Friday, March 30, 2007


I just stumbled across a very intriguing Orthodox blogger who goes by the name of Ochlophobist. The article I read first was this one, called "The Uberfromm, Snuggling Up to the Gates of Hell, Part IV". You may need to scroll down a bit.

I have since read more of his posts, and I have to say that I am impressed by his erudition, his concision, his poetry. Most of the time.

In this first post, however, I see some circular reasoning. I see someone that uses a term - überfromm - the definition of which he seems at times uncertain. I see someone that has lofty ideals for Orthodoxy that may be out of place with reality.

Let me touch on a few points.

He opens his post with a litany of scandals, heresies, and sundry other immoralities that beset the Church at this time. Most of them would be of no surprise to the informed Orthodox, and perhaps my readers (like myself) can think of one or two other abominations in our temples that he hasn't mentioned. Naturally, it grieves my heart to read them, for they shouldn't be. Never mind that scandals have rocked the Church since the day of Pentecost (as he rightly points out), they are a blot on the virgins' white robes and an ongoing tragedy that should cause us to weep. Sackcloth and ashes would not be misplaced either.

That said, I should like to point out that the jury is out on Elder Ephraim, Ochlophist's "Orthodox fundamental who savors all that is pagan in what might best be called Athonite spirituality"; also that the "heterodoxiarch" Seraphim Rose is greatly beloved, widely esteemed as a fully and radically Orthodox Saint, and that "his" tollhouse soteriology is one that existed within the Church before he wrote about it. Suffice it to say that not all Ochlophobist's scandals are obvious ones.

Ochlophobist also betrays some anti-monastic tendencies and inclinations. I believe "Monasticism in Orthodoxy today is a smoke and mirrors farce" argues my case for me. Part of the problem is that his exposure to monasticism appears to be North American, which is notoriously and sadly shallow. (And Elder Ephraim's version of Athonite monasticism, which monasticism would provide a handy counterpoint to the weaknesses of many N. A. monasteries, is controversial at best.) However, the Old World is flourishing. Romania's Moldavian monasteries offer a second Mt. Athos, and Serbia's travails at the hands of Clinton prompted a massive resurgence of monastic life in that beleaguered country. Doubtless there are other places where monasticism is hale, whole, and holy - North America's frailties are not the world's.

Part, too, of Ochlophobist's anti-monasticism seems to be tied with the turn of the millenium (the last one) tension between a non-monastic spiritually - tied to the laity, married clergy, urban dwellers all, and the bishop and cathedral - and monastic spiritually - tied to a monastic clergy, and the abbot and monastery. He says that this non-monastic spirituality was flourishing, and that it is now gone, swallowed by monastic influences in the centuries following the Ottoman conquest. I have heard this argument before, and in fact, I have heard it posited that there were different liturgies to go with the different spiritualities. Frankly, I can't see how the liturgy of the urban church is somehow more meritorious, more lay-appropriate than the liturgy of the monastery. We are not talking the differences between apples and oranges here, but the differences in the length and number of hymns.


