Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Peace, good will among men


Today Christ is born of the Virgin in Bethlehem. Today He who knows no beginning now begins to be, and the Word is made flesh. The powers of heaven greatly rejoice, and the earth with mankind makes glad. The Magi offer gifts, the shepherds proclaim the marvel, and we cry aloud without ceasing: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men.

- from Mattins of the Feast of the Nativity of Christ

Merry Christmas, Kala Christougenna, Blessed Feast to all!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Up for air

Yesterday was the last day of classes for this session, which means I have a precious few days of respite. The last 8 weeks were extremely difficult, and this last week especially so. I have been fighting a vicious cold for a week--of course! It was the last week of classes, so why not add a horrible cold to the finals and papers and labs and projects. Wah wah wah. Today I'm feeling some better, but I'm home from work to try to fully recover.

I wish I had some deep spiritual insight into life to offer today, or a new poem, or a powerful quote from a good book I have been reading (yeah, right, like I've had time for any of that!) Even prayer and worship, which normally help me hold things together, have not been as constant as they should be. All I can say is that God has a way of buoying me up though these times by two means: family, and humor. And usually they come as a set. Here's a sample . . .

My nine-year-old son to one of his siblings: "You touch that last cupcake and you'll enter a world of pain." Survival of the fittest.

My seven-year-old son, who had been sick for a few days, was asked if he felt better: "Yeah, except when I stand on my tippy-toes my leg wiggles." . . . uh, okay then . . .

My five-year-old son had tripped on the game controller cord twice in one day. A little later, one of my other sons was telling jokes and asked, "What has four legs but doesn't walk?" The correct answer is a table, or perhaps a chair. My five-year-old sadly replied, of course, "Me." Four legs, son, four legs!

My three-year-old son came into the living-room in tears, saying, "Mom, I need a dwink."
"Why can't you get a drink?"
"Cause I need tea, and Gregory [the baby] is on the fwiderdayder." Really, it's not as bad as it sounds. He can't literally get on the fridge, at least to my knowledge.

My nine-year-old son: "Ewww, there's something floating around in the fishbowl." To which my eleven-year-old daughter (and the fishbowl's owner) replied, "No duh, they're fish." Sometimes you just make it too easy.

My sixteen-year-old daughter, while we were watching Prince Caspian: "That's a really tall midget!" Everything is a matter of perspective, I suppose.


You can't make this stuff up, folks. Large families involve some sacrifice, but the return is one hundred-fold.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Army vs Navy

Sitting here on the couch, doing schoolwork--the Army/Navy game is on. Just noticed the back of the Army jerseys say: Duty. Honor. Country. Say that out loud with minimal pauses at the periods--I wonder who the brainiac was that came up with that!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Misc.

Thanksgiving--have the day off, plan to do more schoolwork.

Kids have been playing Guitar Hero--Symeon (3) sings: "I love rock and roll / Put another ??? in the Juicebox, Baby. . .

Spent a few days going behind a repairperson from Handyman Connection to fix his or her screw-ups. Never, ever, hire this person for anything. Among other incredibly non-handy accomplishments, he or she installed a roof vent boot ON TOP OF THE SHINGLES! Might as well install a funnel with a sign saying: Here, Water, this is the quickest way to the bathroom ceiling.

Spiritually struggling; over-busy. (I've yet to learn the fine art of saying "No, sorry, I do not have time.")

Another stack of books awaiting my free time--next summer, perhaps.

Gregory, the new one, is now pulling up on everything, grabbing everything, sticking everything in his mouth, etc.

Ah, I did manage to read this last night from Wendell (while secluded in my private study, if you know what I mean):

Best of any song
is bird song
in the quiet, but first
you must have the quiet.

Amen, brother.

And I almost forgot--NO ONE has more to be thankful for than I do. End of story.

Monday, November 3, 2008

We live by mercy

I'm far behind in my schoolwork, but I decided to take a little break for some Wendell Berry. I like this stanza from his "Amish Economy"--

We live by mercy if we live.
To that we have no fit reply
But working well and giving thanks,
Loving God, loving one another,
To keep Creation's neighborhood.


In A Timbered Choir. Wendell is the man. Can I get an Amen?

Monday, October 20, 2008

It is we who have suffered

I've been thinking about these words for a few days:

God is searchlessly great. We hear and read of His greatness but it is quite another matter to live it, this greatness. No one and nothing can in any way diminish His eternal Sovereignty but He, even God, made Himself lowly to a degree that we cannot understand: in our frail flesh He attained absoluteness. Now I know from my own experience: He hungers for our perfection. In sanctioning our grievous struggle against the enemy and against our own selves in our fallen state, He would have us victorious. If we do not abandon Him in the worst moments of our humiliation by the enemy, He will most certainly come to us. He is the conqueror, not we. But He will attribute the victory to us, because it is we who have suffered. (Fr. Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is, p. 84)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Short revisit of Clouser and the Cappadocians

I really don't have time for this right now, since I have final papers due this weekend and I'm running a little behind, but I felt I should mention what I have found out concerning Clouser's view of the attributes/energies of God. (Perhaps more will follow later, but I wouldn't count on it!)

