Archive for February, 2009

Godly Co-Dependence

February 27, 2009

I had one of those teary-eyed parenting moments yesterday evening.  My 7 year old was at baseball practice and I stayed home to make dinner.  I was fixing a potato and onion frittata (gotta use up all those pre-Lent eggs you know) when I realized I didn’t have any good bread in the house.  Looking at my sweats and Birkenstocks I realized I didn’t want to be seen in any store and was just too lazy and tired to change for a quick trip.  That’s when I remembered I had the next best thing to a hired servant in the house – a 9 year old.  It did occur to me that this would be a good lesson in independence, but that wasn’t my first thought – it actually ran along the lines of “the boy, the boy, yeah, the boy could do it”.  And he was excited about the idea – either by the prospect of doing something truly grownup or keeping the change from my $10.

So we quickly drove down to La Madeleine  about a half-mile from the house.  I parked within view of the front door and gave him his instructions.  He jumped out of the car and I waited.  He came back five minutes later with my change and said he had to go back in because the baguettes weren’t out of the oven yet.  So off he went.  After another 5 minutes I stepped just outside the car to get a better view of him through the window as he patiently sat by the front counter.   He wasn’t messing  with anything, he wasn’t goofing around, and actually, was acting like a real customer.  I started to tear up thinking about how much he’s growing up and said a quick prayer thanking God for such a good son and asking him to guide him into adulthood.

It’s a funny thing about the life of a Christian.  We spend our early years under the care of our parents, growing  in independence (free will) and self-sufficiency, only to find that once we become adults our temporal and spiritual lives are as rooted in dependency as an infant.   It can be a real shock for some young adults when they discover this truth.  They’ve grown up believing what all of us well-meaning parents (at least American parents) fill our kids with – on ideas of individuality, independence  and self-sufficiency – only to learn we’re all inexorably linked to everyone and everything around us. 

Here’s a not too funny and all too true observation.   How many overprotective mothers does it take to change a grown son’s light bulb?  Only one – because a mother is all a son will ever need.

Shall I tell you the difference between healthy independence and the  38 year old single man living at home with his anime collection and part-time job at GameStop?  It’s the godly parent who instills in their child the belief that they are personally accountable to God for the conduct of their lives, and that accountability is a godly co-dependence. 

Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.  Proverbs 2:5

Omnipotent as he is, God doesn’t need anything we can give him; not our piety, not our sacrifices, not our spiritual efforts, not even our worship.  God is above everything, yet intimately involved and interested in every aspect of our lives, and he willingly accepts our love, worship, and adoration.   We grow in our free will love of Him and our independence is actually the strongest expression of dependence on God.

I believe that I’ve tried to accept that my sons could have a career in most anything when they grow up and that I would be ok with that, as long as they were hard-working and honest (and college graduates – ok sorry).   Christian parents want the best for their children and we aren’t immune to praying for the same materialistic things  – health, happiness, good grades, good jobs, a homerun or touchdown.   But a Christian above all prays for their child’s spiritual life and their continued faith and dependence on God.  

When I sent my son into that bakery I was just trying to save myself a little time and effort, but I didn’t realize that in some small way I was helping him become a godly man who, I pray, will one day realize his greatest worth is to be a  faithful Christian.  Dependent on God, but dependent because of his own free will.

O God, our heavenly Father, who lovest mankind and art most merciful and compassionate, have mercy upon thy servant ___ for whom I humbly pray thee, and commend to thy gracious care and protection.  Be thou, O God, their guide and guardian in all their endeavors, lead them in the path of thy truth and draw them nearer to the, that they may lead a godly and righteous life in thy love and fear; doing thy will in all things.  Give them grace that they may be temperate, industrious, diligent, devout and charitable.  Defend them against the assaults of the enemy, and grant them wisdom and strength to resist all temptation and corruption of this life; and direct them in the way of salvation, through the merits of thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, and the intercessions of his Holy Mother and thy blessed saints.  Amen. 

                 (An Orthodox prayer of parents for their children)

 

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Friday the 13th

February 13, 2009

13

Do you know the name for the fear of Friday the 13th?

                   paraskavedekatriaphobia

Here’s something to make you go wonder just how many of these people are eating away at my tax dollars with their “disability” claims:

According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, an estimated 17 to 21 million people in the United States are affected by a fear of this day. Some people are so paralyzed by fear that they avoid their normal routines in doing business, taking flights or even getting out of bed. “It’s been estimated that $800 or $900 million is lost in business on this day”. (source Wikipedia)

Something more edifying to think about than the stupid conjunction of a day and a number, how about the life of Saint Martinian who is commemorated today:

Saint Martinian went to live in the wilderness at the age of eighteen, not far from the city of Caesarea in Palestine. For twenty-five years, he devoted himself to ascetic deeds and silence, and he was granted the gift of healing illnesses and casting out demons. However, the Enemy of the race of man would not stop bothering the hermit with various temptations.

Once a profligate woman made a wager with some dissolute people that she could seduce St Martinian, the fame of whose virtuous life had spread throughout all the city. She came to him one night pretending that she had lost her way in the storm, and asking for shelter. The saint let her enter, unable to turn her away in such a storm. He went into his room and locked the door. The wicked guest changed into beautiful clothes and began to tempt the ascetic.

