Thursday, August 16, 2012

Orthodox Synchroblog - Orthodoxy and Culture

This is my contribution to the Orthobloggers synchroblog on "Orthodoxy and Culture". For previous entries on the subject of culture and the Orthodox Christian faith, see Distributism and OrthodoxyAmerican Orthodox Culture, and Distractions.
Dn. Steve Hayes provided a kick-off post for this synchroblog project in which he reflects on how our perspective colors our perception of phenomena. Commenting on the Pussy Riot trial concluding this week, Steve gives a close reading of the Paschal troparion and suggests what might be the proper Orthodox response (lex orandi, lex credendi, remember?):
Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered
Let those who hate him flee from before his face.
Does that apply to Pussy Riot?
Yes, I believe it does.
But you have to come to the end of the hymn to see how it applies.
This is the day of resurrection.
Let us be illumined by the feast.
Let us embrace each other.
Let us call “Brothers” even those that hate us, and forgive all by the resurrection, and so let us cry:
Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling down death by death
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
So what do we call the members of Pussy Riot?
And what do we do with them?
Embrace them, forgive them by the resurrection
and tell them that God loves them and we love them too.
That’s Orthodox culture.
Responding to Steve's post, Jim Forest commented that the Pussy Riot performance was "disgusting" and was "not something likely to have positive impact on anyone except those at war with the Church nor to receive support except from the most alienated." Jim noted, however, that he wished "that the Church could have responded in a way that communicated mercy and forgiveness." As has been the case every time I've read Ladder of the Beatitudes or Praying with Icons, Jim reminded me that Christ is the final yardstick of our faith. Christ told his disciples that others would know them by this sign, that they would love one another as He had loved them (Jn. 13:34-35).
Discussing the topic of Orthodox Culture suggests that we first need a shared understanding of what culture is. Most definitions of culture reference some combination of beliefs, customs, knowledge, art, food, institutions, and meaning shared by a group of people. For Orthodox Christians, some of these have very salient meanings (e.g. the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, Byzantine iconography) while others such as customs and food might have strong association with faith (e.g in a strongly-ethic parish) for some but not for others. It seems that this division follows closely to the difference some describe between captial-T Tradition and lowercase-t tradition. Those things which are fundamental to our faith, then, might also be central to an Orthodox Culture. Those things are all Christological. As Steve might conclude, Orthodox Christians should have a shared, practical perspective on phenomena such as the Pussy Riot spectacle because Christ should be our common lens.
What would the world look like through the lens of Christ? Christ's work is healing, transformative, and conciliatory. The "new commandment" that He gave to his disciples was a distillation of all the law and the prophets: Love God and Love your Neighbor. Christ unites in Himself seeming opposites, and teaches us that kenotic love bridges that opposition.
Kenosis, or self-emptying love doesn't hold anything back. It doesn't consider what the press will say or how voters will react. It is a person-to-person interaction that evinces love in preferring the other to the self. Love, as Christ demonstrates it, is not an abstract emotional response but human-scale compassion in a healing touch or word*. I think that to live in "the hand" means to learn to take the time to truly see those around us and give compassionately or receive graciously (as our means allow). To live fully in the moment in such a way is orthogonal to modern American life. Without serious effort, I am too distracted to notice my own failures, much less see the need of those around me.
The lesson I take from this with respect to Culture and Orthodoxy is this: even though Orthodoxy is at odds with Western culture, it is not counter-cultural. We are called to be separate, but not insular. If we can see our way clear to re-center Holy Communion in our lives and our preparation for that mystical encounter, we are blessed to be able to demonstrate integrity, wholeness, and peace that others are seeking.

Here are links to other posts on the topic, and more will be added as other synchrobloggers post their contributions:

"Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved." - St. Seraphim of Sarov
Image courtesy of Ancient Church Arts. Get it on a t-shirt here.
* It's hard to wrap my head around, but I think that even Christ's ultimate sacrificial love is at once a universal act (in that we are all saved by his conquering of Death), but also intensely personal.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

On Distributism and Orthodoxy

Modern American culture has become really adept at manufacturing desire. This realization does not depend on any particular religious orientation, but my sense of it has certainly been focused by the Orthodox Christian teaching that we should work to "overcome our passions."

