It should be noted that this time of year, what I knew as Advent, is the time I miss the Western Rite (through which I came into Orthodoxy) the most. I can function and be blessed in the East for all of the year but in this time of year I remain occidental at heart.
I'm grateful for the sun. Now that's so odd or generic that some of you reading this may start to wonder, but not if you live in Minnesota where November is often a perpetually cloudy day. November in these parts is soggy, enough snow to make mud, enough cold to keep you inside, sunsets around 5 in the afternoon, and gray skies everywhere and every day. But this past week has looked more like January, when the winds descend on us from Canada and bring cold, brilliant, air on cloudless days.
It can be a miserable time, a typical Minnesota November, and some day I will leave this place for good and live where there is no such thing. But until then these past few days, sunny, cold, but bright, are more precious than gold and I'll do my best to take full advantage.
I haven't been there in a while and it will be interesting just to drive around the place and see what things have changed and what remains the same. The truth is I'm most curious about what has become of my friends from those days. I would like to think they all still live in the neighborhood and we could just look them up and get together again but that's just a wish. They, like me, have scattered to the winds, their kids are in college and I'm a fragment to them as they are to me.
In the years since I've left Wausau I've had a recurring dream. I'm at the middle school I left in the winter of 1975, and there's a store there with shirts and items with the school's name which I either try to find, or having gotten there, fail to find one that fits before I awake. I think that dream is about my disconnect from those days, that place, my friends and everything that was there, a disconnect I cannot mend.
Many good things have happened since I left Wausau, but I often still feel like a visitor wherever I am, like there was unfinished business in that small town in the middle of Wisconsin which I sometimes hated but where I also felt like I belonged. So I'm not feeling the best, and I've been awake with coughing for too many hours this morning, but I want to go for what reason I'm not sure.
Maybe I just need to buy whatever it was I couldn't get in my dream.
I'll seek and find you. I'll take you to bed and have my way with you. I'll make you ache, shake & sweat until you moan & groan. I'll make you beg for mercy, beg for me to stop. I'll exhaust you to the point that you'll be relieved when I'm finished with you. And, when I'm done, you'll be weak for days.
All my love, The Flu
or the baddest of them all, John Entwistle...
Compared to these guys I'm just a thumper. But if I had no need for money and a lot of time to practice I'd sure chase after them...
I own four basses, a Fender GB41 acoustic-electric, an Ergo electric upright, an Ashboury traveling bass, and a special edition Fender Precision electric bass. These are all good instruments but, of course, they're only as good as their strings and most instruments, except for high end and boutique products, come with strings like the tires on your new car, enough to get you out of the store and home and not too much more.
Some time ago, though, I discovered Rotosound a company in Britain that makes strings for electric basses and has been doing so for decades. Their list of endorsees is very long and includes some of the biggest names in electric bass and their strings, wow! I recently replaced the stock strings on my Precision with Rotosound Jazz 77's and its like I've purchased a new instrument; a nice mellow bottom with just the right balance of bass "thud" and sustain (musicians talk about their strings like people talk about wine). What that all means is that the strings produce very solid discernable low notes (not muddy or blurred together) yet it has enough sustain in the tone that the notes carry from one to another without large gaps between them. Anyway, I spent a few moments this morning playing the instrument and as the strings settle in (it can take a while for a string to stretch out on an instrument) the sound gets even better.
In that vein I've often said that most people are musical but they simply haven't found the right instrument. When we're kids we're largely forced to play what our parents, or the music teacher, tell us to play and if we fail at that we spend the rest of our lives thinking we have no talent and so we leave playing music behind. But not everybody is supposed to be a piano player and just because you're the tallest kid in the school doesn't mean the orchestra leader should shove as an upright bass into your arms. When people find their instrument, the one that resonates with them, who they are and what sounds they like to hear, then its amazing how "talent" seems to follow. Sadly many people who haven't yet found their instrument just give up and the music stays inside them.
There's a life lesson in there somewhere for sure...
I've been doing a lot of reading and working on a presentation for an ecumenical gathering in LaCrosse on December 2nd. The cats have been swapping laps as my wife and I sit on the couch with our books, and I've been getting to bed at a reasonable hour. I'm missing some good movies, I suppose, but I'm also not getting hit in the face with minute by minute panicked coverage of the stock market or whatever is the latest happening in the life of some "star" so it seems a fair trade.
But Mimi, thanks for your concern. We're just used to driving through that stuff around here.
