An Indecent Proposal

In 1993, a movie came out by the name of An Indecent Proposal. In it, a young couple who are struggling financially are propositioned by a very wealthy man who offers them $1,000,000 if they allow him to have one night with the wife. While the plot may seem pretty tame right now, at the time it garnered a lot of ‘buzz’ because of the scandalousness of it all. After all, the notion that every man has his price flies in the face of an absolute morality and that such a thing as a noble poverty can exist. Furthermore, it cements this notion, which is so prevalent in a non-Christian society, that the only thing that is important is power (which can be attained through wealth), only an idiot would not recognize this and play by those rules. In any case, I’ve never seen the movie.

However, there is an interesting situation which has happened at Annunciation Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin”. If the reports are to be believed, a donor offered the church there $92,000 if the parish council treasurer would resign. Again, if this was the case, the only moral thing that could have been done was reject the offer outright. As much as people may have their hangups about parish councils, their purpose is to assist in the day-to-day running of the Church. They are members of the parish, and usually sit on the body with the approval of the congregation. Offering an amount of money contingent on someone either being on or off the board is extortion, and should not be tolerated. To allow for this sort of thing sends the message that what the congregation wishes is not relevant; that as long as someone has enough money, they can mold the Church to their own whims.

Unfortunately, if the reports are to be believed, this is not what the priest at Annunciation Church did. Instead, as reported, he demanded that the treasurer resign, and when she refused, he ‘excommunicated’ her (much against Church protocol). In protest, more than half of the remaining members of the parish council also resigned. On one hand, it’s a tough spot for a priest to be in, especially since this parish is still really struggling in the aftermath of the scandal caused by their former priest, Fr. James Dokos, who stole over $100,000 from the parish. The number of families that are part of Annunciation has plummeted, as have contributions to the church. Although that amount may have been repaid, as required by Fr. Dokos’ plea deal, the damage to that parish continues on, particularly considering the actions of the diocese to help cover up the wrongdoing done.

Despite this, I would have expected a priest to refuse money on this type of condition, if for no other reason than it invites even more ‘hostage taking’ in regard to donations in years to come. This is why I tend to be suspicious that there is more to this ‘donation’ than meets the eye; that somehow this situation is connected to the Fr. Dokos scandal, in particular since he just had his felony conviction reduced to misdemeanor charges, and these legal proceedings coincide with this new situation almost perfectly. Also to be considered is how much the Chicago Diocese of the Greek Orthodox Church in America pressured and acted toward parish council members who wanted the truth about Fr. Dokos in the past. Maybe I’m wrong, and these are two distinct situations, but it certainly doesn’t look good on any count.

At the end of the day Annunciation Church may get its $92,000 donation, and that might do a fair bit in keeping a Frank Lloyd Wright National Register of Historic Places landmark open a while longer. One has to ask, though, at what cost does this come, and does the hierarchy even really care.

Christ is Risen! (Music on Monday)

In the Christian world, Pascha (Easter) is the greatest celebration of all, even eclipsing Christmas. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who was born of a virgin. Easter, though, celebrates the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and in so, the destruction of death itself, and the foreshadowing of the final destruction of evil. Every Sunday is a little bit of a reminder of this, but Easter is the pinnacle of this.

Forgive me for the “blog silence” as well… Things just get crazy, and it’s hard to sit down and write!

Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen – Remembering William Christopher

If it weren’t for the part of Father Mulcahy in the television show M*A*S*H, it’s hard to say if the death of actor William Christopher would be one “of note”. However, as Loretta Swit is quoted, “He became TV’s quintessential padre as Father Mulcahy on M.A.S.H. It was the most perfect casting ever known”

The character Father Mulcahy was quite a bit different in the book upon which the movie and television series were based on, as well as even the pilot to the series. First credit must be given to the M*A*S*H writers for creating a character that was religious but not a religious parody or caricature; someone set in a place of constant struggle and suffering, but who had not given up hope; a man who strove toward virtue, but was aware of the faults of his comrades and loved the sinners whom he served; someone with a unshakable faith and quiet strength of character rather than a hypocrite or acting in a holier-than-thou manner. In the history of television, it is incredibly rare to find a member of the clergy written with such depth and care, and even more extraordinary is finding it in a show that was not meant to be in any way religious. Mr. Christopher rose to the occasion, even in limited screen time managing to embody this character well, portraying the nuances above, but also keeping the character of Fr. Mulcahy human, interesting, and relatable.

