Thanks very much to Father George
and the moderators for allowing me to share my book info here. And thanks very much to everyone who has commented and expressed their thoughts and interest in my work so far.
Let me tell you a little bit more about each of my books, so you can know what to expect:
Both books are collections of essays, articles, meditations and aphorisms that I’ve written over the years. The first book, Mystery and Meaning
, is more focused on Orthodox theology and apologetics. The new book, Rebel Song
, is a more personal work. It contains some autobiographical short stories, some poetry, and some personal reflections that may be open and honest to a fault. Both books are heavily weighted with pacifist polemics and pro-life philosophy.
Here are what I believe to be the strengths and weaknesses of each book:
I think Mystery and Meaning
contains some good Orthodox apologetics and some valuable information about Orthodoxy, especially the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. However, I think some readers will be turned off by the triumphalistic tenor of some of my words. I suffered from "convertitis" as I was composing the book, and unfortunately I'm afraid that it shows. I cringe at the way I articulated some of my views, especially the way I attacked Protestantism. But I still believe there is some edifying material amongst some of the less inspirational writing. Much of the material was written long before I was Orthodox, and I simply edited and revised the material to conform it to Orthodox doctrine and theology. Mystery and Meaning
, for all of its flaws, is the more Orthodox of the two books. In spite of the controversial and provocative material contained within its pages, I am confident that nothing I have written in that book contradicts the Teachings and Traditions of the Orthodox Faith. I could be wrong about that, however; and as I state in the introduction to the book, I encourage the reader to view all my words and opinions through the corrective lens of the Orthodox Church.
I think my new book, Rebel Song
, is the better written of the two. It contains some raw and deeply personal material. Like the first book, it’s quite controversial. I am a deliberately provocative writer, and I don’t shy away from that. But with this new book I wanted to make it clear that I am a weak, sinful, fallible, and struggling human being. I wanted to write about the values I hold dear without giving the impression that I’m “holier than thou.” I think Rebel Song
essentially reflects who I really am as a person: full of triumphalistic arrogance one minute and wallowing in the pig slop the next. This book does contain some profanity and some disturbing material. And unlike the first book, there may be certain things in this one that might not be thoroughly Orthodox (although I don’t think it contains anything heretical.)
Since both books are self-published, they do contain some typos. No matter how diligently I proofread and edit my own writing, I still don’t catch all the mistakes. Aggravating.
Following are the Introductions to both books, which will give you a little more info about their contents. If you would like a personalized copy of either book, please PM me. And let me reiterate that I will be glad to make my books available at no cost to anyone who cannot afford them.
THANKS AGAIN to everyone for taking an interest in the words and work of this struggling author. I covet your prayers.
INTRODUCTION to "REBEL SONG: Writings on Peace, Life, and Spiritual Revolution"
My beautiful wife has always supported my writing. She has been more than patient, perpetually encouraging my various creative endeavors. It’s not easy living with someone who devotes countless hours to “artistic” work that generates little income and far too often deprives her of my availability and my time.
But if I did not write, I would suffer emotionally and spiritually. If I did not write, my thoughts would have no release and my family would find me even more insufferable than I already am. So I am deeply grateful for the tolerance and understanding shown to me by my wife and my children. Their love and acceptance encourages whatever is good in me and tames the demons with which I constantly wrestle. If everyone on earth could know such unconditional love for even a moment, then this world would surely begin to heal.
My wife is also my de facto editor. She kindly but forthrightly advises me to simplify, shorten, and temper my work. “Too many big words”… “Too long”… “Too redundant”…“Too provocative”… she will often say. And she’s usually right. I talk too much. I preach too much. And my writing suffers from the arrogance of a man who always believes he has something important to say. But after many years of marriage, my wife still hasn’t told me to shut up. Maybe she should. I’ll let the reader decide.
