Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Not an Obamaphile

I cannot guarantee how long or how faithfully I will be able to sample the blogosphere, but in this latest bout of web surfing I found a bleak analysis of the American election over at Whippleshire.

He is not an Obamaphile, clearly. For that matter, neither am I.

Throughout the latter part of this election I have felt the enervation that comes from true pointlessness. What is the point in cheering for a McCain over an Obama? Or vice versa? Neither would have been good for America, and now we will find out exactly how bad it can be with the guy that won.

America's greatness lay in being a republic, not a democracy, not an empire. The republic died years ago, perhaps before the Second World War? Her greatness lay in her constitution, a constitution which has been completely abrogated, dismissed, and otherwise sloughed off. In watching Election 2008 I met and was smitten by the figure of Ron Paul. A Republican, but not a Republican like the imperialists Reagan, Bush, Bush, and McCain. A constitutionalist, and that is something that reaches beyond partisan lines. A man who desired a return to the republic.

But there is little point in crying for what-might-have-been. Instead we need to live with what is and what will be. ... What will be?

From Whippleshire:
It has also been said that peoples go from slavery to great faith, from great faith to freedom, from freedom to prosperity, from prosperity to apathy, from apathy to chaos, from chaos to tyranny, and back to slavery once more. America right now is on the fast track from apathy to chaos and into tyranny.
Let us hope he is wrong.

- V.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Inchoate Musings on Orthopraxy

As I have mentioned elsewhere (here and here also), orthopraxy is of some importance to me. As a convert to Orthodoxy, I have all the theology, but little knowledge (and less experience) of the practice. And what merit a man if he gain all knowledge but losing his soul for failing to practice it? This is the path of the Devil and his minions. Faith without works is dead, and I will show thee my faith by my works.

And yet there is a core ... there is praxis that is of less import and there is praxis that is the heart of our religion. Modest dress, headscarves, Lent: these things and their like are not the be-all and end-all of Orthodoxy. Granted, as Christ said to the right practice of the Pharisees, that they should have done the weightier matters of the Law (justice, mercy, and faith) while not to have left the other undone.

What evidence can I give as to this core? The Law and the Prophets are summed thus: love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself. The three activities Christ mentions in the Sermon on the Mount are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Elsewhere He identifies action done to the sick, the stranger, the widowed, the orphan, and the imprisoned as being done to Him. And St. James says that pure religion to visit the orphan and the widow in their distress, and keep oneself unspotted from the world.

Over and over, the message is this: it is essential to care for the needy, the hurting, the least among you. And so in Christ's Church the heart of our orthopraxy is still the same - caring for our fellow man, and in our care demonstrating our love for God Himself and by our works showing our faith.

It is interesting to note that there is little in Scripture about mastering a catechism, little about church attendance, little about following a prayer rule. The Church has identified these as valuable, and so they are. But the foundation of our praxis lies in our treatment of our neighbours.

The To-Do List
  • almsgiving
  • hospitality
  • visiting the institutionalized (the old, sick, and the gaoled)
  • loaning without repayment (a.k.a. giving)
  • caring for the homeless
  • remembering the single mother, the man who relies on Salvation Army clothing, and the girl who works at Walmart
  • caring also for the foreigner and the immigrant
All these things have been said before ... but it is too easy to rely on governmental social aids (like Canada's health care system, like the Children's Aid Society, like food stamps and welfare) to do the work for us. It is too easy to leave the work to large impersonal charities [the conscientious will only give to charities with low overhead and minimal administrative fees], instead of personally, where there is never any overhead and a direct, immediate, and personal relationship is forged. It is too easy to loan money to the poor (whether with interest or no).

And in a world where even the Church sends away the poor, even the Church spends her riches on the temporal, it is left to the individual to care for the hurting, to invest in eternity, to be Christ to them, that they might be Christ to us. Face-to-face, icon of Christ to icon of Christ, a glimpse of eternity, a reflection of the Divine, an acting out of the mystery of the Incarnation, a sharing in the Passion, grace overflowing upon grace in the economy of Heaven.

- V.

Inchoate Musings on Understanding God

I have been thinking about God, and how I appropriate God. [I want to think that this is a valuable exercise. Most of life is simply lived without reflection and without questioning the presuppositions that undergird it. One's belief in God is the most fundamental presupposition of all; I persuade myself that it cannot be endlessly assumed, but must be challenged.]

It has occurred to me that the God I believe in is, on a quotidian basis, a pagan one. I believe (or profess to believe) in a loving God. But this love I don't understand - it is an alien and foreign love - and so I lapse into a default position of alternating between attempts at bribery (or placation) and anger at or with God when my bribery doesn't work.

To bribe God, to placate God is the faith of the non-believer. It is faith in the pre-Christian malleable and persuadable gods of the pagan pantheons, and has nothing to do with the personal God of Holy Writ.

Anger at or with God is the faith of a thwarted child. It is based upon a relationship, but one ill conceived and distorted. It assumes that love is there, but obviously an inconsistent one.

As I peel back the layers to my private theology, I find a surface declaration in a loving God, a deeper pagan disbelief, a still deeper anger in a God who is not manipulated, and somewhere beneath it all, I find a measure of trust.

When all else has been lost - when little b. was so sick, when my grandfather died, when I fell into Bunyan's Slough of Despond - I have found myself at peace with the Divine, reconciled to the contrariness and irrationality of human existence, no longer troubled by theodicy, but simply dependent and trusting in God and in a love that persists and is sustained despite and in the midst of madness.

But only then. It strikes me that the trouble is taking the childlike faith and trust in God that is with me then and applying it to the rest of my life.

In point of fact, isn't the entire Christian journey, the pilgrimage of each life, a journey through the endless misappropriations and misunderstandings of God into pure faith? Is it not true that this struggle to see God, to have Him revealed, is not just the journey of a people, from Abraham to the Church, but belongs to each one of us?


And then I think of certain theologies. Formalized ones that belong to a particular Christian sect or other.

And it seems to me that there is a development.

There is the child's faith, pure, innocent, and untrammeled. But immature. Adamic.
There is the adolescent's faith, ideological, dogmatic, and often strenuously logical. Systematizing the faith with a nascent intellect. Still immature. Scholastic. Calvinistic.
There is the teenager's faith, romantic, emotional, and vaguely mystical. Some forms of Catholicism. Arminian.

But to the adult there is no type, no theology that can be called truly mature. There are only individuals working their way to sanctity, endlessly discovering the depths of God, until they reach a point - a mature faith - which is a faith that is childlike without immaturity. It is a faith tried, tested, and purified.

- V.

[In the above it is understood, but nowhere stated, that Orthodoxy provides a framework (the best framework) to attain this mature faith, but does not assume it. Orthodoxy provides no shorthand for her theology, no easy dogmatics, no fast mysticism. There is simply a carefully delineated but very rocky road that leads to maturity.]


I am delighted to see Ochlophobist skewering with his usual eloquence the evil of usury. Check it out.

Here are some gems from the original post and the ensuing discussion:

"The worse thing still is that the virtue of wealth is no longer linked to such things as hard work, the production of goods or other such natural virtues, but rather through "making your money work for you." Which, to be certain, is nothing more that what the Church has always called "usury." It is a rather strange proposition, that money can somehow do work. What this really means is that we are to earn interest with our money by the labor of another. Theft really ..." -Lotar.

