Friday, February 29, 2008

On Romans 8:23

For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:

Comment of St. John Chrysostom

So it is as if any one were to see in the street a vile woman of the baser sort being beaten, and were to say he was her son, when he was the king’s, and so to get her free from those who ill treated her. And this He really did, in that He confessed that He was the Son of Man, and stood by it (i.e. the flesh), and condemned the sin. However … He smote it with the blow of His death, but in this very act it was not the smitten flesh which was condemned and perished, but the sin which had been smiting. And this is the greatest possible marvel. For if it were not in the flesh that the victory took place, it would not be so astonishing, since this the Law also wrought. But the wonder is, that it was with the flesh (μετα σαρκoς) that His trophy was raised, and that what had been overthrown numberless times by sin, did itself get a glorious victory over it. For behold what strange things there were that took place! One was, that sin did not conquer the flesh; another, that sin was conquered, and conquered by it [flesh] too. For it is not the same thing not to get conquered, and to conquer that which was continually overthrowing us. A third is, that it [flesh] not only conquered it [sin], but even chastised it. For by not sinning it [Christ’s flesh] kept from being conquered, but by dying also, He overcame and condemned it [sin], having made the flesh, that before was so readily made a mock of by it, a plain object of fear to it. In this way then, He at once unnerved its power, and abolished the death by it introduced. For so long as it [sin] took hold of sinners, it with justice kept pressing to its end. But after finding a sinless body, when it [sin] had given it [Christ’s body] up to death, it was condemned as having acted unjustly. Do you observe, how many proofs of victory there are? The flesh not being conquered by sin, Its even conquering and condemning it, Its not condemning it [sin] barely, but condemning it as having sinned. For after having convicted it of injustice, he proceeds to condemn it, and that not by power and might barely, but even by the rules of justice. For this is what he means by saying, “for sin condemned sin in the flesh.”

What is lacking in this interpretation? Any mention of vicarious punishment.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Cedar Waxwings, Hanging in There

The surviving birds, 39 of them I think, are doing well, so far. Now it's just a waiting game, to see if they can stand the stress of captivity long enough to grow their damaged feathers back.

Amber keeps them in a 6-foot-long aquarium, rather than a cage, to protect them from drafts. She puts two cat dishes in the tank, each with two bowls, and every three hours she has to refill those bowls and clean out the bottom of the tank, shoving the birds gently first to one side, then to the other, to accomplish this.

We (that is, the Area Rehabbers Klub) have been receiving some donations toward the estimated $1,000 it will take to rehabilitate these birds. Of particular interest to us is one from the State Senate, with this note:

Enclosed is a check for $200.00 from the Senate Employees Fund to assist your efforts to rehabilitate the cedar waxwings which were injured at the General Assembly Building.

Unfortunately, in our efforts to correct a health issue with the pigeons, another species suffered. This was certainly not the intention and this office deeply regrest the loss of some of the cedar waxwings.

We appreciate the good works of you and your colleagues at ARK and are encouraged by your efforts to save the surviving cedar waxwings. We know that this is a difficult and costly task and hope that this donation will be helpful.

With kind regards, I am

sincerely yours,

[Clerk of the Senate]

Very nice.

But still... it's like saying unfortunatley in my effort to posion rats, I poisoned your dog, not realizing he would get to the bait first...

Update: We have now received a $100 donation from the Governor of Virginia and his wife. Now THAT kind of recognition is cool! They also mentioned the waxwings in their kind note.

Driving me Nuts

I never want to do anything these days. Not only do I not want to be reminded of my woes, but don't tell me about my responsibilities, either! I don't want to face them. I have people I've promised to e-mail and people I need to call and dishes to do and floors to mop and I don't want to think about any of it! I'd rather crawl into bed and curl up there and stay there, with a pile of murder mysteries and a whole book full of sudoku puzzles. (Billions of them from easy to evil, are here, and you can even cheat by asking, "How am I doing?")

But fortunately for me, I can't give in to that, because Demetrios, with his broken foot, upon which he is not allowed to put any weight, needs help with things like showering and fetching and carrying, and he wants to have all sorts of conversations, and he wants his daily outing, which lasts a couple of hours in the car.

Every day we get out of the house for a drive. This is what I least like to do, because, although we have become quite the experts at getting Demetrios from house to car, it still terrifies me. But he can't stand being "closed by four walls". So we get dressed, which always lifts our spirits even when I'd rather stay in my gown and bathrobe, and we find little errands to do at the post office or pharmacy or bank or dry cleaner's. We stop somewhere for a snack lunch. We just drive around. We explore neighborhoods we never even knew were there, or admire the countryside, making remarks such as, "How wonderful a thing is a tree!" It gets us out of the house for a while. And we both always feel better afterwards.

I still don't want to do it.

Demetrios, God bless him, is always trying to make me laugh. If you don't know him, the best way I can try to explain it is, at times he can be like a cartoon character come to life. If you do know him, you know what I mean, and that he cannot fail. All he has to do is make one funny face and I laugh. And laugh. Until I cry. And cry.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

How's That Again?

Nope, still not feeling like tackling anything serious. So here's a selection from the malapropisms my father used to collect. We still add to his collection now that his memory has failed him, and the collection has grown to some 40 pages. I've chosen for you some that were nearly all said by our family and friends, pastors and teachers.

Dad, of course, is the sort who always categorized everything. I've put a letter in front of each saying to denote its category.


A = Absurdity
B = Belaboring the obvious
C = Confusing (ambiguous);
M = Missing Word or Misplaced modifier or verb
W = Wrong or Mixed Metaphor
S = Slip of the tongue
X = Can’t Classify

A The main thing to worry about is not to get tensed up. – GMU professor

A The shuttle service will operate Monday through Friday morning every half-hour on the hour beginning at 7:15 a.m. and ending at 8:15 p.m. – USAir office memo

A Message on answering machine: Don’t forget to check for recorded messages. –George Weber

A I had left by the time I wrote that message in the sand. – Mom

A We’re going to get her well if it kills her. –Dad

A "What’s Millie’s last name?" - "Millie who?" - Aunt Audrey and Uncle Bob

A Why don’t you find out when the five o’clock mass is? – Ruth Duffy

A You’re older than I am now, but that won’t last. – Anastasia

A Wildebeest always walk single-file; at least the one I saw did. –Clyde Friar

A It feels like it hurts, but it doesn’t. – Mom

A I have an acute case of the blahs. – the Rev. William Wells

B It’s better not to have been in love than never to have loved at all. – Anastasia

A March comes earlier this year. – Mom

A Try desperately to remain calm. – Dr. Ron Roth, GMU

W I’m losing sight of my hearing. – Tisho Holtby, my niece

A I want nothing but silence in this room, and very little of that! –Teacher

A This twin is more identical than that one.

A We may be identical twins, but there the difference ends. –Garrison Keillor

A I don’t want to wake up some morning dead. – Grandma Jones

A We were sitting on our hands, biting our fingernails! – John Barclay Burns

A He was dead before I ever met him. – Dallas Hunter

A She’s teaching me humility, and I’m making wonderful progress.

A Every Tom, Dick, and Harry is named John. – Grandpa Hafford

A My favorite time of day is night. – Erin Kendall

A Children interfere with family life.

B It is far better to have a single friend than a hundred enemies. – Anastasia

B It is far better to have a hundred friends than one enemy. – Anastasia

A We lived on an uninhabited island in Hawaii, doing bird research. –Meg Creech, referring to Rabbit Island

A If you get killed by a bear, don’t come crying to me! – Mom, to Dad, protesting his plan to hike on the Appalachian Trail

X There’s nothing you don’t know that others don’t know, too. – Demetrios Theodoridis

A Our government could never make it in the private sector. – Anastasia

A If you get lost, just come back. – Mom

A It would take a lot of these [hamsters] to make a mink coat. – Demetrios Theodoridis

A A patient was yelling. After the injection, the yelling was inaudible. – Nurse’s report.

A A little pain never hurt anyone. – Dad

B Something imminent is about to happen. – John Barclay Burns

A For as long as you are here in this church, time and space do not exist. – Priest

A Anyone who has come from the depths to which I have risen has to be a miracle. – Marion Barry, D. C. Former Mayor

W …sticking your head out on a limb. – Tisho Holtby

W I’m going to hang up the towel. – Tisho Holtby

B I never had an accident of my own choosing. – Mom

A You and I make a great trio. – Jane Sargent

A What year was 1956? – Bob Hafford

A You need justice. Call the law firm of _____ and tip the scales of justice in your favor.

A I won’t go to your viewing if you don’t go to mine. – Annie Hunter

A The seconds go by faster on your microwave than on mine. – Mom

A I don’t know; I can’t think; I have to concentrate. – Mom

A The secret to having a good conversation with her is to let her do all the talking. – Anastasia

B History takes time. – Dr. Salman Kahn

A If only I didn’t have to use the leg that hurts, I could walk just fine! – Mom

B He was still alive, you know, during the last few years of his life. – Demetrios Theodoridis

A I’ve lived a lot longer than most people my age. – Daphne’s uncle

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Please Don't Remind me of my Troubles!