Since this ascetic attitude is normative in Orthodox Christianity, I've been thinking about this aspect of a possible American Orthodox Culture as Melinda Johnson has been discussing the topic. What is the opposite of a consumerist culture? What would it look like in practice and What would that mean for Orthodox Christians?

Wendell Berry, writing in The Progressive, notes the following:
A properly ordered economy, putting nature first and consumption last, would start with the subsistence or household economy and proceed from that to the economy of markets. It would be the means by which people provide to themselves and to others the things necessary to support life: goods coming from nature and human work. It would distinguish between needs and mere wants, and it would grant a firm precedence to needs.

Berry is writing in a tradition concerned with distributive justice, or the equitable distribution of property in a society. Unlike Socialism, which seeks to redistribute wealth, Distributism would redistribute property so that it is best able to be used efficiently and provide the broadest benefit to society. The basic tenets of Distributism include pushing decision-making to the most local level possible (subsidarity), making decisions that benefit everyone (solidarity), and giving every household the tools and materials (property or means of production) necessary to make their own living. G.K. Chesterton, an English author and one of the fathers of Distributism (as conceived in modern times), providing a critique of Capitalism summed up this wide distribution of property thus: "too much capitalism doesn't mean there are too many capitalists, but too few."

As an Orthodox Christian (albeit a convert), I find the emphasis on local authority in Distributism to be resonant, as is the emphasis on the community caring for everyone in it especially those most in need. If we American Orthodox Christians are to realize a unique culture through authentic praxis, the idea of distributive justice might be useful in understanding where dominant American culture is orthogonal to Orthodox teaching, and how we might "come out from among them and be...separate" as St. Paul exhorted the believers in Corinth (II Corinthians 6:17). Lest we think this exhortation cannot possibly be relevant to us, consider the words of St. Nilus of Sora:
It is my conviction that if it is by God’s will that we are gathered together, then we should be faithful to the traditions of the saints and the Holy Fathers and to our Lord’s commandments, instead of seeking to exempt ourselves by saying that nowadays it is impossible to live according to the Scriptures and the precepts of the Fathers. We are weak indeed, but we must nonetheless follow, according to the measure of our strength, the example of the blessed and memorable Fathers, even though we are unable to become their equals.

In a primer on Distributism for Orthodox Christians, David Holden writes, "Christ came to make people partakers of the divine nature, not institutions, agencies or businesses." Just so my position isn't mistaken: I don't expect that the establishment of an American Orthodox Culture would bring about paradise on Earth (though, to the extent that we are given the grace to experience the world already transformed by Christ, we can participate in a shadow of paradise this side of the Parousia). As Holden notes, a nation cannot be Christian, and that ought not to be our goal.

As I contemplate my role as an American Orthodox Christian, specifically with respect to exercising our freedom advocate for economic justice, St. Basil's words seem incredibly timely:
'But whom do I treat unjustly,' you say, 'by keeping what is my own?' Tell me, what is your own? What did you bring into this life? From where did you receive it? It is as if someone were to take the first seat in the theater, then bar everyone else from attending, so that one person alone enjoys what is offered for the benefit of all in common -- this is what the rich do. They seize common goods before others have the opportunity, then claim them as their own by right of preemption. For if we all took only what was necessary to satisfy our own needs, giving the rest to those who lack, no one would be rich, no one would be poor, and no one would be in need.

Did you not come forth naked from the womb, and will you not return naked to the earth? Where then did you obtain your belongings? If you say that you acquired them by chance, then you deny God, since you neither recognize your Creator, nor are you grateful to the One who gave these things to you. But if you acknowledge that they were given to you by God, then tell me, for what purpose did you receive them? Is God unjust, when He distributes to us unequally the things that are necessary for life? Why then are you wealthy while another is poor? Why else, but so that you might receive the reward of benevolence and faithful stewardship, while the poor are honored for patient endurance in their struggles? But you, stuffing everything into the bottomless pockets for your greed, assume that you wrong no one; yet how many do you in fact dispossess?

