Friday, December 02, 2016

Waking Up

When I wake up in the morning, I usually lie in the bed for a few moments, thankful that I'm alive, and then I check my email and Facebook on my phone. I always start with the notifications, and I get probably 30 to 50 every time I check. I look for notifications that someone has made a comment on one of my posts, or notifications from my real-life friends and family.

This morning, I was shocked to find two comments by a long time friend of nearly 40 years, an archpriest who has dried my tears and celebrated with me many times. I care what he thinks as he is usually a clear thinker, and truthfully, I care what he thinks about me.  He said this: Trolling for political fights is unbecoming. , and also this: I don't like them and think I'll have to take a break from them.

I checked, and we are still FB friends, which is a relief, but I'm shocked into re-evaluating what I've been doing on FB this political season. In this country, we have freedom of speech, at least for the time being, and I am free to say whatever I want and to express my disgust at that odious person who has been elected as President, and the people who voted for them. I have done everything that I could to point out how unfit he is, how his entire platform is the antithesis of what this country was founded on and is all about, how dangerous he is, how his character and narcissistic personality make him unfit, how he is surrounding himself with cabinet nominations which read like the who's who of disgraced and unfit assholes, how he is ignoring all advice and security briefings.... on and on. Yes, I have been loud and clear about my thoughts, whether through spot-on memes, or my very clever and erudite postings. Very loud and clear, and I am secure in the knowledge that half the voters think I am right and Trumpites are wrong.

Someone, was it Peter?, used the term echo chamber, and I immediately understood that it was the correct term to use for FB postings. The feedback that I get from my postings is from people who agree with me. I found that to be a validation that I am right, and it encouraged me to keep posting. Jonathan said that I post aggressively. Ole said that I post so much political stuff that he (and others) can't find posts that I refer too.  So, it seems to be matter of tone and quantity both.

A few weeks ago, I had dinner with Senya, who wanted to understand why I am so anti Trump. We had a wonderful and respectful conversation, and I think I was able to put forth my thoughts clearly. She wanted to explain her thoughts, and I understood her - we have much more in common than we thought - but when I look back on that conversation, what I took away from it was that she carefully considered the platforms of both candidates, and she found she disagreed with most of Clinton's platform and disagreed with less of Trump's platform; in other words, she wasn't truly voting FOR Trump, or maybe just a little - she was voting AGAINST Clinton, just as I voted against Trump. I would have voted for pretty much anyone who wasn't Trump. I probably agree with Clinton a bit more than half of the time, don't think she is a criminal, think that the visciousness of the attacks on her have to do with her gender mostly, that she was held to an impossible standard, a standard that no man has been held to. I'm a Bernie fan. Had he been the candidate, I would have voted wholeheartedly FOR him, not against Trump.

Anyway, today, I am brought up short. Julia said last week something to the effect that FB posts are not useful; they don't effect change and there are better ways to work politically. Peter said the same thing this week. I didn't pay attention, but I am paying attention today. I am convicted of trolling. Yes, that is what I was doing with my questions. I don't consider my questions or my defense of my questions to be a straw man as Ole said, but I was trolling. I guess I trolled because my person lost the election in a way that makes it clear that half the voters think I am wrong, and I am never wrong. Being wrong is uncomfortable and I know myself well enough at 61 to understand that I am riddled with the sin of pride and my pride is rearing its ugly head once again. THAT is why Fr. Basil's words sting so much. I'm convicted. My behavior online is, indeed, unbecoming, and I fear I have trashed relationships in prideful need to be right, relationships that are important to me.

I'm really not sure what I, personally, need to do about this situation other than to ponder it some more, ask forgiveness through confession, and perhaps forgiveness of some people I have offended, beginning with Fr. Basil. The problem is that I seem to be incapable of leaving this particular sin alone; I keep returning to it like a dog returns to eat his vomit. Sometimes I have a moment of clarity and I disgust myself, but mostly not. I just keep on my way, chipping away at little minor sins, and resolutely ignoring the big guns under the surface. This election has rubbed my nose in it and I have reacted badly.