When morning came, Saint Martinian came out to send the woman away. Though he was tempted by the woman’s beauty, he was determined not to fall into sin. Lighting a fire, he stepped into it, saying, “You want me to burn with temptation, and want to lead me into the fires of Hell. I will not let you. Instead, I will burn for my virginity and save my soul.”   The woman came to see how evil she was. She repented and asked the saint to guide her onto the way of salvation. He told her to go to Bethlehem, to St Paula (January 26). There she lived as a nun for twelve years in strict asceticism until her blessed end. The woman’s name was Zoe.

St Martinian went to an uninhabited rocky island and lived on it under the open sky for several years, nourished by the provisions brought by a certain sailor from time to time. In return the monk wove baskets for him.

Once a powerful storm wrecked a ship, and a woman named Photina floated on pieces of the wreckage to the island of St Martinian. St Martinian helped her to survive the island. “Remain here,” he told her, “for here is bread and water, and in two months a boat will come.”   Then he jumped into the sea and swam off. Two dolphins carried him to dry land. Thereafter, St Martinian led the life of a wanderer. Later, he came to Athens and fell ill. Sensing the approach of death, he went into church and lay upon the floor. God revealed to the Bishop of Athens who St Martinian was, and the bishop buried his body with honor. This occurred around the year 422.

Big Bad Bus Wars

February 12, 2009

Who’d a thought combatting atheism could be so much fun!  Now that the sides of British bendy busses have become the new belief battleground with both sides – the unbelievers and the believers – fielding these wimpy slogans, the UK Guardian newspaper has launched a website so that anyone can come up with their own slogan.  My not so worthy creation:  

bus

We’ve had our own belief-less billboard on a local freeway since Christmastime, funded by those joy-filled people at the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

imaginenoreligionbillboard1

When I explained to my 9 year old that it was a sign put up by people who want you to “believe” there is no God, he said “Well, that’s just stupid.”   If it’s so obvious to a 9 year old, it makes me wonder why so much effort (and money) is always put into these campaigns?  

Why the hell do people who don’t believe in anything but themselves care so much about what or rather who, the rest of us believe in?  Their complaints about tax breaks, discrimination and their poor understanding of the Constitution aside, I think it’s a little telling that the original bus campaign ads in Britain are worded “There’s probably no God…”  If they believed so strongly in this, why say ‘probably’?     Are they hedging their bets or do they think it puts a stronger seed of doubt into people’s minds with that choice of words?   I’m going with the angle that instead it gives us Christians a chance to change the atheist and agnostic’s mind.   They’re a hard sell I know, but every one a child of God whether they want to believe that or not, and so worth the effort.

Hollywood Does Have A Soul

February 9, 2009
(Gary's the guy without the spots)

(Gary's the guy without the spots)

Why is it that for all the criticism, demeaning labels and hostility heaped upon people who speak for traditional values, the sanctity of life and the place of faith in modern society, they can still remain so adamant about their positions and stand like sentinels we all look towards?   Is it because they’re martyrs? Self-righteous zealots who like the attention or flagrant masochists who are only satisfied with a good beating?  Or might they just be men and women who have come through to the other side of a life lived a little loose and free and found there’s meaning beyond self-gratification and wilful denial?

In Hollywood this kind of hedonism isn’t looked down on, rather, it’s the salt that gives your life, your on-screen persona, some marketable character and progressive worldliness.   Celebrity transcends the ignorant and provincial masses  (hint, hint – they’re  usually termed ‘rednecks’, ‘hicks’, ‘religious nuts’, ‘conservatives’, ‘red staters’, ‘bigots’).   But hey, who would give a flip about Paris Hilton or Britney Spears if they were actually normal?  Train wrecks are always more interesting.   Tom Cruise repents and becomes a good Catholic boy?  Boring (and frankly my bets are on a  curly-tailed porcine stunt flying team before that happens).   Honestly, it’s infuriating that we’ve not only allowed, but cheered on our own moral and cultural suicide by giving the entertainment industry our money-backed stamp of approval.  

But before you think Hollywood has become an entirely spiritual wasteland of self-indulgent phoniness, I direct your attention to Gary Graham who is a contributing writer at Big Hollywood  – gasp – a conservative minded entertainment  website.   Gary has posted  a painfully honest, brilliant,  in-your-face piece   about the personal cost of abortion, his redemption,  and blunt feelings about what abortion actually is – it’s not a personal choice, it’s not a guaranteed right, it’s not a medical procedure that takes care of some unwanted tissue – it’s the murder of a living human being, plain and simple.   

I’m going to say it. I’m going to say what millions know in the front of their brains, and many, many more millions know in the depths of their hearts…but won’t allow themselves to think it, much less feel it. And believe me, I know I’ll be hated for saying it, I’ll be hated by people who don’t know me, have never worked with me, have never golfed with me, had a drink with me, shot the shit with me. They’ve never met me, don’t want to meet me…but they will hate me. I’m going to say it anyway: Abortion is murder.

