Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On Zeal for "Truth"

Someone who has actually tasted truth is not contentious for truth.

Someone who is considered among men to be zealous for truth has not yet learnt what truth is really like: once he has truly learnt it, he will cease from zealousness on its behalf.

The gift of God and of knowledge of Him is not a cause for turmoil and clamor; rather this gift is entirely filled with a peace in which the Spirit, love, and humility, reside.

The following is a sign of the coming of the Spirit: the person whom the Spirit has overshadowed is made perfect in these very virtues.

God is reality. The person whose mind has become aware of God does not even possess a tongue with which to speak, but God resides in his heart with great serenity. He experiences no stirring of zeal nor argumentativeness, nor is he stirred by anger. He cannot even be aroused concerning the faith.
St. Isaac the Syrian (of Nineveh), 7th century


Elder Porphyrios [(Bairaktaris) the Kapsokalyvite (1906-1991)] would say: "I do not speak about Christ, unless others want to, unless they ask."

The Elder would say this not because of his ego, but because of his respect for the freedom of each individual.

He would further explain: "I pray for those people, I will even work miracles for them, but I do not speak to them. I want their soul to open up and to ask me."

People would say, especially the youth: "This is the first time we have seen a priest who says nothing to us about God."

When a young girl confronted him on this, the Elder responded to her: "I beg you, my child Georgia, do not misunderstand me as to why I did not speak to you about Christ. I did not do it out of disrespect, but out of respect, because I do not speak with anyone about religious matters unless I am asked."

By asking to hear something, a person willingly listens. And to these beginners the Elder would give a very light spiritual rule to follow to make sure they execute it with joy.
***Hmmmmm... what does this do to "internet Orthodoxy" and how then does one "evangelize"?
More thoughts to be posted later this week, I have work.  Yay!

H/T:  CH and CO 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

They Don't Make Comedy Like They Used To

The wifey and I got to see him years ago in concert. Simply wonderous.


American Christians Are Wusses

 (From Huw's blog

Increasingly, I think American Christians are weak and fearful.

In Communist countries the persecution is as bad as it ever was. In the Arab countries, where permission is needed to celebrate the Eucharist, Melkite, Orthodox, Baptist and Anglican communities fellowship freely because there is so much hatred that any priest will do – much to the scandal of Americans who want a “pure” church. Christians in Israel put up with Islamist suicide bombers on the one hand and Jewish people stealing their homes on the other, Jewish Soldiers and Islamists shoot at them. Muslims own the holy sites and adjacent land and Israelis can and do close them at will. And we worry about Christmas trees and manger scenes.

We’re distracted with what Wal*Mart employees get to say or do not say in the “holiday season”, yet we forget to feed the poor, visit the prisoner, to offer hospitality in God’s name. We’re terrified of a new mosque being built in out town or city, yet we put more import on rebuilding “touchdown Jesus” than we do on learning how to love like Jesus. We put more concern behind rebuilding a destroyed Church than evangelizing to fill our empty, but already existing Churches.

We confuse ethnic and political battles (both present, and in recent or ancient history – Byzantium, Russia, Turkey) with God’s promises that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church. And while we daily relive our resentment about those secular battles, we forget to turn the tables ourselves, asking how, as Americans, we benefit from enslaved Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists in China and Indonesia and India or how we’ve been stealing land from Natives – and continue to harvest profit form the theft.

We confuse our drive for revenge for wrongs imagined against us – or against our recent and ancient ancestors – with preaching the Gospel in our actions, with our very lives. We forget to forgive, pray for and love those we imagine to be our enemies. Instead of forgiving them, we castigate them in the press and on our blogs. We file lawsuits against them. We demand our RIGHTS! We demand JUSTICE! So we call it but what we want is REVENGE.

We confuse attacks against the country in which we accidentally live with attacks against our God. We confuse secular policy with Christian conduct (ie, same-sex marriage, prayer in schools), yet we only do so when it makes us happy (ie, divorce laws) or gives us pride of place – no one seems to want to begin a football game with the Shahada. We don’t want our baseball players yelling “Allahu AKbar” even if they’re Arab-speaking Christians.

Martyrs had their tongues cut out, their intestines spooled on the masts of ships. Martyrs lost their eyes and their hands and their feet. Martyrs were pierced and stoned and shot at. Martyrs were taken from their families, imprisoned, enslaved. We lament the loss of “freedoms” which do nothing for us but distract us from the Gospel.

