Resource Update + Teasers

I’ve added some links under the resources page, and added more categories to keep everything streamlined. Blogs are now divided into categories, mirroring those for books except for the elimination of the fiction worth reading category and the addition of a technology category. The new technology category has 2 new resources, Low-Tech Magazine and No Tech Magazine. These are related blogs/webmagazines that deal with some of the problems of modern technology and low-tech solutions to common problems–interesting and inspiring reading.

I’ve also added a podcast page to the resources. I’m not a huge podcast guy, and the only podcasts I listen to are about Orthodoxy, so I didn’t bother adding categories for podcasts. I’ve included three excellent resources here. The first is Holy Archangels Orthodox Foundation, which host a wealth of talks, lectures, and homilies by Metropolitan +JONAH. I recently finished the series on contemplative prayer, and learned a lot in the process. The other two, The Arena and From the Amvon, feature homilies by Fr. Josiah Trenham and Fr. John Whiteford respectively.

Now for the teasers: 3 potential new resources! I recently ordered shoes for my wife and oldest daughter, and boots for my son, from a new company I’ve run across. For awhile now I’ve been frustrated, because while its fairly easy to find made in the USA from genuine full-grain US leather boots for men, I’ve found nothing similar for women or children–until now. I’m waiting to inspect the product, but I may have found the solution to cheap, shoddy shoes for women and children.

Second, I’ve been in touch with a friend from high school who has an extensive background in vegetable farming, including intensive production. He is starting a garden mentorship program in which he helps you with all things garden. Layout, varieties, pest problems, all this and more! Unfortunately, the program does not have any current openings, but I have asked him to let me post here when new openings are available, which will likely be this fall or next spring. You, my readers, will be the first to know when the program is available.

Finally, I’ve been in touch with a different friend from high school, who is in the beginning stages of a business selling fabric. If you’re like us, you buy fabric for kid’s clothes at least twice a year, and I always try to get enough for Courtney to make one or two new dresses for herself every year too. My friend is working on getting some USA made natural fibers, and I’ll post a write-up here when that’s a reality. In the meantime, she does have imported flannel available, so If you are further north than us here in Wisconsin, or want to start your fall outfits early, message me and I’ll get you the information.

Project and Purchase Roundup, Last 2/3 of April 2020

Shortly after we moved into our new house, we found that the roof in out sunroom was leaking. It was pretty minor at first, just a few drips from where the top of the wall joins the ceiling. I figured it was ice damming with the melting snow. I cleaned off the roof, which seemed to stop the problem and didn’t think about it until some time later when it rained, and it again leaked. So I bought some roof patch and patched some areas that seemed like likely culprits (the sunroom is only 6’x18′, so the roof is pretty small). Next rainfall showed that the patching was no avail. This continued a few more times, with me trying something and it not working, until I finally just laid a steel roof over it. No more leaks. That cost me about $700 in materials.

I also had to buy a Skil saw to complete the roofing project, as I only had a small and weak battery powered one. I got a decently made 7 1/4 corded saw for about $50. I’ve already used this saw for other projects, and I expect to get a lot of use out of it for many years to come.

I threw together a quick outdoor compost bin, as the worm bin needed a break from daily dumping for a while to let the worms get established. I think the materials cost me about $60, with the majority of that being hardware cloth. It turned out that I probably didn’t need to build it yet, as about the time I got it done the chickens got to a size where they began to go through food scraps much more quickly. I also put up another set of robe/towel hooks in the bathroom, and replaced a failed toilet paper holder.

When I put the steel roof on the sunroom, I had to special order sidewall and endwall flashing, as the roof over the sunroom is a hip roof that joins a higher wall. The flashing came in a protective box made of several 12′ long 2x6s banded together. Not one to let good lumber go to waste, I used these, together with a few pieces of scrap laminate countertop that I’ve been holding on to for a while, to build a rough but usable temporary kitchen counter setup. There was no kitchen counter when we moved in, and only 2 double-door steel upper wall cabinets. We’ve been using a folding plastic table as our countertop, but because it was several inches lower than a typical countertop, it hurt Courtney’s back to do too much cooking, canning, or baking at one time. The new setup is definitely “rustic” in appearance, but basically doubles her available work space and undercounter storage space while actually making the room feel bigger and more open.