Who are the greedy? Those who are not satisfied with what suffices for their own needs. Who are the robbers? Those who take for themselves what rightfully belongs to everyone. And you, are you not greedy? Are you not a robber? The things you received in trust as a stewardship, have you not appropriated them for yourself? Is not the person who strips another of clothing called a thief? And those who do not clothe the naked when they have the power to do so, should they not be called the same? The bread you are holding back is for the hungry, the clothes you keep put away are for the naked, the shoes that are rotting away with disuse are for those who have none, the silver you keep buried in the earth is for the needy. You are thus guilty of injustice toward as many as you might have aided, and did not.
 - Homily 6, On Social Justice: St. Basil the Great (with thanks to Jonathan for publishing this excerpt in his review at Amazon).

While Distributism is often seen as a Roman Catholic invention, and as such might be viewed with some distrust by (some) Orthodox, American Orthodox Christians can look to the success of Distributist ideals in the native Orthodox culture of Romania.  , writing about Distributism in Eastern Europe for the Distributist Review, makes the following observations about how the human-scale economy envisioned by Distributism comports with Orthodox theology:

In Eastern Christianity, the unity of Christ with Church follows the model of personal unity of the Holy Trinity. Dumitru St─âniloae, a most distinguished Orthodox theologian, calls the Church a ‘pluripersonal symphony’: a multitude of instruments with particular patterns of notes combined to create a unity which is ever so much richer for its multiplicity. Each person plays his notes, but all is conducted, coordinated, unified under the direction of Christ. Being made in the image of God, the Trinity, each person realizes his true nature through mutual life; each person is autonomous and unique and yet he is not able to have life except in community with others.

“The community of persons” is spelt out in terms of “sobornicity”: Sobornicity (from the Slavic sobornaya, which means both “universal” and “conciliar”), writes Dumitru St─âniloae, “is not unity pure and simple: it is a certain kind of unity. There is the unity of a whole in which the constitutive parts are not distinct, or the unity of a group which is kept together by an exterior command, or formed into a union of uniform entities existing side by side. Sobornicity is none of these. It is distinguished from an undifferentiated unity by being of a special kind, the unity of communion. The unity of communion is the sole unity which does not subordinate one person to another, or in which the institution is not conceived as something external to or superior to or repressive of the persons involved.”

In the Orthodox East, Distributism needs to partake of the iconographic conception of the human person because “sobornicity” is grounded in the person as an image and likeness of the Trinity. Made in the divine image, human persons are not to be instrumentalized–they should be regarded as unique subjects, not as interchangeable objects. Each must be treated as an end in his or herself and not as a vehicle to some further end. There is no “sobornicity”–no trust, reciprocity and fraternity—where the economic and political power is removed from the level of the person and transferred to an increasingly oligarchic concentration of ownership. Distributism is best equipped to oppose the dehumanizing schemes of both neo-liberals and neo-communists since it never subordinates ends to means. In Romania, neo-liberals, socialists and bureaucrats from Brussels all plan to destroy the “unproductive” peasants, turning them into wage-slaves or commercial farmers, that is, into something other than peasants. The distributists, like the agrarians of yesteryear oppose such a “market revolution” in the village. They offer instead their own economic model, based on co-ops and other forms of voluntary associations.

The Eastern distributists should also adopt a liturgical view of life. For St. Maximus the Confessor, the world is a “cosmic temple” in which man exercises his priesthood. Man not only lives in and uses this world but he is capable of seeing the world as God’s gift and offering it back to God in thanksgiving “Thine own from thine own we offer to thee, in all and for all” (The liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

American Orthodox Culture

Melinda Johnson at St. Lydia's Book Club has posted a question about American Orthodox culture: why we don't have one and what it might look like. There have been a couple of good responses so far. I began writing mine, then decided that I should just make a blog post of this rather than clutter her comments.

