Monday, February 25, 2008

What a Hoot!

Philip has been playing basketball with the "Discovery League" for about the past year. Since he plays with our (practically) neighbor friend Michael we had gotten into the habit of having him picked up and transported to his practices by Mike's parents. So it's been a while since I'd been to the little gym at the local elementary school but since Mike is just playing on Wednesday nights now, I had to take Philip myself.

We walked into the school where we noticed Melvin, a 20 something year old man staring out the window waiting for...well, he just seemed to be waiting and watching...for something. Once through the door we were immediately greeted by Mary, a very friendly older teen with some yellowish-black goo stuck to her front teeth who latched on to me immediately.

Oh hi. I don't know you. Do you ever come here?

Yes, I'm Philip's mom. He usually comes with Michael.

Oh. Yeah. Is that your son?

Yes, that's my son Philip.

Oh! (she touches my belly) You're having a baby! I like babies! When will you be having the baby?

The baby's due in June.

Oh! Is it a boy or a girl?

It's a girl.

Philip, you're going to have a baby girl!

I sit down - Mary sits down so close to me her left thigh is practically in my lap.

I like basketball. I've been coming here but we couldn't come here for a while. It's been a long time. The coach said we can't come when the school is closed. The school has been closed. So we can't come when the school is closed. My mom explained that to me. Did you know that? We can't play basketball when the school is closed. But if we did basketball someplace where it isn't a school we could do basketball because it wouldn't be closed like a school. It's just because we play basketball in a school.

It went on like this for several more minutes while Heather, another late teenish young lady with down syndrome called out to Melvin from time to time

Melvin, stay here! Don't go anywhere Melvin.

I don't think Melvin was planning to move.

Finally 7:00 rolled around, the little Discovery Team kids wandered out of the gym, the coach arrived and Philip and his friends were free to shoot some hoops. Phlip was the first one on the court, zigging and zagging with a zeal obviously intended to receive some attention. It didn't gain much attention. The coach's son was too busy bouncing the basketball off his knee and his head in front of one of the moms who clapped appreciatively which was acknowledged by the performer with a deep bow and a high five.

Meanwhile another mom was cheering loudly for her son who seemed to have some proprioceptive issues. He would make an attempt at a shot, then stagger across the court to retrieve the ball. He actually managed 4 baskets in a row - apparently an unprecedented feat for him - each of which were met with enthusiastic whoops from his mom.

Another 20 year old entered the gym and was tossed a practice ball. His processing time was a bit slow so it took him a full minute, about 5 random vocalizations and a series of cryptic hand gestures to realize that he had a ball in hand and should maybe do something with it. He licked it then carried it to the other side of the court.

They spent the first half of the session in practice and then played a scrimmage for the last half. Philip got to be on the team without the annoying yellow pinnies (watching these poor folks try to navigate four random holes, a head, two arms and a waist is almost physically painful). He's definitely the fastest one on the court which is probably the fuel for his NBA aspirations. Fortunately, the coach has been doing this a long time and understands the unique dynamics in Discovery League Basketball. He's made up some of his own rules - like the one that says you have to pass the ball 4 times before you shoot. And usually you have to pass the ball to the person assigned to you by the coach. Then there's the no blocking rule. Philip prides himself in his ability to knock the ball out of other players' hands - I guess he hasn't caught on to that rule yet. Traveling is a non-rule. Following that one requires far more coordination than any of the players can handle. And shooting a basket is a Big Deal. Plenty of time is always allowed for all the players and each and every shot is met with appropriate cheers or consolations from the parents on the sidelines. I don't think there's a limit to the number of attempts allowed at scoring a basket. Philip usually makes it in within the first one or two when he's granted the ball which really does put him in the category of top scorer - even more fuel for his NBA dreams.

I had plumb forgotten how much fun these games are to watch. All the players really give their all and they are so kind to each other. High fives all around follow just about every play whether or not it was a good one. All the parents are happy to relate to all the kids - not just their own. We all understand how valuable that attention is and we all understand when someone else's kid does something completely odd or inappropriate. We are a subset of people who have learned to Take Things In Stride. I'm looking forward to the rest of the season. Discovery Hoops are a real hoot!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Metropolitan KALLISTOS Ware

(Tad noticed a distinct likeness to Obi Wan Kenobi - ya think?)
Tad caught wind of a mini-pre-Lenten retreat going on at the Greek Orthodox cathedral in Baltimore on Saturday. He went ahead and signed us both up once he realized who the speaker would be. He was very excited for the chance to actually hear in person someone whose works he'd read in seminary and which he continued to reference thereafter. Unfortunately, I was exhausted that day and had trouble staying focused but I did very much enjoy our day at the cathedral.

