Archive for October, 2008

Thanks Martin Luther

October 30, 2008

Today is Reformation Day in the Lutheran churches and I would just like to take this opportunity to thank Martin Luther for making me Orthodox.  I grew up in the 60’s when the Lutheran Church was conservative and traditional.  We still had felt Jesus banners in the church, but you didn’t find women or sexually confused or theologically heretical clergyman, or for that matter, sexually confused, theologically heretical women.  You knew just where German pastors were coming from.  And they were the ones who shaped my beliefs and future life as an Orthodox Christian.  I am what the Lutheran Church first made me:

  1. I’m Catholic but not Roman.  Luther is famously portrayed as a man who did not want to destroy the Roman Catholic Church but to reform it.  He seems to have started out that way, though later on as things started to snowball,  he sure ‘nuf took to the idea pretty darn well.  Be that as it may, this idea struck very close with me.  Why wasn’t I Roman Catholic if Luther only wanted to straighten things up?  If the Roman Catholic Church was worth saving, why wasn’t it good enough for me now?  So I began to explore the Catholic Church, but quickly found that Martin Luther had already primed the anti-papacy pump.  I can buy first among equals, but not The Big Cheese.
  2. I’m sacramental.  Luther tossed most of the sacraments, figuring only two (or maybe three if you count reconciliation) – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper – were sufficiently biblical to remain.  The practice of those two, particularly Communion, was all I needed to see that something special was going on between God and me.  Communion rightly had a prominent place and at my first Communion class I was taught the Lutheran layer cake view of the Eucharist – bread and under that, Body; wine and ditto, Blood.  I was sufficiently impressed that the Body and Blood were sacred or at least sacred enough until the wine was unceremoniously dumped down a holy disposal sink.   Down the drain with our Lord’s Blood, but it wasn’t always Jesus’ Blood, only at the time of communion… Very confusing.  Jesus was just kind of sitting under the elements – take ’em out of context and Jesus wasn’t there anymore.  
  3. I’m liturgical.  Worship has an order and a flow to it and that’s just the way it is.  As a German I can perfectly understand the need for doing things just so.   Luther thought so too.
  4. I’m traditional.  Given that my religious education started only at the year 1517, I still acquired an  “older is better”  mindset.  At the time of my catechism, I guess I just never thought too much about the 1500 years before that.  It was all Roman Catholic to me.  First there was Jesus, then the Roman Catholics, then Luther.  It was only later I realized Luther hadn’t been too straight with me about the timeline. 
  5. I’m symbolic.  Thanks Luther for the Holy Pine Tree and it’s sacred symbols.  I can remember a big, whopping Christmas tree in the sanctuary of Christ the King Lutheran Church covered in white lights and shiny, white, glittery Christian symbols.  Doves, Chi Ro’s, fish, Alpha and Omegas, Lambs with a Cross.  It’s only one small step from accepting churchy symbols to accepting the greatest visual symbols the Church has ever produced – Holy Icons.  Now I won’t say I didn’t have some initial trouble kissing them, but it’s just like kissing that first boy when you’re thirteen; do it enough and you warm up to the idea.

So Happy Reformation Day today and this coming Reformation Sunday.  Sing a good rousing chorus of “A Mighty Fortress is our God” for me.   I have much to appreciate where I came from and the foundation it planted in me.  Thanks Martin Luther for putting me on the path to Orthodoxy.  I wouldn’t be here without you.

Reason #2 Why I’m Orthodox

October 29, 2008

I can’t decide whether I want to shake my head in disbelief or slap these people silly.  How do you reach out to people who just don’t get it?  And I’m not just talking about the viewers, I’m talking about the idiot clergy who are promoting this idea.  This is the extreme end of religion done “my way”.  That’s nothing new, but Americans seem to have a knack for opening up so many novel avenues of religious weirdness.  Back in 1921 it was the first radio broadcast of a religious program.  In the 50’s, the car culture and cheap gas saw worship popping up in outdoor drive-up movie theaters and supermarket parking lots.   What can you expect in an on-line age?  Apparently Internet communion.   I get choked up watching It’s a Wonderful Life with a big bowl of Blue Bell Ice Cream – that don’t make it eucharistic, sacramental worship.  