"Why, if one wants to be ascetical as an Orthodox living in America, do we not consider the option of following, in an unpronounced manner, the norms of Orthodox piety, while taking upon oneself the suffering associated with the acquisition of some form of voluntary poverty?" -Ochlophobist.

"Why, when speaking of ascesis in an American context, do we not even consider in our rhetoric the option of encouraging Orthodox singles and families to live lives in which they will make little money (or at least less money), and thus dress and act and carry themselves in the manner of Christians who happen to be, say, in the bottom 35% of the American socio-economic scales? Would this not be a better interpretation of Chrysostom's many admonishments concerning money and family life than either trendy ascesis or pseudo-monk ascesis?" -Ochlophobist.

"The most unfortunate aspect of what you have pointed out is how narrowly the word "usury" is now defined. It is sad that folks do not put two and two together to realize that "making money work for you" entails that someone, somewhere is being inhumanely robbed or manipulated." -Joseph Schmidt.

"The value of money is created through labor by the production of goods and services. So, if you are making money without labor (ie, making your money work for you, charging interest, etc.) then you are making money from someone else's labor." -Lotar.

"The Gospel also makes total demands of the human person. [...] While the OT demands 10% of our gain, the NT demands we give all we have away. A NT tithe is the widow’s mites. Very few live up to those demands." -Ochlophobist.
- V.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Small thought, big thought

My seat over here has been getting cool - nobody has been writing anything in quite some time. En lieu of keeping it warm, and for the purposes of making a happy announcement in what is generally a rather bleak and uncertain time, E. (my lovely wife) and I are expecting a child.

We do not know the sex, and are uncertain if we would be telling you if we did, but it is good news, happy news, and altogether better than hearing me discuss sub-prime markets or the fact that Americans have to choose between McCain and Obama.

The baby is due March 3rd.

In other news, yesterday marks the one-year anniversary of little b.'s coming home from his three-month sojourn in hospital. In many ways, this is more of a birthday for us than his delivery date.

And, of course, October 14th was the Feast of the Pokrov (Protection of the Veil). I can't remember if I mentioned this in an earlier post or not, but when E. went into labour a month early, we hadn't even had her hospital bag packed. We rushed around, grabbing necessaries, and in that time I grabbed up an icon of the Pokrov. The icon stayed with my wife through her labour and delivery, and when b. was born, the icon stayed with him in his crib until he came home, the day after the Feast of the Pokrov.

Our lady the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary had her protecting veil about our son, and by her prayers and supplications we were gifted with the miracle of his coming home.

So I am thankful, very thankful. Words cannot suffice.

God is good.

- V.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Muslims, Natural Law, and the V.c.M.

In Section B, Article III of the V.c. Manifesto, I speak of Muslims reaping material and spiritual rewards for doing "the Christian thing," making specific reference to non-usurious banking and modest dress. I was later challenged on this, and I thought that rather than continue the dialogue in the Comments section, that I would expand on it in the context of a full post. In other words, here.

First let me establish that my position on Islam as an Orthodox Christian is that it is no more and no less than a Christian heresy. As such, there will be much that is of value (our common heritage and belief) but at no time can Islam be regarded as a source of eternal truth or a place to acquire wisdom - these are what Orthodoxy is for. It may be possible for a good Muslim to find God and thus salvation, but it is not something that I would care to bet on. I trust rather to the mercy of God and His love.

Within this context (ie. that Orthodoxy offers Truth but that heterodoxy and heresy do not), I believe that God blesses the nations and peoples of the world according to their adherence to certain basic principles. We might call this blessing Natural Law... that God has so written it into the fabric of the universe that doing the right thing ends in material and spiritual blessing (I include both because we are psychosomatic beings), but that failing to do the right thing results in personal and social disaster.

Some of this is extremely obvious. Killing the unborn results in a population unable to sustain itself, which in turn leads to the collapse of the society. Cheating my clients results in their refusal either to use my services or to recommend me, which in turn voids my business.

So what are Muslims doing right? What do I feel they will be blessed for ... what indeed is the Law undergirding their massive population growth and meteoric rise amidst the nations?
  1. Abortion. Muslims do not abort their young. Christian nations and many Christians do.
  2. Usury. Muslims take the prohibition against usury seriously. We abandoned this prohibition centuries ago, and indeed our societies are predicated upon it.
  3. Modesty. Muslims attire themselves modestly (the burka is a non-Christian interpolation). Our nations, and the vast majority of Christians do not.
  4. Homosexuality. Tolerated if not embraced by our society, practically non-existent in Muslim circles.

How this engages us ...

A. If we want to find a veil for E. to wear to Church, we search in Muslim stores. The very Muslim-looking hijab we avoid, but it is only in Muslim stores that we can find veils, let alone attractive ones.

B. Modest clothing? An internet search will reveal the following three sources: Indian, Muslim, and Mormon. Forget trying a department store.

C. Meat. It is impossible to get hamburger meat (ground beef) from the national grocery stores without finding old meat in the centre, hidden by the new. Our local Muslim butcher grinds his fresh, and the meat is the highest quality lean beef I have ever had.

[As an interesting aside, a block away from my home stands three shops next to each other: a convenience store owned and operated by an Antiochian Orthodox couple, a small grocery store owned and operated by an evangelical Filipina, and the butchery/ convenience store owned and operated by a couple North African Muslims. The Orthodox couple are rude, complain if they have to change larger bills, and cash work cheques for about a twelfth of the cheque's amount, taking advantage of the most poor. The evangelical Filipina is always surly. Meanwhile, the Muslim butchery treats its customers well, provides high quality meat, and if someone is short on money the owners wave it off ("bring it in next time," they say). How strange it is that the proprietor who best models Christ is the non-Christian. By way of consequence I never frequent my co-religionists' establishment, and rarely the Filipina's. It is the Muslim establishment that I frequent.]

D. Usury. Unfortunately, our bank does not offer interest-free (ie. Islamic or Sharia) banking. But other banks do. In a world where loan-taxes on the poor go to line the pockets of the wealthy, monetary systems that follow a Christian ethic are most attractive, even if they are Muslim monetary systems.

E. The families we see. And perhaps this is the sign and symbol of a changing social fabric as one group is blessed over another... Our parks and playgrounds are full of Muslim families - mom, dad, and numerous children, playing and eating together. The white Anglo-Saxon types are nowhere to be seen. Couples biking together perhaps, but the next generation? Taken care of by the Muslims.

- V.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Two Moments

A Moment in a Cemetery

Some time ago, not too long after Pascha, I and several others were working together to give our parish cemetery its annual spring cleaning when an older parishioner remarked in scandalized tones that another Orthodox cemetery in town had just interred the cremated remains of someone ... and with the approval of the bishop no less! When I made note that cremation was just as scandalous and unOrthodox as embalming, another practice that crops up in Orthodox circles, I was gently rebuked. Embalming, I was told, is okay ... it is only cremation which is not.


When I had gone apart with a friend, I began a mini-rant on the heterodoxy of embalming. Until I noticed that he wasn't with me, wasn't in agreement. He showed only the mild patience of an older dog for the excitable yipping of a puppy as he discovers his own tail.

Which was discomfiting. I care about things and that strongly. I care about clean water and clean food, I care about traditional social mores, I care about children and family. And I care about Orthodoxy.

It is bewildering to call a brother or a sister "brother" and "sister" in confidence that they hold to the same beliefs, only to discover that the same brother and sister are not aggressively guarding these self-same beliefs from the predations of the Enemy. In fact, they do not care, and from the vantage-point of their apathy find articulated belief alarming.

