Friday, July 31, 2009


The house of which we were half owners sold, after being on the market two years, and the closing took place last night. We got our asking price, too, although not of course the original asking price.

That's a good portion of the money we need for buying the flat in Ormskirk. Now we feel certain we can pull it off.

Meanwhile, my niece Maddy and I are having a lot of fun. We're off to the rock and mineral museum now.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

No Time for Blogging

I'm off to pick up my niece Madison, who will be spending a week with us (at least). Can't wait to have her! (She's barbaras's elder daughter, 13.)

Kitten is doing very well. Is only 3/4 to 1/2 the weight of her siblings, but still growing and going well at both ends now. Not only is she bigger, there's also more stuff between her skin and her ribs than there used to be.

In a week (or so) I'll trade Madison in for her younger sister, Elizabeth.

FUN, fun, fun!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bible Verse Quiz

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

I know, I know, the questions may seem to ask the perfectly obvious. Still, this verse is abused so much that it's worth looking at a little more closely. The quiz is simply a gimmick for doing that. Who knows, the answers just may surprise you, if only a little, so here’s a small multiple choice quiz.

1. In this verse, what do we earn if we are the employees of sin?

A. Eternal life
B. Death
C. Don’t know
D. All of the above
E. None of the above

2. In this verse, who is owed the payment of the wages?

A. God
B. Satan
C. The sinner
D. Don’t know
E. All of the above
F. Two of the above
G. None of the above

3. Who or what in this verse pays the wages?

A. God
B. Satan
C. The sinner
D. Sin
E. Don’t know
F. All of the above
G. None of the above

4. Who or what, in this verse, gives us eternal life?

A. God
B. Satan
C. The sinner
D. Sin
E. Don’t know
F. All of the above
G. None of the above

5. In this verse, what does one receive from God?

A. Eternal life
B. Death
C. Don’t know
D. All of the above
E. None of the above

6. According to this verse, eternal life is…

A. Earned by us
B. Earned by Jesus Christ
C. Unearned
D. All of the above
E. None of the above
F. Don’t know

Answers below.

1. (B) If we are the servants of sin, we earn death.

2. (C) Sinners are to receive the wages. It's sinners, not God, who are to be paid.

3. (D) The wages, in this verse, are paid by sin. But if you said (B) satan or (F) Two of the Above, that is still correct, it just isn’t in this particular verse. If you said God pays the wages, please re-read the verse, noting the contrast between what sin pays and God gives.

4. (A) God is the one who gives us the gift. From Him we receive not the wages, but the gift.

5. (A) Eternal Life (not death!) is what God gives. Death comes from sin, life comes from God.

6. (C) Unearned. Eternal life is the gift of God. A gift cannot be earned at all.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Kitten Update

She's three weeks old today, and doing pretty well. She's now eating 6-7 times a day and filling her stomach each time, so you can't ask her to do more than that, now, can you? She's putting on weight and looking and acting better.

Now if we could just get the back end to function as smoothly as the front end! This KMR (Kitten Milk Replacement) tends to constipate her; she has a hard time moving her bowel. I've been giving her stool softener for humans, but so far apparently in doses too small to be effective. Either that or it just doesn't work in cats. If this isn't corrected by tomorrow morning, I'll seek veterinary advice.

One nice thing about fostering a kitten instead of my usual squirrels, raccoons, oppossums, bats, birds, and bunnies is that you can "luv on 'em," as we say here. You can and should pet them and kiss them and play with them and cuddle them, whereas with wild animals, you don't do that, because to be releasable and survive in the wild, they have to fear humans. So I'm enjoying this little, warm, purry furball.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Ye Shall Know the Truth (Part 3 of 3)

If we say we know the Truth, does that not set up a rather ugly, unloving divide between we who know the Truth and they who don’t?

The first thing I want to say is, yes, there is some sort of a “we-they” set up whenever any party says he knows the Truth. That distinction, or even division, has always been there and always will be to the end of time, and maybe eternally, for all we know. There is always Jew and Gentile or Mormon and Gentile, Catholic and non-Catholic, Christian and non-Christian, Muslim or infidel, saved or unsaved. It’s unavoidable.

It's also biblical; as far back as Cain and Abel, God discriminates among people, distinguishing those who love Him and those who don’t. “If you will keep My commandments,” He tells the Israelites repeatedly, “I will be your God and you shall be My people.” (Exodus 6:7, Leviticus 26:12, Jeremiah 7:23, 11:4, 30:22, Ezekiel 36:28) Christ says that one day He will divide the sheep from the goats, will separate the wheat from the chaff.

There’s always a we and they, because the dividing line between Truth and Falsehood, that is, between love and self-serving, is always sharp. Moreover, to blur it would already be to serve falsehood. To blur it for the sake of "unity" or "brotherhood" would be an oxymoron, since the Truth IS unity and brotherhood.

There's always a we and a they, but the thing to notice is what kind of a we-they it is in Christianity.

Christianity, looking back at the Old Testament through the eyes of Christian revelation, does not view Israel as simply “the Chosen People.” Instead, as St. Paul points out in Galatians 3:8, Christianity holds that Israel was chosen for a specific purpose and mission (and honor, yes): to bring forth the Messiah, the Christ, the Light of the World, for the sake of the whole world, not merely for the sake of the Jews. God repeatedly said to Abraham, “In thee shall all nations be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3, 18:18, 22:18, 26:4, 28:14)

St. Paul writing to the Christians in Gentile Ephesus (in today’s Turkey) explains how this has come true:

Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh--who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands-- that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:11-18)

The dividing line between Jew and Gentile had been the Law, the Commandments, which the Jews obeyed (or were supposed to) and the Gentiles didn't. Now Christ has removed the Commandments as the division, setting God’s relationship with mankind on a new (yet not new at all!), universal footing: faith. Now the Temple worship of the Jews has been superceded by the sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross, for everyone, not just Jews.

To the Galatians, the Apostle writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then are you Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (3:28-29) and to the Colossians, “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond [nor] free: but Christ [is] all, and in all.” (3:11)

In fact, the Christian hope is that in Christ, all things, including nature itself, will be revealed as gathered up and reconciled in Christ.

Well, sure, you say, all the divisions are considered healed within the Christian fold, but there's still "them" outside it.

St. Paul reminds us frequently (for example, in Ephesians 2 and Colossians 3) that we have all been there, done that. Moreover, we still sin, the same as any unbeliever. These two considerations alone should be enough to shut our mouths whenever we feel any impulse to judge anyone. But there’s more. There’s more because to refrain from judging others is only one facet of loving others, and to love everyone and everything is the Christian vocation. “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8)

Fr. Gregory (Hogg) has a quote on his blog from Dovstoyevsky that expresses the Christian’s calling marvelously. Here is a snippet from it, but do treat yourself to the whole:

Love all God's creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love. Love the animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble it, don't harass them, don't deprive them of their happiness, don't work against God's intent. Man, do not pride yourself on superiority to the animals; they are without sin, and you, with your greatness, defile the earth by your appearance on it, and leave the traces of your foulness after you- alas, it is true of almost every one of us!... My brother asked the birds to forgive him; that sounds senseless, but it is right; for all is like an ocean, all is flowing and blending; a touch in one place sets up movement at the other end of the earth. It may be senseless to beg forgiveness of the birds, but birds would be happier at your side- a little happier, anyway- and children and all animals, if you were nobler than you are now.

St. Isaac the Syrian says, in one of his most famous passages:

The heart that is inflamed in this way embraces the entire creation – man, birds, animals and even demons. At the recollection of them, and at the sight of them, such a man’s eyes fill with tears that arise from the great compassion which presses on his heart. The heart grows tender and cannot endure to hear of or look upon any injury or even the smallest suffering inflicted upon anything in creation. For this reason such a man prays increasingly with tears even for irrational animals and for the enemies of truth and for all who harm it, that they may be guarded and be forgiven. The compassion which pours out from his heart without measure, like God’s, extends even to reptiles.

This is the love of Christ; and it is all-embracing; nothing can separate us from it, not, “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword, neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing.” (Romans 8:35, 38-39)

This is Christ’s love, and it reaches across all divisions. It’s only when we fail to live that love that we set up a “we” and a “they”. In truth, as Solzhenitsyn said, the line between good and evil is not between “us” and “them”, but runs right through every human heart.

