Monday, August 31, 2009

The Communist (?) and the Patriarch

Most readers here probably remember the Ecumenical Patriarch's visit to Cuba not all that long ago.  After the visit, Fidel Castro asked the Patriarch to send Orthodox books and other educational material to be distributed throughout Cuba's school system.  Then came news that Castro had personally donated both land and money to build an Orthodox cathedral in Cuba.  That cathedral, St. Nicholas, was recently consecrated, and Raoul Castro, Fidel's brother, attended.  An official deed and key to the cathedral were handed over to the Orthodox.

Now comes more astonishing news:  Fidel Castro has donated a "large, colonial-style building" in downtown Havana to the Church, to be an Orthodox seminary, where Cubans and any other Latin Americans may study. 

What's going on here?  Has Cuba's dictator not so secretly converted?  Fidel, they say you are dying, but it sounds to me like you're very much living up to your name. 

Sunday, August 30, 2009


I'm so unbearably tired of watching stuff on TV about Senator Edward Kennedy.  I'm not a great admirer of his, although it appears there was a lot of good in him.  And there wasn't much else you could watch this past week.  Yesterday Demetrios wanted to watch the funeral mass and the burial at Arlington National Cemetery...

It was just this past November we buried Dad's ashes there; I wasn't ready to re-visit the place, even by television.   It's too, too familiar.

And of course, it also reminded me of President Kennedy's burial.  We were there.  Dad took Michael and Wendy and me to Arlington Cemetery.  I don't remember why we didn't bring Barbara along; maybe because at 6 she was thought too young?  Anyway, we stood right where the vehicles have to stop and let out their passengers so they can walk up that hill, to where the eternal flame is now. 

I remember Prince Philip walking up it, and how extremely handsome he was in profile; I had never realized that before.  France's President, Charles de Gaulle, walked up that hill alone, absolutely alone, which was astounding, as there had recently been more than one attempt to assassinate him.  He had no body guard, at least not in sight.  Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, showed up, all medals, ribbons, and braid.  And all the other heads of state or their representatives, assorted VIPS, and of course, the Kennedy family; they all got out of their limousines where we were standing.

We were not Kennedy fans in our family; we were Republicans.  But as Mom said, he was still our President!  We took as much offense as anyone else that someone had killed him.  

The day it happened I was home from school sick.  Well, not really sick.  It was a Friday, and I just wanted a long weekend.  Mom was at work, and she phoned me around noon and said, "Turn on the radio.  The President has been shot!"

"What do you mean, shot?"  I demanded.  "You mean shot dead?"

"We don't know yet.  Turn on the radio!"

I don't know why the radio; we did have a television.  But somehow, it was the radio I obediently turned on.

That didn't last for long.  We spent the whole weekend glued to the TV, as did virtually all Americans.  Besides the shock, there was great fear, because we didn't know whether it might have been a foreign plot, or whether (as with September 11) it might only be prelude to something more.  We were half expecting another shoe to drop.

Anyway, all those memories connected with Arlington National Cemetry came flooding back this weekend, and I really wasn't ready and willing, yet, to go there.

I'm glad it's over.  Kyrie, eleison!

My Sister Was a Horse Lover

She started when she was a small child, with a collection of plastic horses. She vaccinated and wormed and bred them, keeping meticulous medical records and pedigrees. Dad made her a barn to keep them in.

When she was in high school, Barbara finally acquired a real horse of her own. It was hard to find one that would fit her, she was so tall, but finally she found a very tall horse. She taught him to jump and entered an equestrian contest or two.

She always hoped to have several horses and, although her veterinary career never did become specialized, she dreamed of being mostly a horse doctor.

Well, as today is her birthday, here are some cute horse pictures for you, in her memory.

They're another something someone forwarded to forty-zillion people and now to me... I'm told this is a newborn offspring of Taskin, Gypsy Stallion owned by Villa Vanners of Oregon. These pictures were taken immediately after his birth on April 6. The mare lay down, and then the colt trotted around and crawled right up into her "lap".

Happy Birthday, Barbara, "until the day dawns" when we find shall our way - until God shows us the way - back to each other.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Yikes! Part 6

Here's another excerpt from Getting Christianity Right! by Robert Sessions.

Two Myths Accompany the Death of Traditional Christianity

Myth #1: “Any Religion Is Good”

…Contrary to the strong belief of many, “faith,” including religious faith, is not necessarily a good thing. Faith may be too strong or too weak. A person may have faith in the wrong thing – such as money ore power – or in an undependable person – as a deceitful pastor, or in a shallow type of a “personal” God. Or he or she may have a mistaken kind of faith in himself or herself.

Religion, including Christianity, is not necessarily to be treasured. “Tom got religion last night.” What kind of religion? Did Tom go out and burn a cross on the lawn of someone of another color to express his newfound “religion?” There are praiseworthy religions, even exciting ones. But there also are false religions, corrupt religions, boring religions, even deadly ones. Did a misguided Christian shoot and kill a nurse outside an abortion clinic because the killer’s priest told her the nurse was “a murderer?” Sometimes the best religions will have elements of good and bad, of truth, half-truth, and untruth.

I have met many Christians whose religion I appreciated greatly. But I have known others whose “brand” of Christianity was, to me, repulsive. On the other hand, I have admired non-Christians whose sense of the eternal plays out effectively in their daily lives.

A person’s true religion, regardless of what she or he professes, is whatever is most important and central in her or his life. Your religion is “where your treasure is.” The center of a man’s or woman’s trust, admiration, and aspiration is that person’s religion. This true religion determines a woman’s or man’s values, choices, and actions.
 I don't know about you, but for once, here, I find myself in agreement.  Well, that's provided we use a loose definition of "Christianity." of course.

Yikes! Part 5 or, Intelligent People Agree with Me

Here is yet another excerpt from Getting Christianity Right! by Robert Sessions.

Among the Christians who see their religion as dead or dying, two groups are especially noteworthy.

(1) One category is a multitude of thoughtful persons, among both the economically disadvantaged and advantaged, who witness most of Christianity ignoring or even supporting the continuation of poverty in their own localities and among millions of the world’s starving people.

. . .

(2) Another growing group asking whether their religion is dead or dying is made up of some of the most intelligent and best-educated Christians, who are questioning many of the beliefs and practices of traditional Christianity. Bible scholarship has undermined the notion that the Bible is “The Word of God, from cover to cover.” Scientific discoveries have made many long-held beliefs untenable. Questions of the theology and practices of traditional Christianity are rising not only from science labs or scholars’ studies, but also from insightful journalists, a few “thinkers” in pulpits and, increasingly, from the pews.

. . .