A Moment in a Mass Grave

Just in time for the 141st anniversary of the formation of the Dominion of Canada, the news media has informed us that Henry Morgentaler is being awarded the Order of Canada. And I have to say that I am just sick over it. No doubt this event is being widely panned throughout the blogosphere and my small contribution therefore redundant in the extreme, but I cannot be silent.

For those not in the know, Dr. Morgentaler was a G.P. who gave up his practice to set up and run Canada's first abortion clinic. Who, when he was arrested, took the case through the courts and through appeals until it reached the Supreme Court and the prohibition against abortion in Canada was struck down. Who, to this day operates an abortion clinic within a block of Parliament Hill and remains the Canadian abortion activist and so an icon of death, a Canadian Kevorkian for the unborn.

Morgentaler, a Polish Jew who emigrated to Canada after the end of World War II, is a man who survived one holocaust at the hands of the Nazis only to import another holocaust into this country. Although a victim of prejudice-spawned mass murder of a minority group, Morgentaler has seen fit to champion a feminist-spawned mass murder of our minors in utero.

Something terrible has happened to this nation that not only is abortion allowed, but its apostle honoured.

They say that fully a third of my generation was aborted. I don't know how true the numbers are, but I do know that Canada is a wasteland - a mass grave - inhabited by the dead whose blood calls out to heaven. Against this society, against their infanticidal mothers, against the "doctors", against Morgentaler.

Lord have mercy.

- V.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Something Beautiful

In keeping with this most holy season, something beautiful:

May God grant you a sober and prayerful close to Holy Week, and a most blessed Pascha.

- V.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Keeping Hands & Breath Low, and Eyes Upward

From Ochlophobist:
We live this life between sky and earth; anything which hinders the view of either is a fabrication. When my parents moved to suburban Detroit, and I found myself surrounded by mile after mile after mile of boxes of sameness, I would lie on the asphalt parking lot at the church in front of our parsonage, and stare at the sky, for it is all that I had left, having been taken from hill and field. I had only sky those years, divorced from earth, and therefore from myself. Having learned from this, or rather suffered it, now each place I go I seek a field in order to know the place and myself there. Prairie grass or cotton, one can make something of a life, keeping hands and breath low, and eyes upward. [emphasis mine]
I can't think of anything to improve upon this.

- V.

Is it Orthodox? III

Is it Orthodox to care for the environment? Perhaps we should instead ask if it is Orthodox to venerate an icon, or if it is Orthodox to combat the Gnostic hatred of matter.
The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God. … I do not worship matter. I worship the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who willed to take His abode in matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. Never will I cease honoring the matter which wrought my salvation! I honor it, but not as God. Because of this I salute all remaining matter with reverence, because God has filled it with his grace and power. Through it my salvation has come to me.
- St. John Damascene (675-749)
Other quotes from the Fathers:
Creation reveals Him who formed it, and the very work made suggests Him who made and ordered it.
- St. Irenaeus of Lyon (129 –203)

I want creation to penetrate you with so much admiration that wherever you go the least plant may bring you a clear remembrance of the Creator. … One blade of grass or one speck of dust is enough to occupy your entire mind in beholding the art with which it has been made. … The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, even our brothers, the animals, to whom Thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. …We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to thee in song, has been a groan of pain. May we realize that they live, not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee and that they love the sweetness of life.
- St. Basil the Great (347-407)

Quotes from: A Cloud of Witness: The Deep Ecological Legacy of Christianity, by Frederick Krueger. (Santa Rosa: Religious Campaign for Forest Conservation, 2002, 4th ed.)

- V.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Is it Orthodox? (cont.)

The only people who appear to care about God's Creation as much as Orthodox ought to are the pagans and the environmentalists.

The pagans worship a false god or goddess that cannot save, cannot lead them into all truth. They discern the [good] form that God has made, but are powerless to receive the grace that God wishes to impart to them through that form. The sacramental and the salvific power of Creation are lost to them, because they do know the God Who created and blessed what they worship. I am minded of St. Paul's words: They worship that which they do not know.

The environmentalists (the followers of environmentalism) worship a barren and lifeless ideology that cannot save them from themselves and the corrupting evils of the heart. In the crucible of their ideology they have discovered a strange alchemy whereby abortion, forced sterilization, and euthanasia are good things, cures to the disease of overpopulation. Their love of environment is unmediated by a love for their fellow man, and so the greatest law, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," is lost in stewardship enshrined.

[And in the writing of this post I hear and read of such a worshiper who recently made the following remarks in the wake of the death of some sealers: "The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society recognizes that the deaths of four sealers is a tragedy but Sea Shepherd also recognizes that the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of seal pups is an even greater tragedy." This is a perfect illustration of the lovelessness of the religion of environmentalism.

Later in the same article another environmentalist is recorded to have advocated assassinating vivisectionists. Vivisection is morally wrong, but murder will not improve the situation any.]

These faiths are graceless and loveless. Only in Orthodoxy do we have an understanding of why it is we must tend this earth that God has made, steward it carefully, work it respectfully, and heal it by our prayers. We know the true function of this Creation, and that is to be the vessel of God's love to us, the means of humbling ourselves for the betterment of lesser beings as icons of Christ's mercy, and the reciprocation and echo of our jubilant voice of praise to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

- V.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Is it Orthodox to be environmentally-conscious?

I was recently asked if it was Orthodox to care so much for the environment.

I would boldly and unequivocally state that it is very Orthodox to care for the environment, although unOrthodox to be passionate about environmentalism. The "ism" marks the point when an idea, descriptor, or reality is "deified" to the status of false god. Idolatry ensues.

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that we have a better reason to care for the environment (what Orthodox have traditionally called Creation or the cosmos) than anyone else.

In the beginning, when God created, He called what He had created "good." A solid, unambiguous good, just as the first man and the first woman were also created good. Recently I heard it said that one of the hallmarks of the demonic is a hatred of Creation. Our Enemy hates what God has made, what He has called good, and seeks to despoil it, to despoil us.

The Old Order

When Man sinned (first Eve and then Adam), sin entered the world, the cosmos, through Adam, God-appointed steward of Creation. Through no fault of its own, Creation became fallen and corrupt, and it is for this reason that animal is at enmity with animal and man, and even the inanimate movements of nature (earthquake, tornado, lightning, etc.) are at war with both animal and man. And yet, though fallen, Creation is still good - God does not begrudge it its existence, but wills that it be, and continue to be. [Credit Fr. Stephen]

And as countless generations of men and women lived and died, their sins repeated the first sins of our first parents, and Creation groaned under the weight. Until the Advent of Christ, when all Creation rejoiced, and until Pentecost.

The New Order

In the icon of Pentecost, we see the flames of the Holy Spirit descending upon the Apostles, and below them a crowned man who represents the cosmos ... not just "the world", but all of Creation. Through this descent, the Holy Spirit began to restore, through and by the prayers of the God's holy faithful, all Creation to its Edenic, prelapsarian state. This is a process that continues to this day and enjoys its greatest flowering in monasteries and in remote hermitages where holy prayer is constantly lifted to God. Here we see a tsunami rebuked (St. Herman), a bear living in harmony (St. Seraphim), and other supranatural phenomena.

And sometimes there is no monastery or hermitage, just a holy man - whose heart has been made a temple of unceasing prayer - who reveals a fundamental, God-given peace and reconciliation between himself and Creation. Here the Holy Spirit is at work.

