Marley’s Ghost

The ghost of Jacob Marley visits Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843); Illustration by Arthur Rackham (1915)

It’ that time of year, when the world turns its mind toward trees and candelabra; driedels and tinsel; manger scenes and Maccabees. The Holidays and all the trappings from toys and latkes to church and family. It’s a busy time and the prevailing cultural mood is that if everything in your life isn’t going exactly how you’d like, then you are doomed to wander through the whole year having “lost the holiday spirit”. Woe betide those who walk past the Salvation Army Santa with his bell or fail to greet their neighbor with appropriately festive greetings. All of this in the name of “keeping the spirit” or “keeping Christ in Christmas” or…whatever.

Recently, though, we have been on the receiving end of a darker holiday message. In recent weeks, our own Jamey Bennet has had to break the law in order to follow the Gospel calling to feed the homeless in Fort Lauderdale. A good friend of LOTW had his house robbed and ransacked and what little they did have, was taken from them in the course of an afternoon. Even our own government has been exposed for its cruel and inhuman acts towards our fellow-man. Here at the rolling of the year, we are drawn to the question: Am I my brother’s keeper?

It was in this dark world that I was reading A Christmas Carol to my daughters. This has become a tradition in our house: First The Best Christmas Pageant Ever , then A Christmas Carol. We have just reached Marley’s Ghost and his admonishment of Scrooge in light of his own sufferings.

“At this time of the rolling year,” the spectre said, “I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me?”

Having lost the ability to interfere for good in human misery, Marley must watch it–blown about on the winds–and weep for his unfeeling past. Keeping his eyes to the ground and only on the nearest crisis of income and expenses, he lost the time granted him to reach out a tender hand with love and goodwill towards those he saw in need.

What are we to do? How are we to see the world in such desperate need, to feel ourselves at a loss for time and resources, and make a real change? What great work can we accomplish in the name of Jesus Christ for the life of the world and the saving of the race?

I was moved by the story from our friend: in the midst of his suffering he kept saying, “I am thankful”. Thankful for his family, his safety, his house, his friends, his work, everything that remained to him. It is so easy at these times to turn inwards, focus on our own needs, and to wait for someone else to work to change the life of someone else. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Where Marley kept his eyes to the ground and ignored human misery, this dear friend looked up and was guided by the star to the nearest manger and able to change the life of someone else he saw in need.

Dickens, through Marley, presents a very simple anthropology: “It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and, if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!” We are called to see each person, every hurting soul, every joyful laughter and tune our hearts to join that dance. Failure to do that is failure to be a Human. In every person, we are called to see the imago dei and turn in reverence to that image and raise it up in the name of Christ–no matter who or what they may be or how they may offend us. True iconodulism is not limited to the reverence of sacred images on wood and stone, but most truly directed at the living icons who wander in and out of our lives.

Merry Christmas!

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Caleb (Edward) Shoemaker is a teacher of Latin and Bible in Upstate New York. He has a degree in Biblical Languages from Gordon-Conwell Theological Institute in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. He is kept busy raising four beautiful children with his wife Amelia. Check out their Etsy shop Embroidered Ameilia specializing in Pascha blanket patterns for the American Orthodox.

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Sheltering the Homeless in Erie, PA

ErieSo it’s a festive time of year a time for loved ones and building great memories. But as Orthodox Christians it’s also a time for fasting and increased alms giving. Every year my friend’s parish hosts the emergency overflow shelter for the homeless of his city along with two other churches for 2 two week periods; during the month of December and again in February. It’s a big undertaking and they never have enough supplies. They ALWAYS NEED, BLANKETS, SOCKS, UNDERWEAR, JACKETS, SWEATSHIRTS, PANTS etc. FOR MEN AND WOMEN. People can donate these items via mail or send a gift card for purchasing said items. They take this project on with very little aid from the city mission. If any one would like to help them please email Stephen Maynard at stephen.a.maynard@gmail.com or call him at (814) 314-9646. You can also reach
the church office (814) 449-8515 or mail a package or what not to:

Church of the Nativity
109 German St
Erie, PA 16507

Or to:


Nolan School of Music
3306 Buffalo Rd
Erie, PA 16510


If it’s a package the music shop is a better choice since Stephen is always there and there’s only some one in the church office twice a week.

Erie3
Thank you for your love and care for the needy of this world. This is the season to work on earning many crowns in heaven or polish a few up
With love in Christ

The $20 Pay It Forward

doorA good friend of LOTW recently had his house broken into. Many of his family’s valuables were stolen, such as their TV, computers, and cameras. This is the story of how in a time of distress he was still able to see God in a stranger and help them out. Can we do the same for him? Read the story below, and click on the link here if you would like to help offset the expenses of cleaning up and fixing his home.

It is Friday – for that I am thankful. It has been a rather long week. Monday I came home to find the front door kicked in, all of the electronics along with my guitar and a handful of personal affects stolen…and every closet, cabinet and drawer spilled all over the floor – the house, with the exception of my daughters’ room and my icon/prayer corner were completely ransacked.

