To Whom It May Concern! That Means You…

If you are reading this, it’s probably because you were somehow led here. This was intentional. While this is a public blog, I use it so infrequently that it has few followers and, of course, the writing probably stinks. At the same time, I hope that the public nature of these comments is a witness to their sincerity and also my desire to share these thoughts with you truthfully, with nothing to hide. The writing here is obnoxiously honest. I apologize for that. At the same time, we won’t always have tomorrow to say the things we should today.

We (my family and I) recently lost a young friend to a tragic motor vehicle accident. He was a kind, sweet young man, destined for the Holy Priesthood. He had a parish priest who loved him, and led him to the thing which God Himself had called him to before he was born. He had reached the height of that thing which God had chosen for him, with an absolutely radiant Christian woman, who was worthy of the journey of a priestly family.

On Friday, God chose to allow for our hopes, plans, and intentions for this young man to come to an abrupt and completely confusing end.

That this young man achieved what was needed, I have no doubt. But his passing has deeply broken my heart. Because, though I was not his parish priest and not the one who closely monitored and fostered his worthy vocation (as his worthy pastor so lovingly and effectively did), I still considered him, in some small way, “one of mine.”

You see (and, if you’re reading this, will already know), I was once the director and overseer of one of the most wonderful places on earth. My wife and I together ran this place as a priest and pani, called by our loving bishop to continue the building up of this wonderful edifice and monument to God’s love of nature and youthful, innocent faith. We served there faithfully for five years. But because of some unplanned turns, our tenure ended by choice and circumstance, and we moved on by our own choices. That move was difficult, as the love we had for that place and (more importantly) the people, did not leave us. And the death of this young man has caused that pain to resurface, and I’m using this blog to process and share why we experienced some of that pain.

When I was first assigned to this place I was given very specific instructions from my bishop, the same bishop whom I loved, and loved to serve. You must know by now, whether you agree with such a sentiment I cannot know, that I am what some call a “bishop’s boy.” Though the term is often used disparagingly, I’ve always worn the moniker with honor. I was greatly influenced by the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch. I believe that when one loves and obeys his bishop that good things will happen. If one just trusts and obeys his bishop he will be trusting in the Lord Himself to guide the bishops hand and all will be well. The truth is, I am still this way today. I still believe in Ignatius’ words.

However, not all good things come quickly.

While I was at this wonderful place I obeyed my bishop from day one and did so gladly. While there, I had the privilege of having a staff. I was blessed because they were all wonderful. They all meant the world to me and I have forgotten none of them. This staff worked with me and trusted me. In return, I tried never to abuse that trust, as I valued it so much. They worked as hard as I did and the Lord blessed us all in allowing us to see some miraculous things in the lives which we were permitted to be a part of.

But after some years, though the bishops health declined, my loyalty did not. I still believed that if one were to remain faithful to his own bishop, no matter the situation, all would work out. However, I never figured on the fact that others might understand their roles in serving the bishop differently than I did. I fault no one for interpreting their own directives from the same bishop as they will. However, confusion ensued, a confusion which I do not fully understood even to this day. Some others wished that I would do things a bit differently than I had been directed by the bishop in the administration of that wonderful place, for they believed they understood the situation better than the bishop. Whether they were right or not, I do not know and I will leave this for others to judge. My goal was singular in staying faithful to my bishop’s directives even when they appeared different from those around him. Little did I know that this confusion was not going to be something easily rectified. Alas, I suffered greatly in the midst of this confusion.

The culmination of this confusion led to me being accused by some of disobeying my bishop because I was unable to follow as closely (as some had hoped) the directives of those serving the bishop. This was especially difficult as the bishops directives from his own mouth did not always match the directives given to me by others. I hold no anger towards anyone involved, and if it sounds as if I do, then blame it on poor writing, not actual intent. To this day, I’m not sure I should have done anything differently than I did. In regards to my obedience to the will of my bishop and the growth of that place, my conscience is very clear. I always did my best to be honest and forthcoming, and sometimes direct to a fault. However, while I have many sins as a fallen man, I have never felt that the intentional disobedience of my bishop was ever one of them.

