Becoming Hinged

just me, peering through a glass darkly

Fatherhood & faithfulness


I’ve not always been the best father. Often I fail. But I can see most of my failures plainly because I know good fatherhood when I see it. And when I see it, it makes me want to aspire to it. I see it in my God, who teaches me how to love. I see it in my own father whose steadfastness cannot be too greatly praised. I see it in the lives of friends and acquaintances who are examples of good fathers to their children.

When I was a younger man, a stupider man, I could have never imagined the joys that children bring.  I did not know that climbing trees like I was ten again could bring great happiness. I did not anticipate the pride I felt when my oldest began beating me regularly at basketball. Or when my youngest son picked up the guitar I had never quite taken the time to learn. Or the pure, inexplicable energy of my daughter, as she bounds across the room to tell me what happened in school that day.

Somewhere along the way, I wised up. I see fathers who never do, and it makes my soul ache. And it makes me grateful. So very grateful that somehow my eyes were opened, and I saw. Maybe it was maturation, but I doubt it. I believe it was the growth of seeds long planted – seeds planted by my own father, by good preaching and teaching, and in seeing contrasts between what I should be and what I could be.

Gazing into the eyes of food


The doe’s green eyes reflected in our flashlights, as she stared at us approaching. It had already been a long night. It would be longer. My hunting companion had shot the doe three hours before, and it was not a good shot. No vital organs hit – a gut shot.

We had tracked the doe, many times close to giving up, but there was a need to find her. For a hunter, losing an animal is a hard pill to swallow. Also, my thoughts were with the doe. She was injured and suffering. It was our responsibility to end the suffering. Many would question the need to hunt at all. “Can’t you simply go to the supermarket?” they might ask. Well, yes, I suppose I could. I could be as disconnected and unknowledgeable about my food’s sources as most Americans. I choose not to be.

I believe everyone who eats meat should hunt at least once. It’s not that I believe that hunting once would turn everyone into lifetime outdoorsmen (I want that – and don’t want that. I like my woods uncrowded). It is my belief, however, that hunters have the greatest opportunity to appreciate the realities of life, sustenance, and death. Unfortunately, even many hunters don’t see hunting this way, and may go their whole lives blind to such insights.

As the doe stared at us, and us at her, I could see her suffering. It was unfortunate that the shot had been off target. It is the hunter’s responsibility to go into the woods prepared. Hours of practice with your bow. Gun’s scope dialed-in. All the preparation you can possibly perform in order to make the quickest and most ethical of kills. And yet, it does not always happen as it should. And here we were, faced with only one choice. Another shot.

Death, even for a hunter, is often far more than an arm’s length away. The shot is made, the animal runs off, and after tracking you come upon the lifeless form. But the doe defied these norms, and we were forced to look into her eyes and make the decision to end her life more quickly. It was up to me. I had my bow nearby. Thankfully, I was able to end her suffering. And gratefully we began the process of removing her from the woods.

Many people eat meat. And many people are far removed from the process of its procurement. It is profound. Or it should be profound. Taking the life of another being for our sustenance should not be done lightly or callously. It is, however, part of who we are. We are part of this world – a world that is “red in tooth and claw”, and we owe our existence today to ancestors that were part of nature in a much more intimate way than we are today. To divorce ourselves from nature, to in some way set ourselves apart from it, is to do a disservice to ourselves. It is an act of willful forgetfulness – unhealthy and unnatural.

The river runs into the sea


In the past two years I’ve taken up kayaking. Most of my trips have been in the local creeks and rivers here in South Mississippi. I really don’t know why it took me so long.

I grew up on the bluffs overlooking the Leaf River. I spent many days camping on the sandbars, learning to swim, catching catfish, and exploring the deep woods along its banks. Invariably, when playing with friends, we’d end up at the river. And if we could get in a swim without getting in trouble with our parents, we did.

There’s something about the river that draws me. I think of the water as it flows, eventually emptying in the Gulf of Mexico. Part of me wants to accompany the water and see the path to the sea for myself. I think of the drops of water themselves. What roads have they taken to become part of the river at that very moment? Had they been in this river before? Would they ever return?