Today I am definitely not in the mood for anything serious like religion or theologizing. Playful is the thing for today! So here is my favorite optical illusion. I'm sure somebody can make some theological point using this to illustrate it, but that somebody will not be I!

Does it move for you? That's the illusion! It isn't really moving at all.

(You have to put your contacts in! And it won't move if you view it from across the room, so try different distances if you don't see the wheels rotating.)

UPDATE: The movement can be seen much better in large scale. If you click on the image, you will see a substantial enlargement.

Monday, February 25, 2008

There is No Fix For Stupid

"I could have sworn I hit the brake pedal!"

Car upside down in the bay - see guy standing on it?

Coming back up....coming...coming


Time to get a bigger wrecker!

Ok, we got the car...let's get the other wrecker now!

Who's gonna explain this one to the insurance guys?

This makes my day seem not so bad after all!


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Laying on the Guilt (?)

A lot of the time, it is our [pastors’] job to make people feel guilty. And that’s a good thing.

(Once again, this is from the same blog as my previous two posts, and from its post entitled, “Lent for Dummies”.)

Is there a difference between helping people acknowledge their guilt and making them ”feel guilty?” I think there is and that it is rather important.

Thinking over the various sermons in the New Testament, such as Christ’s, St. Peter’s, or St. Paul’s before Festus and before Agrippa, I don’t really see any of them trying to work on anybody’s emotions, although they do confront people with their sins. St. John the Forerunner excoriates people, as did other prophets before Him, and Christ blasts the scribes and the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. St. Peter tells his hearers they have wickedly seized Christ and crucified Him, and they are pricked in their hearts. So from these examples we can see there’s nothing amiss with reminding people of their sins. It needs to be done. If that is what’s meant, good.

But there’s a real danger here, or at least I think there is, of this sort of thing degenerating into manipulation, or what we may call emotional blackmail. I am *not* supposing the author of the words I've quoted is at all guilty of this, but I bring it up because we’ve all heard preachers who do it. But Christians need to take care to avoid this unChristian method. Conversion is not something we seek to extort or that could even be genuine if we were to “succeed” that way.

Notice St. Peter’s approach, for example, in Acts 2. He doesn’t begin by trying to lay a guilt trip on his hearers with the intention of later exploiting it – even for their own benefit. Instead, St. Peter begins his sermon with the Good News. Only much later does he briefly remind his hearers of their guilt. Surely this is a better approach than to begin by heaping on the guilt. Why? For a couple of reasons.

First, because most people haven’t the courage really, truly, and honestly to face up to themselves and their sins unless you utterly break them down in what amounts to psychological cruelty. (The end does not justify such means!) But if you properly present to them the Lord of Love, the Lord of Life and Light – again, soberly, avoiding emotional manipulation in doing so – and if the Holy Spirit through your words reveals that strong, unconditional Love to them, then they are fortified by Him to face anything, even themselves. And they will do it! The preacher won’t have to do much, if anything, to induce it; certainly not pile on the guilt, for the same Holy Spirit Who brought them to Jesus’ Love will also prompt them to acknowledge their sinful condition (of which they were already aware, on some level). They will do it with a godly, joyous sorrow.

Secondly, if you do as Jesus did with Zacchaeus (for example), first extending the wondrous, infinite Love, then you get a response such as his, a repentance accomplished for Love’s sake and accompanied by fruits befitting repentance. Zacchaeus, with great joy, gave half his possessions to the poor and to the many he had cheated, he gave back four times the amount he had taken from them. That’s to say, he became a giver himself, a joyful lover, after the model of his Savior and participating in His loving.

When my sister, Barbara, first began attending Orthodox services, she spent the first several months weeping her way through the Divine Liturgy, weeping for her sins, yet weeping with joy. What always got her started was, of all things, the Beatitudes!

But if you try to convert people by provoking in them an emotional crisis of guilt, then their motivation will almost certainly be narrowly focused and self-serving; namely, to alleviate that guilt you have induced. Moreover, their “conversion” is apt to be shallow, a matter of emotion rather than of the deep human spirit, something that wears off after the emotional crisis has eased. You likely end up not with a giver but a consumer of love, and only a sometime consumer, at that.

None of this is to say there is no emotion in true conversion. To the contrary, the emotion is usually huge. But it is, so to speak, a symptom, a spillover effect, rather than the substance of the matter. Therefore, a preacher should not take the artificial approach of seeking to provoke the symptom (emotions), but should address the human spirit, which dwells at a far more profound level than emotions. That is where true conversion takes place. And, as best I can tell, only the transforming Love of God can reach there.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

He Who Knew no Sin Became Sin For Us

Why did Jesus have to die? Because at that moment, bearing your sin and mine, he deserved to die. Was the Father unjust by slaying an innocent man? No. Jesus had to die because on the cross He became the vilest sinner on earth. “He who knew no sin became sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).”

(This is another quote from the same blog I mentioned in my previous post, and the same post, "Lent for Dummies".)

The Orthodox understand this verse as metaphorical. Now metaphorical does not mean unreal! It means one reality is expressed as if it were another; or as Merriam-Webster says, “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money).” A person “drowning in money” isn’t literally drowning; isn’t necessarily even in the water. But the reality expressed by the metaphor is that the person has so much money that if it were water instead of money, the water would be enough for a person to drown in.

Similarly, with 2 Cor. 5:21. In Jesus, “who knew no sin”, God makes sin concretely visible to us in its full ugliness and horror: the Son of God is crucified. The Crucifixion is the ultimate icon of sin: in the most horrific crime in history, God incarnate is judged and not merely put to death, but executed as if He had been a criminal, although He was innocent and perfect and all-holy and never deserved to die.

This death is portrayed everywhere in the New Testament as illegal and immoral: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain,” St. Peter tells the crowds on Pentecost. There was nothing just about it; in fact, Jesus’ death is the supreme injustice.

Still less would there be anything just about it if we were to take this verse literally, supposing a person could literally morph into a thing, and an abstract thing, at that: not “a sinner” but “sin”. Besides being impossible, it is a truly scandalous thought to suppose Christ could ever turn into a sinner literally, which is not what the verse says, much less the vilest sinner on earth, still less into sin itself, literally. But even if this were possible (and not blasphemous), then for God to blame the only innocent One for every sin that had ever been committed in the whole world would be the very opposite of anything that could be considered justice or legality or morality.

Notice, too, what St. Peter tells us God did: delivered Jesus into the hands of the wicked, by His pre-determined counsel. He does not say God the Father killed Him. God the Father did not. He is not the culprit.

(But if He were, then, since the Holy Trinity always works as with one will, one purpose, one mind, one power, we would have to say God the Holy Spirit also did it and God the Son also killed Himself to appease His own wrath. Else we would be pitting at least One of the Holy Trinity against at least One Other, in a manner not permitted by basic Trinitarian theology.)

In fact, Christ our God laid down His own life. That is, it was not being crucified that killed Him, not the bleeding nor the suffocation nor anything else man could do. Instead, He died by His own free will, at the moment of His choosing, with all His strength intact, as shown by the fact that the moment before His death, He cried out with a very loud, strong voice. Jesus had earlier taught: "I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father." (John 10:17-18)

Death is the legal penalty for sin, and Jesus died, suffering that penalty just as if He had sinned, although, because He had not, death for Him did not literally mean He was being punished. Instead, He took upon Himself the same death which for anyone else would be punishment, but for a different purpose: in order to annihilate death by His encounter with it, just as a bright light in a dark room scatters the darkness by its very presence. That is how he “became sin for us.”

On God's Favor

It is part of our fallen nature that we want to reduce the demands of God’s law, to soften it. Why? To make it seem like we can attain God’s favor on our own - even if we still give lip service to sin and grace.

I found these words on another blog, where you can read the entire post, entitled, "Lent for Dummies". Several things in that short post I thought called for comment. Not wishing to abuse the hospitality of that more or less official, denominational blog by posting Orthodox viewpoints on it, however, I've decided to do it here, and I am only going to comment on three of several things that leapt out at me, each in its own post here. The first is about attaining God's favor.

There are several reasons God’s favor cannot be attained on our own, meaning by works, or in any way at all. One is that we are hard put to perform even one truly good, purely motivated deed. Another is that we could never do enough of them to merit anything from God. He who has labored mightily for our salvation, on a cosmic scale, from the beginning, is hardly impressed by our late and paltry efforts!

But the main reason we cannot attain God's favor on our own is that it already is ours, already was yours and mine, from all eternity. God created us knowing ahead of time we would sin, and loved us still. The proof of it is, He sent His Son to die for us “while we were yet sinners.”

That we already have God’s favor doesn’t mean God approves of our sin. How could He, when He sees it destroying us, who are the sheep of His pasture, and the work of His hands?

