07 February 2018

Flash Fiction

She walked the same road every day.

No matter the season, no matter the noises, no matter the weather, she made the same, long loop of road every day. Suit up in appropriate clothing, shorts, skirt, sunhat, winter coat, snow shoes, whatever was necessary to complete the day's road. It was automation, it was catharsis.

She walked the same road every day.

Like all great journeys, it started one day with a simple decision: to walk. And so she did. The air was crisp with the newness of fall and refreshed her lungs and trickled into her soul. She kept walking, even when she was tried, wandering into spaces she'd seen a thousand times but never bothered to investigate. She found nothing. Next day, she did it again. Soon it was her daily bread. Something was being exorcised, though she could not say what it was. Whether it would end or not was unclear and immaterial; only the road mattered.

30 January 2018

Pharisees and Publicans

The liturgical calendar recognizes this past weekend as that of the Pharisee and the Publican. This comes from a story Christ told us that is recorded in the book of Luke, chapter 18. In short, two men enter the temple -- one a pious pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee boasts, saying, "Thank God I'm not like them." The Publican says, "God, have mercy on me." (Coincidentally, this is where we get the Jesus Prayer) Christ ends this tale with a call to humility, saying the tax-collector went home justified.

I noticed this on the calendar a few weeks ago and it's been on my mind since. It seems especially pertinent in my theological pursuits, as all Christians (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, probably even Oriental Orthodox and other, smaller communions) suffer from what Seraphim of Patina called the "correctness disease." We want to get this Christian thing right, not because it benefits our souls and the ones around us, but because we don't want to be like them. Anyone suffering from "convertitis" is immediately tempted by this.

"I've got this Reform theology sorted out," says one, "so let me tell you why you're wrong and probably going to hell."

"I'm a catechumen now," says the other, "so let me tell you why your Protestant belief system is heresy."

Suddenly the understanding God has granted us becomes a step that puts us over our neighbors. Suddenly we're not like them.

I hope, no matter where I land theologically, that I can be like the publican, recognizing my need for God no matter what. Pray for me!

09 January 2018


Last year I spent some time working on a heavy metal demo with my good buddy @CapedSam. We got the thing done, got it mastered by the inimitable Joey Jones, and I was able to release it just yesterday. I hope you like it and I hope it is the first of many musical fruits to come.

I've also had writing on the brain majorly of late. HMTM is progressing, as are my theological pursuits, but really I want to write some fiction this year.

02 January 2018


I've (thank God) been able to tap the brakes on my voracious consumption of theology and general Orthodox stuff. In part this is because I'm maxed out, at capacity, able to take in no more and need to give my brain time to digest (to continue with ingestion analogies). I've actually been chilling out, playing more games, watching more stuff, not pushing things too hard.

I'm also slowing down because I'm getting tired of arguments. Most of the stuff I read online is just debates between Protestants and Orthodox and Catholics. Everybody has a proof and everyone wants to share it. The thing is, we don't change until we're ready to, no matter what we take in. And we don't often realize we're ready. So a lot of these proofs I read are from people who were ready, had some kind of experience, and are communicating it in opposition to something else. While these things are interesting, they'll ping off your brain unless you are ready too. The response is then to ignore it or, if you're the type of person who loves to argue and be correct, to attack it.

I am not that type of person, and in these discussions soon saturate and retire to my corner.  I don't want PVP any more -- I want solo and co-op. In short, I'm tired of proofs. I'm tired of talking about this stuff. I want something to do. I want Christ. I'm ready for the next thing.

04 December 2017


The Romans did not get the early Christians. Thanks to Ryan Reeves' excellent videos, we get the picture that the Romans, through the Greeks and other influences, saw the point of religion as the currying of favor. You do this for your god and you'll get blessed: stuff, money, victory in battle, et al. Now what is this bizarre, new cult that glorifies martyrdom and defeat? Who won't even play along and bow before the god-emperor? It didn't jive with their worldview, and so we have periods of early Christian history in the Roman empire of great persecution, periods that we remember today and draw inspiration from. If some dude would face dismemberment for his love of the Lord, I think I can set aside some time to pray.
The idea of persecution has taken a hilarious turn, though, in contemporary America. What follows are some thoughts on that. I cite no evidence and provide no references; it's mostly anecdotal because, really, we all know someone who thinks this way and I don't have time to cut and paste a bunch of tweets in here.