But all these extraneous points should not take us on a tangent from his central thesis, as I see it. He believes that Orthodox, for all our mouthing of a holistic faith, do not and can not live such a faith outside of the monastery, and that his ubiquitous überfromm are the post-Ottoman invasion poseurs who think that they are doing so by borrowing some monastic trappings. Let me quote:
The spiritual practices that this girl [whose lifestyle is outlined in the previous paragraph --- V.] engages in are thoroughly Eastern monastic, which means that they are practices developed by and encultured in a climate that represents a rejection of this world. Not only that, but the spiritual literature which buttresses these practices, and which our trendy Orthodox girl reads, is quite clear that the whole point of monks leaving "the world" is to get away from environments such as those which our trendy girl inhabits on a regular basis. We are not talking about a fundamentalist fear of dancing and movies here. We are talking about any engagement with the secular and civic worlds that is beyond the minimally necessary. It is impossible to develop an authentic Orthodox culture as long as the Church is a monastic Church. Thus, when a lay Orthodox (or married priest) engages culture, he does so in a necessarily fragmented manner (here, Roman Catholics have a great advantage over us). He has his totalizing monastic bag of devotional tricks in one corner of his life, and then he has the rest of the world that must be fuddled about in manners which are adopted, stylistically, from other sources. I cannot pinpoint a manner of lay life and say of it -- "every aspect of that Basil's life is recognizably Orthodox" (this can only be said of Orthodox monks) in the manner that I can say that "every aspect of Henry's life is recognizably Catholic" or "every aspect of Ed's life is recognizably confessional Presbyterian." There is a cohesive and comprehensive nature to magisterially faithful Catholic and some confessional Protestant modes of life. These styles are rarely totalizing and fragmented. Instead they are embracing of every aspect of human nature (especially Catholicism). When Henry drinks beer, he does so in a manner that, well, seems Catholic (Catholics have an articulated theology of food and drink, and temperance with regard to them). When he watches movies, he does so in Catholic fashion (Catholics have an articulated theology of the purpose and telos of modern forms of media). When Henry has sex, he does so as a Catholic (his Church teaches him exactly what is and is not permitted within the bounds of marriage, and informs him of the purpose and telos of the sexual act -- ask 10 different Orthodox about sexual matters, i.e. contraception, the relation of sex to fasting, etc., and you will get 15 different answers). There can be recognizable Catholic and confessional Protestant styles of life because they are surrounded by enough definition and boundary to work on a comprehensible art of living. The lay Orthodox on the other hand must always revert back to a monastic style of life which is not really his and which he can never live up to. This distortion is hidden by the abstract (in the art sense of the word) uses of non-definition and active non-clarification. In the Orthodox Church, the whole ethos of the realm of personal holiness (righteousness) and a personal style of living is something like a cross between a Quaker meeting and the French Theatre of the Absurd. On the one hand, I find refreshing the Orthodox aversion to cookie-cutter Christian moralism. On the other hand, humans being the mimetic creatures that they are, the former moralism is often replaced with cookie-cutter ritualism (prayer ropes, beards, etc.), even if this is done on a very limited basis by busy, worldly laymen.
And this is where my interest really picks up. For here I agree with him, or at least, I see the same or a similar problem. A couple posts ago I wrote about it, albeit not as fluidly or fluently. I wanted to know how as a working man I could keep the Fast, how to be fully Orthodox and yet fully functional in my very physical work. Surely the Fast is not just for the intelligentsia, for the urban elite? I intuited a need for a model and a way of life that would allow me to live in a cohesively and comprehensively Orthodox manner, and yet not be outside my reach. I am not in a monastery, and I can't live like I am in one. Live ascetically, perhaps, but I need to know how.

How to integrate asceticism and the world.

I have also expressed a wish for a book entitled Practical Orthodoxy For Converts: How to Live a Life You Weren't Raised In. Again, I did not express myself as well as I could have or should have, but what I wanted was the one thing I have not received - a model of Orthodox living [for the non-monastic]. Is Orthodoxy holistic? Well, then, show me how. I don't want to have to read all of St. John Chrysostom's sermons or Alexander Schmemann's journals to acquire this knowledge. I want to read it in one place, or perhaps one person.

I am a bibliophile by nature. I love books, and I have devoured libraries of them. When I first converted to Orthodoxy, I consumed them by the barrow-load. I could debate Arianism or discuss the sociological tensions that led to Egypt's embracing of Monophysitism.
I still have a half-completed thesis paper on comparative diachronic monasticism kicking about. I also wrote about the unity and cohesion of what I believed, and I reveled in my Orthodoxy and in my wisdom.

Then one day it occurred to me that I knew lots and lots, but couldn't live the Orthodoxy I "knew", didn't know how to. And I still don't.

