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Archive for November, 2008

The Concert

One of my all-time favorites — and today, an answer to prayer.

*****

When the house lights dimmed and the concert was about to begin, the mother returned to her seat and discovered that her child was missing.  Suddenly, the curtains parted and spotlights focused on the impressive Steinway on stage.  To her horror, the mother saw her little boy sitting at the keyboard, innocently picking out “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

At that moment, the great piano master made his entrance, quickly moved to the piano, and whispered in the boy’s ear, “Don’t quit…keep playing.”  Then, leaning over, Ignatz Paderewski reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass part.  Soon his right arm reached around to the other side of the child, and he added a running obbligato.  Together, the old master and the young novice transformed what could have been a frightening situation into a wonderfully creative experience.  The audience was so mesmerized that they couldn’t recall what else the great master played–only the classic “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

Perhaps that’s the way it is with God.  What we can accomplish on our own is hardly noteworthy.  We try our best, but the results aren’t always graceful, flowing music.  However, with the hand of the Master, our life’s work can truly be beautiful.

The next time you set out to accomplish great feats, listen carefully…you may hear the voice of The Master, whispering in your ear, “Don’t quit.  Keep playing.”

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Spurred on by Fearless Leader’s query as to Where Have I Been, I thought I’d better post an update.  I warn you, though — I’ve had a few shocks over the past month, one as recently as yesterday.  Thus, the title of this post:  Like sheep dip, it’s greasy and smelly.

Shock #1:  The son — let’s call him “Stillwater,” as in, “Still waters run deep” — has a girlfriend.  Since last July.  He met her at a gathering of Firefly fans; apparently, last July she had tickets to a play that she was offering to anyone who had time to take it in, and Stillwater was the only one who had the time.  (My  personal opinion:  She told everybody in advance, “DON’T ANY OF YOU HAVE TIME!!!”)  I should note that as of last week, they were no longer an item, and Stillwater didn’t know if they would be getting back together; but still, the mere fact that he took the risk again is so encouraging.  I worry about this boy.  Once his father and I Go, he will have, essentially, no one in his life, since Sunshine maintains minimal contact with her entire family.

Shock #2:  My son-in-law, Rain Man, quit his job.  They plan to live off Sunshine’s income as a writer.  This is idiocy at any time, but especially in this economy?!?!?!  What are these two numbskulls thinking?!?!?!  I did drive up to see them a week ago, after reading about it on Sunshine’s blog, and Rain Man explained that the principal at his school thinks nothing of requiring teachers to come in for staff meetings on Sundays, or of e-mailing people at three o’clock in the morning, and they have also had five parent-teacher conferences since the beginning of the school year.  The norm is two or three per year.  Apparently the principal is being driven by the School Board, which is being driven by a lot of over-achieving parents in South Portland, and you can be sure that the kids are reacting to their over-achieving parents by blowing off education entirely — not the best atmosphere for teaching something as esoteric as Social Studies.  So I do sympathize with Rain Man.  But still.

Shock #3, and I’m still not sure how to handle this one:  Yesterday, as I was printing and folding the Sunday bulletin, Father Count noted that his former parish was hosting an ecumenical gathering.  He made some kind of a joke about the possibility of a rabbi’s leading the congregation in the recital of the Lord’s Prayer, and I noted that when I had told a Russian priest about the rabbi that gave a sermon while standing in front of an icon of the Annunciation (!), that priest had said, “But that’s anathema!”  And Father Count disagreed. His take, apparently shared by the entire Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, is that ecumenical activity is important “so that we get a chance to discuss our differences.”

Can we spell “clueless” here?!?!  This is not what ecumenism is about at all, and only the most naive person with zero exposure to Western Christendom could possibly take such a point of view seriously.  And that’s not Father Count; his mother is Catholic, though from Hungary, where, apparently, traditional Catholicism is still alive and well.  Good for them.  Welcome to the good ol’ US of A, where Anything Goes, as long as you agree that the Pope is the number one guy in the world and head honcho.

Now, I need to note that one of the main reasons I took Father Count to heart was that shortly after his arrival, I overheard a conversation between him and two parish-council members, in which he asked them to stand in for him at an ecumenical gathering.  “The Canons are very clear,” he said.  “I may not pray with a non-Christian at all, and I should not even pray with heterodox Christians, except for the Lord’s Prayer.”  So what happened??  All of a sudden, the Canons have become guidelines?!  And like most of the idiot Greek priests I’ve had to deal with, he thinks I’m saying that heterodox shouldn’t be allowed at Orthodox services.  How does he get that impression?!  Where would any of us be if that were the case?!  I can only think that it comes from Greek priests’ having to deal with those boobs who insist that “if you aren’t Greek, you can’t be Orthodox.”  And there are a lot of them.

No, that’s not what I said.  I have no problem with non-Orthodox coming to Orthodox services, and for heaven’s sake, I’d think that would be obvious.  As I said, where would any of us be if we hadn’t been able to worship with the Orthodox?!  I just think, STRONGLY, that those services should be Orthodox in content.  I did get him to agree that there was a danger in ecumenical services, in that people begin to think that there’s really no difference between Christian denominations, so why shouldn’t they worship wherever they please?  But he was in a rush to make some hospital visits before closing the office for Thanksgiving, and I was in a rush to get out and do some grocery shopping, so I didn’t press it.

I have cut this priest a lot of slack.  I refrain from commenting when he extols the New Calendar, and says things like, “Now that the Russians are united, perhaps they will come to see the advantages of the New Calendar.”  (Such as???)  I let him bamboozle me into trying to learn Byzantine chant, a system of music so arcane and esoteric that Only the Psaltis (cantor) Is Allowed to Sing in most Greek parishes, the choir being relegated to stuff that doesn’t change from Sunday to Sunday, forever and ever, Amen.  And while well-done Byzantine chant can be beautiful, it does employ quarter tones, which means that half the time I feel like I’m supposed to be flatting, and all of the time it sounds like something a muezzin chants from atop the minaret, and that’s not someplace I want to go, particularly.

Now I’m not sure what to do.  I guess I’ll have to push this to some kind of a conclusion in my own mind, but I doubt it will be a satisfactory conclusion; it never has been.  Having seen the pathetic results of ecumenism, I’m not willing to budge an inch on this one.  All I know for sure is that I’m sorrier and sorrier that I ever left the Russian parish, even if it is fifty miles away.

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