More thoughts on the Middle East…

It’s been like living inside a blender these past days when it comes to news from the Middle East.

Everyone has learned to spin. Everyone has compelling video. Everyone has easy answers. How different things would be if munitions were as in short supply as truth in the Middle East.

And it all matters to people for whom I care, souls entrusted to me who are everywhere on the spectrum in these matters.”But Father…” they say, “You have to understand…” Little by little I am.

I know that the divide between the white hats and the black hats is not as clear as thier apologists want me to think. Yes, Hezbollah builds hospitals but they have a lot more missiles than your average HMO. And even if they fired the first shot, as it were, of this latest round Israel has had a knack for violating the borders of countries for thier own purposes that can’t be excused just by waving a picture of Dachau in the world’s face.

I know enough to take every bit of official press with a healthy tablespoon of salt. Hezbollah has pictures of dead babies, sometimes the same baby passed from person to person and presented to the cameras. Israel has pictures of Hezbollah vehicles in the back yards of homes manned by soldiers without uniforms. They say cameras never lie but everyone knows photographers can and do and will. While the battles on the ground rage the battles in cyberspace and inthe press proceed apace. I only know that people are in pain, that death is happening, and pointing fingers at one side or the other means little if you’re the one hit by a bomb or mangled by a rocket.

I know that this place, this Middle East, has been a place of war and struggle for millenia. If not Palestinian and Israeli, then Ottoman and British, or Crusader and Muslim, or Hebrew and Philistine, the list is as old as recorded time and I suspect a thousand years from now little will have changed because the people will remain the same.

I know there are people and nations who have no business sticking thier noses in other people’s lives playing a larger and more deadly game through these miserable little conflicts. Deranged people, people with agendas, people with grudges so old they can even remember how they started, people with delusions of empire, and people who get off on death and dismemberment like junkies do heroin. A pox on them all.

And a part of me wishes that all these people so keen to kill, so desirous of remembering every last insult, could be sent to an island far away and allowed to do thier dark work with each other, winner take all, blood up to the stirrups, and gorge hell with the corpses. But that isn’t how this is done because war and misery love company and so bystanders and people with no part in a matter still suffer and die.

So where am I in all of this?

The older I get the less I am enamored of the human desire to kill each other. It makes us less than the animals who at least kill to eat, it solves little, and has never brought lasting peace. End it in one place and war emerges in another; different faces, different causes, same spirit. I am weary of war, thiers, ours, and everywhere. I also grow weary of the part inside of me, a seed planted by power, to hate and make war. At times it burns within me and its very ugly to look at, even demonic. Eventually it must die, drowned in a sea of prayer or nailed to a cross.

So I hope for something different, a better way of life, a different kingdom, and choose the risk of being called a utopian. I choose to give for the care of the wounded whoever they are. I choose to work and pray for something better even if that vision is never realized in this life. And when people wish to take me under the swirl of thier own sea of mad passions I must choose to reach for the hand of the Master and find a way to walk on the waves and safely to shore.

And always I pray…

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A little grave shopping…

This Saturday my wife and I will be going grave shopping.

No, nothing’s up, at least not that I know of.

It’s just time, what with all the potential moves we may make and having no children, to take care of these things. Once it’s handled it’s handled and then we can just get on with life.

We’re going to be buried, some day, outside of a little town called Vilard in western Minnesota. Vilard is a few miles from Osakis, Minnesota, where my wife’s family is from and by coincidence one of her friend’s family has a smal cemetery on a hill by a lake out in the country. The plots are inexpensive, a bonus these days, and the pictures of the site are, well, picturesque.

So off we go this Saturday on a road trip through the prairie to see our new and simultaneously last earthly home. It’ll be a whole day thing, seeing the site, seeing the sights, driving past my wife’s family farm, and then, perhaps a treat at the Tip Top Dairy Bar in Osakis, one of the last places around these parts to still serve a chocolate and vanilla swirl cone.

Now we never somehow got around to having a family plot. We were busy, and distant, and never that close to each other to ever get together and decide where to be at life’s end. So we’re on our own for these things. Mom and Dad will be one place, brothers and sister somewhere else, and probably some stranger with a lawn mower to look out after things in the years to come.

In a way that sounds kind of lonely and I think about that sometimes. There is a romantic in me that would wish to have someone come and drop by every once in a while and plant some flowers or say a prayer or light a candle (after all I am Orthodox and we go for that candle thing). That probably won’t happen and my guess is that people coming to see thier loved ones will look at our plots and wonder what kind of strangers would pick that place, a town where no one knows thier name, to rest. So I’ll probably just sink into the ground with my gravestone following after me and one day the letters will be worn off by the prairie wind and the world will have completely passed me by.

That would be a kind of hell if I didn’t believe. But I do and even those moments of reflection where I understand that all things pass, myself included, are somehow changed. I will be apart from friends and family when my time comes and yet I do believe in the communion of saints and the resurrection of the dead and so I also presume some sort of togetherness in that life which is to come and know that wherever I finally rest will be, in eternal terms, just a moment.