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America links the weekly celebration of the Divine Liturgy to its website, but no one would ever think this is a substitute for real worship, except in the instances when someone truly cannot go to church, and then it is participation in only the most rudimentary way.   If you are homebound, the Church, in the form of a visiting priest, should come to you.  As Orthodox Christians our sacramental unity is achieved by worshipping together and sharing in the real Body and Blood of Christ.  Not bagels and Crystal Light (or Ritz crackers and grape juice, depending on your own interpretation of leavened vs. unleavened bread).

My 2 cents for what it’s worth – if you can, get off your ass and go to church. 

(For any of you poor, lost souls who do not have access to Blue Bell Ice Cream, I can only say Brenham, Texas and its Little Creamery, are to ice cream lovers what a trip to the River Ganges is for Hindus.  Just float my ashes down a river of Homemade Vanilla and I’m headed for Nirvana.  Just kidding – but I would like Blue Bell served at the mercy or memorial meal after my funeral.)

Pro Life’s Most Basic Argument

October 28, 2008

Cardinal Edward Egan, Archbishop of New York, writes an eloquent and very simple appeal  against the absolute wrongness of abortion.  It is nothing but a nightmare to think that a doctor could continue to murder children, not embryos or fetuses, but children, week in and week out, and go home and look at his or her own children with the same eyes.  There is something truly demonic at work in the hearts of everyone involved in the practice of abortion.  As Cardinal Egan points out,

If you can convince yourself that these beings are something other than living and innocent human beings, something, for example, such as “mere clusters of tissues,” you have a problem far more basic than merely not appreciating the wrongness of abortion. And that problem is—forgive me—self-deceit in a most extreme form.

Satan is a master of deceit and the struggles of our daily spiritual lives are efforts to overcome these illusions.  But if you believe we commit our sins simply because ‘the devil made you do it’ is to take the easy way out.  He deceives, he fosters self-deceit and gives us the balm of justification for any of our actions, but ultimately, we exercise our free will to sin.  If the devil took a holiday, I don’t believe for one minute that abortion clinics would lose any business.  For this reason, none of us can look away.  And if you want any more clear indication of what Cardinal Egan thinks about abortion and politics, see what kind of message he tried to get through to Nancy Pelosi:

We are blessed in the 21st century with crystal-clear photographs and action films of the living realities within their pregnant mothers. No one with the slightest measure of integrity or honor could fail to know what these marvelous beings manifestly, clearly, and obviously are, as they smile and wave into the world outside the womb. In simplest terms, they are human beings with an inalienable right to live, a right that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is bound to defend at all costs for the most basic of ethical reasons. They are not parts of their mothers, and what they are depends not at all upon the opinions of theologians of any faith. Anyone who dares to defend that they may be legitimately killed because another human being “chooses” to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.

I’ll keep you posted should there be any breaking weather reports on the falling temperature in Hell.  Or with sufficient self-deceit, you can just throw another log on the fire and call it global cooling.

Twelve Things I Wish I Could Do

October 27, 2008
When you wish upon a star....

When you wish upon a star....

1.   Knit and crochet

2.   Be a stay-at-home-mom.

3.   Sing

4.   Remember names and faces

5.  Speak many foreign languages fluently

6.  Write like J.K. Rowling

7.  Live on a farm

8.   Stop worrying so much

9.    Work and travel the Renaissance Fair circuit as a scribe

10.   Keep chickens in my backyard  (hubby says no way)

11.   Learn to control my tongue and keep my anger

12.   Be a founding member of the first Orthodox Church on a new planet

#1 is the only wish I can actually teach myself to do.  #8 and #11 are going to require my giving up control and actually bringing myself into humility and submission before the Lord in prayer.  I’m thinking I’ll have crocheted afghans for my entire parish family before I become the non-bitchy, carefree and go-with-the-flow person I’ve always wanted to be.  And I guess I shouldn’t give up so easy.   So says Evagrius of Pontus 

“Allow the Spirit of God to dwell within you; then in His love He will come and make a habitation with you; He will reside in you and live in you.  If your heart is pure you will see Him and He will sow in you the good seed of reflection upon His actions and wonder at His majesty. This will happen if you take the trouble to weed out (emphasis mine) from your soul the undergrowth of desires, along with the thorns and tares of bad habits.”

