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.
Last weekend I was charged with the duty of sending a sick chicken off to meet its maker. Using my trusted pellet gun "killchick", I had Sue set the ailing bird outside near the woods and then I quickly popped a cap into the back of its head.
I will admit, killing an animal isn't easy. I can squish a spider or bug with absolute impunity, but killing something bigger...warmer...well it's not quite as easy. This is the second bird I've dispatched and I will admit it was more easily done than the first...however in each case I was able to raise up some moral justification: 1) It was a really mean rooster attacking kids. 2) It was very sick and in pain. It is perhaps revealing that we must work up some moral justification for killing...we all know death is in some way bad.
Anyway, I expect when number three (through 22) arrives it will be: I need to feed my family.
We've forgotten that eating meat entails a very messy business. I expect this is why PETA has so much "success" with their slaughterhouse videos. That nicely wrapped package of boneless chicken breast you just bought was, until recently, attached to living birds. Astonishing as it may seem, I expect some folks these days have never even seen a live chicken! And no doubt, to see one butchered can be tough to stomach...but THAT is the reality of our meat, and I think it is a mistake to go on living in the sterility we falsely create around us (think of how we deal with our sick, suffering, and our dead...we definitely have an "out of sight, out of mind" mentality.)
Now, obviously in those ugly factory farm settings (PETA loves them) the situation is horrific...but even in more natural settings where birds are treated well and have extensive access to the outdoors, their lives are still bloodily cut short. Real life is messy...no matter how we might try and shield ourselves from it. Dirt and blood abound in real life.
As I ponder this I am reminded that how the Orthodox approach death really accentuates the need to unsterilize life. The funeral itself (and the prep, such as washing the body) is so "in your face" toward our typical western sensitivities. It proclaims through it all: "This is death...look upon it....do not hide from it...prepare for your own" and we are reminded that someday we will be the ones in the casket. Every Orthodox funeral is a reminder of our own funeral, for it will be the same (essentially) as the ones we attend now. It might as well be your own. There is wisdom in not letting people be creative with such events.
Interestingly enough I have seen many protestants get freaked out by our traditions (and indeed the traditions of all ancient Christian churches) of laying out clearly before us the reality of death (be that funeral services or even relics which speak to far more than death of course)...and often without suggesting any theological reasoning, they will simply assume that the act ought to perceived as "freaky" and wrong in and of itself, not knowing what they are really do is getting weirded out by a VERY recent western need to avoid looking at death. This is a whole mindset in the spirit of the kneejerk reformation: consider their sterilized churches. Churches that look more like a concert center than a church. They seem to have forgotten that the early church intentionally built their altars over the tombs of their martyrs. As for my part...I could use a stark reminder of death.
And yet I've no wish to give the impression of this approach to death is an ultimate "downer" for certainly there is joy in singing the Paschal Troparion over our loved ones tombs...perhaps even more so for having so experienced the reality of death. I don't know...even the sickness and death of a chicken will in someway be redeemed at the restoration of all things.
Until then...come spring (after Lent) it will be "finger lickin' good" time! But getting there will be messy. Anyone wish to join us for butchering day?
If you've not read EM Forster's The Machine Stops, download this PDF, print it out, turn off your computer and read it. Clearly I'm no Luddite, but I do wonder to what degree we may be headed in this direction. There is no doubt that many live their "second lives" as their first one. Keep in mind, Forster wrote this in 1909.
We have raised up a generation of multi-media junkies. Think about it: no drug would appeal to us if it did not pleasure one of our senses in some way. Similarly, there is little doubt in my mind as to why a child raised regularly on MTV and XBOX should have trouble in school and actually require drugs to help pay attention. Has anyone ever done a study of ADHD diagnosis rates amongst the Amish or in the third world where epilepsy inducing media is largely unknown?
And we wonder why traditional liturgical worship doesn't "work" for people? Duh...it's like trying to get someone high on caffeine whose been a meth addict for decades.
Further proof that some in politics believe that they can fix all of our societal ills. Friends, welcome to the "No child left inside" act in New Mexico.
Yes we all generally agree that our kids today spend too much time indoor playing video games and are not getting enough exercise....what to do? What to do...what to do? AHA! Raise taxes, of course! Utterly brilliant!
In truth, of course, this concept is poorly thought out on many levels (freedom of individual families to decide what is best for their kids being foremost among them), but beyond that it's not going to accomplish anything but get some cash into some sort of outdoor programs (ummmm...any idea which ones? Hello?). Because seriously, do you think that if little Johnny wants Halo 3 that mommy and daddy would pay $50.00, but not $55.50?
I love how they appeal to the authority of "medical studies" which plays right into what I wrote earlier. Might I suggest that as you read the news article you listen to this.
While Christopher Hitchens may think that religion is the real propagator of the world's atrocities (and indeed many equally in ignorance would agree), in truth little can compare to what militant atheists managed in Soviet Russia. Clearly humans have no need for religion to find reasoning for killing one another.
The true story of state sponsored militant atheists wiping out hordes of Christians is untold in America and it is a shame, and surprising given the propaganda value it would have had during the cold war. The persecutions by pagan Rome and imperialistic Islam cannot compare to what the atheists in the last centuries wrought upon the Church, and indeed even Hitler's twisted crime against the Jews is dwarfed by the 80 or so years of Soviet trials, executions, and gulags.
But, amidst the Church the story remains alive...and perhaps that is where it best remains. I wonder if, more and more, our predominant culture would prefer not to think of such matters as the non-religious slaughtering the religious because it rather goes against the popular meme of the world only now coming out from under the murderous tyranny of Christianity into the light of secularism. (Which of course is no real light at all and may end being a persecutor itself given time to grow and bear fruit.)
