The Statue and the Fury

the-statue-and-the-furyI just finished reading my fifth book of 2017—Jim Dees’ wonderful memoir The Statue and the Fury: A Year of Art, Race, Music and Cocktails (Nautilus Publishing, 2016).

Jim is perhaps best known as the MC for the radio show, “Thacker Mountain Radio Hour,” (since 2000) which is broadcast live on Thursday nights for about nine months of the year at Off Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. The show features an author reading from a book, a featured musical performance, and the house band. I’ve been to several of these over the years, and I’ve always admired Dees’ humor and professionalism at the helm. So when I heard about his book, I had to have it. He inscribed it for me following the last show I attended, back on November 3 when Cassandra King was the author guest.

Four of the six blurbs on the back cover are from well-known authors who live in Oxford, including New York Times bestselling author Ace Atkins, who called the book “A truly unique reflection on a storied Southern town at a turning point.” And Jack Pendarvis says, “It’s funny, violent, serene and surprising—a living thing, like a tree.” Tom Franklin writes that it’s “a loving look at small-town life, journalism and politics… this is the book I’ve been waiting for.” And Beth Ann Fennelly says it “provides so much entertainment that we might not notice how much we’re learning. This is a thoroughly necessary book.”

Dees hosting the Thacker Mountain Radio Hour

Dees hosting the Thacker Mountain Radio Hour

I’ve spent enough time in Oxford to recognize many of the locals Dees writes about, and I came of age in the turbulent 1960s, so I’m right there with him as he delves into Oxford’s (and Mississippi and the country’s) history of racial unrest. Taking one year—1997—and one event—the controversy over the installation of a statue of William Faulkner outside Town Hall to commemorate his 100th birthday—Dees covers a multitude of famous (and infamous) people’s influence on the life of Oxford. The resulting saga reminds me of Forrest Gump, the way he tells a story within a larger story.

Drawing from his years as a reporter for the Oxford Eagle, Dees has a brilliant journalist’s eye for details, as well as an intuition about people that comes through in his interviews and reflections. I’m thrilled to have him among the 26 contributors to an anthology I’m editing right now—So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018). His essay, “Off the Deep End,” is a candid story of learning to overcome fear—first of the high dive, and later of “flinging himself at the universe as a writer.” His voice in the essay is unique and genuine, just as it is in The Statue and the Fury. BUY THIS BOOK AND READ IT!

Who Cares? (Me!)

A few years ago I was participating in a series of half-day writing workshops in Oxford, Mississippi, led by Barry Hannah. These were held on Wednesdays during the summer of 2009 (I think) and we met at a bar on the square in Oxford. Barry led the discussion, and he invited several MFA students and grads to join in. I remember one of those Wednesdays during which he pretty much dissed my submission, saying, “Who CARES?” (He might have said who the f*&#* cares.)

Of course my feelings were hurt. And then he explained what he meant. In my essay, I hadn’t given the reader enough reason to CARE about the main character. That doesn’t mean the reader has to love or even like the character—hate is acceptable. But not ambivalence.  Whether or not I agreed with him about that particular piece, I took his advice to heart as I continued to write.

Event+DetailsAnd so on this day of the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States, I struggle to come up with anything to say that my readers would CARE to hear. I’m pretty much an a-political person. Or I was, until Donald Trump ran for president. I was more than disturbed that he was taken seriously. And when he won the Republican primary, something shifted within me. I knew I could never vote for him, although I had voted Republican for almost five decades.

And so as the nation prepares for his inauguration, I’m glad to be distracted by a fun trip to Austin, Texas, for a cousin’s wedding. If I were younger and more independent, I might be making a trip to DC this weekend to join the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday. It’s not that I agree with all of their issues, but I strongly protest the inauguration of a president who has such great disrespect for women. Not to mention his strong narcissism. So yes, I CARE.

