An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
I have been having some amazingly vivid dreams lately...unsure why, but it is quite unusual. Such dreams usually only haunt me when I am fully inebriated with NiQuil, but as of late they seem to be working on their own.
I was at the "viewing" (a strange special portion, seperate from the funeral, of some - fewer and fewer - western funeral services) of my grandmother who passed away a little over a year ago. Her body was not fully prepared yet and I saw it sitting on a stainless steel table in a medicinal room located next door to the room decored with all the lavish comforts of someone else's home - a facade. We were waiting, while I bounced back and forth between looking at my Grandmother and then back into the room full of waiting people. I noticed my Grandfather was there (he'd actually passed away at least a year a more before this) and though he looked distraught, he was practicing small dance moves and I was reminded that he and my Grandmother used to love to dance.
At one point I was "dared" to go into the the room and say "Hi" the Grandma, so I did. At which point, she "woke up" and to the shock of everyone present got up and walked off - perfectly not dead.
Then we all found ourselves happily strolling through the streets of downtown Findlay. I realized that one of my kids was suddenly with me...I cannot tell you which one, but I just sensed in that parental sort of way that I needed to be conscious of my child's doings. And then I noticed that everything around me was happening in a jerky back and forth fast-forward/play motion. I watched the people around me closely.
I saw an old couple leisurely walking by and then suddenly, the woman stopped, surprising her husband who took a couple more unintentional steps beyond her. He looked back at her and they seemed to have a special private moment of gazing knowingly into one another's eyes. And then the husband moved on, leaving the wife standing motionless while the world buzzed around her. I realized that she was dead.
As I looked around, I saw more and more of the same sort of scene: a young wife sadly walks away from her seemingly petrified husband, a mother mournfully continues on her way that had until moments before also been the way of her small child, and on and on it went. It seemed that we were surrounded by these sad images of death and seperation and I felt intensely inclined to cradle my child so that if he or she were to suddenly be made still, that I would go on carrying them. I would go on carrying them...
At 5:10 this morning, I awoke with this ongoing feeling and before getting the coffee going, I checked on the kids, kissed them, and asked God's protection and blessing upon them. And then a prayer for Grandma and Grandpa as well, I expect they are dancing.
Well things are looking bleak (or bright – depending on your perspective) in the Anglican Church.
I have to say that I think it a sad commentary that it takes the ordination of a gay bishop to bring the Anglicans to this point. A split should have happened a long time ago when the ECUSA retained a bishop who denied that Jesus rose physically from the dead! How that can masquerade as Christianity is still way beyond me. And I suppose that upon further reflection it did cause a split – I left.
I guess I don’t understand why the bishop’s sexual practices are seemingly more important than his inability to uphold the fundamental truths of Christianity. And at the same time, I wonder about the apparent consistence of both issues finding union with one another.
Ought we Orthodox be doing more to show conservative Anglicans a more positive way out? A way of union, rather than division? Could we do so on some official level?
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 11:36 AM [+] +++
Thursday, February 24, 2005
Finally saw the film the other night. I didn't realize that some Lutheran financial group funded it, at least in part. But whether a wholly secular endeavor or Lutheran, I fully expected to see the Roman Catholic Church portrayed in the absolute worse light possible, and I wasn't dissapointed. Though not quite reaching the level of the Eisenstein film “Nevsky” in which we see Catholic hierarchs looking on as Russian babies are tossed into a fire, this certainly gave us the much-hated image of a thoroughly corrupted Church wielding unquestionable authority for nefarious purposes.
No intelligent contrary arguments were ever offered in the film to any of Luther’s complaints, none. As if Luther could not possibly have been mistaken in anything he was complaining against – but I suppose that would be expected. No mention of his little word addition in Romans and no mention of his hatred for my patron’s epistle. One particularly sad part for me was Luther’s attacks on relics and at one point in a sermon he says that God is not to be found in dead men’s bones, but in the living love we share amongst one another. And I kept thinking: why not both? I mean, perhaps the west has a different understanding of the veneration of relics?
While watching, it seemed clear to me that Luther’s reformation was kneejerk to abuses that no doubt existed, but his was an overreaction that began the process of throwing the baby out with the bathwater – which reached insane proportions in the coming years.