I think about the Native Americans that lived along these same bluffs before being driven away. We often find remnants of their lives – pieces of a past so foreign and yet so present. Did Choctaw boys find their way to the white sand and think similar thoughts? Did they wish to wander the wet strand to see where it ended? I’m sure of it, and the river connects me with them.

How many fathers have stood along my river’s banks and skipped rocks with their children? And will my children share these moments with my grandchildren? These thoughts and others are with the river as it flows into the sea, cutting its well-worn path through time and trees.

Spiritual Combat (part 1)

I’ve come to know that a serious Christian should be prepared to engage in combat. Of course, this is not a new idea – even for me. I have often read the passages of St. Paul that exhort Christians to put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:13-17). And in praying the Psalms during the Liturgy of the Hours, often I am reminded that we have an enemy and the battle is hot around us – whether we see it or not.

There was a time when I thought spiritual combat was relegated to the realm of angels and demons, as they fought invisibly for the souls of men. Frank E Peretti described this world for me, and it was frightening. The truth of spiritual combat, however, is not that spirits are arrayed against one another for my soul, even as I write these words – but that the most dangerous enemy to my soul is the one typing these words.

As a young man, I would see people who lived steady spiritual lives and envy them. My relationship with God was anything but steady. I would read the Bible and pray, but I’d often fall into what we’d call “the dessert”, experiencing the “spiritual rollercoaster”.  When I became Catholic, I felt that I finally had some practical direction in my spiritual race. For some, I’m sure, simply telling them to gird themselves and run the race is enough. I seem to need a little more information. How do I put on the armor of God? What does it mean to gird myself with truth? Why do I always war against myself, and how do I win the battle?

In Catholicism, I have been given great gifts. Firstly, in the sacraments, God’s grace is richly distributed. His very life is offered, and I merely have to “taste and see the Lord is good.” I have spiritual medicine for my soul. Power for action. But along with the sacraments, there is a rich history of literature directing us in the spiritual life. Great works like The Imitation of Christ, Introduction to the Devout Life, and Interior Castle, are well-known throughout the world and have directed countless souls in the trenches of spiritual combat.

I would like to introduce whoever may read this post to another writer of spiritual direction: Lorenzo Scupoli, the author of The Spiritual Combat. When I was making my way into the Catholic Church by way of Eastern Orthodoxy, I bought a book named Unseen Warfare. The book was wonderful, but I discovered that the book was an “easternized” version of Scupoli’s work. I remembered this when I came into the Catholic Church and promptly found a copy of Scupoli’s original work.

The first topic that Scupoli approaches is “What does Christian perfection mean? And how do we get there?” Of course, many Christians may go their whole lives and not worry about Christian perfection at all. But those with ears to hear cannot forget the words, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).” Like any good teacher, Scupoli begins with what Christian perfection is not. It is not in long prayers, much bodily privation, or attending church every time the doors are open. Christian perfection, according to Scupoli

consists in nothing else but the knowledge of the Divine Goodness and Greatness, of our own nothingness, and proneness to all evil; in the love of God and the hatred of self; in entire subjection not only to God Himself, but for the love of Him, to all creatures; in giving up our own will, and in completely resigning ourselves to the Divine Pleasure; moreover, in willing and doing all this with no other wish or aim than the glory and honour of God, the fulfilment of His Will because it is His Will, and because He deserves to be served and loved.

I would like to take a few posts to unpack Scupoli’s work and hopefully apply it to my own life, as I grapple with my most deadly of enemies: me.

Hiatus over . . . still working at it

To say it’s been a while would be an understatement. Seven years. I’ve kept the page up for a few reasons – one of which is that the posts on my conversion and “Why Not Orthodoxy” get eyeballs every once in a while. I figured that if they could aid someone in their own journey of faith, then all the better.

I have no idea if I can write anything of worth, but I’ve been thinking lately that I have something to say. If nothing else, I will be writing for myself.  The name of this blog expresses clearly to me the state of my life. Slowly and, hopefully, surely, I am becoming hinged – connected to God in the way that he intends for each of us. Looking back over these past seven years, I cannot say with all honesty that I’ve been steadily increasing in my relationship with God. However, I do feel that I have matured in my faith, and I hope to continue maturing.

