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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…

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. +

Strongman

As a part of being on the OCF Student Advisory Board, we were all given this book called StrengthsQuest. Within the book, there is a code to sign on to the SQ website and take a Strengths evaluator…or something of the sort. So, I took it, and this is what it says my top five strengths are, starting with number one.

I highly recommend buying this book and taking this test. Once you know your strengths, you can go through and find strategies for cultivating success with a focus on your individual strengths. It’s really, really cool. Order at the SQ website.

And, I’m really interested. So, I ask those who know me personally, whether very well or just fairly well: How accurate do you think this is?

Leave comments…


Restorative
You love to solve problems. Whereas some are dismayed when they encounter yet another breakdown, you can be energized by it. You enjoy the challenge of analyzing the symptoms, identifying what is wrong, and finding the solution. You may prefer practical problems or conceptual ones or personal ones. You may seek out specific kinds of problems that you have met many times before and that you are confident you can fix. Or you may feel the greatest push when faced with complex and unfamiliar problems. Your exact preferences are determined by your other themes and experiences. But what is certain is that you enjoy bringing things back to life. It is a wonderful feeling to identify the undermining factor(s), eradicate them, and restore something to its true glory. Intuitively, you know that without your intervention, this thing—this machine, this technique, this person, this company—might have ceased to function. You fixed it, resuscitated it, rekindled its vitality. Phrasing it the way you might, you saved it.

Connectedness
Things happen for a reason. You are sure of it. You are sure of it because in your soul you know that we are all connected. Yes, we are individuals, responsible for our own judgments and in possession of our own free will, but nonetheless we are part of something larger. Some may call it the collective unconscious. Others may label it spirit or life force. But whatever your word of choice, you gain confidence from knowing that we are not isolated from one another or from the earth and the life on it. This feeling of Connectedness implies certain responsibilities. If we are all part of a larger picture, then we must not harm others because we will be harming ourselves. We must not exploit because we will be exploiting ourselves. Your awareness of these responsibilities creates your value system. You are considerate, caring, and accepting. Certain of the unity of humankind, you are a bridge builder for people of different cultures. Sensitive to the invisible hand, you can give others comfort that there is a purpose beyond our humdrum lives. The exact articles of your faith will depend on your upbringing and your culture, but your faith is strong. It sustains you and your close friends in the face of life’s mysteries.

Belief
If you possess a strong Belief theme, you have certain core values that are enduring. These values vary from one person to another, but ordinarily your Belief theme causes you to be family-oriented, altruistic, even spiritual, and to value responsibility and high ethics—both in yourself and others. These core values affect your behavior in many ways. They give your life meaning and satisfaction; in your view, success is more than money and prestige. They provide you with direction, guiding you through the temptations and distractions of life toward a consistent set of priorities. This consistency is the foundation for all your relationships. Your friends call you dependable. “I know where you stand,” they say. Your Belief makes you easy to trust. It also demands that you find work that meshes with your values. Your work must be meaningful; it must matter to you. And guided by your Belief theme it will matter only if it gives you a chance to live out your values.

Developer
You see the potential in others. Very often, in fact, potential is all you see. In your view no individual is fully formed. On the contrary, each individual is a work in progress, alive with possibilities. And you are drawn toward people for this very reason. When you interact with others, your goal is to help them experience success. You look for ways to challenge them. You devise interesting experiences that can stretch them and help them grow. And all the while you are on the lookout for the signs of growth—a new behavior learned or modified, a slight improvement in a skill, a glimpse of excellence or of “flow” where previously there were only halting steps. For you these small increments—invisible to some—are clear signs of potential being realized. These signs of growth in others are your fuel. They bring you strength and satisfaction. Over time many will seek you out for help and encouragement because on some level they know that your helpfulness is both genuine and fulfilling to you.

Positivity
You are generous with praise, quick to smile, and always on the lookout for the positive in the situation. Some call you lighthearted. Others just wish that their glass were as full as yours seems to be. But either way, people want to be around you. Their world looks better around you because your enthusiasm is contagious. Lacking your energy and optimism, some find their world drab with repetition or, worse, heavy with pressure. You seem to find a way to lighten their spirit. You inject drama into every project. You celebrate every achievement. You find ways to make everything more exciting and more vital. Some cynics may reject your energy, but you are rarely dragged down. Your Positivity won’t allow it. Somehow you can’t quite escape your conviction that it is good to be alive, that work can be fun, and that no matter what the setbacks, one must never lose one’s sense of humor.