Yesterday we celebrated the feastday of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. For us, it took a sort of prominence over St. John's relics being translated because our patron is, of course, one of those new martyrs. They have many lessons to teach us...and while it may be hard to imagine a government sponsored "Society of the Godless" churning out anti-religious propaganda, turning churches into museums to marvel at the pasts "superstitions", imposing all manner of restrictions on the Church, and filling the schools with the atheistic wisdom of the age, it none-the-less happened and continued to happened well within most of our lifetime.
Could it happen again? I'll do you one better than that: it will happen I again and it will be worse - as unimaginable as that might seem. I'm not claiming to be a prophet here (though I do have some ideas about how it will happen), I'm simply noting that our Lord told us to expect to be hated and to be persecuted. I suspect if you think hard enough about the current cultural climate you can envision what issues will find us particularly hated.
Is it really so hard to imagine the government eventually coming to believe that making our children conform to our religious practices is a violation of their rights? As they (the government) believes they have a greater and greater vested interest in how exactly we raise our kids? A strong ingrained sense of individual freedom still exists here in the US to largely prevent this from expanding too much, but as I've noted before the government does seem to perpetually be approaching us and asking that we let them provide for us ("we are here to help you" or "we are here to protect you"). In many places in Europe, personal freedoms are being absorbed by the collective, such as in Belgium. (Pay close attention to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child declaration.)
Anyway, I've no wish to let my evolving libertarian politics come too much into this post...because there is something more important to be considered here. We as Christians should expect to be persecuted and if we aren't we are either amidst some sort of lull or we've become a bit too friendly with the world. The precious new martyrs of Russia overtly faced the mouth of the lion seeking whom he may devour. But, for we here today, are we any less amidst a society of the godless? The subtlety of it is particularly dangerous and we have a choice to be a martyr every single moment of the day (thanks to Fr. C's homily yesterday on our task of everyday martyrdom....God help us to see this truth). In time, the simmering of our current culture's hatred of Christ's Church may once again boil over into providing baptisms in blood.
Here is a wonderful Icon of the New Martyrs with clickable details.
I realize I can sometimes be stupid. I also realize I sometimes have a slight tendency toward mental instability (sometimes people tell me I talk to myself and I've noticed I'll often say things that just pop into my head which are unusually random...maybe I have a slight case of Tourette's?) Anyway, despite all of this, the real identifier of my intellectual inferiority is this little escapade.
I was trying to wrap up some Nativity figures and needed to use a strip of duct tape to wrap them all tightly in a paper bag. But since one hand was holding the bag, I decided the way to unravel a strip of the tape would be to use my mouth to secure one end and then pull with my other hand. It all worked brilliantly until I needed to retrieve the strip of tape which was now secured to my bottom lip.
It hurt when I pulled, but I didn't give it much thought until I noticed a stinging sensation, the taste of blood, and the odd fact that the end I'd held in my mouth was now not holding to the paper very well. It wasn't holding to the paper very well because the skin that had until recently adorned my lip was now blocking the heavy duty adhesive action of the duct tape.
I suffered the rest of the day with what felt like the worse case of chapped lips I've ever had. Lesson learned? Yep. If you didn't have to die to win a Darwin Award, I reckon I could at least get a nomination.
In the last few weeks I started finding some expat bloggers in Uganda and through them I've found a number of native Kampalan bloggers. It has been my experience both via my time in Uganda and these blogs that the Ugandan people are generally quite conservative. (Consider the trouble that the Anglican Communion has with their African brethren vs. their liberal western brethren).
The same "trouble" seems to be present amongst many charitable westerners who end up in Africa to help with secular (e.g. UN) aid programs and their African counterparts or recipients of said charity. One of the bigger issues in Uganda lately has been the dismissal of abstinence education programs by westerners as worthless and their advocacy of homosexual behavior. It would seem that many Ugandans (Africans?) reject such "progressive" western aid.
Below are a couple of fantastic public service style advertisements that I don't think we'd ever see in the United States. Ironically, pay close attention at the end to note who sponsored them.
Apparently, the US government thinks Africans have what it takes, but Americans don't.
In honor of MLK on Monday we liberated our new flock of chickens from Butter's stall to their newly added on section of the chicken coop. Susan is mostly responsible for the construction of this structure which is made up almost entirely of stuff we got for free or already had lying around the farm. She did a fantastic job and I helped only with designing and building the door (a far superior design to the barn and old coop and doors I've done in the past - perhaps I'm learning?) and final touches including the poultry netting and such.
See pics HERE. Make sure to note how cool I look in one of them. Real farmers aren't afraid to look like dorks. Man...I need to start wearing the cowboy hat and boots and strap on my SA Ruger if I'm to live up to the image I have of myself. Ummm...maybe lose the pot of chickens too.
Ah heck...I am what I am. Take it or leave it. :)
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 11:31 AM [+] +++
Monday, January 21, 2008
Amazing Grace and the Sanctity of Life
If you've seen the film Amazing Grace then you know that a significant portion of the film deals with William Wilberforce's internal struggle of deciding between becoming a full time minister or remaining a member of parliament. In essence, the film intends to demonstrate that the dichotomy between the work of God and the work of politics is unnecessary and that sometimes (perhaps often?) they coincide. And so Wilberforce, who is convinced via his Christian faith of the evils of the African Slave Trade, sets out to end the practice by remaining a member of parliament. We are also told that he goes on to tackle numerous other social justice issues as well.
Social Justice, Christian Charity, and Politics are all the rage these days. The right side of the American political fence has long played the Christian morality card on numerous issues (e.g. "family values") and the left is now learning that if they are to gain control that they are going to have to Christianize their hand as well and they do so under the banner of "feeding the poor" and such. Now, I should pause and say that I am not completely cynical over such matters, I truly believe that SOME politicians on both sides of the political fence truly believe in the respective changes they hope to implement.
