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 hope you are all enjoying a blessed Nativity. As I have time I have a few humble reflections to offer from amidst our very busy time over the last few days. I found this article and wanted to share it before I return to the fire and watch the snow fall.
We dance around this great hinge of our theology and of our practices. The "official" and ancient title of the feast says it bluntly: "The Feast of the Nativity in the flesh of our Lord, and God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ." Hallmark should consider using it on their cards, I think.
Seriously, so much of what we Orthodox do is rooted in the Nativity. Our icons, veneration of the Saints, and relics (and on and on) is all intimately connected with God enfleshed.
Allow me to be blunt. Orthodoxy has added so much...so VERY much richness to my understanding and celebration of Christmas. You can read some of what I mean HERE (one of my earliest posts on Christmas). I still marvel at the mystery we are preparing to celebrate...it is SUCH an astonishing thing, could words ever do it justice?
Too big to be contained in a single service, the richness of the feast is dispensed to us in portions of various services as we approach Christmas (or as my old calenderist friends likes to call it: Catholic Christmas). The words, prayers, and chants communicate to us the enigmatic nature of this feast; the incomprehensible depths of the mystery of God being fed from the body of a Virgin - He who is in fact returning the favor (by feeding us from His Body) unto eternal life.
How can a womb contain Him whom nothing can contain? How can He remain in His Father's bosom, yet rest in His mother's arms? It is His good pleasure to accomplish this! Having no flesh, He purposely assumes it for our sake. He who is become what He never was. He shares our substance without forsaking His own nature. Desiring to make us citizens of the world in high, Christ, the only-begotten of the Father, is born on earth as a man.
The Creator shaped man with His own hands, but when He saw us perishing eternally, He bowed the heavens and came down to earth, and clothed Himself completely in our nature, truly incarnate from a pure and holy virgin, for He has been glorified!
Heaven brought the first-fruits of the Gentiles as a gift for You; A star summoned the wise men to the babe in the manger. They were amazed to see neither throne nor scepter. But only abject poverty. What is more humble than a cave? What is more lowly than swaddling clothes? Yet the riches of Your divinity shone through all these. O Lord, glory to You!
You have borne the Savior, O Virgin Theotokos. You have overthrown Eve's ancient curse. You became the mother of the Son of God. The Father is well-pleased in Him. You carry at your bosom God, the Word, made flesh. We cannot fathom this mystery. We can only believe, and give glory to you: O Lord, beyond all explanation, glory to you!
ONLY FIVE SHOPPING prayer, fasting, almsgiving DAYS LEFT UNTIL CHRISTMAS!!!
Are you as ill prepared as I am? Typical of me.
The Body of God both deifies and nourishes; It deifies the spirit and wondrously nourishes the mind.
Thou hast ravished me with longing, O Christ, and with Thy divine love Thou hast changed me. But burn up with spiritual fire my sins and make me worthy to be filled with delight in Thee, that I may leap for joy, O gracious Lord, and magnify Thy two comings.
Into the splendor of Thy Saints how shall I who am unworthy enter? For if I dare to enter the bridechamber, my vesture betrays me, for it is not a wedding garment, and as a prisoner I shall be cast out by the Angels. Cleanse my soul from pollution and save me, O Lord, in Thy love for men.
Surely you, like me, recall the "Little House on the Prairie" episodes where what looked to be the worse Christmas ever ended up being the best? Initially it was going to be worse because there were no presents to give and little food to be had, or because someone got lost in the snow, or whatever...but in the end some miracle sets the stage for awareness of what is most important.
My Aunt, after spending weeks wondering if her recently discovered melanoma was going to make this Christmas her last, has just learned that the melanoma was localized and for all intents and purposes gone.
The Greatest Christmas Ever is happening right now in Ohio. A reminder for us all to seek and hold on to awareness of what is most important.
Recently at a series of Mission Talks I attended I heard something I found to be interesting. The speaker, Fr. John Hainsworth mentioned that today we have far more in common with the early church than our forefathers did, in the sense that we are fast becoming a post-Christian generation whereas similarly the early church was amidst a pre-christian. He is right of course and he also noted something else: Orthodox Christianity is THE most counter-cultural thing on the planet earth. He even noted that Marilyn Manson with his attempts at expressing his counter-cultural notions cannot hope to compete with the radicalized Orthodox Church.
