Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Resolution

After considerable agonizing, wondering what could be wrong with me that I go around half asleep all the time (Could it be one of my medicines?), the obvious thing penetrated my foggy brain and I have resolved, from now on, to keep regular bedtime hours.  No more of this one or two o'clock in the morning nonsense.  My New Year's resolution is to be in bed by ten o'clock by eleven o'clock before midnight.

And yes, that begins tonight.  Our guests, feeling the same way, have departed and we shall greet the new year when we get up in the morning.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Love is a Many-Splendored Thing

This morning in church I ran into someone I had known in the past, Macrina, and I remembered her distinctive form of charity.  Beautiful Macrina shows charity in many forms, but her trademark form of it is her handbag.  She packs it with you in mind, and your possible needs.

Do you find yourself in need of a kleenex, fast?  Macrina will pull one out of her handbag.  Headache?  Macrina will offer you aspirin or acetomeniphen or ibuprofen.  Have you split a seam?  Macrina has needle and thread.  Has your period caught you by surprise?  Macrina comes to the rescue.  Need to write a quick note?  Macrina carries pens, pencils, and paper. 

Scissors, tape, paper clips?  They're in her handbag.  From buttons to nail files, from rubber bands to tweezers, from holy water to miniature flashlight, whatever small item she can think of that you might ever need, her Magic Handbag has it all. 

In her parish, women wear head coverings and I feel certain she even carries an extra scarf to relieve the embarrassment of women who show up without one.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Prince of Peace

Jews will often tell you Jesus cannot have been the Messiah, because He did not fulfill the biblical prophecies that Messiah would usher in an  everlasting kingdom with world peace forever.

The question to ask, I think, is what sort of kingdom is everlasting?  Could any political one ever be?  Really?

And just how shall the Messiah bring about peace?  Is it to be a peace in which the opposition is ground under the boot?  Could that be the same Messiah Who "shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry [them] in his bosom, [and] shall gently lead those that are with young"  (Is. 40:11)?

If it isn't to be peace enforced by tanks and atomic weapons, then will it not require that the human race cooperate with it of their own free will?  Will it not require peace first of all in our hearts?

So it should be easy to see that the Peaceable Kingdom has to be something spiritual before it can also become tangible.  Messiah indeed came to us and established that never-ending Kingdom in our midst.  "My Kingdom is not of this world," He taught.  But yes, it is already here and we can realize it, make it visible, in the world.  We just have to live it.

That schmatzy song I always disliked is nevertheless true:  "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."  Or rather, let it continue with me, as it began with the manger Child. 

Peace on earth, goodwill to men!  Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Heavens Declare (Part 2, The Numbers Game)

You can't win the numbers game when discussing things with an atheist. All the parameters that have to be amazingly fine-tuned in our universe, our galaxy, our solar system, and our planet, to make them compatible with life, will not persuade him.

The first thing he may say is that even though the chances were unimaginably small that our particular universe would come into being, the chances were exactly the same for any other particular universe to have appeared. If you have a deck of a hundred cards, well-shuffled, and you have a blindfolded person pick one out of a large jar, each and every card has the same chance (1 in a hundred) of being chosen. It is no more remarkable that one should have been drawn than that any other should have been.

There's a flaw in this argument, useless but fun to point out. If you have a hundred different cards in that jar and 99 of them are white while one is red, the chance the blindfolded person will draw the red card is still 1 in a hundred. But it's no longer even odds, for the chance he will draw a white card is 99 in a hundred. The chance of a universe appearing that would be incompatible with life was so many orders of magnitude higher than the chance of a life-supporting one that we can't even comprehend numbers that high.

Never mind. In the end, the atheist will shrug his shoulders and say no matter how far beyond the virtually impossible the odds may have been, nevertheless this particular, life-supporting Universe did come into being, as proven by the fact that we're here. You ask him, "And you believe this could have happened by chance?" and he will say that's still more credible than to believe God did it. You lean back with a smirk, contented that he has made himself look like an idiot, and he leans back with a smirk, thinking you look more like one.

You can't win the numbers game.

A better approach would be to ask how matter could arise from itself.

But Christian theology isn't a matter of science, nor yet of secular philosophy. Christian proclamation begins with and culminates in, "Christ is risen!"

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

There are dozens of conditions necessary for life as we know it to exist on our planet, some of which which I've listed in previous posts, here and here .  For that matter, there are a lot of conditions necessary for life to exist anywhere in the universe. And the chance of any one of these conditions being right is, in many cases, unimaginably small.  Never mind you have to have them all combined.

Now I’ve found out, in further reading, that it isn’t just for “life as we know it” to exist that all these parameters have to be so narrowly set; it’s any life at all. In fact, these particular values are needed even for galaxies and stars and planets to exist, never mind any sort of life. (But I should like to reiterate here that “life-as-we-don’t-know-it” is by definition unknown, unobserved, and therefore completely outside the realm of science.)

