Monday, February 2, 2015

A Blessed Visit

Yesterday my daughter and I did something I've wanted to do for several years now -- we finally made a visit to St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Beckley, WV.  What joy!   Except for the beautiful gold onion dome and cross, it is an inconspicuous brick building tucked between other brick and stone buildings in the older section of Beckley, near the courthouse/ historic district.

St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church, Beckley, WV
Photo from

We arrived just before the 10:30 am Divine Liturgy and upon entering the front door, the lovely waft of incense filled our senses.  I am home  I thought as I took a slow breath to inhale that familiar fragrance. We walked up the steps toward the sanctuary and became aware of melodic voices chanting in English, both male and female.    I stopped at the narthex to light a candle, say a prayer and venerate the icon of Christ and the Blessed Theotokos. This is the area of quiet preparation for entering the nave, the place where the faithful gather to worship God.  Joining the congregation, we found the space full of peace and the walls graced with numerous icons.  A soft visible blanket of incense hung in the air, making the iconostasis with its vigil lamps seem otherworldly.   It truly is heaven on earth.

St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church, nave
Photo from

As we stood at our pew, I took in the numerous icons on each wall and large stained glass windows- some of which were donated by people I knew from our St. George family.  A sense of warm welcoming came over me as I noticed many familiar icons, such as St. Mary of Egypt , St. George the Trophy-bearer  and the enormous Christ Pantocrator adorning the ceiling.   Kind of like peering into a photo album and seeing familiar faces, it gives a sense of belonging - of knowing- that I too am part of the family of Christ.

I had met Fr. Samuel Haddad on several occasions in years past, but never had the pleasure of hearing his homily until yesterday.  It was the Sunday of the Pharisee and Publican and Fr. Samuel spoke about these two men and their prayers as found in Luke 18:10-14.  Interestingly, he pointed out their prayers from the viewpoint of God... Is God pleased with one prayer over the other?  Is it a matter of behaving in a certain way so as to appease our Father in heaven?  The reality is, as Fr. Samuel went on to say, is that God knows exactly what we need -- humility that begets repentance.  A "heart cleaning" in other words.   When we pray, and ask forgiveness, it is not that we are trying to please God by our actions, it is that our inner sin and darkness needs to be swept clean to allow humility, forgiveness and love to take root and grow.  

The choir gathered in front, on the right side of the church and we were blessed to hear their sweet voices praising God and offering responses during the Liturgy.  There were children, teenagers, young adults and some older adults too completing this dedicated group.  I quietly sang along with them a few times.

The people at St. Nicholas' could not have been more welcoming to us.  It was a perfect way to usher in the Feast of St. Brigid, my patron saint.   Radiant faces and pleasant greetings met us upon dismissal and we both knew with certainty that we would be back to visit again very soon.    If you are in the area and interested in the Orthodox Church, please stop for a visit sometime;  I'm sure Fr. Samuel would be delighted to meet you.   You can read more about the church and their service schedule here:  St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church

Glory to God for all things †

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Unbroken: A Book Review

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption                
By Laura Hillenbrand
Paperback, 528 pages (2014)
Published by Random House                                                                         

My daughter gifted me with this book for Christmas and as soon as I opened it’s pages, couldn’t put it down.  What an incredible and inspiring life Louis Zamperini lived!  Hillenbrand’s meticulously researched story was years in the making; her rigorous efforts and gifted writing style have resulted in a national treasure.   She has brought to light not only one man’s journey through WWII, but raised a nation’s awareness of an often hidden reality: POW camps, the depth of man’s depravity and the inner battle to overcome the lasting effects of traumatic experiences for men at war. 
This book is liberally sprinkled with wonderful photographs and illustrations to document the tale; it’s easy to be swept up in the sunshine and sand of the Pacific Islands in the 1940’s... equally thrilling and heart-pounding to be aboard a B-24 with Louis and crew, so skilled is Hillenbrand at her craft.   I laughed, I cried.. I was awestruck reading Unbroken.  As a Christian, I found the complexities of war, of evil and suffering to bolster my faith.  Maybe it’s because when honor, strength, miracles and sacrifice are contrasted against such a bleak canvas, truth and light are most clearly seen.   
Stories of survival have always piqued my attention, and this one is no different.  It’s the essence of man at his most extreme moments that fascinates me.  How does one respond physically and mentally in history’s bleakest hour?  What drives one to survive under extreme conditions?  And how does man cope mentally to overcome his witness to horrific crimes...?  Answers and insights are given to these types of questions by sharing in the life of Louis Zamperini.  The reader is truly left feeling amazed, inspired, even empowered by learning the life lessons this man has to offer.
Skip the movie, read the book.
Five stars.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Happy New Year!

