Theophany: A Love Story

As I watched my Old Calendar friends celebrate the feast of Theophany, a lot of my thoughts went to ten years ago, when I celebrated my first of several outdoor water blessings with a group of mostly Russians and Romanians. We were at the Anglican seminary on Memorial’s campus at that time, and Vladyka (then the newly-appointed Bishop- now Archbishop- Irenee) was visiting our parish to celebrate the feast with us, as well as perform baptisms. 

At that point, I had been a full member of the Church for about six months, and part of the mission for about four. Shifting from a mostly young, ex-evangelical Southern Antiochian parish, to a largely Russian and Romanian OCA mission that had a priest 6-8 times a year, was not an easy transition for me. It was entirely different being in an isolated mission on an island in the North Atlantic. Most people spoke their native tongues at church, and there were not many native English speakers.  I had gone from weekly liturgies and largely filled Saturday Vespers to only a few people being at readers’ services (though liturgies were often more full, they didn’t come very often). I was feeling extremely isolated from the community I had built up; I had very few people to talk about the faith around the coffee table, and the rigorous discussions about faith, life and culture that we had as a mission church in Kentucky were not a major part of life at the new parish. I felt alone as a new Orthodox Christian, even to the point where I remember telling at least two clergy that I felt like I was living in a desert. I was struggling to a point where I was starting to question my decision to join the church. It was an extremely tough askesis to endure at such an early point in my Orthodox faith journey.

Enter my now-wife, a recently returned Catholic who sang in the choir of the Basilica in St. John’s. A couple of weeks before that, we mutually decided to get married over dinner at the Stavanger Road Swiss Chalet in St. John’s. (We’d been dating for six weeks at that point.) I was telling Jen about how I was having a really hard time adjusting to things, and that I was thinking about joining her at the Basilica, so that we could be part of the same church. 

Something in her, however, felt drawn to join me. She saw how much it meant to me, and she wanted to see it for herself. There was no question about it; she just jumped in.

It just happened that the first weekend she was able to come to services, was Theophany weekend with Bishop Irenee. She endured the services’ mix of English and Slavonic, and then the biggest spectacle of the weekend: the outdoor blessing of the waters. I had previously read about the Russian tradition of going into the pond, and I had been mentally preparing myself for having to do so. Ultimately, however, the lake was frozen over to a point where the best that anyone could do was to throw a large rock into the ice and create a hole large enough to scoop lake water out of.

And scoop lake water they truly did. One by one, the men in our church began pouring blessed lake water in 5-gallon Home Depot buckets over them, saying “In the name of the Father…(wince) Aaaammiiiin!….” They were challenging themselves in a way I had never seen before. It was a test of faith, courage and tolerance to vulnerability. One person, who was from Arctic Russia, undressed to his swim shorts, and poured three large buckets over himself. I had never seen anything like it in my life. 

When it was my turn, I removed my coat and sweater, going bare from the waist up, and had our subdeacon pour the water over me. I remember it being almost shocking to feel the water- which was warmer than outside!- against my back, once, then twice, then three times. Jen, not knowing what to do at the time but being a curious onlooker, applauded. Which was fair, considering it was around 9F outside. Smartly, Jen also brought a blanket for me, and I was able to warm up quickly before going inside. I did not regret challenging myself to the whole process at all. 

When we got inside to the chapel, where several people remained during the outdoor blessing, 

I sat down to have a warm cup of tea. (I could always guarantee a good, warm cup of tea in the Queen’s College dining area.) Next to me sat Vladyka. I had only met a bishop once before, but had never sat down with one before. Vladyka smiled, his eyes being very gentle and his presence calm. I was very fond of his visits during my time in Newfoundland, and how he always seemed to take everything in and listen. 

Out of nowhere, a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka appeared on the table and landed with a confident-sounding plop. Our subdeacon then said “Nic, fill your glass….your girlfriend will drive!” Over the next hour or so, I have absolutely no idea how much vodka went into my system, but it was warming, the community was good, and the feast was joyous. Jen definitely drove home; that was going to be a given. (How often can you say that you’ve shared a bottle of vodka with a future archbishop?)

For Divine Liturgy, we were fortunate to have a baptism of a new baby boy whose parents were Russian, and Jen and I were there for the baptism when all of a sudden, Vladyka asked the couple, “Where are the godparents?” They replied, “They are not here,” because they lived away from the area. All of a sudden, I saw myself pointed at, and being summoned to come forward. I was going to be the proxy godfather for this baby, whose name I do not even remember, but who will always have a place in my memory. I just stood there, holding him, doing what I could. According to Jen, that moment was the first spark that she had about us someday having children. 