P.S. The Orthodox do NOT believe that to be Orthodox is necessarily to be saved, or that not to be Orthodox is necessarily not to be saved.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ye Shall Know the Truth (Part 2 of 3)

Why is it that if anybody claims to know The Truth, that is, the Secret of the Universe, the Mystery of the Ages, this claim sounds both ludicrous and arrogant in modern ears?

Jesus promised that if we live His teachings, “then you are my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” (That’s a big “if” that usually is ignored when people quote the rest of the verse.)

The Apostles were not ashamed when they claimed to be preaching The Truth. St. Paul speaks of

“the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” (Colossians 1:26-28)

"Christ in you, the hope of glory." That is the Mystery, the Meaning of it All.

St. Paul also wrote:

We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
But as it is written:

"Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him."

But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. (I Cor. 2:7-12)

And St. John says, “For the law was given by Moses, [but] grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)

The Apostles knew that they knew The Truth, and were not bashful about saying so. Yet today it begins to seem downright arrogant in and of itself for any person to suppose he knows Truth; it allegedly exhibits an alarming degree of confidence in himself.

For Protestants and liberal Catholics (who’ve given up belief in the infallibility of the pope), this would indeed be true, since it's by their own efforts they arrive at their convictions. They get out their Bibles, together with whatever other writings they consider relevant, and figure out what they believe. They check it against their creeds or confessions to see if those creeds or confessions match their own convictions, or if not, whether these creeds, confessions, or arguments can persuade them to change their convictions.

In that context, yes, to say one has found The Truth is tantamount to claiming to be smarter than others, and/or holier, and/or (as in the case of the pope) specially privileged. And yes, any of these positions does smack of arrogance.

An Orthodox Christian, however, does not assume he can know anything by his own effort alone, or that he is competent to interpret the Scriptures or is worthy to judge anything. He consults his brothers and sisters, especially his spiritual father and those in whom the Life of Christ is most manifest, the saints (including, via their writings, those who have already gone to their rest). No one person in the Church knows everything there is to know of Christ, but there are always some among us who know the answer for which we are searching.

If an Orthodox Christian has trouble accepting any teaching, he assumes that his sin-clouded reason is at fault, not the teaching of the Church. He keeps searching for enlightenment. He knows from experience that God will show him the answer in due course, and the answer will satisfy his whole being, spirit, soul, mind and heart. He knows the answer will bring peace, release, joy, and an infusion of new life. He knows he will come to understand where he had gone wrong, and why. He keeps praying, reading the Scriptures and other writings, and keeps asking those who are holier than himself until this happens, until the revelation given the whole Church from the beginning is revealed also to him. Truth is more revealed than discovered.

If an Orthodox Christian seems to hear God speaking to him in his heart during prayer, he does not assume it really is God. He considers that he is unworthy to receive direct revelation from God. Therefore, the "revelation" is more likely to be from the devil, who can masquerade as an angel of light. Even if it came from God, the Orthodox Christian considers it likely he may have misinterpreted it in his sin-scarred mind. Thus, instead of saying, "Jesus told me…", he runs to his spiritual father, confesses what has happened, and seeks guidance.

In short, for the Orthodox Christian, his confession of The Truth is not arrogance, but the simple acknowledgment of a miracle: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has the light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)

For the Orthodox Christian, his confidence is precisely not in himself.

Or if it is, or if we are proud in any other way, then, Orthodox or not, we have not yet found the Truth, either.

P.S.) I’m not sure how this ties in with the above, but somehow Fr. Stephen’s recent post does. Here’s a snippet from it to whet your appetite; please go read the whole thing.

…the existence of the Orthodox Church stands as a stark witness to the True and Living God - not the idea of a God – but God. In my own conversion, I was utterly shocked by this fact. I had read about Orthodoxy for years. I agreed with it for years. I would have even readily agreed for years to everything the Orthodox Church said of itself, and yet I remained outside. When, at last, my family and I were actually received into the Church, I was staggered by the reality of God. I know that sounds strange (since I had been an ordained Anglican priest for 18 years prior to that) but such was the case. There was no longer any question about discussing God, or refining the tradition, or even debating how all of it was to be applied. I was now in the thick of things and God was raining down in canon, text, Bishop, sacrament, penance, sight, sound, rubrics (which I could not begin to fathom at first) – everything!

Thus, I surprised friends constantly in my first year or so of Orthodoxy when they asked me what was the most important thing about my conversion. My constant reply (to this day) was: the existence of God.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ye Shall Know the Truth (Part 1 of 3)

In C.S. Lewis’ wonderful little book, The Great Divorce, residents of hell are allowed to take a trip to the outer fringes of heaven. There, each of them meets one of the redeemed, who tries to persuade the visitor to become a resident of heaven. Most of them, though, have other agendas more important to them. They aren’t willing to let go of their varying pieces of hell.

One of these visitors is an apostate Anglican bishop. His issue is that he is unwilling to face Truth. In fact, he is unwilling to accept that there even is any such thing as Truth. But even if there is, he is much more interested in perpetually looking for it than in actually finding it. Talking to an old friend of his named Dick about the prospect of acknowledging Truth, he says, “Well, really, you know, I am not aware of a thirst for some ready-made truth which puts an end to intellectual activity in the way you seem to be describing. Will it leave me the free play of mind, Dick? I must insist on that, you know.”

Dick replies, “You have gone far wrong. Thirst was made for water; inquiry, for truth. What you now call the free play of inquiry has neither more nor less to do with the ends for which intelligence was given you than masturbation has to do with marriage.”

In the end, the bishop goes back to hell, where he has a discussion group for the sharing of ideas. He would rather tickle his intellect than face up to Reality.

Our postmodern world is like that. Too many people believe, as an absolute truth, that there is no such thing as absolute truth. The assertion that there is comes across to them as laughable, and the claim to know Truth, as sheer arrogance. It seems to them far humbler, far more realistic, to be forever on a quest, or a journey. In this worldview, we are all on the path toward whatever truths we can discover or create for ourselves, but the path never arrives at “The Truth.” A phrase of St. Paul’s comes to mind: “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).

For the Christian, The Truth = Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ = The Truth (John 14:6). He is God’s own enfleshed Intellect (Logos), the embodied Wisdom of God, the Dayspring from on high Who has visited us (Luke 1:78).

Christ has come and has revealed Himself, the Incarnate Truth, to the whole world. He healed the sick, cured the lame, made the blind to see, ruled the sea, rose from the grave, and appeared to hundreds of people alive and glorified. And then He poured down upon the world the Spirit of Truth, by Whom He still leads us into all Truth.

For us to deny that there is Truth and that we have encountered that Truth is to deny Christ, as Peter did. To deny that there is Truth would also require us to deny the Holy Spirit. For anyone who has met Christ or been led by the Holy Spirit to deny Truth is, in turn, to deny our conscience, to deny our deepest awareness of ourselves, to deny the ultimate meaning of our lives, to tear apart the fabric of our own being, to destroy ourselves. It is impossible.

But isn’t it pretty arrogant to say, “We know the Truth”?

And doesn’t that assertion set up a rather ugly, unloving “we-they” dichotomy, as in we who know the truth and ye who do not?

I hope to explore each of those questions in later posts.

"Grace, with Strings Attached"

"Oruaseht", contributor to a discussion group of which I'm a member, observes that in his tradition, infants, Alzheimer's patients and people with Down's Syndrome can be baptized but are not allowed to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord in Holy Communion. He writes:

...Our Lutheran practice of making reason/rationality a requirement for grace really knocks the bottom out of sola gratia. It's sola gratia IF you have the necessary mental cognition. Grace with strings attached.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Obama, Half a Year Later

When I endorsed the candidacy of then Senator Obama last year, I said I'd be the first to speak up if he were a disappointment.

Well, he is. 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Someone Has Been Praying for Kitty

...and this is to let you know, whoever you are, that your prayers are having a good effect. THANK YOU!

Kitty has taken three voracious meals today. Yes, I know, only three is too few at her tender age, but it's her call, not mine. And it's better than nothing, which is what she had been taking. Tomorrow perhaps she'll feel better, thus eat more often. I'll try.

Her diarrhea has also cleared up. She now has normal stools and that's terribly important.

She purrs as she drinks her formula.

