Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Just Call Me Snow White," She Said

Many thanks to Anam Cara and Elizabeth, both of whom sent me back these photos in a form my computer could use.

These show how various birds ate right out of the hand of a Richmond woman on Saturday, during our big snowfall. (We ended up, at our house, getting 13 inches.) The birds must have been very hungry!

Don't forget to feed your birds if you have any birdseed. Or bread, soaked in water first. Dry bread expands when wet. You wouldn't want that to happen inside some poor bird's stomach when it is already stuffed.  Or you can use dried cat or dog food, also soaked first until soft. Or you can use meal worms, as the woman in these pictures is doing.


Tufted Titmouse



More Goldfinches  (Not Yet in Breeding Colors!)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

God Rest Her Soul

Pantalakis, a grade school friend of Demetrios', called us today to tell us his mother reposed last Saturday. She was a very dear woman, who a couple of years ago told Demetrios, "I have always been your second mother, and I still am!"

Her name was Aspasia (Ah-spa-SEE-ah). She was feeling very good. She was sitting in her daughter's living room, where the family had assembled, and they were having a lively conversation and when they turned to her for her opinion, she had slipped away.

She was 95 years young.

Memory eternal, Kyria Aspasia!

Snow! Etc.

So how many inches have you gotten? We have an average of 11 in our font yard; I know because I literally poked a yardstick into it to measure.

It's still coming down a little.

We've been good little children and have already shovelled paths from our front door to the driveway and from our back door to the (now outside) squirrel cage.

Squirrel cage is double-decker now. Very warm, quilted, multi-layered nest bag in the top half with a baby blanket in it to snuggle under. The top half of the cage has two coverings: an old sheet, to keep squirrels out of sight of overhead predators (hawks), and a clear plastic tarp to keep the rain and snow out. With a metal roof over all.

Last night, I dreamed I went to put new food in the cage and discovered that somehow, there were now SEVEN squirrels in the cage. The extras, seeking shelter, had found a way in. Problem was, there must also be a way out I must discover...but I woke up before I did.

We got our cars about halfway dug out before we had to come in. Demetrios is anemic and I don't like him exposed to cold for very long at all. (Yes, he has plenty of iron. He even has plenty of red blood cells. Problem is, they are very small; nobody knows why or how to cure the condition.)

I'm quite sure there is no way we are even going to try to make it to church in the morning.

People here are just sort of hunkered down and settled in for three or four days of being snowbound. They have brought in extra provisions against such exigencies as power failure. They have pots of chili, spaghetti sauce, stew, and the like simmering on their stoves. I had pot roast already cooked.

We spent the day knitting and reading and watching TV movies and talking and admiring the storm.

Demetrios is reading a book on the prefrontal cortex of the brain, and someday maybe I'll write a post about all the things he has found there that any child could tell you are nonsense. I'll have to wait and hunt up all the examples he read aloud to me.

There's a twofold problem in the biological sciences nowadays. One is that God is ruled out. Human souls (or just call them human PERSONS) are ruled out. Meaning is ruled out. (How can you even have proper science if you don't take the meanings of things into account?) Love is ruled out. None of these is scientific. Fine; they aren't. But the problem is, that doesn't mean they aren't real! It doesn't mean they don't exist. They still need to be taken into account somehow. But because they are ruled out prima facie - well, that's another way of stating prejudice, isn't it? We are not allowed to think in those terms. And what happens then, as evidenced by example after example that Demetrios read to me, is people end up not being able to think at all. Thus, for example, these writers were puzzled that even when a certain part of the prefrontal cortex has nothing wrong with it, the thing still doesn't work unless there is also intention and attention. And there, they run into a brick wall, because what or who provides those? (Persons, as autonomous beings, are ruled out, remember.) The end. No more thinking possible here.

The other problem is that everything HAS to be seen in terms of evolution. Now I have no personal opinion about evolution. Maybe God created things that way or maybe not. It frankly isn't high on the list of things I need to understand any time soon. But the trouble is, when you insist on cramming everything into that mold, again you rule out thinking. You come up with absurdities, such as when one neurologist opined that perhaps our inability to do more than one thing at a time was "adaptive".

What? First of all, we DO more than one thing at a time. Suppose the "one thing" is that some psychologist, testing us, instructs us to press the red button every time we see projected onto the screen an image of a red triangle. Well, that involves several different brain functions, in different areas of the brain. It involves short-term memory (to remember what we are supposed to do) and seeing (two different processes, one of acquiring the visual images and the other of interpreting them as red triangles or something else) and language (what does "red triangle" or "red button" mean?) and motor function to press the button, and so on and so forth. So we routinely DO a lot more than one thing at a time.

But even if it were true that we could only do one thing at a time, how in the world is that supposed to be adaptive? Wouldn't it be a LOT more adaptive if we could be highly successful at multi-tasking? If only I could read a book, figure out my shopping list, make the bed and rock my babies all at the same time!

Well there are tons more examples I'll try to fish out of that book some time. But the upshot of it is to make us marvel at what a serious, serious intellectual defect prejudice is.

Interestingly enough, the purpose of the book was to bring together multiple scientific disciplines to try to form a "coherent evolutionary understanding" of the prefrontal cortex, and the conclusion of the book is that the project so far has failed, but not to worry, we have promising new technologies we will keep pursuing.