Stay tuned for the the next project and purchase update, which will likely include the installation of a garden.

Ian Brewer: My Story

Note: This guest post was written by Ian Brewer, a friend of mine and fellow parishioner at Saint Ignatius of Antioch Orthodox Christian Church in Fitchburg, Wisconsin.

In the summer of 2010, I did the same thing I had done every summer I could remember. I spent a month at my grandma’s house in Western Pennsylvania. I helped her around the house, mowed the lawn, caught frogs, and attended her local Seventh-Day Adventist church every Sabbath like I had every summer before that one. I had just graduated from my Adventist high school and this stay at my grandma’s was the first time she worried aloud that I wouldn’t be able to visit her in subsequent summers—a worry she had occasion to voice for years to come.

While I was enjoying myself in PA, several thousand of my soon-to-be classmates were undergoing orientation for their first semester at USC Columbia. Because of my traditional visit to my grandma, I elected to wait for the last orientation date of the summer.

Like I said, I had just graduated from an Adventist high school. This was after attending an Adventist grade school since kindergarten. I was a Pathfinder (an Adventist Boy Scout, in simple terms), I went to Adventist summer camp, I attended large conferences of SDAs in the Carolinas, and I had been to more “Daniel and Revelation” seminars than I care to count. Suffice it to say, I was deeply Adventist. My friends, family, teachers, and a vast majority even of my acquaintances were all Adventist. I was fourth-generation Adventist on both sides of my family. For a church founded in 1863, that’s a lot (though, some readers will be understandably unimpressed by this number).

Most of my friends were preparing to attend Adventist universities, with the bulk of them going to Southern Adventist University and others enrolling at Andrews University. Some readers will know that Adventist universities are extremely expensive. My parents had just spent the last thirteen years paying tuition to SDA schools and, for most of that time, for all their three children—no small sacrifice. They had done their part. College was up to me. I elected to pursue a less costly option.

Signing up for classes for my first semester of university was mostly an exercise in fulfilling generic degree requirements. Since I had waited so late into the summer to sign up, most classes were full. I checked for classes in the Religious Studies department and found what appeared to be the perfect class for me, so learned in theology. I signed up for Religion 110: Intro to World Religions, a Tuesday-Thursday class meeting at 2:00 PM (this fulfilled an important criterion of mine: to never wake up early). The class was taught by Professor James Cutsinger, whom I would find out was an Orthodox Christian.

Religion 110 was an experience unlike any other for me. Every week, I read about the great traditions of the world and the stories of their saints. I listened to lectures delivered by a man who took them seriously on their own terms. This was the first time I had heard other traditions than my own spoken of in a way other than to cover their most basic elements and to explain why those basics were clearly incorrect. A few weeks into the semester, I declared my minor as Religious Studies.

Truly, I ended up minoring in James. I took every class from him that I could. One of these classes was Religion 332: Christian Theology. My brother and I took this class together. Knowing Orthodoxy best and having no qualms about professing Orthodoxy to be the fullness of the Christian faith, James taught Orthodox theology in his classroom. It soon became clear to me that I had never heard theology before. Rather, I had been taught an extensive list of doctrines and some snappy proof-texts to back them up. I found theology far more engaging. I learned about the heresies that prompted the seven Ecumenical Councils, the relationship of humanity and divinity, the nature of inspiration and revelation, creation ex nihilo, theodicy, theories of atonement, and eschatology among many topics.

During one lecture, probably regarding beliefs about the End Times, my brother and I had the opportunity to discuss and explain our beliefs as Adventists to James and the rest of the class. My family was very proud of us for being unashamed of our beliefs and being open about them. This scene would be curiously mirrored a few years later.

