30 December 2013

I am Herod.

Notes from Father's Sermon yesterday.
1. We like to compare ourselves to shepherds and magi
2. We know where the messiah is to be born, we have a wealth of patristic commentary, we are surrounded by support for our faith yet we most often decide to act in a most unfaithful way.
3. We are more like Herod.
4. It is our simple daily choices that make it so.
5. We have a standard of living in America higher than Herod could imagine... But we fail in charity.
6. Being mindful on a moment to moment basis of our actions and choices in light of our faith is what is needed.

24 December 2013

A.D. VIII Kal. Jan.

n the 5199th year of the creation of the world, from the time when in the beginning God created heaven and earth; from the flood, the 2957th year; from the birth of Abraham, the 2015th year; from Moses and the going-out of the people of Israel from Egypt, the 1510th year; from the anointing of David as king, the 1032nd year; in the 65th week according to the prophecy of Daniel; in the 194th Olympiad; from the founding of the city of Rome, the 752nd year; in the 42nd year of the rule of Octavian Augustus, when the whole world was at peace, in the sixth age of the world: Jesus Christ, the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by His most merciful coming, having been conceived by the Holy Ghost, and nine months having passed since His conception was born in Bethlehem of Judah of the Virgin Mary, having become man.

From the Royal Hours for Nativity

Today he who holds creation in the hollow of his hand is born of a Virgin.
Today he who holds creation in the hollow of his hand is born of a Virgin.
Today he who holds creation in the hollow of his hand is born of a Virgin.

He who in his being cannot be touched is wrapped in swaddling clothes as a mortal child.
God who of old established the heavens in the beginning now lies in a manger.
He who rained Manna on the People in the desert is fed at his mother's breast.
The Bridegroom of the Church calls the Magi to himself.
The Son of the Virgin accepts their gifts.

We venerate thy birth, O Christ
We venerate thy birth, O Christ
We venerate thy birth, O Christ

Show us also your divine Theophany.

19 December 2013

Ducking Out.

I had a friend back east, a pastor in a "mainline" denomination who had engaged me to talk about Orthodox spirituality in an Adult Sunday School class. Now, I'll be honest, my friend whom I love and pray for always is an Alpha Male who does not gracefully yield his teaching space. So, while I was there to talk about Orthodoxy, I spent some good part of the class responding to his comments which were, I will be honest, probably what most of his liberal mainline congregants were thinking. Yet they were coming as more interruptions rather than discussion... I blew most of them off. One, however sticks with me.

In discussing the Jesus Prayer, my friend commented "I never say that prayer because I don't want to internalize all that." My initial reply was "that's the point". But I had missed his point. "No I mean that stuff about being a sinner begging for mercy." Now, to be fair, the Jesus Prayer comes in several edits - long and short. The Greek text in the image above (and on the ring I wear on my hand) does not have the "Sinner" bit. The longer one I favor is, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy and, through the prayer of thy most pure mother of (your patron saint) and of all the saints, save me, a sinner." "Jesu-Mercy" is the shorted one I know.  But variations on the theme were not the point.

It is such a Christian common-place: we are all sinners.  What was he even talking about? How can you conceive of a Christianity where we are not sinners? What is even the point? I smiled. Did this mean that everything I was saying - predicated on the most basic of Christian doctrines - was being missed?  The answer is yes, I fear so. If we're not sinners, God doesn't need to incarnate, Jesus isn't God, the Church is a social justice movement and Orthodox Spirituality (western or eastern) is totally meaningless or, else, just "spiritual but not religious" tools that can be picked up by anyone to any purpose (other than the intended one - to save sinners, of whom I am first). What might the Alpha Male Pastor have thought of Orthodox Communion prayers!

This even came to mind yesterday when my Twitter Feed and Google Plus light up with comments about Phil Robertson, the Patriarch of TV's Duck Dynasty who, it seems, actually reads the Bible and can quote it. I am more than certain that he and I would disagree on a whole host of theological points so much that we might both ask if the other is even Christian at all. I am also rather certain that, when it comes to sex, Mr Robertson fails - as do most straight folks I know - to have enough imagination to include all the possibilities of same-sex expression. But on one thing he and I agree. The Christian teachings (scripture and tradition) is quite clear about this: sex outside of the bonds of Holy Matrimony is a sin.  We will agree, perhaps, in a second and third place: all sins are equal, being sins that all divide us from God; and all of us are sinners. Some version of the word "Sin" was used 4 times there and liberal mainliners might stress out a bit much reading it.

"I don't want to internalize all that."

That line came up so many times yesterday, couched in terms such as "homophobia", "hatred" and "bigotry". The modern world has no defense against the term "sin" other than rejection of the category. You can't say someone is a sinner without hating them, right? Certainly enough hatred has been spouted by christian leaders at various categories of person, but Phil Robertson hasn't done so, as far as I can see.  What he also didn't do is the blasted thing that many members of the BLT/GQ community do: the assumption that action equals identity. For most members of the Queer Community, Action-as-Identity is expressed this way: "I feel this and so I act on it, if you say I can't act on it, you are denying my very person." Phil, however, never said word one about gay people: he was clear "homosexual behavior" iis the problem.
We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?
He does seem to fall into the error of equating it all with a choice - just make a choice for something else and it will all go away. Now, I don't believe homosexuality is a choice. Actions however, are a choice. I don't believe in Ex-gays, nor do I believe in sticking some unfortunate woman with my sexual misfirings in the name of "passing". But we can bicker about reactions later.  Here, I want to ask, did anyone writing comments actually read the damn article? It's rather mild and enjoyable compared to the way everyone's been making it out.  Even the writer - who starts out with that urban elite attitude that makes me want to punch him - seems sympathetic at the end. And he can shoot.

