Friday, December 31, 2010

Attention all Grandchildren, Nieces, and Other Beloved Children!

Grandma/Auntie has added the following to her already smashing sets of marble runs. Won't it be fun to combine them?

The Gadget Shoots Marbles from Bottom to Top,
This means we Can Start Marbles from 17 inches
Higher Than we Can Reach!

With Templates, Cardboard, Scissors, and Tape,
You Can Make Any Kind of Marble Run You Like

This Run Sticks on the Wall Without Leaving
a Mark.  Plus, it Comes With Glow-in-the Dark

The templates for the paper run I've already downloaded. Can't wait for the others to arrive! I'm already figuring out where to build this gigantic whopperoo!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Being Nice or Being a Doormat?

In a dream the other night, a married couple, co-workers of mine at a large company, confronted me in the conference room and wanted me to resign. I couldn't imagine why. They said because they considered me a threat to their marriage. I couldn't fathom such an absurdity; I had never even looked at the man the wrong way. Looking at the very young woman, I thought, "Who wants that young dork of a husband of yours, anyway? I can't even imagine why you'd want him!" but I didn't say it. I considered whether to accede to this demand or not.

In the dream, I decided to do it, for the sake of being nice and of being humble. I didn't really need the job anyway.

In real life, that would be a deplorable thing to do. It definitely would not qualify as being loving. It's hardly loving to allow someone to get away with bullying you. It would only reinforce the bad behavior, thus encouraging more of it. This would certainly not be good for the soul of the other person(s).

I woke up thinking maybe that's the answer I've often looked for to the question: What's the difference between being kind, loving, self-sacrificing or just being a doormat, just being abused? Perhaps the criterion is amazingly simple: what is genuinely good for the other? Good here means spiritually good, helping him grow healthier and stronger and holier and more mature.

I suspect most of the time it's fairly clear what the best is for the other in the given situation. But even if it should be hard to discern, we have to make that evaluation as best we can, both for our own sake and the sake of the other. It's a call that needs to be made with prayer and humility and ideally, with the guidance of our spiritual father.

If the sacrifice you're considering making is not good for the other, you may both end up resenting it. But if it is for the other's best, it will turn out to be for your best, too.

I can imagine situations, though, in which taking abuse does turn out to be the best course of action because every available way of trying to put a stop to it is too unkind.

Jesus didn't put a stop to those who seized Him and mistreated Him and crucified Him.

Blanket for Jackson

Here's  a corner of the blanket I've just finished for Jackson.  As I was in a hurry, I crocheted it this time; crochet works up so much faster, doesn't it?  This is the sedge stitch except for the scalloping at top and bottom.  The sedge stitch is very easy:

Chain a multiple of 3 sts plus 2 for the base chain

Row 1:  Skip 2ch (counts as 1 sc), work [1hdc, 1dc] into next ch, *skp 2 ch, work [1 sc, 1hdc, 1dc] into next st; rep from * to last 3ch, skip 2ch, 1 sc into last ch, turn.

Row 2:  1 ch (counts as 1 sc, work [1hdc, 1dc] into first st, *skp [1 de and 1hdc] work [1sc, 1hdc, 1dc] into next sc, rep from * to last 2 sts, skip [1dc and 1hdc], 1 sc into top of 1 ch, turn.

Rep. 2nd row

(For British terms, convert sc to dc, hdc to htc, and dc to tc.  Then say "miss" instead of "skip".)

A different effect can be achieved by using a larger hook; I used the smallest one I could with this yarn because I wanted a tight, thick blanket.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Or, the Cat-napper Strikes Again

My grandchildren Kelly, Ryan, and Conner have acquired two kitties since last year. They are littermates, named after coffees. Demi (Demitasse) is a pastel calico and her brother Frap (Frappucino) is mostly white with symmetrical gray markings. They're both beautiful.

And they're both shy and they're both mostly Kelly's.

"This is my Cat Attracting Blanket," she told me several days ago as she showed me her room. It was a very soft, velour blanket with two matching Cat Attrracting Pillows that all lay at the foot of her bed. The cats sleep there every night, she said.

"Well, not tonight!" I replied. "Tonight they're going to sleep with me in the guest room!"

"Grandma! No way!"

So I waited until almost midnight and then tiptoed into her room. There were no cats in sight. Kelly lay peacefully, eyes closed. I was pulling the Cat Attracting Blanket toward me when Kelly's bass voice rumbled, "Hi, Grandma."


Getting caught trying to steal from your own granddaughter, now that's humiliating. Kelly laughed all the next day.

That night, pajama-clad, she showed up at my bedroom door with her pillows in one hand and the Cat Attracting Blanket and Pillows in the other. I didn't even know what to say, until her mother said, "She wonders if she can sleep with you tonight." So into my bed she climbed and all was well with the whole, wide world.

Monday, December 27, 2010

After Christmas, I Kept Saying

After Christmas I will give the house a really thorough cleaning.

After Christmas I will think whether to get the 2 crowns the dentist says I need.

After Christmas I will have my echocardiogram.

After Christmas I will look into airline tickets for next Spring.

After Christmas we will decide which coffee table to get one another for a late Christmas present.

After Christmas we will edit Demetrios' paper yet again. This time, to make it comprehensible to the average psychoanalyst, if possible.

After Christmas, I will finish the heavy blanket for Jackson.

After Christmas I will take out my marble run toys from the attic and build a marble run as tall as the ceiling, that uses every single piece in the two sets. And maybe I'll even order some more gizmos so the marbles can do even more interesting stuff on their way down to the floor and the Mousetrap contraption thingy.

So now it's After Christmas.

Because We're All So Fond of It...

...and we may as well use it correctly, here's a wee bit of King James grammar.

Conjugation of Verbs
I am
Thou art
He/she/it is
We are
Ye are
They are

I do
Thou dost
He/she/it doth
We do
Ye do
They do

I say
Thou sayest
He/she/it saith
We/ye/they say

I have
Thou hast
He/she/it hath
We/ye/they have

I sit, hear, desire, hold, pray, know
Thou sittest, hearest, desirest, holdest, prayest, knowest
He/she/it sitteth, heareth, desireth, holdeth, prayeth, knoweth
We/ye/they sit, hear, desire, hold, pray, know

1st person singular
I say
My life (“my” before a consonant)
Mine eyes (“mine” before a vowel)
Tell me

(1st person plural is the same as today:  we, our/s, us.)

2nd person singular
Thou sayest
Thy life
Thine eyes
I tell thee

2nd person plural
Ye say
Your life
Your eyes
I tell you

3rd person singular and plural  (same as today: )

He, his, him
She, her(s), her
It, its, it
They, their(s), them

Friday, December 24, 2010

An Old Christmas Memory in a New Light

The other day, over the telephone, my mother and I were remembering this incident. I've already written about it on this blog before (Nov. 2007), but reprint it here, as I think it's a nice little Christmas story and because it has taken on a new significance this year.

The Black Doll

We were very poor, and the blonde, blue-eyed doll cost $12.00, which for us, in 1974, was a lot to spend on a four-year-old. So we bought her the brown-skinned, black-haired version of the same doll, for half the price. It would broaden our daughter’s awareness.

That was the same Christmas my parents, in addition to inviting the whole family as usual, had invited the Brooks family. Their daughter had committed suicide earlier that year, and we didn’t want Col. and Mrs. Brooks to be alone for Christmas.

“Why did you have to go and buy a black doll just because the Brookses are coming?” asked my Mother. “What are they going to think?”

“I bought the doll before I knew they were coming!” I protested. “It has nothing to do with them! I promise, it’s just coincidence!”

So on Christmas morning, we all waited with some apprehension as Erin opened her gift (Col. and Mrs. Brooks having been forewarned). She looked at her new doll. Then she looked up at Mrs. Brooks, then down to the doll again, then up at Mrs. Brooks again. Finally she stood up, walked over to Mrs. Brooks, and held out her gift.

“If you want to play with my new dollie, you can,” said Erin. “She’s just about your size.”

