Monday, June 30, 2008

The Problem of Pride

So this past weekend was Gay Pride weekend here in the Twin Cities.

The new Roman Catholic bishop in town put the kibosh on the annual Gay Pride Prayer Service, held for many years in conjunction with all of the other Pride festivities. He would not allow this service to be held in the sanctuary of a local church. And the local gay and allied community (which includes some of my friends and even some family) is outraged.

A friend referred me to this article in yesterday's paper, written in response to this outrage. I don't read this columnist much (I'm afraid I am not the most conservative of Orthodox Christians) but I think I agree with her about this - about 100%. She sums up many of the things which have made me uneasy about this issue, especially as it relates to the church, in recent years.

Pride simply has no place in the church - any sort of pride in any Christian church. And I'm not convinced it has any place in the rest of our lives either. The whole notion of gay pride in general is as ridiculous as the notion of straight pride; as if anyone - gay or straight - has anything to be proud of.

I'm just naive enough to not know whether Pride Weekend is just a local annual observance or whether it is a nationwide thing - but really, I don't care. I wouldn't go to a gay pride prayer service, anyway.

For the record, I wouldn't go to a straight pride prayer service, either.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul

The icon depicts Sts. Peter and Paul a loving embrace. The two weren't always in agreement with one another, and they often argued about many things, but they never lost the love that they had for each other as brothers in Christ. And they never lost the zeal that kept them preaching the Gospel of Christ to all nations. For this reason, the Orthodox Church celebrates their memories on June 29th.

- from the website of The Orthodox Christian Fellowship, Pittsburgh, PA


There's a good lesson for all Christians to be had here.

A Natal Day Greeting

Yesterday evening got completely away from me and I meant to post a birthday greeting to this wonderful man - who has been my best friend for nearly thirty years, and my husband for nearly fifteen.

(Belated) happy birthday to DearHusband!

His age?

Now (and for the next 4 months) the same as mine!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Mixed Messages

I read with dismay this morning a post by LCMS pastor Benjamin Harju about a congregation which consecrates Goldfish crackers at the communion and distributes them to children who, in their tradition, are not old enough to receive communion. I wish I could say that I was shocked by this practice - sadly, I was not. I wish I were. And I'm not going to address the Goldfish thing - it is outside the realm of my experience (thank God!) and there is only so much room in cyberspace ...

But Pr. Harju mentions in the comments that this practice sends a mixed message, just as the Orthodox practice of distributing "friendship bread" (antidoron) "sends a mixed message."

As I contemplate that notion, I am led to suspect that it might seem to the non-Orthodox visitor at liturgy that there are several things we do at liturgy which might seem to "send a mixed message."

The veneration of icons might send a message to the visitor that we worship "graven images" - or even that we worship the saints. We don't.

If a visitor notices the faithful kissing the priest's hand, it might send a message that we worship the priest. We don't.

If a visitor notices that there are no women serving in the altar, it might send a message that the Orthodox hate or disrespect women, or that we dont' feel they are "worthy" of such service. That is not the case.

If a visitor hears "Preserve, O God, the Holy Orthodox faith and Orthodox Christians unto ages of ages..." it might send a message to them that we don't care a whit about anyone else. Not true.

If a non-Orthodox visitor approaches the chalice at communion and is not permitted to receive, it might send a message that we don't think they are a Christian. That's not true either.

And I'm sure that there are other things done within the context of Orthodox worship which might be confusing or which might "send a mixed message" to those who are unfamiliar with it. I name these particular things because they are some which come to mind from my own memory of early visits to Orthodox liturgies. I didn't understand certain practices and traditions and I was actually a little suspicious of them.

The point is that it is not the purpose of the liturgy to send any sort of message to those who visit (though if the visitor pays attention, lots of messages are there!) The purpose of the liturgy is to worship God. And if a visiting worshipper is confused or is receiving "mixed messages," the best thing to do is either to ask questions (totally OK!) or to come back a few times - because sometimes the questions are answered naturally over a bit of time, simply by participation in the liturgy.