Another astonishing thing I’ve learned is that these conditions favorable to life did not just develop as the Universe went along; they had to be there from the first split-second or not at all. Specifically, if you take the number
(ten followed by 43 zeros) and divide one second by it, that’s the size of the very first split-second after the Big Bang in which all the life-enabling conditions had to appear.

Atheists try to get around this astonishing set of “coincidences” by what is called the Anthropic Principle. It comes in two main variations, the Weak Anthropic Principle and the Strong Anthropic Principle. The WAP says it’s no coincidence the conditions for life are just right; in fact things have to be that way, given that we’re here.

Of course, in this statement, the premise and the conclusion are identical, making it nothing more than a repetition of itself, a tautology, saying the same thing two different ways. If things were different, they would be different.

Moreover, it’s like saying the chances of rolling ten dice and having them all come up sixes are one hundred percent, since I did roll the dice and that is in fact how they came up. That’s giving the odds in retrospect. How about before I rolled the dice? The point is, what were the odds then?

Other criticisms of the Weak Anthropic Principle is that it is not falsifiable, cannot explain anything, and cannot predict anything we don’t already know.

The Strong Anthropic Principle is otherwise known as the Multiverse theory. It posits a vast number of universes, possibly an infinite number. In so many universes, eventually at least one will just happen to have all the right conditions, even though the chances are vanishingly small. Roll trillions of trillions of dice enough times and chances are that at least one of those times, they will all come up sixes.

Of course there is nothing in the least scientific about multiple universes. They by definition are unobservable (being incompatible with life) and unfalsifiable. That means the idea is in no way scientific. There is not a shred of evidence for their existence. Evidence, evidence, is of course the cry of atheists asking for grounds to believe in God. Evidence, evidence! Where is any evidence for multiple universes? It’s all in somebody’s head.

And even if they did exist, countless numbers of them, that does not guarantee that every possible combination of parameters would necessarily be found among them.

From Wikipedia, here are some other theories attempting to explain, without resorting to God, why the universe appears to be so carefully designed and fine-tuned: (Number 2, note, is not necessarily incompatible with God.) Ask for the evidence as you read these ideas. No evidence = no science. Ask if there’s even any logical reason to believe them. No logic = no philosophy. And ask if any of these is easier to believe than that God made the Universe for life.

1. The absurd universe: Our universe just happens to be the way it is. 

2. The unique universe: There is a deep underlying unity in physics which necessitates the Universe being the way it is. Some Theory of Everything will explain why the various features of the Universe must have exactly the values that we see.

3. The multiverse: Multiple universes exist, having all possible combinations of characteristics, and we inevitably find ourselves within a universe that allows us to exist.

4. The self-explaining universe: A closed explanatory or causal loop: "perhaps only universes with a capacity for consciousness can exist." This is Wheeler's Participatory Anthropic Principle (PAP).

5. The fake universe: We live inside a virtual reality simulation.
Such are the contortions into which one bends his mind to avoid God.

Monday, December 17, 2012

An Orthodox Christian Response to Last Friday (Newtown)

Check out Fr. Andrew's sermon on the Newtown massacre. Best commentary I've seen so far.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Light Shines in the Darkness

... and the darkness has not overcome It.

We who walked in darkness have seen a great Light; upon us that walked in the shadow of the valley of death has the Light shined.  That Light shines into our world, and all the evil in the world cannot overwhelm It; It keeps on shining.

That Light shines into our hearts, and all the guilt in our hearts cannot dim It; It shines on, infinite forgiveness. All the brokenness and sorrow in us cannot overwhelm It; It shines on, healing and hope. Even death cannot put out that Light; it shines through to the other side of the grave, endless Life.

That Light took flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, full of grace and truth.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Saint in our Tree

Jesus in a Potato Chip (Crisp)

Madonna and Turtle Child in a Tree Stump
You know how some people see Jesus in the clouds, or the Virgin Mary in the brown marks on a pancake? 

Well, there's a very clear image of a saint in one of the trees in our back yard.

It's a bishop, as is obvious from his vestments (Orthodox style), and a young one; his beard is still black.  His eyes, of course, are gazing upward into the heavens, leading me to suppose he may be Western, and there's something indistinct cradled in his arms (a cross?  a baby?  long-stemmed flowers?).   

This is a much better image than the ones you typically see in photos (such as these).  Please, somebody tell me who this could be, who has deigned to grace our tree, so I can begin to publicize this apparition and get rich selling sandwiches to, and accepting offerings from, all the pilgrims who will flock to see him!

