Archive for June, 2009

Gangsta Genes

June 22, 2009

Here’s the latest scientific research  that tries to give credibility to the packs of tattooed, drop-out, criminal punk-asses, who’d rather bust out your car windows and each others faces than take responsibility for their own lives. 

The debate over the root causes of criminality – genetic or environmental – goes way back.  It’s a theory that has influenced criminal justice practices for decades, and the fluctuations between either camp determines the ebbs and flows in  social intervention programs for pre-offenders and the types of incarceration, rehabilitation and parole conditions for convicted juvenile and adult criminals.

My 9 year old and I watched a classic movie this weekend, The Bad Seed, the whole premise of which is based on the idea of inherited criminal character versus an environmental cause.   My son was just as fascinated with this movie as I was at his age; maybe because this highly stylized and moralistic film shows a clear image of what true evil and sin can be committed by fallen man.  On the other hand it could leave you with the false impression that you aren’t such a bad person after all – you’re certainly not a homicidal 8 year old so you must be pretty good.  

When our children are young and innocent we’ve all wondered to some degree whether they will grow up to be law-abiding, honorable, good people.   I can remember freaking out a bit when my youngest son was 4 years old and constantly acting up at church.   He’s always been a bit of a monster and I’ve spent many hours in frustration over his wild child behavior.  These early episodes should have been a tip-off to his now diagnosed ADHD.  On this one particular Sunday, we’d made the gazillionth trip out of the church to regroup and burn off energy.  I finally asked him, “M., why are you acting up like this?”   I really didn’t expect an answer, but he shocked me when he just popped right back, “I evil, Mommy.”   I thought for sure I had a future axe murderer on my hands. 

What does society do then with these gangsta teens?  I for one am not ready to blindly accept the idea that they just can’t help it.  It’s in their genes poor things.  The opening field of genetic research I think is going too far in their passion for finding the genetic cause of everything.  Isn’t assigning genetic factors to every human behavioral and psychological condition pretty close to denying our free will and leaving us only one step up from the instinctual behavior of animals?   I give these  gang bangers more credit than a school of fish, and I still believe in the old-fashioned idea that if you can’t find the self-discipline to change your life than you’re going to have to pay the consequences.   

My little gangstas (Spring 2007)

My little gangstas (Spring 2007)

Evil, Evil Cupcakes

June 19, 2009

cupcake

Who can make school administrators hyperventilate?   What sends teachers into cold sweats?  Who can kill a Valentine’s or end-of-school party with a simple phone call campaign?   No Child Left Behind?  Mandatory testing? 

No, it’s a shrill, preachy, obsessed, helicopter mom whose greatest fear is that her darlings will – ‘horror’ – eat a sugary treat at school.  Here’s a woman who really knows how to kill a class party.   MeMe Roth has made a one-woman industry out of fighting sugar and fat in all its public school incarnations.  Just visit her website  at National Action Against Obesity and you’d swear the webmaster for PETA was working on this as a side job.   Does anyone see the big rebellion coming along when her kids decide they don’t want to be indoctrinated in Mom’s ‘sugar is bad’ propaganda camp anymore?  When they hit 16 it won’t be binge drinking they go for, but all night pig outs at friend’s houses, eating Crispy Creme donuts and shotgunning Big Red.

I live in San Antonio, Fat Capital of the US, so I’m well aware of the dangers of childhood obesity.  Every day I see the results of poor parenting and poverty and I can empathize a bit with MeMe Roth’s ideology.  I also happen to be the mom of a chubby boy so I do my share of  preaching about healthy eating habits.  I encourage lots of physical exercise and sports, and teach him food awareness and nutrition.  I review the school menus, and applaud the ban on cafeteria vending machines.   However, am I abusing my child as MeMe Roth believes, by allowing him to eat a cupcake during school parties?    I think there’s more abuse in the rules she enforces on her own kids than the simple fun of celebrating a classmate’s birthday with a small cupcake and a juice box.  

Where is the moderation in this crusade?   Many parents have become so focused on optimizing their childrens’ chances for success, beauty and health, they suck out a lot of what makes childhood fun and memorable.    I think it’s a pretty good bet that many of the  children of zealots do not take up their parents’ causes when they grow up.   They see where concern and reasonableness end,  and instead become a source of childhood embarrasment and resentment.

The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann Post #1

June 17, 2009

FrAlexander

I finally started reading  a book that has been recommended by so many people – The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann 1973-1983.  It’s turning out to be just as good as promised.   There are very few Orthodox Christians who aren’t familiar with Fr. Alexander’s works, such as  The Eucharist, For the Life of the World, Great Lent: A Journey to Pascha, and Of Water and the Spirit.   His Journals were published in 2000, seven years after his untimely death from lung cancer (Fr. Alexander was, unfortunately, a life-long smoker). 