However, it is not just in the wonders of the thaumaturges or the monastic gardens that we see the Holy Spirit restoring and healing Creation. The Holy Spirit makes use of the matter that surrounds us to bless, heal, and sanctify the people of God . Where God mediates His grace through physical Creation, we identify this as "sacrament" or "sacramental." Water becomes the laver of regeneration. Bread and wine become the medicine of immortality. Oil becomes sacred chrism or instrument of healing. Pigment and binder become windows into heaven.

And still more things are brought into the Church to celebrate the feasts and to be yet another source of blessing to us. Greens are brought in at Pentecost, eggs at Pascha, flowers on Holy Friday, willows on Palm Sunday, etc.

As the Church year progresses, over and over again the sacramental (and therefore salvific) role of Creation is liturgically taught. We learn from the Church that all of Creation has the potential to become sacrament, by the power of the Holy Spirit through the prayers of the saints. And so the Church reveals to us the true beauty and potency of Eden, where all the cosmos becomes vessel for the Holy Spirit and bestower of God's grace.

The Contest

And so we come to the present, where the age-long demonic hatred of man, of family, of Church, and of Creation is naked and brutally active. In a nation where the blood of the innocents is shed, where God and His bride are mocked and derided, where family are endlessly torn and riven, we should expect to see poison poured into the rivers and perversions of nature sown in our fields. We should expect to see the earth paved over, the heavens obscured by bright lights and concrete monoliths, and the masses enticed away from the God-given and Spirit-blessed countryside and drawn into the desert of the city.

This is a contest where the Evil One will make use of any greed or lust to harm everything that God has proclaimed good.

And here we stand, the people of God, powerful Davids before the empty might of the Goliaths of our age (big industry, materialism, Mammonites, etc.), who rage and roar with demoniac loathing the barren mantras of their masters. And as we are fully present in our lives, it is our calling and our duty to rebuke the evil, to reclaim the good, to sanctify, bless, heal, restore, redeem ... to fix the brokenness around us in all its forms. And I would assert that that would include rejecting plastic, combating the acquisitive spirit of materialism, planting a garden, shunning GE perversions, and returning ourselves to a simpler sustainable future-friendly unselfish manner of living.

- V.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Vox Clamanti Manifesto

I have heard it said that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, and as a general principle, I would have to agree. However, at certain times and in certain places a prophetic voice is needed, a voice crying out in the desert, a chiding one that calls a people to change. Sometimes it is needful to curse the darkness.

To put it another way, Solomon wrote that every purpose under Heaven had its proper season. Sometimes one builds, sometimes one tears down. Our purpose and aim is to do both.

A Time to Build

For the sake of our own sanity, we cannot always be railing against the dying of the light. We need, and those who read this blog, need to hear and see beauty. We need to be secondary creators in emulation of our first Creator.

So expect from time to time descriptions of our parish, the natural world around us, and the joys of friendship, parenthood, and marriage. Perhaps also some art works, some art discussion ... perhaps some poetry.

And, where possible, where appropriate, and where we see them, we will offer our solutions to the various issues raised.

A Time to Tear Down

There are, regrettably, many thing that need changing in this world of ours. It is a deeply flawed and hurting world that we have inherited, a world under bombardment not only by our sins, but by our man-made toxins and our mountains of forever garbage. And it is a world where there is little to no repentance for our demon-like hatred of God’s Creation, man and world both, because we have constructed around our misdeeds horrible ideologies to defend them. Here follow the issues that we have identified (and this section will undoubtedly evolve over time).

A. Environmental Concerns

These issues form an assault on the Creation that God called good. It is a failure to recognize that when the Holy Spirit was poured out on all the cosmos at Pentecost, He began to restore, through and by the prayers of the faithful, all Creation to its Edenic state. It is a failure to realize that all of nature has the potential to become sacrament, to become grace-bestowing, and it is a wanton violation of our role as stewards of a world that is not ours but God’s, lent us for a while. In many cases, our profligacy holds dire consequences to our health and well-being, and the health and well-being of our descendants.

I. Toxins: I have broken these down into four categories, from what I consider the most immediately damaging and dangerous to the least.

  • Injected toxins – These would include street drugs, some pharmaceuticals, and vaccinations. These are easiest to avoid, most immediately damaging, and affect humans (and sometimes their progeny) alone.
  • Ingested toxins – These would include unbound chemicals in our plastics, pesticides and heavy metals in our foods, and fluoride, chlorine, and various medications in our water. Where these toxins are carried in our groundwater and our waterways, the responsibility for them is shared, and the consequences involve more than our species alone.
  • Breathed toxins – These would include cigarette smoke, smog, airborne pesticides, and vapours from household cleaning supplies. These are harder to avoid, and involve, again, a shared responsibility and collective harm.
  • Absorbed toxins – These would include the plastics, pesticides, and bleaches found in our clothes, as well as skin contact with certain cleaners and varnishes.

II. Genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are aberrant creations formed in Frankensteinian laboratories in a world-wide experiment to see what happens when the unnatural is tossed into nature. All too frequently these are self-replicating monstrosities.

Completely aside from whether or not these are a mockery and a blasphemy against God’s Creation, we eat many of the products made from these GMO’s, and we do not know what the long term effects will be.

III. Nuclear waste and depleted uranium are persistent and invisible mutagenic pollutants that will remain with us for millennia.

IV. Hormones in our meat, milk, and water have already been shown to have an effect on the hormones of those who consume them. This is another global experiment gone awry.

V. Garbage – our plastics and the throwaway culture that gave them birth – must be combated, reduced, and ultimately eliminated. There is no “away” to “throwaway”. Non -biodegradable garbage stays here in this world, our home, and as such is a present to our descendants that will keep on giving.

VI. Animal torture and the wanton cruelty towards animals, whether as manifestation of sociopathy, as the result of the industrialization of animal husbandry, or as a result of reckless and irreverent experimentation, constitutes a kind of savagery unknown even to the barbarians of yore.

VII. Clear-cut logging, unlike a more selective logging, is a habitat eliminator and the forefather to desertification. I recognize the need for wood for many uses and purposes, but our harvesting of this resource must allow renewal, rebirth, and the harvesting by future generations.

VIII. Power lines I include tentatively, largely because while we know that all electrical systems throw off magnetic fields, we do not know the long-term effects of constant habitation in a powerful magnetic field such as is given off by high-voltage power lines.

B. Social Concerns

These issues invariably are an affront to the human person, a degradation of the image of God, and a complete and utter failure to see God in others. Sadly, many of us participate in them through our self-indulgence and our pride.

I. Abortion: We need to take a tougher stand against this holocaust, this incessant feticide and its byproduct industries. Any vaccination that uses cell-lines derived from human fetuses (read: babies) must be avoided as we would avoid the taint of Nazi gold pulled from Jewish teeth. Likewise fetal stem cell research and any medical “advance” derived from fetal stem cells must be banned, boycotted, and shunned. Lastly, in vitro fertilization must be rethought where human embryos are formed in large number but not implanted in the mother’s womb. Throwing these out, as is customary in most cases, is another form of feticide, and as such constitutes murder.

II. Human trafficking: We as a society agree that human trafficking (the buying and selling of humans for the purposes of slavery) is wrong. However, we lack the moral courage to create an outright ban on prostitution and pornography so as to crush sexual slavery and the traffic in woman and children for sexual purposes. We lack the moral courage to outlaw and criminalize all companies that use forced labour, slavery, and sweatshop labour. We lack the moral courage to place adoption and organ transplants under the microscope to ensure that human exploitation was not involved, and we lack the will to vigorously punish those who engage or who knowingly benefit in such practices.