Whine alert.  The life in Christ is just so hard sometimes.  Anyway, tell me about your 12 wishes.

Fr. John Peck’s Future Coming True?

October 25, 2008

USA Today magazine is reporting the “suprising” news that – are you ready? – the Orthodox Churches in the United States are full of converts!  No big news for most of us out in the hinterlands where we have and will continue to expect church growth based on converts.  The only thing I find a bit unusual is the questions they asked about major concerns for these new Orthodox.  A common date for the celebration of Pascha/Easter?  Sorry, but that one’s not been a big concern with the converts I hang with.   Well, that’s just fine if the Pope wants to agree to the Orthodox formula for calculating Pascha/Easter.  Maybe after that his Holiness will be interested in coming ’round on the issue of Papal infallability and the Filioque.

I’m not sure if this is really any kind of statistical confirmation of Fr. John Peck’s predictions for the American Orthodox church of the future, but it’s all the anectdotal evidence I need to hope for many of the others to come true.

To read the original study go to the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute and click on the links here.

Breastfeeding Progress

October 25, 2008
Mother of God of the Milk

Mother of God of the Milk

I just read some very good news on another one of my soapbox obsessions – breastfeeding.  The Navajo Nation has  passed a resolution guaranteeing breastfeeding rights for working mothers and assuring them a place to pump or nurse their babies.  (Though I wonder why this is such a good deal for moms when it’s unpaid leave.  How much you wanna bet me the smokers are getting paid during their smoke breaks!  Think of how much leave time you’re saving when those moms have to take less leave time to stay home with sick babies.)

You find much less information in breastfeeding books and popular parenting magazines about the business of breastfeeding and pumping much beyond three months and even less about nursing the older baby or toddler – that’s because a lot of mothers stop after that point, the point when their maternity leave is up and they have to return to work.   A lot of research has tracked the major cut-off points for breastfeeding and the biggies are two weeks (just about the time those first growth spurts happen and mothers begin to doubt their ability to adequately meet their baby’s needs) and three months.  

 

Way to go Navajo Nation on your first steps to breastfeeding progress!  (Couldn’t you just maybe see those moms get paid during their break time?)  Nursing and breastfeeding need to become as natural and important in  the parenting process as we’ve made the acceptance of dads in the delivery room and car seats.  I know from experience that it isn’t easy to make all the pieces work, but if you persevere, you’re going to have a healthier, happier baby. 

I’ve pumped on planes. I’ve pumped in rain.  I’ve pumped on a boat.  I’ve pumped under coats.  I’ve nursed in stores.  I’ve nursed doing chores.  I’ve nursed in plain view.  I’ve nursed toddlers too.  You cannot make me nurse in loos, you cannot make me nurse when you choose.  I am a nursing mom you see and my baby’s needs are what matter to me.  Not your sense of body shame, not your rigid moral blame.  Not your disapproving stares, not your outdated parenting cares.  Don’t give me those dirty looks or those horrible Babywise books.  Keep your bottlefeeding opinions to yourself and put that formula back on the shelf.

Breakfast South Texas-Style

October 24, 2008

 

What could be better?  Today is a beautiful, cool fall morning – our first real one of the year.  I’m eating a taco and drinking coffee while listening to the hours prayed on Ancient Faith Radio.  Then I get started with a very hectic day.

On most days Ancient Faith Radio streams for 8 hours or more over my office PC, playing Orthodox music and podcasts while I’m busy working.  It connects me to the Church and to my Orthodox brothers and sisters in a way no print media can.  No matter how distracted I get, there will always be something, a hymn, a saying of the Fathers, that will suddenly make me pay attention and remember God. 