So what's the problem with sin? Well... the reactions of sexual active Queer folks to being called sinners by Robertson is exactly the reaction of Capitalists to being called sinners by the Pope.  It's the same whinge Satan made first, "Yer not the boss of me!"  Each of us - Capitalist, Queer, whatever - is stuck insisting I'm the boss of me and no one else. Referring to the Owner's manual only makes it worse, so we rewite the manual and leave out the rough parts. In the end it's a matter of faith - not fact - because if there is no judgement, it's all good and if there is... well... we'll all know too late. The writer admits: what's surprising about this? We put self-described Bible-thumpers on TV. Who should be shocked when they thump?
“Hollywood has run upon the kingdom of God, and there’s a rub there,” said the Duck Commander, a tenacious personal evangelist who has brought hundreds of souls to new life in the Ouachita River. “Well, we have to be as harmless as a dove and as shrewd as a snake in the way we deal with them.” - 
See more of this interview here
The reaction of various members of the queer community to religious types shouldn't be news. They don't like being called sinners.  Quelle Supris. What's infuriating about this is the story Phil tells, of A&E editing out religious references (yes: not all). It's not reality tv, it's virtual reality TV that lets everyone watch and see what they want.  It's not surprising either, mind you: We don't want white trash on TV we want well-trained respectable Uncle white trash. We don't want Christians, we want House-Christians.

18 December 2013

M-B typing thoughts

Some people in my social circles just had their Myers-Briggs Types done, along with a consultation with an MBTI therapist... and I've been doing some self examinations (I have an MBTI coming up in the new year).

I usually think of myself as an Introvert b/c when the party is over (and I may have had a really good time at the party) I need down time, alone time and peace and quiet.

But lately I've noticed that being left alone... in the house, in the office, etc... is entirely bad news for me.  I stop being happy, I stop being upbeat and even, when contacting people in that alone-state, I just get all grumpy.

I still would rather go to a party or the mall or the street and just observe - rather than interact - but I'd rather have people about.  I'd rather work in a coffee shop than at home.  I may not want to "Socialize" but I do need to be social.

I think that's extroversion, in the M-B model.  I think. On the other hand, the fact that I prefer the inner monologue, even when at the mall, may be introversion.  Not sure.  What I do know is that left alone with my inner monologue doesn't seem to be very healthy.  Granted: asking the question is probably a sign of introversion anyway.

15 December 2013

Old Calendar Readings - 1 Advent

Trying something new here: readings as assigned on the Old Calendar.  Again, these are for MP and EP in the Rite of St Tikhon. As far as I know, these are not authorised by ROCOR's WR Vicarate.  But if you want a set of daily readings on the Julian Calendar, here they are!

Dates are on the Old Calendar / New Calendar
  1. /15 Dec  Sunday I Advent - MP - EPMartyrology
  2. /16 Dec Monday - MP - EPMartyrology
  3. /17 Dec Tuesday - MP - EPMartyrology
  4. /18 Dec Wednesday - MP - EPMartyrology
  5. /19 Dec Thursday St Nicholas BC - MP - EPMartyrology
  6. /20 Dec Friday St Ambrose BCD - MP - EPMartyrology
  7. /21 Dec Saturday Conception of BVM - MP - EPMartyrology

14 December 2013

Daily Readings 14 - 21 Dec AD 2013

The Daily Offices for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Rite of St Tikhon. The readings are as assigned by the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate supplemented with other devotional material. Each MP/EP link will take you to a complete office, needing only the daily psalter or, for MP, the Martyrology link.

  1. Saturday Conception 8va (Advent Feria) - MP - EPMartyrology
  2. 3rd Sunday of Advent  (Octave Day of the Conception) - MP - EP - Martyrology
  3. Monday Advent Feria VI O Sapientia (St Eusebius of Vercelli, BM) - MP - EPMartyrology
  4. Tuesday Advent Feria V before Nativity O Adonai  - MP - EPMartyrology
  5. Ember Wednesday Advent Feria IV before Nativity - O Radix - MP - EPMartyrology
  6. Thursday Advent Feria III before Nativity - O Clavis - MP - EPMartyrology
  7. Ember Friday Advent Feria II before Nativity - O Orient - MP - EPMartyrology
  8. St Thomas the Apostle (Ember Day Advent Feria O Rex- MP - EPMartyrology

11 December 2013

O Rex - 6th Advent Meditation

 Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

 King of the Nations, and the one they desired, keystone, who makes both peoples one, come and save mankind, whom you shaped from the mud.

Making both people one...

There is a lot of "us vs them" in the world. Admittedly Christians have often played a part in this.  However the Church Fathers kept trying to overcome this - from the time of St Paul: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus, he says in Galatians.  Some of the Fathers go so far as to say that, in the economy of salvation, "human nature" is one - including all humans (including Christ) and that any time we speak of individuals, we are creating a false image. Neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all, says St Paul, again, this time in Colosians.

Christ is all.

So in both verses - and in our Advent verse today - the common division is Jew/Gentile. "Neither Jew nor Greek", neither "circumcision nor uncircumcision", facis utraque unum making "both one".

Many people imagine that "making both one" imagines it to mean "keeping them divided", on the one hand, or "erasing them" on the other. In the first camp - keeping them divided - are those Christians who say God is still doing something with the Jewish Covenant and we should leave them alone, not evangelize them, nor worry about them in the divine economy, together with those who, in ecumenical charity, may or may not be Christian or Jewish, but take on the "all are equally right/wrong" attitude to religion. Also in this camp are those who reject Jesus outright.

