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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Five Minute Coffee Break with Elyse --Uncensored: on Modesty

We thought it would be informative and fun to capture a young adult perspective on some current issues. Thus, the idea of a series of five minute responses from Elyse to questions of interest was born.
Here's question number two:

Question #2:
There is a lot of controversy right now over modesty. Do you have any opinions? Elyse's Answer: Yeah: Women need to quit being so harsh with one another over this topic. I have some pretty tough ideas about modesty, but I also understand that everyone is at a different place, with different spiritual endeavors, and it isn’t right for us to make judgment calls on others just because they’re a step in a different direction—back, forward, side, etc. It was a wake-up call for me the other day to talk to a woman at a convent who was visiting the Black Madonna icon; I was standing with my mother, and somehow the topic, seemingly unrelated, turned into: “Do you always wear skirts?” Well what does that have to do with the conversation? Oh, are you trying to determine how pious I am based on how I dress? And it made me angry. Usually I’m pretty tough on people with things like this, and it reminded me that I shouldn’t be so tough, because my mother and I are modest enough that most people would think we’re nuns. Do I wear pants once in a while? Yeah. Do I feel better in skirts? Yeah. But sometimes I just want to wear a pair of pants. Does that mean that I won’t eventually work my way up to wearing skirts for everything? Probably not. But it means that you don’t have the right to make yourself feel high and mighty by picking at other people’s flaws. That’s really what it’s about, isn’t it? Loving people and following God’s commandments doesn’t mean propping yourself up on the backs of others’ sins. Loving God and following his commandments means you acknowledge what is right and wrong, but don’t get prideful about it. I kind of feel like this got away from modesty, but that’s okay.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Nothing New, Just Trusting God

California has been in a preeeeetty bad drought lately. 

The deserts are more desert-y and the forests are catching on fire. It’s easy to feel hopeless when something like that is happening. It’s easy to feel hopeless with anything in life—work, relationships, loss, etc.

This is no new revelation for anyone, we’ve heard it from blog post after blog post, but I think people need reminding because we always forget. I’ve been having trust issues too. I start to not trust because things aren’t going my way, and then I get scared, and I forget that the Lord is always watching and always guiding me to something better.

God reminds us to trust Him, because when we grasp and flounder for control, everything spirals out of control. Sometimes He has to remind us that we need Him.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. -Isaiah 41:10

Whenever I go to work with Mom, there is a sign planted out in the middle of the desert that says “If my people humble themselves and pray, I will heal their land.”  

So I tried it last night, I tried to be humble and realize there’s nothing I can do without God’s help, and that I was trying to control things and make them go my way, when the Creator has something so much better planned. I stopped asking for that cheap artificially sweetened chocolate when God has the real good stuff from Sweden. I asked Him to help me trust because there is no peace without trust, and I asked him to keep us coming ever closer, and I asked for rain.

:) I woke up to that rain. Even if we've heard something a hundred times before, we need to hear it one more time.

- Elyse

"Here comes rain again" by Juni from Kyoto, Japan - Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Incense on our Mountain, and the Gift of Music

St. Seraphim of Sarov icon near the church doors
 (the "old" St. Seraphim of Sarov Church in Anapa, Russia), 
Alexei Zoubov

There are advantages to mountain living. One of them is spending ordinary days in a place where others travel to spend vacations. There are disadvantages too, like driving an hour to church every Sunday morning. Occasionally though, both poles of the dichotomy collide. This month, we've been able to drive five minutes to church with people who are on vacation, sort of, at the local Orthodox summer camp.

I've always known it was there - all these years that I've rested, impatient but easy, on the knowledge that our path would lead to Orthodoxy. Nights under a star packed sky, as I've sat on our deck facing gazing upon the mountain and contemplating our tiny family's place in the Christian constellation, it has been an ever present beacon on the landscape of our forest home. A camp sharing a corner of our canopy of pines - a place where incense rises. It has been a familiar companion, but one we have not accessed before now.

I don't think we've ever driven a mere five miles to church.  We've always lived at least 55 miles away from our parish home. Our five minute trips to camp have taught us a few things.  One was that other people can get up at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning.  Imagine that.  Another was that there are, in fact, Orthodox young adults.  Not in tiny mountain towns, perhaps, but they exist. As we've barged in upon their Sunday mornings, we've been grateful for the kind hospitality of seeming strangers who share our walk with Christ.

Muir Woods National Monument, California, USA /
Personal picture taken by user Urban, 2004 {{GFDL}}
We've learned other things. We were impacted by music this weekend. Living with a daughter who has many years of choir under her belt, and having come from an Anglican parish with a proud heritage of really good music, we are not unaware of the impact of music on spiritual life. Personally, I don't have much talent for it, but we all know the power of those who do. Standing in a tiny wooden chapel, under the gaze of saints and through the haze of incense, we were blessed by the voices of a fine, yet likely makeshift, summer choir- most particularly, the really fine voice of one young man whom we do not know and almost assuredly never will.  My husband stood at the sink at home in our little cabin after liturgy and said, "that is the best Orthodox liturgy I have experienced to date." I don't know how to describe the reasons it was so good. Something about enunciation and plosives and other music speak that did not really register with my linguistic speech pathologist brain while Elyse explained it on the way home. But, it was a gift.

