Thursday, September 30, 2004

Well phooey

All right, I'll be totally honest, though it kills me. Bush just plain didn't do as well in this first debate as Kerry did. I'm not sure why Bush seemed so flustered. He looked like he was getting steamed up over some of what Kerry was saying, and I thought he missed all kinds of opportunities to state his case better and really point out problems with Kerry's points. Looking at other blogs and listening to TV spin, it seems like that's about the consensus. I'll also be honest and admit that I didn't have the nerve to go find liberal sites and blogs and see if they were doing the happy dance. Probably they are.

Two thoughts:
* To be honest, if Kerry had been this guy a couple months ago, I wouldn't have that much trouble about the thought of him winning. But where has this cool-headed, informed and somewhat consistent Kerry been hiding out? He represented his positions so well in this debate that the conservative bloggers and talking heads are stuck with repeating old sound bytes ("voted for the war, before I voted against it") and making the arguments that Bush should have made better. Viewers that were paying very close attention might have noticed that Kerry reversed himself just in the course of the debate regarding whether Saddam was or wasn't a threat ... but people probably weren't paying that close attention.

* My guess of the sound bytes that get lifted: (1) Liberals will just love that Bush pronounced the word 'mullas' like 'moolahs' not once but twice, and almost said 'messed mixages' once -- oy vey. (2) Conservatives will be talking about Kerry saying that America ought to pass 'the global test' in considering our national defense. Who knows what Kerry meant exactly by that, but it's just the type of 'we just want to be popular' type of thing that people hate to hear from a Democrat, especially one that has seemed soft on terror.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Long-sleeve Day

Well, mark your calendars. It's here. The first morning that I picked a long-sleeve shirt to wear. That must mean that the season of autumn will actually happen this year. (Me and Puxatawney Phil hang together sometimes and predict stuff just for the fun of it.)

Sure enough, when I take Clementine out to attend to morning business, it feels different. It's not just that delightful crispness in the air, it's the lack of noise. Beginning almost exactly on Mother's Day here where the corn grows, creation puts out the "Open for Business" sign and immediately starts advertising loudly. Crickets, jays, frogs, robins, squirrels, martins, owls, cats, and things that I have never been able to identify set up a racket to let you know it's TIME. "Here I am. Let's go! Got to have a family NOW!" I think the shorter growing season in the Midwest makes nature seem almost panicky in the months without an 'r' in them.

So in late August and early September, everything begins to look a little peaked. The corn, which this year shot up well past the 'knee-high by the fourth of July' rule (owing to growing conditions which even the taciturn farmers had to admit were ideal), has gotten worn-out looking and now it has gone to the crackly brown that only the farmers love. Birds give it a rest, and the evening choruses are made up of the deafening mechanical sound of the cicadas.

But now even the cicadas are dying out. (Clementine found a nearly spent one in the yard a week ago and showed off her hunting prowess by boring it to death.) The fever-pitch has melted into the need for a nap and awakened from that into watchfulness. The pair of red fox squirrels in the big maple tree don't chitter at Clementine anymore -- whatever family they managed is off on their own and doesn't need protection. The smaller one still chases the bigger one around the trunk once or twice, but it's just the nostalgic gamboling of an old married couple, nothing like her scandalous tartiness when the leaves were first emerging.

The next stop for straining ears is when you start hearing the steady cadence of migrating geese. But that'll be another post. For now the weather is gorgeous, the dog is sleepy, and my long-sleeve shirt will do the job until it's time for sweaters.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Dr. Bouteneff response

Here's Dr. Bouteneff's response on OrthodoxyToday.net

Actually, that really does clarify a couple points, most of all why he veered so far away from endorsing one candidate or another.

I think the only part of it that still rankles is the inclusion of gun-control as if the Orthodox were of one mind concerning it, and that somewhat fetid throwaway about the tax cut ("the beneficiaries of Bush’s economic and tax policies are shamefully obvious"). That one might be worth a separate post, if I don't just decide I'm tired of all this.

Have you noticed the burn-out spreading through the Orthodox blogs concerning politics? Yep, I feel it too. We have deeper bonds that keep us together than what color state we're in, but it seems that things we'd like to believe are commonly-held values amongst us all just aren't, forcing you to wonder whether you've lost perspective. I would still think it was worth if if there's anyone out there who just hadn't really thought it through, but it seems all we have left are hard-heads like me. So as far as the Ortho-blog Planet, we could hold the election today, right?

Driving home with me just now

Did you see it? We turned onto the hilly farm-road that takes us home and as we crested the first swell in the road, there was the full moon sitting exactly on the horizon like a plate balanced on its rim, organdy-yellow with imperfections dabbled into it and big. Too big really. Scientific-minded people have told me more than once why it looks so much bigger when it's right at the horizon, but I always forget.