From the outset, Fr. Alexander’s journal entries seem to be those of  a man completely given over to thinking and contemplation in a way that is rarely, if ever, done by your average church-going Christian.   Most of us follow the philosophy that thinking too much is probably best avoided, and if we do fall into the habit, it often devolves into obsession or fixation. 

Real contemplation isn’t just a meandering rabbit trail of thoughts and fancies.  The Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines ‘contemplation’ as “concentration on spiritual things as a form of private devotion, or a state of mystical awareness of God’s being”.   I can’t say that Father Alexander used his brilliant mind solely as a form of private devotion.  I think he was too committed publicly with his role as dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary and the demands on his time for lecturing to keep his contemplations private.  (There is some speculation in his son Serge’s introduction to The Journals, that Fr. Alexander intended even these private contemplations to be published one day.)  On the other hand, Fr. Alexander had an intense aversion to empty ritual and belief that was disassociated from a true awareness of God and his Church.  His writings reflect his profound dwelling, not simply in an awareness of God (for you can be perfectly aware of something but not in communion with it), but in the unity of man with God through the sacramental life of the Church.   Fr. Alexander wanted Orthodox Christians to get past the formulaic and see life as an integrated communion with God.

In everything that I preach, or teach or write, I want this answer to appear, hopefully to shine through.  But that answer cannot be squeezed into any system, any recipe, any defined way of life.  No rules come out of that answer.  It is simply a vision of life, and what comes from that vision is the light, the transparency, the referral of everything to the “Other,” the eschatological character of life itself and all that is in it.  The source of that eschatological light, the lifting up of all life, is the sacrament of the Eucharist…The Church has been established in this world to celebrate the Eucharist, to save man by restoring his Eucharistic being. 

                              Monday, December 17, 1973

June 15 Saints Peter and Paul Fast

June 15, 2009

Sts_-Peter-&-Paul_0

Today is the beginning of the Saints Peter and Paul Fast, a moveable fast that precedes the celebration of the Feast of these Holy Apostles.  This year the fast will last 14 days and conclude with Divine Liturgy on Monday, June 29th.   The Fast is moveable because it is calculated from the date of Pascha, and always begins the day after the Sunday of All Saints, which itself always falls 8 Sundays after Pascha.   Confused yet?  Well, let’s keep going into the fog together. 

The length of the fast is determined by the fixed feast day of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29th, and whether you are an Orthodox Christian following the New Calendar (Revised Julian calendar) or the Old Calendar (Julian calendar), which results in a 13-day time difference.  A late celebration of Pascha often cuts into the New Calendar Orthodox observance of the Apostle’s Fast and whittles it down to just a couple of days.  This year we are fortunate to have the whole enchilada to participate in.

That’s a lot of information just to describe when the Fast is observed, but the “why” is a lot more difficult to pin down.   This is just one of those fasts that is a little off the radar for most people.  If you’d asked 10 Orthodox Christians at coffee hour yesterday, “why do we have a fast for Saints Peter and Paul?”, they’d just shrug their shoulders and offer you another cup of coffee and a doughnut.  It’s just one of those things we do.

 I spent a considerable amount of time searching the internet and couldn’t find more than two entries of any substance (Wikipedia) which stated

Having rejoiced for fifty days following Pascha (Easter), the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Apostles began to prepare for their departure from Jerusalem to spread Christ’s message. According to Sacred Tradition, as part of their preparation, they began a fast with prayer to ask God to strengthen their resolve and to be with them in their missionary undertakings.

Sounds good to me.   Are there more practical reasons, like balancing the feast of Pascha with a corresponding fast?   Saint Leo the Great taught this to his flock during his reign as pope from 440 to 461 AD (he was one of the longer serving Popes).    Saint Leo’s teaching reflects a fasting practice that was ongoing for a considerable time; he speaks of it as common and customary practice.   As he observed in his 78th sermon:

III.  And so this fast comes very opportunely after the feast of Whitsuntide [Pentecost]

Therefore, after the days of Holy Gladness,  which we have devoted to the honor of the Lord rising from the dead and then ascending into heaven, and after receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, a fast is ordained as a wholesome and needful practice, so that, if perchance through neglect or disorder even amid the joys of the festival any undue licence has broken out, it may be corrected by the remedy of strict abstinence, which must be the more scrupulously carried out in order that what was on this day Divinely bestowed on the Church may abide in us. For being made the Temple of the Holy Ghost, and watered with a greater supply than ever of the Divine Stream, we ought not to be conquered by any lusts nor held in possession by any vices in order that the habitation of Divine power may be stained with no pollution.

                    Sermon 78 (On the Whitsuntide Fast)

Let us all embark on the fast with the feeling of the newly descended Holy Spirit; seeking to emulate the devotion to the Church that Saint Peter and Saint Paul were willing to give, even through trials, hard work, and suffering.