It got me thinking about how so many breeds of Christianity are choosing NOT to be counter-cultural, but rather to let culture be the new authoritative magisterium they often fear exists amidst "Institutionalized" religion. Like the protestants of old, now jacked up on pomo crack, they have exchanged one pope for billions. Of course, it's not just the emergent folk who "flow with culture", it's also the liberal belief systems and denominations like episcopalianism.
That's about when a friend emailed me this link to a PBS special on the emergent "church" thingy. There is much I could say...should I? Well I am inclined to speak because they do very much give the impression that those of us in "traditional" expressions of church are missing the boat to the future. A couple of things:
Doug Pagitt says in the video that, "Christianity is....not stagnant belief....and has never been about uniformity."
Of course there is some room to interpret what he means here, but there is also a great deal of room to say that what he says here is absolutely not true. Schism in the early church (i.e. between Orthodoxy and gnosticism) didn't happen because the early Church was laissez-faire about its belief. Reading the early fathers doesn't give one the impression that they were all into letting everyone be in charge. I mean how can one read read the letters of St. Ignatios of Antioch (or Scripture for that matter) and envision a "church" that remotely looked like a room filled with encircled couches where everyone contributes equally (theologically even).
I often hear the pomo crowd trying to deflect the criticisms of some with appeals to the early church...which of course bore no more resemblance to Calvary Chapel than it does to "solomon's Porch." And so when I hear this from the video:
"More and more Christians say the usual ways of doing church no longer resonates with a contemporary postmodern culture."
...I have to wonder how this notion played out for the early Church. Well, of course, it didn't at all. Let's pause and consider what resonate means:
To evoke a feeling of shared emotion or belief To correspond closely or harmoniously
Well the early church met secretly, in part because it was illegal of course (rather counter-cultural I'd say) but also because vicious rumors had been flying about them. They were accused of having wild orgies and of cannibalism! They were not exactly devising ways to better resonate with the pagan culture...perhaps because they were being too busy being killed by the pagan culture. And really, how often did they fail to save themselves by simply burning a pinch of incense to Caesar and walking away? They sound pretty stubborn to me...just a pinch of incense for crying out loud! And today we have Christians whining about how church no longer resonates with them and their secular friends. How they want to do church in a way that appeals to them...well maybe the early church should have wrapped their brains around the notion that it's appealing to not be eaten by lions and just burn a stupid pinch of incense. But they didn't and those that did were often ostracized and huge debates raged about what to do about those who repented of having burned the incense. These early church folk seemed pretty stringent...maybe even stagnant in their beliefs.
I suppose I should not complain too much about this all...I truly do honor the awakened desire to seek genuine faith. And much of what they rebel against has little to do with the Orthodox Church, though they of course would never understand this because Orthodoxy has all of the apparent external "trappings" they vilify. Let us consider the Orthodox Divine Liturgy:
1. It isn't for non-believers. In ancient times the first half was for catechumens, and the latter half was for MEMBER'S ONLY. It is not designed to appeal to the unillumined. It was not invented to be cool and to resonate...it was taken from the traditions they already had from the Synagogues and from the Temple itself.
2. Furthermore it is not "designed" by some lone artist or "DJ" seeking to "bless us", but rather it is the product of generations. Yes, it bears the name of St. John Chrysostom (save those of St. James and St. Basil), but clearly St. John put much of it together from far more ancient sources. And since that time it has indeed not remained static, it has changed with all the speed of a glacier in the hands of those who "forget not the ancient landmarks." Yes, we give our ancestors a vote and there are more of them than us. What has happened to us that we ignore those who've gone before us?
3. Amidst the Divine Liturgy, the Kingdom is present, NOW. It doesn't matter if you feel it, or even believe it really...because (GASP) it's not about YOU right now, it's about the community (meaning those in the present, the past, and the future). The Liturgy begins with a welcoming proclamation "Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!" It's not time to express your feelings about your personal faith journey. It's time to be changed by God via generations of wisdom, which is, believe it or not, grander than the vast wisdom collected in any individuals head over the past 30 years (give or take).
4. Encircled couches replace pews. BLECH! STAND you wusses! Stand like men! Good night, you are in the KINGDOM (meaning, usually, a King is present), and really only three postures make sense: stand, kneel, or prostrate. What is this sit in circle and chat?!?!? Save it for afterwards.
