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[The Creation of the Chicken]

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.
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Monday, September 29, 2008

Malleable Man
Part 2
Desire and discipline changes us because the human heart is malleable. What you do, and where you are. What do I mean?

A good deal of potentially incoherent rambling to follow...not proof read even:

Why can’t I change? This is a question I often ask myself. Many issues surround it, from my spending, my parenting, to my laziness. Heck, name nearly any facet of my existence and there is an application of this question readily available.

Being overweight in school was terribly difficult and I can remember many a night spent in bed, unable to sleep and committing in my mind over and over and over again that the next day would begin a new day of weight loss effort. The beginning of a life long change of habits. You know how that all worked out: envision a plane in flames barreling toward the ground of reality.

Commit, fail. Commit, fail. Commit, try for a day, then fail. Repeat ad nauseam. You all know pop definition of insanity: trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Now, I’ve spent time here complaining about my evangelical days and how despite tearful prayers for change, I never really saw all that much change. As I noted previously…it would seem I was all desire and no discipline. But, I think I need to spend far less time thinking back to what was missing then and consider what is missing NOW. Frankly, having been Orthodox for nearly 7 years I cannot say that I have made any great progress. Personally? I think I’ve lost desire!

I’ve got some discipline, but how much more would I have were I to have the fuel of desire behind it? Do you ever stop to think: do I really believe what I claim to believe here? Because it would seem if I did, my life would be ASTONISHINLY different. Radically different! Where is the love that should be flowing from my heart and into the works of my hands and the words of my mouth? Where is that “River of Life” flowing out of me? Where is that Paschal Joy, so much more richly remembered and celebrated (by magnitudes) by Orthodoxy, in my everyday life?

So, the question is: how does one recapture desire? I can remember being desirous of God…it is like that faint memory one may have that they cannot quite place. Was it a dream? Did it really happen? Have I fallen too much in love with the IDEA of God and in so doing lost the Person of God? I have no sense of need to run toward my prayers. But I want to have that desire. I want to wake up and instantly sense joy and desire to get downstairs before the icons and send up my praises.

Evangelicals talk about having a personal relationship with God and we Orthodox will often chide such notions as being belittling of God. But maybe we should take care that we are not instead holding up an ideal with which we have a personal or communal relationship. Balance is to be found, I think.

Effecting change must begin by cultivating desire. How? Asking for it, for certain...but also working for it. We used to tell kids when I was involved in youth work that during “dry spells” when we don’t feel like praying and we don’t feel like worshipping, that we do it anyway. In an odd sense we were telling them to do what evangelicals often criticize us Orthodox for doing: just going through the motions.

Is there perhaps some circular relationship between desire and discipline? I think so. Again…we are molding our heart here. Much more to ponder. Thoughts?

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:58 AM [+]
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5 comments

Saturday, September 27, 2008

I'm Irrational

If Bill Maher is right...I could be in danger of losing my job. If his attitude spreads...I really and seriously could be in trouble.

"You can't be a rational person six days of the week and put on a suit and make rational decisions and go to work and, on one day of the week, go to a building and think you're drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god.

Well, at least I don't put on a suit...I put on a long black dress. So neener neener neener BILL!

Orrologion has the article.

Addendum: Seconds later I realize this. Seriously.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 11:30 PM [+]
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0 comments

The Cheese Press Workout

Last weekend I knocked together a simple little cheese press in order to expand our adventures in cheese making. Susan posted a pic at the SBF blog. (make sure you check out Professor Fankhauser's website that she has linked in the post).

We have been granted a few days of sun and this will no doubt give us some additional yield out of the garden....I'm still not sure why this growing season has seemed so short. I know we had a pretty late winter (even got snow in April) and that we were little late in getting started...but then maybe these two things combined with the fact that August was so cool and rainy was enough to make things so late in producing. Even the wild blackberries seem really late this year as they have only now reached their peak.

Anyway, I am looking down the barrel of accomplishing precious little from my "to do" list this weekend. Today we spent the day in Port Townsend visiting friends and then had to rush home in order to milk the goat, change, and go straight to Vespers. Tomorrow we have Liturgy of course, then Susan and Matushka are running down to visit and deliver food to a Parish family who just welcomed their first newborn! I will then head up to a friend's place in Kingston to buck up a downed tree and bring the wood home to add to our collection. Then we head back to Church for a fundraiser pizza dinner. Whew! But fun!

Homeschooling has started and I am teaching history. I've done two classes so far and I am really enjoying it. Soon I will also begin teaching Church School and it will be on Church History. As if my life were not busy enough, I am also planning - God willing - to start the OCA DVP program very soon, I'm just waiting for a few more papers to collect for the application.

Susan is also very busy with the homeschooling. She has, in addition, the weekly field trips with the coop, the extra curricular activities (swimming lessons and gymnastics - 3 times a week total in the early evening), women's fellowship on Mondays, and running the farm (milking 2x a day, feeding, cleaning stalls, watering, picking, weeding etc...) This all takes some juggling when I arrive home at 5:30-ish and we have to run to Vespers on Tuesday and Thursday each week with Vesper's Choir practice afterward on Tuesdays.

I don't know if this sounds as hectic as it feels sometimes, but I should also say that there is STILL plenty of time that we know we waste in a given day. I know my lazy butt takes far too much advantage of inventing leisure time. However, the weeks are flying by fast...and despite the pace M-F, I think we are all enjoying it. We love our Parish, we love our farm, and we love being amateur educators. As always though...much to do. Both in terms of sweat of our brow labor and sweat of our soul changes to our hearts. The latter is the most difficult...and the most important, which rather explains it doesn't it?

Anyway....make sure and go check out the pic of my cheese press in action. I have received a blessing from the SBF abbess to makes myself a batch of Jalepeno Mozzarella cheese. YES!

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:23 PM [+]
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1 comments

Friday, September 26, 2008

First they came for…

Throughout the media and liberal leaning blogs, Sarah Palin’s religion is once again being trumpeted as evidence that she is in some way unfit for public office...more than that, the implication is being spelled out that she and her faith and the people ascribing to that faith are in essence crazy, backwards, out of touch, intolerant, extremist and just plain old weird. Yes, they are saying, these are the Christians who Rosie O’Donnell says are just as dangerous as radical Muslims.

It began with people who largely know nothing about the charismatic expressions of the Christian religion (and many knew nothing about Christianity to begin with) claiming that a video of Palin talking about the troops in Iraq demonstrated that she believed that the effort there was God’s will. In essence, that it was a crusade and from the way the media and bloggers spoke about it you would think that she had cried out: “God wills it!” and then called in the recruiters to sign people up while arming them with M4’s and religious tracts to hand out. Of course none of this was true at all. Having listened to the entirety of the recording it was clear to me what her point was: trust and hope that God’s plan will in some way be fulfilled in what we are doing there. A far cry from the calling for a Holy War, it was not even as overt an act as Russian Orthodox Priests sprinkling Holy Water on tanks and planes headed for Georgia, which of course did happen and would require a fair amount of explanation were I running for VP: Is Orthodoxy a war mongering religion? No more than Sarah Palin’s.

