Thinking about Dottie Morken…

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She was a nurse of the “Old School” even back in the 1970’s when I first started working in nursing homes. White dress, white stockings, white shoes, and something you basically never see any more, the nurses cap.

She ran her floor tight, her wing of the White Bear Lake Care Center. Cares had to be done. No lolligagging around. Beds made with hospital corners and no sheet or blanket showing and the pillow in the right place. At the time I think most of us thought she was kind of a pain and we dreaded be assigned to her floor.

But she was right.

Her formality and precision I think, looking back, came from a place of wanting to do the best for people who often were in great need. Then and now, perhaps even more now, a nursing home is a place of last resort. Out of money, out of options, it’s the place you must go if you need too much care for home and too little care for a hospital. If there’s a pecking order in health care this is about as bottom as one can get.

So what can you give to people who’ve lost their home and almost everything of what they own except for a few pictures on the wall and a small closet of clothes? Beds made neatly. Rooms that are clean and smell that way. People treated like humans and not cargo. All of those things are love in deeds.

Dottie Morken, white dress, white hose, white shoes, and nursing cap in just the right place on her head was, in her own way, giving gifts of care to people who had virtually nothing left. She understood that even if you’re poor and sick and old that you still should have a well made bed, a clean place to sleep, and people caring for you who do it right the first time and every time. Perhaps some times we thought she was a witch when we wanted to get through things the quick and easy way but in truth she was an angel who watched out for people who couldn’t watch out for themselves.

Forty years later and I’ve returned to work in a nursing home. As I walk through the door to face whatever comes that day I realize she trained me well. Presuming she has passed from this life I hope she knows that a little part of her is still with me every time I try to make things “just so”. And I hope she’s pleased.

 

 

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The Orthodox Church…

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should not be the place where ethnic and racial differences and rivalries are celebrated so much as it should be the place where they are resolved in a new community, a new people, a new nation, a new race, rooted in Christ. In the Church we are not called to baptize the old but to be baptized in order to become new and that newness means that the earthly things that identify us, even if they are pleasant, are not the final definition of who we are either as people or as a Church but rather we are called to be a new nation, a new people, as a way of bearing witness in the present to the world which is to come.

The Words of Christ…

sting sometimes, with an uncanny ability to expose the lies we tell ourselves and penetrate beyond the carefully crafted exteriors of our lives.

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Mostly, of course, we don’t wish to be disrupted from comfort, even if that comfort is an illusion and so we resent being exposed, challenged, and corrected, even by someone we would at least theoretically understand to be the Son of God. So we create exceptions, economias, and sometimes just flat out ignore what we don’t want to hear. Perhaps that’s why we sometimes leave the Bible on the shelf, pious in its placement but largely unread. We’re afraid of what we’re going to discover, afraid of what challenge may come our way if we open it and take what Christ says seriously.

Yet the wounds our Lord may give us are not the wounds of an enemy but the wound that a surgeon must necessarily do for the greater healing. Within all of us are spiritual cancers of various kinds, and all of them left unchecked would certainly take not just our lives but our souls as well. They have to go and if we are willing to accept the diagnosis and the treatment we can recover. If we choose to ignore the path of healing then we will lose the very life we think we’re trying to protect.

An enemy will always tell you what you want to hear but a friend will, when necessary, speak the truth even if that truth is troubling, or by our thin skinned society’s obsession with constant affirmation, offensive. When Jesus gets in our faces, despite what we may think at the time, he’s neither angry nor trying to hurt us. Rather, he’s trying to help us find the life we were actually meant to have in a world of illusions so real we often mistake them for fact. There is wisdom if we understand this.

 

As You Watch…

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the world darken and twist. As you see the confusion and the breakdown. As you witness the walking dead around you and your heart breaks for what is happening.

Do something. Just that. Do something. it doesn’t have to be a big thing, every little bit counts, but it has something you do to make a difference. Roll up your sleeves, put your faith into action, and seek out whatever you see as wrong and broken and challenged and do something to make it better.

The world and the church are full of passive whiners and complainers, people who have a list of things to gripe about but not a single finger to lift to make things better. Enough of that. From now on anyone who complains about the way things are and does nothing to make it better is part of the problem and needs to be ignored by the people who are actually making a difference. What they say matters nothing until they have shown they are willing to take personal responsibility for making something better.

For followers of Christ this is especially important. We are not called to hide away from the world no matter how terrible that world is. We are called to be salt and light and God’s hands in a place that has made ill by human sin. We are called to proclaim the reality of our faith in word and deed and there are no exceptions, even for difficult days.