And Anonymous, I still think its a good idea to pray for the city of San Fransisco because it does two things. When we pray for someone or a group of people it takes away hostility because we begin to see them as humans. Second we are advised that behind the struggles we see in history are not so much people, but as St. Paul says, "principalities and powers..." that is spiritual forces working in and through people and cultures. By prayer we address not just what or who we see but also what is unseen behind the events of our time.
You know how so many times conservative, traditional, and Orthodox Christians just look out west at San Francisco and shake our heads? Now I do agree there's a fair amount of what we would consider curious and dare I say even dangerous and sinful about that town but what do you think would happen if observant Christians all across America just started praying for it? I mean bathe the whole place with prayer, every time you see something crazy or wrong happening there just pray and pray even when the place isn't in the headlines.
Has anyone ever tried it? Could it be that we've spent so much time reviling the place, making fun of it, and just frankly hating it that we've forgotten to pray for it? And what would happen if a few thousand fervent Orthodox Christians starting asking for the intercessions of the Mother of God, or perhaps St. John of San Francisco for that city? After all the Scripture says we're not fighting against people but against spiritual principalities and powers.
If you'd like to give it a try pass this along.
Hat tip to Dick Staub
My normal routine after driving through the afternoon would have been to arrive home, have a little supper, and then catch the football games and whatever else is on. Sometimes I'd stay up until midnight. But last night I just went to bed when I was tired and slept as long as I needed since I have Mondays off. When I was finished sleeping my body woke up, no alarms and no weariness. I've noticed this in other times when I've cut myself away from the box. I sleep better and after a time of catching up on my sleep feel rested and alert. We'll see if this happens again.
And BTW here's an article regarding children under the age of two and television.
PS - As I've stated before I'm not talking about this because I'm some super saint. If the truth be known I've just gotten tired of what I was becoming after attaching myself to our culture's umbilical cord / sewer pipe and decided to take myself off the grid.
Already the stores are starting to advertise merchandise at deep discounts but people watching the markets dive and spin are holding on to whatever money they have left. The next few weeks might be some of the best in years to buy a TV but I doubt you'll be going elbow to elbow with other shoppers at Best Buy, let alone the now bankrupt Circuit City. Some of the fancy people are even swallowing their pride and taking that first big step into WalMart or the local thrift store.
This is all new to us, or at least to some of us, this insecurity, this sense of limits, this realization that there's a ceiling above us and that times can take a sudden turn. Of course, what we feel now is business as usual in most of the world, in fact its better then the day to day life of many who live with fluctuating politics, uncertain economies, and what we would consider deprivation as a matter of course. But we've been cocooned in our prosperity, wrapped up in a same warm blanket that, until now, has largely kept us out of the cold. Perhaps there is someone now, in some forgotten part of the third world who's looking in on all of this and saying "Perhaps now you'll understand..."
With this sudden and new feeling of vulnerability coursing through our souls we've called out to our leaders to save us but the truth is that ones departing and the ones arriving are basically helpless and somehow deep inside we know it. They're helpless because the whole thing is a house of cards, an illusion, a scheme where we can borrow, beg, or steal our way to ever increasing prosperity and leave the bill for someone else. Well the repo man is here, now, and he's not taking "The check's in the mail" for an answer. And in the face of this uncertainty we might even shake our fists, as it were, at the sky and ask "Why, God? Why this turmoil and why now? Why this disturbance in the quiet comfort of my life? Why these foreboding times?" The answer may have two parts.
First, we're going to rediscover that the god we worship, the god of suburban comforts, the giant ATM in the sky who loves America, and has his name on money is not the God who actually exists. That god is an idol, always was, a projection of ourselves and our culture on the skies above and our prayers to such a god echo in an empty room. The God that exists is a fire, powerful, awesome merely at the mention of his name, and calls us both to account and to salvation for the sake of a love that defies our attempts to measure. The life he calls us to is a life completely alive, completely human, a life where we are transfigured by divinity and called to shine with perfect light even in a world darkness often seems to rule. And second, this God loves us so much that he may even allow our money, our security, and our earthly stability, to be taken away from us so that we discover, again, those things that are eternal, those things that last, those things which make us human, those things which can never be taken away. In short, to rediscover God. We may have to lose the whole world, as Jesus tells us, to save our own soul.
