09 November 2015


Two more icons from Orthodox Christian Supply.  Quality again exquisite.  Righteous Lot and the Martyr Pavel Floresnky .  Superb work.  I can't recommend them highly enough.

01 November 2015

Reformation Day

My friend Paul Rhodes shared this Heinrich Heine piece for Reformation Day.   It is delightfully provocative.  Heine gets the year of Luther's nailing of the 95 Theses wrong, but that only seems to fit with the dismissive wit at hand.  Enjoy:

Heinrich Heine on the Indulgence Racket

But even more than the Devil's mind Martin Luther mistook the mind of the Pope and the Catholic Church. Because of my strict impartiality, I must now take up the cudgel for both, as I did for the devil, against the all too eager man. Indeed, if one were to ask me in conscience, I would have to admit that the Pope, Leo X, was actually far morereasonable than Luther, and that the latter simply did not grasp the ultimate raison d'etre of the Catholic Church. For Luther did not understand that the idea of Christianity, the annihilation of sensuality, contradicts human nature so much that it could never be carried out in its entirety. He had not understood that Catholicism was like, as it were, a Concordat between God and the Devil, i.e. between Spiritualism and Materialism, in which the primacy of spiritualism was acknowledged in theory, but materialism was given a status in which it could in praxis exercise all its annuled rights. From whence came a clever system of concessions, which the Church concocted to the benefit of sensuality, but always in ways that denunciated every act of sensuality and preserved the disdainful usurpation of spiritualism.

You may give a hearing to the delicate inclinations of your heart and embrace a beautiful girl, but you must confess that it was a scandalous sin, and for this sin you must do penance. That this penance could be effected by money was as beneficial for humanity as it was useful for the Church. The Church permitted the payment of, so to speak, resistance money for every fleshly pleasure, and soon there developed a tax for all sorts of sins. There were even holy peddlers, who, in the name of the Roman Church, hawked a letter of indulgence for any of the taxed sins. One such peddler was that Tetzel against whom Luther first rose. Our historians are of the opinion that this protest against the indulgence trade was an insignificant event, and that it was only Roman pigheadedness that drove Luther, who at the outset railed only against an abuse of the Church, to attack the entire ecclesiastical authority at her highest pinnacle. But this is simply erroneous. The indulgence trade was no abuse, it was a consequence of the entire Church system.

As Luther attacked the former, he attacked the Church Herself, and She had to condemn him as a heretic. Leo X, the refined Florentine, the student of Poliziano, the friend of Raphael, the Greek philosopher with the threefold crown, which the conclave bestowed upon him perhaps because he suffered from an illness that in no way comes from Christian abstinence and was back then still very dangerous.... Leo von Medici, how he must have smiled at this poor, chaste simpleton of a monk, who believed the Gospel was the charter of Christianity, and this charter must be the Truth! Leo probably did not even notice what Luther wanted. He was at the time much too busy with the construction of St. Peter's Basilica, the cost of which was financed with the indulgence money, so that the sins did actually and truly give the money that built this church. Hence, the Basilica became a monument, as it were, to sensual lust, as did those pyramids that were built by an Egyptian prostitute with money she earned from her trade. Perhaps one could better make the claim for this house of God than for the Cathedral at Cologne that it was built by the devil.  

This triumph of Spiritualism, namely that Materialism itself must build for its enemy its most beautiful temple, that for the heap of concessions one makes with the flesh one acquires the means to glorify the Spirit, this is not understood in the German North. For here, far more than under the burning Italian Sky, it was possible to practice a Christianity which made the least concessions possible to sensuality. We Northerners have a colder blood, and we require not so many letters of indulgence for fleshly sins as our paternally concerned Leo had sent us. The climate makes it easier for us to practice the Christian virtues, and on October 31, 1516, as Luther nailed his theses against indulgences on the doors of the Augustine Church, the town moat of Wittenburg had probably already frozen over. One could go ice-skating, which is a cold amusement and, therefore, not a sin.

21 October 2015

untitled poem VII

What you grant to be powerful,
will win games.
And let's face it,
most of what we give ourselves to now is game.

It may win wars, to the extent we can continue to speak of winning them.

Your power cannot,
will not,
take a heart.

The closest it will come to that is allegiance.

A pledge, to some cloth and a gun,
muttered by the bored or the desperate.