Then came news that Palin’s church (whether her old one, from which much of the news is being generated, or not I do not recall or care) believes that homosexuals can be cured. Naturally this is terribly offensive to the world. To believe that a person with homosexual cravings could actually have those cravings removed from them is seen as an argument that those cravings are learned and not genetic. I have no doubt that many in the AG believe homosexuality is a learned behavior, but the greater question for us Orthodox, who are perhaps more comfortable with the idea that people can be born gay, is: SO WHAT? First, I believe in a God who can take a man who has no eyes and make him see, so I guess I don’t quite understand why we cannot believe that God could change someone from gay to straight. Does He, though? I don’t have any idea...but I have met people who claimed they were gay and are not so anymore and so am I to assume that they are liars? Self-deceived? Either way they were caught up in the very worse of the gay lifestyle and were able to walk away from it...what part of THAT story should offend us Orthodox? In our tradition we may not offer prayer services for their deliverance (maybe we should?), but we do do something that the media would see as just as bad: we expect them to remain absolutely celibate.

In the end, the issue is that the AG see homosexuality as abnormal and this is an offense to our culture today. Well, my fellow Orthodox, we too see homosexuality as abnormal and the fulfilling of those desires is considered a sin. Thus, were I to run for office, this would also be a millstone hung around my neck...but, ironically, only because I would generally support conservative social policies. Orthodox politicians who play the liberal game apparently get it both ways: they can belong to a very conservative church and yet not have the eyes of the media noting this...because they generally opt not to vote the conscience of their Church. Whatever their reasonings may be...I will not argue that.

And most recently, a video has surfaced in which an African preacher visiting Palin’s church prays for her protection against “witchcraft.” So I suppose right off she’s lost the all-important wiccan vote. But again this is seen as evidence for Palin and her religion being totally and completely wacky. A couple of thoughts: belief in the power and prevalence of witchcraft is a VERY big deal amongst Africans, whether Christian or otherwise and while this may conjure up images of green skinned ugly old ladies, it should really be seen as no different than the prayer at the bowing of heads at Vespers where the priest also asks for each one of us: “Guard them at every moment, during both the present evening and the approaching night, from every foe, from every hostile operation of the devil.” Certainly if someone wished to make much about that being prayed (and believed? GASP) over my head – were I running for office – three times a week even, then I imagine they certainly could.

I watched the 10 minute video in its entirety and I rather found it interesting. They proceed from the hope that they can transform our culture, that they can make a difference in this world to steer it more toward Christ: by bringing more believers into the media, into Hollywood, and yes even into politics. We may laugh at their optimism, but as we do so (in arrogance?) can we perhaps take a moment to wonder about our own pessimism? Regardless, I do not sense the need for ominous music to be background for this pastor’s sermon. The other side of the fence does – BIG TIME. I would suggest in truth we Orthodox are not really welcome on that side of the fence either.

I don’t have any doubts that the Assemblies of God is out of step with contemporary culture (that being said...Palin is still running a pretty close race - EXTREMELY close given the circumstances that by all accounts should have her rival up by double digits), but this certainly doesn’t mean that the people in that faith are incapable of interacting and dealing with the culture, at least not more or less than anyone else with any particular worldview. Fact is, our religion is SUPPOSED to be out of step with our culture. I mean, have you ever stopped to wonder why in your own personal life you have not seen our Lord’s words proved true: “People will hate you because of me.”

It grieves me...seriously...it hurts my heart to see the AG and the people therein dragged through the mud. The comments over at Huffington Post and Daily KOS and even the MSM websites are heart wrenching. I certainly have my disagreements with the AG, but I came to know Jesus through that faith expression and it will always be special to me. I know it far better than the people in the media and on blogs spewing venom. More than that, I know the people. And I will say simply that they are good people and do not deserve this. It’s fine for me to pick on charismatics, but when someone outside the family does...I’m going to stand up for them.

Why? Well if you have not discerned it already: the secularists and the Christian left (who apparently have a good deal of weight in the media) are presently hammering on the “insanity” of the AG, don’t you dare stop to think they won’t come after us next. Because the attacks they are laying on the AG could just as easily be laid on us...and perhaps even worse. Here’s few headlines I thought we might see if I were to run for office:

“Ferrenberg believes his church is the ONE TRUE CHURCH.”
“Candidate bows down before pictures (accompanied by images of full prostrations).”
“Reverence for cadavers?”
“Ferrenberg says he believes that icons can miraculously weep and dead bodies of saints ooze sweet smelling oils.”
Imagine if they found out I REALLY like the book “Mountain of Silence”? Do you remember all the wacky miracles accounted in there? Time Travel even!
“‘Gays should remain celibate’”
“Ferrenberg’s Church criticized by women’s groups: male only leaders!” (Curiously, the AG do not have this problem as they do ordain women.)
“God as President? Candidate believes he can be ‘deified’”


You know, when secularists and the media and the liberals attack conservative faiths that seem on the fringe of pop-culture (though we should note there are a great many people in the AG), we Orthodox have a tendency to distance ourselves from them. We may nod our heads in agreement when they express shock and horror at the practice of speaking in tongues. We will be quick to try and demonstrate that we are totally different - not at all crazy...very agreeable and normal people. Unlike THEM. But, my friends, don't kid yourselves. What we do every Sunday is an offense and a stumbling block to them - AS IT SHOULD BE. And so the next time I hear them bashing the AG, I am going to stand with the charimaniacs and tell them about all the crazy things my Church believes.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 7:39 AM [+]
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14 comments

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fr. Alexander Webster

A nice little article about Fr. Alexander in this base newspaper. They do however have an ill-placed ad and so I am including the intruded upon image here. Fr. Alexander and I exchanged numerous emails during the time that things were not looking very hopeful in Iraq and they were quite enlightening. Thank God (and the men and women who helped) things are so much better now...AND thank God that our soldiers have someone of Fr. Alexander's caliber to minister to them and their families.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:30 AM [+]
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1 comments

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dairy Farm?

This news from the wonderful people of PETA. Given all the cheese I've been making from the abuse of a goat...I'm sure feeling guilty. So I'll be sending a letter to Tracy Reiman, asking her if she would like to provide her all-natural services to our farm for the relief of "Butter" the Goat and for the health of my family. We'd feed her and give her a stall in exchange.

I'm surprised Ben and Jerry's rebuffed them! Being a left leaning organization I would have thought they would have been more sensitive to the plight of cows. Ahem....and goats.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:35 AM [+]
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3 comments

Victim

Never being one to shy away from social commentary, I really must do a bit of it now after falling upon this story in the local paper. Now, I really do hate to have to be specific here, but alas the journalist was specific in identifying this man and calling him a victim…and the fact is, no matter how unfortunate, he is decidedly NOT a victim. I see demonstrated here a problem of epidemic proportions.

