Sunday, November 30, 2008

More Thoughts (Mine) on Ephesians 2:8-10

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

We need to be careful, with Ephesians 2:8-10, not to try to force it to bear too much theological baggage. As St. John Chrysostom points out (see my first post of today), it isn’t meant to deny the role of free will. It doesn’t mean God decides not to accept any of our works, in order to keep us humble, and decides to accept only faith instead. Rather, it means God accepts us on the basis of our faith precisely because we come to Him bereft of any worthy works. What we once supposed were our good deeds turn out, in the harsh light of reality, to be about as spotless as used menstrual pads. (Isaiah 64:6) They were all done in the service of the beast within.

This passage means nothing we can do ever earns salvation, because it isn’t earnable; it’s a pure gift; it’s free, from God’s own loving Heart. Moreover, we ourselves do not have the power to do the things saving us requires, such as the power to unite divine nature with human nature or to kill death by dying, or to ascend into heaven.

If we try to make more of these verses, if for instance we hang from this passage a theory that we humans cannot contribute one single thing, however slight, to our salvation, not even our free choice to accept the faith God offers us, then the difference between our being saved or not will rest, ultimately, with God. The paradox Lutherans and others offer us won’t hold. According to it, if we are saved, the glory is all God’s, and if we are lost, the fault is all our own. This is true, but (paradoxically!) only if we have free will. Because what fault is it of mine that I willed only evil, if I was born, indeed conceived, unable to will anything else? No, if my salvation depends exclusively upon God, and He has all the power to save, and chooses to save you but not me, then it is His doing that I am lost. And this is so even if God only passively chooses to damn me; that is, does not choose to save me. Either way, my fate is His choice alone. That’s another way of asserting that “Double Predestination” (God chooses to save some and chooses to damn others) and “Single Predestination” (God chooses to save some but not all) are practically and morally identical.

And in that case, you contradict the whole rest of the Christian message about Who God is, and contradict certain other biblical passages as well, such as I Timothy 2:4, which speaks of God our Savior, “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth,” and Ezekiel 33:11, “Say unto them, [As] I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” and 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (See also Ezekiel 18:23 and 18:32)

Faith in Christ is something God makes possible for us, but we still either embrace or reject Him. To reject Christ makes it impossible for God to get any further with us. To embrace Christ (in faith) is a work, yes, face it, a work. It isn’t a work that makes us worthy of anything, but faith in Christ does make it possible for Grace to proceed with His transfiguring (saving) work in us. Faith isn't what saves us, Grace is. Faith is not why God saves us, His Love alone is. But faith in Christ is the instrument through which God is able to work in us. In that sense, salvation does indeed depend upon it.

And if you do not wish to affirm some capricious, monster god, there’s no way around this: you have to admit that to go with Christ or to reject Him is ultimately up to us; and that our own rejecting of Him when we could have chosen Him (rejecting Him, as distinct from merely not yet having acquired faith in Him) is what sinks us, and not God’s omitting to do anything whatsoever for the salvation of every single one of us.

Know Thyself

A Lamb in Springtime, apparently that's what my heart thinks it is, as it cavorts, frolics, leaps all over within me. Heart, this is ridiculous!

And possibly dangerous. I'll be checking in with Dr. Kapadia tomorrow, my cardiologist.

Meanwhile, I find that staying very still (i.e., mostly in bed or on the sofa) helps.

Hint from Helen: Another thing people your age need to learn once and for all (besides being careful about when, where, and how you cough) is always to rise slowly from a sitting or prone position. Just make it a habit.

Commentary on Ephesians 2:8-10

by St. John Chrysostom

Or, You Were Not Saved by Your Works, but You Shall Not be Saved Without Them, Either.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Ver. 8.For by grace,” says he [St. Paul], “have ye been saved.” In order then that the greatness of the benefits bestowed may not raise you too high, observe how he brings you down: “by grace ye have been saved,” says he,

Through faith;” Then, that, on the other hand, our free-will be not impaired, he adds also our part in the work, and yet again cancels it, and adds, “And that not of ourselves.”

...Because had He not come, had He not called us, how had we been able to believe? for “how,” says he, “shall they believe, unless they hear?” (Rom. x. 14.) So that the work of faith itself is not our own. “It is the gift,” said he, “of God,” it is “not of works.”

Was faith then, you will say, enough to save us? No; but God, says he, has required this, lest He should save us, barren and without work at all. His expression is, that faith saves, but it is because God so wills, that faith saves. Since, how, tell me, doth faith save, without works? This itself is the gift of God.

Ver. 9.That no man should glory.”
That he may excite in us proper feeling concerning this gift of grace. “What then?” says a man, “Has He Himself hindered our being justified by works?” By no means. But no one, he says, is justified by works, in order that the grace and loving-kindness of God may be shown. He did not reject us as having works; but as abandoned of works He has saved us by grace; so that no man henceforth may have anything of which to boast. And then, lest when you hear that the whole work is accomplished not of works but by faith, you should become idle, observe how he continues,

Ver. 10.For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God beforehand prepared that we should walk in them.”