That is not, in the end of things, or in the end of us,

The only kingdom that is eternal
is impossibly defended by the
wooden swords of children,
by the eyed upon sparrow,
stunned, but not dead,
after hitting your windshield,
by the unspoken pleas of a Rana Plaza seamstress
whose fingers are too tired to sew straight.

Its navies are the cheap rubber boats of refugees.
Its armies the ranks of the unemployed standing in formations of resigned bad posture.
Its air force the whispered prayers of mothers of sick children for whom there are no doctors nor medicines.

You will win your games.

That is not the end.

19 October 2015

I'm Not So Happy. Lessons from Memphis, part one.

I sat on Marco's porch, each of us with a fencepost in our hands.

"Mifis, why you never smile?  You drinkin' wit me, sittin' here doin' nothin', and all straight face 'n shit.  What's up your ass all the time?"

"I'm just not one of those happy people Marco."

"What the fu..."  He shakes his head at me.  "Happiness ain't shit.  It's just somethin' rich people buy, like a new face or a big boat or a hard dick with pills and shit.  What the fuck does happiness has to do with your straight ass face"?  "Fuck, I ain't never been happy, I ain't ever known happy.  'Bout every motherfucker walked my way 'as pissed in my grits.  And I smile every goddamn place I go."

"If you're not happy, why do you smile Marco?"

Marco makes his big eyes at me, his face still, shaking his head at me without shaking it.  He takes a long draught of Busch.

"Mifis, you ever rebuked a demon?"

"No, but I've seen one rebuked."

"What that demon do by you?"

"It terrified me."

"You know what terrifies demons, Mifis?"

"What's that, Marco?"

"Laughing at them. And thanking God for this."

"What this?  What is this, Marco?"

Marco's perpetual smile expanded to full sail.  He shook his head at me.

"You damn fool."

29 September 2015

untitled poem VI

He looked at me with a gaze approaching pity when he realized I had never heard of the band playing on the computer, my computer, which he was there to fix.

Jeans tighter than any Christina Z wore when I made out with her in eighth grade, though his figure was about the same as hers was then.

And a beard, worn as if meant to prove something to someone.

Every word was quick, every other patronizing.  I’m nearly old enough to be his father.  He makes twice what I do, a fact we both know.

I held my tongue through his unsubtle registration of superiority.

I wanted to tell him that I have been around the world; that I have eaten caviar with poor Siberians and shat in Guatemalan bushes and walked drunk on Dublin streets.   I wanted to tell him that I am friends with poets and philosophers; that my young children speak ill of the bourgeoisie; that my wife corrects the subtitles in Mandarin films we watch.  I wanted to tell him these things.

But I looked at the frayed ends of my WalMart pants legs, and remembered the four kids I have to feed, and considered the futility of words, especially these days.  

He continued, “oh, next time just click right here,” and “I’m not sure you are supposed to have access to that,” and “do you have much experience with our L Drive?”

With that, I finally broke.

“I can sit still longer than you.”


“I can sit still longer than you.”

“I’m here to fix your computer.”

“I know, but I can sit still longer than you.”

“Okay, but I’m here to get you back into Insight soooo you can do your job.”

“Yes.  I don’t think you understand.  You sit most of the day in front of screens.  But I can sit still with no screens, for longer than you.  Much longer.”

“Are you okay?”

“The older I get the harder it is to answer that question according to protocol.”

“Uhm, okay, well I'm just about done here and you should be able to get back to work.”


He did more clicks.

I thought of those summer nights, when dad was in seminary, and I would cut some of the yard and dad most of it, and after we would lay on shorn grass and look up at the sky.  He would be silent.  I would interrupt with questions. 

I thought of West Virginia deer stands with Jerry, deer piss scent poured all over us, saying nothing, the only movement between us the rising and falling of our chests, listening to the wind.

The sitting along the Minnesota River in winter.  I would make the sign of the cross on my forehead with drops of water that fell on me from snow weighted branches.

I thought of the pine root that created a hillside seat in Ellsworth, Maine, white clapboard church behind me, a short walk from the shelter, eagles in the air, where I tried to pray, but usually just sat.

The late afternoons, after a shift in a Memphis furnace, sitting on the concrete by the bay door, staring at crape myrtle across the street, wondering if I had the energy to drive home.

The thousands of hours with babies asleep in my arms, the most demanding quiet and stillness.

The storm I pulled over to watch last week. 

Today, on a bench in a grove at work, listening to kids play in the new playground.