Within the paradoxical perception of a culture war, "Happy Holidays" substituted for "Merry Christmas" is a persecution of the majority faith of the country. Coffee cups are the means of persecution. The secular government making moves against some people's interpretation of biblical morality is now a case for martyrdom. Her emails are persecution.

And yet no one, to my knowledge, in this country, is being dragged from their homes and publicly executed for faith in the Bible and Jesus Christ. The worst you'll get is a rude stare-down-the-nose from liberal-leaning passersby, or possibly a combative Facebook post. No one is making you die for your faith.

Or, maybe they are.

Christians who emphasize the need for the public to conform to their definitions of moral, Biblical behavior are being asked to die to that god, that god who stands ready to smite those who endorse anything contrary to his designs. Christians who stand in public to condemn people for living as they see fit to live are being asked to die to the god who does the same, who sends hurricanes to punish the sodomites. I see it as a call to increase faith and works and to decrease judgement.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers went to near comical pains to avoid judging one another. There are stories of Fathers who bore penance under false accusations to avoid shaming their brothers (who, in shame, confessed the error anyway); Fathers who held their tongues, knowing that it was God's job to amend the wrong-thinking of others. They took very seriously Matthew 7:5 and did their damndest to avoid hypocrisy.

Even if we disagree with the direction culture is going, even if we see ourselves as soldiers in a war that's being waged against "traditional values", we are all called to death, plain and simple. Only in death do we find the Life required to act as Christ to those in our paths, to affect real change. When the persecutions ended, the Desert Fathers & Mothers created their own persecutions, dying to the world for Christ's sake by spending most of waking life "entombed" in their cells, tiny caves or huts containing little more than some scripture, a little bread and salt, perhaps an icon or two. Some fled ordination when the laity came to make them Priests. I think their model is one worth considering.

Certainly there are times to speak up and teach or correct with genuine love (though this is different from some folks' interpretation of "speaking the truth in love"). That time is mostly none of the time. It's a tricky balance, but my feeling (and I'm always ready to be wrong) is that Christians in this part of the world are working on too grand a scale. The early church didn't seek to change the Empire; they pursued Christ and left the heresy-fighting to the professionals. We are now all about public speaking, rather than focusing on Prayer. We are expected to politicize what is not a political thing, instead of drilling down into the immediate relationships we have. We (at least I) neglect our neighbors for the sake of the public arena.

It's a tricky balance and the accusations I'm throwing out belie the very idea of this post. Lord have mercy.

28 November 2017


I didn't know if we'd survive the first winter. The fish was running out -- the harvest came in poor. The bitter chill of winter eaked into our homes. It seemed the firewood would be gone soon.

It's fun looking back at the first few years of this blogging endeavor. Most of my posts were about (PC) gaming at that time and, generally, the satisfaction or dissatisfaction the hobby can bring. Apart from the random cheap/free iPad game, I haven't bought a video game in years. But it was one such cheap/free iPad game (SimCity Buildit) that led me back in time to a game I had trucked past, and yet still deserved a look.

Banished is what I would call a "pure" city building game. These types of games hold a special place in my heart, going all the way back to the original Caesar game by Impressions Studios, through the Zeus and Emperor games and beyond. I like my little diorama cities with their absurdity and design opportunities. It's also one of the bigger pluses of video gaming, that feeling of being sucked in, when time stops and you are laser focused on the next thing. I like the element of obsession to a point. The nice thing about the Impressions' "city building" series is that it never went too far. Mechanically, it kept a nice fence in which to play, and never dove off into the deep end where more "advanced" strategy or management games lead off to, causing someone like me to go swimmy-headed. I hadn't found a way to scratch that itch since, even with the multitude of browser and iOS games bending along a similar line (you suck, Elvenar). Those are too focused on generating profit, even if they look nice.

