On media and vision...

Waves of information wash over our personal shores every day. Our world is a world of millions of simultaneous electric conversations flowing through wires, in and out of space, and typed into the glow of computers everywhere there is power. Everyone seems to have 200 channels and yet nothing is on and wading through it all is a kind of martyrdom for the faithful, the running of a profane gauntlet who's blows are as unavoidable as they are unexpected and uncontrolled.

Although the solitude of a monastery beckons in such times it is not and cannot be the world for all, not even most. Those days ended when message and electricity were harnessed at the beginning of the century past and only catastrophe would bring us back to a simpler time. And while we have choices to make and actually have more power in all of this then we think we still participate, in one way or another, in the inevitable media culture.

But we can participate with discernment, in fact we must. As with everything there are larger principles at play and when we understand them we can navigate through these times and how the story of them is presented to us with a kind of insight that leaves us able to survive it all with our soul intact and our realities undistorted.

For Orthodox Christians in a media culture the first of these principles is to understand that our Faith and its object, our Lord Jesus Christ, are more than just ideas or rituals to which we give homage but a matrix through which we screen all the information that comes to us through the course of our lives. The success of any media is rooted in redirecting the way its consumers "see" things, to change the lens through which information and reality itself is perceived. The commercial first wishes you to become aware of your breath and then, in the awareness of it, purchase their mouthwash. For Orthodox it is crucial to understand that our Faith is, among its other attributes, a way of "seeing" ourselves, the world, events, and everything that is with a kind of vision transformed by the Holy Spirit. We understand that as this transformation happens we see things with clarity, observing everything, including ourselves, both for what it truly is and what it could truly become.

Perhaps this is why so many of the saints and ascetics of the past seem to have a kind of holy indifference to the things that trouble us so, the times, the events, the images that push us this way and that. After much struggle they began to acquire a vision of the world as the Holy Spirit would see it and with it came a kind of wisdom and peace that allowed them to see the world and care for its ebbs and flows but not be swept up in it. When eternity is part of our perception of things everything changes.

And in these times this kind of vision may be the most valuable commodity of all. All of the darkness of our culture is presented to us in never ending living color, it's materialism, its wars, its values, its panic, its hungers, and its false hopes. And if our own vision, like St. Peter's on the swirling seas, is captured by it we too are caught in its storm and at peril. Our hope lies in one thing, that the illumination promised to us in our baptism and sealed in our chrismation is made real in us and that as we cultivate it we can stand in a room of televisions and still see the Light.


Memory eternal...

I learned today that Larry Norman has passed away.

For many of us in the 70's and 80's his Christian rock music was a kind of soundtrack, his songs sometimes gritty and passionate but also hopful and uncompromising. Long before Christian contemporary music became a multi-billion dollar industry he was just a man who loved the Lord and wanted to put his faith to the music he loved as well.

In so many times of my own life, especially in times of struggle, I found his music to be a balm, a gift given to me to help make it though another day. And when I heard this morning that he died the words of one of his songs immediately came to mind...

May this good life be the life I lead
May my faith grow like a mustard seed
May Your love be all the love I need
To carry me all the way home....


Too cute...

I was serving the Liturgy yesterday and I stood in the Royal Doors extended my hand for a blessing and said "Peace be with you all..." at which point a young girl of about 3 or 4 in her father's arms in the back of the church flashed me a peace sign.

Gotta love it...


Orthodox Study Bible...

I received my Orthodox Study Bible last Sunday and have been busy opening it up, taking a look around, and seeing how it works.

The Bible itself has been a long time coming and it definitely fills a need. Orthodox Christians seeking a Bible of their own, as it were, in a sea of study Bibles ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous had really nowhere to go until now. Prior to its arrival Orthodox woud need to read these other Bibles with a kind of internal editor in their head, a basic sense of the Tradition of our faith that could filter through the various notes and maps and comments to sift the wheat from the chaff. It could be done but this is so much better because now you can read for the sake of it and with more focus because that editor has a whole lot less to do.