Observe the words he uses. He here alludes to the regeneration, which is in reality a second creation. We have been brought from non-existence into being. As to what we were before, that is, the old man, we are dead. What we are now become, we were not before. Truly then is this work a creation, yea, and more noble than the first; for from that one, we have our being; but from this last, we have, over and above, our well being.

For good works, which God beforehand prepared that we should walk in them.
Not merely that we should begin, but that we should walk in them, for we need a virtue which shall last throughout, and be extended on to our dying day. If we had to travel a road leading to a royal city, and then when we had passed over the greater part of it, were to flag and sit down near the very close, it were of no use to us. This is the hope of our calling; for “for good works” he says. Otherwise it would profit us nothing.

Moral. Thus here he [St. Paul] rejoices not that we should work one work, but all; for, as we have five senses, and ought to make use of all in their proper season, so ought we also the several virtues. Now were a man to be temperate and yet unmerciful, or were he to be merciful and yet grasping, or were he to abstain indeed from other people’s goods, and yet not bestow his own, it would be all in vain. For a single virtue alone is not enough to present us with boldness before the judgment-seat of Christ; no, we require it to be great, and various, and universal, and entire.

Hear what Christ says to the disciples, “Go ye and make disciples of all the nations,—teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.” (Matt. xxviii. 19.) And again, “Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, shall be called least in the kingdom of Heaven,” (Matt. v. 19.) that is, in the resurrection; nay, he shall not enter into the kingdom; for He is in the habit of calling the time also of the resurrection, the kingdom. “If he break one,” says He, “he shall be called least,” so that we have need of all. And observe how it is not possible to enter without works of mercy; but if even this alone be wanting, we shall depart into the fire. For, says He, “Depart, ye cursed, into the eternal fire, which is prepared for the Devil and his angels.” Why and wherefore? “For I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink.” (Matt. xxv. 42.) Notice, how without any other charge laid against them, for this one alone they perished. And for this reason alone too were the virgins also excluded from the bride-chamber, though sobriety surely they did possess. As the Apostle says, “and the sanctification, without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Heb. xii. 14.) Consider then, that without sobriety, it is impossible to see the Lord; yet it does not necessarily follow that with sobriety it is possible to see Him, because often-times something else stands in the way. Again, if we do all things ever so rightly, and yet do our neighbor no service, neither in that case shall we enter into the kingdom. Whence is this evident? From the parable of the servants entrusted with the talents. For, in that instance, the man’s virtue was in every point unimpaired, and there had been nothing lacking, but forasmuch as he was slothful in his business, he was rightly cast out. Nay, it is possible, even by railing only, to fall into Hell. “For whosoever” says Christ, “shall say to his brother, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire.” (Matt. v. 22.) And if a man be ever so right in all things, and yet be injurious, he shall not enter.

And let no one impute cruelty to God, in that he excludes those who fail in this matter, from the kingdom of Heaven. For even with men, if any one does any thing whatsoever contrary to the law, he is banished from the king’s presence. And if he transgresses so much as one of the established laws, if he lays a false accusation against another, he forfeits his office. And if he commits adultery, and is detected, he is disgraced, and even though he have done ten thousand right acts, he is undone; and if he commits murder, and is convicted, this again is enough to destroy him. Now if the laws of men are so carefully guarded, how much more should those of God be.

“But He is good,” a man says. How long are we to be uttering this foolish talk? foolish, I say, not because He is not good, but in that we keep thinking that His goodness will be available to us for these purposes, though I have again and again used ten thousand arguments on this subject. Listen to the Scripture, which says, “Say not, His mercy is great, He will be pacified for the multitude of my sins.” (Ecclus. v. 6.) He does not forbid us to say, “His mercy is great.” This is not what He enjoins; rather he would have us constantly say it, and with this object Paul raises all sorts of arguments, but his object is what follows. Do not, he means, admire the loving-kindness of God with this view, with a view to sinning, and saying, “His mercy will be pacified for the multitude of my sins.” For it is with this object that I too discourse so much concerning His goodness, not that we may presume upon it, and do any thing we choose, because in that way this goodness will be to the prejudice of our salvation; but that we may not despair in our sins, but may repent. For “the goodness of God leads you to repentance,” (Rom. ii. 4.) not to greater wickedness. And if you become depraved, because of His goodness, you are rather belying Him before men. I see many persons thus impugning the long-suffering of God; so that if you use it not aright, you shall pay the penalty. Is God a God of loving-kindness? Yes, but He is also a righteous Judge. Is He one who makes allowance for sins? True, yet He renders to every man according to his works. Does He pass by iniquity and blot out transgressions? True, yet He makes inquisition also. How then is it, that these things are not contradictions? Contradictions they are not, if we distinguish them by their times. He does away iniquity here, both by the laver of Baptism, and by penitence. There [at Judgment], He makes inquisition of what we have done by fire and torment.