"I remember how annoyed you were," I told Mom, "because you thought I had bought the black doll because Col. and Mrs. Brooks were coming, but in reality, I bought it because it was the only doll I could afford. And because I thought it would be broadening for my daughter."

She laughed. "Well, it took!"

Erin and Her New Doll

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Political Issues

On Illegal Immigrants

Okay, so it's pretty clear we want illegal immigrants here.  And we want them here illegally, too; that's the whole point, because if they were legal, we'd have to pay them minimum wage.  And then everything, especially food, would cost more to produce and be more expensive for us to buy.

So if that's what we really want, it means we are exploiting their desperation.  In view of that, it seems we could at least provide them with some benefits after all.  I used to be dead set against this, because on the face of it, giving legal benefits to illegal aliens is outrageous.

But love has a different logic, doesn't it?

On Homosexuals in the Military

I grew up in an Army family, and I'm aware that homosexuals have always served in the military, and more or less openly, too.  They haven't usually spoken up, but as some of them were quite effeminate, everybody was aware of it.  It even provided fodder for good-natured banter and joking.  It never has seemed to lower morale or have any of the other dread effects people are predicting.  No doubt many homosexuals have served with valor and distinction, too.  So I'm not really appalled at the idea of homosexuals serving in the military.

What is wrong with the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, though, is the implication that we all ought to accept homosexuality as a perfectly valid alternative lifestyle.  It just isn't. 

And I'm not speaking in moral terms, either.  Homosexuals, as far as I can see, are not necessarily any more immoral than anyone else and I'm not qualified to cast the first stone, or even the second or the millionth.   In fact, there's no reason a homosexual can't become a saint.  Maybe some of the people we revere, whose icons we kiss, were handicapped by homosexual orientation at the beginning of their struggle for sanctity. All the more ought we to be in awe of them.

So homosexuality isn't a civil rights issue, as it has been portrayed; nor is it (in itself) a moral issue. 

It's a mental health issue.  Homosexuality is an emotional disorder, and a fairly severe one at that.  That's the sober truth, despite the massive propaganda to the contrary.  And to tell a sick person he is healthy isn't doing him any favor.  In fact, it's doing him a grave disservice, because that tends to dissuade him from seeking to get better.  (And there are effective, if difficult and long-term, treatments available today for those who want them.)  It's an emotional disorder and this is so no matter how much he implores you to say he's healthy, or calls you names or accuses you of bigotry or hatred if you don't.  You don't tell an alcoholic it's okay to drink, and you don't tell a homosexual his desire for same-sex intimacy is normal. 

It just isn't.

More Bragging...

...from Grandma.  (Grandmothers' boasting about Grandchildren is acceptable, isn't it?)

Kelly wants to be a meteorologist when she grows up.  She has always been interested in science, and now her interest has focussed upon all things related to weather.

Kelly's other Grandmother went to a silent auction and bid high for 3 hours of shadowing the chief meteorologist at the local television station.  And she won it for Kelly - a thrilling gift for this 9-year-old!

So here's Kelly in Front of the Television Station

Standing Before Blue Screen; on TV, it Would Look as it Does in Monitor, Background

Here's How the Composite Image Would Look to Viewers

With WXII Chief Meteorologist Lanie Pope, Kelly's Idol
Congratulations, Kelly!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men

Driving down the street earlier this week, I caught sight of this bumpersticker and winced.  I thought, in the words of someone I found later blogging about this bumpersticker, that it was "extremely smug and intellectually slovenly."

Someone designed a parody of it, in which the "e" becomes a hammer and sickle and the Star of David becomes a swastika. Of course the Jews took offense at the latter, claiming it was anti-Semitic; but its purpose wasn't to slam Jews at all, but to point out that co-existence may not be is not always possible.

And that's because not all ideologies, let alone religions, believe in peaceful coexistence. The Quran, for example, gives mixed messages at best on the subject, and the hard historical fact is, Muslims have never lived in peace with their neighbors if they had the power to do otherwise, except when they were severly oppressing non-Muslims.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a politely worded but clear message: it does not advocate violence, to be sure, but it says how much religious liberty you have is, by rights, up to the pope. So coexisting is not just as easy as the bumpersticker may make it appear to be.

Nevertheless, to try very hard to coexist peacefully is required by Christian tolerance, isn't it?  In fact it is the minimum required, for  Jesus taught us go much further than that, to love those who hate us, bless those that curse us, pray for those who depitefully use us. That, for the Christian, is what tolerance of other faiths and ideologies means.

It doesn't mean you have to suppose that all religions are equally good or equally bad, because they just aren't and it would be dangerously naive to pretend otherwise.  Some are more benign or malignant than others. It doesn't mean you always have to be super-polite about ideologies that enslave people or lead them down dark paths. It doesn't mean you cannot speak out against other people's religious practices, like polygamy or human sacrifice or suicide bombing.  It doesn't mean you must refrain from pointing out to people how certain doctrines tyrannize over them.  (How can you, if you love them?)

It does mean that if you do all this, it should be for love of the other person and not to prop up your own beliefs. It is to be done in charity and with kindness. It needs humility. And although a Christian is not required to respect false beliefs, he is most certainly required to respect other people, to respect, love, and coexist in peace with other people.

I'm not saying a Christian doesn't have the right to defend himself against violent people, although as a former absolute pacifist, I've always leaned in that direction. But I am saying we ought to prefer martyrdom to harming anyone.  Christians are called to embody peace on earth and good will to all men.

I am not a gentle person, never have been accused of tact, and am a stranger to humility.  So to all I have offended by my blunt remarks, I offer sincere apologies and promises to try to be less acrid in future.  Please forgive me.

And may the Prince of Peace be with you, and  merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Posted Without Comment (Very Frightening)

Baby Jackson With His New Sister and Three of His New Cousins

Q.  Is he named after Jesse Jackson?

Q.  Is he named after Michael Jackson?

Q. Are you going to spell  his name Ja 'xon?

Q. Are you going to call him "JJ" (for Jackson Jeffery)?

Q.  Are you going to call him Jackie, after Jackie Robinson?

Q. Is the jungle theme in the nursery because he's African American?

Q. Do you think he looks a little like E. T.?

Q. Doesn't he remind you of a baby gorilla?

The name was inspired by a little boy in Sydney's class of whom she is fond.  He is going to be called "Jackson" with no shortening of it and no cutsie spelling.

The nursery got its start from some crib bedding a neighbor lent in the emergency because Erin and Jeff only had pink items and no time for much shopping.

And adorable as a baby gorilla is, and E.T., too, check it out; there's really no comparison.

So Ugly He's Cute

Truly Handsome Baby, Held by Sydney;
Click to Enlarge

Precious, But Not Good-Looking

P.S.)  Jackson is as perfect a baby as can be.  He never fusses unless he needs a diaper change or a bottle.  He never frets; he never demands anything.  He is content to sit in his bouncy chair or swing, just looking, peacefully absorbing the world around him.  He eats well, sleeps well, burps as soon as you sit him up.  He never spits up (thanks, probably, to the new, high-tech bottles you need an instruction leaflet to know how to put together).  He loves to be bathed.  He loves to cuddle.  He knows no strangers.  He sleeps up to 4 hours at a time, usually needing only one middle-of-the-night feeding.  He already weighs 8 pounds, up from his birth weight of 5 something.  He can already roll over, in one direction.  He has real smiles.   Not bad for a preemie, eh?  Okay, end of Grandma's bragging - for now

How Not to Handle It

“It” being the pedophilia scandal currently racking the Catholic world, a topic dwelt on at some length in Pope Benedict’s Christmas message Monday.

Blame it on Society (and/or Deflect Attention from Rome to Society)

We are aware of the particular gravity of this sin committed by priests and of our consequent responsibility. Yet we cannot remain silent concerning the context of our time in which we see these events taking place. There is a market for child pornography which, in some way, seems to be increasingly considered by society as something normal. The psychological devastation of children in whom human beings are reduced to the level of a market commodity, is a frightening sign of the times
Blame it on Drugs (???)