After this confusion had come to its head, the pain which I felt, which came from my own disillusionment about what went wrong, was very difficult for me to bear. Another bishop, who knew my character, came to me and offered me and my family refuge from this pain. He offered us peace in a small parish, somewhere (anywhere) else.

By leaving quietly, I would never have to rehash certain experiences and revisit the hurt while explaining to someone why I thought a change in geography might be good for us, nor insult anyone involved in our “administrative struggles” during the process. This new place would not worry too much or ask too often what brought me to my new assignment. And I would not be called nor tempted to slander any persons whom I had formerly had any misgivings about. This alternative path seemed very desirable to me at the time. Had I chosen to stay, I was concerned that I truly might become bitter. I recall talking about it with my own confessor at the time. The decision was not an easy one, but at the time, I felt like I had no other real decision to make.

Many years have now passed. Much of the hurt has passed, but some of it has not. The parts which have not passed come from leaving behind the place and the people whom we had loved so truly. Thus, I ave written all of this precisely so that I could tell those who might make it this far, that my wife and I loved all of you, truly and honestly. We failed many of you, I’m certain, in our weakness as sinners, but we only and always wanted the best for you and your faith and worked towards that end. We sought diligently to witness a good and moral Christian life. We truly believed if we could express our authentic Christian love to each of you, rain or shine, that this love would shine through you to the little ones whom we all served together. We have forgotten not a one of you. When we left, we did not actively reach out to you because we did not want to be a burden to any of you, not because we did not long to. We figured if you wished to reach out to us, you would, and we were o.k. with that. We also hoped that the distance would allow all of you to focus on serving your bishop and your priests, without the distraction of our presence. I know that could be taken as an egocentric statement, but we knew well how camp life looms large in the minds of campers and staff and I hope our willing distance affirms our belief that the world did not revolve around us, but that your relationships to your bishop and priests were more important than any shortcomings we may have experienced. We believed a healthy distance actually might be best in allowing everyone to move on towards Christ without distraction, though it was the last thing we really wanted. The passing of this young man reminded me that this decision and distance, while still firmly believed to have been the right thing to do, did not come without its suffering as we all, to some degree, drifted apart. And the weight of that reality brings me sadness.

So I say now to those who might read this and understand to some small degree the things of which I speak, my wife and I still love you, all of you. We think of you, we pray for you, we desire the finest earthly blessings for each and every one of you. We long to sing with you the hymns which we so often sung in that church in those woods, those hymns sung by our grandfathers and grandmothers. We long to hear and take part in their melodies with you, like we had done before. But we are also thankful for the gifts we have and the people God has given us to love now, like we did you, but to whom we are called to serve today. I have a new bishop whom I love and obey like the first. I belong to a brotherhood who loves me, though truly unworthy I am. This is not something I long to walk away from, for I know the hurt which walking away creates, whether the walk is right and true, or not.

I didn’t have all the answers then, I don’t have all the answers now. But know for sure, as much as I can muster in telling you, that we always tried to act honestly, truthfully, and lovingly (and do believe we did). Every day, we knew the Lord was watching and we tried to act accordingly, always trying to maintain a high level of integrity so as never to lead any of you astray by our example. I am unaware that we ever lied to you, to our bishop, or any to priest whom we served or served alongside of. Confusions come precisely because we do not always understand one another as well as we think. But understand this about us, our family still and will always love all of you, and are eternally grateful for the time we were given with you. We pray that we might have more times together with you in the future, however they may come. Christ is Risen!

In Vigilance and In Paradox: The Fullness of the Christian Journey

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As we approach the Great Feast of the Nativity, I have been struck by the constant presence of paradox which we Christians constantly face.  While the word paradox itself seems to have several slightly varied meanings, Merriam-Webster says that it may be used to denote “something (such as a situation) that is made up of two opposite things and that seems impossible but is actually true or possible.”