My goodness, time does fly.  Eight months since my last entry, yet various posts still seem to get attention here and so, I'm inspired to blog on!  Since I've just finished reading "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand, I'll have to share my thoughts on the book and movie soon.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Anxiety : Holistic Health

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I am not attempting to give medical advice. I am only sharing my experience and some things I’ve learned about my own health with hope it may benefit another.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6

I wonder how many Christians know this verse and yet continually struggle to overcome the anxiety and overwhelming feelings that this world can produce?   Since I receive hits every week in response to my series on women’s health related to hormonal imbalance, I felt it was time for a follow-up.  If anyone can benefit from the experiences of my life, it is well worth the time to share. 

Anxiety was never an issue for me until about 4 or 5 months ago.  Sure,  I had times of worry and stress like most people, but what a wake-up call to have my first anxiety (panic) attack!    I had heard my mom and cousin relate to me in years past about their own experiences with anxiety-- the rapid heart-rate, sweaty palms, and lack of focus, but I never expected to experience it myself.   Panic attacks are frightening because even though your head may be telling you it’s only temporary-- to just hang on--the body feels like it’s revved up like a jet engine with nowhere to go.  

What is most strange to me is that panic attacks come out of the blue.   We’re gifted with that “fight or flight” adrenaline rush when in a stressful situation to save our hides, but when this same rush comes over you while in a business meeting or at a hair appointment, well.. it’s frightening and embarrassing.   My panic attacks started coming more frequently in the last 6 weeks and increasingly limited my daily activities.  

There’s plenty of research out there regarding the causes of panic attacks, my personal opinion is that -for me- it has much to do with heredity, chronic stress, personality type and not enough exercise.   When I do exercise (2 or 3 x per week) it is by walking or hiking, involving a mild cardiovascular work-out.  I always feel better after exercise, but it wasn’t enough to keep the stress and panic attacks at bay.  When the body experiences periods of chronic stress, cortisol (produced by the adrenals during increased stress) levels become high and when those levels are sustained, it has damaging effects on the body as a whole.  Effects such as weight gain, suppressed immune function, high blood pressure & cholesterol and accelerated aging.  Couple that with the fact that I’m in my fourth decade and experiencing changes in body and hormonal levels and, well, it’s like setting the conditions for a perfect storm.   

During lunch at work one day, I spent the hour researching holistic remedies for anxiety.   I had already explored what the western medical community offered (Zoloft, Birth Control Pills for regulating hormones, multi-vitamins, checking Vit. D and calcium levels)  and was still in need of answers and help for my overall health.   I stumbled upon some very interesting remedies from “alternative” sources.  As a caveat, that’s such a funny moniker to me...shouldn’t “alternative”  actually be “original” ?   After all, people through the centuries have relied on remedies from nature much longer than they have relied on allopathic medicine.    And please don’t misunderstand me.  I understand and accept the place of traditional medicine and practices.  I’m just saying in my case, what they offered left me in need of something more.

What I discovered from the holistic side of treating anxiety, were main ingredients that seem to help people in a variety of supplemental forms.  Those ingredients are:

GABA (as gamma-aminobutyric acid)
Bacopa Leaf Extract
L- 5 Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) 
Vitamin B complex
Schizandra Berry Extract  
Passion Flower
Ashwagandha Root

I could write a blog post on each of those ingredients separately as there is so much to learn about each one.  If you’re looking for help for your anxiety, I would encourage you to educate yourself about each component, realizing the diverse opinions and studies of both traditional and holistic practicing medical professionals.  

After discovering these key ingredients, I went directly to the Healthy Life Market at our local Drug Emporium after work and asked for help finding a supplement with at least some of these ingredients.   The very informative Darlene, brought Redd Remedies to my attention, specifically, their product labeled, At Ease™.    