We have the freedom to do pretty much anything we want, including to hate our neighbour, to despise our fellow Christians, to abandon the historic faith to the left or right (and still call ourselves Christian) and even the freedom to inflict our moral judgement on our neighbours with, in most cases, the blessing of civil authorities so long as it furthers their own political agenda.
Yet we call this persecution.

Let us assume it is, just for a moment. The evolution of marriage laws actually is an attack on our faith. The inability to wear a cross to work actually is a martyrdom. The taking down of manger scenes on public land actually is a state-sponsored oppression. OK, lets say all of this and more is true.

Which of the martyrs ever filed a lawsuit for their rights?
Which of the martyrs ever organised a protest march for their freedoms?
Which of the martyrs ever had petition drives?
Which of the martyrs ever demanded anything of the country in which she happened to live other than the chance to glorify God with the loss of her life?
None of them.

Every one of them “made Eucharist in all things” even the bad things. Every one of them gave glory to God for the chance to glorify God in their life or in their death. Even if all they could do was sit quietly and wait for the soldiers to come and kill them. Some of them – perhaps insane to our eyes – even went out and actively sought persecution to make up for their sins.

But we have no sins here.
We’re afraid, pure and simple.
We’re afraid of losing the one thing Jesus never offered us: power.
We’re afraid of giving up the one thing Satan has distracted the Church with for 1600 years: civic position.

We’re afraid that we won’t be special any more in the eyes of the world. Listen to the Pope and the Orthodox bishops talk about Europe – we do the same thing in the USA. We’re whinging over the loss of the one thing we were never to have – a kingdom in this world. We’re the bullies on the block that suddenly has all the kids in the neighborhood fighting back and we’re scared because maybe we deserve it all.

Sadly, like bullies everywhere, we probably won’t learn our lesson and join the human community as equals: we still want to be special.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sunday, August 22, 2010

An Ascetical Feat of Epic Proportions

This business establishment was in an *ahem* strip mall of a restaurant we went to.

Though my sense was it would be like trying to not look at a train wreck, I resisted the temptation to hang around to see who showed up for class. Well, that, and the wifey was with me.  Some things are just.... wrong.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Saturday, August 14, 2010

I Dream, Therefore I Am

I'm not a big "movie goer" or "film watcher". This year is a record year already. I've seen 4 movies and it is only August. It has gotten a lot of talk so the wifey and I saw "Inception" last night.  It will probably have one of the most discussed movie endings since Dave's fetal return at the end of "2001: A Space Odyssey".  So, basically it is about dreams, but not really.

The movie begins enigmatically, and as the movie progresses in its explorations into human conciousness it adds layer upon layers and becomes more and more opaque, disjointed and virtually impossible to make sense of. If you loved “The Matrix” and like having your brain pummeled into alternate unconciousness by dense, pretentious dialogue delivered by good looking people who are being chased and blowing things up in scenes joined together by a schizophrenic continuity editor, then you’ll love this movie. I liked "The Matrix", but by the end of "Inception" I was having flashbacks of sitting around in 1969 with a bunch of artist friends of mine in high school smoking pot, drinking Strawberry Hill, and discussing "what is reality". It took Nolan 200 million dollars to do what we accomplished with about 15 dollars worth of illicit conciousness altering substances. We didn't crash cars, shoot people, blow things up, and none of us were as good looking as Leonardo (Cobb) and Ellen (Ariadne); although, we did move in slow motion, experience zero gravity and had paranoid thoughts that people were after us. The movie lasted about as long as our doobies, came to the same conclusions, and made about as much sense as we did (that I can recall...).  If Ariadne was sitting in on our discussions she'd have said the same thing she said to Cobb (which could have been the subtitle to the movie), "I just want to understand." The biggest difference between us and the movie dialogue was, in the movie no one even once said, "Far out, man."