It seems to me as a lover of both the Old and New Testaments as well as a believer in Jesus Christ as Messiah, that we are not only forced by circumstance to comfortably dwell in paradox but that it is right within that cultural and religious meilieu where God wants us to be. You see, we are a people who should properly acknowledge that God is the Great Creator of cosmos. As one of our beloved ancient prayers accounts, He “tumbles the planets in His fingers.” He is the Great Unknowable for we are small and finite, He is Omnipotent and Infinite. However, as Christians who will soon celebrate the Incarnation, that is, that God came and dwelt among us, in the flesh, we now claim to know Him. We now believe that God is knowable through Jesus Christ. The Untouchable was touched by His mother Mary, embraced by His brothers Peter and Andrew, James and John. This is truly a paradox, and we, have properly learned to see that God is capable of bridging the unbridgeable. The evil one is incapable of this miracle. He seems to be most effective when he convinces us to embrace blind fellowship or ignorant acceptance of our circumstances. Jesus Christ calls us to a greater fullness of human understanding. He challenges our thinking from the rigorous either/or and left/right paradigms, into something bigger.

Of course, Christians are called to be moral, we are called to embrace the commandments, we are even challenged to become even more righteous than the Pharisees with whom Jesus so often debated. Yet at the same time, Christ denies the Pharisees an opportunity to stone an adulteress and is often accused of violating laws regarding the Sabbath. He introduced many Pharisees into what seemed a paradox. Of course, none of what I am saying should lead anyone to believe, however, that I am in any way calling us to a less moral life, I am certainly not, and according to Christ’s own words neither is He. What I am suggesting is that the moral life which we are called to live, by Christ’s own words and example, must now be rigorously viewed through the lens of God’s all-encompassing love even if this sometimes seems confusing. We are now called to a higher, more discerning life.

The Incarnation itself is a huge hint that God is not a simpleton. We are constantly called to discern this higher kind of faith which surpasses the Law, yet He says to us in Matthew 18:3, “Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Though He seeks from us a faith which exhibits innocence, He certainly is not calling us to some “childish” kind of faith, but a “child-like” kind of faith. Childishness is selfishness, black and white, and an “I’m right and your stupid” kind of attitude.  Child-like faith is gentle and cautious, yet aggressively affectionate and willing to follow. Child-like faith will require us to “judge with right judgment” but also to “pull the plank from our own eyes.”  Such teachings are challenging and seem paradoxical to our limited minds and hearts, which push and pull us. But will take a child-like desire to negotiate these types of terrain. We must become willing to ask questions with the hopes of actually seeking answers. That’s what children do, they ask questions of adults because they believe they have the answers.  We have to be willing to do the same with God.

When it comes to worship, paradox seems ever-present. As Orthodox Christians, we fully defend and uphold that the Father scripturally reveals worship as He would have it throughout the Old and New Testament. To not see the beauty of worship in ritual and tradition is to ignore completely whole chapters of Deuteronomy, Exodus, and even the Psalms.  We glean from New Testament revelation the depths of God-inspired ritual and traditions in regards to what heavenly worship looks like, that Jesus Christ spent a great deal of time in formal, beautiful worship, and that His followers did too, even AFTER His Ascension. Yet on the other side, Jesus appears to purge the temple of those who defile the temple, often accused of doing so to purge the temple of the very worship which He called the Jews to embrace. But in truth, He did this not because of their worship, but because of their lack of true worship. The Lord is not being inconsistent or paradoxical though it may seem. He is simply calling us to a higher level of worship, grounded in love and understanding.

Jesus Christ is revolutionary. He challenges the Human Person to see God in a bigger way than he or she has ever seen Him before.  He challenges us to approach one another with a kind of openness like the world has never seen.  He was clear with us that in order to embrace the Real and Living God, one would have to learn to embrace the Great Paradox, as real a fullness of relationship would require. If we are to be followers of The Way, we will have to get comfortable with the same. I say we’ll even have to become more vigilant in embracing what sometimes feels like a paradox. If we are to become true Christians of the true faith, we must be willing to see God for who He is, and become comfortable within the great visions of paradox with which He weaves. Though we crave a fuller understanding of all things, not all things will necessarily be shared with us in this life, and as Christians, we will have to become ok with that to some degree. He is God and knows all things and understands all things which we call paradox, even though we do not yet. If we did, then we would be god, but thankfully (for everyone’s sake), we are not.