Now I just need to find someone, or somebook, that does.

- V.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

11:35 pm

Tonight someone pulled a fire alarm. A different someone? The same someone? Almost undoubtedly someone in the same group of someones.

Apparently, the superintendent of my building has had a run-in with the pot smokers that like to lounge about in the stairwells. They didn't like being taken to task, and since have resorted to petty vandalism and public mischief (like the pulling of fire alarms) as a means to exacting revenge.

They have also harassed a gentleman who reported their activities to the authorities.

Canadians have a reputation for tolerance, in general, and tend to turn a blind eye to the usage of marijuana, specifically. Indeed, my own impressions were that pot smokers were easy-going people. Relaxed, laid-back, inoffensive and meek.

My perceptions are changing.

It is not pleasant to enter a building through a drug-laced haze.
It is offensive to encounter the signs of vandalism all about one's home.
It is wrong to pull people - especially children, the elderly, expectant mothers, the disabled - from their sleep.

Tonight someone pulled a fire alarm. It rang for thirty minutes, until the fire department arrived, and restored peace. Peace at last, peace at 11:35 pm.

- V.

Very moving blog entry...

I've recently come across a blog written by a priest called Fr. Stephen (I'm not sure if his last name is found anywhere on the blog). The blog is linked on our page, and is called "Glory to God for All Things". His latest entry is about Lazarus Saturday, which we are fast approaching (where has Great Lent gone?!?). It's titled "That You May not Grieve as Others Do Who Have No Hope". This part moved me most:

"I was caught off-guard last night at our service of the Presanctified Gifts. My thoughts of Lazarus Saturday were several days away, also intertwined with the fact that we are receiving 15 new members into the Church. But my mind was not on Lazarus. But the services of the Church are vigilant and remember what we would not yet contemplate. One of the verses sung by the choir said this:

Now Lazarus has been in the tomb two days, seeing the dead of all the ages, beholding strange sights of terror: countless multitudes bound by the chains of hell. His sisters weep bitterly as they gaze at his tomb, but Christ is coming to bring His friend to life, to implement in this one man His plan for all. Blessed art Thou, O Savior, have mercy on us!

It struck me that this is where we live most of our days. Not at Lazarus Saturday, at the General Resurrection of the dead, but two days out, while those we love seem lost to us and Christ seems no where to be found. But He is somewhere to be found, and He has a precise intention regarding his friend Lazarus. Christ does not close Himself off from the natural grief of human beings, but He does not grieve as one who has no hope. He is our hope and the assurance of our own resurrection and of those we love.

Two days in the tomb is a hard place to live. But as St. Paul reminds us in his First Letter to the Thessalonians, we should not “grieve as those who have no hope.” For we do have hope."

So true, isn't it? I think that normally on Great and Holy Saturday (the eve of Holy Pascha, not Lazarus Saturday), I am most focused on the joy of Christ's glorious resurrection, which is appropriate. But I think this year I will also try to focus on the past (those whom Christ has already freed from Hades, as we see in the icon of the resurrection), present, and future joy of being led out of the tomb; our resurrection.

Christ will soon be risen!+


Monday, March 26, 2007

And Our Baby's Gender Is...

... unknown.

What a let-down. We've been looking forward to finding out the gender of our baby for some time now - the ultrasound date (projected and scheduled) has been prominently displayed on the calendar for months now.

And when we get to the actual looking, Baby decided to play games. E thinks Baby is shy. Me? I think the wee one is just plain ornery.

But we have a picture of our child waving at us. So that's something.

- V.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Marquess V the Nimble of Chalmondley St Peasoup
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Thanks, Little Rose.


One Book

With a nod to the man who mistook his mind for a nous...

1. One book that changed your life:

Negatively: The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand.