We are generally a people with a deep-seated sense of self-dependency and personal responsibility and this has been a great part of American social paradosis. However, in the last couple of generations we have become a people indoctrinated to start adding contradictory clauses to expressions of what used to be known as common sense: “I am responsible for my own decisions, but…”

Now, I’ve no wish to judge this poor man in his misfortune, but if he and the reporter are trying to make the case that his situation was unavoidable and that he is worthy of having the label of victim, I am simply going to have to disagree. As an illustration of how badly we need “hope and change”, this is the sob story we are given? Not someone working part-time at WalMart and lacking health insurance while battling cancer and THEN going into foreclosure?

And this raises MANY questions in my mind, but here are a couple prominent ones:

1. Why have Americans lost track of how to understand basic economics? (how has our appetite for stuff trumped our good sense and sent many of us spirally into high interest debt)?
2. Why do we seem to want to blame big bad banks and politicians, instead of ourselves and our passions that push us to buy buy buy…at any cost?

To begin with, I very much believe that we are pushing kids out into a world that has gone mad with materialism and we have not done a good enough job in teaching them to appreciate what they have and to easily discern the difference between need and wants. Our grandparents (sometimes called “The Greatest Generation”) grew up in the age of the depression and learned many hard lessons for which most were prepared to deal with. All should have opportunity to spend sometime talking to them and see just how much they did without to make it through those tough times. Our generation, however, is the entitlement generation and as I have seen in recent news articles we are largely ill prepared to lose our 500 channel cable TV subscription, let alone real staples. Put simply: we are economic pansies. Our passions have been so overfed that we have grown economically obese and are wholly unable to discern what it really means to tighten our belts and so rather than doing so, we spend and spend as banks willingly (and stupidly it seems now) loan us money that should neither have ever been given nor received.

But, who will stand up and dare say that we have no inalienable right to our iPhones? Or our brand new Hybrids? Or our Plasma TV’s? Or our High Speed Internet? Or our McMansion? Or our six trillion channel satellite TV? Or our almost new Dodge Ram 4x4? Oddly enough, we are ONLY guaranteed (governmentally speaking) the inalienable right to pursue happiness...a stark contrast to being provided happiness. And I will not even attempt to get into the other misaligned sense we have of material goods making us truly happy.

So, besides evolving into economic pansies we have also grown to believe specifically that the government is more responsible for our well being than we ourselves are. Now sometimes it takes a serious catastrophe for this belief to manifest itself, but it is always there to be tickled by politicians who know that deep down we want the feds to solve our problems.

For instance, try and explain to someone that the police cannot always protect them...NOR are they obliged to. I can still recall the shock people felt and expressed when, during the LA riots, the police retreated and people were suddenly and truly "on their own." I don’t know what became of the lawsuits that surely followed, but I do know that there is no law that guarantees that the police will protect you. Ask any officer of the law and he or she will tell you that vast majority of the time they arrive at a crime scene as opposed to one still in progress. The point is, we have an innate sense of the government’s responsibility, but it is in direct conflict with both reality and the old innate sense our grandparents wisely used to hold.

In the end, it is always easier to blame someone else than to blame ourselves...I see this everyday in the lab where serious mistakes can take place and people's lives (their diagnosis and subsequent treatment) relies on people NOT making errors in judgment. I've seen major errors take place and how stringently people will fight against and avoid the obvious fact that it was their fault. In the same way, when a major crisis befalls us, we, in no way, want to own up to the fact that we should have taken a better course of action and used better judgment. So much nicer to be a victim...an inanimate object blown by the forces of government and big business. I had no choice but to accept a bad loan. In such cases, we generally avoid giving too much thought to it all, for fear of realizing uncomfortable things.

Hurricane Katrina was another big example. As awful as it was and as inept the government's response: how many people laid the blame at W's feet? Why not the governor of Louisiana? Why not the mayor of New Orleans? Better yet, why not the individuals who did not prepare, did not evacuate? Did not anticipate and plan for the worse? The fathers and mothers who did not do all they could to protect their own family? Don't get me wrong here, I understand there were many people who were truly victims in Katrina - folks who really were unable to help themselves, but I think it is also totally fair to say that precious few were victims of the Federal Government and that those same could have done far more to prevent themselves from being victims of anything - including nature. This may seem cold and harsh, but so the heck what? I really think America - including myself - needs a serious dose of tough love when articles like the one that started this post can show up in the papers thus demonstrating that we are at least sensitive to the notion of this person being a victim! Clearly we steer further in this direction.

While this commercial was originally intended to demonstrate how lazy we Americans have become, I think it also speaks to us on many other levels as well. We treat ourselves as hapless victims of all the takes place around us. And while we can demonize real obesity and laziness...we will not touch our entitlement obesity and our hunger for the government nannying us. Our laziness overall.



Frankly our ancestors would laugh us to scorn to see us in this pitiable state. They would see us just as we see these people in the video. We are like jello, they were like ROCKS. We are like soiling ourselves infants, they were like MEN...stout hearted men! And do we ever need to seriously MAN UP these days...(sing it for us Nelson!)



So maybe we should forget this bail out and LET IT ALL CRASH! Let's face the hurricane like men and deal with it. Let's band up together (PRIVATELY) and weather the storm like stout hearted men. And maybe, just maybe we will come to learn what a lie we have been living in this fantasy of entitlement and government nanny care.

In my mind I picture the farmer looking at his field demolished by a 20 minute hailstorm. He's potentially ruined...a year's income lost. Who does he blame? Who does he lament to? Does he shake his fist at God and beg the government to save him? (Perhaps nowadays he can)...but in the old days he was either prepared for such an event or not. If not, he salvaged what he could, sold the mess as hog feed and prepared his family for a long tough winter. And while he could usually rely on the help of his neighbors, he never expected and felt entitled to it. Either way he got back up on his tractor or hitched up his team and went back to work like a man. Not a bowl of quivering jello pleading for help as an entitled victim. You die doing that and it is a most unattractive trait.

Two things I want to emphasize here in all this rambling: In what ways can I "man up" for the potential storm? And in what ways can I teach my kids to be always be ready to "man up"?

Some friends of ours are really into scouting and I must say that traditional organizations such as these that teach what are arguably traditional American values (which have sadly and not surprisingly fallen out of vogue as of late), may be one of our last great hopes in raising a generation of children who will strive to personally "Be Prepared" instead of expecting others to be so for them.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 7:21 AM [+]
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1 comments

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Rain's Back

Woke up to pouring rain this morning. Looks to be an ugly day - hopefully not the full-on calling card of November on the horizon. 1/4 inch of rain already at 10am and the weather report says heavier rain on the way. Yuck. Our garden was JUST really starting to yield its bounty...as were the local wild blackberries. Crossing my fingers that this is just a temporary respite of the September sun.

I've been trying my hand at Cheesemaking. Charissa and I made a big batch of Mozzarella and Ricotta while Susan was sitting for some friends who were attending the St. Elizabeth's Inquirer class. I REALLY enjoyed it, and it occurred to me how similar lab work is to cheesemaking (beer and wine making as well). I think I might have a knack for this sort of cooking - surely far more of a knack than "regular" cooking, for which I have little skill or natural inclination. It also occurred to me that I could really see myself doing this sort of thing for a living...early retirement on the horizon?