So let us step back and appreciate He who tumbles all things in His hands, and who loves those who love Him. Let us learn to be patient with He who sends His Son in the Flesh in order that we too might be saved by Him who teaches us to love and to learn about Him in new and better ways, until the day upon which He chooses to reveal all things to those whom He wishes.

Pondering Jesus Isn’t the Reason for the Season, Worshipping Him Is!

adoration-of-the-magi

After having read countless wonderful and thought-provoking articles and blogs during this time of year, I felt compelled to write my own. However, it is not because I found anything wrong with the many articles and blogs with which I have already read. Each encouraged people to engage the season in a better way, for whatever reason the author saw fit. To be honest, what inspired me to engage in a such a work like this came from a conversation I recently had on the phone with someone.

The conversation began, “Father, will there be Liturgy next Sunday?” As many of you may already be aware, Christmas Day 2016 falls on a Sunday this year. The person continued by surmising this, “Because Christmas falls on a Sunday this year…” The implication from this caller, which only came to me after a few seconds of dead silence, was that I should be reminded that having Sunday Divine Services on Christmas Day, of all days, might actually be a detriment to attendance, and the individual on the other line thought it important to share this with me. I also gathered that they were basically telling me that they themselves would be one of those people not in attendance, being that it was going to be “Christmas morning” and they will have presents to open and other things to do (things more important than worship and Holy Communion, apparently).

I shouldn’t have been, but I was a bit dumbfounded. Not that they would miss church (that happens all the time), but that they (as someone who likely considers themselves a churchgoer) had just said to a clergy person (like myself), essentially with their own voice, that Christmas Day and the worship of Jesus Christ shouldn’t be co-mingled. Worse, this seems like a prevailing idea among many modern Christians and even with Orthodox Christians, who should know better. The problem is, it is completely revisionist and/or delusional.

Today, we are continuing in the historical practice of associating the Feast Day of the Nativity of Jesus Christ with activities which initially had nothing to do with the celebration of the Feast itself. Of course, the drum is beaten time and time again that we have commercialized Christmas too much, and of course, that is true. We have been told that we have made Christmas about things which it should not be about, and on that point we are correct. But I think, most importantly, we have forgotten that all of those other activities which we have engaged in outside of worship, even the ones which are inherently good (time with family, serving the poor), are not historically what Christmas “is all about.”

The English word Christmas comes to us from the Old English word Crīstesmæsse which, of course, translates to “Christ’s Mass.” In the Roman Catholic Tradition, this was a day when the Roman Church would celebrate, with the celebration of MASS, the celebration of the feast. In Orthodox Christianity in the East, the great Feast was and is commemorated as the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ since the last of the 2nd and early part of the 3rd centuries.

Orthodox Christians have historically prepared for this feast with what we call the Nativity Fast. Orthodox Christians Fast not only as a spiritual discipline but typically in preparation for Great Feasts (or in honor of them, on the day). That is, we fast up until we celebrate said feast, after which the fast is immediately broken upon the reception of the Holy Eucharist and the service in which it was offered. The point is, that the only reason early Christians fasted during this particular time of year, was in anticipation of the celebration and worship of Jesus Christ on the Feast Day of His birth at Divine Liturgy.

Therefore, the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus Christ during the worship services is the actual “reason for the season.” Though I think I know what people mean when they say Jesus is the reason for the season, I think that saying God is the reason (or cause) of the season is quite obvious (He’s the reason for all seasons). What seems to have become less obvious is that many of us have taken part in the slow erosion of the most important tradition linked to the Christian day, that is, that Christians are specifically called upon to celebrate the Feast of His Nativity with communal worship!

It is wonderful to commemorate the day with Christmas lights, Christmas trees, presents under said tree, helping out in a soup kitchen, singing Christmas Carols and spending time with family. But none of those things are the reason we celebrate Christmas in any Christian sense.  All of those things come out of our worship and are themselves not the source of our worship. The American Christmas Tree itself came to us from Eastern European “Paradise Plays” on December 24th, in anticipation of the Great Feast. Christmas Carols are derived from Christian worship hymns sung in anticipation of the feast. Gift giving is in imitation of the Three Wise Men who came offering gifts, that they might “worship him.” That is, all of our Christmas Traditions worth mentioning, stem from sources all related to the Worship of Jesus Christ and the worship services which took place on the day commemorating His Nativity.