I think that Katherine makes an excellent point in her comment to the effect that other countries that have a distinct Orthodox culture have had centuries to form them. We also have to think about a temporal difference in how culture is incubated now versus in the past. In the past, when all effort was geared toward essential functions (growing, harvesting, preparing and preparing food; building essential tools, etc.), recreation had more of a utilitarian aspect. Barn raisings, quilting circles, cooking, etc. provided an opportunity to reinforce values through direct mentorship and apprenticeship. The food and materials available locally to a group of people and the pattern of their use incubated what we think of as cultural practices.

With the rise of industrialisation and a population shift toward urban areas, people lost connection with the practices and stories that made their heritage unique. Many of our jobs do not require the same kind of consuming attention that a homestead and a skilled craft would require, so we have to create diversions such as television, movies, sports, music, etc. We have created a "permanent present" where there is "no organic relationship" to the past; our understanding of the past is not experiential, it is factual or declarative. Engaging in traditional cultural practices, now (for most of us), is almost voyeuristic because the practices aren't essential to our way of life.

St. Moses the Black
St. Moses the Black - image from the
Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black
Since Orthodoxy is experiential in nature, to think about an American Orthodox culture would require that 1) we agree on what it means to be Orthodox, and 2) those values would permeate our living and not just be window-dressing. There are a lot of cultural movements I see around me that seem to be harmonious with what I understand to be an Orthodox lifestyle, such a shift away from consumerism, a movement toward a plant-based diet, caring for our communities (especially for those most needy), building a culture that affirms and protects Life for everyone (and all of the implications here: abortion, war, death penalty). These don't map neatly onto the way that people assign themselves to social/political opinions. Indeed, most of us make very clear distinctions between our work lives, our home lives, our social lives, and out church lives. To create an American Orthodox culture (presuming we want one), the Orthodoxy will have to permeate all the facets of our lives.

As I've written before, I think that an American Orthodox culture would mirror broader American culture in the way it is formed. Borrowing from cultures all over the world, Americans (at our best) select the best of what everyone brings to the table and reinterpret it as part of a pastiche. Since culture is (in my opinion) primarily a way of teaching value, what I find most exciting to think about is the great wealth of examples that such a pastiche culture could offer. Not only do we have the ancient mother churches and their traditions to draw on, but we also have enterprises such as the Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black and the Ancient Christianity and Afro-American Conference that draws on the redemptive suffering of American chattel slaves. Matthew Namee's work with the Society for Orthodox Christian History in America and the podcasts he does for Ancient Faith Radio are a wonderful way to help discover this past and incorporate examples (good and bad!) in our understanding of ourselves as Orthodox Christians and Americans (for example, were you aware that the first naturalized American was Orthodox?).

Melinda Johnson has done an excellent job helping to create a groundswell of Orthodox artists and writers who are expressing their Orthodoxy in their work. Her guidance with The Sounding blog at OCN has also created an opportunity for Orthodox commentary on the whole range of American experience. I hope and pray that we continue to see this work grow!

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Unintentional Gardener

Back in March, I posted my experience and background research on building a keyhole garden. Truth is, I ran out of bricks and haven't had a chance to go get a load of dirt or plant a proper garden. We have continued to use our compost heap, now relocated to the center of (what will someday be) the keyhole garden.

Due in large part to the unusually wet start to the summer, my inattentiveness has borne unintentional fruit (pun intended). The wet weather has also caused an explosion in the cricket population, but I'm hoping that we keep getting rain each week.

Here are pictures of what looks like a squash vine that sprouted out of our compost heap.

Even more amazing than the vine growing out of my compost heap is the fact that a friend visiting last week discovered that I have veggies growing where the compost heap used to be located. This as-yet unidentified vegetable is growing alongside two very nice grape tomato plants.

I got some help with the harvest.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Last summer, our family was planning an epic road trip. I had mapped a route that would take us through Carlsbad Caverns, the Grand Canyon, Denver, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Juneau, Anchorage, Kodiak Island (with a pilgrimage to Spruce Island built in), then back through Denali, British Columbia, Nebraska, and back home to Texas. The only way we could make this plan work would be to camp out and eat out of a cooler.

The biggest motivation was to spend some time together as a family, cultivate a sense of wonder in the boys, and see the glaciers before they melted.

That trip didn't happen.