In this context, the Holy Father mentioned the problem of drugs, "which with increasing strength extends its tentacles to the entire world. ... All pleasure becomes insufficient and excess under the delusion of intoxication turns into violence that rends entire regions. And all this in the name of a fatal misunderstanding of freedom, in which precisely man's freedom is undermined and in the end completely cancelled.”

Blame it on Deficient Moral Theology (“Proportionalism”)

On his way to Australia in the summer of 2008 … Benedict targeted the moral theory by name, claiming that “with proportionalism, it was possible to think for some subjects – one could also be pedophilia – that in some proportion they could be a good thing.”

This morning, Benedict XVI returned to the same point, though without directly invoking the term. Here’s what the pope said, in the English translation of his address provided by the Vatican Press Office:

To oppose these forces we must look at their ideological foundations. In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children. This, however, was part of a fundamental perversion of the concept of ethos. It was maintained – even within the realm of Catholic theology – that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a ‘better than’ and a ‘worse than’. Nothing is good or bad in itself. Everything depends on the circumstances and on the end in view. Anything can be good or also bad, depending upon purposes and circumstances. Morality is replaced by a calculus of consequences, and in the process it ceases to exist. The effects of such theories are evident today. Against them, Pope John Paul II, in his 1993 Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, indicated with prophetic force in the great rational tradition of Christian ethos the essential and permanent foundations of moral action. Today, attention must be focused anew on this text as a path in the formation of conscience.

What's the Problem?

"We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen," the pope said.

Indeed. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. And Ireland, and England, and France, and Germany, and the U.S., and on and on. But it isn’t merely corrupt contemporary society, for Catholicism is supposedly in the business of transforming society, rather than being shaped by it. Nor is it as simple or as ephemeral as Proportionalism, which the clergy pedophile problem both predates and postdates. It has more to do with whatever allowed “the realm of Catholic theology” to come to such a state as ever to let Proportionalism through the door – and with it, any notion of child rape being a good thing. (That’s if this breathtaking idea really ever really was proposed by any Catholic ‘theologian’. I tend to agree with Margaret Kennedy, from a survivor group, who says this is “absolute nonsense… No-one in any age has ever thought that adults having sex with children is right.”) It has to do with why so many homosexuals and/or pedophiles managed to be ordained and even made bishops. It has to do with why this horrific thing wasn’t stamped out at least half a century ago. It has to do with why Rome still today is handling it all so badly.

Go figure.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Totally Unprepared

Dear Christmas,

Well, you see, it's like this. We only got back from Greece the Thursday before Thanksgiving, and then we had to spend that entire week getting ready to host some of my family.

Then the day after Thanksgiving, we both got sick and that lasted until mid-December, and we were feeling too bad to do anything at all except sit around or lie around and sniffle, cough, wheeze, and sneeze.

And then Erin and Jeff's baby came, suddenly, with only three days' warning, and I've had to spend this past week there, meeting him and visiting all my other grandchildren at long last, whom I hadn't seen since Spring.

And now here it is, only a couple of days to go until Christmas, and I have yet to put up a single decoration (much less a tree), bake a single cookie, write a single card, or finish making the gifts I had started (while sick) for my family.

So what I want to ask is, is there any way Christmas could possibly come a week or so later this year?

* * *

Yes, there IS! Every Orthodox Christian knows in his heart we ought to be on the Old Calendar for liturgical purposes anyway, right? So this year, we are going to observe the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in accordance with the Old Calendar. I believe that puts it at January 7, doesn't it? Ah...

Just to Keep the Record Straight

One blog site I came upon thanks to John at Ad Orientum had a discussion in which someone asked, "When Rome speaks of 'full unity among Christians,' does Rome mean anything other than unqualified submission to the authority of the Bishop of Rome, and the dogma and doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church?" and a Catholic wrote back, "This is ridiculous. The Catholic Church doesn’t require “unqualified submission” to the pope from Catholics. How can we have actual dialog with this kind of (ignorance? attitude?)."

The Catholic went on to add:

Christians give “unqualified” submission to Christ. “Submission” (what does that mean, exactly? Is that the best word?) to the Bishop of Rome would be qualified… by the content of divine revelation… by Christ… by the doctrine of the Catholic Church… by the fact that one’s actual ordinary is not the Bishop of Rome… by Canon Law… by a myriad of things, all of which “qualify” the authority of the Bishop of Rome.

Um ..... no.

As for the content of divine revelation, the pope tells Catholics what that is.  Ditto the doctrine.  As for canon law, he has the ultimate say in formulating it, and there is nothing in it that limits either his authority or the requirement for Catholics to submit to it.

According to the Catholic Catechism, the pope's authority over the church is supreme, full, immediate, and universal (see paragraphs 882 and 937).  The scope of the pope's claimed authority, within and outside of the Catholic institution, is apparently not limited; see many papal and other Catholic quotes to that effect here).   In any case, whatever its scope may be, submission to papal authority is required to be absolute, not qualified.

Theoretically, perhaps, Catholics only have to submit when a pope speaks infallibly. (Although more than one Catholic 'saint' has said otherwise; see the link above.) But rather than theorize, let's look at this in down-to-earth terms: What, specifically, is there, taught by any pope, which the 'magisterium' considers optional for Catholics?

(A lot of Catholics don't submit to some teachings, notably on birth control, but not because Rome makes submission optional.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Conversation with Sydney

Sydney is 5, not 6 as I mistakenly wrote earlier.  Yesterday, she was showing me how she could count to 130, so today I  asked her, "What's the biggest number there is?'"

After a moment's thought, she said, "A hundred."

"Why do you think a hundred?"

"Because  after about that many years you have to go to heaven and you don't have any more numbers."

"But we can still count higher than 100, can't we?  Yesterday you counted to 130.  But you could go on and say 131, 132, and all the way up to 140, and then you could say 141 and 142 and 143."

"How about a hundred billion gazillion thousand?"

"How about two hundred billion gazillion thousand, or three hundred billion gazillion thousand?"

A few more moments of pondering and she finally said, "Grandma, we are never going to find the answer to this one."

I was opening my mouth to agree when she added, "We'll just have to look it up on the Internet!"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

If They Made a Black Baby Doll, He Would Look Like Our Jackie

Don't you think? Except they wouldn't give him straight hair; no idea where that came from.  There isn't even a hint of a wave, except when wet.

He's "yummy", in Erin's word.  Huge, limpid eyes, an earnest gaze, a real smile already.  He's a snuggler, melts right into your curves, reminds me of a cup of chocolate pudding, sweet and soft. 

His birth parents are unmarried college students who already have an 18-month-old and are struggling.  They have each left us with notes to be shown to Jackie one day, and they are full of love and regret, but also hope.

His foster parents, whom Erin and Jeff met, also sent along a letter assuring us this baby has been prayed for, hugged, snuggled, rocked, sung to, cuddled, and loved every minute of his little life.

It shows.  He's a calm baby, never fusses unless he needs feeding or a diaper change.  He isn't fretful or fearful or anxious, just the picture of peace.

Sydney, 5, has been literally hopping up and down with joy since Friday.  When she first saw his pictures, she had a moment of doubt; she said, "I would be sad if I had skin that dark."  But when we went to pick him up, she said, "He's much cuter in person than in his pictures," which is true, and she was full of kisses and wanted to hold him, and was allowed to, with my help, for a moment.

The telephones (landline and cell phones) haven't stopped ringing.  A few neighbors came over last night.  Looking out the front door, Sydney said, "I see my friend coming!  Logan is coming.  Come on, Logan, hurry!  Are you ready to see someone a different color?  He's my brother!"

Her only other remark re race, so far, was, "Mommy, I bet if he had come out of your tummy, he'd have skin like ours."

Well, it's true, adoption is not the natural way to acquire children, although it can be a wonderful way. 

And there's no doubt it all takes some getting used to, and nobody here is pretending otherwise.  I don't think it'll take very long, though.  Jackson had already won our hearts before we met him, and now that we have, we're all head over heels in love. 

Sydney wore her new button to kindergarten today.  It just says, "Sister."