Jesus was a brilliant thinker and understood many things, but he was as much a seeker of truth as a proclaimer. One of his most characteristic traits was asking questions of himself, of his disciples of the crowds, and even, perhaps especially, of God. He found many significant answers, but often they led to more profound questions, probably even on the cross. He wanted his followers to be learners, too, and he wanted them, even, in some ways, to think beyond him.

pp. 4-5
Do you find the presumption here as breathtaking as I do?

What the Heck is That Line Made Of?

Someone forwarded me these photos, which had been forwarded forty-zillion times before...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Yikes! Part 4

Here is another excerpt from Getting Christianity Right! by Robert Sessions (iUniversity Press, New York, 2007, pp. 43-44.) In this section, Dr. Sessions is trying to make the point that we should not take the Bible literally.

Father Ken Baker of All Saints Anglican Church in Mission, British Columbia, shared an e-mail in which he gave a fitting response to a radio personality who had supported a viewpoint by taking literally a passage from the Old Testament. Father Baker’s message, in part:

“When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them…

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as it suggests in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Lev. 25:44 states that I may buy slaves from the nations that are around us. A friend of mind claims that this applies to Mexicans but not to Americans. Can you clarify?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?...

Eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 10:10)…can you settle this?

Leviticus 20:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?”

To Ponder:

1.) Always check the biblical references people give you and read the context, too,the whole section. Far too often, you find the passages misrepresented. This case is no exception. (That last citation is wrong, though; it should be Leviticus 21:20, not 20:20.)

2.) With whom did God make the covenant containing all these commandments, laws, and ordinances?

3.) Which covenant is operative today? To whom does this covenant pertain?

4.) To ”fulfill” something, as for example the Law and the Prophets, is to give that something its highest, truest, best meaning. Thus, fulfilling the Law doesn’t mean simply obeying it. Christ does that, but when we say He fulfilled the Law, we mean something deeper; namely, that He is that to which the Law was always pointing; He makes possible what the Law could only legislate, but never accomplish. Christ reveals and IS the Love that the Law could only crudely mimick. Christ fulfills the prophets not simply by making some of their predictions come true, but by embodying everything they were ever talking about, by being the summary of all their hopes and vindicating all their faith. This is how Jesus, by fulfilling the Law (Matthew 5:17) also superceded it (Hebrews 8:13). (In fact, that's a tautology; to say He fulfilled something IS already to say He superceded it.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Yikes! Part 3

Another excerpt from Getting Christianity Right! by Dr. Robert Sessions.

I am not against emotion in religion. In fact, religion and worship can be deadly without it. Our need for a thinking Christianity does not mean seeking a non-feeling faith. Thinking can be an escape from, a substitute for, emotion, just as feeling can be a substitute for, coveted in place of, significant thought. Some Christians want an intellectually interesting religion without emotional involvement. Many others want an intelllectually shallow, “feel-good” religion.

Thinking and feeling, in the best forms of worship, can support and enrich each other. Scientists tell us that among living creatures, capacity for feeling increases with intelligence. Most dogs have more intricate systems of feelings than does an ant. Don’t tell Ginger, our golden retriever, this, but a human can know broader and greater depths of emotions than a dog. The finest Christinaity will be the one that finds expression in mind and heart, intelligence and emotions.

Christians who choose a religion of feeling without thought, and those who prefer a faith of the intellect without emotions, are kept from the best by the second best. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, described a better way:

“Let us unite the two so long divided –
Knowledge and vital piety.”

p. 10

* * *
To Ponder

Is worship primarily emotional, primarily intellectual, or primarily something else? How about primarily spiritual?

Is intellectual shallowness the main objection to feel-good religion? One of my major problems with feel-good religion is that it tends to give its adherents the strength to continue with their dysfunctional lives. Instead of facing and fixing them, I mean. Has a sort of enabling role, to use an AA term.

Is worship supposed to be a consumer experience, that is, about US, or is it supposed to be about God? Or is there some of both, given that Christianity is all about relationships?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Yikes! Part 2

Here's an excerpt from the book I'm currently reading, Getting Christianity Right! by Robert Sessions (iUniversity Press, New York, 2007).

I do understand why some of you have said you would rather do other things with your time, and normally I'd probably agree, but I'm reading this for my friend Vada. Well, plus I do also like to keep track, loosely, of how Lib Prots think. They're taking over, after all, in the mainline Protestant denominations.

Faced with stagnant or even declining numbers on membership rolls, many traditional churches have opted to cling harder to some of the more informal, emotional, worship ways of the past. Although often called “contemporary services,” most of these forms of worship, in reality, are a throwback to earlier Pentecostal types of services, or to still earlier Methodist and Baptist, including frontier, churches. On the frontier, most churches did not have hymnbooks. Many had no pianos. So they sang words they could repeat over and over – “one liners.” Whoever led the service would do what they called, “line it out.” He or she would sing a line and the congregation would repeat it. Like many present-day services, they were primarily emotional, arm-waving, “Praise the Lord” experiences.

Today, although many contemporary services may use the latest electronic instruments and pull-down projection screens, most of them offer a faith that does not run deep or explore questions. They assume the Bible as the perfect word of God. They see charity in terms of boxes of food at Thanksgiving, rather than in realities such as equality and justice in race and gender, and in economic and education systems. They appeal primarily to persons who would rather feel than think, and they seldom raise questions about either God or social justice.

If these old-time services in what some call “modern” dress were truly contemporary, they would help worshipers understand the finest, up-to-date bible scholarship. They would seek the meaning for religion of the work of modern science. They would explore with today’s Christians such social problems a worldwide hunger, child labor, lack of medical care, the need for universal education, and the destruction of the earth’s resources. pp. 8-9

To Ponder:

Is charity more about “equality and justice in race and gender, and in economic and education systems” than about giving food at Thanksgiving (and other times)? Is it na├»ve to think Christians can much influence the world concerning the former?

Is it true that attendees of “contemporary services” are less interested in thinking than in feeling?

“…worldwide hunger, child labor, lack of medical care, the need for universal education, and the destruction of the earth’s resources.’’ Are these what a worship service is supposed to be about? Isn't it interesting how the author assumes "social justice" ought to be a main theme of worship services?

If you don't think (as I don't) that's what a worship service is supposed to be about, how should the Church address these issues?

If a person considers the Bible as the Word of God, does that really mean his/her faith “does not run deep”? What does the author mean here by "deep"?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Somebody passed this photo to me, along with the following text:

The Jesusita Fire in Santa Barbara , CA caused these two to take shelter together. The fawn is 3 days old and the bobcat about 3 weeks. The fawn came from somewhere in the fire and the bobcat from Carpentaria. They immediately bonded and snuggled together under a desk in the Santa Barbara County Dispatch Office for several hours.

