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Just a short note to express my excitement this morning at my very good fortune to be heading to Dallas, TX, this afternoon to attend the annual OCF Heartland Retreat.  The idea is that I’m going so I can cover it for the OCF Podcast.  And, I mean, I am.  But, I’m reminded of something Mr. Woodall, my beloved high school band director, once told us as we were practicing a piece we would be performing at a band festival in Orlando, FL.  He said, “You’re going to do well on this, folks.  You’ve put a lot of work into this, and the other things you’ve done this year.  That’s why I’m taking you on a vacation to Disney World.  And, it is a vacation.  The only reason we’re going to festival is because that’s the only way the school board would approve the trip. [grins widely].”

No, seriously…this is going to be part vacation, part assignment, part mini-SAB planning meeting.  Along the way, I imagine I’ll learn a thing or two about the Church’s view of love, dating, and marriage (it’s the theme of the retreat).  Of course, I’ll make new friends, stay up waaay too late, and hopefully find a guitar to borrow for the talent show.  Don’t know what I’m gong to sing yet, though…I’m trying to avoid the typical Switchfoot song…lol

When I was a kid, my mom went to Dallas.  I was about, oh, six, I think.  Dallas was a popular show, thought I didn’t really understand it.  All I know was that J.R. Ewing was a bad guy and he treated people like dirt.  Well, I was scared to death that my mom was going to go to Dallas, go on her little tour of the Southfork Ranch (where the show was filmed), and J.R. was going to snatch her up and make her work for him and she wasn’t coming home.  lol  (Unfortunately, a much more tragic thing happened while she was gone: my dad lost his old bandmate Darryl to a helicopter crash when he was testing a new Med Chopper for UT Hospital, and my parents lost a good friend.) But, no fears of that happening this time.  🙂

Well, I’m off.  Wish me well, keep me in your prayers, and pray that I don’t find a phone booth, lest my fellow OCFers be embarrassed…

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According to macrumors.com, some “photos” of an Apple MacBook mini netbook have been making the rounds on the tubes lately.  I would love an Apple netbook to take to class or pop in my bag when I go on a short road trip.  And a machine that looks like this one would certainly be awesome  But, something tells me these aren’t real.  People on 9 to 5 Mac are going on and on about flubbed gradients and tell-tale Photoshop artifacts.  (Which, I’d like to point out, several people did the same thing when the photos of a new Mac mini were floating around, some to extreme. And…they were wrong.)  But, all I see is that the keys look taller than the well surrounding them.  It seems to me that they would mar the screen.

Either way, I really hope Apple comes out with something like this, as I really don’t want to have to hack an EeePc just to have a small portable Mac.

Disclaimer: The thoughts expressed herein are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ancient Faith Radio or Orthodox Christian Fellowships.

Note:  I rarely say bold things in a public forum.  Therefore, I’m slightly nervous about posting the following.  However, I feel this to be absolutely true, and a terribly vital point of conversation.  So, I ask that you read on and prayerfully consider what I have to say. —Jonathan

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the OCF Podcast (for which I am the coordinator, host, and producer).  Where it is.  Where I want it to be. Where it’s going, where it’s been…you know, basic introspection type stuff.  And, I have to say that I’m really pleased.  The fact that the podcast is doing well is enough to make everyone at OCF HQ and those involved with the show fill with excitement.  Though, along with excitement, it fills me with questions.  Good questions.  Necessary questions.  Hard questions.

The primary thought that enters my mind is this:  Why is the OCF Podcast so lonely?  Why are there only a handful (2-4, by my estimation) of podcasts targeted toward students?  Why is it that, with all the data about the growing influx of converts, and with the knowledge that an increasing number are aged upper-high school to twentysomethings (I hate that term, incidentally), why are there not more resources being poured into producing audio and even video programs to match even half the caliber and ubiquity of the programs which already grace the Orthodox landscape, primarily geared toward people 30 and older?  Why is more not being done?