Positively: Wee Sir Gibbie, by George MacDonald (well, the cumulative effect of reading all his works, really); Tree and Leaf, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Also, Anna Sewell's use of the first person narrative blew me away the first time I read Black Beauty, at age seven.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
I have probably read The Count of Monte Cristo (Le Comte de Monte-Cristo) by Alexandre Dumas more than 30 times by now ... various edited versions, an unabridged edition, and the original French unabridged version.

I am rereading it right now, in fact.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
The SAS Survival Handbook.

Choosing beyond the practical? There are too many books that I love.

4. One book that made you laugh:
Gordon Korman has me laughing out loud whenever I read Son of Interflux or Don't Care High. Juvenile? Maybe. Funny? Definitely.

5. One book that made you cry:
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis... the death of Aslan.

6. One book that you wish had been written:
Practical Orthodoxy For Converts: How to Live a Life You Weren't Raised In.

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand.
The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx.
The Golden Bough, by Sir James George Frazer.
Almost anything by Joseph Campbell.

I could go on.

8. One book you’re currently reading:
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas.
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
The Bible. I don't read it enough.

- V.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Thoughts on Vainglory

"There is a glory that comes from God, Who says: Those who glorify Me, I will glorify (I Kings 2:30). And then there is the glory that follows us diabolically, as it is written, Woe, when all men shall speak well of you (Luke 6:26). You will know the second kind of glory when you do something, no matter how small, hoping that others are watching." (St. John Climacus, The Ladder).

I don't think I'd ever heard of the passion called vainglory until I read a small booklet called "The Teachings of the Holy Fathers On the Passions". I have to admit, when I first read this section of the book, I didn't feel that it was a passion I struggled with. But I have since been drawn back to it and have started to realize just how subtle a passion this can be, and how virtually every Christian must struggle with this on some level. How often do we walk away after having done some act of service, feeling as though we had not been adequately thanked or appreciated for what we had done? How often do we volunteer to do tasks that get no notice or special attention from others? How much do we crave the praise of men?

St. John Chrysostom says this of vainglory: "This passion is a sort of deep intoxication from which it is hard to recover. It detaches the souls of its captives from heaven, nails them to the earth, and does not allow them to look up to the true light. It persuades them to ever wallow in the mire." And Christ says, "How can ye believe, which receive honor of men, and seek not the honor which cometh from God?" (John 5:44).

At the heart of vainglory is pride. It is the desire to please others (which brings honor to yourself) rather than the desire to please God. How often do we concern ourselves more with the approval of others than with the approval of God? This is a worthy question to contemplate.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Longing for Home

I often find myself longing for home. By "home", I do not necessarily mean the United States, though I do miss many aspects of it. "Home" is also not referring to the last place I lived, which was with my parents, though there are also aspects of living there that I miss as well. By saying "home", I mean country.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a city gal. It would be too difficult for me to write about all the changes I've been through in the past year right now (moving to another country, leaving home and beloved pets, friends, family, church, etc.), though I might attempt it at some point. But out of all the changes I've endured, I think the most difficult has been trying to adapt to city life.

My love for country is partially rooted in my love for the outdoors. This goes back to my childhood. I was never a child who wanted to sit in front of the TV all day. I was content to play outside all day until mom called us (my brothers and I) in for dinner. We lived in a very small town with virtually no crime rate, so it was common for kids to play unsupervised as long as their parents knew where they were. How I wish all children could know this kind of bliss.

One of the things that has set my mind to thinking of the differences between city and country life is the fact that I am expecting a baby this summer. Like most people, I have long thought of how I'd want to raise my children and what sort of environment I'd like them to grow up in. Sadly, I had never envisioned raising a child in the city until now, and it frightens me. Every time I'm walking down the street and I have to step over a used condom, I think to myself, "Do I want my child exposed to this?". Thankfully I haven't encountered any used hypodermic needles on the sidewalks, but I hear that can be a problem in some areas of the city. I've witnessed a few drug deals on public transportation, and I've thought about what it would be like to have a child there with me, and how would I handle that situation. Would I do like everyone else on the bus and pretend it wasn't happening? Or if I want to go to the downtown shopping centre with my child, and we have to walk through a few clouds of marijuana smoke to get there (I've been through this a few times). Do I want that for my child? No, I don't. And what is it like to grow up in an apartment building where you don't know who your neighbors are? This is a new concept for me as well. I know that you can't protect your child from the evils of this world forever, but I want my child (or children) to have a time of innocence, a time when evil is not constantly visible at your front door. I don't think this is unreasonable.