Nor does already having God’s favor mean He will bless our misbehavior or overlook it. On the contrary, He will combat it in countless ways. He will thwart our wicked designs, will chastise us as severely as may profit us, will give our conscience no rest, will protect others from us even at our material expense, will ever sweetly seek to convert us and patiently await our return to Him – all the while still loving us, no matter what. Our status, our standing with Him, is always, “beloved.” He is always gracious toward us, kind, compassionate, and good, sending the blessings of His rain and His sunshine on the just and the unjust alike.

All of this is another way of saying God in immutable, unchangeable. His purpose for us, His love for us, His kindness toward us, are constant and true, with no shadow of turning, no fickleness. They are unconditional. We may not assert of God that He is angry with us one day and favorable toward us the next. "I am God; I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed."

For obtaining God’s favor, then, works are perfectly, utterly useless. We already have His favor in abundance, in full.

But if another issue for us is how to change the relationship with God in which we find Him as our constant Opponent, then the obvious answer is, stop opposing Him! Stop kicking against the goads! “Repent”, which means stop living at cross-purposes with Him, and “believe the Good News”, because until you do, you cannot live according to His purpose, which is to glorify and deify you. And there, in repentance and faith, works do come into play. Because repentance and faith, although gifts from God, are also themselves works. Moreover, they together form the matrix of every act we do henceforth, except when we sin by operating out of another matrix.

But meanwhile, even while we take the side of the evil which God implacably opposes, He loves us with an equally implacable and infinite and unconditional and mighty Love.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Christ, Our Life, Part II

To be Christian, to believe in Christ, means and has always meant this: to know in a transrational and yet absolutely certain way called faith, that Christ is the Life of all life, that He is Life itself and, therefore, my life. "In him was life; and the ife was the light of men." All Christian doctrines -- those of the incarnation, redemption, atonement -- are explanations, consequences, but not the "cause" of that faith. Only when we believe in Christ do all these affirmations become "valid" and "consistent." But faith itself is the acceptance not of this or of that "proposition" about Christ, but of Christ Himself as the Life and the light of life. "For the life was manifested and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us" (I John 1:2). In this sense Christian faith is radically different from "religious belief." Its starting point is not "belief" but love. In itself and by itself all belief is partial, fragmentary, fragile. "For we know in part, and we prophesy in part...whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away." Only love never faileth (I Corinthians 13) And if to love someone means that I have my life in him, or rather that he has become the "content" of my life, to love Christ is to know and to possess Him as the Life of my life.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, Crewtwood, NY, 1995), pp. 104-105.

Christ, Our Life

Here is a man suffering on his bed of pain and the Church comes to him to perform the sacrament of healing. For this man, as for every man in the whole world, suffering can be defeat, the way of complete surrender to darkness, despair and solitude. It can by dying in the very real sense of the word. And yet it can be also the ultimate victory of Man and of Life in him. The Church does not come to restore health in this man, simply to replace the medicine when medicine has exhausted its own possibilities. The Church comes to take this man into the Love, the Light and the Life of Christ. It comes not merely to "comfort" him in his sufferings, not to "help" him, but to make him a martyr, a witness to Christ in his very sufferings. A martyr is one who beholds "the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56). A martyr is one for whom God is not another -- and the last -- chance to stop the awful pain; God is his very life, and thus everything in his life comes to God, and ascends to the fullness of Love.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, Crewtwood, NY, 1995), p. 103.

(But of course the church does also pray for the healing of this person, and healings do happen...)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

News Clip on Cedar Waxwings

Here is the website of one of our local news channels. Under "Top Videos", click on the one showing the red-haired woman standing in front of an aquarium.

It looks like this.

I didn't realize until I saw this that the building where this crime took place was the State Capitol!!!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Update on Cedar Waxwings

Twenty of them have died. The others seem to be doing reasonably well, although some of them still need one more bath.

Four more have been brought in.

This is a true disaster for these beautiful creatures.

Channel 12 came out and did an interview with Amber, the rehabber to whose care these birds are committed, and it aired on the local channel's late night news and on Fox news, as well.

Please Never Do This!

We had a wildlife disaster in downtown Richmond today. A building put out a product called Tanglefoot on their rooftop. Tanglefoot is basically a glue trap. Whoever put it out intended in this cruel way to rid the building of Pigeons. Instead they caught Cedar Waxwings. Several of our rehabbers spent all evening and far into the night disentangling these lovely birds, ungluing them, washing them with detergent. The final count of injured birds was 49. It is going to take a long, long time for them to regrow their wings and recover - if they do recover. The next 48 hours will be critical for them.

The full horror of the situation can only be appreciated by clicking on these photos, to see them full size.

All is Well (?)

When Demetrios holds me and I’m crying in his arms, it seems to me, as it always has, as if Christ Himself were holding me in His arms. Then, no matter how bad external things are, I am deeply aware that they cannot affect the inner man; that in that sense, the old Mormon hymn is right to say, “All is well, all is well!” Not, “It is well with my soul” in the sense that my soul is in good shape; God knows it isn’t. But in the sense St. Paul meant when he wrote, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

The other night, crying in Demetrios’ arms again, I began to ponder what it would be like to die of cancer, or of anything else, and to contemplate the certain hope we have, that whatever that experience may be, however difficult and frightening, when we reach the very bottom of it, the darkest part of the pit – then, suddenly, we are in the arms of Christ, and all is light and all is peace and all is well. (And for that matter, we are in His arms all through the whole process, but consummately in the end.)

Then I began wondering whether that happens to every child who dies. But why stop at children? I asked myself, “Do you think that is the experience of everyone, at death? They find themselves in the Lord’s strong, tender arms? Then surely that will give them the courage to face anything. Surely they will be able to face their own misspent lives, and joyously renounce everything that stood between them and their Lord, and cling to Him, grateful that the disobedience of their bodies is now ended and nothing more separates them…”

And then I remembered. Sure, everybody who dies does find himself in Christ’s loving embrace. God will have all His children back, as is right and good. And they will all worship Him.

It’s just that some people, incredible as it sounds, may find that situation horrifying, intolerable, sheer hell.

Or maybe not. The Orthodox, at least, are allowed and encouraged to hope that somehow, in a way yet to be revealed, miraculously, hell may be empty.

(Words to that lovely Mormon hymn, ”Come, Come, ye Saints”, a quintessentially American song, are here;

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sola Scriptura, an Impossibility

Nobody can find Sola Scriptura in Scripture.

And that’s terribly ironic, is it not? Scripture never says God’s guidance is only reliably to be found in Holy Scripture. It does not say the source of doctrine or practice is the Holy Scripture alone. It does not say something is to be judged by Scripture alone. It does not say Scripture is self interpreting. It does not say once upon a time ultimate authority was in God's spoken word, but at a certain point that authority was transferred to the Scriptures.

Scripture itself, in fact, shows us with approval myriad examples of saints whose theology and praxis was not found in Scripture. Moses did not lead his people out of Egypt on the basis of Scripture. Noah did not check his instructions to build the Ark against Scripture. Elizabeth did not recognize Mary as the Mother of the Messiah by Scripture, or check this recognition against Scripture. St. Paul went to Macedonia not because he had found his marching orders in Scripture, but on the basis of a dream -- a dream! -- interpreted by the Church.

(You can’t find Sola Scriptura in the Fathers, either, even if you can make certain, select passages from them sound that way. They may have taught some variant of it, but not any Reformation variant.)

Nobody can practice Sola Scriptura.

Take for example the problem of Acts 9:7 versus Acts 22:9. Did those who were traveling with Saul on the road to Damascus hear the voice he heard, or did they not? You can attempt to resolve this apparent contradiction (by the same writer, St. Luke!) in various ways, or you can say who cares as it does not pertain to Christian dogma. Take your pick, but…

…but here is the thing to notice very particularly: whatever method you use, it will not be Sola Scriptura! Nor could it be, for this issue cannot be resolved on the basis of Holy Scripture alone. In this case, Scripture is not interpreting Scripture. Even if you decide to accept both things as true, namely that Saul’s companions both heard and did not hear the voice, what Scriptural warrant have you for simply deciding that Scripture contradicts Scripture? Or that you should become an incoherent fool and swallow such a contradiction whole? Neither Scripture nor Sola Scriptura tells you to do that; in fact, Sola Scriptura calls for whatever contradicts Scripture to be thrown out.

So no matter how you deal or don’t deal with these two verses, you aren’t going to be practicing Sola Scriptura to do it. The same applies to the question of how many angels were seen at Jesus’ empty tomb.

And in fact, the same applies to all of Scripture. Because if Sola Scriptura cannot even deal with such clear-cut, by no means complex or nuanced, factual issues, where cultural, linguistic, and other factors aren’t even in play, how will it begin to be capable of dealing with complex, nuanced, spiritual issues? It can’t, and the hard fact is, we are always interpreting Scripture by something else. Even just selecting, say, half a dozen verses to back up some theological assertion is already interpretation (and this is so whether your theology is true or false). It’s interpretation because, correctly or not, you are interpreting those verses as (A) applicable to your argument, (B) favoring your argument, and (C) favoring your argument more than the other dozen verses you could have chosen.