That being said, Mr. Christopher was not just merely a good actor, someone who could take a well-written script and play it well. While good writing can certainly help a show, it is a process that doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Especially in long-running series, the writers don’t just write a character, but often write a character for a specific actor, allowing the actual personality of the actor shine through. I never met the man, but William Christopher always struck me as an especially kind and good person, like Fr. Mulcahy, and while the writing for Fr. Mulcahy in the series remained consistent, Mr. Christopher never allowed himself to play the part with any sort of creeping cynicism or irony. He very much demonstrated the types of qualities that make chaplains important – faith in God, love of people, patience, humor, and self-sacrifice, to name a few.

In his own life, though, Mr. Christopher and his wife Barbara were married in 1957, and ended up adopting two boys. The younger of the two, Ned, was eventually diagnosed with autism. Rather than accepting the idea that Ned was retarded and disabled beyond help, the family struggled through many years of trying to figure out what the actual issue(s) were and in finding treatment that would help him. In the 1980s, the Christophers wrote a book, Mixed Blessings that chronicles that journey. William and Barbara stayed together throughout, only death bringing an end to their nearly 60-year marriage. There is an episode of M*A*S*H from Season 4, Dear Mildred, where Fr. Mulcahy ends up in a performance singing with a couple of women who are either nurses or nuns. While I was watching, there was the way that he just looked at the one woman, as if he were totally smitten and in love with her, and I couldn’t help but thinking, “Oh, Fr. Mulcahy, you have to be careful there or people will get the wrong idea”. In reading Mixed Blessings, I learned that this woman was his wife. Furthermore, when one considers that by this time they had been married well over 15 years and were going through all the issues with their son, it’s even more amazing that even through all of that, this look of true love and adoration could not be quelled. Things like this lead me to believe that besides being a good actor, he was truly a good man as well.

In today’s world, where celebrity deaths often bring about days of maudlin public mourning; I doubt Mr. Christopher’s death will be considered ‘great’ enough to set off such a grotesque public spectacle. Better so. However, of all the celebrity deaths of 2016, it is his that is the only one that saddens me on a personal level. As is now customary after a celebrity death announcement, the tweeting of tributes has commenced, and while most will always be of little substance, the one by Alan Alda, star of the show M*A*S*H, is as touching as it is succinct; “His pals from #Mash miss Bill powerfully. His kind strength, his grace and gentle humor weren’t acted. They were Bill. #WilliamChristopher”.

A few random thoughts after a weekend of reading WikiLeaks

First – there’s a lot of information out there, and it’s pretty difficult to slog through. That being said, there’s a lot that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense without really knowing who the inside players are, and the context of a lot of the messages. I’ve never spent much time on Reddit in my life, but certain threads there have been quite helpful as far as background and context goes, especially for someone like me, who couldn’t sit and read through thousands of emails this weekend.

Second – I think most people are looking for “smoking gun” emails, that is, ones that spell out what happened and who did it. This isn’t to say that there aren’t messages that aren’t pretty damning, such as the $1 million “gift” to Bill Clinton for his 65th birthday, Clinton Foundation money going for personal expenses, such as Chelsea’s wedding, LOTS of media collusion with the Democrat party, etc., but these people aren’t stupid, and they know that they shouldn’t be explict (nor do they need to be) in most of their discussions.

Third – As much as a lot of people have howled about Donald Trump’s statements about the game being ‘rigged’, the emails do nothing to disprove this, but rather cement the notion that a lot of people feel that they are the ‘puppet-masters’ and that they have the right to rule the world the way that they see fit. This inevitably entails consolidating their own power and enriching themselves to a degree that most of us ‘peasants’ could never imagine. And for those of you who are Bernie Sanders fans and felt like the deck was stacked against him, too, you are entirely right.

Fourth – There are aspects in some of the emails that are downright creepy, even reading things on the surface. The best direct example of this is probably the conversations about attendance at a certain Marina Abramović and her “spirit cooking” sessions. While many may blow this off as “performance art”, without even going any deeper, there is something quite deeply disturbing about it. It’s not to say that sometimes art can’t be deeply disturbing and yet profoundly meaningful, but this delves, rather, in the dark and Satanic. Most of us, I believe, live our lives without paying a whole lot of attention to the ‘darker’ forces which run amok in the world, and that’s fine. However, this does not mean that these forces do not exist, and that there aren’t people who have allowed themselves to be possessed by evil. Some of this evil manifests itself as the unending pursuit of money, power, and fame. As Christians, we are warned against this, in large part, I believe, because it opens the gateway to following greater evil.

