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reading list

I was asked to coffee today by a Roman Catholic woman who spent Great Lent, Holy Week and Pascha with our church in Mesa. She heads home to Washington next week and wondered what books I might recommend for her continuing journey towards Orthodoxy.I do not consider it complete. It was written at the spur of the moment and is on the back of a receipt. I would like to note that I am not recommending the Philokalia. She had already purchased the Philokalia from a monastery and I was redirecting her to Tito Coliander’s excellent little book…

Two friends have already suggested that Facing East by Frederica Mathews-Greene should be on the list. What other books would you recomend?

reading list written in a Starbucks on a receipt..



Filed under Orthodox Christianity, Poems, Books and Reviews

A Simpler Life

Whereas the Lord tells us to sell, we buy instead and accumulate. – St. Cyprian of Carthage (c 210-258)

I got a second chance at life. I am not going to waste it on a big house and a new car every year and a bunch of friends who want a big house and a new car every year. – Larry Darrell in the Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham

In order to live a simpler life:

1. Do not buy books about living a simpler life: There is nothing better than going to a bookstore and seeing all the $20 books about simplifying your life in 7 easy steps. I just want to laugh a little too loudly that there is an entire marketing machine cranking out products that we feel compelled to buy about simplification. The simple thing is to not buy a book about scaling back. Thinking about the quote above led me to search “simplify” at Amazon.com. I narrowed the search to just the book department. The search engine found 201,884 results. Ha! Surely by now someone has written the book on simplifying and we can stop publishing all those other books.

2. There is no need to subscribe to a magazine about organizing your magazines: “Real Simple,” a magazine geared towards “busy women looking to make life easier,” began in March 2000 and is a huge hit. The magazine currently reaches 8.6 million readers every month. It is clear that people want to simplify, to live simpler lives. But a magazine subscription about having a more organized kitchen and closet is not enough.

There are 2 battles we must win in order to live simpler lives:

  1. We need to own less
  2. We need to want less

It is the fasting season of preparation for the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s also fast from wasting time, money and food. We need to share all of our stuff and let go of our possessions. A practical piece of advice I picked up somewhere is that we should give away everything that we have not worn or used in the past year. The first step on the Ladder of Divine Ascent is to renounce a worldly life for a heavenly one. The second rung on the ladder is detachment. Being free from our attachment to things and from the opinions of others puts us the path to a simple life.

What do you think?


Filed under A Good Life, Poems, Books and Reviews

The Student by Anton Chekhov

At first the weather was fine and still. The thrushes were calling, and in the swamps close by something alive droned pitifully with a sound like blowing into an empty bottle. A snipe flew by, and the shot aimed at it rang out with a gay, resounding note in the spring air. But when it began to get dark in the forest a cold, penetrating wind blew inappropriately from the east, and everything sank into silence. Needles of ice stretched across the pools, and it felt cheerless, remote, and lonely in the forest. There was a whiff of winter.

Ivan Velikopolsky, the son of a sacristan, and a student of the clerical academy, returning home from shooting, walked all the time by the path in the water-side meadow. His fingers were numb and his face was burning with the wind. It seemed to him that the cold that had suddenly come on had destroyed the order and harmony of things, that nature itself felt ill at ease, and that was why the evening darkness was falling more rapidly than usual. All around it was deserted and peculiarly gloomy. The only light was one gleaming in the widows’ gardens near the river; the village, over three miles away, and everything in the distance all round was plunged in the cold evening mist. The student remembered that, as he went out from the house, his mother was sitting barefoot on the floor in the entry, cleaning the samovar, while his father lay on the stove coughing; as it was Good Friday nothing had been cooked, and the student was terribly hungry. And now, shrinking from the cold, he thought that just such a wind had blown in the days of Rurik and in the time of Ivan the Terrible and Peter, and in their time there had been just the same desperate poverty and hunger, the same thatched roofs with holes in them, ignorance, misery, the same desolation around, the same darkness, the same feeling of oppression — all these had existed, did exist, and would exist, and the lapse of a thousand years would make life no better. And he did not want to go home.

The gardens were called the widows’ because they were kept by two widows, mother and daughter. A camp fire was burning brightly with a crackling sound, throwing out light far around on the ploughed earth. The widow Vasilisa, a tall, fat old woman in a man’s coat, was standing by and looking thoughtfully into the fire; her daughter Lukerya, a little pock-marked woman with a stupid-looking face, was sitting on the ground, washing a caldron and spoons. Apparently they had just had supper. There was a sound of men’s voices; it was the labourers watering their horses at the river.

“Here you have winter back again,” said the student, going up to the camp fire. “Good evening.”

Vasilisa started, but at once recognized him and smiled cordially.

“I did not know you; God bless you,” she said.

“You’ll be rich.”

