Remain

i thank my God in all my remembrance of you, dear readers,

Formal letters are rapidly fading from usage in our ultra-connected around-the-clock society. The format has drifted first to the succinct email and then to the acronym-rich twitter and now the thumbs-up emoji text. The Victorians, the literacy craving letter-writing crowd of the steamship and world exploration era often concluded their missives with the poignant, “i remain…”

St. Paul gave about two-thirds of the New Testament in the form of letters to the churches that he founded. A consummate world traveling Apostle he traveled the much of the then known-world with the Good News of the risen Lord. His familiar ancient world greeting begins each of his epistles, including the beloved letter to the church at Philippi.

In Philippians 1:21 he begins, ” For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain..But to remain in the flesh is more necessary”

As i pondered today’s theme i was reminded of this passage, which was one of this past week’s epistle readings for some of us. After randomly picking up a book of Emily Bronte’s poems the book fell open to a poem that resonated with me.

The Old Stoic

Riches I hold in light esteem,
And Love I laugh to scorn;
And lust of fame was but a dream,
That vanished with the morn:

And if I pray, the only prayer
That moves my lips for me
Is, “Leave the heart that now I bear,
And give me liberty!”

Yes, as my swift days near their goal:
’Tis all that I implore;
In life and death a chainless soul,
With courage to endure.

My thoughts coalesced around the idea that we are fleeting pilgrims who will not long remain in this world. Rather than fear, this is our hope. Tomorrow will soon be here. i know not what form communication will take in the coming decades. i look forward with hope and anticipation. Technology is exciting, but it is not the keeper of my trust. Our lives are as fleeting as the single blink of a flashing cursor.

i remain…

in Him.

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Trust

Trust can be a mountain, or an entire range. As pilgrims in the foreign land we are naturally reluctant to trust other people. It doesn’t take us long to figure out that many people are living under completely alien purposes and ideals from the orthodox Christian.

The Post-Christian culture has produced generations of people who claim to believe in God, while they live out their lives in a totally self-absorbed manner. They don’t question the basic assumption of the modern moral order premised on relativism.

We are not living here, now to gratify our pleasure-sensors and avoid pain. As practicing, thoughtful Christians, we know that is not the ultimate reality. How then do we trust others when they are often motivated only by those goals?

For me, the pilgrimage metaphor is particularly apt. Pilgrims come from various locations all centered on a powerful, transcendant place of worship. The pilgrims journey with others as long as the path leads them the same way. As the route progresses some will follow one trail, some another, and still others will try to forge their own. i recognize that everyone is not going my way. They may not even define trust the way i do. In this i think that the relativism and multiple worldviews constructs have won a large segment of the population.

Despite my apparent acceptance of the modern order in the preceding paragraph, i believe in a thoroughgoing Orthodox Christian worldview. i believe in the sacred and cherish ultimate truth, goodness and trust. My beliefs may be regarded as outdated to some, but i firmly belive that most people long for these pillars of truth even if they deny the Christian traditions connected to them.

For orthodox Christians following the principles of Jesus Christ is the goal in life. There are more people than we realize on this journey. If we follow Christ we value living a life of truth, and we are worthy of trust. However, as fallen humans we will fail sometimes. We sin and fall short of the ideal. We repent. We turn completely around. And we try again.

The way is rough; The journey is long. We will arrive battered and broken. That is how the selfishness is scrubbed out of us. 

Let us press on in faith, dear friend!

Our trust will be broken, but we will be broken into wholeness.

One day we will wash our robes white in the blood of the Lamb, may it please the Lord!

Worship

One of the attributes of modern society that puzzles me most is the habit of denying the value of an action or attitude whilst simultaneously engaging in the same characteristics in a modified form. I know the simple nine letter noun that sums the habit up succinctly. Since i have always been a woman of more words rather than less, i will allow Miss Bates to run rampant for a minute, but only one, i can afford no more.

Worship is often relegated to the storage-rooms of history.

It is wrapped in archival paper and shut away in boxes by those who labourously toil behind a screen always scrambling to stay ahead of the market. The one thing that is valued most and occupies more of our time than any other pursuit; that which we treasure more than any other-this is what we worship.

We all worship something or someone.

Twenty centuries ago the Apostle Matthew told us that what we treasure most is where our heart will be. He did not tell us that where our heart is our treasuer will follow. We often think that our heart decides what is most dear to us. St. Matthew said that our money or treasure determines where our heart will be. We worship what motivates our spending or giving.

Where do your time and money go?

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Old Photos

My Dad with my Mother in front with his Mom, Dad and brother behind

My Dad with my Mother in front with his Mom, Dad and brother behind. This one he kept secure in an album.

Looking at old photos is heart-warming for the sentimental. I enjoy looking not only at my own old photos, but also the photos of others.

Today I have been looking at my Dad’s old photos.