OK, so because Nolan directed a blockbuster once before, he gets investors to let him ask the million dollar question 200 times over: What is real?  Aside from a high school philosopher's level of insight and keeping us from dwelling too long on any seemingly semi-cogent point by chasing or killing someone, jumping topics, showing us some really cool trick or blowing something up, he does manage at the end of two and a half hours, to introduce something of a bottom line question in our culture: If relativism is ultimately true and truth is what is true for you, then is reality all in our heads?  Unfortunately, as the movie points up, we have other people to deal with who have alternate realities from our own. "Inception" is the point of meeting between two human beings living in their own heads: we cannot escape being in someone else's head and our thoughts and reality are indeed influenced by our interactions with others. In Christianity it is called "communion", the Image of God in Trinity in which we are created. And unfortunately, as Nolan rightly portrays, we live in a world in which we cannot forsee the consequences of how communion in its manipulative, fallen state will result in harm and devastation to another.  And thus part of reality is plumbing the depths of both our own and other's "sin": the broken relationships we created by living in a dream in our own heads.

So, the romp through Nolan's head was interesting and at seven bucks for a matinee ticket, cheaper than a two finger baggie these days from what I hear. Like most movies that tackle "reality" either with big or little budgets, it touches on the angst of what it means to be human, have relationships and make sense of what our life is. If I had to bottom line it from a "Christian perspective" the takeaway at the end is really the final 200 million dollar question for all humanity that Nolan might not even know he really asked: "If we risk our life to find Him who died and yet is alive, will the Old Man make good on His promise to bring us home, and, is human redemption real?"

The slightly expanded podcast version is HERE

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


"Iron Man" is a superhero.

"Iron Woman" is an order.


(Stolen from Silouan on FB, but I told him I was doing it).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On Aging

Today I marked 58 years on earth. Actually I didn't mark it. I'm not a "birthday person". If left on my own I would have not known what day it is, I rarely know the date, and often I don't know what day of the week it is. I had to look at my cell phone to get the date when I went to the bank this afternoon. But my parents, kids and wife and some friends remind me every year of my birthday.

It is strange being this old. At 50 I fully realized that in principle I have fewer years left than what I have lived. I'm only twelve years away from the Psalm's biblical "old age" of threescore years and ten. I know twelve years is nothing. The past twelve years of my life have literally been a heartbeat's span. I can mark their beginning from this month when we left the Episcopal Church and embarked on entering the Orthodox Church. Intellectually I know a lot has happened, not just "church stuff" but personal joys, deaths, gains and losses in so many arenas of life. In my mind it is all a small black and white snapshot, a single event captured while in motion, but now still, stark and with too many faces to recall exactly. "Twelve years" are just two words now, not an overwhelming prospect of a long, winding road, whose destination is hidden from view beyond the horizon, a journey stepped off in the inexorable and unrelenting metered cadence of 60 tiny ticks of the clock.

I have lived too many years to recall how things were, what I did when, who I was with and what I said. So I make up some amalgamation of stuff that sounds right and makes the point I'm making, but is usually factually wrong in some way (my wife will attest to the factualness of that.)

In the past couple years, I find I'm using fewer words with people, and sometimes sharper (or blunter) ones than I used 20 years ago.  I'm more direct, not out of a mean spirit, but from some  "old man economics" of communication that has inflicted me.  I'm too old and tired to dance a full tango with someone anymore. I'm not impressed with nor interested in trying to keep up with all the tap dancy-fancy moves in conversations. I just want to get away off the dance floor and back to listening to the music and watching the pretty girls from my table, sipping a nice Scotch, neat... and alone. I now enjoy not talking more than I used to enjoy hearing myself talk. And frankly, sometimes I say stuff just to mess with people just to see how much slack my gray beard buys me. That too is an old man thing, I think.

Speaking of "alone"... Alone is not the "frightening thing hiding under the bed" that it used to be. In fact solitude is welcomed company.  Loneliness and existential distances tortured me, nearly to death several times in my life.  I settled for contact rather than communion, a facade rather than a face, a false acceptance rather than real rejection. My senses are clearer, I can now see a phony smile, hear the flattering lisp and feel the hesitant hug and overly zealous handshake. But my reaction time to what I see has slowed.  I don't have the energy for rabid judgment anymore. Nor do I have the energy or want to take the time to talk myself into pretending things are anything but what they are. I can walk away and not ruminate over it in the darkness of the early morning. I prefer to be alone than with a false companion.  I don't know if this is a gift for old men, but there is freedom in this.

When you get old its harder to avoid self assessment. The fruit of your life by this time has ripened. Some is sweet, some is inedible and shouldn't be passed on. I know I've ruined a lot of things in 58 years. Damage control is no longer making excuses and pointing at others' failures for my screwing up. An old man knows there is no such thing as damage control, only damage identification and admission of guilt. I've been weak and narcissistic. There's a lot of people close to me that will tell you that, people important to me. I am finally able to listen to them. A sweet fruit of life is having close people who will tell you the truth. There is freedom in this too.