In this day and age in this country, many who visit churches expect that the church exists to make us comfortable, to affirm us, to entertain us, to babysit our kids, to provide a weekly emotional high, to help us celebrate ourselves, to give us a sentimental warm fuzzy at Christmas and Easter, and generally to provide us with everything that we like and want - on demand.

And so Orthodox liturgy might look a bit strange to those first time visitors. And if they come to liturgy with any preconceived notion that this is what the church is supposed to be, they will - and should - receive "mixed messages" and generally be disappointed. But if in time a visitor can come to understand the purpose of liturgy, to whom worship is addressed and why, and to find their own work in the work of the people, the messages they receive become less and less mixed.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Three Turkeys for the Turkey

Our boys had a great time participating with their cousins in a fall/winter/spring bowling league this past year, and so when the league was overwith, we decided to join an 8-week family league for the summer.

DearHusband and I thought it would be a good family activity - something we can do together before our teenager and tweenager would rather spend time with others, and something which would get us up and moving at least once a week, and something which would keep the guys in shape until their league starts again this fall.

We're all pretty crummy bowlers, really - but we've had a great time. The boys, particularly ElderSon, are actually getting better!

I took a semester of bowling in college to fulfill a Phy Ed requirement, but had no idea back then that those skills would ever really come in handy. But tonight - for the third week in a row, I got a turkey (three strikes in a row)! As you can see by the photo, they came in handy as this game was not going so well.

Never underestimate the value of a good midwestern Lutheran liberal arts education!

Anxious? Depressed? Go to Church!



Incense is psychoactive: Scientists identify the biology behind the ceremony
New study in the FASEB Journal shows how and why molecules released from burning incense in religious ceremonies alleviate anxiety and depression


Religious leaders have contended for millennia that burning incense is good for the soul. Now, biologists have learned that it is good for our brains too. In a new study appearing online in The FASEB Journal (http://www.fasebj.org), an international team of scientists, including researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, describe how burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain to alleviate anxiety or depression. This suggests that an entirely new class of depression and anxiety drugs might be right under our noses.

“In spite of information stemming from ancient texts, constituents of Bosweilla had not been investigated for psychoactivity,” said Raphael Mechoulam, one of the research study’s co-authors. “We found that incensole acetate, a Boswellia resin constituent, when tested in mice lowers anxiety and causes antidepressive-like behavior. Apparently, most present day worshipers assume that incense burning has only a symbolic meaning.”

To determine incense’s psychoactive effects, the researchers administered incensole acetate to mice. They found that the compound significantly affected areas in brain areas known to be involved in emotions as well as in nerve circuits that are affected by current anxiety and depression drugs. Specifically, incensole acetate activated a protein called TRPV3, which is present in mammalian brains and also known to play a role in the perception of warmth of the skin. When mice bred without this protein were exposed to incensole acetate, the compound had no effect on their brains.

“Perhaps Marx wasn’t too wrong when he called religion the opium of the people: morphine comes from poppies, cannabinoids from marijuana, and LSD from mushrooms; each of these has been used in one or another religious ceremony.” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. “Studies of how those psychoactive drugs work have helped us understand modern neurobiology. The discovery of how incensole acetate, purified from frankincense, works on specific targets in the brain should also help us understand diseases of the nervous system. This study also provides a biological explanation for millennia-old spiritual practices that have persisted across time, distance, culture, language, and religion—burning incense really does make you feel warm and tingly all over!”

Sunday, June 15, 2008

It's a Wrap!

It was a very busy weekend for the Transposzing family!

We spent much of Saturday at Birch Lake Camp (just outside Elk River, MN - a mere 45 minutes from home) with other members of our church. No specific agenda for the day except for some relaxation and fellowship in a place removed from home. It was a lovely setting, affording the 30 or so who came a chance to swim, canoe, fish, play some ball, gab, read, eat, and enjoy a gorgeous day at the lake.

