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Thursday, February 26, 2004

More Passion

I ran across the following quote on GetReligion. It is from the Dallas Morning News, which I don't link to because it requires registration. Very interesting observation:

With Jesus in his death throes, you wonder: Was it necessary for Mel Gibson to have shown all this gore? "To the hard of hearing you shout," said Flannery O'Connor. Mr. Gibson shouts. In this barbaric world, he's right to.

There is Mary cradling the body of her son in her arms at the foot of the cross, and she's looking directly at you. You can't turn away. Her gaze says, "Look what you did to him. Look what he did for you."
"To the hard of hearing you shout. " To the pharisees, religious hypocrites and those senseless of their sins, Our Lord indeed had some harsh words. Perhaps we too often try to go through life as if everyone were sensitive to the Gospel message. We live in an age and world where, unfortunately, most are not. Maybe Mel's Passion is God's shout?

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Passion of Christ

So how could I not become part of what is the seeming endless parade of media outlets and internet bloggers commenting on this movie? Not having seen the movie is something of a handicap to forming an opinion of it (well, at least for me it is). People's whose opinions I have learned to respect have come down on both sides of the film. However, a paragraph from a comment on National Review Online has me concerned:

But The Passion does not wallow in violence. Instead, it hearkens back to another tradition of engaging the Gospels, one that attempts to provide a sense of what it was like to be with Christ on the way of the cross (via dolorosa). The tradition of meditation on Christ's passion and death crystallizes in St. Ignatius of Loyola's 16th-century manual, The Spiritual Exercises. Founder of the Jesuit order, Ignatius counsels use of the imagination to place oneself in the setting of the Gospel stories, to see and hear the events and voices, and to be moved in appropriate ways. "In the Passion," he writes, "the proper thing to ask for is grief with Christ suffering, a broken heart with Christ heartbroken, tears and deep suffering because of the great suffering that Christ endured for me."
I am loathe to endure a spectacle that conforms to Jesuit ideas of spirituality. The use of the "imagination" in spiritual exercises has, historically, led to all sorts of abuses. The rest of the column paints a more tolerable, even palatable, picture. However, one cannot help but wonder what will arise from this movie (and I don't mean anti-semitism) and whether it will ultimately be for good or ill. Thoughts from others would be appreciated.


After having published the above, I came across Fr. Chris Metropulos' comments on The Passion. These strike me as rather fair and well-balanced. Fr. Chis makes an interesting point when he writes that the film will "make enemies and friends." Our Lord Himself declared He came to bring a sword and St. Paul writes of the "offense of the cross", it being a "stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the Greeks." It is the very nature of the Gospel to be divisive, to set the world into the parties of the "once born" and the "twice born". But it is not the Gospel itself which does this, but what is in our own hearts and what we allow to be formed there. For those who believe, i.e. who take His words and let them transform them, the Gospel is light and life, a stone to build upon. For those who reject, they become words of condemnation, a stumbling stone upon which to fall and shatter.

Okay, I've been a little verbose today. That's enough. Your thoughts are welcome!

Ladder of Divine Ascent and the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete

Both of these were firsts for me last night. Father is holding a class every Tuesday evening through Lent on the Ladder of Divine Ascent. Now, before some of you wonder about a Catechumen reading this book, I specifically asked Father if I should and his response - "by all means." Maybe Father thinks I have my head screwed on a little tighter than I'm sometimes inclined to believe.

At anyrate, I do not yet have the book and last evening was basically just an introduction. Father focused primarily on St. John's call to exile in the book. He had printed out a number of quotes on hardstock paper, one per page and had them on his table. I'm not sure this is the exact quote Father printed, but from the Ladder, St. John writes on exile:

Exile means that we leave forever everything in our own country that prevents us from reaching the goal of piety. Exile means modest manners, wisdom which remains unknown, prudence not recognized as such by most, a hidden life, an invisible intention, unseen meditation, desire for humiliation, longing for hardship, constant determination to love God, abundance of love, renunciation of vainglory, depth of silence.
The whole discussion was quite profound. Once again I wondered to myself, as I have countless times since beginning this awesome journey, if I am really able to do this thing, to truly be Orthodox. The demons speaking to me, I know, but still...After the class Father gave some people the quotes he had printed. I was just walking behind him as he talked to a visitor from the Greek parish and, over his shoulder, he handed me a quote - the one on Exile! God has a sense of humor, He must!