P.S.) I can't get the pictures of it to download, woe is me! But a woman here in Richmond decided to use this snowy day to see if she could get the birds to eat out of her hand. She took a handful of mealworms out to the feeder and just stood here, palm outstretched. And she has photos of five different species of birds eating them right out of her hand! If you e-mail me at anastasiatheo001 AT comcast DOT net, I'll forward those photos to you, and maybe YOU can download them for all of us to see. (It turns out, upon closer inspection, to be 5 photos, but only 3 different species: Bluebirds, Goldfinches, and a Tufted Titmouse.)

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Cat-nappers

This is actually the title of one of my favorite novels by P.G. Wodehouse, featuring Bertie Wooster and his valet, Jeeves. Bertie’s favorite Aunt has wagered a huge sum on a certain racehorse. This horse has stiff competition from a neighboring horse. The neighboring horse has formed a close bond with a certain barn cat, and has been known to go off its feed and mope and become frantic when the cat is missing. Hence, Bertie is assigned the task of kidnapping the cat, to disable the horse, to ensure Aunt Dahlia of winning her bet. Of course, this hare-brained scheme leads from one disaster to another, until only Jeeves can sort out the mess.

Below, however, is a different cat-napping story and it’s a true one. Happened some 12 years ago, by my best estimate.

Mom and Dad, Barbara and I were all sitting around the breakfast table at our parents’ house when Barbara, looking out the large front window, exclaimed, “Look at that! Now that’s an expensive cat to let wander loose. That’s about a four hundred dollar cat. Abyssinian. They’re great cats, because they act more like dogs.”

“Looks exactly like a mountain lion in miniature,” said Mom.

“Isn’t wearing a collar, even,” I said.

“And he isn’t neutered, either,” Barbara sighed. “Looks like we’d better rescue him.”

So, grabbing some of dry cat food, we went outdoors and began calling. “He-e-e-e-re, kitty-kitty-kitty!” But the cat just looked at us from under a flowering shrub. When we approached, he ran twenty yards away.

We spent the whole morning trying to lure or grab that cat, but he was too quick for us, and too frightened. We ended up leaving a big bowl of cat chow in the glassed-in little room we rather pretentiously called the solarium, and leaving the sliding door to the outside open. The plan was, when the cat became hungry enough, he’d come into the solarium, and one of us would sneak around to the outside and slide the door shut behind him.

“He must not even have an owner,” said Barbara. “Because if he did, you’d think he’d be used to people and not act so wild.”

“From now on, that’s my cat,” I said. “Mine. I’m going to take him home and name him Absalom and tame him.”

“You can’t just steal somebody’s purebred cat!” Dad grumbled, over his newspaper.

“Sure you can,” said Barbara. “He’s homeless.”

“You don’t know that!”

“Well, if he isn’t homeless he may as well be.”

“You at least gonna run an ad in the newspaper?”

“No way. The whole idea is, if this kitty even has an owner, to get it away from him! What kind of person lets a valuable cat run loose, without a collar and without being fixed? That's totally irresponsible!”

Dad just sighed and returned to his reading.

Barbara and I had turned our attention to our knitting projects when Mom came into the family room with a big smirk on her face and said, “Go look in the solarium.”

So we tiptoed up to the glass door to have a peek. It was a cat, alright, a big, long-haired, gray cat, feasting on the food in the bowl. I groaned. We chased him out of there. And closed the outside door.

After lunch, we all decided to take naps. It was mid-afternoon when I awoke, the last one to reassemble in the kitchen.

“Why don’t you check the solarium one more time?” Barbara suggested, after I had finished my milk and cookies.

“Naw, it’s been all day. I’m ready to give up.”

“Well, just go check! Go on!” And a certain something in her eyes told me I'd better do it.

And there he was, Absalom, in the solarium with all the doors shut, hiding under a bench that held potted plants.

“You caught him, you caught my cat!” I squealed. “Oh, thank you!”

“You can’t just take that cat,” said Dad. “That’s stealing.”

I didn’t care. It seemed perfectly justifiable to me, and more importantly, to Barbara, who after all, was a veterinarian. If she thought Absalom needed a home, then he did.

I squeezed into the solarium, opening the sliding door as little as possible and closing it quickly after me. I cornered the cat, picked him up, sat him in my lap, and began talking to him, softly. “Your name is going to be Absalom, and you and I are going to get along fine.” But not quite yet, we weren’t. He was crying and growling the whole time.

I can’t remember what it was I decided I needed to get from outside, but I do remember saying to Barbara, “Do NOT let that cat out of the solarium under any circumstances! I’ll be right back.”

I was behind the house, returning to it with whatever it was I needed, when I spotted the Abyssinian coming toward me along the brick walk. It had taken all day to catch him, and now here he was, loose again. I was so mad I lunged at the cat, snatching him off the ground before he even had time to realize I was after him. “That darned Barbara!” I said to myself, and I marched back into the house, the cat in my arms.

“I told you not to let him out!” I said angrily.

“I didn’t,” said Barbara.

“Well then how did he get out?”

“He didn’t. Look!” So I looked into the solarium, to find Absalom still there, where I had left him. The cat in my arms was a duplicate!