There were a lot of sparks that Theophany weekend. What was really beautiful about all of it was not only the community that arose from it, but also the fact that it was the night in which I started to feel like part of the community in St. John’s. All of the women fell in love with Jen almost immediately, taking her in like a group of mother hens. They begged her to sing in the choir, and they always expressed great joy in seeing her when we came to services. When she became pregnant with Mari following our wedding, they were constantly helping us, and especially her, with making sure she had what she needed. 

It was ultimately what kept me going in my first wave of post-chrismation faith struggle.

Sharing that feast day with my future spouse was a taste of things to come; the frozen lake has been replaced by a three-parish blessing of our city’s river, a pan-Orthodox Vespers service, and a group gathering of the faithful each January. 

We’re cold, and struggling to stay warm while chanting, but the warmth nonetheless remains. 

#BlogInstead: Going to Patagonia

One of my favorite musical groups has been the Welsh rock art Manic Street Preachers, who have always grabbed my attention with their highly literate and political vocals, musical breadth and connection to their community and region. In high school, they, along with Sigur Ros, Blur and other groups, became my solace, bringing me beautiful music in a frustrating time of my life: the final years of adolescence. 

One of the best things about the fans of the band is that they have always posted a lot of references and explanations about the group’s songwriting, which helped me learn quite a bit about Wales, as well as British politics on the whole. Because of this, I grew to fall in love with their 1998 album This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, which referenced everything from Guernica to the Hillsborough disaster of 1989. 

One particular song, “Ready for Drowning,” was the song that continued to stick with me over the years, but especially in the time that I was preparing to return to the United States after living abroad. The song is about the intentional flooding of the Welsh village of Capel Celyn, in order to create the Treweryn reservoir. The reservoir’s purpose was to provide water to the city of Liverpool. The flooding was done without consent from the community, and without any sense of connection to Welsh officials; quite sadly- it was one of the last villages to have a population of Welsh-only speakers. On days where the water levels are low, tree stumps and other artifacts of the village are exposed. 

One of the lines from the song really struck me- “I could go to Patagonia/but it’s harder there.” It comes from the fact that a group of Welsh immigrants chose to move to Argentina, where they encountered many difficulties in settling, and never had a large community of settlers as a result. The metaphor of Patagonia as a place of struggle and difficulty, and the idea of a faraway landscape being tempting (yet ultimately harder), stuck with me, especially as I began to think about moving home. Moving back was hard for me. I did not want to. Many tears and moments of sorrow were spent thinking about being back home, and for the first couple of years, I thought about how to go somewhere else, rather than return home and continue my life. Ultimately, I found a halfway point in moving to Canada, which was more like my home country, but still away. 

I listened to the song at work this morning, and thought again about the metaphor of Patagonia. Escape seems like it would work, and that problems might not exist if they’re fled from. But ultimately, such struggles follow in an invisible and intangible manner, and combined with a lack of home, and a sense of rootedness, it is easy to see why things might be harder elsewhere, even if elsewhere seems lucrative. 

I also thought of the metaphor of flooding. Being in a city that’s famous for its floods, and having grown up in a major river valley, the idea of a flood means to be submerged. Trapped. Covered. I used to see the idea of going home as being drowned, rather than staying above water. 

However, in looking back, I could see the romantic idea of being somewhere else- other than where one needs to be- as a force that could submerge and drown someone.

 It can happen quickly. 

And without warning, it can surround you. 

The song is still a beautiful piece, especially the live version with musician John Cale. It’s a beautiful piano and vocal piece with a lot of emotion, and a lot of soul.

20-plus years later, the album is equally beautiful, and well worth hearing. Songs like “Tsunami” and “You Stole the Heart From My Heart,” both of which were major hits in the United Kingdom, hold up in their composition, their anthemic nature and their vocal depth.

Guys, You Don't Have to be a Priest.

