Monday, March 14, 2011

Oh There's More

I’m reading a book to learn more about the Orthodox Church. I’ve been attending on and off for about a year, depending on when I’m in the country and when I’m not borderline freaked out by how different Orthodoxy is from any other Christian experience I’ve ever had. I expected this book to be mostly historical - about what was discussed at ecumenical councils, the crusades, etc. And granted, these things are discussed. But the heavy, intense, mind-blowing, deeper-than-I’ve-ever-thought-possible theology of many of these councils is also brought up. One thing I absolutely love about Orthodoxy is that I experience the Christian thought that’s been going on for 2000 years. It feels more linear than protestantism - and don’t get me wrong, I grew up Lutheran, but an older Church with a longer period of trying to figure this whole church thing out opens you up to a little more. Though I’m a deep thinker - there’s always a question or seven in my head, which lead to a question or seven more - by pursuing Orthodoxy, I’m being opened to mind-blowing things I never even thought about. The Orthodox have thought long and hard about who God is, and it astounds me.

Bear with me. I know nothing. So this post will probably be choppy.

Fourteenth century. The seven main ecumenical councils (a bunch of bishops getting together to discuss the Trinity or the nature Christ or the use of icons, etc. in order to avoid heretical thought in the Church) have come and gone, but the ideas are still being applied in new ways centuries later. Barlaam the Calabrian professed that we can only know God indirectly, that the immediate experience of God is impossible in this present life. I’m trying to avoid overwhelming detail here, but Barlaam met a crazy dialogue with St. Gregory Palamas (really awesome Greek hermit monk and then Archbishop of Thessalonica), who disagreed wholeheartedly with him by explaining that we know the energies of God, but not his essence, an idea that comes from St. Basil. From here, I think I’ll let the book speak for itself ...

“‘God is not a nature,’ [Gregory] wrote, ‘for He is above all nature; He is not a being, for He is above all beings ... no single thing of all that is created has or ever will have even the slightest communion with the supreme nature or nearness to it.’ But however remote from us in His essence, yet in His energies God has revealed Himself to us. These energies are not something that exists apart from God, not a gift which God confers upon humans; they are God Himself in His action and revelation to the world. God exists complete and entire in each of His divine energies. The world, as Gerard Manley Hopkins said, is charged with the grandeur of God; all creation is a gigantic Burning Bush, permeated but not consumed by the ineffable and wondrous fire of God’s energies.

It is through these energies that God enters into a direct and immediate relationship with humankind. In relation to us humans, the divine energy is in fact nothing else than the grace of God; grace is not just a ‘gift’ from God, not just an object which God bestows on humans, but a direct manifestation of the living God Himself, a personal encounter between creature and Creator. ‘Grace signifies all the abundance of the divine nature, in so far as it is communicated to men.’ When we say that the saints have been transformed or ‘deified’ by the grace of God, what we mean is that they have a direct experience of God Himself. They know God - that is to say, God in His energies, not in His essence.”

I don’t know if that blows your mind in any way. But it sure blows mine to even think about God’s energies permeating everything and the world as being a Burning Bush of God Himself. Even try to picture that ...

It seems like many heretics in history have made the gulf between us and God too wide. And this is where Truth comes in; it is here to “safeguard our direct approach to God, to uphold our full deification and entire redemption.”

I have in the last year felt humbled by the Holiness of God. I have even let it go too far - to the point where I feel unable to approach God. At all times. But I need to remember that in all these things I’m learn and in all these ways I’m growing, there is an opportunity for direct experience with God’s energies, that I too can be a Burning Bush, a wondrous fire of God’s energies.


Monday, March 7, 2011


The program I participated in last semester, the School for Field Studies, just posted a promotional video of our Center Director, Moses Okello. I want to share it because it's a perfect four-and-a-half minute depiction of what we did last semester, and a mere but representative glimpse into our experience. Dr. Okello was our backbone last semester. As center director, he wasn't able to be around very much. But he did all he could to enthuse us about wildlife management and experiencing East African culture. He even inspired us to have a goat slaughter and roast, and of course, for the guys to participate in male bonding by eating goat testicles. You can only imagine how interesting this Moses Okello is.

Anyway, check it out the video here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I started my second job tonight. We opened Tanner's Bar & Grill in Middleton, Wisconsin. Going into it, I thought it would be terrifying. Receiving the menu yesterday and having only 4 hours of training, which mostly involved cleaning, under my belt, I thought it would be a nightmare of now knowing what I was doing. I don't know if you've ever had to memorize a menu before, but it's difficult.

I learned a lot tonight.

Oh it definitely was chaos. Tonight was our soft opening, so we offered free food and the drink profit will go to the American Red Cross. Yeh. Free food and good drinks. It was insanity. The food took forever because our kitchen was so backed up. I mean, why get two appetizers when you can try four for free?! So people had to wait for their food. We were a bit sloppy, unorganized, and we definitely tripped over our feet.

But people liked us.

One of my tables was of four guys. They ordered 4 entrees, an appetizer, and 8 beers. The food took an eternity. I felt awful. But when I got my tip, they gave me 25%. I was shocked. What did I learn? Sincerity matters. The beauty of life is that you don't have to be perfect. You can mess up and make mistakes constantly, but people will take you as you are if you're sincere, if you are genuine. If I had given them great, speedy food, but was a crabapple, I wouldn't have received 25%. Not a chance. But I apologized probably 25 times because I really was sorry. And instead of hide the disorganization (although it was pretty obvious) and owning up to it, it was owned up to.

I guess my encouragement is to be sincere. Don't hide your mistakes or the places you're imperfect. Own up to them and you may find that people take you as you are, and that is far more beautiful than trying to appear put together.

My other encouragement is for you to come out to Tanner's. Wednesday, Thursday, come get free food. We're starting a limited menu tomorrow (we learned our lesson and will not back up our kitchen like we did tonight!), but food is free and drink profit goes to the American Red Cross Badger Chapter. You won't regret it, friends.