Archive for the ‘American Life’ Category

Another Crazy Award for the Gosselins

December 15, 2009

Wow!  I so wish I could write like Joan Walsh at Salon.  (Flip  through the link to Entry #10 “Nuts Plus Eight”)

If you just can’t get enough vicarious melodrama on Jon and Kate Gosselin and their eight exploited children, Joan Walsh will make you feel appropriately guilty for feeding the reality TV sickness in this country.  And if watching the Gosselins implode wasn’t fun enough already, reading Ms. Walsh’s gut-shot poetry is pure literary bliss.

If you’d like to follow along and see who else makes Salon’s 2009 Crazy list or vote on the rankings, click here.    Ain’t America great!

An Atheist’s Christmas

December 14, 2009

Man, are these some angry, aggressive, bitter, unhappy people.   I can never understand why people who vehemently deny God, care so much about the religious beliefs of others, or feel so besieged by the observance of Christmas.  (I tend to think it’s that little voice in their heads whispering “What if it’s true, what if it’s true?” }

I too get sick of the endless piped-in Christmas music at the grocery store, the frenzy of money-fueled Christmas commercialism, the marathon of pointless “holiday” specials on TV,  but that’s only because I WANT a more religiously focused, low stress, meaningful Christmas – not a Christ-less Christmas.  Atheists just quit yer bitchin’ and develop a thicker skin. 

The Day After Thanksgiving

November 27, 2009

and all through the house, not a creature was stirring….because they were all sleeping off the food hangover from a day of overindulgence and gluttony.  Uggh.  I feel terrible right now.   It’s  times like this I’m really glad to be Orthodox and observing the Nativity Fast.  A return to moderation come Monday will do my gastrointestinal system some good.

Blessings to all who have tolerated reading this blog and find anything remotely meaningful.  Blessings to all who are going out today to face the Black Friday shopping madness, those who are recovering today from family-induced psychosis, and to all the Aggies who need some quiet alone time to ponder the loss yesterday to that university in Austin.

Have a great laugh with this turkey of a video!   And isn’t it always the case that the cat gets the blame for everything, when we all know it’s really the dog that’s guilty.  You just can’t trust an animal that will sneakily swipe stuff off countertops then lick your face and wag their tails to reinforce the facade of trustworthiness and honor.  Dogs -the real sleeper cell terrorists in our midst.

Our National Dilemma

November 10, 2009

I am posting Rod Dreher’s very interesting article on the response of Virginia based Muslim cleric Iman Anwar al Alwaki to the actions of Nidal Hasan, 2009 front-runner nominee for Most Distinguished American Muslim, and the  US military’s commitment to diversity policies despite the threat of radical Islamic societies on our own soil.  

The Fort Hood shooting has left me shaking my head at yet  another example of the threat of radical Islam to this country and our refusal to see the world as it is.   Sometimes I think our American character is just too open, friendly and willing to accept everyone as they are in a big ‘ol group hug.   We just simply can’t understand why someone who calls themselves an American would also like to harm or radically change  this country. 

What’s the government to do at this point?   American principles cannot be violated again like they were during the Japanese internments of WWII, but we can’t also let radicalism go unchecked.   It’s  time for people who preach hate and violence to be called out.  Our own Constitution has given us a freedom of expression that’s unheard of in oppressive areas of the world, but the irony is how far we let that freedom be used before it becomes a threat against that very same country.   This is a confusing time to be an American.    That’s all I’m going to say. 

Roland Emmerich Dodges A Big Fat-Wa(n)

November 4, 2009

Kaaba

I really thought I was going to avoid writing about the whole stupid Mayan calendar/2012 nonsense, at least not until the director of the upcoming end-of-the-world film ‘2012’ opened his mouth to talk about his medical problems with fear-induced testicular diminishment syndrome. 

And may I say – give me a freakin’ break! 