Fifth – A lot of these ‘elites’ are openly hostile to Judeo-Christian beliefs and tradition. For instance, it’s amazing to see pushback from DNC staffers who don’t want to release an official statement on the Jewish day commemorating the Holocaust even though Debbie Wasserman-Schultz requests one. For believers, faith in God supersedes subservience to the state, and for those hold power, dissent of any kind cannot be tolerated. At this point, even paying lip-service to respecting religion can hardly be allowed, though some will be done in the pursuit of holding power. Before the WikiLeaks released the emails of John Podesta, he was considered a ‘practicing’, ‘progressive’, Catholic, much in the vein of Tim Kaine or Nancy Pelosi. However, the emails reveal that he was working with George Soros-funded groups to subvert traditional Catholic teaching from within the Church.

One can search for keywords within a set in Wikileaks, and I thought it was interesting the few results that came up concerning the Orthodox Church. My search wasn’t exhaustive, but it seems like all the hits pertained to the Greek Orthodox Church. The following are my impressions, which are not necessarily made from things said explicitly, but the general impression of the whole. Already, one official of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has recently claimed that it was the US State Department, under the presidency of Bill Clinton, that put pressure on Patriarch Bartholomew to back away from a joint resolution to help heal the Church scism in Ukraine. It seems as though there is some effort to “make nice” with the Greek Orthodox, with certain people among the “in” circles being considered friendly towards them. Among these are Vice President Joe Biden (who was made an Archon), Representative Chris Van Hollen (whose wife is Greek and whos kids were baptized Greek Orthodox), and John Podesta himself, whose mother was Greek, and in one email points out to a reporter that one of the icons in his office was a gift from the Ecumenical Patriarch. I think these people are there to make Greek Orthodox faithful believe that they have good “friends in high places”. However, when push comes to shove, I don’t think it will matter a hill of beans. I believe that they see President Erdogan’s consolidation of power as something to be admired and emulated, and furthermore have demonstrated that they do not mind turning a blind eye to repressive governments (especially if they are willing to support the Clinton Foundation). Therefore, I believe that in particular, if Hillary Clinton were to become President, what is left of the Orthodox Church in Turkey (the Church in Constantinople) will be destroyed, and not only will there be no help for the EP from the US, but it is doubtful that there would even be a strong letter of denunciation from our side.

The strong and the weak

“There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

In Luke 16, the Bible relates the story of a rich man and of a poor man named Lazarus. The rich man, who remains unnamed, has a life of luxury, filled with good things. However, when he dies, he is sent to to hell, a place of eternal suffering. Lazarus is a beggar, a man whose days are spent sitting at the rich man’s gate, sick, hungry, and afflicted, hoping to survive on that which the rich man considers garbage. Lazarus, too, dies, but he is transported by the angels to heaven, to paradise.

One of the very unique things about the Judeo-Christian tradition is its value on the individual. People are individually responsible to follow God irrespective of one’s station in life, however, regardless of one’s ‘lowliness’, each is called to be a valued individual, worthy not just of a name, but also to be called a son of God. From the perspective of a rich person, this may be shocking, but from the perspective of the lowly, this is absolutely life-changing; that one’s worth is figured in relationship to God, rather than in the utility to someone else. The wicked twist this to mean that the masters will inflict Christianity on their servants to ensure compliance, but not see that for those who are weak, obedience is not necessarily to the worldly master, but to God, which is a condition that evil people cannot tolerate. For them, they believe that the world is as described in the Harry Potter quote above, unable to understand that there are many people who are stronger in their ‘weakness’ than can ever be rationally understood.

(Tangentally, these posts touch on similar themes: Challenging a licentious society didn’t imprison women; it freed them. from Bookwormroom and We did the sexual revolution once before. It didn’t go well. byEric Metaxas – via Breakpoint/LifeSiteNews.)

This all brings me to a story in the news the last few days. Last week, somebody came by and destroyed Donald Trump’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It turns out that the culprit was a rich, middle-aged, white man by the name of James Otis. Otis is heir to the fortune of Otis Elevators. While technically, he faces large fines and jailtime for this destruction, he has no problem paying the best lawyers to get him the best deal to avoid any serious trouble. He can smugly lecture the public about his reasons for doing what he did, but in fact, he showed no bravery doing so because he knows there will be few personal repercussions for it.