I found myself already thinking like a purist in the midst of the beautiful sanctuary - complete with very Western stained glass windows, a huge pipe organ in the front and...gasp...pews! What is Orthodoxy coming to?! It was, however, neat to see the gorgeous iconostasis and the front wall lined with more traditional icons and candle boxes. And the Great Door made for a grand entrance as it was opened wide and the bishop stepped through.

He is a wonderfully engaging speaker. After all my Anglophobia coming out of the CEC, however, it took me some time to get over his British accent. I was hoping for something a bit more...Eastern European I guess (especially surrounded as we were by some very Greek-looking folks).

He hit on some basic teachings of Orthodox theology of the Holy Spirit. Never once did he mention the word charismatic and yet he described a vibrant, very alive and important aspect of Orthodoxy - and thus, of Jesus. Of course his teaching was upheld by both scripture and plenty of quotes from the church fathers. He had some rather amusing anecdotes to share as well which is what made him particularly fun to hear. My mind is a muddle about the specific teachings - I have a terrible memory for these things - so I'll just have to settle with describing my general impressions of the day.

I don't know how many of these types of things I've been to in my lifetime but this was an Orthodox first for us and we felt a bit out of place. I loved the richness of the ethnicities as several jurisdictions joined together for the event and yet the Antiochian church was represented by some very not-very-Antiochian-looking folks. Since many of them were from Holy Cross I am guessing there were quite a few Western converts in the audience as well. I'm looking forward to continuing along this path. The Orthodox are people just like the Lutherans and Presbyterians and Episcopalians I hung out with throughout my childhood and early adulthood - just people doing church together - and, yet, Orthodoxy adds something slightly different to the mix. The way of thinking ventures down a different path than the ones I've trodden thus far and the ethnic mix gives the whole experience an other-worldly feel. The longer it takes me to unravel this whole experience, the happier I think I'll be. If I never get to the end of it before I die, I will have lived a full life exploring the depths of the faith. There really is no better occupation than that, I suppose.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Praying for Two

I've been trying to incorporate the Jesus Prayer into my daily discipline. I did manage to pray it halfway to PA this morning - even while listening to Narnia on CD and chatting with the kids - apparantly that can be done. Anyway, as I was praying the other morning and trying the whole thing of bringing the prayer ineriorly by praying it to the beat of my heart I realized that I have two hearts beating in my body right now. Well, that's neat I thought. So now the prayer has become Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us. I am counting on this discipline helping me through another drug-free delivery and I know that this heart connection I am forming with little Pickles will be very powerful motivation throughout labor and delivery. God really does know what He's doing....

Friday, February 15, 2008

Dang It

It's been a day of dysfunction in our little household today. Miriam, apparantly, got her period yesterday but didn't tell me. Instead she hid her pajamas under her dresser, tossed out her underwear in the trash and then tried to go along as if nothing happened (uh, except for the blood running down her leg and soaking through her clothes - eww!!!). I guess she's not doing as well as I thought with this....I just don't know how to get her to *tell* me when things like this are going in. Once I can talk her through it she manages it ok - not great, but ok. But if I don't know....grrrr....

JT has been working himself up to a nice rage for about a week now. He finally boiled over today. I'm not sure what triggered it except that maybe Ben is catching up to him in Math. He just can't get it in his head that we actually love him and want him to be a part of this crazy family. He also will not admit that he has some God-given talents and he is actually *good* at something. He was pushing my buttons all day - angry, defiant and finally out and out rebellious and disobedient and then he went away and we couldn't find him for about an hour (he was hiding in the attic). It always scares me when he goes away even though his counselor is confident he isn't really suicidal but he can get in such terrible rages and say such awful things about himself...

I took Philip and Ben to their friends' house and when I got back JT was doing his schoolwork, still rattled but trying to pull it together. He continued to be defiant and push my buttons but all day long I remained calm - perhaps a first for me when he's pushing *that* hard (he knows what to say to really wound a mama's heart!). Maybe this Jesus Prayer is sinking in a bit.....