She has a white tummy, white chin, white paws. The rest of her is gray-striped, except for the patch in the middle of her forehead, which is champagne colored. Pink eye rims, dark spot on nose.

UPDATE (Wednesday): Kitty is now taking big meals every 3 hours, drinking eagerly. Her problem appears to have been a blocked intestine, which has since corrected itself. Now she drinks eagerly.

At least, I'm hoping that's all the problem and that nothing else will show up later.

The Aunt We Never Knew

At Dad's funeral, his brother dropped the bombshell that they'd had two other siblings who died shortly after birth (as in, Grandma came home from the hospital without them). Today I received this, which he sent me.

So my Aunt's name was Margaret. No middle name, just Margaret Jones.

I shall try to find out more about her, not that there's much to find out, as apparently she only lived a couple of days. Still, I'd like to know whatever there is to know. When did she die, and of what? And where is she buried? I'd like to put a flower on her grave, if she has one.

Now if I can also discover the identity of the other sibling...

UPDATE: My mother says Grandma had two stillborn children, of which Margaret was one, and she came to believe, later in life when these things became known, that it was due to the Rh factor. Her blood type was negative.

Monday, July 20, 2009

From Meow to Mew

Sweet Molly Malone and Portia have found a better, more permanent home, and we are pet-less.

But not without a critter to care for.

My friend Chris, who took the cats, put a tiny kitten into my care for the next couple of weeks. She's about 9 days old, the runt of the litter, and needs a little extra attention as she sometimes refuses to suck on the bottle.

She's not a particularly good-looking cat, but she already snuggles and she already purrs, so I suppose those are the two main ingredients in a companion cat.

She has two siblings, to whom she will be returned when (and if) she stabilizes.

I'm glad to have this soft, warm, purring thing to try to keep alive. The effort itself will be good for me, regardless of the outcome. Nice consolation prize.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Mission and Identity - a Conflict? Really?

I came across this in Ad Orientem, but John over there got it from Eirenikon, and the original is from the blog of a Traditional Anglican priest, whose group is seeking communion with Rome.

The Christian world has been torn between relevance to the world and its specific identity…

This is a problem that is intrinsic to Christianity. If a religion is to expand and assume a missionary vision, then it must be prepared to compromise its identity and inculturate. Western Catholicism is a missionary religion and addresses itself to the world. Eastern Orthodoxy, like Judaism, is a vast “monastery” and keeps its identity by keeping the infidel out and at arm’s length. The latter vision is coherent if it considers, like Jansenism and Calvinism, that the majority of humanity is nothing more than “hell fodder”.

The Orthodox, like the Roman Catholic traditionalists (especially the sedevacantists) have come to this [a negative stance toward ecumenism] out of an instinct for survival. We traditional Anglicans also to an extent, because we can only survive by our difference from secular humanism. When you look at the historical pattern, we can begin to understand. All this is to say that I understand those Greeks who have had enough of relativism and liberalism. But, where is the love and charity or the will to share the Gospel with the world as Jesus asked of his Apostles?


This alleged conflict must belong to someone else. For Orthodox Christians, there simply is no conflict between maintaining the Church’s identity (Christ) and missionary endeavor (Christ’s work).

For us, the word “catholic" asserts that Christ and His worship and, yes, His way of life are relevant to and appropriate for all men in all places and in all times, “For All Sorts and Conditions of Men”. Christ should form and inform a culture; He is not to be formed by it.

Nor do we keep the infidel out; plenty of us are unfaithful daily and hourly, and not a few, constantly, willfully, and egregiously. We have the wheat and the tares all flourishing among us. The Church is right where an infidel belongs; it is a hospital to treat our infidelity. I wouldn't presume to know for sure, but many Church buildings might perhaps be empty if purged of all infidels.

What we do keep out is false doctrine. We are not syncretists. Syncretism is not love; keeping pure the saving doctrine is.

Where’s the love? The missionary work has been slack for a while, unfortunately, for numerous serious reasons, including severe persecutions (Communism), but not from lack of love. Come see; among the Orthodox you will find love such as you never found before, nor ever can find anywhere else.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Mairs Has Got me Thinking...

...and I think I was just plain wrong in the opening sentences of the post before this one. I wrote:

God did not create the world, as some say He did, in order to have for Himself some outlet for His creativity. How do we know? Because that would be a self-serving reason to create, and in Christianity, God is not self-serving; He is the opposite. God is love. Neither did God create the world in order to have some form of self-expression. That, too, would be self-seeking.

But in God, self-expression and loving are all the same thing!

And in people, self-expression can be a wonderful, beautiful thing as well. Whether you are expressing yourself on paper, on canvas, in sculpture, in dance, in music or words, your self-expression can be a spiritual or a carnal thing. It depends on which self you are expressing, on whether you are expressing your spirit, which is to say the Image of God in you, the Light that illumines everyone who comes into the world - or whether you are merely indulging your passions.

The former, IMO, is Art, and it's something sacred, or very nearly so.

The latter is trash.

The point I was unsuccessfully trying to make is that God doesn't do things to glorify Himself or to indulge any passions. He has no passions and does have the plenitude of glory already. Everything He does is for Love.

Sincere apologies to all artists!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Is Jesus Our Umbrella?

God did not create the world, as some say He did, in order to have for Himself some outlet for His creativity. How do we know? Because that would be a self-serving reason to create, and in Christianity, God is not self-serving; He is the opposite. God is love. Neither did God create the world in order to have some form of self-expression. That, too, would be self-seeking. Again the Christian teaching has it the other way around: God expresses Himself, says such things as, “Let there be light,” in order to create the world. He gives being to the world, to you and me, because He loves us, and already loved us before He brought us from non-being into being.

The situation concerning God’s Law is similar. That is, He doesn’t command this or that because it is some perfect expression of Himself. (The perfect expression of Himself is Jesus Christ.) God doesn’t even set forth His precepts because the perfect law is an imperfect expression of Himself. It is that, but His reason for giving us the law is something different, something the very opposite of self-serving. His reason, as always, is love. He reveals to us His principles because they are good for us, because without their guidance (and even with them) we fall headlong into behaviors that tend to ruin our lives and our societies and our civilizations. He gives us His commandments, in other words, for the same reason He created us, for the same reason He does anything in relation to us: because He loves us.

This means that when we violate God’s commandments, we do no harm to God! It’s not as though the commandments existed for His sake. They, like the Sabbath, exist for our sake, and when we sin, we harm ourselves and our fellow man and our world.

This is why God is not literally angry with us: His honor has not suffered, His glory remains intact. You and I are simply far too small to have any effect upon the high and holy God. He knew before He created us everything we would do, yet still loved us, still gave us life, and still became Man and died for us, “while we were yet sinners.”

Yes, God chastises (corrects) whom He loves. And yes, we may be working at cross-purposes with God, and if so, we shall eventually find Him on the winning side, which means we are the big losers unless we've switched sides. But that isn’t because God is angry with us. It's because He is putting a stop to the harm we are inflicting on ourselves and others and the creation. He’s doing an intervention. He foils the plots of the crafty and brings to nothing the plans of the wicked.

There is no such thing as a God who is literally angry with us, but this doesn’t mean there is no such thing as Divine Wrath. There is, but it is directed at our enemies for our sake, instead of at us for His sake. Our God does nothing from self-interest. Rather, God's wrath is directed against our greed and sloth and lust and pride and so forth, the things that prevent us from becoming fully human, the things that drag us down to a level below the animals. God’s Wrath is exercised on our behalf against all the things that destroy us as bearers of His own Image. (Of course, if God were to destroy my pride, it might indeed feel as though God were against me, but in reality, He would have liberated me.)

And the exercise of God’s Wrath involves not punishment (which is totally useless!) but correction. He is not pleased when sins are avenged, but when they cease. God exercises His Wrath by destroying evil, displacing it and replacing with the corresponding good. Thus, when He reveals Himself to us and teaches us His ways, He is indulging His fury against ignorance. When He leads us in the paths of lovingkindness, He is pouring out His anger against hatred. When He rises from the tomb, He is displaying His Wrath against death. And so forth.

Now all of this is only a prelude to what I really want to say. The point I’m getting at is that there is this idea in non-Orthodox theologizing that Jesus Christ shields us from God’s Wrath. The truth, of course, is that in Christianity, Christ is God. Thus, if He shields you, so does God the Father and so does the Holy Spirit. Or if God the Father were angry with you, so would God the Son be, and so would Jesus Christ, the Man, whose will is always conformed to His Father’s.