This has to be the stupidest condescension to the uber-delicate feelings and ‘oh-so-easily provoked sensibilities’ of Muslim clerics I’ve ever seen.  It’s OK to obliterate to smithereens the religious landmarks of Christians or Buddhists, but God forbid  the Kaaba bites it.   

And why was it ok for director Roland Emmerich to trash iconic Christian symbols, such as St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro?   Says Emmerich

Because I’m against organized religion.

(Insert head scratch here, because I thought Islam was a pretty organized religion already.)   Mr. Emmerich continues on…

You can actually … let … Christian symbols fall apart, but if you would do this with [an] Arab symbol, you would have … a fatwa, and that sounds a little bit like what the state of this world is.  So it’s just something which I kind of didn’t [think] was [an] important element, anyway, in the film, so I kind of left it out.”

Oh, I get it.  He’s only against organized religions that won’t put a religiously-mandated hit out on him.  

I say let’s have a little equal opportunity world destruction here.  Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans and atheists.  That’s what the confraternity of man is all about – we all die together.   Unless you’re John Cusack and can outdrive seismic faults and collapsing buildings in the most amazing road-jamming limo that Detroit, sadly, could never have produced – and that’s why this movie is science-fiction!

Pagans and Orthodox Christians

October 30, 2009

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It’s the day before Halloween so the news outlets are knocking themselves out running “your next door neighbor, the pagan” stories chronicling the rising numbers of pagans, particularly Wiccans, in America, and neo-paganism’s acceptance as a cool new religious choice.  I just finished reading an ABC News article  that does its best to prove both of those points.  Did you know that Wicca is a much more accepting, religiously tolerant, environmentally conscious, and gender and sexually affirming religion than your traditional, oppressive, misogynistic brand of Christianity? Aside from the  coming out stories of middle-age housewives, confused teenagers, and gay men who cast salt circles in their backyards wearing black bathrobes or nothing at all, the one fact that struck me so powerfully about this article was the demographic number – .3%.  That is the general estimate of practicing pagans (Wiccans, but also worshippers of the Norse gods for example and other flavors of neo-paganism) in the United States.  Let me shake you up by pointing out the Pew Forum’s most recent survey of American religious groups estimates the total number of Orthodox Christians at

.6%

Yes, that’s less than 1% of 305.5 million Americans.  What is the matter with us, my fellow Orthodox Christians?  I am actually very pissed off and discouraged that we, the keepers of the ancient Christian faith, the witnesses of  the fullness of the Gospel, the inheritors of the first Christian communities established by the Apostles,  have only a .3% numerical significance in this country over the pagans!

Each of us individually needs to recommit ourselves to evangelism and the spreading of our faith.  If our relationship with God and his Holy Church means so much to us, our zeal has got to translate into hard numbers.   At this rate we aren’t going to see 1% before the end of the next decade.  Where do you think the pagans are going to place?   

Halloween and Orthodox Christians

October 26, 2009

halloween-pumpkin 

Pews or no pews, kneeling on Sunday, headcoverings.  You think these cause consternation and discord among our “Little T” debates?  Try raising the issue of Halloween among 10 Orthodox Christians and you’ll get 10 different opinions, each centered around the question of  ‘what commonly observed, secular American activities are appropriate for an Orthodox Christian to take part in?   

 In this past Sunday’s church bulletin, I went back and forth about what exactly to put in concerning Halloween.  Knowing the range of opinions, I did not want to print anything that was too dogmatic or based upon my own beliefs, but was a more general treatment of the Christian holiday associated with the season and which was in line with our priest’s judgment, which is pretty neutral about Halloween.  On the other hand, very strong injunctions against the practice of Halloween have been preached in recent years, and not so recently.  You’d be surprised to know that St. John of Maximovitch, who I myself revere, dealt with Halloween in his own way back in his earliest days in San Francisco.   This is not an issue the Church has considered on a level in the way abortion or same sex marriage attack key doctrinal positions.  This is a pastoral issue and as such is subject to the various interpretations of clergy.