Curiously enough, when we did the math, it turned out that we could fly to Seattle and then book a cruise to Alaska for roughly the same price as covering the gas, groceries and campsite fees. While I didn't get to camp out or make my pilgrimage, we did get to see glaciers and a whole lot of other things that we wouldn't have if we had driven. Here's that story:

Create your own custom photo books at

For more details about our excursions, see my reviews at NCL.

Friday, April 13, 2012


I took holiday most of this week to prepare for and attend Holy Week services. Thursday morning, the first day that our church had a daytime service, I got distracted and missed it. Here's what happened: I got up, took the boys to school, went to meet the farmer from whom I buy eggs, then I went to work. I knew that I was on holiday, but I had a project that had been nagging me, and I wanted to put it to bed. I thought: "since I'm on vacation, I have the liberty to focus on just this one thing." About 9:00 AM I realized that I was late for a Vesperal Liturgy that had begun at 8:00 AM. I dropped what I was doing and made it to church in time to hear father give the dismissal.

St. Isaac the Syrian, the namesake of my youngest son said, "This life has been given to you for repentance. Why waste it in vain pursuits?" Certainly my livelihood isn't a vain pursuit, but when I allow it to exceed the bounds of the time I've set aside for prayer and reflection, work can become a hindrance to my spiritual growth. While I'm confessing, I ought to add that it is probably pride that motivated the desire to work on the project. If I left well-enough alone, I might realize that I am not indispensable.

Even in writing this post I've been distracted half a dozen times since I first thought to put pen to paper (so to speak) Thursday morning. I recently read (on someone's blog? on Facebook?) a very helpful practice that I've adopted and which is the reason this post exists. When an idea worth holding onto pops into my head but would distract me from something more important (usually from my prayers), I ask the Theotokos to help me remember it.

In his excellent book, Great Lent, Fr. Alexander Schmemann gives a detailed explanation of the Lenten prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian.

O Lord and master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust for power and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King!
Grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother;
For thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen

Fr. Alexander identifies in an expansive understanding of chastity an antidote to distraction:

The exact and full translation of the Greek sofrosini and the Russian tselodmudryie ought to be whole-mindedness. Sloth is, first of all, dissipation, the brokenness of our vision and energy, the inability to see the whole. Its opposite then is precisely wholeness. If we usually mean by chastity the virtue opposed to sexual depravity, it is because the broken character of our existence is nowhere better manifested than in sexual lust--the alienation of the body from the life and control of the spirit. Christ restores wholeness in us and He does so by restoring in us the true scale of values by leading us back to God.
For several years now I have been pursuing what I think of as my own "theory of everything," a satisfactory and robust explanatory framework for my subjective experience. I think part of that impulse derives from an innate desire for this "whole-mindedness" that Fr. Alexander speaks of. I am still working toward understanding what Christ said to Martha, "One thing is needful."

It is difficult in modern American society to find that kind of focus. We have built an economy in which "the dollar is sacred and power is god." Even when I try to focus on that one needful thing, I find myself wanting for my boys to have an excellent education, to make brilliant contributions to the academy, to be financially secure so that I can finally devote my attention to preparation for an encounter with the Living God in the Eucharist. Instead of the other way around.

The ever-expanding influence of technology in our lives has made these distractions even harder to ignore. I purposefully do not use headphones, and I don't listen to the radio in my car, but I walk around with an electronic leash and an entire world of (mis)information in my pocket. We have the opportunity to be completely absorbed from the time we wake till the time we sleep by flashy, interesting, titillating, and mind-numbing audio and video. It is little wonder that our lack of concentration has become pathological and we now need medication to focus, to sleep, to not be overwhelmed in despair. As I've noted before, I think Marx only called religion the opiate of the masses because he had not seen television. In Spanish, the word fun translates as divertida. That same root for diversion begs the question: from what is our attention being diverted?

I read an article from NPR this week in which Jonah Lehrer describes how technological innovation has created an instance of cascading interventions. We are certainly served very well by our technologies, but it is when we become the servants of our technology that we have a problem. It has been in thinking about this relationship this week that I've come to understand what the Fathers mean by not being ruled by the passions. In our fallen state, with the image of God disfigured in us, we have to give extra effort to have a focused vision of God. Our lack of focus gives entree to the Deceiver to suggest distractions, but we do not have to be ruled by those suggestions.