At the end of that semester, I was an Adventist. However, I was now an Adventist whose eyebrows often shot up or furrowed during sermons I heard from my home church’s pulpit. You see, I began to realize that my pastors knew very little theology, even less about church history, and were prone to making misleading statements or declaring plain untruths. I didn’t blame them; I was simply surprised that one could make it out of seminary in that state.

I don’t mean to sound superior. I am ashamed to say that I probably felt that way at the time. Certainly, I had never received that example from James. He was always attentive, kind, and polite. I may have maintained the appearance of that attitude on the outside, but I’m sure I was prideful in my heart

I carried on in roughly that same state for a few years. I graduated from USC and left the South to pursue an MBA in Akron, OH. I stopped attending church regularly. I was dating a girl who was not a churchgoer herself at the time and my visits to my grandma were the only times that I attended an Adventist church. I still considered myself an Adventist. I kept the Sabbath, I kept the dietary rules, and my beliefs were mostly unchanged. However, something had changed. My practice of my faith felt empty and my questions went unanswered.

I remember one day at work as a graduate assistant I was particularly unbusy. I had nothing better to do—though I didn’t know how true that was at the time—and some questions began to insistently run through my mind. I started looking for answers to those questions and happened upon a Catholic website where many questions were catalogued and addressed. As it turned out, they had heard of SDAs and addressed their objections to Catholic doctrine. Since my questions were mostly broad issues with worship on Sunday, the “state of the dead,” the use of images in worship, scripture and tradition, etc., there wasn’t any divergence in their answers from what Orthodox Christians would say.

After a few days, I was convinced that I had been wrong. I won’t go into the specifics because I don’t care to argue or seek to prove anything. I am convinced that the prompting of the Holy Spirit is the only basis for a change of this kind. Not only did I believe I had been wrong, but I thought there was an extremely good chance that James had been right about everything he ever said to me and that his church could truly provide me with the best tools to take on the likeness of God. While this was great news, it was also terrifying because it meant I had to do something. I couldn’t just sit around being a non-churchgoing, nominal Adventist with some wacky ideas.

It’s very important to me that I impress upon you that my conversion was not a simple matter of discarding a set of beliefs I found to be incorrect and adopting others that I decided were correct. My relationship with James had an enormous impact on me and it wasn’t exclusively intellectual. He was a role model. He lived a life of humility while very obviously possessing a holiness I hadn’t encountered before. He was disciplined, creative, kind, and loving. He also held me to a very high standard. Knowing that Jesus instructed us to judge a tree by its fruit made it impossible to avoid speculating on what sort of tree could have produced him. When I reached that point in my life, it was natural for me to reach out to him first for guidance.

After speaking to James, a week later, on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 I dropped by the local Greek Orthodox church in downtown Akron. I had no idea if anyone would be there. Providentially, I believe, there was a parish council meeting or something like that going on at the time. A very confused secretary answered the doorbell and introduced me to Father Jerry Hall. Fr. Jerry was perplexed and taken aback by my sudden appearance, wishing to speak to him about his church, but he was very welcoming and toured the church with me for an hour or so. I came back on Sunday and accidentally sat with his family. His wife showed me the liturgy book and helped me figure out what was going on. As much as I knew about theology already, I knew next to nothing about practice.

No doubt, my catechesis was odd. I had already decided to convert before I ever stepped foot inside an Orthodox church. I began meeting one-on-one with Fr. Jerry every week on Thursday to discuss the Church and my place in it. Despite my unfamiliarity with it, the Divine Liturgy (the central service of Orthodox worship) felt like home. The music, the icons, the vestments, the candles, the incense. Everywhere I looked, touched, smelled, tasted, and heard threads connecting me to and drawing me toward Jesus Christ.

