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.
I stumbled upon this intriguing movie from ReasonTV in part about a man's search to discover what became of his father in Stalin's Gulags. I found it especially interesting because in Amity Shlaes book "The Forgotten Man" I had just read about a group of American intellectual/activists who were sympathetic to socialism making a trip to Stalin's Russia in 1927 just like Freda Utley.
I wrote some of my thoughts about that trip to the LOG. I copy it here because I think it fits with the reality shown in this video: a system of governing that either dismisses or downplays the important of individual liberty will inevitably trample it violently.
In 1927 a group of American "progressives" sailed off to visit Stalin. Universities Profs and Union men/women heading over to see the "worker's paradise." They all left with high hopes and expectations from a system to which they were sympathetic, but returned a divided lot with mixed feelings. As I read about trip, it occurred to me that one man in particular had an experience there that really defined the paramount issue of the left vs. right even today.
His name was Paul Douglas from the University of Chicago. One thing he noticed immediately was a fascination of the Soviets over a rather obscure murder case in the US: two men (Sacco and Vanzetti), anarchists, convicted of murder of a paymaster and sentenced to death. The "workers" in Russia apparently saw (or rather were taught to see) the men as martyrs - victims of American capitalism. Douglas might have been sympathetic himself, however, he heard enough stories of the "justice" in Russia since arriving to know that the American "martyrs" had FAR more of a fair trial that any alleged criminal in Russia. And during a meeting with factory workers, Douglas became fed up with the fascination with the "martyrs" and finally let go with one of the stories he'd heard that took place in the very same factory at which he was speaking, telling them that Sacco and Vanzetti had enjoyed "the full defense of the law" and then he asked:
"But what about yourselves? Two months ago a group of bank clerks were arrested at two o'clock in the morning...they were tried at four o'clock and executed at six. Where was their right to assemble witnesses, to engage counsel, to argue their case, and if convicted, appeal?"
About halfway through his statement, his translator refused to translate. But afterwards, a worker who understood English (I assumed) would confront him on the issue. She said: "You talked only of INDIVIDUAL justice. This is a bourgeois idea."
Whatever effect this might have had on Douglas (many of these travelers would, despite seeing the totalitarianism and violent repression of dissent by Stalin would go on to remain committed socialists and become the brain trust of Roosevelt's New Deal), it spoke volumes to me. The irony of dismissing individual liberty and justice, while being critical of someone's individual liberty being put to death (Sacco and Vanzetti) by a government completely escaped the soviet worker - and perhaps Douglas as well.
So here's the moral of the story as I see it: A society and associated government that maintains individual liberty and justice as its paramount purpose and ideal will NEVER drift into the the realm of totalitarian policies and atrocities. However a society and associated government that maintains that the "greater good" is its purpose and its highest ideal, will by its very nature forever have a license to engage in all manner of totalitarian policies and atrocities.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 12:49 PM [+] +++
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Recently, a silly Reality TV program gave birth to an internet sensation via the videos of a wealthy and highly "nuanced" San Francisco man habitually deriding and belittling a midwestern woman of more humble and "simple" circumstances come to live with him in an absurdly conjured "wife swap." As can be seen in the videos, the man came off as shockingly rude, cruel, and obnoxious. Having seen some of the examples, it was difficult for me to believe that the man in the Reality TV program could actually be...well...umm...real; could anyone truly be that much of a jerk?
But regardless, one thing that really struck me as odd was the fact that the man was often seen parading as a billboard (on his T-shirts) for a variety of charitable and/or politically correct organizations and causes. His shirts would have seemed to suggest he was a man of conscience, were it not for the fact that they were all stained by the blood of the poor woman he verbally devoured over and over again. I saw a news article recently that told how the man's sudden infamy "forced" him to reseign his membership on the boards of a couple of charitable groups.
I find the whole affair fascinating because I think it reveals a profound truth about people in general, and myself in particular.
I consider occasions when I have a general perception that I am, for the most part, a good person, and I ask myself what precisely has led me to this belief? That I feel bad about genocide in Rwanda? Maybe that I gave a few bucks and threw a complimentary "Save Darfur" bumper sticker on my car? That I voted a particular way believing it will be for the greater good? That I supported a kid through World Vision? That I supported certain forms of legislation? That I don't consider abandoning my family for a life of frivolous freedom? I could make the list go on and on and on, but one thing I notice about all these reasonings: they all share one distinct thing in common: THEY ARE ABSOLUTELY EASY FOR ME. None of these acts are a challenge - in fact quite the opposite: the performace of these deeds resonates with me and the accomplishment of them make me feel rather self-righteous and therein is a very powerful motivator. Probably not unlike how the Reality TV show man felt about himself for all of his noble causes he supported and with which he worked. And whereas I'd like to think I would never treat someone I deemed less enlightened or less "good" than me in the manner he did, the REAL reality is that my ability and propensity to be a jerk is no more redeemed by my voting record or my free advertisement offer of causes upon my T-Shirts or bumpers than his.