“Oh, no! Now what? I don’t think I can spring TWO cats on poor Demetrios. One’ll be hard enough for him to accept.”

“But they’re obviously a pair. You’ll just have to try to get Demetrios to see the light.”

“So now my daughters are going to steal TWO cats?" asked Dad.

That decided me. “Absolutely!” I said. “And this one is going to Abelard. Absalom and Abelard, the Abyssinians. I can’t believe my good fortune!”

“You can’t do that!” Dad growled.

The cats growled, too, as I sat with them in the solarium, crooning softly to them, petting them even more softly. They were doing their best to ignore me and comfort each other.

Then came the whistle. It was a long, loud, sharp whistle, as of someone calling a dog. Both cats stiffened. Two pairs of ears, which had been flattened, suddenly stood up straight. The whistle was repeated. The cats meowed loudly. There was no mistaking it; that whistle was for them.

Well, maybe not. Maybe they were just curious about the sound. I didn’t really believe that, though, so, leaving them in the solarium, I walked in the direction from which the whistle had come. In a minute, I was facing a man who looked as if he might have come from Abyssinia. Well, someplace near there, not the actual place. From Egypt, maybe, he was.

“You looking for a dog?” I asked.

“No. Two cats. Abyssinians.”

“Come look at the two I rescued today, who were wandering around loose, with no collars, and see if they’re yours.”

So he did and they were, and that was the end of our cat-napping plans.

At least he didn’t get away without a lecture from Barbara about keeping valuable cats indoors and having them neutered.

The man only partially heeded the words of the indignant veterinarian; he had the cats neutered. But for the next ten years or so, until our parents moved out of that house, the two Abyssinian cats were to be seen daily, exploring their yard and garden.

They were the first breed of cat little Madison, Barbara’s daughter, ever learned to recognize.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

More Frequently Confused Words

Spaded and Spayed

The garden that has been worked over with a pointy-tipped shovel has been spaded.

The cat or dog that can no longer reproduce has been spayed (if female, or neutered if male).

Yay, Yea, and Yeah

Yay! is an sort of cheer, used to mean hooray! or bravo!

Yea, pronounced the same way, is an affirmative vote, as in Congress or Parliament. It is the King James way of saying "yes" or "yes, even" and is the opposite of "nay". Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death means, "Yes, even though I walk..." etc.

Yeah is a modern slangy way of saying "yes". In England, its pronunciation ranges from "yay" to "yeh", while in America, more regional variations are added. It sometimes rhymes with "ha" but frequently is given a short a.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Know Thyself

David Dickens reminds us that humility is not grovelling.

Humility is also not pretending (even to ourselves) that we are worse than we are.

Humility is just seeing, really seeing, the truth about ourselves. Humility is facing up to the horrifying insight when it gobsmacks us right between the eyes. Humility is remembering what we saw, after we've lost sight of it again.

True self-understanding means we don't have to pretend anything. We discover we are already much sicker, more deformed and disfigured, uglier, than we had ever supposed.

Humility is being willing to see ourselves as we really are, even though the sight is hideous. Greater humility is even longing to see our sickness, that we may repent of it and be made well. But if we really want to root it out, we'll have to become stronger within, to be able to bear seeing beyond the tip of the iceberg. This means we must fast and pray and go to church and pray and help the poor and pray and go to confession and pray and study and pray. Because God, in His love, only lets us see as much of that reality as we are able to bear - and with it, to a more than commensurate degree, discloses His fathomless Love to enable us to take courage, to repent, to wage war upon the grotesqueness within, not to despair but to rejoice and give thanks with tears.

Unwillingness to "know thyself" is probably that darkness of which Christ spoke when He said "Men preferred the darkness to the Light, because their deeds were evil." That's the terminal illness that dooms a person to die even sicker (far sicker) than when he was born.

Create in me a clean heart, O God.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Which Character Are You?

The replies to my previous post by s-p and David have inspired me to write more on the subject of parables and the difficulties one has in applying them.

Take the Parable of the Prodigal Son, for example. I always used to identify with the Elder Brother, until some Orthodox person told me he represents the devil, created before Adam was, who is jealous of humankind, his younger "siblings". Well, I still do tend to identify with him. I mean, I think he has a point. Why is the only party his father ever gives in honor of the wicked son? What about the good one? Is this fair?

Or take the Good Samaritan. I always thought the point was, don't be like those uncaring people who passed by the beat-up man and didn't even stop to help him. Be kind and charitable instead, like the Good Samaritan. That was before another Orthodox person explained to me that I'm the one in need of the charity. I'm not a passerby; I'm the beat-up guy lying in the gutter! And the Good Samaritan is none other than Christ, who comes to my rescue.

It's hopeless, you see. You can never figure these things out. Well, you can, but to do it, you have to stop trying. Chuck all the rest, forget it,

Repent! Repent? But, but, but- okay.

Paradoxical Parable

It's the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican I'm talking about, and I'll tell you my problem with it.

You know the story. Here's a Publican and he's a traitor and an extortioner. He collects taxes for the Roman occupier and he gets rich by extorting from the populace a lot more money than they actually owe for taxes. He's a pariah. So when he comes into God's Temple, he barely dares lift his eyes to heaven to say, "Lord, be merciful me a sinner."