After a couple of months, I faced my next big challenge. I had to tell my family what I had decided. They came up North to visit my grandma in mid-August and stayed for a week. Not long before they arrived, I called my brother and explained to him what was going on with me and my conversion. He knew my journey best and I needed someone to stand with me when I faced my family. He understood and agreed. One night, I called my family together in my grandma’s living room and stood in front of them with my brother and explained to them that I was no longer Adventist and I intended to join the Orthodox Church. They were all surprised and confused, but beyond that their reactions varied. Thankfully, no one was angry or condemnatory toward me. My dad was quiet. My mom was inquisitive. My sister was perplexed, but unconcerned. My grandma was quietly horror-stricken.

Though I know there were some frantic how-can-you-let-this-happen conversations beyond my hearing, to everyone’s credit, they were very accepting. I was already an adult, of course, and this decision was my own, but I did everything I could to soften the blow and explain that I was not rejecting them by leaving their church. From my perspective, I was moving deeper in accordance with what they taught me in my childhood. My mom told me that she was very proud of me for the decision I made and how I handled it.

Ian in the center with his Godfather, James on the right

The next year, on March 20, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, I was baptized into the Orthodox Church with James as my sponsor, my godfather. I flew down to South Carolina because it was far easier for me to come to James than for him to come to me. Normally, a baptism wouldn’t be so small an affair as mine was with just my mom, dad, sister, James, and my godmother, Carol in attendance. But the church was beautiful, the service was beyond description, and I was never made to feel like an outsider by anyone. I felt brand new when I left that day.

A lot of things changed. I do not doubt that I would still have some friends now that I don’t have any longer if I hadn’t left Adventism. I have some extended family that mostly avoids the subject of religion with me. One of my relationships suffered and ultimately ended at least in part due to my dramatic change from “something weird” to “something even weirder.”

That isn’t the whole story, though. I have a rich relationship with God and His Church. I have so many people praying for me at any given moment that it’s astonishing. I have more family. I have new friends. I have old friends. My best friend in the world is Adventist and I’m convinced that there is nothing that could stop me from loving him or him from loving me. My brother was recently baptized Orthodox with me—funny enough—standing as his godfather. My family is occasionally baffled by me, but they love and respect me.

I’ve found that I’m not the only one who has changed. Many of the people I grew up with are no longer SDA. Some are near where I once was—somewhere in between. Some are atheist. Some are non-denominational. I have had conversations with many of my friends in which we shared similar stories about realizing that we didn’t feel like ourselves where we were. Not all of them have managed to find the path to being themselves, yet. I truly believe that I am more myself now than I ever have been. I expect to be even more so in the years and eternity to come.

I attended James’s funeral earlier this year after cancer ran its course through him. Many of his students were in attendance and it was uplifting amidst my grief to see around me so many lives changed by him. He was a friend, teacher, and mentor and I long for the day I can hear his voice again.

I’ll make a small attempt at advice now. Don’t ignore your questions or your desire for more. There are answers and there is fullness. I recommend Orthodoxy for both. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t found them.

Glory to God for the Coronavirus

The Covid-19 coronavirus, and the Great Corona Panic of 2020 that it has inspired, have undoubtedly had some negative results. It is likely, in our degenerate culture, that some of the people who have gotten sick and have died of the disease did so without repentance, a situation that pains God Himself. Furthermore, a large number of people have lost the ability to support their families, which should be a matter of immense and pressing concern for us Christians. Thus, I don’t mean for the title of this post to be flippant, but rather for it to be a challenge to me to remember to give glory to God for all things, as St. John Chrysostom did with his last breath as he was forced to walk himself to death. Let us then turn from the enumerations of the negatives of the coronavirus pandemic and panic, which there are undoubtedly more of, and consider the many reasons to thank and glorify God for the gifts He has given of both the pandemic and the panic.

Perhaps the most obvious gift, and simultaneously one of the hardest for us sinners to glorify God for is the gift of physical pain, sickness, and suffering. Our first response to sickness and suffering is not generally to glorify God for it, but rather to ask Him to take it away from us, or even to question how He can allow it to fall upon us. Yet we are told by St. Peter that bodily suffering cleanses us from sin. This is echoed in the Akathist of Thanksgiving:

+   Glory to Thee for raising us from the slough of our passions through suffering.

