Thursday, September 22, 2016

Spiitual Gifts

Your Spiritual Gifts
from Elmer TownsGift Score
exhorter 84
mercy shower 82
shepherd 74
helper 63
administrator 62
teacher 52
prophet 52
evangelist 29
giver 17

Your two highest gifts (gift mix)

EXHORTER: That special ability to find and communicate to others practical ways of serving God. The exhorter is a positive motivator, knowing practical Christianity will change the lives of others (Rom. 12:8; I Timothy. 4:13; Heb. 10:25).

MERCY SHOWER: That special ability to empathize with those in distress to give spiritual comfort and support. The mercy shower ministers by identifying with those in distress and comes alongside to lead them to wholeness (Rom. 12:8; Matt. 9:36).

What does your profile mean?

1. The higher your score in an area (i.e., score 75 to 100), the more gifted you are in that gift.
2. Remember that lay people tend to have lower scores than full-time workers.
3. Don't be discouraged by a low score and don't give up your attempt to use that gift. You can grow in any ability or spiritual gift.
4. Watch for two or three highest gifts. Compare these strengths (called your "gift mix") to see how they work together. As an illustration, strength as a shepherd (group leader) and strength as a teacher, means you will lead a group by teaching.
5. Concentrate on our strengths in serving Christ, not your weaknesses. Total Christian service will strengthen weak gifts, but don't focus all your energies on them.



Spiritual Gifts
Evangelism 9
Prophecy 15
Teaching 17
Exhortation 17
Pastor/Shepherd 18
Showing Mercy 17
Serving 13
Giving 8
Administration 17

About Your Spiritual GiftsSpiritual gifts are tools God gives Christians to do the work of the ministry -- to fulfill the Great Commission to reach, baptize, and teach and to minister to one another. Every Christian receives at least one gift at the moment of salvation. Spiritual gifts are not rewards, are not natural talents, are not a place of service, are not an age-group ministry, and are not a specialty ministry. They express themselves through various ministries which, in turn, accomplish a variety of results. A spiritual gift is the primary channel by which the Holy Spirit ministers through the believer. It is a supernatural capacity for service to God -- and He gives you a supernatural desire to perform the duties of that gift. Spiritual gifts are tools for building the church. They are a source of joy in your Christian life and influence your motives. A spiritual gift is a divine calling with a divine responsibility, because what God has gifted you to do, He has called you to do, and what He has called you to do, He has gifted you to do.

There are three categories of gifts: The Miraculous Gifts, generally known today as Charismatic Gifts; the Enabling Gifts which all Christians have the ability to develop (faith, discernment, wisdom, and knowledge -- qualities possessed rather than activities performed); and Team Gifts which are activity, service, or task-oriented. The Team Gifts are functional and involve speaking or ministering. Chances are, you have several of these gifts that vary in different degrees and intensity. In many cases, spiritual gifts even complement your secular employment. The Spiritual Gifts Analysis you took identified your dominant TEAM GIFTS which will help you find your place on the team in your church. Prayer and serving God will also help you see where God wants you. This profile gives you a simple bar graph showing how all the gifts relate to you and to each other, but analyzes indepth only your dominant and secondary gifts which are the ones that will have greater influence in your life.

Your dominant gifts are Pastor/Shepherd, Teaching, Showing Mercy

The results of your Spiritual Gifts Inventory indicate that your number one dominant gift is PASTORING/SHEPHERDING!
The Greek word "poimen" means pastor. In Paul's spiritual gifts listing in Ephesians 4:11, this term is translated "pastor." Although the word "poimen" is translated pastor only one time in Scripture it is used sixteen additional times. The remaining sixteen are all translated "shepherd." Therefore, we are actually discussing the GIFT of shepherding, not the POSITION of pastor. Though a good pastor must have the gift of shepherding, everyone who has the gift of shepherding is not called to be pastor. The gift can be used in many positions in a church.

As a gifted shepherd, you have the Spirit-given capacity and desire to serve God by overseeing, training, and caring for the needs of a group of Christians. You are usually very patient, people-centered, and willing to spend time in prayer for others. You tend to be a "Jack of All and Master of ONE," meaning you are usually dominant in one of the speaking gifts (evangelist, prophet, teacher, exhorter) as well. You are often authoritative, more a leader than a follower, and expressive, composed, and sensitive. Your pleasing personality draws people to you.

You have a burden to see others learn and grow and are protective of those under your care. You want to present the whole Word of God and do not like to present the same materials more than once. You are willing to study what is necessary to feed your group and are more relationship oriented than task oriented. You are a peace-maker and diplomat - very tolerant of people's weaknesses. You tend to remember people's names and faces. You are more concerned with doing for others than others doing for you. You are faithful and devoted and may become a workaholic. You can become an all-purpose person in order to meet needs.

People with the gift of shepherding make the best Sunday school teachers and group leaders because their desire is to go beyond just teaching or leading, to shepherd and minister to the daily needs of their students. The position of Sunday school teacher or group leader is an extension of the pastoral ministry in the church. These groups should be shepherded on a small scale the same as the pastor shepherds the whole congregation on a large scale.

Be careful to involve other people; don't try to do it all yourself. Work on making people accountable. Do not be overly protective of your "flock." Because of these potentially weak areas, other people may think it is your job to do all the work; they rely too heavily on you. You may be expected to be available at all times, know all the answers, and be at every function. Learn when to say no.

Beware of Satan's attack on your gift. He will cause discouragement when the load gets heavy, and pride because your "sheep" look up to you. You may develop family problems because of too little time and attention. You may become selfish when "sheep" feed in other pastures.

HOW CAN YOU USE YOUR GIFT? This gift is a great help in many areas. You may serve as a Sunday school teacher, small group leader, pastor or assistant pastor, bus captain, special ministry leader (such as youth, children, men, etc.), nursery worker or as a half-way house or other type shelter volunteer. You may consider serving as a dormitory leader in a college, orphanage, children's home, etc. Scout troops would appreciate your assistance as a den leader.

