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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, August 31, 2009

St. John Chrysostom on the poor

from On Living Simply XLIII

Should we look to kings and princes to put right the inequalities between rich
and poor? Should we require soldiers to come and seize the rich person's gold
and distribute it among his destitute neighbors? Should we beg the emperor to
impose a tax on the rich so great that it reduces them to the level of the poor
and then to share the proceeds of that tax among everyone? Equality imposed by
force would achieve nothing, and do much harm. Those who combined both cruel
hearts and sharp minds would soon find ways of making themselves rich again.
Worse still, the rich whose gold was taken away would feel bitter and resentful;
while the poor who received the gold form the hands of soldiers would feel no
gratitude, because no generosity would have prompted the gift. Far from bringing
moral benefit to society, it would actually do moral harm. Material justice
cannot be accomplished by compulsion, a change of heart will not follow. The
only way to achieve true justice is to change people's hearts first--and then
they will joyfully share their wealth.

-St. John Chrysostom

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

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Adventures in Open Source Part 1

Adventures in Open Source Software

My first experience with Open Source software (there is some debate about the term) was not unlike most people's in that I abandoned MS Internet Explorer in favor of Mozilla's Firefox. In short order I found I much preferred the latter for many reasons. That was the beginning.

A couple of years ago I began to feel guilty about the fact that I had a version of Microsoft Office on my home computer to which I had no legal right. (Hopefully I don't get myself in trouble here for admitting this!) I had all manner of schemes for justifying this, and I am sure that mine were not unique amongst the people who have similarly “borrowed” Microsoft's products. Amongst them was the all too common “social justice” lie that whispers cunningly into my itching ears saying that Microsoft is a big old mean and greedy company and I am just a poor humble computer user who isn't doing anyone any real harm by using the evil big corporations product. I mean, really, think of the wealth of Bill Gates, surely he could afford to let me “borrow” his software!

Well my excuses were running out of steam in their ongoing effort to assuage my guilt, but what could I do?!? I didn't even have that cheesy lower end office set called “Works” which Microsoft will sell Dell buyers who don't want to shell out the big bucks for the real “Office.” How would I open or create word documents or excel sheets? It was a real dilemma for me.

Oddly enough, while I was on my first trip to Uganda, I was introduced to a program suite called “Open Office” which was running on one of the computers in the IDI lab where I was training technologists. I found it by trying to open a word document on that particular PC and after double clicking my odd *.doc file, it automatically opened it with Open Office's “Writer.” Not seeing the intro screens (I must have been looking away) it would take me a while to realize I was not operating MS Word. I thought perhaps it might have been an older version of Word because things were a little different and aspects of the graphics seemed both different and perhaps not quite as polished as I was used to seeing. But I had no trouble quickly and easily adapting and thereafter efficiently accomplishing all that I needed to do. I was immediately intrigued and amazed when I learned that this was part of an open source and totally free software package readily available to anyone!

“Surely it must suck!” I thought. “Freeware” almost always is lame and something as extensive as an office suite (documents, spreadsheets, drawing, database, presentation slide shows etc) being free surely cannot hope to be more than a mere fraction of the quality of the product sold by Microsoft. Well, I've been using it now for around two years and as I rack my brain in search of a memory, I cannot discern any complaints or bad experiences I have had with Open Office. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I've only used the “Writer” (equivalent to MS Word) and “Calc” (equivalent to MS Excel), but for the most part that is all I ever use at home, so I guess the presentation or database program could conceivably be awful and I would not know it. But, more than just meeting the same criteria of quality with Microsoft in most areas with regard to my needs, OO goes one step further (that I know of) in which it allows me to export my files as PDF documents quickly and easily! I was quite excited by this feature.

Additionally Open Office is fully supported by a large community who are, because it is open source, constantly adding new features, fonts, tools, templates, etc etc. The community is also often extremely helpful in answering questions about any problems you may encounter.
Last but not least, the program is regularly updated! My guess is that for most folks the Open Office Suite is more than sufficient for their needs.

Now, one final thought. I am NOT the sort to begrudge Microsoft its success. I don't hate them, though I might not appreciate their near monopoly. I'm a big proponent of freedom...I think you all know that. But my appreciation for freedom coupled with my desire to have greater control over my computer environment led me to go one step further into the world of open source, I'll talk about that more next time.

Find out more about Mozilla Firefox HERE.
And Open Office HERE.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 2:09 PM [+]

Monday, August 24, 2009

Free will?

My question with regard to THIS: Were there to exist no free will, would we really be able to know it? Isn't the very act of wondering about it an indication that it exists?

My beloved atheist always makes the point that in his worldview he MUST believe in a sort of Darwinian determinism. For what are we but genes and experiences to which those genes ultimately engineer a programmed response? If we are more than meat, if there is a decision making processor that is not dependent on our genes, then where exactly can that be found and measured?