And again:

Priest: How near Thou art in the day of sickness. Thou Thyself visitest the sick; Thou Thyself bendest over the sufferer’s bed. His heart speaks to Thee. In the throes of sorrow and suffering Thou bringest peace and unexpected consolation. Thou art the comforter. Thou art the love which watcheth over and healeth us. To Thee we sing the song: Alleluia!

I am reminded of a man I remember from my childhood. His name, appropriately, was John Christian, and he emanated holiness. He also suffered from very severe and crippling gout. And yet he was joyful. I remember hearing him say that getting gout was the best thing that ever happened to him, because it brought him to God. The pain and suffering of his body purified and perfected his soul.

Suffering is not the only gift God has given through this situation. Another rather obvious gift is that families are once again spending time together. The artificially created fast pace of life has shattered, as families are no longer running back and forth between dozens of obligations. This creates time for family togetherness, and also creates time for silence and thought. Modern man tends to fill his every waking moment with work, entertainment, or noise to avoid ever having a moment alone with his thoughts and God. This escapism has become harder to maintain in the current situation.

Finally, the much bemoaned economic collapse is a gift of God. Realize the the majority of what we refer to as “the economy” is an edifice built on two pillars of sand: Materialism and Usury. Both of these pillars are collapsing before us. With non-essential retailers shut down, and significant restrictions in place at essential retailers, with people freed from the soul-draining daily rush of dozens of artificially created obligations designed to reduce man to nothing but a consumer, the veil of materialism is being lifted from many people’s eyes. People are even turning back to the true and original toil of man, as can be seen by the fact that seeds are sold out in so many places. Furthermore, the inevitable collapse of the predatory system of usury is well underway.

What happens with usury is that banks create money “out of thin air” by also creating debt.

People often state that fractional reserve banking creates money out of thin air, but this is not quite right. In fact, usury within fractional reserve banking creates money out of thin air. To quote the late, great Zippy Catholic:

When you introduce usury, though, is when the black magic appears. If the loan issued by the bank is usurious then the bank is issuing a new security against its balance sheet in return for a wink and a promise by the borrower. The bank then enters the wink-and-promise of the borrower onto its balance sheet as if it were actual property.  So in the case of banks which issue usurious loans, many of the loan ‘bricks’ in their balance sheet castles are imaginary; and in the case of collateralized full-recourse loans the ‘bricks’ are made of weaker material than they appear.

The majority of the current “economic collapse” is really just a collapse of a false economy as banks are erasing money from the books that never really existed in the first place except as debt.

So let us care for those around us who sick and suffering, for those who have lost their jobs, and for those whose allotted time for repentance on earth is drawing to a close. Let us be merciful and compassionate. But let us not forget to glorify God for the many goods things that He is bringing out of this crisis.

+    Glory to Thee for all things, Holy and most merciful Trinity.

3 Mistakes I Made while Leaving Seventh-day Adventism

I can remember hearing many times growing up that Seventh-day Adventists never convert to any other religion. Supposedly, they may stop coming to services, but the SDA “truths” are so incontrovertible that those who once believed them are never able to stop believing them. I also remember, sometime around the age of 12-14, meeting a former SDA who had converted to Lutheranism and thinking she must be an extremely rare individual, a statistical anomaly, the exception that proved the rule.

It wasn’t until after I was well into the process of my conversion to Orthodoxy that I realized that there are plenty of former SDAs who have converted to other religions, particularly Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism. For example, my family aren’t even the only former SDAs in our small parish, and I have come to know of many others.

So, this post is for those SDAs who are searching, reading, studying, and finding answers that are leading them away from Seventh-day Adventistism. I am certainly not trying to dissuade you from this path, but I would like to warn you of some pitfalls that I discovered along the way on my own journey to conversion. Perhaps you can learn from my mistakes, and not repeat them.

