My Journey to the Way-Part 3-Hope

Hope – “This day you shall be with me in paradise.”  The grace of God is obviously not limited to those who have taken the Orthodox way of Chrismation, Baptism and the Eucharist.  The thief on the cross experienced none of these and yet Christ made this statement to him.  Christ looks on the heart. I suspect there are many hearts outside of Orthodoxy that belong to Christ.  He is a God of mercy and grace and He loves mankind. I believe that “He will keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.”

Father Timothy said there is disagreement within Orthodoxy on some of the issues.  They seem to be pretty laid back on many things, but strict on others.  I hope as I become more familiar with Orthodoxy that I can discern which ones are which.

Human nature is the same across the board in whatever church one belongs, and it takes a miracle to change human nature.  I am grateful to have observed the change that God can make in a person’s life.  I saw it  in my mother first of all.  She was not perfect, but instead of displaying bitterness and hate which she had many reasons to do so, instead, I remember hearing the sound of her voice  praying in her room. I knew that is how she survived.  I had great reason to follow her example many years later.

I see the difference in my thinking of my children when they choose the way of darkness over the way of light; the way of Christ over the way of self.  I see the struggle in them, and I hope I can always say of them, “at least they struggle.”

I see the wisdom of those in my life who have followed God and the difference they have made in the lives of others.  I know there is light in some, and darkness in others.  Some despair. Some have hope. Some live by the dictates of self. Some live by the dictates of God. And it is obvious. There is also a difference between those that are good, and those who are good because of the light of God in their lives. The difference is the reason, the motive, their philosophy of life. The light of God shines from their eyes.  They are happy, and they have peace.

One of the greatest disappointments I encountered as a teenager, was finding out that there were those in the church who did not truly follow Christ.  I define it as “the end of childhood.”  It is a transition that is more severe for some than for others.  However, one of the greatest joys I encountered as a teenager was finding out that there were those in the church who truly loved Christ and showed this by loving others. For instance, I was the oldest of 6 children, and we did not have much money, to say the least.  There were a couple of women from church who would take me shopping for shoes, or invite me along to see a play; take time  out of their day to notice me and take an interest in me. How great was the difference I saw back then between those who loved Christ by loving “the least of these,” and those who were more interested in image.

I believe with all my  heart that there are those in other denominations who have been regenerated by the life of Christ within them.  God meets us where we are.  He met the thief on the cross while He was on the Cross, so He meets us in our  pain, our place of misery and aloneness, because He has suffered as a man and sees fit to lift us up to dwell in Him.

What in the world would I have done as a child, with all I went through, had I not known Him?

So I am comforted.

“I know Whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.”



My Journey to the Way – part 2

Ok, so I have never had a beer, never had an alcohol drink really.  I sipped one once, but that was it.  Reason being, when I was a young teenager, an evangelist, named Bro. Maze Jackson, preached at our church about the evils of alcohol. His invitation at the end was for all the young people to come forward and make a vow to never have a drink of alcohol.  So I went forward and made the vow.  I have made a point of being faithful to that vow my whole life.

Last Monday night in our Orthodox class, Dale spoke about Pascha.   Apparently it is an all day affair on Holy Saturday, celebrating into the night and Sunday morning.  Rebecca mentioned that they celebrate and drink Vodka and other alcoholic drinks.  I don’t know what to make of this.  Doesn’t it loosen one’s inhibitions, making it more likely that one would do unwise things?  Also, is this required in the celebration?  And of course, what about my vow?

I have discovered that some look down on people who cross their legs in church, because it is considered disrespectful and lackadaisical.  Who knew?  Women can wear pants or a dress as long as it is modest. One should not chew gum in church. And it seems like I am picking up that one should fast on Sunday morning until he takes the Eucharist.  There are prayers that deliver one from the Evil Eye.  (kind of freaky).  The Evil Eye has its roots in paganism, but it is a feared thing by many Orthodox.

Chrismation involves removing one’s shoes and being anointed with oil on different parts of one’s body.  And you need a sponsor.  More to find out…

“Father Timothy, I made a vow when I was a teenager not to drink alcohol.  There is wine in the Eucharist and people will be celebrating with alcohol during Pascha.  I do not know what to do.”    He did not tell me to break the vow.  He told me that I was in a different situation now.  I acted on the information I had back then.  God would not hold me responsible for breaking a vow that would keep me from the Eucharist.  Common sense should prevail.  Whether or not I partook of the vodka on Holy Saturday night was up to me and my conscience.  Yeah, I guess so.

