Thursday, October 30, 2008

Glad Tidings

Orthodoxy has long been touted “Americas Best Kept Secret” but apparently the secret is getting out:  Study finds more U.S. Orthodox Christian converts.  Did you see this article in USA Today last week?     With the Orthodox Church growing in America and the reunification of the two parts of the Russian Church, this is good news indeed.

Does it mean more Americans are searching for the root of their faith?  Or maybe they are increasingly aware of the slippery slope their denomination is on with regard to a constantly shifting theological foundation?  Or, as was the case with me, are they searching for Christ centered worship that defines sacred?

I don’t know with certainty why the US is seeing so many new Orthodox converts, but as a former evangelical christian, I am delighted to welcome new brothers and sisters to the ancient faith.   Orthodox writers have acknowledged that evangelism is the crown jewel of Protestantism; with that knowledge  I am witnessing -through the internet and other media- a refreshed spirit born among these new converts who are on fire to share the fullness of the Christian faith.  And that is most encouraging.

*This charming painting was found at Lakewood Gallery & Framing Company by Rie Muñoz.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Thoughts on Socialism

It’s been a beautiful weekend spent with one of my dearest friends.  During the course of our visit, we had several discussions lamenting the path this country is on toward socialism (some would argue we’re already there) and how the flawed mentality of “entitlement” and “fairness” is destroying our society.   I think you can discover a microcosm of this attitude in many businesses, I know I certainly did in my years with the healthcare industry.  

It’s the lunchroom chatter complaining about the “unfairness” of the boss, the long 8 hour workday, the mundane tasks to be performed day after day, month after month and year after year.  Rarely did I encounter gracious attitudes thankful for a job, the means to save and pursue other interests or lauding a boss who not only pays them on time, but grants vacation pay, healthcare and other benefits.  This dour outlook is so infectious that to oppose it is frequently to be found in a silent minority.  I find this same caustic disposition at the heart of an ailing America.

As a small business owner, I cannot overstate my gratitude to live in a place where I have the freedom to grow, to expand and yes, to make profits.  One of the greatest assets in earning money is to have the authority to give it away.  There is satisfaction in having the power to choose who I want to help when I know so many of my tax dollars go to programs that I do not endorse.

If more folks knew the joy of giving of their profits to charities, they would understand a vital motivation for some us entrepreneurs in this capitalist society.  Perhaps even a purpose for their God-given talents and skills.

A few favorite quotes on socialism...

"How do you tell a Communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an Anti-communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin."

-- Ronald Reagan

"To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, 'the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, and the fruits acquired by it.'"
-- Thomas Jefferson

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
-- C.S. Lewis

    • "You cannot bring prosperity by discouraging thrift.
      You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
      You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
      You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
      You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.
      You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
      You cannot further brotherhood of men by inciting class hatred.
      You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
      You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and independence.
      You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves."
      -- Rev. William J. H. Boetcker

    And, a poignant political cartoon by D.T. Devareaux shared by my friends.  This was found in an AUSTRALIAN newspaper, seems as though our friends Down Under have an acute understanding of our societal ills.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Michael Sa-Ngoun, of Seattle, Washington made the news a few years ago when his mother adopted a tough-love policy and left him in a remote village to be cared for by Buddhist monks to save him from his self-destructive behavior Cambodia.

When he came back to the U.S. after 2 years in the Buddhist temple, one of Michael’s comments was regarding feeling overwhelmed by all the noise, activity and ads encountered in America.  Can you imagine it?    Going from  relatively silent contemplation, service to others and eating simple meals in a rural Cambodian village to disembarking at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport?

It is much in this same vein that I view educating our children, particularly our daughters, in the mechanical, sometimes maniacal,  world of advertising.    I have frequently used a video titled “Evolution” by the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty for educational purposes, and I plan to incorporate this one titled “Onslaught” as well.  It’s a power packed message in a mere 80 seconds.  If we, as parents, don’t talk to our kids about what real beauty is, that they are created in the image of God and have a purpose other than self,  the “beauty” industry will ...and sooner than you think.

Viewers may find some images offensive.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Troubled Soul, Do Thy Work

Reviewing the news over the last few months concerning the financial crisis, in at least one article I read that church attendance had increased in the areas around Wall St. attendance increased, too.

Intense times of turmoil and difficulty have this effect; we either drop to our knees and renew our relationship with the Almighty or we wring our hands and fret looking to ANYTHING else that will seem to ease the inner stress.  Worst of all is halting all fruitful activity in lieu of constant self-examination, condemnation and the path of destructive thinking -- the delight of demons.