After the class we had the Canon of St. John of Crete. Another first for me. All the way home, riding in silence for one of the few times ever (normally I have cds playing or talk radio on), I kept singing over and over "Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me." Maybe there is something about this silence thing! I rode to work this morning in silence as well, praying the Jesus Prayer and contemplating. Exile. Hmmm.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Forgiveness Sunday

Master, Teacher of wisdom,
Bestower of virtue,
you teach the thoughtless and protect the poor:
Strengthen and enlighten my heart.
Word of the Father,
let me not restrain my mouth from crying to you:
Have mercy on me, a transgressor,
O merciful Lord!

Well, yesterday was my very first Forgiveness Sunday (since this is my first time through the Liturgical year in an Orthodox Church, everything is a first for me). We did not do the full Fogiveness Vespers in the evening, but (for whatever reason, I didn't ask), just did the asking of forgiveness after Liturgy was over while the vespers were (more or less) chanted.

The whole morning was quite moving, starting with Matins and right through Divine Liturgy. I was surprised at the impact the troparia and readings had on me. At various times I actually had tears, if not always down my cheeks, at least in my eyes. Now, I have confronted my own sinfulness many times over the past 30 years as a Christian, so I had not anticipated quite this profound sense of unworthiness and sorrow. It is a relief to know God can still move on this old hard heart of mine! (Which brings to mind an old Keith Green song, that I won't quote but I'm sure some readers undoubtedly know.)

If I have offended any of you with any of my posts or comments, please forgive me, a poor and wretched sinner!

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust for power and idle talk.

But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love.

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brothers and sisters. For blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen.

O God, cleanse Thou me a sinner!

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

All the things Iraq Is Not!

That's Clinton's (and Wesley Clark's!) little wag-the-dog war in Kosovo, as Jan Bear reminds us on her blog (which I've now started linking to on the left). Jan links to a story on Telepolis, but the pertinent quote is:

Four years after it was 'liberated' by a NATO bombing campaign, Kosovo has deteriorated into a hotbed of organized crime, anti-ethnic violence, and even al-Qaeda sympathizers. Though nominally still under UN control, this southern province of Serbia is today dominated by a triumvirate of Albanian paramilitaries, mafia gangs, and terrorists. They control a host of smuggling operations and are implementing what many observers call their own brutal ethnic cleansing of minority groups, namely Serbs, Roma and Jews. This, despite an 18,000-strong NATO-led peacekeeping force and an international police force of more than 4,000.
As Jan points out, "America's war against Serbia fulfilled all the dire predictions of the most recent war on Iraq--targeting civilian infrastructure, civilian casualties, heightening terrorism, destruction of cultural resources, an aftermath of chaos." None of these dire predictions has come true out of Iraq. Now, I don't know the truth about Milosevic, I suspect he lies somewhere in between the butcher the Euros paint him to be and the saint his supporters do, but I do know Saddam Hussein was a monster who had to be brought down. Let us pray for both nations, that God will have mercy, and let us pray that America will wake up to what the real foreign policy tragedies have been in the last 10 years.

A profound insight

No, not mine, but from Erica on her Catechumen's Walk blog. She shares her priest's insights on last Sundays Gospel reading. Here's what Erica wrote:

Here’s the scene: People are on the left and right sides of Jesus, already divided as to where they will spend eternity. Jesus tells the people on the right briefly why they are there. As he explains this, they are astonished that Jesus was the recipient of their good things, saying, “Lord, when did we see Thee [in need]…?” Jesus answers, “As you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me.” Their response to Jesus is justified; these are the humble people, and are genuinely surprised that Jesus thought their deeds worthy.

On the left, we have the goats. Jesus says that they didn’t do anything for him when they saw him hurting. How do the goats respond? “Lord, when did we see Thee [in need]…?” At first glance, this seems justifiable, since the sheep responded in the same way. But then we remember that this is Jesus judging on the Last Day. He is correct in his judgment; it is not like he is falsely accusing them. But none of them fall down and plead his great mercy; no one cries out, “Lord, you are right! But Son of God, have mercy on me!” They know he is right; they are being damned, and they are still too proud to admit their fault.
I think this is pretty profound. Too damned proud to admit fault and beg God for mercy. Too damned proud to admit fault to wives, children, parents, co-workers, friends, strangers on the street. How many times have I been in that boat? In the end, isn't it our pride that gets us damned?

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Life for sale!

