Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Error of Despair & Misguided PC Terms

It’s not I, but my hero and champion of words, J.R.R. Tolkien who gave the concept to me. Despair is not so much a state of emotion, a theological conundrum, as it is a mistake, for who can see all ends?

Despair is the absence of hope, the annihilation of peace, located at the center of chaos. It is a primary weapon of our enemy, employed to dismantle christians of our faith in a loving God and non-believers of their trust in the goodness of humanity. It's a weapon in which the enemy measures success by death. I’ve known several wonderful people who have been ravaged by despair and sadly, some who have taken their life because of it.

Recognizing how this weapon is used is our first means of defense against it. We have power in the name of Jesus Christ in rebuking satan, power in prayer and fasting, in confession, reading His Word and the strength of the believing community, the church militant & triumphant. These are our weapons to engage in this spiritual warfare. I understand there is a place for helpful medication, for counseling, but very often the medical community overlooks the needs of the spirit.

I read the story of Tyler Clementi today, the New Jersey college student who took his life because of the despair he must have felt when his privacy was broadcast to anonymous millions via the internet. The weight of such humiliation too great to bear. I hope the student(s) responsible for this despicable plot receive the maximum penalty under the law, for they obviously have no idea what human dignity is.

In the AP article, referring to Rutgers University, known for ruthless behavior in other areas said this:

“...students, faculty and other employees have been encouraged to attend a series of lectures, presentations and discussions on civility, exploring such topics as how cell phones, iPods and other gadgets affect civility, and sportsmanship for athletes and fans.”

Presentations on civility. Did you catch that?!

This brings me round to my next point --I didn’t have to read far to learn that the Gay Rights Advocates have called this a “hate crime” and will, no doubt, use this as a call to action, to further their agenda. Wait a minute... “hate crime” ? do you have to belong to a special group to use this term? What about.. oh, I don’t know...

a crime against humanity?

Can we call a spade a spade and agree that destroying a person’s mind & spirit by invading their privacy and humiliating them in front of the world is an act of a person without conscience? No mercy and no conscience...’s an indicator crime that affects us all as human beings created by God, no matter our feelings about homosexuality. It's an assault on human dignity, an evidence of barbarians in our "civilized" modern age.

Lord, have mercy, to make straight our crooked lines.

*Painting is "The Scream", by Edvard Munch

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

All in a Day's Work

Part of my job includes commercial photography, which means I get to travel to distant places to photograph buildings and structures. I love this work not only for the quiet, contemplative nature of it, but because it also provides an opportunity I don’t always have with other portrait or event photography: people watching.

Since I often spend time scouting areas or arriving to shoot just before sunrise or sunset, there’s an element of waiting for that quintessential moment when the light is just right. These moments, along with the many hours traveling have provided some interesting insights into human beings. The following short anecdotes are just a few of the things I’ve observed - and encountered- on these occasions.

* while sitting at a red light at a busy intersection, across the 3 lanes of traffic, I saw a man, who appeared mentally challenged, on a motorized scooter crossing the road. About halfway across, his scooter stalled and he struggled with the controls. As he remained seated, trying to figure out the problem, the lights changed and I realized with dismay that there would soon be cars turning rapidly in this man's direction-- it would be easy to overlook him in the busy morning rush hour. Within seconds, as I was still waiting at my light, I watched a woman pull her vehicle to the side of the road and rush out to help the man get out of harm’s way. She was dressed in scrubs, perhaps she just finished a shift at the nearby hospital or was on her way in. The scooter was soon moving again and thankfully, without further incident.

* while driving home one afternoon, I noticed a young woman standing by the road, across from a small chapel, weeping. She was clearly distraught by the tall man standing near, screaming at her and gesturing wildly with his hands.

* photographing a lonely high school stadium one cold Sunday afternoon, I climbed to the highest point I could reach near the press box to set up my tripod. While setting my equipment, I noticed a young man begin to jog on the track around the football field. People really don’t bother me on these shoots... I just wait until they’re out of my viewing frame and take the shots I need. But on this occasion, to my surprise, the man stopped his exercise and in a loud voice called up to me, “Am I in your way?” He was at least 50 to 70 yards away from me and the only other person about. I smiled and called back with my hands cupped around my mouth, “Thank you, but’re fine. Don’t mind me”

* upon entering a fast-food restaurant to warm up with a steaming cup of joe after a chilly shoot, I was glad to find myself alone at the counter, ready to place my order. I noticed a young lady with her face toward me, working on something in the kitchen. She was about 4 paces away. I waited, looking around at a mostly empty dining room. I waited. I jingled my keys. I waited. She never looked up, never acknowledged me. I left.

* waiting for the perfect light just after sunset one evening, I saw a lady bicycling on a nearby path. She had one of those little carts attached to her bike. Inside was a smiling, tongue-lolling canine, clearly enjoying the honor.