As I have read further in his book The Myth of Religious Neutrality, I am frankly confused about his position on whether God's energies are created or uncreated. He makes a distinction between three different definitions of the word "created," and I find it is possible on the basis of this distinction to read him as agreeing (mostly) with the Cappadocian/Orthodox view on this. Clouser doesn't come right out and says that God's attributes, though distinct from his nature, are fully divine, and I see this as a weakness (and perhaps a serious flaw) in his thinking. But I was hasty in my previous post on this topic, and I thought honesty demanded I admit that. (The first section of my previous post stands as written, however.) Sure makes my paper that much harder to write!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Even after 8 kids



Proud Daddy


A huge slimy slug, he crosses the floor
leaving slobber trails for the unsuspecting
barefoot traveler, constantly grinning
as if he already knows the joy of
a well-planned practical joke. How can this
wriggling bundle of spit and skin provoke
such profound love in me, bringing me
out of myself? He can't even say my name,
yet I know him and he knows me, and the
bond of our souls is beyond speech. As I
lean close to his dimpled face all heaven
breaks loose; like the chorus of a thousand
angels his smile drowns out all chaos, and every
gloomy thought vanishes is the radiance
of breathtaking innocence and beauty.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Now here's something interesting


I wrote a paper for a literature class this session on Hawthorne's short story "The Minister's Black Veil." That turned out OK, but my professor gave us the additional assignment of putting together a PowerPoint presentation to go along with our paper. I was having a problem finding a picture of a minister with a black veil--yeah, I know, you'd think with all the crap on the Internet someone would have a picture like this, but nothing doing. So, with the help of my son (the photographer), my black leather hat, a black overcoat, and a couple of well-placed tissues--The Reverend Mr. Hooper comes to life!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Pardon me while I rant: Clouser, Kierkegaard, and the Cappadocians

A few weeks ago I wrote a post complaining that people misunderstand Kierkegaard. This past week I received verification that my complaint is correct, from a very unlikely source.

This session I’m taking a philosophy class; our focus is to examine the role religious belief plays in theory-making, and to that end we are reading Roy A. Clouser’s book The Myth of Religious Neutrality, Revised Edition. Clouser is professor emeritus of philosophy and religion at The College of New Jersey, Trenton, and is a Reformed Christian—or he is, at least, firmly in the Dooyeweerdian philosophical camp. In Chapter 5, Clouser gives his synopsis “of the [3] major positions which have been taken in the history of western thought concerning the general relation” of religious belief to theory-making: religious irrationalism, religious rationalism, and the biblical. I fully expected him to lump Kierkegaard with the first grouping and I was not disappointed. Rather than trying to explain the complexities of Kierkegaard’s thought, he gives three quotations from Kierkegaard’s writing that seem to prove his irrationalism, and moves on.

What was surprising, however, is that Clouser footnotes his Kierkegaard quotations with this revealing note: “Several Kierkegaard scholars have informed me that the position expressed in these quotes is actually misleading, and that his real position is more like my own [the biblical, of course]. They admit, however, that statements such as those I’ve quoted here certainly seem to indicate his position is as I describe it, and also that this (mis)understanding of him has long constituted his intellectual legacy. Since that is the case, I will leave the quotes as examples of the position being described, with the acknowledgement that they may not be accurate as to what Kierkegaard himself intended” (p. 344).

Read that again, because what Clouser is saying is mind-boggling. Clouser’s main argument in the book appears sound, but how am I supposed to take him seriously when he intentionally perpetuates a misunderstanding of another thinker, just because this misunderstanding is widely accepted??!! Clouser’s treatment of Kierkegaard’s thought in the first edition of the book is excusable, since he evidently didn’t know better. But after being informed by people who do know better, instead re-writing this section for the revised edition to more accurately portray Kierkegaard he buries a lame explanation in an endnote. Shame, shame, shame on him.

. . .

The following will probably only be of interest to any Orthodox readers of this blog, but read on if you wish. I have gone a little bit ahead of the class, and I find this isn’t the end of Clouser’s misreading and misrepresentation of other thinkers. Later in the book, while arguing that one’s view of the nature of God forms a presupposition that regulates one’s theory-making, Clouser defends what he calls an “alternative” view of the nature of God—“the view of God that was elaborated by the Cappadocian Fathers of the Greek Orthodox tradition, rediscovered in the west by Luther and Calvin in the sixteenth century, and championed by Karl Barth in the twentieth century. (I’ll call this Cappadocian and Reformed position the C/R view for short)” (p. 203).

Hmmm, I see a problem with historical accuracy here, but if Clouser actually takes the Cappadocian position I’ll overlook this inaccuracy. Clouser opposes his position to the view of Divine Simplicity as taught by Aquinas and most (if not all) of western Christianity, by adopting the essence/energies distinction found in the Cappadocians. (He more frequently uses the word “attribute” in place of energy, but he means the same thing.) So far so good.

However, as I read him, Clouser represents the Cappadocian postion (even quoting Lossky and St. Gregory Palamas!) as teaching that God’s attributes or energies are the created means by which God communicates himself to humankind, so that only God’s essence is uncreated. The whole point of Cappadocian theology, especially as represented by St. Gregory and the “Greek Orthodox tradition,” is that God’s energies are uncreated! Needless to say, I have cleared my final research paper topic with my professor, in which I hope to clarify the real Cappadocian/Palamite position against Clouser’s serious misunderstanding.

I suspect this will be an exasperating eight weeks for me.

Friday, August 22, 2008

An excuse for my lazy posting, And--A PRIZE!

Classes resume this Monday, so I'm not likely to have time to do much here. I'll try to do what I can, though, since I am dead serious about my fiddlefarting around.

