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.

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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.

Page Divider for Author Bios

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.

 

Page Divider for Author Bios

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.

Fort Lauderdale’s Attack on the Homeless

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In recent years, approximately 100 U.S cities have enacted laws targeting the homeless, and contributing to criminalizing the poor and homeless, and reducing them by law to something less than human.

Many of these cities have specifically targeted their food supply, enacting laws limiting or banning serving free food publicly. Houston, Pasadena, Raleigh, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, and Philadelphia are among the many cities that have made news for their policies that sound good in closed door meetings, but don’t go over so well with the public.

Most recently, Fort Lauderdale mayor Jack Seiler has rankled many across the country when police arrested 90-year-old WWII veteran Arnold Abbott for serving food to the homeless outdoors. “’Drop that plate right there,’” Abbott claims an officer commanded him, as if he were wielding a weapon. Abbott has been serving the poor of Fort Lauderdale for more than two decades through his ministry, Love Thy Neighbor, and has no intention of stopping now.

Even comedian Stephen Colbert picked up the story on his late night comedy news show The Colbert Report, joking, “If George Zimmerman had fed a guy in a hoodie, he’d be in jail.”

Read the full post at Orthodox Christian Network.

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Jamey Bennett is curator of A Field Guide to the Orthodox Church and attends St. Mark Greek Orthodox Church in Boca Raton. He lives in South Florida with his wife Alison and three beagles. You can follow him on twitter.

Putting Christian men in their place

During past reflections on Psalm 1 and other topics, I notice the use of masculine imagery and masculine pronouns. I am not opposed to this as such, but I often wonder if men–even Orthodox Christian men–see the preponderance of male and masculine imagery as a place of special privilege within the Kingdom of God and the Orthodox Church.

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The accusation is often laid against the Church that she is an archaic boys club; that the system and hierarchy in place preclude all female involvement outside of the potluck dinner, the meditation garden, and the choir; that the feminine is looked down upon while the masculine and macho are celebrated to an extreme degree. (All one has to do is look to the iteration of Fight Church to see the extreme spectrum of this broken worldview.) Rightly so, I fear. We Christians too often use the Bible as a weapon–not against sin, but against each other. We Orthodox use the Holy Canons of our church as cannons to be used in the offensive against perceived threats. In this, I fear, we have lost not only our proper view of women but a sacred view of men.

Both Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition discuss with great reverence the good creation of God in creating Man male and female. Both, we are told, were created in His image; both were created for each other; and together they become a living icon of both the Trinitarian relationship and the mystical union between Christ and His Church. Our hymnography uses masculine language to describe women and feminine adjectives to describe men, and none of this is considered wrong nor obscene nor emasculation, nor chauvinistic. Yet we are confronted time and again by men and women whose misunderstanding of their God ordained roles leads them to lash out, belittle, and degrade others based on sex and gender. Increasingly, we buy into the Uni-sex heresy which denies the difference between sexes so much as to make them interchangeable! Both of these responses do undue violence to the Body and call evil what God calls good.

We have so misunderstood and misinterpreted the roles of women in the Church that the roles of men are often miscast as the oppressor or the do-anything-you-want frat brothers of Holy Orthodoxy. Instead of casting the priesthood and holy orders in the light of special significance and limited occupancy, some men see it as their right to pass through the Doors of the iconostasis simply because they are male. Others are quick to point out that “women can’t do that” without taking into consideration that those same forbidden areas are forbidden to the majority of men in the church as well. It is time, as Jodie said, for both Men and Women to be in their proper place.

What does this discussion of Orthodox Anthropology, sexism, and sex roles mean to you, your parish, your church experience?

Page Divider for Author Bios

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.

The Lord’s Prayer part six: debts and debtors

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

Matthew 6:12

I went to a little Roman Catholic elementary school, at Mass every morning I heard “forgive us our tresspasses…” In our family’s Orthodox church we sang “forgive us our debts…” Very confusing for a child like me. I remember citing it as a major difference between the Roman and the Orthodox churches – along with the sign of the cross – in conversation with one of the Marion sisters in the principal’s office. I was around ten. Of course as I grew it became clear that the debts/trespass issue had nothing to do with denomination and everything to do with what translation used. Many Orthodox ask the Father to forgive their trespasses. Everytime I would hear tresspasses used I would always wonder “why the difference?” and more importantly “which is correct?” Somewhere along the line I discovered the interlinear bible. An interlinear bible has the Greek and in our case English side by side word by word. It turns out the Greek word ὀφειλήματα, often translated as trespasses, means debt or more specifically “that which is owed.”