I asked him if going to confession is the only way I could know if my sins were forgiven.  He adamantly said, “not at all.”  That made me feel much better.  He explained how the process of confession works.  It is a public thing, but done in a corner at the front of the auditorium.  He will stand behind me while I confess softly.  He said no one will hear me.  He will not speak unless to guide my thoughts about confession, or confront an untruth.  Afterwards he will lay his (shawl?) on my head and absolve me from my sins.

I gather that the confession is to deal with sins that I regard in my heart and struggle with repeating them.  We cannot remember every sin.  Maybe it is the spirit of repentance that is important here. The Bible says,”A broken and a contrite heart I will not despise.”

We talked about baptism.  I remember being baptized as an 8-year-old sometime  after I went to the altar and asked Jesus into my heart.  Everything changed for me after that.  I knew God was with me. Had if not been for His love for me, I would have been destroyed as a young girl.

I was baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  So in that sense, it was a Trinitarian baptism.  However, Baptists are specifically named in a passage he read to me from a book that guides the practices of Orthodox, as being one the  groups that must be re-baptized  into the Orthodox Church.  That is ok.  I am willing, just in case it was not a valid baptism when I was young.

However,  the thing that bothers me is that in my reading I have discovered that unless  I was baptized by an Orthodox priest, I am not saved.  St John Chrysostom teaches that “without the existence and grace of the priesthood there is no baptism or Eucharist, and thus, according to the words of the Savior Himself, no salvation.”

Could anything be more devastating than to find out that a lifetime lived as a Christian who has done her best to abide in Christ and to do His will, taking refuge in Him in all crisis, is all a lie?  And in view of that, to have to wait a year to even take the Eucharist and thus be saved? What if I die before then?

Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God that works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”

That tells me that it was Him who  gave me the desire to please Him and live for Him.  Would God have given that to someone  who was not saved? I have walked with Him all my life.  Was it a delusion? Is this life in me not of God? Is this not the Christ?

…to be continued






Touching the Real

It has been at least 2 years, maybe more, since I have been to my daughter’s grave. Today, I felt the need to get in touch with something real, something true. Death is real; death is true. Thirty-four years ago, I said good-bye to a precious 2 year old little girl named Susie. And I cried today as if it was today. As I stooped down and brushed away the few strands of grass that had grown over the flat engraved stone, I wept. I wept because life is bigger than me. Accumulated pain is drowning me. It never gets any better.

Now at 57 years of age, I have more questions than I do answers. Where is the wisdom that is supposed to come with age?

Another cruel stone thrown with a vengeance on my life’s pile of painful stones has made them all come crashing down upon me again. It is a cascade of evil leading to destruction if it has its way, leaving nothing but questions in its path.
I thought if I prayed and lived a clean life, God would honor that. I thought if I was faithful to tithe and serve Him in the church, He would reciprocate. I thought if I put all my heart and soul into being a good parent, learning as much as I could about it, and putting it into practice with prayer, it would reap good things. I depended on His protection for my children. And yet, there was something I did not see that was happening to my children.

There is plenty of blame to be placed, but I blame myself for my blindness. Why did I not see what was happening? Why did I think that staying with their dad was better than leaving him? Why did I think the virtue of having a dad outweighed the detrimental influence of his emotional sickness and the evil in him? Why did the church teach that divorce was wrong across the board? How long will my children continue to pay for my stupidity, for the behavior of their father, and the negligence of the church?

More and more I find that I do not know what is real and what is unreal, what is true and what is not, what is right and what is wrong. The lines between the sacred and the secular have become more and more blurred as time goes on. We live in such an imperfect world that it seems ludicrous to suggest that there can be any values built upon it. If the foundation is wrong, there is no logic to anything rising from it. Anyone can justify and rationalize any behavior or way of thinking by only slightly tweaking the schematic. And who is to say they are wrong? Maybe they are right in their logic. Maybe I am the one who has hang ups.

But you know what? I have to get up out of bed every morning and make myself go to work and survive. Every breath I let out cries to be brought back in, and so I breathe again, wondering when that final breath might be, and how painful it will happen.
Life goes on and life finds a way. I don’t know how. I don’t know what to do with the irreconcilable differences between the holy and the unholy (if I can even tell the difference). Thank God this world is not my home. It is a veritable hell at times. I look for a better country and I seek the fellowship of a God Who loved me so much that He gave His Son to die for me. His Son has been born in me, and that is what keeps me going. Because He lives in me, I can face tomorrow.

