Friday, September 30, 2005

The Psalms of David -- Psalm 4

I guess if I had a phrase to describe this psalm's impression on my heart upon this last reading, it'd be this: God is a loner's sufficiency.

What I mean is--and Fr. Patrick's commentary says as much, too--that to follow God in this world means to separate yourself from the fallen activities of those who are wicked. As much as we may look with disdain upon those sects who pride themselves on "no dancing, no alcohol, no movies, no whatever," as much as we may talk about God redeeming and baptizing the world and making all things into passages into the Kingdom of God, there're just certain things that cannot be baptized and must needs be avoided, for they will eventually be destroyed by a holy God; any attachment to these unredeemable things on our part, then, equals our own destruction.

This is lonely! Or, it can be. This psalm, in all truthfulness, reminds me of the feelings I often had during my high school years. My high school, as academically challenging and beneficial as it may have been, was also overrun by those who were often violently opposed to any appeal to the divine and violently committed to any vice that would fly in the divine's Face. David cries:
"How long, O you sons of men, will you turn my glory to shame? How long will you love worthlessness and seek falsehood? But know that the LORD has set apart for Himself him who is godly; the LORD will hear when I call to Him."
Notice that God has set apart those godly ones for Himself; they are now His sons, as opposed to the "sons of men," those whose lives consist solely of those things which are rooted in this world, which are seen as ends in themselves and not sacraments of passage into the One, True Life.

Yet, though we are yet in battle against spiritual passions and demonic influences (and not, as I reminded myself all through high school, against my fellow men), though we go even to our beds still fighting this war, we are commanded not to allow that most long-lasting passion of anger to plague us. The Orthodox Christian is to strive for the passionlessness, the immutability that is an attribute of God Himself. We can feel the anger, but we must not allow ourselves to be carried away by it, always remaining serenely and submissively within the Hands of our Lord, hands that--maddeningly!--may not rush off to vindicate us as quickly as we'd like...or at all, as far as we know...

Or, as David said:
"Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still."

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Psalms of David -- Psalm 3

Am feeling drawn to the psalms of the Prophet David as of late; will be posting anything from the psalms attributed to him that catches my attention. Am also reading as a companion to David's psalms the book Christ in the Psalms by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon.

Fr. Patrick says the following concerning Ps. 3:
"So we begin the day. Psalm 1 has already contrasted the lots of the just and the unjust, and Psalm 2 indicated the battle between the two sides. Now, in this third psalm, there cries out the just man engaged in that battle: 'Lord, how increased are they that trouble me; many are they that rise up against me. Many there be that say of my soul: "There is no help for him in God".'

"Conflict we have here, and the distress that conflict brings, for fighting battles is one of the major motifs of the Book of Psalms. This is not a prayer book for the noncombatant, and unless a person is actually engaged in hostilities it is difficult to see how he can pray Psalm 3: 'Arise, O Lord, save me, O my God; for You have smitten all my enemies on the jaw; You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.'"

Friday, September 23, 2005


An older post of James' reminded me of the Evangelical bumper sticker I used to like:

"In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned."

Now I'd like one like this:

"In case of rapture, can I have your car?"

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Bad Math?

Newsweek's got it on their cover, and I think they ask it best:

+ Iraq
- Taxes
= How Much?

This was the same problem in the election last November--neither Kerry nor Bush was willing to tell the public the truth: that we all need to dig deep and make a sacrifice, because, whether we initially supported it or not, we're in this conflict in Iraq now for better or for worse, and are now faced with the awful consequences of a horrible hurricane season. What's maddening is not ONLY that Bush continues to trim taxes, not ONLY that he doesn't seem to see the horrific budget practice that this is, but that, even if he does, he doesn't seem to be able to find the spine to face the public and tell us like a man that we'll all need to step up and take a hit--yes, in our blessed pocketbooks--for our country.

This from a schoolteacher who's the sole financial provider for his family. Trust me; I KNOW about budgeting, and this ain't it.

Or, for a slightly more (ahem) spirited commentary on the subject, see here (wait for it to finish loading; it'll scroll down to the relevant post).