Whenever I fly, I always say a prayer asking for safe travels as the plane takes off. Today I will also ask for peace and safety during the inauguration today, as well as for the women marching tomorrow. May God bless the United States of America.

Faith on Friday: Wisdom of the Saints

Final_2016_Cover_copy_q8mndnWe have a wonderful calendar that we get each year from The Orthodox Calendar Company called “Daily Lives, Miracles, and Wisdom of the Saints and Fasting Calendar.” For each day there’s a quote from a saint, information about a saint or feast being commemorated that day, Epistle and Gospel readings, and information about fasting guidelines for the day/season. The company has a Facebook page, and the book is also available for Kindle and other eReaders. (Most) every morning, I use this book with my morning prayers, which I pray in our icon corner in our dining room. It almost always helps me focus for the day ahead. The first line of my Morning Prayers is “Grant me to greet the coming day in peace.” Another line says, “Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Thy will governs all.” Peace of soul. That’s one of the goals of the saints whose wisdom is offered in these quotes. Today I’ll share a few that have blessed me recently, and I pray that they bring peace of soul to you. I’m especially thinking about those suffering from the flood in Louisiana and the fires in California today. Lord have mercy!

One must act in such a way that the soul does not turn to God only when one is standing in prayer, but should do so as far as possible throughout the day. It should be an unceasing offering of one’s self to Him.—St. Theophan the Recluse

If you possess love, you feel no jealousy or envy. You are not boastful, carried away by reckless pride. Nor do you put on airs with anyone. Nor do you act shamefully towards your fellow beings. You seek, not simply what is to your own advantage, but what also benefits your fellow beings. You are not quickly provoked by those who are angry with you.—St. Niketas Stethatos

If you are entirely deprived of something, do not hope in man or be distressed; and do not grumble against anyone. Rather, endure eagerly and calmly—reflecting as follows: ‘I am deserving of many afflictions, on account of my sins; but if God wishes to show mercy to me, He is able to do so.’ If you think along these lines, He will fulfill your every need.—St Isaac the Syrian

That one would be really hard for me if I had just lost everything in a flood or a fire.

Remember never to fear the power of evil more than your trust in the power and love of God.—Apostle Hermas of the Seventy

While we have time, let us visit Christ, let us serve Christ, let us nourish Christ, let us clothe Christ, let us offer hospitality to Christ, let us honor Christ.—St. Gregory the Theologian

z­.;Ìÿ

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Danielle Blount kisses her 3-month-old baby Ember as she feeds her while they wait to be evacuated by members of the Louisiana Army National Guard.

Because even as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto Christ.

I’m sure there are many sites offering ways to help the victims of the flood in Louisiana, but this one seems especially helpful:

“How to Help Victims of Louisiana Floods” (Huffington Post)

 

 

Faith on Friday: Not of This World

jesus34I rarely write about politically-charged issues. Especially when they are also religiously-charged. Like the recent Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage. When a political conservative—or even a moderate—voices her opinion on Facebook, she risks lots of hateful comments and unfriending. I’ve never understood why some people only want to be friends with people who agree with them, but that’s another issue altogether.

So today I’m going to try to share a different view on these issues. I was encouraged by an article in last Sunday’s Memphis Commercial Appeal by David Allen Hall. Commenting (in Viewpoint) on Bruce Jenner’s very public sex change, Hall says:

Christians have a mandate to love all people and to exact justice and mercy unequivocally. But in no way does this duty position us to accept or conform to a morally confused and politically bankrupt worldview.

That right there will lose him hundreds, if not thousands, of Facebook friends. And then he continues:

To disagree with Jenner’s actions is my right, and to speak out is my obligation…. To disagree does not make me a hater.

Although Hall’s article is about transgender issues and not legalizing gay marriage, he’s speaking from a conservative Christian perspective, which applies to many of these issues.