The results of your Spiritual Gifts Inventory indicate that your second dominant gift is TEACHING!
The Greek word for teacher "didaskalos" means master, teacher or doctor. As a teacher you are one who communicates knowledge, guides, makes known or relays facts. You are likely more in-depth than the average Sunday school teacher. You have the Spirit-given capacity and desire to serve God by making clear the truth of God's Word with accuracy.

As a teacher you live to learn and teach (or perhaps write if you teach through the written medium). You should learn to teach in two manners which may be contrary to your nature. The material must be simple so students can understand it, and it must be practical. The pastor/shepherd, the prophet, and the exhorter (those with speaking gifts) usually rely on your resources to help fulfill their responsibilities.

You love the Word, enjoy reading, may be a little shy of strangers, are creative and imaginative, and prefer teaching groups over individuals. You are generally confident, self-disciplined, and sometimes technical. You probably love charts, graphs, and lists. You would sometimes rather just do research, but "must teach" because others would not teach it the way you would. The use of a verse out of context upsets you and you question the knowledge of those who teach you. You are organized and enjoy studying. You are so concerned with accuracy that you often dwell on the trivial, giving others the feeling that you give too many details. Some may even think you are boring.

Be careful that you are not critical of people who differ with your doctrine and that you do not measure other people's spirituality by their amount of Bible knowledge. Be willing to listen as well as talk. Don't hesitate to read directions and work on developing tolerance for others' mistakes.

If you score high in the gift of teaching and very low in the gift of shepherding, you probably won't make a good Sunday school teacher or group leader. Your tendency will be to relay knowledge and not shepherd or minister to the other needs of your students. People who use the gift of teaching in vocational service usually become teachers of teachers, professors, authors, or in-depth researchers.

HOW CAN YOU USE YOUR DOMINANT GIFT? You do not necessarily have to teach the Bible to be a help to the church ministry. Although you can help with interpretation or teaching teachers and others, you may teach in areas such as education, business, finance, or computers. You may enjoy writing and developing curriculum. You would probably serve well as a Bible institute teacher or a correspondence course instructor. Your gift also lends itself to the mission field where you could serve as a missionary/teacher. You may want to teach a basic doctrine course to newcomers or new Christians or host quarterly small group studies on different topics. You may enjoy doing research for the pastor or others who teach.

The results of your Spiritual Gifts Inventory indicate that your second dominant gift is MERCY SHOWING!
The Greek word "ellco" means to feel sympathy with or for others. As a mercy-shower you have the Spirit-given capacity and desire to serve God by identifying with and comforting those who are in distress. You understand and comfort your fellow Christian. You enter into the grief or happiness of others and have the ability to show empathy which is to feel WITH others, not just for others.

As a mercy-shower you are willing to deal with and minister to people who have needs that most people feel very uncomfortable working with. You seem to say the right thing at the right time. Your personality is likely one of soft-spoken love. It hurts you to scold someone; you are very non-condemning. People love you because of all the love you give them. You find it easy to express yourself and are outgoing with a low-key, inoffensive personality. You are easy to talk to, responsive to people, a good listener, peaceable, and agreeable. You tend to make decisions based on feelings more than fact and like to think about things for a while before making a decision.

In your burden to comfort others, your heart goes out to the poor, the aged, the ill, the underprivileged, and so on. You tend to attract people who are hurting or rejoicing because you identify with them. Be careful not to let others use you. Try not to resent others who are not as understanding as you. Refrain from becoming a gossiper when you are around other mercy-showers. Do not let your circumstances control you. Because of your supernatural ability to show mercy, others accuse you of taking up for people, being a softy and a compromiser. They may think you are too emotional.

Mercy-showers make excellent counselors. However, left untrained, you may destroy yourself by your tendency to take people's problems home with you. Your empathy can become detrimental without personal training on how to deal with it.

Beware of Satan's attack on your gift. He can cause pride because of your ability to relate to others. He may influence you to disregard rules and authority. You may experience a lack of discipline because of strong feeling for those who hurt due to disobedience and sin. Don't fall into Satan's trap of complaining and griping.

HOW CAN YOU USE YOUR GIFT? Your gift is used best in times of sorrow and in times of great joy. It fits well with another gift of service such as deacon, youth worker or hospital visitation. With a counseling course, you could become a good counselor. You may serve as a hospital, nursing home, or shut-in worker; a funeral coordinator and provider of sympathy and support; or a poverty center worker. You would do well as an usher or greeter and welcome center worker or hospitality person. You may want to work in a telephone ministry. You would make people feel welcome on a newcomer visitation team. Other appropriate ministry areas include missions, committee member, furlough assistance, and correspondence helper. You would work well with the elderly and with people who have mental and physical disabilities, in nursing, and with special ministries to migrants, released offenders or abused children and women.

Building an effective team in your church depends on putting the right people in the right places. The best way to determine what place each person belongs in is by determine everyone's spiritual gifts. But, just discovering your spiritual gift is not enough.

Here's the real challenge. Many Christians are asking the question, "What is my spiritual gift?" When in reality they need to be asking, "What is a spiritual gift?" They do not understand the relationships of spiritual gifts. That is, they don't understand how a spiritual gift relates to their life, how it relates to the will of God for their life, how it relates to the lives of those around them, how it relates the local church, or how it relates to the body of Christ as a whole. To give John J. Christian an additional name and make him John J. Exhorter Christian is only doing him an injustice. Having a new name or title does not make you a more effective, more fulfilled, or a better Christian, nor does it give you any more understanding of yourself or those around you. Most contemporary material written on spiritual gifts does an adequate job in helping you recognize, discover, and define what your spiritual gifts are. Also, many do a fine job of teaching on the individual parts of the body, but few complete their teaching by assembling the body, thus showing how church members can work as complementing, effective, and efficient team. Thus, teaching a person only what their spiritual gift is without teaching them what a spiritual gift is, is like giving someone a new tool without giving them the operator's manual. They will never understand it fully nor will they be able to use it to its maximum potential. The same is true with your spiritual gifts.