I did want to mention--after reading and entering some online debates (most of which started as simple discussions), I have decided to award all participants with this, the universal Grand Prize for online debating. Congratulations to all!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Pixy Stix

Important information to remember: Pixy Stix powder burns like the devil when you get it in your eyes.

Tonight my son Symeon wanted to have a couple of Pixy Stix after supper, and brought them to me to have them opened. I distinctly remember, from my childhood, pinching the tops of the tubes and vigorously shaking the powder to the bottom in order have more room to tear the tube open without spilling anything. Evidently my ability to vigorously shake has increased with age, because after the tube whacked each side of my hand a few times the dad-gum thing exploded in my face, getting Pixy powder in my eye, ear, my keyboard, all over the couch. My oldest son, who was innocently sitting next to me on the couch, got it in the eyes as well. (He whined more than I did, big baby.) I have pretty long facial hair, so I had to use the vacuum attachment to suck out all the dust. Why doesn’t Willy Wonka put a warning label on these things!?!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

More Thomas Wolfe

Whatever one may think about Thomas Wolfe's overall quality as a writer, his descriptive ability is extraordinary. This depiction of the wicked Judge Rumford Bland from his novel You Can't Go Home Again is chilling, vivid--a word painting if I've ever seen one. I give the passage here in its versified form, as found in A Stone, A Leaf, A Door.

Judge Bland
by Thomas Wolfe

But he was stained with evil.
There was something genuinely old and corrupt
At the sources of his life and spirit.
It had got into his blood,
His bone, his flesh.
It was palpable in the touch
Of his thin, frail hand when he greeted you,
It was present in the deadly weariness
Of his tone of voice,
In the dead-white texture
Of his emaciated face,
In his lank and lusterless auburn hair,
And, most of all,
In his sunken mouth,
Around which there hovered constantly
The ghost of a smile.
It could only be called the ghost of a smile,
And yet, really, it was no smile at all.
It was, if anything, only a shadow
At the corners of the mouth.
When one looked closely,
It was gone.
But one knew
That it was always there--
Lewd, evil, mocking,
Horribly corrupt,
And suggesting a limitless vitality
Akin to the humor of death,
Which welled up from some secret spring
In his dark soul.

Opening ceremonies

Last night my wife and youngest daughter wanted to watch the Olympic opening ceremonies. Here's what I noticed: President Bush, with his watch-checking, seat-shifting, and general lack of attention to the proceedings, looked every bit as bored as I was. One could almost see him thinking, "How many freakin' countries are there, anyway?!"

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ecclesial Being

I just finished the book Ecclesial Being: Contributions to Theological Dialogue by Constantine Scouteris. Professor Christopher Veniamin has done a wonderful job in collecting and editing some of Professor Scouteris’ finest work, both old and new, concerning the nature and purpose of the Church. Prof. Scouteris has a remarkable ability to define Orthodox ecclesiology not only as it is in itself, but also as it is in relation to other Christian faith-groups, with wisdom and graciousness. In the chapter “The Church, ‘Filled with the Holy Trinity,’” Prof. Scouteris writes:

. . . the Church is not some closed religious corporation, a closed isolated religious community, but rather an open embrace, since God is the “Saviour of all men” (1 Tim. 4:10) and “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). Often, in Christian circles there seems to be a sense of caution and introversion. Perhaps this is from the suddenness of rapid social transformation, maybe even today from some inclination towards self-defence in the face of the manifold provocations brought about by secularization and globalization on a material basis. It is an unjustifiable feeling of self-complacency, and a contraction and lessening of the Church. Thus, an insurmountable wall is raised, which isolates the Church and alienates it from its universal dimension. (30)

Whether he is writing about the ground of unity in the Church, the necessity of theological language based on worship rather than speculation, the role of the Church in justification, the importance of the priesthood, the significance of icons as a witness to the reality of the Incarnation, or more touchy subjects like the Orthodox approach to the World Council of Churches or common prayer, Professor Scouteris’ words are worth reading.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Like the First Day of the World

by Thomas Wolfe, from A Stone, a Leaf, a Door

And he cried, "Glory! Glory!"
And we rode all through the night,
And round and round the park,
And then dawn came,
And all of the birds began to sing.

And now the bird-song broke in the first light,
And suddenly I heard each sound the bird-song made.
It came to me like music I had always heard,
It came to me like music I had always known,
The sounds of which I never yet had spoken,
And now I heard the music of each sound
As clear and bright as gold,
And the music of each sound was this:

At first it rose above me like a flight of shot,
And then I heard the sharp, fast skaps of sound the bird-song made.
And now with chittering bicker and fast-fluttering skirrs of sound
The palmy, honied bird-cries came.
And now the bird-tree sang,
All filled with lutings in bright air;
The thrum, the lark's wing, and tongue-trilling chirrs arose.
With liquorous, liquefied lutings,
WIth lirruping chirp, plumbellied smoothness, sweet lucidity.
And now I heard the rapid
Kweet-kweet-kweet-kweet-kweet of homely birds,
And then their pwee-pwee-pwee:
Others had thin metallic tongues,
A sharp cricketing stitch, and high shrews' caws,
With eery rasp, with harsh, far calls--
These were the sounds the bird-cries made.

All the birds that are
Awoke in the park's woodland tangles;
And above them passed the whirr of hidden wings,
The strange lost cry of the unknown birds
In full light now in the park,
The sweet confusion of their cries was mingled.