Let me pause and say that I love these shows that I kind of indirectly (and unintentionally) just slammed.  I listened to practically the entire archive of Our Life In Christ when I got my first iPod back in 2006, shortly before my Chrismation. (I still like to randomly listen to entire series.) Half of the podcasts I currently listen to are from AFR.  And they’re wonderful; they do endless good toward helping me to understand and reflect on the Faith.  Still…I feel like something is missing.

And this is where this podcast comes in.  Originally, the podcast began as an idea to help keep us students connected with each other within the OCF world…to keep up-to-date with things that were going on, to hear each other’s stories, and to drop in on retreats halfway across the country. It is beginning to fit in to that mold, glory to God.  At the same time, it serves as a small step toward filling the gap I mentioned earlier.

OCF Executive Director Fr. Kevin Scherer once told me that the number one problem facing student ministry in the American Orthodox Church is a lack of curriculum.  Now, two years after that conversation, I fully believe it.  And, I would venture to guess, he’s not simply talking about Sunday School or Bible study.  Now, this is simply my opinion.  But, where students are concerned, I see an utter void of anything in any consumable media (save a few books and the podcasts mentioned above) which strikes me as engaging and relevant to today’s Orthodox young adult.  This ranges from student devotional books to conference materials, from t-shirts to CD’s and DVD’s of student-oriented teaching.  Yes, there are strides being made.  But, more could and should be done to assure that the Church in America offers more and more to the generation which is rising in service and devotion to Her.

I, for one, am dedicated to exploring this topic and seeing what can be done.  I will seek to enlist the help of John Maddex of AFR, Fr. Kevin Scherer, some of the clergy near and dear to OCF, and, of course, you.  The only reason I bring this up at all is because I feel it would be a huge service to Orthodox students to have these things.  Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe I’m more right than I realize. Whatever the case, the only way to find out is to hear what students have to say.

I’ve heard it said that the Orthodox Church is thirty years behind the curve in the area of student ministry.  I, for one, want to see us catch up.

I ask that you please pray for this effort, for it is only with God’s grace that any of this chatter will ever lead to thoughts, plans, and actions.

Through the prayers of the Holy Apostle Timothy, who was encouraged to be bold in his young age and to set an example for all of the Faithful, may our great God and Savior Jesus Christ have mercy on us as we journey with Him to His glorious Pascha.  Amen. +

Found a very interesting debate from Newsweek between Sam Harris (The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation) and Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life).  Take a look here.

Also, when gathering the inks for this post, I noticed that Mr. Harris, as part of ongoing research, is seeking volunteers to answer surveys regarding beliefs.  “We especially need Christians to respond, as one of the goals of these surveys is to design stimuli that a majority of Christians will find doctrinally sound.”

I do not envy him.

MSNBC has published a memo from the Clinton campaign emphasizing that Obama won’t have the 2210 delegates needed to claim victory if he wins Iowa tomorrow night. Well, that’s counting Florida and Michigan, which have not (to my knowledge) been accepted. Yeah, yeah, yeah…we know, it’s not over, blah blah blah blah…Florida and Michigan, etc., etc. It’s the same song and dance from Hillary, and that has little to do with why I’m recommending the link.

But what I really enjoyed was reading the comments, and the numerous creative ways in which people said “Deal with it..go home.”

Here’s my favorite:

Give it up Hillary.

You gave a beautiful performance, but now your campaign has jumped the shark and you’re starting to look like a singer who won’t get off the stage after the curtains have closed, the band has stopped playing, the audience has left, and the lights have been turned off.

Link.

I ask your prayers tonight, as I am in the Malabar area of Florida where there are some vicious brush fires.  I’m staying with my girlfriend Tiffany and her family at their home, and we’ve begun to talk about packing for a possible evacuation.  There is plenty more that we’re dealing with related to it, but I’ll spare you the details.

I’ve never been involved with anything like this, so I’m just a little frazzled.