 In the other camp - the erasing them camp - are those who say becoming Christian means erasing one's selfness. If I become a Christian, I am no longer a Jew; or, we must get rid of all Jews by "making them Christians." These two sides of the same coin are missing the whole point. Christ does not erase either Humanity or God in the incarnation. Rather he makes both one in a mystical union. Likewise, he does not erase Male and female in marriage, but again, makes both one in a mystical union. Humanity becomes one in Christ without losing the distinctive features of our individual selves. We are not Buddhists: all is not erased in Christ, all is joined in a United Kingdom of the Cross.

King Christ is all.

This is why the Creed of the Church, the Symbol of the Faith, lists "oneness" as a mark of the Church: those who put themselves outside of the Faith of the Church by rejecting Christ or his teachings are breaking the oneness of humanity by creating a new "us vrs them" that is to Crucify Christ all over again.

07 December 2013

Daily Readings 7 - 14 Dec 2014

The Daily Offices for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Rite of St Tikhon. The readings are as assigned by the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate supplemented with other devotional material. Each MP/EP link will take you to a complete office, needing only the daily psalter or, for MP, the Martyrology link.

  1. Sat St Ambrose of Milan BCD (Advent Feria, Vigil of the Conception of the BVM) - MP - EP -  Martyrology
  2. Conception of BVM (2nd Sunday of Advent)- MP - EP -  Martyrology
  3. Mon Conception 8va (Advent Feria)  - MP - EP -  Martyrology
  4. Tue Conception 8va (Advent Feria, St Melchiades, P.M.) - MP - EP -  Martyrology
  5. Wed St Damasus I, P.C. (Conception 8va, Advent Feria) - MP - EP -  Martyrology
  6. Thu Conception 8va (Advent Feria) - MP - EPMartyrology
  7. Fri St Lucy, V.M. (Conception 8va, Advent Feria, St Herman of Alaska, C.) - MP - EPMartyrology
  8. Sat Conception 8va (Advent Feria) - MP - EP - Martyrology

06 December 2013

O Oriens - 5th Advent Meditation

 Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

 Dawn, splendor of eternal light, and sun of justice, come, and shine on those seated in darkness, and in the shadow of death.

Dawn... it's the slow realization of the light.

There's a prayer in the communion preparations of the Western Rite that says, Tibi, Domine, plagas meas ostendo, tibi verecundiam meam detego. "Lord, I show my wounds to Thee and uncover my shame before Thee."

What does the light uncover in you? Whatever you are hiding from the light, that will be the death of you.

Modern psychology speaks of our shadow side or our darker self as if it were a good thing to confront and live with.  Christianity, however, wants to make us all children of the light - sons of the Father of Lights in whom there is no shadow.  Orthodoxy would go so far as to say that the shadow is what gets burnt up by our God who is a "Consuming Fire".

Remember, what you are hiding: that will be the death of you.

What is it that gets revealed by the Divine Light? What is it that you throw away to burn?

This is the Orthodox Sacrament of Confession, the holy mystery of Reconciliation.  What you expose no longer kills you: it dies.  But you die, too, a little bit. That part of you that was living, if you will, with a cancerous growth, a parasite dies as well.  This might be a time when "parasite" is the most literally correct word: it comes from Greek roots meaning "along side" and "food".  A "parasite" is something that we are feeding with our own food - other than our real self.  The parasite is the thing that is eating us: a false self.  Our sinful nature is not really us.  What we do does not define who we are.

What do you bring to the light?

30 November 2013

Advent Soup & Frybread

For Orthodox of both eastern and western rites, the period leading up to Christmas is a time of abstaining from animal products.  Fish may be ok, shellfish too, but meat, dairy and eggs are right out.  So we find other things to do.  These two recipes have become mainstays for me this season, already: and I'm surprised I never thought of them before.  Both allow for a lot of variation and so I've added notes to each.  Salad goes nicely with them.

Ramen Miso
We will start with the soup.  You see the ramen packs above, that's what we want - but throw out the flavour packets. It's all salt and some other crap.  It's totally pointless: what we want is the noodles.

Bring two or three cups of water to a boil.  To this add some miso paste: follow the instructions on the package, mine says 1 tbl per cup of water.  Then add one extra serving - so for two cups of water, I add 3 tbls of miso.  YMMV.  Then add the noodles and simmer until tender. Salt and pepper for taste.

That's it.  Miso soup with ramen.

It's also very boring.  So:  try adding diced up tofu, seitan, or tempe.  This can be flavoured anyway you want.  Try adding veggies!  I've found that a bag of frozen mixed veggies works just fine here. As does leftover Chinese food diced up. Stir fry something or add it raw and simmer until done. Greens are good, bok choi rocks. Last night I had it with box choi and mushooms.  This works really well for two servings: one for supper and one to take to the office.

This one is a little more complex but very tasty.

Combine 2/3 Cup self-rising flour with 1/2 tbl of NRG Egg Replacer powder. Whisk the dry ingredients together and stir in about 2/3 cup of water.  You want a very stiff dough and, depending on the flour and the weather, you may not need all of it, but you don't want it runny: a well mixed cookie dough is about right.

Heat up a couple of tbls of olive oil or canola oil in a deep frying pan for which you have a lid.  You're going to want about 3 inches above the bread - so pick wisely and do so before you have hot oil!

Place the dough in the oil and spread it out a little. It should start frying instantly. Add the cover and then get a couple of tbls of water.  Carefully spritz the water around the bread and cover instantly. DANGER Water and Hot Oil is a volatile mix.  Be very careful.  What you are doing is setting of a mixed cooking method of steam and fry.

In about three or four minutes the bread will rise up be easy to flip over with a turner.  Cover again and cook until done (another 3 or 4 mins).