Now that you have taken this inventory and know what your spiritual gifts are, we encourage you to study the principles that revolve around and relate to spiritual gifts. These principles combined with recognizing your gifts have been proven to dramatically change lives AND build churches. We have many resources available to help you better understand your gifts and how they relate to all areas of your life. Plus, we have resources to equip and assist you in teaching spiritual gifts and biblical team building to others. Furthermore, we have teachers who can come to your church and teach private seminars for you group. For additional information on resources or seminars just click on the appropriate button below.

How do you compare with the rest of the Body of Christ?
LaityMost dominant gifts of 578,405 people surveyed
Evangelism 3.38%
Prophecy 1.53%
Teaching 8.27%
Exhortation 9.72%
Pastor/Shepherd 19.55%
Showing Mercy 32.34%
Serving 5.90%
Giving 2.62%
Administration 16.69%

Most dominant gifts of 82,771 people surveyed
Evangelism 5.02%
Prophecy 1.77%
Teaching 10.18%
Exhortation 6.78%
Pastor/Shepherd 32.77%
Showing Mercy 16.89%
Serving 3.10%
Giving 1.40%
Administration 22.09%

Analysis of Comparison Charts
Could the results from these comparison charts be skewed? Probably to some degree. Two factors to consider are 1) Results are not compiled from the Christian public at large but only those who are Internet users. 2) On the laity side, a much larger percentage of those taking the spiritual gifts inventory on-line are women (63.7%). Women tend to score high in the Gift of Shepherding because the characteristics of the gift of shepherding are very similar to the God-given instincts of mothering which comes natural to most women. Although many women have the gift of shepherding and it manifests itself in many areas of service, we believe women should consider this factor when evaluating whether or not they actually have the dominant gift of shepherding. They may want to also look closely at their second dominant gift.
Click here to see how it works

Clarify how your gifts affect your life and those around you

Help others identify their spiritual gifts

Group Databases

Option One
Clarify how your gifts affect your life and those around you...

Download a copy of the newly revised and updated text Team Ministry: How to Find Meaning and Fulfillment through Understanding the Spiritual Gift within You. This book goes beyond helping you identify your gifts (which you just did), to help you understand how your spiritual gifts influence and relate to the many areas of your life…to God's will, to those around you, to the local church, to the Body of Christ, and to your passions. You’ll understand how they influence your perspective in which you view the world around you, and, most important, why you are a vital part of your church’s team. (To view Table of Contents and Introduction Click Here.)

For more information or to order the downloadable text Click Here

The original printed Team Ministry text is still available. It contains the same basic information but in a little different format than the revised online version.

For more information or to order the Team Ministry printed text Click Here

Option Two
Help others identify their spiritual gifts...

Four Tools to assist you...

1. PowerPoint Presentation: This 286-slide presentation gives the class facilitator the perfect visual tool to lead a small or large group. Follows the Participant Guide (below) and Team Ministry downloadable text. Works for an eight-week class or a four-hour seminar. Leaders should acquire a download of the updated Team Ministry: How to Find Meaning and Fulfillment through Understanding the Spiritual Gift Within You text and be familiar with it before teaching. All participants should complete the Team Ministry Spiritual Gifts Inventory, either the printed version ( Item 401S) or the online version ( before or during the class. (To view sample slides Click Here.)

For more information or to order the PowerPoint Presentation Click Here

2. Follow-Along Guide for Participants: This 16-page, fill-in-the-blank guide follows the PowerPoint presentation and the downloadable text. Additional pages provide fill-in answers for facilitator. Reproducible. Download in PDF format. (To view contents and sample page Click Here.)

For more information or to order the Participant Guide Click Here

3. Printed Team Ministry Spiritual Gifts Inventories with their self-scoring, carbonless answer sheets, are available in English, Spanish, Korean, and English Youth versions. A children’s variation, God’s Special Gifts for Me, is also available.

For more information or to order printed inventories Click Here

4. Team Ministry Resource Packet: The Spiritual Gifts Inventory was born out of the Team Ministry Resource Packet which includes the printed textbook, the inventory, a student workbook, promotional material, lessons, transparency masters, and much more information--most is reproducible--to help implement a spiritual-gifts-based Team Ministry within the local church. The perfect resource for leaders who want to involve laypeople in the work of the ministry, helping them find where they can best serve according to their spiritual gifts, interests, passions, and abilities. All resource packet materials follow the printed textbook Team Ministry: How to Find Meaning and Fulfillment through Understanding the Spiritual Gift within You (#405K). (To view contents for Implementation and Teacher's Manuals, Click Here.)

For more information or to order the Team Ministry Resource Packet Click Here

Option Three
Group Databases

Group Spiritual Gifts Database: Add a special link to your website and have the members of your church or group complete the Spiritual Gifts Analysis online. They’ll get an instant personalized report, you can choose to receive an e-mailed copy of their results, plus we’ll save all the data so you download it for your personal evaluation, education, and ministry placement. You can also manually add results from the printed Spiritual Gifts Inventories and print personalized analysis reports for each member while adding their results to your group’s database. (For a sample copy of the reports you will receive Click Here.)