Jesus Christ is indeed our Shield, our Umbrella. But what we all need protection from is not God’s Wrath, but the devil’s. He is the angry one, the furious, the envious one, the one from whom we need rescuing.

God and the devil are NEVER on the same side.

And they don't switch sides or from time to time swap roles, either.

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, "He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust."

Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the perilous pestilence.
He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.
(from Psalm 91)
Always remember that our God is “holy, harmless, undefiled”. (Hebrews 7:26)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Our Only Judge

There is an interesting idea floating around in the non-Orthodox theological world that mankind has been judged and condemned to death by the law of God.

But that is simply not the authentic Christian teaching.

In Christianity, our Judge is not “the law”; it is a Person. A Person is the only qualified judge, and specifically, the God Who knows from experience what being human is like. Listen to the words of Jesus, from St. John’s Gospel, Chapter 5:

22 For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, 23 that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. 24 "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. 25 Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, 27 and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth--those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. 30 I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.

And here are some words from the Epistle to the Hebrews (4:14-16) concerning the all-Compassionate One Who sits on the Throne of Grace:

14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Only He, Who knows our frailty, Who has been tempted just as we have been, is appointed our Judge as well as High Priest. He, Jesus Christ, and not some impersonal Law, shall judge us. And interestingly enough, this Judge has, as it were, a severe "conflict of interests," as He is also our "defense attorney". (1 John 2:1)

Furthermore, the kind of judgment that issues forth either in eternal blessedness or in eternal woe is reserved until the end of the world, when Christ "shall come again", as the Creed says, “in glory, to judge the living and the dead.”

So do not be worried, do not be frightened, by those who say you stand condemned to death by the law. Ask them to show you where in the law this provision is written. (It isn’t. Even if it were, God in Christ has made a New Covenant with mankind, and it, not the law-based Old Covenant, is the operative one.)

St. Paul specifically tells us the thing to be scared of is not the Law, which is righteous and holy and good, given for our benefit.

Has then what is good [the law] become death to me? God forbid! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful [by being revealed as something that violates God’s will]. (Romans 7:13)

Be frightened of sin. Sin really does kill us. But do not be frightened of God, nor of His Law. God is your all-good Friend and Lover, “holy, harmless, undefiled”. (Hebrews 7:26) Flee to Him. Come boldly to the throne of grace.

Yuck and More Yuck

Thursday, July 9, 2009

If you ever get a chance to land in Dulles International Airport, Washington, from another country, don’t. You’ll be herded through a half-mile long corridor to a gigantic room containing up to a thousand people. You’ll move through the cordoned lanes, zig-zag style, for an hour or so to reach the official who will look at your passport, ask you where you’ve been and why, and then stamp your passport.

Next you’ll go to the baggage claim to retrieve your suitcases. You’ll re-check the ones you want checked and take the others to be x-rayed – again, because of course they were already x-rayed before you boarded the plane and they haven’t been anywhere since then except right here in the customs area. They call this security, but it’s only the illusion of it. It’s just another layer of bureaucracy to make things appear more secure. (At Heathrow, they check your passport 5 times, which likewise doesn’t serve to make anything any more secure than if they had checked it only, say, twice.)

We had an interesting cab driver from the airport home, from the Sudan. Did you know there’s uranium in Darfur? Along with a plenitude of other valuable natural resources? And of course the big powers want it. That’s why the rebels there are so well-armed.

* * *

We came home to disaster. Our two adult cats are twice the size they were when we left them, obese butterballs. They greeted us on the stairs, although they were supposed to have been kept shut in one room. Their litter box had not been changed frequently enough, so they had found somewhere else to use as a latrine: the master bed. It’s a king-sized bed, and the yard-wide stain, not made all in one go or even two or three, had soaked through the sheets and mattress cover and well into the mattress. The mattress had been knocked out of alignment. The odor will never come out. I had to throw away everything, even the pillows, everything except the top blanket, one I had crocheted myself, which, curiously, was not stained, although everything under it was. The other two blankets weren't stained in that spot, either. They had different stains in different places.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the loveseat in the living room has been scratched until the stuffing is hanging out – and urinated upon, in one corner, in a most uncatlike fashion, as if some dog had been there and had repeatedly lifted his leg against it.

Someone also closed the refrigerator. You never close a refrigerator that isn’t plugged in; it will grow mold if you do.

More Yuck
Friday, July 10, 2009

When we go away for an extended time, our car insurance company puts our cars in “storage” status, which means they only charge us a nominal fee for that time. So the first thing we had to do upon arrival home was to call them and have them reinstate the insurance coverage so we could drive. (The telephone shouldn’t have been working, either, but was, due to an error on the company’s part, so at least we didn’t have to reconnect that, or the computer.)

Next, we had to call the Department of Motor Vehicles and have them reinstate our cars’ registrations, which have to be de-activated for the insurance company to put your car in storage status.

Then, Demetrios had to drive me to the DMV to have my driver’s license renewed. You may recall that my purse was stolen in Greece; my driver’s license was in it.

Demetrios’ car, meanwhile, had become overdue for an inspection. But before it would pass inspection, it needed a new windshield. Yes, we knew about the crack in the windshield before we left. So we had the glass replaced, then took the car in for inspection.

By the end of the day, we were driving legally. The next thing was to go to the grocery store and get a few things to put in our now cleaned-out refrigerator. And after that, we stopped by the post office to pick up three months’ worth of mail.

Oh, and we called the trash collection service and reinstated that, as well.

Charles, our favorite builder, and his construction crew were supposed to have finished our back porch-deck while we were away, but didn’t. We don’t yet know why.

The television didn’t work, although we forgot to have it shut off while we were gone. The technician came out and found our cable had been cut.

I finally went to the neighbors, rather tearfully, to inquire what had happened with the cats. I didn’t get any answers, really, but what good would answers do anyway? It isn’t going to happen again because we are going to find a no-kill shelter for the cats; we can’t even bear to look at them because of the odor in the house and the cat hair all over. My neighbor, C., was very apologetic, and when told about the ruined mattress, said, “Take ours!”

No, no, no. I didn’t come to take anything. What do I want with their old mattress, anyway?

“It isn’t an old mattress; it’s less than a year old, and we hate it. It has a pillow top and most people think it’s extremely comfortable, but we like very hard mattresses, and we can’t sleep on it. We want to put twin beds in that room anyway, and the only reason we haven’t is, we don’t know what to do with the mattress! Come upstairs and let me show you.”

It is indeed a deluxe mattress, and finally I said, “You know what? I will take it, if you truly don’t want it.”

So that’s arranged. That does make things feel a little better. I hugged her on my way out the door.

I haven’t even time to phone any of my relatives and tell them we’re home. Acute frustration!

At least we made it through the whole day without napping. We had to. Our “To Do” list is still long.

No, it isn’t yet good to be back. When I see my family, especially my children and grandchildren, that’s when it will be good. Wendy is coming this way this weekend, staying with Tisho (her daughter) and Stuart, and bringing her daughter Halley and grandson Jacob with her. We'll meet at Mom's house. It will be good to see all of them, too.

Wendy and I are goint o carry on the tradition we've had all our adult lives called, "Three Sisters Night," when she and Barbara and I would stay awake all night (or, nowadays, as much of it as we can!) pouring our hearts out to one another.

Wendy laughed. "Three Sisters Night? We're short one!"

No, we're not.

We had supper with Nick and Sharyn and that also helped. What wonderful people!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wrapping it Up

Tuesday, July 6, 2009

There isn’t much more to tell you about our stay in England. We spent the weekend resting, after going hard all week long.

Monday we went straight to the solicitor. He wanted to know if the words caveat emptor meant anything to us. Anyway, he is undertaking to do the caveating for these emptors.

We went around to the surveyor he recommended. The surveyor does the home inspection and appraisal, or valuation, as they call it here. He will have his report for us by next week, with a copy to the solicitor.

We spent the rest of the day in Ormskirk. We were able to see the flat one more time, and spent a long time talking with the extremely likeable lady who was selling it. She has typed us up a list of local businesses she recommends, from plumbers to grocery stores. She has left us a pile of instruction leaflets for various things in the house, such as the heating system, clothes washer, etc.