Those I have watched come into the world, and those I have watched leave it.

He finished his assignment, giving me banal orders about what not to do next time.  He left.

I returned to my vacated chair.  I turned it toward the window.  Geese were marching in non-formation through the grounds, rings of red mulch were now worn by the trunks of the oak trees in the quad, the squirrels were busy in their northern frantic way, the sky was turning.  The window was cracked just enough to hear the wind begin to be restless. 

07 September 2015

on my best friend, David.

There are the stories we live by.

Sometimes we become them, sometimes they haunt us, sometimes we try to drink or smoke or fuck them away, sometimes they are old friends who guide and encourage us, sometimes they are measures by which we measure what we know we should have or could have been, sometimes they are that single thread by which we still hold on to this life - the lifeline that the old Gospel songs speak of.

The scriptures contain stories that are all of the above for me.

I grew up in a home wherein there could be nothing but that imprint.   This doesn't result in a love for them in any sentimental sense.  I'd say most of my adult life my relationship to the scriptures has been one of anger and arrogance mixed with later-than-should-have-come epiphany and rootedness.  The scriptures are my intellectual hometown, I know their act backwards and forwards - half the time I'm sick of it, but I get pissed when somebody puts them down or suggests that they are not good enough, and they know me better than I know myself, they knew and know my people, and they know I ain't so special, well, nowhere near as special as I think I am.

God's word and I frequently start conversations with a "who the hell do you think you are?" look in the eyes, but like small town neighbors, our actual conversations are more civil.

But this post isn't about scriptures, it is about the stories that make us, that linger in the middle of life and past it.

My best friend in this life is David, my old bible college roommate.  I'm not sure what "best friend" really means.  There are only three men I know who I would apply that designation to, and Dave is the longest and the one who most matter of factly accepts it.  I sure as hell have not been "best friend" to him.  Hell, I was supposed to be best man in his wedding and cancelled last minute, financially broke (life theme?), in the middle of a broken marriage, and not able to get the coverage at work to get there.  I had once even advised him against marrying that girl at one point (never take my advice, I never place good bets, and you can be damn sure I ain't wise), though time since has made it clear that the marriage was and is a miracle - in the sense that two people loving each other for decades on end and bearing fruit of love, and life, and hospitality, and the welcome and peace of Christ is always, everywhere and anywhere, a miracle.  No doubt I have let Dave down many times.  But he never tells me that.  Unlike me, condemnation is not his way.  Story is.

He has made my life so rich with stories.

Years ago, Dave had cancer.  Lymphoma.  He was diagnosed when we lived together at college.  One day he took his shirt off and asked me what I thought about a lump on his chest, not far from his collar bone.  It was larger than a gold ball.  Soon after he went to a doctor.  I ended up going with him there.  When we (his friends at college) had a bit of an impromptu service for him before he left home to get treatment, I ran off to the kitchen and back to the chapel with a little bit of canola oil, and we blessed him, and as I made the sign of the cross on his forehead with oil (what spiritual arrogance! I know), I told him that God would kill him if He had to in order to save him.

As you might imagine, dear reader, I had some confidence in my own spiritual prowess, meaning, I was a damn fool.  I had seen horrible suffering in the world but other than one bad night my senior year of high school, had hardly experienced any of it.  But the God who speaks through jackasses struck a nerve with Dave that moment, or so Dave has told me over the years.

Dave got engaged with Rachel shortly before he left home for cancer treatment.  Rachel, who was also from Ohio like Dave and I, was from an Assemblies of God home and came to our bible college, shall we say, very Assemblies of God.  I could not stand her at first (hence the early on recommendation to Dave about not hitching up with her).  Later I would end up in Mexico doing mission work with her when Dave was at home doing the cancer thing and she would tell me all about abuse she suffered as a kid from an extended relative, and I would follow a pattern I have many a time in life and eat some crow.  Seeing her in Mexico speaking Spanish and interacting with street kids, including young male prostitutes, also signaled to me that my previous impressions were off.  Here was a young woman who was broken, who had some awareness of her brokenness, which is rather rare among young people, and, I could tell, loved Dave in part because he was so differently and wonderfully open about his own brokenness.