Now, two days ago happened to be "Sanctity of Life" Sunday and it got me thinking about the abolitionist movement as portrayed in the film. One definitely gets a sense from the film that Wilberforce and his "team" are the 19th century equivalent of modern liberal activists and politicians. If you've seen the film then you know exactly what I mean.
What it had me wondering was: Is there a moral and political parallel between slavery and abortion? Naturally the question comes down to when a fetus is to be considered a human being and indeed this was at least in part also the case for African slaves, whose status as human was no doubt in question at the time - amazingly enough. Much more difficult it is to ascribe humanity to one who has no voice: like a fetus or the disabled or the elderly.
Wilberforce's opponents decried the economic and personal ruin that the banning of the slave trade would have on many people and communities, yet vaguely seeing the rightness of the moral issue (or at least the growing political will) instead suggested a cautious and lengthy process of ending the practice as opposed to an outright and sudden ban. Naturally the abolitionist were abhorred by the idea: how can we consider not immediately ending the suffering and murder of thousands?!
Today we have politicians who will decry the practice of abortion "personally" and will even speak to notions of how horrible it is, but will yet still uphold the right to practice it. It is, we are told, a complex matter that should be left up to the individual. Now, is this argument any different than the argument Wilberforce's opponents put forth with regard to the individuals and communities whose lives would suffer if the trade had been banned?
If we TRULY believe that abortion ends an innocent human life, then should such arguments really carry any weight? Given that pregnancy is as much an option as a career choice, do the arguments lose even more weight? Serious questions here.
If John Newton's advice to Wilberforce was right and that we ought to seek to change the world - to conform it to the way of the Kingdom - through politics, then I think we ought also to wonder if taking an "oh well, it's a bad thing...but not the most important thing" approach to abortion is not a huge mistake. Who in our society is so voiceless, so powerless, so utterly defenseless as a womb-born infant? Surely, no one is.
I know I've mentioned it before, but my opinion on abortion changed radically during the time that I worked in a pathology lab and was able to actually see the remains of aborted fetuses. Initially it was fascinating to see the little severed arms and legs and various other body parts, but in time the full weight of what I was seeing (tiny human bodies ripped to shreds) befell me and I knew I could no longer compromise on the issue. Yes, the gruesome pics that the really "crazy" protesters hold up are very likely real.
And so, if you believe that the government ought to be in charge of executing some of our Christians duties (whether that be teaching our kids morality or feeding the poor), then I URGE you to remember that it ought also to protect the weakest among us. Had they a voice, I believe they too would say, "Am I not a man and a brother?"
I would add this one thing: Wilberforce and abolition could not have succeeded until such a time that there was enough political and social will to do so. It was no easy task for such a thing to happen and it took a great deal of time...but make no mistake about it: there was a concerted effort to change the hearts and minds of people in the 18th-19th centuries. We live in a culture of death and blatant selfishness today and I really do not know what it will take to turn things around...or even if they can be turned around. We cannot manifest life or the love of it via the ballot box, but this rule applies to all matters we might deem to be important to Christians whether it be abortion or caring for the orphans or the widows. People must learn to embrace life - as I am trying to do as a child of this perverse generation.
Here is Metropolitan HERMAN's "Sanctity of Life" mesasage.
This article explains that our drive for sex is "just like" our drive for fighting. Hmmm...this being the case, might I suggest our public schools now institute a policy of passing out theseprophylactics instead of futilely insisting kids abstain from fighting? Clearly our hopes we've placed in Politically Correct Rainbow Diversity "Can't we all get along" training in public schools is not going to work. We're trying to fight human nature here!
And in case you thought otherwise: "Aggression is highly conserved in vertebrates..." (This means it's in your genes, folks). "It serves a really useful evolutionary role probably..." (And this tells us how it got there.) But here is the kicker:
Even though it served a purpose for other animals, in modern human societies, Kennedy said, a propensity toward aggression is not beneficial and can be a problem.
Actually, it's NEVER been beneficial, at least in terms of how we OUGHT to define the word!
Well this is all big news I should think. How long have we as a species marveled at our propensity towards violence and wondered: Why? Well I guess another of the grand mysteries of human nature is solved now. Surely our new age of enlightenment has accomplished what the ancients could only stand in darkness and be baffled over.
Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:
“God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
I've been following news out of Uganda lately - as well as surrounding nations such as Kenya where the political strife continues. Uganda is getting refugees and also Kenya is Uganda's primary link to the ocean and thus prices are rising as imports are becoming more scarce (fuel being paramount among them).
Anyway, on a less serious note: sometimes the stories I come across are...well...let's just say odd. Take THIS one for example. Now, as you read this article I expect you'll be like me and by the time you finish it you'll say (through your laughing): "huh?!?!"
Nakesero is the neighborhood where our project house is...so I guess I'd better keep an eye out for things falling from the trees.
Winter is showing signs of retreat and I am so happy to see it. By the time I get back from Uganda I expect there will actually be daylight remaining when I return home after a day's work. For those who follow my wife's Farm blog you'll know more about the happenings around here...I am completely in agreement with her: I am tired of the mud. I am convinced that water in Washington this time of the year simply does not evaporate...EVER. It just is.
Sue has been very busy and has been doing a lot. She's got the new chicken coop addition nearly finished and the birds to be placed therein are nearly grown now. This means I need to ready myself to start slaughtering the old flock sometime after I get back.
As you know the big brown Suburban blew a head gasket (RIP) and the old farm Truck grew weary of going forward (RIP). We did buy a '99 Suburban, but alas we had too much trouble finding a diesel and settled for gas. But at least it is a 4x4 and it is a fleet model which is perfect for hauling messy kids, messy goats, and hay/feed etc. So for the time being I either drive in reverse around the neighborhood or we just do well enough with only one vehicle.
I've been particularly lazy lately, perhaps it is the season? I go a week at a time without seeing my homestead because it is dark from the time I leave to the time I get home and I just don't seem to have energy or motivation to do much when I get home. I need to get over that.