Christ_the_King_III’ve read several articles and sermons by Orthodox Christian priests since last Friday’s events, and one theme I often see repeated is the old “hate the sin, love the sinner” mantra. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for conservative Christians to hold this position in our muddy cultural landscape. What does it mean to love someone? Can you really love someone and disagree with his lifestyle? I think Jesus did just that. And he also said—to Pilate—“My kingdom is not of this world.”

The United States is not the Kingdom of God. Christians in this country are free to hold whatever political opinions they want, as are followers of other faiths as well as those who hold to no faith at all. But when things don’t go their way, I think it’s important to remember Christ’s words about His Kingdom.

Mental Health Monday: Everywhere is War—How Can We Help?

SKR-4-3-cover-PROOFI’m late getting this post written today because my heart is heavy. I’ve just read Angela Doll Carlson’s article in the new issue of the *Saint Katherine Review, “Everywhere is War.” Carlson is author of Nearly Orthodox: On Being a Modern Woman in an Ancient Tradition. As a mother, Carlson reflects on the effects of not only wars overseas but violence near our homes—and especially in our children’s schools. She says:

We are in fact, our own worst enemies. The evil of mass shooting isn’t, finally, some outside force. It’s not aliens invading. It’s not a metaphysical phenomenon, demons approaching, or acid rain, tsunami, earthquake or invasion. It is human, and it arrives on choice, one person, one trigger pull at a time.

Carlson and her husband know something about violence from their experience shooting a documentary film in Guatemala City. There was an uprising near their hotel and they were forced to find shelter elsewhere until it was over.

And she knows something about the effect of violence on the next generation, as she reacts (or over-reacts?) to her sons’ enjoyment of violent video games:

…these are my boys, and I am afraid when I hear them laugh in response to death, even animated, video game death.

I had that same struggle when my children were young. I’ve always hated violent video games. Really any war games—even those waged with water pistols by the barefoot children of summer growing up in Mississippi.

A recent article in BMC Medicine examines how the affects of war can propagate across generations. How it affects not only the soldiers involved and their immediate families, but the cultures devastated by violence, and the generations that follow. Yes, even children yet to be born.

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Khadoug Sawady, a Syrian refugee, holds her infant daughter

Khadoug Sawady, a Syrian refugee, holds her infant daughter

I’m sure there are many organizations involved in serving the victims of war and other disasters, but I’m going to mention just one in this post. It’s the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC). Our (Orthodox Christian) parish here in Memphis is collecting donations for emergency kits to send to victims in Syria, Armenia, northern Iraq and their environs. CLICK HERE to learn what to send and how to send materials for (1) Baby kits, (2) School kits and (3) Hygiene Kits.

Maybe we can’t prevent the inter-generational affects of war, but we can at least help comfort those who are suffering.

*Note: Three prose pieces from the Saint Katherine Review have been nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize. Kudos to my friend, the editor, Scott Cairns!

Faith on Friday: Crimes Against Humanity & Prayers to the Mother of God

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My prayer is against the deeds of the wicked. (Psalm 141:5)

I couldn’t sleep last night. I turned out my light around 10:30. At 12:30 I was tired of tossing and turning, so I got up and went into the living room and read for two hours. At 2:30 I went back to bed. The last time I looked at the clock it was close to 4:00 a.m. My alarm went off at 7:30, and I awoke to that yucky nausea that comes from sleep deprivation. This morning I am considering the possible cause(s).

Caffeine. I’ve been drinking too much Coke, especially in the afternoon and evening. But usually my legs (restless leg syndrome) warn me when I’ve gone over my limit. It wasn’t my legs that were restless last night. It was my mind.

What was the last thing my mind focused on before bed last night? The images on the news—and from links on Facebook—of the genocide in Iraq. Watch this video from CNN about a Christian businessman from California who is calling on the U.S. to stop the “Christian Holocaust” in Iraq. ISIS is beheading children and putting their heads on sticks and displaying them in a park. They are raping the mothers and murdering the fathers.

ISIS issued this warning to Iraqi Christians:

Leave by Saturday or face three choices: Convert to Islam, pay a protection tax, or death by the sword.