At Ease™ contains the following ingredients:

Vit. B-1
Vit. B-6
Pantothenic Acid
Choline Bitartrate
Bacopa Leaf Extract
L-5 Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)
Schizandra Berry Extract

Darlene was very informed about this product and we talked for quite a while standing there in the store aisle.   I bought it, came home and began researching Redd Remedies as well as reading more about each ingredient.  I don’t have a good track record when it comes to medications so I’m very particular about what I put into my body.  I fully realize that just because something is natural or holistic, that doesn’t mean it’s naturally safe.  There are plants in nature that can kill you, too, so be sure and do your homework!

What I am MOST pleased to share with you is how effective At Ease™ has been for me.  I began by taking 1 tablet (recommended dose is 2 tablets)  on a Saturday afternoon.  After a few hours had passed without any adverse feelings or stomach upset, I took the second tablet.  That day was bliss.    

The package says:  “At Ease™ is relaxing but not sedative.  We call it “Alert Relaxation”.

And that’s exactly right!  That is precisely how I felt that entire day... calm, alert, clear-headed.  I have followed the prescribed dose of 2 tablets per day (taken together in the a.m.) for two weeks now.  Happily, I have not had a panic attack during this time and thankfully, have had no ill effects from this supplement.  It feels like a miracle to me to be comfortable in my body once again.    

I was so impressed with how well At Ease™ worked, that I called the company to ask additional questions.  To my surprise, a real human voice answered the phone and cheerfully discussed with me about the history of the company, manufacturing procedures and duration of use for their products. 

Redd Remedies is worth looking into.  If you’re struggling with anxiety, be assured that there is help. You should always consult your doctor about taking any supplements, particularly if you are taking prescription medications.  Some supplements can interfere with prescription medications, so educate yourself.  You can’t be “talked out of worry and negative thoughts”  (as those may say who have never experienced anxiety) when the actual factors involve restoring neurotransmitter balance and adrenal health.  Sometimes it’s matter over mind.  Redd Remedies has been an answered prayer for me.  

Glory to God for all things †

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Seasons of Dryness

It’s been a while since I’ve visited this space.  It’s been too long since I’ve come home to my words.   So much is going on in my life... as with everyone.  We all have our struggles and triumphs.    Life flows at that rapid pace and it seems like a miracle to enjoy moments of peace.  
It’s no surprise to me that since the beginning of Great Lent, I have felt tested on all sides.  Those who seek Christ are an abomination to satan; his fiery darts are plentiful  toward souls aware of sin.   St. John Climacus said, “Let them take courage who are humbled by their passions.  For even if they fall into every pit and are caught in every snare, when they attain health they will become healers, luminaries, beacons and guides to all, teaching about the forms of every sickness and through their own experience saving those who are about to fall...”  If he’s right, maybe I’ll have something to offer others someday.  That IS an encouraging thought. 
The process of being humbled by passions is really ugly.  It involves violence against the soul and not only the one humbled by such passions, but others in their wake.  Passions are hot and furious and invoke haste which most often leads to folly.  They are my downfall  and yet I’m so slow to recognize and destroy it.  In fact, sin is often welcomed and justified.    Yet, if I don’t have internal peace, am I really free?  Can there be true joy apart from God?  How is it that saints could enter the violence of ancient Roman colosseums singing praises to God, while I - who have so much - can be despondent, lacking joy and contentment?
So far, this Lenten experience has brought a time in the desert for me.  A season of dryness; a glimpse into the abyss of my heart with no reprieve.    A time when I wonder where God is and if He will ever grant mercy and grace to my troubled soul.  I’ve been depressed and angry and frustrated and I realize my complaints are nothing when viewed from a world perspective of what others struggle with --- things like hunger or abuse, persecution & civil war.  And that makes me feel guilty and ridiculous on top of it all.   Who am I to complain about a bump in the road of life when others are just trying to survive?!
Trust & Obedience are the companions pulling me through right now.  When periods of loneliness come, I take heart in Psalm 23,  trusting that God is there as my Shepherd, as He has proven to be so many times in the past.  I’m trusting that this trial is temporary  -and beneficial-  and continuing in my prayers and fasting.  I’m holding onto James 4:8 which tells me to draw near to God and He will draw near to me, realizing that this dynamic relationship with the Creator always involves my humility and repentance.  I'm going with what I know to be Truth, in spite of feelings that tempt to lead me astray. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Good Tilled Earth

Photo by Ron McGinnis Photography.  Used with permission.