Uganda, as I noted looms over me. I am, for the most part, dreading it. Perhaps dread is too strong a word. A month away from home will be difficult. Sometimes very difficult I fear. Had it been a couple weeks I would probably be looking forward to it as I know it behooves me to experience what there is to experience there.
I should take this opportunity to say a few words about St. Nicholas Uganda Children's Fund. I have been in contact at length with Peter Georges who is the former OCMC Missionary to Uganda. Inspired by he and his wife's continuing burden for the suffering people of Uganda he helped to start this ministry. I commend it to you and encourage you to help in any way you can.
Uganda takes away all notions of my petty troubles. But seeing extreme poverty does nothing to heal the soul of loneliness. March cannot come quickly enough.
I liked: Christian values were always kept alive among the people. They ultimately brought about the fall of communism.
Supporting one form of government over another is not our main concern. Saving the soul is fundamentally possible in any form of government.
No one should be able to stand in front of a church and say: I refuse to go inside, because that's where my political opponents feel at home. And politicians, for their part, cannot enlist the church in a trite attempt to gain popularity.
I would say that the theory has many adherents, but also a few unanswered questions. For instance, no one has provided precise proof of the transition from one species to another. It would be wrong to treat Darwin's theory as the only correct one. It is the leading theory today, but it could be replaced by another theory tomorrow. (I loved the exchange that included this latter statement because clearly the interviewer could accept nothing less than a clear and overt declaration of faith in Darwinism...how typical. How dare he question the dogma of the secular church! LOL and later the interviewer is perturbed that homosexuality might have been called an "animal instinct"? Well newsflash Darwinist: WHAT ISN'T AN ANIMAL INSTINCT!?)
I disliked: The second to the last statement by the Metropolitan is questionable in my mind...at least in terms of the Church. For instance he mentioned briefly that the Church DID take a stance on a tax issue. What then of those politicians who might have opposed it? Could one consider themselves Christian and still oppose it if the Church supports it? Dangerous ground, I think, but then I do not pretend to "get" the intricacies of Russian politics and the perceptions of the Church's role in their society.
What I REALLY disliked: how the interviewer kept linking "western liberal values" to things like gay pride parades, promiscuity, secularism, Darwinism, and low church attendance. As if to suggest that the Metropolitan's contentions with these things (to whatever extent) are not in fact shared by a significant portion of the western populace. I don't like these false dichotomies to be drummed up by the "liberal west" when the fact is that many many religious leaders in the west would have agreed with everything the Metropolitan says here in regard to values.
Orthodox faithful of Russia: "Spiegel" does not speak for anything near the majority of westerners. MANY of us stand with the Metropolitan.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 11:39 AM [+] +++
This may seem a silly thing...however, as a parent I do understand the sentiment. I cannot speak for your neck of the woods, dear readers, but here in Seattle I very frequently come across a bumper sticker that uses vulgarity - almost always with regard to our current president.
I suppose I would complain more about this nonsense if I had better control over my own tongue, but none-the-less it is striking to me that one would feel inclined to make official and public their inability to control their mouths by spending money on printing such words and pasting them to their vehicles. And besides, expletives of any sort make for rather poor intellectual arguments.
There was once a time when uttering vulgarities was a sure sign of poor education, lack of intelligence, or in general unacceptable manners. Cussing simply meant you lacked the ability to properly articulate and communicate yourself and thus, for those who uttered them frequently, it showed they were stupid. That's the argument I generally give to my kids for avoiding the use of such language and so when Daddy racks his head on something and is unable to properly communicate his pain, he is in fact being stupid and should strive to articulate better. More than that, though, it also demonstrates a lack of self-control.
The scriptures and the Father warn us about controlling the tongue. If words you deem inappropriate escape it from time to time, I'll bet other tongue control issues are at play as well (e.g. gossip). It is not the eyes that are the window to your heart or soul...it's your tongue! And so, putting such things into print is all the more demonstrative of self-control issues - a sign of surrender perhaps?
Is swearing becoming more acceptable? Are kids allowed to swear at school today? In my day, cussing was worthy of discipline...I've no idea what they do today. I recently watched the film "Knocked Up" and while I'll admit I don't see many pop comedies these days, I was taken aback by the number of F-Bombs dropped and the overall crude conversation in this film. I never counted, but they were astonishingly common throughout. I found it distracting and unnecessary. But clearly I am a minority in this regard.
I suppose if society as a whole finds such language or the display of male anatomy on trailer hitches perfectly fine what can I say about it? What can or should I do about it?
Right now a gentleman named Ezra Levant is being investigate and interrogated by the Canadian "Human Rights" Commission for republishing the infamous Muhammed Cartoons. You can find video of many of his statements during the interrogation HERE. I wholly support Mr. Levant and I think he does a brilliant job of demonstrating the insanity of PC thought police power being handed more and more to our government authorities. As if we do not already get enough PC burdens to carry in our places of employment (what we can or cannot say), it seems we can expect the same in everyday life. But at what point does such sensitivity for offended peoples apply to conservative religious folks like myself who prefer not to have to explain to my kids what exactly is dangling from some low-brow gorilla's trailer hitch? Or why some hippie activist's hybrid apparently wants to have intimate relations with George Bush?
Am I having a hypocritical moment here? Perhaps. I do not believe we can legislate society into coming to believe that such displays soil ourselves. And frankly, my own sins do far more damage to my kids than does public vulgarity. None-the-less, if the representative from Virginia can pass his legislation and retain his seat, then I suppose we show that the majority of people agree that hitches are no place for such absurdities. And I will not hide being pleased seeing such a result...stupid free speech isn't really free, it does cost us something. But that's a judgment call...I just happen to judge well.