John and Tonya Maddex are the visionary founders and modern missionaries of Ancient Faith Radio.   (Listen to the story of John and Tonya’s journey to Orthodoxy and the dreams that became Ancient Faith Radio.)  They are godly people whose ministry has touched millions of listeners and brought many to Christ and his holy Church.   Ancient Faith Radio has become well known for gathering some of the most respected and knowledgeable Orthodox clergy and laity to podcast teachings and commentary on the faith and its relation in particular to American life.  It is an unapologetically Orthodox message, respectfully and knowledgeably presented.

I’m encouraging everyone to click on Ancient Faith Radio, give it a listen, and pass on the link to others.  If you’ve never listened before, drop John and Tonya an email and tell them what you think.  If you’re a regular listener they’d still love to hear what the station has meant to you.  (And if you feel so inclined, please pass on a few $$$ to Ancient Faith Radio’s on-line donation page.  God’s work is beyond riches, but the bills still have to get paid.)

God bless Ancient Faith Radio and those called to do His will.   So many of us, me included, are counting on it to be there 24 hours a day.  Breakfast tacos and coffee help, but it’s really Ancient Faith Radio that gets me through a tough day.

If Children Could Vote

October 22, 2008

 My 8 year old expressed his preference for President very clearly yesterday when he brought home the social studies project below.  He’s got his mind made up, but I suspect he thinks Sen. Obama is just way cooler than some old guy (and maybe ’cause he’s been listening to my husband bash “scumbag Republicans”).  It was a good opportunity to remind him there is still one issue Orthodox Christians cannot and never will agree with Obama about – abortion. 

A tough topic to discuss with a child, but I’ve tried to teach him in a basic way what elective abortion is, why it’s wrong and what the Orthodox Church believes and teaches – simply that unborn babies are children of God from the moment of conception and we don’t kill God’s children.   He tried to give me some “but”, “but” arguments about how Sen. Obama isn’t going to actually be doing that to anyone, what ever that means in an 8 year old’s point of view (which actually sounds a lot like the reasoning some democrats use too).  I had to leave it at “abortion, is murder and it’s wrong for someone, even Sen. Obama, to believe it’s ok”. 

Abortion is the big stumbling block for conservative, pro-life Democrats.  Whether Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Protestants or any pro-life faith group, every four years we’re left in this quandary about our faith, values, and what it means to vote in an election that doesn’t give us any options.  Do you vote for the lesser of two evils?  Do you vote for what is to your mind a candidate who is an out-of-touch war monger but is pro-life?  Or do you vote for the candidate who seems to be saying some of the things that resonate with you except for this one big issue that he may or may not really get a chance to mess with much before his term(s) is up?   In the case of my home state, Texas, I don’t think whichever candidate I vote for is going to make any difference to the state outcome.  Do I vote then on a single issue for a candidate I doubt I’d support on anything else he’d ever do during his entire presidency?  

Aaargh – I hate election years.  

Whod’da Thunk I’d Be Stupider Than When I Was 17

October 22, 2008

I had a recent computer crash that just about convinced me I’m an Internet addict.  Two whole days without my fix and I started to get restless and anxious.  I thought I’d been dropped into an information desert.   The Internet has become my instant connection to world news, family, my faith.   I’ve been amazed at the power it’s given to smaller faith and political groups to promote their beliefs, for good or for evil, and disproportionate to the actual size of their membership.   Media advertising always could skew results in this way, but ads cost money – you can’t be a lone nut job and spend big money on advertising. 

But back to the point.  The power of the Internet has made growth in one’s personal and cultural potential far beyond anything seen in recent human history.   Somebody at Time Warner probably makes these decisions, but in my opinion, it has been the most culturally transformative technology since the printing press.    Personally, it’s changed the way I write and the structure and style of the stories I present.  Without it, I would simply never be able to put together the articles for this blog.   I’d like to think my writing is better, more precise, more relevant.  It’s certainly faster, but it is different.