In case you missed it, the South Koreans are now being credited as the first to clone a human embryo (with all due respect to the Raelians (that is, no respect, since none is due)). They immediately destroyed the embryo in order to "harvest" the stem cells. Absent from most reports on this incident is any indication that the creation of life for such purposes has any ethical or moral ramifications. To the Time's credit, they did quote the Deputy Direction for pro-life activities of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops as decrying the move to create life simply to destroy them for research purposes. It will not be long, unless the outcry is long and loud, before clone farms are created to sell "replacement parts". What an abomination!

For those who may have missed it as well, the OCA has a statement on human cloning.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

In the Public Interest

The photo shows "Hanoi Jane" listening raptly as speakers denounced American soldiers for committing "genocide" in Vietnam and accusing the U.S. of "international racism."

Three rows behind 'Hanoi Jane" sits a man who bears a striking resemblance to the Democratic presidential front-runner.

"The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men." --Samuel Adams

New blog in the side bar

I've always like reading Terry Mattingly's columns. I don't know how long he's been at his blog, but I've just started reading it and it is every bit as good as Terry's "On Religion" column. For those who don't know (or are too lazy to go to the link), Terry and his family are members of St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox parish in West Palm Beach, Florida. Check out his blog GetReligion.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Maybe its just that I'm starting to truly feel at home in Orthodox services, but yesterday I was simply struck again by how much I absolutely love everything about Orthodox worship. The incense, the hymns, the venerations, the metanaias, crossing oneself, the whole physicality and spirituality of it just bowls me over at times.

Yesterday, of course, was the Sunday of the Prodigal Son and as I listened to the troparia heard the Gospel read the incredible compassion that God demonstrates toward us "while we were yet sinners" moved me to tears. Now I'm not talking about bawling, tears running down the cheeks, wracked with sobs kind of tears, just misty eyed, lump in the throat, weight on the chest kind. However, this is not a common occurence for me and I am not, generally, an overtly emotional guy. After more than 30 years as a professing Christian of some type, I have contemplated these issues many times. But yesterday just seemed so profound and I, like the Prodigal, have truly come home to my God and Father Who, rather than greet me with "what took you so long" or "glad to see you've finally come to your senses", embraces me, covers me with his robe, gives me shoes to walk the walk and seals me with his ring!

Having foolishly abandoned Thy paternal glory,
I squandered on vices the wealth which Thou gavest me.
Wherefore, I cry unto Thee with the voice of the prodigal:
I have sinned before Thee, O compassionate Father.
Receive me as one repentant,
and make me as one of Thy hired servants.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages! Amen!

Friday, February 06, 2004

Clash of values

I've seen a recent rash of blogs and posts decrying what some are terming "Americanism" (a precise definition of which I can't find but would be useful). A respondent to Mere Comments wrote a couple things that have prompted this post, about what he termed the

...odd alliance between business conservatives and cultural conservatives which has built the present Republican majority in our country.

There is a fundamental and, as far as I can see, irreconcilable difference between these two blocs; to the buisiness conservative, questions of value distill down to the bottom line, and that means following the market research wherever it may lead....

There is a fundamental clash of values here; is the profit motive, the hallowed free enterprise system, the overriding value of this majority, or is there something that trumps it?
This strikes me as perhaps what some mean when they speak of "Americanism". If so, I think they and the gentlemen who wrote the above remarks have it wrong. The "alliance" (I think I would label it a "congruence") of "business conservatives" (by which I think he means free marketers) and cultural conservatives, including, I infer, traditionalist Christians of all stripes, is not a "fundamental clash" nor an attempt to have it "both ways". Rather, it is a respect for one overarching concept that can include those who have no concern for anything more than the bottom line and those who concern themselves with the moral vacuum and increasing secularism of our society - and that is liberty!

"Liberty" is the quality of being free to do as one sees fit without constraint. Now, before you howl, consider. Isn't that what you wish for your worship? For how you raise your family? For how many cars you own or what you eat? For your speech or your voting practices? Now, we all recognize that when people live together in communities, some constraint is necessary so that my liberty doesn't impinge upon yours. However, in-so-far as I do not harm you, you should not have the power to tell me how to live or how to conduct my life.

This concept is what makes freedom of speech, of religion, of congregation possible. It is why, while I might disdain being motivated purely by the "bottom line", I can defend, and be "congruent" with, those who do, though I must confess I have never, or certainly rarely, met such people. It is when people, in the form of governments, begin to believe they know best for everyone else, that freedoms are lost, people are oppressed and dictatorships are created. Does liberty allow for scoundrels? Of course it does. Does it allow for excess and for greed? Yep, you bet. But in the same way God's creation allows for evil in order to also give rise to the possibility of genuine love, so liberty allows for greed and rapacsiousness in order to allow for genuine freedom of expression, worship, congregation, speech as well as the creation of wealth which raises people up out of poverty and improves the standard of living for whole nations and even the world.