Supposedly, Animal Planet is reporting the bobcat kitten was rescued near Arnold Schwarzeneggers ranch, where it was dehydrated and near death.

They rescued the fawn during last weeks wildfire. Although wild animals, especially of separate species, are never placed together due to regulations, in this emergency situation, they had no choice. During the mayhem of the fire, they were forced to put animals anywhere they could, since they had run out of crates large enough for the fawn. The kitten ran to the fawn, and it was instant bonding.

* * *

This morning, I took in SEVEN squirrel babies. Another rehabber turned them over to me after her family circumstances (plus her drinking) left her unable to care for them any more. They're pretty skinny, and a couple of them are quite dehydrated. I wish she had given them up a week ago. Well, she didn't so we have to play the hand we're dealt. Squirrels are remarkably resilient, so I'm still hoping they'll all live.

She's bringing me two kittens on Friday, unless I can persuade her to do it sooner.


Some years ago, I had the great joy of introducing my friend Vada to my friend Anita, and of watching the friendship between the two of them blossom.

Vada is a seeker. The daughter of a very strict Presbyterian minister, she was totally turned off by his kind of religion and has spent her long life (She's 91.) trying to figure out what to believe. It has to be scientific, of course.

Anita, raised Catholic, concluded that "the Catholic Church lies to you" and has been Episcopalian for most of her adult life.

So another of Anita's best friends is Julia, who lives next door, and Julia's husband gave Vada a copy of his book, Getting Christianity Right. Vada read it and has passed it to me, hoping I'll read and comment.

Yes, I will!

This author is an ordained United Methodist minister and has been a college professor of religion and a participant in the World Council of Churches. He is a follower of Paul Tillich and Bishop Spong and - don't let your jaw drop too far - he goes beyond them both. His premise is that Christianity (as he knows it) is dying and he wants to prevent that by overhauling it drastically. "Will Christianity change wisely?" he askes, "and in time?" He wants to take the religion "beyond Jesus, with his blessing."

Dr. Sessions emphasizes intellectuality; his writing is heavily laced with words such as: intelligent, thinking, thoughtful, perceptive, thinkers, scholars. In the Preface, he says of himself:

I have lived in a world of ideas, emotions, and words, a wonderful world of books, lectures, sermons, and one-on-one and large group discussions, retreats, conferences, and panels. Much of my life has been spent in classrooms - first as a student in public schools and in undergradualte and seminary classes at Brown, Dartmouth, and Southern Methodist University. After seminary came a doctorate at Boston University, with elective classes at Harvard Divinity School and Andover Newton Theological Seminary.

Okay, so here is a chance to see what makes some of our Liberal Protestant friends tick. I'm devouring the book, halfway through already.

And I think, along the way, I'll share several tid-bits with you.

Hey, it's not all bad, either! Sometimes he nails it. Other times he screws it up. See what you think.

Monday, August 24, 2009

"Pudding Whip"

That's the name I've given to the wonderful desert my goddaughter told me about. As a bonus, it's a great recipe for doing with children, as it's easy.

You cook some vanilla pudding according to package directions. (Don't use instant.) Pour it from the saucepan into a large bowl and let it cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, thaw a tub of Kool Whip.

When the pudding has cooled, dump the Kool Whip (or I suppose you could use 3 cups of real whipped cream) on top of it. Now dump in a small can of crushed pineapple, well drained. Take a large spoon and swirl them all together, not blending them very thoroughly, but leaving swathes of pudding and swathes of cream.

Serve chilled.

It may not sound all that special, but in reality, it's yummier by far than any dessert has a right to be!

I've also tried a variation. Instead of using vanilla pudding, cook some chocolate. Instead of the crushed pineapple, add a swirl of caramel sauce (ice cream topping). This is also scrumptious!

"Sisters" Dream

I was walking through the house where we all lived (my entire extended family) and when I passed Barbara's bedroom, she came dancing out in a long, swirly skirt, a costume of some sort, and someone said, "Barbara's going to perform in Afghanistan!"

And then, suddenly, it didn't make any sense. Until then, apparently, it had made sense that Barbara still lived with us, could be seen and heard and touched and spoken with. But going on a trip, performing in some play? "How can you be going to Afghanistan," I demanded, "when you're --"

She glared at me, inclining her head toward her daughter. It was Tisho, still a teenager, and Tisho, in real life, is Wendy's daughter (and she's in her mid-thirties), so this dream was a bit confused, but one clear thing was that Barbara didn't want me to say, "You're dead!" in front of the young girl.

"Come with me," I said, taking Barbara's arm, "and let's go someplace where we can talk, because I need to understand what's happening."

"You can't understand it," said Barbara, as we walked down the hall. Then, to tease me for presumption, she added, "And heaven will be alarmed, you know, if you try."

"Oh, no, I don't mean I'm going to try to understand the how or the why. Just the WHAT. For example, can you appear and disappear?"

She nodded.

"And sometimes are you visible to some but not others?"


We found a room and sat on a bench there, I still holding onto her arm with one hand and clasping her hand in my other hand.

"And is all this under your own control?"


That seemed very, very cool. "Oh!" I said, "So you're a bit like Samantha, then."


"You remember. That woman in the television series who was a witch and was married to the guy named Darren. She twitched her nose to make things happen..."

Barbara began chomping her teeth, and somehow I knew that was her equivalent of Samantha's nose twitch.

"No, don't do that!" I cried. The sight of her was already fading. "No, I don't want you to go away!" But by the time I had said it, she had already disappeared, and the solid feel of her was draining out of my hands like sand, until they were empty.

She didn't actually say, "Until next time," but she managed to convey that message. But there was no way to tell when the next time would be, how long it would be from now. Too, too long, in any case.

"Oh, Wendy, oh, Wendy! I miss you so much!" I cried, and I have no idea why it came out "Wendy!" instead of "Barbara!" but in the dream it seemed to make sense.

I felt so bereft, I sobbed until I woke up, calm, though sad. I do miss her so very much! (Wendy, too, as she lives so far away.)

I suppose I dreamed that because Barbara's birthday is going to be this week.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

More Favorite, Fun Songs (With Plenty of Nostalgia Thrown In)

The Hippopotamus Song

A bold hippopotamus was standing one day
On the banks of the cool Shalimar.
He gazed at the bottom as he peacefully lay
By the light of the evening star.
Away on the hilltop sat combing her hair
His fair hippopotami maid.
The hippopotamus was no ignoramus
And sang her this sweet serenade:

Mud, mud, glorious mud!
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood.
So follow me, follow, down to the hollow,
And there let us wallow in glorious mud!