I also truly believe that the damage to our republic and to our way of life, our ideals and our foundations may be irreparable, and if we allow the Republican legislature to run hog wild, life as we know it will cease to exist. I truly believe that. I truly believe that it is my right and my duty to fight those who want to strip away our rights and very foundations of this country. I truly believe that is exactly what is happening with the economic war against the middle class that is being waged by Republicans.  Jonathan advocated silence because everytime I post, I give Trump and his Republican cronies more power. I don't understand how that happens, and I don't believe that silence is the answer.  All that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to remain silent. I see the truth in that statement and it has been played out in history many times, including in Germany prior to WWII. Ah, I've said it - I mentioned Nazis, and therefore everything I say can now be ignored. Sigh.

I just don't know how to proceed. FB memes and posts are not changing anyone's mind and seem to be alienating people. That is not my intent. I don't want that. I want dialogue. I want understanding on both sides. I want to find common ground. I want us, everyone, to unite to fight the forces that are destroying our ideals, and Trump is only a symptom of that, not the cause. My behavior has been counterproductive. It's got to stop. I need to sit back and regroup. I need to sit back and repent. I need to find a way to walk this minefield.

I am named after the Theotokos, and she is my mother in ever sense of the word. It is said that she spoke seldom. I, on the other hand, speak often and loudly, and in the speaking, I work out my understanding of problems, and pontificate because, after all, I know best. I can do better. This is a form of slavery, really, and in the post communion prayers, is a prayer to my patroness, the Theotokos, that says it all.  May I truly pray this prayer today:

O most holy Lady Theotokos, the light of my darkened soul, my hope, my protection, my refuge, my rest, and my joy. I thank you, for you have permitted me, the unworthy, to be a partaker of the most pure Body and precious Blood of your Son. Give the light of understanding to the eyes of my heart, you that gave birth to the True Light. Enliven me who am deadened by sin, you that gave birth to the Fountain of Immortality. Have mercy on me, O loving Mother of the merciful God. Grant me compunction and contrition of heart, humility in my thoughts, and a release from the slavery of my own reasonings. And enable me, even to my last breath, to receive the sanctification of the most pure Mysteries, for the healing of soul and body. Grant me tears of repentance and confession, that I may glorify you all the days of my life, for you are blessed and greatly glorified forever. Amen.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Life is Cyclical

I've been on a tear this past week about the results of the presidential election. I always knew, deep down, that my country was not ready for a woman president. The vitriol leveled against Hillary Clinton throughout her campaign, throughout her career, really, is typical of the demonization that occurs when a smart, strong, highly competent woman rises to the top in her field. I knew the average Joe wasn't ready for her, or any other woman, to be president, so it shouldn't have been a surprise that Trump won. I never thought he was an imbecile as many did. I always knew he was a shrewd, ruthless, immoral businessman, a real con man, as the most successful businessmen are. So he won, and I was devasted because President Elect Trump has pledged himself to everything that the US is not: division, exclusivity, unfairness, exclusion, inequality. This is not the USA of the founding fathers, and its not the USA of my heart,either. Americans pride themselves on being bigger, better, courageous fighters of what is wrong, champions of the underdog, generous...  With half the electorate voting for Trump, and against all those things, I knew that something important and vital to my country had died. Most people on FB were treating this like just another election outcome, where the winners were happy, and the losers were sad and it was basically just sour grapes. It's not, though, at least on my part. Something integral to how we understand ourselves to be has died. We are now different than we were before. Electing Trump is a byproduct of a clash of opposite world views, and has resulted in us becoming less than we were before. I am heartbroken. It's like a death in the family, and in many ways, it is exactly that.

So, I'm grieving. In the last few days, I've gone through all the stages of grief, some more than once, and all are excessively documented on facebook in my posts. I've vomited my despair and grief onto my facebook wall in an effort to understand and come to grips with who we, Americans, are now. I'm anxious and scared that hate crimes, already on the rise, will continue and eventually, we will have a version of mob rule, complete with lynchings.