After our appointment with Claudia, we went to see if we could find Len, husband of the deceased Olive. We did find him, at the same address as years before.

“Do you know me?” asked Demetrios, standing at the front gate.

“Well, let’s see. You must be from the hospital; most of ‘em are. But you aren’t the German one… You must be … “

“I’m Doctor Theo!”

“Well, I never! Come in, come in! Sit right there; that’s the chair you sat in before, isn’t it now?”

An hour of reminiscing followed, all about the old times. Whatever became of so-and-so and do you remember this, do you remember that? Len did, but I’m quite sure that when we had left, poor Len asked himself, “Who on earth were those people?”

Demetrios says he never sat in that chair before, because he had never been to the house before.

Today, Tuesday, we took the train to London, by a much simpler route than we had come, and have checked in at another Premier Inn very near Heathrow airport. Our flight leaves at noon tomorrow.

We can still hardly believe all that has happened during this so-short stay.

We’ve Done It!

Friday, July 3, 2009

We wrestled late into the night and over breakfast with yesterday’s question: why here, instead of anywhere else in the world?

Because it is Demetrios’ lifelong dream. Because it will give us a chance to learn another culture. Because northern England will be a cool place for escaping the heat of the summer. Because the Pound is going to rise, in the long run, against the Dollar, making this purchase a good investment. Because this is a good base from which to get to Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Because we already know the language (approximately). Because my dreams of all the other exotic other places were based upon childish fantasy.

The Ormskirk dollhouse won out over the ocean-front flat in Southport, after much agonizing. Ormskirk, after all, was The Dream, not Southport. And the absence of an elevator in the Southport flat would mean climbing two very long flights of stairs with heavy luggage, every time we arrived. We would have to lug groceries and everything else up those stairs, and go up and down them several times a day. And who knows how long before we may be unable to do stairs at all? Old age is around the corner. Putting in a Stairmaster is not feasible, for several reasons, including that the stairs are curved and that they are communal property; they would not be ours to do with as we please.

Besides, the flat in Ormskirk is furnished, ready to move into. The flat on the Promenade is empty and would need new carpeting, probably. And decorating. And it only has one bedroom.

Our plan for the day (yes, we made one!) was to go to Ormskirk and try to discover what sort of a life we might have there. Our first stop was the Civic Center. They had very little information for us (except that they have Tea Dances on Saturday afternoons) and directed us to the Council offices, the equivalent of the county offices in America, I think.

There we were handed a fistful of brochures all about Council services and various activities and things to do. We decided to have a look at them later, over tea. For now, we borrowed a telephone book and began looking up names of Old Friends. We found three before we grew tired and left. That's an excellent start.

Ormskirk is a college town, as it turns out, and there is plenty to do. There are ample opportunities to meet people and make new friends.

The more we read, the more encouraged we felt.

We asked the cashier in a café if she knew anything about buying real estate in Ormskirk. She said she did; she had bought a place herself, recently. So is it customary here for people to ask a lot more than they are expecting? In the States, one usually offers about $2,000 less, or at least it used to be that way, before this depression. Yes, she said, you must offer dramatically less! “For example, if the asking price is 170,000 pounds, you must offer 150,000. It’s a buyer’s market.” And then, after a moment, she added, with a little gleam in her eye, “I’ll do yer negotiatin’ fer ya!”

I wish she would!

At four o’clock, we finally ventured into office of the estate agents, and with fear and trembling, told Kathleen we were ready to make an offer. It was substantially lower than the asking price.

We expected Kathleen to do what a U.S. realtor would do, whip out a standard contract form, write in dates and amounts, have us sign it and attach a check for a deposit. Nope, it doesn’t work that way here. Kathleen got on the phone, told the vendor what we were offering, and she accepted immediately (thereby letting us know the offer had still been high).

Don’t we have to sign anything? No. Kathleen just printed us out a letter confirming that our offer had been accepted. The house is still on the market until the “exchange of contracts,” which appears to be the equivalent of what Americans call the closing. Meanwhile, we must appoint a solicitor (lawyer) and Kathleen could recommend one. She wrote down his name and address for us, and commented that she would be going away on holiday tomorrow.

And where was Kathleen going for her holiday? To Greece! To our own part of Greece, yet! Demetrios wrote down Christos’ telephone number, in case she needed any help while there. His English is adequate.

We walked out of there dancing and in a sort of daze. “I can’t believe it!” is what we kept saying to each other. It’s perfect! It’s even furnished; who could have imagined? It’s more than the dream come true, because we didn’t dream we’d find anything this nice.

We’ve actually bought a flat in Ormskirk! Well, technically we haven’t yet because we aren’t legally obligated until the very end of the process, but the process is underway! God willing and the Pound don’t rise (too much), we’re going to own a flat in Ormskirk, Lancashire!

I said I supposed we’d best learn how to pronounce it. Demetrios says its "LANK-a-shire" and I say it's "LANK-a-sheer". We asked Jacqui, the receptionist, and she wasn’t sure. She actually lives in Merseyside, she said. We've noticed, too, that many people just say (and write), "Lancs."

The meteorologist on the television finally settled the debate for us. It’s
"LANK-ush-uh" and the town is "OHMZ-kuk".

Monday, July 13, 2009

OOPS, We Found Another Flat!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Now what?

We spent the morning until mid-afternoon walking around to half a dozen properties for viewings; I’m sure we walked at least five miles, as we have every day since we got here. Demetrios is becoming very tanned. I’m just turning red and freckly.

But look what we found! It’s right on the Promenade, which is to say, overlooking Marine Lake and the ocean. And its view is not only unobstructed, but also cannot be obstructed sometime in the future, because there’s nowhere to build between the flat and the ocean.

View Larger Map

It's old-fashioned, with big windows and high ceilings.

It’s very bright and airy and very spacious, even if it is only one bedroom. There’s a separate breakfast nook, as we’d call it, but a dining room here. The bathroom is modern and is sunken; i.e., four steps lower than the rest of the apartment. (?) There’s a balcony, too, overlooking the water. And it’s all on the 3rd floor (second as Europeans count), so the view is marvelous. There’s even a fireplace, gas-fired, I think, as is the heat.

It's even within our price range!

The only problem is, there’s no lift (elevator) in the building.

So now we are in a quandary. Which will win out, the romantic or the practical?

Catharsis (Or, Buyer's Remorse, in Advance)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Over supper, Demetrios told me stories of his days in Ormskirk. There were nurses who tried to bully young doctors. There was Marjorie, whose office he shared. In the course of an argument with him, she said, “This is my office, and I can throw you out, you know.”

Demetrios just looked at her and said, “Try.”

There was the time a patient came in with an injury he said was from pole vaulting, and Demetrios had no idea what a pole was, or what jumping with one meant. So Sister Cavanaugh tried to explain, and when she couldn’t make him understand, she showed him. She grabbed a pole used to open and close the shutters (too high to be reached) and jumped right over the operating table!

There was Dr. Burgess (of whom I’ve heard, in reverent tones, for years and years) who, speaking slowly and distinctly, once asked Demetrios, “And how did you learn your perfect English? Do_you_follow?”

“But because of the guest worker laws in England,” Demetrios told me, “I couldn’t stay in Ormskirk more than six months. So I asked Dr. Sanderson for some advice. He said, ‘Well, Demetrios, bring me a list of the job openings and we’ll look it over and see what will be best for you.’ So I did, and he told me the job in Walton would be the best. So I went there for six months, then back to Ormskirk for another six, and then I had to leave. And it really broke my heart.”

He had fled Greece, to escape his family, who he perceived as hating him and not wanting him. So when he came to Ormskirk, he made the hospital his new home, and its staff his new family. And then he had to leave them.

“Why did your mother and brother treat you so badly?” I asked.

“Well, with my brother, it’s easier to explain. It was jealousy.”

“But why? He was always your mother’s favorite, the one she doted on because he was always sickly, the one who unfailingly got his way…”

“But I was the one people always praised.” Yup, rightly or wrongly, he was perceived as the good one, the smart one, the one with the beautiful voice, etc. And of course he was the healthy one, too. Okay, so Christos was jealous.

And that explained the mother, too. Christos always had his way. If he was jealous, then for his sake his mother also would mistreat Demetrios. It wasn’t the other way around, wasn’t Christos following her inexplicable example, as I had supposed.