So in order to balance these competing pastoral opinions, I found the following explanation from the Oxford Dictionary of Christian Belief, concerning the history of All Hallow’s Eve and its connections with the modern celebration of Halloween.  Make of it what you will, but it presents a more moderate counter-balance to the usual explanation of Halloween as a strictly  Celtic, pagan influenced observance, and the gateway holiday that leads a Christian straight into Satanism and damnation.    (A few minor grammar edits are mine to adapt it for length and for use in an Orthodox publication.)

The Feast of All Saints is a holy day of the Church honoring all saints, known and unknown. This is much like the American holidays of Veterans Day and Presidents Day, where many people are honored on one day.   Christians have been honoring their saints and martyrs since at least the second century AD. The Martyrdom of Polycarp, probably written near the middle of the second century, attests to this reality:

Accordingly, we afterwards took up his bones, more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more pure than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, so that when being gathered together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps.

Initially the calendars of saints and martyrs varied from location to location, and many times local churches honored local saints. Gradually, however, feast days became more universal. The first reference to a general feast celebrating all saints occurs in Saint Ephrem the Syrian (†AD 373).  Saint John Chrysostom (†AD 407) assigned a day to the feast, the first Sunday after Pentecost, where in the Eastern Churches the feast is celebrated to this day. In the West, this date was probably originally used, and then the feast was moved to May 13th. The current observance, November 1st, originates from the time of Pope Gregory III (†AD 741), and was likely first observed on that date  in Germany. This fact makes the connection of the All Saints Feast with the pagan festival Samhain less likely, since Samhain was an Irish pagan feast, rather than German.

The vigil of the Feast (the eve) has grown up in the English-speaking countries as a festival in itself, All Hallows Eve, or Halloween.  While many consider Halloween pagan, as far as the [Western] Church is concerned the date is simply the eve of the feast of All Saints.  Many customs of Halloween reflect the Christian belief that on the feast’s vigils we mock evil, because as Christians, it has no real power over us.  However, for some Halloween is used for evil purposes, in which many Christians dabble unknowingly.

Various customs have developed related to Halloween. In the Middle Ages, poor people in the community begged for “soul cakes,” and upon receiving these doughnuts, they would agree to pray for departed souls. This is the root of our modern day “trick-or-treat.”  The custom of masks and costumes developed to mock evil and perhaps confuse the evil spirits by dressing as one of their own. Some Christians visit cemeteries on Halloween, not to practice evil, but to commemorate departed relatives and friends, with picnics and the last flowers of the year. The day after All Saints day is called All Soul’s Day, a day to remember and offer prayers up on behalf of all of the faithful departed.

As so often happens in our “internet as fact” culture, blog readers often visit  a variety of blogs to know what to think and believe.  They can pick and chose from millions of bloggers who use their electronic soapboxes to display a clever use of words and out-of-context sources, and to broadcast their “authoritative” opinions to the world.    I say this to dissuade anyone from using my post to argue “for” or “against” Halloween.  Opinions I have – but not the ability to make these spiritual decisions for you and your family.  That said, my own family practice has been to celebrate Halloween as a fun, silly night of dress-up, child-friendly scariness and block party revelry.  I have had many talks with the kids about the various origins of Halloween customs and some of the evils that have been improperly attached to Halloween (i.e. Satanism or animal sacrifice) and what is appropriate behavior for an Orthodox Christian.  My kids being kids, always list Halloween as one of their favorite “holidays”, right up there with Christmas and Pascha.  It makes for good segway talks into the difference between having fun and celebrating the life of our Lord and Savior, and what is truly important as a Christian.   In other words, fun in moderation and with a clear understanding of boundaries.

Is this what I think everyone should do?   Heavens no!  My opinion about Halloween may be based on my own poor discernment and failure to give all areas of my life over to the Gospel.  On the other hand, as another priest friend remarked once, “Why should the devil have all the fun?”