Nobody in fact has (or ever did have) Sola Scriptura.

If Sola Scriptura were even possible, then true Sola Scripturists would neither have nor need anything else. But such items as the Westminster Confession, the Thirty-Nine Articles, or the Book of Concord bear witness that Scripture is always interpreted. Even to say, “Our interpretation is drawn wholly from Scripture” is to interpret Scripture a certain way, a point which ought to be obvious to all (and is, to most). Everybody who reads Scripture interprets it, and everybody inescapably does so according to some norm. This is unavoidable, and it's time to face up to this and admit it.

Moreover – another point to note most carefully! – whatever you are using to interpret (norm) the Holy Scriptures, you are de facto placing that above the Holy Scriptures. That's a very serious thing, a very high rank. We’d best be sure we choose well! Well and Scripturally.

Scripture calls the Church “the pillar and foundation of the Truth.”

Debut of New Blog

Fr. Gregory (Hogg) has ventured into the world of blogdom. As he is a somewhat controvesial character in some circles, this ought to be interesting! His blog is entitled, Pillar and Ground of the Truth. Check it out. Stay tuned.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Orthodoxy & Bridal Mysticism, Part 3 of 3, Doctrine

In bridal mysticism, one ends up very pleased with himself. May quotes Teresa on p. 100: “Teresa says, ‘I can find nothing with which to compare the great beauty of a soul…we can hardly form any conception of the soul’s great dignity and beauty.’ And John, trying to describe the experience of the soul in realized union, says, ‘The soul sees herself as a queen.’” Francis of Assisi said a similar thing: “During my prayer two great lights appeared before me — one in which I recognized the Creator, and another in which I recognized myself.” I remember that once, meditating in a garden, I picked up a rock and immediately had the strong sense that by picking it up, I had blessed it!

That is why, at some point along the way, bridal mystics lose sight of God, an experience they term "the dark night of the spirit".

I was taught that this losing God was a normal development, and a good one, showing great spiritual progress. Imagine, said my teacher, that you are on a spaceship headed for the Sun. Now obviously we can’t really go to the Sun because we’d be burnt up, but this is a thought experiment. Well, then, the Sun would at first appear as a round orb in your window. As you approached nearer and nearer, the orb would grow larger and larger and would occupy more and more of your window space. At some point, you would get so close that the Sun would take up your entire field of vision. And at that point, in effect, you would stop perceiving it. That’s because we perceive by contrast. And there would no longer be anything to contrast with the Sun, nothing except the Sun, no way of distinguishing it from anything else. So it is with God, when one has drawn close to Him. You think you have lost Him because you can no longer distinguish Him from anything else.

But all it really was that caused me to lose sight of God was insufferable pride, as proven by subsequent regrettable episodes in my life. And of course pride will never fail of depriving us of communion with the true God. Far from joining us to God, pride drives us as far from Him as it is possible to get.

It is true that in Orthodoxy, too, at various points along the journey, God will “hide Himself” from us for brief periods to teach us how to trust Him even in the darkness. In this sense, the Orthodox, too, experience “dark nights”. But that is not what is happening when you think you are by nature God!

Orthodoxy has some doctrinal (and other) safeguards against that kind of pride. They aren’t foolproof, for we fools can defeat nearly anything; but they help.

The first is the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, not out of anything. It means you are not God by nature. You become God by grace. It means God did not fashion you out of Himself, but out of “dust,” in the immediate sense, and in the ultimate sense, not out of anything at all. (And this in itself is a miracle! How does God, who is everywhere present, “move over”, as it were, and “make room” for beings other than Himself?) Raised from non-being, we, unlike God, are dependent and contingent beings. We depend every moment upon God to keep us in being. God is at our core, says Bishop Kallistos (The Orthodox Way, pp. 56-57) or else we cease to exist. But God’s nature is one thing, and our nature is another thing. Thus our pride finds no gratification in the thought that we have the dignity, majesty, honor and glory of having been born divine. We are indeed born in God’s image, but we have to become divine.

The second doctrine that tends to preserve us from pride is the distinction between the Divine Essence and the Uncreated, Divine Energies. “God is all that He does,” says Bishop Kallistos in The Orthodox Way. (p. 56 in my older edition) His doing is as much Himself as His Being is, but they are not the same.

We can acquire the living of God’s Life and all His attributes, can participate in all the workings of the Holy Trinity. But we can never acquire His Divine Being (Essence), because for starters, the very idea is self-contradictory. Whatever His Being is, God has had it, or rather has been it, from all eternity. If it isn’t something you have been from all eternity, if you have to start being it, it isn’t God’s Being. Our destiny is to be completely united with God – but not with His Essence/Being. We are to be gods but not God, you could say. (Psalm 82:6) We are to be divine; we are to share in all God’s powers and doings, but not in His very Essence. Instead, we are united with Christ in His human nature, and He, in turn is united to the Holy Trinity in His divine nature, so that in His one Person, God and man are joined in a single, divine Person and Life.

Put another way, these two doctrines guard us against pride-inducing pantheism or panentheism. (The question to ask of pantheism and panentheism, which I have never seen credibly answered, is, What’s to make us think God would ever choose to become some creature who/which did not even know he, she, or it was divine? What would motivate God to become, say, a rock, or a squirrel, or a cloud, or a person subject to the illusion that he is non-God? How does God manage to fall prey to this illusion? Does He trick Himself?)

The third guardian doctrine is the teaching on original sin, or what the Orthodox more properly call the ancestral sin. That doctrine, in Orthodox Christianity, is not about inherited guilt, but it is about the enormity of our inherited brokenness, what secular people term, “the human condition”. This doctrine says it takes a whole lifetime to combat the effects in us of that tragic condition. This doctrine keeps us repenting. (And true repentance is not at all morbid, not a form of beating up on oneself, but of turning to new hope, to new life, to forgiveness and new love. True repentance is extremely sweet, because in its midst one discovers and deeply knows the infinite, tender mercy of God.)

Orthodox saints end up not admiring their souls, never satisfied with themselves, but noticing in themselves mainly the ways in which they are still in imperfect union with God (i.e., still separated from Him), still in need of healing. Because they love God so ardently, every remaining thing that keeps them from being perfectly like Him and perfectly joined with Him, however small that may be, seems to them huge. They, with St. Paul, forget those things which are behind and press forward to the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, not imagining they have already attained it. (Philippians 3:13-14) They keep repenting to their last breath.

In short, bridal mysticism is a heady mix of flattery, sublimated sexuality, emotional anesthesia, Gnosticism, and religion on the cheap, with no emphasis upon repentance; for in bridal mysticism, it is usually assumed that one has already pretty well “cleaned up one’s moral act” as a prerequisite for the spiritual journey.

Practicing bridal mysticism for ten years, what I lost first was God. God had been replaced by “God as me”; in other words, by my aggrandized self, as Gerald May describes: “The dawn [after the dark night] is an awakening to a deepening realization who we really are in and with God and the world..." (p. 182) Well, sure. When I fancy God and I have merged into One, guess which of us that One is? It’s me, of course; and God disappears! And least, in bridal mysticism it’s me; in Orthodoxy, it’s Christ. In Orthodoxy, one is united with God in Christ, in Whom both God and man are perfectly preserved.

And then, having first lost God, I lost myself as well, unable to feel, to suffer, to rejoice, to love or even hope to be humble, unable to care about anything or anyone, including God, including myself. It was a living death.

From which Christ raised me. That’s why, when I became Orthodox, I took the name Anastasia, which means Resurrection.

Glory to Him forver and ever!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Orthodoxy & Bridal Mysticism, Part 2 of 3, Method

Gerald May fairly well describes the method of bridal mysticism, which aims, by prayer and contemplation, to detach the person from absolutely everything except God Himself. The idea is that once these attachments are broken or transcended, there will be more room for your attachment to God to flower. You seek to become detached even from your friends, family, religious images, “consolations” in prayer, and especially from your images of God and your own self-image, built upon such ephemeral and mortal components as gender, race, nationality, age, and so forth. Destroy your demands, your cravings, and your addictions so that the new may be built upon the rubble.

The Orthodox method is more or less the reverse. One concentrates upon loving Christ and participating in His life and love, letting Him live in our flesh and blood. And the more we succeed in doing this, the more He displaces whatever in us does not belong there, and heals all that is disordered, and reveals Himself to us.

The difference in method is vastly important, mainly because the bridal method simply doesn’t work! See Fr. Stephen’s excellent post on why it doesn’t.