For more information or to order a Group Spiritual Gifts Database Click Here

More Team Ministry Discovery Tools
Inventory Sample Packet

The Inventory Sample Packet contains 8 different self-discovery inventories! If you are curious to know about the inventories available from Church Growth Institute and want to try them yourself before you order for your staff or congregation, of if you just want inventories for personal use, then you'll want to order this sample pack. Includes Team Ministry Spiritual Gifts Inventory (Adult English), Youth Spiritual Gifts Inventory, God's Special Gifts for Me, Leadership/Management Inventory, Team Decision-Making Inventory, L-E-A-D Personality Inventory, Marriage Communication Assessment and Spiritual Growth Survey. Each includes instructions, questionnaire, and answer sheet.

For more information or to order a Sample Inventory Packet Click Here
For more information on or to order a specific inventory, click on its image below.

Spiritual-Gift-Based Outreach
Team Evangelism Text

This 160-page book presents a no-guilt, no-pressing-for-decision strategy that allows you to use your own gifts while influencing others for Christ. Text: Team Evangelism: How to Influence Your Loved Ones for Christ When You Don't Have the Gift of Evangelism. (To view the contents and preface Click Here.)

For more information or to order the Team Evangelism Text Click Here

Team Evangelism Resource Packet

Here's the right tool for teaching and implementing spiritual-gifts-based outreach in your church or group. This resource packet includes a textbook, a student workbook, transparency masters, promotional materials. Most of it is reproducible for nonprofit use in your ministry. The TEAM Evangelism Resource Packet is the perfect tool for helping Christians–whether or not they are gifted evangelists–reach out to those they care about with the gospel. (To view contents for Implementation and Teacher's Manuals, Click Here.)

For more information or to order the Team Evangelism Resource Packet Click Here

Send us your comments: We encourage your comments about the Team Ministry Spiritual Gifts Analysis or any of Church Growth Institute's products or services. However, we are sorry that we do not have adequate staff to answer questions about spiritual gifts. We recommend you purchase a copy of the text How to Find Meaning and Fulfillment through Understanding the Spiritual Gift within You. Our experience shows that it answers about 99% of the questions being asked. Thank you!
Help us continue to make this service free of charge. If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to this ministry to help with the expenses of this free service, Click Here.


Choir Director Report to the General Parish Meeting 2016

Choir Director Report 2016

Every year, I give a report. In these reports, I try to explain what the choir does, and why, and the role of music in our worship. I always give thanks for the year past and those who have helped in this awesome ministry of choir director. Thank you to my right hand woman, Xenia Pollard, without whom my ministry as choir director would be more difficult; thank you to Kat Broberg and Abby Eller for jumping into the breach when I was absent; thank you to all the singers and readers for your faithfulness to your ministry, and for putting up with me. As the late, lamented Joan McMillan used to say when I would tell the choir to watch my direction, “It's always all about you, Denise, isn't it?” and we would laugh. There is a bit of truth to that, because there can be only one person at a time directing a choir.

However, this year is different.  This year I'm looking ahead.  This year, I am asking some questions for every one of us to think about, whether we sing in the choir, sing in the nave, or don't sing at all.  These are questions for every person, young and old.

What would you do if the Queen of England invited you to dinner? Would you respond yes or no? If no, would you send your regrets, maybe a brief explanation as to why, and express the hope that you would be invited again? Would you get ready for the big event in some way?  Maybe get a haircut, a new lipstick? Would you put the date on your calendar to be sure you didn't forget? Would you ask for time off from your employer, or make arrangements with your school so that you could attend this amazing event?  On the day, would you dress in your best? Would you arrive early or late? Would you be excited? I would, for sure, because I admire her. Once there, would you be on your best behavior, try to remember the rules of courtesy that your mother taught you? Would you eat whatever they served and be thankful to just be there? Would you be picky and refuse the chef created dishes? Once there, if she wanted to talk with you, would you listen? Would you respond?  If she asked you to do something, would you say yes or no? Would you do your best to do whatever she asked? If she invited you again, would you go, or would once be enough?  Would you appreciate the beautiful surroundings? The golden place settings? The candles? The beautiful and historical paintings?

My friends, God invites you to dinner every week. God invites you to vespers on Saturdays.  God invites you to vespers and liturgy for the 12 major feast days.  God invites you to Holy Week. God invites you. Is your response to God's invitation different than your response to the Queen?  God invites you to participate in the life of His church. God invites you to build up his church here in Rincon.  God invites you to love each other and to form a family, and to forgive each other everything. God invites every member of the family, young and old – every member – to do their part.

I have, in previous years, talked about how music is integral to our worship, so I will not do so again today.  You know exactly what I would say already, because I've said it before.  This year, we lost half our choir due to moves of various sorts, and within the next year, will lose three more.  I think most people know that two choir members are contemplating retirement within the next year or two, and I am one of them. The choir is in a state of flux, as sometimes happens when a parish has been around for a long time.

The choir needs your support.  If you sing, please sing in the choir. If you have never sung, but would like to try, please sing in the choir. For prospective choir members and current choir members, we must  rehearse regularly. Without rehearsals, we are not offering our best to God and our fellow parishioners; instead, we are offering leftover crumbs.  Singing in the choir is a commitment of three rehearsals a month, two vespers a month, and four liturgies a month, maximum.

The other need that the choir has is simply this: we need someone to step up to the plate and learn to direct. Directing is more than giving pitches and waving your arms around.  I would say that it takes about three years to become a good director.  In three years, Fr. James will have most likely retired and moved to Hawaii, I will have retired and may possibly have moved to wherever my daughter is, Xenia will have retired and moved to where her son is. The teens currently in our choir will most likely be in college or moving on with their lives. Which of you present in this room will serve God and your church in this way? Which of you is willing to learn?

Now, there is a lot of work involved in keeping our church open, and there are few laborers.  Look around. These are the workers. There is no one else to do the work. Yes, we are all busy with our jobs, family and other things. Yes, we all deserve, and need, some down time to relax and not do work, even if it is the work of the church. We are all in exactly the same boat.

