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.
My guess is, in reading articles like THIS, that there probably aren't any televisions shows on today that even try to offer a similar message to what we often used to get from shows such as Little House on the Prairie when we were kids. Not that we ever did or had to learn the lesson...but maybe we are heading toward an economy in which we will now at least learn this lesson?
Naw, let's instead blame toy manufacturers for failing to teach our kids old school and common sense values that USED to make this country great (in many ways). No, for as we all know, we are slaves to corporations...immobile and defenseless against the onslaught of their mind numbing advertisements. We are VICTIMS! Surely there MUST be legislation passed to protect our kids from materialism.
We've lost our bleeding minds! Have these parents stopped to think that they can turn the stupid radio, TV, or internet OFF! OFF! I say again: OFF! Good night, we act as if WalMart goes door to door, or perhaps sends sexy models out to stand in our front yards under our children's bedrooms windows trying to lure them (and Dad) outside with a new PlayStation or XBOX. You'd think we had to, by force of law, pay taxes to "Stuff-Mart."
Look, toy manufacturers are just trying to sell their products (like you and me making a living) so they have money to buy their kids somebody else's product and so on and so forth. They just do what they do...why on earth we act like we cannot control their influence over our lives is beyond me. I feel like I'm in a disaster movie and parents blaming toy advertisements are like that driven-to-madness, inconsolable, and screaming woman who needs a good slapping to bring her back to her senses. There seems to be some notion that corporations wield so much power and authority in our lives and yet I don't think anyone stops to think about how untrue that is really...all one need do is CHOOSE to live differently and by making a simple sidestep you are now wholly untouchable. If you know what the latest rage is (what people are shooting each other over at Toys-R-US) then odds are you're still amidst the corporate fiefdom. If there's a corporate shooting range, we are making a conscious decision to be their clay pigeons.
As a side, the only power that DOES wield authority over your life (and will do so often without your consent, and will enforce it - if need be - with tanks and automatic gunfire) is the government. Yet they don't try and sell us anything, do they? Uh-huh, sure. Ahem. Sorry, the aluminum foil hat wearing side of me bled through there.
Christmases have always been lean in our house and this year will be no exception, in fact it is going to be leaner than normal. I'm not sure to what extent we can blame the downturn, I mean I still have the same job I've always had. But gas prices this summer was brutal on us and it affected a great many products we rely on such as animal feed and such. Add in a few unexpected additional expenses, an arguably failed harvest we were counting on, and a pinch or more of poor stewardship and voila: you've got an extra lean Christmas.
But honestly, I'm not sure my kids will notice it too much! Whereas there are a multitude of areas where my parenting has consistently been a dismal and serious failure (I've made no secret of this in the past and I am planning on a few posts in the near future where I will again wrestle with them publicly here after reading a great series of articles by Fr. George Morelli), but this happens to be one area where I have been largely successful...I think...if for no other reason than that it isn't all that hard a thing to do - avoiding TV (or art least commercial TV) is a HUGE part of the battle. However, I do realize, it is hard when kids have to face the obligatory litanies that follow the question: "What did you get?" from their peers when they return to school after Christmas break...this is something mine are largely spared, but not completely because of their home school co-op and other friends/family. But peer pressures are inescapable and I don't think even an unprecedentedly successful letter writing campaign to toy makers is going to dissuade kids from wanting the very coolest toys.
All of the things that I need to do to assist in my task of raising loving, caring, giving, and responsible human beings out of my children consist in changing myself. I'll say it again: Changing things in ME is the solution to all my children's woes, not changing Toy Manufacturers' advertising policies.
Road to Emmaus Many of you are no doubt familiar with this periodical. It's fascinating and well worth your time. But what you may not know is that MANY of their articles are available online in pdf format (thus often including their GREAT photos) right HERE. As an example of the unique articles you will find here, check this one out that was written by an Englishmen doing research for a book on St. Paul in the 1930's.
Never again will I let someone get away with claiming that they are not religious. I simply do not believe it is the case. Now, I'm not just talking about the Dylan proclamation: "You gotta serve somebody" (though I think this true), but rather I believe that humans have a natural inclination towards being religious.
Some will say: Oh you mean religious as in doing something repetitively. No I do not. What I mean is a faith-based devotion to something - which I suppose is akin to what Dylan meant, but allow me to elaborate: Many times this devotion is directed towards one self, I suppose to a large degree we all worship at this altar, but the extent to which we believe in this god varies as much as does our individual ability to recognize our devotion to this world view as such.
Watching the selections of lectures, talks, forums, and debates over a FORA.tv it has become clear to me that prostelyzation is a major feature that betrays people's religion. Associated with every religious world view (to varying degree, again) is the need to spread the "good" or sometimes "bad" news. Compare and contrast: "Jesus conquered death" to "You are going to hell if you don't repent" or "You are destroying the planet and will kill us all if you don't repent."
Yes, environmentalism is a truly viral religious belief system that has taken the world by storm. His Emminence Al Gore has done much to further the cause of this apocalyptic religion and dissent has been largely and bloodlessly quelled from the mainstream to an extent that would have made the medieval church jealous. The coming environmental apocalypse , true or not, inspires a system of belief that has all the trappings of a traditional religion. Watch this:
I am sure many of us have met their true believers...their green thumping fundamentalists ready even to tell us how many children we SHOULDN'T have. Don't get me wrong here...I'm not passing any judgment on this issues at all except that I betray my bit of agnosticism with regard to its coming apocalypse. I'm merely pointing out that for many it has certainly taken on religious-like proportions that truly do exceed verifiable facts.