I used to think it did. I fancied that I had transcended all attachments and was now free. No personal disaster distressed me; no good fortune elated me, and that was how it was supposed to be, I was taught. And if your purpose is, as the Buddha’s was, to avoid suffering, it did work. But the price you pay for that is to forfeit all feeling. As my teacher once told me, “If there were some kind of surgery that would remove emotions, I’d have it!” As there is no such surgery, we accomplished the same thing another way: by “contemplation”, but it is really self-hypnosis. You end up a zombie. But not because you have really transcended anything! You have only repressed it. And you have lost yourself in the meanwhile, not in the good sense, but in the sense of being numb to everything. Nothing attracts, nothing delights -- except "prayer", which means contemplating your own, divine soul. You become an empty shell. Demetrios (my husband) listened for years afterward to my tearful descriptions of this, fascinated from a psychiatric point of view. Finally, one day, he said, “Ah, I understand now! In psychiatry, we call that ‘depersonalization’. But this is the first time I ever knew people did it to themselves intentionally!”

Depersonalization in psychiatry is that defense mechanism by which a tragedy temporarily seems unreal, that keeps us from crying until perhaps after the funeral. On September 11, I couldn’t cry until late that night. Bridal mysticism induces that as a permanent state: all this that is happening is unreal. This isn’t the real me it’s happening to. The real me is beyond all this, invulnerable and impervious to all this. The real me is divine.

If you’re lucky or blessed enough to be delivered from this dark nothingness, the first two passions out of the deep freeze are almost always lust and rage, both coming at you with a vengeance. And if you’ve been a zombie for quite some time, passions will have become unfamiliar to you and you will have forgotten how to deal with them, so you can get into heaps of trouble.

We need to concentrate on Christ, gearing all our ascetical endeavors, under the guidance of our spiritual father, toward growth in Him, and letting Him do such work in us as He will, as He knows is best for us, at His pace, which will be the pace He knows is best for us. Then we are never empty; we are filled with Him to capacity, and our poor, small capacity will keep expanding. We are never zombies.

And we never lose our joy! After all, Christ wants our joy to be “full”. (John 16:24) And St. John said, “And these things write we to you, that your joy may be full.” Love itself IS joy, and if we squelch all possibility of joy in us, we’ve inadvertently squelched true love, as well. There is no such thing as joyless love! Orthodox saints, like small children, are full of joy. They are very much alive, emotionally and every other way, except to sin. Christ was full of joy, such joy that He didn’t mind being crucified for us; in fact, He couldn’t wait to be! “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:3. “Set before Him” here doesn’t mean in His future, but in His presence.) In Orthodoxy, we face our suffering, and find new meaning in it, and grow from it, and with Christ, get through it. "And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5:3-5)

Another note on method: in Orthodox Christianity, the mystical life is a corporate project rather than an individual one. There is no secret garden where only you and Christ walk alone. (Yes, that's a tingly sort of feeling, isn't it? That tingle gives away its carnality! It's also gnostic, as bridal mysticism pretty much is throughout.) No, you walk in that garden in the company of all the saints who ever came before you and all who ever shall come after you, plus all the saints in the making as you are, plus all the angels. The spiritual life involves each of us indwelling each other (Ephesians 4:25) and bringing each other home. We view Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church. There is where the analogy of married love does work, there where St. Paul put it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Orthodoxy & Bridal Mysticism, Part 1 of 3, the Goal

A private correspondence about bridal mysticism has prompted me to compare and contrast some of its features, as I experienced them, with Orthodox spirituality, which is also mystical.

First, Orthodoxy recognizes and affirms some of bridal mysticism’s salient points, such as:

• That all our understandings of God and of ourselves are only partial; especially God’s goodness is beyond our comprehension.

• That God’s love and the call to love Him in return takes precedence over every other consideration

• That God can be encountered directly and immediately (= without “means”)

• That God in some sense is present in all things and in all people, even the most damaged.

In all these ways and probably more, bridal and Orthodox mysticism overlap or coincide. There are, however, differences in some underlying assumptions and in method that serve as correctives, so you reach the right goal. Without these correctives, one is apt to end up, as I did, in a far different place. In this post I will try to summarize these the different ways in which the goal is conceived. In two later posts, I’ll take up the issues of method and of underlying doctrine.

“Loving God” might seem obvious as our goal, but we need to be clearer than that. Gerald May, in The Dark Night of the Soul, describes the effect of the dark night on pages 99-100, using an explanation of Bernard of Clairvaux. One moves from love of self for one’s own sake to love of God for one’s own sake (which, we note, is still selfishness) to love of God for His own sake (good!) to love of self for God’s sake. Oops. See, the problem is that salvation is not about self-fulfillment. Orthodox Christianity points us to the truth that we do not need to love ourselves to be happy. Not that we should despise ourselves, whom God loves, but that love of God and others, by the brilliance of its joy, simply eclipses anything concerning ourselves. To love is to experience the true and greatest and only Joy, is to participate in God. As St. John writes, "he who lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)

Furthermore, this kind of love is much more like the love of a very small child for everybody, the eager, joyful acceptance they show, than it is like newlywed love, which is exlusivistic, individualized, and sexualized. Divine love is something that is meant to pour out of us rather than something with which we are self-occupied, something of which we are consumers.

This very Bernard of Clairvaux, his century’s most prominent practitioner of bridal mysticism, consistently showed himself more of a consumer of love than a giver. You can see that in the two hymns of his I’ve discussed elsewhere. You can also see it in the fact that he spent the last 12 years of his life preaching Crusade. Here is a sample sermon to horrify you. Bernard’s friend, Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, a man of great compassion and love (who refused to have anything to do with preaching Crusade), once told Bernard, "You perform all the difficult religious duties; you fast, you watch, you suffer; but you will not endure the easy ones--you do not love."

I don't tell you this was Bernard's fault, necessarily; it was what he was taught. Instead I have to tell you that, taught the same thing, and following the same bridal mysticism, I didn’t end up in a loving place, either. Far from it! And that is no wonder; in fact it seems inevitable when we discover that bridal mysticism has a different goal.

A respected, if sometimes controversial, and sometimes sharp-toned, Orthodox scholar was Fr. John Romanides. In his book, The Ancestral Sin, he writes that the kind of philosophy upon which bridal mysticism is based

is not capable of transcending the idea of selfish eudaemonia (self-contentment) because ... that which is perfect is unmoved toward anything outside of itself. It if is thought to move toward something, then the unmoved either moves toward that which is part of itself (pantheism) or it is not truly perfect. The moral perfection of those things that derive from the One is acquired through their union with the most high One, and then every movement and desire is terminated. In other words, moral perfection consists in the fulfilling satisfaction of the selfish eudaemonia of man. It has nothing to do with the attainment of unselfish love but instead with the total and highest degree of fulfillment of the selfishness that rules man. According to these presuppositions, then, the fall consists of an inexplicable turning away of man’s selfish love from the highest good to secondary things. Consequently, the penalty for this irrational act consists mainly of the deprivation of the only thing capable of really satisfying man’s selfish inclination…the soul lacks only the correct object towards which it needs to be directed. For the West, therefore, it is not a matter of spiritual labor to attain the image and likeness of God in the full freedom of being perfected, as it is with Greek patristic theology, but merely a matter of losing or gaining the highest good.

That’s on pages 107-108. He adds, on pages 112-133:

Man was not made to be self-seeking and drawn by the supreme One so that, once he had been joined with it, man would cease to desire anything. If in fact the destiny of the soul is to incline toward the highest good and to find self-contentment in it, what kind of relationship can the soul have with secondary beings if it should ever achieve its goal? If the soul becomes totally satisfied by the union with the One, how can it also be inclined toward other beings like itself, or even lower beings, and maintain a relationship of love with them also?

And on page 106: “But man was not made for the purpose of finding satisfaction of the supposedly natural, self-centered longings within himself and, thus, of becoming unmoved and dispassionate. On the contrary, he was specifically made so he can love God and his fellow man with the same love that God has for the world.”

For the Orthodox, the battle is to acquire full, free, joyous acceptance and embrace of God and all His creation. Or in different words, to be conformed to the image of Christ. (Romans 8:29) Not to achieve the “Highest Good,” meaning the highest consumer good.

Nor is it to acquire knowledge and understanding, using love as the means to that end. No, love in its own right, for its own sake, is the end, for "God is love."

This is not to say we do not rejoice in God and find great comfort in His Presence. We do, and we tell Him so in endless praises. The point is, enjoyment and comfort and pleasure and inner "sweetness", in Christianity, are not meant to be the goal; conformity to Christ is. Union with His sufferings and His resurrection is. Becoming free of the needs for enjoyment, comfort, and pleasure, free simply to love as He loves, that is the goal.

Now That's Love!

"Tree" is how "Demetrios" came out the first time Sydney tried to say it. He's been "Tree" ever since.

But my point here is not merely to share my wonderful valentine with you. It is to illustrate what true love is: joyful, eager, heartfelt acceptance and embrace of another. That's one reason we find small children so delightful, and feel so tender toward them.

And God is even more delightful than that, infinitely more! God's love, and the love He gives to us to share with others, is much more like the spontaneous and natural love of a small child than it is like the love between a man and a woman.

That's surely another reason Jesus, referring to children said, "of such is the Kingdom of Heaven."

Lord, give us all such happy, child-like love! Kyrie, eleison!