There is nothing salvific in doing that which comes "naturally" (and yes, I use the term lightly) to me. Salvation, I think, is found in doing that with which we struggle greatly. I would suggest that going to war against the inclination to yell obscenities at the driver who just cut us off is perhaps far more the frontline of salvation than traveling to Sudan in order to rescue refugees. I say this without discounting the latter, but rather to emphasize the importance of the former. What salvation is there for me, in lobbying my representatives for the cause of liberating some persecuted group of people if afterwards I devour my neighbor? What salvation is there for me when I painlessly offer $25 a month for a kid's education in India if I cannot offer my everyday life to my own kids and their education? Am I devoting my life to the salvation of the world by participating in a sit-in at an abortion clinic, while I come home and selfishly abort the relationship between myself and my kids? What salvation is there in spending my extra money on a Prius to save the planet while I in essence power it with the disdain I feel for those unwilling to spend the extra cash? Do I really fulfill the Gospel commandments by voting to force the rich young rulers to give up their money while they none-the-less walk away from their Savior and we rejoice in the piety of "our" charity? Is there really love in my simply writing a check? Or is real love and sacrifice found in doing things I'd really rather NOT do? It seems to me that we have become a society ridden with causes, but with precious little concept of real self-sacrifice. In fact, we see such bright grandness in our causes that we fail to see that while we fight those battles, our souls rot in self-gratification for doing so.
There is an interior war to be waged. It benefits us little (in terms of eternity) to participate in political or social wars against such things as terrorism, tyranny, poverty, or disease if we are not first centered upon the war over which we have far more control and influence upon the outcome. I am reminded of the saintly hermit to be found in a remote cave of Mt. Athos who fights day and night for the renewal of the world without ever leaving his solitude. What do we learn from such an example? I sometimes wonder what our pursuit of "causes" would look like if we began with the inner Kingdom first.
In any event, whatever "goodness" that comes easily to me is of little consequence to the race I must run (as St. Paul called it). Perhaps some have more natural talent for the contest than others, but no athlete can hope to compete on natural talent alone. The man in the Reality TV series is like an athlete who perhaps has all the right gear and equipment (or perhaps merely thinks he does), but never really runs the race. Not unlike myself.
So I am nonchalantly listening to some country music and was perhaps not entirely paying attention when I heard those often heard words from the American Beef Council: "Beef, it's what's for Dinner." Except that it was NOT the thick and rich voice of the quintessential cowboy Sam Elliot, but rather the vegan voiced quintessential Hollywood persona Matthew McConaughey. Surely they could have found SOMEONE who at least could remotely offer some semblance of a cowboy poet who could pen some lines of verse as quickly and easily as he could dispatch a rustler with his Colt 45 and then return to his pen and steak dinner as if nothing happened. I picture Mr. McConaughey eating sushi, doing yoga, and litigating bad guys.
Sheesh. Well, I have HAD IT! I'm protesting..starting Monday morning I am going to abstain from Beef until April 19th.
The abbess of the farm and I watched this film over the "long" (or so I'm assured) weekend, so I thought I'd type out a few thoughts about it which may include some spoilers.
As anticipated, it is unashamedly evangelical. As such you will be treated to the pre-packaged "Jesus took the punishment you deserved" call to repentence...however, that was only one sentence in a "sermon" that is well done and set up beautifully in the context of the question: What is real love? Self-sacrifice is the answer...even for us.
The bane of almost all overtly Christian films is a badly written script and/or one that is poorly executed by the performers. In a few places I could sense both in this film - a certain air of cheesiness - however, the seriously dramatic moments of interactions between Kirk Cameron's character (Caleb) and his wife (Catherine) are very well done. In my mind, the overall message of the film easily trumps any of its flaws.
The film begins with an already failing marriage between Caleb and Catherine with neither of them appearing interestred in trying to salvage it. Their issues are multifaceted and I expect not terribly uncommon; summing up what is legally termed "irreconcilable differences." Bravely, yet as tastefully as possible, they even address the "adultery" of Caleb's addiction to internet pornography as being one of the numerous overt problems with which the couple must deal.