Back in December, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dn. Nicholas Belcher, the keynote speaker at the 2007 OCF College Conference. This was done right before he had to leave with his wife Sonia and their four-month-old son to visit the grandparents in WV to give them their first in-the-flesh encounter with baby Andrew. As we got closer to wrapping, Sonia looked very impatient and worried that they wouldn’t get out in decent time. All the while, she bore the look and the personality of kindness. It left me wishing that there had been more time so I could introduce myself properly and get to know her more than that one moment.

I remain wishing. And I will remain so, sadly.

Last Wednesday night, Sonia Daly-Belcher suffered a pulmonary embolism that resulted in her death. This is news that affects many people—OCFers, SAB, and a few of the graduates from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York, where Dn. Nicholas graduated in the class of 2003 (I believe). Not to mention countless friends, family, acquaintances, and untold numbers of campers from Orthodox summer camps, where Dn. Nick is known to love dedicating time in service. Plus, students from Holy Cross Hellenic College in Brookline, MA, where Dn. Nicholas works in the office of vocation.

Pray for the Belcher family and for the repose of the handmaiden of God Sonia. May her memory be eternal!

And if ANYONE is interested in making donations of any size to a fund that has been established for baby Andrew, you may contact me here and I’ll be happy to provide that information.

We Are a Revolution

I was there.  I was in on the revolution from the start.  Take a minute to see through the eyes of my good friend (and fellow Student Advisory Board member) Christina as she explains…

—-

We are a revolution. Five months ago, these were the words spoken by Christine to inspire us to allow the ministry of OCF to change our lives—to raise our expectations for ourselves and our future. Her words fired up joy and excitement in our hearts that we carried home with us for months. Later, though, we found that some felt as if the idea of a “revolution” was contradictory to our Orthodox way of thinking, but I believe we all knew that these words were not spoken with malice or negative intent, and I hope that I have captured in what follows at least a portion of the truth we felt about our revolution.

The word revolution conveys multiple connotations:  in the context of revolt, we think of it as a change in structures—a move toward positive ideals to better a community. In this way, we—OCF—are a revolution of campus ministries. Across the continent, we are in the process of changing the way Christian ministry exists in the forum of pluralistic, secular education. We are there to make known the Church of our Fathers, the Church our Lord established over 2,000 years ago. We are there to promote not only good moral values and knowledge of the Faith, but more importantly the Love of Jesus Christ in all men’s lives. We can choose to be like other college ministry groups that approach Christianity too often with missing pieces, or we can bring fullness to the hearts of young people who are desperately seeking for a single, unmoving Truth.

And within our own ranks, OCF can strive to be the beginnings of a stronger, better structure of Orthodoxy in America. By the Grace of God, we can bring together people from all backgrounds in one Baptism, in one creed, and in one Lord. We can work side-by-side in earnestness and love across jurisdictional lines to achieve an ever-needed peace and understanding within the Church. In this way, we are a revolution against the ways in which we ourselves have broken the communion established for us by the Church.

A revolution can also be a war—a revolt against some ruling power. For us, this is not a new battle we are fighting—we are rebels against the world and its demonic ruler, as were the apostles, the saints, the martyrs. We are called to be warriors in the army of the Lord of Hosts—members of the Church Militant. Our battlefield is abstract and our enemies are not always apparent, but we must put on the armor of God and fight the righteous fight. We must be revolutionaries of the flesh—allowing God to work in us and through us to bring transformation to the fallen Creation.

But most importantly, a revolution expresses a turning around. For us, it is the path to salvation—the road of repentance. It is our dire need to fall down before Christ with tears of repentance, knowing who we are, and begging for forgiveness. And in this moment we realize, we are not a revolution. We are not the changing force; we are not the real Soldier. In fact, we find that we are the battlefield and even sometimes the enemy. And while all that we do through OCF and through our own lives may someday produce beautiful fruit, we will have done nothing of significance—it is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who truly transforms and glorifies. In our most honest moments, we realize that He is the revolution. He is our revolution.

On a chilly Saturday night at the end of December, some 200+ college students combined their voices in the chapel at the Antiochian Village retreat center to sing a beautiful hymn to the Mother of God.  And, though I did not remain in the chapel until 3 in the morning like some people did, I did stay long enough to try and capture some of the Heavenly wonder that swallowed me whole.

 Funny Pictures

…why can’t we keep it together?

So, I sat through a lecture on the School of Information Sciences today in a communication class. The speaker was talking about how quickly information technology is changing, and, of course, he mentioned blogging. And other people have mentioned blogging to me lately, asking me to post this or that to my blog. One of those people was probably me. As a result of all this, I figured I’d post an update of sorts.