I'm trying to prepare myself for parenthood with fear and trembling, because I know it is an awesome responsibility given to us by God Himself. I have to admit I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. I am faced with raising a child in a foreign environment (I know nothing of how to raise a child in a big city), and I am both sad and fearful about it. Please pray for me.


Monday, March 19, 2007

A Lenten Question ...

We're already halfway through Lent, and it has been an interesting Lent for me, as it was last year.

I have a Lenten question for my Orthodox readers...

As some of you may know, I work with my hands for a living, often doing very heavy physical labour. Because of this, I can't function without four meals a day. Heavy meals, heavy on protein, heavy on starches.

If I don't eat enough, my legs get wobbly, and I feel faint and dizzy. And I am afraid that beans just don't cut it.

Now, I am sure that I am not the first Orthodox to face heavy labour and Lent at the same time... however, I have no "working man" models of Orthodox piety in my immediate circles. My parish consists almost solely of intelligentsia, with the occasional service industry worker thrown in.

So what do labourers do in other parts of the Orthodox world? What did Orthodox do in Holy Russia? in 19th century Greece, Serbia, etc.?

I am truly curious.

- V.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Day After the Night Before

What a miserable day this has been.

E & I were rudely awakened from our slumbers last night by yet another false alarm (there have been two in the past two weeks, and nary a sign of our superintendent). It was three o'clock, and a St. Paddy's Day reveler, unwilling to let the night close quietly, decided to finish things off with a bang. Or a steady monotonously ringing bell.

I don't know about you, but when I have to get up, get dressed, and go outside at three in the morning, and then stand outside for half an hour ... well, I don't fall back asleep in a hurry.

Needless to say, we slept through this morning's alarm (if it rang - who knows), a phone call, and church. As for the rest of the day? How can I characterize it ... dull, dreary, somnambulant, sadly and miserably unfruitful.

Maybe tomorrow will be a better day.

- V.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Discerning the Will of God

When I was growing up, and for a long while after I grew up, I had serious difficulty discerning God's will. Discerning God's will was of utmost importance as a Protestant child, teenager, and young adult... this is the time of one's life where one chooses a career, where one chooses a spouse. There are other large decisions made in that span of time, but career and spouse are generally considered the largest of the large.

For those not of a Protestant upbringing, young people are taught that God has a will for their lives, and that they need to discern what it is. Through prayer, Scripture reading, maybe fasting, maybe counsel by a respected elder or other church leader. And once discerned, they are to act.

[Let me apologize now for focusing on another church than my own - I don't want this to become anti-Protestant propaganda central, just as I don't want my Orthodoxy to appear to be a simple negation of that which went before. I was just thinking about careers, and the topic came up.]

My experience of "discerning God's will" is that it paralyzes the discerner into inaction. I have seen this in the lives of others, and I can speak to the paralysis in my own life.

Quite honestly, God doesn't talk to me much. I don't get much in the way of heavenly voices or divine light. I never have. [Most people don't.] And when I prayed for wisdom, for discernment, I got nothing. And because I was honest with myself, I couldn't pretend that my desires had the heavenly stamp of approval upon them.

What was the net effect? I was afraid of failing, I was afraid of going outside God's will, of messing up my life, of getting the second best, or third best. I was afraid that I would use my talents unwisely and end up condemned.

There is no will to choose in such a life.