So its on to Vilard in just a few days to be with family and friends and buy a pair of graves. Life is full and very busy and I imagine that someday I’ll need the rest. And what better place to let the rest of the world go by then out on the Minnesota prairie, on a hill, by a lake, waiting beyond time for an angelic call.



Pray for the peace of Lebanon…

Like many in the Antiochian Archdiocese I have parishoners from Lebanon whose families still live there. For them these are very anxious times. The pictures that look to us like impressive fireworks displays or the pyrotechnics of Rambo movies are thier life and death. Really, as in done and gone and buried and never to return.

War is always an affront to Christianity, to its purposes and its calling. Even as it is sometimes a necessity it is deeply grievous and represents the depths of our brokenness. The Orthodox Church has historically expressed this in many ways not the least of which is to impose a penance, a denial of the Eucharist, to those involved in the taking of human life in war, even those who participated in a lawful, as much as war can be described in such a way, conflict. Priests are held to an even higher standard, a commitment to never take human life, even acidentally.

It is true that war will be the lot of human beings until Christ returns. We’re broken and so often unable to settle our differences without trying to extinguish the people that embody them. It is also true that Christian people may need to cross that line and take a stand, even violently, to defend the good because it is not a righteous thing to simply let evil do its work without standing for the victims.

But we need to think first. Think really hard. When wars happen people really die and not just the people we’re supposed to hate but others as well, regular folks trying to live thier lives, people with “no dog in the fight”. We call it, from the safety of our lives, “collateral damage” but that is small comfort to those get hit. And the world changes, valuable things are lost, relationships between people are permanently scarred, and the fix of war is always only temporary because the cause is deeply entwined with the very core of our being and will always find new ways to mutate.

I’m no utopian. I know bad things happen and, this side of Christ’s return, always will. But as much as my country or the media or this side or that wants me and mine to commit to this terrible conflict or that I choose to hope for a better way, to approach it all with seriousness and not simply emotion, to work as hard as I can to still the voices of hate and war inside of me, and always be ready to quickly work for peace and barring that to struggle to heal the wounds, repair the damage, and help find a better path.

So now I pray for the peace of Lebanon…







Baby, it's hot outside…

As I’m writing this the temperature outside is scurrying towards the middle 90’s where it’s been for most of the last few weeks. And it should be that way for a while yet.

We haven’t had a warm one like this for a while but temperatures this high are not unusual here in Minnesota. They were worse in the 30’s. Regardless, though, the hysteria is at least as high as the temperature and therein, as they say, lies the rub.

We’re different now, we’ve just gotten so used to having everything air conditioned that temperatures our grandparents simply accomodated are now horrid to us. It causes us panic when we can’t live full time in a climate controlled environment and God forbid we would even have to be outside and work in such a world. Simple physical endurance has left us and we’ve become fragile.

And its at this point where the fear mongers come in, entrance stage left, and start thier path to power via fear.

I remember the 70’s and the titles of major magazines breathlessly warning us about the coming global ice age. Ice age you say? Yes, that was the fear back then and now its flopped over to global warming although there are some who have been saying that global warming is responsible for some place’s colder winters, unless, of course, the winter is not actually colder and that’s also about global warming.

So I’m kind of skeptical about it all because frankly scientists can be just as irrational and political and agenda driven as anyone else. A simple question helps to clarify things. Who is getting what out of the latest claims about the weather? Who gets power? Who gets money? Who gets influence? Who gets control? Ask these things and start following the paper trail. You may be suprised at what you find.

In all of this Christianity presents a remarkably calm and consistent vision, unswayed by the latest sirroco winds. We are called to live simply, naturally, and with a view to stewardship of the Earth because it is God’s creation and we are temporary caretakers of it all, born owning nothing, departing the same, and accountable for everything in between.

We are environmentalists not out of fear, unswayed by hysterias, and desiring no power but out of love for the Creator and His handiwork and rejoicing in the priviledge of living on this unique blue orb in the middle of light years of space. Broken as it has been by sin our island home is still full of the presence of God and reflects the unmatched artistry of the One who holds all things together over the eons. To live in harmony with nature as simply as possible, and to return as much as we can is, in its own kind of way, an act of worship, a recognition of the Creator’s greatness and our response of gratitude for all this world has given us by its Framer.

Next year, perhaps, there will be a new set of headlines warning of this or that new potential catastrophe. But in the end it will be the memory of Eden and that primal call to care for this garden that will endure and we who have been given that vision would be wise to remember it always.











You didn't see this one coming…

Thanks to getreligion.org/ here’s a link to a story in USA Today about a woman who claims she is a living descendant of the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

She doesn’t have any actual hard evidence of course, either about Jesus being married or her actually being a grandchild many generations out of such a union but she has had some visions and her publisher (I bet you were surprised she’s writing a book!) believes her.

That a lot of other people will believe her as well gives us an idea of how much work we in the Church still have ahead of us.

Thankfully we can settle this, except for the hard cores, in about a week or so with a DNA test.

Quotes and Such…

“Dorothy Sayers, the great English writer, said it best: ‘In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair, the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.'”

Good stuff from Relapsed Catholic