And here's the Pharisee, an upright and very religious guy, who "prayed with himself", saying, "I thank you, God, that I am not like that publican."

The Parable is obviously aimed at you and me, right? Which means we are supposed to view ourselves as the Pharisee. Otherwise it isn't aimed at us, after all.

But the thing is, the more you identify as the self-righteous Pharisee, the more you repent and become like the Publican.

Of course, you are meant to become like the Publican, right? I mean, "Be like this Publican" is the whole point of the story. But if you do say, "Yes, I'll be like the Publican," why, it isn't long before you begin thinking, "...And it's a very good thing, too. Thank God I am not like that Pharisee..." at which point you are!

It reminds me of a standing joke between my friend Kathleen and me. I used to introduce her to others as, "My spiritual guide. She's teaching me humility." Someone would invariably ask, "And how is that project coming?" and I'd say, "Very well, thank you. I'm making wonderful progress!"

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Ape and the Hound Dog

Do treat yourself to this wonderful video. With your speakers on.

Now that's love!

How Bad is the Economy?

The economy is so bad that border guards recently caught a truckload of Americans trying to sneak into Mexico.

The economy is so bad that Exxon Mobile has had to lay off 25 congressmen.

HT: Maxine

Friday, January 22, 2010

That Supreme Court Decision

No, not Roe v. Wade, although this is the anniversary of it, God help us. But I mean the one yesterday. The Supreme Court ruled that corporations can give unlimited amounts of money and aid to political campaigns.

You have to stop and ponder that a while before all the implications hit you.

Why would you and I ever contribute to a political campaign again? A big corporation can donate more than all of the individual American people combined - in a single check. And the corporation perhaps will not even be American-owned.

Why would you or I ever bother to volunteer for a candidate again? Nothing we can contribute can outweigh or even compare with what a large corporation (or group of corporations) can do.

Churches, too, if they are incorporated, can donate as much as they like and can raise. And mosques, receiving limitless money for this purpose from, say, Saudi Arabia.

Why would a candidate ever refuse corporate money, when it's perfectly legal and without it he is dead in the water? Worse, if big corporations are against a candidate, they have the wherewithal to destroy him via massive negative propaganda.

How long will it take before every politician from mayor to governer, senator and president, will be owned lock, stock, and barrel by some large corporation(s)?

And then what? Which congressman or senator will vote to overthrow the corporatocracy established yesterday? That would be instant political suicide.

Perhaps another Supreme Court will eventually overthrow this terrible decision? No way. Future justices are going to be appointed by presidents who are corporate agents.

It's not as though this hadn't been going on for a long time already. But now it's legal and now it will be happening on a virtually unlimited scale. I suppose there's a certain poetic justice to it all, seeing as we've tolerated it all these years. Seeing as we've almost all just taken it for granted and for normal that "money speaks". Seeing as we've seen how candidates lie and lie and lie, and we still vote for them. (I was brought up to believe voting was my civic, almost sacred, DUTY as an American. But there is no duty, much less any sacred one, to vote for a crook. So when they're all crooks, we ought not vote for the one we perceive as the lesser crook. We ought to withhold our mandate from any of them.) "Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men, in whom there is no salvation."

I've been waiting to see when the democracy we've known in this Republic would be formally ended (it having unofficially ended years ago). And I believe yesterday was the day.

The optimistic note, if you can call this optimism, is that this sort of corruption can never stand for long. The rot eventually causes the whole edifice to collapse.

Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.

Postscript on Cracking the Code

The knitting pattern I posted immediately below this post turns out to be a very old, traditional Shetland pattern, called "Shetland Bead and Madeira." Now that I've painstakingly analyzed the pattern all by myself, I find it all over the Internet. Not the pattern per se, but things knitted with it. Here are a few.

This one looks very different, but only because it's knitted on much larger needles.

Ditto this one, which I posted last week, but didn't realize it was the same pattern, because it was upside down. (I've since rotated it.)

And here, knitted on small needles, it makes a baby blanket.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cracking the Code

After a couple of days of staring at this picture, jotting down notes, and test-knitting swatches, I've figured out the pattern that forms the main body of the work. (I feel sure I know how to do the border decorations, too, but probably shouldn't say that before having tried.)

So, for any knitters out there, here it is, and although the result appears quite complex, the pattern isn't.

Difficulty level: intermediate

The pattern requires multiples of 8 stitches plus one (shaded at left) added for symmetry. Three repeats are shown here. Make that 3 horizontal times 2 vertical, for a total of 6 repeats.

Not noted in the chart is that the right side of the work is all in reverse stocking stitch. (It looks terrible in stocking stitch!) Working reverse stocking stitch means you must adapt your decreases. Thus, for this pattern:

/ is a right-slanting decrease, as viewed from the front. That’s P2Tog on the right side, and SSK2Tog on the wrong side.

\ is a left-slanting decrease, as viewed from the front. SSP2Tog on the right side of the work and K2Tog on the wrong.

O is an increase made by YO.

The up arrow is a straight double-decrease. On the right side, slip 2 individually, knit-wise, return the now reversed stitches to the left needle, and P3Tog. On the wrong side, do the same but K3Tog.

Blank squares are worked plain (P on right side, K on reverse).

