Archive for the ‘Religion in America’ Category

Why Our Kids Need Great Literature

July 19, 2010

Surprise!  I am alive, but I’ve been playing hookey from regular blogging here since Pascha.  That’s not to say I haven’t been busy, but I’m a little obsessive about my interests.  Orthodox blogging has taken a backseat to my birding, birdwatching, blogging about birds, feeding birds and planning field trips to see more birds.  

My other great passion is reading and I’ve had the pleasure of immersing myself in books for the last 6 months or so.   I tend towards classics, natural history, hard sci-fi and anything food or food culture, but I’ve also recently gotten hooked on Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.   In the past few weeks I’ve finished To Kill a Mockingbird, The Remains of the Day, Julia Child’s My Life in France, Cooking for Kings: The Life of Antonin Carême, the First Celebrity Chef, Robinson Crusoe, and I’m slowly slogging my way through Don Quixote (though why it takes 900 pages to convey idiocy and self-delusion is beyond me; I have a feeling the deep metaphysical meaning of the story is going to be completely lost on me.)

Surprisingly, of all these books,  the one that has been the most overtly Christian, I’d even say Orthodox in its message of human sinfulness, spiritual awakening, and redemption through a monastic or hermit-like isolation, is Robinson Crusoe.  It’s an early 18th century Protestant Christian morality story through and through, but why should we look at these kinds of literary works as peculiar to their time with no modern message.  If any age needed some lessons in morality mixed with a good dose of Christianity, it’s our present 21st century.   Is a work with this strong a Christian message still taught in high schools?   Daily Bible study, fasting, prayer, scripture quotations, all things alien and forbidden in public schools.  I’m sure it’d be a much more PC curricula if Crusoe explored his frustrated sexual longings in this book, rather than his thankfulness to God for isolating him from those temptations.  (If you need a more substantial literary reason for including this book on a list of required reading for kids, consider that it is first truly English novel, setting the stage for all subsequent English literature.)

Could there be any kind of literature more appropriate for teenagers to read than the account of someone lost and alone, and trying to understand their place in the world?  After suffering a nearly fatal illness that finally shakes his conscience free, Crusoe has a sincere conversion of heart, and begins a life of repentance and spritual revelation.

…reading the Scripture, I came to these Words, He is exalted a Prince and a Saviour, to give Repentance and to give Remission”.   I threw down the Book, and with my Heart as well as my Hands lifted up to Heaven, in a kind of Extasy (sic) of Joy, I cry’d out aloud, ‘Jesus, thou Son of David, Jesus, thou exalted Prince and Saviour, give me Repentance’!

Heretical Knock Down

April 14, 2010

This news story is almost as good as a Lucha Libre fight, except there’s more credibility in Lucha Libre and the costumes are better.   In what can only pass for bizarro religion in America, the Fort Worth police are trying to figure out who threw the first punch in an altercation between some pushy Jehovah’s Witnesses and a hothead “priest” of the non-canonical, small potatoes Mexican National Catholic Church.   

Stay tuned – next week’s fight card features Mormons-who-want-to-be-called-Christians vs. Radical right-wing Christian militia groups and the women who love them.

Spring at last?

March 11, 2010

I am so glad this wet, cold, miserable winter is coming to an end.   South Texas was blessed to finally have a drought busting end to 2 years of the most intense drought in a century, however, it is not possible for us to live on less than 300 days of sunshine a year.  We get awfully cranky and depressed if it’s not sunny and 70 degrees in January.

The photo above was taken last weekend in a country cemetery near Smiley, Texas, on Highway 87.  I was returning from the dedication at All Saints Orthodox Mission in Victoria and even on a cloudy day, the intense color made me do a quick u-turn, and bounce through a cow pasture to get to this beautiful spot.  As I got out of the car a Great Horned Owl flew out of an old tree in the cemetery.  In a few weeks these Drummond Phlox are going to give way to a mass of Bluebonnets and Winecups that are growing up behind them. 

Drummond Phlox or Annual Phlox (Phlox drummondii)

Porn for Bibles

March 4, 2010

Here’s another fine example of the best the angry atheists have to offer.

The Atheist Agenda student group at one of San Antonio’s local institutes of “higher learning”, the University of Texas at San Antonio, is sponsoring a “Porn for Porn” campaign this week.   Their point?  The Bible (or any religious text) is of less value than hard-core porn because it portrays violence, torture and leads to war.  Oh, I get it.  The Bible is bad because the social mores of a small nation of people living 2,000 to 4,000 years ago were so much more misogynistic and violent then the multi-billion dollar modern porn industry which exploits women and children in the most vile and debasing manner, exposing them to infectious disease, rape, violence and humiliation.  That’s progress that is.   I think I’ll stick with the “primitive” revelation of a loving God, who even cares to the point of death for young people like those at UTSA who’d just as soon spit in his face then accept Him.