The fair hippopotama he aimed to entice
From her seat on that hilltop above,
As she hadn't got a ma to give her advice,
Came tiptoeing down to her love.
Like thunder the forest re-echoed the sound
Of the song that they sang as they met.
His inamorata adjusted her garter
And lifted her voice in duet:

Mud, mud, glorious mud!
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood.
So follow me, follow, down to the hollow,
And there let us wallow in glorious mud!

Now more hippopotami began to convene
On the banks of that river so wide.
I wonder now what am I to say of the scene
That ensued by the Shalimar side?
They dived all at once with an ear-splitting splash
Then rose to the surface again,
A regular army of hippopotami
All singing this haunting refrain:

Mud, mud, glorious mud!
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood.
So follow me, follow, down to the hollow,
And there let us wallow in glorious mud!

The Gnu Song

A year ago last Thursday, I was strolling in the zoo
When I met a man who thought he knew the lot.
He was laying down the law about the habits of baboons
And the number of quills a porcupine has got.
So I asked him 'What's that creature there?' and he answered 'It's a helk!'
And I'd have gone on thinking that was true
If the animal in question hadn't put that chap to shame,
And remarked, 'I hain't a helk; I'm a g-nu!
I'm a g-nu, I'm a g-nu,
The g-nicest work of g-nature in the zoo
I'm a gnu. How do you do?
You really oughta k-know w-who's w-who.
I'm a gnu, spelt G - N – U.
I'm g-not a camel or a kangaroo.
So let me introduce, I'm g-neither man nor moose
Oh, g-no, g-no, g-no, I'm a gnu!'

I had taken furnished lodgings down at Rustington-on-sea
Whence I travelled on to Ashton-under-lyne, it was, actually,
On the second night I stayed there I was wakened from a dream
Which I'll tell you all about some other time.
Among the hunting trophies on the wall above my bed,
Stuffed and mounted, was a face I thought I knew.
A bison? An okapi? Could it be a hartebeest?
Then I seemed to hear a voice: 'I'm a gnu!
I'm a gnu, a-g-nother gnu
I wish I could g-nash my teeth at you
I'm a gnu. How do you do?
You really oughta k-know w-who's w-who
I'm a gnu, spelt G - N – U.
Call me bison or okapi and I'll sue!
G-nor am I in the least like that dreadful hartebeest.
Oh, g-no, g-no, g-no, I'm a gnu!
G-no, g-no, g-no, I'm a gnu!
G-no, g-no, g-no, I'm a gnu!'

The Reluctant Cannibal

(Sorry, no lyrics for this...)

The Reluctant Cannibal - Flanders And Swann

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Favorite Children's Songs

When I first met Demetrios, he had a wonderful tape of children's songs he had bought in England. We loved listening to it, but one day he lent it to somebody and never got it back again.

It's been more than 20 years now that I've keenly regretted the loss of that tape, and of three songs on it in particular. I LOVE them! It's unfortunate I first encountered them when my own children were grown, but yesterday I actually FOUND THEM - so thrilling! - and I hope you and your children will love them, too, if you don't already. Please, please, take a few minutes to listen.

(Forget the lousy visuals, just listen.)

"The Adventures of Robin Hood" Themesong

Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen.
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, with his band of men,
Feared by the bad, loved by the good,
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood!

He called the greatest archers to a tavern on the green.
They vowed to help the people of the king.
They handled all the troubles on the English country scene
And still found plenty of time to sing:


He came to Sherwood Forest with a feather in his cap,
A fighter never looking for a fight.
His bow was always ready, and he kept his arrows sharp.
He used them to fight for what was right.


Morningtown Ride

Train whistle blowin', makes a sleepy noise.
Underneath their blankets go all the girls and boys,
Rockin', rollin', ridin', out along the bay,
All bound for Morningtown, many miles away.

Driver at the engine, Fireman rings the bell,
Sandman swings the lantern to show that all is well,
Rockin', rollin', ridin', out along the bay,
All bound for Morningtown, many miles away.

Maybe it is raining where our train will ride.
All the little travellers are warm and snug inside,
Rockin', rollin', ridin', out along the bay,
All bound for Morningtown, many miles away.

Somewhere there is sunshine, somewhere there is day,
Somewhere there is Morningtown, many miles away.
Rockin', rollin', ridin', out along the bay,
All bound for Morningtown, many miles away.

Rockin', rollin', ridin', out along the bay,
All bound for Morningtown, many miles away.

Nellie the Elephant

To Bombay
A travelling circus came.
They brought an intelligent elephant
and Nellie was her name.

One dark night,
she slipped her iron chain
And off she ran to Hindustan
And was never seen again.

Nellie the Elephant packed her trunk
and said goodbye to the circus;
off she went with a trumpety-trump,
trump, trump, trump.

Nellie the Elephant packed her trunk
and trundled back to the jungle;
off she went with a trumpety-trump,
trump, trump, trump.

Night by night,
she danced to the circus band.
When Nellie was leading the big parade.
she looked so proud and grand!

No more tricks
for Nellie to perform,
They taught her how to take a bow
and she took the crowd by storm.

Nellie the Elephant packed her trunk
and said goodbye to the circus;
off she went with a trumpety-trump,
trump, trump, trump.

Nellie the Elephant packed her trunk
and trundled back to the jungle;
off she went with a trumpety-trump,
trump, trump, trump.

The head of the herd was calling,
far far away.
They met one night in the silver light
on the road to Mandalay.

Nellie the Elephant packed her trunk
and said goodbye to the circus;
off she went with a trumpety-trump,
trump, trump, trump.

What is Holiness? What is a saint?

In a word, holiness is Christlikeness. Holiness is being conformed to the Image of the Son (Romans 8:29). Holiness is even more than mnerely being conformed to Christ’s image; it is being filled with His Spirit. Holiness is when Christ Himself is living and breathing in the flesh and bones of one of His followers. When you meet a very holy person, you are truly, literally encountering Christ in him or her; hence, you want to fall at this person’s feet (but of course, he won’t let you); you want to weep for joy. You love him or her right away, and you know very quickly that he or she loves you more deeply than anyone else you’ve ever met, including your spouse, although with a different sort of love than that.

A saint a holy person; that is, one in whom Christ is clearly manifest. That’s it.

But there are a lot of misconceptions floating around about holiness, about what a saint is. The most popular one seems to be that a saint is an extremely devout person. But you can be super-religious, attending services twice a day and three times on Sunday, and still not be holy (Christlike). We’ve probably all known people like that, who accomplish little more than to test the patience of the people around them.