"Sweet is the breath of morn,
Her rising sweet with charm of earliest birds,"
And it was just like that.
And the sun came up,
And it was like the first day of the world.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

WWOD

Today while listening to NPR's show All Things Considered I heard a very entertaining clip from a woman who has embarked on a remarkable journey--she has determined to live the entire year as a follower of all of the advice given by Oprah Winfrey. When the interviewer asked her how she felt after a half-year of following her course, she replied, "Exhausted." Ha ha. Though she insisted the experiment was not meant to poke fun of the Industry of Oprah (though poking fun certainly seems to play its part!), it does highlight something I have been known to criticize: the tendency of people to unthinkingly accept the lifestyles/philosophies/opinions of their favorite celebrities, just because they happen to be famous. Anyway, if you need a good laugh today check out the site here.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Memory Eternal

July 13th marks the fifth anniversary of the falling asleep in Christ of Fr. Adrian Pollard, under whose hand I entered the Holy Orthodox Church. I miss him, and feel deep loss that he is no longer with us. Not a single day has passed that I do not think of him and honor his memory.

Fr. Adrian was not a perfect man; like all of us, he had his faults and failures. But for me, in my time of spiritual crisis, he was exactly what I needed. Whatever progress I may have made in my spiritual life is (humanly speaking) due in great measure to the foundation Fr. Adrian gave me in the beginning of my movement to Orthodoxy. There are several key aspects of his teaching that I continually refer to, and with God's help I hope never to forget.

Fr. Adrian constantly stressed the importance of moderation, the "middle way." As he often expressed it, "The Truth is found not just in the middle, but in the middle of the middle." This was Father's way of cutting off extremes in the spiritual life that cause one to go astray into fruitless paths, or even to spiritual destruction. This is really just common-sense teaching which, it should be noted, was not unique to Fr. Adrian; others throughout history (Christian and non-Christian) have noticed the same reality. The Fathers of the Church stressed that the virtues lie in the "mean" between two opposite vices. For instance, the virtue of courage lies between the vice of rashness and the vice of cowardice. Vices are those things that either fall short or go beyond the virtues (see St. Peter of Damaskos, Discources 19 and 20; and especially St. Gregory of Sinai, On Commandments and Doctrines, 87). Though due to my stupidity and weakness I have often found myself leaning toward extremes, the remembrance of Fr. Adrian's emphasis on this point has helped me recover my balance.

Another central tenet of Fr. Adrian's teaching was a love for St. Silouan and Fr. Sophrony. Fr. Sophrony's book St. Silouan the Athonite was one of the first books Fr. Adrian recommended to me to read; after four readings I am still plumbing the depths of this book. Even though Fr. Adrian is no longer physically present to give me advice and help me work out spiritual questions, he gave me a connection to Fr. Sophrony and St. Silouan that is a reliable aid to the spiritual life.

I am grateful for having known Fr. Adrian, and consider it a sign of God's loving-kindness that I was able to be with him even though it was only for a short time. Aonia i mnimi, vechnaya pamyat, memory eternal.

With the Saints give rest, O Christ, to the soul of Your servant where there is no pain, nor sorrow, nor suffering, but life everlasting. (Orthodox Memorial Service)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Chicken update

My oldest son tells me that he thinks the "book" with the chicken-passing relay was one of our The Far Side collections. I seem to remember that one now. My sons, the scholars.

Please pass the chicken.

Like many people in America, we have been watching a little bit of the Olympic trials. One of my sons asked me when they were going to do the "running thing with the guys that pass the rubber chicken." Huh? He insisted that he remembered reading about a 4-man relay where the participants passed each other a rubber chicken; he even modeled the poses as he remembered them from the book. While we all enjoyed a good laugh from this, it did give me an idea--wouldn't it be more interesting if the relay involved passing along a live chicken? Now that would be fun to watch!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Rolling Stones

Rolling stones

Rolling stones over
looking for life,
rummaging in
moist soil, finding
cricket, earwig,
pill bug, millipede;
every square inch filthy rich,
super-abundance,
profusion of existence,
even the dust seems to breathe.
Why? For what? Organisms
small and large, with no
apparent purpose.
The Divine Maker could have
created a simpler world—
colorless, tasteless, monotone—
not nearly so beautiful,
not nearly so alive,
but such is not His way.
No, His way is that
when you roll stones over,
life explodes. Lazarus also
knows of this, but from
the other side of the stone.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

On converting pain into spiritual progress

This is from a series of presentations Fr. Zacharias gave entitled The Hidden Man of the Heart. I listened (again) to the recording today while traveling back and forth to work; what follows is taken from the book by the same name (pp. 103-105). I usually prefer reading to listening, but just hearing his gentle manner and humble approach is inspiring to me.

It is not easy to learn to weep properly. If we weep on the psychological level, we shall wither and quench all life in us; whereas if we weep spiritually, not only will we suffer no harm, but we shall be regenerated. In We Shall See Him as He Is, Fr. Sophrony explains the difference between spiritual and psychological mourning. According to him, psychological mourning is a matter of our confining life to the visible plane. Spiritual weeping occurs when we refer every experience of ours to God, on Whom we depend for everything, for we can only lament the distance that separates us from Him.

We frequently suffer pain and hurt on the psychological level when we encounter energies that crush our heart. But we must rise above these negative experiences, and we do so by exploiting the heart-felt pain of a particular incident and convert it into spiritual energy. Fr. Sophrony often stressed that we must learn to transfer every psychological state--whether due to illness, the scorn of other people, persecution, or the incapacity of our nature--onto the spiritual level by means of a positive thought. And we do this simply by keeping our mind in the place where the Son of God is. We think on those things that are on high, as St. Paul advised the Philippians (cf. Phil. 4:8).