A pearl of wisdom that I’ve known to be true for years but am just now prayerfully asking God to make real in my life is eloquently described by George MacDonald:

“Troubled soul, thou are not bound to feel but thou art bound to arise.  God loves thee whether thou feelest or not.  Thou canst not love when thou wilt, but thou art bound to fight the hatred in thee to the last.  Try not to feel good when thou art not good, but cry to Him who is good.  He changes not because thou changest.  Nay, He has an especial tenderness of love toward thee for that thou art in the dark and hast no light, and His heart is glad when thou doest arise and say, “I will go to my Father” ... Fold the arms of thy faith, and wait in the quietness until light goes up in thy darkness.  For the arms of thy Faith I say, but not of thy Action: bethink thee of something that thou oughtest to do, and go to do it, if it be but the sweeping of a room, or the preparing of a meal, or a visit to a friend.  Heed not thy feeling:  Do thy work.”

Such treasures to be found there...  for me, it is armor for spiritual warfare.  Heeding not our feelings of anxiety, relentless self-examination and doubt and instead, doing our work with faith in God --carrying on-- is the defeat of Satan.  Or, as St. Ilias the Presbyter said:

“Shaking a stick at dogs provokes their fury;  forcing oneself to pray in purity provokes the fury of the demons.”  

*Painting is by Charles Grant Beauregard (1856~1919)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Cherished Life

She would be celebrating her 27th birthday this month; it's hard to believe it's been so many years since her death as I can still recall our memories so clearly ..and dearly.

Kim became my "Little Sis" when I volunteered to be a friend/mentor to underprivileged and at-risk children.  I am republishing a tribute I wrote in 2002 to keep her beautiful memory alive:


                             In Memory of Kimberly Dawn Agent

                             October 13, 1981~August 15, 1995

She was only 11 years old when I met her through the social service program.  Tall but petite with blonde, disheveled hair and a gleam in her deep brown eyes, I liked her right away.   She was gaining a “Big Sis”; I was gaining a new young friend.

One of my most vivid memories of her was from early summer, when she had just finished school.  I picked her up, and headed for Charleston, to have a picnic on the Capitol lawn.  She was giddy at seeing the lush manicured grass and feeling its softness on the bottoms of her feet.  She was gaining a glimpse at another world; I was gaining insight into her world.

We went many places together: museums, hikes in the woods, horseback riding, church, restaurants and such.  She seemed to enjoy everything we did….especially horseback riding.  I gave her riding lessons on my horse, Jack, and her face glowed when she could handle the reins all by herself.  She was gaining a sense of self-worth, I was gaining memories I’ll never forget.

A year later, at my wedding, her presence was warm and charming.  Her new dress fit to a “T” and she allowed me to fix her hair in an upsweep style that complemented her growth into a young lady.  She gained much adoration from kind strangers that evening; I gained a beautiful photograph of her that I cherish to this day.

It saddens me still that soon after my wedding and subsequent move, and her placement in a foster home, that our communication became less frequent.  I phoned her occasionally and sent letters too, but her successive moves made it difficult to stay in touch.  She was gaining a more frightening reality; I was oblivious to it.

For the next year and a half communication had nearly stopped and I missed her.  I thought of her beautiful smile often and prayed she was being cared for by loving hands.  And then it came.

A call in the middle of the night startled me awake, with her sweet voice on the other end.  I had known from her social worker that she had run away again from the foster family, or community shelter who had assumed responsibility for her.  I also guessed she was probably with some older kids.

She called me, she said, because they needed shelter and a place to “lay low” from the cops.  She added that she trusted me and loved me, so felt safe to call on my help.

I will always wonder how I should have handled that call……in the end, I kept her on the phone as long as I could, trying to get her location and offering to help, but telling her I would have to let the authorities know.  That information was met with silence.

At length, she finally said that they had to keep moving…and that she loved me.  I told her I loved her too.

Trembling fingers dialed the State Police next to report everything Kim had revealed to me.  She was found in a neighboring state within the week.  After that episode, I vowed to re-establish our friendship…even if it meant long road-trips to see her.  I had been preoccupied with married life; she was just trying to survive.

Over the next many months, I did stay abreast of her whereabouts.  She was staying at a community center for troubled youths when I finally got to see her again.

I had arranged a visit, an off-campus visit, with her for an afternoon.  I knew exactly where I would take her- Grand View, State Park.  It was near to her “home”, and provided an excellent opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.