A person can preach beautiful sermons and still not be holy. A man I know was widely admired for his eloquent sermons – until the congregation discovered his boyfriend. A person can even preach, or write, great-sounding stuff about love, but unless his life actually manifests that love, he is, as St. Paul said, a clanging brass, or a tinkling cymbal, no more.

You can be a brilliant thinker and writer of theology, and still not be holy, still miss the mark, which is Christ.

You can be highly influential, towering over your age, dishing out advice to pope, patriarch, and king, without being holy. You can fast until you die, and do it all for a misguided, subconsciour motive.

You can be a kind and gentle person and still be stuffed to the gills with pride.

You can do heroic deeds, work wonders, serve the poor until you drop from exhaustion, give your body to be burned, have faith that could move mountains, and still not be holy.

There are numerous prominent figures of European history who have been called saints, who bore little or no resemblance to Christ. They are bogus; they may be great, illustrious, learned, influential, deeply religious, heroic, what have you, but they are not saints; no way are they saints.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Reprint: Christianity vs. the Culture of Death

Current events, as well as the upcoming first anniversary of my father's death, and the fact that today would have been his 89th birthday, all make it seem appropriate to reprint this, from a year ago.

Elizabeth has a post, “How to Make Evil Sound Acceptable” about the euphemisms people who favor abortion use when discussing it. I’d like to tackle the same subject from the opposite direction: the slogans and phrases used by the culture of death concerning not the beginning, but the end of life.

First, this discussion should be prefaced by noting that for every rule, God's love can and does make exceptions, and so must ours. Every rule depends upon love (Matthew 22:38) and love trumps all.

Here, then, are some of the things urged upon us by the surrounding pagan culture; and here is how they contrast with Christian faith.

“We shouldn’t prolong a person’s life if –” wait! Stop. Halt. We’ll get to the “ifs” in a moment. But even before that, Christian teaching disagrees. You cannot “prolong” a person's life. It will never be longer than God wills it to be. You can either actively or passively shorten it, because God's will includes your freedom to do that, but it's a sin; it's playing God.

In Christianity, the right thing to do is leave it to God to end a person’s life at the time He knows is best. We do not presume to be wise enough, knowledgeable enough, or frankly, disinterested enough to know when that is. We do not take the decision out of God’s hands, for to do so would be to distrust Him. We support life to the best of our ability until God brings it to its close (recognizing that our ability may fall short of what it ought).

“We shouldn’t prolong a person’s life if he is in misery.” In Christianity, suffering has meaning. It even has deep meaning, precious meaning; yes, even salvific meaning. That is, suffering can actually be an indirect cause of our salvation. Dixie was kind enough to point out to me the story of Nun Synkletiki, who miraculously survived the collapse of that skywalk in Chicago, to illustrate the point that suffering, for us, is NOT something to be avoided at all costs. Go read it if you want to see some uses of suffering. Suffering can purify us, can provoke much growth in faith, in love, in character. I have a post on the subect here.

St. Paul writes:

We also glory in suffering, knowing that suffering 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)

It’s not for nothing that the very symbol of Christianity is the Cross. "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." (Galatians 5:24) "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." (Galatians 6:14)

“We shouldn’t prolong a person’s life if he has no quality of life.” The fact is that what the culture of death calls “quality of life” is subjective. We can look at, for example, a demented person and say he or she must be miserable, because we think we would be in the same situation. But the demented person more likely doesn’t have enough awareness of his or her circumstances to lament them – or at least will not for very long. As far as we know, he has no sorrows because he can’t remember anything sorrowful; has no worries because he can’t think of anything worrisome. As far as we know, but the main point is, we don’t. According to Christian teaching, even if we can discern what’s in a person’s mind, his deeper self, his soul, remains hidden to us, visible only to God. Maybe his soul, for its education, needs to experience what we imagine is a poor quality of life. Maybe his soul is rejoicing in affliction, as St. Paul describes. Christians trust God and consider it blasphemous as well as ungrateful to reject or (with rare exceptions) to fail to support God’s gift of life. Christian life, life with, in, and as Christ, is always worth living.

“I would rather die than have to be fed and bathed and dressed by others, and carried to the bathroom and have my butt wiped by others. That’s jut too degrading.” From a Christian perspective, such things are given to us to perfect us in humility, that cardinal virtue without which love is impossible, hence salvation is impossible (for to be saved is precisely to be conformed to and perfected in the love of Christ). Such indignities are to be borne with fortitude and patience. The Christian attitude is, “This is no more than I deserve; in fact, I deserve much worse.” The Christian attitude is that the all-loving God Who let this happen for our ultimate good knows what He is doing and we therefore accept any fate gladly, gratefully, believing it was chosen for our maximum benefit; that is, for the maximum benefit of our truest selves, not necessarily our animal selves. Furthermore, Christ Himself set us the example when He hung, naked, upon the Cross for our sakes. When we suffer similar indignities, we are imitating Him, we who are unworthy to do so.

And by the way, why is any of this any more "degrading" than, say, a Pap smear, a rectal exam, a colonoscopy, or lying on your back on a guerney, spread-eagled, bottom exposed, having a baby in the hospital? Or being a baby, for that matter?

“I wouldn’t want to be that kind of a burden on others.” The Christian experience – not just teaching, mind you, but experience – is that the more one loves, the less burdensome the burden is of caring for one another. At least, the less burdensome it seems. It may be physically and emotionally burdensome, but love lends it a unique delight, a piercing sweetness not to be had in any other way. To care for others, even when that requires much of us, isn’t some grim duty; it is true joy. It is the discovery of our best personhood. We are never nearer heaven than when we carry such burdens. We find self-sacrifice liberating and healing for ourselves.

Furthermore, to the extent we love, the person for whom we are caring will feel and know it. He will not be made to feel he is a burden. He will instead be someone with whom we share all our sorrow and joy, and all his. He will be an extension of ourselves, and we will be extensions of him, because we will all be cells in the same Body, the Body of Christ. We will all be partakers of the same Life, Christ’s life, the life of the Holy Spirit animating His Body. He and we will cherish every moment together, through every hardship and every merriment. My sister Barbara, as she lay in pain, didn't want to take much morphine, for fear it would deprive her of the joy she took in our company. In the end, she didn't even want to close her eyes even for a moment, "Because then you will all be gone." Love makes all suffering well worth it!

“There comes a time when we have to make decisions for the living instead of for the dying.” Note that as soon as we say this, we are giving up the pretense of acting in the best interests of the "dying" person. Can't have it both ways. Can't use both excuses.

The grain of truth here is that sometimes there is nothing we can do for the one seemingly nearest death, and must concentrate instead upon those around him. But we are all of us living until the moment of our death. We are all of us dying, too. And the person who never learns self-sacrifice will die without ever having fulfilled his own humanity. To be an authentic human person is to be a lover. To choose in favor of someone else, even at our material, physical, or emotional expense, is ultimately to choose in favor of ourselves, because our true, inner man grows and is made manifest to us only by being exercised.