Among the things that many Orthodox will find new is the use of the Septuagint for the Old Testament and what has been called the "Deuterocanonicals" books such as Maccabees and Tobit which, of they existed at all in Bibles were often put in a separate section between the testaments. In the Orthodox Study Bible they are placed where the Septuagint placed them and so they flow right with the books more familiar to many, especially to Protestants who have come to Orthodoxy. For example First Maccabees is right after Esther and Tobit follows Nehemiah.

The order and naming of the more familiar books is also restored to the original flow of the Septuagint so if, for example you've been used to seeing Isaiah right after Song of Solomon you might be suprised to find it after Malachi which many of us had simply assumed was the last book of the Old Testament. It will take some time to get used to but it does illustrate how great the need was for a Bible that reflected historical order and the Orthodox context. Some of the names of the books are slightly different as well. What many of us had learned as 1 and 2 Samuel are named 1 and 2 Kingdoms according to the Septuagint's usage. 1 and 2 Kings are identified as 3 and 4 Kingdoms in the study Bible. The New Testament bookd retain their familiar titles.

I was fortunate to have purchased an Orthodox Study Bible in advance at a discounted price but I would still reccommend the leather bound which is initially more expensive, just under $70, but if properly cared for (which for Orthodox means opened frequently but never abused) should last for years. I never mark up my Bibles or use highlighters first because individual verses, while emotionally and spiritually significant, should never be divorced from their context and second because it just cruds things up. It's also good to keep the Bible is a safe, dry, place appropriate for the storage of a fine book.

It should be noted that there are two great pleasures with owning a new Bible. The first is that initial opening up of the book, the new book smell and gently separating the gold leafed pages. Even if you've read the Bible many times there's something about a new one. The second will come over the years as you and the Bible share your life together. It, and you, will wear with age but those age marks in your Bible are the marks of how the precious things inside have journeyed with you over the years. An old Bible is like an old friend and when the new is gone everything valuable still remains.

There is a myth out there that the Orthodox church and Orthodox clergy don't want you to read the Scriptures. This is simply untrue. For many centuries Bibles were not widely available to the masses because they were hand copied. At times widespread illiteracy also played a part as did the oppression of the Orthodox Church in Muslim and Communist cultures. Sometimes, too, it was simply a matter of Orthodox being spiritually asleep. But the truth is that our faith is a biblical faith and if the opportunity is open each and every Orthodox Christian should be well versed in the Holy Scriptures, interpreting them in the larger context of their Tradition, and applying it's truth to their lives. I would dearly love for my entire parish to read, understand, and live the Bible, the book of books, even as I work to do so myself and I am convinced that the Orthodox Study Bible is an amazing gift for times such as this.

You can get the Orthodox Study Bible at http://www.concilliarpress.com/


Other views on Serbia and Kosovo...

Sadly the whole affair in the former Yugoslavia has often been presented as "Serbs are the bad guys, everyone else is a victim". Here is an alternate view worth considering. In this strife torn part of the world where inter-cultural and inter-religious conflict has gone on for centuries nothing will make sense without a larger picture. As always remember this region in your prayers.


My thanks to the 5000 and more who have visited this site. Whether by accident or intent I am grateful for your passing through and even though I'm microscopic in terms of visitors compared to many, perhaps most, blogs I hope that what I've done has made some difference.


Some thoughts on Kosovo...

Some thoughts on Kosovo that should be mentioned as context in the larger discussion of Europe creating a Muslim dominated state within its sphere. It would be good for Orthodox Christians to really gain an in depth understanding of that area of the world, its history of inter-religious conflict, and the consequences currently being experienced by our Orthodox brothers and sisters in that area. For the most part we American Orthodox have been very under-educated and silent on these things and our brothers and sisters have been and will bear the cost.


Picked up a CD...

I picked up a CD today "Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits", something I've meant to do for some time. Hers is a tragic story, the downside of all the peace and love stuff people talk about when they idealize the 60's. It seems she had neither but she also had more soul then any ten current female singers combined. Good bass lines, too, for a guy who still loves to play.


Picks up on a theme...

Charles Krauthammer picks up on the Obama religion theme...


A really funny blog...

If you haven't been to http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.wordpress.com/ you're missing a treat. Just be preapred to have your nose tweaked. You know who you are!!


A possible clue...