Singing in the choir, or directing the choir does require some specialized knowledge and skill, so you may be thinking that you have an awful voice so you just can't sing and you are off the hook. I want to tell you, from my personal experience, that singing is a skill that can be learned. It's a muscle that needs training and exercise.

I was an awful singer. My voice sounded like it was muffled by a pillow and I had a range of maybe 5 notes. I never got chosen for choir at school. At Girl Scouts, I was actually asked to not sing around the campfire.  Seriously! When I was a newlywed, my husband had a good voice and he got drafted into Church of the Redeemer (Antiochian) choir, and I wanted to be near him, so I attended choir rehearsals every single week, but I didn't sing, I sat in the audience and did needlepoint. After a while, the choir director, Joe Baba, told me to sit with the altos because the needlepoint thing was getting on his nerves.   Imagine that !  I got on someone's nerves!  I could read music already, but it really wasn't necessary – I just had to follow along. I learned by following along.

After a year of singing at three services a week, I had a range of an octave: 8 notes! I was a decent alto!  Who knew? The choir invested in voice lessons for a year, and I learned a lot. My friend and I split a voice lesson once a week and I learned a lot more, and suddenly, I had a range of two octaves!  Over three years, I went from nonsinger, to pretty decent singer!  

The patron saint of choir singers is St. Romanos the Melodist. He wrote many hymns that we still sing today, including most of what is sung at Christmas. History tells us that he would stand on the kliros and when he would chant, his voice was so awful that the worshippers threw rotten fruit at him. Really! He dreamt of the Theotokos who gifted him with a beautiful voice. When he sang on Christmas everyone was amazed at the beauty of the hymns which poured out of him.  Now, I am no St. Romanos, and probably you aren't either.  But singing in church is truly to pray twice. Singing encourages a deep participation in the Liturgy. Singing the beautiful words set to beautiful music, instead of only listening to them, is edifying and soul stirring.  Choir members will tell you that at some point in every service, I am deeply moved spiritually, and they are, too.

Brothers and sisters, this could be YOU. You could open up a whole new world of participation in worship and in the life of the church.  This could be you.

Your choir needs you.  Your choir needs you now, while there is still time to teach you what you need to know.  Like Father James has said so many times, this is YOUR church, not his. It's not mine either. It's yours. The future will be here in the blink of an eye.  Will we be ready?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Piano, by Patrick Phillips

by Patrick Phillips

Touched by your goodness, I am like
that grand piano we found one night on Willoughby
that someone had smashed and somehow
heaved through an open window.

And you might think by this I mean I'm broken
or abandoned, or unloved. Truth is, I don't 
know exactly what I am, any more
than the wreckage in the alley knows
it's a piano, filling with trash and yellow leaves.

Maybe I'm all that's left of what I was.
But touching me, I know, you are the good
breeze blowing across its rusted strings.

What would you call that feeling when the wood,
even with its cracked harp, starts to sing? 

"Piano" by Patrick Phillips, from Boy. © The University of Georgia Press, 2008.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Lenten Failure

Again, I am failing at Lent 101.  Does the choir director attend all the services? No. Does the choir director attend most of the services? No. The choir director missed every service except Sunday liturgies, Saturday vespers (when they are held in my parish), and one Presanctified Liturgy. My excuse is that I work so many hours, which is true, and that the traffic is so awful that by the time I get out of work, there is no way I can get to the weeknight services, which is also true.  Have I fasted from meat, poultry and dairy? Not every day, not every category. Fail.  Have I given alms? Nope. I passed by two beggars yesterday alone. Fail.  How am I coming with my plan to read the Ladder this year?  Zero pages read. Fail. How about my plan to do some iconography. Zero iconography accomplished. Fail.  How about my plan to maintain my home in some sort of order so that I can devote more time to spiritual pursuits? Fail. Messy and dirty house, messy and dirty soul. How about my plan to pray more, obsess less, be kinder, maintain serenity, achieve balance? Fail FAIL FAIL FAIL.

As I look ahead to Pascha, I know that I will be absent from my parish from the last Sunday of Lent until Holy Wednesday, as I visit my daughter to assist her during her recuperation from major surgery. As the choir director, that means I must ensure that all the rehearsing must be completed before I leave.  Must make a definite plan on how to accomplish that.  I must also ensure that the Bridegroom, Holy Thursday Vesperal Liturgy and Holy Friday Matins books are set up properly before I leave.  I can deal with other books and music when I get home if I don't get it accomplished prior to my leave.

I must also complete the two processional icons for Neil so that his son has a couple of weeks to fashion the poles to carry them prior to Pascha. One is nearly finished, the other not so much.

I must figure out what I'm taking to SF, what will be in the carry on, what food I will take (hate airport food), etc. There is no tv at her house, so I will need handwork (knitting), fully loaded kindle, extra cords, etc.  Must ensure there is plenty of the bison food, eyedrops, benadryl, lotion, etc for Poochie while he stays with Cindy, and plenty of kibble for the cats while I'm gone. Must eat up all the perishables from the fridge.  Must prepare for Paschal food preparation before I leave, or there will not be any kulich or pascha cheese.

I want to find time to do an egg - last year I didn't do any pysanky, and it was the first time in a very long time that happened.

Not enough time for all this. Not enough strength. Too much back and knee pain. Too many hours spent writing decisions off the clock just to maintain. Too much housework created by four shedding and furball vomiting cats and one blind and incontinent dog. Too much. I'm overwhelmed.

It occurs to me that this is exactly what Lent is supposed to be. It is supposed to be a coming to myself, the real self, the self that God created me to be. I cannot do all of this. It is impossible, but what is possible, is for me to be humbled and to gain insight into my own sinful laziness and desire to operate exclusively under my own steam. The old sin of pride in my own competence has gotten me into this pickle, and it simply cannot get me out. Maybe this perfect storm of duties, responsibilities and desires is God's way of giving me a good shake and saying, "DUMBKOFF! WAKE UP! I AM RIGHT HERE AND WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU! LET ME HELP YOU!"