The artist is inherently self-centered, and yet the artist is constantly striving to create something that transcends himself. At his worst, the artist’s words and work do nothing more than reveal his own narcissism. But at his best, his creativity reaches out to touch the very edges of the universe. My words are undoubtedly still mired in this terrestrial realm. Yet I take hope from the insight of Miguel de Cervantes – farcical though it may be: “There is no book so bad that it does not have something good in it.” [Don Quixote]
This book was written with my wife’s sage advice in mind. Some of the material is excerpted from my first book, MYSTERY and MEANING: Christian Philosophy & Orthodox Meditations
, a larger work that contains more in-depth expositions of a theological and philosophical nature. But I hope that these simple offerings of poetry and prose will be easy to read and easy to understand. And most of all, I hope that my words will usher the reader into a deeper commitment to peace, life, humanity, and love. The fire of my words is intended to purify, liberate, and heal, not to disparage and destroy. I pray that the reader will keep this in mind.
I must also emphasize that while the views and opinions in this book are deeply shaped by my Orthodox Christian faith, this book is by no means intended to be a dogmatic statement of the Orthodox Church. I am not a priest or a prophet, a teacher or a saint. I am just a simple child of God – as are we all (I truly believe) – offering up the convictions of my heart and soul with the hope that they will somehow contribute to peace, love, and healing in the world. I am a pilgrim – constantly seeking direction, constantly begging bread, and doing my best to share what I have been given with my fellow travelers on this trod through creation.
I can identify with Nikos Kazantzakis when he begins his interpretational biography of St. Francis of Assisi with the following words:
“I had taken up my quill to begin writing many times before now, but I always abandoned it quickly. Each time I was overcome with fear. Yes, may God forgive me, but the letters of the alphabet frighten me terribly. They are sly, shameless demons – and dangerous! You open the inkwell, release them; they run off – and how will you ever get control of them again? They come to life, join, separate, ignore your commands, arrange themselves as they like on the paper – black, with tails and horns. You scream at them and implore them in vain, but they do as they please. Prancing, pairing up shamelessly before you, they deceitfully expose what you did not wish to reveal, and they refuse to give voice to what is struggling, deep within your bowels, to come forth and speak to mankind. As I was returning from Church this past Sunday, however, I felt emboldened. Had not God squeezed those demons into place whether they liked it or not, with the result that they wrote the Gospels? Well then, I said to myself, ‘Courage, my soul! Have no fear of them! Take up your quill and write!’ But I immediately grew fainthearted once again. The Gospels, to be sure, were written by the holy apostles. One had his angel, the other his lion, the other his ox, and that last his eagle. These dictated, and the apostles wrote. But I…?”[St. Francis]
Writing is indeed a dangerous and presumptuous endeavor. Will I one day look back on these words and regret something I said, or the way in which I said it? If not, then perhaps that will be a bad thing, because it will mean that I have not grown and matured as a man, as a writer, and as a Christian. In his journals, Thomas Merton lamented:
“I have always said too much, too soon. And then I’ve had to revise my opinions. My own work is to me extremely dissatisfying. It seems trivial. I hardly have the heart to continue with it – certainly not with the old stuff. But is the new any better?” [The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume 7, 1967-1968]
The compositions herein simply reveal the condition of my heart and soul at this particular stage of my life. As far as my words reflect a consciousness that is wedded to peace, love, and life affirmation, then I hope that my writing becomes more passionate rather than less. But as far as my words reflect pride, presumption, and self-righteousness, then I pray that my writing will be increasingly tempered by divine mercy and true Christian grace.
I am not always responsible for that which resonates in my soul or flows through my mind. I am only responsible for what I allow to come forth, for what I allow to be unleashed. The heart guards the mind and tempers the spirit, and unless the heart is caressed by the Creator’s hand then human intelligence and human pathos will produce all manner of lies, confusions, and horrors. Perhaps there are irresponsible words in this book. Perhaps there are soulful revelations better left undisclosed. Perhaps there are unrestrained thoughts and feelings and opinions that made it past a heart that is still desperately in need of divine chastening. Only God knows. And only you, dear reader, can know what speaks to you and what does not.