Make a decision. Are you in or you? There’s a lot at stake hear not the least of which may be your own soul.

I am learning…

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there is no perfect place, no perfect job, no perfect church, no perfect life. In everything and everywhere there will be moments of joy and moments of challenge and nothing will ever be just the way you imagined it would be no matter how hard you try.

There’s a kind of disappointment in this. Surely one thing in this existence could be at least close to what you imagine it’s supposed to be. Yet, while some things may come achingly close, nothing will ever be “it”. In fact the closer they come the greater the disappointment when the flaw that mars comes to the surface. Just when you thought you won the prize, the reality of life does something to pull it from your fingers.  It’s, perhaps, one of the most maddening things about being human.

There’s also a freedom, though, in this realization. Accepting there is no perfect anything on this Earth and in this life gives the gift of wisdom, of patience, and a release from the tyranny of perfection into the cool waters of grace. One can be set free to enjoy that which is beautiful and release that which is less so when you realize that a normal life will have parts of both. The good can also become more precious and the harsh can be more temporary when you realize all things pass and see life through this window.

And then there is heaven which seems, as I grow older, to be less like any image I have of it and more like an existence where I can simply “be” as I was meant to be because the presence of God will fulfill all my expectations and heal the imperfections and unrealities of my life. One of the great gifts of getting older is that having seen so much of the world over the years one realizes the quiet ache in your heart on even the best of days is a sign there is more and better and it’s closer than you think. Stepping through that door you realize you’re more at home there than any place your travels in this world may have taken you. Every beauty here is a sign of a greater one to come and every challenge is a reminder of a larger day when all such things will pass.

Ghana…

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Ghana is warm and humid, busy, and full of life. Street vendors come to you while you’re stuck in traffic and quiet towns rest in the tropical sun. Ghana is color, tins roofs, skyscrapers, a country emerging out of a colony, and everywhere is a fertile green.

Six hours out by air from Amsterdam and you arrive in Accra, the capital. More than a million souls live in and about this city and like every city it has gleaming high rise buildings, government offices, streets swirling with traffic, monuments, and slums. There’s an unfinished look because people build as they have money, each story rising when the funds are there and resting incomplete when they’re not. As in the villages a raw capitalist energy flows where everything can be purchased right on the street and all prices are subject to debate. When you arrive you can feel the place is ready to become something extraordinary, a city of the world in its adolescence.

It’s a deeply spiritual place as well, this Ghana. Put away the idea of some sort of pagan Africa from the past. Everywhere there are churches large and small. In some places its hard to find a tree or a billboard without a poster for a revival, church service, or an “apostle” promising spiritual renewal. Cabs and businesses overtly proclaim the faith of the owner and the radio stations are filled with religious broadcasting. Like the street markets where vendors vie for your business the spiritual market here is full, crowded, and full of variety. Jehovah’s Witnesses are here. Latter Day Saints have contructed a magnificent temple not far from the President’s home in Accra. Every street seems to have a church of one kind or another and if not a church a mosque.

In this place the Orthodox Church is relatively young, a matter of decades and not centuries. Like other Orthodox communities in Africa it was the product not so much of colonial missionaries but of the Africans evangelizing themselves in a search for the roots of Christian Faith. There are people still living who were part of that original group of searchers and their descendants have entered the spiritual world of Ghana with the vigor and challenges of a new community of Faith. Everywhere, like the rest of the country, there is something to build, something to grow, and dreams for the future. Everything is needed from nuts and bolts to seminary training. Everything is in the process of being built. Everything is new like a bird stepping from the nest and learning to fly.

Yet there is also remarkable seriousness and maturity about the Church in Ghana. They’ve weathered some challenging times. They’ve created beauty from scratch and are tuned in to the people they seek to serve. There is a wisdom in this place and a depth of faith formed in the crucible of facing and overcoming obstacles that few in our world of convenience could, or would, ever understand. It’s a young church of old souls with an intentionality about being the Church that reflects the very best of our ancient Faith.

And, if somewhere along the line you choose to travel to this place, this Ghana, it will become your school. You may think your work is to travel to teach and explain but the larger truth is that you will be taught and you will learn. You may ponder the romance of serving abroad but you will discover that the faithful of this country will make you crushingly aware of how much needs to be done right around your own home. Ghana will teach you the Faith. Ghana will teach you humility. Ghana will teach you joy. Sit in the silence of the Holy Transfiguration Cathedral in Accra and you will begin to understand.