Ya, maybe I should do that.  But how?  It is excruciating when I consider not planning ahead to get necessary things done, and I don't think that is what is meant when they say, Let go and let God.  Maybe it means to do my best and not worry about the rest. Maybe it means to prioritize the most important things, let the rest fall by the wayside, and not beat myself up about what does not get done. Maybe it means to eliminate from the to do list all things which touch on my pride.

As I get older, I realize more and more that I just don't have a good handle on this thing called life, but I do know who does. He doesn't speak to me in ways that I can understand clearly. And maybe that is the highest priority item that I need to work on this Lent.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Life, Pro Life and Pro Lifers

I've been forced to think more closely about what it means to be pro life recently.  As an American, I hold dear the ideals on which my country was formed, taken from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these thruths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

As an Orthodox Christian, I must also hold fast to the Word, the Logos, to Christ: what he taught, what he said.  I'm thinking particularly of  Luke 10:25-28:

...a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read?" And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have answered right; do this, and you live."

But the lawyer, being, well, a lawyer, just had to ask, "Who is my neighbor" to which Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which the person who showed mercy to the "other", the one who is "not us" embodied love for neighbor.

I'm also reminded of  1 Corinthians 13 which says, "faith hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love."

Being an Orthodox Christian, I know quite a few people who strongly identify themselves as being pro-life, and they are good people with good intentions. I've been criticized, a lot, for steadfastly resisting identifying myself as pro-life.  I think the pro-life movement was hijacked years ago and should more properly be called pro-birth, or anti-abortion.

I will say it clearly: I think abortion is a terrible thing. I think abortion as a method of birth control is wrong on every level. Women have had abortions throughout history, and whether there are laws making abortion easy to get or hard to get or impossible to get, will make no difference in the fact that abortions will be performed.  I think that there are times when some persons could make a reasonable case to have an abortion, although I personally would not.  I don't think that late term abortions should be allowed, ever. If the baby could live outside the womb, then an abortion should not be performed on demand, ever.  Nowadays that dividing line seems to be somewhere around the 25th week, so there really should be no abortions after that point. Science has shown, though, that in the womb, babies react to stimuli, including pain, as early as 8 weeks after conception. So, when would it be ok to have an abortion? It's a tough call, especially since America is a pluralistic society with no state religion telling us what to think or when life begins. Certainly, the dividing line between abortion on demand and abortion only in limited cases and no abortion should be clearly defined by someone smarter and holier than me, but I guess those three lines should be moved much, much closer to conception than they are presently.

The idea that a woman should be able to do with her body what she wants, without interference, is something I believe in wholeheartedly.   However, when there is another person inside that woman, you are no longer alone in your body, and the choices you make about your body affect another person's body.  When someone is considering whether to have an abortion or to give birth, all persons affected by that choice should have an equal say in that decision, at least in my mind.  That would involve the woman, an advocate for the baby in utero, and the father of the child.  I had some fun with a telemarketer one time who asked me if I believe a woman has the right to do what she wants with her body.  You have to take your fun where you find it.

This all puts me on the conservative side of the pro life issue, but not according to pro-lifers. The reason for that is that I think there is a lot more to being pro-life than just abortion.  If you are pro-life, but you believe in the death penalty, that you are not pro life, you are a hypocrite. If you are pro-life, but have no interest in ensuring that the children you want born have adequate food, housing, clothing, education, and a stable, loving family life, you are not pro-life, you are a hypocrite.  If you think that cutting funding, and therefore services, to the hungry, the poor, the widows, the orphans, the veterans, and all people who comprise that vast group of people known as "them", then you are not pro-life, you are a hypocrite.

I have worked in workforce development for a very long. I'm not totally current on the latest statistics, but I can confidently state that the biggest group of people receiving SNAP benefits are the working poor, not lazy bums trying to milk the system.  These are people who are working, but cannot earn enough money to feed their family. If you support cutting SNAP benefits, then you are not pro-life, you are a hypocrite.

Yes, there are abuses in every program, but these programs help people who are desperate.

There is so much more than just the abortion issue that should represent what it means to be pro-life.

As an American, who really believes in the Declaration of Independence, what does it really mean, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"?  You can't be free, or happy, if one episode of illness puts you into bankruptcy, or if you are making 30% less than someone else for the same work simply because of your gender, or if your boss can fire you at will, or if your wages have been stagnant for the last ten years such that you can no longer pay for food or rent or medications, or if your life saving medications cost thousands of dollars every month...  I could go on and on.

These should be pro-life issues.  Why isn't the pro-life movement talking about these issues? Instead, we have one trick ponies, stridently declaring that abortion is murder and dead babies are a Very Bad Thing, which it is - don't get me wrong - but is that it?  Is that all you've got?

So, when I point this giant chasm between what it means to be anti-abortion and what it means to be pro-life, I am vilified.  Sigh.

It really doesn't matter to me.  My feelings are not hurt when otherwise intelligent and loving people just don't get it and lash out at me. I'm not outraged about it.

I am outraged, however, that babies that have been born die from malnutrition, that children are homeless and hungry, that veterans are homeless and unable to receive the medical care that they deserve and that they were promised, that old people are parked in subpar nursing homes until they die from what can only be called failure to thrive.

I am outraged that Pro Life Christians, especially Orthodox Christians, will march on DC in a couple of weeks carrying an icon of the Theotokos and of Rachel weeping for her children, and then go home and vote for politicians who have already gutted food for hungry people, veterans benefits and other programs that provide life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for poor people.  They vote for these people because they label themselves "conservative" but I posit that they are not conservative at all, but are extremely radical in their social views.

But when I call any of this to the attention of every single pro-lifer I have ever met, I get told that I'm the one who is not pro-life.