That is the curious thing about old pictures, some people are not that attached to them. My Dad bought a camera and took enough pictures to fill an album when he was in the army. He developed his own pictures before he became busy with kids. He did keep the pictures he took.

The pictures that his mother had of him as a little boy and young man, however, he had no attachment to whatever.

My Dad on the right

My Dad on the right

After his mother died he put the old pictures that she had in the basement! They were virtually all ruined. I finally scanned some of what survived today. He took good care of the pictures that he took as a young man. Why didn’t he care about the pictures from when he was a child? I asked him. He just told me that he isn’t sentimental.

I even like stranger’s old pictures. I wonder about their stories. Were they happy? Did they only try to look formal and stiff because they thought that was how to pose for a photo?

People once posed in very series expressions with very stiff positions. In one of the “abandoned” old pictures of my Dad’s childhood they all look incredibly uncomfortable. My grandparents never smiled in a picture.

Finally when my Dad started taking pictures after he came home from the army his parents began to smile once in a while in snapshots. I wonder if all that stiff, formality was part of going to have a professional picture taken? My Dad looked miserable on the formal portraits of him and his brother before his brother went into the navy. What did they say to him? Did they tell him the pictures were to keep a memory if his brother was killed? Or did he have to stand very still for an incredibly long time?

Uncle Joe looks a lot happier than Dad

My Dad was the younger brother, by the way, don’t let size fool you. Is it the wretched expression of the sixteen year old having to stay at home with Mom and Dad while his brother goes off to see the world, win a war and gain glory and adventure?

That is more or less what my Dad said he thought of the war. Right until he was on a troop ship heading off to sea. Then it became real. He said that it was not until then that he realized he could die or be maimed. My Dad was blessed that when he arrived on the other side of the ocean the war had only three days left. He didn’t know when he set sail it was to be a switchboard operator in the occupation force.

He probably doesn’t remember that particular portrait, but I’ll have to ask him about all those professional portraits. He does remember that as a very young boy he was the one rubbing the fabric of his short pants. He was never good at holding still. Perhaps that is why he never liked the professional portraits his mother had. That could explain how they ended up in the basement.

Another one of my Dad's pictures. Look at how proud his Dad looks. Is that why he kept this one safe?

Another one of my Dad’s pictures. Look at how proud his Dad looks. Is that why he kept this one safe?

From the Monumental to the Ephemeral

Paper

The series this month investigates unexpected thoughts upon the ordinary. We live in an era of plenteous, inexpensive paper. More paper is dumped in the landfill than is recycled despite the fact that we are becoming conscientious about recycling. More paper is made for temporary use such as bathroom tissue and paper towels than is manufactured for books or newspapers. In many ways we are just beginning to come to grips with how much paper we use. Most of us are not willing to adopt cloth baby diapers, although I know mothers who have done just that.

As an avid reader the use of paper for books is something that I am aware of. I personally regard my books as long-term companions. I was appalled when I discovered the old, “brittle-books” and was shocked to discover some of the lengths that librarians were being forced to go to try to save books that were literally disintegrating. In the second part of the nineteenth century the “acid” paper production began and made paper manufacture cheap. The resultant cost reduction has been touted as one of the reasons for the dramatic increases in book production that occurred. Cheap books were not the only result. A century’s worth of literary output was put in jeopardy since the paper deteriorates at an alarming rate and becomes dust.

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By the end of the twentieth century book producers had reduced the use of “acid” papers in favor of “alkaline” paper for all but mass market paperbacks. While I am grateful that most of my library is safe from the rapid self-destruction of acid paper, I bought a book a few weeks ago printed in England that turned out to be printed on the old foe. I bought it online and did not know it was printed on “acid” paper. Personally I don’t understand why any books are being printed on such paper. If you don’t intend to keep the book why don’t you borrow it from a library or read it on a digital device. Why do we need books printed on self-destructive paper?

We live in the unfortunate age where we must shred much of the paper we receive to avoid identity theft yet we still produce “acid” paper for some books! The advertisements for endless credit-cards do not appear to be on cheap paper. They are endeavoring to look as important as possible.

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What responsibility does the Western consumer bear for the manufacture of so much of the world’s “acid” paper in China? They are not known for environmental considerations. Ought we be buying mass-market paperbacks on paper that is more dangerous to the local ecology if that environment is half-way around the world? I think not.

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I love history and historic items. I don’t have any original Victorian papers, but I do think they are lovely. The collectors of the old calling cards, greeting cards, advertisements and other lithographs are hunting for the lovely pieces of the past that have endured. It is called the collecting of Ephemera since antique “bits of paper” are as ephemeral an item as exists.

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These tiny scraps of paper tell us so much about the people who lived before. Their journals, letters and other ordinary records fill in the details of remarkable and simple lives alike. Their legacy is valuable. They tell of life in an epic age of expansion. We are moving further away from paper today. In some ways that is good, but in other ways I do find a bit of doubt.