“But you’ve been able to repair all that,” I said, after several long moments.

“Most of it, yes.”

“You were very, very good to your mother, above and beyond the call of duty. You are on good terms with Christos."


"And you do realize you can never get back the life you once had in Ormskirk…”

“I know. Most of the people won’t still be here. And the ones who are will have changed, and I have changed, and the whole culture has changed...”

So now the question arises: do we really want a flat in Ormskirk? And if so, why? Nostalgia is an insufficient reason for so big a decision.

Demetrios said, “I’ve even been wondering why not Italy or Spain?”

“Because Greece has pretty much all the advantages they have, plus Orthodoxy. And we don't speak Spanish or Italian, or know anybody in those countries.”

“I mean, we can go lots of places.”

“We could go to Tahiti!”

“What for?” he wondered, he being no fan of the tropics.

“Well, let’s see. Why is it I’ve always dreamed of going away somewhere and living with the natives in a grass hut? I think it’s the dream of escaping oppressive authority, of doing what you want when you want, of no paperwork, no bills, no responsibility…”

“And no telephone and no Internet.”

A cruel realization dawned upon me, shattering all those secret dreams of a lifetime: there’s no escaping authority. Or responsibility, either. Go to Fiji, go to the jungle, depart from civilization and go anywhere you like, you’ll still have responsibilities and you'll still be subject to authority. Even a primitive tribe has a headman, a chief, and he's going to be quite ignorant. You can only hope he may be kind and wise. “Because,” I said, “his word is law, and if he should suddenly decide you ought to be the main ingredient in tomorrow’s soup, well, then you’re in the soup. Period.” There’s no getting away from it; in this imperfect world, you are always going to be subject to someone else unless you subjugate them first. Go to some tiny, insignificant nation (Pulau, for example), and you will find it being bullied and/or manipulated by the larger, more powerful nations. There’s some point, after all, in what we have thought of as a chauvinistic song:

Rule, Brittania,
Brittania, rule the waves!
Britons never, never, never
shall be slaves!

Live and let live is an ideal that probably doesn’t exist anywhere. And trying to escape responsibility is as much a chimera as trying to recapture ones youth. In fact, that's exactly what it is! Vacations are for temporarily ducking responsibility; real life includes it.

In the middle of an island,
In the middle of the ocean,
You and I forever, darlin',
In a paradise for two!

That’s a song from my childhood that captured my imagination, but it makes less sense, actually, than “Rule, Brittania!” Life isn’t about two in isolation from the whole world. It’s about connectedness to everybody. And yes, it's about responsibility for everybody.

So the prospect of buying this flat has forced us both, today, to give up some cherished illusions and face some hard realities. And the question remains: why Ormskirk? Why any place instead of another? Do we really want to live HERE, of all other places in the world? And if so, why?

“Do you think it will heal some of the grief you’ve had in your heart all these years on account of having had to leave?” I asked.

He said he thought it would. Even knowing he could live here again helps.

“Well, then, that’s reason enough,” I said. “Just so you don’t forget that life here will not be a reprise of the life you had before.”

“No, of course I understand it will have to be a new life, maybe with some fragmentary elements of the old, but a different life.”

So the next question is, can we make a new, pleasant life here? (Sure, we can!)

The more immediate question is whether to cancel tomorrow’s appointments. We decided not to. Who knows? If we found this jewel so quickly, there just may be others waiting to surprise us. Even if not, viewing the other offerings will be good for purposes of comparison. Besides, we need a day or two to think, and how else should we spend those days?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

We Found It!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

We only had one appointment today. It was uninspiring. I asked Demetrios, “Well, what do you think so far?”

“Strangely enough,” he said, “I can’t get that little place in Ormskirk out of my mind. I like it because it’s secluded so I feel we could safely leave it unoccupied sometimes, and it’s cheerful looking and so pretty, with all the flowers.”

So off we went on the bus to Ormskirk, and into the office of Brighouse Wolff Estate Agents, who had listed the flat. Kathleen got on the phone and made us an appointment for the afternoon.

We had lunch in some pub and then went to see the old hospital where Demetrios had his first job as a physician. Most of the old buildings have been torn down and replaced, but the one where Demetrios lived is still there. He pointed to an upper window. “That was my room, where Dr. and Mrs. Coventry brought me. After I left Greece, they were the only people I had in all the world, and when they left, I flopped on the bed and cried hard for a long time. And here’s the Phillip ward, where I worked, and the Elizabeth ward, for women, right there next to it…”

After a while, we went to see the flat.

It’s a dollhouse! It’s all done up in blue and cream, with little flowered prints and decorated tiles. It’s bright and immaculate, perfectly kept up.

I think we were about halfway through when I turned and whispered to Demetrios, “I think I’m in love!” and he nodded.

There’s a monthly fee involved, but when we heard what it covers, we realized we’d have all those expenses in any case. It includes insurance, lawn and garden services, exterior painting and exterior window-washing (!), trash disposal, parking space, interior painting and carpeting of communal areas (entryways), servicing the elevator … so that seemed fine after all.

Then the lady said, “I don’t know if any of the furniture would interest you, but if you don’t take it, I shall have to have the Salvation Army come haul it away, now that Mum is in a rest home.”

Well, the furniture is half the charm of the place! It’s perfect, as if made for this flat. The vendor is willing to leave it all (except her laptop computer), including a radio/CD player, the duvets and pillows on the beds, an iron and ironing board, and a “hoover” (vacuum cleaner).

“It’s too bad I’ve just tidied away the crockery and cutlery,” said the lady, “or you could have had that, too.”

We tried to behave in a nonchalant manner, but were probably betrayed by how long we stayed. This house costs more than we can really spend, after all. Unless she will negotiate, or we can re-think.

But we came away elated. “It’s better than I thought we could find,” said Demetrios.

“And in Ormskirk, where you wanted to be!” I replied.

These pictures don’t do it justice, but here they are, such as they are…

First Impressions

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Having more or less given up on finding a flat in Ormskirk, we decided to try Southport today.

Well, we briefly entertained the idea of buying a canal boat instead. This part of England is laced with canals, which during the Industrial Revolution were the principle means of transporting goods to consumers. Nowadays they are for recreation, and some people live on them. Canal boats are narrow, sometimes called “narrowboats”, in order to pass each other in the canals, and are low, to fit under the bridges, and are long, presumably to make up for the tightness of the other two dimensions.

But it only took us a minute or two to reject the idea of living on a narrowboat. There’s too much to learn, starting with its maintenance and repair.

Instead, we walked to Lord Street and into the office of Entwistle Green, where we met Carolyn, a young lady with enormous blue eyes, very blonde hair, a sweet smile, and gracious professionalism. When she asked our price range, I told her, adding, “And that’s our problem.”

“No problem!” she said. “We have lots of properties in that range.”

She brought them up on her computer screen, and we went down the list, choosing 7 or 8 that piqued our interest. She suggested we come back in the afternoon, to give her time to set up appointments for viewings.

We agreed, and went back down Lord Street a way to a bookstore, where we bought a booklet of maps of the area. Armed with the map of Southport and the sheaf of papers about each property, we went to a café, ordered coffee and tea, and plotted the places on our new map.

Then we walked – and walked, and walked and walked! – to see the outsides of these flats. Not that Carolyn had requested this of us, but we had nothing better to do, and sometimes one can rule out a property just from seeing such things as what’s next to it, and whether the exterior has been well-kept, whether the gardens look tidy, and so forth.

Late in the afternoon, we went back to Entwistle Green, where Carolyn presented us a list of appointments, including the names of the people we were to meet.

Nothing more to do for today.

Meanwhile, here are a few first impressions of this area:

• First and foremost, we are still overwhelmed by the kindness of the people! We are actually glad of the difficulties we had, because without them, we might never have discovered this treasure. We value the human kindness far more than we regret the circumstances.

• Some things are better in England than in America. “Porridge,” for example, is better than “oatmeal” even though they are purportedly the same thing. Milk here seems creamier than whole milk in the U.S. And of course, the English have clotted cream!!!! (It’s made from unpasteurized milk, which is hard if not impossible to find in the United States.)

• The babies here are incredibly beautiful. Oddly enough, it does not appear that they grow up to be any more beautiful than anyone else (Christopher Orr being a notable exception) but as babies, they are the cutest! And as this is a holiday resort for young families, we’ve seen dozens of babies already.