As we sweep down the hill, the moon touches down with us; when we come back and over, it glides up and over. And we go on like this through several cornfields, the enormous glowing moon bouncing off the black treelines. Sometimes it peeks through branches. It swings out from behind the silo. Aren't things beautiful sometimes?

And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.


Cloning

Well, how long did it take to go from assurances from scientists that we would never clone human beings to this?

And here's the most chilling sentence:

Professor Wilmut has stressed that his team has no intention of producing cloned babies, and said the diseased embryos would be destroyed after experimentation.

What a relief, right?

(Political part coming up. Skip it if you're sick of all this.)

This post from Kevin asks why we should vote for Bush when abortion is still legal, and many of the commenters seem to feel the same.

Bush is only the man at the top of a system that relies on both houses, the judicial branch and the American people. How many people in this country do you think will have no problem at all with Professor Wilmut's statement just as expressed -- not going to produce and destroy babies, only embryos?

(Segue-way back into religion:)
We need to stop imitating the world's culture. Civil authorities are not saviors or magicians. It is the work of the Church to effect the sea-change of opinion necessary to really end the horror of abortion. We don't have the ear of Americans for a lot of reasons, but if this issue is that important to us, we have to keep trying anyway. Or if we're too tired and discouraged to try, we at least can keep from holding elected officials to unreal expectations we couldn't meet ourselves.

Monday, September 27, 2004

The long and the short of it

If you have interest in a much better answer to the article by Dr. Bouteneff, consider this from George Strickland at the Orthodoxy Today blog.

If you don't want to do any more mental heavy lifting, here's the capper:

American democracy may not be the ideal, but is there an adequate replacement? Approximation to the ideal is the best we can hope for this side of the Kingdom of God.

The difference between left and right -- 7 questions

In posting concerning Dr. Bouteneff's article on how the Orthodox should vote, I've entered a discussion already in progress. Besides the Touchstone blog comments that I listed in that original posts, I later found a debate going on on here, and Matt also posted this reply.

If you are an Orthodox believer who leans Democrat or a "reluctant Republican" (as Dr. Bouteneff and Ann said they were), bear with me. I know these political discussions seem to take us out of the hard-won peace that we share in the One True Church and deposit us into the loud squabble that we want nothing to do with. But as I said earlier, this seems worth more consideration.

Here are some questions that I raise:
1 - Which party does the most to promote and protect religion? Not just Christianity, but all religion?

2 - Think of the groups and organizations which have systematically (not accidentally) done most to undermine Christian beliefs in this country. Is it Planned Parenthood? ACLU? The Hollywood elite? Gay rights activists? Whoever it is, which party do you think they're affiliated with? (If you don't like my list, come up with your own. I'm pretty certain the answer will be the same.)

3 - If you don't feel that Christians are embattled at present, consider the advancing trends in cloning, euthanasia and stem cell research -- which candidate would you expect to take real action against these threats to life as God intended it?

4 - If you think that abortion and capital punishment cancel each other out, as Dr. Bouteneff suggests, which one is clearly opposed by the Orthodox Church? And which has taken the most lives and left the most impression on American culture in the past 20 years?

5 - If you also believe that the Democrats' wealth redistribution, repudiation of capitalism and embrace of social programs demonstrate the more Christian approach to the poor, consider who is more able to give fairly and charitably to the poor -- faith-based organizations and churches or the enormous bureaucracy of a national government? To quote Matt:
In an imitation of love, socialism replaces private charity. It permits the rich man to say, "I don't have to help the beggar, the state will take care of him." In fostering this attitude, socialism not only hurts the poor, but it hurts the rich. It makes the rich man think he is not personally responsible for the welfare of the poor. But the rich man's salvation depends on how he responds to the beggar. On the Last Day he will wish he had emptied his pockets for the homeless and hungry instead of thinking the state would take care of them.

6 - The Democrats adherance to environmental issues seems laudable, but since that is virtually never linked to a Christian view of man as God's steward of creation, is it too surprising that this sort of man-made version tends to lead to the extremism of animal-rights groups like PETA?

7 - Lastly, let's consider the most difficult question of all: the invasion of Iraq. If you think that we shouldn't be there, is it because we weren't attacked first? If so, remember 9/11. Though Osama bin Laden orchestrated that, Middle Eastern instability and anti-Americanism had been growing more and more vitriolic, and attacks more frequent and well-executed throughout Clinton's presidency, though we never returned fire. Is it likely that it was all the work of one person, and is it likely that it would have gone away on its own? President Bush has carried the battle off our homeland and into the Middle East and has been deemed foolish for doing so. But given what we saw on Sept. 11th, what were our options? More to the point, what are they now? We can wish desperately that war had never happened, but which will bring more lasting peace to America, Iraq and the world -- immediate withdrawal or a free and democratic Iraq? And if it's the latter, and if the democracy in Iraq seems to be struggling now, which candidate do you believe is better able to bring it and us through the next four years?

Those are the questions I think to ask. I really hope that they don't seem merely argumentative.