It was a very long night that first evening. The police spent some time at the house and after they left, I had to secure the front door for the night until it could be permanently fixed. The girls were scared and they did not sleep well. They both woke up in the middle of the night several times as I slept beside them. At one point, they were crying and I took them in my arms and told them, “I love you and I am not going to let anything happen to you. We are safe and God is with us.” Then I prayed over them and they fell asleep in my arms. I remained vigilant through the night.

The next day, I had a monitored alarm system installed in the house using my employee discount as I work for a security company. I really should have had that done when we moved in last year.

I also took an inventory of the things I knew were stolen for certain: The TV, my electric guitar, BluRay player, Google Nexus tablet, Atrix mini-tablet, iPod touch, cell phone, my desktop PC, the laptop, my daughter’s laptop, my coin jar, my CRKT Kit Carson knife, my DSLR camera and lenses. We didn’t have much, but they took what we did have. To add insult to injury, they trashed nearly the entire house and the clean-up is still ongoing. I rent the house and sadly I had no renter’s insurance – I am in the process of remedying that now.

On Tuesday, I went to WalMart to get some blinds for the windows and some opaque curtain panels for the back door. We have sheer drapes which are wonderful for letting the light in, but we had no blinds which meant that at night, anyone could come to the back and side of the house and see everything in the living room and kitchen.

As I wandered the aisles at WalMart, I began to lament this entire thing. I was tired and sad that this happened and especially that my daughters were scared and that their things were stolen. We do not have much, but we were very thankful for what we did have. So as I felt a bit of sadness creep in, I began to think about how it was going to be a very long time before we could ever replace such things. We were already trying to save up for a new bed as ours is small and old and is hard to sleep in. How was I going to replace the things that were stolen – now my daughters weren’t going to be able to do one of our favorite family traditions – Movie Night – where we all sat on the couch and watched a movie together – or hopped on the bed and watched a movie on the computer while we all cuddled together.

As I pulled out of the parking lot at WalMart, I saw a woman standing at the end of the side road – she had two small children with her about the same age as my daughters. She held a cardboard sign which read: “Running out of food. God please help us” – I had a $20 bill and that was about all I had left. I pulled out thinking that someone was surely going to help this woman and her kids. And as soon as I thought that, I instantly turned my car into the small parking lot next to where they were standing. I got out of my car and walked across the street and handed her the $20 bill. She said, “What? Are you sure?!” I said, “I just had my house broken into last night and they took so much of our stuff and they trashed the place. I have two daughters about the same age as your kids. When we get home tonight, the one thing we have is food. When we run out of food I can get more food. They never go hungry and they do not have to worry about going hungry. We will not be able to watch TV or get on the computer because those things were stolen. But my children will have food tonight and so will yours. I was feeling sorry for myself and asking God why this happened. Then there you were with your children standing here asking God for help because you were running out of food. I am selfish way too often…and I almost passed you all by. But I do not want your kids going hungry. I wish I could do more, but I hope this helps a little.”

She began to cry and said, “Why are people so mean to each other? Why would someone do that to you and your girls? I am so sorry. What is your name?” I said, “My name is Matthew…and it’s ok, we are all safe and it’s just stuff.” She said, “Matthew, my name is Sarah and I am going to pray for you guys.” I said, “Thank you, Sarah (then I got a bit teary eyed). We are going to pray for you all as well.”

We hugged and I said, “Never forget that God loves you and your children. And there are resources and place you can go for help so you guys do not have to be hungry.” Sarah said, “We’ve been to a couple of those places but right now I do not have a car and I don’t want to lose my kids. But I will go there if it gets really bad.” I drove home feeling foolish for being despondent about what happened to us.

After I finished installing the blinds and curtains, I took a small break to have a bite to eat. As I was looking at my Facebook, I saw a message from a friend – it was time-stamped a few hours earlier – at the same time God put Sarah in my path, a friend sent me the following message:

“Would the girls like my Kindle Fire? It’s a couple of years old, but I don’t use it very often. It might as well be loved. and we have a small flat screen tv around here somewhere we want you to have once we find it. Ian is digging through the basement right now. Also, while we’re at it, might you like a dog, three cats, and a bunny? “

You see, we met some wonderful people in our catechesis classes a few months ago – Amy and Ian Henry. And Amy had sent me this message. What they saw as a way to help by giving us some small things they weren’t using, I saw as a gift of love that is beyond price. Sarah and her children were asking for God to help them as they stood on a corner in the cold hoping somehow…some way…to be able have food that day. I was sullen because my material items…luxuries all…were stolen and my sense of peace was violated and my girls were scared. And Amy and Ian were at the very same time showing us an act of friendship and love and answering a prayer I had prayed for my children. How moving it is that the love of God is manifest in often beautiful and mysterious ways.

Thank you to Sarah and her children, for being vessels of God’s love – I am praying for you and your children wherever you may be. Thank you to Amy and Ian and their family for loving us and for the precious gift of their friendship. I am forever thankful to God for all of you – my dear family and friends, not just during difficult days, but during the days of happiness – regardless of circumstance, I appreciate and love all of you.

If you would care to help, please click the link to donate whatever you can.