• The accent here is delightful! Everybody sounds like the Beatles – well, in speech, at least. They call you “love” or “mate”.

• Things here are orderly and tidy.

• I’m going to have to learn a lot of vocabulary. For starters, “zed” instead of “zee” and “naught” instead of “zero”. Then of course there’s “trolley” instead of “cart” and “lorrie” instead of “truck” and “lift” instead of “elevator”. And then there’s the sign we saw: “Pedestrians beware of rising bollards.”



We had a delicious moment or two speculating upon what rising bollards might be. We came nowhere close.

A bollard is a barrier post. It’s usually one of a series of posts, put there to keep traffic out of an alley or pedestrian walkway. Well, some of the ones in downtown Southport are retractable in case an ambulance or fire engine needs to pass that way. They sink into the ground and a cover flap drops over the hole. After the emergency vehicle leaves, somebody presses a button and the bollards slowly rise up again out of the ground. You don’t want to be standing on one when this happens.

We learned this from some woman sitting on a park bench, of whom we enquired. She looked an ordinary woman, so we presume “bollard” is a word any ordinary Englishman knows. Here's a picture of a retracted bollard. (Only one needs to be retractable to let a vehicle through.)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

First Day in England: Getting Oriented

Monday, June 29

A full English breakfast! That was the first thing we thought about when we woke up. We’ve been eating bread and tea or coffee, with milk and juice, every morning for three months, and now the prospect awaited us of bacon and eggs, sausage, grilled tomatoes and sautéed mushrooms…such luxury!

Over my tea, I said to Demetrios, “Please don’t take this as a slam against the Greeks, but there’s something about England that makes one feel one has returned to civilization. Not that the Greeks are savages or barbarians or uncivilized, it’s just…”

“Well, you’re correct,” said Demetrios.

“So what makes it feel that way?”

“It’s the disorder of Greek life.”

Yes, that’s it. Or the way I’d put it is, Greeks improvise everything: their own personal lives, their society, their whole culture. With the conspicuous exception of their religion, they just make up everything as they go along. That’s why they never know what they’re going to do until they do it. That’s the great charm of Greek life, free and easy, no schedule, just wing it. That’s also my biggest frustration about Greece and Greeks. Having grown up in a military family, and an Anglo-Saxon one at that, I’m used to schedules, punctuality, and sticking to plan.

It was a bright, hot day, although the breeze was cool, so we set out by mid-morning to solve our monetary predicament.

That’s when we discovered our hotel was literally ocean-front. How delightful! Here’s a map of it; you can zoom in or out to see the rest of Southport. Better still, click on the link below the map to make it more interactive; then you can read the place marker lables. These placemarkers show out hotel, the pier, and MacDonald's.

View Southport, Merseyside, England in a larger map

(That's the beach, occupying the top left corner of the map.)

We crossed the Marine Bridge, over a lake filled with ducks and gulls and swans. One flock of ducks seemed to think the lone swan in their area was their mother; they all followed her wherever she went. So did three gulls, bobbing on the water, as if they thought they were ducks. Quite a family that swan had!

At the end of the bridge we came to an outdoor carousel that advertised itself as Built in the Reign of Queen Victoria.

Right behind it, in a large building, was Silcock’s Funland, a lot of kiddie rides indoors. (Silcock must be a millionaire, because there are also Silcock’s Amusements and Silcock’s Pleasureland and so forth.)

You pass a statue of Queen Victoria and a bath house advertising Turkish, Russian, and various other kinds of baths. And pretty soon you come to Lord Street, the town’s main street.

Southport is a pretty town, full of sometimes quaint and often impressive public buildings. There are shopping arcades, half-timbered buildings, numerous Victorian era buildings.

There is a marble war memorial in the middle of town, and opposite Sainsbury’s (grocery supermarket) is a mermaid fountain. The mermaid looks quintessentially English in a way we couldn’t explain. If you’ve ever wondered how mermaids reproduce, when the entire lower half of their body consists of a scaly tail, this fountain will set you straight. This mermaid’s fishiness doesn’t begin until just above mid-thigh.

Our first objective, however, was not sightseeing, but money, specifically, Pounds Sterling. We stopping in the first bank we saw, the HSBC Bank. It’s in a great hall with very high walls and an arched glass ceiling. The edges of the ceiling aren’t just glass, but stained glass. There are Corinthian columns with carved wood capitals. It’s truly magnificent.

Outside of HSBC Building

However, our credit cards wouldn’t work there, either.

Finally we found our own bank, Barclay's, just two or three doors down, into which Demetrios had previously deposited enough money to cover our expenses for this trip. We simply withdrew some, and our money problem was solved. We now know where we could come to get more cash, should we need it.

Now the purpose of this trip is specifically to see whether we’d like to live here and to look for a flat or apartment to buy. And the idea, for nostalgic reasons, was to find a place not here in Southport, but in Ormskirk. So the next thing we did was to catch the bus to Ormskirk.

Ormskirk is also a pretty place, more on the quaint side perhaps than Southport is. Southport is a tourist attraction, a seaside holiday resort, while Ormskirk is just a quiet little place tucked away in the countryside where tourists find little to draw them. It’s the kind of a village an illustrator might use as his model when drawing the pictures for a children’s storybook. There’s a clocktower in the center of town, and a church sporting both a spire (an Anglo-Saxon feature) and a square tower (a Norman feature). I think that probably makes it unique.

Ormskirk Clock Tower

Ormskirk Clock Tower on Market Day (Thursdays)

You can find the offices of four or five estate agents in the center of town without even knowing where to start. We walked into them one at a time and found nothing in our price range. Nothing as in zero, zip. One agent, with a contemptuous sniff, told us we’d have to check out nearby Skelmersdale to find anything that low. We took some literature anyway, on flats a little above our price range, on the theory we might be able to negotiate, as the housing situation in the UK is as stagnant as in the US.

Estate agents in the UK do not work the same way as real estate agents in America. In the first place, they almost never have multiple listing. That means for each property that interests you, you must go around to whichever agency has listed it. A dozen properties could mean six or seven different estate agents.

In the second place, the estate agents do not take you around to view the properties. All they do is make a telephone call to the vendor/seller and set up an appointment for you. This was a bit of a blow to us, as we have no car here and must go by foot or taxi. Cabs aren’t as cheap here as they are in Greece.

They also won’t even make the appointment, at least these agents wouldn’t, until you’d had a look at the outside first, which for us would mean two separate trips, on foot.

Nevertheless, we walked around to one of them, tucked away in a side street off of a side street, and we liked the looks of it very much. It had pretty gardens, well-maintained, and everything was tidy and in excellent repair. Too bad it was out of our price range.

We took a bus to neighboring Burscough to look at one that was in our range, but Netherby House was in poor repair and depressing.

In Greece, when looking for housing, the thing you want to avoid is disorderliness, a trashy look. Around here, what you want to avoid is grimness. Ormskirk isn’t grim, but many places are; they are relics of the Industrial Revolution and they bring Charles Dickens to mind.

We also visited the churchyard, where unfortunately, Demetrios located the first two of the friends he was seeking. Olive had died in 2002, and Elizabeth was buried nearby.

Exhausted but only slightly discouraged, we returned to Southport for supper.

After supper, we walked out onto the beach. It's huge; you can't even get to the water when the tide is out. Well, unless you want to walk more than a mile over sand, then over deep mud, through weedy places, and finally to a bit of water just over your ankles. It's not a good place to swim.

It's perfect, however, for teenagers learning to drive. We met one of them, and his father, Alan.

Please pray for Alan and his wife, Tracy, because they have recently lost a son and the mother is attending a spiritualist "church" on Sundays, deriving comfort from the alleged contact the medium there makes with her deceased son.

Our conversation with Alan lasted half an hour.

The tide was out and the sun was setting, but behind clouds so we couldn’t actually see it. But the walk over the wet sand was refreshing to the feet. So we walked through the twilight, holding hands, collecting shells, and because it was the Irish Sea we were standing on the edge of, we sang, ”Sweet Molly Malone.”

Back at the hotel, Jacqui the receptionist told us those were cuttlefish shells and gave us a small plastic bag to keep them in, as souvenirs.

I’m going to write her manager and tell him what she did for us last night and how kind she continues to be.