Caffeinated charity

In response to this silly post, Fr. John McKuen referred me to an Orthodox Haitian mission which sells "Mission Bleu" coffee. Being one of the slowest human beings in the world, I only today have gone investigating. Here is more information about the coffee and the mission.

It seems like a very good way to give in time of need. (For extra gold stars, of course, you could skip the coffee order and just plain donate. If you do that, just know that I aspire to be as good as you.)

Music to my ears!

(sing with me now)

The glory of the Lord has shown on you,
Exult now, exult, and be glad, O Zion
Be radiant, O pure Theotokos,
In the resurrection,
The resurrection of your Son.

You got it, didn't you? It's from "The Angel Cried", the wonderful hymn that greets us at the Paschal service and stays with us like a merry angel all through the Paschal season.

Sorry to have started it in the middle like that, but I was actually typing the words as I was listening to it and singing along. It is what happened to be playing on Incarnation Broadcast Network when I went off to check it out, after Huw referred to it.

Come on, people now! Orthodox music, 24/7? Byzantine, Znamenny, etc -- it's not just for breakfast anymore.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

If Angels Could Vote?

A very interesting thread is going on on the Touchstone blog-site concerning this article from Beliefnet.com and now on the OCA Web-site, entitled "How Should Orthodox Christians Vote?" Since the author, Dr. Peter C. Bouteneff, teaches dogmatic theology at St. Vladmir's Seminary, I have no doubt of his level of erudition, but like James from Touchstone, I find myself frustrated with the article. Dr. Bouteneff gives no definitive answer to his own question, and seems to want to conclude at the end that a good Orthodox Christian really can't answer it either (at the same time saying that Orthodox should vote). Worse, one gets the idea that the inability to choose stems not so much from their differences as from an idea that being detached from the world prohibits us from getting too involved.

With (I hope) the requisite amount of respect due for Dr. Bouteneff, I think that this tendency amongst us doesn't serve us well. If we have concluded, as he has, that we should vote, it seems ludicrous to ignore generations of liberal heterodoxy in order to appear pious and non-judgmental.

Here is a response from Dr. Jonathon Chaves of The George Washington University:

My take would be this: This essay is yet another example of the false "angelism" that afflicts so many of our contemporary intellectuals: "you can't pin me down, I'm above the polarities of the moment." But there is no "above;" at this point in history, the ideas that activate conservatives, certainly the traditionalist conservatives, are grounded ultimately in the great Christian heritage; contemporary liberalism is equally grounded in the Enlightenment and its essentially anti-Christian conception of human nature. A believing Christian today will have a very tough time accommodating to the current liberal doctrines, and will find that to do so will eventually necessitate relinquishing one Christian teaching after another.

And all I can say is that I wish I'd said that.

In the next four years, we will try to establish a democracy in Iraq, and we may have to face down Muslim terrorism once and for all or fail once and for all. We will probably see replacements in our Supreme Court, and we will undoubtedly have to face a flurry of attacks to our Christian beliefs in courts, schools and government. Can we really afford to strike a pose of vacillating sanctimony by refusing to vote? Or choose a party of abortion, moral relativism and socialism because they're "not so different" from the other?

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

About the UN

When Christ sent the disciples out into the towns and villages, He exhorted them to be "wise as serpents, but gentle as doves" (Matt 10:16). That verse, like so many of the more quotable ones, has become many things to many people, but to me it suggests that we are encouraged, even exhorted, to be not just loving but discerning in our approach to the world.

That discernment needs to be fully engaged when we hear the United Nations (UN) being held out as a hope for peace and harmony in our times. On the face of it, the UN offers a promise that all nations will come together, all peoples will be accountable to a wise governing body that will uphold human rights, promote fair trade and punish tyrants -- who wouldn't want that?

But this is where the discernment comes in. It would be wonderful if the U.S. and all the world could place complete confidence in this body so that, in the words of the prayer, "we may live a calm and tranquil life in all peacefulness and dignity." But as this WSJ editorial bluntly puts it, the UN has no moral standing.

Two unpleasant points that have to be made about the UN:

* It has been depressingly ineffectual, mired in politics and red tape. The UN has looked on as populations were slaughtered in Bosnia, Rwanda, Iraq and now Sudan. The UN issued the orders for Saddam Hussein to cease-and-desist; the U.S. has acted on those orders and now Secretary-General Kofi Annan says that our liberation of Iraq was "illegal".

* Worse, it has been found to be riddled with corruption, as shown in the underreported Oil-for-Food scandal that generated over $10 billion for Hussein's regime. This action was undertaken in the name of humanitarian aid for the people of Iraq -- in reality it was (in the words of the New York Times) ""an open bazaar of payoffs, favoritism and kickbacks."