People often say, usually amidst disparaging remarks about America, that one can be a Christian under any political system, and this is true. But, I forget who it was who said this in opining on the phrase "money can't buy happiness", but she said "I've been poor and unhappy and I've been rich and unhappy, and let me tell you, rich and unhappy is better!" You might be able to be a Christian in anywhere, you might even be a better Christian if oppressed, but I'd rather be a Christian today, in American, than in Cuba, or in the Soviet Union in its hey day, or in the Roman Empire under Diocletian or Nero. I'd rather it for myself, but especially for my children and for my friends and for you.

As long as the choice is between those who would limit liberty in the name of "know what's best" for country and those who would limit, if only the growth, of government, believing people know what's best for themselves, I will always side with the latter.


Well, duh!

Sorry, but how else can one react to the "news" that increased abstinence among teenaged girls decreases the teen pregnancy rate? I can attest to this, both my teen daughters are abstinent and absolutely neither one of them have been pregnant at any time!

Seriously, despite all the hang wringing from certain corners over abstinence only sex-ed, a Heritage Foundation article shows that abstinence works! Teach young girls to respect themselves and not yield to preasure and its amazing what the results can be!

Along these same lines, Huw Raphael, perhaps unintentionally, demonstrates the civilizing influence of women upon men's base sexual proclivities. Ladies, like it or not, y'all are the gatekeepers (literally and figuratively). If you refuse to indulge, you raise the level of behavior not only of yourself but of the man in your life as well.

BTW, Huw's discourse is concerning the pleasure seeking proclivities of human beings, though mostly the male gender, regardless of sexual orientation. While not having his POV, I can assert as a one time hedonistic teenage male, his observation is accurate: many (if not most) men, given the opportunity, are as promiscuous as they are allowed to be, whether they are attracted to women or other men. It is simply that fact that for most of us, those we are attracted to are not as inclined to "hop in the sack" as we are (unless we're basketball players, presidents or billionaires), so we don't get to indulge as much we might have otherwise been wont to do.

So, again, ladies, this might be trite and cliched (btw, cliches are cliches for a reason, you know), but you determine the level of civilization we men display. Be virtuous, the soul you save may be more than just your own!

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Deeply Divided?

I really like Jonah Goldberg's take on this whole nonsense about Americans being "deeply divided". Just a brief quote:

Ask yourself: "If liberals believe that it's such a wonderful thing to live in a united nation, why aren't they more nostalgic for the 1950s or 1920s?" Well, we know the answer. If the American consensus isn't a liberal consensus, then, well, to hell with consensus.
You can read the whole thing over at National Review Online.

Vietnam Veterans Against Kerry

The Democrats are touting John Kerry's Vietnam record (which is admirable) as making him more qualified than President Bush (although 12 years ago Kerry himself, in campaigning for Bill Clinton, said the Vietnam war and service there should be a non-issue). At the same time they are deliberately ignoring the facts and slandering President Bush over his own National Guard service. A website has sprung up from Vietnam Vets against Kerry. You should check it out.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Musical tastes

Music. It's all very subjective, isn't it? Discussions about music are sure to raise passions, as well. I started collecting LPs (y'all remember those, big, 12 inch black vinyl discs that you played by running a needle through their grooves - my kids use to call them "big black cds") in earnest when I was 13. By the time I was 16 or 17 I had well over 400 LPs, which was not too shabby for a kid who mostly survived off an allowance rather than having a job.

I had the archetypal evangelical conversion experience when I was almost 17. I continued to collect music but became increasingly exposed to the view that rock music was, if not intrinsically evil, then certainly not good for one's soul in general. As I became more "committed" to evangelical/charismatic Christianity I became convinced that to "grow in faith" I had to get rid of my record collection, which I did.

Now, as much as I have regretted this youthful act in later years, I cannot say it was a bad or even stupid thing for me to do. Music that I might have no problem listening to today may have created a stumbling block overwhich I might never have climbed had I continued to listen at the time. I did, however, start to collect what was then called "Jesus Music" and has been termed for the last couple decades "contemporary christian music". I have a rather large collection (again, in LPs) of such music from the mid-70s through the early 80s. Upon graduation from seminary and prior to getting married, I was spending probably on average $50 per week (that's 1980 dollars) on "christian" music. In the early 90s I started re-collecting much of the music of my youth as well as indulging myself in a passion for the blues, pre-war, post-war, classic and modern - I love it all! When I purchased my first CD-R burner a few years back I started finding references on the Net to the phenomena of live music recording trading. Since that time I have amassed a collection of probably 300 or so "shows", perhaps almost 1000 discs. (BTW, you can see my trading list if you'd like.