DANGER there is still hot oil here...

Slice, spread some vegan butter spread on top and nom away.

Variations that I've tried so far this year: instead of water I added almond-based "winter nog" and some sugar got a wonderful fried dessert product.  I've mixed the bread with 1/3 cup self-rising flour and 1/3 cup self-rising cornmeal and had fried corn bread!  Instead of water I've added veggie broth - very savoury bread!  I've also made it with mushroom broth. One failure though: I tried it with cranberry sauce. Just don't do it.

O Clavis - 4th Advent Meditation

 Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis, et nemo claudit, claudis, et nemo aperuit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
 Key of David, and sceptre of the house of Israel, you open, and no one shuts, you shut, and no one opens: come, and lead the prisoner from jail, seated in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Every day, riding to and from work in North Carolina, I'd pass a Baptist church. The reader board carried some version of, "If you died tonight, where would you wake up?" One that sticks in my memory every year at this time said, one one side, "Grandma got run over by a reindeer." And the other side said, "Yes, but where will she spend eternity?" It's a macabre question, don't you think? "Are you saved?" is short hand for "If you died tonight, do you know where you'd spend eternity?" God only cares about your soul when your dead.

Jesus, however, seems to have a different take in the scriptures. He restores people, not just bodily, but also socially: he touches lepers, an act that makes him ritually "unclean" in his person; he eats with sinners, more "uncleanness". Jesus heals gentiles and Jews, complimenting the faith of the former, condemning the lack of thanksgiving in the latter, but never "unhealing" anyone. When Jesus "only" heals someone of bleeding, paralysis or even death, he is restoring them to communion with their friends and neighbors who imagine such illness to be a judgement from God. Take a look at the Ger'asene Demoniac (in Luke 8:26ff). Jesus casts "Legion" out of the man, and the family find him "sitting clothed and in his right mind". The man wants to go with Jesus, but Jesus says no, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you" (Luke 8:39). Go restore communion, which, by the way, is going with Jesus.

In all these things - illness, demonic possession, death - Jesus restores the communion of persons. We are in bondage, kept in isolation cells: locked each within our own self, unable to engage in communion. And, in a real sense, that lack of communion is death. This is the jail from which Jesus calls us and while, yes, I believe the Warden in this universal prison is Satan, he needs no minions as screws: we each do his bidding daily, denying communion, one with the other, in so many acts; creating division, one from the other, in so many confrontations. Any human who creates an "us" and a "them" has done Satan's work for him, locking not just a few but all of us in yet another cell. Eventually any issue grows from "good students" and "bad policeman with pepper spray" into supporters of one side over the other and - especially in today's media-rich environment - everyone in the world is asked to take sides. I can create a new prison just by posting on Facebook or Twitter. Jesus wants to take humanity out of our us-and-them problems. This is not a life-after-death issue, but a here and now issue. It is a life and death issue now. Every us-and-them is a little death undergone by all of humanity.

Truth of the matter is, however, that we like things this way. That's what Faith is: letting God describe reality and living there, not making it up yourself.  One of my favourite writer/philosophers, the late Robert Anton Wilson, speaks of "reality tunnels": constructs created in the human brain by religion, politics, science, etc. His end goal seems to be to liberate humanity from all such constructs.  Even the ones created by language, sex, and other things that can't be erased.  For all that I can disagree with R.A.W.'s end point, his starting point is very Christian: our human reality tunnels keep us from seeing the real reality: God's.  Blessedly, unlike R.A.W. Christians have a deity who claims to have described (and created) this real reality for us, with a purpose.  Now... of course, that's only another tunnel in R.A.W.'s worldview.  But in today's verse, other tunnels are the jails from which we need to be liberated.  We sit in darkness as long as we let culture or our perceptions of political issues keep us from communion in God's reality.

Locked off from such communion, we die in this world, now.  Not later: not eternity. But now.

29 November 2013

Daily Office 30 Nov-7 Dec AD 2013

The Daily Offices for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Rite of St Tikhon. The readings are as assigned by the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate supplemented with other devotional material.

25 November 2013

O Radix - 3rd Advent Meditaiton

 Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

Root of Jesse, who stand as a sign for the people, kings stand silent in your presence, whom the nations will worship: come to set us free, put it off no longer.

It is tempting to read this as some sort of political rallying cry, but the O Antiphons come from a time when kings were already Christian and - like the laity at Mass - they all did, indeed, stand silent before the Lord.  But what, then is the meaning? Sticking with my reading of "living the faith", to put it simply, let us read "kings" to be "the passions".

Orthodoxy has a complicated set of teachings about "the passions".  It doesn't mean "I have a passion for art" or "violin is my passion".  It means something that runs us: an addiction; although we may not think of pride or boredom as addictions.  In Orthodoxy these things function exactly the same way that drugs or alcohol can function at a 12 step meeting.  This is why, their secularism aside, 12 Step programs sound so very Christian: one's addiction is not just a habit to kick, it has become controlling in one's life.  It has become king.

I can think of quite a few kings in our modern world, sex comes to mind, of course, but there are many other kings as well: pride, vainglory, anger, arrogance, that special sense of injury that arises when one is forced to relate to someone that is perceived as "lesser than".

Jesus, before whom the kings stand in silence - if only that were True in one's own life as in the hymn.

Who are the kings of your life? Mindful that the question I'm living with this Advent is how would I live if I could convince myself that all this were actually true... what parts of my life would stand silent before Jesus?  How?