“If then,” some man may say, “I am cast out, and forfeit the kingdom, whether I have wrought ten thousand evil deeds or only one, why may I not do all sorts of evil deeds?” This is the argument of an ungrateful servant; still nevertheless, we will proceed to solve even this. Never do that which is evil in order to do yourself good; for we shall, all alike fall short of the kingdom, yet in Hell we shall not all undergo the same punishment, but one a severer, another a milder one. For now, if you and another have “despised God’s goodness,” (Rom. ii. 4.) the one in many instances, and the other in a few, you will both alike forfeit the kingdom. But if you have not alike despised Him, but the one in a greater, the other in a less degree, in Hell you shall feel the difference.

Now then, why, it may be said, does He threaten them who have not done works of mercy, that they shall depart into the fire, and not simply into the fire, but into that which is “prepared for the devil and his angels?” (Matt. xxv. 41.) Why and wherefore is this? Because nothing so provokes God to wrath. He puts this before all terrible things; for if it is our duty to love our enemies, of what punishment shall not he be worthy, who turns away even from them that love him, and is in this respect worse than the heathen? So that in this case the greatness of the sin will make such a one go away with the devil. Woe to him, it is said, who does not alms; and if this was the case under the Old Covenant, much more is it under the New. If, where the getting of wealth was allowed, and the enjoyment of it, and the care of it, there was such provision made for the succoring the poor, how much more in that Dispensation, where we are commanded to surrender all we have? For what did not they of old do? They gave tithes, and tithes again upon tithes for orphans, widows, and strangers; whereas some one was saying to me in astonishment at another, “Why, so-and-so gives tithes.” What a load of disgrace does this expression imply, since what was not a matter of wonder with the Jews has come to be so in the case of the Christians? If there was danger then in omitting tithes, think how great it must be now.

Again, drunkenness shall not inherit the kingdom. Yet what is the language of most people? “Well, if both I and he are in the same situation, that is no little comfort.” What then? First of all, you and he shall not reap the same punishment; but were it otherwise, neither is that any comfort. Fellowship in sufferings has comfort in it, when the miseries have any proportion in them; but when they exceed all proportion, and carry us beyond ourselves, no longer do they allow of our receiving any comfort at all. For tell the man that is being tortured, and has entered into the flames, that so-and-so is undergoing the same, still he will not feel the comfort. Did not all the Israelites perish together? What manner of comfort did that afford them? Rather, did not this very thing distress them? And this was why they kept saying, We are lost, we are perished, we are wasted away. What kind of comfort then is there here? In vain do we comfort ourselves with such hopes as these. There is but one only comfort, to avoid falling into that unquenchable fire; but it is not possible for one who has fallen into it to find comfort, where there is the gnashing of teeth, where there is the weeping, where is the worm that does not die, and the fire that is not quenched. For shall you conceive any comfort at all, tell me, when you are in so great tribulation and distress? Will you then be any longer yourself? Let us not, I pray and entreat you, let us not vainly deceive ourselves and comfort ourselves with arguments like these; no, let us practise those virtues, which shall avail to save us. The object before us is to sit together with Christ, and are you trifling about such matters as these? Why, were there no other sin at all, how great punishment ought we not to suffer for these very speeches themselves, because we are so insensate, so wretched, and so indolent, as, even with so vast a privilege before us, to talk thus? Oh! how much shall you have to lament, when you shall then consider them that have done good! When thou shall behold slaves and base-born who have labored but a little here, there made partakers of the royal throne, will not these things be worse to you than torment? For if even now, when you see anyone in high reputation, though you are suffering no evil, you [jealously] regard this as worse than any punishment, and by this alone are consumed, and bemoan yourself, and weep, and judge it to be as bad as ten thousand deaths; what shall you suffer then? Why, even were there no hell at all, the very thought of the kingdom, would it not be enough to destroy and consume you? And that such will be the case, we have enough in our own experience of things to teach us. Let us not then vainly flatter our own souls with speeches like these; no, let us take heed, let us have a regard for our own salvation, let us make virtue our care, let us rouse ourselves to the practice of good works, that we may be counted worthy to attain to this exceeding glory, in Jesus Christ our Lord with whom to the Father, together with the Holy Spirit be glory, might, honor, now and ever, and for ages of ages.

Friday, November 28, 2008


No matter how angelic we may be or have become, we still have in us something hideously amiss. We are amused when we see it in small children, offended when we see it in adults, and devastated when we discover it in ourselves, in those too-infrequent, blessed moments of self awareness.

THAT is mostly why we repent, not because of this or that we have done or failed to do, but because of the monster we see in ourselves, which we have become with our own consent, this pathetic, misshapen, never-satisfied, fire-breathing thing.

If we've never noticed the dragon within, we do not yet know ourselves. Once we do see it, we either throw in our lot with it, or declare war against it. This all-out war is what repentance is.

And once we begin to repent - an activity that will consume the rest of our lives - we shall have little time or interest to waste being annoyed because of the dragon in anybody else.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

How'd This Happen?