His record as a Senator is average, which it should be for someone in their first term. He has no military experience. He has little foreign affairs experience. He has never administered any government agency of significance. A visit to his website reveals a platform cobbled together from excerpts of speeches and standard liberal boilerplate. So why is Sen. Barack Obama so popular?

Some have proposed a kind of "Clinton fatigue" among Democrats. The party faithful have had enough of Bill, and Hillary, who's ascendence was in his wake, is descending accordingly. Some have thought her votes for the Iraq war have cost her dearly among the well organized and financed anti-war leftists who control large sections of the Democrat machinery and by and large flocked to Sen. Obama. Others have speculated that in the PC culture of the Democrat party Sen. Obama has the personal demographics to make him a multi-culturalist's dream candidate. There's as many ideas as pundits but perhaps there's something more.

People who measure such things have increasingly noticed that the Democrat party has become the secular party, a place where non-believers and liberal believers have found a home and one that has grown increasingly intolerant of traditional or historic faiths and the idea of transcendent truth. Surveys on religious affiliation and political party trend, as a rule, sharply to identifying the party as the choice of non-believers, agnostics, and liberal believers of all stripes. Anecdotally it would be hard to identify, for example, a single prominent national politician of the party with a consistent pro-life record and the party as a whole is moving as quickly as it can without incurring the wrath of the folks back home in embracing an agenda of marriage and family unmoored from historic norms. It could reasonably be said, except for perhaps the interesting fixation of African American evangelicals and pentecostals in the Democrats, that the party is a kind of political wing for the unitarian universalist movement in this country. And therein lies a possible clue.

Could it be that Sen. Obama's success comes from his ability to, perhaps even unconciously, tap into the spiritual hunger of a group of people who've long abandoned traditional forms and create a kind of spiritual energy with vague catch phrases like "We are the change we've been waiting for..." and a kind of elocution and energy long on emotion and short on troubling things like substance that fills a void of the increasingly secular Left? Has Sen. Obama, in fact, created a kind of "political pentecostalism" complete with an emotional contact to a kind of transcendency that allows the fervor of religion without having to actually believe in anything other than believing, a perfect kind of faith for a party increasingly faithless in the traditional sense?

This at least is an interesting possibility. People who wouldn't be caught dead at a Benny Hinn event or in the mega pews of a Joel Osteen have perhaps found in Sen. Obama the preacher they've been looking for, someone like them who makes them feel good, insists on little except supporting the preacher, and requires none of the contemplation or sacrifice that comes with maturity in faith or politics. Whether he stumbled on this by accident or it's a product of purpose and design it may be possible the Senator has effectively taken the the ethos of so much of our current Christian culture, shallow, emotional, form without substance, and grafted it to a kind of generic secular vision laced with words evocative of spirituality and in doing so created a hybrid packing all the emotional wallop of a camp meeting but with no larger altar call then to vote for him.

Will it work? We'll see. But in a time such as ours it could happen and that says a lot about where we are, how far we may have to travel, and what tasks lie ahead for us as Orthodox Christians.


The hits just keep on coming...

More on the cult of Obama, this time it's MSNBC journalist Chris Matthews falling under the spell.

This has sort of taken a life of its own from curious news item to cultural fad and its getting both fun and wierd to watch from a distance.


From Holland...

Lent rebranded as "Christian Ramadan"...

That sound is me banging my head on the table.

Son of the cult of Obama...

This time women are acting like Sen. Obama is the Beatles...

Imagine how different the world really would be if those who follow Christ had the same passion, minus, of course, the whole Beatles fan thing.


More on the cult of Obama...

This time from Australia.

Now if you wonder why I'm linking this I'll explain. People, I believe, are naturally "messianic" that is they're attracted to people who they perceive are larger than life or larger than themselves or who they see as the solution to their problems or providing some other kind of solace.

This can be fairly harmless as in kids pretending to be their favorite football player or even positive as in our Orthodox openness to embracing and emulating Saints as they model Christ. There's a line, though, sometimes nearly invisible, between a normal human admiration and transcendent veneration and as that line is crossed danger is not far behind. The danger is rooted in our own human brokenness and the reality that both we, and those we consider heroic, are still human and transcendent veneration will always bump up aganst that humanity and sometimes with horrible effect.

