always be Catholic, just not a practicing Roman Catholic any longer. I setup a meeting next week too sit with the Vicar and tell him my intentions to join the Orthodox faith. Michelle is holding out to see how it all plays out, but she told me to follow my convictions.

I started the process, there’s no turning back now.

And I get to be a Catechumen again (still not sure about that), and learn a whole new way of practicing my faith (I can’t even pronounce the Philokalia right, so I have A LOT to learn). It’s a little scary, and a whole lot exciting. I didn’t cry when we got Confirmed in the Catholic Faith, mostly because by that time I was so worn out from all the nonsense that was RCIA. But I teared up this morning in Mass, I’m going to miss the beauty of the Mass. However I’m looking forward to being accepted into the Orthodox faith.

Then I can finally say that my journey has taken me from one side of the Christian faith, to the other. From many shores to a select few, and finally to one…

Pray for me as I row to another shore…