Friday, July 10, 2009

How we Managed to Become Stranded in England

June 28, 2009

After church, we went to a favorite eatery to have bougatsa one more time before leaving Greece. Then we hurried home to do all those last-minute things that always seem to crop up no matter how carefully you think you have planned things. Manolis came over with a gift to us, a coffee-table book we will cherish. Christos came, too, to drive us to the airport.

At the airport we had lunch – fortunately, as you shall see.

The Greek woman sitting next to us in the plane had obviously never flown before. She didn’t know how to work the seatbelt; she had two matching ends, one of them mine. She also didn’t know what to do with the things left on her tray after the drinks had been served. She sat in the window seat, but as there wasn’t much to see most of the time, she spent most of her time with her head in her hands, eyes shut, as if frightened. We tried to be extra casual. I took out my crochet hook and a ball of yarn and began a scarf.

When we landed at Gatwick, it was just after 4:00 in the afternoon, their time, 6:00 our (Greek) time. We waited until almost everyone else was off the plane before we stood up, just because we dislike the crush and pushing. Our waiting was fortunate, because it turned out our fellow passenger needed a wheelchair, and someone sent for one of those shuttle vehicles to transport her, the kind you always hear beeping at you when you are in an airport concourse or terminal. The driver, from India, motioned us aboard his little train together with our fellow passenger. He not only took us where we needed to be, saving us from having to discover this information ourselves, he also gathered up our passports and took them to the customs official, and got us all through without our having to move from our seats. Then he brought us to baggage reclaim, to the correct carousel. He was so nice, meanwhile, that Demetrios gave him all the English money he had, one pound.

The first thing we did, after retrieving our bags, was go to the train ticket window. The man there took our credit card and issued the tickets and handed us a long list of connections we had to make to get to our destination, the little village of Ormskirk, Lancashire. I think, counting the underground trains, there were 6 all together. We could leave in an hour, he said. Well, actually, if we hurried, we might catch the train about to leave now.

We hurried and we made it. The price of our haste, which we ignored, was of course that we now had no English money at all. (No, England is not on the Euro, despite being an EU nation. It retains the Pound Sterling.) We also didn’t have a chance to relieve our full bladders or our empty stomachs. Never mind, I said, the main thing for now was to get where we were going, and we’d worry about the rest later. Wrong!

We had a grand tour of London – from below! We never saw a thing above ground. Gatwick Express to Victoria Station, another subway train to Euston Station, then to the town of Crewe, then to Liverpool’s Lime Street Station, where we finally had a chance, before catching the next two trains, to find a toilet. Unfortunately, it cost 30 pence to get into the lavatories, and we didn’t have it.

Time to get some money. Quick, find an ATM. Ah, there it is. Read instructions, insert credit card. Request rejected. Try again. Rejected again. Try another card. Still no go. Try another. No.

Try mine. Oops. My purse; where’s my purse? I left it on the train! I can’t believe this! First I had a purse stolen in Greece, which fortunately did not have my passport in it, and now I’ve lost this one, which does! I ran to the train, still at the platform. I tried the doors; they were locked. I pounded on the doors, I cried out in panicky desperation: “Help! Let me in!”

A uniformed man approached me. “My purse is on that train!” I shouted toward him. “My passport is in that purse, and the PURSE IS INSIDE THE TRAIN!”

“No, it is not,” he replied.

I stared at him blankly, dumbly.

He switched on his walkie-talkie and spoke into it: “The lady has showed up. I’m bringing her now.”

Yes, the authorities had already completed their walk-through of the train, which had reached the end of its line, and my purse was waiting for me in their office a few yards away. All I had to do was sign the receipt. I nearly cried. And I am still in awe of this British efficiency! We thanked them again and again.

This escapade, however, had cost us time, so now we had to rush to catch the next connection, the one to Liverpool’s Central Station, and the one after that, to little Ormskirk.

For Demetrios, that last leg, especially, was a sentimental journey. “When I first came here, fresh out of medical school,” he said, “I took this same route, this same sequence of trains.” He had a more or less running commentary on all the little places we passed, and where we stopped.

It was after 10:00, local time, when we finally disembarked in Ormskirk. We had left Greece 12 hours before.

Fortunately, there were half a dozen taxis waiting. “This way!” I said to Demetrios.

We had gone about three steps when we remembered we hadn’t a single cent of English money with which to pay a cabbie. Or a hotel. Or a restaurant.

Oh, well, perhaps the hotel was in walking distance; most of Ormskirk is, if you’re in shape. We pretty much are, a fact I blame mostly upon Sylvia. And maybe the hotel would accept our credit cards, just maybe, even though the machines in Liverpool wouldn’t. We must enquire of the cab drivers.

“The Beaufort Hotel?” one asked. “That old place closed down a month ago. Just overnight, without telling anybody. And they had weddings booked, and conferences and all.”

I remembered, with sinking heart, trying for the past day or so to telephone them to reconfirm our reservations, and getting a recording. But I had put that down to the difficulties of making any international call from Greece.

Now we were penniless in a foreign country, late on a Sunday night, our stomachs growling and our bladders screaming at us, and with nowhere to go, no hotel; and not only had we no money, but no way of getting any, either, before morning.

The cab driver conferred with one of his “mates.” The others gathered around, curious to see what would become of the stranded Americans. “You want to be in the Prince Albert,” they all agreed. They called that hotel with a cell phone. No vacancies.

The cabbies called around for us to other places, even asking their friends if they knew a place. Finally they located the Premier Inn in the neighboring town of Southport. It had a vacancy for us.

In a neighboring town, right. No way to walk there at all, even if we didn't have three heavy suitcases.

“Ah’ll tayke ya,” one of them finally said. So he did, and the ride was about 15 or 20 minutes long.

“So now how can I pay you? What can I do?” asked Demetrios.

“Well, it’s 14 pounds,” said the man. “So if you have it in Euros that’ll be foine.” Demetrios gave him a 20-Euro note. “Keep it,” he said.

“Naw, look, I’ll give ya some choinge so you’ll have some pounds ta play with.” And he handed us five pounds.

Now, next problem: would the hotel accept our credit card?

“Your card doesn’t have the chip,” said the nice lady behind the counter. Credit cards in the UK all have some sort of a chip on them, without which they don’t work. That was “absolutely without doubt” why our cards had been rejected by the ATMs. However, she could try entering the information manually – yes! Success.

Now we had a room, with comfortable bed, television, and very importantly, a bathroom. With not just a shower, but also a large tub. We parked our luggage and went back to the lobby to tell the lady how pleased we were with our room.

And where should we eat, we asked?

She frowned. It was now after eleven o’clock and everything would be closed. It’s not like Greece, where things are just getting into full swing by 11:00.

Nevertheless, we hadn’t eaten in, by now, more than 14 hours, so hunger drove us to walk around outside to see what there was. Italian restaurants, Mexican, pub, all closed. But, across the parking lot, a MacDonalds! We walked over there. It was closed, too, but the drive-through was still open, hooray! We stopped in front of the menu board and discovered that with our precious five pounds, we could afford two Happy Meals. The advantage of a Happy Meal is that it comes with a drink, too. And a toy, of course.

Up to the drive-through window. I joked with the young man there, “May we walk through your drive-through?”

“No, afraid not. Can’t allow it.”

“Really? Are you serious?”

“Health and safety reasons.”

They don’t want us to be run over by a car? They are afraid we might have guns?

There was nothing to do but accept that we weren’t going to eat until breakfast tomorrow. Well, we said, walking back to our room, millions of people go to bed hungry. Tonight we’re going to join their ranks. So what? We can cope for one night with what they endure night after night.

But it was still a pathetic, helpless, terrible feeling, emotionally.

“Did you get something at MacDonalds?” asked a voice near us.

We turned and saw the receptionist, who by now was off duty and was walking toward her car to go home.

We said no, because they wouldn’t allow us to walk through the drive-through.

“Oh, that’s ridiculous!” she said. “Come, get in my car and I’ll drive you through. My name’s Jacqui, by the way.” She’s off duty, mind you, and alone, offering to take two strangers in her car, foreigners, at that.

We accepted, most gratefully. Jacqui ordered our Happy Meals for us and even held out her own money, but at least we didn’t have to take that. We used our own five pounds.

We are overwhelmed by the extraordinary kindness of people here. We said many prayers of thanks.

And a Happy Meal never tasted so good!