Fr. Zacharias gives this example to clarify what he is saying:

A brother says a harsh word to me and wounds me. There are two ways of reacting to this energy that so crushes my heart. I can react bitterly and say, "How ungrateful of him! I have been so kind to him for years, I pray and care for him, and look how unjustly he treats me! He is a bad man." That is the normal psychological reaction of people in the world. But, there is another reaction. The pain is real and goes straight to the heart, but without even thinking about where this pain came from, I change the direction of my thought and I say, "Lord, You saw my indolence and my negligence and You sent Your angel to wake me up. Have mercy upon us." I use the energy of the emotion and I direct my thought to God and pray for the things I am in need of. We can always use that bitter energy within us to pray for the forgiveness of our sins. So I convert the psychological energy into spiritual energy, and I enter into dialogue with God, and at the end of it I feel refreshed and I do not even remember from where I started, or who dealt me the blow.

This is truly a good word.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Recommended book

I just, finished Noah Lukemans' book; A Dash of Style. Subtitled The Art and Mastery of Punctuation, I thought, it was: well written-and full of helpful advice! I think? given some time" my punctuation. problems can be helped; by applying the pointers, he has in the book. Highly: recommended,

Friday, June 20, 2008

Stinkhouse wisdom

I have worked in construction for the past 18 years or so; even when I pastored a church I still did plenty of side-jobs to make ends meet. I have learned a lot in those years, and it is time to pass along some of my acquired knowledge for the new generation of workers.

One of the fixtures of a job site, no matter what trade one works in, is the Port-o-john, which I affectionately call the "stinkhouse." What follows is 18 years of wisdom learned by experience--the squeamish are forewarned.

STINKHOUSE WISDOM

1. Do not: sit on anything, touch anything, or even breathe inside the stinkhouse.

2. Remove all items clipped on belt or pocket--cell phones, car keys, etc.--unless you like fishing in poop water for valuables.

3. Always lock door; always knock before entering.

4. Be prepared for various tricks of on-site mischief-makers: tipping stinkhouse over, dropping rocks down the vent pipe, bumping stinkhouse with vehicle, barricading the door, and slamming the sides of the stinkhouse with a 2 x 4 are common events. (There is no way to prepare for such an event--just remember, payback is sweet.)

5. Remember that the side urinal and air-freshener disk ARE NOT sink and soap.

6. Stinkhouse service-persons ALWAYS arrive at lunch or break--take care to locate yourself upwind.

7. Always check stinkhouse for wasps, snakes, frogs, and other native wildlife before fully entering, or at least before beginning your business.

8a. Always check for clean toilet paper before starting your business.
8b. Because one cannot control when Nature will call, it is wise to keep old gas receipts or Quick-crete bags on hand for emergencies--shirt pockets have also proven to be a life-saver.

9. Keep in mind that stinkhouse seats are scientifically designed to allow for maximum splash. It is best to carry a couple of 2 x 4 lift blocks, since the difference of a few inches is everything. (The blocks also allow one to fulfill Wise Saying #1)

10. Always keep a pen handy--you never know when a more creative moment will occur.

11. Always correct the grammar and spelling of the ill-schooled stinkhouse wall poet.

12. And finally--please, for the sake of all that is virtuous, CLOSE THE LID when you are done. When I go in to do Number 1, it is extremely unpleasant to have to see your Number 2.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

"Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle."

Read the remainder of this excellent article by Nicholas Carr here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Care for the world, care for our children

This is an excerpt from an essay by Wendell Berry that not only deserves to be read, but memorized.

I know of nothing that so strongly calls into question our ability to care for the world as our present abuses of our own reproductivity. How can we take care of the other creatures, all born like ourselves from the world's miraculous fecundity, if we have forsaken the qualities of culture and character that inform the nurture of children?

Maybe it is because our society is so dominated by the economic ideal of productivity that we have no time for people who are not highly productive. Or maybe it is because of our rather frivolous idea of personal freedom that we shrug off the claims of those most in need and most deserving of our care. Or maybe it is the fault of an economy that now requires both parents of many families to work away from home. Or maybe it is the increasing commercialization of family relationships, according to which nobody, not even a husband or a wife, should do anything for anybody else that is not compensated by a price agreed upon in advance.

Whatever the reason, it is a fact that we are now conducting a sort of general warfare against children, who are being abandoned, abused, aborted, drugged, bombed, neglected, poorly raised, poorly fed, poorly taught, and poorly disciplined. Many of them will not only find no worthy work, but no work of any kind. All of them will inherit a diminished, diseased, and poisoned world. We will visit upon them not only our sins but also our debts. We have set before them thousands of examples--governmental, industrial, and recreational--suggesting that the violent way is the best way. And we have the hypocrisy to be surprised and troubled when they carry guns and use them.

There are of course many parents who care properly for their children, and traditions of good upbringing still survive. But, like the local traditions of good land-use, these traditions of family life have become subordinate. As a lot of parents have found out, it is not easy to bring up your children in a way that is significantly different from the way your neighbors are bringing up their children.

A child psychologist told me not long ago that he frequently sees four-year-olds who, when asked, "Who loves you?" reply, "I don't know." If we have even a suspicion that we must not exempt anything from care, how can we bear this? And yet this neglect is hedged around on every side by talk of rights and freedoms and careers and professions.