"These are my two grandmas," said the little girl. "And this one" -- pointing -- "pulls hairs out of her chin!"

Hint from Helen: Long gone are the days when you were that little girl, so proudly introducing her fascinating grandmothers. Inspect your chin as well as the rest of your face (!) twice a week. With your glasses on.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Getting Up

Or, Let's Have Pity Party

Wake up, pay attention. Something's wrong. Wha-a-a-t? Not getting enough air.

Open mouth. That's better. Ooh, that dry air stings the throat.

Touch forehead. Still no fever. I'll live.

Open eyes. No go. Only one opens. Dark spot on pillow. Oh-oh, nosebleed during the night.

What time is it? Squint. Ten fifteen. Church started at ten. Demetrios is there.

Sit up, take a swig of water. Better. Can I take any meds? Nope, not yet. You've taken all you're allowed for now.

Blow nose. Gently; don't want to get that bleeding going again. Ah, better.

Cough. Oops. That was your own fault. When will you learn, once and for all, you need to be careful when and where and how you cough?

Into the bathroom. Now cough all you like. Well, not quite. Remember not to gag. Change into fresh nightgown and undies. Wash hands very thoroughly.

Grab a tissue, moisten under faucet, wipe closed eye. Ohmigosh, is that blood on the tissue? No, just your finger poking through.

The eyeball is bloodshot, the skin around it pink and swollen. How'd that happen? You knew that had happened to Sydney and Erin, and you were so careful...

Head pounding. Can't take aspirin on empty stomach. Breakfast. Toast and jelly? Never get it past this screaming throat. Tea? Too hot. Orange juice? Too much acid; it'll burn. Need something cold. Cold, smooth, bland. Ice cream. Suppposed to be fasting. Forgive me, Lord. Chocolate ice cream and a banana it is.

Sit in sunroom to eat it. Bright sunshine, glorious. Prefer my shaded bedroom this morning. Sun seems to hurt.

Somehow, I will get ready for Thanksgiving. Somehow. No WAY I'm going to cancel this. First Thanksgiving without Barbara, without Dad, Barbara's daughters coming. Fr. Gregory (Hogg) lost his dad, too, and Pr. Snyder lost his mom, and our own Fr. Nick lost his dad the same week Barbara died... And Vera, my dentist, her father died the same week Dad did, and then there are all those soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and - no! Enough of that kind of thought. We will do this, even if I have to stay in bed the whole time and have everyone else cook!

Two aspirin with a full glass of water. Stop by computer and type this up. Why? No idea. Why not? And so, back to bed.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Oh, Yuck

Too sick to write much. But here's another Hint From Helen:

The Walgreen's copy of Claritin is Wal-itin (a liquid); its copy of Robitussin cough syrup is Wal-tussin, etc. etc. Everyone knows it saves money to buy generic. But did you know you also save money by buyng the children's versions of all these syrups? You can take the child's dose if you like, and you may find, as Helen does, that it's enough. But even if you take the adult dose (usually double the children's) it's still cheaper in the end than the equivalent medicine marketed for adults. The active ingredients are the same. (Check labels to verify, though.) And here's a bonus Helen appreciates even more than the cost savings: the stuff for children tastes a lot better!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Who in the World is This?

If you think this looks exactly like my brother, Mike, I'd have to agree with you! I've stared and stared at it, and still can't get over the fact that this is not Mike at all.

Do you know who he is?

(This time, the picture won't enlarge if you click on it. I did that on purpose, because, blown up, it no longer resembles my brother...)

Thankful Thursday

This week, I've been too sick to do much of anything other than read, but still, I'm extra thankful for several things:

That my grandson Ryan’s surgery went well

That I don’t have to work when I'm sick, including caring for small children

For medicines that, although they don't cure my virus, do relieve the symptoms

For good friends

For the recent election of +Metropolitan Jonah

That despite the recession, I still have all the necessities of life

That I once again have Internet and phone service

For the sunroom, where I lay all morning today, on our new sofa, drowsing from my medicines while Demetrios, on the other side of the room, worked on his book

For the sunshine that flooded that room all day, making me happy

For the birds that sang all day, especially for the scream of the Red-tailed Hawk and the incredibly sweet music of the White-throated Sparrow

For cats who like to snuggle and seem to sense when someone is sick

For a certain Flying Squirrel who likes to snuggle, too

If you'd like to participate in Thankful Thursday, just go to the blog called Sting My Heart and add your blog to the list (so other participants can read your list). You can grab the logo either here or from that blog.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What are Tonsils, Anyway, Mommy?

My grandson Ryan had his tonsils out this morning. Here's the latest from Katherine, his Mom:

Ryan's surgery went really well (besides the scheduling error that put us behind two hours). He was a real trooper and we got home around 2 o'clock. He is on some pain meds, but he is drinking and eating ice cream. The doctors and nurses said he was an ideal patient, go Ryan! He seems to be in good spirits. They did, however, reiterate to us that days 3-6 will probably be considerably rougher. As the throat heals it becomes much more painful. But for now I am glad it is over and am hoping Ryan will be ready to enjoy some turkey at Thanksgiving!