Anyway the cheese turned out great and I am devoted to trying more. Today I am going to make our first cheese press and in the long term I want to consider honing our skills and just see what happens. A great deal is involved in becoming a certified dairy/creamery and we are a long way from that...but for now we are happy to be providing all of our own cheeses (you should taste Susan's newest batch of feta!) since while our appetite for cheese has remained unchanged, the price of cheese has most certainly not!

More on cheesemaking later...including the SCIENCE of it!

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:29 AM [+]
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Friday, September 19, 2008

What is Wisdom?

While inspired by current politics, this article by VDH is none-the-less of greater interest in that our perception of wisdom - I think - is fundamentally lacking. He discusses here not just the attempts to make a small town mayor and rural state governor who merely attended a State school look like an idiot, but whether or not there is an entire font of wisdom that our culture largely ignores these days as being uncool and behind the times. We Orthodox should perceive the truth of this, no? Well, this from a more secular sense of wisdom. For myself, I rather listen to a callous-handed farmer than an Ivy League Attorney.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 7:37 AM [+]
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3 comments

Better off Dead

Biden recently said that paying taxes was patriotic. Sure, but this particularly convenient when you are asking someone ELSE to pay taxes. But what happens when the STATE has a vested financial interest in you being dead...suddenly suicide is patriotic.

Check this out.


This actually should not shock us and I'm telling you it is going to get far worse. People scoff at notions of trying to foster a "culture of life" but what is the alternative? Well, what you read the article. If the government, a secular and more and more a secularist entity, is the determiner of personhood then what should we expect but this and worse? Next up - as I've said before - abortion and euthanasia to fight global warming. Here in the states we are about to run up against the wall as the elderly age longer and they have had less and less children to help pay for their medicines and retirement.

A burden to society? Why the heck NOT kill them? After all we killed over 7 million babies in the womb since the Iraq war started...most of whom because they would a be a burden to their mother! And our weak kneed politicians fling around their feces about how "this is a complex issue."

In candid moments, I guarantee you that this talk by Warnock is not at all uncommon - I've heard it and worse. Think about it: because we apparently deemed her to no longer be human, we starved Terri Schaivo to death...something the ACLU would never allow us to do to a child murderer/rapist.

These life issues will be delivered to us with all manner of lofty nuance. It will come with soft-spoken concerns for the suffering of people who WANT to die and young mother's who cannot handle parenthood...but if we embrace these arguments we push ourselves further and further into a culture of DEATH. And sooner of later, Warnock will be completely mainstream. Wait and see.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 7:37 AM [+]
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Malleable Man
Part 1
Change my heart O God

Both a recurrent theme in Scripture – particularly in the Psalms – and also the beginning to what was a very popular chorus amongst evangelicals while I was amongst them; these words have been on my mind a lot lately.

My time as an evangelical was often spent on my knees and in tears begging God to change my heart and this was the sum total of my ascetic labors – prayer. I will not belittle this because it was a worthy endeavor and it was genuine and frankly I do not pray enough anymore and I certainly don’t spend enough time today weeping for my sins. We Orthodox will sometimes talk about a gift of tears from God, so let me tell you that many evangelicals and particularly Pentecostals have that gift. I dare any of us to judge their hearts. I know in my experience I was truly broken hearted for my sins.

However, as I noted, this was the sum total of my ascetic labors and so I was fighting a battle with half my arsenal, though I didn’t know it at the time. What was missing from my mindset back then, during that perpetual cycle of sin and tears of regret? Training and application of the will. Sounds simple, but it’s not. We have in the Orthodox tradition, volumes written about it...a nearly inexhaustible source of in depth analysis on how to fight in this Unseen Warfare.

So in the old days I’d get up off my knees, wipe away my tears and blow my nose and then essentially do nothing. And during some very dark nights I would occasionally wonder why God seemed to refuse to answer my prayers when I BEGGED and PLEADED that He Change my heart. The notion that I might actually make an effort was not much of a consideration for me…at least in the sense that I would practices self-denial - such as in fasting – in order to more effectively deny myself when the real temptation to sin arose. I’ve no doubt that our evangelical revulsion toward any hint of “works righteousness” prevented me from seeing this common sense.

I had desire, but no discipline. I wanted to be a spiritual athlete and yet for some reason refused to notice St. Paul’s analogy of the same and his referencing the work athletes must go through in order to compete. In other words I had the desire to hop the pommel horse, but no notion that might actually need to engage in the labor of discipline and practice in order to make it happen. So, I rather expected, I suppose, that “saved by grace” implied that God would miraculously give me the ability to compete in gymnastics. Well, you get my point.

Now, if I’m going to bash my evangelical past I am also going to bash my Orthodox present. It is so easy for us to poke fun at evangelicals and particularly the Pentecostals, but be careful doing that. They have something that far too many Orthodox (me included) lack: zeal. I would love to have those tears back. I’ll say it again: I would love to have those tears back. If I could take that desire that I sometimes think I’ve lost and couple it to the wonderful discipline I’ve inherited from Orthodoxy, then I think I would see a very real change of heart. The lack of desire is my own fault…but I would just suggest before we decide to criticize the arguably unhinged desire of Pentecostals that we make sure we have some semblance of a hinged desire that is wholly coupled with discipline such that we are truly progressing toward holiness. Neither discipline nor desire are worth much alone.

Desire and discipline changes us because the human heart is malleable. What you do, and where you are are key to who you are. What do I mean? Well...this is too long already...more later...

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 7:37 AM [+]
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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Anti-Cancer Diet

This interesting article came along with the St. Paul Orthodox Church (my old Parish) newsletter.

However, I really must debate the science here...as you knew I would, right?

It seems clear to me that the article misses the most blatant conclusion as seen from the data...though it is nearly SPELLED out for us in one sentence:

The monks, who inhabit a peninsula from which women are banned, enjoy astonishingly low rates of cancer.

Obviously, women cause cancer.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 11:08 AM [+]
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Monday, September 15, 2008

Forest Engineering Feats

Another beautiful weekend. Nice to be back on my way to work so I can rest.

Saturday we finished burying the "invisible fence" around the property. It's hoped that we will keep the dogs away from the chickens and also keep them from roaming unchecked in the neighborhood. It was a bigger job than I had anticipated and by the time we were done and had checked the loop with the power on (and repaired a break on of the dogs had rebelliously chewed upon) we had to start getting ready for Vespers. At some point during the whole process I noticed that Susan was breaking apart a small dead tree that had fallen partially over the neighbors driveway - which has an easement through our property. She'd gotten all the small branches broken off but was having trouble getting the main trunk snapped. It was only three inches or so in diameter and so I reckoned I shouldn't need to haul my lazy butt all the way to the woodshed to get my chainsaw, so I grabbed one end and pulled with all my might. The tree bent and bent and bent - much farther than I thought it would. Finally it snapped and I found myself flying backwards onto my back into the rocky dirt road. I'm not sure what I thought would have happened other than this. Thankfully my back seemed to have had no ill effects, but my elbow has seen better days. Note to self: don't be lazy...get the chainsaw and contribute to global warming.