I thank God that in my Orthodox home (as could well be in the Protestant circles I didn't hang with) we are taught that we choose. There is free will.

So I can choose a career.
I can choose a wife.

Of course, I should choose a career that will be of benefit to my salvation (maybe not a rock star). I should choose a wife who will help me walk the way of the pilgrim (so maybe a non-Christian would be a bad idea).

But the thrilling part to me is that divine judgment does not come for the decisions we have made (ie. farmer over doctor, or Betsy over Susie), but for how we live with those decisions (ie. What kind of a farmer am I? How do I treat Betsy?). I find a certain degree of freedom - of liberty - in this.

- V.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Like my friend Les of Whippleshire, I was raised in an Evangelical Protestant family.

Today, while painting a door, a tune from my childhood started weaving its way through my cerebral passages, circling and circling about my mind in the way that only a truly annoying song can:
One door and only one,
And yet its sides are two.
I'm on the inside,
On which side are you?
And I got to thinking about how arrogant this Sunday School tune truly is. How presumptuous. What kind of Protestant triumphalism was I ingesting with my Sunday breakfast? What kind of message were we kids receiving? That we were/are the elite? That we have the right to flaunt that eliteness before those on the "other side"? Frightening, really.

This led me to thinking about the Orthodox Church, and how on Sunday of Orthodoxy, we declare boldly:
As the Prophets beheld,
As the Apostles have taught,
As the Church has received,
As the teachers have dogmatized,
As the Universe has agreed,
As Grace has illumined,
As Truth has revealed,
As falsehood has been dissolved,
As Wisdom has prevailed,
As Christ has triumphed,
This we believe. This we declare, This we preach:
Christ our True God, and His Saints we honor in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in Temples, in Icons,
On the one hand bowing down and worshiping Christ as our God and master; On the other hand, honoring the Saints as true servants of the Master of all, and offering them due veneration.
This is the Faith of the Apostles!
This is the Faith of the Fathers!
This is the Faith of the Orthodox!
This is the Faith which has established the Universe!
-Synodikon for the Sunday of Orthodoxy, 7th Ecumenical Council, 787 A.D.
Those last four sentences are fairly triumphalistic also ... but I think that there is a substantial difference between the tune of today's painting project and the Church's Synodikon for the Sunday of Orthodoxy.

The first says that we have it made. We are in. It's over, it's done, we are "on God's side" as another Sunday School song puts it.

However, Orthodoxy by contrast does not presume to say we have it made. Yes, we should be glad that we are in the Church! Yes, we should rejoice that we have found the Ark that will take us through the Deluge of sin and vice that is this world. But there is always that caution in Orthodoxy... sure, we may have found the Church, the spiritual Ark, but it doesn't guarantee us salvation - we can still jump out of the Ark, or if we are too precariously perched, we can fall out.

Triumphalism tempered by common sense, I'd say.

- V.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Global Warming and Climate Change

I read another article yesterday that spoke of the imminent demise of mankind. This one said that we are on the verge of extinction ... thanks to global warming.

I look around me, and I see the signs everywhere that the world is undergoing massive climate change. This much seems apparent. But is this change necessarily "global warming"? Perhaps one part of the world is getting more rain, or rougher winters. I hesitate to use the term "global warming".

A couple months ago I wasn't so hesitant. Then I stumbled across the term "global warming denier", and at least one editor believes that global warming deniers are on par with holocaust deniers, "though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future." I wish I could believe that this editor - and others who use this term - just means that those who deny that the world is warming are as out of touch with reality as those who deny the Holocaust. But I don't. I see here a desire to control opinion, to shout out with polite pejoratives the skeptics, the doubters. And when I see that kind of knee-jerk reaction, that kind of attempt to quench contradictory thought, I wonder why.

What's wrong with thinking otherwise? Why can't people be as stupid as they want to be? Think what they want? If I believe that the earth is flat and the moon-landing was a hoax, leave me be. Thoughts are free, or they should be.