In Scripture everything has meaning.  The Rabbis say that even the empty spaces have meaning. Word choices have meaning. Let us then assume that Jesus used the word “debts” for a reason and examine that more closely. Debts is a rather narrow word, a financial term.   It means that which is owed, money borrowed, wages to be paid, obligation. A “debtor” is under bond to do a task. There are many places in Scripture that employ financial language when referring to spiritual matters; I would like to highlight just three. The first is from Luke’s Gospel and is the counterpart to Matthew 6:12

“And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.”

Luke 11:4

 

Here the word “sins”, in greek ἁμαρτάνω, literally means to miss the mark and is different than debts (ὀφειλήματα.) Bearing Luke’s word choice in mind let’s meditate on the forgiveness of debts in the famed Romans 3 our second selection.

“For there is no distinction;  since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.”

Romans 3:22-26 (emphasis added)

The redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) language here is often connected with paying the debt of someone else; often someone who has been made a slave to the creditor.

In financial language, Jesus bought our debt (talk about toxic assets) and then forgave it. We are redeemed, but that is only our Savior’s part – the part we could never accomplish. We must work out our salvation. We must forgive others. In the “Our Father” we are predicating our forgiveness on how we forgive others. This is deeply civic. As icons of the triune Godhead we are communal and that communion is only possible in Love (cf. Cor 13:4-8). Our model for Love is Jesus Christ – The Redeemer – the one who payed the debt once and for all; the one who forgives our debts as we forgive our debtors. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” is not merely a quid pro quo, akin to “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land” (Isiah 1:19-20), Matthew 6:12 is deeply soteriological, speaking directly to the Orthodox Theology of Salvation known as Soteriology. We are to “be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mat 5:48) 

Let’s end with one final pericope from the Gospel according to Matthew. One of the “Kingdom” parables we are all perhaps familiar with it is about a servant who owed ten thousand talents to his Lord. The servant couldn’t pay so the Lord ordered the man imprisoned and family and land be sold to pay the debt. Interestingly enough the servant “fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’” He does not ask forgiveness, but an extension. “And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” The parable doesn’t stop there. Right after he is forgiven runs into a fellow servant who owes him money.

 “and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:23-35

Page Divider for Author BiosI am a reader in a small Orthodox Christian parish on the edge of the prairie. I am married and have three children. The emergency room is my day job, at night I play mostly traditional American music on the banjo, guitar, mandolin etc. I am a PK and so is my spouse. Also an avid reader and book collector.

The Ancient Faith Prayer Book


AFPrayerBookI was recently mailed a copy of the new Ancient Faith Publishing prayer book, The Ancient Faith PRAYER BOOK compiled by Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou. Much has already been said about the language style that was chosen for the prayers, so I will be brief in my summary of this detail. If you are one who prefers “Thy” and “Thine,” then this book is not for thee. While a few have argued that the use of a more modern English ruins the formality of prayer, I have only to say that it is my humble belief that this misses the point to prayer. While my favorite prayer book that I have run across is the Old Ritualist prayer book from an Old Believer church in Erie, PA, this is a great copy, especially for beginners and those new to an Orthodox prayer rule, helped in my opinion by the modern language.

Now that I have addressed the most common issue with the prayer book, I will simply point out that the contents are wonderful. The prayers themselves have been truncated lightly. By this I mean that you will not find the full length morning prayers found in the Jordanville, for example. But for those who are short on time or again, who are new to the Orthodox style of prayer, this is no problem. The prayer book contains the common morning, afternoon, mealtime, and evening prayers, as well as those for pre- and post-communion, and confession.

What I really like about this prayer book is the added little prayers for random occasions. My wife is a doula, so I was very pleased to find prayers for pregnant women, for a woman undergoing a difficult labor, and for the husband and wife after the birth of their child. Also included are prayers for beginning and ending work, for those who are sick, and many other prayers for certain occasions. Some of these can be found in other prayer books, but the compilation here I find to be very pleasant.

Another nice touch is the addition of prayers of the Saints, including Aidan of Lindisfarne, the breastplate of St. Patrick, and a personal favorite right now is the prayers of St John Chrysostom for every hour of the day.

Again, if you are one to value a rigorous prayer rule or an older English language, I would shy away from this prayer book as your go to. But for travel or the need for a shortened prayer time, I recommend this book. This is also a great copy to give to those who are new to the Church, as it will be a great introduction to the beauty that can be found in the prayer life of the Orthodox.

Simply put, this is a great addition for anybody to have in their prayer corners.

Page Divider for Author Bios

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.

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