Sunday after church our good friends invited us to come over and harvest a partially fallen alder of pretty good size. It was hung up in some tall cedars and so we carefully laid out plans to try and free it. The come along winch wouldn't budge it, so we opted to cut a wedge out and get it to collapse in the hopes that it would free itself. It didn't. Instead we ended up with a nice 6 foot long round and the rest of the tree still hung up in the cedar, though now at a steeper angle. Once again we tried the come along tied up as high as we could, to try and pull the tree free and keep it AWAY from their shed (a constant concern) - but no matter what we did we could not get it to move. And so we opted for another cut. And this went on for some time: cut, pull, cut, and pull. Eventually we had the now much shorter tree standing almost perpendicular, but still embraced by the cedars. Another pull and cut and it actually fell away from the cedar to get tangled in a new set of trees! Finally with a couple of hand pushes it was on the ground and the many sectioned tree was ready to be bucked up and tossed into the back of the truck.

I'm sore today...mainly I think from the pulling on the ropes to try and free the tree, but I'm sure the digging and stupid acrobatics on Saturday contributed as well. But it is a good sore, knowing that one has accomplished a good deal of work. There is something innately satisfying in sweat-of-your-brow labor...I don't know why, but it is far more satisfying to me than the brain work I do in the lab. Perhaps the muscular pain helps remind us that we did not waste our hours? They say exercise is good for depression because it releases natural endorphins, I imagine these mood enhancing factors are amplified when they are acquired by means that actually ACCOMPLISH something as opposed to running nowhere on a rotating rubber track. I dunno...but it is good and I do worry how long my back will allow me to do such labor.

Plus, I must say, having worked loud and powerful chainsaws and knocked down a tree with a good friend, there is nothing better than sitting down with a cold IPA and relishing in one's testosterone ridden forest engineering.

It also causes one to marvel at the work we humans are capable of doing. A few years ago I would not have thought getting a leaning tree like that down could have possibly been done with anything other than huge professionally run equipment. Shows what I know. Difficult to imagine the labors of our ancestors who felled such trees and built their homes without power tools. Raise a glass to them!

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 7:14 AM [+]
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Friday, September 12, 2008

Uganda

I attended a meeting this morning with regard to our Uganda project and the news has been nothing short of spectacularly good. Funds continue to be provided and we are moving ahead with plans to build a state-of-the-art cancer care facility including a research laboratory (my little role in all of this). I truly count myself blessed to be a part of this project and thank God for its continued success.

No new news on when I will be returning, but it is a certainty that I will at some point. Though we would be talking 2 weeks this time and not a full month.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 1:00 PM [+]
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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Am I an Agrarian?

Over at St. George's Farm I came upon a link to this interesting article. The article itself is based at this intriguing website for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute whose mission statement is "Educating for Liberty." I shall have to explore that further.

Anyway, the article led to me to more seriously ask myself the question listed above. The answer? Sort of. I loved the section in which agrarianism is roughly defined wherein the author states that Wnedell Berry sees the agrarian worldview as the countervailing idea to industrialism. The industrial economy, he writes, constitutes the culture of “the one-night stand. ‘I had a good time,’ says
the industrial lover, ‘but don’t ask me my last name.’ Agrarianism rests, in contrast, on a culture defined by marriage, a long-term covenant of mutual care.


And the two principles of agrarianism as described by Lynn Miller: First, provide for the family [from the farm] and second, always be looking for ways to help family,
friends, and neighbors.


And I loved this: Agrarians assert that a flourishing life standardly incorporates...interdependence with neighbors in a geographically limited, relatively self-sufficient, intergenerationally stable community...and a measure of personal self-sufficiency through physical labor, preferably on one’s own property.

I also very much appreciate the noting of the important differences between being an agrarian and being an environmentalist. Victor Davis Hanson has made good work of showing these differences in his writing as well.

However, there is no shortage of complete nutroots who are into agrarianism. Attending the Sequim Farm Tours demonstrates this as well, for at one farm you feel like you are in a hippie commune and at another you feel like a real true red,white, and blue midwest farm. The contrast is stark, but...the shared ideals allow some sense of unity.

I part company with the nutroots when they start talking about the necessity of getting away from private land ownership...I mean I REALLY part company with them.
I, like many Americans, don't want to get away from the "Jeffersonian dream" of freehold land. You can keep your "communitarian understanding of property." I think it wholly unnecessary to be an proponent of agrarian ideals.

And let me also say that I do not think agrarianism and Ludditism necessarily go hand in hand...not at all. Furthermore, I am not one to try and sell the idea of agrarianism to others, I reckon you either see the benefits of it or you don't.

However, let me suggest that it may be the only viable solution to ending the terrible state of American agriculture today. As the article demonstrates, farmers are too often living off of what is essentially welfare. If I may quote myself from a different discussion that was an attempt to get red state farmers to understand that republicans are to blame for all their woes:

We have propped up the whole system with a sort of socialism. Again, the question is: why?

What went wrong with our agriculture such that this "must" be the case now. Farmers are asking these questions as well and if you KNOW a farmer, odds are you know someone who is fiercely independent and LOATHES the idea of having to live off of government "subsidies." And the details of those subsidies would drive each and every one of us to insanity.

But what can a dairy farmer do when consumers (that means you and me) demand that they (we) pay so little for their (our) milk? What do both republican and democratic senators do when their constituents would toss them out of the office if they actually had to start paying what their milk is actually worth? Of course no one stops to think that in the end we ARE actually paying for the real value of the milk...albeit it in the round about and stupidly inefficient means of TAXATION. To
be more specific: those making over a certain amount of money are in essence subsidizing the price of food for the rest of us. So that we can spend our money on really important things like iPODS, Play Stations, High Speed Internet, 3,000 channels of cable TV, and hybrid cars with DVD players.

Fact is...farmers are not stupid. Many realize that these problems in agriculture are best NOT solved by government...indeed...thus far both parties have done nothing but perpetuate the problem. The solution is frankly untenable: people need to pay the price for the cost it really took to bring their food to their table.

Thus, seeing no real AG solution in either party, the midwest farmer votes their values. Simple. Who are we (or rather wealthy coastal liberals) to criticize them when we (they) insist on thumbing through our (their) iPODS while eating a 35 cent PEACH in January.


Industrialization is NOT inherently bad, I don't believe. But it also doesn't mean it is best. I believe that humans are not doomed to slavery because of someTHING they do...but rather because we choose to allow someTHING within us to be subserviant to the someTHING we do. This is not a political problem to be solved, it is a problem of the soul that can only ever be solved (were it possible) by one individual and one family at a time decidedly to opt out of the "system of appetites" that drives industrialization to be our task master. No legislation will ever do this.

But the so called Agrarian movement can help. I just wish we could get away from the nutroots in the movement - or at least those who tend to drive it - so as to give broader appeal to the beautiful notions therein, without the silly baggage of reincarnation mother-earth life energy crap. So, am I an agrarian? Well I'm trying, but I guess I'd rather be more specifically termed a "Jeffersonian Agrarian."