Christians have been celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25th since the earliest times of our Christian worship. The holiday of Christmas was for early Christians the HOLY DAY of the Nativity of Jesus Christ. Not going to church and not worshipping God with your fellow Christians on such an important day was unthinkable. Today, even among Christians of Ancient Faiths, modern expressions of Christian faith have become so personal that many of us have willfully forgotten about the power of unity among believers and the glorious worship that might come from their shared and corporate expressions. St. Paul says:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  – Hebrews 10:24-25

The “Day” which Paul is speaking of is Sunday, the day of Worship. He is expressly telling his people that we are to “stir up one another to love and good works” and to “encourage one another.” He is also making it clear that in order to do that best, we must NOT “neglect to meet.” This would have been true not only for Sunday, but for all major feasts and holy days. The fact that this year’s Christmas day falls on a Sunday should only make attendance at worship services easier for most of us, not more difficult.

This year, we have been given the opportunity to Worship the Birth of  Jesus Christ on the day typically set aside as the Day on which we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which we repeat each and every week. In my humble opinion, as Ancient Christians, we have little excuse not to be there (unless sickness or emergency prevents us). Otherwise, we have openly and honestly decided in our own minds that the best way to celebrate the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ has little or nothing to do with worshipping Him. In that case, we may either wish to reevaluate what it actually means to be a worshipping Christian, or decide whether or not we wish to actually call ourselves Christian and to follow Him at all.

My intent is not to insult or hurt anyone’s sensibilities. But to pretend that being a Christian and celebrating His feasts has actually nothing to do with being a Christian and celebrating His feasts is too much for me to bear without, at the very least, saying something.

I pray, truly, that anyone who might have taken the time to read this will have a most blessed Christmas Day. But I also hope that you find time to worship Him, to worship the One whose birth and incarnation witnessed to the world that God has entered the world so that we might be freed from the very delusion which we so often find ourselves influenced by. I am trying to seek Truth. Come with me, and worship the Lord on the day of His birth and perhaps we can find Truth together, by His will. There will be plenty of time afterward to open presents, feast on Christmas pies, and then fall asleep on a recliner…

 

 

 

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A Meager Tribute to a Good and Worthy Friend! Memory Eternal, Todd Kanick!

Todd and FamilyThe last time I wrote here, it was for the same reason, and here I am again.

The world has lost another good man as I see it, and I am in despair.

This past week, a high school friend of mine, Todd Kanick, unexpectedly passed away from a yet to be determined cause. A friend, close to the discovery, revealed that the cause of death was not clear.  This has not stopped the rumors, and it upsets me greatly.

However, to get to the point, I am writing today for I am still dismayed and grieved. I write because I am frustrated, though I blame no one person for that fact. I am writing because my voice is not loud enough, and I want to shout out something that I really think needs to be said, so I’ll get on with it.

For starters, I cannot claim to be Todd’s best friend, nor was he mine. I do not wish to overstate our relationship, but at the same time, I don’t wish to understate it.  I think I knew him quite well and I believe I knew his character which is why I mention all of this.

While we attended school together, I would say we were pretty good friends. We sang together for years in Chorus and Chorale (both tenors and both over 6 foot, so we were often positioned next to one another). We performed in stage shows and performances together many times. We both loved our respective athletics, but also enjoyed singing (not a typical combination, as we both knew). We also enjoyed very similar music tastes, which in and of itself, can lead easily to friendship during the teenage years. We both immensely enjoyed more obscure types of hip hop, dance, and house music, while always looking forward to school dances very much. Sharing so many things in common with another offers a lot of validation to a young man looking for others like him and being able to actively to participate in those interests with a friend is a rare thing.  C.S. Lewis wrote in “The Four Loves,”

Friendship arises out of mere companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and, which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure.