The answer is in the text, but we have to go deeper into Orthodox personal psychology first: as I understand it (from confession and from listening to great speakers like Mtr Kallistos) the Passions combine to create a false self.  Engaging in them kills the soul while, at the same time, creates this false soul.  Sex may be a broken part of one's life, but it doesn't "kill" the way murder or anger does.  What it does do is prevents one from being the person God intended.  That's not to say that God didn't "make me gay", I don't know the answer to how one gets to be gay.  But it does say that, perhaps, in Christian humility, a Gay person might find that his or her choices for sexual expression that don't add up to the ideal set forth in Holy Tradition are causing more harm than good - no matter how "natural" they are.  The sense that they are doing something "good" in the world is a false sense according to Orthodoxy.  These actions feed something that is not really the person's soul: in fact they are killing it and, most likely, killing others a little bit at a time. In Orthodoxy, this false-self needs to be killed off, the "slavery to my own reasonings" as it is called is what kills me.  The answer to how is in the text...

Jesus is the Root of Jesse, but he is also the root of my being.  As the Scripture says, I am crucified with Christ and yet I live: yet not I but Christ who liveth in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God.  And, again, this mortal must put on immortality. And also, all who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  It's not enough to say, "I am a Christian."  One must, in fact, become Christ: kill off the false self, and let real life - Christ, the life of the world - rise from the divine root though one's being and shine out into the world.

I pray he puts it off no longer.

23 November 2013

The Nanny State

Last week San Francisco turned out for a good deed: the cheering-up of a fatally ill child in response to a request from the Make-a-Wish foundation. The wish? To be Batman for a day. Everyone from cheering crowds on the street to Police and the US Department of Justice, the Mayor and the President, all got involved. The payback for every politician outweighs the backlash: it was the Make-a-Wish version of kissing babies. The cost to the city: police overtime, cleanup, the mayor and most city officials as well as quite a few federal and state using their tax-payer-paid time to do public charity.  The effectiveness: one kid made happy.

While thousands of kids go hungry, homeless and without proper medical treatment, one middle class white kid was made very happy.  On TV no less.

And we all feel good.

I was thinking about that as news rolled in about the failure of the Obama Care Process: the State-mandated abortion issues, the robing of healthcare from those that already have it in the name of making sure that everyone have equal coverage while, all-in-all, only forcing all of us to pay insurance companies (rather than for health care), ie crony-capitalism.  We all hear stories, over and over again, of a few poor people here and there that can suddenly afford to get Junior on a Kidney Machine or to let Mamma finally get her tubes tied.

And we're supposed to all feel good.

Meanwhile food is poisoned and served to us by the Chinese in the name of international trade, all forms pornography (except the sexual) are served to us in the name of art by television.  Sexual pornography is relegated to the movies.  We pay for that too.

This helps us feel good.

And it is revealed to us - as we knew all along - that the gov't is spying and documenting our every move - except for those being spied on by Google.  And we pay for that too.

Oddly enough, we willingly pay for all of this - all of it - with either our taxes or our shopping or our freely-turned-over personal data; most often with all three.

And today it was announced that JP Morgan Chase would be "punished" by the Federal Gov't by being forced to spend money on practices in which it was already engaged: ie, making wise economic decisions viz home mortgages, that would thus, in the long run, make more money. Sounds like punishment to me.

The Roman Gov't used to use "bread and circuses" to keep the mob quite.  It cost quite a lot of money, but the rich were willing to use their taxes in such a way.  In our day, the gov't has cut back on the bread part, giving us far more circuses in exchange, but making the poor pay for it directly.


We're all totally stupid.

Daily Office - 23 - 30 Nov AD 2013

The Daily Offices for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Rite of St Tikhon. The readings are as assigned by the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate supplemented with other devotional material.

  1. St Clement PM (St Felicitas, VM) - MP - EP - Martyrology
  2. Sunday Next before Advent / Last Pentecost (St Chrysogonus M) - MP - EP - Martyrology
  3. St Catherine of Alexandria VM - MP - EP - Martyrology
  4. Feria (St Peter of Alexandria BM) - MP - EP - Martyrology
  5. Feria - MP - EP - Martyrology
  6. Feria - MP - EP - Martyrology
  7. The Vigil of St Andrew (St Saturninus BM) - MP - EP - Martyrology
  8. St Andrew, Apostle - MP - EP - Martyrology

20 November 2013

O Adonai - Second Advent Meditation

 Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

 Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

There was this chorus we used to sing in Youth Group.

Praise the Lord.
I don't care what the devil's gonna do
The Word in Faith
is my sword and shield
Jesus is Lord of the way I feel.

The key phrase, apart from the obvious late-70s psychobable, is the line "the Word in faith". There was this gnostic-magical movement in Evangelicalism back in those days that basically said if you can say a verse out of the Bible (ie the "Word of God") with enough faith, it's gonna happen that way. "Say it and claim it", "Believe it and see it"... it was a predictable development from the idolatry that creates the Bible, itself, as the "WORD OF GOD". It used this written word as a spell book, a chance to speak, in my own mouth, the very words that God spoke and so claiming, to myself, the power of God in the speaking of those words.  It sounds kinda legit, certainly, in that the last line uses the very words of the Church's first creed: "Jesus is Lord." Yet it fails to use those words to say or mean the same thing. Like all gnosticism, it's the very words the Church uses, turned upside down by some other reading.

We consider today, however, an antiphon that uses those words correctly in the mouth of the Church's singers. Jesus is Lord is a two part claim: In Greek, κυριος kyrios, lord, is a title of Caesar. In Hebrew, Adonai is a title of God.  Saying Jesus is Lord is saying - all visible evidence aside - that Jesus is in charge of everything.  This backwoods Jewish carpenter is at once the spiritual creator of the Kosmos and the political ruler of the world.