III. Usury, or interest, is a form of slavery in that it creates bondage through debt. The receivers of interest (the ever-wealthier) effectively enslave, through the medium of the banks, the ever-poorer. Banned by Mosaic Law and the Church, it has enjoyed not a resurrection but a revivification in more recent times.

IV. War, torture, and the use of weapons of mass destruction are similarly great evils. While I might argue that a defensive war is a necessary evil to preserve a nation in the face of military aggression, I fear that we have lost the ability to discern what a defensive war is. It is not a preemptive war, and it is not an offensive invasion of [another] belligerent country.

C. Cultural Concerns

These issues are those that, while not an affront to Creation or the human person, are distractions that interfere with our ability to stop, think, meditate, pray, and simply be, in silence and before God. Monastics would recognize these, I think, as tools of the Enemy to keep us from the knowledge and pursuit of God.

I. Speed: We live in a society that exists at only one speed, and that is breakneck. We need to slow down, we need to stop. We need to escape the tyranny of the ticking clock and the fear of “wasting” time as if it were something wastable. Just as God created us in matter so that we could learn to receive His grace through matter, He created us in time to experience Him in time.

There are many things – all the important things, in fact – which cannot be obtained quickly, or by any measure of time, but only by the measure of living, suffering, praying, loving, and growing. Building a marriage, raising a child, achieving maturity, gaining wisdom, and finding salvation itself are the products of a life, and cannot be measured by time or gained by the “spending” of time. We examine and speak of time as if it were quantitative, when any child could tell you it is qualitative.

II. Silence: St. Gregory Palamas was identified as a saint in part through his defense of hesychasm (silence) as a means to finding and experiencing God. Centuries before him, St. Elias discovered that God was not to be found in the crashing thunder but in the still small voice. And before him the Psalmist wrote of the need to be silent on our beds.

Silence is a precondition for meditation and prayer, and has become an ever-rarer commodity in the face of modern noise. Music pumped over the radio, through headphones, and in the supermarkets, engines roaring throughout the world, there are few places where one can entirely escape the sounds of busy, worldly Man.

III. Advertisement: Our senses and our peace are under constant assault by the omnipresence of signs and their ubiquitous siren call to buy, buy, buy. We are urged to satisfy our inner emptiness through endless consumption. We are titillated and amused, seduced into greed. We are not given the chance to rest, but are barraged and bombarded until we accept the hidden premise that we are consumers, not citizens of a nation nor the distinct people of God.

D. Ideological Concerns

These issues can be divided into two categories: heresies and philosophical ideas. Both, however, derive from the imagination of Man independent of Christ and His Church.

Thoughts may and should be free, but the implementation of these ideas – these pernicious and dangerous follies – have cost us a great deal, and will continue to cost us, unless we replace them with real wisdom and real knowledge.

I. The cult of youth: In the West we worship youth and beauty, and so we do everything in our technological power to promote youth, beauty, and “sexiness”, and to hide what is old and ugly. Our seniors are locked away into old folks’ homes. Our disfigured are urged to undergo plastic surgery. Our young starve themselves into looking more “beautiful”. Wrinkles are botoxed away and faces are lifted, grey hairs dyed, and beards shaved.

There are two even uglier consequences to the cult of youth. First, we hide our dead behind makeup and we attempt to preserve the illusion of life – eternal youth – through embalming, a profound abuse of the body, and a manifest disbelief in the reality of the resurrection of the dead. Second, the logical extension of the worship of youth results in the perversion of baby beauty competitions and prepubescent whore chic (where we display our young as sex objects), and pedophilia (where our young are perceived and treated as sex objects).

II. Modernism teaches, in essence, that things will keep on getting better. Evolutionary theory is a rationalization as to how this reversal of entropy works. What makes modernism so dangerous is that it has given us countless technologies without reckoning their cost. Vinyl must be a good, because it is a new technology – but the production of vinyl involves the incredibly toxic dioxin. Atomic energy must be a good, because it is a new technology – but in the 63 years since the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the ushering in of the atomic age, we have yet to find a safe way to handle the waste. Genetic manipulation must be a good, because it is a new technology – but we have produced alien species unknown to this planet with consequences unforeseen and unlooked-for.

It is the recklessness of modernistic technophilic zeal that has given us the heavily polluted world we know today.

III. Calvinism: This is the Christian heresy wherein free will is removed from Man’s finding of salvation. Grace (a pale, limited grace) is bestowed upon the elect, will he nill he, resulting in the saving of just these elect. Calvinism’s bastard child is the Enlightenment, and its grandchild atheism. Where God has been made odious and onerous, there people will flee Him. Doubtless some hardy Germanic types have found Calvinism the intoxicating and heady brew necessary to stir them to great and glorious achievements for the Kingdom of Heaven. However, for many (most?) others, Calvinism does not solve the age-old problem of theodicy but enshrines it. We depart from the question as to why does God allow evil and we conclude with the statement that God wills evil.

IV. Globalization, aside from its resultant dependence on slavery and forced labour, and apart from its systemic replacement of the person of the local merchant and artisan for the faceless and soulless body of the international and unaccountable corporation, is a modernistic movement that is causing massive pollution of the environment through the endless crisscrossing of oceans and continents by exhaust-emitting mega-vehicles. The only solution to globalization is a restoration of the merchant, artisan, and craftsman, the re-empowerment of the small farmer, and the replacement of the ideal of globalization with the ideal of locavore.

V. The Armageddon Complex: In the world at large disregard for the environment seems to stem from selfishness and greed. In the Christian community, however, this disregard originates from what I call the Armageddon Complex. This is the belief that the end of the world is at hand, with its implicit destruction by hail and fire, etc; in the face of this destruction there is no point to cleaning up the world (or to keeping it clean).

We do not know the day nor the hour of Christ’s return. We may suspect He is coming soon, but to fail to care for our home would be a dooming and a damning of our children to live in a toxic cesspool should He not come. In point of fact, ours is the first civilization to fail to provide for, think of, or work towards the betterment of the next generation.

VI. Compulsory public age-graded education: One of the worst (again modernistic) ideas of the 19th century was the one that remade the education of our young. It concluded that all children learned alike, at the same age and in the same manner, cloistered away from real life and real-world experience. It concluded that apprenticeships were bankrupt, despite being the primary method of disseminating knowledge for millennia. It concluded that all children would do best divorced from the God-created whole spectrum of ages that is the family at the microcosmic level and society at the macrocosmic. And it concluded that the government and its emissaries the education theorists, pedagogues, and teachers would know better how to raise and educate a child than the parents who knew it best.

VII. Right to Paradise: We appear to believe that we have the right to a disease-free paradise where there is peace and plenty for all, along with all the paradisiacal technological gizmos and devices that are the hallmark of the wealthy. Ours is a jubilant and narcissistic expectation that we are owed everything we desire. We have seemingly fallen heir to the world, and we consume and consume its resources without any sense of the other three-quarters (or more) of the world that has none of the advantages we have. We are astonished and indignant when these rights are encroached, when disease makes a comeback, when oil prices rise, when our peace or our prosperity is in any way lessened. We cannot fathom that bacteria and viruses mutate, that peak oil exists, or that there is sin in the world.