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:14 PM [+]
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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Locum Tenens

Throughout the OCA, Clergy and Choirs are no doubt wrestling with the changes. We should have had a blog contest to see which choir screwed up the liturgical commemoration worse...not to mention the poor priests and deacons trying to get used to it. Officially it is listed as: "His Eminence, DMITRI, Archbishop of Dallas and the South, Locum tenens of the Metropolitan See..." What precisely is to follow that, I suppose was either obvious to some, or a complete mystery. We finished it with: "...of the Orthodox Church of America." Putting this to music and actually singing it was rather interesting.

But of course, the liturgical struggles are nothing compared to the reality of the situation in which we recognize the human failings of some in authority in the Church. It really should not surprise us, but such knowledge of church history doesn't take away the hurt that people can feel in such situations. It should be our prayer that people not allow this to cause them to stumble - as indeed it should not.

No one likes see their dirty laundry aired out, but alas this was a necessary and ENCOURAGING step toward healing for this jurisdiction. It is to some degree a tribute to the OCA that the laundry was ever aired to begin with and that (to be more specific) the investigative council led by Bishop BENJAMIN was so thorough...PAINFULLY and rightfully thorough. An abscess cannot be heal;ed until it is lanced and cleaned. To some degree this is a sort of cleansing of the temple and we have now set before us and (again to be more specific) our remaining hierarchs the task of moving forward. It is my hope that at least as much prayer is happening as there has been complaining, gossip, and babbling.

I choose not to dwell on the many negatives that led up to these events, but rather to focus on seeing the resolution of the affair as a very positive thing. Better that we should not have discovered and rooted out this problem? No, never. We are all humans and we will all have our failings...but to recognize them, fix them, and carry on again is, in my opinion, a worthy measure of a person's character. It is also for the character of a community.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:09 AM [+]
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THANK YOU!


I'm not going to get my hopes up too much (because weather prediction is...how shall I say...just shy of being worthless around here), but darn this September has been nice so far! JUST WHAT WE NEEDED!

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:03 AM [+]
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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Expulsion of the Clock

Our Mission has recently made a sort step of faith in acquiring a second unit, which is now used as for our meetings, coffee-fellowship hours, and church school classes. This has allowed us to turn our original unit entirely over to worship space.

Accordingly our priest decided to remove the clock from the Temple and put it into the fellowship unit. Since that time I have really come to notice how often I looked to that clock, because now instead of it, I see this:


...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 7:51 AM [+]
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Monday, September 08, 2008

You know you have truly embraced Orthodoxy, and are not just running away from something else...

...when you are willing to defend that which you left.

Much ado about Palin's involvement in the Assemblies of God. Indeed, being a pentecostal ain't easy if you want to also be in politics. (Palin actually isn't anymore anyway, and I get the impression that she was as much a pentecostal as I was: never could quite get the speaking in tongues thing down). But the signs and wonders and VERY conservative social outlook makes for a great deal of fodder for unbelievers, secularists and radical church/state segregationists - who pretty much dominate the media.

So they can turn things around to quickly and easily make Palin (or anyone who is in a charismatic denomination - and I suggest ANYONE who takes their faith seriously) look like a maniac. However, I have known, still know, and am even related to many people who are in the Assemblies of God and I trust them as implicitly as ANY of my Orthodox friends to be level-headed, rational, and trustworthy. Now you will notice that CNN opted to use this bullet point for their article:

Speaking of the troops in Iraq, Palin says they were sent on "task that is from God"

She absolutely did NOT say this and CNN should be chastened for saying as much. Read what she actually said: "Pray for our military men and women who are striving do to what is right. Also for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for -- that there is a plan, and that plan is God's plan."

This is not saying that the task is from God, she's suggesting we pray that this be the case. For evangelicals in this tradition this is standard fare...it really is akin - though arguably far more nuanced - to a Russian Orthodox Priests blessing tanks. Anyone familiar with this religious tradition knows exactly what Palin is saying here and it is decidedly not a claim of God ordained crusade status for our efforts in Iraq.

Now, I am supporting McCain and Palin, so it is no surprise that I would defend her on this point...but I also hope that we might take the time to consider - no matter who we support - that this prodding and what could arguably be called persecution of Palin might be a lesson for all of us.

When's the last time someone publicly and personally decried YOUR religious beliefs and used them as a point to question your ability to do your job? Given that our Lord told us that we ought to expect as much, should we wonder why this HAS NOT happened to us? Now look, I work in science and what would people think if they knew I had strange images of dead people on my walls and I burned incense in front of them and prayed? And what would they think if they knew that I often go to Church at LEAST 4 times a week? And what would they think if they knew I would sometimes talk to a "crazy" dead woman from Russia and ask her to pray for me in the hopes of recovering a lost item? What would they think if they knew I believed that the stuff I eat and drink on Sunday mornings really is the body and blood of someone? What would they think if they knew I believe in miracles...crazy miracles like myrrh gushing cadavers and that I would kiss such things? And what would they think if they knew I prayed for our scientific work in Uganda...that it be God's will and He bless it.

I reckon, the press could literally rip me to shreds because of my crazy beliefs if I were to run for office. And they would not have to work hard to do it. Let's face it, to the secular world we Orthodox are just as nuts as Pentecostals. For you see the public appears to be far more accustomed to religious people who leave their religion at home and can thus (in the case of politicians) can go ahead and vote to kill babies in or out of the womb and do philosophical and theological back flips to justify it, often simply saying that their beliefs are personal...but for those who truly LIVE their faith everyday both at home and at work, well to the world they are simply an offense.

I guess the big question is: Given the world we live in, if I am not being persecuted for my faith, why not?

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 9:01 PM [+]
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Federally Organic

This weekend we got to spend time my my wife's aunt and uncle who are lifelong farmers in Wisconsin. It was really neat to talk to him about his experiences. Lately he has been working on getting much of his acreage certified organic by the feds and he related to us many stories on the absurdities of the process and the complexities that arise from it all. If I may, let me give you just ONE example.

He had been using turkey manure for his primary fertilizer and nitrogen source. But then, somehow, it got out that the turkey farmer was using bedding that was recycled from the ground up wood taken from a window factory. As it turns out, this wood had microscopic quantities of wood glue from the joints of the windows and this rendered his fertilizer unusable. So, where to get his nitrogen? He look and looked and as it turned out the only source was to have it imported from Chile! And apparently many Organic Certified Farmers are doing just that. Imagine the crowd that seeks out organic produce and what they would think upon learning that in order to get that healthy looking fruit into their local gorcery store, the poor farmer had to import nitrogen from half a world away! Consider the dreaded carbon footprint from such a need for anitrogen footprint!!!

Anyway, he had a litany of stories about how insane the rules are - like how a first cutting of hay is NOT organic while the second cutting (same plants) IS organic because the cutting happened on a certain day....the day before would have rendered it inorganic. Nuance.

In my mind this is what you get when something as monolithic is in charge in enforcing and empowering your personal food choices. By necessity the rules and regs evolve into laughable contradictions and inefficiencies, but this is the "nature" of big government overseeing stuff.

In my mind the solution (and I do think there needs to be one) is simple: grow your own or buy local, perhaps even from someone you actually take the time to get to know. It all recalls me to my belief in small and local as a solution for so many of the ills we tend to let the feds should "handle."