You see, everyone loves and NEEDS a good cause. And causes such as these abound and I found them over and over again at FORA: organic foods, gay marriage, poverty, social justice (like gnosticism this one is huge and overarching and often consumes a variety of other belief systems), racism, MMORPG's, local economies, agrarianism, consumerism, Workers'unions, boycotting Walmart, Darwinism and on and on the list can go. Now all of these causes and issues (and games) can be debated (just like religion), but I really think there are a growing number of people who take up these causes like Knights took up the cross for the Crusades centuries ago. No less devotion, no less blind faith, and no less giving meaning to their lives. People seemingly NEED a sense of missionary zeal.
Politics, as I see it, plays a two-fold role in all of this. At once it is a new religion in and of itself (actually this an old experience, but new for Americans) and it can also be a church-like institution in which all of the above objects ("causes") compete for altar space. The latter is rather self-explanatory and obvious (think religious right, PACS, and so on), but the former is a rather new revelation (to me at least) and I think it was made more clear in this last election cycle.
There is clearly a phenomena particularly surrounding P-E Obama that I think is worth noting. He, like Environmentalism, has his true believers and fundamentalists. In him, I think we have seen the personification (the enfleshing) of people's growing faith ("HOPE") in the state. Perhaps through no fault of his own (and indeed probably to his benefit in getting elected) Obama has brought to a visible head the faith and provision that people have sought to have in and delivered by their government. A friend recently told me how odd he found it that the flurry of emotional responses to Metropolitan JONAH's election was so similar to Obama's election. I thought it odd that the latter's was so similar to the former's. Perhaps now I better understand the latter's enthusiasm? But again...where does religion begin and end? I think the divisive line is ever more fleeting.
If I may quote a good friend of mine in a recent posting to the LOG list:
"Given the rise of atheism, what can people hope for? In such a world the best that one can hope for is the state creating heaven on earth. This is really the religion of Marx if one cuts out the pseudo-economic ideas about how wealth is created. When religion was respected by the state, this was an admission that the state could not provide everything. In fact, it was an admission that the state could not even provide justice."
Indeed, if one is a strict materialist and yet retains what I believe to be the natural human inclination towards a belief in some sort of transcendent utopia, the secular state is a natural object for such faith. I would add that one needn't be an atheist to look to the state as an institutionalized article of faith. We have in some ways become so dependent on government that it is difficult for us to fashion in our minds a time when we did not expect the government to be the judge and upholder of justice - keeping in mind that the term justice is pregnant with many variable applications far beyond just crime.
What I perceive here is something not at all different from the old school and much maligned religious right that seeks to have government uphold its values - though now the values are different, but additionally what appears to be the literal religious-like trust in the state or at least the inspired leadership of the state. While I am by no means a person of extensive electoral experience, I have never seen so many faith-like expressions in the political arena as I have in this election cycle. Iconic T-Shirts with a candidates face and the word "BELIEVE" written beneath, non-material political mantras, children's choirs singing songs decidedly reminiscent and expressing hope as seen in old spirituals, and an emotional energy often only seen at rock concerts or pentecostal church services.
I happened upon this advertisement awhile back in Seattle for an Obama rally:
On Sunday, October 12, Washington State kids and families will parade around Seattle's Green Lake. "Kids for Obama Parade" will illustrate one of Barack Obama's core beliefs: Everyone's voice counts. Join us as Obama's youngest supporters rally their families and call for change, for a better America. At 2 pm, rain or shine, children and teens will express with words and drawings their hopes for the future of America on "wish flags" that will be mailed to Obama. The first 300 kids will be given a helium balloon, an expression of solidarity. At 3 pm, the "Kids for Obama Parade" will skip, toddle, stroller, rollerblade, pedal, and red-wagon clockwise around Green Lake in a cloud of red, white, and blue balloons and a garland of kid-made wish flags. How to prepare? If possible, bring home-made signs and wear red, white, and/or blue clothing. That goes for moms, dads, big brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents too. Please spread the word.
Is it just me, or does anyone else garner a sense of religiosity in this event? A procession, "wish flags" that I take to be derived from Tibetan prayer flags to beseech someone (thing) , and balloons as expressions of "solidarity"? To my kids (admittedly a flawed sample) balloons are either just pretty colored bouncy things or an instrument to beat one another with...I'm not sure they have any concept as to how they might be expressions of solidarity - whatever that is. Come to think of it, neither do I.
Anyway, I really do not believe we are becoming a more secular nation or world. If anything we are perhaps more and more becoming secularists and devout ones at that. For truly, you're gonna have to serve somebody or something. So, the next time someone claims not to be religious, I'll just point to their T-Shirt that may display an icon of a politician or it may say simply: "Love your Mother, Earth Day 2006" and suggest to them that nobody is without religion.
What's the point? Well for me, I think I need to look at areas in my own life and see where such leaning toward religiosity has perhaps led me into forays of idolatry. Orthodox Christianity is primarily a religious faith that exhorts us to be conformed to the Image of God. In other words, the Prime Directive is to root out the idolatry in my heart - oft centered upon the altar of self, but also to see where I have allowed causes and issues to usurp the more important work of transforming myself. Change? I need to change! Hope? Christ is Risen! There are millions of differences I could make without leaving my house, blogging, donning a T-Shirt, voting, recycling, or even getting out of this chair. That's the religious zeal I need to find. The rest may follow...but it must follow.