I remember that I brought her a gift of gumballs, one of those pint-sized canning jars filled with various colored gumballs.  It was such an inadequate gift.  We hugged each other and she climbed into my truck for our outing.  

We talked for a long time that afternoon and she revealed so much to me, more than she ever had before.  Her mother had been imprisoned in connection with a murder and Kim had visited her a few times.  She said she hated it and she didn’t know her mom anymore, and that she never wanted to go back.  She told me lots of things that afternoon; why her hair had always smelled of cigarettes and alcohol when I picked her up, why she ran away, how she felt about the world.  Such heavy burdens for a 12 year old I thought.  My heart hurt for her.

We were allowed several hours together that afternoon, and I am so thankful for it, as it was the last time I saw her alive.  Before I returned her to the shelter that day, she wanted to tell me about a dream she had:  She was running through the woods, looking for a white house.  When at last she found it, she stepped up to the porch where an older lady told her to come inside.  She entered the door to see a large screen before her.  On it, she watched the events of her life play out…..all the wickedness, the loneliness, the abuse, the confusion,…..and then, a soft, warm, loving angel appeared to her and told her she wasn’t to live this way any longer.  Kim told me that when she awoke from this dream, she was staring at herself in the mirror.

I didn’t hesitate to tell her that she probably did see a real angel, as God does send his angels and ministering spirits (Hebrews 1:14, and Matthew 18:10) to aid His children.   There were a few wonderful moments of silence between us then….quietly thinking about what the other had said.  She was thinking about death; I was astounded at hearing about a miracle.

The telling of the dream led to a conversation about Jesus.  Kim was wearing many cross emblems that day, the latest fad.  I asked her if she knew what they symbolized, and when she indicated that she didn’t really understand, I told her about Christ, and what He had accomplished while walking on this earth.

She listened……for a long time.  I will always thank God for that afternoon with this precious child.  I have learned that it was a gift; a social worker later told me that “by the book”, I should have never been afforded an off-campus visit with her.  After all, she had a record of running away at any chance.

A few months after our visit, I learned that Kim had been missing for several days.  It turned into weeks and finally, at the dismal end, her remains were discovered near to the place she grew up….in the woods.

At the funeral, I am ashamed to admit that I was consumed with anger rather than quietly celebrating the life of this young girl.  She was dancing with angels; I was picturing her mother burning in hell.

I think I’ll always chastise myself that I didn’t do enough for her…that I was too immature at the time to help her plight.  She was a precious gift to her parents, a gift squandered and left to the winds.  I am thankful I knew her; that she so willingly returned the love and joy I gave to her…..tenfold.

She is home with the Father; I am here to celebrate her life and share the treasures with you.

©2002 Amy L. Thornton

May her precious memory be eternal.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Nasdaq Broker Turned Orthodox Monk

Thanks to Joseph Patterson at Mind in the Heart, I have discovered this inspiring story.  Everyday we’re reading headlines about the economic crisis in America and now, around the globe.  As a supporter of President Bush, I was left scratching my head when he called for an immediate bailout plan for Wall Street.   Why can’t the market just correct itself?   It didn’t seem like wisdom to cover the losses of mortgage companies who made poor financial decisions, but then, it’s a complex issue and I probably don’t have enough knowledge of the intricacies to make a judgment call one way or the other.

Hristo Mishkov, 32, has some interesting insights to share about the market and the American dream of pursuing happiness being a former Nasdaq broker.   He was successful in his trade, remarkable enough considering his childhood in Bulgaria under communism.  But his material wealth did not bring happiness and so, five years ago he left New York and returned to Bulgaria, calling a dilapidated monastery and former communist labor camp, home.

Although Brother Nikanor, as Mishkov is now called, says “It is right to see people who consume more than they deserve shattered by a financial crisis from time to time, to suffer so that they can become more reasonable” he also acknowledges an admiration for the wealthy such as Bill Gates who give generously for the good of society.

His advice to former colleagues is to place a jar of soil on their desk to remind them where we are all heading and what matters in life.  “Milk is not produced by computers, bread doesn’t come from a good company PR.  It is necessary to plough, sow and harvest before that.” says the monk.

Please read more of the story here: Broker turned monk offers home truths to needy

*Photo by Reuters

Friday, October 3, 2008

Myrrh Streaming Icons

Converting to Orthodoxy has been wonderful ...and overwhelming at times.  I  imagine it’s something akin to the wonder felt by the Pevensie children as they tunneled through the wardrobe to arrive at the brilliance of Narnia.  