As I say often, it is what it is. There is nothing I can personally do to alter the results of the election. There is such polarization between people at this point, that there is nothing that I can do to bridge the gap, other than, perhaps, not adding to it.  So, no more anti Trump posts on facebook.  If I continue to do that, I will be no better than the Republicans who vilified Barack Obama for eight years, who obstructed him at ever turn, and were so obnoxious and petty that they likened his wife to an orangutan and him to a monkey. For the last eight years, I have been deeply disturbed by the lies and hatred of the President on a personal level, having nothing to do with his policies, and have wished for some respect for the office of President of the United States, and the man who inhabits it. I can't, in good conscience, go on vilifying Trump on a personal level for being the lying asshole that he is. He is now the President Elect and in two months, will be our President. May God have mercy on us all.

Concurrently, my sweetie boy Kyo, my most photogenic cat, has been slowly dying, and after two evenings of him and me cuddling on the sofa, he died while I was asleep last night. I knew the time was near, but I'm still sad.  All the grief I've spent on the US in the last days is now turned toward this sweet little bucket of love. I'll need to bury him in a little bit.

So, two deaths in one week. It's a lot to deal with, but it is reality, and reality must be accepted. I have reached the fifth stage of grief.  It is what it is. There is residual sadness at chances to become better which have been missed and sadness at the loss of a beloved pet. Death is ugly in all its forms, and is symptom of the sinfulness of mankind. Death is not what God wants for us and not what we were created for. We were created for life, eternal life, but we sinned, and that sin tore the fabric of our existence, allowing evil and sin to enter. Death is evil. Always. But is also the doorway to our Father's House, where we truly belong.  When my mother died, I reflected on my memory of her, her sisters and her mother cooking together in the kitchen, and I was comforted by the thought that in my Father's house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you. I thought to myself, why not a kitchen?  Now, I'm thinking, why not a comfy bed for Kyo? And, why not an entire wing for the struggling, lost and blind USA? Why not?

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Seeing Red, or Just Seeing?

My husband and I had an interesting relationship. I loved him with all of my heart, at least the him he was when we married. Married life was a disappointment in some ways, but I loved him. As hard and tragic things happened in our life together, we stopped communicating in any meaningful way, and eventually, we separated. Permanently. We filed for divorce when our daughter was about 4 years old. We never completed the paperwork. All it would have taken was two signatures and filing the papers, but the legalities of the situation aside, we never completely severed that relationship legally because we did not want to. Had we wanted to, it would have been done. We were able to learn to love each other again, though not in the same way, and I can truthfully say that he was my best friend. We spoke on the phone nearly early week, and he was at his best on the phone. I fell in love with him on the phone. In person, he didn't speak, but on the phone he was his true self, sweet, a great listener, witty, wise. I never spoke badly of him to our daughter. I always defended him to our daughter when she got older and began to have her own disappointments with him. I always told her that he loved her more than anyone else in the world, which was absolutely true. Eventually, the day came when she said to me that she knew that, but that it wasn't enough, something I understood all too well. Sometimes love is not enough.

Our daughter and I couldn't afford to live in Silicon Valley anymore. I discussed our financial situation with Jerry and explained that I needed to move somewhere cheaper. He and I talked about where would be a good place to move so that he could maintain his every other weekend with her. As we crunched numbers, we ended up talking about a place that was 6 hours away, and he said that if we were going to move that far away, he would rather that we move the east coast to be closer to family. So, we planned a move to Boston: me, our daughter and my parents. My mother's doctor told her to not move to New England as the weather would shorten her life significantly. I discussed this with Jerry, and he was upset, but understanding, and together, we looked at other places. We settled on the Charleston/Beaufort/Savannah area and, with Jerry's permission, if not blessing, we moved.