Interesting that the film closes happily with words that say in effect that today, 540 million people worship in churches inspired by Luther’s reformation. I sighed seeing it, for what to the makers of the film is a glorious celebration of religious freedom seems to me to be a very sad thing – because those 540 million are pitifully divided on so much, because so much was rejected in a kneejerk.
Publican or Pharisee Please choose which one best describes you.
It seems that most everytime we reach this jumping platform into the pool the penitential season, I wrestle with this question. Oh, how easy it is for me to see myself as the Publican - not as one who recognizes and is genuinely sorrowful and repentant of his sins, but rather as the one who is the object of the Pharisee's prayer. You know, the person that the Pharisee says he is glad he isn't like: me.
For as long as I have been a Christian, I have felt like I have played this role...well, on second thought, perhaps not. I initially played the "holiness" pentecostal very well: don't drink, smoke, play cards, dance, or go to R rated movies. But was I holy? Hell no. Who has time to pray and REALLY be holy when you are so busy trying to work on presenting such a holy appearance?
With Orthodoxy we are in danger of exchanging one list of "holiness dont's" for a new set: Don't miss ANY services, don't eat meat or dairy on fast days, don't venerate the icons during the chanting of the six Psalms, don't let your kids make any noise in the Nave, etc.
But the Church in her calenderic wisdom has us not fasting AT ALL this week. Reminding us that the fast in and of itself is absolutely worthless. Worse than worthless it may make Pharisees of us all...unless the humility of the Publican rules over our hearts...MY heart.
No answer to the question of which character in the Parable I identify with is sufficient...in fact the question is utterly flawed. For what I need to learn is not to feel like the Publican seen by the eyes of the Pharisee, and also not to be the Publican whose eyes have been replaced with those of the Pharisees.
Even us sinners who frquently fail at keeping all of the "Holiness' donts" can still be Pharisees, though we may be reference points for the prayers of other more visible Pharisees.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me a sinner...and help me to look down into my own heart and to worry less about the hearts of others.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 12:06 PM [+] +++
Saturday, February 19, 2005
Pope criticized for Abortion-holocaust comparison
Article HERE. Some staggering quotes from Paul Spiegel, the head of Germany's Central Council of Jews:
The Roman Catholic Church..."does not want to understand that there is a tremendous difference between factory-like genocide and what women do to their bodies."
Ummm...and how exactly is Abortion not "factory-like genocide" on a scale that makes the holocaust look like child's play? Do we even know how many babies have been slaughtered...labelled either as inhuman or at best sub-human. (Sound familiar Mr. Spiegel?)
"For the pope to draw a comparison between abortion and the Holocaust shows a lack of moral and ethical direction."
Wrong Mr. Spiegel, for you to complain about the comparison shows that YOU have "a lack of moral and ethical direction." Furthermore it shows that you have a profound lack of understanding for your own religion. See Here, and Here.
Really, the issue here has NOTHING to do with the holocaust, but everything to do with the the abortion debate. Because I would argue that if you stand on the side of Life, then you could argue that Abortion is far worst that the holocaust - if for no other reason than for the fact that the likes of Mr. Spiegel can today make these very points above.
My son used to have this infatuation with a little segment of green and white-checkered cloth, which when tied around his neck as a cape, released its super hero powers upon him. He adored it and spent a great deal of time roaming the house, ridding it of the marvel book equivalents of Osama Bin-Laden.
Around the same time he had made it a habit of getting out of bed in the middle of the night and crawling into bed with my wife and I – a habit we initially really did not mind because he’d simply go right back to sleep. But, as time went on and he grew and became more acrobatic in his sleep, it became apparent (espcecially to my wife) that the habit needed to stop.
After trying a number of unsuccessful strategies, in a moment of frustration and half-seriousness my wife threatened to take away the cherished cape until such a time that the lad chose to stay in his own bed all night. He considered the offer for a brief moment as he was climbing into his bed and then offered this rather surprising response:
“Dat’s okay mom,” and pointing at the carefully hung cape on his dresser, “I don’t like it dat much.”
I laughed out loud having the story told to me, a rich and joyful laugh that is all too much lacking in my life. I wanted to run into the boys' room and give that little super hero a big old furry-dad bear hug.
