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Category Archives: God

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.


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.



Classes ended yesterday.  Next week, we here at UT will start the journey through the dreaded Finals Week, keeping our eyes set on the release that awaits us at the end of it all: Summer.

As I walked around my residence hall today, I noticed everyone walking around as thought it were just an ordinary day.  And, for many, it is.  I couldn’t help but think of the contrast, though.  For them, it’s an ordinary day.  But, for the Orthodox, it’s at the doorstep of the Feast of Feasts: our Lord’s Pascha.

Just a few years ago, I thought Easter was a really cool holiday.  I mean…duh!  Jesus came out of the tomb, right?  So, yeah…it was pretty big.  But, in reality, for me and most I knew, the Big Deal was Christmas.  The Nativity was at the forefront, giving a back seat (in a way) to Easter.

Since then, however, Pascha has become the new Christmas.  Christmas, of course, is a big deal still.  But, it doesn’t compare to the joy that awaits all who make the journey to Pascha.

And, now, I must go.  For the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and it’s 10:17. So…on to church.

Smoky Flowers

There is often something transcendent about beautiful days. Today is a perfect example. I wake up at 7:50-something in a room where all the shades are drawn, leaving only a small crack through which a tiny amount of sunlight creeps in and illuminates the carpeted floor. I go directly to the shower and get ready for work, not once passing a window to the outside. However, I can just sense that it is a pretty day. Without explanation or qualification, it is something that I can just feel very deeply.

When I finish getting ready, I grab my lunch and walk outside to the cool of upper-60’s temperatures and a sun that is just beginning to peek over the trees in the back yard. I am greeted by a rush of refreshing summer morning air. I smile as I stroll to my car, thinking back to high school and all the mornings in July and August when I would get out of bed at 6:30 to head to band camp, always delighting in the minor hum of the traffic and expectant busy-ness that the early hours bring.

I haven’t listened to it in a while, but I start singing Switchfoot’s “Golden” as I open the car and place my things inside. I start the car and find the song on my iPod and punch Play. “The green comes from the frozen ground/And everything will be made new again like freedom in spring.” This is a day where life—green trees, sunshine, warm breezes, kind words, Illumination itself—reaches beyond mere concepts to be considered and becomes almost tangible.

It is a new day, and with it, God’s mercies are fresh as well. Let us rejoice and be glad in this.

A timely word (for me, anyway) from Fr. Stephen about not resting on your own abilities to stand up to the tempations and challeneges of life.  May it bless and encourage you, as well.

“On Hope in God Alone and On Confidence in Him”

Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)



what ifs
if onlys



this is the moment of
hands lifted
fingers unfurled
like petals
in offering

this is before
yes and amen
the quiet fissure
in time/space
that I hide in

breathless moments
make poems worth reading
this is the


between the lines

the gaps
that make words of letters


be here
to hear

Be quiet:

this is the breath
between annunciation
and conception
of Christ
in you.

Abba singing
His hushsong



sweet nothing.

—Claudia Mair Burney

VT Poem
As mentioned in my last post, I came across a poem at one of the memorials on the drill field while on a recent visit to Virginia Tech. The memorial belonged to gunman Cho Seung-Hui. The full text of the poem follows.

To Cho:

I am a Hokie.
You can not strip me of that, or
My love, my passion, or my truth.
My innocence is mine on the cross
And you can not have it.
You will not now nor will you ever
Have power over me.

The truth is I miss you.
I wish I could have shown you
His love, His passion, His truth.
It has set me free
And I wish I could share that with you.
I missed you.
I’m sorry.

So I must tell you now:
Even though you took innocent lives;
Even though you tried to put fear in our hearts;
Even though I hurt to the core;
Even though my eyes are tired of crying;
Even though campus, my home, will never be the same…

I forgive you
And I love you.


Virginia Tech Memorial

Amidst all the reflection on what happened yesterday and in similar horrific acts (Columbine, Paducah, etc.), the following poem by Steve Turner came to mind. So, I offer it today.

by Steve Turner

This is the creed I have written on behalf of all us.

We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don’t hurt anyone,
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.

We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy is OK.
We believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything is getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated
And you can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there’s something in
horoscopes, UFO’s and bent spoons;
Jesus was a good man
just like Buddha, Mohammed, and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher
although we think His good morals were bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same–
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of
creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.

We believe that after death comes the Nothing
Because when you ask the dead what happens they say nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied,
then it’s compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Khan.