The darker grid lines have no meaning other than that computers do strange things. I have no idea why they came out this way!

Note also that the lace effect is worked on both sides, thus requiring a bit more attention than patterns wherein the back side is always purled.

As always, to show its full glory, a lace piece absolutely must be stretched and blocked. As this does not work with manmade fibers such as acrylic, you’ll need wool.

What I’m planning to do instead (because cashmere, merino, and mohair can be very expensive when making a whole blanket) is knit the lace with acrylic, right into a background of contrasting color, worked in a much heavier yarn.

P.S.) The pattern looks pretty good in garter stitch, too, knitting on the front of the work and purling on the back. This makes the fabric reversible and only fractionally less gorgeous.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kill Zeus

Sunday night, we had a priest from a Russian Orthodox parish give us a pre-Lenten talk on living a balanced Orthodox life in an unbalanced world.  He made some very good points.

He reminded us that ascetical practice is not, for the Orthodox, a matter of self-loathing or of punishing ourselves.  It's a matter of becoming spiritually fit, same as we exercise to become physically fit.  We need this discipline because the enemy's team is very strong, very disciplined, and very aggressive.  (He meant, of course, spiritual enemies, not other human beings.)

He reminded us that humility is also not a form of self-loathing; it's having our inflated images of ourselves punctured by a healthy dose of reality.  The main reality is that we are utterly dependent upon God for absolutely everything.  But to see reality is no easy thing, precisely because of our pride and other passions.  It takes effort. 

Are our efforts to try to make God love us?  No way!  He already loves us no matter what we do or do not do.  To try to make Him reward us?  No way!  One is only rewarded for service "above and beyond" duty, but no matter how much we may succeed at being good Christians, it's never more than our duty.   Our efforts are to become strong, healthy Christians.

In talking about the God of love, the priest said that in non-Orthodox ways of thinking -which he knows well, having been a Methodist minsiter for 20 years and having his PhD in theology - God is loving, yes, but He can also be like Don Corleone:  "You've offended me!  Now I'm going to have to kill you.  And your family."  (Okay, this is satire, yes, but unless you can say specifically what is unjust about it and why, I submit that it is right on the mark.)

That deity, he said, is not God, it's Zeus.  "And I know Zeus is a Greek guy, but please, get rid of him.  Banish him from your hearts and minds.  He is not our God.  Kill Zeus."


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

...and One Thing I Do Understand

When some 80-90 percent of Brits are against their country entering into the war in Iraq, but their government takes them in anyway, telling their populace it's in the U.K.'s best interests, but never explaining what interests, and the Blair government ends up not accountable to anybody for it,

When the American government takes this country into war on the basis of lies (and yes, they were lies, not just faulty intelligence!), and has never explained to us what the REAL reason for that war is/was, and the administration remains unaccountable to anybody for it,

That is not democracy.  We do not live in a democracy, and somehow, we need to face up to that.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lee-Jackson-King Day

Yup, that's what today is called here in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Kinda embarrassing.  We had to add in Lee and Jackson, as if to save face, and ended up with egg on our face instead. 

Robert E. Lee and "Stonewall" Jackson both have huge memorial markers along Monument Avenue.  For all I know, perhaps wreaths will be laid there today, or have been already.

Yes, they were both heroic figures.  In a way.  But face it, no matter in what terms you cloak the War Between the States (or "the War of Northern Aggression," as people from here prefer to call it), no matter how much you invoke lofty-sounding principles, the fact is that for the South, it was all about defending slavery.  That was the main "right" implied by "States' Rights". 

To me, it's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

A Couple of Things I Don't Understand

Why is Haiti still the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the poorest in the world?  It's been this way ever since I can remember, and I remember writing a paper on the subject in high school.  Back then we blamed it on the dictator, "Papa Doc" Duvalier.  But he's long gone.  Also, there have been many hundreds of charity organizations at work in Haiti for decades now, and I know they have been working hard.  I remember organizing the youth group at my church to smuggle in packets of much-needed goods for the Haitians.  (I can't remember why smuggling it was necessary, but it was.)  We sent everything from sewing needles and thread and safety pins to toiletries and Bibles and underwear, and members of our (Episcopal) congregation took them in.  That was in the mid-seventies. 

So why hasn't there been any progress to speak of, even before this latest series of disasters?

Another thing I do not understand, and neither do the Haitians:  why has God let this happen?  I don't think anybody knows.  (Pat Robertson for sure doesn't.)  But faith in the Christian God means trusting against appearances that He had some good, kind, and loving reason, even if we cannot fathom what it is.  One day we will, or may, know.  Meanwhile, we know Him, and that is enough to sustain our trust.

The thing to worry about is our own sins. This is from Luke, Chapter 13:

There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answered and said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

(Nearly) No Words Needed

The above video is worth stopping a few times, as some of the pictures go by very quickly. Note Pope at minute 4:17 and nearly nude dancers at 4:37, with a cardinal in the background.