5. Okay I'll stop. Look, the pomo folk have this to teach us: we can allow our rituals to become stagnant to us. We may sit through the Divine Liturgy and not participate and who would ever know, save God? (Though even being present in a non-participatory state of mind can still have redemptive value) But you see the problem here isn't the externals, it's the internals. You don't want to appeal to those internals, you want to rip them out and regrow good fruit. Why fertilize weeds?
What to take from all my rambling? I stand in the presence of the Kingdom of God, while in my hands are generations worth of wisdom, and in my mouth is the medicine of immortality. How can I profane these wonders by giving ANY personal credence to the notion that these things ought to be changed or abandoned in order to "work for me or others." In other words, let us truly commit ourselves to wholly participating in the Liturgy...to letting its beauty and wisdom wash over us and revive us, enlighten us, change us, heal us, and empower us. And more than that, let us participate to give glory to God and to manifest to Him our profoundest thanks for feeding us LIFE.
Really now, how can a DJ blaring ethereal keyboard music while synchronized to pretty flowing colors on a big screen, all planned and thrown together while staying up late sipping a Triple diamond grande peppermint Mocha from Starbucks compete? This is the Wisdom of the ages...let us attend.
Oh what a treasure we have before us in out Liturgy. Let's recognize and appreciate it.
When all the symptoms of a blown head gasket showed up over the weekend in the Suburban, I knew we were in trouble. We'd gambled in trading in newer cars for older ones - though to be fair I suspect the "newer" cars were on their way to problems as well. In any event the lack of car payments is SUPPOSED to mean you bank that money to repair the now older cars. Naturally, for us, we were "unable" to do this.
Really rotten timing. However, you take what life gives you and you carry on. Prayers please that it is ONLY a head gasket and not a cracked head/block. As if we were going to have a thrifty Christmas to begin with...now...well...maybe we should go into business like this: "Farm-Adventures"
I suppose ours would be roughin' it a bit more that what they folks offer. But if you wanna muck out stalls, tromp through mud, recirculate chicken coop shavings, set fence posts, stretch fencing, feed and water the critters, slaughter/clean a chicken, make all manner of homemade treats for Christmas presents...AND you might want to pay us for the trouble? Well boy howdy that sounds like a right fair deal to me!
Well, I reckon we are never going to be listed here...so why don't you all just come out anyway for free. Really, besides Church and work, we could survive without the truck for a long time.
ADDENDUM: It would appear the cost to repair is more than the Suburb is worth. I'm borrowing a truck from a friend to get some things we need (like the tire fixed on the farm truck) and then I'll be using that farm truck to get to work (P&R) and we'll be shopping for a "new" used vehicle. Hopefully we'll have better luck. Sigh.
David Gelernter has written an outstanding article about the "demise of romantic love." The article saddens me actually because it shines a very bright light on how far we have come (some erroneously refer to such things as "progressive" whereas I would term them regressive) from the age of chivalry and nobility.
I recall being indoctrinated - yes indoctrinated - to believe that being a man today means you should never fight over the issue of honor. But in order to sell this notion that made a mockery of the notion of "honor." It was built upon an image of stuffy, uptight, pride, and testosterone-ridden men who could not suffer any manner of insult. This, to them who would indoctrinate us, was the manhood of ages past. Any seemingly good aspects of chivalry and nobility, they would simply dismiss as being a facade, an example of hypocrisy. "Nobody REALLY lived up to these ideals," they tell us, and in so doing we can feel better about not even trying to. As someone once noted here: "If you are not a hypocrite, then your morals aren't high enough." Any marksman will tell you that it makes no sense to move your target to a place you can hit everytime. (e.g. your own head).
I think, much of the feminization of MANkind that we must admit has taken place today was fueled by pointing to strawmen stereotypes of manhood. It is one thing to envision two stupid rednecks breaking beer bottles over each others heads because of an argument over Ford vs. Checy, but it is quite another to see a man standing up to a vile drunk who insults his wife in front of his children. Gelernter argues that feminism shot itself in the foot and gave men a license to treat women like crap while convincing them they are actually treating them like equals. When in fact, REAL honor, chivalry, and nobility sought to treat woman as superiors. And it wasn't an exercise in mindless machismo...honor and nobility also meant you were able to, willing to, and adept at apologizing and admitting your failings - at LEAST as well as we are today. So what have we gained?
As Kirkwood points out in this article I've noted before: We've gained nothing and lost much. Manhood is ridiculed and displayed as sitting about watching "The Man Show" and talking crudely about women. Something chivalrous men of ages past would not have tolerated.