Like so many others, I cherish the ideals under which the United Nations was founded. I pray for the day when violent men who love conquest and power will be brought into subjection to the mandates of a rightful authority. But for now I also urge fellow Christians not to mistake the good intentions of the UN for the good actions that can promote human rights for God's children everywhere.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Recapping the knee-capping

Well, it didn't take long to find connections between the CBS team and Kerry' folks. Note: no one is saying that Kerry's guys orchestrated this. For my part, I don't think that they did. But I think they might have been aware of what one of the little half-crazed foot soldiers had in mind. Most likely we'll never know -- although it's interesting to note that it's largely due to alternative avenues of information that this story broke at all.

I would like to feel sorry for Rather et al, but consider some of the outrageous hypocrisy and duplicity of this:

* When critics to the 60 Minutes story first emerged, Rather got mad that people weren't focusing on the accusations -- um, hello? Remember the Swift Boat Vets? It was apparently enough for everyone to talk from Day One not about the charges but about supposed GOP connections that were never found and a 'web of inconsistencies' that never materialized. No member of the press has ever asked Kerry to answer the charges; talking about the weakness in their case was the only coverage they got in most newspapers and network news.

* Rather tried to deflect accusations about the timing of the story by saying that CBS had been working on it for four years. So we're supposed to believe it was a pure coincidence that it was released shortly before the election and synchronized both with an incredibly mendacious tell-all book by Kitty Kelly and with the last big anti-Bush offensive by the DNC (called "Operation: Fortunate Son")?

* Sept 10 - Rather claims that the criticism of the report was mostly the work of "Partisan political operatives" -- Yep, worked for Hillary. Blast that vast right-wing conspiracy -- they've done it again. Well, this one always plays well to the base, I guess. For the record, the 'partisan political operatives' in this case included Killian's son and widow, lawyers at powerline.com, journalists at instapundit.com and those rednecks over at NBC, ABC, the LA Times and the Washington Post.

* Sept 15 - "If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I'd like to break that story." -- I think he meant this to just shut all the upstarts down once and for good, but the rejoinder was so obvious, everyone almost said it at the same time. "Dan, the story IS broken."

* Sept 15 - CBS interviews Killian's secretary who says that the documents don't seem authentic, but that they reflect what was going on at the time -- A secretary. Right. So without answering the very real concerns that the story was contaminated by fraud, CBS decides to be magnanimous enough to concede that mistakes were made but tells us the story is still right as rain. Hoo boy.

* Sept 20 - Dan Rather's humble pie-eating contest -
If I knew then what I know now-I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question. But we did use the documents. We made a mistake in judgment, and for that I am sorry. It was an error that was made, however, in good faith and in the spirit of trying to carry on a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favoritism.

Well, certainly without the fear induced by checking your facts out. And as for the favoritism thing -- don't get me started.

Are we martyrs?

The saint featured in my "Daily Lives and Wisdom" book today was New Martyr Hilarion of Crete, who died in 1804.

Sometimes the hagiographies of the new martyrs are more of a shock to read than the ones of the early Church. They don't seem like stylized stories that belong to the same world as the features in a Byzantine icon. They seem unvarnished by whatever embellishments centuries of retelling might have lent to them. The actual martyrdom may not be as graphic, prolonged and elaborate, but you can simply believe that it happened just the way it was told -- 'mere' martyrdom, to use the C.S. Lewis term.

Here is the write-up from "Daily Lives":
Hilarion led an uneventful life until he was accused of embezzlement. Rather than pay his debt to society, he went to his friends. When they would not help him, he fled to the safety of an influential Moslem. Hilarion renounced Christianity for the Muslim faith and was given enough money to live comfortably. However, when his conscience reproached him, he moved to Saint Anne's Skete on Mount Athos. He hoped to atone for his sin before God. His sincere repentance touched all those around him. Still his guilt would not leave him. After many months, he decided to confront the Moslem man who helped him and to deny the Muslim fiath. Once there, he declared himself to be a Christian for all time, and in 1804 he was beheaded.

How little the Muslim world seems to have changed since then. How easy it is to imagine the same story playing out constantly these days in countries under Muslim rule, perhaps so frequently that the Church couldn't even keep up with the new martyrs and recognize them all.

But I don't mean to fasten my attention on the earthly enemy in the story and miss the bigger point. As always, when I read a martyrdom story, I think, "Could I have done what they did?" and then, when (not if) the answer is no, I think, "Where are our martyrs today?"

The world is full of pleasures, distractions and temptations. It always has been, but with every passing generation the volume (so to speak) gets turned up, and the answering clarion call of the True Church gets turned down. If I were to give us in the present day any credit for the kind of spirit that moved St. Hilarion, it would be that we haven't bowed our knee to the hedonism and heterodoxy of the present culture, even when the weight of it forces us down. I'm sure that the concessions we've made would appall earlier Christians -- I think nothing of playing cards or using words like 'karma' and 'zen'. We've learned to take them in stride, because the Christian who didn't pick their battles better than that would have to leave the world entirely, which St. Paul advised against.