Some time later, my ex wife and Rachel and I would drive Rachel to Dave's house in Marion, Ohio during one of our school breaks.  Dave's people are from Arkansas (another congruity in our lives) and his mother frequently sent me applesauce cookies when I was at bible college.  Dave's family, with whom Dave was living during his treatment, lives in a trailer park outside Marion.  I was completely exhausted that trip, having driven through the night to get there and just plain tired anyway, from work and school and life stuff that was not going well.  I recall a huge fight with my ex wife on the way there, with Rachel's words finally shutting me up.  That anger was so under the skin, always, then.  When we got there I remember Dave's mom making pancakes in a cast iron skillet still holding a good amount of bacon grease, and serving those pancakes and bacon with sausage and biscuits, and me thinking, after over a year in Minnesota, "thank God, a woman who can cook proper food."  I slept in a big bed in a bedroom at the end of the trailer a good bit of the time there.

When it was time for me, my ex Heather, and Rachel to head back to Minnesota Dave's dad shook my hand.  His handshake hurt it was so firm (and I don't think I have a pansy handshake).  He looked me square in the eye.

"Son, thank you for coming here.  Thank you for bringing Rachel.  That should cover your gas."

In his handshake was some cash.  I nodded and said something politeish, I don't remember what.  I put the cash in my pocket.

Later, after we were on our way, I checked the cash and it was nearly $300.  I drove a Ford Escort.  Gas was not that expensive then.  He lived in a trailer park and his son was dying of cancer.  If I had been a man of any virtue, I would have made sure some of that money went back to Dave's dad..  I didn't.  Lord knows how I spent what went beyond the travel expenses.  It probably went towards books I wanted.  Fucking words.

5 years after Dave recovered from cancer his doctor released the records of Dave's treatment to Dave and Dave's family.  In it were notes in which the doctor described having difficulty because he knew this kid was going to die, but Dave kept insisting to him that the Lord would save him.  At one point in the notes the Doctor frustratedly expresses that he just doesn't know how to get through to this kid that he is going to die.

But back to Dave's dad.  Stories.  One time, when Dave was an elementary school aged kid living in Arkansas, they had a neighbor whose car died.  Dave's dad gave him the only vehicle Dave's family had because, as Dave's dad figured, the neighbor man had seven miles each way to get to work, and Dave's dad could walk the one mile he had to cover in order to get to work and to town for needed things without as much trouble.

Dave's dad moved himself and his family from rural Arkansas to Marion, Ohio because he had gotten a word from the Lord in which he was told that the unification of all Christian churches would take place in Marion.  They moved into the trailer park I visited.  For some years, Dave's dad, a chain smoker then and so far as I know still now, rode a kid's style bike for miles going to and from work.  The last time I visited Dave's family in Ohio, his dad was working on a house he and Dave built on a little piece of land with a tiny pond.  

One time back in the day Dave's dad pastored a tiny little church on the side of his day job, when he was in Marion.  When preaching one Sunday, another man in the parish challenged his interpretation of scripture during the sermon.  A fist fight ensued, right during the middle of the sermon.  The pastor gig didn't last much longer.  Though when Dave first told me that story there was something in his eyes that shared with me a belief that the Gospel meant something more than many a suburban kid could possibly know.

Speaking of eyes, I can remember looking into Dave's dad's eyes when he gave me that cash filled handshake like it was yesterday.  That moment still kind of haunts me.  Here was a man.  Whatever the world calls crazy, however much a hard ass he may have been and for all I know still be, here was a man.  I have known some famous people in my lifetime.  I have made small talk and sat beside well known politicians.  I have known (at least on a nominal level) and worked for some very wealthy and powerful men.  But there are perhaps a score of men I have known in my life of whom I will say, there is a man.  A person who I have complete confidence will suffer whatever comes in pursuit of what he believes God demands him to do in the moment of suffering.  A person who is not and never can be bought or sold.  A person who sacrifices for his family (Dave's father raised four kids in that trailer) without any hint of resentment.  My father is such a man.  Dave's father is such a man.  They both have their faults.  But they are men.  I'm 41 years old and I don't know that I could call myself a man yet without being facetious.  I can't even support my family.  Our age doesn't seem so keen on producing men.