Once in Savannah, Jerry began his ritual of Sunday night phone calls to our daughter. The first year, he visited for a couple of weeks in September, and again in December, and visited once or twice a year for a couple of weeks after that, always staying in my guestroom. After two weeks, every time, I remembered why we didn't live together any more, and would be sad to see him go, but also a little relieved. It was hard to explain our relationship to people, and it was no one's business but ours, anyway, so we took the easy way out and said we were divorced. Every few years, one of us would make some noises like we should make it official, and the other would drag our feet.  Truth is, if we had wanted the divorce to be final, all it would have taken was two signatures and filing it with the court, but we never did that. The reasons why are our reasons, and he and talked several times about why we never got it together and got it done. We didn't know why then and I don't know why now. The reasons we never finalized anything were our reasons, and no one else's business.

The Friday before Thanksgiving in 2009, I got an early morning call from our close friend, Alex, a doctor at the local hospital. He said Jerry had a brain bleed the day prior, was in intensive care, there was no hope, and the neurologist wanted permission to pull the plug. Our daughter was in Atlanta at college, and I was alone to make a decision. I decided that there would be no plug pulling until we got there and I instructed the doctor to do everything in her power to keep him warm until our daughter had an opportunity to be with him. I sat in shock for what seemed an eternity, but probably was only a half hour. So many things....  so many memories....   I had to call our daughter.  It was awful. I then called Jerry's remaining brother, Joe. That was awful too. His wife Maddie, came on the phone, a nurse, and I explained everything I knew at that point. She said to keep them updated, which I did as things developed.

I had no credit cards, and about $500 in the bank due to a series of unfortunate events with my renters, and paying for my father's funeral just a few months prior. A friend paid for our plane tickets, another put us up for the two weeks we were there and fed us, We got there, we were able to say our goodbyes, and then someone had to sign the order to remove the apparatus. Our daughter was 19 and shell shocked, as I was. So, I signed. It was the hardest thing I ever did, but I would do it a hundred times in order to save our daughter the pain of having to do that. In less than an hour, he was gone.  Fr. Michael, our dear friend and Jerry's parish priest guided us through the next decisions that needed to be made. Luckily, Jerry had $5000.00 in his pocket and the keys to his car, so we were able to drive around to get things done. I told the undertaker that I couldn't spend more than $5000.00 because that was all I had. Everything cost just over $5000.00, but we didn't have a plot. That would have cost $2500.00 in Colma. The nuns in SC offered a free plot if we could just get Jerry there. A friend paid the nearly $1200.00 to ship Jerry's body, another paid $1300.00 to fix his car and $2000.00 to have his car shipped, since our daughter was adamant at the time that she wanted it for herself. A team of friends helped us go through his apartment, which was exactly like the hoarding shows on tv.  We were able to find his DD214, so I was able to get him a military headstone, and our daughter chose the wording on it. Another friend directed the movers while continuing to sort through his stuff, and paid $2000.00 to ship his stuff back to GA.

Jerry's funeral was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Throughout all of this, I spoke with Madeleine every day, or even twice a day, depending on what was happening. She assured me that she relayed all the info to Joe and the family. Everyone was so upset; Joe was too upset, as the oldest and last brother, to even talk to me on the phone. I get it. I understand. At the visitation, Maroun, a friends husband from Lebanon, gave us his condolences, and asked to be introduced to Jerry's brother and family. When I said that no one from his family was there, he was so shocked and said a few things that I will never forget, things like, "why are they not here? This is their brother and they are not here. This is not how we do things in Lebanon. I thought they were Lebanese? what kind of Lebanese are these people to be so cold?"  I hadn't thought about it really, as Jerry's family were not traveling kind of people, and they had not made any effort over the years to maintain a relationship with Elizabeth. If I hadn't made a point of visiting them when we were in Boston, they would never have had any contact with her at all - except for Phil. He was good about telephoning a few times a year and sending cards with nice notes, and Christmas presents to her.