Okay, so she clearly had some help from Mommy. :-)

Monday, February 11, 2008

New Template

Inspired by Emily, who also has one, I've adopted this new template. I liked the old one! But I also really, really wanted these two clocks to show up, mostly for family, to let them know when and when not to phone when we're in Greece. (Hoping they will, of course!) And they didn't fit in the narrower sidebar of the old template.

Maukie is still at the bottom of the page, ready to purr, meow, twitch his ears, swat at your cursor, whatever, depending upon where your cursor is. Click on your Refresh button if you don't see him.

I'm still tinkering.

God is Good!

Fr. Stephen nails it yet again, in his post on how hard it is, sometimes, really, truly, deeply, to believe God is good toward us, infinitely good, always, only, purely good, good to one and to all, eternally good. "In Him is no darkness AT ALL." Why is this so very hard to accept? How could Jesus possibly have made it any plainer?

There is no, "Yes, but..." There just isn't.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Meeting Madison

The third blizzard of the season was blowing in. The first two had kept me at home during the birth of my sister Barbara’s first baby, and six whole weeks had gone by without my being able to meet my new niece, the first baby born into our family in about 9 years, and the first on the East Coast in 24. I was foolishly determined, in spite of the hazardous driving conditions, to make it to our parents’ house, where Barbara had agreed to meet me, bringing the new baby with her.

Even the Interstate highway was clogged with snow. Traffic was moving along at top speeds of 45 miles per hour. I wasn’t as worried as I ought to have been; I had driven on snow often enough before.

I had almost reached Fredericksburg when my car skidded. I struggled to regain control, but after wobbling all over the road, smashed into the guard rail and spun around, facing the oncoming traffic.

Specifically, what was coming was an eighteen-wheeler. It was so close I could see the alarm on the driver’s face and the grim set of his jaw. There was no time to unbuckle my seatbelt and scoot over to the other side of the car, no time to do anything. I was going to be squashed like an ant when you step on it. I closed my eyes and prayed, “Thank You for granting me a quick death, and thank You for showing me true joy first.” And I waited. After a moment or two, I opened my eyes again.

The monster truck, instead of filling up my windshield, was now filling up my whole side window. It slid past my mirror, missing it by an inch, no more.

But it had missed! Suddenly, I was in first grade again, and I had walked to my father’s office from school to wait for him to drive us home.

Flashback: My father is showing a training film to his R.O.T.C. cadets, and I am watching it. The trainees in the film fire a cannon at an old Jeep. The cannonball falls a little short of the target. Dad stops the film to ask, “Was that a hit or a miss?” Some poor cadet answers, “That was a near hit.”

“No!” roars my father. “That was a miss! If you miss your target even by an inch, you may as well have missed it by a mile!”

The truck had missed me by an inch. That was as good as a mile. My knee caps began jerking up and down as the realization sank in that I was alive and unhurt. I was shaking all over, and then I burst into tears.

Nobody stopped to help me; nobody dared, in the worsening weather. So after several minutes, when no traffic was coming, I simply pulled into the road and turned around and, still sobbing, resumed driving.

This time I kept the speed to 30 miles an hour, keeping a careful, if tearful, eye on the speedometer. Another car right beside me was going the same speed. After a few minutes, I noticed a little girl in that car, about four years old, staring at me. She had probably never before seen an adult wracked with sobs; her big eyes were full of infinite sympathy as she struggled to comprehend. Well, nothing I could do about that. I tried smiling at her, but then fresh tears gushed forth. She kept silently staring.

Presently, it occurred to me that I hadn’t even gotten out of my car to inspect it. Was it even roadworthy? Might it explode at any moment?

I pulled off at the nearest exit, and into a gas station. Inside was a young attendant, a kid, who weighed something well over 300 pounds. “May I help you, ma’am?” he asked, with some alarm when he saw my red, swollen face.

“Yes,” I said, “You can. I really, really, need a big hug…”

I had come to the right place! He put his massive arms around my heaving shoulders.

“Coffee?” he asked.

“I-I don’t d-drink it, thanks…”

“Hot chocolate?”

“Oh, that — that sounds – wonderful!” So he poured me some and I sat there drinking it while he went out to inspect my car.

“Nothing wrong with it except a long scratch down the side,” he reported. “You’re lucky it’s built like a ship.”

He wouldn’t accept any money, so I finished my hot chocolate and drove away. The sun had come out and as if on cue, as if by some miracle, the highway had become perfectly clear. I couldn’t believe it. There was no snow at all. I drove the rest of the way to my parents’ house at normal speed.

But the crying just refused to stop until Barbara walked in the door half an hour later and laid little Madison in my arms, and Maddy and I snuggled down together on Mom's sofa and slept, deeply, for two blissful hours.

That was exactly 12 years ago today.

(Sorry, I'm just not photogenic even when I haven't been crying; and I don't know why my hair looks that color, either...)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

God Reveals Himself...

. history:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen [it], and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship [is] with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. (I John 1:1-4)

...and in the heart:

And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Gal. 4:8

For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: (Ro. 8:15;16)

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: (Eph. 1:17)

Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. (Psalm 4:4)

The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom, and his tongue talks of judgment. The law of his God [is] in his heart; none of his steps shall slide. (psalm 37:30-31)

I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law [is] within my heart. (Psalm 40:8)

[Forasmuch as ye are] manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. (2Cor. 3:3)

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and [that] the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which [temple] ye are. (1Cor. 3:16-17)

1 Cor. 6:19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost [which is] in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?’

2 Cor. 6:16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in [them]; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

John 7:17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or [whether] I speak of myself.

Friday, February 8, 2008

In Need of Sympathy

Demetrios has suffered his first fracture. On Tuesday afernoon, leaving the house, he stepped on the edge of the welcome mat. Struggling (successfully) to regain his balance, he twisted his foot and broke the 5th (outermost) metatarsal.

We waited the usual 5+ hours in the Emergency Room to get it x-rayed and splinted. The only good part about that is, we sat next to a presumably Mennonite family with six adorable, absolutely beautiful children, ranging in age from 9 years to 9 months, four boys in suspenders, one baby boy in onesies, and a girl in blonde braids and a home-sewn, calico dress, who all sat there even longer than we did, never budging, never displaying the slightest impatience, the older children with their arms around the younger. They each had books to read or look at; they spoke, if at all, in low tones. Oh, for their patience, oh, for their inner peace!

Yesterday, the swelling having gone down, we went to have the cast put on. Unfortunately, the doctor vetoed our hopes of a walking cast. No weight is to be put on this particular fracture for six weeks!

Demetrios is inept with crutches; they are far too dangerous for him, we've discovered. We've bought him one of those fancy walkers with a seat in it. He can rest his knee on the seat and scoot around. He can sit on it and use it as a (clumsy but lightweight) wheelchair when his knee gets sore. There's a basket under the seat, so he can transport a book or a box of Kleenex when he moves from one room to the other.

We've made him comfortable on a sofa; he cannot get upstairs to bed.

He can drive because the injury is to his left foot, but can't get out of the car and into wherever he's going without help. That's no problem as we usually go everywhere together anyway.

Still, he is going to be quite limited. It's going to be a long 6 weeks.

Y'all come visit us, hear?

God's Love and Wrath

The Love of God, to the extent we can understand it, is not to be understood via words at all, but by living it, living in and by it.

Then, what we begin to understand, we can try to find words that best express (insofar as words can) that understanding.

We need to be apophatic when speaking of God, saying what is not rather than what is. “My ways are not your ways,” says the Lord. “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” We need, in all soberness and humility, to recognize this reality.

Some of the apophatic statements that need to be made concerning God’s Love are:

* that it is not finite

* that it therefore is without measure

* that God therefore never restricts His Love, nor measures out more love to one than to another, nor measures it at all

* that since God’s Love is infinite, nothing can border it (such as His Wrath or His Justice). Love has no boundaries.

* that God’s Love is no part of any dichotomy, polarity, contradiction or antinomy

* that it is unconditional; therefore we cannot speak of it being deserved or not, or merited or not; such categories do not apply to UNCONDITIONAL Love.

* that being unconditional, it is not conditioned by, or qualified or modified by, anything at all, including His Wrath or His Justice

* that Love is not something self-seeking

And here are some aphophatic statements we need to make about God’s Wrath, saying what it is not:

* that it is never arbitrary

* that it is never unjust

* that it is not the same as human wrath

*that, unlike almost all human wrath, God’s wrath does not contain any element of animosity toward people

* that God’s Wrath never implies any necessity or inclination to be vindictive or retaliatory

* that God’s Wrath never forms a boundary upon His infinite love, or a counterbalance to it

* that God’s Wrath and God’s love are not contradictory, nor opposite poles of something

* that God’s Wrath and God’s love are not a dichotomy or an opposition, as human wrath and love almost always are

* that there is nothing in God’s dealings with creation, including His Wrath, which is not a function of His Love

* that God’s Wrath can never mean He is seeking something for Himself at human expense, whether we call it payment or satisfaction or punishment or whatever, for "Love seeketh not her own." Nor does the all-sufficient God ever need anything from us. God is totally, serenely, fully free to love us without that.