So now I avoid "global warming." I prefer "climate change" - it comes devoid of a political agenda. And thereby I leave open the options: climate change by an increasingly hot sun, by temperature cycles that are counted in millenia (not months), by fossil fuel emissions, or even by angelic trumpet or cup (cf. Rev. 8:6-13, 16:8-9).

- V.

The Cost of Inconvenience

I was recently visiting an Orthodox Christian message board when I came across a news article someone had posted. The article was about a 45 year old woman from Boston named Jennifer Raper who is suing two doctors for "wrongful birth". Yes, you read that correctly. She is suing over a failed abortion. The article can be found here, though this particular article is abbreviated and does not mention the fact that Ms. Raper gave birth to a healthy baby.

There are so many things wrong with this story that I can scarcely begin to cover them all. First of all, let's look at the miraculous conception and birth of a healthy baby girl whom someone had attempted to destroy in utero. The chances of conception for younger women (aged 20-30) in any given cycle are only 1 in 4, and chances for miscarriage are also 1 in 4. For a woman over 40, the odds of conceiving are much lower (7.8%) and the rate of miscarriage climbs to 50%. From these statistics we can already see that, while all conceptions and births are miraculous, it is especially so in a woman of age 45. On top of the very poor odds for women of this age, consider the fact the the baby survived an abortion attempt unscathed. I can't find any better word to describe this than miraculous.

Sadly, Ms. Raper does not see this as miraculous at all. As a matter of fact, she is so distraught over the "wrongful birth" of her daughter that she is suing for the cost of raising her. Tell me, what price does one set for the life of a child? How do we calculate the cost of inconvenience? The fact that a court will have to consider this question is terrifying proof of what has become of our self-absorbed society. We have become so lost in ourselves that we have lost the ability to see the miraculous, and even the value of human life is measured in convenience.

Lord, have mercy.+

- E.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Clashing cymbals

It has been a very quiet day, an atypical day. I have had the unusual luxury of free time, time to read through my friends' blogs, to sit and chat with my wife, to play a quiet game of Scrabble with my beautiful She.

And, of course, I have been able to set up this blog and post to it. I won't have as many opportunities to post in the future, and I have been reveling in this unlooked-for chance to write - to rant - about some themes that have haunted me for the past year.

And then I look at my friends' blogs, and I see such beauty, such luminescent transcendence caught in a few words of joy or praise. I don't see that in my writings, nor even in my inclinations.

Inclinations: The "prophetic voice", the barbaric yawp, the inarticulate cry of the one who sees so much yet who can do so little...

But the Apostle says that he who is without love is a clanging cymbal. Have I been posting in love? Do I want to? I fear that my preferences are still to rail against the falling Night, to rage, rage against the dying of the Light. Not to lift up the beautiful, the seemly, or even to attempt an inchoate genesis of the heavenly.

I fear lest my vox clamanti be naught but a vox cymbali.


- V.

Flypaper II

I've thought a lot about garbage in the past year.

I've always loved nature, respected the environment ... I've agonized at times over man's befouling of his home, this wonderful, beautiful earth of ours ... but you know how it is - life creeps in, and living, eating, surviving become more important than principle, which does not feed.

Lately, however, thanks to my exposure to the numerous landfills in my neighbourhood, my heart has begun to burn within me, in outrage, in horror, in wrath at what we have done and are doing to our world.

But that's too general, too vague. It sounds like the usual inarticulate cries of the pro-environmentalist lobby. Let's get practical, and I will stitch for you a pastiche of moments that have left me shaking my head at Western waste.

Moment #1
A memory from long-ago, when I was a child in a Third World country, seeing people living in and off a garbage dump, horrified at the sight of other children diving after the garbage I had just placed in a dumpster, ripping through the plastic eagerly.