Compare and contrast any 19th century love letter to a modern cell phone text message to one's "ho". I rest my case. Science is wrong, we are actually devolving.
As "progressives" continue to move our society "forward" I really do not know where we will end up. How hard it is to teach our children about REAL love, REAL devotion, REAL sacrifice, REAL honor, REAL nobility in this world where these things are redefined into the ethereal realm of subjective non-being, or simply ridiculed.
Actually, upon further reflection, how hard it is for US (as parents) to learn these things as well. We may believe them, but we have already been taught not to practice them.
I could babble on and on about this. I count the whole affair a perfect example of how supposed "liberation" is actually imprisonment. The corset - popularly portrayed today as the very symbol of old constraints - is nothing compared to today's standards of feminine beauty in which our women are starving themselves to death, cutting their bodies open to insert silicone filled bags, mutilating their faces with surgery, and having to constantly attend body-image psychologist sessions - complete with anti-depressant drug prescriptions. And what do they get in return? Chivalrous love and devotion and commitment? Nope, they are referred to as "ho's", dated and never courted, lusted for but rarely loved, and gawked at by drooling men who bounce about like wild chimps seeking only to further liberate the woman. Yes, you've come a long way baby.
Take a look at these: Church of the Savior and the Intercession of the Most Holy Mother of God, churchyard in Vytegra.
Icon of the Day of Judgment [in the Church of the Transfiguration], village of Pid'ma.
Peasant girls from a rural area along the Sheksna River, near town of Kirillov
Now, let my ask you this: How old do you suppose these images from Russia are? Would you even begin to guess 100 years? Well, they are!
And they are not "colorized" B&W's using some photoshop expert, rather these are the actual colors seen by the camera using a very early "triple color technique" by S. M. Prokudin-Gorsky. These images are truly astonishing and can, in a way, take us back 100 years to pre-revolutionary Russia. Naturally, today's technology allows to see the images more vividly than Prokudin-Gorsky could have dreamed. And the pics span from ALL OVER the vast Russian empire.
THIS website has a massive database of the images.
And THIS one has the same images (not as many) with a bit more detail about where they were taken and the images are cleaned up a bit. Amazing clarity. Looking at them, I have to keep reminding myself that they are in fact windows to the past. I could spend hours at these websites.
I am VERY excited to direct ya'll to Fr. Alexander Winogradsky's blog. He is an Orthodox priest in Israel (Jerusalem to be specific) who very uniquely serves the Liturgy in Hebrew. Father James (of my former Parish St. Paul) conducted an interview with him which I hope to have a link to shortly, in the meantime here is Fr. Alexander's most recent newsletter. I count his voice to be one of peace and reason in a region where many other Orthodox voices are sadly not so. IMHO.
Fr. Alexander's blog is often steeped in Hebraic linguistics and traditions. I rather enjoy it and wonder if it does not give us a clearer image of the practices of the Church under the hierarch (and my patron), James the brother of God who very well may have also served the Liturgy in Hebrew.
Well the plans are in motion. It looks as if I will be traveling back to Uganda...this time for an entire month, probably in February. While I look forward to seeing old friends...including Stacy...I am not looking forward to being away for home for this long. I dread it actually...but...I trust God will keep and protect us all both from physical and emotional harm. Your prayers are certainly sought and your support of my beloved in my absence would be MUCH appreciated.
Read the little snippet of fine print wherein lies the REAL fact: "rapid adaptive change is plausible."
You all know I am profoundly weary of speculation (however informed), questionable interpretation (however educated), and extrapolation (however reasonable) being reported/accepted as objective and verifiable fact.
Somebody please explain to me how they came up with these "facts": If evolution had been proceeding steadily at the current rate since humans and chimps separated 6 million years ago there should be 160 times more differences than the researchers found.
Stop and think about this: How do they know what the current rate of evolution is? How are they predicting or even identifying "differences", let alone "160 times more differences?" Especially if you are going to count something as minor as lactose intolerance and dental variations. And what exact proof do they have that chimps and humans split off 6 million years ago? As opposed to say 7 million or 5 million or 10 million years ago or EVER? Or are all these "facts" actually in the same category as this "fact": "Most anthropologists agree that humans first evolved in Africa..."
Ah yes consensus....like the magisterium of old. Obey and don't ask questions.