Jackson Jeffrey: Pictures Taken Before He Came to Us

Jackson Jeffrey, NewestMember of Our Family

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pure in Heart

My daughter-in-law, Katherine, sat down with Kelly, 9, to explain to her that she was about to acquire a new cousin; Auntie Erin and Uncle Jeff had adopted a baby, who would arrive in a day or two.

Kelly fell silent and looked so grave her mother asked, "Are you alright with this? What's the problem?"

It was shock. It was distress. Kelly was trying hard to absorb the unthinkable news that there are people who give their babies away. Her mother tried to explain that this couple did the best thing they could in the circumstances, but still...

I hate what the evil, the brokenness of this world does to children - to all of us, but especially to the children; I hate it, hate it, hate it!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Best Christmas Present Ever!

Okay, the second best. The Very Best is the Child born in the manger.

But the second best is another Christmas child, born 3 weeks ago, and who, this coming Tuesday, is going to become my daughter's son. And Sydney's brother. And my grandson.

She was at Target this afternoon shopping when the adoption agency rang her on her cell phone, and she burst into tears.

We don't know anything about him except that he's 3 weeks old, healthy, and of African-American descent. Oh, and he's a preemie, therefore tiny.

Erin and Jeff don't even have any idea what they will name him. "All I can tell you," I said, "is what NOT to name him. Don't name him Egbert or Ethelbert or Nero or Moriarty. And probably you should avoid Oswald and Adolph."

"And we just ordered our Christmas cards!" says Erin, "With a picture of our family on the front, and now it's obsolete already!"

They are to meet the baby on Monday, together with his foster parents, who will fill them in on the child's schedules and health records and every sort of information Erin and Jeff could want. Then they are to bring him home on Tuesday.

The birth parents chose Erin and Jeff from the agency's website, which has pictures and blurbs of prospective parents. They have already signed all the legal papers and the waiting period for changing their minds has already expired. They have declined to meet Erin and Jeff.

Jeff has a business trip scheduled for Tuesday, immediately after the baby is turned over to them. He is going to see if he can cancel it.

I'll go down to North Carolina Sunday evening, and be there to help in any case.

"And we have plane tickets to Minnesota the 22nd!" says Erin. "Do I have to call the airline and tell them there will be a 4th person?" Yes.

They are spending Christmas with Jeff's family. His mother has already begun scrounging and borrowing baby things.

"I don't even have any boy baby clothes!" said Erin.

"We'll go shopping Monday night and get some," I told her.

"I dont' even remember what all I'm going to have to pack!"

"You'll pack a few changes of clothes, a couple of bottles and formula, and enough diapers to get you there, and then you'll buy more diapers and more formula when you get there."

I'll bet Nancy (Jeff's mom) will also organize a hasty baby shower. That's the sort of thing she loves to do and is so very good at.

"I don't even remember how to take care of a baby at home."

"You're a newborn baby nurse, for heaven's sake! You know better than anybody!"

"In the hospital. That's different. The baby screams and screams and nothing can make it stop, but you know you're getting off at eleven o'clock and you can go home. Having a baby at home is different!"

"It'll all come back to you."

"Are you going to start knitting tonight?"

No, dear, tomorrow. I never really thought about it, but of the 5 preemie blankets I've knitted recently, only one is for a boy, and it's a lightweight blanket, a summer blanket, useless in Minnesota. Well, I can remedy that in a jiffy.



Pretty, Easy, Reversible Stitch (Knitting)

The scarf I'm working on
Scarves are great projects for a lot of reasons. They help you use up odd balls of yarn left over from other projects. Or they give you a chance to use some luxury yarn you can't afford enough of for a larger project. They make nice gifts. They give you a chance to try out new stitch patterns.  They're portable, so you can work on them in, for example, waiting rooms.  And they're quick to knit.

This is a stitch pattern I came up with while playing around with two balls of yarn I wanted to use up. I didn't want plain stripes and, as almost always, I did want something reversible. (Scarves, especially, need to look good, I think, on both sides.)  This scarf has all the advantages I wanted.  Well, except one.  It gets a little boring after a while.  Still, sometimes the circumstances are wrong for work that needs more concentration, and a relatively mindless project is just the thing.

Materials: Two colors of yarn that look good together, double-pointed needles

Skill Level: Beginner

Cast on with Color A, multiples of 4 +3

***Do not turn.  Slide stitches back to the other side of the needle. 

With Color B, (K3, P1) ending K3.

Now both working strands of yarn should be at the same end of the needle. Turn the work.

With Color A, (K3, P1) ending K3.
TIP: If you will put the skeins of yarn one on either side of you and turn the work clockwise each time, the yarns will be much less likely to become entangled.

Repeat from ***, continuing in this same fashion, alternating 1 row of A with 1 row of B until the work is as long as you like and only turning every other row.  All the rows are worked the same:  (K3,P1) K3.
Variation:  You can, of course, space out the purl stitches differently, as in K5, P1 or whatever.  The  row will appear to curve as you get wider than that.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Morals and Ethics

My husband and I have recently had a debate. There are two points at issue, and any enlightenment you, dear readers, can shed on either of them will be welcome.

(1) What, as you understand it, is the difference between morals and ethics? Your own view, please; we can do the googling ourselves.

(2) Do you think this difference is generally known and understood? By fairly well-educated people, I mean? (0ne of us thinks this is something virtually everybody knows, and the other thinks virtually nobody knows it.) Did you know it before you googled it?

Thanks for any input you may offer.

UPDATE: A genuine expert has responded to an e-mail I sent her, as follows:

Ethics involves system and process whereas morals involve judgement and values. Sometimes the terms overlap, as when we speak of Kant's Deontological decision-making as a "moral system".

I hope that this is helpful.

Best wishes,
Alice C. Linsley

A Clean Conscience Never Relaxes Ogden Nash

There is an emotion to which we are most of us are adduced,
But it is one which I refuse to boost.
It is harrowing, browbeating, and brutal,
Besides which it is futile.
Because of it sleepy men go sleepless.
Because of it, for all I know lyrical canaries and nightingales go peepless;
Hungry men lose their appetites;
Warm acrobats perspire coldly in their dapper tights;
Eligible bachelors enter ballrooms less eligibly,
And stoics talk to themselves loudly and fortuately also unintelligibly.
Land of Goshen,
What an easily dispensible emotion!
I am referring, of course,
To remorse.
Remorse is a violent dyspepsia of the mind,
But it is very difficult to treat because it cannot even be defined,
Because everything is not gold that glisters and everything is not a tear that glistens,
And one man's remorse is another man's reminiscence,
So the truth is that as far as improving the world its concerned, remorse is a duffer,
Because the wrong people suffer,
Because the very fact that they suffer from remorse proves they are innocuous.
Yes, indeed, it is the man remorse passes over completely who is the virulent streptococcuous.
Do you think that when Nero threw a martyr to the lions remorse enveloped him like an affinity?
Why, the only remorse in the whole Colosseum was felt by the martyr who was reproaching himself for having dozed through the sermon on the second Sunday after Trinity.
So I think remorse ought to stop biting the consciences that feed it,
And I think the Communist Party ought to work out some plan for taking it away from those who have it and giving it to those who need it.

Do You Believe It?

One theory, common in America, England, Greece, and elsewhere, is that our governments are just incredibly stupid. They don't know what they are doing. Every farmer and schoolteacher and construction worker in the country knows better, but Washington (or Downing Street, or Athens) just doesn't GET IT.

I don't believe that. Do you?

I think they know exactly what they are doing. We're the ones who don't, necessarily.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Little Orphant Annie

...another favorite childhood poem. What I posted yesterday about the God Who Will Getcha if Ya Don't Watch Out reminded me of this. I hope you enjoy!

by James Whitcomb Riley

LITTLE Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
Ef you

Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn't say his prayers,--
An' when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an' his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An' when they turn't the kivvers down, he wuzn't there at all!
An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press,
An' seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an' ever'-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz jist his pants an' roundabout:--
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

An' one time a little girl 'ud allus laugh an' grin,
An' make fun of ever' one, an' all her blood-an'-kin;
An' wunst, when they was "company," an' ole folks wuz there,
She mocked 'em an' shocked 'em, an' said she didn't care!
An' jist as she kicked her heels, an' turn't to run an' hide,
They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin' by her side,
An' they snatched her through the ceilin' 'fore she knowed what she's about!
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

An' little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo!
An' you hear the crickets quit, an' the moon is gray,
An' the lightnin'-bugs in dew is all squenched away,--
You better mind yer parunts, an' yer teachurs fond an' dear,
An' churish them 'at loves you, an' dry the orphant's tear,
An' he'p the pore an' needy ones 'at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

Monday, December 6, 2010

For He is Good and Loves Mankind

This is the title of a new blog. It is to be David Garner’s account of his conversion to Holy Orthodoxy.