On the brink of divorce, Caleb's father steps in and asks Caleb to make a try at saving his marriage by offering him "The love dare", which is a handwritten book that will walk him through 40 daily doses of practical acts of love. Each day has a new "assignment" that ranges from the relatively straight forward (e.g. "No matter what, don't react with anger today") to the far more complex (e.g. "Vow today to rid your life and your marriage of 'parasites' - addicitions/distractions that drain the life out of you and your marriage - e.g. pornography"). Not surprisingly, you can expect to find a real copy of this book on bookshelves anyday now, if not already.
The "love dare" really is a beautiful thing, but as the main character comes to learn, it is useless until Christ is at the center of it. It is in Christ that we truly learn and can experience the most profound example of love. A conversion experience is what eventually really makes the "love dare" come alive for Caleb, and there is a great deal of truth to this because if the Christian life is ANYTHING, it is one big massive "love dare" not just for our spouses, but for the world. I believe the "love dare" is nothing more than the simplistic spelling out of what life should really be about for Christians - and thus it really should not be a huge surprise, or a marketable secret that will save all manner of relationships. This ought to be just common sense.
One thing I would add to the film is that the reality of the conversion experience Caleb has is not really a one-time event. It is an ongoing and daily occurence. Nothing is said, really, of the ongoing struggle that all Christians must face in trying to conform to the image of their God - though we are shown Caleb's post-conversion struggle with the internet, but even this is quickly and effectively dealt with. The deeper reality though, as I expect the Fathers would say, is that Caleb still has these "demons" to wrestle, just as an alcoholic does not cure himself by removing all alcohol from the house. Our healing is not instantaneous and it is not miraculously given with the fireworks of a pentecostal baptism. Too many, I suspect, walk away from a conversion experience with little to no notion that the struggle has only just begun. Once one has a certain anticipation of ascetic struggles, this should lead them to a DAILY conversion experience as opposed to a painful and unending cycling of conversion, failure, confusion, doubt, despair and rededication.
Why do you think we Orthodox pray "Lord have mercy" over and over and over again?
Some will probably suggest that films such as this be avoided by Orthodox Christians because of its evangelical protestant theology, but I would argue otherwise. If we can watch a thoroughly secular film and distill some profundity in it despite the display of values we might find abhorrent, I don't see why we cannot see past a small amount of theology we disagree with in order to appreciate the really important exhortation of this film: work to save your marriage.
Interesting article, but it deserves a bit of a challenge - or at least Dr. Boss does.
A couple of points I would make.
"If you have a habitable world and let it evolve for a few billion years then inevitably some sort of life will form on it."
Okay, back the truck up and listen to the warning horn of it doing so. Evolution, as classically defined by neo-Darwinism and as popularly understood, cannot possibly begin to occur until you have some self-replicating molecule (sometimes known as LIFE) already in existence. Life cannot come into being by means of genetic mutation and natural selection...duh...because you don't have the genes to mutate yet! This is an absolutely silly statement that is as logically erroneous as anything the most die hard creationist has ever set forth.
And you'd think the doc would move on, but he doesn't:
"It is sort of running an experiment in your refrigerator - turn it off and something will grow in there. It would be impossible to stop life growing on these habitable planets."
Crap grows in my refrigerator because the crap was there to begin with, right? I mean, ummm, didn't the invention of the microscope rather end the "spontaneous generation" theory as to why meat (and what not) went bad? I mean, is this guy proposing that NEW and previously non-existent life forms are coming into being inside my fridge? Ummm...my wife may accuse some of my forgotten leftovers of doing just that, but I simply blame the environment and global warming. As far as I know, one will not find spontaneously generated self replicating lasagna molecules in my tupperware...though if we did I'd patent it and make a killing!
They are still not done:
Whether the life we find is intelligent is, however, less than inevitable.
"Intelligent life seems to be fleeting," he said. "In terms of the universe it only exists for a fraction of time."
Are they serious? First the guy is gung-ho about how easily life comes into being (through evolution?!?!?), but then goes on to suggest that he has some sort of statistical data about the rate of "intelligent" life in the universe? News flash brainiac: you only have ONE data point. One. That's us...I think.
We have absolutely know idea how life came into existence...none. We have many theories, but absolutely no empirical evidence or data or anything else to support such theories beyond good old-fashioned well thought out reasoning - the same sort that the history of science has demonstrated to have decidedly questionable rates of dependability. And yet if everything the neo-darwinists tell us is true, then once you have life, it seems reasonable to assume that, given enough time, intelligence would eventually come into being. It's the LIFE part that is the challenge - or so we are led to believe. Yet the doc here seems to be thinking in just the opposite terms: life is easy (which we still cannot explain at all) but intelligence is difficult (which we are told is easy to explain and demonstrate.)