“S/he isn’t going to get any better.” Of course, we do not actually know that for sure. But even if we did, it’s beside the point, for Christians.

“So are we doing her a favor by prolonging her life?” Yes! Not by “prolonging” it, but by supporting it and allowing it to be lived until its God-given end. Who knows what good, what precious moments, may also occur during those remaining days, weeks, or months; or whether the remaining time might make all the difference in a person’s eternal destiny?

In sum, all these pat slogans of the pagan culture of death, although they may sound pious on the surface, are actually expressions of distrust of God, rejection of His gift of life, rejection of His providence, pride, unwillingness to sacrifice for another or endure suffering for ones own growth. They promote an agenda that is thoroughly self-serving, yet for that very reason ultimately self-destructive. That is why they can’t help also sounding so smug.

Again, there are always exceptions. There are times when, due to human weakness and/or the imperfections of this fallen world, the most compassionate thing to do is indeed to let nature take her course. But such times are exceptions. When these exceptions become necessary, one should confess the human weaknesses that make them so. As in, "We simply cannot care for him any more. It is wrecking our marriage, our family, our finances, our sanity" or whatever. We should then go and do what is necessary, and best in the circumstances, but be honest about it, not using such slogans as I've noted here as excuses. If you consider yourself a Christian, take heed not to fall for them.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Little Birdie Told Me...

..That Bogart has abruptly morphed from a Dachshund to a Beagle.

It seems Katherine just really had her heart set on a Beagle. She grew up with one, and now her kids will, too.

Meet the NEW Bogart!

I personally like Beagles better than Daschunds, so I'm even more delighted for them than I was before.

Death Panel?

No, there is no such provision in any of the health care proposals floating around. There is no need to create any "Death Panel" -- because it already exists!

And guess who heads it up? Ezekiel Immanuel, brother of the President's Chief of Staff, Rohm Emmanuel.

Check it out here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

These Past Two Weeks (or so)

It's been a very busy and very enjoyable time, first with my niece Madison (13) and then with her sister, Elizabeth (9). Demetrios and I love having them spend these days with us every summer. They are both very dear, very sweet, very well-behaved, especially when apart.

Maddy and I worked on my marble run, fascinating to anybody from about her age on up. We did a jigsaw puzzle, played our favorite board game, wrote a children's story, and bottle-fed the orphaned kitten. We went swimming and went down a very scary waterslide. It was one of those tube kinds with twists and turns. You become completely disoriented during the ride, as everything you can see is the same color. You cannot even predict when you will be dumped into the water. We went shopping for a few school clothes. We went to the Imax theater and saw two shows. We went to church, out to dinner a couple of times, and to a backyard cookout. Best of all, we had some good talks.

Elizabeth I took with me to visit all my grandchildren in North Carolina. Well, we also did a jigsaw puzzle and played some games and read some stories and worked on writing one which never got finished, and we went to the zoo and the Imax theater, too, but the main thing we did was our trip to see her cousins.

Here are some pictures. Obviously, I love posting pictures of the beautiful children in our family. Click if you want to enlarge.

This first batch was taken at a restaurant where we all met my friend Sylvia for dinner, before gathering at a conference room at her workplace, where she showed us slides of our time together in Greece. (I will also post those soon.)

From Left to Right: Connor, Kelly, Sydney, Ryan

Kelly (7) and Sydney (4)

Ryan and Connor (4) Horse Around with Uncle Jeff, Who is Sitting across the table from them.

Elizabeth, top, with Sydney and Kelly

The Original Cast of the Play. Sydney was in paradise, allowed to participate with the older girls.

Kelly had the opening lines: "Your Majesty, I bring you a rare and precious gift from a faraway land. It is a fairy. She can grant you a million wishes. There is only one thing about her, and that is that she is totally untrained..."

The Boys Horn in on the Act

Lizzie and Sydney at the YMCA Waterpark

Sydney being a Fish. Elizabeth, learning that she could move all over the shallow end of the pool with the help of a lifebelt and noodle, pronounced this "The greatest day of my life."

First Cousins Once Removed

Why We Should Never Accept Irrational (Self-Contradictory) Theology

First, here are some definitions for clarification, courtesy of Merriam-Webster Online. “Rational” means relating to, based on, or agreeable to reason. Being in accordance with reason. “Rationalism” is reliance on reason as the basis for establishment of religious truth.

Christians are not rationalists. Theology that is authentically Christian is not rationalistic. Christians believe their religion to be revealed, not derived from human reason. As St. Paul puts it,

“my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (I Corinthians 2:4-5)

St. John writes similarly:

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, 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 (I John 1:1-3a)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

And St. Peter writes:

For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." 18 And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18, referring to the Transfiguration, accounts of which event are in Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7, and Luke 9:35)

Christians are not rationalists. But they are rational. They base their faith upon what has been heard and seen and touched. Christians are followers of the Word Made Flesh, where “Word” does not mean a sequence letters between spaces and having a certain definition. No, the Greek “Logos”, usually translated “Word,” actually means God’s Reason. “Logos” implies, moreover, not an inarticulate or inchoate Reason, but one capable of being set forth. When the Word (God’s Reason) dwells in human flesh, in the Man Jesus, then it He is even capable of expressing itself Himself in human terms.

God’s Reason is of course high above all human reason – but note carefully: above it, not beneath it! God’s Reason does not fail the elementary tests of rationality. To the contrary, God’s Reason first meets those criteria and then far exceeds them. Where revelation boggles the mind and our poor brains cannot follow, the “problem” is not darkness, but a superabundance of Light, inexhaustible Light.

Put another way, God does not contradict Himself. That’s the first way you know any theology which does is a human invention, not divine. There is no contradiction in God.

Observe, if you please, what happens when people do accept a theology that contradicts itself. I am not speaking here of paradox, which is only a form of irony, nor of an only apparent contradiction, as evidenced by the fact that somebody, somewhere, can explain it away. I’m speaking of a flat-out, genuine contradiction, incapable of being resolved by anybody, a square triangle, a rock too heavy for God to lift.

Well, then, the first thing that happens when you accept a contradiction in theology (or any other field) is that you turn it into meaningless mush. That’s because each side of the contradiction cancels out the other. If we call these two sides of the contradiction A and B, then we can see a couple of examples:

A. This is a square.
B. It is triangular.

A. God is Love.
B. God hates sinners.

A. God chooses whom to save. It’s 100% up to Him and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. Ultimately, the ones He chose do end up being saved and only the ones who end up being saved are the ones He chose.
B. God does not choose whom to condemn.