The semester is off to a good start. By “good,” I mean good. I’m at the end of the first full week of classes, and I’ve already done homework in the library twice. I’ve spent about $50 of my supplemental campus bucks (the folks around these parts call them “Dining Dollars”) on things like Starbucks, ice cream, cheese dip, and plenty of Dr. Pepper. I’ve been to two OCF meetings, one of which involved pasta with vodka sauce, some chocolates, and yummy strawberries.
OCF Student Advisory Board stuff is going well, too, though last week I didn’t feel great so my OCF Buddy (an OCF presence on AOL Instant Messenger) shift took a back seat to sleep, and this week it got overlooked because I had just gotten in after looking for a parking space for about 30-40 minutes. But, next week will be better, and the week after will be much better because I’ll be in Pittsburgh for the spring SAB meeting. Which means friends. And Sheetz. Joyous day. 🙂

Tiffany and I are going strong, as well. The beginning of the semester brings its stress, of course. But the nights bring opportunities for sleep, and that helps things on all fronts quite a bit. And with the three-day weekend coming up, I think I’ll be signing up for the concurrent three-day workshop in sleep and relaxation techniques, which will be held at my dorm. Space is limited, and the slots are full. So, better luck next time. But, at least I’ll be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. (Yeah…until around Tuesday.)

To make a long story short (too late), it’s CRAZY around here. But it’s awesome, too. The OCF podcast feed is finally up on Ancient Faith Radio at ancientfaith.com/podcasts/ocf, where you can listen to some audio from the East Coast edition of the OCF College Conference. Oh…and there’s a little interview with the keynote speaker conducted by yours truly. It was my first one, and it was pretty cool to do. Maybe I’ll get to do some more for them. That’s definitely a possibility at this point, as is anything, really. There might be some more stuff that will go up, mainly from West Coast…but that’s uncertain right now. It just depends on if the stuff can get tweaked the right way and all of that. We’re really anxious to come together at the meeting in Pittsburgh before we come out with the official first episode of the podcast.  So stay tuned here and go ahead and subscribe at the address above so you can get it fresh when it hits the airwaves.
…or the Internets.

…the tubes?

Well, the above was hacked out on Friday, as you can likely tell, but it didn’t get out of editing until today.  So, let me say that the three-day workshop in sleep and relaxation techniques was fantastic.  It was fully attended and everyone was satisfied with the topics offered this year, and we hope to make it a semi-annual event in the near future.  I’ll let you know when you can get your tickets to the next one.  😉

That’s all for now.  More goodness is on the way as soon as it can get cooked up. Tiffany and I planning on going to Lexington next weekend to stay at a friend’s house and go to church in Nicholasville, so that will surely be an adventure.  Expect cute pictures of my little buddy J.P. and maybe a story or two to come out of it.   Those of you in the Nickville area should email me if you’re available Saturday or Sunday.

Oh…and I’ll post the unnamed thing(s) previously mentioned sometime this week after getting them posted to YouTube.

Before I go, let me plug fullnessofthefaith.com.  It’s an upstart modern apparel Orthodox store (if that’s coherent) that is run by my OCF Chaplain, Fr. Justin Mathews.  Tiff and I highly recommend the “hummus is the new peanut butter” shirt.  Anyway, give him some love and order something.  And tell them Jonathan at the twelve:one blog sent ya.

(I’ve always wanted to be able to say that. 😀 )

[P.S.  Fr. Justin’s CD is pretty good, too.  You can check it out on his website here.  :)]

[P.P.S.  No, he didn’t pay me for this.  But he did promise to let me play with his iPhone for five minutes.  Maybe since I also plugged his great CD, he’ll even turn it on.]

Take care, kids.  We’ll see you soon.

Hey, True Believers.  It’s a New Year and I’m thankful to be at a friend’s house in Nicholasville, KY, recovering from a long drive yesterday after the College Conference before I head home.  I have so much to say (as always 😉 ), but it will have to wait.  So much excitement….

But, for now, you can check out the first three sessions of the conference if you’d like, with more to come in the next day or two.  Click here.

A few thoughts…

–Last year, I wrote about my Charlie Brown Christmas and the possible end of a 30-something-year tradition in my family. Well, I’m actually quite content in reporting that it ended this year (that is, we didn’t have it), though for reasons different from what threatened it last year. It was brought about by a certain needed movement in our family life, and for that, I’m grateful. I’m also thankful that it precisely isn’t because of the issues I discussed last year. Essentially, it was caused by someone’s personal progress and not someone else’s personal tragedies.