Contrast this to a poor, homeless, black woman, who, now that the star has been repaired, has taken it upon herself to ‘guard’ Mr. Trump’s star. She has been ridiculed for ‘defending’ a rich, white man, she has been harassed and demeaned for her actions, not just to the point of words, but to the point where people have laid hands on her and have destroyed some of the very few possessions that she has. Who is the one showing courage here? One of the people harassing her even videotaped some of what this woman has been put through, probably to ridicule her even further, to ‘prove’ that she is crazy, then, when faced by a backlash in comments and such, cluelessly posts that he’s closing comments because he’s been lambasted as a bully. Who’s crazy here?

And while I can’t claim that this woman is Lazarus, I am struck by the parallels here, that it is the rich man who can flaunt his iniquity for, but the poor person who suffers for holding the ‘wrong’ opinion. In secular understanding, the rich man is the one who has ‘won’, but for those of us who refuse to submit to secular understanding, we know that this woman, in her filth and ‘ignorance’, displays a dignity and spirit that this rich man could never imagine.

And the church came crashing down

The Chicago Tribune posted the following story: No injuries reported when church building collapses in Wicker Park. Although the church was called the Mision Cristiana Church, as soon as I saw the address of 1905 W. Schiller (which also appeared in the preview to the story), I knew exactly which church this was – it was the church that served as the original home to Holy Resurrection Cathedral, one of Chicago’s earliest Orthodox Christian Churches.

In the late 1800s, efforts were being made to establish an Orthodox Church in Chicago. Of course, being Orthodox, there were plenty of jurisdictional issues. However, out of a shared rental space, three Orthodox Christian cathedrals would be established – Annunciation (Greek), Holy Trinity (Russian/Orthodox Church in America), and Holy Resurrection, under the auspices of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

According to Holy Resurrection’s timeline on their website, California-born Fr. Sebastian Dabovich (now St. Sebastian of Jackson and San Francisco), made a number of visits to Chicago between 1893 and 1905, with the express purpose of helping organize and establish the parish there. The property at 8 Fowler Street (later changed to 1905 W Schiller) was purchased, and the first Liturgy served in its chapel on July 4, 1905. Two months later, Fr. Sebastian was raised to the rank of archimandrite here, and from Chicago he was put in charge of the “Serbian Mission”, whose territory encompassed the entirety of the United States.

The parish continued to operate using the chapel of the existing building at 1905 W. Schiller until the 1930s, at which point the parish won a suit to purchase the lot next to the house that they owned and erect a church on the parcel of land. With the Great Depression in full swing, the Chicago Tribune reported that at this time (1932) that this church and the Post Office are the only buildings being built in the city.

Holy Resurrection continued to call this church home until 1971, at which time they sold the building and broke ground on a bigger temple located further northwest in Chicago. The building was sold to a church called ‘Mision Cristiana’. When the Wicker Park district was being considered for landmark district status in 1991, this church declined to be part of that. Mision Cristiana Church sold the property in 2015 for an undisclosed amount, to developers who were hoping to create two single-family homes from the original buildings, and transform the church itself into a two-unit townhome. (This article here demonstrates the layout of the property fairly well.) However, at about 6am this past Monday morning (24 October 2016), much of what remained of the buildings came crashing down, not only on the property, but on the sidewalk, and into the street, severely damaging cars parked there.

According to the site DNAinfo.com, although several permits had been obtained and work was being done, a stop-work order had been issued in July, citing work beyond what the permits allowed. (Do note that in that same article, there is an interview with “one of a team of 15” who were working on the interior demolition of the church structure.) DNAinfo.com also reported that the city immediately ordered the demolition of the entire site and that the developers will need to start from scratch as far as plans and permits for the site. (More pictures can be found here: http://abc7chicago.com/news/part-of-wicker-park-church-collapses-several-cars-damaged/1570076/.)

It’s sad that the church is gone, even if it hasn’t been the home to Holy Resurrection for many years. However, that being said, I have very ambivalent feelings towards converting churches into townhomes, condos, and the like. It certainly is a trend, not just in Chicago, but in other expensive property markets where congregations cannot support the upkeep of the property anymore. The developers often talk about wanting to “respect” the history of the place, but I don’t know that there’s necessarily a “respectful” way of converting a sacred space to the mundane. (The developers for condos that were created from Our Lady of Good Counsel Church – not far away, at Western Ave. – were given permission to retain the Catholic Charities star in the design of the condos, for example. Artist rendering here) In that sense, and in particular because of St. Sebastian’s influence at Holy Resurrection, maybe it’s for the best that this place, if not retained for something sacred, is a place that needs to be rebuilt anew, rather than ‘converted’.

(H/T to the General Mihailovich blog for info.)