*God’s Wrath can never mean returning evil for evil while redefining the evil as good when God does it.

Of course, apophaticism is not the same as being totally agnostic. If that were true, then nobody could say anything at all. We could say neither what God’s Love or His Wrath are nor what they are not! Yet we do make statements concerning both, statements both apophatic and cataphatic.

Cataphatic statements should still always be made in an apophatic spirit; i.e., recognizing that no words can ever be more than a very rough approximation of the Reality.

Here are some cataphatic statements about God’s Love:

* God is Love.

* Love is pure, sacrificial, self-giving.

* Love abolishes fear.

* Love wills the good and rejoices in the good.

* Love is an act of freedom.

Here are some cataphatic statements about God’s Wrath:

*It destroys evil, relentlessly.

*God’s Wrath against evil undoes each particular evil by supplying the missing good. He fights evil with GOOD (and not with something we’d ordinarily consider evil, but if God does it we are bound to call it good). God’s Wrath, when it rages against hatred, destroys it by supplying the love to replace it. God’s Wrath raging against death replaces it with life. God’s Wrath campaigning against the foolishness He hates, supplies wisdom. God’s Wrath brings peace to replace strife, forgiveness to heal guilt, reconciliation to heal estrangement, and so forth.

*God’s Wrath will never cease raging until His goodness is utterly triumphant throughout all His creation.

*Until then, we do not want God's Wrath to cease or be appeased.

* God’s Wrath, like everything about His dealings with us, works FOR us, never against us, even when it seems that way. Even if He decides to shorten our time on earth, He always ends our earthly lives at the time He knows is best for us. God's Wrath is our champion against our enemies and His.

* In the Last Day, God’s Wrath will disarm and disable the sinfulness of the impenitent, and the process will definitely burn them, who still cherish their sin and cling to it and identify with it. They will not appreciate that this process is for the good, like having a gangrenous leg removed; they will only hate God for the excruciating pain it causes them.

* God’s Wrath against falsehood will burn away from the impenitent every lie by which they had deceived and comforted themselves, and instead of rejoicing in Truth, as the saints will when God does the same for them, the damned will find Truth unbearable. God is Truth.

* God’s Wrath against our scattered, separate existence will cause us all to dwell forever in the presence of His Love, but unlike the saints, for whom this will be the culmination of all their hopes, the damned will hate dwelling with Him.

* God’s Wrath against death has done away with it; now all will be resurrected. But while the saints have sought eternal life and for them it is their crown, the unrepentant would far prefer to be annihilated than continue in this eternal kind of death.

* God’s Wrath against sin will take away from us all every opportunity to exercise wickedness. For saints, this will mean deliverance, but for sinners, it means taking away every pleasure they ever knew. They will never be able to harm anybody again, including themselves. (If it weren’t for the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, I suppose they’d probably be bored stiff!)

In short, God’s Love and God’s Wrath are two facets of the same gem. Wrath is what we call it when His Love campaigns against sin and evil. (He does this for and from LOVE, not for Himself! He never seeks anything for Himself, Who already has everything.) As a matter of fact, His very Presence, even if He were to do nothing at all, would annihilate evil, because evil is precisely the opposite of God. As the presence of knowledge demolishes ignorance, so the Presence of God destroys all evil.

Personally, I think God’s Wrath, while it is something wonderful, is also frightening as hell; in fact, for the damned, His very Love IS hell. And certainly it is very, very real.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Pope, "Papal Doctrines", and an Ecumenical Suggestion

It strikes me that most, maybe even all, of the doctrines of Roman Catholicism with which the Orthodox disagree are what I call “papal doctrines.” By that term I mean doctrines whose effect is to bolster the papal claims to universal authority, supremacy, and/or infallibility. Offhand, I can think of about five such doctrines.

Communion of Saints
As formulated in Roman Catholicism, this becomes a "papal doctrine", since it is the Pope who determines who is canonized a saint. This leads us directly into the doctrine of

for it is the Pope who controls the “treasury of merits” accumulated by Christ and the saints. The Pope applies these merits at his own discretion. The Pope can get you out of Purgatory sooner than you otherwise would get out, or he can allow you to skip it altogether, as the current Pope did this past December 5th.

In Persona Christi Capitis
Catholic priests celebrating the Eucharist (and other sacraments) are said to be acing in the power, in the place, and in the person of Christ, the Head. (Orthodoxy teaches that Christ’s presence is not in and through a priest, but is direct. Christ is still filling His own place, which is therefore not vacant. Orthodox priests minister alongside Christ, performing the visible counterparts of what Christ, in His own Person, place, and power, is performing invisibly.) The Catholic teaching is a “papal doctrine” not only because Catholic priests are said to stand in the Person and place of Christ (which would be enough to make the doctrine qualify as "papal"), but also because even while representing Christ, they nevertheless stand under obedience to bishops and Pope.

The Holy Spirit is said to proceed from the Father and the Son. The Pope is said to be the Vicar, on earth, of the Son. The implication is that as the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son in heaven, so He is also sent by the Son’s Vicar on Earth. The Pope thus becomes custodian of the Holy Spirit on earth.

Note, the closest I can come, offhand, to seeing this spelled out explicitly, is this, from the Catholic Encyclopedia online:

St. Paul was careful (I Corinthians 12, 13, 14) to restrict authoritatively the use of these charismata within the ends for which they were bestowed, and thus insist upon their subordination to the power of the hierarchy.

The effect, then, of the filioque, although not explicitly said, is greatly to enhance papal claims, making it into what I’m calling a papal doctrine.

Doctrine on Religious Freedom
I’ve already commented on this frightening doctrine.

Now if this pattern I think I see holds up, in which just about everything we Orthodox regard as error turns out to be a "papal doctrine", it may reinforce Catholic conviction that the Pope is necessary to keep us on the straight and narrow, while it will strengthen Orthodox conviction that the central problem between us is the Pope.

I have a suggestion, though, for how we might make tremendous progress together on this issue while (for the time being) bypassing "papal doctrines".

The previous Pope asked for input from non-Catholics about how what he called “The Petrine Ministry” might become more acceptable to us. My response is, the first thing is to make it truly Petrine, more like the ministry St. Peter exercised. A first, major step in that direction would be for the pope to renounce all his secular-style power, together with all its trappings, and limit himself to trying to be a spiritual leader. This would move us all along by several giant leaps.

“Get Me to the Church on Time” (From ‘Bye, Fair Ladies)


Many years ago (in about 1964), my mother wrote this song for her friend and fellow real estate agent, Harvey, a Catholic who decided to become a monk and hoped also to be ordained. His co-workers all sang it at his farewell party. He took this joshing with good humor and gave the monastery and seminary six months of his life before deciding “They were trying to make me into someone I’m not.” You may remember the original, sung in the Broadway play and movie by Eliza Doolittle's father, Alfred; it began, "I'm gettin' married in the morning."

There’s just a few more hours, that’s all the time there is,
A few more hours, for one more farewell kiss –

I’m getting cloistered in September,
Oh, how the girls are gonna cry!
Bring out the hanky,
But no hanky-panky,
So I’ll be holy when I die.

I’m getting cloistered in September,
A monk and maybe priest is what I’ll be.
My new profession
Is list’ning to confession,
No more real estate for me.

This life is treach’rous,
A Vale of Sin.
If I get lech’rous,
Pour me one more gin!

I’m getting cloistered in September,
The contemplative life will seem sublime,
The women may go spastic,
Because I’ll stay monastic,
If I get off to school in time.

I’m getting cloistered in September,
Away from rents and women I’ll be fine.
Send me to the cellars,
To work with other fellers,
Making Brother Harvey’s wine.

So lift your glasses,
So long for now.
If I make passes,
Remind me of my vow!

‘Cause I’m getting cloistered in September
Seminary’s just the place to be.
Sittin’ on my hassock,
Starin’ at my cassock,
Glad that I’m no longer free!


At the bottom of the page is my new, virtual kitty, for your enjoyment (and mine).

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

From my Daughter-in-Law


The boys and I were in Target a few weeks ago and the cashier looked at them and said, "You sure are cute twins". Ryan looked at her and responded, " I'm not a twin". He looked at Connor who said, " Me too" ( of course meaning I'm not either).

Since then I have tried to explain to them that they are twins. They kept telling me no. So, I just dropped the subject deciding to put it off until they are older.

We recently got the boys out of their cribs ( I know we were lucky to keep them in for so long) and bought each of them his own big boy bed. I will let the attached picture speak for itself, but just before they fell asleep Ryan looked at Connor, put his hand on his cheek and said, " You my twin", to which Connor smiled. What a nice memory!

Awww! Look how they're holding on to each other as they sleep!

