In my former life…

I went to a church where you sat a lot, essentially standing up only for arrival and departure. Therefore the care of the derriere was an important survival technique. One could start a serious discussion about the theological ramifications of padded vs unpadded pews and older ladies quietly slipped a small pillow into church that remained in their pew as a sign of respect even when they weren’t there.

Imagine then my arrival in Orthodoxy where people can spend a large part of the service either standing or preparing to stand. Having spent years on my backside I was now an upright person and I soon began to participate in on of the great unspoken endeavors of Orthodoxy, the search for the perfect liturgy shoe.

Now some people solve the problem all together by simply not wearing shoes. These people are mostly choir members who in the sanctuary of a loft feel free to kick off the decorative but wholly impractical heels and such for the comfort of stocking, or bare, feet.

Others, though, may spend years working through one pair of shoes or another to find the right combination of style and comfort that makes the perfect liturgy shoe. For ladies this basically means flats. Yes, there are a few diehards who insist on wearing heels, even spikey ones, for the whole service and offer up their pain as a kind of asceticism. But eventually flats will prevail.

The struggle, of course, is to find flats that are simultaneously sexy, pious, and practical. This isn’t so much a challenge for the older women whose feet have instructed them in the right path but a horrible dilemma for younger women who still have the vigor required to squish their toes together and wish to make a fashion statement. Time is what makes the difference. Time standing. Time holding squirmy kids. Time to understand that your boss may be merciless with a dress code but God isn’t and He’s also not nearly impressed by shoes as you.

Now Priests have a different struggle. First we sure hope that none of them are wearing heels either during liturgy or in the privacy of their own home. Second the choice of a liturgy shoe means finding a shoe that is comfortable for standing, dressy, but not so fancy as to make the parishioners feel like you’re dipping into the collection plate.

My preference is Rockport, comfortable, understated, and with a certain kind of earthy panache that says humble yet smart. Sandals, especially in the winter, are also good because they shout out “I’ve been to Mount Athos!” A few scuff marks tell the people that you’ve been busy and leave the high tech running shoes at home, except perhaps for a church picnic where the kids can see them. By the way, the rule doesn’t apply to Deacons since the Church doesn’t give them a salary they are allowed to have fancy shoes.

For younger men the task is to find something that looks good with altar boy vestments. Tennis shoes, or “kicks” as I guess they call them now, are the perfect statement of non-comformity and individualism, just like every other boy in church. A trendy leather pair, however, says “They may have forced me to wear this altar boy stuff but the shoes peeking out from under let’s you know that I’m on top of things, until they change, and my inner rapper is still alive.”

It’s easiest, of course, for older men. If you’re over 60 you may have one pair of shoes you’ve worn to Church for 20 years and if at first they needed, say, a year or two to stop hurting they now have been pounded into submission and flow effortlessly with you. You can polish them if you want, but nobody cares. Sadly for the most part people just stopped seeing you somewhere around the arrival of your AARP card so go with it and dress how you want, especially if its polyester.

Ah, but when you have found the perfect shoe what a remarkable thing it is. There are closets full of perfectly good but discarded shoes that did not pass the liturgy muster. Yet when you discover that one pair you cherish them, set them aside, and maybe leave them in the original box so you can know the name and style to repurchase when they wear out.

Rest assured, though, they will not be at the store and you’ll have to start all over again.

It's been a morning routine…

to try to get some news of the world before the day begins. It’s a two pronged thing, by nature I’ve always been curious about the world, especially far away places, and my job with seniors requires me to have an arsenal of topics I can talk about on the spur of the moment.

But its a discouraging task, like a first thing in the morning walk in the world’s sewer. Angry people on both sides of an issue competing for seconds of air time. Stories about boobs or blood or the antics of some person they fancy a celebrity. It’s a circus and thinking about it makes me glad that I never took up a career in journalism even with a degree in Mass Communication. I could imagine sitting at a desk competing for air time, column inches, or space on a web page and watching my morals swirl down the drain as I try to make a living.

What a person puts into their mind is actually more important than the food they put in their body and refuge is getting harder to find. The wells are all septic tanks and reading a paper, listening to the radio, watching TV, or going online is like taking a trip to the tenderloin district. Yet where else can one go?

To the discerning Orthodox Christian all I can say is “Bring a prayer rope with you every time you walk into the swamp and use it, it’s dark in there, and take a shower when you’re done.”

The kitchen…

at St. Elias has been remodeled and it looks wonderful, new, efficient, clean, and ready to help us do good things. Pictures will follow but this new beginning is also an ending, the last of the major building projects. St. Elias is ready to go, no bills, new everything, and a core group. Thanks be to God.

Everything is ready…

The essential Christian "bucket list"…

Matthew 25

31When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

 32And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

 33And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

 34Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

 35For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

 36Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

 37Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

 38When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

 39Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

 40And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

 41Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

 42For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

 43I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

 44Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

 45Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

Once again…

the rumors are beginning to fly about, the jockeying for position may have already started and the speculation is well underway. The least desirable aspect of Orthodox Christianity is its potential for byzantine intrigue. We are going to have to give an account of all of this, the time wasted, the people lost, the things left undone and there doesn’t seem to be a prayer rope large enough to meet the need.

Whirlwind Ministries…

is tucked inside what appears to be a gym with a kitchen attached. One door in. One door out. One half the room is table and the other half instruments with a pulpit shoehorned in between.

The walls are covered with pictures, trees mostly, and some holy thoughts. Perhaps one day someone said “I know, let’s get the kids to paint the wall” and this is what they got. Yet its all pleasant in a well worn kind of way, like the house of an aunt who never made much money but was still your favorite.

I was to be the bassist in the praise band, using the time up front to practice for a later prison ministry gig,  and because of work I arrived late while the service was in full swing. Quickly unpacking I found my place in the music and began to play. Three chords, lots of repeating, and tons of emotion. The sounds system was loud, so loud that I had trouble at first picking out my bass notes, but it was the volume of passion. While we Orthodox may occasionally mumble a few notes Pentecostals sing from the bottom of their shoes.

Songs done, a sermon was next in the order of business, a young lady skipping from passage to passage, thought to thought, using a whiteboard to help her along. Bibles were open and occasionally someone joined in with a question or comment. I listened, and remembered. This was me, some time ago, the music, the sermon, everything. It’s been a million miles down the road, of course, but I had not forgotten.

Yes, I am a different person now, Orthodox through and through. I was never a good Pentecostal even when I hung around with them. Too much noise. Too many things going on. I could never imagine going back to that world. I love the beautiful stillness and holy peace of Orthodoxy. Yet one thing remains. The love.

Whatever else was going on, good, bad, or otherwise, there was love. Love in the music. Love in a parish with its doors wide open to folks from the local Gospel Mission. Even a love for holy things that jumped from place to place with the sermon. Come in broken, disheveled, lonely, or not quite right for “polite” society and Whirlwind’s heart was ready to expand to fit anyone who walked in.

Whatever else we have we don’t often have that and in their own way Whirlwind may be more Orthodox than we could ever imagine, or be.

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