“The legacy of our culture’s image-smashing (a powerful part of the Puritan world) is secularization—though now replete with its own images. If we fail to give a proper account of the role that images play in Christianity, the result will not be a Christianity with no images, but simply the dominance of cultural images and a subtle conformity to the world.”
Fr. Stephen Freeman, Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Story Universe

As a layman, I have fallen victim to idealizing clergy. Orthodox folk culture is full of such images, with lots of memes and Internet lore of priests doing extreme things, like lifting massive kettle bells in a cassock, throwing massive amounts of bay leaves in church during Holy Week, and baptizing people in freezing cold, icy lakes. This is not an unrecognized phenomenon, but one that has been frequently commented on in the Orthodox world; in her article “Why Orthodox Men Love Church,” Frederica Mathews-Green points out that men actively seek out the faith for its active process of being challenged:

“The term most commonly cited by these men was “challenging.” Orthodoxy is “active and not passive.” “It’s the only church where you are required to adapt to it, rather than it adapting to you.” “The longer you are in it, the more you realize it demands of you.” The “sheer physicality of Orthodox worship” is part of the appeal. Regular days of fasting from meat and dairy, “standing for hours on end, performing prostrations, going without food and water [before communion]…When you get to the end you feel that you’ve faced down a challenge.” For some, the pursuit of seminary, and the priesthood, becomes part of that challenge. It becomes a goal like marathon training, or scaling the Seven Summits. It’s something to take on.

However, I would like to argue that it’s not so much a frequent challenge as it is an emerging trope in Orthodox culture, one that can be misleading for those who are exploring the faith, or for those who have been recently welcomed into the faith and are trying to niche themselves into a sense of belonging. Secularization of our culture has taken such challenges and quantified them into something that would look at home on a bucket list of “Things to Do Before You Fall Asleep in the Lord.”

That would also apply to a desire to go to seminary, or to become ordained. During my catechesis period, our spiritual father, Fr. Alexander Atty, flat out said to us: “You have to be Orthodox at least 5 years.” Even then, many people wait even longer for that, if they go at all. 

Even in a time of clergy shortages, growing mission parishes, and a constant need for ordination, I would like to argue that there should be a stronger push for people to also embrace the lay roles within a faith community, and also embrace their present world as part of their journey in the Church.

Why do I say this, as a person who themselves has had a lot of dreams, thoughts and frustrations about not being able to go to seminary, or to become ordained? When I first joined the Church at 24, it was hard not to think about it. Meeting all of these new priests, fresh out of seminary, serving our little mission parish and having such wisdom: what a joy! What a beautiful thing to be able to be a part of! What a chance to take this thirst of knowledge and bring it out into the world. As a young adult convert, it’s tempting to jump into everything head-first, like Scrooge McDuck diving into his money bin on DuckTales. Doing so makes it hard not to see the world of our “past” as deficient, especially because a common sentiment for Orthodox is “Why did I not see this sooner?” And we want to radically transform ourselves just like that.

But, yet, at the same time, it is easy to make it about our path. Our plan. Or even our idea of God’s plan. At that point, we’re confusing ourselves, and probably everyone else around us. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his theological classic The Cost of Discipleship, discusses this pull as, in many ways, cheapening the power of God’s true calling. Bonhoeffer states that a man “wants to follow, but feels obliged to insist on his own terms. Discipleship to him is a possibility which can only be realized when certain conditions have been fulfilled. This is to reduce discipleship to the ·level of the human understanding. First you must do this and then you must do that. There is a right time for everything. The disciple places himself at the Master’s disposal, but at the same time retains the right to dictate his own terms. But then discipleship is no longer discipleship, but a programme of our own to be arranged to suit ourselves, and to be judged in accordance with the standards of a rational ethic.”

Those discussions, however, are not just for the seminary coffeehouse session, or the Facebook discussion page. 

We need that fervor, and that level of passion, in the rest of the Church. 

Our generation, yes, will need to have priests, deacons and the like. However, we are also the next generation of ushers, bell-ringers, prosphora bakers, camp counselors, church hall janitors and candle wax scrapers. Most of us will need to be involved in counting the offering, licking bake sale envelopes for mailing out, bringing food to sick parishioners, and making sure everyday tasks, like changing out filters and light bulbs, get done. These roles are frequently done by aging populations of the parish, and often with no succession plan in sight. 

In his book Everywhere Present, Fr. Stephen discusses how modern society sees things “…as though the universe were a two-story house: We live here on earth, the first floor, where things are simply things and everything operates according to normal, natural laws, while God lives in heaven, upstairs, and is largely removed from the story in which we live. To affect anything here, God must interrupt the laws of nature and perform a miracle.”