Celebrity Meme

Here's a meme I found that intrigues me:

If you could spend 24 hours with a celebrity:

1. Who would s/he be?
2. Where would you expect him/her to bring you?
3. Where would you bring him/her?
4. What would you like to do with him/her?
5. What’s the one thing you’d been always wanting to ask the celebrity?
6. If s/he didn’t treat you well, would s/he be your favorite celebrity?
7. What would you give to him/her as a gift before saying goodbye so s/he’d remember you?
8. Tag 3 people.

I have always wanted to meet Queen Elizabeth.

I suppose she would bring me to Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle.

I would probably bring her to the Jefferson Hotel downtown for tea. No way would I bring her to my house. I'd have to spend a fortune first, getting it anywhere near fit for a queen. Why would she be interested in it anyway?

Tea is what I'd mainly like to do with her. It would be fun to go to each other's church services together, too. (I wouldn't dream of spending a full 24 hours with her, though.)

The one thing I've always wanted to ask (but without a clear invitation, never would) is whether she enjoys being the Queen, and why or why not.

She always treats everyone well, at least on the surface. That would suffice. I wouldn't expect her actually to like me and that wouldn't matter very much. (She would not appreciate being asked any personal questions, I think, and those would be the ones I'd be dying to ask! I wouldn't ask them, but it would likely be very clear I wanted to.)

Do not know! What does one give a queen? She has everything. Perhaps a small photo album containing half a dozen pictures of our visit together? Perhaps an Orthodox prayer book?

I tag Anne the Weekend Fisher, Steven Robinson, and Christopher Hall.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

What's Happening With the Episcopalians?

We ate dinner last night at my mother’s retirement community, with a man who had been an Episcopalian priest for 35 years. So I asked him, “What is happening with the Episcopalians?” and he replied, “A small minority is being stubborn and breaking away over letting homosexuals in.”

Then he recounted for us his very first Vestry meeting, as a new parish priest. (Vestry, for you non-Episcopalians, is what others call Parish Council or Board of Deacons.) A man passed out a paper with a resolution on it that should an African-American ever show up at the front door, he was to be given a map to the nearest black church. “So I gathered those sheets of paper,” the man told us, “and tore them up. That was in the ‘sixties, and about every ten years since, another thing like that seems to come up. After that, it was women. Then homosexuals…”

For him, the issues of women’s ordination and ordaining gays and lesbians is another civil rights issue. And this man was utterly confident he had been the guardian of decency and uprightness against prejudice and ignorance. It's God's church, he says, and nobody but God has the right to bar anyone from it.

It’s always so interesting to get a different view of things!

Blossom the 'Possum


For a little change. I wrote this story for a then eight-year-old named Joshua, my grandson too briefly in the legal sense, yet forever, in my heart.

This is the true story of Blossom the ‘Possum. When she grew big enough to leave her mother and go out into the world on her own, the first thing Blossom did was to look for food.

It was night. Opossums prefer to stay awake at night and sleep during the day. It was rainy, too.

Blossom walked around the neighborhood. She sniffed at a garbage can, but it was tightly shut, so she could not eat the garbage. She found a few worms and ate them. She wandered around some more, looking, looking. Then her nose picked up a delicious smell! She followed the smell. Somebody had left a plastic garbage bag in the screened porch, and it was full!

But how could Blossom the ‘Possum get into the porch? It was all screened, and the door was shut. Blossom’s stomach was growling. Oh, there MUST be some way to get at all that tasty garbage! She walked in a circle all the way around the porch. The she climbed up the steps. What do you think she found? A HOLE in the screen. All she had to do was make it a little bigger and she could get in.

Quickly, she used her claws to enlarge the hole. Then she walked right up to that plastic garbage bag and used her claws again to tear it open.

It had so many good things to eat in it, like asparagus and broccoli scraps, and bits of moussaka and other Greek food, that it took Blossom a long time to finish stuffing herself.

“Now,” she said to herself, “Where shall I sleep? It is almost morning, and I must find a safe, warm place to sleep.” She squeezed back out the hole in the screen and walked around some more, sniffing and scratching the house.

And that is when she found a door with a very tall crack under it! She poked her nose under the door. Would her whole head fit under it? Yes! So Blossom flattened her body, scrunched under the door, and opened her eyes to look around.

She was underneath the house. She was standing on dirt, and above her was the floor. She walked along a water pipe and explored the place.

What was that fluffy pink stuff stuck to the floor above Blossom’s head? She poked at it and then tore at it with her claws. She made a big hole in it. Standing up on her hind legs, she looked into the hole. It led to a nice snug place between the floor and the pink stuffing that was stapled to it. It was a perfect bed. It was warm and soft and protected from the rain outside. It was safe. She could hide here and no other animals would ever find her.

Blossom climbed in, curled up in a ball, and after giving her whiskers a good look, snuggled down into the pink fluff to go to sleep.

Blossom had found a home. Every night she would get up and play with her friends and look for something to eat. Every morning, she would happily climb into her soft bed and there she would sleep all day long.

One night, Grandma and Demetrios were sitting in their den watching television. Suddenly, they heard a noise. Wham! Thunk! Blam!

“What was that?” asked Grandma. “Is a burglar trying to break into our house?”

“Maybe it is a ghost!” said Demetrios, but he was only teasing.

“It’s somebody moving around!” said Grandma. “Somebody’s out there!”

They listened again. Scratch, scratch, scratch, BUMP!

Demetrios grabbed his flashlight. “Let’s go have a look!”

So out into the rain they went. They looked in the shed. They didn’t see anything except the lawnmower. They looked around in the bushes. Nothing was there. They opened a little door that leads under the house and shined the flashlight around. “Oopst!” shouted Demetrios. “I saw something!”

“What did you see?” asked Grandma.

“I saw a long, thick, hairless tail disappearing into the dark! It is some kind of animal.”

“It has to be an opossum,” said Grandma. “That’s the only animal around here that has a tail like that.”

Next day, Grandma called up a very nice man who came and looked around under the house. “Yup,” he said, “Y’all sure enough do have yourselves a ‘possum. Look here, where it’s been a-diggin’. It’s done tore down a whole lot of your insulation, too. I’ll set a trap for it. I’ll just put some dog food in this here cage, ‘cause ‘possums love dog food. When that ‘possum gets inside to eat the food, the door will snap shut and we’ll have him.”

Next morning, Grandma got up early to check the trap. The door of the trap was still open, and there was no opossum inside. That night, she checked again, but still, there was no opossum. Every day for two weeks, Grandma checked her trap, but there was never any opossum inside it.

“Them roofers probably drove it away,” said the Nice Man. “All that hammering for three days straight while they was putting up your new roof. That ‘possum probably said to hisself, ‘Dang! No way to get a good day’s sleep in this place no more!’ It probably done took off. We’ll just leave the trap there anyway, for a couple more days, to be sure.”

The next afternoon, Grandma checked the trap again. The door was closed! Inside the cage was a gray ball of fur. It was moving up and down, up and down, as the animal breathed.

“Oh!” yelled Grandma.

The animal inside the cage was Blossom. She had been trapped in that cage for almost a whole day, and she was not happy. Slowly, she stood up. She turned around to look at Grandma. She opened her eyes halfway. Then she opened them all the way. They were black and bright and shiny.

“Oh, you poor thing!” said Grandma. “Your nose is all sore from trying to push the door open. Your claw is all sore from trying to scratch your way out. I will get you some more food, and some water, too!” So she ran back to the house to get the food and water for Blossom.

Then she called the Nice Man.

Pretty soon he came in his truck. He looked at Blossom. “Well, well, ain’t you a pretty little girl! I declare. We got ourselves a swamp ‘possum!” He explained to Grandma. “A swamp ‘possum is gray,” he said. “Regular ones is white. Don’t you worry none about her, ma’am. I’m gonna take her to a place she will just love.”

So the Nice Man cleaned the bottom of the cage by wiping it over the grass. Then he loaded the cage and Blossom into the back of his truck.

They drove for a long time, over an hour. Then the man stopped the truck and got the cage out. He set it on the ground.

“Now, sweetie,” he said to Blossom, “This here’s just the place for you. There’s fields of corn goin’ to be a-growin’ soon, and all kinds of other good crops, too. Over yonder’s a garbage dump. The swamp here is gonna have some ‘possum friends for you. And you’ll be much happier sleeping in a tree than under some house where you don’t belong, in fiberglass insulation that has got to have been irritating to you.”

He opened the cage.

Blossom looked around. She saw water and lots of tall green trees. She saw plenty of places to play and to hide and to sleep. She could already smell good things to eat; all she had to do was go find them.

“YES!” said Blossom to herself. And out of the cage she walked. “Finally I have found my true home! Finally I know where I belong!”

Just then, another opossum appeared. “What is your name?” Blossom asked him.

“Opie,” he said. “What’s yours?”


“Blossom. Oh, what a beautiful name,” said Opie. “And you are very beautiful, too. Come on, let’s play! I’ll show you everything around here.”

So off they went, and the Nice Man says he is sure they will live happily ever after.


This is a true story. Well, except for the part about opossums talking.