Ours are the “rights” of the delusional maniac, unaware of a fallen world. Ours are the “rights” of the locust, devouring everything in its path. We have no right to Paradise, no right to any Utopia. We can only be given Eden through the sacramental life of the Church, the healing of the Holy Spirit, and the prayers of the saints. And we will only fully enter the garden when God makes it anew.

In the meantime, our avaricious society is a blight upon the earth and a gross inequality that time and the wrath of other nations will iron out. We should accustom ourselves to a simple life before it is made simple for us.

- V.,
Writing for V. & E.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Leading Up to Lent

(Of course, it is Lent now.)

In the weeks leading up to Lent, I found myself wanting to calm my soul a little, to back away from the sorrows and the tragedies against which I have been railing recently ... so too those I haven't yet addressed but which simmer on my back burner regardless.

Calm. A chance for quiet and reflection.

A chance to sit down and hammer out what exactly it is I hope to do here. What Vox clamanti is all about. Why we need to have a voice on the Internet. Because there are certainly many others already speaking.

More to come soon.

In the meantime, may you have a blessed Lent. May you have a chance to escape the tyranny of selfishness and pride. May you find Christ this Lent ... in the fast, in prayer, and in acts of self-emptying kindness.

And pray for me, that I may experience the same.

- V.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Failure of Good Stewardship

When future generations look upon ours - if future generations there are - they will marvel at our stupidity. Not short-sighted zeal or misplaced optimism, but downright old-fashioned asinine stupidity.

For only in the past hundred or so years has mankind produced waste that could not be thrown out. [Away, yes. Into our own backyards, or into the backyards of others.] Only in the past few generations have we had, and used, the capability to leave an ecological footprint. And what a footprint we have left, one where time to clean up the mess is measured not in months or years, but in millenia and thousands of millenia.

Consider the following two examples:

1. Nuclear waste. We cannot clean this stuff up. Billed as a "clean" energy source, in that it does not use hydrocarbons like gas, coal or oil, nuclear power plants produce electricity and radioactive waste, waste that will remain radioactive, and dangerous, long after our grandchildren's grandchildren have grown old. And our best solution? Bury it in a mountain.

Completely aside from the dangers inherent in nuclear waste management, the fact is that this waste will persist for generations. Depleted uranium, one of the less radioactive byproducts, has a half-life of about 4.5 billion years. Cesium-137, one of the more radioactive byproducts, has a half-life of approximately 30 years. This sounds good, but it still takes 150 years to stabilize 97% of the stuff.

We have created a technological marvel, but have completely failed to create the technology to clean it up. And yet we use it regardless. This, by any definition, is stupidity.

2. Plastics. Long-term readers of this blog know already of my deep antipathy for plastic bags. And so I was quite pleased to read a recent article which called for an end to them. But the problem is not just bags. They are just the most obvious and most unsightly leaving of the plastic industry: bag-festooned trees are, as an urban phenomena, an unfortunate commonplace.

The problem is plastic in general. Again, we have created a technology without creating the means to clean up afterwards. The net result is a global experiment to see how nature copes with something it cannot biodegrade. Incidentally, it is this biodegradability that ensured the economic "success" of plastics, and their ubiquity in modern life - we wanted, and now rely on, something that will not rust, corrode, or rot. In short, we wanted something completely alien to nature.

And we got it. Here is what this alien monstrosity has brought us: the plastic ocean, a soup of ever-crumbling plastic floating in the heart of the Pacific, a soup twice the size of the continental U.S. The cleanup? As possible as sifting the Sahara.

For those interested in more information on the garbage patches where ocean once stood, there is a video you can watch, a blog from a research vessel currently exploring this plastic ocean that you can read, or you can check out Wikipedia.

The problem doesn't end with the near indestructibility of plastic. Unfortunately, our global experiment includes the use of toxins. Recently, bisphenol A and phthalates have both made the news as toxins that exist in our plastics and which are not bound by them [they leach out]. Other known toxins are DEHA and styrene.

I think of the snobbery of the historian or scientist looking at the Roman's use of lead in their water pipes (as an interesting side-note, "plumbing" comes from the Latin word for lead, plumbum). Are we any better? Many modern homes use piping made from PVC, an incredibly persistent plastic that releases dioxin both during manufacture and incineration, a plastic that contains the aforementioned phthalates.

What can we do, if we desire to effect some change? As far as I can see it, we must follow the three R's, whether we are making a personal move away from plastics, or the government wakes to the fact that we are bankrupting our future for present convenience and makes the decision for us. And the three R's are:
Reduce - First and foremost, we must reduce our plastic consumption. We must make it clear to the corporations that if they package something in plastic, we will not buy it. We must opt for products made of wood, metal, glass, etc. Only in the arena of medicine do I see a legitimate need for plastic ... in all other parts of our lives, I see enormous potential for improvement.
Reuse - Where plastic exists already, let us reuse it so as to maximize its lifespan. Eventually, plastic grows brittle and breaks into smaller [non-biodegradable] pieces, but until that happens, let us keep what we have out of the landfills and away from our seas for as long as we humanly can.
Recycle - In creating recycling programs we have bred a feeling of smug complacency about our plastic consumption. The truth is that out of the seven main groups of plastics, generally only two are recycled. And their recycling is just another form of reuse - the plastic doesn't go away, it doesn't biodegrade. It is a sop to our collective conscience and little more. However, where we can, and until that day when we have eliminated this unnatural abomination from our diets, recycling is a good way to reuse certain of our plastics.
The Travesty of the Religious Right

Sadly, there is not much concern for our environment in most conservative Christian circles today. In a baffling move, social conservatives (traditional Christianity is, by definition, socially conservative) have allied themselves with big business, big pharma, big oil, and big agribusiness, not to mention the military-industrial complex. And so they have distanced themselves from the environment, from the need to protect this planet from the worst of man's ravages, for it is axiomatic that the "needs" of large corporations are inimical to the needs of nature.

Somehow, we have left it to the democrats, the liberals, and the otherwise loony left to take up the torch that is ours by right and by religion. How many times have we heard it said that man is a steward of God's Creation? (I have heard it used as a defense for doing what we like with it - which makes as much sense as justifying defecating in the front parlour of our neighbours' home because they asked us to house-sit for them.) This stewardship is ours as heirs of Adam, a sacred charge not to be lightly dismissed. And as recipients of the faith, of true doctrine given us by our forefathers, the Fathers and Apostles, we should be leading the charge, eager to baptize all Creation, eager to restore the Cosmos to the conditions of paradise.

It grieves me that the Church isn't illumining the way for the world ... that it must be the largely non-Christian left that shows us how to care for His Creation (as they show us how to care for the poor, etc.). This was our task, our duty.

I am minded of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In a grim parallel, it wasn't the Pharisee or the scribe, keepers of the Law or of true doctrine, who rescued the injured man, but it was the Samaritan, the man whose religion was faulty, even heretical, who acted as a true servant of God.

Some may think that properly stewarding the environment is not the most important work asked us of our Lord. True, in comparison to saving a brother from the fires of hell, it doesn't seem terribly important. However, the truth is that most of us aren't busy saving our brothers from the fires of hell, so we really don't have a good excuse for our moral laziness and our callous disregard. Do I think that everyone should become an instant enviro-fanatic? I don't think it likely, even if I was arguing for it. A far more practical and beneficial thing would be if we opened our apathetic hearts to the need to do something, to heal our planet in even a small way. We need to be open to acting on behalf of God's Creation, and then perhaps we will see how.