I won't even touch the mystery of Jews evolving intelligence because of their being pressured into certain jobs during the Middle Ages. I thought they said this stuff occurs "over thousands of years"...now let me think...when was the medieval period? Hmmmm....I guess intelligence must be as simple as lactose intolerance. Surely we've isolated that Ashkenazi intelligence gene, right? No? Oh.
When do you suppose these guys will be brave enough to admit: We are really not sure. We are guessing. We are looking at data and trying to piece it together. We could be wrong. Such statements should absolutely be the voice of science...even some of the most well known and seemingly verified facts and laws of science have in recent years proven to be open to exception. Much more can today's much less verifiable and already open to interpretation and speculation "facts" (like chimps and human having a common ancestor 6 millions years ago) be expected to have potential for exceptions, change or even utter abandonment.
Science is becoming less and less as it should be and is more and more becoming a religion: a statement of faith and dogma not to be denied or questioned. And it is wielding political power such that we have not seen since the Middle Ages and the Church. I wonder if the reason we report science news stories with much grander and definitive conclusions than the actual evidence supports (often the researchers original published paper is much more REAL) is because we don't like the idea of science not being omniscient?
So, the other day I did something I have not done in a very long time. I repaired an automobile. Nothing serious, and nothing complex: I changed a couple of worn belts and replaced a headlight. However, a number of years ago I swore off of auto repairs of any sort: including oil changes.
The reason was simple: most anytime I turned a wrench on a car, I opened Pandora's box and Murphy with his cursed law was visited upon me over and over and over again in biblical plague-like portions. Sometimes it would be a minor thing: a rusted bolt that would, with a little effort on my part be stripped and forever unable to move. And sometimes it would be major like the time I finally gave up and threw the Audi transmission in the back of the car and called a tow truck. Either way, I eventually found myself nearly at THIS level of frustration.
I kept trying though, with manual in one bloodied stump of a hand and wrench in the scabbed over other one. Once I started getting "new" cars, I realized quickly that they were far too complex to have me beating around on them with a hammer and so I surrendered. If I could not effectively work on a car through whose engine compartment I could see the ground and in which I could actually stand, I had serious doubt about my ability to do much of anything on a car that virtually requires an engine removal to change the belt.
Of course now I have traded in my new cars for old ones and the Suburban engine compartment looks more inviting. I have managed to get the heater/defroster working and change the belts without a major incident and with relative ease. It's a real confidence builder, but I'm not wholly ready to tackle the tranny or even the replacement of my breaks for that matter...we'll see. The demon-ghost of Murphy has not fully been exorcised I fear.
But it occurred to me as I was driving my now squeakless truck to the park and ride, that I really was not privvy to much practical paradosis. Part of that was of course due to my parent's divorce...as a matter of fact...post-divorce I have no recollection of what we did about home repairs, though surely their need must have been present....how oblivious we kids can be. But, it is also a society-wide problem as well.
In our affluence and extreme specialization we've taught our kids that the way to handle just about any problem is to pick up the phone and pay someone to handle it for us. This, I suppose, is great if you have the money, but I worry that we are training up a generation of people who are utterly devoid of ANY practical self-sufficient skills. It's funny, if you think about it, the white collar software engineer held ransom by his ignorance to the whims of the blue collar plumber. HA!
Some would say, it just makes more economical sense to pay someone to replace your belts than to do it yourself. I suppose sometimes this is true, but such calculations are usually based on some factors that are simply untrue for me: 1) That I would be making 45.00 a hour (or whatever you figure your time is worth) doing whatever it is I would be doing instead of working on my car. 2) That I have the money to spend on the repair labor to begin with.
Well, 1) I get paid nothing for drinking beer and playing Medieval II and 2) I paid 6.00 for the belts while the garage would have charged me 75.00 to replace them for me. And I ain't got 75.00 to spare on something I can fix myself. PLUS, by gum, I feel pretty darn good doing stuff for myself.
We also have set up a paradosis barrier between generations. Part of this is because technology (among other things) has convinced us (DECEIVED US) into believing that we've nothing much to learn from the past (i.e. our parents and grandparents). And yet, I know with certainty that my own father has many practical skills and knowledge that have not been passed on to me - things I really could use now. However, I don't blame him, it's just the way of things today....in a sense we are all to blame for it. One of many casualties from divorce.