This isn’t a novel idea, but two recent articles by Nicholas Carr at The Atlantic and James Bowman at The New Atlantis point out research and impressions both scientists and serious writers have begun to take notice of.  The premise is that overwhelming and almost instantaneous amounts of compact, bulleted, and organized on-line information is decreasing our reading ability, concentration levels and overall mental capacity.   The Internet is actually changing the way we think and the way we think about things we read – we are becoming “high-speed data-processing machines” more useful at pulling out bits and pieces of information than actually making meaningful and deep connections with the printed word.  (You still with me here?  Only three more paragraphs and you can jump back to E-Bay or Yahoo.)

I still love my books and consistently buy more each month than I can finish in three, but I know I’m not speaking for the declining readership of great literature and trash novels alike.  I’m sure the Internet hasn’t been the sole cause of this decline, but works in combination with other modern time-killers.  The leisure time to read must compete with mindless TV watching, video gaming, extended work hours, family commitments, commuting and general busy-ness.  I went for a long time when my kids were both under the age of four reading no more than poetry, very short stories and baby/parenting mags.  Whatever I could fit into a five minute bathroom break before someone started banging on the door.  And weird as it sounds, you can take a pee, read a magazine and nurse a baby all at the same time.  You just can’t multi-task in the same way reading Dostyevsky.

It’s very sad to see the decline of reading in my own family.  My sons, six and eight, are not avid readers.  Fortunately they do not use the Internet much, the Disney Channel or National Geographic are about it, and I’m not encouraging them for now.  Book reading is limited to bedtime stories and the tortuous practice of teacher-imposed reading calendars.  Thirty minutes of daily homework reading is not a happy time.  It’s usually interrupted by frequent shouts from upstairs about how many minutes are left on the timer or trips to get a drink of water.  I must be a dinosaur – a relic of times before cable TV and video games (though I was about 11 when we got a primitive Pong game and hooked it up to our big console TV).  Books could not have been any more important to me than breathing air.   My kids suck that air from video games and The Cartoon Channel. 

Carr’s article ironically points out that our daily amount of reading has actually increased – it’s the quality of the reading that has gone down.  On-line screen reading bombards us with just as many words, just in tiny screen-sized chunks and headers.   I hope both these authors are wrong and the doom and gloom about reading is not going to come true in the futuristic way they’ve presented it.  People have been saying books are a dying medium for a long time.  There isn’t any denying the fact that reading and cultural literacy have declined.  However, I don’t think that books will ever be obsolete.  To hold a book is a visual and tactile experience you can never get from on-line texts, a Kindle, an E-book or any hand-held device.  Maybe a buckyball kind of paper might be used one day to download “books” onto, but it will have flexible, bound pages in a book format.  The format is not going to go away.  We just have to keep exercising our minds long enough.  Maybe I’ll try and write a blog piece using the old-fashioned way – I’ll go to the library and search the stacks.  You should be seeing that piece hot off my notepad in about two months. 

 

Multiple Randomness

October 21, 2008

I’ve been a little too distracted to post this week because of work problems, kids’ baseball games and trying to get out both the weekly church bulletin and monthly newsletter.  Joshua, I haven’t forgotten my response to your Transhumanism comments.  I’m working on it, but I’m no theologian, so don’t expect anything too fancy.   Your decidedly different point of view has been good for exercising my brain though – pondering the meaning of life and existence does tend to do that.

And now for something that does not require deep thinking and means even less.  Try and not spew coffee on your monitor, and don’t start trashing us poor, conflicted, neo-conservative Democrats.   I actually found this blasphemy on an uber-conservative, Republicanish blog while looking for, of all things, an icon of Jonah and the Whale for a church bulletin.  I will be so glad when this whole election thing is over so we can get back to the real things that matter in America right now – health care costs, figuring out what jobs I’ll be capable of working at until I’m 80 and how we can disentangle ourselves from a pointless war in Iraq and pump those billions into Social Security for the elderly (not to be confused with the billions in “social security” we gave failing companies and the crooks who ran them).