But it’s a phrase I’ve been pondering for several days now, ever since Fr. Stephen so beautifully wrote about it here.  He writes about how hard it is for us fully to believe and accept, in our heart of hearts, that God is good and only good. We struggle, as Fr. Stephen says, to believe deep down that God is good, that His will for us is good, and that His goodness is infinite. Infinite! That means it has no borders; it doesn’t end where my sin begins. It doesn’t come in moderation or in measure, or tempered, or diluted, or spoiled or balanced by something else. It is unconditional. It is freely given. Nothing can keep God from being good to you, and only good, no matter what.

Most of us who were raised in other religions have this feeling lurking somewhere inside that God’ll getcha if ya don’t watch out. God is good, yes, we tell ourselves, but I am not. I am a sinner; I am not “right with God” and if there is such a thing as Justice, then I have some come-uppance due eventually. Even when we become Orthodox Christians and know better in our heads, the inculcated (but highly distorted) image of the Wrathful God still haunts our imagination. The ugly feeling lasts a lot longer than the ugly belief.

We were raised being told, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Yes, it’s true that an encounter with God, Who is Truth, shows me myself as I really am, and unless I am already extraordinarily humble, this can be a devastating thing. But this is a salutary revelation, a needful, medicinal step; and at the very same instant, together with the fearful knowledge of myself, God shows me Hope and Love and tender forgiveness and the offer of newness. Meet God and you discover He isn’t angry and never was; isn’t even displeased or disapproving; and He never was.

What? I did all these terrible things, I became this unbearable person, and God wasn’t even frowning at me? He indeed disapproved of what you did, and was even working at cross-purposes to your intention, but that was for your own sake, and the sake of His other precious children, not because He personally took offense. He’s much bigger than that, infinitely bigger than that. His purpose, His intention, His will, was always and ever only to save us all from ourselves. The surprising truth turns out to be that the only person out to get you was, well, you! – projecting it onto God all the while.

God has not a single shred of ill will toward you; to the contrary, the message of the Christmas angels is, “Peace on earth, good will toward men!” He was only awaiting, with love and goodness, with kindness and compassion and infinite tenderness, your eventual return. You are not to worry about anything in the past, but only look to the here and now; all you have to do is say, “Yes” and “Thank You!” and you find yourself in the embrace of the Holy Trinity, Who is sharing the Divine Life Itself with you, making you whole.

Is God out to get you? Well, yes, and He will, but this is the very best news there ever could be! This is the miracle of miracles; this is the overflowing fulfillment of every hope, the culmination of everything good and true and beautiful and worthwhile.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

All Dead

They were fine at their early morning feeding, frisky, playful, lively, and they all ate well. I put them back in their box and checked, as always, that they had a good temperature gradient, from toasty warm to cool, so they could migrate to whichever spot suited them. And when I came back for the next feeding, all three of my baby deermice were dead.


It just happens sometimes, for reasons nobody knows. It's part of what you have to be willing to take if you are a wildlife rehabilitator.

I've decided I don't regret any of the time I spent with them or the care I took or the sleep I lost. I loved every bit of it, and I loved them. And they had a good life, too, albeit short.

No comments, please. I know of your kindness and love and your prayers, and I thank you for them. But I really am not up to discussing it except with God. They're His mice. And it can't really be stupid to have loved them, since He does, even more.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Feast of Great Martyr St. Barbara

...and the day my sister Barbara was chrismated - and acquired such a wonderful godmother in Deb.   (And as a bonus, she also acquired a marvelous "godgrandmother", Deb's godmother.)

Here's a picture of  I found recently, taken in 1983.

That's Barbara on the right. I'm on the left, and my daughter is in the middle.

Happy Feast Day to all Barbaras!  Hagiographical account here.




Open Your Eyes!

This morning, I found the eyes of two of my baby mice open. The third's eyes are still sealed shut, but they will probably open in the course of today.

That makes them, officially, 15 days old now, of which I've had them 8.

It's a milestone in a couple of ways.

(1) Eyes open day marks the time to add baby rice cereal to the formula. They rejected it the first try, but took it avidly the second time. It's just a pinch. I'll increase it gradually and the cereal will fill them up better, longer, so we can begin to stretch out the feedings. First feeding we'll skip, starting in about 3 days, will be the 2 a.m.!

In another several days, I'll also add the merest hint of peanut butter to the formula.

Among them all, they drink anywhere from .55 to .6 ccs of formula now, every 4 hours; viz., 6 times a day.

(2) Also, once their eyes are open, they can do their jobbies on their own, without my having to jiggleflick them. (That's a word one of my fellow rehabbers made up.) We usually continue to stimulate them another 2 days, however, from an abundance of caution.

HOORAY! Things are about to become much easier. Double HOORAY! They're doing so well, so far!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Hades, Then and Now

Try this thought experiment. It's sometime before the Crucifixion and you are in Hades. Okay, so Hades is a metaphor for being dead. We use the metaphor because it makes talking about being dead much easier. Otherwise it's usually too hard to conceive and too elusive for words.

So, there you are, in Hades, alone or dimly aware of the others there. You are aware, but you have no body, hence no brain, informing you that you are aware. You have, in other words, no reflexive, or double consciousness. It's dark, both physically (you have no eyes) and spiritually (you don't perceive any sign of God). Your body has rotted away and your soul is fading out, as well - very, very gradually (for God was not about to let you enter into total oblivion, so He slowed down that process until the time should come to rescue you).

And then a miracle happens. Suddenly, you have some new way of seeing and hearing, even without your body. Your reflexive consciousness, without which you were less than human, is back again. Though you have no eyes, you see a Light more beautiful and more brilliant than you could ever have imagined or could ever describe, and in the midst of this Light, the form of a Man, of a Liberator. You are engulfed by an almost palpable, strong wave of Love. You realize you are not the only one. You are no longer alone, and the Light and the Love and the New Life are flooding over all the others, too. You know you did evil during your lifetime, but you also now know, beyond any doubt, that all is forgiven. 

Christ has entered Hades.  Your heart is singing, and weeping, and dancing for joy, for love.  You are overcome with gratitude. 

* * *

So here's the question: is this still Hades?

Christ Jesus, by His Presence there, has made it into Paradise. Permanently. Hades remains filled with His Holy Spirit; by Whom you are able to "see" and "hear" even without a brain. It's the fulfillment of what Prophet King David wrote: "If I descend into Hades, behold, Thou art there."

Henceforth, those in Christ will still die in the sense of losing our bodies. But according both to His promise and to His demonstration, we shall receive them back, made perfect, immortal, and glorious.

John 11:25 Jesus said to her [Martha], "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he were dead, he shall yet live."
And meanwhile, from the moment we lose our mortal bodies until the Last Day and reunification with our incorruptible bodies, we shall never experience the darkness, the aloneness, the lovelessness, the hopelessness, the gradual draining away of our very soul and being.  The Holy Spirit shall supply us His own Life, with fuller consciousness even than our finite bodies ever could before.  In that sense, we shall never taste death.

John 11:26  "And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?"

This is the difference it makes for us today and forevermore that Christ "descended into Hades".

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Of Mice and Men (Us)

Demetrios and I are getting better. I seem to be better than he is, but we're both improving. As of yesterday, I got up and dressed, and I even went out briefly to run a couple of quick errands. Demetrios is well enough to blow some of the leaves in which we found our yard blanketed, when we returned from abroad.