I agree with him. A materialist view of the universe necessary implies a sort of biological determinism for the human person animal.

Well, I for one am about to entertain my illusions of freewill and go do my job as opposed to my desire to sit here and surf the internet.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 11:28 AM [+]

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Please don't bring Jesus into this

I knew it would happen eventually. Everyone thinks Jesus is the prime motivator and architect of their political opinions. But generally I think they are all wrong and I am right. Arrogant sounding I know...but I am unquestionably right, I think, that God has little interest in the government forcing people into obeying all the moral teachings of God. My position is rather the same as St. John Chrysostom when he said:

For Christians above all men are forbidden to correct the stumblings of sinners by force...it is necessary to make a man better not by force but by persuasion. We neither have authority granted us by law to restrain sinners, nor, if it were, should we know how to use it, since God gives the crown to those who are kept from evil, not by force, but by choice.

Now I realize I have said this sort of thing numerous times here on this blog, but I guess I cannot resist saying it again. I don't care if you consider yourself left or right, when you start expecting the government to maintain your values and press them upon others you have extended far beyond the mandate of Christian morality as taught by Jesus. Worse still, if you readily number yourself amongst the left or right leaning folk, odds are that the process of voting your personal morality is somewhat of a struggle. In fact, it ought to be a heart rending process since there is NO party out there (surely not the big two) that will not have you compromising the teachings of Christ – again, assuming you believe your federal government is supposed to be the great arbiter of Jesus' teachings.

So, some are going to market the current “health care reform” bill as a sort of answer to “What would Jesus do?” Shall we assume then that all 1000+ pages of that bill have been read and thus we are assured that God's stamp of approval is upon it? Ummm...well what about abortion funding? Is that in there somewhere? Euthanasia? Embryonic stem cell therapies? What else might we find in that vast complex of legalese that might not quite fit with traditional Christian morality? How about this: forcing people to be charitable?

Yes, I hate to bring out that old rug and beat on it, but alas it is true. My support for this bill on Christian principles would demand that I believe Jesus would not have been content to just let the “rich young man” walk away disappointed, He would have sent Peter and John after him with swords and forced him to give what he owned to the poor. For you see, my voting is not some great act of ascetic sacrifice, there is no holiness in it...I'm simply asking the government to forcefully take money from one person and give it to another. Whether it be for their healthcare, food, shelter, clothes, or an iPOD doesn't seem to matter in my mind, unless of course I am the one giving the money away. We cannot really expect political systems to be holy, can we? I do have a monarchist friend who would likely suggest that that we certainly can, but it wouldn’t be in the context of a mob-rule democracy.

Anyway, in the context of government providing for our needs/services, we are in essence saying to everyone (over a certain income level) that they ought to provide more of their money for those wih less...well, actually, more than that: we are saying they WILL provide it or they will face jail time for tax evasion. We do this in the name of Jesus? Really? I, for one, do not see how digging into someone's wallet in Jesus' name is all that different than digging into their bedroom habits in Jesus' name. If you wander about dreaming of “The Kingdom” and it being established through government enacted social justice policies, please keep in mind the whole spectrum of Christian morality and the full moral implications of the particular pet projects you may wish to focus on. Not to mention you may actually be a heretic for believing that “the Kingdom” is something we bring to fruition through governments.

For my part, I see both sides of the political battle being waged in a spirit of fear. Fear that Christian moralists will impose their values on everyone through government mandate (unless of course that tends to involve all the pop social justice issues, in which case all such government imposed values are welcomed) and then also fear of secular egalitarians imposing their version of enlightenment on the less enlightened homes of the traditionally religious. Some Christians think they are nuanced by aligning themselves with the issues of those in the former camp, while others entrench themselves in the latter and fight to save society from becoming further corrupted to the point that it will bring forth a government they must fear. I've made no secret of the fact that I am sympathetic to the fears of egalitarians imposing their enlightened views upon me or my family, but this is largely because I think I can see this great political battle happening before us and I see that they are fighting over who will have control. And this grand prize of control ought to worry us all. Not just that one side will win, but that from the beginning they perceive legitimate value in the object they fight over! If that object had no real value, in other words: if there were no reality to the belief that government needs to oversee every aspect of our lives (what we eat, what we drink, how we raise our kids, what sort of healthcare we provide for ourselves, what sorts of cars we drive, who we marry) then there would be no point to this great political/culture war at all! Of course there would still be fights on a smaller scale, but I don't think it would be this seemingly unending apocalyptic battle that has left public debate and campaigns in such a comedic state that I wonder why anyone bothers to follow elections anymore! I know I’m largely done watching them.