And Ruth, well, she's just getting under my skin today with the other two having their issues. A friend of mine came to the door and I turned around to find Ruth sitting in direct sight-line to my friend with her skirt to her hip and her hand in her crotch. The child is just asking for trouble. (I know what you're thinking - young girls always have their skirts up - but, believe me, there is much more to this behavior than meets the eye). Her cluelessness has to do with having been traumatized 6 years ago before she ever showed up on our doorstep. It amazes me that kids can get so messed up for the rest of their lives from abuse that happens in the first 18 months.

The whole day would have gone quite a bit smoother if the 3 Man Destructo Team hadn't been particularly intent on destroying the peace. Naps are all a muddle these days as Nathan insists on little naps and then waking up the rest. Nate had Miah up way before he was done sleeping so Miah spent the rest of the afternoon on a path of destruction. I suppose most people might have one or two of these problems in a day but I don't know many (although I do know a few) who experience all of this in one day and, yes, we did still manage to school the big six in the midst of it all - with a super-duper map review I made up. We are amazing when it comes down to it but dang it, I just don't *like* days like this.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Of course, Cheese Fare Sunday is the beginning of the Fasting From Cheese for the season of Lent leading up to the Pascha Feast. Well, it just goes to show that the Orthodox really know what to give up to be truly penitential.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What Happened?

We've been waiting for someone - anybody - to ask but no one seems to want to (or they just don't care). We have some good answers ready that we'd love to roll by anyone who will listen. Last night I found myself trotting them out to some friends who probably really don't care but just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That's ok, I think - they 're good friends. It will take more than my church musings to drive them away any time soon. But I figured I better stick to my own forum where I can pretty much say whatever I want and nobody has to read it if they don't want to...

So, you might ask, what happened to you guys and the CEC? And what's up with this Orthodox thing? Well, thanks for asking! While our departure from our home parish may have seemed a surprise to some, it had actually been brewing for some time. Without going into details, suffice it to say that leadership styles were clashing and we felt like it was time to stop stepping on toes. We traced the problems back to the CEC's use of Government by Consensus (GBC) and outlined a whole host of pitfalls intrinsic within the way it is utilized and regulated by the CEC. While GBC was our exit from one parish, we started looking around really hard at the CEC as a whole. We communicated with a lot of people and did a lot of research. As we were confirming our suspicions about GBC, we also came across some other startling (to us) information about the mission and vision of the ICCEC.

When we came into the CEC 10 years ago we came in as Catholics. Looking around at the Roman Catholic church and being part of the Charismatic Movement we just couldn't figure out how to marry the two and stay true to God's leading. We couldn't ever stop being Catholic but we just didn't know where to turn. Enter the CEC with its promise of convergence worship and its mission of "providing a bridge" to seeking evangelicals, charismatics and catholics from one stream of worship to another. We spent years in the CEC boasting that we were more catholic than the Catholics. Our favorite priest used to talk about CEC'ers as Happy Catholics. Our bishops were in deep conversation with Roman officials to legitimize the apostolic succession found in the CEC's line and to begin conversations toward co-communion with Rome. We proclaimed prophetic words about the CEC clergy being the Knights of Orthodoxy and all the right buzz words were there to make us feel comfortably Catholic in a new and exciting movement of God.

But something happened. Our bishops who had been pursuing these orthodox and Catholic threads left (somewhat due to the problems we tried to raise with GBC). Along with them went the Catholic rhetoric and vision. Suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by bishops touting the CEC as following an "Anglican ethos". These words are echoed throughout sermons, documents and bishops' writings. Anglican ethos....Anglican - Anglo - of England? Huh? What happened to being that uniquely Western convergence church? What happened to our apostolic roots that gave us a connection to the historic church - all the way back to the apostles? Since when did we align ourselves with a Protestant movement whose roots can be found in a European king's desire to divorce his wife?

Again and again we came across these words - Anglican ethos. Then some bishops began openly denying that the CEC was ever called to be a bridge. The language is changing, the rhetoric becoming suspiciously Anglicized and we realized we'd been snookered. Tad's seminary training was rife with Orthodox and Catholic literature. They read all the right books, took what they liked and abandoned the rest. They could read about it but were never allowed or encouraged to visit an Orthodox or Roman Catholic or even Assemblies of God church (if we're going to build a convergence church, why not look closely at each stream before jumping into it?!). They were flying by the seat of their pants doing buffet theology - picking what they liked, abandoning some and special ordering their own brand of exegesis to make it all fit together. And we bought it hook, line and sinker.