I have an unnatural tendency to be lazy. I say unnatural as opposed to natural because consensus or existence since birth doesn't REALLY mean it is natural. We must constantly rethink the term.
And as one inclined toward laziness, I frequently get jobs barely done and proclaim the however-ill-completed task: "good enough." Sometimes I'll also tag on this: "...for government work" as if this should make me feel better about it.
This laziness spills over into pretty much all areas of my life. Regular maintenance of the house/farm, special projects (of which there are many), my prayers, my writing, my work in the lab, the raising of my kids, etc etc. Whatever happened to the good old American work ethic that says: "If a job is worth doing, it's worth doing right."
"Just getting by" or "good enough" might be fine sometimes if the world were as secularists would have us believe, but since the world is in fact full of meaning I think I ought to make the extra effort to do things well. Why, you ask? Besides the common and practical sense of doing something in a manner that will preclude you from having to do it again in a few days, how about also for the sake of beauty?
Beauty doesn't just happen by accident. At the very least it requires profound appreciation and at the very most it requires complete self-sacrifice. A broad spectrum that always requires some form of human effort. Without us, beauty is as meaningless as secularism demands the world must be. I suggest we manifest beauty when we take the time and effort to do things right...or do them well. No matter what that may be.
Case and point: Church music. Why work so hard to make it sound good? Is it to please the ears of the parishioners? Is it to foster an environment that will "work" for people in their worship experience? Is it to bring people into some sort of an emotional crescendo? Is it to impress the musically inclined? Perhaps become so well tuned as to garner a recording contract with Conciliar Press? (Banish the thought!) Surely then it is to attract people into regular attendance? No, none of this.
It is because we perceive the goodness and beauty of doing things right and well. When done right, it manifests beauty. As surely as a child would yearn to please his parents with a well done piano recital, so also do we wish to show forth the beauty endowed within us from and to our Heavenly Father. Offering Praise and Glory, what better task to seek to do well; beautifully?
And really, what work in our lives ought not to be done with the same devotion, care, and commitment to doing it correctly and well? Might I suggest if you determine there is such a task, that you might consider whether it is really worth doing to begin with?
Boy, do I need to take these thoughts and apply them.
Gregoire said the past 45 days, which have included floods and a tornado in Washington, have been a wake-up call for her and the state: “This is mother nature’s way of saying to us: Take notice. Take action.”
How retarded are we? No seriously, how retarded are we? There is not one modicum of scientific fact or evidence that could possibly even suggest that the last 45 days of Washington weather is indicative (let alone a warning klaxon from mother nature) of climate change. No matter what you believe about anthropogenic climate change, this sort of talk just reveals how crazy it can get when the Lab and State (and pop culture) get in bed.
Simple advice, but apparently we are not supposed to take it.
THIS little study suggests that for the average Joe-Wine drinker (like me), a perceived high price will tend to make wine taste better! However, in a blind taste test, the average Joe's actually preferred the cheapest wine! And I love this:
"We were shocked," Rangel said in a telephone interview. "I think it was because the flavor was stronger and our subjects were not very experienced."
He added that wine professionals would probably be able to differentiate the better wine — "one would hope."
NO ONE WOULDN'T! Heck, if you "ignorantly" enjoy cheap wine then I say more power to you!
May I suggest (for around 5 or 6 bucks):
I picked up my first bottle at Central Market because I liked the price, I liked the label, and I liked it being made in Eastern WA. Tastes good. WIN WIN WIN WIN.
One last thing about The Shack. In the book, the Wisdom of God is personified as a woman named "Sophia." Now,while you might think of this as being a hip and cool mystical kinda thing, I would urge a little caution.
Perhaps some of you have heard of Sergei Bulgakov and Sophianism? Personified Sophia is a touchy subject for the Orthodox and while I have no idea what Young's thinking might be on the subject (or even if he knows about Russian Sophiology), I found that section of the book a little troubling. When the episode started I secretly hoped the woman he was about to be would be our Lady the Theotokos, but upon second thought who could imagine where they might have ended up.
Well I think that's all I have to say. The Shack has a great deal to offer and I enjoyed reading it. It wrestles with issues that I think we do need to wrestle with. But, I suspect the common perception of individual rights which the book attempts to shatter, is really a driving force in much of post-modern thought. (i.e. "What works for me"). Furthermore, taking such notions such as the dangers of human desire for power by avoiding all semblance of institution, is really just institutionalizing the avoidance of power. Change of heart is where these sorts of things need to happen and changing the externals (no "religious institutions") to fit changes that we assume have already happened internally is backwards and unnecessary. I loved this book as it confronted some of the most difficult questions Christians must face (REAL forgiveness - in a seemingly impossible context, REAL change, REAL surrender, REAL humility) but I would have loved it even more if it didn't preach so much of the emergent church mantra that I deem absolutely unnecessary to the story.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 12:01 PM [+] +++
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
The Shack, Part Three
"Nothing is Ritual" and a bit about Music
Now, look, I realize this little bit about music may be a trivial issue, but the author certainly felt inclined to include it somewhat prominently and so I feel inclined to comment upon it.
The scene in the book has "Papa" (aka God the father) dancing about the kitchen while listening to some music being played over a headset He/She is wearing. I cannot recall if the text notes if God was using an iPod. Mack is curious as to what sort of music God is listening to and is informed that it is some strangely named genre (which may or may not be fictional...forgive me I am chronically unhip and I already returned the book to the library) from a band whose members had "not yet been born." Mack is taken aback - again having his preconceptions dashed - that God is not listening to something of a religious nature. "Papa" informs Mack of His/Her love for all people and in particular the rowdy, rambunctious, and angry boys who make up the band. We are also informed that the boys have good reason to be upset about the world around them.