Abortion, for instance, which might be defensible as a tragic choice acceptable in the most straitened circumstances, is defended as a "right" derived from "the right of a woman to control her own body." The right of any person to control her or his own body, subject to the usual qualifications, is incontestable--or, at any rate, it is not going to be contested by me. But the usual qualifications hold that if you can control your own body only by destroying another persons body, then control has come too late. Self-mastery is the appropriate way to control one's own body, not surgery.

I am well aware of the argument that a fetus is not a child until it can live outside the womb, but I am aware also that every creature is surrounded by such questions of dependency and viability all its life. If we are unworthy to live as long as we are dependent on life-supporting conditions, then none of us has any rights. And I would not try to convince any farmer or gardener that the planted seed newly sprouted is not a crop.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Pentecost, thunderstorm, and Wolfe (unrelated thoughts--they just happened to occur on the same day)

Today has been a great day. This morning marked the celebration of Orthodox Pentecost, the beauty of which is hard to match; today we also celebrated my good friend Fr. John's 30 year anniversary in the priesthood; this afternoon I've been sitting here (or standing on the porch when the wind allowed) watching a big ol' Southern thunderstorm blow through, complete with hail, high winds, thunder and lightning; a pot of coffee is brewing, and I'm reading some Thomas Wolfe.
. . . . . .

Awhile back I wrote this fragment of a poem--

Tick-tock.
The glinting steel

That slices through life--
Slow death, quickly realized.


I just read this from Thomas Wolfe, in his "Like the River"--

And it takes time,
Dark, delicate time,
The little ticking moments of strange time
That count us into death.

No surprise that his is much better.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Pride and humility

If pride blinds our eyes to the infinite reality of God, humility makes them see it. So, whatever we do, as long as we lack humility, as long as there is a trace of pride in us, we lack the thrill of contact with God; we lack the profound consciousness of a deeper relationship with God, and neither do we make others feel it. Where humility is lacking, there is superficiality, the commonplace, a closed horizon, the kind of conceit that provokes a smile of pity. Only the humble lives in the immeasurable depths, full of mystery, in God.

Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, Orthodox Spirituality

Monday, June 9, 2008

Vacation























We spent the weekend with family in Tennessee--I may or may not write more later, but for now here are a few pictures of the sunrise, taken from the deck of the cabin we rented. Even on vacation I can't sleep past 5:15!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Voice of an angel

Words are inadequate--Divna sings with the voice of an angel.

video

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Wrens and care for creation

This past Memorial Day I was doing a little work on a house we are building (the same house that prompted this post) and noticed a bird’s nest in the garage, tucked in the corner of the breaker box. I was curious to see if there was anything in it; as it was fairly dark I had to duck very close, close enough that the brim of my hat was touching the wall, leaning far in to see what the nest might hold. I shouldn’t have been surprised when a little Carolina Wren exploded in my face, scaring the heck out of me and making my work-mate laugh. The wren had been incubating four eggs, and just as I startled her the eggs began to hatch. Tiny, raw life, hungry and peeping madly for attention. With all the obstacles the chicks faced (it’s hard enough for me to survive on a construction site!) I honestly didn’t give them much of a chance for survival.

Yesterday I went back to patch some sheetrock (dang electricians—it’s OK, though, since I cut one of their wires trying to square up the hole for the patch), and the little fellers are just fine. All mouth, just like my little one. If they can only hang on until the beginning of next week, they should be strong enough to leave the nest and start their own life. I sure hope they make it.

I’m not a tree-hugging animal-rights fruitcake, and I have absolutely no problem killing my own food, plant or animal; but I believe God intended humankind to care for life in all its forms, and needless suffering or death is a pity. God has shown His glory in creation, and has gifted us with an immeasurable responsibility to care for it. Wendell Berry once said something that applies:

If we believed that the existence of the world is rooted in mystery and in sanctity, then we would have a different economy. It would still be an economy of use, necessarily, but it would be an economy also of return. The economy would have to accommodate the need to be worthy of the gifts we receive and use, and this would involve a return of propitiation, praise, gratitude, responsibility, good use, good care, and a proper regard for the unborn. . . . Mostly we take without asking, use without respect or gratitude, and give nothing in return” (The Agrarian Standard).

And this from Elder Sophrony:

The Staretz [Elder; he is speaking of St. Silouan] used to say that the Divine Spirit teaches us to spare every living thing, and so not needlessly harm leaf or tree. ‘That green leaf on the tree which you needlessly plucked—it was not wrong, only rather a pity for the little leaf. The heart that has learned to love is sorry for all created things.’

The longer I clop around on earth, the more deeply aware I become of our place (I mean our as in humans) in the order of creation: a place of honor, but a place of accountability; a place infinitely above the rest of creation, ordered to “have dominion” over it, but so much the more responsible as stewards over our domain. This attitude of grateful, reverent, responsible stewardship goes against the modern consumer lifestyle, but it is a necessary part of fulfilling our calling.

I know it is a humorous example (the more so because it is a bit exaggerated), but if you have ever watched the movie The Gods Must be Crazy you have an idea what I am getting at here. The bushmen in this make-believe documentary hunt for food, but instead of just killing the animal outright they first shoot it with a numbing arrow so they might explain to the animal the hunter’s need to feed his family and thank it for providing for them. With the added proviso that we also offer thanks to God, this seems just about right to me.