The Nobel Peace Prize?

October 9, 2009

APTOPIX Nobel Peace Prize Obama

Was I sleeping the last nine months when President Obama brought peace to the Middle East or finally got us out of Iraq and Afghanistan?   Or was it the democratic revolution in North Korea?  According to Nobel Peace Prize Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland, Obama qualifies for this most prestigious award for accomplishments in the field of peace and justice by making us all feel good.   Speaking at a news conference (during which time the Committee also proposed renaming the Nobel Peace Prize, the Grand Exalted Medal for Wishful Thinking, Great Aspirations and Undelivered Promises), Jagland said

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future.

Well, hope is a good thing considering the last 8 years of criminal incompetence we’ve been through.  But awarding a Nobel Prize for perceptions and good feelings?   This fact wasn’t lost on Polish activist Lech Walesa, who didn’t just inspire a hope of changing the Communist system of 1980’s Poland, but actually did it in the streets and factories of Gdansk.  Mr. Walesa said in his straight-talking style

So soon?  Too early.  He has no contribution so far. He is still at an early stage.  He is only beginning to act.

Well, at least President Obama now has something to shoot for.  If I were given a big fancy medal for contributions I’d not yet made, wouldn’t you think I’d kick it into high gear?  No pressure Mr. President.  You’re just in the unenviable position of being the young, untested race horse who’s name’s been engraved on the winner’s cup before the starting gun has even gone off.

Ken Burns, The National Parks

October 2, 2009

seqoias

Is anyone watching Ken Burns’ new documentary series The National Parks?  I love the style, beauty and quality of his documentaries, well, except maybe not the World War II series.  This one is different though.   It has the majesty and emotional pull that affected us in The Civil War series.  The power to fill us with pride and patriotism, and a deep feeling of ‘Americanism’.   If you’re feeling a little cynical, an hour of Ken Burns will make you feel foolish and faithless.  You’ll suddenly be saying to yourself, “Damn, I love this country.”

This show is stirring up my earliest dreams to join the National Park Service.  My plan and my college majors were in parks & recreation and natural resource conservation, but   23 years later why am I not a park ranger?  It’s a long story, but life, love and President Reagan and his trickle down economics changed the course of my dreams.  Since then I’ve had to satisfy my wilderness craving by extensive travel and obsessive birdwatching.   

Tonight is the final segment and I think that, in part, what makes The National Parks documentary so moving is the recurring theme of spirituality and reverence; that a love of the natural world brings out something pure and good in man, and moves many to a deeper communion with God.  The national parks are truly our American cathedrals.  I’ve stood in the great naves of Notre Dame and Westminster, and never felt as spiritually touched and awed as I have on the rim of the Grand Canyon or dwarfed beside the trunk of a Giant Sequoia.   I have been baptized in the spray of a Yellowstone geyser, communed from mountain streams, and been in the fellowship of other worshippers along backcountry trails and remote 4 x 4 roads.

It sounds blasphemous to say, but I believe that if I were cut off from the natural world I would die.  Maybe it’s more accurate to say that I would pine away, depressed, sad, withering, like a plant without sunlight.  But as an Orthodox Christian I know that the ultimate source of life and light is God, and I’ve come to understand the Church’s teaching on communion with God and the natural world.   We believe the present natural world is a window, reflecting the beauty and goodness of God’s original Creation, and made as a place of living communion with God.  The window though is clouded by the sin of man and the distortion of creation.   The history of the world has moved through the age of Creation and Separation, to Incarnation and Salvation.   Now is the age of Salvation, through the coming of Christ, His death and Resurrection.   As Orthodox Christians we understand this in a holistic, communal way.  Christ didn’t merely pay some tit for tat exchange of sins with his Blood.  He didn’t balance the ledger of judgment and damnation.  Instead, he sanctified and restored our humanity with His Incarnation; he defeated death by death; and He heals and restores us daily by calling us to live a sacramental life in His Church.  All of this Christ accomplished not solely for Man but for the whole of Creation that was clouded and changed by sin.  Trees, fish, water, birds; the very rocks and dirt we stand on – everything is to be transformed and restored as a means of communion with God.  