The wee mice are thriving so far, but one never knows. They're up to just over 1cc of formula every 3.5 hours, stretched out to 4 hours during the night so I can sleep for longer stretches. They are very vigorous and very wigglesome, a bit hard to handle. They seem to like being in my hand and don't try to get away, but they don't like to hold still, either.

I now think we have two shes and one he. I'd have to use a magnifying glass to be sure, but that's difficult when both hands are needed to hold the mouse!

Here's a photo that I found on the Internet. My mice look just like this one, except the fur is darker gray in this particular litter and there's perhaps a smidgeon less of it so far. 

And they do not snooze in my hand; they climb rapidly all over it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Memory of Hope

For no reason of which I am consciously aware, this evening an old memory came back to me, a snatch of melody I couldn't identify for a while, and then suddenly, there it was: "Whispering Hope."

Soft as the voice of an angel
Breathing a lesson unheard,
Hope with a gentle persuasion
Whispers her comforting word:

Wait till the darkness is over,
Wait till the tempest is done,
Hope for the sunshine tomorrow,
After the showers are gone.


Whispering hope, O how welcome thy voice,
Making my heart in its sorrow rejoice.

My dad used to play it on the piano; so did I, although not nearly as well. Here is someone playing in on the organ, perhaps a bit fast (or perhaps not), but at least it's not the hokey rendition you usually find. I hope you will enjoy it.

How Not to Conduct Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue

Dear Catholics,

The very first pre-requisite for dialogue with Orthodox Christians is to accept that the differences between us are at root theological. Yes, theological. And they are genuine, authentic, theological differences, and they are grave. You need to take that seriously if we are to get anywhere in dialogue.

It is neither accurate nor charitable to tell us the separation between us is because we Orthodox Christians are simply unforgiving, as in this remark:

I will never quite grasp the animus of the Orthodox attitude towards the Catholic Church. I know that many (and in fact most) regard Western Christianity as unorthodox, but I rather suspect that this is an historical grievance looking for a doctrinal excuse.
At least such a dismissive remark does acknowledge that there are grievances -- conveniently relegating them to history, however, and ignoring the current and continuing grievances.

But historically, we made the doctrinal issues clear three hundred years before the first significant grievance, the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 by Catholic Crusaders.

Nor does it further the cause of Christian unity to tell us our differences are merely products of our proud imagination. Do not, for example, say this:

My contention would be that the Orthodox are simply creating doctrinal errors that don’t exist. On any of the issues you cite … the “difference” comes about because of exaggerated Orthodox insistence that there must be a fundamental difference. We, on the other hand, see that the Eastern and Western theologies are compatible rather than contradictory. Because the doctrines that the East denies are not those which the West teaches, but those which they imagine we teach.
Who has created anything?  Our doctrine is the same as it has ever been, from centuries before the split.  You are the ones who believe in "doctrinal development".

But if you think Catholic and Orthodox teachings all mean the same thing, then say it the Orthodox way and put an end to the controversy.  If you mean the same thing by the filioque as we mean without it, then say the Creed without it; as it's all the same, you've nothing to lose and much to gain.  You could have done this a thousand years ago and ended or prevented all these centuries of bitter controversy, but you haven't and that tells us there is some meaning in the filioque more important to Catholics than union with the Orthodox.  In other words, there's a real difference, a substantial one.

It would also be prudent, as well as more charitable, not to tell us the corollary to this insult, which is that we are ignorant:

the disagreements have arisen as a result of linguistic and cultural isolation rather than authentic disagreement on the heart of the faith.
Upon what basis does this opinion rest? 

And please, do not tell us you know and understand the Orthodox Christian faith better than the Orthodox do:

...the Protestant rejections really do amount to a disagreement, because they reject them in the context of a shared Western Church view ... Thus the Protestants really DO reject these doctrines, but we Catholics see these very doctrines as implicit within the Orthodox Faith as well as our own.
Take the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, for example.  It is not implicit in the Orthodox Faith; instead, it is predicated upon the Catholic doctrine of Original Sin, which is not the same as the Orthodox doctrine of the Ancestral Sin.  (The former has guilt and accountability for it being inherited by all of Adam's descendants.)  In fact, the Immaculate Conception, far from being implicit in our Faith, actually undermines it, for Orthodox Christianity teaches that Christ healed fallen human nature by assuming it.  By assuming fallen human nature - inherited from whom?  from His mother - and uniting it to the Divine Nature, thereby purifying, sanctifying , re-creating that fallen human nature, without any compromise to the Divine.

I found all four of these dismissive insults on one blog, by one author, in regard to one post.  But I have also found them in virtually every discussion with Catholics. 

Unfortunately, the reality is that the gap between us is theological.  It is not the result of animus or imagination or ignorance or misunderstanding.  It is theological and very real.  And it is both deep and wide. Facing this gap, acknowledging it for what it is, will be the first step toward bridging it.

But if all you are going to do is cast aspersions, well, don't expect not to create "animus"..

Sunday, November 28, 2010

They're Deer Mice

...and they're adorable. They're charcoal gray (not brown) on top, with white bellies and feet. Well, okay, the bellies and feet are pink right now because there's no fur there, but there soon will be. Thee mousies are about the size of the top joint of my index finger, tiny, warm, fuzzy things.

They've had 8 feedings so far; they seem to get hungry about every 3 hours. How can I tell? They aren't interested in feeding much before then.

They have learned to associate my warm hand with their meals, and now instead of scrambling to get away fom my hand, they scamper right into it.

They also no longer need force-feeding, which is a relief, because you have to judge how much to give them. But now they lap up tiny droplets from the end of the syringe, all by themselves, and quit when they're full, which is after only a few drops, less than .1 cc.

You can see the milk in their tummies as a slightly bulging white area.

Their other ends are all functioning well, too. Meaning the formula is agreeing with them. All is normal.

And I'm thrilled. I've missed having animals. I've especially missed having hand-fed animals around.

And it gives me something special to do while I recover from this very miserable cold. (I went to church this morning, but was extremely glad to arrive back home and go to bed.) I've set up a tray table beside the bed, covered with a couple of baby blankets and the heating pad, set on "Low". On top of the heating pad sit two tiny "cages", really just those little boxes sold for children to collect insects in. They are good because they're small enough the mice don't get lost and they are fully enclosed so they don't escape.

The mice are transferred, one at a time as each one is fed, from one box to the other, so I can keep track. These "cages" are coverd with another baby blanket to keep out drafts and keep in the warmth from the heating pad.

Also on the table: a syringe full of formula tipped with the smallest nipple you ever saw, rubber-banded to an ice pack; a small thermos of very hot water in which to warm the syringe at feeding time; a bottle of hand sanitizer. The Kleenex box doesn't fit on the table and is right beside my pillow. The waste basket is right under the tray table.

So it's a nice set-up. I only have to get up every 3rd feeding, for clean syringes and fresh formula. I sleep (if I can) when the babies do.

The Reading Appointed for the Day

Any priest or minister who wonders how to make it relevant to the lives of his flock is assuming it isn't already. Come on! This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the glad tidings of great joy!

If it isn't already inherently relevant, nothing you can do can make it so. If it is, you don't need to do anything except preach it correctly.

And if it isn't already relevant, you'll be preaching it for the wrong reason; viz., to attract followers for God. He, however, isn't interested in just attracting followers as a good in itself. He wants to transfigure people, heal and save them, make them joyful and peaceful, and holy and glorious.

If that isn't relevant to everybody, what is?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Three Blind Mice

That is what has been brought to me tonight, the first residents of my wild baby nursery since our return from Greece. They came all the way from the little town of Disputanta (pronounced, I learned, "Dis-pyu-TAN-na") where a man and his wife were hauling out Christmas decorations from an outdoor storage shed and found these babies nesting amid the garlands. They are so tiny I can't yet tell their sexes for sure, although I think we have two boys and a girl. They do have a little fur, but their eyes are still sealed shut.

They've had two feedings so far, the first on half-strength formula, the second on three-quarters strength. Next feeding will be full-strength; I hope their digestive systems can handle it. They only drink a few drops at a time and that fills them up.