Things Left Undone I'm not sure I can fully explain why I find myself mesmerized by THIS. I am absolutely fascinated by places such as these...so full of questions such as: "Where'd they go?" and "What happened"
To some degree these places are testimonies to so much and they lead me to think some fairly deep thoughts about this life we experience here in the world. In a way, these are corpses. Of buildings, yes, but also corpses of the material and everyday lives we have lived. Memories abound...but not ours. They are anonymous and yet we know they are there...like ghosts. These places FEEL haunted and they perhaps send shivers down our spine if for no other reason than by reminding us of how fleeting is our own everyday existence. We see how dilapidated a home can become in a short time of neglect and we realize on what behalf are all of our weekend sweat and tears shed. We fight...furiously...against the inevitable.
In some cases we watch nature "reclaim" what we may be tempted to think was hers to begin with...but I urge caution. We are nature too. The environmentalism that believes (overtly or otherwise) that the world would be largely better off without people is not a true Christian sort of environmentalism. These signs of natural reclamation are arguably as UNnatural as a corporation polluting a river. There is a certain sadness to a furnished home abandoned to decay. Human life once blessed that place.
Anyway, I have explored my fair share of abandoned places and I must admit a near obsessive fascination with them. No, I don't seek them out...but even just in perusing a few pictures I find myself filled with questions and amazement and I can't pull myself away easily. The little details are sometimes far too mysterious.
Returning now to reality and looking around at all the toil we must do to maintain and live. Does it affect life now, knowing that someday my home may be explored be some oddball like myself who will ask of my "ghost": "What happened here?"
I want to leave a good (albeit boring) story for them. Now, back to work...living.
Goats, Goat herders, Monks, and Coffee Do a bit of searching on the history of coffee and you will no doubt come upon the legend of the goat herder Kaldi and his caffeinated (sometimes described as dancing) goats. The story has some different manifestations, but the basics are usually like this: the young goat herder Kaldi (usually from Ethiopia) notices his goats are unusually active (spazzing out...I've seen it in our goats, albeit without artificial/natural stimulation) after munching on the red "berries" of a bush. He tries them as well and he finds that he is too is amazingly alert and active. At some point an Abbott enters the picture and decides these "berries" would be quite useful in helping his monks stay awake for prayers. Another story details how the Abbott might have initially thought the "berries" a bad idea and threw them into a fire, but the pleasing smell of the roasting pit of the fruit led him to pluck them from the fire and thus came into being the first roasted coffee bean.
Photo credit to my friend Volkert, taken while at the Monastery of St. John of San Francisco in Manton, CA.
Someone directed me to this article about the Catholic Church forbidding the naming of God during their Liturgy. It gave me pause to think about the fact that as far as I know the Orthodox have never used a pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton in any Liturgical service or musical setting.
I know I have blogged before about conversations I've had with a Jewish coworker regarding making reference to God. Not long ago I saw a movie (I don't recall the name and didn't like it enough to look it up) that starred Nicholas Cage as a Ukrainian illegal arms dealer. In the film there are some scenes in which the characters are speaking Ukrainian and they refer to God in the heat of a variety of passionate and decidedly non-religious moments. Anyone familiar with hearing some Slavonic in their services would immediately recognize the words...and as I heard them they REALLY struck me. Suddenly the "nails across the chalkboard" expression my coworker bore made all the sense in the world to me.
It was a strange experience...because I often hear (and admittedly sometimes say) the term "God" out of its (HIS) proper context and I feel nothing much unusual about it. But there I was hearing someone say "Gospodi" or "Bozhe" and it was really making me uncomfortable - even more than hearing hearing someone say our Lord's name in vain.
Anyway I hope the experience leads me to be a little more serious when I chant: "Set O Lord a guard over my mouth and a door of enclosure about my lips."
That is the question. So, let me give you my answer. On the appointed day of Thanksgiving: FEAST! Kill the fatted bird and FEAST!
But, if you wish to maintain the fast: Glory to God! If you wish to lessen the fast (like a church feast day falling during a fast): then enjoy your fish, wine, and oil and Glory to God! If you wish to feast with the vast majority of your neighbors, family, friends, and countrymen: kill the fatted bird and give thanks unto the Lord.
Some of you will no doubt suggest that all of this needs to be taken up with you Spiritual Father...and that's fine, I'm sure. But frankly if your Spiritual Father is dogmatically insisting on any one of these "options" I think I'd be a little concerned.
Let me give you my reasoning, FWIW, as to why I think we SHOULD or at least CAN celebrate Thanksgiving in the traditional American way. First and foremost, were it not obvious, we are Americans. Thanksgiving is one of the few traditions we still all largely celebrate together - despite an ever growing propensity for celebrating diversity. When do we ever get to celebrate unity, by the way? And we are not talking about a political holiday (of which many have been incorporated into old world Orthodox feasts), but a holiday intended to exhort us Americans to give thanks to God. (That is one of the early States proclamation...Lincoln - fittingly - would offer the first national one in 1863).
