Sunday, June 14, 2015

Drive-Thru Orthodoxy


Click here for a 360’ tour

This morning I decided to attend Divine Liturgy at Christ the Savior Orthodox Church in Chicago. I visited there once a few years ago, before I lived here - and it was kind of run down and appeared to be in need of some loving care.

Well, that has changed. The whole church has been re-furbished with beautiful Icons on the walls and re-finished floors. It was beautiful to behold.

But, my visit was a disappointment. Unfortunately, like many Orthodox Churches that hold strongly to their Russian or Greek heritage, there is a somewhat casual atmosphere amongst the “faithful,” that gather. I was concerned that I was walking in 15 minutes late for the start of the Liturgy - but there were people arriving over an hour later. Apparently, “popping in” to grab a share of the “mysteries.” A kind of "drive thru" approach to the sacraments I suppose!!

To be fair, I think the presiding priest was a “stand in.” So it may not have been a good representation of how the membership typically behaves. But, I was saddened by the whole “casualness” of the liturgy. It was as if the priest, deacon and altar boys, were holding a service while a loose social gathering was happening out front. 

I don’t know if I’ll go back to this Church again soon. Its beauty is breathtaking, but its not about appearances, its about the timeless spiritual reality that’s going on when the Liturgy is proclaimed. I missed that. I got the sense that the general feeling among the parishioners would be a sigh of relief when the service was over - and not a sense of overwhelming peace and joy that the gospel has been proclaimed and re-presented again.

The Orthodox Church is the most ancient and timeless - without a doubt it’s the Original Church of Jesus Christ. I just didn’t see it being re-presented well today.


Sunday, May 31, 2015

No Anxiety

One of my favorite passages in the New Testament is Matthew 6: 25-34; part of the Sermon on the Mount, this passage speaks to me a great deal about what it means to be a Christian.

It is actually a command from Lord Jesus Christ Himself - but it is a command we too often disobey.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. 
Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 
And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 
But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? 
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. 
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day."
What I call my Monday to Friday life is full of anxious moments - I worry about aspects of my job, and toss and turn worrying about paying my debts and staying healthy. You name it and I can tell you how I worry about it. But God has proven time and time again that He can be trusted to provide. I don’t subscribe to the “Prosperity Gospel” that turns God into a money-making machine - but I have seen how God has provided just enough when the moment was right. Often I’ve had to sacrifice very little in order to receive just enough. What I’ve sacrificed is less than what I receive in return. That is how God works. You give Him a little; He returns a lot.

This past week has been pretty tough with regard to circumstances. Things have not worked out as hoped; but trusting in God they will undoubtedly work out as He planned.

We’ve just come through the season of Easter, where we remember the sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection of Jesus. The meaning of the resurrection is often diminished through habitual hearing of the message of the Gospel. But, we must remember that nothing that happened in the life of Jesus happened without a purpose and impact far greater than that of a single event in time. Through resurrection Jesus was raised; but also the entire creation was given new life; life in God’s kingdom. We have all been transformed and our lives have eternal purpose and meaning. Thus we are commanded not to judge others, and not to be anxious for our lives. For others have an equally meaningful purpose for their lives given by God, and we are not to presume upon that purpose. We need not be anxious because life is coming from God and not ourselves. What happens to us now is not to be understood as punishment but rather as a means of learning and becoming sharpened that I purpose might be more fruitful.

Thanks be to God for the gift of His mercy and assurance.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Unconditional Faith and Love


"I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, `Here am I, here am I.’”
- Isaiah 65:1

When I am mysteriously drawn to meditate on passages like these I realize very deeply in my whole being that Christianity is so much in need of restoration in the eyes of the world. 

The Bible, and the beauty of its poetry and symbolism revealing the mysteries of life, has been hi-jacked by those who would seek to hold tightly and exclusively the gifts that are freely given from the very heart of the source of divine love.

I wrestle daily with my spiritual life. I find myself crying out to God with the same intensity with which I used to deny God’s very existence.

Of course, it is most likely that God as a separate entity does not exist in human terms - but that rather God IS existence itself.

How does one recognize something that one has never seen before? It can only be in reference to what is already known. To seek God is pointless - for God cannot be found anywhere but here, now and forever. To seek God is to be defeated by the illusion that life is lived separate from the universe. In fact, life is entirely interdependent with all of reality.

God is not where I am not. Likewise I am not where God cannot reach me - ever…..

God reveals God wherever life is lived in interdependent relationship with all things.