When all was said and done, it was a horrible time. There were decisions that no 19 year old should have to make on her own, and we made decisions together. I had legal status as his wife and I signed the papers. Our friends made it possible for us to be with him as he drew his last so he would not die alone, and to bring his body to a beautiful cemetary only a couple of hours away, where he is prayed for daily and his grave blessed several times a year, and where we can, and do, visit him often. We disposed of the garbage (literally) that filled his apartment with the help of friends, and let me say that mental illness turned Jerry into someone unrecognizable. Friends made this possible, comforted his daughter and me, helped us make decisions. I reached out to Jerry's blood family every single day, and although Maddie was so very upset, she offered no assistance of any kind other than letting the rest of the family know.

Afterwards, I wrote thank you notes to everyone who sent flowers or made a donation or helped in any way. One note went to his brother for the flowers and a donation. Jerry's daughter received not one phone call, card, note, donation or any type of communication from any other member of Jerry's family.

I was not prepared for the depth of my grief. It hit me like a freight train. I still have bad days. I have made a real effort to not think about the bad things, the reasons why we didn't live together, as that is private, and to focus on the good things which were many. We were not divorced, not legally, and not emotionally, and I think of myself as a widow. At some point, I changed my status on FaceBook to widow since the choices were single, divorced, married, in a relationship or widowed, and widowed seemed to be the most apt.

Our daughter lost her grandfather and father in the same year at 19 years old. She had a horrible year with relationships, financially as we couldn't pay for her tuition in January or her rent because the money managers tied up Jerry's money which he left to her. She was angry and hurting, as you would expect, and made some choices that only added to her pain overall.  She was angry at Jerry's family for never making any effort to keep in contact with her - all contacts and visits were because I made the phone call and I made sure that she got to Quincy whenever we were in Boston. She was angry that not one person in the family, not her uncle or aunt, not her cousins, not one person in the extended family reached out to her personally when Jerry died, and not one of them made the trip for the funeral which was nearly a week later, or made a measley donation in Jerry's name. She had always felt abandoned by them despite my best efforts, and she wanted nothing else to do with them, since they obviously wanted nothing to do with her, or with her father, apparently.

A while later, I posted something on Jerry's FB wall about how we missed him, and his cousin Linda and I chatted a little bit. She is a really nice person, and either she was too polite to say anything negative to me, or she really didn't have anything negative to say.  A while after that, her daughter Michelle Juvelis lit into me on FB, saying that I had no right to bury him far from his family and I did that on purpose to prevent his family from mourning him. I tried, briefly, to explain that they were not prevented from anything, and that he was buried near his family - namely, his daughter - but soon realized that she was having none of that, and I stopped interacting with her.

A few weeks ago, I posted something on FB, and somehow, got to chatting with another of Jerry's cousins, Denise Dayie. She didn't come to our wedding, and I had never met her, though I met both her sisters a few times. She friended me and I accepted, as I have always thought it a good idea to be friends with as many of Jerry's relatives as possible because I hope at some point, our daughter will want some contact with her family.  It's clear that Denise and I are on two different sides of the coin politically, but I told her that as adults, we can agree to disagree. She told me some family lore about how and why my mother in laws parents came to the US, which I did not know, and I told her that I was glad to know the story and would pass it on to Elizabeth.

Fast forward to last night. I checked FB before turning in for the night, and out of the blue, Denise had written me the most rude and angry message:

How dare you claim on your FB page that you are a widow!  When my cousin Jerry died, you were divorced.  My family never liked you, and when Jerry died, you claimed his body.  None of us in Boston could not mourn him because you would not allow us.  You are a know it all and I'm sorry I friended you.  For some reason, you are glorifying yourself in his memory.   I hope you can live with yourself.  BTW, you and I never met but you acted like we were long lost friends.  You hurt my kind and gentle cousin Jerry.  You are one sick, ugly person.  I feel sorry for Elizabeth, now known as Ilya.  What is up with that?  Leave my cousins memory alone.  You are not one of us!  You never will be.