I think Todd and I shared more than just a few things in common and being able to acknowledge those shared interests together created a real friendship for which I was grateful. Unfortunately, that friendship did not continue much out of high school, and I guess, that in growing up and moving away, that is often expected. Facebook, that “thing” which I loathe yet often rely on, allowed us to stay connected, if even just poorly.  We communicated just a few weeks ago after he had shaved his beard after having kept it for so long. Our dialog was good, and he finished with something like, “I’m always here for you,” or at least he said something like it.  Typical Todd.

And this is why I’m writing today. Yesterday I had the blessing of attending Todd’s funeral. There was a granite box placed on a table with a picture from his facebook page in a small wooden frame. I’m sure the family did the very best they could under the circumstances to make the surroundings beautiful and I mourn for them and with them.  There were calling hours and they concluded with a brief service offered by a very kind pastor, who did the best he could with what he had to work with. He even offered the family an opportunity to offer a few words, thus several of them graciously shared their thoughts and experiences, offering some kind memories and experiences they shared with Todd. I remained silent as I was not family, and honestly, really enjoyed the anonymity and solace of the corner chair. I was surrounded by his family and friends in front, and gladly, several of my fellow “Tigers” who knew him better and were part of his circle sat to the left of me.

However, I have an admission. I did not find solace in the service. I personally received no closure from it though I am certain others did.  The early part of the service had been dedicated to sharing memories of his life, and so I yearned to be moved by the sharing of the greatness of what Todd was, something that I think the beauty of his life revealed and which the world needed to hear.  However, those who spoke, through no fault of their own, could not provide what I selfishly wanted to hear. In truth, I do believe someone said the word compassion, but it was in passing, at the end of a sentence.  Not at the beginning of a paragraph or a story, which I longed to hear about.

I have another admission, one I never shared with Todd. I saw him like a slightly older brother for whom I had great affection and admiration. While he was only one year ahead of me, he always seemed to be right where I wanted to be, the kind of guy I would yearn to become. The girls thought he was great, he sang wonderfully, and he was well loved by all who knew him.  I knew he struggled with depression, but being a teenager, I was unsure how to help him with that, so I just stayed away when he was down (the exact “wrong” thing to do). He was a better friend to me than I was to him.  For Todd was always building me up.  We both self-deprecated, but when I did, he would stop me and have “none of that”. He complimented me when I sang well (something most guys at that age are naturally averse to doing, in my estimation). He was always trying to get me to believe that I was better than I was, and for that, I am forever grateful. Through this attitude, he also taught me how to simply enjoy the presence of another person and appreciate them for what they had to offer, not for what I merely demanded and desired. As some of this writing reveals, I have yet to attain his appreciation and contentment. I wanted to hear stories like that, because I knew they existed.

Now I don’t expect everyone to be excellent at public speaking (this is not a critique of any person), I’m certain that I also am lacking and thus will cast no stones, but I am well aware of God’s mercy and forgiveness, I just longed so much for everyone to hear what God was trying to teach us through Todd, and that’s what was missing for me.  I longed to hear how Todd had changed lives by his presence. I longed to hear not that he was just nice and fun to be around, which he was, but I longed to hear how he had changed the world because of who he was. Precisely because he did, and I knew it. Instead, I found myself simply holding back tears for his children whom would not have the blessing of their father in their lives and fearing that they might not fully comprehend Todd’s great character and integrity as a person of deep compassion. For me, that was his greatest and most shining light.

One of my personal tragedies in all of this is that I didn’t realize his impact on me until after I had heard about his death and completed the obligatory walk through old high school pictures and yearbooks that seem to occur at times like these. It was at that moment that I recalled how much time Todd and I had spent together and recalled how much he influenced me in my formative teenage years. Since our time together was often cloaked in school events, extra-curricular activities, and long bus rides to performances and competitions, I had forgotten just how much time I had to share with and learn from him. All of the memories of Todd and how much he built me up when others would tear down, flooded back to me. His deep character of lifting up others around himself with absolutely no hopes of a return reveal the depth of what constitute a really good man. Even now this makes no sense to me, as I could offer him nothing. No clique status, no expertise, no return on investment could come from me. But still he built me up because it was a part of his core personhood to do just that. This is how he emulated God and I didn’t want to leave home until someone shouted it out loud. This is where the light of Christ shined through Todd and I wanted everyone to know not just how he treated just those whom he loved, but also the least of us. This trait which allowed him to focus on the good of a person, paying little or no attention to the bad, needs to be emphasized so we can all properly cheer bravo!  He became, even as a young man beyond his years something which we talk about often but seem to know little about, unconditional love and friendship. This is the message I wanted everyone present to hear, but never did.

