Tuesday, January 31, 2012

God Rest You Well, Carol!

Carol was a friend our our family's for decades; I think from the early '80s.  After the death of her husband, she ate most of the holiday meals with us:  Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter.  (I don't know why, possibly her children lived rather far away.)  She became a part of our famiy.  She was also one of the first among my parents' circle of friends to move to Greenspring, the retirement community to which my parents eventually came.  She gave us a little tour of it, together with a discussion of its pros and cons (mainly, that although Greenspring is a wonderful and downright luxurious place, it is still, as Carol put it, "institutional living, and you have to accept that if you come here.")

She was blind in one eye; we never knew why, but have heard it was due to that eye having been cancerous, or something.  I remember when she had a cataract removed from the good eye, and how nerve-wracking that was. 

She went on a trip to China with my mother in 1989 and on a cruise with Mom on the QEII, during which the ship's engines conked out and the vessel was adrift at sea for I forget how long.  A day?  Three days?  Mom?  So they shared many adventures.

Mom and I went to her memorial service Friday.  May her memory be eternal.

I Did Promise to Avoid Political Commentary, and I Shall...

...but from time to time, I still plan to point out items I consider important.

If you live in Europe or America and you value your country, here's the future planned for you, presented by the German Foreign Minister addressing the Brookings Institute on January 20.

To give examples of why this is important for you to know, below are a few excerpts from the speech, together with the minute and seconds where you can find them on this recording.  Beware euphemism.

14:04 First we have to fix the flaws in the Eurozone’s construction. When setting it up shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we were not able to go all the way and create a political union side-by-side with the economic and monetary union. It took awhile for the consequences of this failure to become apparent, because we enjoyed a decade of low interest rates and strong economic growth, especially in southern Eurozone lenders.

31:25 It would be wrong to deny that there are different visions of what Europe should be. There are those who do not want an open, tolerant, and integrated Europe; there are those who stress the differences by their ethnics of religious rather than what unites us. [Yes, this is what Minister said, word for word.]  They are advocating a fortress Europe. This is a vision that we need to oppose forcibly. The re-nationalization in a time of globalization is a dangerous concept; and this is a message to whom it may concern.

32:55 Our European model of shared sovereignty can be an inspiration in a globalized world in need of order.

35:16 We stand firmly together in confronting Iran’s increasingly dangerous course, and for us, like for many of you, the security of Israel is raison d'ĂȘtre. The European Union will put into place a new and very substantial round of sanctions this coming Monday to forcefully make the point that Iran’s behavior in the nuclear issue is unacceptable and a danger to world peace. 35:50

37:00 Possibly the most important common task of all will be to restore the legitimacy and viability of our economic model. The proper regulation of the global financial system is still unfinished business. We have to continue to work on it together and in the G-20 framework. This includes making sure that the IMF has what it takes to play its crucial role in the global system.

Update on our Friend, John

Thanks again and yet again to all of you who sent John your supportive messages.  They have meant more to him than they would even to most people, I think.  He has been deeply moved by your well-wishes and prayers. 

Last night, we found John eating his supper, and he ate well, considering he wasn't hungry and it was hospital food, after all.  (I did still have to cut up his pork chop for him, and open the little plastic tub of diced peaches and pears.) 

He has been moved off the ward where he had been, since he no longer needs the telemetry available there.  He is also no longer connected to an IV, we noticed.  No extra fluids, no IV medications.

He reported having walked 85 steps yesterday, with a walker but otherwise unsupported.  He sits up in a chair two or three times a day for half an hour at a time. He even cracked a joke or two. 

He was to have been transferred to a rehab facility by today, but that isn't going to happen for a while.  John is pretty closed-mouthed about his condition, so we don't know why or what this apparent set-back is. It still seems to us that every day is an improvement over the day before.

Thanks again for your support, which has unquestionably been a MAJOR factor in his recovery.

Monday, January 30, 2012

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

Yesterday in church we sat next to a girl about two and a half years old, we think, who looked at us with enormous, searching, soulful, serious eyes.  After a few moments, she began talking to Demetrios, who was next to her, but as it was all babytalk he understood very little.  Her mother said the child was asking Demetrios his name.  So he told her and she continued the conversation.  All he could do was beam at her.  And somehow, the age gap melted away; this old man and this toddler were meeting beautiful soul-to- beautiful soul, as equals, in a communion that transcended all such matters as age or gender or nationality or language or anything else. 

And no, it was not a distraction from the worship; it was part of it. 

After church, I commented that it had been so beautiful it had actually brought tears to my eyes, and Demetrios said that was exactly how he had felt, like crying.  And he wondered if that's how paradise will be.

Of course it will be - and is, for the Christian life is a large measure of paradise already!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Reviews: A Restaurant and a Movie

Texas Roadhouse

We ate, with two other couples, at the Texas Roadhouse for the first time Saturday night.  So if you've never been there, you may like to know our unanimous opinion:  we don't ever plan to go back. 

The Texas Roadhouse has the best steak I've eaten for at least 20 years (with the possible exception of David Bate's steak).  That's important, of course, especially if you are a steak lover.  And the prices are reasonable, too.  But for us, the whole experience was a severe mismatch.

The first problem was that the restaurant has a highly misleading "call ahead" policy; you call an hour before you plan to arrive and tell them you're coming.  It's not a reservation, but we did suppose it was worth something.  Wrong.  We waited more than another full hour before we were seated, and even then, only after we let our displeasure be known and said wwe were leaving if we weren't seated within 5 more minutes.