At 58 I'm too tired these days to be inconsistent. I used to be a human chameleon, blending with the surroundings, fitting in with the environment, changing nuances of shades of color to trick the onlooker into thinking I belonged there.  I find I don't change much to blend in or fit in anymore. Where ever I find myself, I am just an old bearded lizard.  I don't know if an old chameleon loses its ability to change color or if it just doesn't care anymore... which ever it is, it is a lot less effort and makes life actually more colorful.

And right now, I'm just tired. I had a days' work. Good friends took me out for my birthday, I had two glasses of wine and it is past my bedtime. If I knew 58 was going to be like this, I'd have done it much sooner. So, with that, goodnight all.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Orthodoxy and Homosexuality, Part Two

The second installment of the "Steve the Builder" podcast on same sex attraction deals with listener objections, questions and comments concerning marriage, committed relationships, the impossibility of celibacy for some and how the Church's dogmatic and ascetical Tradition address human sexuality. Listen HERE

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

No Corkscrew? No Problem!

Just in case you're serving altar at an outdoor liturgy and forgot the corkscrew for the communion wine...

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

My New Personal Doctor

I love this guy...

Q:  Doctor,  I've heard that  cardiovascular exercise can prolong life.   Is this true?   A: Your heart  only good for so many beats, and that it...don't waste on exercise.   Everything wear out eventually.  Speeding up heart not make you  live longer; it like saying you extend life of car by driving faster.   Want to live longer?  Take nap.  

 Q: Should I cut down on meat and eat more fruits  and vegetables?   
A: You must grasp logistical  efficiency.  What does cow eat?   Hay and corn.    And what are these?  Vegetables.  So steak is nothing more than efficient  mechanism  of delivering vegetables to  your system.  Need grain?  Eat chicken.  Beef also good source  of field grass (green leafy vegetable).  And pork chop can give you 100%  of recommended daily allowance of vegetable product.  

 Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?    
 A:  No, not at all.   Wine made from fruit.  Brandy is distilled wine, that mean they  take water out of fruity bit so you get even more of goodness that way.   Beer also made of grain.  Bottom up!  

 Q: How  can I calculate my body/fat ratio?    
A: Well, if you have body and you have fat, your  ratio one to one.  If you have two bodies, your ratio two to one, etc.   

 Q: What  are some  of  the advantages of participating in a regular exercise program?    
A: Can't think of single one, sorry.  My  philosophy is: No pain...good!
Q:   Aren't fried foods bad for you?      
 A:  YOU NOT LISTENING!  Food are fried  these day in vegetable oil.  In fact, they permeated by it.  How  could getting more vegetable be bad for you?!?     

:   Will  sit-ups help  prevent me from getting a little soft around the middle?    A: Definitely not!  When you exercise muscle,  it get bigger.  You should only be doing sit-up if you want bigger  stomach.  

 Q:  Is  chocolate bad for me?     
A:  Are you  crazy?!?  HEL-LO-O!!  Cocoa bean!  Another vegetable!  Is  best feel-good food around!  

 Q:  Is swimming good for your figure?        
A:  If swimming good for your figure,  explain whale to me.  

 Q:   Is getting in shape important for my lifestyle?      
A:  Hey!  'Round' is good shape!   

 Well, I hope this has cleared up any  misconceptions you may have had about food and diets.   

 And  remember:
Life  should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in  an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways -  Chardonnay in one hand - chocolate in the other - body thoroughly used up,   totally worn out and screaming "WOO-HOO, what a  ride!!"       

 For  those of you who watch what you eat, here's the  final word on nutrition and health.   It's a relief to know the  truth after all those conflicting nutritional  studies.   

 1. The Japanese eat very little fat
       and  suffer fewer heart attacks than  us.

 2. The  Mexicans eat a lot of fat
       and  suffer fewer heart attacks than us.  

 3. The  Chinese drink very little red wine  
       and  suffer fewer heart attacks than us.

 4. The Italians drink  a lot of red wine
       and  suffer fewer heart attacks than us.  

 5. The  Germans drink a lot of beer and eat lots of  sausages and fats   
      and suffer fewer heart  attacks than us.  


 Eat and drink what you like.
 Speaking Engrish is apparently what kills you.