Don't Worry About the World Ending Today

It's already tomorrow in Shanghai!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Partial Outline for My Next Book

Title: Hearts Aflame
Subtitle: My Our Marriage,a Systematic Presentation A Full and Systematic Exposition

I. The Existence of True Love

A. Proofs from Scripture
B. Proofs from Philosophy
1. Movement
2. Time
3. Cause and Effect
4. Lesser Known philosophical proofs
C. Proofs from the Fathers
D. Scientific considerations
E. Papal Pronouncements

II. The Nature of True Love
A. Metaphysical Foundations
B. Emotional/Psychoanalytic Dimensions
C. Behavioral Manifestations
D. Physiological Effects
E. Distinguishing True Love from its Counterfeits

III. How I know Demetrios Loves Me
A. Proofs from his words
1. Spoken words/oral tradition
2. Written words
a. love letters
b. text messages
B. Anaylsis of his actions
1. In public
2. At home
3. In the bedroom
C. Body Language
D. Facial Expressions
E. Analysis of various kinds of smiles
F. Secret Signals

IV How I know I love Demetrios
A. The Pros and Cons
V. The Concept of Marriage

VI. History of Our Romance

VII. How our Love Plays out in Daily Life

VIII. The Role of Children and Pets in our Love

Well, that’s about all I’ve worked out so far. No details yet for anything past Chapter Three and need several more chapters on things like “Jobs, Work and Play in our Romance“ and “Our Marriage and the Potential Threats to It” and something about the role of home, automobile, travel, and yardwork. Oh, and obviously, a section on "Examination of Proposed Improvements." Anyway, whaddaya think so far?

P.S.) According to the counter I set up, as of this date, we've been married 18 years, 8 months, 4 weeks, and 1 day. (Take that, ye who thought it would never work!) Unfortunately, I have not kept a log so as to be able to include in the book a daily synopsis of our marriage.

Monday, January 11, 2010

"Laws of Nature"

More thoughts sparked by this Lutheran quote:

Order is Heaven's first law. As the law of the physical universe is mathematical, the law of the spiritual universe is logical. That which has no place in system, is not of God, is not truth. All his works reflect his unity and self-consistency. -- C. P. Krauth, Conservative Reformation p. 176

Scientists have recently come around to the same view as Orthodox Christians regarding the so-called laws of nature: namely, that this term is misleading.

Of course, many of these scientists, namely the unbelievers among them, embrace this “new” understanding for opposite reasons from ours. They do not want there to be any laws of nature because laws of nature come uncomfortably close to indicating the existence of a Lawgiver.

Nevertheless, among believing and unbelieving scientists alike, there is now general agreement that there are no “laws of nature”. There is order in nature, or at least appears to be, but to call these patterns and symmetries “laws” is overstepping. When Demetrios was a university student, his physics professor gave a very long lecture on how “laws of nature” are simply observations we have made over and over again, countless times, without any variation – so far. The “law of gravity” appears to work every time. Earth keeps rotating on its axis at the rate of once every 24 hours, approximately. And it keeps orbiting the Sun at about once every 365 days. And so forth.

But there is nothing to say these observations, always the same so far, must forevermore and in all circumstances remain the same. There is no basis for thinking these “laws” are inherently immutable or that exceptions can never occur. I think (but am too ignorant to be sure) the first time “laws of nature” appeared to become unstuck (for scientists, anyway) may have been in the realm of quantum mechanics. The phenomenon most people are aware of in that field has to do with light. It behaves as a wave or as a particle – depending upon how you measure it! Anyway, things at the quantum level do not abide by the “laws” of Newtonian physics.

More recently, scientists speak of “broken symmetries”; what they had thought of as immutable laws seem, here and there, not to apply. The “laws of nature” are full of holes!

Of course, the Orthodox have always known this, because the life we live together has always been full of miracles. All sorts of things happen among us, with fair regularity, which would appear to violate the laws of nature, if there were any such things.

But we do not think miracles violate natural laws, because we do not believe God rules His world via any set of laws. Rather, we believe He rules His creation directly, in person, without intermediary laws or intermediary anything, and not sitting back and letting it run itself. If the world is orderly, it's because Gopd is orderly - but he would, could, and apparently does put up with quite a bit of mess should love require it. If the world rotates on its axis, it’s because God is turning it every moment – and in theory, could stop doing that at any moment, too. If the Sun is burning, it’s because God is at every instant causing it to consume its helium. If helium doesn’t suddenly cease to exist and the Sun blink out, it’s because the life-giving, existence-bestowing Power of God is continuing to keep helium in being. We believe God is “everywhere present, filling all things”, directly, personally involved in the hatching of every bird egg and the opening of every blossom.

And this God who paints every sunset, blows along every wave, makes the stars to shine and the ivy twine, this God is Love. It’s Love doing it all, meaning it’s all done because God loves you and me and every rock and every blade of grass.

He doesn’t work with us through laws of nature or any intermediatry or any “means”. “Means” were invented by Platonists like Thomas Aquinas who did not know (or accept) the distinction between God’s Essence and His Uncreated Energies. For them, since there was no distinction, direct involvement by God with His world would mean His unchanging Essence would be involved in all sorts of change. To insulate the Divine Essence from that, they came up with “means”. God cannot be directly involved with us, that is, His very Person must not be. That’s why their relationship with God can never be what we understand as “personal”. It’s always at least one step removed from God's Person. It's logical instead, and perhaps that is why they mistake logic for "the law of the spiritual universe".