Far from claiming that Jesus could fix everything (which is what the words of that song say), it was saying this is the way things are. That's the faith of the Church: not that Jesus is going to fix everything and make us rich, but rather that us, here and now, is who God wants to save and that everything, here and now, is the tools God Jesus gave us to be saved.

And it is to that point on Faith that I'm struggling tonight.

One of the hangovers in my head/heart from my Gnostic Protestant childhood and my Gnostic Newage adulthood is the idea that my heart, my "inner voice" could be the voice of God. Thus, follow me, in some way, if I'm feeling it, it must be sourced in God's work. If I sit quietly long enough and listen to what my heart is tilling me, I'll hear God. Protestantism enshrines this in the idea that "me and the Bible" are enough.  In our increasingly secular world, the Bible gets left out, of course. Follow your bliss" says Joseph Campbell. "Do what you love and the money will follow" says the New Age movement. The early 20th Century (Old Age?) writer, Aleister Crowley spoke of this divine inner voice as a "Thou" (with the initial capital) in "Do what Thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law." Modern secularists say the same thing without the implication that you're a "Thou" because, of course, there is no Thou.

The Church says that inner voice is the very thing that's broken.  It's the one thing we can't trust: the way I feel is the one thing Jesus is not Lord of.  The voices inside are there to pull me away from what God wants, the things I feel are not trusted.  Ironically, I still feel a tug of this anti-theology when I read the prayers of the Church.  When we ask God to save us from "vain thoughts and evil imaginations" my inner voice says, "Well the priest prayed it and God said he would give it to us, and so, these thoughts must be protected, holy thoughts."  Of course, we say these prayers exactly because the demons put such thoughts in our head.

We prepare to celebrate tonight the Presentation of the Holy Theotokos in the Temple of Jerusalem. The symbolism is strong: as the presence of God in Christ among us means the end of the temple ritual system, Mary - the Birth-giver of God - replaces the Temple, itself. She becomes the New Temple in which we worship and the sign of Fruitful Virginity is over our altars. In the Church, her womb, are we all born again to life in Christ.

But only by faith, by resting in God and letting God in Christ be Adonai.  Give up your inner voices, your inner light, your addiction to tour own reasoning.   Turn to the giver of the law and with his mighty arm he will save you. If I were living my life not "in the Word in Faith" but rather in the Faith of the Church, if I lived as if the burning bush - and not my heart - was Jesus speaking, what would I change?

There are things you can not change, of course, but there are things you can: things for which you are responsible, things for which you make choices. If God speaks from the burning bush and gives the law and leaves the Temple and comes forth from the Virgin and enters my life through Communion: what is my response? How do I live the Lordship of Christ?

16 November 2013

Daily Readings week of 20 Trinity

The Daily Offices for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Rite of St Tikhon. The readings are as assigned by the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate supplemented with other devotional material.

15 November 2013

O Sapientia - First Advent Meditation

A blessed Advent! For my friends in the Western Ecclesial traditions, a little explanation: our Eastern Pre-Nativity Fast starts today. Advent is, of course, a Western Name, but we call it the Advent Fast here in America's mostly-convert communities. Yes it is a bit longer than Western Advent, but for what it's worth your fast used to be this long as well - and it was a fast, like (or close to) the fast of Lent. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain is treated to a sumptuous feast by his host who, in response to the compliments, reminds his guest, "It is a fast."

This is the first of my seven Advent Meditations for this year.  It's an annual practice, and it helps the Pre-Christmas focus. The meditations, as always, take a starting place the Great O Antiphons that are recited on the nights leading up to Christmas in the monasteries of the West.

Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter, suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

Wisdom, who proceeds from the mouth of the Most High, reaching out mightily from end to end, and sweetly arranging all things: come to teach us the way of prudence.

I'm a bit flumoxed, I confess, as to what the topic is.  So I'll stick with what's on my heart: faith.

Faith does not mean simply to verbally or mentally assert that some words are true, but rather, placing all contrary social pressure and fear aside, to act as if those words are true. James 2:26, etc. Many parents tell the kids they believe in Santa, but they go out and buy presents anyway. Woe betide the mother who believes in Santa so much that she sleeps without shopping in December.  It dawns on me that most of the time my faith is rather more like that: I'm happy say the Creed, but I make sure to back up my choices with some extra shopping.

If "prudence" means, in part, thrift and conservation, I'm doubling my efforts, as it were, doing one thing and saying another.  My Faith is misapplied.

How would I live if what I said I believed was what I really believed?

Who would I treat differently?
Who would I watch over?
Who would I avoid?
What would I do in the world?
What would I buy?
What would I eat?
How would I act?

If, as our Antiphon says, God's wisdom ordereth all things, then this thing, here, in front of me, now... is a gift form God.  I think it might be interesting to ask the question as each situation arises, not WWDJ, but rather WWJHMD? What would Jesus have me do?  How do I best work out my salvation in this situation with these people at this time?

How can we make it through Advent as if, at the end, God will meet us?

14 November 2013

Thoughts on Advent in the Orthodox Western Rite

Monday (11 Nov) was Martinmas for westerners on the Gregorian Calendar, for Old Calendar folks it falls on Saturday 24 November. In times past, in Northern Europe, the next day (12 November) was the beginning of the Advent Fast. I did a little research on Advent because, as a pious Orthodox Convert, I assumed our 40-day long fast was the "normal" one that the "heretical" west has trimmed and, finally, destroyed. So, believe it or not, I was looking for Sunday propers for the "six or seven Sundays of Advent" as would have existed in the "orthodox" west before the Carolingian Religion took over the Roman church... I was asking the wrong questions, of course.

Byzantine Time

This is not a post about culturally and ethnically Orthodox folks who never seem to get to Church before the sermon.