The second problem was the noise.  If you are in the twenty-something crowd, the music might have been just right for you; maybe even if you are thirty-something.  As the manager put it, lots of energy going on in there.  But if you're a senior citizens it's just noise, and far too loud at that.  Because everybody has difficulty conversing with that stuff blaring, everyone has to shout to be heard, so the noise level from all the talking alone was terrible, unless you like that sort of thing.

The wait staff stops everything once per hour and stands in a line and  performs some sort of silly little line dance for you.  They seem to be encouraging everybody else to do the same, but nobody does.  For one thing, there is no space wide enough.  Meanwhile, of course, nobody's order is being taken, nobody is being served. 

And then the servers have a nasty little habit of asking, for example, whether you'd like onions and jack cheese on your steak without telling you it costs extra, or whether you'd like your baked potato with anything more than butter, also without telling you sour cream, chives, and bacon bits are extra. 

If it's your birthday you get to sit on a saddle atop a sawhorse, and the staff lifts that up and rocks you around a bit while singing something awful.  Your small children may enjoy that.

But for us, the whole evening was an ordeal and we were glad to depart as soon as we had finished eating.

Iron Lady

We have long been Margaret Thatcher fans, so we looked forward eagerly to this film about her.

The movie consists of a series of episodes from Mrs. Thatcher's career as remembered through the dementia of her old age.  I would rather have had the story presented through the eyes of someone not demented.   It lacked coherence.  I also would rather have had more details about her career than the gloss-overs this movie provided.   So as a story or as a documentary (take your pick) I rate the film a "C", as did the others with whom we watched it.

But my first reaction was, "That was SOME great piece of acting!"  Meryl Streep's performance is simply superb.   It's definitely Academy Award calibre.  And that makes this film worth watching and worth the price of the ticket. 

"God Loves you, Period" - Isn't That Only Half the Story?

No, it's the whole, entire, complete story.  There is nothing else in God's attitude toward you but love.  His love does not come alongside anything else that might dilute or alter or temper it, or overrule it or modify it in any way.  Or even "balance" it or form some sort of polarity with it.   There is no tension, so to speak, between God's love and anything else.  There is no dark side whatsoever in God's attitude toward you.  It's pure love, infinite love, unconditional love. 

But isn't He going to cast the wicked into hell, someone may ask?  And come on, do not even try to tell me that is love.

Indeed, that would not be love.  It would conflict with love.  It would form a boundary upon the boundless, a condition upon the unconditional, a limit to the infinite.  It would mean that at some point, God had turned on you. 

God doesn't cast anyone into hell.  God continues to love every single person completely, forever.  Hell is what happens when He places you squarely in the immediate presence of that love and you can't stand it.

What?  Not be able to stand God's love, are you serious?

It's true.  Not everyone may want God's love.  There can be serveral reasons for this, and they all have to do with the condition of the human heart, not with God's heart. 

One reason is that God's Love is inseparable from God's Truth.  It's clear not everybody wants to be confronted with the truth about himself.  While seeing our shocking ugliness now, while there's time to change it, is appalling enough, seeing it when we've become too hardened to change is infinitely worse.  It's hell.

Another reason we may not like to stand in the sunshine of God's love is jealousy, as illustrated by the elder brother of the Prodigal Son.  A person may not mind if God loves him infinitely, but he does not want to stand around and watch (much less participate in) any love-fest involving God and that terrible other person.  It would seem so wrong if, for example, that terrible other person were Stalin.   Such gross injustice, even if he did repent at the last moment!  Of course, there isn't really any question of injustice; as Jesus pointed out, God has every right to do whatever He chooses with what is His own.  (And this would apply regardless of how Stalin had come to be saved.)  It's an unloving heart that resents it, and the resentment prevents a person from joining the celebration.  That's hell.

Another example:  if I did not take my well-deserved revenge upon so-and-so, it was because I fully expected God to do it for me, and now I find Him rejoicing in and with that miserable wretch?  An unloving heart cannot bear this.  It might be even worse for me if I did take my revenge and felt well-satisfied, to find myself now confronted with that person, standing before me in his glory, shining, and basking in God's love - my own burning astonishment, plus the satisfaction in the revenge I took,  meanwhile keeping me out of the loop.  

Then again, there may be some who are so heavily invested in "the flesh" that they have become blind to spiritual joys.  While the saints rejoice in one another, in forgiveness, in praising God, in living His Life with Him, in creativity, in peace, we may speculate that others may miss bridge games or hot showers or pizza too much to care about the rest, and would be bored stiff if it weren't for resenting the absence of their physical pleasures. 

Hell does not mean God sends someone to any separate place.  Hell does not mean God tortures us, or has the devil do it for Him.  Hell is something each person does to himself.  As the saying goes, the gates of hell are locked on the inside.   It's our reaction to God's love that becomes our hell.  There can be all sorts of reasons God's very Love becomes hell for us.    But God Himself harbors nothing for us but eternal, undiluted, steadfast, unchanging, infinite Love.  Period.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

About Prayer Chains and Prayer Requests

What's all this, someone recently asked me, about prayer and prayer requests?  Will God be more inclined to heal a sick child if someone prays for him than if nobody does?  Or isn't God going to do His will in any case, with or without prayer?  And what's this thing we so often hear said to someone in trouble:  "Hundreds of people are praying for you?"  What's the whole idea behind prayer chains; is it a massive lobbying effort, like getting as many signatures as possible on a petition?  And how is it that even when hundreds or thousands of people are devoutly praying for the health of some small child, the kid dies anyway?  Is that God's will, that we had all been praying must be done?  The whole thing seems to make very little sense.