Along the way in picking up this hobby (and this is the real point of this post) I started listening to the Grateful Dead. Now, I never was a "Dead head" in my youth, I think I had one Dead album, which I liked but it didn't excite any passion in me. However, in my mid, now late, forties I have developed a certain *thing* for their music. Their music really was quite different than I had somehow fixed in my head. Don't care much for the lifestyle, but it's hard to beat mellowing out or working on the computer with the Dead playing.

So, here's my question - any other Orthodox "dead heads" floating out there? I suggest I may be one of the very few rabidly conservative, republican, Orthodox Dead heads in existence. Aren't I special?! ;-D

Hypocrisy, thy name is...

"Lefitism". A great quote from one of my favorite political blogs, Disecting Leftism:

The Left have always wanted more spent on welfare and made "Fascism" a swear-word. President Bush deposed a brutal Fascist dictator and sponsored a big expansion of welfare. But instead of being admired by the Left, he is hated with a passion. What does that tell you about the Left? It tells you that they have no principles at all: That everything they have ever claimed to stand for is fake.
What more can one say?

Two OC Firsts for me

I can't remember if I've mentioned this, but I work about 3 miles away from my parish Temple, even though I live almost 25 miles away. This makes it pretty easy for me to get to special weeknight services. At any rate, as I know I have mentioned, Archbishop Dmitri and they're holding a clergy conference here in Atlanta. Yesterday the session was at my parish and afterwards they held vespers. So, here are where my firsts come in...

I get off work about 4:15. It takes me 8 minutes to walk to my car and about 7 to get from where I park to the Church. So I'm there right around 4:30. No one else is in the Nave or Sanctuary yet, I'm there all alone. Now, I usually get to Church on Sundays during Matins, and sometimes there are very few people there, but never have I been in the Nave with *no other people*. It was quite awesome. After reverencing the icons, I walked around to scrutinize the icons on the walls that I usually don't get to see or have never really examined. We have lots and it was not only enjoyable to feel free to do that but enlightening and moving. One section of a wall appears to be dedicated to Western saints, although St. David of Wales is in the sanctuary St. Columba, St. Edward and many others are out in the Nave. With my mother's family coming from England and Scotland (not sure about Wales), I tend to feel very close to these pre-schism Western saints.

The second "first" was the vespers itself with a couple dozen priests in the congregation. Archbishop Dmitri did not preside, but was in attendance. Lot's of good singers. I'm almost too old now to feel self-conscious, but the "almost" part of that was apparent yesterday evening. At any rate, I enjoyed myself immensely!

Monday, February 02, 2004

The Bishop Went Down to Georgia

Archbishiop Dmitri of the OCA Diocese of the South is in Georgia this week. Yesterday he concsecrated the new Temple for St. Innocent Mission in Macon as well as celebrated Divine Liturgy. I was in attendence along with a few others from my parish. Overall, the Bishop is quite impressive, especially for a man of 80. The striking thing is that he looks Russian, that is in his vestments with his long white beard, he is the perfect image of what one might visualize when thinking of a Russian Orthodox Bishop. Then he begins to speak and you hear a distinctly American mid-western accent with traces of Texas still there. Quite marvellous, actually.

It was my first hierarchical liturgy as well as my first Temple conseqcration. Let me just say it was long. It took about two hours to consecrate the building and then another hour and three quarters or so for the Liturgy. The new Temple is quite beautiful and impressive. The iconstasis was not erected as yet and there were very few icons, though what they had were quite traditional in the Russian style. The acoustics were fabulous and, once filled with icons, should be an absolutely heavenly place to worship. (As an aside bit of introspection, I find it fascinating that my first impression of the interior when I walked in was that it was "naked" - how quickly, when you embrace them, do icons become a part of one's life.) You can see a picture of the Temple at the parish's website. It is modeled upon a Temple in Tbilisi, Georgia of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Quite impressive for a mission with under 30 families (apparently the families they do have have money - which helps!)

Later yesterday I was back home and attended the Vespers service for the Meeting of Christ in the Temple. The service was another first (as will be every major feast this year). We were done in time to get home to see the Super Bowl, which I didn't watch but snippets. Wish I had something profound to write about that connection, but I don't. Have a wonderful feast!