Monday, June 30, 2008

Miraculous in the Common

“But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you;  and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you.”  

Job 12:7  NASB

Some of the most beautiful lessons are taught by God’s creation; the endless wonders of the animal kingdom.

As we walked down the steps we could see a crowd had already gathered;  I was glad we came early to snag  seats up front.  I had brought my visiting sister-in-law and niece to Hawk’s Nest State Park to attend a free educational program on raptors.  

Ron & Wendy Perrone of Three Rivers Avian Center spend many hours each year in classrooms, state parks, colleges, and camps to educate the public about our fine feathered friends and natural history in WV.

 Their avian center offers vet care and physical rehabilitation to injured non-game wild birds.  Their goal is always to treat and release the bird back to its natural home, however this isn’t always possible due to the severity of the injury.  For these birds, they often become part of the educational program.  Nick, a Red Tailed Hawk, is one such bird.

As the cameras flashed and kids sat up in their chairs to gain a better view of the hawk, Ron walked about the room with Nick sitting quietly upon his arm.  She seemed so at ease with the routine and even comforted by Ron’s gentle voice.  She’s been with their program since 1993 and is one of their most beloved companions.  After he told her story, I can understand why.

Nick’s left wing suffered a gunshot wound and was injured beyond repair during her youth.  As Ron spoke about her hardships in the early years, my heart was touched at her will to survive.  Life is tough for a bird with one wing, but love overcomes hardships.  It is thanks to some very gracious human beings that Nick is now 17 years old and fulfilling multiple purposes, such as teaching others about the beauty and strength of birds of prey and, surprisingly, illustrating a gentle selfless devotion.

As it turns out, Nick is an excellent surrogate mother.  As Ron told several stories of her nurturing instincts toward orphaned chicks, I spotted a growing admiration in the eyes of the women sitting near me.  Ron said, “When we have babies come into the center, we check them out and then put them in [the enclosure] with Nick and she does the rest.”    She has even nurtured infertile eggs for weeks, plucking out her breast feathers so that her exposed flesh would keep the eggs warm.

She responds to the instinct God gave her - selflessly willing to take babies under her wing and teach them what it means to be a bird.   Here is a purposeful life that helps to raise life to heights that she will never see.

Praise God for every living thing

Praise God for the soft fall of hooves in the forest

Praise God for the cry of the hawks circling in air

Praise God for the friendly nickers in the barn

Praise God for furry friends at my feet.

Praise Him in whose hand is the breath of all living things.


*Pictured is Nick from my 2005 visit to the Avian Center for a photography workshop.

Monday, June 16, 2008

An Open Letter to Walter Wink

I was asked recently what I thought about Walter Wink's essay, "Homosexuality and the Bible" published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, eleventh printing 2006, which can be read here. And, since I express myself better in writing, here is my unvarnished opinion:

Dear Mr. Wink,

I read your essay with great interest, especially considering you are a United Methodist  Minister, a denomination I was part of for many years.

In your opening sentence you say, “Sexual issues are tearing our churches apart today as never before.” And yet, as a trained pastor and teacher you know that this issue has always been a problem, a sin, as written about in Holy Scripture.  I believe you use this issue to praise your voice in calling for ‘tolerance’ which is actually a call to disregard the Law of God.

You write: “And the repugnance felt toward homosexuality was not just that it was deemed unnatural but also that it was considered alien behavior, representing yet one more incursion of pagan civilization into Jewish life.”   It is alien behaviour because we are created in the image of God, which precedes paganism and any other presupposition encountered from earlier cultures and practices.  It is alien because man and woman were created to be “one flesh”.  This is what we, as Christians, know  as the sacrament of God through holy matrimony.  Because of your wont to interpret Holy Scripture as you will, within the norms of culture as you say,  you either cannot or will not recognize and uphold that fact.  You are leading your sheep astray.

You  refer to homosexuality and left-handedness as if they are comparable attributes -apart from any moral standard- and yet, later, you write: “Where the Bible mentions homosexual behavior at all, it clearly condemns it.  I freely grant that.  The issue is precisely whether that Biblical judgment is correct.  The Bible sanctioned slavery as well, and nowhere attacked it as unjust.”    Which is it?  Do you believe that homosexuality is a genetic trait or a sin to be overcome?   What about those born with a predisposition toward alcoholism or gluttony?  Do you preach moderation?  abstention?  Do you distinguish between a predisposition and enacting upon it?   Maybe you should give thought to God’s saints who, through circumstance, various temptations and trials have persevered in their sanctification and produced the fruit of heaven.  Those who follow not only the Gospel of Christ, but the Law of God and illuminate HUMILITY, MERCY and WISDOM.

Sacredness of Scripture

I found it engaging your personal knowledge of St. Paul.  A man, a murderer, touched and transformed by God to be a shepherd of His flock.  You write: “No doubt Paul was unaware of the distinction between sexual orientation over which one has apparently very little choice and sexual behavior, over which one does.”  Let me concede your point for the sake of argument.  Suppose Paul didn’t know what we think we moderns know today:  that homosexuality is not a choice, but a genetic attribute.  We also know today that children born of alcoholics are likely to be one themselves someday.  We know that environment and genetics predispose children to obesity.    How does this change your message to them regarding Christ?  Does the message change according to the circumstance?  How much more does one with a predisposition toward a specific sin need to hear the Truth?  