Approaching Lent now, it causes me to think about what sort of things I am willing to give up in order to "cuddle" with our Heavenly Father. To my son, the precious cape was worthless compared to the comfort and peace he derived from being in bed with his Dad, and I cannot help but wonder how many things in my life ought to be identified as worthless.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 11:15 AM [+] +++
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Hard to imagine, I know...but it is true. And probably for the best, given my present state of mind...stay tuned.
Ray Kurzweil trampling down death by science... The story is HERE.
Intriguing. Particularly for me because this theme plays a small role in the book I am writing. Really, it is the overall goal of medical science, but Ray just happens to name it more blatantly while holding to some sense of real expectation.
In a way, it reaffirms the fact that all humans recognize the enemy - regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof.
Everything Ray dreams of has been accomplished by Christ. The most bitter irony I can imagine is for Ray to have an Orthodox funeral.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:37 AM [+] +++
Friday, February 11, 2005
I was essentially raised in a secular home with precious little in the realm of religious traditions. But I can vividly recall that we had a tradition of having homemade lasagna for dinner on Christmas eve. I look fondly upon that tradition, not only because my mom makes a kick-butt homemade lasagna, but also because it was a staple in my life. It was something we could count on and look forward to. A simple anchor amidst unsure seas. I think, no matter how much we popularly decry traditions, in reality we crave them...they feed us life.
SS speaks on this matter in her latest post and seeks input from other families to learn what "t"raditions they keep at home that assist them in bringing Christ into their lives. I'd like to hear about them as well and I have small one to share. God check it out.
A moment of clarity came to me by means of a lawyer's commercial I heard recently on the radio. Geared toward people who were facing a drunk driving charge, the lawyer promised to be able to help because "we understand that bad things happen to good people."
Upon hearing it, I could have fallen out of my chair from shock. But upon further reflection it really doesn't surprise me, for we are society seemingly obsessed with not taking responsibility for ourselves. We blame everyone and everything...except ourselves. No, it is not a new phenomenon, reference Adam’s attempt at blaming Eve, but it does seem that presently we more readily embrace the notion that we are not in control of our actions. Place this prominantly in your mind for a day or two and marvel at the examples you will find – however subtle – of people shielding themselves from blame behind a sort of deterministic mantra.
Sex is a real big one. Consider how we strive through medical technology to avoid the typically natural consquences of intercourse: children. Furthermore, consider how we strive on a moral level to remove the emotional responsibility of commitment from sex. I recently heard a conservative radio personality make a very good point to a pro-abortion caller who insisted on being called “pro-choice.” He said that he was pro-choice too, because he believed that everyone woman (save rape of course) CHOOSES to get pregnant. But you see, we as a society believe we ought to be able to do anything we like without ugly consequences like responsibility.
It used to be said: “the devil made me do it” but now we say “my genes and my terrible environment made me do it” or something to that effect. I recently read, and I cannot recall where, that the best way to deal with other people is to always start with the basic assumption that people are ultimately responsible for their own behavior. But of course, recognizing this doesn’t negate the need for grace. On the contrary it convinces us of the need for grace. Everytime we go to confession or as we approach the chalice we take responsibilty for our behavior…or at least we try to.
SS has some interesting quotes on "children". This one struck me in particular because I think it has application to the lengthy commenting going on regarding the dancing procession.
The simplest means for confining the will within its proper bounds lies in disposing children to do nothing without permission. Let them be eager to run to their parents and ask: May I do this or that? They should be persuaded by their own experience and that of others that to fulfill their own desires without asking is dangerous; they should be put in such a frame of mind that they even fear their own will. -St Theophan the Recluse, "The Path to Salvation" p 58
Does this change with adulthood? I think not, it changes with purification, illumination, and deification...but not with biological adulthood. Experience has taught me to AT LEAST be weary of my own will.
It cannot but seem odd to be dropping a shoveled mound of dirt upon the casket of a friend. Odder still, if not traumatic, for those who knew her better than I. But death stares all of us in the face, and it is no less tragic here when one goes by way of cancer than when a hundred thousand or more are swept away by the sea. We will all join them...
Let us go forth, and gaze into the tombs.
Man is naked bones, food for the worms, and stench;
and we shall learn what are riches
and vigor and beauty and strength.
...the Orthodox funeral service leaves nothing to the imagination. While the service and our prayers are for the departed, they also slap us in the face - virtually begging us to open our eyes and see.