In the article linked above the author contemplates what may happen if a surge of people actually propel Sen. Obama into the presidency only to discover that this larger than life image, skillfully crafted, disappears into the real world of actually running a government. What will happen when they discover that this person, so eloquent in front of cameras, is, in actuality, a person and not the "one" who will change everything they think is wrong with this country and usher in a new shining era? After all could anyone be? Where will all that affection go? Where will the emotion of the moment travel? It might be something even the Senator should contemplate.

And less you think this is just about Sen. Obama and the current fascination of the political left one only needs to recall the kind of adulation spent on Ronald Reagan during his term and after with some even suggesting his visage be placed on our Mount Rushmore! Even today his memory is cited by the political right and his veneration continues. We all do it, and we all need to be careful as well.

We humans know we need a savior. Instinctually inside of us we, whether we are religious or not, are convinced there must be something, someone, outside of us with the capacity to deliver us from our nagging doubts, our sense of futility, the awareness of our brokenness. But to give that kind of veneration and power to a fallible human of any kind, including clergy, is fraught with peril. Perhaps the rule for we as Christians should be to not give anyone that kind of worship unless and until they die and rise again.


A little heat...

The Archbishop of Catnerbury is beginning to feel a little heat for his remarks on the inevitability of Islamic Sharia law in Britain. It appears all hope is not yet gone. But as I've said before perhaps one of the greatest benefits of the rise of radical Islam in the world is that Christians will realize the value of Christian influenced culture on their lives. Sometimes we forget what we've got until it's gone.

Imagine a world ruled by the likes of Osama Bin Laden or any of a hundred would be caliphs and you'll quickly understand that actually all religions don't teach the same thing but they do matter and the trajectory of a culture and all who inhabit it often hang in the balance.

Now if we could just get our politicians to wake up and smell the coffee...


Last of the headaches...

The doctors report is in, chronic sinusitis with a deviated septum. Prescription? Levaquin for ten days and then a visit to an ENT to check things out. Thank you Lord.

The cult of Obama...

An interesting article here. People without a messiah will create one because they still have that inherent need. And therein lies a lesson.

One of the things Christians, I believe, have to remember is that politics is always about choosing the best option among a group of persons who are, like us, sinners. Sometimes we get more, sometimes we get less, but we never get perfect, should never ask for it, never expect it, and certainly never place our trust in any person as if they were.

With friends like this......

The Archbishop of Canterbury says that implementation of some aspects of Islamic Sharia law in Britain is "unavoidable". With that attitude thank goodness he wasn't serving in the late 1930's.

It's sad to see that some in the Church seem to be unable to stand up for the values that underline Christian civilization. Quite frankly we've seen so many examples of the harshness and brutality of Islamic Law that I can't imagine why anyone who could avoid it doesn't or what possible value or benefit it would be to any society where it is now not present. The larger irony is that many things of value in countries where Sharia Law predominates, from electric lights to airplanes to oil wells, are the result of importing the fruit of predominantly Christian cultures. Can anyone even imagine someone living in traditional Afghanistan inventing television?

Of course we in cultures significantly influenced by Christianity have made mistakes, sometimes terrible ones, and continue to do so (we also have, because of Christianity, the mechanisms of positive change). But does anyone with a shred of common sense think the world should look less like the European / American democracies and more like Saudi Arabia or Iran? Why can't the Archbishop of Canterbury crawl out of his multi-cultural relativistic mind hole and think that perhaps the reason his country is being flooded with Muslim immigrants is precisely because they're fleeing such places for something better, the very place he thinks will be improved by importing the ideas that turned those places into cultural rubble centuries ago.

Perhaps its only at the first beheading, sadly perhaps his, that he'll understand.

Just a thought...

I was listening to the radio on the way in to work today and there was an ad for a sale on seafood. It brought up a question.

Why is it on sale and does a person really want to eat discount seafood? Every once in a while I see people selling shrimp, for example, out of the back of a truck on a hot summer day and I have to tell you that while the price is good there's something about shrimp in the summer sun that's less than enticing.

Just a thought.


Headaches part four...

8:00 AM and laying on a movable bed, face down, chin up, arms at my side, looking for all the world like a ski jumper being shot through a magnetic doughnut. In and out in a little around 15 minutes after the first try was unsuccessful. Now comes the worst part, the waiting time when every little thought finds its voice.