- V.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Elsewhere in the blogosphere, we learn that Daniel Matsui has just gotten engaged.

Congratulations, Daniel & Michelle, and may God grant you both many years together. Your joy is our joy.

Also, Maxim from Earl Donald the Bewildered recently commented on a post over at the Ochlophobist's. I can't help but feel that his thoughts on the difference between Republican and Democrat complement mine quite nicely. (Naturally, he is welcome to disagree with me.) Here is a quote:
Can anyone tell me the difference between a Republican moderate and a Democratic moderate? There isn't much, is there? Any differences which still exist between the Parties are now relegated to the fringe; Labor and the much-maligned "Religious Right" are what remains of the soul of the Democratic and Republican Parties, respectively. Both of these groups give themselves, body and soul, to their respective Parties each election, and get nothing in return. In the middle, the real face of the single-party government which rules us emerges; I call it the "Secular Industrialist" Party. The so-called Democratic and Republican Parties are just the left and right legs of this Behemoth; the Democrats are charged with advancing the social interests of the Party, the Republicans, the economic interests. When the Democrats win, the Monster takes a step forward with its Left leg; when the Republicans win, it takes a step with the Right. Note that, no matter what happens, there is never any retrograde motion; no matter how fervent the rhetoric of each Party, when they actually come to power they never actually reverse the actions of their predecessors.
The image of the Behemoth, monstrous and all-powerful, echoes my intuition about the birth of despotism. I like it.

- V.

Hard Words from St. Luke

Vox clamanti continues to explore the serious side of life...


First, Vic has expressed some concerns about possible gnostic leanings in my last post (under "Two Thoughts on Evolution"). We take heresy very seriously over here, so after I have consulted with Orthodox authorities, I will be sure to clarify what I have written, and any error will be be corrected. Stay tuned.

Hard Words from St. Luke

I grew up Protestant, where Scripture reading and memorization are a way of life. And I have read through the Gospels multiple times, both before and after my conversion to Orthodoxy. Imagine, then, my astonishment and considerable consternation when I read a passage last Saturday that I have never read before. Not only that, but I encountered it again today on the Internet, exceedingly hard words from the mouth of Christ, as recorded by St. Luke:
"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we aught to have done!' " (Lk.17:7-10, NRSV)
It seems to me that we - or at least I - have this attitude that in doing what is right we somehow merit praise. God should be praising us for not cheating, not stealing, not fornicating, not lying, not looking at a woman with lust, etc. In fact, the marriage supper of the Lamb becomes a celebration about us, with Christ beaming at us with pleasure, saying, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." (cf. Mt.25:21, KJV) And divine revelry ensues.

I don't think that we have a very good conception as to how difficult it is to be a "good and faithful" servant (or slave), not if doing all that the Scriptures command (and they command a lot, to a degree the Mosaic Law never reached) is simply what we must do, and not meritorious in the least.

Think of it ... the Saints were they that fulfilled the commands of the Lord. The ones that lived the New Testament life to the full, who trod on asps, spoke with the angels, gave abundantly to the poor, lived free from the passions ... and yet, they only did what they were told to do. They only did what we have been told to do.

Hard words indeed.

- V.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Witnesses, Trees, Brides, and Evolution

I have been working on a commission that has kept me out of the blogosphere. It isn't done, but my son has decided to alter my schedule.

Let us leave the ridiculous and the inconsequential (my more recent posts) and move back the the meaningful.


The Two Witnesses
And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for one thousand two hundred sixty days, wearing sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes; anyone who wants to harm them must be killed in this manner. They have authority to shut the sky, so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have authority over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. (Rv.11:3-8)
The Church Fathers wrote that the witnesses at the Eschaton would be Enoch and Elijah, the only two prophets who did not suffer death. At the end of all things, Enoch would prophesy to the Gentiles, and Elijah to the Jews.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." And the disciples asked him, "Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" He replied, "Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist. (Mt.17:9-13)
Some readers of this text anticipate a return of Elijah in the sense that John the Baptist was a return of the spirit and power of Elijah (Lk.1:16-17) - I think of Michael O'Brien's Father Elijah as an example of this line of thought. However, it seems clear to me that we are looking at a literal return. "Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things."


The Tree of Life

The garden of Eden had two trees: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of [eternal] life. The second tree has been revealed to us as the Cross. A couple thoughts.
  1. I suspect that, had there been no Fall, the fruit of this tree would have been Eucharist and Communion for Adam and Eve and their children. (Although the mind boggles at Eucharist and Communion without Crucifixion. Speculative theologians welcome.)
  2. The presence of a tree of [eternal] life argues that immortality is something bestowed on us by the fruits of the tree; it is not natural to Man. Therefore death was present in the Garden, in the animals, in the vegetation. Death was observable to Adam & Eve, and would one day have been experienced by them had they not then eaten of the tree of life. As we know, in the wake of their eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve were barred from eating of the tree of life. [Eternal] death, or hell, is a consequence of the Fall.
  3. The only effective Orthodox argument against evolution that I have heard was one that stated the impossibility of Darwinian evolution in a world without death. If there was death (just not spiritual, or eternal, death), evolution remains something that is not alien to Orthodox theology.
Thanks to E. and Vic from Other Side of the Sun for helping me flesh out these ideas.


Church as Bride of Christ

Just as Eve was formed out of the side of Adam to be the bride of Adam, so the Church has been formed out of the side of Christ, that is, out of blood and water, Eucharist and Baptism, to be the bride of the New Adam.


Two Thoughts on Evolution

As has been evidenced above, I don't have a problem with evolution. To my mind, it is a perfectly reasonable way to explain the fossil record. Furthermore, I don't have any issues with the idea that Man is descended from apes, with a caveat explored below. I would like to suggest one thing, though, and take issue with another.

First, the suggestion. I don't know that we have had much evolution going on since the time of Adam and Eve. Perhaps a consequence to the Fall is the end of evolution and the beginning of devolution. [Others might here argue that evolution doesn't work too well with the Law of Increasing Entropy. Entropy could be a fancy way of describing the destructive impact of the Fall upon the cosmos. Or, more simply, entropy is a recognition that without God acting to create and maintain, the universe unwinds itself.]

Second, I wish to take issue with the Latin name for man, Homo sapiens. I don't really care what we call the ancestors of Adam & Eve ... they were animals, brutes, like the rest of Creation. However, I see a moment when God takes one (or two) more intelligent brutes from out of all Creation and breathes life and spirit into them. And in that moment God creates a new thing, utterly unique in all the cosmos, something that is both matter and spirit, some one who has both a mortal body and an immortal soul, some one who needs a tree of life in order that the two are never separated. But this new thing, this Man, is not different from the brutes by merit of being wise, or sapient, but through being God-breathed. If there was evolution, then God spoke into the process and created a miracle. I want to replace Homo sapiens with Homo spiritens (or its equivalent - I'm not sure of the Latin).

- V.

Pancake Tuesday

It is Ash Wednesday, and my Catholic friends begin their Lent today - may it be a fruitful one.

It has come to my attention that the day before Ash Wednesday is not just known as Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) or Shrove Tuesday, but Pancake Tuesday as well. In honour of information new-found, this post is dedicated to pancakes.


