Archive for October, 2008

Was the One Ring really so awful?

I think Frodo should have destroyed this creepy doll instead of that relatively harmless ring…

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St. George’s story

So, in Greece the other day, the Priest told me about the patron saint of the church, St. George. He explained that there was a real version and a myth, as far as the church was concerned. I want to honor the Priest’s version here because he’s the one who told me about George, but the myth is a terrific story and so I think that I’ll combine them.

There are two important things to keep in mind about George from the Priest’s retelling that never come to the forefront of the myth. they are things that he emphasized; they may or may not be important to the actual story, but they were definitely important to him: George was a warrior and he was a Christian man-he was conflicted about these two parts of his life and sought a way to reconcile them and George overcame the evil that beset a small town through his reverence and prayer. I’ll do my best to get those elements into my retelling, but I’m making no promises since I have no idea where the story might go.

(Stories live in the sky,  waiting for someone who can hear them to pull them out of the air and give them a voice that can be heard by the rest of us. The story creates the teller, not the other way ’round. Poems, too.)

Back in the day, at the end of the 3rd or 4th century, there was a small town called Lida. The town was young and had many names, Lydda or Lidda, commonly but also Silene. Lidda sat at the bottom of a range of mountains, near trees and a beautiful blue lake. The town was pristine in every way, pure of heart, innocent of all evil, like a young princess who was cherished by her father, the King.

The lake shone like a sapphire near the town tempting the people to come to it to wash, fish or swim. Many days, the blue jewel was admired before the townspeople’s eyes, but they never dared to approach it. The town remained pure so long as the evil living in the depths of the lake was satisfied. But evil has a way of finding the cracks in the most innocent things, then bending and twisting it into a corrupt echo of it’s former self. Even the little town couldn’t withstand it.

The evil in the lake contained itself in a dragon that was poisoned with the Plague. It existed solely to spread that ugly disease, causing death and sorrow everywhere around the lake. 

In order to appease the dragon the townspeople were obligated to provide it with an alternative that would satisfy it’s hunger and keep it away from Lida. The townspeople sacrificed sheep to the dragon as often as was necessary to keep it from escaping the boundaries of the lakeshore. But some years, sheep could become scarce. In those difficult times, the people would be forced to draw lots to decide who would sacrifice their child to the dragon.No one was expemt from the drawing and many children died in the jaws of the beast. 

It came to pass one day that the King drew the shortest straw and was obliged to sacrifice his precious daughter. The princess was kind hearted and generous. She was like the town she lived in: Innocent, full of joy and with pure heart. Often she’d sit and gaze at the sapphire lake from the shade of a tree, wondering at the sparkling water.

The King begged the people to let his daughter pass. He offered his gold and silver and half of his Kingdom, but the princess herself would not give up her place. And so she went to the lake ,in the bridal gown that had been prepared for the future she was giving up, with the sorrow of the town trailing behind her.

At the lake, as she waited for the dragon, a traveller chance to come by. The young warrior, George, saw the girl trembling and stopped to offer her his assitance. She tried to send him away, growing more desperate every minute that he stayed fearing that his life, too would be forfeit to the evil dragon. Or, worse, that he’d become sick with the plague and all the sacrifices would be meaningless as he rode into Lida carrying it to all the towspeople there.

George, however, refused to leave. He vowed that he would protect the princess, knowing that this was the answer to his questions and prayers. His vow was not to her but to his God whom He followed devotedly,full of doubts about how his training as a soldier could be offered to serve His God. 

The dragon crashed through the water as they were talking. George stregthened himself with the sign of the Cross, swung his horse around and charged toward the lake. A practiced and skilled warrior, he removed his lance, called Ascalon, from it’s trappings and stabbed the dragon, wounding it significantly. After that, George asked the princess for her belt and tied it around the neck of the dragon.

The belt defeated the beast utterly. It followed behind the princess, deafeated. She and George led it back to Lida, where the towspeople were terrified at the sight of the dragon. But George shouted to them that he would kill the beast if they would accept God and be baptised.

The King and the people of Lida consented happily and ten thousand men were baptised that day. George killed the dragon and helped the men of the town pile it onto a rig of four ox-carts to be hauled away. The King, in reverence to Christ for sending St. George to overcome the evil on Christ’s behalf, built a church on the site where the dragon died. And, in God’s grace, from that spot in the church a spring arose from which, legend tells, water flowed that could cure all diseases.

A one day vacation in Greece

Today was one of the most interesting, refreshing, informative days I can remember. I had the opportunity to go to a Greek festival at a Greek Orthodox Church. I don’t know the technicalities-maybe it’s called Eastern Orthodox? The heritage of the attendees was Greek and so they were having a huge church festival and sort of open house thing.

We had time for a few different tries at Greek food that didn’t come from a diner. We had Greek coffee which is very, very sweet and strong and also has cinnamon in it. There were a few artisans there who made different things. Mostly jewelry. Also there was a russian orthodox church booth with some fascinating stuff in it. And there was a booth that I think might have had things from a Roma(gypsy) tradition.