And so, while I was working on the truck Joe and Nicholas climbed up and watched and as I worked I basically told them everything I knew about car engines...at least to the degree that they understood it. They really were curious about it all and I was generally able to tolerate their "help" (such as their holding the flashlight for me and pointing it directly into my retina about every 30 seconds). I've made no secret of my struggles as a Dad...particularly with issues of patience....and I know it would often be easier to tell them go away and leave me to get the work done, but more and more I am being convinced that we need to bring that beautiful concept of Paradosis back into everyday life. Lord help ME to do it!
As the lack of paradosis has screwed up Christianity, it is going to do the same for our homes. Pass your knowledge on to your kids...even if they sit and watch you reading it out of a greasy manual. We stand to save our kids a multitude of mistakes, blunders, and need for lengthy periods of hard struggling in the search for experience. And yes, this lesson is for those experimenting with Christianity as well; those engaged in the maddening quest for original faith: why not seek those who still maintain the practice of paradosis and always have. I know that having an experienced mechanic by your side is incomparable to your own grand wisdom and a manual ("Bible").
Oh that there was the equivalent of a handyman Orthodox Church under whose tutelage I could place myself. Sigh...I press on with instruction guide in hand...hoping I'll have the patience to let my kids learn from my bruises, bloodied knuckles, and...yes...occasional swear words.
A Yearning for Advent Amidst a Billion Speeding UPS Trucks (Part 2)
There is indeed, I sense, a new yearning for Advent in many evangelical circles. I stumbled across the "Internet Monk's" blog (no, he is NOT a real monk) who says he is "on a post-evangelical journey" (being "post" is very hip...as you know), and he has an interesting post about celebrating Advent.
There are some excellent suggestions that we can ALL take note of, but what interests me is that I also see many suggestions that are pointing evangelicals to ancient traditions which they may surprised to learn are alive and well and PRACTICED.
But number 6 is in actuality a sad one: the notion of buffet line traditions kinda makes my stomach churn. I'm sorry but you cannot hop down to your local Orthodox Church to be blessed by the Christmas Vigil and then walk away only to return the following year. It is not supposed to work that way. Such activities are exactly the very thing he warns against: "entertainment."
Our traditions and our practices are not stand alone components that can be pirated and expected to yield the same fruit as intended. If I may say, it is a part of package deal. You do not "audit these courses", you commit to and live them full-time. And when you do, they truly become alive...otherwise, they are no different than the "massive pageants." On the other hand, I would not dissuade anyone from coming and seeing...I would just condemn the attitude that one can make a regular practice out of experimental tradition gleaning. It's a bad idea and is the pinnacle of the all too common spiritual self-diagnosis and prescription.
You'll also note in the comments of that post that someone actually devoted a whole blog to "adevent4evangelicals." I will not over-burden you with further links, but anyone familiar with the Po-Mo blogs and such will recognize a movement toward more traditional Advent practices of some sort. It's quite the fad, really.
Now, one common aspect in evangelical yearning for Advent is a push against materialism in in exchange for social charity as is seen at Advent Conspiracy. This is indeed a very noble endeavor, but it is nothing new we must recall. The Church has ALWAYS prescribed periods such as Advent and Lent to be times that include almsgiving. Why? Well, in part because they are also times of repentance....times NOT to see the rampant materialism around us, but to see the rampant materialism WITHIN us. This is the Orthodox way, and I would say it is the way of our Lord. Do we not see in our Lord the one who will - with great love - pierce our own hearts and souls whenever we come to Him with complaints about others or the world around us?
As I was saying, Advent isn't only about almsgiving and escaping the materialism around us. Buying nothing on "Buy Nothing Day" may plant a seed, but it doesn't nurture the garden of your soul and it certainly doesn't weed it.
A large component in the Advent "package" is Fasting, and as I spent what little time I could afford going through evangelical "resources" for Advent, I could find absolutely nothing about fasting. I often find myself surprising people with the notion that some Christians have (STILL HAVE I should say) regularly scheduled times of prescribed fasting. "Huh," they will say (here in Seattle), "I thought only Muslims did that sort of thing." Gee, people, how is it they know more about Muslim Ramadan that traditional Christian Advent and Lent? Maybe it's a Seattle thing. Anyway, Fasting is very much like weeding the garden and nurturing the good seeds.
And of course, it is a time for intense prayer and participation in additional services. Again, tending the garden.