Tad's inquiries to his bishop regarding the Anglicizing of the CEC were never met with rebuttal. It seems the remaining crop of bishops are perfectly aligned with this "Anglican ethos". But we just are not. Tad felt to remain a priest in the CEC he would have to begin crossing his fingers behind his back half the time he taught whatever the party line was becoming. He could no longer in good conscience support or teach or preach or serve from a church whose government is intrinsically failed and whose theology is developing into one contrary to his own belief system (and contrary from what he believed he had vowed to teach, preach and serve).

So after a lot of prayer, research and pillow talk we made the decision to move on and start anew. Tad had to lay down his priesthood in the process but since he couldn't excercise it in good conscience in the CEC anyway it was a sacrifice he felt had to make. He may pick it back up again in the future -that's for God to decide - but for now he has returned to being Mr. Dad (and we're enjoying having him around - no doubt!).

So the question became where do we go now? For reasons he'll have to explain, Tad didn't want to journey back into the Roman Catholic church. We looked at the Polish National Catholic Church and even visited one in Baltimore city for a few weeks. The people were great, the theology workable but God just was not leading us there. I don't know what triggered it one day but I suddenly grabbed hold of Orthodoxy. Tad had been mentioning the Eastern Orthodox for years. His favorite theologian he encountered in seminary was Schmemman (I know I slaughtered that spelling!) and he had relied heavily upon his teachings when teaching his own series on the sacraments. I had read bits and pieces. He had referred me several times to Frederica Mathewes-Green's blog over the years. We followed Fr. Patrick Cardine's journey from the CEC into Orthodoxy. We dabbled in using icons for personal meditation. And one day all the pieces flew together in my mind and my spirit. I knew that was it. I told Tad so and he was...surprised. He didn't know I'd been listening, I guess. But here's the bottom line. If we left the CEC because of its failure to ground itself in the ancient, historic church, then we would be hypocrites to go anywhere from there *but* Orthodoxy (esp once you look past the revisionist history taught within the Roman Catholic church).

So here we are. Once again pilgrims on a new road but this time the road leads East. Lest anyone think I was wearing the pants in this decision, don't believe it for a minute. It just took me about 7 years to get to where my husband was leaning toward all along. He'd been waiting for me to see the light and now we are joyfully walking hand in hand together with our 10 little charges behind.

As a footnote, I thought I would add Tad's (slightly edited) response to this post. He was able to clarify some points from his pov that I think are valuable comments. In some cases, my response to his response is in italics.

A couple of points:
- The post seems to imply that the bishops left after we raised problems with GBC. We were latecomers to that game.
(Yeah, I didn't mean to imply that. Those guys were flagging problems long before we opened our eyes...)

- Some folks separate "Anglican" from "Church of England" by claiming Anglican really is the Church founded in Britain before Roman Catholic missionaries showed up and took over. Hence, the "Western Orthodox" claims. However, you are right -- the current Anglican churches have very little in common with the ancient British Christians.

- We weren't exactly snookered, per se. We were following people who had been snookered. I think our bishops (Zampino and Sly) were completely forthright with us. They seem to have been taken for a ride somewhere along the line, though.

- Nobody ever said we weren't allowed to visit other churches. It wasn't strongly encouraged, but it wasn't discouraged, either. In fact, the Seminary course on Orthodoxy used to require students to visit an Orthodox service. That requirement was dropped when I took the class. But, your greater point is valid -- the ICCEC borrowed theology and practice from other groups but never engaged them in order to learn from them.
(Well, I'm not sure how it would have gone over to ask to be relieved from a couple of Sunday morning's worth of obligations to explore other church practices either...)

- No bishop ever denied being Catholic. In fact, [our most recent] bishop claimed it rather strongly. However, his definition of the word seemed to be awfully fuzzy, so it wasn't even a point I could press. There was some disagreement with my points, but no real counterarguments were raised.

- You almost spelled "Schmemann" right!
(How 'bout that!)

- I don't think I ever wanted to be Orthodox. All the fasting and rules and prayers still scare me because I'm so bad at them. I wanted to be Orthodox-like, without all the hard stuff. The one justification I had was that I thought you would like the disciplines even less than I did. Now I don't have that excuse, so I have to walk down that road. At least I have your beautiful self by my side to keep me company.... ( I didn't say you wanted to be Orthodox, I just implied that you were intensely interested in it...)