With this in mind, we want to place God, and the pursuit of a holy vocation like the priesthood, upstairs, and place our everyday jobs and tasks at the bottom. But this causes a lot of issues, as Fr. Stephen points out:

In this divided universe, prayer is problematic.  Why do we pray, and are our prayers heard? To pray about things in the secular world–the world of the first floor–is to ask God to intervene in the nature of things, to set aside the very laws of the universe.  It is sometimes said on a popular level that a prayer ‘didn’t get beyond the ceiling.’ That may indeed be a legitimate concern in a universe constructed with two stories.

A lot of us will have jobs outside of being clergy. We need more accountants, line cooks and welders who are as on fire for God as a first-year M.Div. at St. Tikhon’s. And what we have to remember is that all of these roles are incredibly important; our ways of making a living are all on the same story. We all have a place with God, and when we enter into the Orthodox Church, that does not mean that we have to relinquish everything that we once were. Because, as Fr. Stephen notes in his writing, “there is no place where God is not,” the journey to Orthodoxy always remains part of the destination story, because God has been a part of that journey from the beginning. 

Of course we will always need people to go to seminary, in hopes of being ordained. That will never go away. And for some, that calling is strong, ever present and worth the sacrifice. However, not being called to do so does not relegate a person to a second-rate life as a lay person. Friends of mine have brought people to the church through their jobs, including farming, auto repair and optometry. Doing what they do best, and with a Christlike heart, has been their form of ministry. Very few of them, if any, have any formal theological training. Instead, they have demonstrated lived theology through a commitment to their faith community. That sort of role not only builds connections between everyday people, but it also breaks down the notion that a full devotion to Orthodox life is not just for the clergy, but is a call to all of us to pursue.

So if you’re wondering what to do, remember that you don’t have to walk away from everything. You don’t have to quit your job because it’s a “secular job.” You don’t have to go to seminary. You don’t have to jump into extensive marathon readings of the Church Fathers. As Bonhoeffer points out, doing so can be very contradictory to what we are called to do: “Obedience to the call of Jesus never lies within our own power. If, for instance, we give away all our possessions, that act is not in itself the obedience he demands. In fact such a step might be the precise opposite of obedience to Jesus, for we might then be choosing a way of life for ourselves, some Christian ideal, or some ideal of Franciscan poverty. Indeed in the very act of giving away his goods a man can give allegiance to himself and to an ideal and not to the command of Jesus. He is not set free from his own self but still more enslaved to himself.”

Keep going as you are. Go slow. But don’t stop going. We have our concept of time, but God has his, and His sense of time and knowledge will always surpass ours. The only way to know is not to think it out, and to not have it all ready like a course enrollment plan at a college. According to The Cost of Discipleship, “…there is only one answer. You can only know and think about it by actually doing it. You can only learn what obedience is by obeying. It is no use asking questions; for it is only through obedience that you come to learn the truth.” 

In Orthodoxy, the truth exists through crossing out that which is not part of the picture. Like our theology, our vocation is apophatic- we do what we do by shelving that which we don’t. 

With that in mind, we can work to reshape the narrative for people who join the church, feel the spirit and love of God, and want to serve to the best of their ability. 

#BlogInstead 1: Dig Deeper

The 2010s started, and ended, in very different ways, but the one consistent thing was that Jen and I were together through the entire decade. We started off 2010 as a couple who had only been together for about six weeks, yet decided to get married a little over a week into the decade. We just ended 2019 as a homeowning, dual-career family of four. And so much changed in the course of just a few months of 2019, especially when we trusted a close friend to become our realtor, and to help us get out of renting. Both of us had been renting in some form for almost two decades, and it was time to move on to something better. It was time to be courageous enough to say “Okay, we are here, and here we shall stay.” There was a lot of anxiety that went into that. What if something fell through? What if we had struggles and it was difficult? What if there would be letdown and disappointment? 

But what if there wasn’t? What if the decision to have a sense of faith, and to move forward regardless, was the right thing to do? Before, when we were still both in graduate school, we did a lot of things on a hope and a prayer. Marry. Have children. Move for new opportunities. Try new things. Make ourselves vulnerable to the possibility that things might not work out. At least not the way we expected them to.

So we decided to try, on faith, to try to find a house. And for four months, we dealt with a barrage of paperwork, unexpected costs, and phone calls, not only for one house that we looked at buying, but also for the second house that, upon the first house falling through, would become our new home. Homebuying became something that connected Jen and I towards the pursuit of something bigger. It reminded me of planning our wedding, preparing for our first child, and making our first of several relocations. It connected us, scared us and excited us all at the same time. 