* As mentioned previously, people really don’t bother me on these location shoots; I am fairly patient. In fact, I was caught off-guard recently while photographing a cinema entrance. Most families and couples entering & exiting the theater took no notice of me, or, at the most, they only glanced my way curiously. As I was fumbling with my camera and checking some shots I had just made, just to my left was a young couple, hand in hand, smiling at me patiently. They had stopped, so as not to enter my frame, and were waiting for a “go-ahead” from me.

* one of my favorite memories...driving from a location, I passed a waterfall amid a rocky area, warmly lit with evening sunshine. Upon a prominent boulder, and completely alone, was a middle-aged couple basking in that last glow of the day. They were embraced in a hug, resting their head on the others’ shoulder. I slowed was a beautiful thing.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Words of St. Innocent

Metropolitan of Moscow, Enlightener of the Aleuts and Apostle to the Americas, St. Innocent (1797-1879) is known for his great work as a missionary, linguist and scholar to the native Alaskan peoples.

"The first duty of a Christian, of a disciple and follower of Jesus Christ, is to deny oneself. To deny oneself means to give up one's bad habits, to root out of the heart all that ties us to the world; not to cherish bad desires and thoughts; to quench and suppress bad thoughts; to avoid occasions of sin; not to do or desire anything from self-love but to do everything out of love for God. To deny oneself means, according to the Apostle Paul, to be dead to sin and the world, but alive to God"

St. Innocent of Alaska

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Where Were You?

May the memories of those who died at the hands of terror 9 years ago today, be eternal.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. I had just taken our son to preschool and was on my way to pick up a few items at the grocery store. My mom was watching our infant daughter. I pulled over when the announcement came on the radio. I sat there alone in my truck by the side of the country lane, watching the sun stream through the forest, struck dumb by the words coming over the radio.

Where were you that day? I'd like to hear your story.

God bless those who serve to protect freedom.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

For the Love of Trees

Friday, September 3 marked the second time in my life that I have shed tears over the loss of a tree. Yeah, you read that right. Does that seem silly? Perhaps utterly ridiculous given the fact that my family is in the timber industry. Nevertheless, the love of trees is something I have in common with that champion of wondrous tales, J.R.R. Tolkien.

The first emotional outburst occured in 1989, when I came home from college for the weekend. Driving down our familiar street, my warm mood turned to astonishment when I glimpsed the barren front yard before me. My beloved Sugar Maples were gone, completely removed with only rough hewn stumps and sawdust among the grass to remind me of their pleasant existence. Mom & Dad were out when I returned and so, I had to wait for an explanation. In the meantime, I sat on my bedroom floor and wept. Those trees were more than just a home for many birds and squirrels...more than just a welcome canopy of shade over summer picnics...even more than a spectacular crimson centerpiece on Sarah Street in the glory of autumn. They were pillars of my childhood.

My cousin & sister in front of one of the Sugar Maples many moons ago. 1987 maybe

Often providing a secret hideaway for adventurous climbers, my friends & I probably logged hundreds of hours on those sturdy branches. And many of my world travels originated on the three branches dubbed, “the reading chair”...often going to the Eastern desert in Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series or the Swiss Alps as Heidi’s story came alive or even the cries of the Yukon wild through the pen of Jack London..; yes, that Maple gifted me with a fantastic private library. As a bonus, the leaves provided a blind, of sorts, allowing me to check out the goings-on of the neighborhood undetected. I loved that. And while my sister & I often played “house” indoors, just as often we would set up our dwelling in the trees. Hmm..such happy memories.

Last year, as my husband & I debated about where to send our children to school, I made a visit to a christian school some distance from home. It was an emotional time for various reasons, with the chief stressors being our economic situation and discontent with our public schools. As I spoke with the kind lady giving me a tour of the school, I was holding back tears as I knew this was the place I wanted my children to be, but, financially, was it possible?

Close-up of leaves of the Corkscrew Willow

After the tour, I spent some moments just walking alone on the empty school grounds, admiring their gardens and the way the sunlight rested upon the stone walls. A soft tree caught my attention and I made my way over to the Corkscrew Willow for closer inspection. Maybe it was the breeze or the way the air smells in summer,... but it was here, standing silently by this tree with curled leaves that God’s peace came to me. The peace that passes all understanding is profound... a moment of clarity in which God’s grace indicated that all shall be well. And it was ... and is. I’m very thankful our children are able to attend that school.

Corkscrew Willow Tree

Oddly enough, I had my camera out a few weeks back to photograph this willow and even though my photos are nothing special, imagine my surprise when I arrived at the school four days later and noticed the tree was gone. Cut down to the ground with the rest removed from sight. I wept. I saw the gardener a bit later working in the same area, putting down stones where the tree used to stand. I told him I missed the little tree and he said it had to come down because the roots were going to tear up the sidewalk.