I was shocked, and then I got so angry that I literally saw red, hence the name of this post. The thing that made me so angry was not the widow thing, but was the assertion that someone in the extended family had rights that superseded Jerry's daughter's rights, which is basically what she is saying when she says that  I claimed his body and wouldn't allow anyone in Boston to mourn Jerry.  Huh? Of course, she didn't know about Jerry's mental issues that made it impossible for me to live with him, few people did, and she painted me like the bad guy, which, I admit, stung, but the thing that really pissed me off was that there was no understanding that the person closest to him, his daughter, was a kid when he died, and all the decisions that were made at that time were made to comfort HER, and despite asking for input and keeping the family aware of every step, those decisions were made without any input from any member of Jerry's family. Including his brother and sister in law, who left everything in my hands, saying basically, "whatever you think is best".  I slipped a groove, because if you poke this Mama Bear regarding her child, she is going to roar. I sent a long, snippy reply, full of typos (which shows how upset I was):

You know nothing of what went on between Jerry and me and believe me when I say the hurt was mutual. You also know nothing if the state of our marriage, and we never divorced. Our daughter and myself were left utterly destitute trying to get Jerry buried, and although Joe was the first person we called, I don't recall you offering to purchase a plot or contributing to his final expenses, which included an 18K tax bill which I paid, just like I paid 32K in credit card debt that he made. We were offered a free plot to bury him, under an oak tree, by the Abbess of St. Martha and Mary Monastery, only  a couple of hours from where we live, and we were grateful. His grave us visited and he is prayed for every day. I don't recall any calls, letters, flowers or cards from one single member of your family to his only child, only 19 at the time. There were no donations to hus church from a single family member other than his brother. Although we did not live together, I always thought he would get himself together and we could try again, but you don't know that, as you know so little. You were welcomed and to assist our daughter and I make hard choices, but we heard nothing from any of you. You forget that his daughter s needs were and are more important than yours and the decisions made then were what brought get the most comfort. I've never spoken badly of any of you, and have done my best to help Jerry's daughter understand that the complete silence from his family was not intentional. How dare you sit in judgement about my marriage, myself, or my husband's burial in a place where his daughter and I and his friends can, and do, visit him often. We reached out to your family and received silence in return. My daughter hates that, and I friended you and others in the family to try to keep some communication open for her sake, since you are her blood. You were not kept from mourning him. Every one of you chose to not communicate when he died. you chose to not participate. You were all needed and wanted and would have been welcomed. You were not kept from anything. His daughter claimed hus bidy. Who are you to think you have more rights than her? You know nothing. Nothing at all.
Oh, and Phil is buried right there in Boston. When is the last time you visited his grave?
Chat Conversation End

Seen 7:44am

This morning, I haven't heard anything back from Denise. She did read my reply, and I think we are still FB friends, but it really doesn't matter. I'm happy that she told me that one story about the grandparents, and that is enough from her.  I have one more tie to Elizabeth's history to tell her, and since she is searching so hard for her Arabic identity, this is a good thing. I've done what I can to help her with that over the years, but other than cooking the food, and listening to the music, and teaching her the few words that I know, there isn't much else I can do. She needs her family to fill in the rest of what it means to be Lebanese. Unfortunately, only two of her cousins are in good contact with her, and that only through FB, and one of them has even less cultural understanding than her.

However, this morning, as I ponder these things, I'm really am forced to seriously look at the accusations made to me, for the second time.

Did I claim his body? Yes. I had to. There was no one else. Elizabeth was too young, and his brother too far away.  Yes, I claimed it.

Did I deliberately keep his family from mourning him? No, not deliberately for sure. Those two weeks when everything had to be done are a little hazy, but no, I definitely called Joe and Maddie every day with updates and I remember asking what Joe thought. I specifically tried to get his opinion as Jerry only brother, but there were no opinions given to me, no feedback. I didn't have any contact info for anyone else in the family, so I couldn't have called them, even if I thought of it, which I did not at the time. Even if I could have called them, even if I could have called his cousins Linda, Annette, Denise and Barbara, it is really ludicrous for any of them to think that they, as mere cousins,  would have made any decisions. It's also ludicrous for them to think that I would have brought Jerry to Boston, where I would have had to buy a plot (even if I had the money for it), and then leave him there so far from his daughter.