So far, so good. As they were brought to me within three hours of their being found, they are in good shape, not at all dehydrated. They're strong, wiggly, and already afraid of being held.

Mice are among Demetrios' favorite animals, and I like rehabbing them because they're all grown up in four weeks or so.

But if they live, I suppose I may overwinter these. Let's hope.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Memory of Long Ago and a Hope for Now

(All names changed)

“You’ve adopted a baby!” I exclaimed joyfully when Felicity and Sam showed up in church with a boy in arms, about a year old.

“No,” said Felicity. “This is an abandoned baby.”

“What on earth…?

Sam, a Catholic ex-priest who was now the administrator of a teen center, said one of the teenagers who frequented the center had brought him this baby last night. She had been babysitting him, she said, and his mother never came back, and the girl didn’t know what to do. So Sam had taken the baby from her.

“Well, what are YOU going to do?” I asked Sam and Felicity.

They didn’t know.

“Do you have the stuff you’ll need, like bottles and diapers?”

They didn’t; they only had one bottle and a bit of formula and one pack of diapers.

I said, “We have everything for a child that age. He looks the same age as our Mark. Why don’t we take him home while you figure out what to do next?”

So we did.

The baby was half white and half Indian, as the Native Americans called themselves back then. He had green eyes.

The poor child also had long, ragged fingernails and toenails and was dirty all over. I gave him a warm bath, clipped his nails, put ointment on his severe diaper rash, put him in clean clothes, fed him a nice supper, and rocked him to sleep. He woke several times during the night, crying. I rocked him and sang to him for an hour or so at a time, wondering how he must feel without his mom. Lonely? Terrified? Heartbroken?

During playtime, I would sit him on a big rug, next to Mark, in the nursery, and the boy hadn’t a clue what to do. He didn’t know how to play, didn’t know what to do with any of the baby toys. He just sat there and looked around.

He was a good boy, very compliant, in fact rather passive, a bit clingy, as was only to be expected. But he was clearly suffering from neglect. Severe neglect. He also had a runny nose and runny eyes.

I called my son’s pediatrician and made an appointment for the child.

Three days went by and I hadn’t heard from Felicity and Sam, so that evening I decided I’d better call them. What progress had been made toward locating the mother? Well, none. They hadn’t really had time to think about it much. All they knew was, his mother’s first name was Alma and she worked at the Franklin Bar.

I called the Franklin Bar and asked to speak with Alma. She was off tonight, they told me. I explained that this was an emergency, and could I please have her home number? They gave it to me; I called it and reached Alma’s mother. “She’s spending the night with a girlfriend,” the mother told me.

“Well, I’m someone who has her baby, and I want to speak to her about him,” I said. “Could you give me the number where she is?”

She did and I called and finally found myself talking to the mother of the baby. I wasn’t particularly eager to return the boy to a mother who had abandoned him and had been neglecting him before that. It wasn't even clear whether she wanted him. I said, “Alma, I have your baby." (I didn't want to tell her my name.) "Do you want him back?”

“Yes,” she said, simply.

“Well, then, meet me tomorrow morning at ten o’clock in the lobby of General Hospital” (where the pediatrician’s office was) “and we’ll work it out.”

She agreed.

Somewhbere in all this, I also called Social Services and said I had an abandoned baby and I didn’t know what to do.

“You mean left in a basket on your doorstep?” the startled receptionist asked.

“No, not like that.” And I explained.

Turns out Alma had a social worker already; I’ve forgotten how I found that out. However, she was away on her honeymoon. But another social worker got on the phone with me. I told her the situation, including my reluctance to give the baby back, and she said she’d meet us in the doctor’s office and see what should be done.

Ten o’clock the next morning, I stood in the hospital’s main lobby, baby in arms, and a stocky young Native American woman came up to me and stuffed a few hundred dollars into my hand.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“The payment,” she whispered.


After everything had been sorted out, it turned out the mother had not abandoned her baby. She had come back home to find baby and sitter gone. The teenager had come to the same conclusion as I, that this child did not belong with this mother, and had taken the situation into her own hands. She confessed to having abducted the baby.

Alma had not gone to the police, because she was afraid to, with her police record. But she had mistaken my telephone call for a ransom demand. After we had hung up, she had scraped together the several hundred dollars.

The baby had been kidnapped and technically, I was an accessory to the crime!

The pediatrician and the social worker both agreed with my assessment (and the babysitter’s) that this child was being severely neglected. The only way to get him away from the mother, they said, was to hospitalize him for a while. So they did, and during that time, the mother was required to attend a couple of weeks of parenting classes.

I assume they gave her back the baby after that, but I don’t know because the doctor visit ended my involvement.

No, I didn’t get into any legal trouble.

Oh, and the baby turned out to be exactly the same age as Mark, with only a 12-hour difference. Mark is 42 now, which means that child is also 42, probably a father himself. I hope things worked out well for him. And his mother. I hope they are both happy. I pray for them now and then, when I think of it, especially every year on Mark's birthday.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In Every Thing, Give Thanks

Please, please read this, from Fr. Stephen.  It will MAKE your Thanksgiving.  It also hits the nail on the head about how hard it is for us Westerners really to believe, deep down, in every circumstance, that GOD IS GOOD.  Utterly, perfectly, absolutely, infinitely good.

h/t:  Chocolatesa at Kyrie Eleison (See my sidebar)

Pure Gift

Non-Orthodox people who theologize usually only have two ideas in mind of how good works could relate to salvation. One is what they were taught by Roman Catholicism: that good works cause or result in salvation. Knowing this to be wrong, Protestants turn this teaching on its head and say no, it’s salvation that causes good works and good works are the manifestation of it.

(Herein is a common Protestant error, assuming that Catholic teaching can be corrected by inverting or reversing it, not realizing that alough the conclusions are opposites, there is a faulty premise common to both.  If the pope says, "Go this way along the road," you can't correct him by saying, "No, go the other way along the road" if what's really needed is to be on a different road.)

So along come the Orthodox and they don't follow that road in either direction.  They say good works are indeed necessary for salvation and are not a mere demonstration of it; but on the other hand, good works do not earn or merit salvation, either – and the heterodox are left scratching their heads. What on earth could that mean?

It means salvation does not work as a merit system.  We don't go down that road, or up it, either.  Salvation is the absolutely free gift of God, which neither can nor needs to be merited, period. Salvation does not have to be merited by anyone whomsoever because God is already willing, able, and prepared to give it to anybody. It cannot be earned, by anyone who ever lived, because Love is not extorted or cajoled or evoked from God, or it isn't true love. Salvation cannot literally be purchased, as by suffering or dying, even if the One who suffers and dies is Jesus Christ, because salvation was never for sale.  It is pure gift from the magnanimous heart of God. To suppose somebody Somebody must do something to get God to save us is to insult His tender kindness and limitless generosity.

I’m reminded of once when my daughter was very young and we were making Valentines for her to give to each child in her class.

“But I don’t want to give one to so-and-so!” she protested. “It will mean I think he’s a nice boy and he isn’t!”

So I explained that what the Valentine would really show was not that he was a nice boy, but that she was a nice girl, giving a card to everyone, so nobody’s feelings would be hurt, no matter whether they were nice children or not. She was a nice girl; that was the point.

When people say salvation must be merited, it becomes imperative immediately to add: “but not by you!” Only by Jesus Christ.  Lest any man should boast, you know.

To explain why only Jesus Christ merits your salvation, you have to mess up the authentic doctrine of the Atonement, painting God as Not At All Nice, Someone who must be repaid or persuaded or dealt with, so He will grant us salvation, because otherwise He either can't or won't. You in effect portray Him as Someone Who is looking out for His own interests at the expense of ours, as Someone Whose justice consists of punishing sin when the truth is, His justice means healing it.  God's Justice does not require simply to be “paid” for sin, as if that were possible, but to be RID of it.  Divine Justice is not to balance some mythological ledger, but to set things right.