But will there come a time for one of us, or all of us, when the battle is suddenly enjoined? In our generation, will we be asked to conform to something -- either from the secular worlds of science and commerce or from a foreign enemy like the Middle-Eastern terrorists -- that virtually denies Christ?

Like the stories from the new martyrs, it's not at all hard to imagine that that's just what would happen.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Self-disrespect

I'm grateful to Jim for pointing the way to this site where one can find a word from the desert fathers. Does anything run more counter-current to the world than thoughts like this from Abba Sisoes:
Let yourself be despised, cast your own will behind your back, and you will be free from care and at peace.

You know, I've re-written the commentary on this three times, and I don't know why. There's nothing I can add to it -- it speaks for itself. "... cast your will behind your back." I'll see if I can't remember that one.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Requiem

I had lots of plans of what I was going to do today, but they all more or less disappeared when I got a call from my goddaughter about the latest goings-on at my old church, which I've been calling St. Nicholas just to give it a name.

Just like old times. Another day of the soap opera. Another phone call where you wish you didn't have to say anything, but you realize that you'd have to disconnect your ability to reason and any power of judgment not to.

But finally it will come to an end. It definitely will for my goddaughter -- let's call her Angela. The chancellor finally came for the awaited visit, and though he offered a momentary glimpse of church life as it should be, that glint of daylight was obliterated more or less forever when the same hard-headed group of people who have brought St. Nicholas to its current state of affairs tried to bait Angela into a ridiculous fight before the chancellor had been gone for ten minutes.

The chancellor's visit was one last hope to turn back from sailing this ship onto the reefs forever. Apparently this group just couldn't stand the suspense any longer. They wrested the controls back at the first opportunity in order to behave as badly as they possibly could -- blaming, complaining, twisting facts, dwelling in unrealities, grasping at desperately sad and implausible lies. It's finally more pathetic than it is infuriating.

With this last fiasco, all but one of the remaining families will jump ship. So this Sunday, the group will finally be within sight of the unspoken goal -- a church of the few but like-minded. The word coming back through channels is that the one who has stood at the middle of it all is ... miserable. Not out of any sense of wrongdoing, but from bewilderment, anger, mourning ... anything but self-doubt, honesty or repentance.

I sit here in my living room in quiet at the end of the day. I report it disinterestedly, not caring so very much now what happened exactly. It's over. It's been over. I'm on the other side of the heartbreak that consumed the first part of the year. This week I start going to the new church I've found, feeling a little like damaged goods. Maybe I even feel a little afraid in case any of this ugliness clings to me and infects the new place where I seek sanctuary and fellowship.

I talk about it because it's what happened. And I talk about it partly because I tend to think these days that bizarre and depressing as it might seem, this is the history of the Church as well. Not always glamorous, triumphant or holy. Sometimes weak. Misguided. Broken. Human. It's only recently in my Bible readings that I've realized that the epistles are full of it, side by side with the inspiring and soul-replenishing verses that we love so much to hear.

When we read the stories of martyrs and apostles and councils, I think we envision a world of much easier choices, where the path of the One True Church was easy to see and the bad guys were obvious. But isn't it more wonderful really to think that these early saints had to make their way as we do, one painful step at a time? And doesn't it help more to think that what we do now matters much more than we may think?

The Christians of the first centuries might have had no idea how long the Church Age would last -- it seems like they expected Christ to return any minute. And from this they drew strength to do the right thing, to make their way in spite of martyrdom and schism. We know better now only because it's impossible not to. The age of this battle for humanity has lasted almost two full millennia now. God alone knows how much longer it goes on.

What hope do we have apart from God?

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Best headline

This week's "Weekly Standard" had the best sum-up of the recent misbegotten anti-Bush counteroffensive in a three-word headline: Ready, Fire, Aim.

Sometimes I actually like journalists.

Rather stupid, actually

I'm with Fr. Joseph on his opinion of the redoubtable Dan Rather -- my husband will tell you that Rather is in the number two position for Newsperson I Want to Kick (right behind Geraldo "The Mustache" Rivera) and moving up fast.

And I'm just mulling over the idea that CBS was had by clever operatives, either from the right as Fr. Joseph thinks or from Kerry's own party, as Laura N. suggests. Unfortunately, I tend to think that no one on either side had the brains and the nerve to do it.

But in the meantime, everyone ... EVERYONE ... must check out the 18-year-old "Bloom County" cartoon that could have been written yesterday.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Forgive me, brothers and sisters ...

... for I have tried to like Monastery Blend coffee, but lo, I cannot (tho' Deacon's Decaf only have I sampled. Mayhap another order might prove more pleasing?)

Yea, I also tried to like Trappist Preserves, but them I deem (in the Glengarry Glen Ross sense) "store".

I fear to purchase a puppy from the New Skete monastery, lest I be thrice sinful.