As an Orthodox Convert exposed to other Orthodox Converts and our peculiar brand of stress-inducing hyper-piety I've often heard a discussion of "Midnight to Midnight vrs Sunset to Sunset".    The argument being that from Genesis on the Bible "clearly" starts the day at Sunset, and that the liturgy "clearly" starts a feast day with Vespers and that Saturday night "Clearly" is the beginning of Sunday and that the "Fathers clearly" marked time from Sunset to Sunset.  Therefore we should not mark our days from some artificially created "midnight" but rather from Vespers to Vespers (at least) if not from actual Sunset to Sunset.

This means fasting from Thursday night at Sunset until Friday night at Sunset.  It also means we can go out at Midnight.  Curiously, it never seems to mean the pre-communion fast starts at 6PM the night before, and so Saturday's party goes from Friday Sunset until midnight between Saturday and Sunday.

But all that aside, the argument has me, today, looking at Liturgical Time.

East and West both have the same liturgical tradition in this respect: any feast day starts with a Vespers and continues through with a Eucharistic commemoration the following day.  The West the tradition evolved to "extending" the feast by adding a Second Vespers that - rather like the day-and-a-half long Saturday above, makes a feast go just a little bit longer than a "normal" day.

In the Book of Common Prayer this tradition reverses: a "basic" day is Morning and then Evening Prayer. In many ways this makes sense in an essentially parochial  environment (and what was initially a very anti-monastic environment).  The common folks get the "today is today" matter-of-factness of it all and I suspect that simplicity was a crucial issue in this decision.  But also the experience of the day, at least in the west, is that "today" does not include part of last evening before bed.

The BCP tradition therefore became one where a  feast day means Morning Prayer, (Possible) Eucharist, Evening Prayer.  After a while the BCP tradition gave certain feast days "Eve of" readings.   Thus instead of Second Vespers of the Latin Rite it becomes the First Vespers that were the "extra added part" of the feast day in English Usage.  In the Orthodox Western Rite it is this way in the Rite of St Tikhon.  In the Rite of St Gregory it is the older, Latin way.

As I am editing the office for daily use, this awareness of time strikes me as very important: it is the sanctification of time that is the point of the daily hours, be that just family prayers in the AM and PM or the seven/eight-fold office of traditional monasticism (East or West) or the Western Rite's offices of Morning and Evening prayer.  Certainly the idea of a day starting and ending at midnight, consisting of Morning and then Evening, is an innovation no more recent than the 15th century.  But even so it is no where near as recent as some major changes in the Eastern liturgy. (The Pascha service we serve prior to the Divine Liturgy today evolved in the 19th century!)  But all the services are about the eucharistic sanctification of time, the inclusion of our daily motions of living, moving and being into the Divine eternal present that is gathered around the Altar of Communion.

To do this we must be aware of the time.  No mater how we count the days, we must count them.

The daily hours make us aware of the passage of time, of the daily flow that comes either in the stasis and prayer of a monastery or else the daily ebb and flow of a working or farming life with stops in Morning and Evening, even the four-fold division of modern hours (Morning, Noon, Evening, Bedtime).  Each phase is taken, blessed, and broken in offering before God so that it may become a vehicle of grace for us.

08 November 2013

Daily Readings, Week of 19 Trinity

The Daily offices for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Rite of St Tikhon, as assigned by the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate together with other devotional material. For other material, see the Book of Common Prayer as published by Lancelot Andrewes Press.

31 October 2013

Sine Nomine

For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!
For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

27 October 2013

Daily Readings, Christ the King

The Daily Readings for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Rite of St Tikhon, as assigned by the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate together with other devotional material. For other material, see the Book of Common Prayer as published by Lancelot Andrewes Press.

24 October 2013

Hedonic Choice

That definition is a key phrase, "considered in terms of pleasant sensations" and it provides us with a logical course for the second image:

There are many reasons this may be of concern to a Christian, but I want to lay aside the first one: Hedonism is not only about anti-Christian moral choices.  Once can find intrinsic pleasure in long periods of silence, luxurious polyphony, Gregorian or Byzantine Chant, religious art is all kinds of expensive and collectible, religious garb is pricier than even the most expensive of bespoke hipster clothing, one can enjoy the health benefits of a feast/fast cycle, and there are even fetish clubs celebrating celibacy and enforced chastity.  One can be a Christian for purely self-interested, hedonic reasons.  There are a lot of "Church Shoppers" who make very hedonistic choices in their churches: better music, better choirs, better sermons, better people, better coffee hours, better Sunday Schools, better parking, better service times... I rarely hear "better theology" as a reason but when I do hear bout theology it's most often "I'm XYZ and I need a church that won't judge me for that."  Churches are "shopped" for hedonism all the time.

We make the same choices in clothes, sex, food, housing, bank accounts...

20 October 2013

Reverse Identity Theft

XKCD totally gets it! I am an early adopter. I joined and paid for Blogger when Ev was still in an apartment on Judah St. My Twitter number is only 6 digits. I’ve had an Amazon account since 1998 or so. I’ve had my gMail account only a tiny bit less: certainly it was this millenium, but it was before 9/11.  I can still see the office I was sitting in the day I got my invite - and sent out a few to friends who asked.  Back in those days you could still do cool things like hold raffles on your website:  “I’ve got some more gMail invites, the first ten of you to write and post a Haiku about how awesome Cherry iMacs are (and link to me) will get one...”  The cool thing is that I was in so very early that I managed to get my first initial and last name at gmail.com with no numbers or other qualifiers at all.  