Now stop for a minute. I realize this is really written for those Christians who insist that we ought to only listen to Christian music and that secular music ought to always be avoided. Fine, I get it. But, I am a little leary of the words here put into God's mouth. A good portion of the book has God explaining to Mack how our perception of "rights" are all wrong and backwards, which is fascinating stuff. And from the overall feel of the book one cannot imagine The Shack's God dancing about to a song Mack might write about executing revenge upon his daughter's killer. And yet God is somehow entertained by the rambunctious boys who make hip music expressing their discontent with the world? There seems to be an irrational and unfair dichotomy here.
And really, before we dismiss the "simple-minded" Christian who refuses to listen to secular music, let us consider that they actually do have some valid points about avoiding some particular artistic expressions. There is Scriptural, Traditional (from the Fathers and Mothers of the Church), and common sense reasoning for being discerning about what you allow to be filled into your head. Don't underestimate the senses ability to sear things into your brain. There's my public service announcement and I'll move on.
At least twice God informs Mack that "Nothing is Ritual." Now this is a statement that is ripe for interpretation and I suspect the author could mean many different things, if for no other reason than because "ritual" itself can mean many things. But generally we take it to mean a prescribed method or procedure for doing something usually with regular repetition implied.
Of course nothing is more ritualistic than a liturgical church service. I don't know for sure if The Shack's God is therefore dissing on liturgy, but I am relatively sure that the spirit of what the author is trying to get across is one of freedom and newness. A life movement that is ever new, ever changing, and ever free of preconceptions. And so, in a way the repetitive "monotony" of Orthodox life may seem to be the polar opposite.
Unfortunately, I would suggest God could just as easily have said: "Everything is Ritual." Consider everything in the world, including your everyday life as it is...I think you'll see rather quickly that we are all about ritual. Life is ritualistic...indeed the very nature of life is one of ritual in that like begets like. And our dance of life is full of the same steps that our parents took and as we get older we realize more and more that we are indeed repeating their life steps and this becomes even more abundantly clear once you beget more life (aka have kids). Our heart, the nearly universal symbol of our love, our desires, and our being is in a perpetual state of ritual. We eat ritualistically. We drink ritualistically. We shower ritualistically. If we are improper Orthodox we shave ritualistically (hehe). We go to work ritualistic. We get our coffee ritualistically. We do our jobs and our house chores ritualistically. We raise our kids ritualistically. We celebrate all manner of things ritualistically. The sun and moon rise and set ritualistically, the seasons change in a great and rich ritualistic orchestration. Animals (as we have learned first hand on our little farm) live highly ritualized life. I could go on forever....the world around us is clearly one great big ritualistic dance with precious little being new under the sun. Is it mundane? Is it monotonous? Well, these things have nothing to do with reality, they are states of mind. Might I suggest God could also say "Nothing is mundane" or "Nothing is boring" or even "Anything can 'work for you'" or "Somethings that bore you might really be good for you." Ritual can actually speak to us...it can teach and lead us...it is a means of ongoing paradosis of which the world is and ever has been full.
Perhaps our job (which, yes, does imply work) is not to try and avoid ritual (GOOD LUCK), but rather to impregnate the world's ritual with meaning...or more accurately to open our eyes to the meaning of the world's ritual - impregnated with that meaning by God Himself, especially through His incarnation. I know I've blabbed about this many times before, but the cycle of Orthodox life, while perhaps appearing to be dead ritual to outsiders, is in actuality a tried and true means of celebrating and seeing the impregnation of meaning in the world's natural ritual. It is like adding dancing to music.
For my part: from this insightful book The Shack, I take a renewed willfulness to open my eyes to the reality of life. To let...no....to WORK for these rituals to fill me with joy, love, and life as the repetitive dance of life goes on and on...and hopefully I am able to pass this on to my kids.
Everything is ritual...and God, I think, saw that is was good.
Up next: Sophia, the wisdom of God...and some final ramblings on The Shack
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:46 AM [+] +++
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Images of Orthodoxy around the world...
...always show up in the news feeds around the time of major Orthodox feasts. Old Calender Nativity yesterday is of course no exception. The images are fantastic. Many others may be found HERE.
As I said previously, the Holy Trinity (revealed with all manner of preconceptions from which I contend none of us can fully escape and should thus generally avoid period) plays a major role in the book and He/She/They (see what I mean) has/have a great deal to say. Some of it is - I believe - spot on with the teachings of the Church. And please, let us understand MY context here when I say the "teachings of the Church": what we know about God, we know solely via His revelation to His community (the Church). That Community has since handed this knowledge down in the form of her Scriptures, her Creeds, her Prayers, her Liturgies, and her other Traditions. Stepping outside of this context becomes pure speculation and is subject thereafter to the witness of the Church by which we do not mean a "magisterium" or a particular bishop or Patriarch, but rather the Church as a whole over time both past, present and future. This has always been the case anytime something seemingly "new" arises, and it may have taken centuries, but over time the Church purges herself of anything that is not faithful to the Holy Traditions for which she has been given charge. This is how we know the Church is as St. Paul says: "the pillar and ground of truth." So, some of what The Shack's God says it wonderful and reflects a fair amount of what the eastern church has been saying to the western church for a while now. But, also much of what Young has God say mirrors the common Emergent church mantras that we often here today.
For instance: "Institutions" and "hierarchies" are bad. In part, I suspect this is why in the book God the Father is never referred to as "father" or "Almighty" and Jesus is never "Master" or "Lord". Mack, who is used to perceiving God as a stern old man waiting to wack sinners on the head (which is the image - we are told - that is proclaimed by "religion" and "Institutions" both led by "hierarchs") has his false image of God countered with another one: that God is nothing but "Abba" or "Papa." Now, I MUST say that I really really do appreciate the emphasis on intimacy with God. It is a beautiful thing and I have witnessed it in the lives of some people who would likely affirm everything in "The Shack" and I have no doubts it is decidedly real and powerful. Furthermore, I have no doubts that I personally could stand to grow in deeper intimacy with God. However, there is more to intimacy than having a "pet" name. Intimacy can be washing someone's feet with your tears and drying them with your hair, and nothing remotely close to this happens in "The Shack." It would perhaps seem to hierarchal? I am rather certain that the Saints (those known and unknown) of our hierarchal Church have an indescribable intimacy with God and have never felt compelled to abandon notions of pressing their heads to the floor and weeping bitterly for their sins before the One they call "Lord" and "Master."