To many, many fans Gary Graham is listed among the ranks of sci-fi royalty.  He starred in the Alien Nation TV series and movies of the 90’s; he was the perfect Vulcan ambassador Soval in Star Trek Enterprise, and he’s got a long list of other TV appearances and movie roles that have kept him active in the entertainment business for years.  But Gary is now choosing to reveal his dark secrets  to millions of readers and take on the new role of Hollywood pariah or pro-life hero.   I would have loved to discuss all things Trek or sci-fi with Gary Graham before he wrote this article.  Now I’d only like a few minutes to talk with him about his religious awakening and his totally committed pro life position. 

It’s sad that anyone has to go through this kind of life experience before they see the truth.  It’s a very heavy burden to carry with you the rest of your life, but Gary Graham isn’t burying it under silence and regret.  If anything, he’s proving there are people in Hollywood willing to take unpopular positions and stand up for what’s right.   And then maybe other celebrities will gain the courage to speak up, to give evil its real name.   I feel certain the same people who shed tears of righteous indignation for baby seals and dolphins can find a few for aborted babies.   Live long and prosper Mr. Graham.

250px-soval

 

A Little Water Never Hurt Nuthin’

February 3, 2009

car-blessing

I’m a little late with this, but here’s a link to a local news story that ran in the San Antonio Express News this past Saturday.    Thank you Elaine Ayo and John Davenport at the Express News for a really nice article that concisely presented the spirituality and deep significance of Theophany and blessings to the non-Orthodox world.   San Antonio is really fortunate to have a local newspaper that covers religion news so well. 

A couple of parishioners quietly mentioned to me they thought an article on the blessing of cars might look a little weird to anyone outside the Orthodox faith who hasn’t experienced this before.  Well, it certainly isn’t as majestic, awe-inspiring and mystical as Pascha or the Nativity, but it really grows on you.  This is a good example of Orthodoxy entering into even the most mundane areas of life.   As Americans we tend to like our religiosity confined to Sunday morning between 10 am and noon.   And we certainly aren’t comfortable with religious expression and “rites” that aren’t confined to the four walls of a church (just bow your head and make the sign of the Cross in a crowded restaurant and see how many people give you “that look” – not an entirely hostile look, just the one reserved for religious zealots).

But as our priest, Fr. Leo Poore, pointed out in the article (he’s in the photo above)

There’s nothing that we know of that cannot be renewed, cannot be blessed. It affirms the fact that things are renewed through Christ and we are all called on to be as Adam and Eve before the fall.

I personally love the season of  Theophany, house blessings and car blessings.  It’s such a personal experience to have your priest bring the services of the Church right into your own home.  It reminds me that Orthodoxy is a total life experience in a way that I just can’t get from my own personal piety and practices (not the Church’s fault, just my own lack of faith and poor prayer life).

So why not bless our cars?  We spend hours a week driving around in them – so much of our life is spent in cars these days.   For all intents and purposes you can complete an entire life cycle in a car.  Babies are conceived in them, born in them.  We eat, sleep and work in our cars.  You can propose in one and get married in a drive-thru line.  And God knows enough of us die in them.   How weird can blessing the darned things be?

Troy Polamalu Rules!

February 2, 2009

God bless Troy Polamalu and his witness for Orthodoxy.   I’m amazed that companies spend millions on 30-second Super Bowl ads knowing full well that most people who watch them aren’t going to run out and buy their products.  Instead I watched Troy Polamalu bow his head in prayer or cross himself at least a dozen times during yesterday’s Super Bowl. That’s the kind of “advertising” that’s beyond price; that says faith is something of value; that men of true character aren’t ashamed to be labeled as Christians.   The combined advertising/outreach budgets of the Orthodox Church in America, the Antiochian Archdiocese and the Greek Orthodox Diocese of America couldn’t have produced even one Super Bowl ad spot as powerful as Troy commanded with a simple sign of the cross.

troypolamalu_wideweb__470x3130

I know making the sign of the cross is a personal act, that it’s done out of personal piety and for unselfish reasons, but it can’t be anything less than a publicly visible symbol.  With the simple swipe of his right hand, folded into a living expression of the mystery of the Trinity and the nature of Christ,  Troy witnesses for the theology and fullness of the Orthodox faith.  It’s there for everyone to see, but as effortlessly and unselfconsciously as he does it the act never comes across as cheesy, forced or phony.   Just as it is meant to be.   It is a sign of someone who has submitted himself to the mercy of Christ and his Cross during every waking moment of his life.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechesis (Lecture 13) cannot have made it any more clear when he insisted that

Let us then not be ashamed to confess the Crucified [Christ].  By the cross our seal, made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in everything; over the bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and in our goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are traveling, and when we are at rest.

Making the sign of the cross should be as basic to everyday living as breathing and I am so happy to see a godly man who isn’t afraid to make this most visible expression of faith.   And for one day Troy Polamalu wasn’t a convert or cradle-born, Greek or Russian or Syrian Orthodox, but an Orthodox Christian representing American  Orthodoxy in which all of us were united by the common sign of our faith.

For more on Troy Polamalu’s faith, read today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story