–The 2008 OCF College Conference is coming up in two days. Wow. It seems that just yesterday I was telling some friends that I would be seeing them in 10 days. And now it will much sooner be upon us. Last year, I was a first-time attendee and was awestruck at what I experienced, being so impressed by the love and friendship and spiritual focus and unspeakable “other goodness” (for want of a better term). (Oh…and, did I mention that’s how I was introduced to Sheetz? 😀 ) This year, I’m a member of the OCF Student Advisory Board and someone who is hoping to be involved in an upcoming object called the OCF Podcast (until something catchier develops…), something I proposed to our executive director this past summer. To my knowledge, I was the first person to seriously mention it in as much detail as I did. I assume this because I didn’t hear back, “We’re already working on it,” but “Hey…that’s a great idea. Let’s talk more about this in a few days when I get back home.” For once, I’m in a place where people listen intently to the ideas I have and are brave enough to explore, rather than putting me off and assuring they’ll “get back to me.” I can’t wait to tell this to our fellow students at the conference, because it’s what our organization is built on: listening to the students and shaping OCF to serve them and the greater community to the best of everyone’s ability. If they will listen to me, they’ll listen to anyone. I hope someone is encouraged by this, has some spark of an idea, and runs with it…and ends up blowing us all away. What a joy that would be.

At any rate, we’re going to try and record as much of the talks as humanly possible, as well as gather some photos and other randomness throughout each day and and post it all either to ancientfaithradio.com or ocf.net. If we post anything, I’ll link to it here.

–I’m grateful for super cheap airfare, enabling me to jump down to Florida shortly after my return from the conference so that I can meet Tiffany’s family. Though, the idea of it being warm enough to visit the beach in January slightly weirds me out.

–For the first time in years, the grades I’ve received so far for my semester’s work do not go below a “c”. I still have an incomplete in one class, but that will be dealt with shortly, and I’ll likely do fine. Also, there are no plans whatsoever to change majors or schools anytime soon. In fact, I’m adding a minor–in journalism. 🙂 Couple that with the news I discussed about OCF and the Podcast and so on, and you’ll have an idea of where I’d like to be heading as far as career preparation.

–In semi-related computer comments: If you’re a writer of any type who is easily distracted, and your computer of choice is Mac, I highly recommend a little app called WriteRoom. It makes your entire screen black and puts a little blinking green block-style cursor in front of you, making it easy to just write. No distractions, no menubars, no Firefox windows in the background…just the appearance of typing on an old Apple //e. It’s what I used to write this and my last post on being lost in Virginia, and I’m very pleased with it.

–Speaking of writing, I want to continue to thank the people who read twelve:one, whether regularly or just passing through. And thanks to those who have put me on their blogrolls. Honestly, I am frequently surprised and humbled by the stats that show up in my dashboard when I check it. Someone from China viewed one of my entries through Google translator the other day. How cool is that?!? Also, the fact that I average roughly 20-35 hits daily for one entry alone (“To Write Love On Her Arms“) is indicative of a) the growing amount of exposure for the organization, and b) the aching need many have in our society…and communities and workplaces and households…for signs that hope and rescue can be something they can experience. If you’re one of those people, I hope you can find such signs in the joy of this season—which, I know, isn’t joyous for everyone. If you’re not one of those people, then, please, be that sign to someone. Smile, or offer a hand or an ear or your time this Christmas and into the New Year.

Anyway, back to the writing…:) Thanks for reading and for your comments made both on and off the record. It is through your encouragement that I’ve decided to look into media production for OCF and to minor in journalism. Basically, you’ve helped this writer get a slightly better handle on his future than he would have had otherwise. Thank you.

–It’s Christmas. It’s the celebration of when love and grace and redemption broke into our chaotic world. By the Incarnation—and the Resurrection—we are moved to freely love, serve, and forgive. Even if you’re not Christian, I ask that you consider allowing these things to break into your life. Let go of bitterness and malice and rage and slander and vengeance…and let go of yourself. Embrace the unspeakable wonder that is selfless love. For those who want to lengthen their days, it’s an imperative. (Research actually shows this time and again.) In fact, some say you can live forever if you desire that your life be transformed by Love. But, even if you’ve no interest in true Christianity, give love a shot. It’s amazing how much your existing world, with all its bitterness and cares and worries and vendettas, can crumble, while a new one is built up in the place of the old one. Yeah, you’ll likely still have some of those things for a while, maybe as long as you live. But you’ll be a million times better the more you can let go and forgive in love. Try to be a humble example of redemption to someone you know.

–Ill leave you with this hymn, one that we Orthodox will hear plenty over the next week:

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God,

Has shown to the world the light of wisdom.

For by it those who worshipped the stars,

Were taught by a star to adore Thee,

The Sun of Righteousness.

And to know Thee the Orient from on high,

O Lord, Glory to Thee!

Troparion for Christmas Day

Merry Christmas. Christ is born! Glorify him!