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Plumbing Escapades

This is a bit late in coming, but we lost water pressure to the house the week before Labor Day due to a pipe breaking (it was made of shoddy material that is now illegal, but what can you do...?). A friend of the family is a plumber, who itemized and priced every step of the repair. He let us know we could cut the price of the repair in half if I did the trenching myself for him to lay a new pipe. The old pipe--and I use the term "pipe" loosely--if repaired only in the place it broke, would probably just break elsewhere sooner or later. The following chronicles what happened:

The line the plumber sprayed on our lawn going from the house towards our driveway.

The line from the left side of the driveway.

The line from the right side of the driveway down alongside the sidewalk to the meter.

In the meantime, what we did for water was, we put a hydrant spigot (at least, I think that's what it's called) near the meter, and attached an above ground hose to it...

...ran the hose along the side strip beside the sidewalk...

...put it under the fence...

...and ran it to this spigot in the back (it's a miracle our dog Brigid, pictured here, didn't chew this thing to bits!).

So the night before Labor Day, I went to Home Depot and rented this Ditch Witch trencher for a day. It was $132, which is considerably better than the $800 we would have spent on labor!

To give you an idea of the size of this thing, I'm just under 6' and am standing on the same level as the tire of the trencher.

The ditch I dug from the tank away from the house.

The ditch from out from the house to the left side of the driveway; we had to get the plumber to go underneath the driveway with a high-powered hose in order to lay the pipe under it without breaking up the concrete.

The ditch from the right side of the driveway to the sidewalk.

The ditch alongside the sidewalk to the meter.

The new entrance of the pipe to a tank by our house, using PVC pipe.

The new pipeline; the PVC will last almost as long as copper (several decades) and is one-third the price. Sweeeeeet.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Windows and stone are done; Fr. says that, now that the exterior of the building is pretty much done (except for the dome, which will be last), all the rest of the jobs on the new building are two- to three-day jobs on the interior (sheet rock, drywall, floor, etc.). He's giving us a move-in date of sometime in either Oct. or Nov.!

The completed stone exterior from a bit further back

The stone wall from even further back

The worker installing the ducts.

Ducts on the floor.

Ducts on inside of new church building.

Links to the previous phases of the building program:

Phase 1
Phase 2
Phase 3
Phase 4
Phase 5
Phase 6

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Thoughts on Katrina Victims

There's a lot of speculation coming out of the situation in New Orleans; it's led me to do some thinking of my own.

Two very different views from Orthodox Christians can be found here and here regarding the state of the thousands of victims that were stranded in New Orleans.

As usual, I find myself somewhere in the middle in terms of what I stress in these situations.

I, for one, find it inconceivable that, in the face of such a potentially fatal catastrophe, a man would not, even if desperately poor, sell all he yet had if only to buy bus fare out of town for himself and his family. I suppose this comes from the example given to me by my dear mother, who worked two jobs all through my K-12 years in order to afford the small apartments I grew up in. We were not rich by any stretch of the imagination. On the contrary; we were, relatively speaking, rather poor. Yet I saw in that woman an absolute resistance to adverse situations that, though she perhaps did not always act in the most prudent or practical manner to resolve said situations, absolutely drove her to do what was necessary to make ends meet. It is from this upbringing that this incredulity springs; I simply cannot fathom why so many would stay, citing insufficient funds as a reason. The mere thought of my family being destroyed by anything would drive me to do whatever was needed to avoid it.

Yet there is, undoubtedly, an unlevel playing field when it comes to certain groups of people and generationally-engrained approaches to life. Tragically, this often is marked by race, especially in the South, where the infamous and evil blight of slavery--which forbade that blacks learn to read, write or "cipher"--began a habitual neglect of rigorous academic pursuit among many African Americans. Of course, we know the great achievements of Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison and many others; there is no denying that African Americans from poor upbringings can achieve and have achieved academic heights that rival and often surpass those of privileged whites. Yet it seems--and I say this as a schoolteacher whose students are almost all black--that many of the poorer black students are addicted to the idea that all things must come easily (for they are poor and lack the means to gain the finer things in life) and that, if it does not, it is not worth struggling for (for such a struggle would inevitably end in failure). These students are perfectly content to slide by, barely passing (if that), and many times refuse to believe in themselves enough to give themselves a fighting chance.