Behold, I am not a Marketplace Orthodox. I will include links to these pious laborers to expunge my sins. (If sizable purchases are made thereunto, forget not this lowly servant and kick back, what, maybe 10%?)

Sunday, September 12, 2004

9/12

I didn't expect to have any kind of thoughts worth putting down about 9/11. The minutes when planes hit and buildings went down came and went. I knew that somewhere tributes were being paid and silence was being observed. But I was just quiet with my own recollections, and chose to keep them vague. It's been three years -- these days that's a long time.

And what is there to say really? One of the things I really dislike about living in an age of mass communication and information is that every spontaneous human emotion gets repeated and reported and dissected until there isn't a hint of spontaneity left in it. And then it gets served to us as another spectator sport, more entertainment in case the current crop of movies are duds.

On the real 9/11, there wasn't a lot of talking. I remember that. Even the newspeople who can talk for hours were having a hard time.

On the real 9/11, I couldn't say anything either. I wanted to turn the TV off at noon. I tried, but I couldn't stand it. I cried and I prayed, but not nearly as much as I would've thought I would. I hurt. My bones hurt. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to look out my window at the Kansas City skyline and see no smoke, hear no sirens. If I turned the TV off, it would've been like nothing happened. Except that the shock of things was everywhere. How far is Kansas City from New York and Washington DC and the field in Pennsylvania? And yet, it was as if we'd been hit. There was no traffic. No one did any work. And even that wasn't an interesting thing to me at the time -- I wasn't thinking in terms of a spectator sport. All there was was reaction, and the reaction was pain.

So why talk about it now? Because I saw it again. Greg started this 7MB tribute video downloading and set me to minding the computer so I could tell him when it was done. I was tinkering uselessly on the computer and then it started. Greg wasn't trying to be insensitive -- he didn't know how it would affect me. I didn't know how it would affect me. But the emotions that were frozen three years ago weren't frozen as the video started putting up pictures of happy, smiling people that I knew weren't here anymore. I couldn't take it. But I still couldn't turn away.

To the victims of 9/11 -- rest in peace. May their memory be eternal.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Happiness, Protestantism and "hurting hearts"

Erica's post about not being angst-ridden enough for Biola made me start reflecting on the Protestant problem with happiness. I should be more honest -- it's more my problem with their perspective. They don't think they have a problem -- but I think that's what made Erica's professor lecture a class full of young Christians that it's okay to feel as miserable as they do.

Because the Protestants (oh heck, let's call them 'prots' to save keystrokes) I've met recently do feel miserable sometimes, and when they do, their flavor of Christianity tells them that they've failed somehow. Since it's just them and Jesus, they should never feel gloomy, right? Not even if they lost their job and they've contracted yellow fever. If they're a Good Baptist/Evangelical/Whatever this is the time they should "Let Go and Let God" or "Turn Their Scars into Stars" or whatever else their minister's bumper stickers have told them. Now's the time to contemplate the big-eyed figurine that tells them "Jesus Loves you THIS much."

Ugh! Sorry, I can't go on. I'm having flashbacks. My first real job was as a letter-reader for Robert Schuller Ministries in Garden Grove. I thought it would be a good thing to do, since I was just starting out as an Orthodox catechumen. What a mistake. The weight of all that flowery, paper-thin buoyancy just about did me in. Looking back, though, I don't know how they made it.

Well, maybe I do. They didn't make it. Not all the time anyway. Who could? Who would want to? Where in the philosophy of Christian Cheeriness is there a place for normal hills and valleys, not the ones that lead to death, but the ones that lead us to maturity and repentance and leave us with a bigger view of life.

The prot radio ministries are big on the kind of message that Erica's professor gave. I was surprised how many times they were addressed to "hurting hearts" out there that needed to pray and pray and pray and then send them a check or money order. Why so many hurting hearts? Like Erica, it made me feel like the odd man out. My life isn't perfect. There are a lot of things I probably would've changed. But I'm not sorry. Those aren't the things that hurt me really, or at least not as much as wondering what would've happened if I had been a better person.

I think prots are uncomfortable with us Orthodox sometimes because we don't smile more and, I don't know, cheer up. I get uncomfortable with them because they do. There's something a little brittle, a little shiny about all that. It's good stuff in small quantities, but it's sugar-water -- all zip and no substance. No wonder their hearts are hurting.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Adventures with dog

Clementine the coonhound and I had a bad night's sleep. That is, I had the bad night and she was forced to share it by virtue of our occasional sleeping-in-the-bed dispensation. Consequently, she's a little stranger than usual this morning.

All the same, I was surprised not to see her when I exited the bathroom after morning ablutions and a little courageous tub-scrubbing (note to husband: be impressed). She usually occupies the good chair throughout shower-time and manages to pose as The Perfect Dog in time for my entrance. The coonhound for the coonhound calendars; the Gloria Swanson of canines. "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Purina."