We believe in Masters and Johnson.
What’s selected is average.
What’s average is normal.
What’s normal is good.

We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed.
Americans should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians would be sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good.
It’s only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust.
History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds,
and the flowering of individual thought.

“Chance” a post-script

If chance be the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
and when you hear

State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb Blasts School!

It is but the sound of man worshiping his maker.


A few months ago, I came across a non-profit organization called To Write Love On Her Arms. So, I checked it out. I saw this story that was posted on the website, a story that apparently gave the background of how it got started with the focus of helping just one person named Renee survive long enough to make it into rehab, and being there for her after she got out to continue to love her and to let her know she has worth. And, so I read it.

I was very moved. I’ve rarely been so moved in all my life. I’ve known people like Renee. And one of them was ever on my mind as I read that story. In fact, after I read the story, I sent her a message to say that I was thinking about her and that I love her.

To Write Love On Her Arms is far beyond just another cause to fight for. It is a movement dedicated to providing hope to those who struggle with depression, addiction, suicide, and cutting. The people that run it have no delusions of grandeur. They are broken people reaching out to broken people to show the healing and life-changing love of Christ.

Please take the time and read the story. All of it is true. Renee is real, and she has real struggles. You likely know someone who has similar struggles, but just aren’t aware of it. Even if you don’t, there are people in your town and at your place of work, at your church, in your classrooms, and riding next to you on the bus who have these struggles and are crying out for help, if anyone would just listen.

If you have the desire to get involved, this organization needs you. You can buy their distinct shirts, you can donate money, you can provide connections to professionals who help those who battle with these issues, you can spread the word, or you can simply pray. Contact them and they’ll let you know how you can become involved.

Here’s the story, as written by founder Jamie Tworkowski.

Pedro the Lion is loud in the speakers, and the city waits just outside our open windows. She sits and sings, legs crossed in the passenger seat, her pretty voice hiding in the volume. Music is a safe place and Pedro is her favorite. It hits me that she won’t see this skyline for several weeks, and we will be without her. I lean forward, knowing this will be written, and I ask what she’d say if her story had an audience. She smiles. “Tell them to look up. Tell them to remember the stars.”

I would rather write her a song, because songs don’t wait to resolve, and because songs mean so much to her. Stories wait for endings, but songs are brave things bold enough to sing when all they know is darkness. These words, like most words, will be written next to midnight, between hurricane and harbor, as both claim to save her.

Renee is 19. When I meet her, cocaine is fresh in her system. She hasn’t slept in 36 hours and she won’t for another 24. It is a familiar blur of coke, pot, pills and alcohol. She has agreed to meet us, to listen and to let us pray. We ask Renee to come with us, to leave this broken night. She says she’ll go to rehab tomorrow, but she isn’t ready now. It is too great a change. We pray and say goodbye and it is hard to leave without her.

She has known such great pain; haunted dreams as a child, the near-constant presence of evil ever since. She has felt the touch of awful naked men, battled depression and addiction, and attempted suicide. Her arms remember razor blades, fifty scars that speak of self-inflicted wounds. Six hours after I meet her, she is feeling trapped, two groups of “friends” offering opposite ideas. Everyone is asleep. The sun is rising. She drinks long from a bottle of liquor, takes a razor blade from the table and locks herself in the bathroom. She cuts herself, using the blade to write “FUCK UP” large across her left forearm.

The nurse at the treatment center finds the wound several hours later. The center has no detox, names her too great a risk, and does not accept her. For the next five days, she is ours to love. We become her hospital and the possibility of healing fills our living room with life. It is unspoken and there are only a few of us, but we will be her church, the body of Christ coming alive to meet her needs, to write love on her arms.

She is full of contrast, more alive and closer to death than anyone I’ve known, like a Johnny Cash song or some theatre star. She owns attitude and humor beyond her 19 years, and when she tells me her story, she is humble and quiet and kind, shaped by the pain of a hundred lifetimes. I sit privileged but breaking as she shares. Her life has been so dark yet there is some soft hope in her words, and on consecutive evenings, I watch the prettiest girls in the room tell her that she’s beautiful. I think it’s God reminding her.

I’ve never walked this road, but I decide that if we’re going to run a five-day rehab, it is going to be the coolest in the country. It is going to be rock and roll. We start with the basics; lots of fun, too much Starbucks and way too many cigarettes.