It’s not only Hobbits that appreciate the good earth and green things that grow.   The smell of sunlit earth in spring brings with it promises of harvest to come.  It’s a slow and meticulous work to prepare that soil, making certain to remove the rocks and release the dense ground.  But what joy and thanksgiving await as reward for the toil.
Jesus’ parable of the Sower, found in the Gospels of St. Matthew, Mark and Luke, compares the seed being sown in good earth to the Word of God being sown in the human heart.  We’re reminded that not all who hear the Gospel will produce the fruit of the Spirit, as some seed will fall by the wayside, some will fall on rocky ground and not take root.  Some will fall among thorns and be choked by weeds, but yet other seed will fall on good earth and yield a crop. 


This is one of the few parables where Jesus explains the meaning. He tells us that anyone who hears the Word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the wicked one may come and snatch away what is sown in the heart.  This is the seed by the wayside.  He who receives the seed on stony places, this is the one who receives the Word of God with much joy, yet he has not root in himself and endures for only a short time.  When trials and tribulations come, he immediately stumbles.  The one who receives the Word among thorns is the one who hears, but the cares of this world and deceitfulness of riches choke the truth in the heart.  But the one who receives the Word on good soil, this is the one who hears and understands and bears fruit.
Taking root.  What can we do to prepare our soil, our hearts, to receive the Word of God so that we can produce fruit?  What can we do so that others may prepare good earth?
It is only by the grace of God that we are enabled to till the heart, to make it ready to hear the Word and take root in Christ.  The Christian life is dynamic, one of growth and abiding in Christ, being renewed by Him on a daily basis.  It is about prayer, surely, most all Christians would agree with that.  But it is also about discipline...podvig, the ascetic spiritual struggle that helps us to become closer with the Lord.  It’s about nourishing our spirits with healthy things, like reading the Word, the lives of the saints, other spiritual writings or church history to increase our understanding of the faith we hold.  It’s about giving without expecting something in return, loving our enemies.  It’s about fasting and removing  empty things in life that vie for our time and energy.  
I’ve been a Christian for over 30 years and I continue to learn so much.  I feel like an infant most of the time, with my struggles, asking God to mature my spirit.  I can share one thing though, that I’ve learned beyond doubt: 
 The more “fluff” I remove from my life, the more clearly I see.  By “fluff”, I mean television, radio, internet, shopping and anything else that fills my eyes with advertising, pointless chatter, gossip columns, etc.  Empty things.  The more these weeds are removed from my life and nourishing things added in their place, the closer my walk with God, the more wisdom and discernment I have.  Solutions to problems often become crystal clear.

When we’re evangelizing to others, let us remember to share Christ in a loving and humble way.  Remember to pray for that person, as well as yourself, that God would be merciful and grant grace to open hearts to His Word, to make blind eyes see... to make hearts like good tilled earth.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

Suspended in Air

Ever had something like this happen to you?

I have.  On more than one occasion during my student years.

If you're a young Christian  heading soon to college and the realm of "higher learning", be prepared.  There's a very good chance this type of scenario will confront you, too.   Or perhaps you've already encountered it in high school?  Were you prepared to give an answer?

1 Peter 3:15 says:

15 But sanctify the Lord God[a] in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;

That word "defense" , in the original Greek translated apologia, which means to defend, or a speech in defense.  So, contrary to a prevalent Western understanding, Christian apologia, or apologetics is a formal defense of the faith, not an expression of regret.

St. Peter, the rock upon whom Christ built His church, implores us to stand firm and to be ready when questioned about the faith we hold.  But how many of us can do that?  How many are even interested in doing that?!  Are your beliefs just suspended in air or do they have a firm foundation?  

There are two reasons why this should matter to you as a Christian:  1)  If you have a heart for Christ and desire to fulfill His commandment to spread the Gospel, then you need to know what you're talking about.  And 2)  because without this firm foundation, you are in danger of blindly accepting another worldview because it's the latest's "common sense" you may say.  Or collective ignorance.   So, at least be honest with yourself and be able to defend whatever view you hold.  Facts are stubborn little things.