I will be interested to know how his twin, Connor, responds to this situation, and how Kelly does, as well, his sister.

No, we do not know why, in monozygotic ("identical") twins, one should have enlarged tonsils and not the other.

Report on Squirrels & Us

I've caught Erin's sore throat and cough and have felt miserable for several days now. Didn't go to Church on Sunday, spent yesterday in bed. Today my throat hurts ferociously. (Erin, how long does this last?) But at least today I feel up to doing something - blogging, reading, or knitting, none of which I wanted to do yesterday.

It's - snowing! It never snows here this early. I've lived here since May 1, 1991, and in all that time, it never snowed before January. Last year we had no snow at all. This is our second snow. The first one fell two nights ago, in the middle of the night, but had melted by daybreak. I only saw it because I got up in the wee hours.

The two gray squirrels, at last fully furred and with thick, bottle-brush tails, are outdoors. Their cage, which a couple of days ago I doubled, stands 4 feet high; the top half of it is covered with a clear, plastic tarp anchored by a metal roof with a brick atop it.

Their nest bag I made out of a king-sized, quilted pillow sham I found at Goodwill. It's folded in quarters, with two baby receiving blankets between the layers, the whole pinned shut with large safety pins on two sides (a third side being the fold and the fourth side, the entrance). Around that is a king-sized flannel pillowcase, also from Goodwill, which covers the outside of the bag and lines the inside. The pillowcase is pinned shut at the bottom. The squirrels will be warm in any weather this location can throw at them.

They are fully weaned. The proof that they are the ones eating most of their food (and not marauders from outside, such as chipmunks, small birds, or flying squirrels) is that whenever I go out to change their nest bag for a clean one, I find assorted shells, seed cases, and crumbs in their bedding. Another proof: they're fat.

The four flying squirrels I just couldn't stand to put outside. I've put them in the sunroom. I've discovered I can keep the odor at bay by washing the cage itself every morning, inside and out, with a solution of baking soda and dish liquid. A chore, but worth it to me, to be able to enjoy these cuties all evening long as they scamper about their cage.

It's getting to be time (sigh) to procure another cage and to separate the males from the females. Hankie is already humping Roxane, although to no good effect so far; I can see that he is consistently missing his target. But he'll learn quite soon. (Interestingly, he is not attracted to his sister Pankie, and Roscoe, who may be retarded, isn't interested in either female.)

Roscoe sleeps in my pocket for long stretches of time every day.

Monday, November 17, 2008

More Photos...

...of the ceremonies Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery, and the meal afterwards. Click any photo you may wish to enlarge.

Caisson Bearing Casket, Preceded by Riderless Horse

Mom Receives Flag

Box of Ashes at Gravesite

Sydney With Me

Jacob With Demetrios

Sydney and Jacob Love Each Other

Thanks to my daughter, Erin, for these and other photos.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, my Sweetie!

Kelly Anne is my oldest grandchild, and today is Kelly's seventh birthday. Here are pictures of her dressed for her party, which was yesterday. Click if you wish to enlarge.

Kelly, all Dressed Up

Lovely Kelly and lovely Katherine, ready to Party!

Getting the Number Right

I just came across this in a news report: "A number of homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed."

It's incorrect. Verbs have to agree in number with the subject of the sentence, which in this case is "A number". The subject is not "homes and businesses"; rather, the phrase "of homes and businesses" modifies the subject, "A number." This sentence should therefore read, "A number of homes and buildings WAS damaged or destroyed." Numbers were, but a number was. The correct version, as sometimes happens, does sound wrong, so I always try to get around that awkwardness by saying, "Numerous homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed." Or else you could make everything plural: "Numbers of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed."

Here are some other examples of correctly matching the subject and the verb of a sentence as to number.

An entire collection of valuable stamps was missing.
A collection was, not were.

A huge quantity of figs and dates was loaded onto the camel.
A quantity was.

The museum’s exhibit of paintings and sculptures was vandalized.
The exhibit was.

Note: in the United Kingdom, certain collective nouns do take plural verbs, as in, "The family were not at home." In The United States, we say, "The family was not at home." I don't know for sure what other such nouns take the plural in British usage. (But I'm sure Elizabeth will be able to give us some examples if she reads this.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

123 Meme

Emily tagged me for the 123 meme, which I played once before, but will enjoy doing again. The rules: pick up the book nearest you and:

1. turn to page 123,
2. count the first five sentences,
3. post the following three sentences.

The book nearest me at the moment is A Basket of Chips. It's a collection of poems by my great-grandfather, Joseph Bert Smiley. On page 23 is "Lament of the Dying Red Man," and I'm afraid it's a bit - um, well, see for yourself. Not counting the first 5 sentences, here's the rest of the poem.

Never again will my fair Indian roses
Dance in the thinnest of barbarous clotheses -
Paint on their faces and rings in their noses,
Never, Oh, never again.