In each of these cases, as in every contradiction, we see A and B cancelling each other out. And when that happens, we are left with nothing. We are left with empty words, bereft of meaning. We are left with incoherence.

But that’s only the first thing that happens. The next thing is that if you accept a contradiction in theology and then say each side of it is supported by Scripture, you knock the bottom out of Sola Scriptura. Because the first principle implied by Sola Scriptura is that anything which contradicts the Word of God must be rejected. Thus, if your interpretation of Scripture makes Scripture to contradict itself, then, according to Sola Scriptura, your interpretation ought to be tossed out. By not tossing it out, by retaining it despite the principle of Sola Scriptura, one flouts that doctrine, defies it, puts his contradictions above it. (Isn’t THAT rationalism?)

It gets still worse, because by accepting a contradiction in theology and asserting that both sides of the contradiction are supported by Holy Scripture, it’s not just the doctrine of Sola Scriptura one knocks the bottom out of (this wouldn’t bother Orthodox Christians anyway) but Scripture itself. This is because to the extent one makes the Bible incoherent, it cannot be used for anything, and especially cannot be used to settle any doctrinal dispute. If any contradiction of Scripture by Scripture is acceptable, why not all? As I've said before, every heretic comes armed with Scripture to contradict Scripture, and the devil, too, when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. By what criterion will we now decide whose contradictions are acceptable?

To the extent the Bible is interpreted as incoherent, to that extent it ceases to be revelatory. Gibberish is no longer revelation nor a record of revelation – but Christianity is all based upon revelation. The damage, then, is not merely to the Bible, but to Christianity itself.

Could it get even worse? Yes, because of course we have, unwittingly, a reverence issue going on here, too. To say, in effect, that the Holy Scriptures contradict themselves is to say, in effect, that the Holy Spirit does.

Just don’t go there. Search out an interpretation of the Holy Bible that allows it to stand as a consistent, coherent, reliable, and revelatory whole, as the Word of God always is, in Whom there is no contradiction.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Meet Bogart!

He's two weeks old and Mark and Katherine have just paid a deposit on him.

Katherine, this sure doesn't look like a Beagle to me!

Obviously, there was a last-minute change of mind.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Voice of the People, the Wrath of God

Okay, so I don't really know exactly how the people go about deposing a wolf in shepherd's clothing. We Orthodox Christians are a patient people, who usually suffer bad bishops. They aren't supposed to have to be deposed, so there's no formal way (that I know of) for doing it. But for anybody who needs to know it, I can share how it's been done before.

In America, the process usually involves people or (better) whole parishes keeping their tithes and offerings in an escrow account, then letting the offender (and his superiors, if applicable) know that the money will not be forthcoming until he steps down, preferably flees to some monastery. (An Agaean island will do nicely.)

In Greece, where the Church is supported by the State, the populace of Athens some years ago stood before the bishop's residence with placards and candles and chanted "Anaxios, anaxios!" ("Unworthy, unworthy!") day and night without letting up until the bishop departed. It was simple as that. Didn't even take all that much organizing; they just had to fill all shifts so the demonstration was ceaseless.

There are also petitions. They need to be carefully and well worded.

And when we here in Richmond needed to be rid of a certain priest, more than one self-appointed committee went secretly from here to Constantinople with documentation of abuses and pleas for relief. The Patriarch did indeed step in, via archepiscopal delegates, and forced said priest to retire. He also promoted our bishop (who was afflicted with Alzheimer's) to a non-working, honorary position.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

No, I haven't Died or Disappeared

...but I'm in North Carolina, having taken my niece Elizabeth there to visit her cousins. We're all having a wonderful time, on account of all the relatives here, every single one of them, being such good people and such enjoyable ones to be around. I'll post pictures next week of the most beautiful grandchildren in the world and of one of the prettiest nieces, too. Meanwhile I hardly even get a glimpse of a computer, except to watch my grandsons playing games on it.

Next time somebody asks me whether the boys are twins, I'm going to say, "Actually they're clones." Well, that's also true...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lizzie's Luscious Dessert

Elizabeth, 9, has made us this scumptious dessert twice already. Here's the recipe she invented.


1/2 container of orange cremesavers yogurt
1 fresh strawberry, cut into very small pieces
1/2 teaspoon strawberry JAM (not preserves)
tiny sprinkle of sugar

Mix them all together and serve in teacups. (Lizzie creates and stirs each serving IN the teacups. If you do this, you may need to wipe around the inside edges of the cup with a paper towel or napkin before serving.)

* * *

Lizzie and I are also working together on a story she wants to write about a girl who discovers a secret room.

Three Strikes

My husband had dinner recently with a very dear friend of his, a Muslim. The topic of their conversation rather quickly became living the spiritual life. Demetrios was extolling the virtue of humility, and the absolute necessity of it for the spiritual life, and his friend was brought up short. He said there was no such thing in Islam. Not meaning they never heard of humility, but it is not considered a component of the religious life. You don't need it to be devout.

This is the third big realization that has hit our friend between the eyes. The first was that Islam does not require love; the second was that it does not have forgiveness. As another Muslim friend of my husband's said, indicating that forgiveness was going just too, too far, "If someone does me wrong, that is going to be his problem."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Here, courtesy of Chris, is a picture of the kitty we have been bottle-feeding. Maddy and I took her back to Chris today, to be reunited with her brother and sister. Yup, it was a bit difficult for both of us to part with her! (That's Chris' sofa in the picture.)

Notice how much smaller she is than her siblings She's catching up some, though. She'll always be petite.

She now lives in a mesh playpen, and is learning to climb the sides and to eat kitten chow in between bottles, and to use a litter box. And how to play with the other kitties.

Today I also "traded in" Maddy for her younger sister, Elizabeth, 9. She is also a sweetie, and I'm looking forward to a wonderful week with her doing little girl things, as last week was a wonderful week with Madison, doing big girl things.

Again, there won't be much time for blogging.

When I do get back to it, I'm going to start with a post summarizing points I've made before about why you must not accept any theology that contradicts itself.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Have You Seen My Stripe?

by Madison and Anastasia

Patches the kitten licked herself all over until she was perfectly clean and then went out to play. It was a warm, bright day, and Patches felt happy. She saw a yellow flower growing beside the house and went over to smell it. She heard baby birds chirping in the tree, and ran toward the tree to see if she could climb it to see them, but when she had climbed only two feet, she was frightened, and climbed back down. She saw a grasshopper and pounced on it, but it got away.

“Ha, ha!” said someone.

Patches looked up and saw a large, tan cat walking along the top of the fence.

“Who are you?” asked Patches.