The Church, our spiritual hospital, offers remedies for us when plagued by spiritual maladies. The instruction to pray, fast, give to the poor, read the scriptures, attend worship services and otherwise prepare ourselves for communion that might, from the outside, seem like an onerous burden turns out to be the disciplines needed to have a single vision of the life that Christ wants for us. The passage in John's gospel where Christ tells us that He has come that we might have a more abundant life does not (I believe) refer to material wealth. A life that is free of distraction helps us realize our life's purpose: communion with God.

May you be richly blessed as you complete your journey to the empty tomb!

The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. - Luke 11:34

Friday, March 23, 2012

Building a Keyhole Garden

Since my interest in local food has begun to develop, I've been taken with the idea of planting a backyard garden. I really like the idea, as my friend, Ed Funkhouser once described his family doing when he was younger, of going into the backyard and picking vegetables and eating them fresh for dinner.

The Party of the Shires has been a wonderful outlet for ideas on how to transition to a more locally-based economy, and from this group I have learned about hugelkultur, aquaponics, lasagna gardening and keyhole gardening.

The idea with a keyhole garden is to build a garden that centers on a compost heap. The only water that is put into the garden goes onto the compost heap, and the plants, which are planted around this, send their roots toward the water and nutrients in the center.

Keyhole gardens have proven to be drought-beating sources of nutritious vegetables in Lesotho and Texas. I had been planning to build a hugelkultur garden on a concrete pad in my backyard that at one time served as a dog run for a previous owner. This pad had become a junk collecting spot, and I would like to turn it into a useful space. Inspired by the notion of using found materials described in keyhole gardening, I (with the help of my son) started the process of building a keyhole garden in this space last night. The following photos represent about three hours of work. While I did not follow Dr. Deb's plan exactly (my garden is about 9' in diameter and currently has broken bricks, concrete, steel wire, dirt, green vegetation and dead wood--not in any particular layering--and I'm using the plasic compost bin I already had), it does tie together some of the benefits of hugelkultur and keyhole gardening. I'm hopeful that the organic material in this raised-bed garden will provide a great source of moisture through our hot Texas summer! And there's the added benefit that my backyard is now a lot cleaner. I still need to add some more height to the wall and add layers of cardboard and soil. Once I get ready to plant, I'll be referencing Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening.

Forgiveness Vespers

My stepdad recently sent me the following note in an email entitled "Forgiveness Sunday in Peru. Sort of...":

Each year, the town of Chumbivilcas, Peru, celebrates the new year with what to Americans might seem "Festivus"-inspired (from the Seinfeld TV show), but is actually drawn from Incan tradition. For "Takanakuy," with a background of singing and dancing, all townspeople with grudges from the previous 12 months (men, women, children) settle them with sometimes-bloody fistfights so that they start the new year clean. Said one villager to a Reuters reporter, "Everything is solved here, and after(ward) we are all friends." [Reuters via CBS News, 12-14-2011]

I quipped, "I wonder if that might not work better in some parishes?"

All joking aside, Forgiveness Vespers is among the most beautiful services of the Church. By some trick of scheduling, I rarely manage to be with my parish for this important service, but I still recall the first Forgiveness Vespers I ever attended, at St. Joseph's in Houston while I was a catechumen. I remember watching in amazement as each member of the congregation approached the priest, Fr. Matthew; they made mutual prostrations and asked and gave forgiveness: "Forgive me, a sinner." "God forgives and I forgive." They began to line up across the front of the iconostasis and around the edge of the nave, each asking and giving forgiveness to each other: "Forgive me, a sinner." "God forgives and I forgive." Though I was something of an outsider, I was unmistakably drawn into the community by participating. I felt, very acutely, what it meant to be in communion.