Nine years ago this next April, I came into full communion with the Catholic Church. You can read my story on this blog. Many felt it was just a phase (one of many I had in my younger years). Some surely still pray that I come to my senses. I only pray that I go deeper as I answer that eternal call of Jesus, “Strike out into the deep!”

Worshiping Idols . . . not

If you’re Catholic, then you’ve been accused of being an idol worshiper.

One of those rare moments of pure clarity hit me while I was studying this issue some years back.  I looked at the Old Testament injunction against making images of God (specifically images of God – not other personages or creatures).  I believe this can be found in  Deuteronomy and it states: “Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure”

Since you saw no form . . . I’ll never forget when it hit me – Christ says, “When you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” He is called the Godhead in bodily form.  Christ himself overturned this injunction by His Incarnation.  It hit me like a ton of bricks and I’ve never been bothered by the feeling I’m worshiping an idol. Never.  It seems to me that those who think that icons or religious art somehow insult God perhaps haven’t meditated on the overwhelming topsyturviness of the Incarnation.

Book Recommendation: By What Authority? An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition

Here’s the Amazon link.

The author is Mark Shea, whom I find to be quite able at expressing complex ideas succinctly. I want to provide a brief excerpt, which, though long, perfectly sums up how I felt about the ancient Church after a similar study.

Modernism, as we recall, would have us believe that the Misunderstood Sage of Nazareth was both a profoundly wise rabbi and the dumbest cluck in human history. It proposes that a deeply spiritual man who saw through human souls like glass was incapable of noticing that his chosen disciples were people not even moderately competent at remembering a handful of his words and deeds. It also asserts that this devout Jew’s love of the one true God of Israel so inspired these witless witnesses with devotion to their Master that they ran off the instant he was dead to blaspheme all he held dear. Modernism asks us to swallow the notion that these paragons of stupidity remained as stupid as ever for the rest of their lives, yet nonetheless managed to construct a militant, well-organized, theologically-sophisticated community capable of disturbing the Roman peace within twenty years of its founding and noticeable enough to invite Neronian persecution within thirty years. This impressive church, says modernism, was set in motion by a Galilean enigma whose few garbled phrases the New Testament writers, in their intense devotion to his memory, cannot for the life of them remember or even paraphrase, much less understand.

But if it is preposterous to say the entire apostolic community could simultaneously be this stupid and this brilliant, this forgetful and this obsessed with tradition, this unimaginative and this capable of flamboyantly inflating a rabbi whom even they couldn’t remember into the Incarnate God of Israel, then how much more preposterous was my Pagan Creep theory? For it demanded I believe exactly the same thing of the apostles and their disciples. Indeed, it demanded that the apostles had to have been twelve times more grotesquely incompetent than the already fabulously incompetent Jesus of modernism. It meant believing that everywhere the apostles went they – all of them – appointed successors who perverted their teaching on a dozen subjects as badly as modernism said the apostles had perverted Christ’s. It meant that that for sixty years of blood, sweat, and toil, the apostles made thousands of disciples so stupid that they could not grasp the most elementary teachings of their faith. It meant believing that their churches – all of them in north, south, east and west – paganized Christianity (and paganized it everywhere in the same way) the instant the apostles died. It meant believing that these churches, together with their overseers who had been handpicked by the apostles, were constantly engaged in a schizophrenic campaign of deliberate pagan perversion of the Faith while simultaneously dying in droves for the purity of the Faith.

The book is short, well-written, and particularly excellent at expressing in clear language the thoughts and inclinations of many Evangelicals who find themselves drawn to the Catholic Church (or the Orthodox Church for that matter). Someone (I believe in the forward) said this was the spiritual sequel to Evangelical is Not Enough, by Thomas Howard. I credit that one book with breaking down several walls that existed between myself and ancient Christianity. After reading this book by Shea, I have to agree with the assessment. Highly recommended.

Evangelizing the World

I have preached on street corners. I’ve have preached in the middle of UNC-Charlotte with hundreds of students surrounding me. I have preached in pulpits and in Sunday School rooms. I’ve preached in the middle of the woods when no one was around to hear.

Yet so often, the words coming out of my mouth did not reflect what was held deeply in my heart. So often I said things which I knew, or at least felt, rested on shaky foundations. I’ve mentioned before about my experience preaching at UNC-Charlotte. I kept looking at the faces of those people who were confronting me with so many of the same questions I secretly held myself. I kept thinking, They’re going to know I don’t believe what I’m saying. I was sure my own deficiencies were apparent. I probably masked them by preaching louder.