300,000 Christians are fleeing Iraq, running for their lives to the hill country, where they have no food or water.

In this video an Iraqi woman says,

This is a crime against Iraq. Christians and Muslims, we’ve lived together as brothers for a long time. We just want peace and love.

Thousands of Aramean Christians have suffered beheadings, crucifixions and more. This article yesterday in the Orthodox Christian Network says:

The Nineveh plains are now emptied from its native Christians, who belong to the Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Chaldean and Assyrian (Nestorian) churches in the region. This is the second region that has been emptied from its Aramean population for the first time in its millennia-old history. Thus, an ancient civilization, cultural heritage and population have been destroyed and erased from Iraq’s future.

Western governments and mainstream media have remained utterly silent and ignored the cries for help by the Arameans.

Yesterday I joined thousands of other Memphians in exercising my right to vote in our local elections, a freedom I often take for granted. What a contrast—watching the election results come in on the news, and then watching the horrible crimes against humanity happening in Iraq.

How can anyone sleep? What can we do?

Panagia009

 

On a personal level, the main thing I plan to do is to pray. In my personal prayers at home. And I’ll join with my brothers and sisters in the Paraklesis (Intercessory)  Prayers to the Mother of God tonight at Saint John Orthodox Church here in Memphis. Here are some of the words we will pray together tonight, for ourselves, and especially for those suffering in Iraq. (You can watch the nuns at an Orthodox monastery chanting these prayers in this video.)

The turmoils of this life encircle me like unto bees about a honeycomb, O Virgin, and they have seized and now hold my heart captive, and I am pierced with the stings of afflictions, Maid; yet be, O all-holy one, my defender and helper and rescuer.

Preserve and save, O Theotokos, your servants from every danger; after God do all of us for refuge flee to you; you are a firm rampart and our protection.

With good will, look on me, O all-hymned Theotokos; behold my body’s grievous infirmity, and heal the cause of my soul’s sorrow. 

Writing on Wednesday: Another Jackson, Mississippi Writer Poised to Make it Big

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Masha Alekhina (in Michael Kors) and Nadya Tolokonnikova (in Valentino) from July issue of Vogue Magazine

I love Wimbledon. But since no Americans made the round of sixteen in singles this year (for the first time in 103 years!) I find myself multi-tasking while watching the matches this week. So, on Monday night—while Murray and Djokovic were winning their matches—I picked up Vogue Magazine to peruse. I’m not a paying subscriber, but somehow I have a promotional subscription. Usually I glance through the fashion photos and toss it, but this time two features got my attention.

One was about Pussy Riot, whose plight I’ve been following since 2012. Two of the members—Masha Alekhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova—were in the states to lobby for support to get rid of Putin. And for another of their platforms—prison reform in Russia. Their newly formed organization, Zona Prava, reports on human-rights abuses in Russian prisons. The article, “Enemies of the State,” was well written, showing many dimensions of these now famous activists. And then there was the photo of the girls modeling Michael Kors and Valentino.

Katy Simpson Smith

Katy Simpson Smith

But it was another article that caused me to stop watching tennis altogether. “Living History” is about 28-year-old Jackson, Mississippi, native, Katy Simpson Smith, whose first novel, The Story of Land and Sea, will debut next month. Katy’s parents taught at Millsaps College in Jackson. (Smith will be at Lemuria Books on September 8 for a reading/signing.)

This isn’t Smith’s first book—she’s a historian with a couple of nonfiction titles to her credit. But the buzz is about the novel, set in coastal Beaufort, North Carolina, during the Revolutionary War. According to Vogue, the novel

 

sparked a bidding war among ten publishing houses before becoming the talk of the Frankfurt Book Fair. It’s not only among the most assured debut novels in recent memory, it heralds the birth of a major new talent.