Why do I bring all this up?  Well, because I have my finger on the pulse of our young generation.  I pray for them, I speak to them and encourage them whenever I can.  I see a need for critical thinking skills, for our youth to be proud of their Christian beliefs rather than cowering to worldly voices.

I know several teenagers who have abandoned the faith of their upbringing in order to espouse an "enlightened" worldview that sees Christianity as fairy tales and secular humanism as their new salvation.  They would never identify humanism as religion though,  because they think they can escape definitions and paradigms with which to view the world and make their moral choices.  It's a fascinating study, human nature.  

In my case, those years ago in the classroom, I made my case for Christ to my professors because I'm a loud mouth and don't ever mind to share my opinion.  I rather like confrontation when it involves Truth.  But I've learned a lot since that time and am now embarrassed at some of the things I said.  Well, a little bit.

For example, it doesn't do much good to say "Because the Bible says so!"  if the person you're speaking to doesn't believe the Bible to be true.  You must be able to explain the Bible itself ... it's history and why you believe it's accuarate and authentic.  This involves evidence, historical data, corroborating facts.  When someone says, "religion is just a crutch"  it also doesn't help to point a finger at their addictions as their own "crutch" to get through life.  Lord have mercy. Apologetics should never involve barbed wire.

If you're someone interested in Christian apologetics, let me share a few nuggets of wisdom that I learned the hard way:

- Not everyone is a Truth seeker; don't assume they are.  You can waste a lot of time and energy on someone who just wants to debate at best and ridicule you at worst.  

- As follows the above, to give Truth to him who does not love the Truth is only to give more reasons for argument.

-Debate is healthy and follows logic;  it's adherents can agree to disagree peaceably.  Arguing can lead to anger and violent tempers; Truth is tossed to the wind in these cases.

- In the case where debate turns to arguing and anger, shut up and ask God to forgive your unbridled tongue.

- The Christian religion is a historical one.  That means you can do  research on it's claims outside of the Bible.

- The study of Christian apologetics is rewarding -- it will undoubtedly increase your knowledge and quite possibly facilitate a measure of wisdom.  All the while increasing your faith.

- Do not make judgements about those with a different worldview.  There are many good and intelligent atheists out there, for example, and some of them genuinely do want to understand why you believe the way you do.  

 - Always separate the human being from the worldview they hold; criticisms should remain on the theological plane.  

I encourage you, Christian, to be able to give a defense for the faith you hold, remembering the words of Scottish author and minister, George MacDonald: 

"It is often incapacity for defending the faith they love which turns men into persecutors."

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Living Water

Water is on our minds these days in West Virginia, as you’ve probably read about the chemical leak that is now preventing some 300,000 households from clean drinking and bathing water.  It’s an inconvenience to be sure, but as Fr. Stephen reminded us at Liturgy this morning, ‘be mindful of the millions of people throughout the world who never have access to clean drinking water.  We are inconvenienced by driving to Kroger to buy bottled water.’   
Our family is fortunate;  we live a distance away from the chemical leak and obtain our water from a different source.   We’ve offered to help where we can.  Thankfully, the people we know have plenty of water to drink.  It’s a process and I fear it may be a few days yet before our neighbors will have access to clean tap water in their homes.

All this talk and reading about water has got me pondering more on my favorite Gospel, that of St. John and Christ’s famous words in chapter four:
14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
This is part of the conversation Jesus had with the woman at the well.  He makes a distinction for her between temporal water and the waters of eternity, the joyful spring that flows from the Holy Spirit.  The waters of eternity that not only satisfy and quench, but creates in the person a well in which to draw toward eternal life.  I delight in this encounter with the woman of Samaria; it's full of hope and promise.  Her amazement at meeting Jesus is palpable, not just because of the words about the water He gives, but he goes on to tell her all things she had done in her life.  She is so astonished she leaves her water pot at the well to go running into town.  There she beckons her friends to come and meet the Christ!
This is just one of many references in the New Testament to the life giving water of God.  Today this passage provided a much needed reminder that I am to seek God for that Living Water continually.  It is a spring, ever flowing and regenerating and yet I endeavor to find in the world what I believe to be nourishment.   This happens because I am lazy; indulgence brings fog as C.S. Lewis said.   
I tend to look for nourishment in relationships and material things.  Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t as though those things are bad in and of themselves.  It’s just that one can place unreasonable expectations on those things when we look to them to satisfy the desires of our heart.   The purest desire of the human heart is a longing for love --an unconditional, all encompassing love and acceptance.  God is the source, the origin of that love.  We are told on more than one occasion in the Good Book that if we seek God, we shall find Him.  
I plan to do more seeking in 2014... to draw nearer to God and exclude frivolous things from daily living.  For the grace that He gives is everything that I long for.  I must stop believing the lie that satisfaction and harmony can ever be found in this world apart from Him.  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Crackling Fire