To explain why salvation, though it indeed must be merited, cannot be merited by you, you have to mess up both your Christian anthropology and your whole theology of good works. You cannot allow that mankind can really do good (because good would be meritorious, obliging God to save); and that skews Christian anthropology. You cannot allow that mankind needs to do good to be saved (because that again would mean we could merit our own salvation); and this distorts the theology of good works. You get told such things as that good works flow easily and naturally from the regenerate person, perhaps without his even being aware of it, when everyone, every single one, who has ever tried to follow Christ all the way, every moment of every day, knows that is very far from the truth.

But if salvation is not a merit system period, if God just gives it outright and not as part of any deal, then the Atonement has another meaning in which God really is Very Nice Indeed, to put it far too mildly. He's too nice by far, for people who would rather see their fellow man fry in hell.  (Here is an interesting post on that subject by Anthony Iovine, a Lutheran minister, who observes that this is the wrong attitude for a Christian.)  If salvation is not a merit system period, then Christian anthropology will not be afraid to admit mankind has a free will and can indeed do some good things. And when it comes to good works, we need not worry whether they are meritorious or not, as that is irrelevant; salvation doesn't work that way. We need not deny the need for good works, as that need does not imply earning our salvation.

Good works have a different role to play.  Good works, meaning works of faith, neither cause nor only demonstrate our salvation; they ARE it.  For salvation is not merely a ticket into heaven in the hereafter; salvation is being made holy, as God is holy, so as to be united in bliss with Him, both now and forever.  

The works of faith are our salvation.  They do not earn or cause it.  That, to us, ould be a bit like saying, “My headache causes pain.” Nor do they simply manifest our salvation. That would be like saying, “My headache shows that I have pain.” No, good works, works of faith ARE your salvation, as your headache IS pain.  That is, good works are the shape and form our faith takes, and our salvation. We are saved from being sinners to being set on the right path, and being able (even though in infantile ways, at first) to do works pleasing to God. We are saved from being  faithless, mean, nasty, selfish slaves of passions to being trusting, kind, pure, self-sacrificing, free servants of our Lord. We are being saved from our wretchedness to His blessedness. We are being transfigured into His image. (No, not all in a moment.)  Good works are not all salvation is, but they are a very large part of what salvation is. And that is one sense in which we mean it when we say good works are “necessary for salvation.” It’s a redundancy.

But if salvation is becoming conformed to the image of the Son, then the necessity of good works takes on another sense, as well.  Good works reinforce that transformation.  Good works exercise our spirit and strengthen our faith to do more.  The more good we do, the more like the Son we are.  The more like the Son we are, the more glorious our salvation, not waiting until the hereafter, but beginning here and now. 

Good works merit nothing.  And good works are absolutely necessary.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I'm Fine, But This Was Scary Stuff

It's something every woman dreads: the notification that the mammogram was not entirely satisfactory and please come back for further investigation. You call up, you make your appointment for the earliest possible time, you wait it out, you pray a lot, you prepare for the worst. You remind yourself that this has happened before, to you, to your sister, to others you know, and it's almost always nothing.  On the other hand, the family history is there...  You remind yourself that if Barbara could do it, so can you, if need be.

The hardest part of the waiting, for me, was all the extra attentiveness from Demetrios. The long, loving looks, the "Let me do that," the wanting to be constantly near. Oh, yes, of course, it's sweet, it's kind, it's wonderful to have such a lovey-dovey husband -- except when you know there's fear behind it.  He's cheerful, but he's scared and you hate that. And he's a doctor.

So the day of the appointment comes, and you go into the x-ray room, and here comes a second shock: they want to re-check BOTH breasts. OMG, has the thing already metastasized? And the x-ray technician says, "Next time, don't wait and do your mammogram the day before you're going away for six months; it give us heart failure."

She takes the pictures and the pain is so bad it gives you your excuse to cry. She goes back to speak to the radiologist. You wait some more, wiping away your tears because the sight of you crying over this is something you are NOT going to inflict upon your husband.  Not yet, anyway.

She comes back. There's no smile, but her words begin with, "The GRRREAT news is..." You still can't smile. She says, "'s only cysts and we want to see you back here in six months."

Thank You, thank You, thank You!

Kyrie, eleison!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

What is the Church?

The Church, in a word, is Christ. She is His Body; she is Christ in all His fullness (Ephesians 1:23); that is, Christ filled up with all His members. Christians are members of Christ. Only in that secondary and derivative sense can it be said that we are the Church; but to put it that way is still misleading. The Church is not us, but Christ-containing-us, as it were.

Note that the inverse is not true. It doesn’t work to say Christ is the Church, for He is far more than the Church. But the Church is no more – and no less – than the body of Christ, sharing His flesh and His blood (Ephesians 5:30), animated by His Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16).

The whole Church is the Body of Christ. That is, the Church is not some other body from the neck down, while the Head alone is Christ.  No, not merely her Head, but the whole Church is Christ.

Because the whole Church is Christ, and not only part of it is, the clergy are not a separate, privileged class within the Holy Orthodox Church. They do not stand in the place of the invisible Head; He Himself stands in that place.  They do not act in His Person; He acts in His own Person.  Rather, the clergy act jointly with Him, performing the visible counterpart of His invisible ministry.  When we say, "the Church" we are not using the word as a synonym for "the clergy" but we mean the entire Church. No bishop is the "head" of any Orthodox Church but her shepherd and minister. The Head, like the Whole, is Christ and only Christ. The priests and bishops and patriarchs are not infallible; only the whole Church is, in the consensus built over the span of her whole life and not at any given moment or era in her history. The clergy are not the only ones called to proclaim the Gospel. They are not the only ones to whom the Holy Spirit is given. (1 John 2:27) The clergy are not even necessarily our leaders. That is, we follow whoever manifests the life of Christ in his or her own flesh, whoever speaks in His Voice. We hope our clergy are among those, but it isn’t always so. Ordination is thought of more in functional terms than structural. Priesthood is a particular role, not a special status. If it were a status, it would be wrong to withhold that status from, say, women. But it is not; it is a very particular function, and one that needs a man, and a very particular sort of man. (If you want to acquire status among the Orthodox, humble yourself and strive to become more and more like Christ, allowing Him more and more to live His life in your flesh. Succeed in that and we will revere you and follow you, no matter who you are.)

Another biblical metaphor for the Church is the Vine and the branches. (John 15:5) You cannot separate or even rightly distinguish the two. And the destiny of Christians is to be so transfigured into the image of the Son (Romans 8:29-30) that it will be just as problematic to tell where Christ leaves off and we begin, or where we leave off and He begins.

A third biblical metaphor for the Church is marriage, the union between a husband and a wife. The Church, here, is called the Bride of Christ. Many non-Orthodox people misuse this metaphor to make a distinction between Christ and His Church, but the purpose of the metaphor is the opposite: to speak of the union, of becoming one flesh in the sweet bonds of love.

The Church is not, properly speaking, an institution. The Church has her institutions, and they are all human and suffer from the frailties attendant thereupon. Those institutions may even from time to time be found to be corrupt. But they are not the Church. The Church is the body of Christ and as such, is holy and pure. Even when her members sin, she is always the sinned-against, and not the sinner. The Church is Christ.

Because the Church is Christ, we Orthodox do not speak of Christ “gathering” His Church. Christ is not “gathered”. Rather, He gathers us into His Church; that is, into Himself. Christ, in baptism and chrismation (confirmation) simultaneously incorporates us into Himself and seals our own individuality.

Because the Church is Christ, we do not suppose her subservient to the Holy Scriptures. Christ is not subservient to them. Rather, from within her life in, with, and as Christ, the Church produces the writings; by comparing them with her life in, with, and as Christ, she discerns and proclaims which of the writings to regard as canonical and how to interpret them. The Holy Scriptures are more like an instrument in the hands of the Church than a weapon held over her. It is because of her life in, with, and as Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, that the Church, according to Scripture is “the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15) The Church, having been given the mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16), is the guarantor of Truth. The Scriptures bear witness to this Truth. By divine intent, even the angels in heaven learn the Truth “by the Church”. (Ephesians 3:10)

If your denomination doesn't experience itself in this way, it may not really be the true Church after all. 

I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.