So, the shopping aspect had some neat stuff to look at and a ton of things I didn’t understand at all. But then I went into the church which was amazing. It was even more alien on one hand but felt very familiar on the other. And, I’m not sure I can evoke the right sense of the experience here. What I can talk about are the impressions. The church felt very physical.

You know how, when you walk into a place like an art museum, old library or cathedral you can feel the weight and history of the place? It’s like the place has a life of it’s own.  This didn’t feel like that at all. Don’t get me wrong, I like that feeling of the place having it’s own sense of being. This was just a completely different sense of life.

It wasn’t close or dark or heavy at all. It was actually physical-the incense was buring so there was a light smokiness in the air and the heavy perfumy smell of the incense. The church had a skylight-dome, so it was bright in the room. The skylight-dome had cryptic panels around it depicting the events from the Annunciation to Pentecost, with a huge iconic portrait of Christ on the top. I wish I could remember the exact title of that beause the wording was beautiful, but I’ve forgotten. Down inside the room, the altar area was light blue and the rest of the church was offwhite.  Music was playing; a chant, but there was a sense of movement that wasn’t really from that. It felt like movement and life happening; like a place where people could move and exist and interact in their worship. Umm…it’s felt communal. There were icons all over plus all the other necessities of the orthodox liturgical traditions which are based on communal prayer and recitation and hymns. Since it was an open house they had the Priest’s celebration vestments out and a decon’s robe and evrything else they’d need for any sacrament. It seemed pretty decorated but not overly; not so much that the feeling of movement was stifled. It felt like the people who were there left an echo of themselves there. It felt mystical; not elves-and-fairies mystical, but mystical as if a veil was pulled aside to reveal the past and the future living alongside us.

I had the unique opportunity to talk to the priest at length about the church and the icons and some of the liturgical elements. I understand I am the only person who’d be completely fascinated by that stuff. Really, I get how boring it sounds to everyone else but that’s how I feel when people start talking about taxes or politics. Well, to each his own, right? The Priest said it was pretty simple as far as Orthodox churches go. It was amazing to hear why things were ordered the way they were, who (on the icons) was where, that all orthodox churches in the world would have the same things in the same places. The relics were in a case to see, the carved tomb and the sand pits into which parish members placed their candles, the icons and incense buring all together bound the Church’s ancient past prayers and people with the prayers of the people lighting candles. Granted, the Orthodox Church is the church from which Roman Catholicism split away and maybe they have a connection that, by virtue of it’s name, remains closer to the early church than anything else we can experience today. (this blog is called Pleading the 5th for a reason….)

That was more philosophical than I intended to be about it. I have a couple of really great stories about some of the things the Priest and his wife told me, which I’ll tell soon. They stand on their own merit and deserve attention far more than this post does. Nonetheless, if you leave out the Agean sea and those gorgeous white buildings, the day was a wonderful (cheap) mini-vacation to Greece.

sometimes you just have to laugh at someone else’s expense

WARNING: frozen things really do stick to wet stuff

I make chicken for dinner a lot. The people who have eaten at my house pretty frequently over the years, can attest to that. And there are usually at least four or five people eating there on a given night. There are six of us who live here, five who eat dinner regularly plus a ragtag group who have been in and out for the last few years who either inflate the normal number of family members or who just fill in a seat when the family isn’t there.

One meal I make is chicken with Mr. Insert-Japanese-Name-Here ‘s sauce. I don’t know what it really called because I make up a new name for it each time I use it. My kids’ favorite made up name was Mr. Pokemon’s Sauce. Logically one of their favorite meals is now Pokemon Chicken. We buy huge 10 lb bags of chicken from Costco or BJ’s. They’re already frozen and you can cook the stuff right out of the bag. No defrosting. It’s great! I rarely think to defrost anything but, in the event that I do, we probably won’t eat it for the next three or four nights anyway. So, you can see my dilema. These frozen monster bags solve all my problems (were it only so easy!!)

Tonight, at 6pm, I decided I  ought to consider what we’re having for dinner and how fast I can get it made. Pokemon Chicken solved all my problems in the world, once again and I got the chicken out and the dishes I needed. Then I washed my hands. This was the kiss of death. There were no paper towels around to dry my hands and, well, I knew I’d have to wash them again after I was done so I grabbed a couple frozen pieces of chicken….in both hands.

I so wish I had had the camera nearby. The chicken stuck to my hands, so I was walking around looking like the Penguin in Batman, thanks to my flipper hands. Let me just say it hurt like anything, too. Chicken was hanging off the skin on my hands. In case you’re thinking of trying it yourself sometime, I wouldn’t recommend it.

At that point the solution is pretty simple. Turn on the warm water and let it run over the chickena dn my hands. Think about that just for a minute-how am I going to turn on the water with chicken flippers attached to my hands? Thankfully, my son was in the other room in hysterics at me and he came to my rescue by turning on the water for me, thus saving me from certain death by some kind of rare bacterial infection arising only from prolonged exposure to frozen chicken.