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How durable is our legacy if we are recording it with bits and bytes? They say that anything uploaded to the internet remains forever. However, will anyone have the tools necessary to read a blog from 2015 in 2080? This blog may not be important in the scheme of things, but could we be a part of something not much different from the “acid” paper debacle in our use of technology? We cannot know what lies ahead. Based on what we can learn from what went before, I think I should print paper copies of some of the precious photos I am storing on the “cloud” just in case I want to see them when I am an old lady.

A Soft Word

Proverbs 15:1-4
​A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
keeping watch on the evil and the good.
A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

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In days of old Kings had retainers who were supposed to act as a filter since most of the government resided in the King himself.

He was the head of the highest court, head-of-state, the treasurer worked directly for him and the coffers were his to use as he saw fit.

He made wars, levied taxes, made laws and lead his armies into battle.

One man cannot accomplish this alone, so they developed loyal men who worked with them to make the government function.
They had no internet, blogs, post office, newspapers or telephones. The only way news travelled was by word of mouth or passed hand to hand in a letter that could only be read by a few since most people, even most Kings were illiterate.

The dependability of a persons’ word was of paramount importance.

That is one of the reasons kings depended upon their retainers being incorruptible. When the men a king relied upon could be bought or were foolish the king could die.
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Today we suffer from “information overload.” Cynics start to expect dishonesty. We no longer recognize a person’s word as worth a life.

Human beings are still the same, however. How many lives have been destroyed by lying words?

Marriages die from falsehoods. Livelihoods are lost from gossip. Bullying words relentlessly hounding young people driving them to wish for death.
Unkind words are still wrong.

We all fail. Foolish talk escapes us all at times. Sincere apologies are the appropriate response. Let us honestly reflect upon and seek to use only words that build one another up. Encourage each other.

Gentle words matter.

Now is still the time to speak love, friends.

Sweater Weather

imageSweaters, Merriam-Webster lists them as knitted or crochets garments.

The first use of the term comes from the 15th century. That is about the time that knitting first began. Prior to this if you needed some extra warmth you were dependent upon a cape or shawl.

With the development of knitting it first became possible to have a garment that had some stretch. Trying to move your arms and shoulders freely was difficult unless you wore a loose-fitting garment. Conversely, loose-fitting clothing for warmth, like a cape, allows quite a bit of air flow up into the garment decreasing its ability to keep you warm.

In the 21st century we have threads that have stretch and we love materials that have fibers like Lycra and spandex woven into them.

We have the advantage of being able to keep warm and comfortable without considering how for centuries those were mutually exclusive objectives.

When they first came on the scene a sweater was a marvel of new technology.

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Today a sweater is a symbol of coziness. It resonates as comforting.

Sweaters can be works of art or works of love when they are hand knit. Or they may be called, “ugly” when they are mass-produced gaudy.

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The sweater depends upon who made or purchased it and how they fit the wearer. It is easy to take a sweater for granted. Most of us have drawers full of cardigans and pull-overs with which we keep ourselves warm and comfortable.

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If you are a knitter you know they extent of the labor involved in making a sweater. It does not consist simply in the sheer quantity of the thousands of stitches, but also in the complications involved in shaping the piece to fit the body.

Let it be sufficient for me to say that if you ever happen to be the recipient of a hand-knit sweater you are extraordinarily loved.

imageA completed sweater no matter how poorly made is a masterpiece of hope, plan, labor and hopefully skill.

To knitters who wish to attempt this Everest of knitting, tell the recipient, make sure they like the design and take repeated measurements and fittings throughout the process.

To attempt a surprise is tempting fate and will like result in a complete waste of your time and considerable money.
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A well-made hand-knit sweater will fit the recipient exactly. Unlike ready to wear it is a personal  garment.

Treasure the sweater for the love that it represents, even if you hide the offending item when the maker is not around.

Nothing

WW1 foxholesIt just occurred to me again that this July 28th is the one-hundredth anniversary of the start of World War 1. The “Great War” or “War to End All Wars” was a dark period in history, so much suffering, so much destruction. How much have we learned as a society? For many people in Europe World War 1 was a war that left them with nothing. Their way of life was annihilated. For others life itself was gone and their families and communities could never be the same.

What am I afraid of loosing? What possessions, family, friends, habits, physical abilities, pleasures am I counting as necessary for life? So much of what society took for granted as basic was unraveled in the guns and poison gas of the “Great War”. What am I building my life upon?

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 My life as a Christian should be built on the solid rock of Jesus Christ. Civilization did not actually end after the smoke cleared on the western front in France. Nothing can really stop God’s love for humanity. Jesus said it on the cross, “It is finished”. Death is defeated. No longer can the devil do his worst to us,because of Easter. Victory belongs to Christ in the end.

Nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. There really isn’t anything that can destroy my peace if it is really built on Jesus Christ. So much of what I fear, is not really going to destroy me. I can face the future with more hope knowing what the past has taught us. No matter how cataclysmic the circumstance nothing can prevent us from living fully in the love of Christ!

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