Monday, October 12, 2015

Choir Director Report

Choir Director’s Report
It has been at least 6 or 7 years since I gave my first Choir Director's report, maybe more, and each year they are strikingly similar. I usually tell you that we are still expanding our repertoire to accommodate the gifts of the ever changing roster of singers, that we still need singers, and that music is very important in the Orthodox Church. I always say that singing in the choir is a ministry very similar to the ministry of the Deacon, who is a servant dedicated to leading the people in prayer. That's what the choir does, too. I always thank the choir, the readers and our pastor for their hard work and support throughout the year.
I'm taking a different road this year. This year, I want to talk about worship. We Orthodox are a worshipping people. That is what we do. That is who we are. Other flavors of Christianity focus on bible studies and exegesis, on being personally saved, on social justice and equality. As Orthodox, we worship. We worship privately, alone in our prayer closet, and we worship communally at church. One is not better than the other and both are necessary. That is not to say that we don 't also study the bible, encourage a personal relationship with our Lord, or bless others with the gifts we have received. Of course we do! But what sets us apart is the tradition of our worship, the private worship of the individual and the public worship of the community.
Would it surprise you to learn that the Jews in the time of Jesus had a cyclical structure to their worship which had been in place for 1500 years, and that Orthodox Church echoes that structure? Did you know that St. Basil the Great, in the fourth century, considered the hymn, Gladsome Light, which is sung at vespers, to be very old, and the first “true” hymn of the Christian church. The Apostolic Constitutions, which date from the third century, were, in part, a collection of hymns to be sung at different times of the day as a form of worship – to be SUNG.
Our worship is very old, yet it is ever new. There is a pattern to our worship, a rhythm to the feasts and fasts, the cycles of the eight tones, the reading of the hours of the day, the dedication of each day of the week. As each year passes, and the various cycles are repeated, I find that our worship more deeply reveals our Maker and his actions on earth and in heaven. There is real beauty in the cyclical nature of our worship.
There is an old Orthodox saying which is, to sing once, is to pray twice. We all know that one easy way to learn facts, is to set them to music. Somehow, music enlivens the synapses in our brain and connections are made which allow us to remember things. Important things. The same thing with Orthodox music. The marriage of beautiful words of praise and beautiful music is somehow greater than the sum of the parts. This is the work of the people – not just the work of the choir or the readers or the canonarch. The work of the people, the laos. This is how we worship.
When I was young and newly Orthodox, I read every book and was full of hubris. Some things never change, eh? A very old and saintly man named Aristidi Chacho befriended me, and every Monday we would talk about Fr. John's sermon. I would usually talk my head off and Steve would listen. Finally, one day he said to me, “Denise, you're a nice girl, but you don't know nothing.” I was a little taken aback as you can imagine. He went on, “Don't you know that on.. such and such a day, at matins, we sing...” and then he sang something that was precisely on point in our theological discussion. The elderly, unschooled man, was the greatest theologian, and I believe he was a saint. He could hold his own in theological discussions, and often taught others a thing or two, but with such humility. How did he come to this level of knowledge, of understanding, of living out of the gospel? How did he do that?
It's really quite simple. He spent his life in church. He lived the cycles of worship. His life was attuned to various seasons of our worship. He made the time to attend all the various services – he didn't sing, but he listened. He was a great theologian, a great teacher, and a great man, and he is heaven right now completely mortified. Sorry Steve! But I learned something so precious from him, that I want to share with you:
A life spent in church, worshipping God together with your church family, is the greatest gift.
I'm the choir director, and Fr. James has given me the responsibility for all things musical and all the readers. I can't do this awesome job alone, and I can't even attend every service or rehearsal, and neither can anyone else. However, I am guilty of being tired at the end of work day, and I have work and other obligations that sometimes keep me from fulfilliing my ministry. Just like everyone else. However, this coming year, I am going to take Steve Chacho as my model, and try to do better, try to attend more services. At every service throughout the year, the choir is there, maybe not every member, but the choir is there to assist in the celebration of that service.
Did you know that the liturgical day begins at sunset on Saturday, with Vespers? Did you know that Vespers is full of information and teaching about the saint commemorated on Sunday? Come to vespers and learn.
Orthodox, when trying to define dogma, like to say what it is not. This is called apophatic theology and it's uniquely Eastern in mindset. Orthodoxy is not a religion. It's not a list of things that we believe. It's not social system. It's a life. It's life itself. Spent in church. Singing praises to our Our God.
Thank you for listening to me. Thank you to the choir members, the readers, the Deacon and to Fr. James. Thank you to Xenia, my right hand woman, and to Reader Mark, Kat Broberg and Abby Eller for stepping into the void when I was not there.

Come to church. Come and sing praises to our God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King! Sing praises!

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Bucket Lists

I read often read a blog written by a young man that has pithy thoughts about what constitutes a good quality of life. Today, he was talking about his bucket list and that got me thinking.

What would my bucket list look like?  What are the criteria?

First, I think they should be achievable.  Let's face it, I will never be an astronaut, or an opera singer, or a ballerina, because the basic physical requirements have always been lacking in this old body. Since I'm nearly retirement age without any real financial cushion, the items should be achievable financially, too, That year-long trip around the world with my daughter and besties which would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars will never happen, unless I hit the lottery, and I don't play the lottery, so that is simply not achievable, although more modest travel may be achievable.

Second, I think that the outcome should depend on me and me alone. Somehow, I think my old goal of finding Antonio Banderas naked in the back seat of my car would depend on him cooperating, if you get my drift, and his cooperation is pretty iffy, so that one is getting crossed off my list. Whatever is on my list should really depend on me alone.