Albert Camus said: “It seems to me that there is an ambition that ought to belong to all writers: to bear witness and shout aloud, every time it is possible, insofar as our talent allows, for those who are enslaved. The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.”[Resistance, Rebellion, and Death]
Well, I have no such grandiose notions about this book. But I can always hope. And it is my prayerful hope that the cry of these pages will uplift humanity and echo the divine truths by which humanity is ultimately sustained.
It is somewhat embarrassing to write about peace, justice, brotherhood, and truth – to pontificate about love, mercy, compassion, and grace – and yet do so little to actually help make these ideals a reality. But the writer writes. Perhaps because that’s the only way he can make any sense of the world, or the only way he knows how to make any difference in such a seemingly senseless world.
Dorothy Day – the radical pacifist, social revolutionary, and founder of The Catholic Worker Movement – wrote:
“Going to Confession is hard. Writing a book is hard because you are ‘giving yourself away.’ But if you love, you want to give yourself. You write as you are impelled to write, about man and his problems, his relation to God and his fellow man. You write about yourself because in the long run all man’s problems are the same. I have never felt so sure of myself that I did not feel the necessity of being backed up by great minds, searching the Scriptures and the writings of the saints for my authorities. The sustained effort of writing, of putting pen to paper so many hours a day when there are human beings around who need me – when there is sickness and hunger and sorrow – is a harrowingly painful job. I feel that I have done nothing well. But I have done what I could.” [Dorothy Day: Selected Writings]
I pray for the day when I too can say, “I have done what I could.” As it stands, I know that I have not done nearly enough, not nearly all that I could. My own words convict me. My own convictions haunt me. I am harshly judged by my own pen, and therefore I cry out: “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.”
There are various topics and themes included in this book: poetry, philosophy, social commentary, cultural criticism, essays, stories, personal reflections, and spiritual prose. The contents are not arranged in any particular order, so the book doesn’t need to be read sequentially from beginning to end. There is much that I could have included but chose not to, and probably much that is included that would have been better left out. But the words contained herein were written with deep sincerity, fallible as they may be. I hope that God had something to do with them, and I hope that humanity will somehow benefit from them.
I must also issue this disclaimer:
Portions of this book contain profane language and disturbing material that is not suitable for children. So please be selective regarding which parts of this book you allow your children to read. (And I do encourage you to let your children read most of the material contained herein. But please be responsible in exercising parental and adult censorship.)
Ultimately, I echo the sentiments of Flannery O’Connor, who said:
“When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others; but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God’s business.”[The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O’Connor]
So, this is just another “Rebel Song.” It is in God’s hands now. I pray that He will resurrect a divine melody out of any discordant notes.
~ Gebre Menfes Kidus ~
INTRODUCTION to "MYSTERY and MEANING: Christian Philosophy & Orthodox Meditations"
True religion is the discovery and fulfillment of the meaning of life through the acceptance of divine mystery. The God who created us is infinitely transcendent, yet He nevertheless reveals Himself to finite human beings.
We catch glimpses of God through His universal creation. We glean a partial knowledge of God through His universal laws. We hear the voice of God speaking through our consciences. And we feel His omnipresent existence through mortal expressions of love, mercy, justice, and compassion.
Yet in spite of these things, God is still holy mystery. He is not a riddle to be solved, but an Infinite Reality to be worshiped and adored. And with humble hearts, human beings can experience the Lord of creation in mystical depth. For through the simple but sublime message of the Gospel, God has made it possible for finite human creatures to enter into His eternal embrace. By the power of the Cross, we can indeed know* Him Who surpasses all knowing.