Every time his daughter walked by me or I saw his younger son sitting with his cousins and friends, I wanted to tell them, “your daddy was a really, really great man, and I know that the both of you truly have the potential to be really amazing precisely because you are a part of him and his goodness can live on through you.” I regret that I didn’t and hope that anyone who might stumble upon this little bit of writing might share this with them if they are able.

I felt relieved and honored to have sat next to his old high school friends because I had the deep feeling that they knew these amazing things about him already. That is, though his last several years had been tough, they remembered him as did I, at his greatest. Unfortunately, I felt that the harbinger of an unexplained death and several years of the haze which depression sometimes leaves was too thick in the air, and inside of me that tension was heavy and my internal dialogue made it hard to accept that just a few nice words and sincere prayers might alone be his legacy.

Greatness must be lifted up and exalted, or we will learn to be satisfied with mediocrity, and in the end, we’ll have nothing to look forward to or hope for that is good, because we forgot to praise the good, and thus will fail to praise God who is the source of all good. Todd was a great man, regardless of affliction. He was more than friendly, for he truly and deeply cared, making his depression even worse when that caring wasn’t reciprocated. I am as guilty as any for not reaching out, and ask him to forgive me. He was more than a nice guy, he was inherently kind and fundamentally gentle. The light of compassion emulated from him like fire and I, for one, will not live another day without emulating that which he was naturally, even if for me, I must work at it.

Of course, I’m relatively sure no one else there was feeling the way I felt probably because they are more gracious than I, and I ask forgiveness if I have offended any who found solace in the services. Rather, it is likely that you are more like Todd than I and saw the good amongst that which I found lacking. I am a man and a fool and enough of both to admit it, and am thus often mistaken. But again, everyone did their best to witness their love for Todd, and I am sure, in that, none were lacking.

But for Todd, a true friend and a good man, I wish you Godspeed and eternal memory. If the Lord allows us to meet again, I will rejoice on that day, for it feels right now like that day can’t come soon enough. I pray that the Lord grant you peace and the forgiveness of sins, as I a sinner ask humbly for your prayers. Your life made a difference in this fallen world because you emulated the good and thus emulated God. Since we all know now what this kind of person looks and acts like through your example and your personhood, we have no excuse not to imitate your good and real example. In this way, God reveals himself to the world through us. Thanks for being a great role model and an undeserved friend to this sinner. I am eternally in your debt and you are truly worthy of everlasting memory!

And so it begins…

And so it begins…

But it only begins because something has ended. Though the title of this, my first personal blog, might seem quirky or even pretentious, it’s not to me. For in the loss of anything, we are left with having to do something, even if that something is nothing though that’s not my intent you will see. Today, because of a tragedy, I’m choosing to do something, even as insignificant as it might be (I agree). I hope that if you have ventured to read this far that you might too. For the loss was great, the response will need to be as much.

Now to bring these thoughts swirling around my head to an actual point, I must share that yesterday evening, an old friend of mine was taken from us, far too young for my liking. He was the husband of a sweet young woman from Indiana, the father of six gorgeous young children, and the spiritual father to many, only just recently ordained.

He had much to do. He had much to write in the coming age of his golden years and I would be near the front of the line to read his conclusions. Or so I thought.

I’m speaking of the newly departed servant of God Fr. Matthew Baker. I will not imply that we were best friends, we were not. I will not try to tell his story, others are far better at such things than I and have already done so most worthily, both here and here. I am merely here to pay him homage because we were friends, and also to do something in response to that fact.