The aroma of burning wood fills this air of my underground work space.  I love the coziness of our fireplace contrasted against the cold and wind just outside our door.  Indeed, this is one of my favorite things about winter; finding solace in quiet, unhurried moments -- a suspended schedule that only seems to occur in these cold months.  
There is something most civilized about a fire, the way it centers and calms and fills the senses.  In fact, a great many things that I hold dear in life are associated with fire.  Scent has memories attached;  it often happens that a whiff of wood smoke may call up a remembrance of friends gathered about a campfire, laughing, sharing stories and enjoying fellowship.   Or a memory may be triggered of making s’mores with our girl scout troop or of dad’s snow-laced work books trekking through the rec room in order to set more firewood upon the hearth.  
When we were kids, my sister and I, there were occasions of extended power outages in winter that necessitated gathering around the fireplace for warmth -- even cooking, at times.  These are fond memories because, as kids, we weren’t concerned about work or the condition of the roads (except for sledding purposes!)  or any of the other worries that plaque parents.  We just knew how good it felt to be together... to be warm.. to have enough. Honestly, looking back, it was the epitome of love in my small mind-- that feeling of warmth and security.  
It’s no small wonder that I most enjoy writing, reading, movie watching or editing photos in this underground abode when a bright fire crackles happily at my hearth.  
May peace, contentment and the love of Christ be yours in this new year.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Being Good vs. A New Creation

 "...that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness 
and holiness of truth. "

Ephesians 4:22-24

So, isn't Christianity all about following rules and being good to people?  Do unto others and all that jazz?   

If that were the case, we wouldn't need the christian church at all;  we'd be like the atheists building their churches across America to worship themselves because they are good people.  As we were reminded at church recently, Christ did not die on the cross so that we could belong to a special group, nor did he die so that we could be good and follow a set of rules for living.  He died so that we could be restored to our likeness of God, our Creator!

It is only by the grace and mercy of Christ that we can "put off the old self"  as St. Paul describes above and be renewed in our spirit.  In the most simple terms, think of the difference between showing kindness to someone who has showed you the same and showing the same warmth and love to someone who has wronged you.  It's a conversion of the heart.

It's the kind of change that brings people to their knees at the foot of the cross... that restores human beings and allows them to see their own sinfulness and need for salvation.  That brings peace and healing to shattered souls.   Souls like Brian Welch, of KORN fame, who shares his profound transformation as part of the I AM SECOND ministry.  

In his own words: Brian Welch

It's a transformation that the darkness cannot comprehend. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Mysterious Visitor