I wept for the family as they gave their last kiss, but I also wept for us as well...all of us:
I weep and I wail when I think upon death
and behold our beauty, fashioned after the image of God
lying in the tomb disfigured, deprived of form.
O marvel! What is this mystery which befalls us?
Many of the departed's extended family were not Orthodox and I often wondered what they were thinking of the service, for by all accounts it is rather foreign to the more sterile traditions many of us are used to. But after the servant of God, Felicitas, was lowered into her tomb and Fr. James had sprinkled some dirt onto the casket, we hear brightness beginning to be most fully be expressed: "This tomb is sealed unto the glorious Second Coming of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ"
And I could not hold back a smile as we began to sing the Paschal hymn "The Angel Cried", which is a song that entreats the grieving Theotokos to rejoice, for her "Son has risen from His three days in the tomb." What a wonderful song for the family and I prayed that they would begin to allow the hymn's implications to bring some brightness amidst the sadness.
And then the Paschal greeting "Christ is Risen!" and we Orthodox answered triumphantly: "Indeed He is Risen!" And as Fr. James offered it again, I watched as many of those family members I assumed to be non-Orthdoox cracked smiles and said with great enthusiasm: "Indeed He is Risen!" And by the time of the third pronouncement, I really believe bright sadness was found by all.
My apologies in advance, if you don't find it equally entertaining. You have to admit that the priest has some great dance moves and pay particular attention to one of the altar boys! Most interesting is that this is Roman Catholic...I'm sure HR has some better memories from St. Greg's.
...that I often get, came to me this morning while taking a shower. I suppose I might be schizophrenic, because alot of times these thoughts come to me in the form of a question like the one I had this morning:
"James, when was the last time you spontaneously laughed out loud, because something was so beautiful?"
I eventually grew to become a really socially conscious Christian. I adored Ron Sider and can still to this day remember reading "Rich Christians..." for the first time. Whereas before, saving the world meant getting everyone on the planet to say the “sinner’s prayer” (AND MEAN IT!), after my enlightenment it seemed to me that it was equally important to make sure that everyone was well fed and had a nice house to live in. Later, when I realized that I could not remain on track toward ordination in the Assemblies of God I was, in no small way, adrift…not knowing how to fulfill the Great Commission.
But still wanting to “save the world” I starting studying medical lab science in the hopes of taking any skills I might learn to third world countries – or something along those lines. I’m really not sure where my hopes (we used to say “calling”) for ordination went. Anyway, my newfound membership in the ECUSA fully supported my quest for fulfilling the gospel of social action.
But, like my quest for ordination, my aspirations of being a new Mother Theresa were postponed (or dissolved?) because I fell in love and married my wife. Then, kids started mysteriously arriving. Next thing I know, my social conscience is being ministered to by “advancing knowledge and saving lives” at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Not precisely what I had envisioned.
But the other night I was sitting and doing nothing in my easy chair. I began to ponder my occassional heartfelt deisre to “save the world” and “make a difference.” As I did, a little voice asked, “Daddy, can I have a drink of water?”
I smile now as I write, for you see in reality, I have in my care not one world to save, not one difference to be made – but FOUR! Man, talk about not seeing the forest through the trees, that small voice was a whirlwind out of which a much louder and more powerful voice revealed my pride, my stupidity, and my potential. No, not mine…their potential. I was sinning by squinting and looking out across the oceans for a way to satisfy my social conscience, while all along, playing at my feet were four amazing lives that needed more attention from that very same social conscience.
Parenthood is THE single most powerful discipleship and charity “program” on the planet. It’s time that I get that through my thick skull and start taking that responsibility seriously. I may not be a priest or a Mother Theresa, but I am a Dad and everyday I can chose to be a terrible, mediocre, or an amazing one - a life changing one!
Good old "Bible Answer Man" at it again. I suppose if he were to stop and try a different approach he'd have to change his name. His caller is seeking to know more about the "doctrine of the Trinity" and how it "developed." Asking, "Did it arise at the council of Nicea?"
"Well of course it didn't," Hank tells her, "it arose from the Bible."
And thus the scripture king planned his sneak attack and pummelled his poor doubting caller with proof-texts which did not seem to satisfy her anymore than they might have satisfied Arius. Despite the dozen or so times that we were treated to :"scripture teaches, scripture teaches, scripture teaches..." Can an inanimate object have a verb attached to it, unless something else is acting upon it? How can Scripture "teach"?