If they felt that they had no input, that is their fault. If they felt they couldn't mourn because the body was elsewhere, well, that is completely wrong, too. The Orthodox Pannikhida service does not require a body, and is usually said on the 9th day, 40th day, six months, one year and yearly thereafter, which was and is done for Jerry in my own parish and in Jerry's parish of St. Christina's. They could have called St. George's and had this service for the family but as far as I know, that did not happen, and I doubt that there is a yearly memorial for him either, as they are not churchgoing folk.  Jerry was a churchgoer. He was very regular in his attendance and loved the church. His own church members wanted to make a permanent memorial to Jerry, so the choir (that he sang in for many years) purchased a bench in the garden in his memory. This is way more than his own family did, with the exception of his brother.

The widow thing....  I need to think some more about that. I was totally blindsided by the depth of my grief, grief that I still feel. It seemed easy to simply say I was a widow, and people would pat my hand,  say they were sorry and leave it at that. When I said he was my ex husband, I got questioned in a very intrusive and painful way, so at the time, after having to sign papers as his spouse (which I was, legally), it seemed easiest and least painful to identify as a widow.  It was also how I felt. I understand Denise's confusion about that, though I don't know where her anger comes from and I don't really care. How I identify myself is really none of her business. She has no rights in this matter. But I do have some small degree of understanding as to what she was trying to say.

As far as whether Jerry's family liked me or not, I always felt loved by his aunts and uncles, and really only met Linda and Annette at the shower and the wedding. I met a few of his other relatives at the wedding, but not many of them came - most of the people from Jerry's side were his mother's friends. His mother made out the guest list, so she controlled who was invited, though not who came. It really is a low blow for Denise to say that, but it doesn't affect the good relationship I had with Jerry's aunts and uncles. If they hated me, they hid it well, but they are long gone and I bear no one any ill will. It simply doesn't matter.

She said I am a know it all.  Well, yup. Nothing new there. I have a lot of sins and one of the biggest is pride in my own competence. Pride. Yes, I usually think I know better.  I'm doing a little better with that, still have a long way to go, but I recognize that she is entirely right on this one. The 23 year old me that married Jerry was a real asshat. Not one drop of humility. I now have one drop, which is nothing to be proud of, at 61.

Am I glorifying myself in Jerry's memory? I'm not entirely sure what she means by that, but certainly, saying to the world that I'm a widow is not entirely truthful; neither is saying I'm divorced. I guess single is the most accurate, but doesn't take into account the huge Jerry shaped hole inside me. I continue to say that I'm a widow, and when I do, I'm giving credence to what we had together, the grief that I felt and feel. But I'm treated differently as a widow. I'm used to being treated as a widow now, seven years later. I never really spent any time considering the ramifications of identifying as a widow before she said that last night. I need to think about it some more.

No, I will never be one of them, and after over 40 years of knowing that family, I don't really want to be. They are nice enough, and I have many warm memories of my inlaws and Jerry's aunts and uncles, but that's about it. However, my daughter IS one of them, even though she rejects them right now because she has been rejected by them, and for her sake, I have maintained a cordial relationship with Joe and Maddie, and my nephews and nieces, including Ricky's wife, Karen, and Rachel's SO Smaly. I've even reconnected with Rachel's mother, Michelle, and maybe I should talk with her about all this, since she married in as well.

This is a huge brain and heart dump, and I need to stop now, but I was blindsided last night. Writing all this down has helped me to be calmer and more objective, so it has served it's purpose, I guess. Modern journals are electronic, dontcha know!

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, then 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 time. 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 out 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, or diseases that are preventable and curable, 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 have to choose between eating and taking their medication, and 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.