I have a hard time imagining St. Herman finding a very important tribal and family tradition amongst the Native Alaskans and then telling his converts that they must abandon it (or even portions of it) in order to satisfy the letter of the fasting law. Sow discord and disunity for the sake of avoiding meat for one day? Rather would we not expect to see our Saint baptizing the Feast? I would expect so. I mean, think about it: why do we celebrate the Nativity of Christ when we do? Because we Baptized a pagan festival. Why do we drag trees into our houses? Because we baptized a pagan practice - which still makes little sense. Amongst my Slovak family there are MANY traditions (e.g. dumping water on girls) centered around Pascha that absolutely have a pagan origin and yet have been retained. Fact is, Thanksgiving OUGHT to be an EASY celebration to baptize in comparison to hauling dying trees into our houses. (I've no doubt there are some fundamentalists - Orthodox and protestant - who refuse to have Christmas trees...and to them I say: BAH HUMBUG!)
I believe it was a visiting priest from Kenya who told us the story of a Bishop who went out to a remote village to visit a bunch of new believers. The Bishop had his usual entourage and as they all sat down for a meal they were SHOCKED to find hardly anything but meat provided. They all waited anxiously to find out what the Bishop was going to do. He blessed the food and then told his entourage in Greek: "Now it is fish." The notion that we can get around the "problem" of Thanksgiving by employing the acceptance of hospitality by seeing that we are invited to someone else's house seems to me to be profoundly disingenuous. How is this different than telling everyone in the Orthodox Church that you are now to receive the hospitality of American culture: Thanksgiving?
Consider the issue of the New Calender. Despite whatever practical reasons, in switching we now find ourselves celebrating Christmas with the majority of the people we live around and we converts have one less thing to worry about with regard to family problems and celebrations. Alas, our Old Calendar convert brethren may escape the dilemma of Thanksgiving during the Advent Fast, but they gain the bigger dilemma of western Christmas during the Advent Fast. Additionally, by adopting the new calender, Old Calenderists rightly note that we have laid waste to the Apostle's Fast - in some years it doesn't even exist at all. So, my point is, if you are going to say we should not break the Fast for Thanksgiving, then I'm thinking you ought to apply the exact same legalistic logic to the adoption of the New Calender.
Ah yes, but James, Thanksgiving has lost so much of its meaning. It's now merely an excuse to be a glutton, a drunkard, and to watch football. Well, welcome to reality! Do you reckon Christmas and Easter have not lost much of its meaning to the popular culture as well? More than that, do you doubt that were you to make a run of Lent/Pascha in the old world that you would see the exact same loss of meaning for so many people there? You suppose you might find a fair number of Greeks or Russians who did nothing with the Fast and everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) with the Feast? Don't deceive yourself, there is no great religious Feast in this world that is not diluted in its meaning to the point of becoming little more than....well...what we assume we see most Americans making of Thanksgiving. And to be fair, I have indeed seen my share of gluttony and drunkenness on Pascha in the world of convert Orthodoxy...though not so much football. We bring meaning to everything...without our input, nothing has meaning. And we may input for good or for ill.
Have you ever broken the Fast? You know, snuck a bite of cheese or chocolate at work? Ever just break down and go to Burger King during Advent? Ever seek an invitation to a non-Orthodox friends house for dinner because if you have to creatively devise one more soy, beans, and rice dish for the family you are going to literally implode into a quivering mass of PETA propaganda beaten wimpiness? I will be the first to confess that I do not keep the fast perfectly, but if anyone tells you that the goal of the Fast is to keep it perfectly then I would suggest you run, do not walk - do not pass go and do not collect $200 - to the nearest exit. Fasting is FAR more about the state of your heart than about the food you put in your mouth and as such, if you find fasting is making you into a legalist than I would advise you go and eat an entire gallon of the richest ice cream you can find...NOW! I once heard Metropolitan JONAH relate a story of an Abbott bringing ice cream to his monks during one of the Fasts...I cannot recall the details, but the moral of the story was simple: don't become a pharisee. What you eat during Lent or Advent is far less important than many other things. Anyway, my point here is simply to suggest that breaking the Fast for a good cause is in no way an innovation and I'd be far better spending my time concerning myself with the fact that I sometimes break the Fast to truly feed my own private, secret and day to day gluttony. There are many bad reasons to break the Fast, I do not believe Thanksgiving is one of them.
Can I use Thanksgiving as an excuse to do the same (feed my passions)? You bet. But I can also do the same with weekends and Feast amongst Fast days (fish, wine, and oil) and indeed the Feasts themselves.
If we are going to be the Church in America, we really need to consider what is the heart of our Traditions. Think about all the lifestyle and cultural changes we make when converting to Orthodoxy...many of us converts know already how strange we seem to others. How often we are in Church during Lent...taking time off from work during Holy Week...fasting on most Wednesdays and Fridays...vespers on Saturday night...often celebrating easter at a different times than our friends and family (ah yes the joy of our families having Easter in the midst of our Lenten Fast!) and very often adopting cultural customs surrounding various Church holidays that are utterly foreign to many of us. We embrace them and we deal with some of the problems surrounding them that can sometimes isolate us from our more popular culture, not to mention friends and family. Some will no doubt say: "Good. I want to be isolated from our predominant culture." Okay, fine...I can understand that, but we must also understand that at some point we may as well be asking gentile converts to be circumcised. It is one thing to do this with regard to our moral teachings (remember given our society today we are more and more asking a great deal of people - they would say - and I would not dream of changing a wink of THAT), but I think it is another with regard to our practical Traditions.