But she wasn't there. Nope, she was off in the office, prancing around and making big friends. I didn't even have to look hard to know what the object of her affection was. It was going to be a cricket.

I haven't figured out too many things about living in Missouri farm country (other than the difference between Holsteins and Herefords), but I've figured out that nature is going to go mad and overproduce one or two creatures every season, mostly six-legged ones. In spring, we had ants. In fall, it'll be Box Elder bugs. This summer, we had black crickets on the menu. As the featured special, they made sure to show up wherever possible. I've learned to shake out the morning paper before I bring it into the house to get rid of a couple looking for an opportunity to spoon.

And now some misbegotten cricket had wandered into hound's way. And she was doing the Big Dance of Greeting, leading the cricket to remember it had left the water on at home. But no! When the Big Dance of Greeting doesn't produce good results, the sport of "Are You Tasty?" is never far behind.

They are never tasty. I've solemnly informed Clementine many times that if she were this finicky of an eater in the wild, she would be SO dead. But for now, Clem's alive and the cricket is dead. I could've tried to intervene in the proceedings, but I arrived on the scene too late, and CPR is out of the question with my eyesight. So just another victim of her mad canine affection, then.

This has nothing to do with Orthodoxy, of course. Just a vital update on things.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Festal troparion

Since I had to pass along some sadness in the "Troparion of the day" post, I thought it was the least I could do to tack on a happy addendum.

When I got back from vacation yesterday, an e-mail was waiting for me from the choir director at what will be my new church:

"... I think I'm it for this evening's Vesperal Liturgy... I’ll look forward to seeing everyone tomorrow evening, then, for our monthly rehearsal ... What I really need to find out though, is your availability for the fall retreat ... There will be a festive nature to the singing, as we will start looking ahead at the Nativity music."



Vesperal liturgy? Rehearsal? Nativity music? Praise be, I'm in the Orthodox Church again!

Here's the troparion of the feast:
Your nativity, O Virgin, has proclaimed joy to the whole universe! The Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, has shone from you, O Theotokos. By annulling the curse, He bestowed a blessing. By destroying death, He has granted us eternal life.

And, even though it's about a week into the Orthodox year, I thought the kontakion from the indiction was meaningful:
O Creator and Master of time and the ages, triune and merciful God of all, grant blessings for the course of this year, and in Your boundless mercy save those who worship You and cry out in fear: O Savior, grant blessings to all mankind!

"DaVinci Code" my rear end!

Are you guys kidding me with this or what? I finally bothered to go see what all the fuss is about, and the thing is not only heretical (which went without saying), it's not even an interesting read!

Huw was way ahead of me with that one actually:
... has any one noted that there tends to be just REALLY bad writing in Spiritual
deception? Look at The choppy Gospel of Thomas. Look at the oddly writen
Celestine Prophecy series. Look at the Book of the Law or the Book of Mormon
with their pseudo-KJV language. What is it with the evil one and bad writing?

I'm put in mind that in an Orthodox online article on demonology (which I now can't find anywhere -- talk about a conspiracy!), I read that the reason that someone possessed can't speak in a normal voice is that the demon can't fully control their voice and has to settle for giving a demonic imitation. Maybe it's overstating things in this case, but I wonder if something like that is in effect with writers who dabble with things they can't understand or control.

In any case, to bring things out of the realms that I don't understand, let me just say that anyone who wants to read something interesting about the addictive and multiplicative qualities of conspiracies should read (or re-read) "Foucault's Pendulum" by Umberto Eco. It's a wonderful antidote for Dan Brown's blithering repetition of overpublished "secrets" (Knights Templar, Jewish Kaballah, Freemasonry, etc. etc. etc). In "Pendulum" a few Italian scholars decide to start constructing an utterly preposterous conspiracy that ties together everything conspiracy theorists love, and find that their fabrication is somehow being broadcast about and believed.

Unlike "DaVinci", this one is no light read -- like Eco's magnum opus "Name of the Rose", this one is a showcase for his unbelievable wealth of knowledge of medieval history. And I don't want to mislead anyone that it's always good Orthodox fare; it's got a couple obligatory sex scenes and a somewhat grotty view of life in general. But if you can make it just about to the end, Chapter 118 has a payoff that should be mandatory reading for conspiracy nuts. I don't want to give a spoiler, but I think I can get away with saying that the quote that starts off that chapter:
The conspiracy theory of society ... comes from abandoning God and then
asking, 'Who is in His place?' -- Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations,
1969"


Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Enough of the heterodoxy already

I meant the observations, comments and opinions on this blog to reflect both a positive and a negative side to things -- hence the name -- but I'm finding these days that the negative is taking precedent. That's what happens when we get to close to an election, I guess, especially one as hotly-contested as this one. But now I'm hoping that I can rise above it.