I don't have many answers and will welcome input from anyone who can add a new perspective to these issues.  But I think I do have some items to offer as contributions toward the answer(s).

The first thing, perhaps, is, we do not know God's will.  It seems to us it would be better if a sick child lived, but perhaps, in ways we cannot see, it is not the best, even for the child himself.  Maybe being taken straight into the armns of God will be better for him than living a life of horrible  suffering, or - what is so hard to imagine when beholding an infant - a life of horrible sin that would grieve us all.   Perhaps your brother's death was better for him and his whole family than the wrenching, searing, years-long divorce battle and custody fight God knew would have happened in another few years, had he lived.  Or maybe your aunt's dropping dead of a heart attack was better than dying of the cancer she had been about to develop.  We simply do not know even what is best for anybody, and we need to be humble enough to acknowledge this; that is why the bottom line, in all our prayers, is "Thy will be done."

Yes, God is going to do His will in any case.  But such is His love for us, that He wants us to participate in the doing of it.  He wants to glorify all of us by allowing us to share in His Life, in all His doings,  and to have that as the center of communion with one another.  Prayer requests and prayer chains are about Christian communion, and especially about solidarity with the suffering among us.  They are not about lobbying God, but about union with God and with one another.

So if God is going to do His will in any case, does that mean some innocent baby's misery and grotesque suffering was God's will?  No, that was the work of the devil.  That's evil at work, and not our all-loving God.

But God is still allowing this horror, isn't He?  Why?

Yes, He is.   And has been letting terrible things happen since the fall of Adam and Eve.  And we don't know why.  We do not know why.  Period.  We can speculate as to whether it involves chastisement to bring us to repentance or challenges to help us grow, or lessons in courage or faith or perseverance or practice in charity or resisting temptation or whatever.  Sometimes a wise spiritual father or mother can discern these things for us in our own lives.  But bottom line is, we either have faith or we don't.  Faith in this context means trust that whatever the reason(s) may be, they are, despite all appearances, kind, compassionate reasons of the good God Who loves us better than we love ourselves and is infinitely wiser.  In this warped world, "God writes straight with crooked lines." 

And the basis for our hope, ultimately, is the death and resurrection of God-in-the Flesh.  What could have been more immoral, more unjust, more obscene, than an innocent Man murdered by crucifixion?  What greater victory could the devil ever have claimed than deicide?  And this, despite every prayer from the disciples and from His mother?  And in fact, despite His own, "If possible, let this cup pass from me!"

But God did let the catastrophe happen.  And in and through it He did many wonderful things for us (type "Why Did Jesus Die?" in the search box, top right of this blog).  Not that He needed this monstrous sin for the doing of His workl He never requires there to be evil for the sake of the greater good.  But He saw fit to work through this crime, for whatever reason, perhaps because WE needed it to be that way.

And then He brought victory out of it.  He didn't do away entirely with the devil and all his mignons, not yet, and we do not know why not yet.  But the promise that He shall destroy them entirely, in His own good time, whenever He knows is best, that promise is in what He did do in His resurrection:  He took away satan's main weapon against us.  He took away death and the fear of death.  He showed Himself stronger than death and suffering and wickedness.  That's what assures us that ultimately, He will consummate His victory and shall "wipe away the tears from every cheek," and reveal that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all things, in a hidden sense, always were well.  We were always in His care, and we shall be able to see that everything that ever happened to us was for our good, and shall be able to give thanks in all things.

We either have faith in God, trust Him, or we don't.  If we do, then we pray.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Blog Note

I'm discontinuing political posts here.  I may draw your attention to some news items from time to time that I find important, but I am going to refrain from adding any commentary.

Do I feel intimidated, you ask?  Ummmm, well, not really.  Has my husband put the quash on it?  No, although I am following his advice here.  What, then?  This just wasn't supposed to be that kind of blog.  If I decide I ought to do any political commenting, I would then consider starting another blog.  But that seems highly unlikely.

Just please pay attention to what our politicans actually DO, not just what they say.  Pay ttention to that, too, but only in the context of what they DO.

What a Horror

A woman who lives a few short miles from me was in her home last night when an intruder came in and robbed her.  That would be horrifying enough in itself, but that's just the beginning.  The intruder beat the woman.  And that in itself would also be horrifying, but it goes on.  He then abducted her, took her to an ATM machine and eventually left her beside the highway.  But it doesn't even stop there.  He also set fire to her house.

There's a news story with video here.

Her brother, who recently so kindly sent a wonderful message to my friend John, now asks you, and I join him in asking, for prayers for this woman, who is his sister, Mary.

Thank you so very much. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Another Observation on the Latest Presidential Debate

Did you catch what Newt Gingrich said?  That he agrees with Ron Paul except on Iran (and presumably Israel, which I'm guessing he forgot to mention)?  Agrees with Ron Paul!  Yes, he said so.

Of course he was merely pandering to Paul supporters, but his statement cuts two ways:  either people who think Ron Paul's stances are wacky ought not to vote for Gingrich, either; or else, if you think Gingrich isn't wacky, then apparently neither is Ron Paul.


Presidential Debate

I used to suppose Rick Santorum was perhaps more honest than, say, Gingrich or Romney.  Until two nights ago when I heard him say, during the debate, that the economic downturn was caused by a spike in oil prices in 2008.

He went on from there to tell two more lies in rapid succession, but I was so stunned by the first that I can't now tell you what those latter lies were.