I do wonder if this had anything to do with why many poorer citizens of New Orleans did not undertake the admittedly daunting task of preparing what little they had and fleeing by any means possible. Perhaps there was doubt as to whether they could actually raise enough money. Perhaps the doubt lay in whether they could arrange for a suitable place to stay outside the city. I do not know, but I believe this reluctance to actively and aggressively engage adverse situations is a cross. For any impoverished African American, young or otherwise, who comes from a home life which discourages academic success and higher levels of thinking, it will not be an easy road. Perhaps assistance from outside sources--church, government, etc.--will be needed, as is often the case (even Christ had a Simon of Cyrene at His side). Yet perhaps by bearing this cross redemption can come.

My apologies if I have offended anyone by this message. Your thoughts would be appreciated...

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Why the South Seceded

One of the best speeches I have ever read on why the southern states seceded from the Union in 1861. It was delivered by the Hon. John H. Reagan, the last surviving member of the Confederate States Cabinet. Even better, it was delivered right here in Ft. Worth, TX!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Daddy Duty

Woke up yesterday to a wife with a pretty upset stomach, so it was just me and the li'l stinker in Liturgy yesterday. It was really different being in the main congregation (I'm usually in the choir), but it was refreshing.

A few things I was reminded of:

  1. The word liturgy means "common work," or "work of the people." Were this to be "stressed from the pulpit" (or "small, moveable podium," in our case) it would at least put the ball in the court of those in the nave to sing, to pray, to pay put forth their efforts into this sacrifice, efforts of praise which St. Paul (or whomever) says are themselves a sacrifice, "the fruit of lips that confess his name" (Heb. 13:15). It was good to be a part of this work in this common way which, to be quite honest, really helps me forget myself. Sometimes reading the epistle or singing in the choir, being one of those who helps lead everyone else into prayer, can bring about the temptation to notice oneself, to acknowledge one's own visiblity. Rich Mullins said once that, after playing piano in church and thinking he'd done a very good job, his teacher (also a member of the church) reprimanded him, for he should desire to disappear so that the people could focus on Christ in prayer, not him. His awareness of common work is seen in a statement where he says the following:

    "When I go to church...I involve myself in something that identifies me with Augustine, that identifies me with Christ, that identifies me with nearly 2000 years of people who have come together once a week and said, 'Let’s go to the Lord’s table and enjoy the feast that He has prepared for us.' In that week I may have been subjected to a million billboards that try to make me identify with the thinking of contemporary society. But once a week I go back to church, and acknowledge that though the shape of the world is really different now than it used to be, this remains the same: I still come to the Lord’s table and say, 'Oh God, if it weren’t for your grace, if it weren’t for the sacrifice of Christ, my life would have no meaning, no life would have real substance.' And I do that voluntarily."
  2. To piggyback on Rich's thoughts: I am dust. Mere dirt that has been blown on to be praise unto my Creator. To that dust, one day, I shall return, "whither we mortals all shall go," as our prayer for the departed says. The fact that I consumed the One Flesh that unites and unties us (an initial typo proved to merit keeping around just there), the One Blood that washes and frees us, the One Hope that will take the dusty, feeble parts of me that have succumbed to decay and age--this One Gift will be the seed of immortality my body (should I endure to the end in struggling with my crosses) shall put on: His glorious immortality made tangible in the Eucharist.
  3. My role that day, as feeder, holder, and comforter of a two-month old child there in the midst of Heaven-meeting-earth, was to take the child given me (also dust, but a much cuter configuration thereof) and present her before this life-giving Fountain, to make it, as much as I can, the center, not only of my life, but of hers (the former, I am well aware, is a necessary part of the latter's coming to pass). That we might, individually and together, be a part of that One Body who will rise up and raise us up on that final Day.

Happy Name's Day to Hope!

Many years to my li'l one!

The barren wilderness thou didst make fertile with the streams of thy tears; and by thy deep sighing thou hast given fruit through thy struggles a hundredfold. Accordingly, thou hast become a star for the universe, sparkling with miracles. Therefore, O righteous Mother Elizabeth, intercede with Christ God to save our souls.

Friday, September 02, 2005

"It's a third world country down there..."

The scenes of dirt, refugees, disease, riots, looting, men fighting like dogs in the street, homes (and in the case of Waveland, Miss., whole cities) flattened to's brought the Katrina victims to the level of many people in the third world.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

(Click on the ribbon to find out how to donate to the relief effort.)