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

or, The God of Order, Revisited

Order is Heaven's first law. As the law of the physical universe is mathematical, the law of the spiritual universe is logical. That which has no place in system, is not of God, is not truth. All his works reflect his unity and self-consistency. -- C. P. Krauth, Conservative Reformation p. 176

I found this quote on Pastor Weedon’s blog and I wrote in his comment box that I thought I’d put a brief remark or two about it here. This is going to be brief because I’ve already written three posts about the God of Order, here, here, and here.

What started me writing about it, being blown away by all its implications, was an excellent podcast (I mean an even more superb one than usual!) by Matthew Gallatin, which I hope you will take a few minutes (14) to listen to. Matthew puts deep things into words all of us can easily understand, so do not let the subject matter intimidate you.

This statement by Krauth represents the fundamental difference between Western and Eastern Christianity. It is from here that West diverges from East, and from this all the other differences in theology stem. At least, that's what Matthew Gallatin thinks and I agree, finding he has made an excellent case for his point.

There is no question, of course, that God is a God of order. (That's why true doctrine does not, ever, contradict itself.)  The question is whether “order is Heaven’s first law.” Whether it is THE thing in which God’s perfection is first and foremost manifest, whether it is the primary thing about God.

This idea comes from Plato, ironically enough, through the Platonizing influence of St. Augustine of Hippo. (Ironically in view of how often Western commentators imagine Orthodox Christianity has uncritically gobbled up pagan Greek philosophy.)

God as Eastern Christians know Him, revealed not by Plato but Jesus Christ, is above all else the God of Love, the God of self-emptying, self-forgetting, other-directed, pure and perfect Love, and this Love is Heaven’s first law.   Love, not mathematics, is the first law of the physical universe, and Love, not logic, is the first law of the spiritual universe.  It's in His infinite, unconditional Love that God's perfection is manifested.  (Matthew 5, last several verses).

That’s a profound difference. It has implications for every facet of theology. Take, for example, creation. The God of Love created humankind as an expression of His Love, created us to make us godlike and blessed forevermore. The God of Order created humankind because without us, His perfect Order would be incomplete, imperfect.

Or take the doctrine of sin. For the Eastern Christian, sin is most fundamentally a betrayal of Love. For the Westerner, it is most basically a disruption of God’s Perfect Moral Order.

Or take God’s response to sin. The God of Love, immediately upon the fall of Adam and Eve, devotes Himself to healing us and restoring us to intimate, free, loving communion with Himself and each other. The God of Order has to be concerned first of all with mending the breach sin has created in that Order. His perfection is at stake and He must defend it as his first order of business.

And restoring good order involves punishment, and not just punishment for chastisement, as in Orthodoxy, but punishment for the sake of the good order. How is punishment supposed to restore order? I do not know! I've spent years trying to decipher that. But I think it’s because the pain and suffering of punishment are thought to “balance out” the guilty pleasure one had taken in sinning. The one is supposed to make up ("pay for") the other. In Eastern understanding, there is no way  for anybody (including Jesus Christ) to make up to God for past sin. There’s just nothing that could undo it except forgiveness. 

Or take eschatology (the doctrines concerning the last things: the end of the world, judgment, heaven and hell). The ultimate destiny the God of Love has ordained for us is perfect, free, loving, intimate oneness with Him, participation together in His very Life. The goal for us of the God of Order is that we should attain to a state of moral perfection.

So every doctrine, from the beginning to the end, is different depending upon whether we choose the God of Plato or the God of Jesus Christ.   But do listen to Gallatin's podcast, as he puts things far better than I can, and more simply and more clearly and with many biblical references in the bargain.  He explains all this in detail.

“God is love.”

4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails. (from I Corinthians 13, emphases mine)

From Matthew 232 (See also Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28):

34 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?"
37 Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' [fn4] 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."

P.S.) Orthodoxy, in common with today's scientists (!), doesn't really believe in "Laws of Nature", either, but I'll save that for another post in a day or two.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Touching Base

Nothing going on here. The squirrels are a constant source of amusement and do not require anything more than daily feeding and cleaning. Dingbat is peacefully hibernating, requiring no care at all, except every other day I still poke gently to see if s/he is still alive.

Demetrios is reading Malachi Martin's The Jesuits and is already thoroughly shocked at the end of Chapter One, at all the things, mostly secular, with which the Jesuits have involved themselves, and the scale upon which they've don it.

Only thing I've been reading, and it isn't really reading, is knitting patterns. I've decided to do one more of my signature lace blankets, two-ed. That is, there will be a gossamer layer in white knitted into a solid but textured background in some bright color. There are no patterns for such things; you have to design your own or adapt someone else's. So I've been looking for ideas. Whee - look what I've found!

I'd love to know which of these you like (if any) and why.

Sorry, I have a one-track mine and this is all that's in it right now. That and taking down the rest of the Christmas decorations.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bat Update

Battie neither ate nor drank anything last night, so far as I can tell, but went straight back to its business, which is to hibernate. Only sign of life is if you poke it, it squeaks. So I don't.

Dear Frances, next door, gave me a handful of meal worms. She keeps them all year 'round for the Bluebirds that come to her feeder. I'll put some of those in the cage tonight just in case Battie wakes up hungry.