Gingrich lied about having been a lobbyist and Romney lied by omission about his company.  Bain Capital would acquire a company, borrowing the money to do it, and then take that money out of the bought corporation in order to repay the loan.  On top of that money,Bain also sucked out of its acquired company as much profit for its investors as possible; whether the company thus treated survived or prospered was of no concern; the Bain people got unheard-of profit either way.  That's called unscrupulous.

It seems such a bizarre thing, when people have right in front of their eyes someone everybody agrees is honest, yet they think they ought to see which of the others, the liars and crooks, is more suitable to be President of the United States.  They will make better decisions, we are told.  No way.  Dishonest men never make the best decisions because every decision is colored by their dishonesty. 

And every word out of their mouths, as Rick Santorum so vividly demonstrated.

God Loves You - Period

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. – Matthew 5: 43-48

Outside of Orthodox Christianity, one often hears of a god whose attitude toward sinner changes once they repent. But such a heterodox idea flies straight n the face of everything Jesus said and did and taught. God's attitude toward each and every person (yes, even Saddam Hussein) is ever unchanging. How can the All-Good One, the All-Holy, love us who are so, well, so the opposite, so vile and so sick and so warped? He can and He does because that's the very meaning of Goodness and of Holiness: Love. That's what, rightly understood, the Law and the Prophets are all about: Love. That's the basis of morality: Love.

Even the tax-collectors (read, "worst sinners you can imagine"), says Jesus, greet those who greet them, and love their brethren. We should be better than that. Do we really want to suppose God isn't? But the very reason we ought to be better than that, says Jesus, is that God is, and we also ought to be, precisely so we can be like Him, as true children.

God in heaven is perfect, meanng His love is perfect. There is absolutely nobody God loves more than He loves you and me, because there is no "more" nor "less" in God's immeasurable love. That means He loves you as much as He loves, say, the Virgin Mary, and He loves such a villain as Osama Bin Laden as much as He loves you. (Sorry about that!, and sorry, dear government monitors, to be wasting your time here.)  God loves you no matter what.  No matter what!

God's relationship with each person is different, because each person is different.  And of course any relationship is reciprocal, a two-way street.  How He acts and interacts with each of us differs.  God has a different relationship with St. Mark than with St. Luke, and with St. Luke than with you, and with you than with me.   (The difference is possible because it isn't His unchanging Essence dealing with us, it's His Uncreated Powers.)  But no matter what that relationship is, it always proceeds, from God's end, from perfect love.  God's love is absolute, not relative.  Absolute, not contingent.  Perfect, not conditional.  He makes the blessing of His rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike and His sun to shine on the evil and the good alike. 

Yes, He is "angry" at the injustice in this world and the sin and suffering and sickness and death and every sort of evil, but that's precisely because He loves you and doesn't want you to be harmed by any of those things.  He recognizes that every time you sin, you are not just a perpetrator, you are also, and more fundamentally, a victim of satan's.  In the account of the first sin, Eve is deceived by the serpent.  And we have been deceived ever since.  And the idea that God's love toward us ever fluctuates or is tempered or diluted or spoiled by anything else is one of those deceptions. 

God's love is infinite.  Unchanging.  Universal.  Unconditional.  Absolute.  Indestructible.  Stronger than death, more ferocious than hell, more tender than a mother's embrace.

Ponder well another saying of our Lord's:

But you, love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and you shall be the children of the Highest: for He is kind to the unthankful and [to] the evil. – Luke 6:35

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Update and Thanks

Thanks from the bottom of my heart to each of you who sent get well wishes to my friend John. It meant much more to him than you might suppose.  As I said, he is alone and unused to people (other than his daughter) showing care.  When I had read him all the messages, he murmured, "Beautiful." And then he added, "You've all brought some life into my life." (Ponder well what that means and how very important it is!)  That was about the first  full sentence he has spoken during this long and miserable convalescence.  

He's on solid foods as of yesterday, finger foods because his hands, stiff from one of his medications, don't work well enough to handle a spoon or fork.  He still cannot sit up without support, and has developed clots in his legs which cause considerable pain.  He's on meds to dissolve them.

He is aware now of the call button and keeps track of where it is.  (This is the first time he has ever been in a hospital.)

His face is less stiff today; it has expression again, so he can frown and smile.  He smiled the whole time I was reading your messages.

He will be in the hospital another week, so I'm hoping to get messages from still more people, anyone and everyone who reads this. Don't be shy because you don't know John; that very fact makes it all the more touching for him.

Thanks again!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Persons, Nature, and Free Will

Check out David Garner's musings on the subject.  They're clear, easy to understand, and succinct thoughts.  See why the Orthodox insistence on the necessity of doing good works has nothing to do with "works salvation".

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Of Your Charity...

...please pray for John.  He has had to have major surgery a few days ago.  He was already very depressed beforehand, and addicted to his medications as well, and those factors and others are complicating and slowing his recovery.  Withdrawal on top of all the rest is not easy!  He's an atheist and he is in a lot of pain, no family except a grown daughter, and I've finally identified that pathetic look I keep seeing in his eyes that tears at my heart:  it's fear. 

Also, if you would be so kind, may I ask you to leave him your greetings and well-wishes, either in the comments or at my e-mail address:  anastasiatheo001 AT verizon DOT net or at  anastasiatheo001 AT gmail DOT com.  Either will work.  John isn't used to having people care for him, and it occurs to me that if I could bring him a whole sheaf of such notes, that would probably do him very great emotional and spiritual good. 

Thank you, and God reward your kindness!

On the Nature of Mental Illness

...from a long discussion with my psychiatrist husband

There are those who think mental illness is a spiritual problem.  Others say it is an emotional problem.  Still others think it is a purely physical problem.