For myself (and perhaps to you other Orthodox out there), I am reminded of the treasure we have in the traditions and practices of our Holy Church. The wisdom of the ages, handed down to us. Brothers and sisters, that which others are yearning for and actively seeking is laying clearly right before us. Let us make sure we are engaging them fully, for we rob ourselves otherwise. And, in focusing on our traditions, we perhaps won't have time or need to worry about whether the clerk at Walmart is allowed to say "Merry Christmas" or what a mess the UPS trucks are making of our dirt roads.
To those yearning for Advent: taste and see. In the Orthodox Church, that which is good for you during Advent is even better for you year round.
The Church now calls us to meet Christ Who comes from heaven. What can we do in order to meet Him like the Magi, and not like Herod? "Ye that desire life, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking guile. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it." It tends to be hard to do this; we are weak when it comes to everything good. But the Son of God even came for this: in order to strengthen us. Not for naught was He born in Bethlehem, which signifies "house of bread." He feeds us with heavenly food, His flesh. "God, the Lord and Creator of all, as a babe in the flesh, is worshipped in a poor manger, crying out: eat My body and through faith be made steadfast." These words of the divine Babe are directed to us. Let us hearken to His call! Let us follow the Magi; let us hasten with the shepherds! Our churches are now that cave of Bethlehem. Not illusory, but in reality does He, Who is now being born in His most pure flesh, rest in them. Let us worship Him; let us offer as a gift our thoughts and desires; let us confess our sins, and let us taste of His immaculate Body and Blood. Whoever did not do this earlier, let him at least accomplish it now, when the star of Bethlehem is already shining! Our minds will be enlightened and the heart will hear:
"Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will among men!"
A Yearning for Advent Amidst a Billion Speeding UPS Trucks (Part 1)
I've noticed a couple of things lately. One is, not surprisingly, the rampant materialism of this season and the other is the intense desire to escape it (and uncertainty in how to do so).
Of course we all see the materialism on TV and what not, but I've been seeing and hearing of it more personally. A number of kids, the parents of whom I am acquainted with, are going to have truck loads dumped upon them on December 25. In at least one case I've heard the list that mom - with faked lamentation - runs down as if to garner sympathy for the amount of work it represents to her...sort of like the infamous "honey do" list. It's a "Mommy or Daddy do" list. Indeed, they do have their work cut out for them..."Thank god for the internet" I am told...sounds like a line for the newest Hallmark seasonal greeting card.
Come Christmas morning I can imagine the 45 minutes of furious ripping, tearing, and delightful shrieking of joy...and then the kiddies skip off to play the latest $65.00 Nintendo game while dad spends a couple of hours cleaning up the newly established living room landfill.
Now, I'll admit, it's much easier to by cynical and judgmental about materialism this season when: 1) it is discerned in others and 2)you yourself are poor (comparatively at least). A dangerous opportunity to be a judgmental prig.
However, it is difficult when the previously mentioned reading of the list is FINALLY concluded and then you are asked to produce your own "mommy or daddy do" list. Well...you can either come off as being a desperate charity case (no, actually, we won't be having dog food for Christmas dinner) or you come off as being a judgmental prude in spinning the story to sound like you are going Christmas "lite" on purpose.
Of course the truth is somewhere in between and I dare not say what our Christmas would be like if I'd won the lottery last week or if they paid infectious disease researches REALLY good money or (if truth be told) we managed our funds more frugally - working on that. But, the theme this year will decidedly be: "Gifts from the heart, not the pocketbook."
Anyway, I note all of this to publicly proclaim from whence my own biases might arise...as opposed to some self-righteous notion of being scandalized by the commercialization of Christmas. I will none-the-less marvel at the rut the UPS truck will make in asphalt from going to and from this person's house.
The yearning for advent I'll note in my next post...
And as I close off for the evening, a blessed Feast Day of St. Nicholas to you and yours!
Money well spent, I suppose: The NIH (i.e. your tax dollars) has apparently funded a study to see how divorce affects the impending catastrophe of global warming. And they found that it does indeed dramatically increase your carbon footprint. So, preserve your marriage and save the planet!
Heck, given this news, I think divorce should be made illegal immediately. Or at the very least we should have government mandated divorce limits imposed like the mileage minimums for cars or something. Maybe a certain percentage of all marriages must by hybrids (i.e. gay = NO KIDS, good for the planet).