Let's say you go down to Walmart and pickup a book on Karate and begin to practice night and day. Then, believing that you have excelled in your roundhouse kicks and your breaking of boards someone might oneday ask: "Who was your teacher?" Would you respond with the author of the book you bought? Well you could, but would it not be disingenuous? In truth, would it not be more truthful to say that you were SELF-TAUGHT? Hmmmmm....
Naturally Hank closed up his lengthy process of setting the poor woman aright with his annunciation that the doctrine of the Trinity did not arise from "some tradition" (said with appropriate protestant disgust) but from the infallable, perfect, sacred, depository of revelation: Holy Scripture.
It all seems so foreign to me now, all the more I suppose since I used to venerate the BAM like a devout Catholic might the Pope (and it was the REAL BAM at the time!) How on earth did the council at Nicea manage the creed without appealing to Tradition???? Did St. Nicholas slap Arius with his Pocket NIV? Or perhaps St. Athanasius appealed to his NT Greek interlinear when writing "On the Incarnation"? I mean, gee, wasn't it some 40 or so years AFTER Nicea that we see St. Athanasios taking the time to announce exactly what ought to comprise the NT????
HOLY SCRIPTURE IS HOLY TRADITION, THE TWO ARE INSEPERABLE!
IN A SENSE, THEY ARE TWO PERSONS IN ONE NATURE.
(I know it's long, but read it anyway...I'd like to know if it rings true with others)
Sitting down last night for a time of relaxation (having discovered sunday that our little microscopic friend had not fully left my family). The vomit was cleaned up, the dog fed, the sword had been succesfully removed from the stone, the fellowship had had its harrowing experience on weathertop, and the children were now blessed and tucked away in bed.
On comes the TV. "Ask this old House" teaches me how to change out a kitchen sink.
And it occurred to me that there really is a huge number of such programs. And while most bill themselves as "home improvement", many are better described as dealing with "home maintenance." Indeed, the web is full of sites that will tell you how to do just about anything in your home: from changing a lightbulb to installing a doorway in a load-bearing wall.
I do not know the "market numbers", but when I was growing up I do not remember seeing any such programs on TV - of course that doesn't mean there weren't any, because really if there were, would I have paid attention? But, I think it makes sense that there is more of a market out there to teach people how to do home maintenance today because we might be looking at the effects of traditions (paradosis) not being passed on.
My parents divorced when I was 12 years old, after which I saw my Dad – at most - four days out of every thirty. And for the life of me, I cannot recall every working on a home maintenance project with him. No toilet replacements, no washer or knob changes on a sink or shower, no wiring in the attic, no rough-in's of doors...nothing.
And so now, here I am 36 years old and doing some fairly major alterations to my house and seriously lacking two things that could help me: know-how and money to pay someone to do it for me. I could be wrong about all of this, but shouldn’t there be some magical world where someone passes down information to me that they had learned from someone before them, etc etc? That thing we stupidly lament, called “tradition”?
Have we as a society lost the traditions of home maintenance being passed down from father to son? I mean when I first faced a problem with a toilet in the house, should I have been forced to approach the matter with ignorance leading to fear and trembling? For had I been the recepient of Home Maintenance Paradosis I would have run down to the small local hardware store, gotten what I needed (including beer) and fixed the darn thing in time to catch kickoff at 10am. Instead it becomes an all day project that includes my begging for insight from some ignorant sales clerk at the local gigantic chain home improvement susperstore, getting the wrong parts, surfing the web for insights, and then fixing what I did wrong the following weekend.
It’s really not all that fun trying to “figure it out for yourself” which is a mantra that our culture tends to LOVE and PRAISE. You realize the demonic ignorance of the mantra when you are trying to rip out a bathroom floor because a toilet was not repaired properly and the floor rotted out from the slow leak that should have been noticed years ago. No, tradition isn’t all that bad now is it? Think of all the time and money I could save if I had just been taught beforehand…sigh.
I intend, like Saint Paul, to exhort my sons (and daughters) to hold to the traditions that I will have passed on to them. And the benefit in passing on those traditions is that I get free slave labor. It’s a good trade, one that I wished I had participated in as a kid.
Feel free to make this an analogy for “doing church” if you so wish.