I'm trying hard to find the science being done here.
One further point I would make:
We are certain of ONE and ONLY one example of life coming into being, to suggest this is NOT exceptional in the universe is as much a faith based statement as anything said by a creationist. We have no (0) data, nor any evidence to suggest that life comes into being easily. None. Nada. Anyone who says otherwise I'd simply ask for a second data point. Just one.
Don't get me wrong though, I've no concerns about life existing elsewhere...I rather expect we will find it someday. I believe the universe is impregnated with a propensity for LIFE. Somehow, our universe likes form, structure, and organization. Miraculously so.
So on that note, perhaps the doc and I have a fair amount in common.
When looking at history thus far, occupations, colonization, displacement, and ethnic cleansing could all be seen as rich, universal human traditions. It's only been in recent years that we've (meaning the western world primarily) begun to think about feeling guilty about it. But there is another sort of occupation, colonization, displacement, and "ethnic" cleansing for which I don't think we'll ever think too feel guilty about - unless you are a Christian of a particularly guilt-ridden persuasion.
What am I talking about? Holidays.
It's become quite the fad for some to derisively point out that many Christian holidays (Easter and Christmas preeminently) were designed to supplant older pagan holidays and for this reason we are, I gather, supposed to feel a certain dejectedness for our "colonization" of a holiday rightly belonging to someone else. I've actually heard of some churches in certain denominations (yes, ECUSA for instance) trying to recapture the pagan heritage of certain holidays out of some misguided PC notion of cultural sensitivity...yes..cultural sensitivity to cultures that are long since dead and we know next to nothing about. It's an interesting phenomena, especially when piled on with the fact that not a few fundamentalist Christian sects really hate being reminded of this all and often therefore refuse either to make a big deal of Christmas or Easter or they will actually try and show that the cultural displacement charges are actually untrue. Sigh...what a waste of time.
Of greater interest, I think, is the fact that what comes around goes around. Has anyone noticed that a certain materialistic-secularized neo-paganism is presently occupying our holidays? Even the word "holiday" has lost its meaning...yes, by gum it actually used to be and pronounced HOLY-days and referred to a feast with rich meaning and traditions connected intimately with religious faith. Now its connected intimately to consumption of animal flesh and potato chips while lounging about in one's lawn chair watching football and trying to forget about the fast approaching Monday. Or, for the more active of you out there, it's now connected intimately to eating organic trail mix and a day of strapping rubber bands to your ankles and bouncing up and down to your immense and self-gratifying glee, until you organically puke your earth friendly guts out.
Either way, we all know how the culture wars over Christmas and Easter have been drummed up over the last decade or so. I suspect in large part this is due to the fact that religious folks are realizing that the cute little "easter bunny" and "santa clause" characters were not innocent decorative attachments to the HOLY-days, but in fact they were sleeper cells that have since unleashed a litany of terror attacks that have slaughtered all memory of the sacred. Or...emmm...something like that. Anyway...the war was over before it began. Perhaps we ought to let them have these "holidays" and their lawn chairs and their bungee cords while we focus on what we are doing in the context of our own Holy-days? Secretly, shhh...I sometimes REALLY like celebrating Easter on a different date than others...I even like calling it something OTHER than Easter. Besides making me seem culturally unique (all the rage these days don't ya know?), but it does also take me somewhat out of the context of the celebration of the materialistic-secularized neo-pagan holiday. I wouldn't lobby for the difference by this merit alone, but since there is precedent beyond myself for it I am happy to oblige tradition. Hmmmm...Old Calendar....hmmmm...
Recently, I found myself explaining some of the traditions surrounding St. Valentine to someone who suggested that "Valentine's Day" was originally a pagan holiday supplanted by Christians. I'm not sure that's true, but I do know if it is: the pagans are reclaiming it...with expensive roses, vast marketing schemes, and Vermont Teddy Bears(TM) as their liturgical implements.
Addendum: I heard this week that people are up in arms about Boston College (a Roman Catholic institution) putting up crucifixes in all their classrooms. This is related in part to my topic here, I think. I suppose if Tibetan Buddhists ran a college that there would be some that are ticked off at them putting up pictures of the DL? Right? Maybe this one:
Extra credit to any student who can identify the symbolism of the "award" being received here. I'm pretty sure it is organic earth-friendly throw up.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:38 AM [+] +++
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
An anniversary of sorts...
Fifteen years ago today I proposed, in song, marriage to my wife Susan. As I reflect back on the admittedly naive, love-struck, and infatuation induced lyrics of the song and the 15 years that followed it, I find that though a little less naive for having thus far struggled through the ongoing martyrdom of real love (as best as I can manage), I still mean every word of that song.