Logic and reason often strip me of my faith - as if they are enemies. But in reality, logic and reason can only come from a strong faith in potentiality. To reason that there is no God is to deny that anything beyond my understanding could exist. Like a person blind from birth can have no experiential concept of the subtlety of colors, so can we as limited beings have no direct experiential concept of God.

Enlightenment or awakening cannot be new experiences - but rather the immediate understanding of that which is always here - that which we seek has never been lost.

“Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.”
- Isaiah 65:24

Christianity is not human beings calling out to God for salvation - but rather the realization that salvation was never lost. We are never lost in the care of the Divine Shepherd - the Divine Shepherd knows all of the sheep by name. The Divine Shepherd goes after the sheep - but doesn’t follow them - because the sheep are never out of sight.

Christianity is not creeds or dogmas bleated out by sheep - but rather the complete surrender to the fulness of life that is always, already the case. There is no need to ask for forgiveness - there is only the acceptance and sharing of its depth with all of life.

Truth does not need to be understood to be real. The reality of new life in Christ is a simple acceptance or surrender, and not a gain in intellectual power. It is not to know something new - but rather to be aware of the timelessness of God’s incarnation.

Jesus was born into humanity at a point in time - but his entrance opened the portal of timelessness. This is part of the mystery of the Divine Liturgy or Mass. When we participate in this sacramental practice we are entering the very life of the Divine as it is happening eternally without end.

When we use the word “worship” we often think of it as singing or chanting in praise of God. But worship is not just those things - they are part of the expression of worship, but worship is the re-presenting of the mystery of God’s incarnation on earth. The blending of time and timelessness. When we attend Divine Liturgy or Mass we are participating in the eternal worship of God that is the work of Angels and Saints. We are transformed by the very presence of Christ in our midst.

Being Catholic is to be committed to practicing the awareness of the eternal presence of God in the timeless reality that underlies all of life. To be near to God is to be far from all that is contrary to life.  What a privilege to be a citizen of eternity. 

Could it be argued that God’s presence can be experienced outside the Catholic Faith? Of course, God’s grace is showered on all beings. But, there is more opportunity to experience and participate in the grace and blessings inside the membership of the earthly Church because it has been a primary vehicle of God’s grace for over 2,000 years. I’m home when I go there and fed when I partake of the Eucharist.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Confessions of a Catholic Viking

BEING CATHOLIC....

Is not about being a certain "Kind" of Christian.

Is not about being associated with a particular building identified as a "Church".

Is not about being "saved" - or "chosen."

Is not a matter of personal preference, based on how I "feel" about their teachings.

Is not about being closed-minded or conservative politically.

Is not about condemning or judging people who are not "Catholic".


Is not about accepting things "just on faith" without reason.

Is not about only eating fish on Fridays.

Is not about putting ashes on the forehead once a year.

Is not about having unquestioned belief.

Is not about "worshiping" Mary, icons or statues.

Is not about feeling guilty all the time.

Is not about being a member of an infallible or perfect institution.

Is not about "earning" favor with God.

Is not about doing horrible things and then confessing them to a Priest to avoid consequences.

...there are many, many more things that fall into the "Not" category.

Of course, there are probably many Catholics who do not agree with me on all these things - because, as individuals, we all make our own choices in behavior, and in how we choose to apply our understanding. But, I speak personally about what being Catholic means, and doesn't mean to me.

I've met many people who believe that they were BORN Catholic - as if it were an ethnic heritage or, as the more negatively sarcastic might add, a birth defect!!

I've met others who were baptized and confirmed as Catholics but have never darkened the doors of a church since - yet they call themselves "Catholic."

IT'S NOT WHERE I'M FROM, IT'S WHO I AM

It's a pet peeve of mine that some people confuse their heritage with their religion, or their heritage with nationality. Thus you have third generation immigrants who have never visited their historical homeland once - calling themselves Italian, German, Dutch, English or Irish!!! With that logic, being from ancient European stock, I could probably get away with calling myself a Saxon or Viking!!!!







I've always liked Thor's fashion sense!!!


BEING CATHOLIC....IS

  • Identifying with the heritage of the early church....

- the one that was founded by Jesus in the first century, that existed for over a thousand years as "One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" - then was divided, primarily politically, into the East and West and became two branches of the same church - The Eastern Orthodox (Catholic) and Roman Catholic (Orthodox) Church, still founded on the teachings of the Apostles and Fathers of the Church. Then because the Roman Catholics began "behaving badly" around the 16th century - a strong-willed Roman Catholic monk (Luther) took them to task and sought reformation, and instead, "threw the baby out with the bath water" and broke away to form his own "church." Now there are over 30,000 "denominations" of the supposedly "One Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church!!" - all with different "interpretations" of the bible and claiming to be the "true" church.
  • Being Catholic is about becoming a citizen of a new kind of kingdom - forsaking the broken human nature and taking on the process of revealing a new divine nature.