As a side, my wife's uncle said he just decided to go without the nitrogen and hope for the best. I asked him if he found this new organic market to be profitable and he laughed saying in essence: "NEW...there's nothing new here, heck 50 years ago we were ALL organic farmers! The same sorta people who made up all these chemicals and sold them to us, are now telling us not to use them at all. We've gone full circle!"

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:30 AM [+]
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Friday, September 05, 2008

God saved our farm, Pa!

We thought that an awful rainy and cool August had spelled the end of our garden. There seemed to be no end to the weather systems coming in and delivering cool and wet air. Susan and I quickly tacked together a cold frame for some of our tomatoes, and the rest we simply covered. And then we watched as it seemed the previously vibrant growth had stagnated. And then we watched the skies...consulting the weather radar instead of the Farmer's Almanac.

Thanks be to God, we have thus far had a wonderful September and there is nothing but sunshine in the forecast! I really must say that I think I know a fraction of the trials and tribulations and associated emotions REAL farmers must go through. I can imagine what effect it must have on someone to know that one hailstorm can ruin your crop for that year. An hour long downpour and your income becomes ZERO for the year. WOW.

That said, We are seriously relying on this garden to provide for our family. No we won't be devastated and we certainly won't starve...but part of why we are hear is to live off this land as much as we can - while pressing the envelope of our own limitations. And, as ever, living on a tight budget we have to some degree counted on our harvest. Hmmm...well that might sound a little overly-dramatic, but suffice to say: I rejoice in seeing a sunny September and as you can see we are reaping what we have sown. Though we still have a long way to go.

Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his particular deposit for substantial and genuine virtue.

- Thomas Jefferson

Now, to be clear....LOL...I make no claim to be the subject of Mr. Jefferson's statement, far from it. But I do affirm the general truth of it. Victor Davis Hanson in his agrarian works writes at length about the virtues and simple wisdom to be found in the much forgotten farmer. I don't even aspire to gain much wisdom from waddling about in the dirt, but I do know that it is good for my body and good for my soul.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 12:33 PM [+]
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John Adams and my apologia for how I voted

The political debate at the LOG has been furious as of late. We've decided with the prodding of leadership to fast from the topic. A last shot across each others' bows was however offered and I am including mine here. I don't know why politics become so emotionally divisive...I suspect it is because - though we may not wish to admit it - that we invest too much hope into them. I count it a grievous error on my own account.

I've been watching the HBO series recently...and I highly recommend it. I think they have done a fantastic job - thus far. Showing the struggles of our government in its infancy as it worked its way through really defining itself.

Of particular interest - to me - was the arguments between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. In them one can see the inevitability of the Civil War.

At one point Hamilton says: "The more responsibility a government has, the more authority it will wield."

Hamilton of course saw this as good, whereas Jefferson took this to be a very bad thing. I find myself very much in agreement with Jefferson. I find this debate between Hamilton and Jefferson colors my own decision-making in our election at hand.

Yes, some will argue that there is no difference between the two parties, but I think this naive. None-the-less...my chief concern revolves around which party leans most toward giving our government more and more responsibility over our personal lives...taking care of our needs? THAT government, it seems to me will be the one to in turn demand its due authority in such areas as well. Health care, my children's education, my salary, what I pay for things, my nutrition, what I drive, what I do with my land. These things and more I want left to MY decision. My freedom of "choice."

Thus, it seems quite clear to me which candidate is more the champion of individual freedom and responsibility. Who will give me more choice and freedom in my child's education. Who will keep government officials from getting a say in what I teach my kids or what I eat or whether I choose to smoke my tobacco or not.

This is a rather basic leaning that I have here and by no means does any candidate fulfill it wholly or perfectly - not by a long stretch. However, I've little desire to argue minute details anymore. I know which way the parties lean....Barack Obama wants the government to have greater and greater responsibility over our everyday lives and he candy coats it with Christian terminology of taking care of the widows and the poor. He and his party want the government to be accountable for far too many of our "needs." I reject the very foundation of their ideas with regard to what is the actual role of government.

In my mind, protecting innocent life (wherever it is found) is absolutely within the realm of the government's job. Feeding and clothing people is not. How shall we phrase a law that says it is illegal to be poor?

Sigh. I'm not a die-hard republican by any means. But the fact remains that their general leaning toward individual rights and freedoms coupled NECCESARILY to personal responsibilities seems to me to be more in line with my understanding of the proper role of the federal government - not to mention the proper role of mankind on earth. Yes, that rather naturalistic role (but do not forget the Scripture says many times over that if you do not work, you do not eat) is trumped by love...by who can truly...honestly propose such a legislative bill? We can look out for one another and indeed we should...but the government cannot and should not mandate this. Our conviction should do this, and nothing else.

My faith rest squarely in the Church, Christ, and yes His followers. I have no faith that the US government is going to bring any hint of the "Kingdom"...EXCEPT, that it gives us the freedom...the freedom from its bureaucratic secularism....to manifest it in our own lives and in the lives of the community we can literally reach out and hug and hold accountable.

In that vein of thought...I want to proclaim my love and respect for each of you, even if some of you rarely attend meetings where I could actually hug you...ahem...however, uncomfortable that offer may sound. Whatever will be will be, come November, such that even IF Obama is given opportunity to provide for your varied needs...my door is none-the-less always open to offer whatever meager pints of brotherly affection I can offer. Or we can sit in my foxholes together and wait for the Obamanoid "Hope and Change" patrols to try and infiltrate our compound.

Hmmm...in re-reading this I do think I have been watching too much of this program. So be it, the sentiment and conviction is authentic.

That said...I am encouraged in watching the program to know that even at our founding we did indeed argue over the role of the government. And while those arguments did not extend to the sort of quasi-socialism that we see played with today (Indeed I believe ALL of our founding fathers would be SHOCKED by such notions), it none-the-less does spill over into the overall question of the responsibilty of government. I think it sad that so many people who are rapidly a part of this great debate today have little or no knowledge of the debates in our past. What of tradition?

So, in the past debate, count me on the side of Thomas Jefferson as a "Democratic-Republican."

And something from history we should recall come November: I believe that Jefferson ultimately won his argument with Hamilton, no?



As a side, amidst the fury of the campaign (I give thanks to God everyday that we no longer have TV in our home), it has become apparent to me that there is precious little intelligence or fealty to our history in the ongoing "debates." I am terribly thankful to the much silent Munkee for steering me toward the HBO series "John Adams." I think we as a society would do well to pay closer attention to our past and to our debates in the past. Would it not be a breath of fresh air to hear a hint of serious intelligence in the popular arguments we hear day in and day out. Volumes of minuscule details about the candidates and their programs and their experiences and their plans and their personal lives...on and on it goes. However, when it comes down to it, what I'd really like to know is more basic and foundational stuff: What is the role of government in overseeing 'we the people'? What should government do? What should government NOT do? Some good old 18th century style political philosophy would do my heart good.

To some degree they do this in the policies they recommend, but it is so full of photo-op fluff. It is enough, though as I state above, for me to make a decision I am content with.