And yes, dear, I do still remember the chord progression.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:00 AM [+] +++
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
The Gnostic dismissal of fasting
I’ve been reading through the introductory notes of “The Lenten Triodion” and there is a portion entitled “The True Nature of Fasting” which is well worth your time. Note is taken of the fact that so many today seemingly dismiss fasting and some explanations for this are offered:
“One reason for this decline in fasting is surely a heretical attitude towards human nature, a false ‘spiritualism’ which rejects or ignores the body, viewing man solely in terms of his reasoning brain. As a result, many contemporary Christians have lost a true vision of man as an integral unity of the visible and the invisible; they neglect the positive role played by the body in the spiritual life, forgetting St. Paul’s affirmation: ‘Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit…glorify God with your body’ (1 Cor. 6:19-20).”
There is no doubt that we have largely developed a belief in a false dichotomy between body and soul. It’s wholly become a part of our cultural consciousness to see the body as a sort of shell from which the soul “escapes” or is “set free” at death and I’ve often wondered how on earth this unchristian perception of reality evolved in a culture that has supposedly been largely influenced by Christianity? Some wonder if we are in the midst of a post-Christian society, but I’d argue that at least on this issue we were more persuaded by Gnostic dogma than Christian, whatever “post” we may be now.
Some I have heard/read argue that the Protestant emphasis on “faith alone” may have either influenced and/or itself been influenced by this flesh/mind or body/soul dichotomy and I would certainly not reject such an argument outright. I suspect one would be hard pressed to find any notion of bodily resurrection in a after-life based television or book plot, a song, or even many popular spiritual hymns, whereas the theme of a freed spirit as a finality abound. The point being: is it any wonder that fasting (or any other of the variety of physical acts of worship or pious customs one might involve oneself in such as prostrations, crossing oneself, use of holy water, or venerating icons and relics) has lost its much required (or so we are told) relevance?
If you think about it, I expect you can find many examples of where a skewed understanding of mankind’s natural unity of body and soul has lead to all manner of negations in both practice and beliefs. In my own past I can recall trying to wrap my head around the strange insistence of my denomination that I be physically dunked in water, as opposed (I suppose) to just rationalizing in my head that I had consented to be baptized into Christ and by virtue of my conception was in fact already “baptized.” A rather shallow explanation was offered regarding obedience to Scripture (we were told to do it…though we aren’t really sure why?!?!) and the opportunity for a public confession of faith.
But in a Christian worldview where God truly restores ALL things and in which the Holy Spirit is everywhere present and filling everything and where man’s normal state is a true and redeemed harmony between body and soul, something changes. Suddenly, what we do with our body matters as much as what we do with our mind. Suddenly a prostration is no different than rationalizing in my head that God is magnificent and I am humbled in His presence. Consider the reality here in terms of sin! Our Lord told us that if we look upon a woman with lust in our hearts we have in essence committed adultery with her, and while some may point to this and suggest it indicates a sort of pinnacle of our disposition existing in the mind/heart/soul, I would ask if one can fathom the possibility of physically committing adultery but avoiding sin by pondering something of a more lofty nature throughout the experience?
Additionally to those who would suggest that one can do something PHYSICALLY and not really MEAN anything by it, I would suggest that you can also just as easily THINK something and not really MEAN anything by it – I do it all the time. And come now, my friends, you are not going to get down onto your hands and knees and press your head into the carpet without at some point stopping and asking yourself: “What the heck am I doing?!?!” The same goes for fasting, inevitable any sane person will ask themselves: “Why the heck am I saying ‘no’ to bacon?”
What benefit or trappings of fasting? Ah where to begin…another post I guess.
"Ancient" Syriac bible found in Cyprus. Naturally you cannot count on the media to get much of ANYTHING right with regard to religious things - save direct quotes kept in context(does that ever happen?). But the article begs the question: What precisely IS the Bible? Of course to the average reader it's that thing gathering dust on the bookshelf that used to be their grandma's. I note that in the "meat" of the story we are told it has "excerpts" from the Bible and this tends to make more sense. Of course if this text is "more than" 2,000 years old then it clearly has nothing whatsoever of the New Testament...duh. And anything older than 1600-1700 years is likely not going to look exactly like Grandma's "received text."
But from the article, it would seem many questions remain. Interesting though.
The response to some humanist groups advertisement which I talked about before. Note the Russian Orthodox Church has joined in here...interesting. I'm bummed we don't get to see what their banner ads will read!