Kid Magnet

I play a stupid MMOG (massively multiplayer) online game. It’s really dumb thing to waste my time on but therapeutic in it’s way. I just wander around the online world doing meaningless things and completely disconnect from whatever is going on in real life for a little while. When I log off I feel like I’m ready to tackle meaningless real world things, like doing the laundry or driving a kid to an activity or whatnot.

In these games you can chat with other players. If you need something you can trade or ask for help or say hello. I always reply to players who talk to me at least to be polite but I don’t interact with anyone regularly. It would conflict with the reasons I’m playing in the first place. However, from time to time I need help and if someone offers it, I accept and usually a “friend request” follows shortly after. It seems a little rude to accept help from someone then decline their friendship, so I accept those requests. Most of the people playing are kids and, as such, like texting lingo, can’t spell and/or have a limited vocabulary. It’s annoying to try to chat with them. Besides, adults hanging out on online games to chat with kids is just plain creepy.

That’s all background for this next bit of a story.

I was playing one afternoon and I had gotten into a patch of trouble with a scorpion that was kicking my butt. Another player came up and asked if I needed help. I wasn’t too deep in so I declined, but the player said he’d hang around in case I changed my mind. Most kids don’t do that. They have their own things to do and some are offended when they offer help and you don’t take it.

Sure enough, I needed some help shortly, so the other player (who, surprisingly, did hang around long enough for me to dig my own virtual grave) stepped in and helped me out of my situation with the scorpion. I thanked him and went on my way. He followed along for a little bit and kept chatting and asking questions. But the questions used real words, instead of text, and he was pleasant and intelligent to chat with. The inevitable occurred and he asked if I would add him as a friend. I did.

I trudged off through the desert leaving the town and it’s resident scorpion behind and this guy kept following me and talking. Really, by now, they’d usually be long gone. This guy though, was teaching me things about the game that were helpful, so I didn’t really think about it. After a while, my new friend, we’ll call him Archie, taught me to use this chat feature so I could talk to more then one person at a time. It was more pleasant than stressful and I almost regretted losing touch when I had to log off of that session.

So, the next day when I came back to the computer, my friend Archie was on again. He immediately started a conversation and also introduced me to another well-spoken, pleasant conversationalist friend. After a little while Archie logs off and leaves me with his friend who we’ll call Pooh. Pooh is much more socially chatty. He doesn’t just stick to the game; he talked about books, mostly fantasy stories that are inline with the game and school. He talked about how excited Archie was to have “recruited a girl into the clan”-lingo for somoene you make friends with, who will continue to talk and work with you in the game. Apparently that “girl” is me.

Ok, so now at least I have some idea that these two, however nice to talk with are “in school” and assume I am as well. It’s taboo to ask for ages online, but players often as how long somoene has been playing. Also, there’s no rule about offering to give information on your life-situation; you just can’t ask for it. 

I am leery of crossing boundaries, so I wanted to make sure these guys understood that I was not necessarily what they assumed. In talking with Pooh, I discovered that the two guys gare friends and attend the same school. I asked Pooh if he wanted to have a little fun with Archie the next day. He is up for pretty much anything, so I told him I’m a youth worker and that I’m 39 and have four children. There was just enough pause in the chat that I know I would have LOVED to have seen his face! However, graceful as always, his response was “Cool! Like with a youth group at church?”

I have a neighbor who I have known for years. She has three daughters two of whom I know quite well. A couple years ago she dubbed me “the Kid Magnet” because every time I walked in her house the girls immediately came downstairs to talk. Whatever that magnetism is, it works through computers, too.

I really thought the two guys on this game would pretty much drop contacting me once they knew about me. I was wrong. If anything they’ve gotten friendlier and more widespread in their topics and offering and accepting help. They play games with each other through me and have sort of included me as the third member of thier set. Granted, I made sure they could check on my being who I said I was by visiting the website of the church I work for and one is much more cautious than the other with giving away real life details. I repeatedly remind them not to tell me things after one of them trips up. I do know their ages and they’re not as old as I imagined, obviously, but beyond that I’ve promised to forget any other details about them if they mess up. They’ve never told me anything critical or information that someone could use to hurt them.

I play this stupid game to relax and disengage from real life. Since I talk to young people every day for work, and live with a couple you’d think that playing the game might just morph into more work time. And I think it could and probably will down the road. I know a few kids from my youth group play. But in the meantime, I enjoy chatting with these guys because they are thoughtful, intelligent and funny, just like I’d enjoy talking to my real life friends. They’ve reminded me of two things, God’s gotta have something to do with this youth ministry thing because I can’t hide from it anywhere and that the relationships I have with my family’s teens, my students and these guys really aren’t about anything other than enjoying some time together. It’s not about earning anything, expecting anything or being entitled to anything from them but because we communicate well and are willing to be a part of each other’s lives, even when we don’t live up to each other’s expectations.