I believe, however, that St. Paul was inspired of the Holy Spirit and the words recorded in the Bible are nonnegotiable.  If one accepts your argument that St. Paul was in the dark and Scripture may be re-interpreted continually “..then for that person, to call the Scriptures “inspired of the Holy Spirit” is a concept without meaning.  They would have no basis for viewing the Bible as a trustworthy guide for life or for salvation.  So the real question is, “why would anyone accepting this view of Scripture want to claim the name of Christ?”  -Mike Stickles, Orthodox Christian

You write about slavery and prostitution being “upheld by the Old Testament”  as if the text encompassed the culture.  You wrote that American slave owners used numerous Scriptural passages to justify slavery, admonishing the practice of self-justification through selecting which verses to uphold and yet, you practice the same.   A foundation soon crumbles through continual shifting.

You said: “The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is simply that the Bible has no sexual ethic.”    and also, “Approached from the point of view of love rather than that of law the issue is at once transformed.  Now the question is not “What is permitted?” but rather “What does it mean to love my homosexual neighbor?”

This is the mantra of liberal thinkers in an evolving theology: where the law hurts and infringes upon my sensibilities, apply the gospel, rather than the law of Christ.  It’s the paradigm that says, “I’m not going to change; God must meet me right where I am.”  A neighbor who truly loves his homosexual neighbor will, with love, share with him the Law of God.  The purpose of the Law is not to self-righteously judge and condemn, it is to reveal the difference between good and evil, to manifest sin.  This is what should not be forgotten in your dynamic theology.

The Question of Authority

 You quote Jesus Christ, “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?”  St. Luke 12:57  and then, “Such sovereign freedom strikes terror in the hearts of many Christians;  they would rather be under law and be told what is right.”  I want to know what God said.  I want to know how Christ would have me to live my life and am thankful for Holy Scripture as my roadmap.  But, taken alone, without the correct lens with which to view Scripture, one is utterly lost in a sea of thousands of denominations all claiming that authority.  Is it a stretch to say that you would disagree with your free-will church down the street where homosexuality is treated as a sin?  And, aren’t they, too, using their God-given freedom to interpret Scripture within the current cultural mindset?  “Is this not the radical freedom for obedience in which the gospel establishes us”  Who grants your authority, Mr. Wink?

You wrote: “The truth is, we are not given unequivocal guidance in either area, abortion or homosexuality.”   If I didn’t know better, I would say this quote came from the liberal Anglican community.  The fact that it comes from a United Methodist minster indicates the reach of moral decay within the Prostestant world.  Your theology as expressed through this essay is a great example of what happens when men make gods in their own image and seek justification through a butchered Bible.  As you tickle the ears of many in your care, many others are coming home to the Orthodox Church whose theology does not change, where Tradition is upheld as the guardian of Holy Scripture and where sacredness has meaning.  It is the church that extends the love of Christ to all her members, while not glossing over the Truth that may cause another to repent and draw nearer to God.  I invite you to lay aside your false teaching and open the door to the ancient faith.

Peace be to you.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Orthodox Incense Censer

Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him.  Psalm 127:3 NIV

We have a regular feature in our bulletin that allows questions from the congregants to Fr. Scott via  short form enclosed in the bulletin.  Much to my surprise, a few weeks ago, I spied our 10 yr. old son sitting over on the edge of the pew with pen in hand, writing away.  Curious, I leaned closer as he asked, “How do you spell incense censer?”   Quietly, I spelled it for him and then asked what he was working on.  Never looking up from the form, he whispered, “I have a question about the censer...”

I sat back and smiled, enjoying the warmth of the moment.  It’s one of those times as a parent when you realize your child is maturing and savor the good feeling that produces.  His love of learning is one of the greatest joys in my life. 

His question read: “I’m an altar boy and I wondered what the bells on the censer represent.  I’ve also seen a censer without any bells.  How come?”

A couple of Sundays later, Fr. Scott's answer appeared in the bulletin:

“Today’s censers hang from three chains with a fourth chain attached to the lid.  The four chains together usually have four bells (one on each) or twelve bells (three on each) attached to them.  Four bells symbolize the four Gospel Writers, Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Our one censer has twelve bells which symbolize the twelve Apostles.

The second censer in our altar doesn’t have any bells.  We use this particular censer during Christmas Lent (Advent) and Great Lent/Holy Week.  These lenten seasons have a subdued spirit in that we are to celebrate less and concentrate on developing our spiritual life and repenting of our sins.  Therefore, the censer is “quiet” when in use.”

I’m so proud of Ben.  Not only because he took the initiative to find an answer to his question, but also because he knew those bells symbolized something.  He knows that in our worship, all that we see, hear, smell, taste and touch point to the Kingdom of Heaven.  And, not to mention that he probably helped to educate many of us that day! 

*Photograph was originally found within another religious blog; I *think* the image is originally to be found in the Monastery Icons catalogue.

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