I’d like to think we were friends from the time we met though our circumstances sometimes tested that friendship, or should I say my circumstances sometimes tested our friendship. We schooled together for about two years. We shared two different sides of the same house and could hear each other through our paper thin walls. He and I sat on my front porch swing for long hours discussing things above our pay grade while he rolled his own cigarettes. When his first son Isaac was born, we found him to be precocious and playful and we played much on our living room floors. I loved those years and recall them easily and fondly. We even had a favorite Mexican Restaurant which we ate together at a couple of times with our wives and even with their new son Isaac.

But at the end of one summer, in particular, Fr. Matthew rightfully grew restless. What he both wanted and needed, that particular environment could not provide, and I am o.k. with that now. But I wasn’t then. I didn’t want him to leave, time had made us friends, even if I was a lousy one.

But the years taught me that he needed something that could only be found elsewhere. I’m glad he found it, and he did find it, as brief as “it” may have been.

Our friendship was rekindled some years back, but due to circumstances of geography, it never progressed beyond phone calls. I figured that would have to suffice until an opportunity might bring us together again for old talks. It never did.

How I looked forward to reading what he was learning for us. How I selfishly desired for him to do the reading I couldn’t or wouldn’t do so that he could pull it all together for me, make sense of it for me. That was one of the gifts God gave him and I longed for him to use those gifts. But in that, I am certain that I am just one of many.

So today I write because he will no longer be able to write. I don’t like this cold fact. The world is not a better place because Fr. Matthew can no longer write and no longer share. It is not better because he can no longer give so freely of his time and freely of his ear, in fact, it feels worse. But he and I both know we can’t allow things to stay this way. For a sorrow can never be a place of shelter within our own earthly lives. So it’s time to get moving. It’s time for me and others to pick up the slack. Now there are no guarantees that anything I write will ever be of any help to anyone, but today, because of Fr. Matthew’s unintentional prompting (at least I think it’s unintentional), I’ll take that chance. I’ll make a try.

For in truth, when a good life ends, there is a void. Death does that. Death is terrible, and I will not pretend to like it. I will weep as my God wept at Lazarus’s tomb, for I am certain death was not a part of the original design. But it is part of the fabric now, and only Christ has the tools to mend it. So I will not be without hope, and neither will I slumber, at least not today.

I started this blog well over a year ago, and I had yet to write and post one word, until today. It just sat there in the blogosphere, unused. Today, I vow to try to do better. I will try to write more today, partly because he can’t. I am not bold enough or stupid enough to believe I can ever or will ever write anything with the depth he obtained and was still in the process of obtaining. But I will try to be a brick in the great edifice of the Faith (pun intended), or at the very least, a bit of mortar.

For I believe that both Fr. Matthew and I (and others like us) shared something then which we still share now, our love for God and His Holy Gospel. Our shared belief that Jesus Christ is real and concrete and subsequently, that we are all made in the image of God, seemed to be enough to drive us foolishly to believe that we should do something grand about it. Foolish because we can’t on our own, but brilliant because He can, and He might even want to use us to do it. Admittedly, my part in doing something about these beliefs and their consequence seems much smaller than Fr. Matthew’s, but I’ll do my part anyway. I’ll try to be the mortar for the great writers already out there today, who already surpass even the best I could ever give on any given day of their choosing. But there must be room for someone small like me, so I’ll do my part, and I will do it at your prompting, no matter how unintentional the push may be.

Brother, I have remembered the name of you and your family from the very first day of my ordination. Rest assured those prayers will not cease. Though now I will now have to move your name from the living column to the departed. To be clear, I am none to happy about this, but there is some joy in saying your name along great priests who mean a lot to me right beside your name. Your beloved family will remain in my prayers with the other Christian militant.

So thank you brother for your time, for your gifts, and for your devotion to the thing we shared most. May your memory be eternal and may you be found worthy of blessedness. Remember me in your prayers, I will need them if I am to be of any use here. And pray to the Lord that I might write even just a few words which reveal the truth of our God to those who desire to know Him, to those looking to love Him, and even to those who are not. I’ll start today because of you. In fact, I just did, and I thank you for that nudge.

And so it goes…