The truth is, none of these things can be separated in human beings, who are mind, body, and spirit.  There are emotional and spiritual dimensions to any illness; for example, even chickenpox isn't something to which we would be susceptible if we were in perfect communion with God.  For another example, depression increases our susceptibility to pain.  So every dimension of the human being is involved in every disorder.

Mental illness doesn't necessarily mean you are weaker than anyone else, or have some greater moral lapse, or simply need a very holy spiritual father.  The major difference between mental illness and any other illness is that it involves the brain instead of, say, the liver or the heart or the skin. 

And it's not just your emotions or your spiritual life that leave their marks on the brain, either; else you'd suppose every gross criminal in history must have been a mental patient.  Or that holy people, like St. Paul, never suffered any bodily defect.  All sorts of other things can affect the brain.  A very incomplete list would include:  a severe knock on the head, alcohol or other drugs, tumor, insufficient oxygen supply, stroke, messed-up brain chemistry, an unfortunate genetic mix...

My point is yes, you do need a good spiritual father, of course; we all do.  But as with other illnesses, you also do need a doctor!  And maybe some prescriptions.

And you do not need to feel any more ashamed of a brain illness than of measles or asthma.


This blog was unavailable to any readers but me (see post below) for 24 + hours, but I'm back now.  More to write, but it's 3 a.m. here and I've forgotten to go to bed, so carried away with a knitting design project.  Gotta get some sleep before writing more. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

From Wikipedia - VERY Important!

Posted by Wikipedia Wednesday

Why is Wikipedia blacked-out?

Wikipedia is protesting against SOPA and PIPA by blacking out the English Wikipedia for 24 hours, beginning at midnight January 18, Eastern Time. Readers who come to English Wikipedia during the blackout will not be able to read the encyclopedia. Instead, you will see messages intended to raise awareness about SOPA and PIPA, encouraging you to share your views with your representatives, and with each other on social media.

What are SOPA and PIPA?

SOPA and PIPA represent two bills in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate respectively. SOPA is short for the "Stop Online Piracy Act," and PIPA is an acronym for the "Protect IP Act." ("IP" stands for "intellectual property.") In short, these bills are efforts to stop copyright infringement committed by foreign web sites, but, in our opinion, they do so in a way that actually infringes free expression while harming the Internet. Detailed information about these bills can be found in the Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act articles on Wikipedia, which are available during the blackout. GovTrack lets you follow both bills through the legislative process: SOPA on this page, and PIPA on this one. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for the public interest in the digital realm, has summarized why these bills are simply unacceptable in a world that values an open, secure, and free Internet.

Why is the blackout happening?

Wikipedians have chosen to black out the English Wikipedia for the first time ever, because we are concerned that SOPA and PIPA will severely inhibit people's access to online information. This is not a problem that will solely affect people in the United States: it will affect everyone around the world.

Why? SOPA and PIPA are badly drafted legislation that won't be effective at their stated goal (to stop copyright infringement), and will cause serious damage to the free and open Internet. They put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won't have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn't being infringed. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won't show up in major search engines. And, SOPA and PIPA build a framework for future restrictions and suppression.

Does this mean that Wikipedia itself is violating copyright laws, or hosting pirated content?

No, not at all. Some supporters of SOPA and PIPA characterize everyone who opposes them as cavalier about copyright, but that is not accurate. Wikipedians are knowledgeable about copyright and vigilant in protecting against violations: Wikipedians spend thousands of hours every week reviewing and removing infringing content. We are careful about it because our mission is to share knowledge freely. To that end, all Wikipedians release their contributions under a free license, and all the material we offer is freely licensed. Free licenses are incompatible with copyright infringement, and so infringement is not tolerated.

Isn't SOPA dead? Wasn't the bill shelved, and didn't the White House declare that it won't sign anything that resembles the current bill?

No, neither SOPA nor PIPA is dead. On January 17th, SOPA's sponsor said the bill will be discussed in early February. There are signs PIPA may be debated on the Senate floor next week. Moreover, SOPA and PIPA are just indicators of a much broader problem. In many jurisdictions around the world, we're seeing the development of legislation that prioritizes overly-broad copyright enforcement laws, laws promoted by power players, over the preservation of individual civil liberties.

Read the rest here, and do take the time to investigate some of the links Wikipedia has provided at the end of the article.  If you aren't already informed on this, you definitely need to be.  The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Going Dark Tomorrow

I'm shutting down this blog for 24 hours beginning at midnight and ending at 12:01 on Thursday morning, in sympathy with Wikipedia, which is going dark Wednesday.  It's a protest against the latest ploy by Congress to curtail our liberties.  The measure is SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act.  Stopping online piracy would of course be a good thing, but the language of this bill shows it to be an excuse to shut down virtually any website the government doesn't like.  It amounts to censorship of the Internet, in other words.   Write your Congressman and Senators and urge them to vote against this bill.  Keep the government's hands off the Internet!

See you on Thursday. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Land of the Free?

Many thanks to John over at Ad Orientem for calling this to our attention. It's an op-ed piece by Jonathan Turley in The Washington Post and for it to appear in such a liberal paper is in itself remarkable (I think).
Every year, the State Department issues reports on individual rights in other countries, monitoring the passage of restrictive laws and regulations around the world. Iran, for example, has been criticized for denying fair public trials and limiting privacy, while Russia has been taken to task for undermining due process. Other countries have been condemned for the use of secret evidence and torture.