Never again will I glide o'er the water,
Never, Oh, never again,
And make Meechee paddle the way that I taught 'er,
Never, Oh, never again.
Never again will my spirit of honor
Proudly exult at the work heaped upon her,
The Great Spirit whispers that I am a goner -
Never, Oh, never again.

If you have read this, you are tagged. 'Fess up; what reading material is nearest you right now?

Catching Up

My computer has been off-line since Tuesday night, and I’ve been feeling utterly cut off from the world. However, as you see, a new connection has been established and it’s now time to catch up. Please forgive any unanswered e-mails or questions. (My phone was briefly dead, as well!)

Tuesday night, my darling Sydney came to visit, together with her mother, my daughter, and Jeff, my son-in-law.

Sydney, very tired, forcing a smile

Wednesday, we took Sydney to the I-Max theater. The first scene up was of the stars, all zipping past us. “Mommy, where are we going?” Sydney asked. Nowhere, dear, it’s just a movie.

Then came the swirling, psychedelic tunnel you appear to be streaking through at enormous speed. ”Mommy, are we going on a trip? I’m scared!”

Nothing to be scared about, honey; it’s just a movie. We are still sitting right here, going nowhere. It’s just a movie.

Then the movie started. “Mommy, are we inside the movie?” It certainly seemed so, with the surround sound and the images filling up our whole field of vision.

Thirty minutes into the film, Sydney fell asleep. Still, taking her was such fun! I can hardly wait to take my other three grandchildren to their first I-Max film!

Thursday, exactly two months after Dad’s memorial service, we buried his ashes at Arlington National Cemetery in one of those ceremonies you see on television. It was quite short, but very dignified. There were riders on black horses to escort us to the gravesite, and there was the riderless horse. The box containing the ashes rode in a caisson, inside a casket with a door built into it for the purpose. There were prayers by the ministers of my parents’ congregation, followed by a bugler playing Taps. There was a 21-gun salute, but not the kind with cannon; if the deceased was not a head of state or roughly equivalent, seven men fire three volleys with rifles. Their shots are so perfectly synchronized that each volley sounds like a single shot. The disconcerting thing was that, although they were firing blanks of course, they were aiming straight at us! The band played two stanzas of “God Bless America,” with a drum roll in between, and then the honor guard folded up the flag they had been holding over the ashes, and presented it to Mom.

It was all mercifully short, the ceremony itself taking, I estimate, 15 minutes.

Afterward, we went to the Officers’ Club at Fort Myer for a meal, about 45 people. It was especially good to see some of the people we here on the East Coast don’t get to see as often as we’d like. Wendy came with her husband, Roy. Three of her four daughters were there, too. Grace is hugely pregnant, and Halley came with her son, Jacob, 4. Jacob and Sydney enjoyed a reunion very much anticipated by both of them. Uncle Dick came, too, Dad’s older brother, who looks so much like him it’s almost spooky.

The biggest shock of the evening, for me, came while I was speaking with him. Someone had asked about his age, compared with Dad’s. He’s 18 months older, nearly 90, as he pointed out; and their sister Pat is 18 months younger than Dad. “And then something happened,” I said.

“What do you mean?” Uncle Dick asked.

“You all came so quickly, one after the other, bam, bam, bam – and then, suddenly, no more children.”

“Actually, that’s not the case,” said my uncle.


“Ma had two more babies, a girl and a boy, but they both died right after they were born.”

My head is still swimming from that one. To think Dad had two siblings I never knew about, whose names I don’t even know! Uncle Dick doesn’t have many details, either; his parents were quite uncommunicative about such things. I will have many questions for him and Aunt Pat in the coming days.

From Left to Right (Top Row): Wendy's first daughter, Tisho, with her husband, Stuart; Demetrios; my brother, Mike; Roy and my sister Wendy; Yours Truly, holding Sydney; pregnant Grace, Wendy's second daughter, with her husband, Aaron; (Seated) Jeff and Erin, my daughter (Sydney's parents); Mom; Uncle Dick; Wendy's fourth daughter, Halley, holding her son, Jacob

Special thanks to Tisho for these photos and more.

We came home very tired and today (Saturday) I appear to have caught Erin's sore throat and cough. I've been in bed all morning.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Modern Art

Here are some paintings we saw (some years ago, but I've just now dug up the photos) of paintings hanging in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Okay, so I'm a philistine. I have no culture. I just don't get it. Do you? If so,will you please educate me? What makes any of these as art, or qualifies it to hang in the National Gallery? Am I wrong to think these so-called artists are bamboozling the public, that this emperor has no clothes?

Untitled (I should think so!) by Mark Rothko. If I painted something very like this, would it be hung in any art gallery of note? Why or why not?