Is it no wonder that mankind finds so much spiritual life in the beauty of nature?  There is a danger, however, that such an honest love is twisted, and nature itself becomes an idol.  Theologian and nature lover, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, writing in his book, For the Life of the World, observed that

Man has loved the world, but as an end in itself and not as transparent to God … The natural dependence of man upon the world was intended to be transformed constantly into communication with God in whom is all life … When we see the world as an end in itself, everything becomes itself a value and consequently loses all value, because only in God is found the meaning (value) of everything, and the world is meaningful only when it is a ‘sacrament’ of God’s presence … The world of nature, cut off from the source of life, is a dying world.

 This is a hard truth for me to wrap my mind around.   Can’t a tree just be a tree?  An object of reverence merely for its beauty?  Isn’t the mere inspiration of awe good in itself?  Or maybe it’s impossible to just look at a winter flight of Snow Geese against the setting sun and not praise the God who created them?  

John Muir, father of the American conservation movement, was himself the son of a brutally strict, Campbellite lay preacher.  It was in Muir’s rejection of his father’s judgmental, wrathful God that he found love and his own personal salvation in the trees and mountains of the American West.   His writings reflect a universalist God, who expresses doctrines of faith in the Gospel of Nature.   It may not be strictly Orthodox, but I think it still has truths to teach us.

Rocks and waters, etc., are works of God and so are men.  We all flow from one fountain Soul.  All are expressions of one Love.  God does not appear, and flow out, only from narrow chinks and round bored wells here and there in favored races and places, but He flows in grand undivided currents, shoreless and boundless  over creeds and forms and all kinds of civilizations and peoples and beasts, saturating all and fountainizing all.

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Troy Polamalu On Faith, Family (and Football)

August 11, 2009

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Without a question, my greatest wish would be for [my son] to understand the spiritual struggle and to be a pious Orthodox Christian.

Amen Troy. 

It’s a human weakness to feel a vicarious pride in the accomplishments of our children.  From Day One we’re always looking for signs of excellence and, more often than not, the measure of our children’s progress is made against other children and their parents.  It’s selfish and self-centered, and some would say it’s just a result of Darwinian natural selection.  But how many of us parents, Orthodox or of any Christian faith, measure our children’s success in terms of their relationship with Christ and their faithfulness to his Holy Church?  And when our children graduate from high school and go out into the world, will we also measure our success as parents by their careers and income or by their devotion to prayer and an active church life?

I so feel Troy Polomalu’s desire for his son to be a pious Orthodox Christian.  It is the only burning desire I have for my own two sons.  When I first became a parent I agonized over raising children with a spouse that was and remains completely closed off to the Orthodox faith.   For so many years I’ve felt like a windbreak in a howling gale, protecting the tiny flame of faith I’ve tried to catch in my children.   As long as I’m nurturing that flame I have hope, but the scary part is when you realize that you’ll have to stand up and move away.  Whether or not that flame continues to burn is dependent to some degree on the fuel you fed the flame with, but I think the harder part of letting go is accepting your children’s own free will and openess to the Holy Spirit.   Sadly, some may want to light new fires of their own or even let their flame die out.   I worry that despite all my efforts, my kids may do just that, and then what?  Will I accept their choices or rage against their free will?   Parenting is surely a cross in its own way.

Do not miss reading the rest of Troy Polomalu’s interview with Pittsburgh Magazine.  Every Orthodox parent in America needs to read this interview and take to heart a commitment to the spiritual lives of our children.   There is an eternity of consequence at stake here.  Football may be a game but the salvation of our children (and ourselves) is not.