Long quote (worth the price of the book)

. . . the greatest and continuous obstacle in the way of our progress to love is egotism. Until egotism completely dies, you can't have true love for anyone. You must leave far behnd you the billows of the ocean of egotism, so that you can bask in the air which comes to you from the kingdom of love. He who loves himself, who is full of self-admiration, who considers himself as the most important of all, can't love others. To love others means to forget yourself, to always go beyond yourself, to consider yourself as nothing. The love of others is consolidated in us by uninterrupted repentance and humility. Egotism sees itself inflated to the extent that all reality is hidden. It thinks that it should own everything. It weighs every person to see how to use him, or at least it tries to avoid the danger which might come from his supremacy. In all things, in all actions, the egotist projects his own person; he sees and serves nothing else; he worships it, to him it is a god, or better said an idol in place of God. His own authentic nature is drowned in egotism. His concern for others is only a tactic, in order to really serve his own interests. Thus in a false way he fills his whole horizon with his inauthentic ego. He walls himself off on all sides with his false self. It's clear then that he can't see others for themselves, in a disinterested way, with true love, just as he can't see his authentic self within the framework of the loving community of all. Love is the exit from the magic and illusory circle of egotism, a circle which I extend to the infinite, as in a delusive dream. It is a breaking out into a true relationship, in communion with others. It is an exit from the shadowy prison of the ego and the entrance into the life of the community, of solidarity, into the kingdom of love, which includes everyone.
- Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, Orthodox Spirituality

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Leaping lizards

The boys and I were in the backyard yesterday trying to catch up on some yard work. Well, I and my oldest son Jeff were working, while the younger guys were catching bugs. All of us like bugs and other critters and we are always on the lookout for some exciting new find.

We have a large, rotting tree in the backyard that will come down soon, and as we were determining the best way to cut and land it we noticed a large skink living inside. I have observed some big skinks in my time (Jeff caught a 6 or 7 incher a few weeks ago), but this is really big--I would guess a good 11, maybe 12 inches long, and fat as a garden hose. I'm not scared of snakes or lizards, but this fella gave me pause. I put my finger right next to his head, and he didn't even flinch; in fact, it looked like he was contemplating whether he was hungry enough to attack this strange worm suddenly thrust in his face. He certainly wasn't scared, so I backed off. Very cool. If you're interested, the particular skink is known as a Broadhead skink (Eumeces laticeps)--well, you can check it out for yourself here.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Slaphonics

Orthodox Christians are still awaiting Ascension, since our Easter was later than Western Easter this year. For us, that means (among other things) that we are still singing the Paschal troparion ("Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tomb bestowing life") to begin services, bless meals, etc. We enjoy singing it in various languages: Greek, English, and Slavonic. Alexander informed me today that he has trouble with the one in "Slaphonics." Could there be a market among Orthodox for a "Hooked on Slaphonics" curriculum? I think it just might sell!

Cluster bombs!

An AP report from today’s paper noted that 111 nations formally adopted a treaty that “would outlaw all current designs of cluster munitions and require destruction of stockpiles within eight years.” We all know what cluster bombs are: big bombs containing a number of smaller bombs, which greatly enhances the effectiveness of the intended result. Of course, they also greatly increase the chances that an undetonated bomb will remain long after the cluster was deployed and blow up civilians—farmers, children, innocents of every kind—and who would want that, right?

The story goes on to remark on the leading opponents of the treaty, which include Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan. Oh, and our own United States of America. “All defended the overriding military value of cluster bombs, which carpet a battlefield with dozens to hundreds of explosives.” U.S. spokesperson Tom Casey said that “the treaty would not change U.S. policy and that cluster bombs remain ‘absolutely critical and essential’ to U. S. military operations.”

I know, it may seem that the maiming and blowing apart of human beings is unspeakably horrible, but thank God we can be reassured of the “overriding military value.” What are the 111 nations complaining about?

Friday, May 30, 2008

The only escape

Peaceableness toward enemies is an idea that will, of course, continue to be denounced as impractical. It has been too little tried by individuals, much less by nations. It will not readily or easily serve those who are greedy for power. It cannot be effectively used for bad ends. It could not be used as the basis of an empire. It does not afford opportunities for profit. It involves danger to practitioners. It requires sacrifice. And yet it seems to me that it is practical, for it offers the only escape from the logic of retribution. It is the only way by which we can cease to look to war for peace.

- Wendell Berry

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Asceticism and the world

The nerve of all the passions is the passionate state, the longing which connects us to the visible appearances of things which promise us each and give us nothing or very little.

The passionate state, or enslavement to the passions attracts all of our psychic powers toward the exterior. It is the adhesive which glues us to the surface of the exterior world. The problem of asceticism is how can this enslavement to the passions (prospatheia), the substance of the passions, be slain, not how to slay our authentic nature and the world we live in. The challenge is, how can we live in this world as free beings, admiring it and understanding it as a transparent creation of God, without this admiration enslaving us to its purely perceptible and opaque surface, and thus hinder our development as beings oriented toward the infinite spiritual order. How can we use the world, the road toward our goal, without falling and succumbing on it?

- Fr. Dumitru Staniloae

Friday, May 23, 2008

Proof for evolution

The kids were enjoying fish fillets for supper. Alexander (age 7) said, "Hey, I think I got the tail. Sure looks like it." Andrew (age 4), not to be outdone, exclaimed, "I think I got the leg!"