10322774_705178209521350_3337904587303347621_nSmith’s journey so far has been a whirlwind. Again from the Vogue piece:

She left for college at sixteen and after a brief flirtation with a career in Hollywood, embarked on a doctorate in history…. [Smith says], ‘Being in grad school for five years really made me understand what I needed as a storyteller. It was about emotion, and you can’t really get into emotion as a historian.’ She broke the news to her parents and enrolled in Bennington’s creative-writing program.

Her mentor at Bennington, Paul Yoon, says:

What sets her apart for me is this amazing balance. On the one hand you have someone whose fiction feels so vast and epic—in both geography and time—and yet she’s tackling all this in an almost minimalistic way, where everything feels pared down to the essentials. I love how her work feels at once like a perfect box and an open field.

Living History article

 

You can read an excerpt from The Story of Land and Sea in the July issue of Vogue. I can’t wait to meet her in our hometown in September. I’ve been so inspired by Kathryn Stockett, and now it looks like I’ll have another hero.

Faith on Friday: Inspiration from The Girl in the Picture

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We’ve all seen this picture many times. But I had never read her story until it was published in this article on September 11. Please take a few minutes to read the article, and if you’re interested, get the book, The Girl in the Picture, by Denise Chong. It will inspire you to forgive, and to reach out to others.

Forty-one years ago, Kim Phuc‘s village was bombed in Vietnam. This Pulitzer-prize winning photo shows her and others running away from the bomb. Unfortunately, she had been badly burned.
girlNow 50, Kim lives in Canada, with her husband and two children. She has found God. She has forgiven her enemies. And she has dedicated her life to promoting peace and providing medical and psychological support to children who are victims of war.

I’m posting this after an early morning physical therapy appointment. After reading what Kin learned about being “strong in the face of pain.” My pain is so small.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Writing on Wednesday: Me and Phillip Mudd—Unlikely Bedfellows

Phillip Mudd

Phillip Mudd

Two weeks ago former FBI senior intelligence advisor, Phillip Mudd, appeared on The Colson Report, where he talked about Al Qaeda, Syria, and Colin Powel’s WMD speech. Mudd recommends intervention in Syria. When Colbert said, “The American people don’t think so,” his reply was, “I understand.” I don’t think we should intervene in Syria, but I’m looking forward to hearing Mudd speak on October 5 here in Memphis at “Bookstock 2013” at the Memphis Library and Information Center at 1:30 p.m.

Mudd moved to Memphis last fall for a position as director of global risk at SouthernSun Rick Management. He will be signing his book, Take Down: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda.

09.04.13---ASC---Bookstock-2013---f@p

 

“Bookstock 2013” is an annual book fair spotlighting over 40 Memphis area authors, Last year’s keynote speaker was Kristen Iversen, author of the best-selling book, Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats.

 

Awiakta_Marilou_bodyI’ll be signing Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, along with Memphis author and Circling Faith contributor, Marilou Awiakta. Copies of Circling Faith will be available at our table for $15, a portion of which will benefit the Memphis library fund. Some of Marilou’s books may also be available, and she’s fascinating just to visit with, so please come by our table some time on Saturday between 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. (Except for 1:30, when I’ll be listening to Phillip Mudd’s keynote address.) Marilou was part of a book signing with Beth Ann Fennelly, Wendy Reed and me in July of 2012 at Burke’s Books. You can read more about that here.

Susan and Marilou signing Circling Faith at Burke's Books, July 2012

Susan and Marilou signing Circling Faith at Burke’s Books, July 2012

So, bring the family and come to the library on October 5. There will be something for everyone—scavenger hunts, kids’ activities, and lots of authors to meet and chat with in an informal setting. Hope to see you there!

P. S. For those who follow my blog regularly, I’m happy to report that I’m having some success kicking the TV habit… yesterday I spent about two hours working on revisions of my novel. Hope to have a repeat performance this afternoon. Thanks for your encouragement and good wishes during my ongoing recovery!