Banished had been on my radar for most of its development. Then, when it finally dropped three years ago, my head was elsewhere -- you know, writing a novel, raising a small child, etc. Playing through SimCity left me with a rather hollow feeling, so when Banished came back to mind I plunged in, shelling out the $20 and setting aside some time. It has been worth it!

glorious village of Budgeford

Whereas other games of this type set you along a strict development path, Banished is a sandbox. This is tough because you're forced to find and maintain your own direction. The tutorials are useful in learning to navigate the minimalist menus and basic functions of the game -- had this not been a one man, indie job, some narration would have been welcomed, but the result is still sufficient. Thankfully, being a 3-year-old game, Reddit is chockful of helpful hints and I soon found a desirable build order. Once you hit a certain point of population and reach a balance of  maintaining food and supplies, things settle down and it becomes meditative, almost like gardening. This is in part due to the pace of the game. There is no hurry. At the default, 1x speed, it almost seems to be real-time; throwing up buildings can take months. The years cycle by, the harvest comes and goes, the wind blows, the birds chirp, the old die. As little problems come up you shift labor here, cut down trees there, nudging your garden along.

It's at this point that the aesthetic element of the city-building game comes in to play. In numerous iterations of my towns I knocked down more than a few houses to rebuild them elsewhere, constructing a city-center that was at least somewhat symmetrical and aesthetically pleasing. The sandbox element is able to shine here. Even though you only have a few buildings to choose from, none of which having more than a plain, wood-and-stone, quasi-dark age Europe architecture, the freedom of arrangement (unbound by the grid systems of other such games) lets you layout your settlement however you choose. A dense, gridded townscape can work, or a spread out forest village is equally viable. I opted for a blend of these, with a center village and then a few sporadic outposts for hunters and foresters. Any design is basically effective, though questions of efficiency can come in to play if stockpiles and barns are too spread out. It's good plain fun.

The first go was a flop and I scrapped it. Subsequent towns reached that quiet equilibrium I spoke of. Not much happens, until it does -- pestilence can mess up your food supply; an influx of nomads can suddenly put some of your population into homelessness and starvation if you're not prepared; less serious opportunities, like getting that cool crop or cattle when Fartface the trader arrives, can be lost if you're not stocked up on trade items (iron tools, basically).

It's a chill game I am much enjoying, a peaceful place where I can exorcise those demons of control and watch time go by as quickly as I please. Banished is cool.

30 October 2017

"My Heart's True Home"

I've been on a bit of a religious journey lately...lately as in the last year or two. This is distinct from a faith journey, as what I believe isn't changing, but how I believe and what I do seem to be.

Something has drawn me to explore more liturgical Christian traditions outside of my (apparently) evangelical bubble. It all goes back to Fr Stephen Freeman, really, and his excellent blog and podcast. Prior to that I'd had a passing interest in the Orthodox that never materialized. Fr Stephen presented to me a lot of cool Orthodox ideas I had never been exposed to before. Even hardcore Protestants admit that the Orthodox have a real grip on Christian cosmology, and it was Fr Stephen's "one-storey universe" that began to agree with me and nudge me towards an exploration of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Since that time I've been reading a lot of Orthodox and Roman Catholic literature and peeking into "Liturgical Protestant" traditions, like the Anglican communion. In short, I might be a cliche soon. Many men and women my age who were brought into the Protestant/evangelical thing at an earlier time of life have felt the pull of liturgy and vestments and candles and smells and bells, though others still take it the other way around. Many people I know have worked their way through the gradient, from Protestantism to "light" liturgical churches (like the aforementioned Anglican church) and landed in Orthodoxy, or at least Orthodox-affirming positions.

I haven't landed yet. I don't know where I'm going to land and that is both terrible and encouraging.

What's been on my mind recently is the idea of conscience. Mr. Pahman over at Ancient Faith put to words the things that have been stewing in me for a long while now. Many of those who land in the Eastern Orthodox (EO) church, or the Catholic church for that matter, sometimes cite this very thing: all the reinterpretations and schisms and theological confusion throughout Christian history draw them backwards in time to the church that hasn't changed over the years and is, apparently, not subject to human conscience.

That's putting it broadly because both EO Church and (especially) the Roman Catholic church have room for personal opinions and movements of conscience, but they are all contained within the boundaries of the Church and her doctrine/dogma (not real clear on the difference between those two yet). As Pahman affirms, the role of the human conscience is important, even within the ancient Eastern Christian faith.