(One thing that I think is rather insightful is the Express News’ use of the word “stunt” in the title of the news article.”

Why Cool Should Not Rule

January 13, 2010

I’ve never thought of myself as particularly cool, or if I once was, a 47 year old mother who drives a Volvo and bird watches for a hobby has no hope of ever reclaiming that title.  I still might be considered marginally cool in my choice of music or my laissez faire attitude towards the horticulture of weed, but that’s just ’cause I’m an old hippie at heart.  These days I’m more apt to criticize the vanity and emptiness of trying to achieve ‘coolness’ – the pointlessness of a life lived in search of ‘the next big thing’.   It seems parenthood and mortality are the great equalizers of the hip and young. 

Recently a news piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer has been popping up across Orthodox message boards and news aggregators.  It’s the sad profile of an Eastern European neighborhood called Northern Liberties and its declining churches and synagogues, now gone to the dogs, literally, with its discovery by urban hipsters looking for things with “good bones”, dog parks and a critical mass of other like-minded cultural zombies.  The churches merely add to the neighborhood’s character.  While the more melancholy Inquirer piece gently laid out the shallow hipsters for some reproach, it was author/journalist Thom Nickels who cleanly gutted them with a  follow-up piece in the Philadelphia Weekly Press.  It was brilliant!  His commentary wasn’t merely about the loss of tradition in one gentrified Philadelphia neighborhood, but a profile of pop-culture-as-religion across the nation. 

But may I also say I agree 100% with Mr. Nickels when he rightly points out that the Northern Liberties parishes (or any Orthodox Church in the U.S.) are not without blame for their own decline.  The ethnic social club atmosphere that substitutes for real faith in some parishes has got to go.   Any Orthodox Church that preserves their Liturgy like a museum piece, is hostile to Christ’s call for evangelism, and is unwilling to adapt to the language and culture of America, is doomed and rightfully so.  I’m not talking about changing the Truths of our faith, or pushing novelty and political correctness,  but reaching out to potential converts in English, through new media, and through an active presence in the community.  And this doesn’t mean ethnic food festivals.  It means offering Inquirer’s Classes, Vacation Bible Schools, coffee house lectures on Orthodoxy, icon exhibitions during arts week, National Night Out programs to meet the neighbors, etc…   To be an evangelist is to be generous in sharing your faith.  Hipsters may not immediately come flocking in, but for those few who are looking for something deeper, they’ll recognize the real thing when they see it practiced.   The Orthodox Church doesn’t have to be ‘cool’, but maybe through a sincere desire to follow Christ and live a holy life we can change the definition. 

The Dead Sea Scrolls of L. Ron Hubbard

January 8, 2010

 

From beyond the grave comes the voice of L. Ron Hubbard, (bad) sci-fi writer, tax evader, and shrewd founder of a very profitable business venture, er, pseudo-religious cult.   Scientology spokesmen made the announcement during a New Year’s celebration in Los Angeles and likened  the finding of more than 1000 hours of previously unknown lectures and numerous writings to the collected written wisdom of the Buddha.  Ah, ringing in the New Year with the sound of cash registers, but be prepared to spend $7500 for your own copy of this drivel.  What’s that old expression?  Fools and their money….

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. 

Orthodox History

November 17, 2009

There’s a much over-used expression, “You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been”.   Trite, but so true, and it could easily be applied to the history of the Orthodox Christians in the New World. 

For a couple of months I’ve been reading an excellent, and the first of its kind, website devoted exclusively to the history of Orthodoxy in the US, Canada, the Americas .  It is sponsored by the Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas (SOCHA), and headed by Father Oliver Herbel, but the list of names associated with the Society is an academic ‘who’s who’ of Orthodox theologians and historians.  You will simply not believe how much information can be found on this site; most of which is not widely known outside the academic study of American Orthodoxy.   And SOCHA doesn’t just present the nice, pretty stuff either.    They want the rest of us to understand that the Orthodox Church isn’t simply what it is in this country because of the good that was done by the early Russian missionary saints, but was shaped just as profoundly by the prideful,  the spiritually deluded, the ineffective, and some just plain whack jobs.  

This is what makes our history so interesting and so suprising.   I think we Orthodox underestimate just how far we’ve come in the past 200 years.   Orthodoxy has managed to become securely established, albeit in a demographically small size, but still recognizable as an American Orthodox Church.   All we need to do is finish the job.   We must put aside the jumbled bird’s nest of administrative disunity to establish a truly unified American Orthodox Church.

To hear these stories brought to life, check out the companion podcast  on Ancient Faith Radio by SOCHA’s Associate Directory Matthew Namee.

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. 

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?