I think that this rite of forgiveness and reconciliation is central to the evangelistic mission of the Church. Though I have not been present for Forgiveness Vespers, I do seek out members of my parish at the start of Lent to seek their forgiveness, but I've also begun to bring others into my practice of this rite. Last year I worked with two Catholic men with whom I often had conversations about religion. Because I knew that we shared some common understanding of faith, I sought their forgiveness. This year, I am working with a whole new group of people; I do not know the faith background of any of them. It has been a particularly trying couple of months, and our small group has begun to mesh very well. I did not feel as though I could leave this work "family" out of my practice.

While I refrained from making prostrations, I did approach each in turn and explain that as part of my Lenten practice I wanted to seek their forgiveness for wrongs, perceived or unperceived, committed against them. The response has truly been amazing, and I can't help but recognize in their embarrassed, dismissive, emotional and grateful responses some of my own feeling of being welcomed at that first Forgiveness Vespers that I attended.

Christ's salvific work certainly includes atonement, but (I think) that was more a concession to us than anything else. The beauty of the Orthodox Christian teaching about salvation is the emphasis on our reunion with God. The acts of reconciliation, forgiveness, and hospitality are truly vectors for grace because they anticipate and remind that the purpose of our existence is that union with God, and by His grace, extending that love to all.

I have been humbled not only by the response from my co-workers this year, but also by the enormity of the task in front of me. Forgive me my transgressions, as I forgive those who transgress against me. If I truly inhabited the task of working out my salvation in fear and trembling, there would be no end to the seeking of forgiveness. Perhaps that is the lesson.

Why Local Food? Where Do I Find It?

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants." - Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food

I'm putting this post up as a reference to the local food resources that we have discovered near our home. My first foray into local food was when a friend, Susan, gifted me with a bar of goat's milk soap and suggested that I might want to buy eggs from the farmers who made it. Since then, we've bought eggs and goat's milk soap from the Osth Family Farm. We were members of the HomeSweet Farm CSA (community supported agriculture) for a short time, but it was a tough time to acclimate to eating seasonally because of my wife's pregnancy. We have visited the monthly market day that HomeSweet Farm hosts since then, and recommend it as a great family outing.

Eating seasonally has been one of the most rewarding aspects of eating locally. It is hard to understand how much food we eat regularly from other places (and how that might affect one's carbon footprint) until you see what is available from local farms at any given time. Becoming attuned to seasonal foods has also helped me dig into Shirism (and Distributism), which has been another recent interest.

My interest in eating local, in-season, whole food has been fed by several sources which I can recommend:
Osth Family Farm
As noted above, we buy eggs, goat's milk soap (our favorite scents are Wellness and Patchouli Citrus), and occasionally vegetables from the Osth's. Our boys also really enjoy visiting the farm and learning where food comes from!

Cox Family Farm (on Facebook)
We  have begun buying vegetables from the Cox's. Our friend, Fr. Cassian Sibley, works on the farm and introduced us to this CSA opportunity. As of this writing, the vegetable shares are full, but eggs are available, as is some grass-fed beef. We look forward to the day when milk shares will be available again, too!

HomeSweet Farm
I am fond of HomeSweet Farm, but as it is almost an hour away, it is really too far to be truly "local." Nevertheless, their monthly market day is unparelleled for access to great local products like cheese, wine, poultry, and cajeta! Farmer Brad is also a great educator about local food; his blog is a great way to delve into this subject.

Brazos Natural Foods (on Facebook)
A local grocery dedicated to supplying nutritious, whole, local food.

Brazos Valley Farmer's Market (on Facebook)
Provides a way for the local community to easily access locally-grown food.

Brazos Locavores (on Facebook)
Also provides information about finding local food, including which restaurants in the area serve locally-grown food.

Howdy! Farm (on Facebook)
CSA run by Texas A&M students and faculty.

For those that are not in the Brazos Valley, check out what resources might be available to you locally at Local Harvest:

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Flying over the
creeping dark of evening
I see
remnants of snow on the
Tucked in shadow through
the day
Hint at the cold night to come

I wonder how long I would have to stay for that cold to seep into me
But then I realize I've brought my own chill

Warmth at the center is self-serving

If I want to learn to truly love
I have to melt
the frosted fringes of my heart

Forgive me, a sinner.