Paypal

Team Jack

The 2013 ESPY Awards - Backstage

“Jack Hoffman is a 7-year old boy, born and raised in Atkinson, Nebraska (pop. 1,100). He has been a Nebraska Cornhusker football fan his entire life. In 2010, for Jack’s 5th birthday, his parents took him to his first Husker game. His Mom and Dad (Bri & Andy) purchased a Rex Burkhead No. 22 jersey (a fan favorite) for him, for the game. Jack is no different than any other little boy growing up in the great state of Nebraska–he loves to play sports, ride bike, fish, hunt, and watch Cornhusker football. Jack Hoffman also has a brain tumor.

Jack has undergone surgery for the removal of the brain tumor next to his brain stem. Only a small amount of the tumor could be removed. The remaining tumor was declared inoperable. Throughout the spring, summer, and fall months of 2011, Jack battled the onset of Secondary Epilepsy–a condition brought on by the tumor. During this time, Jack suffered frequent partial seizures, sometimes up to eleven per day. The seizures persisted despite high dosages of two anti-seizure medications.

Specialists at Children’s Hospital in Boston were consulted in August 2011.A  Pediatric Neurosurgeon indicated that she felt she could safely resect the remaining tumor, and at the same time, achieve seizure relief by using intraoperative electrocorticography. Jack’s 2nd brain surgery in 5 months occurred in Boston on October 10, 2011. The surgery went well, as the doctor removed a golf ball sized tumor. Approximately 95% of the tumor was removed, with the exception of a small spot near the brain stem and cerebral artery. Another result of this surgery was the fact that Jack was made seizure free, as well.  Unfortunately, soon after surgery, the remaining “spot” grew aggressively and chemotherapy was then commenced.

Before the second life-threatening brain surgery, the family reached out to the University of Nebraska to see if Jack could meet Rex Burkhead before his surgery. As a result, the University extended an invitation to Jack and his family to make the 4 hour drive to the Stadium. During this September 2011 visit, Rex spent several hours with Jack and his family—giving them a tour, having lunch together, and just hanging out. This one experience evolved into a remarkable friendship between a 6-year old boy and a major college football player. During the 2011 campaign, Rex wore a wristband that said: “Team Jack-Pray.” Rex’s support landed him the Rare Disease Champion Award presented by Uplifting Athletes. Rex’s benevolence has helped place pediatric brain cancer on the national agenda.

Jack’s Mom and Dad are determined to help find an effective cure for pediatric brain cancer. As a result they partnered with CureSearch for Children’s Cancer, a national non-profit foundation which funds children’s cancer research. In 2012 and winter of 2013, the family was raising money for the “Team Jack Legacy Fund,” a designated CureSearch research fund they created.  The family has now taken another step, and with the help of friends and colleagues, they have formed the “Team Jack Foundation.” All money raised through the Team Jack Foundation will support pediatric brain cancer research.”¹

This ordeal has affected many in the state of Nebraska as the relationship between the team and Jack became more publicized. He has been at many of the games on the sidelines and Rex has been in constant contact with him and his family even after being drafted into the NFL. One of the most publicized things to have happened during this time is the following video that went on to win an ESPY award.

I cannot help but be in awe of the generosity and love that has been shown to this family by the entire state of Nebraska. We hear about so many of the wrongs committed by athletes; rarely do we hear about these uplifting stories that create a real community, often under the guidance and watchful eye of God.

¹ Condensed from About Jack Hoffman.

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Jared Hall is a convert to Orthodoxy and a struggling sinner. He is married to a wonderful, natural-minded, woman and together with their two toddler boys, they are trying to make sense of this world. For this reason he chose St Brendan as his patron. He is a blue collar libertarian and passionate about birth rights, raising backyard chickens, a good scotch, and great conversations. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Modern Iconodulism

1-Homeless-ManMuch has been made of the “Don’t feed the homeless” scandal in Florida, and  the recent battle to overturn these misguided laws (see Jamey Bennett’s post). But it is that time of year again that we take the time to be thankful for all that we have—and even all that we do not have. Let us contemplate our Life in Christ and how it can be so much richer. One way to fulfill our duties to Christ is to remember those who are less fortunate than us. We can help in a soup kitchen, supply winter coats to the homeless and/or needy. We can donate our time to help the sick, or even just be their friend. We can pick up the tab or help pay a small bill.  Sometimes, simply taking the time to say hello and ask how somebody is doing can go a long ways. Remember anything can help those who are struggling through life.

“And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” Matthew 25:40

Remember also, that though in the fasting periods we are called to increase our almsgiving, we can—and should—help our fellow man in what ever ways we can at all times.

This is going to be a new series called “Triumphant Tuesday.” We will be sharing stories where people have looked beyond the easy-to-do and have instead done what can so often be very difficult: they saw God in their fellow man and decided to help.

 

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Jared Hall is a convert to Orthodoxy and a struggling sinner. He is married to a wonderful, natural-minded, woman and together with their two toddler boys, they are trying to make sense of this world. For this reason he chose St Brendan as his patron. He is a blue collar libertarian and passionate about birth rights, raising backyard chickens, a good scotch, and great conversations. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram.