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.
Bad times, hard times, this is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good. We are the times: Such as we are, such are the times.
- The Blessed Saint Augustine of Hippo
It particularly struck me because we seem to have this mindset that external forces determine the quality of our "times." Sure things can get ugly "out there", but the REAL quality of life is found internally and in how we choose to live amidst whatever times we happen to find ourselves.
An interesting POST over at Common-Place Book regarding Christians trying to participate in Ramadan for the sake of "interfaith relations." The original AP story notes that this is effort is apparently led by none other than Brian McLaren the current star and darling of the emergent church world.
It's a nice gesture and while I cannot speak on behalf of Muslims, I can say that were McLaren to seek to participate in his own religion's MUCH OLDER fasting traditions with those communities that still maintain them, then I would likely suggest that it really is like trying to learn a martial art by watching old episodes of "Kung Fu." He's making clear that he's not trying to become a Muslim, but I am assuming that like our fasting traditions, Islamic fasting is heavily connected to a whole body of practices, beliefs, and traditions. Not to mention the important need that all three of these are found within a specific community where they are properly upheld and revered. It's an arrogance that is all too typical of post-modern Christianity, to think they can pick and choose bits and pieces of various faith's revered traditions and adopt them and change them to fit their own perceived "needs." We Orthodox would go as far to say that it is also dangerous to do so...people have no idea how self-deluded we can be and as such we NEED context: traditions, practices, and beliefs held together in community to BALANCE us.
Put simply you must be a Muslim to experience Ramadan, just as surely as you must be an Orthodox Christian to experience Orthodox Lent and Pascha. Sure, you can glean much beauty and truth from it, but you cannot truly participate in it. Taking our fasting and prayer rules home is a shallow substitute for the fullness of participating in everything else that comes with being part of a faith community. Let's stop pretending.
McLaren notes some of what he's learned and that's great, but he could have learned just as much from traditional (and much forgotten) Christian fasting.
While I have come to believe that the public dialogue on politics is largely retarded...rather like watching grade school kids argue on the playground, I feel obliged to offer my cheap 2 cents on the newest ploy be laid out: racism. The issue really isn't about whether or not racism still exists in this country, for who can deny that it absolutely exists? No, the issue is how racism is being manipulated by the political power players to try and distract us from real debate.
Both sides do it all the time. Pundits and lower level players begin the spin and it begins to spread...remember, it's all about trying to sway public opinion and the distraction method is employed particularly when your side seems to be losing ground on an issue. Bush and company released the "unpatriotic" or "not-supporting the troops" distraction against the growing opposition to the efforts in Iraq...but note that Bush himself never utilized such terminology because he was busily letting others do that for him! Meanwhile he was playing the game as they always do by making sure everyone knows that he personally does not believe these protesters hate their country, but that "good people can disagree" and that they are practicing their civil freedoms etc. Many of us recall a certain backlash that was exemplified in bumper stickers that proclaimed such things as: "Peace IS Patriotic!" or "I support the troops - bring them home!" It's just the way politicians "play" us...if the "unpatriotic" distraction fails, or worse yet backfires then Bush can always show that he PERSONALLY never believed that!
Thus it should not surprise us that the Democrats in office now are employing the same distraction strategy as the president's poll numbers are declining and the protests against "out of control" government spending seem to be making traction. Racism is the dice they are rolling, and the President - just like his predecessor - is making sure his personal opinions are made know...again, in case of backfire.
HERE is article that begins the "distancing" process. And Though I appreciate what he says in this article, and I think he was VERY close in fairly noting both sides of the debate...but not close enough:
"The president similarly told NBC's 'Meet the Press' program that it is an argument 'that's gone on for the history of this republic -- and that is what's the right role of government? How do we balance freedom with our need to look after one another?'"
Can I suggest that fundamentally this is a false dichotomy. It implies that the ONLY way we can look out for one another is through the government! Worse than that though, when we work through the government to "look after one another" the freedom that we sacrifice isn't only our own, but rather we chose to sacrifice OTHER people's freedom! Freedom and morality are intimately linked. Under force of imprisonment if we do not "look out for one another", do we demonstrate Christian love and charity by obeying the law!?
One may argue that government needs to do certain things, but that is not the same as staging the debate as being about balancing "freedom with looking out for one another." It really isn't a definitive "either/or." The debate is about whether or not we should let people be FREE to look out for one another or not, or if they should be forced to do so via government regulation and oversight. Of course proponents of the latter will suggest that unless the government forces people to do it, it simply will not get done and thus the provision for these people trumps freedom. That's fair and is debatable.
So, this is NOT a debate about either retaining freedom or helping people. To say so implies that people will not ever use their freedom to help people. They must be forced to do it. And if you believe this, then can I suggest that in order to be consistent that you must also support the strict enforcement of sodomy laws and make pre-marital sex illegal because that really is the Christian thing to do. In my perspective what I often see is Christians on the right and on the left arguing for the same basic amount of government oversight in our lives, but just about different issues.
Anyway, the implication of what the president said is that favoring one or the other necessarily means disfavoring the other. In other words if I want to side with freedom it means I don't think we should take care of each other. But actually what I mean is that I don't think the GOVERNMENT should take care of us. If he had said: "...the balance between freedom and letting the government take care of us" THEN I would have totally agreed.
I believe we can retain our freedom AND take care of each other.
Whatever your opinion may be, I think we all ought to agree that the way the parties "play" us with their various strategies (like the current distraction method being employed) is tiresome and we have to get past it to the real meat of the issues. It's to the point now that even when I hear politicians start babbling about "sticking to the issues" I still have serious doubts about whether or not they mean it. Likely not...watch for the strategy to peak through the rhetoric.
I saw a news story today in which two young teens (14 and 15) viciously...and I mean VICIOUSLY beat a 17yo who was being ostracized by his "peers" in his quest for a seat on the bus (Been there myself - minus the beating.) I known that teens can be cruel, but wow...I never saw anyone get beat this badly in my high school experience. I've no idea if things are getting worse, we have a natural tendency to think that things are but it is really hard to know for sure. This, however, brought to my recollection THIS horrific news item from a couple of years ago. My boys are in this age range and I am reasonably sure that they no NOTHING about human reproduction, let alone have they ever expressed any yearnings in the direction of sexual behavior. So, this truly is shocking.
I worry about our future - faithless one that I am. In our secularized culture (from schools to media), kids learn rather quickly that what they are being taught MEANS something and we should not underestimate their ability to connect the dots. You cannot continually tell a child that they are really no different than animals and then not expect them to start acting like it! Nor can you fill your child's head with media violence and sex (coupled with the aforementioned inept secular morality of this age) and then not expect them to mimic the lauded behavior! You cannot continually downplay individual achievement and self-reliance and then be shocked when more and more adults are fully addicted to entitlement to equal results despite performance! You cannot flood the minds of youth today with consumer passions, inflaming them continually and lauding their fulfillment and not expect that tomorrow they will find their lives devoid of meaning and choked with debt! (Of course we are currently helping to provide that debt for them!)
You know me, I don't believe this is a call for government to step in and socially engineer us...heck I think that is in no small way what got us into this mess! Rather this is an opportunity for holiness to shock, overwhelm, overcome, and attract. A sober vision of the human person as an Icon of God, expressed and lived by each of us DAILY, will go a long way to showing the bankruptcy of they way we currently are living AND teaching.
As I noted in the previous post, quite awhile ago I had begun using two major open source software packages: Firefox and Open Office. The latter because I needed my own copy since I'd been illegally and guiltily using Microsoft Office (yes, I confess I confess, throw your stones!), and the former because I was seeking something that would give me better control over annoying things like pop-ups and other security issues that did not generally plague Firefox – eventually I also found it had far more features that I preferred over IE (I still remember the glory of the day I discovered tabs). Every once in awhile I run into a web page that will not function to varying degrees in Firefox, but that has not swayed my preference. And as the title of this post implies my adventures in open source didn't end there.
The next thing I knew, amidst massive frustration in getting certain videos to play in MS Media Player, I found and began using VLC player instead. I've yet to find a file it cannot play and has never required frustrating and forlorn quests for an obscure codec that apparently can only be found in Jimmy Hoffa's jacket pocket. Not surprisingly, in time I preferred it as well and have not used Media Player to any significant degree ever since.
Once again, Africa would propel me further into this adventure. While there at the beginning of 2008 my work laptop died. As it turned out, a windows file somehow became corrupted and it would not boot. And even though a copy of a Windows XP disk could be found, I had left the laptop's external and ONLY optical drive some 10,000 miles away. On top of this, I feared the hard drive may have been on its last leg thus causing the file corruption and threatening a number of important files still there, but inaccessible to me. So, using other computers I began surfing the net looking for possible solutions and one that I came up with was fascinating. Using detailed instruction I created a bootable drive out of my thumb drive utilizing a linux based operating system called Ubuntu. Now, marvel at the coincidence that Ubuntu (oo-boon-too) is a word taken from an AFRICAN language (it's actually found in nearly all central and souther languages)! It's meaning is difficult to nail down, but in essence it refers to a social/cultural philosophy which emphasizes “the human characteristics of generosity, consideration and humane-ness towards others in the community.” Which I can appreciate, though I'm not sure the name of the OS mattered at the time, except its curious African origin and my whereabouts upon first discovering it.