I think they should stretch me in some way. To enhance the quality of my life, they should provide me the satisfaction that only comes with a job well done, with doing something that requires some effort, but they should still be achievable. My bucket list shouldn't devolve into a to do list, which is something completely different, at least in my mind. Yes, there are lots of icons I want to paint, sweaters I'm dying to knit, meals I want to cook, home improvements I'm dying to make, but those are part of my to do list, and I know that I can accomplish those.  To be life enhancing, my bucket list needs to provide me with the opportunity to do something new, or rise to a new level of competence, or require some effort.

I'll think some more about the criteria later, but now I'm moving forward to listing a few things that might make my bucket list. I'm nearly sixty. I hope and pray that I will live another 25 years or so.  How do I want to spend those 25 years?  Certainly, how I spent the last 25 years has not born fruit that met my criteria, and the 25 before that were, mostly, exploration.  What do I want to put on my bucket list now?

1. I want to feed my desire to experience new places, new people, new cultures, food and music. To me, this means travel, but my very limited finances will most likely prohibit me from being a world traveler. Maybe I will be able to make one trip that gets me to Europe or the Far East, perhaps to an Orthodox country where I could also study Orthodox music and iconography.  I love to plan, so my first travel goal is to plan this trip and how to make it happen.  The planning alone will be fun.

2. My second travel goal is a more modest one - I love road trips. I can't help it - I'm my father's daughter. I want to obtain a modest rv or trailer that will allow me to travel around the continent in my retirement with my pets, and even provide a full-time home if finances dictate.

3. I want to read the entire Bible at least twice, first, as a work of literature, so that I know all the stories and literary forms. My second pass would be to study it more fully, using the words of the Fathers and other sources so that I understand it with the mind of the Church. Receiving such understanding will surely change my heart in ways I cannot fathom at this point, but I know I'm hungry for such spiritual change.

Other than raising and supporting my daughter, I believe my life's work is as an Orthodox church musician and iconographer. I want to set the bar higher, so that my offerings to the church and the God I love is truly my very best. I think I can do better. I know I can do better.

4. Regarding church music, I need to learn to read enough Slavonic/Russian/Serbian/Greek/Arabic to be able to recognize hymns. This will also assist me in reading iconography texts and identifying saints in icons. I need to improve my musicianship - understanding and applying music theory better will allow me to give better pitches and to set music well. I want to improve my directing - maybe some courses, or better yet, watch and learn from the best choir directors.

5a. Regarding iconography, well, I have wonderful teachers and I want to maintain my very expensive connection with them, and increase it.  I want to maintain my week long iconography camp for the comaraderie and for the shot in the arm that it give me every year, but I also want to study with them one on one. Ksenia offered that to me and I didn't make it happen before she died. I regret that so deeply. Bucket lists are all about having no regrets, and it's important to me that not lose out again, so I want to regularly study with Marek as he has offered to me.  He is such a patient and clear teacher, and I just get a kick out of him, so spending time in his studio with him would be so enjoyable as well as blast me out of the status quo.

5b. I also want to study from time to time with other master iconographers whose work I admire. Dimitry Shkolnik immediately comes to mind, as does Fr. Anthony Salzman, Daniel Neculae and Theodoros Papadopoulos, in addition to studying with my main teachers Marek and Anna.  This year will be my fifth with Marek and Anna, and I realize that a personal style is emerging, and it is less russian than their style.  My style is not truly greek, either, but it is somewhere between the two, and the icons that truly touch me deeply have elements of both styles.  I want to develop and improve as an iconographer, to move beyond copying and tracing, to drawing on the board and letting the saint develop in a more lively  and immediate way.  That relationship of the saint, me and the board is what it's all about. It's time to move beyond tracing and copying.

Well, that's what I came up with this morning. I will revisit my bucket list from time to time to tweak and fine tune it.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The Love Letter

I'm watching a sweet romantic comedy called The Love Letter. The premise is that a lonely bookstore owner finds an anonymous love letter and how it affects her and others.  The text of the love letter is this:

Dearest, Do you know how much in love with you I am? Did I trip? Did I stumble - lose my balance, graze my knee, graze my heart? I know I'm in love when I see you. I know when I long to see you, I'm on fire. Not a muscle has moved. Leaves hang unruffled by any breeze. The air is still. I have fallen in love without taking a step. You are all wrong for me and I know it, but I can no longer care for my thoughts unless they are thoughts of you. When I am close to you, I feel your hair brush my cheek when it does not. I look away from you sometimes, then I look back. When I tie my shoes, when I peel an orange, when I drive my car, when I lie down each night without you, I remain,

This is not the greatest love letter I've ever read... think Shakespeare's Sonnets, or the drippily sentimental, but still moving, Sonnet 43 from Sonnets from the Portuguese, of "how shall I love thee, let me count the ways" fame.

This little love letter, though, really touches something within me, and awakens some memories that I usually try to keep suppressed. I've truly loved three men in my life. Any one of them could have been forever, but each had a fatal flaw that basically kept them from committing to living in community with anyone.  With me. One, my husband is dead. The other has been lost to time and space, though he did contact me about ten years ago - not truly sure why; maybe he was working a program and needed to make amends, or maybe he was trying to line up the next woman to take care of him.  The third is someone that I see often in my every day life - a beautiful man, who is growing older and is rather needy, but still, has made it clear that he cannot, will not, chooses not to get involved with anyone ever again.

All three were not truly available.  That speaks to something within me, something that I take out of it's box and inspect from time to time, but not tonight.

However, the sweetness of this note from this second rate movie moves me. I am that person. Still. And I am not open to meeting or loving someone else, even though I am lonely, because my heart is caught in a familiar net of longing that will never come true.

Everyone has a need to be known and loved despite their flaws and dark places, to be loved for their true selves. Humans are pack animals - we need and thrive on some degree of companionship. Me too. I'd like to be loved like that, to inspire a letter full of passion and longing.

I will have to be content to say that I've loved like that. Yes, I have.

That's something. Right?