The Cross of Our Lord Eyesus Kristos (Jesus Christ) is the gate through which sinful man can approach divine holiness. We cannot fathom the profound grace that has made this salvation possible. All we can do is accept the love and mercy of Our Lord with gratitude and thanksgiving. And we will never be able to fully accept the grace of the Gospel if we remain isolated from God’s true Church; for it is through the Church - the mystical Bride and corporate Body of Christ - that we receive the holy Sacraments, Teachings, and Truths that bring us salvation and sanctification.
We cannot rationally explain the glorious essence of God’s holy nature. Therefore, the ancient and holy apostolic Orthodox Church has been divinely instituted to convey infinite mysteries to the finite mind. The holy icons are windows through which we can glimpse transcendent truths. The Sacraments are supernatural graces through which our bodies and minds are edified and strengthened. The Divine Liturgy is the apex of our worship, the culmination of the power of the Gospel, through which we receive the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ into our lives.
The Orthodox Faith does not try to explain these ineffable mysteries to the satisfaction of human logic. Instead, the Church simply offers herself to the world as the purest earthly expression of holy Truth and divine grace. And “Whosoever thirsts may come and drink the water of life freely.” [Revelation 22:17]
Christian faith is first and foremost the humble acceptance of the infinite, incarnate Christ and His Church. Secondly, it is the volitional endeavor to labor in this world on behalf of Christ and His Truth. This means submission to and participation in the life of His Church. It means reaching out to a broken world with the message of Our Lord’s love for suffering humanity. It means engaging society in order to proclaim God’s message of peace, justice, and human rights. It means being ambassadors of Christ (II Corinthians 5:20), showing compassion and mercy to the weak and the sinful, and opposing those forces that prey upon the weak and the sinful. For as Our Lord said, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” [St. Matthew 25:40]
So, this book is a compilation of philosophical** reflections and spiritual meditations that essentially deal with Mystery and Meaning. Herein are some of the various thoughts and opinions that I have put into writing over the years. With the power of the pen, I have tried to express the spiritual ideals and social convictions of my mind, my heart, and my soul. Admittedly, many of my views are unconventional and perhaps even controversial, but I trust they are Orthodox nonetheless. I have tried to keep a clear distinction between the established Teachings and Traditions of the Church and that which I assert as my own personal opinions. I have prayerfully labored to make sure that my own views do not contradict Orthodox truth; but if I have in any way failed in this intention, then I ask forgiveness both from Our Lord and from the reader. I cannot emphasize strongly enough that my own personal beliefs are always subservient and submissive to the theology of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Where I err, the Church does not. Therefore, I urge the reader to sift the philosophy and opinions contained herein through the trustworthiness of Orthodox inerrancy.
I dare not presume to speak for God. I am not His prophet, only his sinful servant. But within these pages, I have tried to reflect the divine harmony of grace, mercy, love, and harsh truth. Our Lord was born in a manger, meek and mild; He was the Lamb that was slain for our sins; but He shall return as a conquering lion. The consequences of sin are not gentle, and the severity of divine discipline is sometimes the greatest act of mercy. I do not wish to convey wrath, but I do feel the need to convey unvarnished realities and expose the raw truth of certain matters. However, I have tried to balance zealousness with compassion - incorporating gentle, encouraging, and uplifting meditations that provide necessary water for the provocative fires that I sometimes burn.
I am who I am, and my writing is shaped by my experiences and my convictions, all of which find coherence and stability in the Truth of Christ and His Church. Some of the meditations herein are indeed infused with anger. And I am not afraid to confess my anger - anger at false doctrines that confused and led me astray for many years; anger at injustices and evils like abortion that claim the countless lives of innocent human creatures; anger at the arrogance of worldly power structures and false leaders that deceive and harm sincere God-fearing people; anger at the various manifestations of the ideology of violence which result in the desecration of human beings created in the very image of God; anger at the profound betrayals of friends and family that I have personally experienced at crucial times in my life. And I believe that many people in this world also share a similar anger. I want to give voice to their laments and show them that someone else shares their pain and their struggles. I want my fellow sufferers to know that somebody else cares. I want them to know that there is solidarity in common suffering, and that there is healing and comfort in the common communion of authentic Christian worship.