Is one day of fasting worth isolating ourselves from our friends, neighbors, and families? Should we not embrace this which is good in our society? Recognize it for the worth it has - or rather the worth we can impregnate it with - and celebrate it? It needn't be an occasion for drunkenness and gluttony...there should never be an occasion for such things.
Thanksgiving is a part of our predominant culture that can still be a very good thing - no, I take that back...it IS a very good thing. We ought to fully baptize it. Yes, were we an Orthodox culture at the time of the founding of this feast we would surely have chosen a different time for it...but we must deal with reality as surely as we deal with the the reality of the New Calender. Baptizing Thanksgiving has been happening already. Many Parishes offer the Akathist of Thanksgiving and I've also heard of some doing a Divine Liturgy. Why not?
We bring so many customs and traditions from Russia, Greece, the Middle East, Ukraine, etc...and they can be wonderful things that many a convert will embrace. But we are not utterly devoid of good customs here in America. Thanksgiving is full of precious memories for so many of us - heck MOST of us!
Who cannot recall the wonderful smells from Grandma's kitchen? The handing down of recipes, the formal prayers before a meal (sometimes not heard any other time in some homes), the laughing and story-telling of Thanksgivings past, "Over the river and through the woods...", some even have dinner time customs such as dropping dried corn kernels into a jar while telling everyone else about something they are thankful for this year and then the jar remains on the table during the meal as a reminder. Thanksgiving is a good thing. It is bad only to the degree that we make it bad and I simply refuse to believe that the unfortunate collision of cultural calenders suddenly renders the Feast bad or unimportant.
Good luck becoming the Orthodox Church in America if we tell converts that they must abandon or seriously curtail this wonderful American Tradition. I believe if we ever see an American Orthodox Church, it will in some way include Thanksgiving.
That's my 2 cents and I offer them without judgment to anyone who feels inclined to practice otherwise. I'd be interested to hear what you and your family will be doing.
As a side. I'm raising a couple of Turkeys for next year. The MRS has been freaked out to see the ingredient lists on store-bought turkeys. And to think, we figured it ought to say simply: Turkey.
Collection of Editorials from Divine Ascent by Metropolitan JONAH
THESE (pdf) are well worth your time in reading, particularly the first two given the NEW context in which they now find themselves. I have particular portions I'd like to comment on but do not have time at the moment.
For years now I've been subjected to all manner of anti-Bush bumper stickers, often profane but also including a more clever one that states: "Frodo failed, Bush has the Ring."
However, Hubble apparently found this out in space...looking down upon us:
You suppose it's a coincidence? NASA will try and tell you it's a planet (yeah right), but I think someone wants their ring back. I reckon either Bush will refuse to step down and begin using the ring in January...or maybe..."hope and change" is really a means "to bring them all and in the darkness bind them"
At the 2007 DOW Mission Deanery Retreat, Fr. Michael Dahulich (Dean of St. Tikhon) came and spoke to us. And one of the things he talked about that really struck me (particularly as a newly transferred member of the OCA) was when he noted what he believed to be the much great health and vibrancy in the life of the Church in the west as compared to the east. As I recall he even suggested that we in the west were "doing it right" and had much to teach those in the east where there is too much of the "old school" attitude that often leads to parishes becoming ethnic ghettos - many of which are dying on the vine. I blogged about it briefly HERE.
I've no means of judging the situation in the east and so I am wholly reliant upon Fr. Michael's assessment. But as the surprising news (though, oddly enough, our lay delegate and I discussed this possibility before he left Sunday) of Bishop JONAH's election spread, I recalled the way Fr. Michael talked about this idea of the west "doing it right." Coupled with the financial scandal (a problem clearly arising prominently in the east), I wondered if the election of Bishop JONAH (an 11 day old Bishop from the west and for many in the east - I suspect - relatively unknown) wasn't in some ways an acknowledgment of what Fr. Michael was saying to us in 2007?
Metropolitan JONAH, it cannot be denied, is a breath of fresh air into the sails of the Orthodox Church in America...and perhaps even into the sails of Orthodoxy in America period. And not only because he is the first head of an American jurisdiction to be a convert. Those of us who know him (to any degree), know that the talk he gave at Tuesday's Q&C session, which some have said earned him the election, really was not exceptional for him at all. And these are not performances on his part, like a skilled politician. As he told AFR in his interview when they asked about the inspiration of his talk: "What besides the Holy Spirit..." It was ONLY the Holy Spirit. Not a few of us can confirm this.
Listen to his vision speech. Keeping in mind that the man's world has literally been turned upside down in a matter of a day and that he perhaps had a few hours to prepare these remarks. Like so many of the talks I have seen his Beatitude give, I believe this one proceeded more from his heart than an article of paper before him. I really appreciate his push for reaching out to our communities; his evangelical (yes I said evangelical) bluntness of stating the obvious that the Church can offer the cure for what ails our sick world - specifically noting those people who suffer, feeling literally abandoned by their churches which are more and more leaving the apostolic tradition in favor of the prevailing cultural winds. He asks: where are our Orthodox schools, hospitals, and elderly care centers? (When stating the latter I immediately thought of the "Life Draining Giving Spring") And he notes that personally reaching out is a superior means of giving than simply writing a check...and well...if you know me then you know this really struck a chord with me. That human touch is so important. Anyway, I won't summarize it all for you here, give it a listen and see if you too hear a man who truly has an Apostolic vision for our Church. A vision of Christ's love for the world.