So now the fast is upon us, not a fast as a ritual exercise or a convenience, but a fast we cannot escape brought on by forces beyond our control but not God's. In times past we cut back, we shared, we gave to others and prayed for ourselves and each other from the scraps of our table, from the excess of our abundance. As the times unfold and the larger bills come due we may find every day to be a kind of fast, a disciplining of ourselves because we cannot afford anymore to live in excess. But in this time devout hearts will also discover again the true meaning of things; the clinging to that which lasts and the discarding of that which does not matter, the reality that in giving to others we provide for ourselves, the truth that our ultimate hope is not in those who would lead us for a time but rather in our Lord Jesus Christ who has overcome all the world.
If we come to understand this the days ahead may be, for us the holiest times of our lives, the days when we as the comfortable Christians of America awoke from our dream and saw, again, the truth of Bethlehem's star.
O.K., not really, but the TV isn't on and I'm going to try my best to see how things go without TV for the duration of the Nativity Fast. I just had a concern about how much precious life I was burning in front of the box and what it would be like if I spent some time without all those frantic pulses of information charging through my head.
Already I've realized how automatically I would turn to the TV for background noise, something just to fill the spaces in the day. And I wonder what I'll do with those spaces. I have some plans, more music, more reading, more attention to my business. But plans are plans and we'll see how things go after a while. The first days of a fast are always easy, in some ways, because your motivation is high and one can generally hold back an urge for a while. I can tell you, though, that the stuff inside of me will probably want to come out somehow, somewhere, so a few days from now the battle will be on. I'll put my book down because I'm tired of reading and my hand will move to the remote to get a dose of that mindless TV input.
Then we'll see what I'm made of!
PS I know you're not supposed to tell people about your fast and the truth is this has nothing to do with my being some super Christian and a lot more to do with coming to terms with the junk I've been putting into myself and how its made a mess of me. Who knows? I might end up as a slobbering fool flat on my back in front of the box about a week from now, but I'm going to give it my best shot.
May God grant Him many years!
Yesterday was all about the last things to do on the list. Clean up the leaves one last time so they're not found wet and cold next spring. Mow the lawn level. Take out the remains of the climbing plants. And yes, set up the lights for Advent even though its still a week away. The rumors are its going to be a cold and snowy one this year, the kind of winter we had when we were kids, so now is the time to get things done.
On November 15 the TV goes dark and the fast begins. I've got things to do and books to read for all that down time. I think I'll start weaning myself off the box tonight. There's plenty of vegetable soup for meals and I had one last hamburger on the way down to LaCrosse this past Saturday. Now that the house is in order it seems like its time to get myself in order for the weeks to come, weeks I need right now to get everything back to where it needs to be.
One of the great gifts of Orthodoxy are the fasting times. Its so normal for my life to get all out of whack and the fasts call me back to sanity, winding up all the loose ends and untying the knots. And I need this one in particular, this post election, post church vandalism, post busy stuff at work, post everything nativity fast. Now that I'm buttoned up on the outside I need to be buttoned up on the inside.
Looking out of my window I see the snow has begun to fall. And so it begins.
Learning in War-Time
(Lewis offers his thoughts on the pursuit of education and culture in times of warfare and national crisis from a profoundly Christian perspective.)
". . . I think it important to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective. The [terrorism] creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If [people] had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with "normal life." Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of crises, alarms, difficulties, emergencies. Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never comes. Periclean Athens leaves us not only the Parthenon but, significantly, the Funeral Oration. The insects have "chosen" a different line: they have sought first the material welfare and security of the hive, and presumably they have their reward. [People] are different. They propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache: it is our nature. . . .
[Terrorism] makes death real to us: and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality. I am inclined to think they were right. All the animal life in us, all schemes of happiness that centered in this world, were always doomed to a final frustration. In ordinary times only a wise [person] can realize it. Now the stupidest of us knows. We see unmistakably the sort of universe in which we have all along been living, and must come to terms with it. If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul . . . we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon. But if we thought that for some souls, and at some times, the life of learning, humbly offered to God, was, in its own small way, one of the appointed approaches to the Divine reality and the Divine beauty which we hope to enjoy hereafter, we can think so still."
Now news is coming from California about protests following the passing of Proposition 8 in California, a constitutional amendment that returned California law to its historic understanding of marriage and family. Religious buildings have been defaced, people have been verbally and physically attacked, and marchers have threatened both people and institutions they believe supported the proposition.
Amazing, isn't it, how some of the proponents of "tolerance" and "inclusivity" get angry and violent when they don't get their way. If you think that the movement towards same sex marriage is completely benign and simply about "equal rights" do a Google search on this and take a look at the faces of the people in these protests. Take a look, as well, at what some "activists" have done, in countries where same sex marriage is the law of the land, to harass and intimidate those they cannot indoctrinate. Witness, again, the wholesale purge of traditional clergy and parishes currently underway by the very people who have come to power in the Episcopal Church by seeking "dialogue" and "openness" in the areas of sexuality and the church. The information can be startling.