Moment #2
Flypaper. Oh, how I despise plastic bags, which last and last, and will not decompose, will not disappear. I hate how they fly about, like leaves, and end up flapping in the breeze in some bare-branched tree. And I cannot abide the fact that E & I - a typical Western couple - collect dozens of them every week, despite our best efforts to avoid them.

Moment #3
Still flypaper. This is one of my favourite moments - when I picked up a balance sheet from a credit-card account. Mrs. M______, did you suppose that someone else would be looking at your balance when you threw it out? Did you realize that I saw, and could have used your credit card number? I didn't, but I could have. I was certainly poor enough to have been tempted.

[This is not so much related to wastefulness, as it relates to human stupidity and thoughtlessness in how we dispose of our waste.]

Moment #4
Still more flypaper. On the same site where I found Mrs. M______'s credit card information, I discovered multiple files from the office of a local doctor. We are talking requisition forms for various procedures, copies of referrals, copies of medical results. Did John want me to know he has herpes? I doubt it. Thinking to jolt someone - anyone - into awareness of this terrible abuse of patients' trust, I collected several forms and then contacted the doctor to let him know I had them, but he was less than appreciative at my diligence, and blamed his new secretary. I still have the forms somewhere. I decided not to throw them out.

Moment #5
Travelling with my boss to a landfill to throw out the refuse from a reno project, my boss pointed out how much the landfill had filled in two years. From well below grade to well above grade in two years. That is a lot of waste. Then came time to unload. There were so many things there in perfectly good condition, that nobody needed to throw out. Throw out? Forget the condition - half the items could have been recycled, but nobody bothered.

On one visit, we loaded the van with hardwood benches that a local church had thrown out (they were well-labelled). The boss explained how he could make money by cutting them up - we sold one for $50 before we had travelled back to the job site.

On another, I collected a wooden box - in excellent condition - which now holds my tools.

On yet another ... but you get the picture. So much waste... full windows, wood in good condition, working appliances, items made of aluminum or copper simply thrown away...


Our culture is a culture of such materialism, and of such waste. Items (cars, furniture, simple furnishings) are made to last a couple years only, in order to ensure future purchases... and yet nobody squawks. We are consuming the world's resources at a ferocious rate, and maybe that is our prerogative, given our wealth and power in this world. But do we have the right simply to throw away what we have every couple years? Is this responsible? Is this good stewardship of our resources? Is this wise?

Why haven't we, collectively, we the wealthy, become sickened and nauseated by our wastefulness? I can assure you that it nauseates those who have little, those who have none. There is a world out there that hates us for our arrogance in treating these things so recklessly, so casually, so ... so ... wastefully.

I wish I could say what needs to be said more fluently.

- V.


A year ago this time I was working a job collecting plastic bags from the perimeter of a garbage dump. The memory sticks with me still.

It was cold, so cold. The temperature, with wind chill, was below minus 40 degrees. On a day when neither man nor beast would be caught outside, the management of this dump saw fit to hire some temporary labour (obviously neither man nor beast) to improve the aesthetics of their pile of refuse.

What happens is that when the wind blows, it picks up paper, foam, and plastic bags and carries them off the landfill and into the neighbouring trees (or fenceline, if they have one). Dumps call this detritus "flypaper". Passersby complain at the unsightliness of plastic-festooned trees, and so unfortunates like myself get the job.

I have a variety of impressions from that day ... the extreme cold, the numbed cheeks (upper and lower), the stiff joints ... the guy working next to me who had holes in his boots and who had to stop frequently to restore sensation to his frozen toes ... the desolate feeling of trudging around a landfill, which is our civilization's excrement, reduced to cleaning up the detritus that the landfill has rejected ... the post-apocalyptic sight of men, alone in a barren and desolate wilderness, buffeted by snowy gusts of howling wind, bent double to stuff their garbage bags with flypaper.

Never have I felt so alone, so futile.

And I think I have earned my hatred of plastic bags.

- V.