I'd never heard of Ubuntu, but I had heard of Linux. Of course I'd always thought using Linux was akin to using DOS. Come to find out, it can be, but in the case of Ubuntu Linux (and others) it is also a fully interfaced graphical operating system similar to Windows...which as I believe was Apple's idea first. Anyway, to get back to my story: I had no idea what to expect, but the instructions told me I could salvage my files, which I believed were in imminent danger, by booting direct from the USB thumb drive and then running Ubuntu from it. I did just that and I cannot tell you what joy I had when my screen lit up with a lovely wallpaper, menu bars and a functioning mouse. There was a bit of a learning curve, but in no time at all I was able to grab my files and save them to a second thumb drive. Well the hard drive never died and for the remainder of my trip I was tinkering with Ubuntu. If I had been the owner of the laptop I would have simply installed it...but since it was from work I could not and so I ran it via the USB port.
Since that time I decided to learn more about it. Obviously, not being Windows there was a long list of software that cannot run on it and this would be the main issue preventing me from installing it on our only computer. Indeed, for many people this alone kills any prospect of using it. There are Linux programs that will mimic a Windows environment which will then allow you to run some windows based software (e.g. Wine), but even they cannot allow you to run everything...though the list of what can be run by Wine is impressive. I was toying with the idea of using it, but it also became apparent that such a shift really isn't for the faint of heart since Ubuntu isn't as automated as Windows (this actually is a “selling” point as I'd discover later) and there were some programs/games with which I was unwilling to part.
Well as we were preparing to start the 2009-2010 homeschool year, I convinced myself that a second computer in the house just made good sense...I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say that it was a decision that both made sense and fulfilled my sinful and potentially stupid consumer passions. Anyway, as coincidence would have it, Dell was offering a deal that if I purchased a nice laptop for Susan and the kids I could get a Mini10v for ½ the price, or $150! The Mini10v could be called a netbook, but in this case it has 1GB of RAM, 120GB HD, no optical drive, and the netbook processor by Intel called “Atom.” But here is the kicker: I had my choice between Windows XP or Ubuntu. Care to guess for which one I opted?
So for the past few weeks I have been getting a hands on education with Ubuntu and I am very much enjoying it. Innumerable resources are available online and I'm even getting books from the library. I'm readily getting a handle on the Debian/GNU environment, Terminal commands, package downloads, and other things unique to Ubuntu and Linux. I'd have to say mastering package downloads was probably the most foreign aspect, for you see if you wish to download a program you cannot simply get one giant self0extracting/installing *.exe file and click on it. You have more control over your computer than that, and this of course means more responsibility. This is a very good thing IMHO because nothing irks me more than all the crap and bloat one gets for clicking on otherwise useful *.exe files in MS Windows. That's not Microsoft's fault, its just the way it is. Nothing is on my Mini10v that I did not expressly chose to be on there. I've virtually no need for spyware or virus protection software...but for that to be the case it requires me to be proactive. While Ubuntu does do a great deal for me behind the scenes, it's not nearly as “automated” as Windows.
Some kids get hand held Nintendo or Sega games, but I've found that Dell also offers a to be discontinued Mini 9 for about the same price as a hand held gaming system. If I can spend such dollars for my girls, I think I'd prefer the expenditure have educational use as well as entertainment. And if and when I do, they will definitely be running Ubuntu and I expect I will have far less problems with unwanted programs that always seem to popup on our desktop just from seemingly innocuous web surfing.
I'm sure there are many more reasons why I prefer Unbuntu at this point, but I've said enough for now. I'm thankful it is a viable option...the fact that it is free is an added bonus. I do not in any way shape or form believe (as some Open Source proponents might) that software OUGHT to be free; I do not at all begrudge Microsoft's right to profit from their products, in fact my belief in that right is precisely and ironically what started me down this road to free and legal options. I think if I were able to magically redesign the computing world (and I don't expect anyone would, should, or could), numerous Operating Systems would compete freely against one another upon their merits alone and other software such as games or photoshopping programs would be able to function amidst any one of them because one basic foundational operating system came with all PC's that did little more than allow other software to run. LOL! I really don't know enough about computers to know if this is even possible...but...in any event, for better or for worse this blog is now powered almost exclusively (as much as I have a say in the matter) with Open Source software. Ubuntu, Open Office, and Firefox. I recommend them all, but not necessarily to all.
Here's a screen cap from just a little while ago of my desktop:
Direct link HERE to his talk. Very much worth listening too. This is the sort of talks I remember +JONAH giving as a Hieromonk in the PacNW that helped convince me that Orthodox Spirituality is the REAL DEAL.