One of the first mistakes I made in my conversion process was falling into the trap of anger. As I began to read church history and the writings of first-century Christians, I began to be angry at Seventh-day Adventism, at the SDA high school and college I attended, and even at individual people for not teaching me any of this information. In my mind, there was a plot within SDAism to hide information about the early church and the writings of early christians like St Ignatius and Justin Martyr, because these writings so clearly and easily proved that the church of the Apostles explicitly rejected certain SDA doctrines. Now, a few years later, I can see that there was no ill-will on the part of my various teachers. One cannot teach what one does not know, and they were as illiterate about the early church as I was. What they did know they taught well and diligently. I now thank God for this early molding, where I was taught to love God, to read the scriptures, and where the hunger in my soul that eventually led me out of SDAism was first awakened.

Another trap I fell into on my journey was the trap of pride. As I gained a minuscule amount of knowledge of the early church and early christian writings, I began to compare myself to my SDA friends and feel pride over this new knowledge. I felt that I was somehow better because I knew this little bit of information, even though I wasn’t fully applying what I knew and living up to it, while many of my SDA friends were living up to the knowledge they had.

A third trap I fell into was retaining the SDA love of argumentation, proof-texting, and “convincing” people for far too long. Rather than simply living out the teachings of the church, working on my own repentance and salvation, and doing my best to be prepared to give an answer when asked the reason for my hope, I got drawn into countless arguments to no profit. I tried to convince people of the truth, instead of letting God do the convincing. To be honest, I still struggle at times not to be drawn into profitless argumentation.

So these are three mistakes I made while leaving SDAism. I’m sure I made far more mistakes than just these three, but these ones stand out. I hope that this post can help you avoid making these same mistakes in your journey.

An Orthodox Perspective on Roman Catholicism

Some of my Roman Catholic friends have asked me in the past what the real difference is between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Other friends, like the protestants I grew up with, are even less sure of the differences. Many of the videos on YouTube that address the differences do so pretty superficially, without going deeply into the theology behind difference practices or beliefs. I came across this video the other day that I think does a good job of explaining the theological differences, and I share it here for those who are interested.

Post-Move Project Update, 4/11/2020

Since we moved, projects have had to compete with unpacking and sorting (still more to do as we pare down), so only the more important projects have been done. Courtney painted the kids’ room within the first week or so, from a bright peach to a blue/gray color. Since that room also has our only real east-facing wall, it also is the prayer room, and I hung the icons and put in the small table that holds our candles and incense burner.

The bathroom also required some immediate attention. I replaced all the toilet guts due to sticking and running, I also removed all the old and deteriorated caulking around the tub, and re-caulked it. Finally, I had to replace the pop-up drain assembly and S-trap on the bathroom sink due to both leaking.

Most of the outlets in the house are non-grounded, so I have been going along replacing them with GFCI outlets to so that we can plug in 3-prong appliances and have some ground protection. Also, at Courtney’s request, I installed a floating shelf above the kitchen sink. Since we have extremely limited cupboard space right now, this shelf holds our most used dishes–everyday plates, bowls, and cups, as well as coffee cups.

Outside the house, I started a worm bin in the garage for compost, and ordered 2,000 compost worms from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm to get it going. I bought 8 Rhode Island Red chicks at Tractor Supply, along with a pre-built coop. I’m not sure if I’ll stick with the pre-built coop long term, but I have too much else to do at the moment to build my own again. My parents gave me the steel frame for a picnic table 2 Christmases ago, and I finally bought lumber and assembled it. This allows us to eat outside when the weather is nice, a good thing when you live in a small house. Finally, I dug out my sidewalk leading to the front door, allowing me to see what needs replacing and what doesn’t.

Holy Week at Home Booklet

My Godmother, encouraging me to persevere in the rather unique (and for me, difficult) Lenten struggle that God has seen fit to allow us to undergo this year with the Great Corona Panic of 2020, provided me with a helpful little booklet. With the Churches temporarily closed (at least to laity like myself), having this simple guide to celebrating Holy Week and Pascha at home has greatly eased my mind. This booklet is published by the American Capatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese, and can be accessed here. I hope you find it helpful as you prepare for the struggle of this particularly holy time at home.