As I reflect on it today, I realize that we have been given a gift by some tall kid with glasses and a really exquisite voice, but he'll almost certainly never know that. In the same vein, but in sharp contrast, I'm sure that through the years, I've sown pain into the lives of others without even knowing it; - a poorly considered word here; impatience there - I'm sure it has happened a multitude of times. We have such power, as individuals, to bless and heal, or to harm. Something like the children of vacation renters who crush our tiny newly sprouted baby pines under foot while they run rough shod over the forest floor. They cannot begin to realize that the 300 foot Jeffrey pine to their left would not exist had one of their fore bearers done the same many decades back. Honestly, they're just playing in the snow. What then, of our own choices in the lives of others?  What impact might we have?

I'm grateful for the endowments others have bestowed upon me through my 47 years. Kindnesses remembered. I'm sorry too, for the harms I have surely dealt. May they be healed by the hand of One who is love. And God bless the tall kid with the glasses. Thank you for an experience that has shored us up in our journey to Orthodoxy.

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? 
~Micah 6:8

Pax Christi dear readers,
your comments and kindnesses have blessed our family life,

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On Distinctions

 "Oh, I don't reject Christ. I love Christ. It's just that so many of you Christians are so unlike Christ... 
If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, 
all of India would be Christian today."

There's a bit of controversy on the internet over whether Ghandi really said that. Whether the words are his or not, I think we might listen to them. The internet, as we all know, can be a dangerous place.  The anonymity it provides can facilitate some stinky behavior on the part of otherwise kind people. Unfortunately, the Christian blog-o-sphere is not immune to this. Instead, it seems laden with Christian-on-Christian judgment and distinction making.

Ancient icon of  the apostles Peter and Paul
By unknown, photo by George Shuklin (Russian Museum)
 [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
We seem to spend  a lot of time making distinctions among ourselves.

Catholic - Protestant.
       Denominational - Non Denominational
              Novus Ordo - Latin Mass
                     Anglican - Episcopalian

These distinctions are important.  They embody belief and creed. They matter.

Once we've established them for ourselves though, I'm not sure that spending inordinate amounts of time distinguishing ourselves from others - by building fences and then herding others in and out of them - is particularly useful to a life of discipleship. After all, if we are spending all of our time with our eyes on the one another with a mind toward distinction and division, then our eyes are not on Christ or his commandment to love.

It's important to establish truth and to teach it.  I'm not so sure that it's particularly valuable to focus on beating eachother over the head with it.  At any rate, it's probably not a particularly effective teaching method.

We can't be much more different than Peter and Paul were from one another, and yet they found powerful unity in Christ.

Truth matters. Elevating ourselves by pointing out our differences from others does not.  

And it's tiring, isn't it?  Pushing eachother around?  Setting one another up for inspection? Herding one another in-- and out? I wonder how much more we would be served by sitting down to tea and learning about one another? I'd bet that we could actually understand one another's points of view without losing our own. Don't you think?  I do.

And couldn't some of that herding energy be used for serving?

I think it could.

"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?
~Luke 6:46

May I find a path toward non-judgement.  May I learn to live as Christ did.  May I learn to love.
Heaven knows, I have a long way to go.

Pax Christi dear ones,

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Five Minute Coffee Break with Elyse --Unedited: on Women and College.

We thought it would be informative and fun to capture a young adult perspective on some current issues. Thus, the idea of a series of five minute responses from Elyse to questions of interest was born.
Here's question number one:

Question #1:
There is controversy in some conservative Christian circles right now over whether parents should send their daughters to college.  Do you have any opinions about  college for young women?

Elyse's Response:
Here’s a disclaimer at the beginning of any opinion I share: I’m not the nicest, sparkliest, fluffiest sharer around. A lot of what I say will make people angry. I don’t really like the idea of college in general; a bunch of kids going to school together without any supervision, expectations or otherwise? Yeah, sounds like a party, and not the good kind.

Of course, I hated high school—and college is just a bunch of highschoolers who don’t have to go home at the end of the day. There are a select few who can handle college, and I think that’s a major determining factor in whether or not girls (and even guys) should attend (in person). I think men have a responsibility to prepare themselves to care for a family, and the best place to do that is college or a vocational school.  Also, men need to get away from their parents in order to be free to be men and make their own choices in preparation for heading a household, but college is also a tough place to be. While being exposed to controversial topics may be good for those strong enough to maintain their values, it can also get people into trouble. People fall more easily into temptation without proper support bases, and they fall away from the church because there are no nagging mothers to urge them out of bed in the morning, etc.