We also prayed Vespers together in the first outdoor Orthodox worship service I've ever attended. It was nice, actually - the camp (I think it belongs to a local LCMS congregation) had a little bonfire area with amphitheatre sort of seating (like many Lutheran Bible Camps do). Fr. Jonathan assembled a little makeshift outdoor sanctuary utilizing a weathered old bench and a log from the stash of wood nearby, and an icon and candle he'd brought along for the service. It was lovely, really.



And it worked very well for Vespers in this setting.




We left the camp shortly after supper and made it home before a brief but substantial thunderstorm broke - leaving us enough time to put away our stuff from camp and give our sons their summer haircuts.

Pentecost liturgy this morning was beautiful, a friend was received as a communicant into our parish by chrismation, and a lovely luncheon followed the service.

Immediately after liturgy, DearHusband and I sped off to another Orthodox Church for SpiritFest, an every-other-year event sponsored by our local Orthodox Clergy Association to help introduce Orthodox Christianity to curious locals who wish to learn more about it. There were lectures given at various points throughout the afternoon, smaller sessions with brief introductions to Orthodox worship and Sacraments, parishes were invited to bring a few icons from their churches to contribute to a large display, and each parish was asked to bring a display board with information and photos from their own church. Two of my artsiest friends (one of whom is also a member of our church) and I assembled the display for our church. Actually, my artsy friends did most of the grunt labor - my contributions were more conceptual (as I told our priest, I spent alot of time pointing and nagging and barking out orders). But the display turned out well and I think gave a farily decent representation of our church and its worship and parish life. Here's our display:



(One of the panels is a bit obscured, as there were people standing near me, so I had to take the photo from a side angle. But if you want a closer look, click on the image).

SpiritFest ended with a Vespers service at 5 p.m. - but ... it's Father's Day (and the father of my kids had to staff the display for much of the afternoon) and we'd sort of been on the run all weekend, my Sunday-morning-headache had hung on well into the afternoon, and our kids had been home on their own about long enough, we thought. We briefly considered staying for the Vespers service ... and then decided to go home and get the boys, grab a coupla Ibuprofin and join another couple from church for beer and hot wings, instead.

So the weekend's over and while our laundry and housework didn't get done, our lawn didn't get mowed, and the weekly groceries didn't get purchased, thanks be to God that we have enough clothes to find something clean to wear in the morning, that we have several days to get he house in order before out-of-town guests arrive, that our neighbor's lawn is longer than ours, and that we have food enough in the pantry and freezer to keep us fed for the time being.

I'm actually sort of ready to go back to work this week.



O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth,
who art everywhere and fillest all things;
Treasury of blessings
and Giver of life;
Come and abide in us
and cleanse us from every impurity,
and save our souls,
O Good One.



It was wonderful to pray this prayer again today.

I've missed it.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Of Cats and Kids

For all those who think cats are aloof and that they really care less about us humans, I'll share the following two shots of our sons and the felines who love them.

ElderSon and Bob




YoungerSon and Dagne

(There does seem to be a relational thing here - the cats' affection seems most obvious when the boys are horizontal!)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sprouting Beans

DearHusband is trying his hand at sprouting beans. I am not sure what inspired this new hobby (I suspected he was spending a little too much time watching the Food Network) and at first I didn't really know what the point of it is, either.

I'm told that sprouted beans are very healthy, high in vitamins B and C and that sprouting the beans makes more digestable the less digestable parts of the bean.

I'm not sure about all of that, but what I do know is that they are wonderful in a green salad (which we eat often in the summer). So far he's successfully tried two different kinds of beans - garbanzo and lentil - and they were both delicious, tasting a little bit like raw fresh peas.

The picture is a little fuzzy, but the beans are great!