I'm inspired. And I suppose that's a great part of what a leader is supposed to do.
I am overjoyed with the choice of Bishop Jonah as Metropolitan. I cannot say anything about the others (e.g. Bishop JOB) who may have been elected, but I (and many I know) have been blessed to know Metropolitan JONAH personally. I first met then Abbot Jonah before I was even Orthodox at a retreat where he spoke about prayer, fasting, and monasticism, and I can still remember the effect his talks had on my wife and I - indeed he greatly furthered our desire to enter into the Church. Since that time, Abbot Jonah would be a regular "feature" in the Pacific Northwest, giving talks and at one point looking for land to relocate his monastery - which alas never panned out.
I've been fortunate to have numerous occasions of informal conversation with Abbot Jonah and in decidedly informal surroundings...including Outback Steakhouse once. An odd place to "hang" with an Abbot, but I enjoyed such times and I truly believe this is a humble, loving, spiritually perceptive, pious and yet down-to-earth (accessible) follower of Christ. And now a Metropolitan of Christ's Church! Glory to God!
Thanks for letting me know Clifton. Link HERE. I have been working a novel now for years, in fact the concept began with THIS post back in 2004. I maintain no fantasies that it will be enjoyed by anyone beyond my kids, but I am enjoying writing it for them.
Alas, its progress has slowed to the speed of a glacier or... even the speed of change in Orthodoxy. I shall "dust off" the electronic files and get back to work. Set a goal perhaps of being done by next Pascha.
Not sure I can join the official "program" since this sucker has been lumbering about for 4 years, but we'll see.
Alaska and Rie Munoz I've never been to Alaska, but something about it has always held an appeal to me. It may have begun with that wonderful television series Northern Exposure that coincided with my trek from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest....ahem...which, given the size of "the last frontier" state is arguably a suburb of Alaska. Or at least I like to think so. Gaining an inkling toward salmon and steelhead fishing here only added to my interest in Alaska. And then, of course, came Orthodoxy which as we all know has a rich connection and history with Orthodoxy.
Later I began reading articles and books by Fr. Micael Oleksa, who as it turns out, is likely a distant relation of mine (My Great Grandmother was an Oleksa). Fr. Michael writes extensively about Alaskan native culture and the Orthodox Church therein - I highly recommend his works to you. On Father Michael's webpage you will also find THIS. Over the years I have found myself stumbling upon artwork (in a friend's living room, on a greeting card, in a local shop) by Rie Munoz and each time I find myself quite attracted to them. Life in Alaska is a common theme of her work and Orthodox Churches can often be found, as you can see.
I'm no art critic - I'm simply not cultured enough to explain what I like about these. Suffice to say I sense a simple warmth and happiness in them. Were I a wealthier man I would certainly be a patron of hers.
Someday I will get up to Alaska. To see the Northern Lights in their FULL glory (we see them here from time to time, though as through a dirty glass), to drift its mighty rivers and fish for massive steelhead, to visit the many Churches, take a St. Herman pilgrimage, and maybe even meet my "cuz." (Fair warning Fr. Michael!)
I'm not sure I could ever live in Alaska. I've no worries about bitter cold, but our winter days are short enough here as it is...however, that being said, I understand the extra sun in the summer can make for some astonishing crop growth.
Amidst the euphoria yesterday, even someone like me who clearly retains a great many doubts, can find cause to be proud of my country - not for the first time, but as always. No western nation has ever elected a person of African descent to its executive branch. And so for all of the euro-progressive snobbery we have had to endure for the past years, can we please give them all a giant nose thumbing "neener-neener" and ask, for instance, when France will elect the son of an Algerian immigrant to the office of Prime Minister? Anytime soon? Racists hicks...I fully expect a deluge of youtube world apology videos from Paris after their next elections brings in another pro-American white guy.
Additionally, I am proud that the Reverend Jeremiah Wright might actually have to say something nice about our country next Sunday. And that also in the aftermath of one single day of voting we have effectively foundered his entire socio-political theology.
So, yes, we have cause to be proud of our country. Though obviously I wish it were a different African-American. President elect Obama can count on my respect and the honor due his office. He can also count me as his loyal opposition, fully willing to praise his decisions that I deem worthy and in turn he may expect a verbal lashing when I disagree. I'd like to believe his centrist "across the aisle" rhetoric and I will withhold judgment and take the man at his word for now. But, I do have some issues I'll be watching.
I hope we WILL see something akin to an actual policy decision by president-elect Obama that will be at least some sort of head nod to a pro-life perspective. But, unfortunately he has promised Planned Parenthood (a brutal - and I would say evil - force in the dreaded culture war) that he would immediately approve the "Freedom of Choice Act." Assuming it could survive congress, this would not be a good start to demonstrating himself as a "uniting force." Further, I expect he will open the floodgates of federal dollars (yours and mine) for research into NEWLY "harvested" (yes the word should horrify you) embryonic stem cells. I have regularly documented here the gains we have made in non-embryonic stem cell research (because of the Bush ban) and I expect these will be largely shelved when scientists have fiscal and legal access to the much easier - albeit morally repugnant - process of growing humans in petri-dishes and then shredding them to grow up cell layers for additional testing and manipulation. Other issues will arise as well: tax dollars to fund abortions, issues related to late-term and partial birth abortions, and of course parental notification, euthanasia, etc.