I think college education is essential for anyone, but attending classes on campus is another story. I only took 3 classes on campus (versus online) in my entire college career (up to my AA, at which I've stopped to see if our home business is a better option for me), and I preferred it. I hated being around the culture of college, with its a hook-up mentality and politically correct atmosphere. I know there are arguments about meeting people and "getting out and living," but the kind of people I think Christians should be meeting are people they meet at church retreats and the like. I certainly didn't find any lasting friends at college, and the ones I did are all adults I partnered with in my Bio classes.

Maybe I’m an unusual kid; I don’t want to get away from my parents. Yeah I argue with them, but what’s the alternative? Living alone in an atmosphere that would drive me up a wall? And what about relationships? I don’t want to go away somewhere to college, meet a boy, and then deal with the consequences of being away from family—having to deal with temptation on my own, not being able to see him around my family or to see his family… It’s not for me. But again, it depends on the particular person, I’m not speaking for everyone. It takes personal discernment and hopefully a child who is willing to look at himself or herself to maturely determine the best course of action.

What do you all think?  Do we have any other young adults who would like to weigh in?

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

There's a strange man out there... and prayer

Schaduw op het BuurkerkhofCC BY-SA 3.0view terms
Victor van Werkhooven - Own work
There's a strange man out there. I've likely never met him. I have no idea where he is.  I know he has a beard, because I know my daughter.

I worry for him.

He is swimming in sea of secular corruption and struggling with a society that is not God affirming. He has pornography at his fingertips and is faced with the task of achieving professional success in an economy that is hardly promising. He is surrounded by women who have been suckled on a hook-up-culture.  He has the challenge of honoring his parents while emerging into manhood.  Although he has likely not yet set eyes on her, he holds the heart, security, and the hopes and dreams of my daughter in his hands. He will raise my grandchildren.

I've been praying for him for years.  His parents rest in my heart's embrace; I understand their task and their worries. Daily, they enter my prayers.  Three unseen people - a mystery - held close, are the focus of so many supplications. The nucleus of years of soul-yearning before God.

We've been preparing her these twenty years.

She's learned to love family and home. She's trained her gaze on our Lord. She's entered college at 16, so that she might exit equally quickly to nurture an entrepreneurial spirit. She's dug deeply into child development. She's learned to show kindness and to give mercy and to struggle against passing judgement. She's learned to respect and value men and to honor their strengths and their differences.  She's learned not to worry like her mother does. She's learned to pray and to set boundaries and to prepare her family's tax returns. She's struggled with taming emotions and has tackled skills for making rational decisions. She's learned to manage customers' orders and create beauty and ship her creations all over the world. She's poured over instructions for perfect madeleines. She's learned to laugh at the silliness of it all. She's learned to how to love.

She's learned that she's only scratched the surface and that her growth and development must never end. She's learned that she must overcome her parents' vast inadequacies.

Ніжний ранковий світлоCC BY-SA 3.0  Balkhovitin - Own work, National park "Sviati Hory" (Holy Mountains),Donetsk OblastUkraine
I cannot raise him, though.

I can only trust that he is growing strong and righteous and prayerful in a warm and solid family embrace. I can only hope that they have taught him to respect her and protect her and provide for her. I can only anticipate that he smiles at toddlers who scream in church and puts one on his knee once in a while.  I can yearn to trust that his father has taught him to be a man and to love a woman.  I can have faith that his mother holds him warmly and tightly-- and that he knows that she believes in him. I can be optimistic that he understands that pornography will train him to respond to streaming images rather a warm, breathing woman who loves him; and that it will place a chasm between him and his beloved.  I can only hope that he has extraordinary strength.

I can only pray.

I'm sure my concerns seem obsessive to some, - premature, unnecessary.  I don't think I'm alone though. I think that for those for whom family is held above all other earth-bound concerns, the awareness that our children will transition into families of their own weighs both joyously and anxiously heavy.

And so we pray.

"Remember (him), O Lord our God, and the parents who have reared (him), for the prayers of parents confirm the foundation of houses."
(~Orthodox Service of Marriage, adapted)

God bless our children this day and always,
Pax Christi dear ones,

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Monday, June 16, 2014

A Bright Spot in a Deteriorating Culture

Family Excursion (4199790470)CC BY 2.0
Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia - Family Excursion Uploaded by russavia
A friend told me this morning that her atheist husband accompanies her and their boys to church each week. I'm sure she had no idea how strongly that would strike me. I actually texted my husband about it.

We have a thing around here about men taking their families to church, whether they buy into it or not. We've always felt that a good man, a good father, takes his family to church. It's his role. Whether he falls asleep for the whole service, or his mind drifts far away, his bottom ought be in a pew as leader of his family -- if that's where his wife feels that she and her children should be.

It doesn't happen often. It's a rather common occurrence for moms to cart their children to church each week, struggles and all, while dad sits in front of the television.  Granted, situations are individual and it's easy to make a blanket statement, but not necessarily appropriate to apply it universally.  Each family must find their own way.  Still, here's to the man who takes his wife and boys to church at the expense of his own comfort. Here's to a leader and protector who merits respect. He's made our day. May their family be held ever in the arms of Almighty God.

The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.  ~G. K. CHESTERTON, The New Jerusalem

Pax Christi dear ones,