Frank Schaeffer and Abortion

June 4, 2009

Would somebody please tell Frank Schaeffer to shut up and stop falling all over himself?   And for God’s sake, who catechized this guy when he became an Orthodox Christian?   Has anyone in the Church tried to call him on his abortion rights beliefs and make it plain to him that Orthodox Christians do not and cannot support abortion rights, no matter how many ways you try and see it on the flip side?   If you follow his logic below you’ll see that he believes aborting babies (fetuses as he calls them – abortion supporters never use the word ‘baby’) depends on how far along the pregnancy is – get ’em early and it’s ok.

The Roe v. Wade decision went too far, too fast and was too sweeping. I believe that abortion should be legal. But I also believe that it should be re-regulated according to fetal development. It’s the late term abortions that horrify most people. And for the sake of keeping abortion legal adjustments need to be made. Roe is far too all or nothing.  As I say in my book [Crazy for God],  today I believe that abortion should be legal but more regulated than Roe allows.

In a final, passionate, plea of forgiveness for all his  culpability in the murder of Dr. George Tiller and his now regretful involvement in the pro-life movement, Frank Schaeffer simply says,

I am very sorry.

Well, Mr. Schaeffer, I am sorry too, that when those outside the Orthodox faith look for examples of the best our Church has to offer, they read articles like this.   Unless you think you’re smarter or more enlighted than the Church?  No one said it better than the 2nd century theologian Tertulian, who despite his belief in Montanism late in life, had it clear on the sanctity of it:

Now we allow that life begins with conception because we contend that the soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does.    Apology 27

The embryo therefore becomes a human being in the womb from the moment that its form is completed. The law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the man who shall cause abortion, inasmuch as there exists already the rudiment of a human being, which has imputed to it even now the condition of life and death, since it is already liable to the issues of both, although, by living still in the mother, it for the most part shares its own state with the mother.

 Ante-Nicene Fathers: Volume III, Tertullian, A Treatise on the soul, Chapter VII.-On the Formation and State of the Embryo

Let’s Play Kick The Christian

June 2, 2009

If anyone has any doubts that Christians and the Christian faith are fair game for ridicule, slander, prejudice and hatred, read, if you can stomach it, the blasphemous pseudo-news parody at The Onion.  It’s an old story that has been popping up on other feeds in the past day or two.   I’d never seen it before and wish I never had.  And may I suggest that as you do so, please substitute “Mohammed” for “Christ” and “Allah” for “God” at every instance.  Then ask yourself if any publication would have the guts to insult and defame the “Religion of Peace” so boldly?   I thought not.   Those poor, peaceful Muslims are always getting a bum rap aren’t they? 

While I understand the backlash the Dr. George Tiller murder has caused among non-Christians and abortion supporters, I am not going to sit around and flagellate myself, and try and atone for the sins of one mentally disturbed  nut job with a gun.   It’s the Christian’s duty to fight abortion with  non-violence and passive resistance; it’s the Lord’s job to judge the soul of an unrepentant murdering abortionist and the vigilante who acted out his inner demons.

As Christians we came into this hostile world never expecting a smooth ride.  Our Lord and Saviour himself promised us persecution in John 15:18-21,

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you… If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you… because they do not know Him who sent Me.

It’s hard for me or anyone not to feel angry when such a shameful display of contempt is heaped upon the Son of God.  But we have to remember that our God loved the very creatures who beat, mocked and crucified him.  I think He can handle The Onion just fine. 

 

Greyson’s Law Finally On Its Way

June 1, 2009

YEAH!  After a scare on Friday, May 29th, Greyson’s Law is finally out of the Senate and headed to Governor Rick Perry’s desk.  Along the way, it almost died with the addition of the CHIP funding bill but has been stripped of the last minute add-ons and, God willing, will get signed.  Please, Governor Perry, do the right thing and sign this bill.  

I’m still fuming over the way our Governor callously dismissed the health care needs of thousands of poor children with the CHIP mess.  A recession is not the time to tell poor, working class families that they’ll just have to suck it up and not get medical care for their sick kids.  In this instance, that funding was going to get tacked on to Greyson’s Law and derail the whole thing.  Why can’t our lawmakers just do the right thing for kids in the first place?  Take some of that oil revenue surplus and fund CHIPS properly.   If Greyson’s Law has taught us anything, it’s that up-front preventitive care or screening is more cost effective.  We’ll all be sucking it up to pay for families denied access to CHIP  rolls  now when they have to make a more costly visit to the ER for the kind of care the budget makers denied their children.

More on Greyson’s Law when it gets signed.  In the meantime, here’s the link to Governor Perry’s contacts page.  It’s easy to let him know how you feel about the passage of Greyson’s Law.