In this confusing painful life, I know I have one steady thing on which I can always count and on which can always cling. That one Rock that is faithful, steady, and true. I had to feel something real today, so I knelt beside death. What is more real than death? Death means there is something real and true. Death is something to be reckoned with because it is real. It is going to happen to every one of us. And since death is real, it stands to reason there are other things that might be real. Life is real. Life and death. And Who has the words of eternal life?
And so once again, He is my strong habitation whereunto I continually resort. More than that, He is my Redeemer. No one else can take a bad situation and bring beauty from it. No one else can make beauty from ashes.

I need Him now more than I ever have. I feel the darkness of evil rising up to devour me and my children and grandchildren. I fall in desperation at the foot of His Cross. There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. In the cesspool of my sin, blindness, and mistakes, because I am helpless, I have only one recourse: to cry out from my slough of despond for Help.

We are fighting a spiritual battle with the demons of hell and the father of lies and the distorter of truth. I do not know how to fight, but I know I can pray to the One who promised He would hear me when I call.

A Response to an Article on Christian Fundamentalism

Some thoughts about this article:

Having been a close observer and participant in the evolving Christian fundamentalist movement, I feel there are several concerns we need to address.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church in North Carolina. Beside the standard hymns, it was distinctly southern gospel in its music. I do not recall the word “fundamentalist” being used until I moved to an independent Baptist church in Texas. I do, however, recall the reverence that ushered in the Sunday morning worship service. About 15 minutes before the service began, the organist would play sacred hymns as people came in quietly and took their seats without conversation. As a child, I absorbed the message that this was a place and a time where the congregation as a whole met with a holy and awesome God Who made a difference in what we believed and how we lived. Even as children, we knew better than to disrupt the service with leaving to go to the bathroom, whispering, wiggling, or reading anything other than the Bible. We learned to respect this place and this time in a way reminiscent of the way the Children of Israel respected the shekinah glory of God in the tabernacle. We saw sinners saved and saints surrender. And in the small community we saw the same people that filled the altar at church live out what they believed in the way they treated others and avoided sin. I thank God for that kind of foundation that grounded me through many trials later on.

As I grew up, I encountered the world of fundamentalism. I had mistakenly thought that the people that looked holy were holy. However, one of the hardest things about growing up is that people you looked up to were not who you thought they were. They had all the holy trimmings, but inside they were hiding evil thoughts and motives that resulted in a double life. They were not changed inside. They adopted the legalistic lifestyle that allowed them prestige and power without the clean hands and pure hearts. These were the cultural fundamentalists. These were the ones who believed women should not wear pants, and that men should not have long hair. These were the ones who thought a rock beat was a sin and dance was evil. These were the ones who “beat” their wives into submission and in their greed for lust, money, and power, they gave absolute power to the bully pulpit.

These were also the ones who cheated on their wives, committed incest, and abused their children. These were the oppressors of women and children. These were the ones that made the rules without the relationships. They thought what they looked like on the outside and what they stood against won them brownie points with God, but there was no godly authenticity here. These were the ones who chased away the children and stripped their wives of dignity and respect, while they played games of one-up-man-ship with those to whom they felt superior.

Is it any wonder that the pendulum swung entirely the opposite way in the church? Is it any wonder that the young people left the legalistic church in droves? And the only way they were persuaded to reenter the doors of the church was with the party atmosphere of pizza and rock music that offered them something their fundamentalist parents and church did not; a feeling of love, belonging, and acceptance. This was an atmosphere far from the one they had left that had offered them a god that carried a big stick and conditional love.

I understand this. I have swung with the pendulum back and forth many times. The pendulum still swings a bit for me, but for different reasons. I am searching still for a place to belong, not so much in the sense of needing acceptance, but in congregational worship that brings back that sense of entering into a place and time where a holy and awesome God still makes a difference in they way people believe and live.

I am wary of pastors who forget as Charles Swindoll says, that a sermon is “not the performance of an hour, but the outflow of a life.” And this life is not one that is characterized by what you are against, but how you love.

Love. Is there anything more complicated and yet so simple? Love is involved in the way we treat others. God’s love treats people with respect and compassion. Human love treats people as objects to be used. God’s love is a holy love. Human love is feigned, flawed, and tolerant of evil. God’s love holds people accountable for their own good. Human love is about what makes people feel good.