That's the overused phrase, isn't it? Rise above it? I don't think it quite works for an Orthodox believer, though. We talk of transcending the world, of elevated things. We sing the song of ascents, but implicit is always the understanding that we don't rise on our own power. At the times when we leave the pettiness, the strife, the evil of the world behind, it's because we drew away from it into a quiet place in ourselves, and found again that voice that says that this world is not all there is. That meeting doesn't just take all the bad things away from us like an extra-strength aspirin, and it doesn't happen without some effort. But as God is ever-merciful, I know that He won't ignore the plaintive cries of a sinful woman who is tired of adding her own voice to the rancor of being.

With friends like this, Bush'll win by a landslide

Unbelievable. I thought it had to be a fluke when I read one article giving Kerry a strong hint what his next direction should be, but now there are numerous ones that echo it like this one by grating feminist idiot Susan Estrich. And their consensus? The Kerry campaign hasn't been mean enough.

I'm not making this up. I wish I were making it up. In the year that has brought us allegations that Bush was a draft dodger (um, like Clinton, you mean? Never really thought that one was much of a starter.), a movie by Michael Moore that's nothing less than pure propaganda, attacks every day on Bush's foreign and domestic policy, a plethora of purely hit-piece books -- including one that allegedly has instructions on how to assassinate Bush, Kerry's friends are telling him he needs to get meaner.

So rather than face the charges, rather than try to give anyone the idea that he would be a fit commander-in-chief in spite of his less than stellar performance in Vietnam, rather than try to convince those who want so much to believe in him that he could govern well in spite of a pitiful and lack-lustre voting record for 20 years ... they want him to open up the can. They want him to Hulk out, to unloose Kerry of the Jungle. Someone at a stop in West Virginia even gave him a gun. Watch out!

It's all good news, as near as I can tell. Remember my first post about Bush winning just because the country isn't ready yet to take all the bile the left is spewing? Well, I'm thinking that with all of these good friends and all this good advice, Bush could win a third and fourth term. Go, Carville! Go, Estrich!

Monday, September 06, 2004

Shortest post yet

All right, is it just me or has the Laci Peterson murder trial been going on for 6 1/2 years??? I can't believe this thing. They'll be out with sequels to the movie of it before they even get to jurors' instructions at this rate.

Sorry. That has nothing to do with Orthodoxy, but sometimes a girl just has to vent.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Terrorism in Russia

If anyone knows a good prayer for the Russian people and civil authorities, please send it my way. I'm floundering, caught up short by the horror of their loss at the school in Beslan, and uncertain of anything to say on their behalf other than "Lord, have mercy." Maybe it's enough.

Putin now says that Russia's past response to terrorism had been insufficient. I think that some other nations wanted to believe that Muslim terrorism was America's problem. I think that they had the idea that they would appease these factions within their borders and they would escape their own 9/11. I don't know if they will still blame us somehow, as if the powder keg never would have exploded without the spark of our war in Iraq and the fact that our own heightened level of security makes these attacks less possible in our country.

If there was any such illusion in Russia, it's gone now. I am terribly sorry for their overwhelming loss, currently listed at 342 dead, mostly women and children. If Russia now stands ready to join us in repelling a violent and merciless enemy, I would consider it a good thing to have come out of this horror.


Friday, September 03, 2004

Your age in God-years

I don't know what I expected when I started making good on a promise to myself to get to know the saints of the Church better, but whatever it was, I bet I was wrong. It's full of surprises.

One of the saints of the day today is Martyr Basilissa of Nicomedia, who was tortured at length in an effort to get her to deny her faith. Miraculously, she was unharmed by the tortures and, seeing this, the pagan governor Alexander converted and was baptized. Basilissa herself died peacefully much later. (She was given the title of martyr by the Church, I suppose, in recognition of her sacrifice and its testament of her faith.)

So where's the surprise? At the time she was tortured, Basilissa was nine. Nine years old! When I was nine, I was getting in trouble for scratching my name into the station wagon. So much for the advantages of a modern education.

The Gospel reading for the day was of Jesus raising Jairus' daughter, who was twelve. (I won't even bother telling what I was getting in trouble for when I was twelve. It would be grim.) At the age that most of us are in the sixth grade, Jairus' daughter heard the words, "Maiden, arise."

What do years matter in God's eyes? He sees what we can't. Here were two girls who met Him, each in their own way, and left behind a story that makes each of us feel a little closer to meeting Him ourselves.

Interesting to reflect, for those who question the advisability of infant baptism, that in some faiths, neither one of these girls would've been full members of the church. I understand the hestitancy some converts to Orthodoxy feel about infant baptism -- it gave me problems for some time, but I decided to keep quiet about it, though I was unconvinced by the arguments in its favor. I remained unconvinced until the Sunday that I was close to the front of church when a newly chrismated baby was given Eucharist for the first time. She turned luminescent eyes on the priest and smiled, and the thought seemed to come to me from outside my head. "Oh my gosh. She knows." I've never been conflicted over infant baptism since.

Who can measure our age as God measures it?