That stubborn and straightforward spirit didn't fall far from the tree.  I remember one time going to a movie with Dave when Dave let his Arkansas out.  We were getting snacks before the movie and they had some deal where if you spent 25 cents more you could "upgrade" from a medium drink to an extra large drink.  Dave ordered a medium size drink.  The dude in the ridiculous mimicry of a train ticket taker outfit behind the counter told him about the deal - if Dave would just spend 25 cents more, he could have a cup of soda the size of a gas tank on a Volkswagen Bug.  Dave said "no thanks."  Odd uniform dude said "but for only 25 cents more you can get this much more" as he held up both cups.  Dave said, "no thanks, I'll take the medium."  Maroon velvet vested dude: "but you get so much more for just 25 cents."  Dave: "I don't want more."  Teenage corporate pawn: "but it is such a better deal!"  Dave: "I said I want the medium, what do I have to do to get the medium?"  Slightly shocked popcorn serving lackey: "But everyone gets the extra large; it's so much more for your money!"  Dave: "GIVE ME THE MEDIUM OR GET ME YOUR MANAGER.  THE EXTRA LARGE WILL MAKE ME HAVE TO PEE DURING THE MOVIE.  I WANT TO WATCH ALL OF THE MOVIE."  People all around us were staring and taking note of the situation at this point.  Dave got his medium sized soft drink.

Dave survived his cancer.  The oncologist, in his notes, made clear that he was not a believing man, but that he didn't know what to call it other than a miracle.  Which is true statement, but the secularists are so mundane with their use of that word.  Dave is the miracle.  His humility, his love, his forbearance, his making straight broken things, his determined and unwavering kindness, his sometimes irritating to those of us who are hurried patience - those are miracles of which I have no other explanation than divine allowance.  Dave's recovery from cancer is an icing on the cake, now twenty years later, and four kids of his own after the medical professionals told him that all the radiation and chemo were such that he would never have kids.

His kids are wonderful, by the way.  Human, bearing a patrimony of brokenness that they do not yet understand, but will - you can see the "but will" in their eyes.  Full of love and laughter.  Gems on the crown of a good life.

Years ago, when I was going through my divorce, Dave told me that I needed to become close friends with Matt Lockerby, another bible college buddy.  As some of you know, I took that admonition seriously, and the Lockerbys, themselves no strangers to horrid sufferings, have been the couple closest to Joy and I over the years.  When Dave first told me that I thought he was crazy.  It turned out he was prescient.  Matt and I share vagabond hearts.  My wife and Matt's wife Esther became soul mates many years ago.

When Dave and I were freshmen in bible college Rich Mullin's album A Liturgy, a Legacy, & a Ragamuffin Band came out.   We listened to it over and over and over again.  I read Brennan Manning, an inspiration of that album, and went to hear him speak a half dozen times in the next few years.  I had had some interactions with Mullins during my teens, and considered myself an expert on his ethos and spirituality.  Dave just took his music and words in.  And lived it.

Dave and I both came to bible college with guitars, but Dave actually played his.  Unlike a lot of Evangelical kids at Christian colleges, Dave was never really keen on just mimicking the typical praise and worship motifs that other guitarists were into.  Like Mullins, music and story were inextricable for him.  The guitar has always been his language, his first voice.

Dave is a quiet soul.  Which isn't to say mute or diminutive.  He makes his living, at a church, talking to people and organizing social things.  But as I have gone about the world looking for battles, Dave has been content to let them come to him.  His initial inclination to encountered phenomenon is to sit and compose a response.  After decades of keeping this all to himself, he has begun to make public his inner musical life.

Take, for instance, his song Hannabelle.  Listen to it twice.

Last year Dave released his first full length album, Mountain in the Sea: A Griever's Hymnal.  It brought tears to my eyes as it brought to fruition so much of the silence and words of the time that I have known Dave.

This year he released a followup, Plane Takes the Sky.

And yesterday he sent me the link to his newest single release, Hands.

When, at a bit past mid age, you have known a person for longer than you have not, a person who has known you in all the cringe-worthiness and energy of your youth, and the ordinariness and lacklusterness of your past youth years, and they continue to speak to you kindly, if you are not given to madness, you take that as something of a treasure.  When that person's inner quiet is able to calm you, musically, at 41 years of age, poor, finding yourself against another wall (they don't end, do they?), with four kids you worry about providing for, living with your mother-in-law, having failed at this that and the other thing, you thank God for the miracle.

I could tell you so many stories.  The legendary unkemptness of our dorm room.  The time I opened the back door of the moving van when Dave and his family had to flee to Arkansas again after a bad gig once years ago.  The time Dave and Rachel, then not much past newlyweds, let me sleep on the floor next to their bed in their one room married student studio dorm when I had no where else to go.