God clearly has revealed Himself as father. What can we say about this? I suppose we might consider the traditional role of the father in a family? Indeed a child may refer to his or her father as "papa", but there is no questions about hierarchies. "Papa" is the boss and he both earns and receives respect and honor. He loves and is loved, but he is not merely his children's pal. There is a time and place to fear - to some degree - "papa" even though that fear is ultimately unfounded. There is play time and then there is "Get your crap together!" time, as any parent knows. I suppose in any case, the analogy can be taken too far and will fail to some degree...as noted before, I don't think I've heard of an earthly father receiving the praise and worship that we have seen given AND received by our Lord. And frankly I don't have a lot of sympathy for people who feel the need to change God's fatherly title for Himself simply because they've had a rough go of it with their earthly father. We all know what the ideal is...it is God. And additionally, God clearly is revealed to us as far more than a father, right?
In any event, the God of The Shack speaks poorly of human organizations, institutions, and associated hierarchies. Repeatedly lecturing about people's need to retain power and authority and how religions are utilized to accomplish this. The mantra reads somewhat like a marxist tract, which may lead one to wonder if every club or religious denomination exists as the culmination of some grand conspiracy.
Were this the case for the Church, then our Lord is to blame, for He established it. He called out some to be leaders and if we are to believe the New Testament He inspired the early to Church to organize itself with Overseers (aka Bishops), Presbyters (aka elders or priests), and Deacons. Furthermore, again if we are to believe the New Testament, He gave unto these leaders authority. Many of the Scriptures which offer up authority to the human leaders of the early Church are largely ignored except by cultic wack-jobs, which is of course tragic. Human's wielding authority is in ANY sense (be it healthy or otherwise...and yes there IS healthy authority, right moms and dads? Law-abiding citizens?) is often viewed in profoundly negative terms by our culture today and they likely have good reason for doing so. However, the same forces that defame notions of the traditional family; making fun of the "fictions" of "Father's knows best" or "Ozzie and Harriet" are at work here and indeed I believe we have seen much to be concerned about in the repercussions of such defamation. Curiously, the family is sometimes called an Institution and perhaps that is why its conservative conceptualization is under attack? In any event, the same problems than arise from defaming the institution of the family can be seen in the defamation of authority in the Church.
Really, and I cannot emphasize this enough, the Church is no more an Institution than is a family. But families - at least traditional and large ones - have indeed seen a hierarchal organization. Younger children obeyed older ones, who were often left in charge of them. All children obeyed Mom, while Dad was traditionally seen as the head of the household. And any good family will have debates, arguments, and fights...often with dad or mom putting an authoritative end to them. But, what sets a family apart - perhaps - from the pomo perception of the cold and unfeeling orwellian Insitution, is love. Love binds the family together. And, may I suggest, love binds the Church together. With all of its faults, authority and submission are both founded in love. From the outside it may appear to be "Insitution" and have all of its preconceived trappings, but love must rule the day inside.
Now, this isn't to say that the Church cannot lose track of herself and become more akin negative conceptions of the emergent folk...indeed we should take their cries of "fault" to heart and keep ever in mind that we are the Family of God first. You may rid yourself of the externals and still not retain the internal love...and the two are not mutually exclusive. No family is perfect, and to this degree the haters of the portrayal of 1950's familial bliss are correct. Our Lord Himself warned us that there would be weeds amongst us (Matthew 13:24-30) - and I would contend that the same wisdom that tells us God can redeem even the work of a child-killer, can tell us also that God may use the work of tares amongst the wheat of the Church.
Our hierarchs in the Church are like older brothers, sister, mothers, and fathers. Their presences is intended to guide and protect the family. How well could a family function if a two year old is allowed equal authority as, say, the mother? Yes, there may be bad mothers, bad older brothers, and ill-intented fathers....but think for a moment: Is organizational anarchy really the answer? Should we abandon all notions of a traditional two parent families (as some would suggest) because sometimes they are dysfunctional? Now I say all of this, but must also say that I believe God will preserve His Church and that the gates of Hell will not prevail against her. The Church will have her problems, but the tares will not win the day. How many of our saints were actually persecuted by the Church? And today, we ask their prayers for our own salvation.
The worries about people trying to retain power is wholly unwarranted, if for no other reason than because it isn't going to go away - the pomo's have offered no solution by abandoning notions of hierarchy of institution, as I said: the externals do not cause people to yearn for power and the lack thereof does not prevent them from obtaining it. People will find a way to wield power over others and they will make every effort to hide that wielded authority under the guise of humility and lack of titles or whatever. In any crowd, somebody ends up leading. An elaborate vestment may indeed give some manner of default authority, but it may also be a means of painting a target on oneself, but make no mistake about it, I repeat that the lack of externals - like vestments - is not a free ticket to escape sinful human behavior. Sin will find a way, my friends.
You wish to avoid all notions of human authority, power, and abuse in your own life? Become a hermit. Or, ask one....we Orthodox retain a few under our hierarchies. Even they, though, become hermits under the guidance and authority of a spiritual father. We Orthodox believe the danger of self-delusion is very grave and common, and thus notions of figuring things out for yourself is a bit like tossing the instructions out first thing before undertaking a complex and important project. While sensitivity to culture is important, let's not pretend the project is really any different...the process of purification, illumination, and transformation is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Guidance (implying from someone who leads) is highly advised.