It’s hard to say yes to some place, especially when a place also causes struggle. 2019, professionally, was a tough year for me, not in terms of success, but definitely in terms of feeling a loss of greater purpose for my work. I spent a lot of the year questioning my worth as a museum educator. But in looking for a new house, and in looking for ways to better connect our family with the community in which we live, I found a stronger sense of drive and devotion in working to be more community-rooted. I started working more in the schools, on the ground with teachers, and thinking of ways in which I could make a positive impact. Trying to find a home for my family would ultimately help me try to find a home for my own life and work. It was not about seeking better things elsewhere, but instead about trying to deepen existing roots, in order to carry more water and be better connected to the ground. 

Quite often, I have asked myself whether or not I might be better off branching off my skills into something that’s more obviously impactful. Social justice work. Human services. Ministry. It’s always been about trying to be useful and purposeful. 

However, every time that I have done that, I have ultimately stayed put, and dug deeper, and gotten better at what I do as a result.

Books of a Metanoia Bum: 8 Major Reads from 2019

Over the course of 2019, I have been fortunate to finish at least sixty books, beating a Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 48. Last year, I read far more, but because I focused on a number, I failed to remember a lot of what I was reading.

This year, I worked to read a larger variety of books, adding more graphic novels to the bookshelf, as well as challenging myself to read at least one book every few weeks from the new arrivals shelf at our local library. What resulted was more poetry, more books on nature, and more risktaking with fiction. In addition, I found myself reading far more books on applied theology, rather than trying to dive into things like patristics and church history.

In the end, I chose eight books to highlight from this year. Some were released in 2019, while I just happened to read others this year. They are not in any particular order.

1. Of Such Is the Kingdom: A Practical Theology of Disability by Summer Kinard

Being the parent of a child with a chronic medical condition, this book is highly useful for any parent who is trying to navigate caregiving, prayer and how to create a more inclusive parish life for individuals with unique needs. It’s important in the fact that it takes on some of the common misconceptions about individuals with disabilities, and how they have created a pervasive barrier to Christlike inclusion in the Church.

2. Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit into the Early Church by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

One of the most important things that I learned from reading Phoebe’s book is how everyday actions, such as hospitality, are a shining example of applied theology. From singing hymns to saying arrow prayers, Phoebe’s book provides a valuable list of ways to put Orthodox theology into practice, even in times of deep struggle and sorrow (as was the case in the story of the 21 Coptic martyrs, which is a featured topic of discussion in the book).

3. Invited: The Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness by Leslie Verner

Recommended by Phoebe Farag Mikhail on her Being in Community blog, Leslie Verner’s book is a must-read for anyone who is struggling to see the value of staying put in a world of constant motion. It is a solid companion book to Putting Joy into Practice, as the practices that come out of each text are very complementary and have a common connection in the form of being a constant and diligent source of hospitality and grace towards others.

4. Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business by Danny Meyer

This book, written by Shake Shack founder and Union Square Hospitality Group CEO Danny Meyer, taught me quite a lot about how an abundance mindset, and a desire to build transformational relationships with customers, rather than transactional interactions, can result in a very strong community, whether in the form of customers, workers or fellow restauranters. As a former line cook who now works with visitors and field trip attendees, among others, I found Meyer’s description of the restaurant culture easy to connect with my own.

5. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

I’d heard about On Writing for several years, and how it became one of King’s most critically-acclaimed works. Curious, I finally sat down this year and read it, discovering that it is well worth the hype. The opportunity to dive in and understand another person’s creative process, and in a way that is neither romanticized nor fully disparaged, is relieving.

6. The Farmer’s Son: Calving Season on a Family Farm by John Connell

Many city-to-farm memoirs have an air of naivete about them. This is not one of those books; it is an emotional, difficult read about a son, his return to the family farm, and the struggles that rise from doing so.

7. The Lightest Object in the Universe by Kimi Eisele

Kimi Eisele’s first novel is a beautiful work about how people strive to connect to one another in a time of global chaos, depression and destruction. It highlights how a return to basic things, small groups and tight-knit spaces could ultimately help us overcome such chaos.