Yesterday at church we had an unusual guest.  He appeared scruffy and tired, wearing dark, worn, ill-fitting clothes.  His hair was disheveled, refusing to stay put even after his repeated attempts to pat it down.  His face was creased with lines of care, the brown eyes tucked under a heavy brow.   I believe everyone noticed him, not necessarily because of his appearance, but because he brought so much baggage with him.   
He carried a large black backpack slung over his shoulders and another duffle bag in tow - the kind that maybe you’d pack to spend a summer away.   It took him a while, but he made his way down the long aisle in order to sit in the front pew before the altar. Another man from our congregation came to his aid after a few moments,  helping to seat him and find space for his gear.  
I have to admit, there was a bit of quiet buzz before worship, with several of us wondering about the unusual man.  He seemed a little disoriented; maybe he was drunk?  Maybe he is ill?  I started to silently pray for the man in the front row pew.  And I’ll admit something else... something shameful.  Fear crept into my thoughts as I began to wonder, what exactly does he have in those bags?  
Images came to mind of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ in the middle east...of terrorists and Boston and innocent people being killed.  Lord help me with my fears in this world.  I glanced over at our guest.   He was kneeling in prayer with his arms extended over the pew railing, his hands clasped.  I felt ashamed to be doubting this man and asked God to take captive my thoughts... to purify my heart.  And very soon my thoughts did a 180º, stirred by the remembrance of St. Matthew 25.  Jesus Christ has told us to love others, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked... to show hospitality to strangers.  Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.  Have mercy on our church and allow us to respond to this man in a Christ-like way.
God blessed Khouria Eva to sit beside our guest yesterday.  She is always hospitable to our visitors and this man was no exception.  I noticed as she moved closer to quietly welcome the man, to guide him through our service book.  His face seemed to soften in gratitude as he looked at her.  
Our guest seemed very pious..humble and prayerful.  He was thoughtful and giving, too.  I saw him actually wave down the tray collector, who had passed by, in order to give his coins.  Only God truly knows what led him to worship with us yesterday.  Some said he mentioned being in the military, in the gulf war...something about friendly fire and seeking forgiveness.  I wish our guest had stayed to fellowship with us afterwards at our coffee hour.  But he left after communion... he left before we could ask about his needs.  
As they were so near to us, I watched the gentleman from our church help our guest again with his large bags.  I don’t know what was said, but just from observing their body language it seemed to me that our church member was asking our guest if he couldn’t stay... if he really wanted to go.  Our guest smiled and patted his heart, as if in assurance, and then he departed.  
Maybe he had received exactly what he came for.  The Church is a hospital for our souls... the wounded, the weary, the self-righteous, the judgmental, the broken... all of us sinners.  Maybe he wasn't there to receive anything at all...  

...perhaps he was a gift to us to remind us what it is to love our neighbor.  †  
Only God knows.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Unstoppable by Kirk Cameron: A movie review

Earlier this month I took the kids out of school in order to see Kirk Cameron’s documentary, “Unstoppable”, at a theater not-so-near to us.  My sister and niece joined us to make the three-hour round trip because we had seen the trailer (watch it above) and thought it would be worth the time and expense.  It was.
Kirk Cameron has said of this film, “this is the most personal project I have ever made regarding my faith”.  It was prompted by the death of a close family friend and in it, he seeks to tackle the monumental questions, ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ and ‘Why does God allow evil in this world?’  The kind of questions all people of conscience ask at some point in their lives.  Kudos to Kirk for his integrity, inspiration and strength in creating a documentary that rips across the current of feel-good, shallow secular humanist films that are typical of Hollywood.  
The film wasn’t exactly what I expected, but yet I wasn’t disappointed either.  I had expected more interviews and insights from others, but this is very much Kirk Cameron’s take on Holy Scripture, beginning with a recreation of Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden.  This was well done, discreet and thought provoking;  I was given pause to consider how Adam may have viewed the earth in those first days.  The depiction was even more beautiful as Eve beheld Adam for the first time.  As a side note, I thought how this imagery is missing from modern films -- the notion of subtlety vs. explicit images, of male, female and agape love.  
The youngest of our crew is in 6th grade and, although this film is unrated, it does contain some graphic scenes relating to Eve’s creation and the murder of Abel that may be disturbing for a young audience.    In fact, the brutality of Cain is my only criticism of the whole documentary.   I thought the scene of Abel’s death was too long and gruesome... but then again, perhaps the idea was to emphasize the life force in the blood. 
Cameron isn’t seeking to answer these tough questions in a simple, concise manner.  Rather, he utilizes story telling from modern experiences in view of God’s Word to prompt the audience to consider God’s response to evil since the creation of the world.  It worked for us;  we’re still talking about it four weeks later.  The soundtrack is stirring, too.  I was introduced to Warren Barfield’s, “The Time is Now” and my daughter has added several of the songs from Unstoppable to her ipod.  
The highlight for me was being allowed a glimpse into the humanity of Kirk Cameron.  It takes an enormous amount of strength to live our Christian life in this world-- maybe even more so for those who command a spotlight based on American pop/entertainment culture.  The insight I gained  into his humility leads me to believe that he is a genuine Christian man with a fierce love for God. 
If you’re just hearing about Unstoppable for the first time, it’s too late to see it at the theater.  It showed only twice (and grossed $2 million on 700 American screens ~ wow!) and will be made available in January 2014 on DVD for home use.  I’ll be purchasing this as well, as it really is a very thought provoking, useful way to share our Christian faith and promote discussion about the tough questions of life and death.

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