- Ten little (and not so little) charges behind, and one in front! (Referring, of course, to Pickles in the oven - he's so clever sometimes!)

Cheese Fare Sunday

There has to be something wonderful about a church that celebrates Cheese Fare Sunday. Jesus and cheese - my two faves in one church! Who could ask for anything more?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Ahh....Reinforcements have Arrived!

I've been too sick to chronicle the latest and greatest details of our lives but somewhere in the muddle that is the past two weeks, my spiritual reinforcements arrived in the form of good Orthodox literature. I am about half-way through Frederica Mathewes-Green's second book On the Corner of East and Now. I'm enjoying it tremendously but am really ready for a new perspective on Orthodoxy and something with a bit more meat on which to chew. As if on cue, Fr. Greg handed us a couple of treasures after Divine Liturgy on Sunday - The Way of a Pilgrim, the classic story of one Orthodox journey and an introductory book, Introducing the Orthodox Church by Anthony Coniaris which looks to be aimed at catechumens and inquirers with a point by point explanation of the various aspects of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Then my first installment of the Philokalia arrived in the mail. When I showed it to Tad, he grabbed it from my hands and clutched it to himself, hiding it from my view, proclaiming, "You think you're ready for this?!" The Philokalia is a collection of writings from the early church fathers. It is the Orthodox spiritual map through the scriptures - Eastern dynamite. Dynamite, as we all know, must be handled with care. It should only be handled by those with experience and understanding of its properties lest it cause more harm than good. The Philokalia must be read, then, according to most Orthodox only under proper spiritual tutelage and only when a person has reached a level of spiritual maturity capable of navigating its depths....or so Tad has been led to believe. I put that on the bottom of the pile. I guess I'll be discussing that later with Fr. Greg but I sort of figured if I could navigate through St Francis de Sales' Treatise on the Love of God then I could at least finger through the Philokalia...such spiritual pride!

Friday, February 1, 2008

It Could Have Been Miriam...

In another time, in another place, perhaps it could have been Miriam - that's all I can think when I hear about today's latest atrocities in Baghdad. Two suicide bombers, supposedly mentally challenged women, were sent into popular pet markets and then detonated by remote control. I can't even fathom the evil of this event but I do know that probably anybody could get my dear, sweet, innocent Miriam to hold a box of pretty birds and walk into a crowded market to show them off. Oh God have mercy on us! Today I am thankful that my sweet Miriam is safe inside our home to play with her horses and sing her off-key songs and cackle at her baby brother.

Meet The Robinsons

JT got a bee in his bonnet about a month ago to watch this movie. I hadn't been paying much attention to the trailers or to how it did in the box office so I put it on the Netflix que in hopes of giving it a quick preview before showing it to the family. JT beat me to it and we ended up watching it together one night. The copy we got from Netflix turned out to be full of scratches and a real frustration but even at that we suffered through because JT was just getting so much out of it that it was hard for me to turn it off. Always the pragmatist, JT generally has a running commentary through any movie - but particularly cartoons or fantasy - about the impossibilities of every scene. I noticed about a third of the way through this one that he was conspicuously quiet.

The story centers around a 12 year old boy named Lewis who is left at the doorstep of an orphanage as an infant and we now see him 12 years later in a desperate struggle to gain an adoptive family before he becomes a teenager. The trouble is, Lewis is a bright and eccentric inventor who continually alienates people with his latest and greatest tributes to science. Through a long, twisted series of events Lewis ends up content with his lot in life without the need to find out about his birthmother when he realizes that the place he most belongs is right smack in the middle of an extraordinarily eccentric family full of crazy characters where his own eccentricities make him not only happy, but wildly successful.

Sound familiar? I think JT thought so. We begged our neighbor to track down the copy of it they bought for Christmas and had yet to watch so we could have it handy. JT has watched it a handful of times since and still can't seem to get enough of this story. We're sometimes leary of adoption stories because so many of them center around the angst and unknowing of adoptive children. This one made it perfectly ok to be different, to not necessarily have all the answers and to fit into a family that is different in everyone's eyes. If we were going to write a movie to help JT feel like he fit into our family better, we couldn't have done it better than this. Sometimes God just sends a windfall our way...