Faith on Friday: Orthodox Bishop Prays for Obama: “May God Speak Good Things To His Heart”

I am an Orthodox Christian, a member of the Antiochian Archdiocese in this country. We trace our heritage to the first century believers, those “who were first called Christians in Antioch.” One of our Bishops gave the following homily at a parish in Wichita, Kansas this past Sunday. Please take some time to read and prayerfully consider his words.

 

Address given by His Grace Bishop Basil of Wichita to the parish of

St Mary Orthodox Church in Wichita, Kansas

regarding the crisis in Syria, September 8, 2013.

Bishop BASIL

Bishop BASIL

            This week will be a very important week, an historical week, one way or another–our church, our Patriarchate in particular, and this world in general. This week our elected representatives will be asked to vote either for or against supporting aggression in the Holy Land. As I said it’s important first and foremost for our church. It’s where our spiritual roots are, the roots of all Christians. Not just us, but we as Antiochian Orthodox in particular, as our Father in God (Patriarch John of Antioch) lives there along with a million and a half Orthodox Christians. That’s more than we have total in the US. The Orthodox in Syria and Lebanon is not negligible; it’s 10 percent of the population. In our country, we’re less than 1 percent, our country being the United States.

            Syria in particular but Lebanon as well, which is an integral part of greater Syria just by its geography and the majority of its history, is dotted with holy places. Holy places made holy by the presence of our Savior. Remember his conversation with the Canaanite woman, the Syro-Phoenician woman when he visited Tyre and Sidon in south Lebanon. It’s not in Disney World or Never Never Land. It’s a real place with real people with real Orthodox Christians living there. You’ve heard of Caesarea Philippi, where our Savior went and had conversation with his 12 apostles saying, “Who do men say that I am?” and then to Peter “Who do you say that I am?” Caesarea Philippi is in Golan Heights, what now is the occupied portion of the Golan Heights. It belongs to our sister archdiocese, the archdiocese of Bosra-Hauran. And the Golan Heights itself is dotted with now empty; they were depocketed by the Israelis – Christian villages, Orthodox villages, whose churches during the occupation have been totally desecrated.  Stripped!  Not only of the icons and the chandeliers, but of windows, and water faucets! Their dead in Konetra were taken out of their graves, and teeth – gold teeth – (were) taken from their mouths and wedding rings taken from the corpses’ fingers. These are holy places. Our Savior walked there, the apostles walked there. Sweida, Bosra-Hauran in south Syria is where Timon, one of the original seven deacons as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, one of the original seven deacons was the first bishop. Paul the apostle made his way from Jerusalem up to Damascus, and the road is still there, the spot where he was knocked off his horse by the presence of our Savior Jesus Christ when he was struck blind. There’s a monastery there, an Orthodox monastery. These are not just places in books, brothers and sisters. These are holy places where Christians, your spiritual ancestors, and for many of you your physical ancestors have lived the Holy Orthodoxy for the past 2,000 years. It’s why what happens this week is important. It’s important.

            barak-prayingWe ask your prayers first and foremost for our president. That God might speak as we say in the liturgy “good things to his heart.” That God might speak reasonableness and peace to the heart of our president. That he might speak peace to the heart of our elected officials, that they indeed become our representatives, that they speak the voice of the people. God speaks through his people, not through a congressman alone, or a president alone. He speaks through his people.

May God hear our prayer for our armed forces.  Men and women who sit on the edges of their seats to know whether they will be going to war or not! And don’t believe this “no boots on the ground.” It’s impossible. We’ve heard the promise many times. May God give strength to the parents. The spouses first and foremost of those soldiers, and their children, and their parents and their families, that he might grant them grace during these next coming days to prepare for the tension that must be laid upon them. And God be with the people of Syria. All of them, whether they’re Muslim, they’re Druze, Christians, Orthodox and not. May he be with our Father in God (Patriarch John of Antioch) who has already lost thousands of his people, and priests and deacons and monks and nuns in the war already. Whose monasteries and churches have been occupied and many destroyed by the so-called Free Syrian Army. Whose own brother was kidnapped and still remains kidnapped, Metropolitan Paul along with Archbishop Yohanna, since April 22 by freedom fighters. Freedom fighters – people who rape women, abduct bishops, desecrate churches, open peoples’ chests and pull their beating heart out and eat it in their presence. That’s the Free Syrian Army and their allies, Al Qaeda. 