President-elect Obama has said he is against the re-establishment of the "Fairness Doctrine" (an ironically named law that was used to police the FCC airwaves to assure the impossible: that all political views receive equal airtime). While it may sound nice, the devil is in the details. How will the feds address the sometimes subtle bias that 65% of people believe exists in mainstream news media? Well, the answer is that they won't, in reality this is simply a ploy to shut down conservative talk radio and liberty loving people of ANY political persuasion should be aghast at the very idea that our government would start thought-policing the airwaves. The free-market should clearly be deciding this issue. I hope Obama sticks to his word on this one, because there is no way in the world that the Federal Government is going to be able to enforce a "fairness" doctrine like this, fairly.
As to foreign policy I think he may do well with most of our relations. But I will again withhold my judgment on the sixth sense I have that he may find himself being like a CareBear in a Quentin Tarantino movie. Picture Carter and Iran. We shall see.
As to economics? Well I rather agree with what was demonstrated by the folks with money to lose via the stock market yesterday - and today as I watch it plunge. Look, I stand to directly gain from President-elect Obama's tax plan. But, this is not a "tax cut." I already pay ZERO dollars in federal income tax - in fact this year I went ahead and filed exempt. And yet, somehow I still get a tax "rebate." In reality, it's a welfare check. Under President-elect Obama's plan I will get an even larger "rebate"...WOOHOO! The question mark however - which for some reason never seemed to come up in the campaign - is whether or not Obama will let the Bush tax cuts expire in 2010. If he does, then my rebate welfare check will actually be slashed! For some it will mean an actual net tax increase which was only SUPPOSED to be given to people making +250,000 a year (depending on when the promise was made.) All of that said, look, I need to be honest: this money being given to me is NOT my money. It is someone else's money and I do not believe it is my business to take it from them (if for no other reason than because in reality I have no real NEED for it) - it is no more my business to stick the government's nose into someone's wallet than someone's bedroom. But besides this matter of principal, I believe that from a utilitarian perspective over-taxing the wealthy and businesses is demonstrably bad for the economy. You walk a fine line and risk stifling growth and innovation. Everyone talks about "fairness", well...here I stand in the middle class, paying NO Federal Income Taxes and yet getting a tax "rebate"?! How is THAT fair? I'm not paying my fair share at all, and the fact is, most middle class people like me aren't. But good luck getting elected if you dare to state this fact. But again, we shall see how this economic policy pans out...I'm more than happy to be wrong and take rich people's money to pay off my debts in the meantime. Yes, I'm a hypocrite.
Someone spoke to me under the assumption that I, like them, would be celebrating. I replied that I am finding these days that even if my candidate had won I would not be one to celebrate much over politics. We cannot pretend that our politics will make much difference in what is most important in life. Consider: would a ban on abortion magically change the fact that we remain a divided people on the issue of life sanctity? How easy would it be for a lawyer to find a jury to dismiss charges against an abortionist for some technicality? Similarly would a tax policy that takes from the rich and gives to the poor really elevate our society into a Utopian vision of health and happiness? Do we as Christians even believe that money can bring happiness, contentment, and heal the diseases of our soul which are the real causes of all that ails our society (crime, divorce, fatherless homes etc)? Government programs are not going to save us - in fact I would argue they rarely even help us at all. Don't get me wrong, I have made my points above with regard to where I expect to profoundly disagree with the new administration...but I am just thinking out loud here...should I cry more for the lack of a pro-life law or for the lack of a society that sees inherent value in life? The opposite is also true: how much should I cheer for a pro-life law that half or more people believe to be profoundly unjust? Should not my cheering be tempered a very great deal by the reality of the world? Pick a social issue on either side of the political spectrum and I believe the same is true. Should we really rejoice in forcing rich people to give to the poor? What virtue is there in that?
So, all of this said, President-elect Obama has my prayers. I intend to treat him better than I saw his predecessor treated by his "loyal" opposition.
I find myself also wondering about God's providence. I imagine Republicans generally don't like considering the notion that God's will is expressed herein somehow, and that similarly democrats cringe at the idea that Bush's eight years were in some odd way all apart of God's plan. I don't pretend to know how God's providence is intertwined with democratic freewill. Hmmm...perhaps no different than natural disasters, I wonder? The libertarian in me would like to think so. "That obese government which is gridlocked, governs best."
And let me add one final political thought that I had while listening to a lecture on the life of Thomas Jefferson. One thing our founders were apparently concerned with was a large and strong centralized government that would alienate people and have them feeling as if they really only had some slight degree of political power once every two and four years. I would suggest those fears have been largely realized, but, let us not forget that we still retain enough freedom to LIVE our values everyday. In this way we do them infinitely more justice that by voting for the government to express them for us.
And let us all remember that the most "needful things" did not change between November 3rd and November 5th. They remain needful and will so until His Kingdom comes. May God ever remind ME of this, and of the truth of how many more responsibilities - much more important ones - that I have other than voting.
Maybe part of why we have Thanksgiving after elections is so that we can thank the Almighty that they are over.