Even as we pass judgment on countries we consider unfree, Americans remain confident that any definition of a free nation must include their own — the land of free. Yet, the laws and practices of the land should shake that confidence. In the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, this country has comprehensively reduced civil liberties in the name of an expanded security state. The most recent example of this was the National Defense Authorization Act, signed Dec. 31, which allows for the indefinite detention of citizens. At what point does the reduction of individual rights in our country change how we define ourselves?

While each new national security power Washington has embraced was controversial when enacted, they are often discussed in isolation. But they don’t operate in isolation. They form a mosaic of powers under which our country could be considered, at least in part, authoritarian. Americans often proclaim our nation as a symbol of freedom to the world while dismissing nations such as Cuba and China as categorically unfree. Yet, objectively, we may be only half right. Those countries do lack basic individual rights such as due process, placing them outside any reasonable definition of “free,” but the United States now has much more in common with such regimes than anyone may like to admit.

These countries also have constitutions that purport to guarantee freedoms and rights. But their governments have broad discretion in denying those rights and few real avenues for challenges by citizens — precisely the problem with the new laws in this country.

The list of powers acquired by the U.S. government since 9/11 puts us in rather troubling company.

Assassination of U.S. citizens

President Obama has claimed, as President George W. Bush did before him, the right to order the killing of any citizen considered a terrorist or an abettor of terrorism. Last year, he approved the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaqi and another citizen under this claimed inherent authority. Last month, administration officials affirmed that power, stating that the president can order the assassination of any citizen whom he considers allied with terrorists. (Nations such as Nigeria, Iran and Syria have been routinely criticized for extrajudicial killings of enemies of the state.)

Indefinite detention

Under the law signed last month, terrorism suspects are to be held by the military; the president also has the authority to indefinitely detain citizens accused of terrorism. While the administration claims that this provision only codified existing law, experts widely contest this view, and the administration has opposed efforts to challenge such authority in federal courts. The government continues to claim the right to strip citizens of legal protections based on its sole discretion. (China recently codified a more limited detention law for its citizens, while countries such as Cambodia have been singled out by the United States for “prolonged detention.”)

Arbitrary justice

The president now decides whether a person will receive a trial in the federal courts or in a military tribunal, a system that has been ridiculed around the world for lacking basic due process protections. Bush claimed this authority in 2001, and Obama has continued the practice. (Egypt and China have been denounced for maintaining separate military justice systems for selected defendants, including civilians.)

Warrantless searches

The president may now order warrantless surveillance, including a new capability to force companies and organizations to turn over information on citizens’ finances, communications and associations. Bush acquired this sweeping power under the Patriot Act in 2001, and in 2011, Obama extended the power, including searches of everything from business documents to library records. The government can use “national security letters” to demand, without probable cause, that organizations turn over information on citizens — and order them not to reveal the disclosure to the affected party. (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan operate under laws that allow the government to engage in widespread discretionary surveillance.)

Secret evidence

The government now routinely uses secret evidence to detain individuals and employs secret evidence in federal and military courts. It also forces the dismissal of cases against the United States by simply filing declarations that the cases would make the government reveal classified information that would harm national security — a claim made in a variety of privacy lawsuits and largely accepted by federal judges without question. Even legal opinions, cited as the basis for the government’s actions under the Bush and Obama administrations, have been classified. This allows the government to claim secret legal arguments to support secret proceedings using secret evidence. In addition, some cases never make it to court at all. The federal courts routinely deny constitutional challenges to policies and programs under a narrow definition of standing to bring a case.

War crimes

The world clamored for prosecutions of those responsible for waterboarding terrorism suspects during the Bush administration, but the Obama administration said in 2009 that it would not allow CIA employees to be investigated or prosecuted for such actions. This gutted not just treaty obligations but the Nuremberg principles of international law. When courts in countries such as Spain moved to investigate Bush officials for war crimes, the Obama administration reportedly urged foreign officials not to allow such cases to proceed, despite the fact that the United States has long claimed the same authority with regard to alleged war criminals in other countries. (Various nations have resisted investigations of officials accused of war crimes and torture. Some, such as Serbia and Chile, eventually relented to comply with international law; countries that have denied independent investigations include Iran, Syria and China.)

Secret court

The government has increased its use of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has expanded its secret warrants to include individuals deemed to be aiding or abetting hostile foreign governments or organizations. In 2011, Obama renewed these powers, including allowing secret searches of individuals who are not part of an identifiable terrorist group. The administration has asserted the right to ignore congressional limits on such surveillance. (Pakistan places national security surveillance under the unchecked powers of the military or intelligence services.)

Immunity from judicial review

Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has successfully pushed for immunity for companies that assist in warrantless surveillance of citizens, blocking the ability of citizens to challenge the violation of privacy. (Similarly, China has maintained sweeping immunity claims both inside and outside the country and routinely blocks lawsuits against private companies.)

Continual monitoring of citizens

The Obama administration has successfully defended its claim that it can use GPS devices to monitor every move of targeted citizens without securing any court order or review. (Saudi Arabia has installed massive public surveillance systems, while Cuba is notorious for active monitoring of selected citizens.)

Extraordinary renditions

The government now has the ability to transfer both citizens and noncitizens to another country under a system known as extraordinary rendition, which has been denounced as using other countries, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan, to torture suspects. The Obama administration says it is not continuing the abuses of this practice under Bush, but it insists on the unfettered right to order such transfers — including the possible transfer of U.S. citizens.

These new laws have come with an infusion of money into an expanded security system on the state and federal levels, including more public surveillance cameras, tens of thousands of security personnel and a massive expansion of a terrorist-chasing bureaucracy.