Because of our Faith we cannot respond in kind or act out of fear but we do need to be wise. Underneath the gentle hand of "tolerance" and "inclusivity" there can be hard balled up fist aimed right at your face if, as a traditional Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, or Buddhist for that matter, you dare to oppose the new regime. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, seek in love to reach out and be a channel of grace, and always be ready to pray for even those who would, if they had the chance, silence you.
But the sun, what a relief to see it, even for the briefest time, in November!
The death of religion, of the true Christian religion, occurs when the God who became flesh and dwelt among us, is seen as the God who has removed Himself (having accomplished His work here) and is found only in the distance of theological thought. It is little wonder that in the sterility of Christian atheism the vacuum of a true spiritual life should be filled with the vacuity of the political life.
The Republican party is dead. The Democratic party is dead. Neither of them can give you life. They belong to a world that is passing away. What remains is what has been established by God and still sails before the winds and on the tide that obey His voice.
There is a Kingdom of God, found in communion with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. It is not removed from us but has come among us. It breaks forth in human lives and burns with spiritual fire in the sacraments of the Church. It heals the sick, raises the dead, casts out demons and gives freely what it has freely received. It knows no economy other than the fullness of God who causes the barren woman to be the joyful mother of children, who brings forth water in the desert and changes water into wine.
Religion is not dead - only the false pretense of religion begotten in the delusion of the modern world.
The rest is here...
Now I know you're not supposed to advertise your fast but what would it be like if Orthodox Christians just quietly turned off their televisions on November 15th? No fanfare, no press releases, just a click of the remote and everything goes silent.
What could we do with the time? How would we live with our society's umbilical cord cut? What would change about us in that month and a half when we have hours of our day freed from the background noise of our lives? How would we relate to each other? Would we be physically better or worse? How about spiritually, intellectually? And what about the withdrawl symptoms? What would they be and how could we overcome them?
I haven't developed my thoughts about this yet but I'm thinking about taking the plunge. How about you?
That when one divorces freedom from faith both freedom and faith suffer. Freedom becomes rudderless (because truth gives freedom its direction). It is left up for grabs to the most adept political thug with the flashiest new policy or program; freedom without a moral orientation has no guiding star. Likewise, without freedom and the ability to make moral, economic and social choices, people of faith have restricted practical impact. Theocracy is the destruction of human freedom in the name of God. Libertinism is the destruction of moral norms in the name of liberty. I say a plague on both their houses.
Hat tip to Orthodoxy Today
Traditional marriage won in this election, for now. But those in their teens and twenties have their vision of marriage shaped largely in terms of secular rights and not in natural law or revealed truth and so these gains, which in fact are simple reaffirmations on existing truths, may not last.
Millions voted on the words "change" and "hope" as a repudiation of the immaturity and divisiveness of the political process but don't expect much "change" or "hope" because there is a generational selfishness now in play that requires a moral and not a political fix. The 60's folks, and their philosophical minions, are in charge and they, by and large, do not possess the capacity to look beyond themselves. They will use words like "change" and "hope" in the same way they use the words "tolerant" and "inclusive", largely as clubs to get their way and define those who disagree.
Abortion bans didn't work largely because people are tired of talking about the topic and have opted to solve it by saying "You do your thing and I'll do mine" and consider the price of a dead infant to be worth not being bothered by it all. The moral consensus continues to swing in the pro-life direction but the laws, due to this fatigue, aren't soon to follow.
Simmering underneath it all is the sense that the American dream, as defined by a perpetual raising of the standard of living, is beginning to reach its apex. The myth and the reality are beginning to collide and we still are coming to terms with the fallout. Individual Americans are already pursuing thrift and economy as a virtue and we should expect more will follow as circumstances change and the economy depresses. Not surprisingly, there is a disconnect between this growing practice of economy among the people and the continued expansion of government expenditures. As the people grow increasingly inventive and thrifty, the government will continue to binge and would have regardless of which candidate won the presidency.
Finally, expect the church to be continually marginalized in this culture. While church leaders may claim this about media bias or some unnamed conspiracy the truth is this is largely due to the fact that churches are insular, unwilling to apply their truths to the questions people are really dealing with, and unwilling to engage themselves on a practical level with their communities. Providing no real answers and unwilling to engage the culture, they will be increasingly seen as anachronisms, quaint things with little practical value outside of an occasional ceremony. Despite the spiritual emptiness of their lives people will continue to drift towards business, politics, and the arts as the arenas where the yearning for positive human change can be met. The religious fervor of this recent political process bears witness to this continued change.