So the search continues. While I appreciate the reasons others want the hype and excitement of the upbeat contemporary Christian rock music, I am past that. I have encountered God that makes me want to bow in His presence and acknowledge that I am nothing and He is everything. I need to meet Him on Sunday morning as I meet Him on Monday morning; as a needy sinner who can do nothing without Him. I want to be reminded that He is a majestic, marvelous, awesome God who deserves reverence and respect; one Who the angels stand before singing “holy, holy, holy,” an “immortal invisible God only wise.” We tremble in His presence and are brought into deep settled joy at the realization of His great mercy and marvelous grace. We celebrate from the heart, an inward rejoicing that displays a gladness not distracted by the pressure of how much I sway or how often I put my hands in the air so I can be pegged as spiritual.
Peer pressure meets us at every turn and in every environment, secular and sacred. When we stand before God, we stand alone, and we will give an account for the way we lived, the way we loved, and the way we worshipped.

The Grooming of Americans… by the Church?

How did we as freedom loving Americans get to place where we would choose an authoritarian president who is a threat to our liberty?  It amuses me that the hippies who loudly rebelled against the establishment and authoritarianism are behind this man.  Every week the administration creates dozens of new rules and regulations, encroaches upon religious freedom, and mandates new taxes. Here is a president who thinks he can get away with murder by expressing outrage in order to silence his accusers. Added to this, he has solicited the help of the media in helping him get away with murder, blackmail, and at least the suspicion of possibly supplying arms to al-Qaeda.  What is outrageous is the hubris and arrogance of this president and his bully pulpit.

Why have we accepted this “touch not my anointed” concept toward the president? Could it be that people closely associated with him are afraid of losing their jobs and committing political suicide?  Or do they really believe that he holds the answers this country needs?  Perhaps we the people have been groomed to look for a demigod to worship.

Where did we get this idea?  I submit that the American church is partially responsible in grooming us to accept this unquestioning allegiance to a dictator.

One of the first stories I learned as a child was the Bible story about some children who were calling an Old Testament prophet names and making fun of his bald head.  The prophet told them that they would be destroyed and a bear came out of the wood and ate them.  This story was especially recited by the authoritarian pastor who had “divine unction” to run the church the way he wanted. Sure he had deacons, but they had been pounded over the head with this story also as well as the
“touch not My anointed” biblical phrase until they became yes men.  They did not want to be known as going against “God’s man.”  As a result, the pastor was put on a pedestal willingly or unwillingly by people who had been taught this all of their lives.  They thought this was how it was supposed to be.  They thought this was the way God wanted it to be.

I don’t know much about church government, but I highly suspect that the government of one head pastor for a congregation is neither wise nor entirely biblical.  You ask an average church member who keeps the pastor accountable and they will say, as they have been groomed to say, “God does.”

I have learned and observed in others that one of the main things we need in this life is accountability.  I need it, and so does everyone else.  Without it we grow lazy, unlikely to accomplish anything, and very likely to degenerate morally.  Knowing this, as laymen, we voluntarily submit ourselves to those structures that keep us accountable.  We attend church, we join a life-group or Sunday School class. We make good friends.  We become members of upright organizations.  We even encourage others to ask us the tough questions.  Without all this, it is a “Slow Fade” as the song says.  We go our own way, stumble, and fall.  The value of accountability cannot be overstated.

Ok.  Who keeps the pastor accountable?  To whom does he submit for accountability?  God? Does not God give us structures like those mentioned above to keep us accountable?  Is this not also the way the pastor becomes accountable?  If he answers to no man, then does he hear God’s voice in a way that his people do not?  Does he have a divine connection that is denied to his people?  Or is he rejecting the accountability available to him?

We have been groomed in America to accept an unaccountable authoritarian demigod president in part because for years we have set up little religious kingdoms across America who unquestioningly accept a man in a bully pulpit as having a divine mandate.

Power corrupts.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  This is a proven principle.  The man or woman does not exist who can be uncorrupted by absolute power without the building the structure of accountability around him or her.  One only has to look at the long line of fallen leaders, religious, secular, and political to understand this.

It is up to the people to hold our leaders accountable and to insist that they accept the counsel, yea even ask for it from those around them who are knowledgeable in the pertinent fields.  It is also up to us to demand answers when questions arise and integrity seems compromised.

Of course how can we hold others accountable unless we submit to it ourselves.  We generally vote our lifestyles, and perhaps that is a large part of the problem.  If we don’t want accountability, it makes pleasant company to elect those who do not want it.  We must have integrity in order to demand it from others.  It behooves us then to take care of both obligations.  The future of our churches are at stake as well as the future of our country.