They talked. Vasilisa, a woman of experience, who had been in service with the gentry, first as a wet-nurse, afterwards as a children’s nurse, expressed herself with refinement, and a soft, sedate smile never left her face; her daughter Lukerya, a village peasant woman, who had been beaten by her husband, simply screwed up her eyes at the student and said nothing, and she had a strange expression like that of a deaf mute.

“At just such a fire the Apostle Peter warmed himself,” said the student, stretching out his hands to the fire, “so it must have been cold then, too. Ah, what a terrible night it must have been, granny! An utterly dismal long night!”

He looked round at the darkness, shook his head abruptly and asked:

“No doubt you have been at the reading of the Twelve Gospels?”

“Yes, I have,” answered Vasilisa.

“If you remember at the Last Supper Peter said to Jesus, ‘I am ready to go with Thee into darkness and unto death.’ And our Lord answered him thus: ‘I say unto thee, Peter, before the cock croweth thou wilt have denied Me thrice.’ After the supper Jesus went through the agony of death in the garden and prayed, and poor Peter was weary in spirit and faint, his eyelids were heavy and he could not struggle against sleep. He fell asleep. Then you heard how Judas the same night kissed Jesus and betrayed Him to His tormentors. They took Him bound to the high priest and beat Him, while Peter, exhausted, worn out with misery and alarm, hardly awake, you know, feeling that something awful was just going to happen on earth, followed behind. . . . He loved Jesus passionately, intensely, and now he saw from far off how He was beaten. . .”

Lukerya left the spoons and fixed an immovable stare upon the student.

“They came to the high priest’s,” he went on; “they began to question Jesus, and meantime the labourers made a fire in the yard as it was cold, and warmed themselves. Peter, too, stood with them near the fire and warmed himself as I am doing. A woman, seeing him, said: ‘He was with Jesus, too’ — that is as much as to say that he, too, should be taken to be questioned. And all the labourers that were standing near the fire must have looked sourly and suspiciously at him, because he was confused and said: ‘I don’t know Him.’ A little while after again someone recognized him as one of Jesus’ disciples and said: ‘Thou, too, art one of them,’ but again he denied it. And for the third time someone turned to him: ‘Why, did I not see thee with Him in the garden to-day?’ For the third time he denied it. And immediately after that time the cock crowed, and Peter, looking from afar off at Jesus, remembered the words He had said to him in the evening. . . . He remembered, he came to himself, went out of the yard and wept bitterly — bitterly. In the Gospel it is written: ‘He went out and wept bitterly.’ I imagine it: the still, still, dark, dark garden, and in the stillness, faintly audible, smothered sobbing. . .”

T he student sighed and sank into thought. Still smiling, Vasilisa suddenly gave a gulp, big tears flowed freely down her cheeks, and she screened her face from the fire with her sleeve as though ashamed of her tears, and Lukerya, staring immovably at the student, flushed crimson, and her expression became strained and heavy like that of someone enduring intense pain.

The labourers came back from the river, and one of them riding a horse was quite near, and the light from the fire quivered upon him. The student said good-night to the widows and went on. And again the darkness was about him and his fingers began to be numb. A cruel wind was blowing, winter really had come back and it did not feel as though Easter would be the day after to-morrow.

Now the student was thinking about Vasilisa: since she had shed tears all that had happened to Peter the night before the Crucifixion must have some relation to her. . . .

He looked round. The solitary light was still gleaming in the darkness and no figures could be seen near it now. The student thought again that if Vasilisa had shed tears, and her daughter had been troubled, it was evident that what he had just been telling them about, which had happened nineteen centuries ago, had a relation to the present — to both women, to the desolate village, to himself, to all people. The old woman had wept, not because he could tell the story touchingly, but because Peter was near to her, because her whole being was interested in what was passing in Peter’s soul.

And joy suddenly stirred in his soul, and he even stopped for a minute to take breath. “The past,” he thought, “is linked with the present by an unbroken chain of events flowing one out of another.” And it seemed to him that he had just seen both ends of that chain; that when he touched one end the other quivered.

When he crossed the river by the ferry boat and afterwards, mounting the hill, looked at his village and towards the west where the cold crimson sunset lay a narrow streak of light, he thought that truth and beauty which had guided human life there in the garden and in the yard of the high priest had continued without interruption to this day, and had evidently always been the chief thing in human life and in all earthly life, indeed; and the feeling of youth, health, vigour — he was only twenty-two — and the inexpressible sweet expectation of happiness, of unknown mysterious happiness, took possession of him little by little, and life seemed to him enchanting, marvellous, and full of lofty meaning.

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What is A Human Being Supposed To Be?

Prayer is the nature of the human person. Man is created as a Doxological (Praise) and Eucharistic (Thanksgiving) being. When is a human being manifesting what a human is really all about? Human beings are most the way they were created to be when in their right minds. When we are in our right minds we are in a state of prayer. When we are in our right minds we are centered and in a state of receptiveness to reality, to God.