There is so much church history to devour and Tradition to understand as entrusted to us from the ancient church.   It’s a marvelous journey that I am on and it’s worth a pause here and there to hold a discovery, a treasure of the Orthodox faith, before others so that they might be blessed, too.

For those who are cradle Orthodox or have been converted for many years, myrrh streaming icons are nothing new.  But for me, coming from a Protestant background with a subtle prejudice against anything that looked or smelled Catholic, these ‘weeping icons’ were met with skepticism and even quiet anger as I contemplated a possible mockery of God’s house.   For those of you who may be unacquainted with weeping icons, they are  an icon or statue* (please read comments below)  depicting a saint or Jesus Christ himself, that miraculously begins to produce an oily substance commonly referred to as ‘myrrh’.  

The myrrh usually begins to form as small droplets on the painted surface of the icon and then slowly streams down to the bottom, thus the phrase ‘tears of heaven’  is a frequent description.  Typically the priest or pilgrims venerating the icon will use cotton balls to absorb the liquid, placing them carefully into airtight bags to preserve the oil as long as possible.   Oftentimes those who are blessed by the myrrh report being healed in some physical or spiritual way.

To me, “myrrh” is a bit of a misnomer as it calls to mind the resin from the Commiphora myrrha tree found in Somalia.  This resin is steam distilled into essential oil and frequently used in therapeutic oil blends for the skin and as a meditative aid.  In fact, this type of myrrh has an ancient history in the role of healing, meditation and religious ceremony that is worthy of another essay.    However, the miracle of “myrrh” weeping from some icons is something altogether different.  In at least one instance  I’ve read, the molecular structure of this weeping substance was likened to that of olive oil.

And something else which I find utterly fascinating is  the scent commonly ascribed to the streaming icons:  that of roses.   This is particularly interesting to me because long before I knew anything about Orthodoxy or icons, I was reading accounts of people with near death and at-death experiences.   Repeatedly I would encounter stories from people who would notice the scent of roses - when no flowers were present-  when a loved one passed or during prayerful times or occasions when they were ill yet felt the presence of God.  The scent of roses seems to be inextricably woven in the veil that separates the heavenly and earthly realms.

As I was learning about these icons and sifting the hoaxes from the genuine accounts, I came to discover the Weeping Icon of the Theotokos at St. Nicholas Albanian Orthodox Church in Chicago.  It’s a wondrous account and, if I’m not mistaken, I believe it was this icon that so touched Matthew Gallatin in his book, Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells.   A genuine weeping icon will be examined and blessed by a priest or bishop and revealed to the Church for all to pray and venerate it as they wish.

More recently, I read the account of the Iveron Weeping Icon from Hawaii that has traveled to San Francisco in early September ’08 to be venerated by the faithful at Holy Virgin Cathedral.  Very often, these wonder-working icons will travel to various parishes, cathedrals or monasteries so that the miracle may be shared by many.   I know that the Hermitage of the Holy Cross near me has hosted such an icon.  I regret that I didn’t learn of it earlier so that I might have visited and prayed before it.    It’s truly a miracle,  an occurrence without explanation.  Still, people will ask, “But why?  Why does the Blessed Virgin weep?  What are we to make of this?”

Since so many around the world have been blessed by these icons, I would say that they weep for our healing.  I’m not seeking to understand the how or why, I just pray that someday God will grant me the opportunity to see and touch these tears from heaven.

*Photo is from Holy Theotokos of Iveron Russian Orthodox Church website.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Snapshot ~ Wednesday Morning

One of my favorite bloggers, Deb, frequently adds a "Simple Woman's Daybook" to her blog, revealing small snippets from her day..her thoughts, what she sees out the window, what she is thankful for, etc.  It's one of those getting-to-know-you entries that I enjoy reading and so, I thought I'd snag the idea and create a "Snapshot" of my own.  Thank you for the idea, Deb!

I am reading:    C.S. Lewis' collection of writings by George MacDonald:  An Anthology - 365 Readings

I am listening to:  Live Ireland Radio from Dublin (love internet radio!!)

I am smelling:  Pinon incense made by Wildcrafted incense

I am seeing:  my dog asleep at my feet

I am thankful for:  my sister

I am praying for:   two grieving friends

I have discovered:  an edgy conservative blog, Blonde Sagacity

I am thinking:  I'd best finish this post and get some work done around the house

One of my favorite things:  that first sip of coffee - outdoors-  on a cool fall morning

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