So how does the church respond?
First we must recover our sense of being a movement and not simply an institution. When we rediscover that we exist not to preserve ourselves but rather to give ourselves away we will discover, again, the core and meaning of our existence and the dynamic which has in times past made the church intensely relevant and powerful even when persecuted.
Second, we must recover our ability to proclaim our ideas not simply as traditions passed on for their own sake but rather as practical wisdom intimately related to a way of life that is truly beneficial and human. Our culture, and even those within the church, will always ask "Why?" and if the only answer we have is "because..." we will have lost our ability to speak in a way that makes a difference. People need to know not just what we say "no" to but what we affirm as well, and the very real and rational reasons for the "hope within us". This means we must always be on the cutting edge of applying ancient truth to to the world as it is in the hope of transforming it into what it, and we, should be.
Third, we must leave our walls and be active agents within our communities. There is often a significant disconnect between what we do and proclaim in the security of our fortress churches and how we act in the real world. We need to move out of our walls and our safety zones and practically touch people with the reality of our beliefs in action. Until we do everything we say inside our buildings will be gibberish to the world outside, and gibberish as well at the last judgment.
Finally, we need to take personal responsibility. For too long many devout Christians have turned to the government, to business, to the institutions of culture to do the work and to take the responsibility that belongs to us. To vote pro-life, for example, is good but those votes won't make a difference in this life or the life to come if the woman in the house across the street from our parish is pregnant, without hope, and none of us are willing to cross the street to meet her needs. If we want the moral transformation of society we cannot abrogate our responsibility for creating it to anything, or anyone but ourselves. We have to live this life. We must speak our truth. We must build the values we want in our children and our communities by our active participation. We must build our culture up in the same way it has sunken so low, the transformation of one person at a time.
The truth is that time is on our side. While we in the Orthodox church never read the book of Revelation in our liturgies its final chapters do present a vivid and remarkable picture of what the world will one day be. A glimpse of that reminds us that history, as strange and dark as it sometimes can be, is still always in God's care and direction. A candidate in this past presidential election has said "We are the change we've been waiting for..." but the truth is that the Kingdom of God is the final human destination and the transformation of humanity into the image of Christ the final states of things. That certainty provides us with courage to see beyond the moment and understand that whatever we do to realize this vision in ourselves and the world is already part of a larger thing whose success is inevitable and whose time has already come.
In one sense this is a historic moment, the election of an African American to the highest office in the country. In my own lifetime African Americans were not able to vote and now a man who was a child, as I was, in those days has become President elect. This could only happen in the United States. In that sense this is an important event, a burying of our sometimes brutal racial past.
Yet he is young, inexperienced, and on many issues, especially the social issues, he stands on the Left. Will he govern this way? We'll see. He rose to power from that base but will need to reach out beyond those narrow confines if he wishes to be a President who can make good on the ideals to which he aspires. We must hope for the best.
As Orthodox Christians we are commanded to pray for all those in civil authority, regardless of our agreements or disagreements, and this we will do. And we, as Orthodox Christians, must always understand that our call to participate in the civil affairs of our country also includes a commitment to do good and serve God wherever we are and this we must continue to do as well. Our country is only as good as it can it be when the Church is what it should be as well.
2) Vote, not based on emotion, the economy, party loyalty, or the passion of the moment but rather with a dispassionate understanding of the Orthodox Faith as your guide. Economies changes, emotions come and go, principles matter and endure.
3) Take responsibility for positive change after the election. If you're pro-life that's good because Orthodoxy is as well but when the voting is done what will you do to put "shoe leather" on that belief? Voting is good but living your principles in the real world is better.
4) Pray. Whether the candidate we vote for wins, or whether the candidate who wins is in opposition to our values, we will continue to pray for them and for all civil authorities.
5) Don't give in to fear. On election day things will change but the world won't end. God is still God and no politician or party can change that.
On November 1st, St. Elias Parish calls to mind the life and work of Bishop, now Saint RAPHAEL, the first Orthodox bishop consecrated in America, who served the Russian Orthodox Church and this country by gathering the communities of Middle Eastern immigrants into parishes.
St. RAPHAEL founded St. Elias Church in 1912.
Holy St. RAPHAEL pray for us!