Steven Spielberg's 'Lincoln'

Went to see this movie with friends yesterday afternoon.  Bottom line:  I loved it!  Caution:  It does contain some smatterings of salty language, including one instance of the f-word.  You kids don't need to see it.

Abraham Lincoln is played by Daniel Day-Lewis, who ought to win an Academy Award for his performance.  Sally Fields puts in a solid performance as Mary Todd Lincoln.  (This surprised me, maybe because I still remember her as "The Flying Nun".).  The other main supporting actors are also outstanding. 

The film packs a powerful emotional punch, which also surprises me, given that it is primarily about back-room politics.  Specifically it is largely about the effort to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States.  The huge importance of this is part of what makes the movie so engaging.  You feel you are getting an insider's glimpse of history in the making.

One service the movie did for me was to disabuse me of my naive notion that in politics there are bad guys, who are corrupt, and good guys, who are not.  In this portrayal, at least, which I believe accords with the historical record, the good guys aren't above corruption, either, viewing the end as justifying the means.  And the bad guys also do the occasional good thing, albeit for corrupt motives. 

Whatever your opinion of President Lincoln, whether you view him as a hero or a dictatorial, undemocratic figure, this film will provide support for your point of view.  I like that nuancing, that raising of questions we still ask, and the demonstration that the answers are not simple.  He used highly unAmerican means to end slavery, end the War, and put back together the Union.

And of course, as a period piece, this movie probably had me hooked from the beginning,  because the Civil War is one of my special interests.  That's the War Between the States, for my local audience.  Oops, no, around here it's The War of Northern Aggression.  :-)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Stay Informed on Injured Bobcat

If you would like to keep updated on the status of the young bobcat rescued near here, check the Wildlife Center of Virginia's page dedicated to him.  Latest report is that he is bearing weight on the repaired leg, eating well, and being kept as far as possible from human contact - except, obviously, when it's necessary.

The Wildlife Center has other interesting patients you may like to check out, too.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why Did God Make Grandmas?

To be sure the grandchildren would always have someone who wouldn't hesitate to brag about them!  (Parents usually are more prudent...)

So here is one of my two darling granddaughters showing you how to make a pencil pouch with duct tape.  She has become a duct tape enthusiast, making wallets and folders and all sorts of things with it.  (Did you know duct tape these days comes in multitudinous colors and patterns?)

I suggested to Sydney a slightly better approach, which she has since adopted, but here is her old one anyway.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

So You Want to Become Orthodox - Why?

Is it because you are drawn to her worship?  Not a good enough reason.  Yes, Orthodox worship is deep, rich, colorful, often majestic.  It is crammed with Scripture, it is didactic, and once you are used to it, other people's worship seems comparatively lightweight, if not empty.  But if that is the reason you want to be received into the Church, the devil will land you very shortly in some parish where they fail to understand liturgy and completely botch all the services.

Is it because you are drawn to the theology of the Holy Orthodox Church?  It is indeed profound, wise, beautiful, time-tested, and true; but this by itself is still not a good enough reason to convert.  Theology can always be argued and satan will make sure it will be.  One can persuade oneself of most any theory one favors, particularly if it offers you all sorts of goodies with little or no effort on your part.

Is it because you are looking for the Perfect Church?  There's no such thing and never was; witness St. Paul's epistles to the Church at Corinth, and the prophecies to the Churches in Revelation.  The Holy Orthodox Church is indeed the New Testament Church, the true Church, but she is as full of sick and wounded human beings as any other place; indeed, to take them in is her mission.  You will not escape unpleasant personalities, distressing internal politics, or scandals, all of which have beset the Church from the beginning.  In fact, if to avoid those is why you become Orthodox, the enemy will be sure to expose you to the worst of them sooner rather than later.

Is it because you are drawn to the monastic life and Orthodox monasticism makes better sense to you than other forms?  Still no reason to become Orthodox, for you will have as many negative (or neutral) experiences at a typical monastery as positive ones.

Of course there is a slew of other, even worse reasons for wanting to become Orthodox, such as the whole thing seeming so exotic (which feeling wears off after a while), or trying to be different, or trying to show ones independence from ones parents, or hoping to put ones M.Div. to work someplace else on account of being disillusioned with the current employer, or because your spouse or affianced is Orthodox.  Not that you have fallen for any of these bogus reasons, but there are those who have.

There is only one valid reason for becoming Orthodox, and that is because you have found in Orthodoxy the medicine for your soul.   You have found in the Church the living presence of the Holy Spirit, together with a wealth of counsel, support, instruction, wisdom, examples, and love to assist you along the way.

Coming to the Church for any other reason is highly dangerous, because it sets you up for a fall. You will be apt to leave after a while. That's called apostasy and it's a most serious sin. If, once having embraced the true Faith, you then depart from it, you will be in worse inner condition than if you had never converted in the first place.