St. John Cassian lists anger as one of the eight deadly sins, but St. Paul says, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” [Ephesians 4:26] I can only hope that my anger errs on the side of devotion rather than pride, and I supplicate the Son of God to burn away any self-righteous passions that reside in my heart. I pray that this book will uplift the faithful, give hope to the hopeless, and bring inspiration to those who sincerely search for God and His truth.
We know that “Love conquers a multitude of sins.” [I Peter 4:8] So, if my revolutionary zeal obscures my efforts to promote the unfailing love of Our Lord, then I have failed. The writer’s curse is that what he prints is usually irrevocable, so it has been a prayerful challenge for me to discern what I should actually include in this book. Numerous texts were omitted or excised because I believed they ultimately reflected my egotistical emotions rather than the true Spirit of Our Lord.
The tone, tenor, and topic of these meditations varies from page to page, and from text to text - sometimes drastically so. Therefore, I encourage the reader to continue reading even though he may encounter a text or meditation with which he strongly disagrees or finds particularly unpalatable. I sincerely believe that there is something edifying and uplifting for everyone somewhere within these pages. I certainly hope so. Yet I echo the thoughts of Miguel De Cervantes, who wrote in his Prologue to Don Quixote:
“I am not interested in saying things just because everybody else does, or in begging you, dearest reader, with tears in my eyes, to please overlook my child’s (i.e., my book’s) faults. Your soul sits in its own body, you can make up your mind for yourself, with the best of them; and by God, you’re the boss in your own house. Which means you are under no obligation at all, so you can say anything you like about this; you don’t have to worry about being insulted if you don’t like it or rewarded if you do… There is no book so bad that it does not have something good in it.”
It is not easy to gaze directly into the light of spiritual truth, and it is never pleasant to disclose the dark realities of social injustice. But we have a Christian duty to proclaim the truth, regardless of whether that truth is comforting or convicting. I dare not pretend that my finite opinions constitute “the truth;” but I pray that they are in conformity with Truth, and I hope that they point to Truth. For I seek only to honor Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who alone is “The Way, the Truth, and the Life.” [St. John14:6]
My words flow from a heart that struggles to love God more than sin. They stem from a finite mind whose arrogance often needs to be humbled by divine omniscience. They emanate from a soul that longs to see the realization of peace, love, and justice in this fallen and sin stained world.
Everything contained herein I have written to myself first and foremost; and there is no profit in these words unless I diligently seek to heed and apply them to my own life and to my own spiritual struggle. As St. Maximus the Confessor(r) said, “Our devotion lies not in words, but in realities.” I have learned that the actions do not come so easily as the ideas, and that it is easier to preach the Cross than to actually take it up and carry it. I am mindful of the exhortation of St. John Climacus, who writes:
“Not all of us are required to save others. The divine Apostle says: ‘Everyone shall give account of himself to God.’ (Romans 14:12) And again he says: ‘Thou therefore that teachest another, dost thou not teach thyself?’ (Romans 2:21)This is like saying: I do not know whether we must all teach others; but we most certainly should teach ourselves… Words betray a soul’s ignorance; but the law of love is an incentive to attempt things that are beyond our capacity.”[The Ladder of Divine Ascent; Step 3:4, 25]
The topics within this book are many, spanning the themes of spiritual warfare, mysticism, Orthodox theology, human rights, metaphysics, social justice, Christian pacifism,*** biblical commentary, cultural criticism, and the teachings of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. I have also included my Testimony of Baptism into the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which I have placed at the end of the book.
It is my hope that God will be glorified through what I have written. It is my desire that these words will inspire spiritual devotion, social consciousness, and an interest in the Orthodox Christian Faith. And it is my prayer that the Christian ideals I know in theory will eventually become the praxis of my heart and the example of my day to day life.