I have known, for these many years, that I have had a friend who, bearing the weight of his father's spirit, would give his car to me if I needed it, would house me and mine if we needed it, would be at my door near as soon as I needed it.  He, like me, wrestles his life through words.

His recent song Hands is not autobiographical in the obvious sense.  It's a song about a troubled romantic relationship, at least on its surface.  Dave has known his shares of betrayals.  Communities and people, myself included, have broken sacred if unspoken contracts.  The song reminds me of the Minnesota winters of my youth with Dave.  It reminds me of the uncertainty of relationships we knew then, in our very different manners of knowing.

I, along with my wife and kids, were able to see Dave and Rachel and their family recently.  Dave and I walked our babies (both of us ended up having baby sons in the mid season of life) and some of our older kids to the park nearest his house.  We passed some kids playing in the street on our way there, speaking the tongue of the hood.  The park was run down, in an urban way, which is akin but not the same as the run down park in our rural Wisconsin village.  Dave told me about his church's plans to have a Trunk-or-Treat near those apartments those kids playing in the street were from.  He pointed to a rough field near the park and said that they would have a bunch of classic cars there for the event.  We walked our babies.  The older kids competed on the swings.  The men's room at the park was locked but Dave's middle son discovered that the women's room was open and used it.  Across the street from the park an African family played soccer in their yard.  It was hot and humid.  Dave and I didn't talk much.

We don't have to anymore.

21 August 2015

the good thief - a review of light

Years ago I attended a small Orthodox parish that had a priest who was a tradesman.  It was a poor parish with mostly cheap reproduction icons, and in typical Orthodox fashion there were a lot of them.  I was in the choir, and I used to frequently look across the nave to what had been an entrance to the building, once a house.  There was a door there that was never really used, with a thin vertical window to the side of the door.  This allowed light in, and I found myself drawn to a section of wall where this light often hit, a section that was bare.  This wall had been redone by the priest and the wall and trim and paint were very well crafted.   From time to time I would wonder about the fact that I was so visually drawn to this bare space in a sea of icons, this well crafted bare space, that made room, as it were, for the more overt iconographic spaces.  And I would consider the way in which the iconed spaces and non-iconed spaces, if you will, supported each other aesthetically.

These thoughts have, from time to time, also corresponded to my noticing that reproduction icons sold in the U.S. typically are all about the icon print, and evidence what might be seen as a lack of devotion to the wood on which the icon is mounted.

Recently a friend asked me to review an icon from Orthodox Christian Supply.  I went to their website and discovered this description of their icon mounting method:
Our Traditional Panel IconOur signature product, the Traditional Panel icons, are made with the upmost care.  We begin with carefully selected 4/4 solid poplar.  Then we route dovetailed keyways through the reverse and insert the red oak splines (shponki or шпонка in Russian).  This process is to keep the panel from warping over time, the same process as used in hand painted icons throughout antiquity.  We also route coves and chamfers on the splines themselves to create a decorative appeal, in the same fashion that is commonly used in Russian icons today.We print our images on the lowest tooth market available canvas with natural pigment based inks.  The prints are then sealed with the highest quality giclee canvas varnish, complete with UV inhibiting properties (will not fade).  For our varnish we use a special mixture which brings out more color than a flat matte, yet still eliminates the glare commonly associated with gloss varnishes.
All our icons are sealed on face, backs, and sides.  We sand out every icon glass smooth to ensure that our customers not only see, but feel the quality of our product.
There are over 25 individual process which go into every Traditional Panel icon, each preformed by hand.
Our mounted icons are built to last and to be handed down from generation to generation.  Every process has been approached with the aim to guarantee our icons in the excess of 100 years.  We build heirloom quality reproduction Orthodox icons.  

I selected an icon of St. Dismas, the Good Thief.

When the box arrived, it was packaged thus, already displaying a level of care that is exceptional:

So a newspaper outer wrapping, then bubble wrap under that, then a paper wrapping.  Also note the mounting bar to attach the icon to a wall.

Here is what the icon looks like unwrapped:

The finish is very matte, which is exactly how I prefer it.  The process leaves a textured surface which, while clearly not painted, I find much preferable to a smooth, flat surface, especially when it comes to kissing and touching the icon.  The detail of the image is crisp and clear, the demarcation of colour is subtle, and doesn't offend in the manner of an advertisement as one sometimes finds with reproduction icons.   This icon is not trying to be flashy or shiny is provocational way.  The aesthetic connotes humility.  This is a truly beautiful reproduction icon.