“I’m Butch, and I live around the corner, and I see you can’t even catch a grasshopper or climb a tree.”

Patches didn’t know what to say.

“And look at you!” said Butch. “You have gray stripes all over your back and sides but look at that spot on your right side. You’re missing a stripe! Ha, ha!”

Patches ran back indoors, jumped up on a dresser in the big bedroom, and turned her right side to the mirror. She saw gray and cream-colored stripes running down her sides, but in one place, there was only a cream-colored patch, just like the one on her forehead and the ones on her ears. There was a stripe above it and a stripe below it, but there was no stripe in the cream-colored place.

“I AM missing a stripe!” said Patches. “Oh, no! Where could it be?” Did I drop my stripe somewhere? Has somebody taken it? What shall I do?”

Patches was so sad she climbed back into the kitten basket with Mother and Fluffy, her sister, and Spot, her brother, and snuggled as close to Mother as she could, to hide her missing stripe. Soon she fell into a sorrowful sleep.

When she awoke, Patches knew what she must do. She must find her stripe!

“Goodbye, Mother,” she said, “I’m going out for a walk. “Goodbye, Fluffy. Goodbye, Spot.”

The first person Patches met as she walked along the road was Sammy the Skunk. He had two big, beautiful, white stripes.

“Excuse me,” said Patches, “I’m looking for my stripe. She showed Sammy her stripeless spot. “Have you seen my stripe?”

“No,” said the skunk. “But finding it won’t do you any good. You still won’t smell as good as I do.” And he walked away, waving his striped tail in the air.

Patches walked sadly on. Soon she came to the zoo, and there she came upon a tiger in his cage. The tiger had as many stripes as Patches had. “Excuse me,” said Patches, “Have you seen my stripe?”

“No,” said the tiger, “but finding it won’t do you any good. You still won’t be ferocious like me.” And he growled as loudly as he could.

Patches hung her head and walked on. After a few minutes, she came to the zebra. The zebra had enough stripes to spare.

“Excuse me,” said Patches. “Have you seen my stripe?”

“No,” said the zebra.

“Do you think I could borrow one of yours?” asked Patches.

“No, I need all mine. Anyway, having that stripe won’t do you any good. You still won’t be able to gallop, like me.” And she galloped away.

Near the giraffe enclosure, Patches noticed a kindly looking man with a white beard. He was sitting on a stool in the pathway, painting a picture of the giraffes.

Now Patches was almost ready to cry. She went up to the kind man and mewed as fetchingly as she could, then said, “Have you seen my stripe?”

The man laughed. “No, I haven’t, little thing,” he said, “But I can give you a new stripe if you like.” So he picked up the kitten and set her in his lap. Patches began purring loudly. The artist dipped his brush into some gray paint and painted a brand new stripe on her side.

Patches stretched her neck around to see it. Yes! It was perfect. It connected the stripe above the patch to the stripe below the patch, and it was an extra good stripe, too, because it was darker than all the rest of her stripes.

"Thank you so much!" Patches said to the nice man. Then she jumped down from his lap and ran home.

“I can’t wait to show everybody,” she thought as she danced up the sidewalk to her house. “Now nobody will know I lost my stripe. Now I’ll look beautiful!”

“Woof, woof! Woof, woof!” Patches heard Archie, the family dog, barking.

“Woof, woof!” said Archie again. “Go away! No strangers allowed in this house!”

“But Archie, I’m not a stranger!” cried Patches.

Archie began to snarl. “Go away, stranger!”

“It’s me, Patches!” said the kitten.

“No, you are not Patches! Patches doesn’t have an ugly stripe like yours. She has a cream-colored patch on her side. Go away!” And he moved closer to Patches, to scare her away.

Patches was terrified. She arched her back. Her fur stood up on end. Her eyes grew wide. “Help, help!” she screamed. “Mother! Fluffy! Spot!”

Fluffy and Spot came running out of the house.

“Go away!” said Fluffy. “Chase her, Archie!”

“No, no, I live here!” said Patches. “It’s me, your sister!”

“You are not my sister,” said Fluffy. “My sister doesn’t have an ugly stripe like that. My sister is beautiful.”

“Spot,” cried Patches. “You recognize me, don’t you? It’s me, Patches!”

“No,” said Spot. “Patches doesn’t look like you. She has a lovely cream-colored spot on her side.”

A large, long-haired, calico cat came out of the door. It was Mother!

“Patches, dear,” said Mother, “what have you done to yourself?”

Patches hung her head. She did not know what to say.

“Come, children,” said Mother. “Let’s all go to the kitten basket and have supper and a nice snuggle. And we’ll see if we can get little Patches cleaned up.”

After supper, Mother licked Patches. She licked and licked, but the stripe would not go away. “I know you’re tired,” said Mother, “so we’ll stop now. I can’t get that stripe out. You'll just have to live with it for a while. But don’t worry; it will grow out in time and you will look like yourself again. Now it’s time to go to sleep. Good night, children.”

“Good night, Mother,” said all the kittens.

Patches nestled closer to Mother. Fluffy and Spot came and cuddled beside her, and Patches felt warm all over. She could feel Mother purring, and she started purring, too. She was so happy she kept on purring until

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Banking Blues...and other Observations

Demetrios went to Home Depot to buy railings for our new porch. He used his new BankAmerica debit card, telling the clerk, "I'm not sure I have enough money in this new account, but try it and see if it goes through."

It did.

But the catch is, it shouldn't have. The account was $17 short.

So what does BankAmerica do? Sends us a letter saying we're being charged a $35 late fee. The money must be deposited within 5 days or they will charge another $35. Trouble is, we didn't receive that letter until 6 days afterward.

This morning, Demetrios went to the bank, paid the $70, and closed the account.

* * *

In the news today, we learned that the nation's leading banks, the ones remaining after the others were creamed, are paying their top employees more than ever this year. In fact, the total amount they've set aside for these big bonuses is $75 billion. Wait, wait! Isn't that a familiar number, $75 billion? Oh, yes. That's the exact amount those banks have received so far in bailout money, which is to say, yours and my money!

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President Obama is no longer calling for "Health care reform." Now it's "Health Insurance Reform." Ah, so that's what it was all about all along! Not care, but insurance. Of course.

Whatever "reform" comes out of all this, you may be sure that the big interests (insurance companies, drug companies, doctors and hospitals, all of which are backing the "reform") will be getting as much money out of it as ever, in fact more. What will you and I get out of it? Cosmetic change only. It'll look good superficially.

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The United States is the only foreign power left in Iraq. All the other members of the coalition have brought their boys home. Our boys are not being brought home from Iraq; they're gradually being transferred to Afghanistan, just exactly as they would have been by now under President Bush.