Yet here I am. A year Catholic. Has it been a perfect year? Not by far. I’ve stumbled, and I’ve faltered. I’ve proved my own weaknesses more often than I would have liked. I’ve ran to the sacrament of reconciliation far more times than I would have anticipated. Yet I’ve run. I’ve stumbled, yes, but I have kept moving. And let me say emphatically . . . only by the graces of God. If it were not for the sacraments I would not be here today. The Eucharist has drawn me back when everything in me and around me was saying, Just give up. Reconciliation was there for me as I dejectedly walked into the confessional only to walk out again, feeling fresh and new and alive.

And it’s because of God’s strength, God’s graces in the sacraments, God’s word in the Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition of His Church – it’s because of these things that I truly, for the first time in my life, want to stand upon rooftops and proclaim His great love. I’ve had thoughts of going back to those streets, back to the college campus, back to those same pulpits and Sunday School rooms, only to proclaim that God’s plan for us is found in the graces given to His Church.

I hope a little bit of this desire comes through in my every day life. I’m sure that my weaknesses and the enemy’s efforts will, more often than not, cloud the reality that is this burning fire in my heart.

The Mercy of God

Today, the second Sunday of Easter, is Divine Mercy Sunday. I wanted to share with anyone who happens upon this my story of God’s Divine Mercy given to my family on this day.

On some Sundays my family goes to my parents’ home for Sunday dinner. Today was one of those days, and as we were finishing the meal and preparing to go home, my niece started a movie that I had been wanting to see: August Rush. Normally we would be quickly away, getting the boys either occupied or asleep – and if asleep, we’d all go in for a Sunday nap. My brother had just left for work, leaving his son there at my parents’ home as well, so all three boys (nephew + my two) were outside playing. My wife got up several times to check on them, and they were doing typical boy stuff – playing soldier, etc.

Just a few minutes after my wife’s last check on the boys, my oldest comes in and says, “Jakub (my nephew) is so silly. He’s got a rope around his neck playing outside.” To understand Jakub is to understand why my next reaction was out of sorts. He’s a rambunctious boy, old for his years (nine) and prone to just the kind of things that would normally make me say, “Tell him to get that rope off his neck, now!” . . . . That Jakub – always pushing the envelope. Yet, not this time.

I bolted. I ran for the door, turned the corner into the front yard and saw him. A rope was on his neck and he was suspended from a tree. The end of the rope was about two feet from the ground so some of his body was resting on the ground, but his upper body was not. He was so purple he almost looked black. I’ve never came as close to loosing my mind as I did at that moment. I ran, got the rope from around his neck and saw that he was not breathing. I thought he was dead. All this time I was shrieking for help, crying and praying in my mind for God’s help. My mother and wife came running outside and had similar reactions. By God’s grace, my wife (who is studying to be a nurse) gathered enough wits to set him on the ground and start administering CPR.

I ran inside, called 911 and ran to get a neighbor who is some sort of professional in the medical industry. By the time I got back to the house, he was breathing and was being cradled by my wife. He had experienced some sort of seizure-like activity (I was told) during the process to get him back. It was a frightening day. It was a day of Mercy. The medics arrived and determined he was one lucky little boy. He’s resting at home with his dad as I type this.

I just wanted to post this, on this day most especially. I appreciate any prayers you can offer up for him and for his dad and mother.

Being Faithful

For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m truly ‘becoming hinged.’ God has taken most of the questions and doubts in my life and either has answered them or provided peace in them. Those that still remain simply don’t come to mind at this time. I’m sure they’re there, lingering . . . waiting to be used by the enemy at the most opportune time in order to loosen the screws on the newly-hinged me. But that’s okay. That’s not now. Now is a time of learning. Of trusting. Of letting go and letting God.

Yet in this time of feeling like God really is sorting me out . . . I’m being pressed with an issue of faithfulness to God and His Church’s teachings.  I can almost literally see the fork in the road.  Either I can remain in this feeling of God’s protection – choosing obedience over convenience; or I can take the more traveled road and potentially lose all the progress in this journey.  Please pray for me.

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