Transposzing the Kneeling Prayers

I remember the first time I attended Orthodox liturgy on the Feast of Pentecost - several years ago now. I was still a Lutheran then, visiting Holy Trinity with my Orthodox family that day. I'd visited enough times by then to know when the liturgy was about ended, but on this particular day as it seemed that as the liturgy was ending, there was a note of "unfinishedness" about it. I was standing in the back of the church, as was my custom when visiting (I was very self-conscious about not knowing - or understanding - the body language of Orthodox worship. So in those days as a visitor I planted myself in the back so that my ignorance and confusion would be hidden from most everyone else).

After communion was over as we came to the end of the liturgy, I noticed that folks in the perimeters of the church were sort of creeping toward the center, little by little - but I maintained my familiar position near the wall at the back. Then the priest invited worshippers to kneel and we did. It was at that moment that I realized why everyone was inching toward the center of the church - they were getting a spot on the rug. Because I hadn't followed suit, I got a spot on the nice hardwood floor as we knelt for the kneeling prayers - which were long, I remembered thinking.

I wasn't a complete stranger to kneeling at worship back then. I regularly knelt for the Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness at my own church - but we had kneelers (nice padded ones!), and the rite was, well...brief (as it promises).

I have mentioned in this forum before my creaking bad knees - and all I remember of this first experience of the Kneeling Prayers is that they felt really long. I confess that I had no idea what was actually being prayed, I just knew that my knees hurt on that hard floor after only the first couple of minutes, and that's all I knew.

In thinking about the Kneeling Prayers later that day, I sort of regretted not paying better attention to them. I was sure there was a good reason we were all kneeling for such a long time at the end of this particular liturgy - that there was something significant about these prayers - and if I'd spent less time concentrating on myself, maybe I'd have known what that reason and significance was.

In the next few years when I'd visit Holy Trinity in the spring, I was always careful to check first. "It's not Pentecost at your church this week is it? If it is, I'll let you guys do the kneeling and opt to go sit on my duff with the Lutherans and visit next week if it's all the same to you." Our kids teased me lots of times about my aversion to the Kneeling Prayers - ElderSon told me once as I accompanied them to liturgy during Nativity that there were Kneeling Prayers for Nativity, too (everyone's a comedian).

But for me the Kneeling Prayers (which are beautiful and rich prayers) are a classic example of a simple truth I have known for a long time but am learning in an even deeper way now: the liturgy is not about me - when I become consumed with myself, I miss out. And if I can just forget about myself - my own petty and personal issues and concerns and wants and preferences and allow myself to listen and participate as fully as I can in God's great gift of the liturgy, the petty issues and wants and preferences seem to be very petty indeed.

Before last Pentecost, I never prayed or even heard these beautiful prayers - I just dreaded them because they are long and they make my knees hurt. But having heard them - prayed them - having paid attention to them - I look forward to praying them again this Sunday.

Earlier this week I received this photo and text message from DearHusband's cell phone while I was at work and he was out shopping with our boys.

"YoungerSon thought you would like this for the Kneeling Prayers on Sunday."

My response: "Did you get me one?"

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

In Anticipation of the Feast

Looking toward this coming Sunday, the Feast of Pentecost, I'll share this helpful reflection by Fr. Alexander Schmemann on the Vespers of Pentecost and the Kneeling Prayers which are prayed on this day.

THE VESPERS OF PENTECOST
The liturgical peculiarity of Pentecost is a very special Vespers of the day itself. Usually this service follows immediately the Divine Liturgy, is "added" to it as its own fulfillment.

The service begins as a solemn "summing up" of the entire celebration, as its liturgical synthesis. We hold flowers in our hands symbolizing the joy of the eternal spring, inaugurated by the coming of the Holy Spirit. After the festal Entrance, this joy reaches its climax in the singing of the Great Prokeimenon: "Who is so great a God as our God?" Then, having reached this climax, we are invited to kneel. This is our first kneeling since Easter. It signifies that after these fifty days of Paschal joy and fulness, of experiencing the Kingdom of God, the Church now is about to begin her pilgrimage through time and history. It is evening again, and the night approaches, during which temptations and failures await us, when, more than anything else, we need Divine help, that presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who has already revealed to us the joyful End, who now will help us in our effort towards fulfillment and salvation.