Anyway...I think the general tone of our political arguments today probably grant a great condemnation on our society and particularly on our school system. There ought not to be a soul going into the voting booth who does not know what the Jefferson and Hamilton debates were about. My 2 cents.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:22 AM [+]
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9 comments

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Abstinence

I was watching CNN the other day and I heard one of the reporters/anchors (I don't know which) babbling on and on about the "scandal" of Sarah Palin's daughter being pregnant. They even went so far as to reference a RADICAL leftist pro-abortion anti-abstinence group that would have teachers handing out condoms (if not "toys") to your grade school aged children. All in an effort to say that this is definitive evidence that abstinence education doesn't work, and thus Sarah Palin (and not a few of the rest of us) are hypocrites.

May I interject a few thoughts? Personal experiences?

I'm no Einstein, but I am fairly well educated in the realm of contraception. Three of my children came into being because of a failure of contraception education - in other words I didn't practice what I knew. And one of my children came in being because of the failure of modern medical contraceptive surgery. Oddly enough abstinence education works 100% of the time when applied...not so with contraception. Neither however will work if in the heat of the moment they are not applied. So you want to tell me that contraception education works better? Tough sell...at least to me. So anyway, I'm not sure that in our sex hyped society that contraception is going to end teen pregnancy...or even substantially reduce it. But what difference does it make? You can always kill those babies so we don't have to have our older babies "punished" with younger babies. Lord knows we don't want people to suffer from the natural consequences of adult behavior.

Fact is, and I have talked about this before, abstinence education in the secular world IS going to fail. You cannot speak with a forked tongue to kids and expect them to believe you. Out of one side of your societal mouth you say WAIT and out of the other you are bombarding them with the message that NOT WAITING is AWESOME! So what benefit is it for them to learn from their public school teacher that abstinence is the best way to go, if at the same time they are learning in far greater quantities to far greater effect from their TV shows, movies, video games, music, advertisements, and their peers that abstinence is not only impossible, but hopelessly UNcool?

But you know what, if we as Orthodox Christians deny that abstinence is a legitimate option for our kids then I think we are also denying a very huge part of our religious tradition. You know, that whole self-denial thing we like to gab about? "Take up your cross and follow me"? We believe that stuff, right? The "Unseen Warfare" and "Philokalia" and all those writings of the Fathers and Mothers? The monastics to whom we look toward for advice on curbing the appetites of our flesh? The fasting? The prostrations? These things we do do, right? Maybe it's just talk? We don't REALLY believe we can change? Become more holy? More devout? More in control of the passions?

So, if we - as Orthodox Christians - are going to join in and say that abstinence education cannot be successful, then we had better start deciding EXACTLY what we mean and in what context we say such a thing. Organizations, such as the one cited by CNN will say it's all genetic and we cannot possibly do anything about it...but I wholly disagree and I am confident the Church does as well.

So let me put it out there for you parents. What are you doing for your kids with regard to abstinence education? I am still formulating many of my own ideas, but they are certainly centered around an education that teaches about the overall bankruptcy of the world's values and thus - hopefully - when my kids see a barely dressed Paris Hilton squirming on a car with a Burger King Hamburger, they too will begin by saying: "How stupid!"

In the world and yet NOT of it. How does this get translated into everyday practical teaching and education? I simply do not trust the government to teach my kids ANYTHING of use about sex - even if it is abstinence. But what then?

As to Sarah Palin and her family? Respect. They are publicly and privately living their values (a RARE thing these days - especially for politicians), both via their son suffering from Down Syndrome and their 17 year old daughter about to become a mom. Love and support from the whole family. A good example in trying times...and such examples turn trying times into blessings. How sad that we play politics with their lives. In my mind, they give us another lesson for our kids: the easy way out is often NOT the best.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:04 AM [+]
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12 comments

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

November 5th, a day of shrugging?

I've spent a good deal of time and energy debating politics lately and I will admit I am a little tired of it. Partly, I think, because I am beginning to wonder about the time and energy ratio between that and my prayer/self-reflection time. But, besides that, I also am more and more coming to the conclusion that BOTH sides of the political fence are putting too much hope and faith into politics. I maintain the claim that the "religious left's" desire to make the wealthy feed the widows and orphans of Scripture, is really identical to the "religious right's" wanting to ban gay marriage or even the FURTHER religious right who'd like to retain or create AND enforce sodomy laws. It's just a matter of deciding WHICH Christian values you want the state to enforce. Which policy wins? The left can relish in their being accepted into the arms of the cool and nuanced - who'd otherwise hate their guts, while the right can smell their holiness via their legislation.

Don't get me wrong...I am voting and I happily offer who and why...I just won't worry so much about it. There really are far more important things to do...and if anyone disagrees with THAT point, then prepare for an argument.

Anyway, here is a post I put up at the LOG where I have done most my my political debating lately.

But honestly, if I spent 1/8 of the time praying that I currently
spend reading and writing and worrying about politics, I wonder how
different my life would be. Seriously, it's one thing to give a head
nod to how TRULY little all of this politicking means in the eternal
scheme of things, but we ought to stop and ask: if we REALLY believe
it would we be living differently? Doing things differently?

Obama will not end poverty and McCain will not snuff out evil. Why do
we put so much emotional weight into their efforts? Perhaps I am only
speaking to myself here in this context...but where's my faith when I
might actually have FEAR of an Obama or McCain presidency?

Where's the emotional weight put toward the repentance of my sins? I
wonder if Christians, whether Obamaniacs or McCainites, put too much
faith in government. Now to some degree this DOES play into my
political opinion on matters - in that I want a smaller and smaller
government. BUT, without that wish fulfilled, what then becomes of me
and my family? What's the worse that could happen? What's the worse
that could happen to others?

Anything comparable to not knowing and loving Christ? I doubt it.

Friends shared with us this weekend their conversion story.
I was particularly moved by it because it centered in large part
around the efforts of one man who I think I can fairly say evangelized
them. Now THAT'S change and hope man....beyond which anything the
government can do. What a difference this man made in their
lives...and it occurred to me: what am I doing? Besides ranting about
politics and putting far too much hope in it?

There's a world of difference I could make in my home to start with.
Instilling a bit of hope and change there would be a great start. My
neighborhood? My Parish? My work? My town? Heck...everywhere I go.
There is so much good we can be doing...without the ugly cloudiness of
politics where - as our friend and follow poster mentioned - they have Associations of Associations. Goodness...it's like asking a Bull to come in and do
repair work in a china shop. Ah...there goes my politics again.

I can do good right now. For my own soul and the souls around me.
Think about the range of presidents we have had in the last 75
years...have any of them really affected much change? Are we still
waiting for a deliverer to bring in a time of peace and well
distributed prosperity? A triumphant war hero who will save us from
the Islamists?

I know, in the small term many things were accomplished...but I don't
really see any grand hopes that tomorrow will bring us any sort of
utopia...at least until "Blessed is the Kingdom...." is announced and
we never must leave the Nave.

Perhaps when we wake on November 5th we should all wake up, check the
news and shrug. Then get on with the important things in life? Maybe?


...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 12:23 PM [+]
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1 comments



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