Some politicians shrug and say these increased powers are merely a response to the times we live in. Thus, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) could declare in an interview last spring without objection that “free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war.” Of course, terrorism will never “surrender” and end this particular “war.”

Other politicians rationalize that, while such powers may exist, it really comes down to how they are used. This is a common response by liberals who cannot bring themselves to denounce Obama as they did Bush. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), for instance, has insisted that Congress is not making any decision on indefinite detention: “That is a decision which we leave where it belongs — in the executive branch.”

And in a signing statement with the defense authorization bill, Obama said he does not intend to use the latest power to indefinitely imprison citizens. Yet, he still accepted the power as a sort of regretful autocrat.

An authoritarian nation is defined not just by the use of authoritarian powers, but by the ability to use them. If a president can take away your freedom or your life on his own authority, all rights become little more than a discretionary grant subject to executive will.

The framers lived under autocratic rule and understood this danger better than we do. James Madison famously warned that we needed a system that did not depend on the good intentions or motivations of our rulers: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

Benjamin Franklin was more direct. In 1787, a Mrs. Powel confronted Franklin after the signing of the Constitution and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?” His response was a bit chilling: “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

Since 9/11, we have created the very government the framers feared: a government with sweeping and largely unchecked powers resting on the hope that they will be used wisely.

The indefinite-detention provision in the defense authorization bill seemed to many civil libertarians like a betrayal by Obama. While the president had promised to veto the law over that provision, Levin, a sponsor of the bill, disclosed on the Senate floor that it was in fact the White House that approved the removal of any exception for citizens from indefinite detention.

Dishonesty from politicians is nothing new for Americans. The real question is whether we are lying to ourselves when we call this country the land of the free.

Adds John (Ad Orientem):  "Three guesses how many of our current candidates for president oppose all of this unconstitutional crap... "

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Just an Idea (But I Quite Like It)

People have often wondered what St. Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was, that he prayed three times should be healed, but God said instead, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." (see II Corinthians 12:7-10)

Well, I may be all wrong, and if so I hope someone will correct me, but recently this sentence by St. Paul struck me. He's writing to the Galatians (4:15): "I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me."

Apparently he had weak eyesight?

We know he wasn't blind, because we have the very moving story in Acts 9 of how he was struck blind on the road to Damascus, but then received his sight again (just re-reading it chokes me up):

10 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.”
And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”
11 So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. 12 And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”
13 Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on Your name.”
15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
17 And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.

(I have actually known someone who was legally blind and was instantly healed after his parents, one a Pentecostal Christian and the other a Jew, prayed before the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God.)

So we know St. Paul could see, but from his letter to the Galatians, it seems he couldn't see very well, and they loved him so dearly they would have given them their own eyes. Maybe that was his "thorn in the flesh."

If so, it would indeed fulfill the humbling function St. Paul ascribes to it, to remind him of how he had been struck blind in the first place, and why. It was a constant reminder that he had persecuted the churches and delivered many Christians to death.

But more than that, if this guess is right, the weak eyesight shows you and me and the whole world something else very important. Namely, that what happened to this man on the road to Damascus was real. It was no hallucination or guilty imagination run wild or any such thing. He really was struck blind, and never fully recovered from it, but bore the sign both of his guilt and of his forgiveness and conversion all his life long. "My strength is made perfect in weakness," says the Lord. Indeed!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Atheism Deadens Everything

If there is no God, then there is no such thing as Truth. If there is no ultimate truth (or falsehood!) then any searching for it is at best a waste of time. Then you have only data. You have nothing to give rise to science, except as data-gathering. But behind the data, there's no plan, no design, nothing to know. It's all just chance.

If there is no God, then there is no such thing as anything being good or bad. You may still have emotions, but they are entirely subjective; you cannot really experience anything as intrinsically good or bad, or as valuable or significant or meaningful. You moreover have no scale against which to recognize morality or immorality.

There's really nothing to think, nothing to know, nothing to feel, nothing to experience, so what's left? An infinite (maybe) void.

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;

yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. Psalm 19:1-4

This Mortal Coil

Once long ago I commented to Demetrios how cool his skin felt, although it was a hot day.

"Yes," he said, "my skin has always done a good job of keeping me cool."

And I was struck by how connected this man was with his body. And I thought that was rather a pity, as the body was mortal. He ought to identify more with his immortal soul. I was still an Episcohindubuddhapalian in those days.

Isn't our Christian teaching wonderful? We are not going to be forever cast adrift from our bodies, which are part of our very selves. We're going to have them back; we are going to praise God in our flesh, and see one another in our flesh. The body, too, is going to be resurrected and reunited with the soul. Transfigured and resurrected! It will no longer suffer the effects of time and grief and illness and old age, no longer be constrained by time or space; it will be young and radiant and glorious and instead of reflecting our sin, will show us to be the sons and daughters of God.

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as he is. I John 3:2


It was a big family reunion; several small children and Barbara were tussling on the floor. I reached over and tickled Barbara. She squealed and then, suddenly, she stopped and grew somber.

"What is it?" I asked, alarmed because I suspected what it was.

"My life wasn't planned to be this way," she said, quietly.

"I know," I replied, "but listen; right now, for this moment " - I already knew it wasn't going to be longer - "we can laugh and play, and I can see you and hear you, and I can feel your warmth and even the softness of your hair, and do you realize what a great thing, what an incredible miracle that is?"

And then, sure enough, the moment was over, because I woke up.

But it still is an immense miracle, every moment each of us, the living, can still see and hear and be with one another, for now.