I’m sitting in room 223 of Greve Hall, which should be (and is supposed to be) empty by 3 this afternoon. (God help me.) As I’m scurrying around (read: spastically freaking out and chasing my own tail), I’m thinking about how this school year was different. For the first time ever, I ended the semester taking the same classes with which I started out, not dropping one class or changing a single section. Also, I actually finished all of them. That hasn’t happened in years. And, by my estimation, I should pass all of them. I wish the grades overall could be better, and they could be, to be sure. But, that I can say that I’ll have all 5 grades and that I didn’t give up in the middle of the semester (or at the beginning, for that matter)…that is a miracle.

Outside of school, I’ve gained a wonderful girlfriend, I’ve learned some things I’ve pretty good at, I’ve learned one thing I’m not great at (being a regional representative for an organization…my brain just doesn’t work that way 🙂 ), I’ve made some new friends, and I’ve had a number of adventures. Not to mention loads of great memories.

And you can check out some of those memories by viewing the slideshow below. The music is me playing/singing part of “Dare You To Move” with my friend Bekah when we were hanging out after this year’s OCF College Conference. Last summer, my friend Laura said that it’s a good song (and a good message) for me. I couldn’t agree more.

“Maybe redemption has stories to tell.”

Maybe it does.

Maybe this is a sample of Chapter 1.

It’s finals time. At this point, I have 3 down and 4 more to go, including two for an Incomplete from the fall semester. This song by They Might Be Giants sums up my life right now.

P.S. For more finals week goodness, check out the latest OCF Podcast and listen to an awesome conversation an OCFer at UCONN had with Dr. Al Rossi about finding peace during this crazy time.

When I met my girlfriend Tiffany back in September, she could best be described as a melting pot of religious views, with the primary views flipping back-and-forth between agnosticism and atheism, as far as I could tell.

Today, almost 8 months later, she became a catechumen in the Orthodox Christian Church.  And it’s funny, really. After Pascha, she was talking to me about how she had started to feel something that she’s never felt before but has always wanted to feel. She also explained that she had started to fight her doubts against faith which linger in spite of this new feeling. I explained that St. Thomas had a situation where he dealt with a bit of doubt, and that, as a result (long story short), Christ said that those who don’t see and believe are even more blessed than Thomas was.

And, then, we get to church, she gets enrolled into the catechumenate, and I look down at the bulletin to find out that, lo and behold, it’s Thomas Sunday.

God is cool. 🙂

O Lord, our God, Who dwellest on high and regardest the humble of heart; Who hast sent forth as the salvation of mankind Thine Only-begotten Son and God, our Lord Jesus Christ; look down upon Thy servants, the catechumens, who have bowed their heads before Thee; make them worthy in due season of the laver of regeneration. Unite them to thy Holy, Universal and Apostolic Church, and number them with Thy chosen flock. That they also with us may glorify Thy most honorable and majestic Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

You know, it’s funny how you can hear something several times and be moved by it. Then, there is that one time you hear it, and it just knocks you down.

Very early this morning, this officially became the most moving sermon I’ve ever heard.

+++
If any man be devout and loveth God,
Let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast!
If any man be a wise servant,
Let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.

If any have laboured long in fasting,
Let him how receive his recompense.
If any have wrought from the first hour,
Let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour,
Let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour,
Let him have no misgivings;
Because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour,
Let him draw near, fearing nothing.
And if any have tarried even until the eleventh hour,
Let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.

For the Lord, who is jealous of his honour,
Will accept the last even as the first.
He giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour,
Even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour.
And He showeth mercy upon the last,
And careth for the first;
And to the one He giveth,
And upon the other He bestoweth gifts.
And He both accepteth the deeds,
And welcometh the intention,
And honoureth the acts and praises the offering.

Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord;
Receive your reward,
Both the first, and likewise the second.
You rich and poor together, hold high festival!
You sober and you heedless, honour the day!
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted
And you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith:
Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.

Let no one bewail his poverty,
For the universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities,
For pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death,
For the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.

By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:
Hell, said he, was embittered
When it encountered Thee in the lower regions.

It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
Is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion
Unto ages of ages.

Amen.
+++

CHRIST IS RISEN!