8. Walking Humbly: The Holiness of the Poor by Roberto Ubertino

A collections of theological thoughts and stories from St. John the Compassionate Mission in Toronto, Walking Humbly, like Putting Joy into Practice, has a common theme of finding Christ at the table- not just the table of the poor, but the table of our fellow brothers and sisters in struggle.

As I wrote this list out, I began to see a major pattern in the theme of the books I was writing: a search for hospitality and community amongst a world of chaos. In Kimi Eisele’s book, the chaos is fictional, yet in Walking Humbly, it’s very real for many of the people who visit the Mission. Phoebe Farag Mikhail and Danny Meyer’s books both focus on offering things- like food- to others as a way to share one’s love and passion with others. On Writing and The Farmer’s Son lack romanticism, and go into painstaking detail about the struggle of the work process. Summer Kinard and Leslie Verner’s books both strive to eradicate isolation and build community in a world that often doesn’t have it.

The theme of “hospitality and community amongst a world of chaos” was not something I arranged my Goodreads Reading Challenge around, but rather something that naturally came after months of reading, exploring new texts, and taking a chance on new things.

This coming year, I have elected to try making a to-read list ahead of time, in order to remind myself to follow through with books I’ve had on my list for some time. So, for 2020, you may see bits and pieces from the following books:

The Fellowship of the Ring by Tolkien (in progress)
The Song of the Sirin by Nicholas Kotar
The Refuge by St. Ignatius Brianchaninov
Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor
A Time for Everything by Karl Ove Knausgaard
The Aviators by Eugene Vodolazkin
Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith
How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price
Love by Hanna Ørstavik
The 21 by Martin Mosebach
Elder Joseph the Hesychast by Elder Ephraim of Arizona

Happy reading and a blessed New Year!

Nic

Every Tuesday Level Up: A Review of Xenia the Warm-Hearted

Over the last few years, Grace Brooks’ Everyday Tuesday Club series has expanded from its first volume Queen Abigail the Wise, to include four volumes, most of which are focused on one of the members of the “ETC.” Over time, the characters have grown, evolved, and are now in their teenage years. As they have done so, the topics that the books have tackled have also increased in their intensity; they have gone from one girl’s quest to beat a game to discussing bigger young adult issues, such as loss of faith, standing up for one’s beliefs, and trying to find a place in a confused and intense world. 

The fourth book in the series, the recently released Xenia the Warm-Hearted, takes the idea of trying to find a place in such a world, and takes it to a new level of intensity. In this book, Xenia works to figure out something bigger for herself than being a video game-loving, logically-minded teenager. In struggling to empathize with others and be aware of people around her, she finds herself flung into a world she never expects: one in which the people she once befriended at school are shown for who they really are, and people are not exactly what they seem- in a bad way. Nevertheless, it is a world where a strong community of friends and family, and a strong faith life, play a huge role in shaping Xenia’s understanding of the world around her- and thus making an impact on others. 

When the book was released, author Grace Brooks adamantly advised parents that the topics of the book were not for younger children (unlike Queen Abigail the Wise, which is an accessible read for those under ten). Xenia the Warm-Hearted is definitely an Orthodox YA novel that may require some parental discretion and discussion. There are conflicts between the teenage characters that are unflinching, not only because of their realistic nature, but also because they reveal the humanity of both protagonists and antagonists. There are characters with such self-centeredness that their thoughts lead them to horrific crimes.  There are situations that are, to simply put it, really difficult for any reader to think about- even an adult reader. But it is important to note that these are issues that do affect teenagers, and Grace Brooks’ decision to include them in the story is both commendable and authentic. The book is not glitter and rainbows; it is dirt, tears and prayers.

Xenia the Warm-Hearted is better for that, however. The book is gripping, to say the least, and there are parts where the reader’s heart sinks for what is going on. That being said, there is much wisdom within, as well as between, those parts of the story. Its authenticity, theological lessons and relevant situations will grip teenagers’ imaginations, as well as that of adults. 

Sketches of a Metanoia Bum, #3: loiter and linger

I was gifted a copy of Leslie Verner’s book Invited: The Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness from a giveaway done by Phoebe Farag Mikhail. It was wildly timely, as I read the book during a time where we were not only working on finding our first house as a family, but also when my wife was herself actively looking for jobs in our area.

As we hit the point of having lived in this city longer than any other place outside of our hometowns, Leslie’s book only resonates more and more as I read it over and over again. With that in mind, here is this week’s zine, titled loiter and linger. Please download, share with your friends, and take from it what you need!