And the blessed communion we have with the saints who have reposed is an even more stupendous miracle.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Just a Reminder

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America
and to the Republic for which it stands:
one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Now that's what I believe in; that's what I'm loyal to.

A republic, a real, genuine republic, not something else masquerading as one.

Under God.


With liberty.

And justice.

For all.

Whatever happened to all that?

The Choice we Face in America

Last night on television I heard one "news analyst" frame the question for Iowans today as between "sending a message" (voting for Ron Paul) or voting for someone "who can win."

Sorry, but that's not the real choice we face. Much as we may dislike President Obama, it's naive to adopt an "anybody but Obama" attitude. Why? Because that position assumes everyone else is better than he, while the hard, cold, sober fact is, it isn't so. Ron Paul MAY be better, but Gingrich, Romney, Perry, and Santorum will carry on the same major policies as Obama, just as Obama has carried on the same major policies as Bush. (Even most of the lesser issues will remain the same; you don't really think Gingrich, for example, is going to do away with homosexuals in the military, do you? Or that Santorum will reduce our dependency upon foreign oil where every President since Nixon has talked about this but not done it? Or that Romney will improve our education system where nobody else in thirty or forty years has done it?)

The real choice is not "anyone but Obama" but someone better than Obama. Merely to choose "someone who can win" is at best pointless if the only difference is going to be the skin color.

Now Obama is pretty gruesome, it has to be said. It was Dave Garner, I think, who first brought this article to my attention. It's written by a liberal, too! This excerpt from it lists some of our President's "heinous views" and heinous deeds.

He has slaughtered civilians — Muslim children by the dozens — not once or twice, but continuously in numerous nations with drones, cluster bombs and other forms of attack. He has sought to overturn a global ban on cluster bombs. He has institutionalized the power of Presidents — in secret and with no checks — to target American citizens for assassination-by-CIA, far from any battlefield. He has waged an unprecedented war against whistleblowers, the protection of which was once a liberal shibboleth. He rendered permanently irrelevant the War Powers Resolution, a crown jewel in the list of post-Vietnam liberal accomplishments, and thus enshrined the power of Presidents to wage war even in the face of a Congressional vote against it. His obsession with secrecy is so extreme that it has become darkly laughable in its manifestations, and he even worked to amend the Freedom of Information Act (another crown jewel of liberal legislative successes) when compliance became inconvenient.

He has entrenched for a generation the once-reviled, once-radical Bush/Cheney Terrorism powers of indefinite detention, military commissions, and the state secret privilege as a weapon to immunize political leaders from the rule of law. He has shielded Bush era criminals from every last form of accountability... He has empowered thieving bankers through the Wall Street bailout, Fed secrecy, efforts to shield mortgage defrauders from prosecution, and the appointment of an endless roster of former Goldman, Sachs executives and lobbyists. He’s brought the nation to a full-on Cold War and a covert hot war with Iran, on the brink of far greater hostilities. He has made the U.S. as subservient as ever to the destructive agenda of the right-wing Israeli government. His support for some of the Arab world’s most repressive regimes is as strong as ever.

Most of all, America’s National Security State, its Surveillance State, and its posture of endless war is more robust than ever before. The nation suffers from what National Journal‘s Michael Hirsh just christened “Obama’s Romance with the CIA.” He has created what The Washington Post just dubbed “a vast drone/killing operation,” all behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy and without a shred of oversight. Obama’s steadfast devotion to what Dana Priest and William Arkin called “Top Secret America” has severe domestic repercussions as well, building up vast debt and deficits in the name of militarism that create the pretext for the “austerity” measures which the Washington class (including Obama) is plotting to impose on America’s middle and lower classes.

The simple fact is that progressives are supporting a candidate for President who has done all of that...

Horrible, because these are the things that can bring our nation to ruin, and much faster, too, than, say abortion. But please do not make the mistake of thinking any of the other candidates for President will not do exactly these same things. To vote for any of them is to vote for Obama in another guise.

With the just barely possible exception of Ron Paul.

P.S.) This morning I heard on the radio (NPR, the station we love to hate) that the Obama administration is considering a deal with the Taliban which would involve, on the U.S. side, closing down Guantanamo. Oh, so it can be done, after all? So these inmates are not such terrible terrorists after all that we absolutely must keep them locked up forever? They're just pawns??? You mean Obama could have closed Guantanamo "on day one", as he pledged to during his campaign?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Poor Pets!

How to drive your cat(s) crazy: Allow Santa to give each of your 7-year-old twin boys a remote controlled truck. The cats chase the whining trucks, the trucks turn around and chase the surprised cats.

How to drive your dog crazy: Have a New Year's Eve Party and on the stroke of midnight, have all your guests blow, (and/or rattle) the noise-makers, scream "Happy New Year!" and rush around hugging and kissing each other amid all this pandemonium.

More on the Importance of Jesus' Genealogy

After our discussion a couple of weeks ago about the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew, my friend Daphne and I both realized this is the ancestry of Joseph. But since he was not Jesus' biological father, well, so what?

But I've been reading some Jewish apologetics recently, and now the significance of this genealogy is starkly clear. The Jews point out that ancestry is reckoned, in the Bible, through your father's line, and his father's, and so forth. So if Joseph is not Jesus' actual father in the flesh, then there's nothing to say He was descended from King David, as Messiah must be.

Ah, but that's just it! What does the Jew believe? If he believes Jesus was Joseph's biological son, then He was descended from David. Or if the Jew believes Jesus was born of a virgin - well, what does that say about Him?

So the genealogy makes its point either way.