Lavender Mist by Jackson Pollock

Reconciliation Elegy by Robert Motherwell

First Station from The Stations of the Cross, by Barnett Newman

The only one of these I can remotely think of as art is the Pollock. Our tour guide explained to us how it was made. First, the "artist" laid the canvas on the floor, stood up on a ladder, and splattered paint randomly on the canvas. Then, he hung the canvas on the wall to be contemplated for a few days. Finally, he trimmed it in the way he felt was most artistic, only using a portion of the original work. So, although the result is rather pleasing to my eye, I don't see it as art, but more as craft.

I have a feeling that if mankind should survive that long, people 500 years from now will look back at the Twentieth Century, at our paintings, sculpture, poetry, novels, plays, and the cacophony that passes for music, and wonder what horrible thing ailed people back then.

P.S.) Staring at the enlargement (click to see it) of Newman's First Station, I have to admit to seeing a lot more in it than I first did. Maybe it's even theologically profound. MAYBE.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hints from Helen...

(...which, fortunately, I already knew before this weekend!)

(1) If you host a pot-luck supper, especially if the guests are going to be Greek, they are going to help you do everything, which means they are going to open your refrigerator. Many times. Give up hope that they won't and make sure it is presentable. Ditto your cupboards. (On the other hand, if someone drops her diamond ring behind your sofa, do what Phyllis Diller did and offer to replace it. Worth it to avoid the humiliation, and she'll never find her ring back there anyway.)

(2) Always wear your glasses when cleaning.

(3) The easiest way to remove cat hair from an upholstered chair is to have a guest in dark clothing sit there. The better way is to put on your kitchen gloves, moisten them in water, and vigorously brush off the hair with the damp gloves. It comes off easily, bunching itself up.

(4) Buying something you don't really want because it's on sale is a false economy.

(5) Off-brand dish liquid is another false economy. You need at least three times as much of it as you'd need of, say, Joy or Palmolive or Dawn, to accomplish the same things -- maybe four times as much. Helen's husband didn't know this and bought some stuff the other day she'd never heard of that's 90% water. The bottle is already half empty.

(6) In spite of little mishaps like this, you should either accept your husband's offers to go to the grocery store, or else send him there regularly, so he sees for himself the alarming increases in the cost of food. Helen took $60 with her a couple of weeks ago, and what she bought with that only filled up the grocery cart's baby seat. She can remember when $100 bought a whole month of food for two.

(7) Pray for those who, at this rate, cannot afford food, or soon won't be able to.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

"I believe..."

Every time we recite the Nicene Creed, I feel so grateful. I think of all the people in this post-modern world who do not believe in anything they cannot measure, do not believe in God or in their own spirit. When a person believes in material reality only, then material things have no inherent meaning. They have only such meaning as you assign to them. But those meanings one invents have a nasty way of disintegrating over time; the longer you live, the more disappointed you become, as looming death swallows up all your made-up meaning. Ultimately, one is left with -- nothing. Not even absurdity, for that very concept is also absurd. One is left with nihilism; one is left waiting for Godot in a hellish world.

But for Christians, it all has purpose. It all means something, and that meaning is summed up in one word, or rather, one Person: Christ. And the meanings Christ gives to existence are so pithily summarized in the Nicene Creed, so densely stated in those few sentences that you could easily have, say, a 12-week course just to unpack it all and still only barely scratch the surface.

If to be saved meant nothing more than this, it would still be a great salvation, just to be saved from meaninglessness!

And then I think about how we Christians, same as materialists, do NOT believe in made-up myths or human philosophies or thought systems. (Well, materialists explicitly DO, as I've just said, but only in the short run; for such "meaning" in the long run is unsustainable.) As St. Peter writes, "We have not followed cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty..." (2 Peter 1:16)

And, in common with materialists, we believe things that are firmly rooted in human experience; by which we do not mean human dreams or inventions or fantasies, but down-to-earth, sensory experience. As St. John wrote:

That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life -- the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us -- that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have communion with us; and truly our communion is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. (I John 1:1-4)

I think about all this each time we recite the Creed, and I feel extremely grateful that the world as revealed in Christ has such profound, life-giving, comprehensive, beautiful, and infinite meaning. I try to savor each word.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Prop Hate?

Many people, including many Hollywood stars, are angry about Tuesday’s vote in California in favor of Proposition 8, banning “gay marriage”. I’ve seen it called, in numerous places, “Prop H8” or “Prop Hate”. But the assumption that to be against “gay marriage” stems from hate is neither fair or accurate, any more than the assumption is fair or accurate that President-elect Obama is the Antichrist or the precursor of the Antichrist because he is pro-choice. People on both sides of such hot-button issues are prone to demonize each other and this is always a mistake. Christians, especially, are forbidden by their Lord to judge their fellow man. That means we can call an action right or wrong, but we cannot always see the motive(s) behind an action. It is therefore presumptuous of us to think we know someone else’s heart.

The idea that to oppose “gay marriage” is a function of hatred stems from the matter having been framed as a civil rights issue. Obviously, anyone who would deny another human being his civil (or human) rights is promoting hatred. (Well, that may not so obvious; if we were to brainstorm for a few minutes, we could probably come up with half a dozen humane, loving reasons for doing that temporarily in bizarre circumstances.)