Thursday night she is in the balcony for Band Marino, Orlando’s finest. They are indie-folk-fabulous, a movement disguised as a circus. She loves them and she smiles when I point out the A&R man from Atlantic Europe, in town from London just to catch this show.

She is in good seats when the Magic beat the Sonics the next night, screaming like a lifelong fan with every Dwight Howard dunk. On the way home, we stop for more coffee and books, Blue Like Jazz and (Anne Lamott’s) Travelling Mercies.

On Saturday, the Taste of Chaos tour is in town and I’m not even sure we can get in, but doors do open and minutes after parking, we are on stage for Thrice, one of her favorite bands. She stands ten feet from the drummer, smiling constantly. It is a bright moment there in the music, as light and rain collide above the stage. It feels like healing. It is certainly hope.

Sunday night is church and many gather after the service to pray for Renee, this her last night before entering rehab. Some are strangers but all are friends tonight. The prayers move from broken to bold, all encouraging. We’re talking to God but I think as much, we’re talking to her, telling her she’s loved, saying she does not go alone. One among us knows her best. Ryan sits in the corner strumming an acoustic guitar, singing songs she’s inspired.

After church our house fills with friends, there for a few more moments before goodbye. Everyone has some gift for her, some note or hug or piece of encouragement. She pulls me aside and tells me she would like to give me something. I smile surprised, wondering what it could be. We walk through the crowded living room, to the garage and her stuff.

She hands me her last razor blade, tells me it is the one she used to cut her arm and her last lines of cocaine five nights before. She’s had it with her ever since, shares that tonight will be the hardest night and she shouldn’t have it. I hold it carefully, thank her and know instantly that this moment, this gift, will stay with me. It hits me to wonder if this great feeling is what Christ knows when we surrender our broken hearts, when we trade death for life.

As we arrive at the treatment center, she finishes: “The stars are always there but we miss them in the dirt and clouds. We miss them in the storms. Tell them to remember hope. We have hope.”

I have watched life come back to her, and it has been a privilege. When our time with her began, someone suggested shifts but that is the language of business. Love is something better. I have been challenged and changed, reminded that love is that simple answer to so many of our hardest questions. Don Miller says we’re called to hold our hands against the wounds of a broken world, to stop the bleeding. I agree so greatly.

We often ask God to show up. We pray prayers of rescue. Perhaps God would ask us to be that rescue, to be His body, to move for things that matter. He is not invisible when we come alive. I might be simple but more and more, I believe God works in love, speaks in love, is revealed in our love. I have seen that this week and honestly, it has been simple: Take a broken girl, treat her like a famous princess, give her the best seats in the house. Buy her coffee and cigarettes for the coming down, books and bathroom things for the days ahead. Tell her something true when all she’s known are lies. Tell her God loves her. Tell her about forgiveness, the possibility of freedom, tell her she was made to dance in white dresses. All these things are true.

We are only asked to love, to offer hope to the many hopeless. We don’t get to choose all the endings, but we are asked to play the rescuers. We won’t solve all mysteries and our hearts will certainly break in such a vulnerable life, but it is the best way. We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we’re called home.

I have learned so much in one week with one brave girl. She is alive now, in the patience and safety of rehab, covered in marks of madness but choosing to believe that God makes things new, that He meant hope and healing in the stars. She would ask you to remember.

Stop the bleeding. Rescue is possible. Love is the movement.

To Write Love On Her Arms

At a Q & A session at Columbia University, Evangelical apologist Ravi Zacharias was asked a question regarding the state of the (Evangelical) church in America. As part of his answer, he said the following, and I think it’s very worthy of reflection:

The problem with America today is not America; it’s the church. We have become very shallow as Christians. Very shallow. We have become masters at engineering feelings without much thought. There is very little thinking that goes on in church. We repeat things, parrot things. We have not thought our faith through. We have not listened to others and what their questions are. Our answers are very shallow. In trying to become seeker-friendly, we have become message-unfriendly. We have no real depth to what we’re trying to teach and speak. Life has got its jagged edges against us, and we are giving simplistic answers. Somewhere, we fell into the trap of believing that music is everything, forgetting it is only one thing and that teaching and ideas are important. And an expenditure of words without an income of ideas will lead to conceptual bankruptcy. And we are so conceptually bankrupt on this; we cannot really explain these things. And, until the church wakes up to what her message is and thinks deeply about these things, we will slip deeper and deeper into parroting phrases that have very little difference in our lifestyles.