Martyrs came without bitterness. They were calm, they were in their right minds. They did not swear and curse – this is one way we show our fallenness. In our right minds we can manifest within ourselves the dignity that God intended human nature to survive with. Psalmody, spiritual reading, liturgical prayer, ceaseless prayer arm us for adversity so that our first word is not cursing but blessing.

One of the goals of prayer is to arm us for adversity. Some, when facing protracted difficult situations shine through. The 20th century is considered by some to be the most enlightened but it has also had the greatest concentration of martyrs. 10s of millions of Christians have been killed.


I had the great blessing, while at seminary, to hear Vera Bouteneff guest lecture on Father Arseny. She is the translator of “Father Arseny 1893-1972 Priest Prisoner, Spiritual Father.”

Father Arseny was an art historian and later ordained a hieromonk. He found himself in the Russian gulag during the worst years of communism. He lived his life in Christ. His main teaching was to “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2.

Consider his character, dignity, God-centeredness. He was always in his right mind; a mind of prayer, praise and thanksgiving. His rootedness in prayer gave him an arsenal in the camp.

Reading the book she translated was life changing. Listening to Vera discuss the book was like hearing her speak about an old friend. Father Arseny lived a true spiritual life. He feared no one. He shows us that love is the result of work. Father Arseny was in prison for 18 years.

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Filed under Flames of Wisdom, Orthodox Christianity, Poems, Books and Reviews

Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently

findyourstrongestlifecover“Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently” by Marcus Buckingham promises to marry success and happiness in ways that prove that women can ‘have it all!’ This is not the sort of book I ever enjoy reading. Self-help books never seem true or valuable enough to put up with the claims of “having it all.”  But I am so glad that I pressed on through the short introduction to discover an enlightening book that went beyond my expectations.

Buckingham begins with the 10 myths about the lives of women in the first of the book’s three sections, which I could not help but read aloud to my wife. After presenting the research, the second section explains and examines how to be aware of what role you most naturally live out of. His claim is that by living out of this lead role, satisfaction in life increases. Socrates said that, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I took the indicator test at www.stronglifetest.com and found it a rewarding, well-researched and accurate tool to examine your life and live out of your most natural role in life towards understanding and a sense of being who you were meant to be. The final section contains chapters of tactics that adds to the book’s practical application.

I am recommending this book to my wife and so I am recommending this book to you, too. I am a member of Thomas Nelson’s Book Review Blogger program. http://brb.thomasnelson.com


Filed under Poems, Books and Reviews

Books: Year to Date

imagesHere is a list of books that I have read this year, am currently reading and a book I had no business buying. If you are interested in buying any of them I have shamelessly added a link to purchase most of the books through my church’s store so we can get the kick back. Let’s start with the shortest category first.

Books I bought this year for my wife for Mother’s Day because my brain obviously doesn’t work right:

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” By Jane Austen and some guy who ruins the story (at least that is what my wife says).

Books I have read this year:

“The Orthodox Study Bible”

What can one say, it is really, really good especially when read from sea to shining sea if you catch my drift (pun intended). Click here to order the Orthodox Study Bible


“Ladder of Divine Ascent” by John Climacus

Written by a great saint who was Abbot of St. Katherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai. He died around 600. This book continues to be read in all Orthodox Christian monasteries all over the world during Great Lent. My Church (www.saintig.org) read this book together during Lent as we do every other year. Click here to order Ladder of Divine Ascent


“Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln” by Abraham Lincoln and Bob Blaisdell

Got tired, fell asleep and failed to complete but Amazon is selling it for $2 Click here to buy Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln


“Wild at Heart” by John Eldridge

One of those books that every guy should read and with Father’s Day coming – good gift. Click here to buy Wild at Heart


“Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis

Must read.  I am currently reading this weekly with a group of teens at my house on Tuesdays. One of the best hours of every week. Click here to buy Screwtape Letters


“Snow Falling on Cedars” by David Guterson

Fiction but not life changing and yet I couldn’t stop reading. Click here to Order Snow Falling on Cedars


“Way of Chaung Tzu” by Thomas Merton

I am unapologetic. While this may not be for everyone but Chaung Tzu predates Zen and he makes fun of Confucious surely that is worth the purchase price. Click here to Order the Way of Chaung Tzu


“The Truth About You” by Marcus Buckingham

Buckingham’s main point is that we should concentrate on our strengths instead of our weaknesses. He defines strengths not as what we are good at (or what other’s say we are good at) but what we enjoy doing. Click here to order The Truth About You

Books I Am Currently Reading:

“Death and the Rest of Your Life” by John Garvey Click here to order Death and the Rest of Your Life

“The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death” by John Behr Click here to order The Mystery of Christ

“The Noticer” by Andy Andrews I am reviewing this book for Thomas Nelson Publishers Click here to order The Noticer


Filed under Poems, Books and Reviews