The idea that "gay marriage" is an issue of civil rights, in turn, only works if we accept the view gays and lesbians are promoting so vigorously (and often, so ruthlessly), namely, that their condition is perfectly normal.

Here I’d like us to pause to make a distinction between natural and normal. Some things, like chickenpox and conjoined twins, are natural phenomena, but they are aberrations of nature; they are not normal. Homosexuality may be like that; even if one concedes that it may be natural, it is hard to find any intellectually respectable argument for its being normal, especially when a mere glance at human anatomy rather conclusively demonstrates the opposite.

Homosexuality is a condition in which a person cannot relate normally either to the same sex or to the opposite.

Viewed this way, homosexuality simply is not a civil rights issue; it is a handicap. And if you love a person, you do not reinforce his handicap in any way. You do not affirm his dysfunction as functional. You do not give a drink to an alcoholic, even if he begs for it, even if he curses you and calls you names for not giving it to him. If you do, that might be guilt or a show of broadmindedness or it may even be an attempt at love; but whatever it is, it is misguided. It isn’t any wise way to love.

Should we love homosexuals? Of course. Should we acknowledge that they should and do have human and civil rights? Of course. But no matter what they say, we do gays and lesbians no favor to categorize their handicap as normal. And we won’t be doing society any favor, either. We can protect all the legitimate rights of homosexuals without pretending to them or to ourselves that their relationships are the same as marriage.

Now you can agree or disagree about whether homosexuality is normal and whether, therefore, it is properly a civil rights issue. My only point is, even if you support "gay marriage," it is a mistake to suppose oppposition to it necessarily involves hatred. No doubt it sometimes does, and when that happens, it is of course reprehensible. But from my point of view, and I submit from the Christian point of view, to oppose "gay marriage" is a thoroughly loving thing to do, in fact, the loving thing to do.

P.S.) You can read more about Propositions 8 and 4 from an Orthodox point of view here. And you can find out the real (political, not medical) circumstances here, of the removal of homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).


We ordered a new sofa for our sunroom and it arrived earlier this week. The fabric looks like velvet (but isn't; it's washable) and the very fitting name of its color is "Pine." It's a kind of grayish green, more on the blue than on the yellow side.

Last night, our dear friend Vada came over. We didn't say anything about the sofa as we sat in the sunroom, but eventually, she commented that it looked very comfortable.

"Yes, it is," I said. "It isn't as deep as most sofas, so you can sit comfortably without a pillow behind your back. It kind of holds you."

"Well, if it's that comfortable, I wouldn't get rid of it," Vada opined.

"Get rid of it?"

"No, don't. No point in throwing out a perfectly good sofa. Just have a slipcover made for it!"

I just nodded my head and changed the subject.

Friday, November 7, 2008


Here, as promised, is beautiful Sydney on Hallowe'en, as Cinderella. Click on a photo if you want to enlarge it, (which of course has to be done to do Sydney justice).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Gentleness (With a Sigh...)

Some of the Christian womens' blogs I've been coming across lately remind me of walking into a scented candle-and-soaps shop. They're very sweet, very domestic, written by very feminine, gentle women.

And I rather wish I were like them. But I just don't think I ever will be. Everyone in my family knows I've never been dedicated to homemaking. It's definitely a chore and the love of my husband is all that makes it joyous for me, nothing else, unless it be vanity.

And any regular reader here knows I have this hard-nosed streak and do not resemble a Hallmark store or a confectioner's.

How do these people acquire such gentleness? By cultivating constant awareness of their sins, perhaps?

Thankful Thursday

Thank you Lord...

*that Demetrios has a job he can work at when he wants a little extra money

*that he is in good enough health to do that

*that he is only working two days a week now, so we can be together more

*for hope

*for people who make us think and who broaden our thinking

*for adorning the human race with reason

*for second chances (and third and fourth and fifth...)

*for my whole family, especially, this week, for my in-laws. My son Mark couldn't have asked for a better wife than Katherine, and Jeff is the best thing that ever happened to my daughter, Erin. (They both come with very nice, fun, honorable families, too!)

*For autumn colors in the foliage

*For Your infinite, freely-given mercy

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Halloween Costumes

Click if you want to enlarge (You should, in my opinion, the better to appreciate Kelly's beauty.)

Bear with me; a proud grandma can't resist posting pictures like these. Here are three of my adorable grandchildren, gorgeous Kelly as Giselle and her twin brothers as Spiderman. Neither could be persuaded to dress as some other superhero. Katherine (she of the brave tale below) informs us that she can't tell, either, which boy is Ryan and which is Connor.

Kelly, who is about to turn 7, says this is her last year as a princess. She's more into Hannah Montana now.

Little Sydney, 3, (who left me a very garbled voice message last night, something about voting for Obama) was Cinderella, and I'll post her photo as soon as I get one! Her mother wanted her to be an elephant (!) but Sydney wouldn't have it.

The Day After