If nothing else, let's not bring Jesus into this – except to the same degree that we are willing to do more than put out a yard sign and vote. If you want to effect change (such as helping the poor) get off your duff and volunteer for a charity, or write your own check. But don't tell me that Jesus wants me to have the government force other people to provide for the poor, because next I'll expect you to tell me He also wants a definitive governmental ban on gay marriage, He wants murder charges against abortion doctors, He wants divorce laws tightened up BIG TIME, He wants porn made illegal, he wants lust made illegal, and for certain He wants mandatory prayer in schools...etc etc. It never ends…so stop picking and choosing.

You are, of course, welcome to believe that government's ought to provide a vast array of services to people...just don't label it Christian, please?

UPDATE: Obama says: "We are God's partners in matters of life and death" to a group of Rabbis with regard to the health care reform bill. I fear that "god talk" on this has only just begun.

Mr. President you are right, we are God's partners in matters of life and death...just not at all in the way that you think.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:00 PM [+]

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Not going to sit well

Metropolitan Phillip's decision to pull out of "his" 1st year seminarians from SVS and STS is garnering no small amount of internet ire. And I think the likes of Rod Dreher "taking sides" is indicative of the extent to which this action is being perceived as petty, vindictive, totally misguided, and even perhaps a confirmation of all manner of rumors of tyrannical and vindictive behavior. Put more simply: both the demand that the OCA silence someone and the vengeful "blackmail"-like response when they could not or would not do so, is conduct decidedly unbecoming of a Christian hierarch.

Now Met. Phillip has dragged the OCA into this mess and is not only hurting his own seminarians but is also hurting the cash strapped OCA seminaries who had NOTHING to do with what an OCA layperson decides to write on his private website. I'm guessing people aren't exactly going to laud this act.

And yet while I hear a fair amount of gloom and doom talk online, I'm actually encouraged. I see all of this as being a step - albeit a difficult one - in the right direction toward accountability and unity. No, it won't be easy...but treating an infected wound is always going to involve some pain.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 5:08 PM [+]

Thursday, August 13, 2009

God Awareness

Last night at Men's Fellowship we watched a recording of a sermon delivered by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware at SPU on the topic: “What is Prayer?” You can watch it HERE.

For most of us who have been Orthodox for awhile, there is nothing terribly new to be found here – at least not overtly. The Metropolitan is clearly introducing to a group of predominantly non-Orthodox listeners, some of the basic notions of prayer as discerned by the Eastern Fathers. Naturally, the “Jesus Prayer” plays a significant role in this introduction. But despite what might be seen as the simpleness with which this topic is approached, sometimes it behooves us to review some of these “basics.” We might, with our now longer period of experience within the Church, come away with some new insights. And if not, surely we'll come away with some much needed remembrance. And if your mind is similar to mine, this makes it a worth while time investment Either way, I am personally by no means ready for meat...I'm still very much drinking baby's milk. So...

Silence will inevitably come up whenever one discusses the topic of prayer, and sure enough it did. In his full, rich, and perhaps trademarked Oxfordian British voice, the Metropolitan asks: “But what do we mean when we speak of 'silence'?” Well the answer according to the Fathers is extracted from the word of the Psalmist who wrote: “Be still and know that I am God.” Put simply, real silence is God Awareness. Any other silence is likely just the bobbing of one's head to the sound of their inner iPOD.

Now I was particularly struck when he paired this notion of silence with St. Paul's admonition that we should “Pray without ceasing.” Suddenly, the Metropolitan's opening statement that we should not think of ourselves as having a separate and packaged “prayer life”, but that we should actually have a life that IS prayer, began to make more sense. The key is God Awareness.

Fixed times of prayer may be seen as highly focused periods of God awareness. In a story related by the Metropolitan, a man says, in order to explain that his frequent times of prayer were not indicative of his need to ask from God numerous things, that his frequent prayers were really just a time in which: “I sit and look at God. And God sits and looks at me.” So while fixed periods of prayer are intended to REALLY awaken ourselves to God's reality, we must strive to change our minds and our perceptions to see that God truly is “everywhere present and fillest all things.” We must start by making a real and unbiased intellectual assent to this idea. GOD IS HERE...right now...everywhere...in JUST as real a way as He is when we stand in the modst of the heavenly worship of Divine Liturgy. He is in my children, He is in the wood I am splitting, He is in the midst of lab meetings in which coworkers are annoying me to no end, He is in this van, He is in whatever room you might be in now reading this, and He is even in your computer. He is the very air we breath! No matter the situation, no matter the time, no matter the state of our being we MUST strive to keep our minds open to the reality of God's presence. That small step, I think, will go a very long way to changing our hearts and our wills in a huge way.