P.S.) I think I'll name it Dingbat.

Little Brown Bat

That's the name of the species a young man brought me last night.

The man had walked into his apartment, switched on the lights, and found this little bat crawling along his floor, the cat stalking it from behind. He immediately called ARK (our wildlife rehab organization) and was directed to me.

Notice from the narrative that there is no chance the young man had any exposure, in case the bat may carry rabies. Careful questioning established that the cat not yet gotten to the poor little creature, either. And the cat is up to date on its shots anyway.

Next problem is that Little Brown Bats are not solitary creatures, but colonial. They roost together in biggish batches. So the man's attic is going to have to be inspected, as well as all the attics in that apartment complex, to see if that's where the colony is.

Meanwhile, this tiny, furry, warm mammal is supposed to be hibernating this time of year. It has awakened either from hunger or thirst. So I've put a jar lid in the bottom of its box, with water in it. Also, a fingerful of a high calorie diet supplement for it to eat. Hopefully it will then climb into the little cloth I've hung in its cage, and go back to sleep. If so, then I'll put the whole box in MY attic until Spring, checking daily, of course, to be sure Bat is still in hibernation.

Poor thing was so frightened when I lifted it out of the man's box and put it into a proper container that it squeaked and squeaked and squeaked. So I've left it alone for now, in a dark room with the door closed. Haven't even sexed it yet. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Yes, YOU Can Read Greek! (Quiz)

To prove it to yourself, try deciphering these items copied from the Beverages Menu at the airport in Thessaloniki, Greece. If you're thirsty enough, you won't have all that much trouble.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Some St. Basil's Day Thoughts

A couple of days late, but this was sparked by the Feast of St. Basil (January 1).

* * *

Not infrequently, you hear Christians being told not to trust human reason, but to trust God’s Word instead. Of course this always means, “Do not question my interpretation of the Holy Bible (even if it contains all sorts of internal contradictions).”

That’s nonsense! Yes, it is intended to be, but I say it is nonsense in an unintended way, as well. It’s nonsense because that is not at all what St. Paul is talking about in such places as, most notably, the First and Second chapters of First Corinthians.

St. Paul is simply saying that the Christian religion does not have its source in myth or in philosophy, nor in any other invention of man’s brain. Instead, it is a revealed religion. We have learned it straight from God, Who imparts it firsthand to the Church and to each Christian’s heart. (By “heart” is not meant “center of emotions,” but “core of our being.”) As St. Peter writes:

16 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)

(These verses refer to the Transfiguration of Christ, the story of which is recounted in Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7, and Luke 9:35)

St. John adds:

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

It is in this sense that we do not rely upon human reason: Christianity’s source is not there. Instead, the Christian faith shines forth from Jesus Christ, the Light Who came into the world. He, by word and deed, taught us Truth; and He, still very much alive and present in our midst, continues to teach His followers today. As St. Paul wrote, in that very same, much-abused chapter to the Corinthians, “But we have the mind of Christ.” (I Corinthians 2:16)

The Mind of Christ! of Christ, Who is the very embodiment of the Logos, and the Logos is the indefinable fountainhead of wisdom, of logic, of coherence, of language and thinking, of reason, of knowledge. There can be nothing Christian about renouncing any of these things. The trick isn’t to give up using them, which in practice means defer to the way somebody else uses them. No, the trick is to use these endowments from God spiritually. What does “spiritually” mean? It doesn’t mean “concerning religious topics or themes”. It means thinking in and with the Holy Spirit; it means thinking with that Mind of Christ, instead of thinking in a secular manner.

Secular thinking is faithless and hence, sterile as regards all the most important aspects of existence. The truth is, faithlessness constitutes an intellectual defect. Yes, a major if not the major intellectual defect; and faith, far from being opposed to reason, is its rescue, its enlightenment, its pinnacle, its crown, its fullest flowering. That’s why we have men like St. Basil the Great, of towering intellect and monumental faith, both exercised to the utmost: because these go best together.

So please, think all you like. (Just be sure to spend more time praying than thinking.) Question every interpretation of Scripture, even Orthodox interpretations. Do not be afraid to question everything. “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) Think in the Spirit, think through the lens of love. Question until you finally see how it all makes sense – or not. If it is Truth, it will make sense, because Truth is Christ, the Logos of God, the Light of the World. “God is not the author of confusion.” (1 Corinthians 14:33)

“Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” (Romans 14: 5)

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Yesterday we celebrated not only the New Year (on the secular calendar) but also St. Basil and the Circumcision of the Lord.

Some blogger wrote that circumcision was a silly rite God had ordained to keep Israel humble. I think the blogger meant, to humilitate His people.

If that was the case, it seems to have backfired. Circumcision became a matter of national and personal pride and "uncircumcised" became a pejorative.

I don't know why God ordained that particular thing as the way of entering into the Old Covenant, but I'm sure someone can tell us and that its meaning will turn out to be anything but silly. I have a feeling anything the Lord Himself does or suffers to be done to Himself has to be much more than silliness.

P.S. Here it is, a wonderful exposition of the meaning, for Christians, of the Circumcision, by one of my favorite people in the world, Fr. George Dion Dragas. It was for the sake of all these deep Christian meanings, then, that God instituted the rite of circumcision in the first place.