If within these pages I have expressed ideas or opinions that are errors of faith or theology, then I defer to the authority of the Holy Orthodox Church, whose Teachings, Traditions, and Truth shall rightly correct them. “Lord have mercy.”
This book is not divided into chapters, and it is not arranged according to specific topics. Therefore, it does not need to be read sequentially from beginning to end. These composed texts may serve as a manual for spiritual reflection, as a devotional guide, or as stimulus for philosophical and theological contemplation. I believe most readers will find opinions with which they may wholeheartedly agree, as well as views that they may adamantly oppose. If everything in this book is either pleasing to everyone or offensive to everyone, then I have failed both as a Christian and as a writer.
Humility is the evidence of courage. Servitude is the sign of strength. The willingness to see the truth indicates a desire for the Divine. My prayer is that the message of these pages will lead you to Truth, lead you to God, and leave you with abiding peace, love, and hope.
May Our Lord Jesus Christ be glorified, may humanity be edified, and may this writer continue to be sanctified through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Holy Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
“One who is poor and does not possess the wealth of Christ in his soul, even if he wishes to offer a word of truth to gladden others, yet does not possess within himself the word of God in power and reality, but only repeats from memory and borrows words from various parts of the book of Scripture, or what he has heard from spiritual men, and relates these things- see, he seems to gladden others. But after he has gone through it, each word goes back to the source from which it was taken, and he himself remains once more naked and poor. For this reason, we should seek first from God with pain of heart and in faith, that He would grant us to find this wealth, the true treasure of Christ in our hearts, in the power and effectual working of the Holy Spirit. In this way, first finding in ourselves the Lord to be our profit and salvation and eternal life, we may then profit others also, according to our strength and opportunity, drawing upon Christ, the treasure within.” ~ St. Macarius the Great ~
Besime Ab, WeWolde, WeMenfesQidus, Ahadu Amlak.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God
GEBRE MENFES KIDUS
“Servant of the Holy Spirit”
- Many Orthodox theologians teach that since God cannot be comprehended by mortal reason, it is therefore erroneous to even speak of such a thing as the “knowledge of God.” Although I agree with this view to a certain extent, I nevertheless use phrases such as “knowing God,” “knowledge of God,” etc. throughout this book. Many sections herein discuss this very issue of the “knowledge of God,” and elaborate on what this means.
- Philosophy as an end in itself is thoroughly condemned in Orthodoxy. In fact, because of the numerous heresies and falsehoods that philosophy has produced, some Orthodox theologians have rejected the use of the term “philosophy” altogether. But everyone has a philosophy (or worldview), whether they realize it or not. Thus, I maintain the use of the word “philosophy” and attempt to articulate a sound Orthodox Christian worldview throughout this book. (Whether or not I have succeeded is for the reader to decide.)
Tertullian famously said, “Search that you may believe, then stop.” In other words, the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom should lead us to faith in Christ, and any philosophical endeavor that does not facilitate the experience of God is nothing more than human vanity. And Clement of Alexandria wrote, “Philosophy was a schoolmaster to the Greeks, as the law was to the Hebrews, preparing the way for those who are perfected by Christ.” Therefore, true Christian philosophy is concerned with analyzing ideas, condemning that which is opposed to Christ and His Church and striving to conform one’s life to those ideas which comply with Christ and His Church. As St. Paul writes: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ.” [II Corinthians 10:5]
- Orthodoxy eschews the ideology of “isms,” and therefore usually speaks of “peacemaking” rather than “pacifism.” But for the sake of clarity, I have consistently incorporated the terms “Christian pacifism” and “theistic pacifism” throughout this book. I specifically use these terms in order to differentiate my position from both secular pacifist ideology and from Catholic “just war” theory. Rather than abandoning the term “pacifism” because of its various misconceptions and fallacious connotations, I hope instead to reclaim this label and infuse it with the spiritual vitality of Orthodox Christian meaning.