Small step though it may seem to be, it is not an easy step. As I look at my own life I can see that I rarely ponder God's reality in my day to day life. Sure, when there is great drama we can easily look to God, but in the monotony of our everyday existence, it can be very difficult. In fact, I can now see that God Awareness plays very little role in my life. Yes, I have certain beliefs in doctrines and moral values that tend to be at the forefront of my mind, but these are not so much hinged on my ever present relationship with God as they should be! Everyone has a worldview, ours as Christians should be absolutely anchored on the Reality of God's presence in this world. Manage this, and I think we will be on our way to acquiring inner peace and stillness and soberness that will afford us the ability to manifest the love of God to the world around us.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 3:43 PM [+]

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Newest Rage in Working Out

The other day I was listening to some folks discussing their intention to join a fitness club. Of course all of you who regularly exercise deserve a hearty (pun intended) commendation for your efforts. But it occurred to me as I listened that they are gearing up to spend a hefty chunk of change in order to to go somewhere and lift heavy objects, run in circles (or on a belt like a hamster), ride a bike without really riding a bike, row a boat without really rowing a boat, and/or some rhythmic jumping up and down to loud disco music. But if you stop and think about this, they are doing all of this work without really accomplishing anything other than what the work does to their bodies, It's kinda like writing a novel using only three or four words for the sole benefit of having written a novel. By the way, why on earth is it called "working out"?

Anyway, the capitalist in me suddenly had a revelation today as I was doing this:

I would happily let anyone paying megabucks a month to workout, come a split this wood for the low low price of FREE! Yes, you hear right! You will work out every muscle in your body as you haul, split, and stack this firewood...PLUS...you get the added bonus one ought to normally get from "working": you actually accomplish something! I'll even be your personal trainer! I'll put a sweatsuit on, don a beer helmet, and tell you how wrong you are doing it. Again...for FREE!

Here at St.Brigid Farm we have TOP OF THE LINE equipment, like this:

Well, okay, maybe not top of the line...byt hey...it's FREE!

So, come on down and really make your workouts count for something! We'll be waiting to hear from you!

On a more serious note, it is odd to think about how much our world has changed in that exercise has become a HUGE industry. Could someone 100 years ago have even fathomed it? I also wonder if we could not funnel some of that energy we PAY to expend and actually ACCOMPLISH something with it? Maybe? I dunno...if nothing else couldn't we have 40 or so health conscious people running on a treadmill generator of sorts to power my laptop?

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 9:44 PM [+]

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The DVP students' Yahoo Group

After meeting with a number of fellow students while attending the Diaconal Liturgical Practicum, many of us thought it would really benefit our endeavors in the Diaconal Vocations Program to have more regular contact with one another. Therefore I have started this Yahoo group.

A Discussion Group for current, former, or potential students of the Orthodox Church in America's Diaconal Vocations Program. Intended to be a place for us to further and enrich our experience in the DVP program via our interactions with one another. Our purpose here is to be a POSITIVE source for exhorting and educating one another.

If you or someone you know "fits the bill"...please join and/or spread the word!

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 9:47 PM [+]

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Now THIS is summer

Compared to last year we are having a truly blessed summer for growing. Yeah it was miserably hot last week (recording breaking) but our garden has been soaking it up and we are now harvesting. Susan was looking back at pictures of the garden from last year around the same time and the differences are staggering. Our beans were not nearly as lush and ready for business as this years "bean castle" pictured above...it has just begun to produce and I expect in no time at all it will begin to overflow with innumerable beans - perhaps we'll even be able to freeze some!

Last years corn never fully matured before the weather turned on us; the same was true for our wild grown blackberries with which I am still intent on trying to make some homemade wine. If I find the time and energy, THIS will definitely be the year for it. But our corn now is taller than me and will likely be giving up delicious ears within a couple of weeks (I think!)

We are now officially out of the goat business. Having sold the goats we bought beef from Straitside Ranch and so, in a way, we ate our goats. We now intend on expanding our poultry business which is far more lucrative and we may even find ourselves selling at next years Suquamish Farmer's market.

I should perhaps be cautious in singing of the glories of this summer because in the past, August has turned ugly on us. And August has only just begun! I notice now that as I leave for work in the mornings it is beginning to get more and more dark and I will admit it is a little depressing to see ourselves already beginning to go down that short slide into the season of rain, cold, snow, mud, and darkness. But such are the seasons and like life, we must take the good with bad. Fr. Irenaios (visiting priest from Holy Resurrection in Tacoma) said in part last Sunday: we must take the Eucharist out with us into the world and greet everything with thanksgiving and likewise we bring back to the Eucharist what we have manifested in our lives. It's like a great circle of Thanksgiving and we must be aware that all of life is Eucharist and when we recognize and act upon this, we may, with purified hearts, make our offering in the Church.

It's easy to be thankful right now as I walk my way through the garden, but will I let myself retain that joy when it is a muddy moonscape in December?

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 7:34 AM [+]

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