Headaches part three

It's about four in the morning and I've been up a while with a headache so I decided to take a few migraine type over the counters and hang out with the cat.

Yesterday I was at the doctor and he took a look at me, prescribed a rather powerful and expensive medication, Imitrex ($231 for nine pills thank goodness for insurance) and scheduled me for a CAT scan this morning at 8 AM. He thinks there may be a chronic infection of the sinus in there somewhere that the usual antibiotics can't touch and so he wants some pictures. If I can get a copy I'll post them here so you can see what's really inside my head.


Headaches part two...

In a few hours I'll be paying a visit to a new doctor. The new year apparently is the time when your HMO gets changed and so I have to start all over again with an unknown doctor and he, in this case, with me.

It's about the pesky headaches that arrived the day after Christmas and still seem to be lingering around. I've had the chiropractic work done and its helped some. I've treated the sinus infection and that has made things a bit better. I've even stopped the meds. Yet they're still there, bearable by their familiarity but still a nuisance.

The truth is I'm not a big fan of the medical industrial complex even though I've made my living within its embrace for many years. To get to the bottom of this we're going to have to question, poke, and prod. All along the way there will be forms to fill out and rooms in which to wait. In the end we still may fing no immediate answer or worse yet the doctor will give up and say "It's all in your head", which, of course, it actually is but there's no comfort and no resolution in that. Regardless I've brought a book to pass the time.

I've thought about all the scary options like "What if it's a tumor?" and that seems so unreal it would take me a moment of two to focus if I actually heard those words, some seconds to absorb it as something other than abstract. I suppose if that were the case I'd at least have a target to shoot at, a direct cause and effect and in some sad sort of way an answer. These things happen and why should I be exempt?

But in truth the chances are slim and what's more likely in store for me is the presence of a new malady in my life. When I talk about this with the folks who live where I work they tell me of a lifetime of migraine headaches and how it impacts their life. I remember having these headaches occasionally as a child. I would call them "light headaches" because I just wanted to close my eyes and stay in the dark hoping for some relief. Perhaps they're back to stay, given a new lease on life by virtue of old accidents and injuries, new stresses, and who knows what else. I suppose I have Adam and Eve to thank for this, welcome to the mortal world.

The one blessing in this is that it has drawn me closer to God. I'm not saying I'm some sort of saint or anything like that. I've got a long way to go. But illness has the power of clarifying things, of providing focus, of shedding all that is less and directing the heart to all that matters. At two in the morning when I'm awakened by my head hurting very few things other then prayer make sense and the realization that, whatever the diagnosis, I truly am mortal and subject to all the laws of age and decay that temporarily rule this world really does set my sights on higher things. I wouldn't want the pain if I could help it but it seems that this kind of insight and pain somehow are part of the same package and so the trade, for now, seems at least sort of fair.

That all being said it's a pretty good day today, no splitting headache and just the usual sort of pressure feeling that's been my companion now for over a month. My eyes are a little out of focus but not so bad that I can't drive or work. In a little while the search for answers begins. I'll have my book ready for the waiting room and my prayer rope if things get rough.

1984 redux...

I'm always cautious when the State offers the promise of security for just a BIT more survelliance.

Does anyone really think that a convinced terrorist will say "I'm sorry they have an iris scan of me so I guess I can't blow myself up?" Meanwhile a whole bunch of folks who had background checks because they wanted to be Scout leaders and such will have loads of personal information just sitting there for what???

There are risks that come with being free people, sometimes dangerous people can manipulate freedom to their own ends, but they are small compared to the burdens of those who live with the all seeing eye of the State. God help us if this is a lesson we're going to have to learn for ourselves.


The Everlasting Man...

I've just begun reading G.K. Chesterton's "The Everlasting Man" and like "Orthodoxy" its shaping up to be a magnificent read. If you haven't read either of the two I'd highly recommend them but be prepared for some serious reading, these books come from a day when writers and readers both had educated tastes.



Apparently Muslim terrorists have used one, perhaps two, women with Down's Syndrome as unwitting suicide bombers in Iraq, possibly denotating the devices by remote control.

The saddest thing is that this made sense to someone, somehow, some way.