Thursday, May 22, 2008

An ever-greater filling

Our perfection, or our union with God, is . . . not only a goal, but also an unending process. On this road two great steps can be distinguished: first, the moving ahead toward perfection through purification from the passions and the acquiring of the virtues and secondly a life progressively moving ahead in the union with God. At this point, man's work is replaced by God's. Man contributes by opening himself up receptively to an ever-greater filling with the life of God.


-Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, Orthodox Spirituality

Sunday, May 18, 2008

One of my favorite liturgical prayers

Holy God, You dwell among Your saints. You are praised by the Seraphim with the thrice holy hymn and glorified by the Cherubim and worshiped by all the heavenly powers. You have brought all things out of nothing into being. You have created man and woman in Your image and likeness and adorned them with all the gifts of Your grace. You give wisdom and understanding to the supplicant and do not overlook the sinner but have established repentance as the way of salvation. You have enabled us, Your lowly and unworthy servants, to stand at this hour before the glory of Your holy altar and to offer to You due worship and praise. Master, accept the thrice holy hymn also from the lips of us sinners and visit us in Your goodness. Forgive our voluntary and involuntary transgressions, sanctify our souls and bodies, and grant that we may worship and serve You in holiness all the days of our lives, by the intercessions of the holy Theotokos and of all the saints who have pleased You throughout the ages.

-The priest's "silent" prayer before the Trisagion hymn,
Orthodox Divine Liturgy

Thursday, May 15, 2008

No Greater Affliction

If the love commanded of us in the Gospel were natural to us in our fallen state, it would have been unnecessary to bid us 'Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind . . . Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself' [Matt. 22:37-39]. When that love touches the heart, our spirit in Light beholds God, and lives by Him and in Him. He surpasses all human thought. Not a single one of our abstract conceptions is applicable to Him. He - lives. His might is incalculable, His love inscrutable. To dwell with Him is ineffable riches. When I was a painter I never achieved satisfaction because the means at my disposal were impotent to portray the beauty of creation. And now all the words that I can find to express my wonder before God are quite futile.
To be blind is a great deprivation. But there is no greater affliction, no more bitter pain, than not to know God.


- Elder Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The good news about the gas prices . . .

. . . is that I have a company truck with a gas card, so I figure every time gas goes up I get an unsolicited, unexpected pay raise. Gives a new meaning to the old term "upwardly mobile."

Baby Gregory Update

My newest son is doing fine. Unlike his father, he only fusses when he is hungry, poopy, or--well, that's about it. He sleeps pretty steady at night, and eats like a pig. In fact, I have decided on a nickname for him. He eats so . . . desperately and noisily I've started calling him Gobble. It just seems to fit. Gregory Gobble, son of my old age, bundle of joy and bodily functions.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Drunk with Hope

Question: Why is hope so sweet, her discipline and her labors so light, and her works so easy for the soul?
Answer: Because hope awakens a natural longing in the soul and gives men this cup to drink, straightway making them drunk. Thenceforth they no longer feel the wearisome toil, but become insensitive to afflictions, and throughout the whole course of their journey they think that they are walking on air, and not treading the path with human footsteps. . . . For this hope so inflames them, as with fire, that on account of their joy they cannot rest from their incessant and headlong course. There comes to pass in them what was spoken by the blessed Jeremiah, "I said, I shall not remember Him nor speak His name. And there was in my heart as it were a flaming fire and it entered into my bones". Such is the recollection of God in the hearts of men who are drunk with hope on his promises.


-St. Isaac the Syrian, quoted in Bishop Hilarion
The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Don't Know What to do With Myself

Classes are over for the summer. For the first time in a long time, I was able to live a normal Sunday: Orthros and Divine Liturgy, home for a little nap, refilling coffee cup and random reading. (I have a lot of catching up to do.) Time with the family, no papers to write or assignments to complete. It should be a crime to feel such contentment.

I was delighted to read this poem by Jane Hirshfield (her poetry moves me, and this one is exceptionally good)--

The Decision
by Jane Hirshfield

There is a moment before a shape
hardens, a color sets.
Before the fixative or heat of   kiln.
The letter might still be taken
from the mailbox.
The hand held back by the elbow,
the word kept between the larynx pulse
and the amplifying drum-skin of the room’s air.
The thorax of an ant is not as narrow.
The green coat on old copper weighs more.
Yet something slips through it —
looks around,
sets out in the new direction, for other lands.
Not into exile, not into hope. Simply changed.
As a sandy track-rut changes when called a Silk Road:
it cannot be after turned back from.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

"A few days"

". . . and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her" (Gen. 29:20).

March 10. My 18th wedding anniversary. The verse above says all I need to say.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A little Kierkegaard

Every once in a while I get out Kierkegaard's Journals--sometimes it's like turning on a floodlight in the deep woods at midnight; sometimes it's a bit like having an ice-cube stuck down the pants. As I thought about the Gospel reading from this past Sunday (of the Publican and Pharisee), I remembered a Journal entry from Jan. 7, 1839:

"What is so confusing about us is that we are at once the pharisee and the publican."

Well, he's right of course.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Part of a poem

Tick-tock.
The glinting steel
That slices through life--
Slow death, quickly realized.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

First attempt, probably won't be pretty

I've no idea what I'm doing here. I wanted to comment on someone else's blog, kept clicking on stuff, somehow ended up with a blog of my very own. I don't have time for this kind of nonsense. No one in their right mind would care what I think. I seldom care what I think! But maybe this can be a place to practice my fiddlefarting--I don't think I'm as good at it as I once was, and I'd like to recover that lost skill.


Peace,
Nico