             Two days ago I received a call from our Metropolitan Saba Esper, who you know.  He has visited here. He is the archbishop of our own Wichita diocese’s sister diocese in south Syria. He spoke by telephone, right before he called me, with Mother Belagia. Mother Belagia is the abbess of the monastery of Saint Thekla in Maalula. It’s only like a 20-30 minute drive north of Damascus. It had been occupied for 3 days (the town). The town is one of three where they still speak Aramaic–Aramaic which our Savior spoke. The only 3 towns left in the world. The majority of the people in Maaloula are Christians–Orthodox Christians. There’s a smattering of Catholics there, and there’s also some Muslims there, and they live there in peace. The beginning of this week they were occupied by the Free Syrian Army. It turned out to be Al Qaeda, and they turned out to be Chechens–the same ones who abducted our 2 bishops. The nuns took the children there, orphan girls there of St. Thekla, and they and the nuns, many who are aging, into the caves of the village to hide for 4 days. They didn’t even go out to buy bread. The villagers didn’t leave their homes for 4 days. And if you’ve never been to the Middle East, they don’t shop like we do. They go every morning to buy their bread and food for the day. So they were locked in their homes for 4 days. Those who went out were shot, so they knew to stay in their homes. Saba called me on Wednesday. Mother Belagia, and they were ringing all the bells in the town’s churches–the Syrian Army, you know the one that we’re told is so bad. The Syrian Army finally came and drove Al Qaeda out. And what did they find? They found 2 churches in the village completely destroyed. St. Thekla, which is ours, the Orthodox Church in the village, and St. Sergius, which is a Catholic church in the village–completely destroyed. On the inside, the icons, the holy books, everything had been desecrated. Not just ripped off the walls, but covered in urine. Real desecration by that wing of the Free Syrian Army!

God knows what the people of Syria, and by extension the people of Jordan, the people of Lebanon, the people of Turkey and the people of Iraq – because if there’s a war, there’s a regional war – God knows the burden they may have to carry this week. Lighten their burden as you can. And that’s by your prayers. Have a soft heart towards the people.

Wrongs were done on both sides – vicious wrongs on both sides. But as we’ve heard from some honest politicians this past week, there’s really no good armed force over there. No one we can trust. None! So the choice is between the evil that we know and that we’ve had for 30-40 years in that part of the world, or another evil we don’t know about except what they’ve shown us in this awful civil war for the past 2 and a half years.

St. Mary's Orthodox Church, Dair-Al-Zor, Syria

St. Mary’s Orthodox Church, Dair-Al-Zor, Syria

            So this week, really pray. Thank God that we live in a country that is safe. Where we can send our children to school, where you can go out and buy your groceries. But realize that that blessed country where we live can also be a disruptive force in other parts of the world, as it has been. Remember Bosnia. Remember Kosovo. Remember what happened in Belgrade, the capital of an Orthodox country, bombed by our armed forces on Pascha night, while people were going to church for the midnight service.

God bless America–but a lot of evils have been done in her name. We pray that God will restrain our leaders from being the cause for any more evil and sorrow and hurt in this world. That we might extend a healing hand, to bring enemies together like we’re supposed to.

Where we teach people to turn the other cheek, where we teach people to bless those who curse them, to love our enemies. That’s the gospel we preach, the gospel we die for. It’s the gospel which Orthodox Christians have been and I guess will continue to die for. Remember them in your prayers, and as I said, most especially our leaders, who will make the decisions. That God might pour out his Holy Spirit on them, and speak good things to their hearts.

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