I love it! Having been subjected to my fair share of politically correct thought police training by the state I truly honor this man. He is braver than I am. Make sure you read some of the PDF emails to get a better understanding of his argument:
The state has no right whatsoever, in my view, to inflict its narrow political, social, and cultural proclivities on me, an individual. This sexual harassment edict is a blunt political act and I will not be subject to their will. This edict is an offense to my sensibilities. It calls into question my character, my reputation, and my intelligence. My greatest amazement is that so few of my colleagues at UCI and at other campuses have not spoken out against this offense. What is next? Kneel and kiss the ring of the State Assembly leader? Political reeducation camp?
Why, precisely, is it essential that I be trained in sexual harassment and not in, say embezzlement or grand theft auto where I certainly have equal opportunity to go astray?
And this is classic: "We Scots are very stubborn in matters of this sort."
Look, this may perhaps seem trite, but this PC reeducation crap is just going to get worse and worse. It is already out of control and IS an offense to our character, our reputation, our intelligence, our values, and our freedom. So three cheers for Professor McPherson! May he be the first of many to put their feet down and say enough. Sadly, I won't be one of them...like a good coward I'll just grumble and ask demeaning questions of the reeducation camp teacher.
Go and read Bishop JONAH's Acceptance Address HERE. (scroll down a little ways)
It is very good and I was really moved as he discussed the vocation of a Bishop, not only because of my love for Christ's Church, but also because I believe the Holy Spirit was pressing upon me the reality that the Bishop's role in the Church is in many ways comparable to the role of a Father at home. As we are often told, a family is like an icon of the Church and indeed the home IS a Home-church. In that sense, Bp JONAH's address is profoundly convicting to me.
Imagine, for a moment, changing Bp. JONAH's words. I will preface this by adding that by no means do I wish to say this analogy is perfect and neither would I dare to suggest that the episcopal vocation is not deeply and particularly unique - different than earthly fatherhood in numerous ways, not the least of which in demands of spiritual maturity and such. None-the-less, knowing Bp. JONAH I expect he would agree and bless my revisions here to the extent that it may be generally applied to the sacred vocation of earthly fatherhood:
It [fatherhood] demands true holiness, nothing other than synergy with the Divine Will—the very definition of obedience.
To fulfill what it means to be a bishop [father] means nothing other than to “attain to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” How far I am from this! And yet, it is the Holy Spirit who fulfills what is lacking, and heals that which is infirm.
The episcopacy [Fatherhood] presents the ultimate ascetic and spiritual challenge: the challenge of complete conversion to Christ, the transformation of mind and heart by repentance, in order that I may say with St Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh, I live in the Son of God” (Gal 2:20). To die to self, to empty oneself, to humble oneself even unto death—this is the calling of the bishop [father]... Though there are many tasks and jobs associated with the episcopacy [fatherhood], administrative, pastoral and liturgical, it is not so much about the “job” as it is about the person; and that person is not me, but rather, Christ.
To what degree do my children and my wife see Christ in me? Like Bp. JONAH, I pray that the Holy Spirit fulfills what is lacking and heals that which is infirm as I strive to be a better father. May I approach my vocation as soberly as Bp. JONAH has clearly approached his.
This is for the increase of my beloved's blood pressure - sorry dear.
So, as a part of my John Sossel obsession I am reading his book Give me a Break which I do highly recommend. It has gone further to convincing me that no hardworking American taxpayer "wins" an election...it's more like degrees of losing. Anyway in this book I found this little tidbit of irritating information. If you've ever listened to National Public Radio then the odds are you have heard of Archer Daniels Midland...you know: "the supermarket to the world"?
Now, I've always simply assumed that the reason we see so little regular old sugar in American "food" products is because High Fructose Corn Syrup was simply cheaper to manufacture. But, I had never stopped to really consider the reason why (if this were true) that in 3rd world countries (like Uganda) when you buy Coca-Cola it is actually made with sugar and NOT HFCS? Why would a poor country not opt for a cheaper sweetener? Well, they DID! Stossel explains it when he talks about the first of two "deals" ADM makes with our bloated and convoluted government and its often insane policies:
ADM collects welfare because of two cleverly designed special deals. The first is the government's mandated minimum price for sugar. Because of the price supports, if the Coca-Cola Company or Pepsi wants to buy sugar for its soda, it has to pay 22 cents a pound - more than twice the world price. So Coke (and most everyone else) buys corn sweetener instead. Guess who makes corn sweetener? ADM, of course. Now guess who finances the groups that lobby to keep sugar prices high?
Now, in my reading of the scientific literature, the jury is still out on whether or not HFCS has had a negative effect on our health, but so what? Such manipulation of the free market (indeed corruption of it) forces you and I to have less (often NO) choice as consumers. And WE ought to be the ones deciding what sweeteners fail or succeed.
When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, "You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have."
But when they said, "Give us a king to lead us," this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do."
Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, "This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day."
But the people refused to listen to Samuel. "No!" they said. "We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles."
When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. The LORD answered, "Listen to them and give them a king."
Then Samuel said to the men of Israel, "Everyone go back to his town."
Wow! This fellow was taken by a deer hunter not far from us. 570lbs and 8 feet tall on its hind legs. I really had no idea black bears got this big (obviously they do...and some), let alone here on the Kitsap peninsula. A shotgun slug took him down, delivering 368lbs of meat to his family. Story HERE.