I was perusing Justin's blog recently and stumbled upon his links section which included one entitled "Cross-Cultural Communication." As it turns out this is Fr. Michael Oleksa's website and it includes the lecture series he gave with regard to Orthodoxy in Alaska - in its entirety!
Rich with history and spirituality, this series is a treasure for anyone who wishes to know more about Alaska and it's connection with Russia and Orthodoxy.
Thank you to Justin for linking them and to Fr. Michael (my long lost 'cuz) for posting them. I told Father a while back that his stories of the missionaries in Alaska would make for a movie comparable superior to "The Mission."
First a word of caution, I am terribly under the weather at the moment, so please excuse any ABNORMALLY poor grammar, spelling, or unclear thinking. All the regularly scheduled poor grammar, spelling, or unclear thinking you are likely used to by now.
As I noted, I would be reviewing this book by William Young and I must begin by saying that I was both impressed and distressed by it. It is a beautiful story and wonderfully weaves together a story about the restoration and healing of a heart and soul irreparably scarred by what is perhaps the worse event a parent could imagine. Truly, the work struck me in the heart and gave me much to ponder. Some of the scenes the author paints are staggeringly painful, beautiful, and redemptive. I will endeavor not to offer any plot spoilers as much as possible, and while I may emphaisze my criticisms of the book in the following posts I will continue to stress that I am still recommending the book.
Now, "The Shack" is held in particular high regard (it would seem) by many in the post-modern or emergent church crowd for both good reasons and bad - in my humble opinion. In many ways I think the book represents what I perceive to be good and bad aspects of the movements themselves. Some of the good is found in stepping out of many of the protestant molds that we Orthodox deem to be erroneous as well, such as the over-emphasis on the nature of sin within the context of substitutionary atonement. However, the author lets all the emergent church light shine brightly not from a hill top, but from the mouth of God Himself...or Herself...or whatever. Imagine how a non-Orthodox Christian would feel if I were to write a book of fiction in which God himself proclaimed that the Orthodox Church is "the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church"? Do you suppose they'd keep reading? Make no mistake, "The Shack's" conception of God definitely plays some disharmonious chords to Orthodox Christians and I'll talk more about them later.
Anyway, old idols (aka religious preconceptions) must be broken. It's a prominant mantra for those who have grown sick of "church." They are largely correct, I think, conceptions of God is a very dangerous business. But if this simple statement is "true" then we are perpetually going to find ourselves having problems. For instance, God the Father in "The Shack" appears not as "Gandalf" with a stern look about Him as one might be inclined to expect, but rather as a jovial elderly black woman referred to as "papa." Of course the problem here is that conceiving of God as an old man with a long white beard is really no different than conceiving of Him as "the oracle" from "The Matrix."
Now, admittedly the author certainly gives a nod to the idea that God appears in this particular case to change our conceptions and Mack (the character to whom God appears) certainly needed to have his preconceptions smashed, but none-the-less the Trinity Himself plays a central role in the book and the author paints a very elaborate conception of God which extends far beyond simple appearances - It is feasible that collectively the Trinity offers us more words in this book than Christ does in the Gospels and this cannot help but give us a detailed conception of God. A task for which I would advise a great great deal of caution and I believe the author demonstrates why this is the case.
I was abit unnerved at the attempt to demonstrate - simply - the intimacy and mystery of the Holy Trinity. I know very little about Young's beliefs, but he is indeed a brave soul to reveal the Holy Trinity as an old black woman, a middle eastern handyman, and a semi-invisible Asian woman named "sarayu." Their presence and casual interactions with one another was just too much for me. I'm not sure I can find an analogy to describe the invasion this seemed to be to me...can words and descriptions ever do justice to the mystery and sacredness of the community of the Holy Trinity? profound and sacred Mystery replaced with casual familiarity perhaps? Either way, the danger, I think is not in failing to do justice to the notion but in actually distorting it.
An allegorical story is one thing, but in story such as this one is left with little room to "end the allegory" if you get my meaning. We are reading about the Holy Trinity literally hanging out with a guy in a shack. And in so doing Young may be escaping many "traditional" preconceptions of God, but he is simply replacing them with new ones.
I am certain I have blogged about apophatic theology before. It is a system (dangerous term to pomo folk) by which the east (predominantly) has affirmed that it is easier to speak of God in negative terms rather than positive. In other words: "God is not this....God is not that..." As opposed to boxing God into positively phrased conceptions. Now, this isn't to say that the Church has not done this, in fact she has via her Scriptures, her creeds, her prayers, and her liturgies. And these positive statements arise directly from revelation and are often only articulated in response to someone coming out and saying something about God that stood against the tradition (paradosis) as handed down to the Church. And so we are extremely cautious when we start blabbing about God. I say this as the chief blabber amongst blabbers and I admit that there have been times when I have gone too far in my conceptions of God...but the Church always calls me home. Our conceptions of God is something we are encouraged to repent of and confess.
When we run away from one conception we are typically running toward another. In time we'll find need to seek shelter under a different conception of God. It is extremely difficult to escape our conceptions...to do so really requires an appeal for help to something outside of ourselves. Young rightly notes at one point that God is fundamentally "other" than us, and indeed some of his portraits of the Trinity in community are beautiful, but I really had to struggle my way past the idea that he was ultimately giving me his conception of God which may not have any firmer foundation than the conception his character Mack was needing to escape. Mack, we are told, needs to break free from his "institutionalized religious indoctrination", but is the new realm painted by the emergent church any surer a foundation? How do we know?
In the next post I will discuss a few things that God says or seemingly represents in "The Shack" that I think need to be "called home."
As things are returning to "normal" I expect to be back blogging shortly. I shall begin with a series of reviews of a fascinating, wonderful, and troubling book entitled "The Shack." It was recommended to me by a beloved and respected friend who is active in the emergent church. Stay tuned.