My question, as if it were utterly important and I couldn't just submit to the religious ideas of somebody somewhere who's already sorted this stuff out, is where do the lines of personal conviction and conscience end and those of tradition and authority begin? Because that's the big one, the real frontier between dogmatic liturgical traditions and the last 500 years of Reform vacillations. It's easy to twist scripture to agree with your conscience or cultural convictions, so when do we submit our conscience to what other people think and when do we resist?

For a contemporary evangelical, the only fence we know is the Bible and how we (and our conscience and experience) interpret it. For all other Christians (traditional Protestants included), their church is right and everybody else is missing something.

I've studied the Orthodox Church most extensively so I can say that there is a lot of "wiggle room", as it were, for other traditions and even Christians abiding within the dogma of the Church. The Orthodox simply regard their faith as the "most complete" revelation of God, while other religions (even non-Christian religions) are simply "incomplete." That's a nice way to put it and can help steer members way from the hatred that often gets thrown around between differing faiths; for the Orthodox, other religions shouldn't be a threat. Within the church itself, you have to go a long way to actually be a heretic, though some (mostly YouTube commentators) seem eager to throw that term around. Archbishop Alfeyev said that there are lots of things outside of Church teaching that fall into the bounds of "personal opinion" and they generally are not in conflict with the dogma of the Church. In other words, it's okay to have your own ideas as long as they don't directly conflict with doctrine.

Fr Stephen Damick said, or probably quoted, that in the Orthodox Church when you bump into something the church teaches that you don't agree with, you don't say, "I don't believe that." You say, "I don't believe that yet." The idea is that you don't have to agree with something just because the Church teaches it (which seems to be less the case in the Catholic church and in certain Protestant realms), but you do have to recognize that the Church is the authority on the issue and that they have made the final judgement (probably 1000+ years ago).

A co-worker of mine, in a discussion about our individual ramblings within the Christian tradition, said that the path we're meant to be on finds us. This is a very Orthodox idea, as it's God who comes to us rather than the other way around. You hear this kind of talk a lot in conversion stories. Even the title of this post was taken from the autobiography of an Orthodox monk, describing how he felt when he made it into the EO church. But the Orthodox church is The Church, right? It's not just "your heart's" home, like some subjective thing, right? Such talk of subjectivity lends itself well to parody, where the only thing that matters in a church or a theology is if it's right "for me."

So, the EO church is everybody's home, right? The paths we're meant to take should lead us all to the Orthodox Church...right?

Or does God (even the God of the Orthodox) move and guide us into the church/theology we're supposed to be in at the time we're supposed to get there? Is God "subjective" about where He puts us? Is He the one guiding our consciences, albeit in a dogmatic context? Does that explain why some bounce from Catholicism (or Orthodoxy) to Protestantism (or non-denoms), and vice versa?

Again, I defer to the Orthodox. A local priest who I've been fortunate enough to speak with about these things told me, as a response to my expressed confusion about where God is leading me, that if what I think I want doesn't come to pass it is for my salvation. I don't know if this priest's kind, generous, and thoughtful response is a reflection of the greater priesthood, but I found it incredibly freeing and hopeful. Wherever I go, whatever God has for me, is for my own benefit, for my salvation.

He will use my conscience, holy scripture, the lives of the Saints, the Church (both here and beyond) to direct my steps. I think the phase of the journey I am on now may be the part where I figure out how to accept that. And that is terrible and encouraging.

As a post-script, I'll elaborate on the "terrible" part in an attempt at transparency that might encourage someone. It's terrible to feel adrift and pulled and pushed by every passing current. Every podcast or book I see demands my attention, even briefly, because it has to be considered. I'm trying to be free of this overload and spend more time in God's presence (the Jesus Prayer has been very helpful in this regard), but it's terribly difficult. I just want to land and feel okay in my belief system, but that's not happening right now. There are too many questions. Have we really gotten better at this Christian thing since the Reformation? Is the Bible and the Christian life to be subjected to modern ideas and evolve along with society? It sucks and it's hard. At the same time, the journey is a gift and for my salvation. What else can one do but wait until the answers come?

I have a lot more to say on the subject, so we'll see if a follow-up is in order.