I'm no longer a Viking!....I'm an "in process" resident alien in the kingdom of God.

  • It's about becoming Catholic BECAUSE I'm being saved - not becoming saved because I'm Catholic.
The Church is a means of "working out salvation" or expressing gratitude to God and mankind in community with others, because of what God has ALREADY done - it is not an obligation to God or a means of gaining salvation as a "fully subscribed" member.

It's a community of healing - where people come to practice their spiritual gifts and apply unique personal talents and abilities for the benefit of all. Not an institution of perfect people - but a perfect institution as an instrument for the forgiving and transformation of imperfect people.
  • Being Catholic is about understanding that Truth is not always agreeable, or to our liking, but by following those that went before us on the path (Saints and Martyrs), we can be inspired to live for higher purposes and truly aware of how significant an individual life can be.

The Church is not just a physical location - it is the time-based presence of the Kingdom of eternity beyond all time, that has a membership of all who have gone before - "God is of the living, not the dead." Eternal life is not what happens after we die - it's going on NOW and forever.
  • Being Catholic is to understand that God is not in a spiritual compartment of our lives, but permeates ALL of life. 
Honest science does not disprove the existence of God - it expands our appreciation of the beauty and order of His creation. Evolution is not contrary to creation - it is proof of the ongoing presence of God in continuing to create - and it should increase our appreciation for the value of all things.
  • Being Catholic for me is more than a choice of beliefs - it's a privilege and a gift.
I have searched high and low for the Truth and I have been down many paths that appeared to be bright at first, but turned into dark and narrow alleys with no end in sight. As I've researched the Ancient Christian faith - the version closest to the original - I can see that despite the appearance of many seemingly dark and narrow alleys there is brilliant sunlight at the end - and it can be seen from here when I adjust my perspective and take off the prejudicial glasses.

Being Catholic is not what I wanted to become - but it's what I need to become.

After all, being a hammer-wielding Viking is not all that it's cracked up to be!!!!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Resurrected Faith

Since Easter (April 5th) of this year I have felt the "call" deep within to return to the faith that I had vehemently and vocally rejected a few times in the past. I can offer no real rational explanation for my changes of heart - I could blame it on demonic influence - but that is no different than saying that I don't really know what drew me away so strongly - it is a mystery of doubt. In the same way, my return is a mystery of faith. If it is possible that my turning away was demonically motivated, then I cling willingly to the possibility that my return to Catholicism is the work of intervening angels.

ARMS WIDER OPEN

In this return there is a difference in the embrace. I do not cling blindly to the Catechism, nor do I disregard the "inner voice" that sometimes contradicts the sometimes theoretical dogmatic scenarios, in favor of what I sense is a more compassionate view of the reality of things. I have a bigger heart this time - and do not hypocritically whisper curses of damnation against those that reject that which I formerly denied myself, but now embrace as ultimate truth.

This time I have greater faith that God is better at love than we in the Church are at interpreting theology.

Returning to the Mass has been a reunion of my doubting mind with my grieving heart.

HOLDING ON TO THE VOWS


A relationship with Jesus Christ, through his bride the Church, is more like a marriage than a contracted, conditional partnership. The Bride can fall short of being worthy, in the earthly sense, of her children or husband's love because of her behavior - but the strong love of the divine bridegroom, (Christ) is truly unconditional and goes much deeper and far beyond the worst sins. The children love and obey their Father, the Bridegroom, and see in their mother the love for them that is reflected from the father - a love of commitment beyond fickle emotion. So, I have decided to stand firm in my commitment made in earnest a few years ago - to honor Christ in and through his Holy Catholic Church.


IT'S STILL ME

Behind all this rhetoric stands the cynical sinner that has always been me. I know I will struggle with my commitments and I'm sure I'll offer both fair and unfair criticism of those who stand with me in Church, but stand against me in word, and/or spirit from time to time - but such is the matter of conscience and confession - which will no doubt help me to stretch my faith in these times.

I am committing to live by and through the power of the gift of grace - which can only be given on the terms of the giver - who is the Lord of all. 

Please hold on until this ride stops moving.

GLORY BE TO THE FATHER, AND TO THE SON, AND TO THE HOLY SPIRIT. AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING, IS NOW AND EVER SHALL BE. WORLD WITHOUT END.



AMEN