And what is behind it, and supporting it, I find myself drawn to just as I was once drawn to that bare corner in my old parish:

As soon as you pick this icon up you can tell that you are experiencing something unusual in the American icon reproduction world as the weight of the thing is unlike any other reproduction icon I have ever had in my hands.

And the woodwork is exquisite.

The 9" icon you see here sells for $40, which is a steal (fitting that I got St. Dismas then!).  The icon image itself is of a comparable quality (though a different aesthetic -- much more matte, and with the texture) to the Masterwork Icons sold by the good monks in Wayne, WVA at the Hermitage of the Holy Cross.  But the wood and woodwork of the icons from Orthodox Christian supply are far superior, and the Masterwork Icons from the Hermitage of the Holy Cross cost $79 for a similar size.  Honestly, there is such care in these icons from Orthodox Christian Supply that I don't know how Silouan Campbell, the craftsman behind the company, can make much of a profit selling these at $40.  Given the affordability to quality ratio here, I can't recommend Orthodox Christian Supply icons highly enough.  I would strongly encourage you to get yourself some of these icons before Silouan wises up and increases his prices.

There is a sort of piety that becomes so focused on the sacred object that it diminishes regard for what is around the sacred.  We often forget that when the holy comes into contact with the mundane, this movement is for the transformation of the mundane.  Ours is not a religion which ought to seek to protectively and parochially venerate pockets of ghettoized holiness.  We should rather expect the light and image of Christ to make beautiful and whole all that touches and is touched by that light.  In 20 years of purchasing and collecting reproduction icons made all over North America and Europe, I have never encountered another reproduction icon monger whose work reminds me of this truth in the way that the Silouan Campbell's icons do.

12 August 2015


Today a friend had me watch Ben Carlson's talk at the NRA convention.

Earlier this year I sold and gave away the last of my guns.  For various reasons, some of which had to do with coming to terms with the anger that I have held onto for many years, I made the decision that I could not, under any circumstances, take the life of another human being.  I have hungered for the deaths of others, numerous times, and because of this I needed to make the decision to never, under any circumstances, fuel that hunger.

This is not to judge those who do kill in difficult situations, especially those who do so in order to save lives.  This had to do with my own issues and my own convictions regarding myself.

It had to do with St. Tit, whose patronage I have been given.

I have enjoyed hunting at various times, and I like to shoot guns.  But the experience of shooting a gun, for me, evokes a certain appreciation of power, and control, and when I am honest with myself, it also corresponds to innate feelings of fear and resentment and a desire for justice, even when just shooting at a target outside.

I certainly don't believe that this is the way all gun owners and shooters experience the use of guns.  I have a brother who is a cop, and I know that he is a noble one.  As I said, this has to do with me, and my own demons.

But I also note that the populist gun cult rhetoric in this country associates guns with justice, with restorative righteous anger, with a reconciliation of wrongs, with the safety of little and weak ones.  And every trustworthy analysis of the use of guns in this country seems to more than suggest that such associations are uninformed at best, if not downright delusional.

I still sleep with a baseball bat next to my bed, even though I live in a small rural village with virtually no crime.  I am willing to die should a gun armed person enter my home, and I am willing for my children to die, I suppose, after seeing their father not take a life while trying to shield them.  I would rather that happen than for them to live having seen the violence that consumed their father for many years, as hard as it is for me to conceive of such things.

Once, when I was a child, though nearly an adult, armed men did come into the home of my parents, my brothers and I.  And I did wish those men dead, and told them so.  And my father and mother rebuked me, stating that Christians cannot and must not approach the violent in that way.  In my rage, I thought my parents fools.  That night (a story not to be told publicly yet) had a great impact on my life, and anger from that experience touches me to this day.  But, after years, and weakness, and certain experiences softened my heart, I sold my guns, and I made a decision not to kill those men in my memories, or anyone else.  I have enough war within me, and I cannot play pretend wars or wanna-be wars or prepared-for wars with guns anymore.  It is just too much.  This life is such a fleeting thing anyway.  I must, within me, fight myself to make peace with everyone.  I do not mean to suggest that everyone need do this.  I have hated more than most.  It seems so childish, even trivial, this very basic Christian notion - to not wish the death of your enemies.  But that is a struggle for me, and I must not arm it.