All this is revealed in the three prayers which the celebrant reads now as we all kneel and listen to him. In the first prayer, we bring to God our repentance, our increased appeal for forgiveness of sins, the first condition for entering into the Kingdom of God. In the second prayer, we ask the Holy Spirit to help us, to teach us to pray and to follow the true path in the dark and difficult night of our earthly existence. Finally, in the third prayer, we remember all those who have achieved their earthly journey, but who are united with us in the eternal God of Love.

The joy of Easter has been completed and we again have to wait for the dawn of the Eternal Day. Yet, knowing our weakness, humbling ourselves by kneeling, we also know the joy and the power of the Holy Spirit who has come. We know that God is with us, that in Him is our victory.

Thus is completed the feast of Pentecost and we enter "the ordinary time" of the year. Yet, every Sunday now will be called "after Pentecost" - and this means that it is from the power and light of these fifty days that we shall receive our own power, the Divine help in our daily struggle. At Pentecost we decorate our churches with flowers and green branches - for the Church "never grows old, but is always young." It is an evergreen, ever-living Tree of grace and life, of joy and comfort. For the Holy Spirit - "the Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life - comes and abides in us, and cleanses us from all impurity," and fills our life with meaning, love, faith and hope.

Father Alexander Schmemann (1974)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

In the Category of Abnormally Large Vegetation ...


the award goes to ... this really big stalk of rhubarb. (YoungerSon, approximately 5 ft. tall, graciously agreed to pose with it so you can see just how big it truly is!)

DearHusband and I made a quick stop at his cousin's house this afternoon to attend (albeit briefly) an open house in honor of their daughter's graduation. I was on the deck visiting with another of his cousins and he'd gone down to the yard to see others who were there. He came up shortly afterward and said, "Come on - you gotta see their rhubarb!" Thinking that once you've seen a rhubarb plant you've seen 'em all, I went down to the yard with him to see it anyway - and it was truly impressive.

I'm guessing that this single stalk will make an entire recipe of rhubarb slush, which is so refreshing on a hot day.

Rhubarb Slush
8 c. diced rhubarb
3 c. sugar
8 c. water
1/2 c. lemon juice
1-3 ounce pkg. strawberry jello
7-Up or Sprite (to serve)

Cook the rhubarb, sugar, water, and lemon juice until the rhubarb is tender.
Strain most of the pulp out with a wire scoop and discard, retaining the cooking liquid.
Puree remaining pulp in the cooking liquid.
Stir in the package of Jello while still hot.
Freeze, stirring every few hours. (we put the mixture in an ice cream pail)
When almost frozen solid, mash the slush with a potato masher.

To serve, fill glass 2/3 full with frozen slush, then top with 7-Up or Sprite.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

God Has Gone Up With A Shout!


Wishing a blessed Feast to all who celebrate our Lord's Ascension this day!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Finally!

A return to the weather I've missed for over six months!

The Transposzing family used this beautiful weekend to work in the gardens and the yard a little, hang out some laundry (which always makes the clothes smell wonderful - but makes the towels just a little crunchy!), and relax outside.

Last night: hot dogs over the fire, followed by marshmallows when the coals were just right!




Is there any man more handsome than the one who comes bearing a platter of food?


The perfect marshmallow!



Another family member who was happy to be outside.

But of course, it's always fun until someone gets hurt. At the end of a nice evening in the yard, YoungerSon (standing a little too close to the action at the tee-off), got popped in the chops with ElderSon's golf club. It appears to be just a good clip on the chin, not harming any teeth or anything. But he's got a great, enormous bruise for presentation at school today.



His chin looks a bit like Jay Leno's - with a huge bruise! this morning, but we're thinking he's going to be OK.

(Evening update: It looks oh so much nastier now that it's about 24 hours later, so I updated it for the most current view possible!)