Apparently, ANYTHING can be funded these days as long as the study proposal includes "global warming" in the title. Don't get me wrong, I too find our divorce rates absurd and depressing...and...umm...what in 'tarnation is "Divorce Magazine" anyway? A magazine devoted to divorce? Truly the world has gone crazy.
Anyway, sorry...sidetracked by the asinine...I'll try not to be too cynical...who knows maybe this will actually preserve a few marriages. But I'm guessing not even the most hardcore tree hugging, weeping over their carbon sins, environmental activist is gonna hang with a spouse they don't like anymore. We've been too trained to just quit. We'll see though.
Seeing the trend, I'm writing a study proposal and sending it to the NIH. Title: "Bacterial CO2 production in infected moose bites amongst uncircumcised aboriginal peoples and its effect on climate change."
Hey, look at that, I just got an email: the NIH got wind of my study plans and has earmarked 300K for me. They say they can offer three times that amount if we end up having a "first gentleman" in 2009.
Nice. Working on study proposal #2...I'm thinking polar bear flatulence and abstinence education...surely there is a connection I can find.
This is Peta's schtick: a media campaign to show people the very worse in factory livestock production. It is ugly stuff and one should definitely be turned off by it, however we need to keep in mind why factory farms "work." They work because you and I expect to pay less than $2.00 a pound for ground beef, and no more than $0.99 a pound for fryers. Factory farms are THE answer to giving us cheap meat. It's a fast food world and if you don't like it, odds are you've no one to blame but yourself.
Peta would like us to point condemning fingers at Factory Farmers and their affiliated corporations, but (just like McDonald's, please take note "Super Size Me" fans) WE ARE THEIR BOSSES! Nothing irks me more than people forgetting their freewill.
Now, Peta's solution is to avoid eating meat altogether. Meat eating in their book is cruelty no matter how the animal was treated up until the time of butchering or how it was slaughtered. Factory farms are simply a great propaganda tool for them.
My solution is that you take their advice and "Meet your meat." You don't like the horrors of factory farming? Find yourself a local farmer/rancher and commit to buying your meat products from them. YOU WILL PAY MORE FOR IT because the farmer/rancher is investing more time and effort into the product and is not running live chickens through an assembly line decapitator that frequently makes horrific mistakes. You truly do get what you pay for.
Local, pasture raised, free-range animals that you can go and meet truly do answer all the criticisms Peta puts forth. But for most people it is easier to ignore Peta's propaganda and go on buying cheap meat in ignorance. But if Peta's videos haunt you and you have no intentions to "Go Vegan"...I say "Go Local" and "Meet your Meat."
I definitely think it is important for our kids to know that our food actually does not come from the mega-market.
...it will be to some place where our current weather pattern is not duplicated. Today it is more than 20 degrees warmer, raining profusely, and the wind is blowing down trees. Water and flooding is everywhere...it is the worse possible timing: a heap of snow one day and then a "pineapple express" storm the next. This really could get bad.
While I am sitting at my desk eating lunch in a nice warm and dry lab office, my poor homesteading wife is out digging additional trenches, rerouting drain pipes, and dumping rain barrels and getting soaked for the trouble.
Uber-saturated ground gives me the jitters...not only could we see a septic system unable to drain, but we could also see a landslide.
So, prayers please for all of us in western Washington. Oh Lord, send the rain to our brethren in Cyprus!
Addendum: Just received news that our barn is flooding. Furthermore our neighbor's front yard has become a lake. Hoping I can get home okay.
Addendum 2: Kitsap county has declared a state of emergency, "local resources are overwhelmed to deal with the problems." Highway 3 has been shut down effectively isolating the north part of the peninsula from the south.
Addendum 3: Next up, WIND! Another wild ride home...stay up trees, please.
The Energizer Snow Okay, I realize the abbess wanted snow, but this is getting crazy! They expected to switch to rain by 10am, and it's being snowing solid since we woke up and we've gained another four inches so far with no end in sight. Getting home from Liturgy was a bit of a challenge in some areas. But now we are home, sitting by the fire, sipping coffee (Snow Cap later) and watching the gigantic flakes fall. It is lovely...since we've no place to go.
The white stuff all over the place is, according to local news and the NWS, rain. Even now as we are getting pounded by more and more white fluff, we are told it is raining. Additionally with all the "wet rain" hanging on the trees, we are hearing trees and their branches going down everywhere...the lights are flickering...