I’ve got a common last name.  You’d may not be surprised how many people think their email address is mine.  Over the years - including once whilst writing this article - I’ve very politely written back to a number of parties and said, “I think you’ve sent this to the wrong address.”  Other parties have registered my email address assumedly by mistake, or else used my email address to avoid spam in their real address.  There are a lot of my first initials out there.  There would be my real name, eg, Huw, then Hugh, Henry, Hyrum, Harry, Harold, Halley, Heather, Henrietta, Haighlea, Harley etc, and then because it’s gMail and the punctuation doesn’t matter, there’s h. and h- and h_ in all of its possible permutations.  Then there’s typos - as the most recent one was (evidently the party left out a middle initial in the address).  

So for the humorous, yes, one party put my email address on her bridal registry:  I do hope she liked all the avocado green place settings.  I couldn’t resist.  There were travel documents - one airline with whom I was already registered kindly assuming that anyone using my address must actually be me - I could have cancelled them, at least they didn’t ask me to pay for the tickets to Europe!  Magazines constantly send offers to me thinking they are reaching more appropriate folks.  One party in England used my address to register at a couple of very posh eateries of the sort that bother to write personal emails to invite you to come back to dinner.  One party in LA uses my address, still, for just about everything - and her parents don’t seem to remember me every time I have to write and say “I’m not your daughter.”

Honestly, I only get annoyed when they keep contacting me after I’ve clicked unsubscribe or when I’ve contacted them once to say “Not me”.  The only thing more annoying is the woman who owned my phone number before I got it and bounced a lot of checks.  After eleven years with this phone number I still get calls from claims investigators looking for this scofflaw from North Carolina.

The security aspect, however, wasn’t quite clear to me until one party registered his first initial and last name at gmail.com (my email, that is) as his email on his SAT.

With no way to turn it off until it was too late, the SAT sent his score and my email address to just about every college in the known universe.  I was able to tell the SAT they had the wrong address with one click, but the report had been sent out already.  At my address, he was offered scholarships, invitations for visits and telephone interviews if he couldn’t show up.  I heard about visiting days, advanced programs and work-study options.  Most of these had “unsubscribe” links at the bottom and since I couldn’t be bothered to track any of this I did, just as a matter of course, click unsubscribe on everything.  Those that didn’t have unsubscribe were blocked as spam (thank you, gmail for an excellent filter) and, after a couple of months, it all stopped.  But as the next admission cycled rolled around, a few colleges decided to try again.

After clicking unsubscribe one morning, suddenly I was staring at the home address of my erstwhile kin! One college, a tiny school in Missouri, didn’t unsubscribe, but rather invited someone to “confirm their account settings.”  I tried it again, yup: his home address and phone. No, I didn’t call him and say, “Hey, I’m the reason you never got your SAT scores or that scholarship to Harvard.”  Instead I contacted the college admissions office and said, “This may be a FERPA violation.  You’d better check.” Of course it wasn't their fault - but it seems kind of odd to reveal so much information based on an unverified email.

Since that time, I’ve had more shocking events.  People often send the most revealing photos to the wrong address.  The email today was a photograph of handwritten account information, including phone numbers and, one assumes, some kind of UK personal ID number.  I was most horrified at the Real Estate agent in Ontario that kept sending me loan documents for a family (that had given the wrong email) even after I asked for her to stop.  My assumption is that she called the family to confirm the email address and that they, again, gave the wrong email.  But really, when you get email from an address, that’s about all you need. Loan documents.... with a lot of info on them. Just imagine that for a minute: with whom would you want to accidentally share your banking information?

This is what happens when you either mistype the intended email address or else give the wrong email address: you share personal information. Full stop.  It's not "Reverse Identity Theft" so much as "Free Identity Give-away". You've created a security leak on your own: and how much of one depends entirely on the company with whom you're doing business.

You may share it with someone  who is kind-hearted and who will write you back and say ”you’ve reached the wrong address” or you may not.   You may reach someone who changes the color of your place settings, or you may share payment information or banking information in a way that can put you at risk!

After more than two decades in customer service of one form or another, I no longer think that most of these are mere mistakes.  I’ve worked for ISPs and websites. I’ve managed customer files for employment agencies and for IT departments in colleges.  Over and over people do not know their email address.  That’s not a mistake: that’s stupid.  “Ma’am, that address is not in our database. Sir, there is no account with that address.”  I have no idea how they manage to do this.  To me it’s like not knowing your own phone number.  Yes, certainly, it may be hard in a given moment to remember your own number - I never dial it, you know!  But after a moment you remember it and go “Ah, yes”.  And yes, certainly, people have multiple email addresses - I’ve got 7 or 8!  But again, it’s like your work phone and your home phone, or, better, your land line, your cell phone and your work phone and the fax number at the office - all of these are usually within easy reach of whatever passes for the remainder of my memory.

Uncharitably, either the vast majority of users are so very dense as to be unable to find their hometown on a map, or else  - with a bit more charity - they are just making up stuff to avoid giving out personal information over the internet.  “I’ll just say my email address is bilbo at baggins dot com and it will all be ok”. But that is just as stupid. Someplace Bilbo is waiting to get the next email and he may have nefarious plans on your precious information.

Right now I’m dealing with a very annoying case: a party used my email to register her B&N Nook.  Now, I’m greatly astonished that there was never a validation email: click here to validate your account. Sure, I never had to validate my Kindle - but I've had the same address on my Amazon account for over a decade: that address was validated back then. I’m equally astonished that it took several weeks of conversation with B&N to get someone to contact their customer and asked her for a proper email address.  I’ve even called B&N and they won’t talk to me about the account because I can’t validate it!  But I could reset the password. Why would a customer do this?  Why would a company not want to correct it?  Who knows.

Again, when you either mistype the intended email address or else wilfully give the wrong email address you share personal information. Full stop.