I believe God’s grace comes to us in many ways in addition to the sacraments... through people, animals, landscapes... yes, even trees.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Why are Christians so Judgmental?!

Judgment + a good dose of hypocrisy = one of the top reasons folks are turned off from Christianity. “I love God; it’s those christians I can’t stomach!”

You don't have to go far in the search engines to hear the cries of atheists and other non-believers. I hear this type of criticism on a regular basis - in fact left the church for a time because of those same hypocrites. After all, the non-believer or disgruntled christian will tell you, didn’t Jesus say:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (St. Matthew 7)

And, while I might digress about the irony of using God’s Word to support the argument of one who denies Him, it’s a claim worth looking into - obviously- because it never seems to go away.

How is it that we become labeled as “judgmental” when all we’re doing is speaking the Truth, .... right? Didn’t Jesus also give us the Great Commission, telling us to spread the Gospel to all nations? Teaching others to obey and follow Jesus’ commandments? (St. Matthew 28) Didn’t Jesus say, “Go and sin no more...” was this casting judgment? Aren’t we to tell others the same?

How are the words of Christ reconciled to us? Where is the balance? As one who is innately opinionated, seeing things mostly in black & white, it’s no stretch to say that I’ve struggled with this dilemma my whole life. When someone I care about makes a poor decision, I have responded with indignation and judment, labeling it “righteous anger” ...just like Jesus casting out the money-changers from the Temple. Meanwhile neglecting to pluck the log from my own eye. It’s painful to admit my internal ugliness here, but who knows... maybe others struggle with the same thing.

At this season in my life, I’ve learned a few things: one, there is a difference between casting judgment and speaking truth and two, that difference involves love and humility. We can speak the Truth about the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ and Him crucified, without pointing a finger and damning others with vicious words and actions. In this way, I have sympathy for my fellow christians who cling to Jesus as fire insurance, rather than a blessed Redeemer and Father.

St. Paul states it so well in his epistle to the Church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 13) that we may have gifts of men and angels... we may have knowledge and understanding of deep mysteries ... we may give all we have to the poor and yet, without LOVE, we have absolutely nothing. If I give Truth to someone, without love, it is worth nothing. And so, what does it mean to love someone in this way?

Our Lady of Extreme Humility *

It means to speak with humility

to speak, understanding the commandments of God

to speak, acknowledging my sins

to speak because I have a desire for that person to know God

and finally, for me personally, it means to speak and then let it go with prayer...

I had only been attending our Orthodox church for a few months when, as I walked into worship late one Sunday, I realized immediately that we- the congregants- were being chastised by our priest. As I stood quietly in the narthex near the burning candles, you could hear a pin drop between father’s words. He was reprimanded us for immodest dress, bringing cell phones -and not turning them off- into worship, of walking down the aisles at times we should be still, among other things. I could feel my cheeks flush and my spirit subdued , something akin to that emotion of a child, being corrected by a loving parent.

Driving home that Sunday, I had time to think more on Fr. Scott’s words. This sort of thing never happened in my former Protestant church. I can only guess that some folks may have been appalled at such an instance... calling to mind an unrelated comment from an acquaintance, “well, if God can’t love me in my jeans and tank top in church, then He isn’t a God I want to worship anyway...” God looks at the heart, right?

God does look at our heart - yes. And our outward appearance and words testify to the state of our heart. The problem with my acquaintance’s comment is that she disregarded what God says about dressing modestly and appropriate for worship and took on the attitude of:

I am not budging; God can meet me right where I am.

If we were to meet the President of the United States, most of us would not show up in a bathing suit. It’s the same reason I don’t show up to photograph a wedding in a tube top and cut-off shorts. For some reason, though, the worship of our Lord has become, in some places, casual...relaxed... ho hum, irreverent and far from sacred. We are to give God our best, whatever that best may be.

Father’s admonishment was justified. He spoke the Truth to his flock with the love of God. We needed to hear his words; women needed to hear that low-cut dresses and mini-skirts were distracting (for do they understand the struggles of men?) and not appropriate for worship. I was stunned that day, but since then have come to regard this action as one of the greatest things about Orthodoxy. It had the same effect as my Trig teacher making me go to the board to work a problem in class. I learned it internally, not just superficially. The sacred worship of God was upheld here and that felt so liberating!

Love is key. Our life is a shining example to others, as St. John Chrysostom reminds us,

“There woud be no need for sermons, if our lives were shining; there would be no need for words, of we bore witness with our deeds. There would be no pagans, if we were true Christians.”

* This Russian icon of the Virgin Mary (the Theotokos) is very personal to me. It reminds me to seek the foot of the cross rather than a soapbox.

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