Call them flapjacks, batter cakes, griddlecakes, hot cakes, johnnycakes, or wheat cakes, pancakes are a delight to the senses - the warmth when they come steaming from the pan, the slightly oily rubberiness when they have been refrigerated, the rich aroma of freshly cooked batter, the rush of (syrup) sugar over the tongue, the slightly chewy texture, the taste that says 'this is comfort food'.

Indeed, I suspect that while there is a just prohibition against living by bread alone, I cannot see the fault in living solely on pancakes.

Here is my favourite recipe, courtesy of a friend. The resulting pancakes are a little more crêpe-like than your more typically Western fluffy pancake, less like bread, a trifle chewier, simply heaven. I recommend them either with icing sugar and lemon juice or with maple syrup.
Prisca's Pancakes

1 1/2 cups flour
1 3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
3 Tbs. sugar
3 Tbs. oil
1 - 1 1/4 cups water or milk

1. Beat eggs together. Add other wet ingredients.
2. Mix dry ingredients together.
3. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Mix.
4. Pour small amount of batter into a pan, and fry with a little oil.

And here is an ode to pancakes.

- V.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Two Videos

First, Star Trek meets The Hobbit.

I had a friend (definitely past-tense) who has a great love for fantasy and even greater respect for the monarchs of fantasy: Tolkien, Lewis, and LeGuin. Knowing this, I sent him a link to the following video, anticipating with eagerness his resultant horror and anguish. And yes, his reaction was everything for which I hoped.

I am still laughing.

Second, I stumbled across this piece while surfing the blogosphere. I laughed so hard I think I broke something. Naturally, humour is highly subjective, but I offer it anyway.

Dedicated to the mildly warped...

- V.

Ochlophobist and Art (Part II)

We resume our examination of Ochlophobist's recent post on art - my previous comments are over here.
When I went to Russia in my late teens, I had an experience in front of an icon of the Theotokos, one written in a traditional style, as I have briefly described here. While visiting a number of monasteries, churches, and "museums" in Russia I saw a number of icons. At that time I had never read or been told anything regarding the theology or aesthetics of traditional Orthodox iconography. Yet it was clear as day to me that there was a distinct difference between those icons which were Italianate and those which were traditional, and I was very much drawn to the traditional, and recognized a gravitas in them which I did not recognize in the Italianate icons. Indeed, I immediately regarded the Italianate as religious kitsch, a regard I hold to this day. Now, as a Protestant I grew up in an religious environment which had images, in our Baptist churches and most Baptist homes there were images of Christ, the Last Supper, hands folded in prayer next to a loaf of bread, and so forth. The aesthetic style of these images was much closer to that of Italianate iconography than it was Orthodox iconography. Now, one might suggest that like many Protestants I was only longing to find or create the NT Church all over again, and therefore would want something that was utterly foreign to my religious conventions as this would seem more "authentic." But this is not the typical paradigm through which virtually all Protestants assimilate and act on the desire to get back to the real NT Church. In almost every example of Protestant aesthetic purification of aesthetics, they either use iconoclasm to minimalize or eradicate prior forms, or they maintain the same artistic styles but change the content of the art. This is exactly what Baptists did. They adopted the artistic style of a given time and changed the content of the art to suit their aesthetic needs. Heck, a great example of this is the Mormons, who adopted 19th century aesthetics forms (painting, sculpture, and even faux-hieroglyphic manuscript writing) and assigned to such ancient pedigree. Thus it seems to me that if I had been very much in tune with the Protestant aesthetic ethos, I would have preferred the Italianate icons to the traditional Orthodox ones. I would have accepted them as a form of changed content (with Mary and Saints and somber Jesus instead of folded hands and laughing Jesus, etc.) in a common, "received" style in order to bring myself closer to the ancient Church. For in Protestant aesthetics, style and form, as it were, is decidedly arbitrary - whatever communicates the token talking points of content in a stylistic manner which is "heard" is the most acceptable. But I saw something in the traditional icons which was worlds apart from any religious art I had ever seen before. These icons spoke of a truth that far transcended my little "Jesus and me" self-evangelistic moment or my lust for didacticism or my religious sentimental inclinations or my need for a socio-religious commercial. The traditional icons were uncomfortable, demanding, and not, in the slightest bit, concerned with my own affectations or "needs." I thought there might be mercy to be found in them, and in one instance I was overwhelmed by such mercy, but it was not the sort of mercy I had encountered before.
Again, I don't want to dissect Ochlophobist's work (dissection being messy, usually involving something dead), but I feel that certain points he makes deserve further comment.

First, there is a clear difference between iconography and Italianate kitsch. "Gravitas" distinguishes icons from the Italianate painting, he says. Yes. Gravitas, sobriety, transcendence, a taste of eternity. In infusing religious art with the principles of realism and humanism, including emotionalism, the earlier qualities of transcendence and the eternal were lost. In essence, religious art became Nestorian, as it emphasized Christ's humanity at the expense of His divinity. And His Apostles and Saints lost their sanctity, as sanctity is not a humanist trait; their most sensational qualities had to emphasized instead.

Second, the aesthetic style of Protestant religious art is very similar to that of Italianate kitsch. Unfortunately, this is all too true. And where Protestant aesthetics is not of the Italianate kitsch variety, it belongs to the images of nature motivational poster variety, which is, if anything, worse. I remember two posters from my childhood: "Moi, je suis le chemin, la vérité, et la vie" ("I am the way, the truth, and the life" in French) on a rainy, rainbow-bannered landscape, and "I know I'm victorious, Lord, but it sure feels like I'm getting stomped" on a picture of a sad-faced dog. Somehow, neither attains to the watered-down respect for the holy that a pair of praying hands has.

Third, a desire to get back to the NT Church results in iconoclasm or the same style with a different content. I have never heard of the Protestant drive to return to the NT Church (or even the primitive Church) resulting in a change in aesthetics. I don't think Protestants are built that way with respect to art - they are, sadly, uneducated as to art or are hostile to it. The intimate nature with which theology interacts with art is completely lost on the average Protestant... maybe even your average liturgical Protestant. A change in theology will not, cannot, result in a change in aesthetics.

Unfortunately, far more common than altered content is outright iconoclasm. At one time in my varied (or is that checkered?) past I was an art teacher in a Christian setting. And time and again I would run into parents who had no understanding for the value of art, save as a historical phenomena, or in rare cases, as a part of Western culture. For these parents, the intersection of image and God, no matter how remotely or tenuously linked, was sacrilege. My freedom to put the sacred into art, or simply to present religious art in class, was not welcome, and my decision to do so resulted in some pitched battles.

[Perhaps at some point in the future I will give my patented five minute defense of religious art against those who attack it on the grounds of the Second Commandment.]

Fourth, iconography transcends the vagaries of art history and societal aesthetic tastes. This transcendence is formed in carefully defined theology, and it is preserved and perfected in Tradition. Because Protestants never had a theology of art, and because Catholics have regrettably lost theirs (save for isolated pockets of conservative Catholics where Italianate kitsch is the tradition), both are left helpless before the whims and the winds of fashion. The new method of "communication", no matter how inarticulate it may be or how imperfectly it speak the colours and the tones of eternal truth, must perforce become the new mode for the masses. In the absence of tradition, the new and the unconventional is a seduction for which there is no defense.


We look forward to Ochlophobist's next post on art.

- V.

The Different

Back in the day, every village ...
  • had its idiot, imbecile, or moron,
  • had a man (or several) maimed or crippled from a recent war,
  • could boast someone with a disfiguring tumour or skin ailment,
  • etc.
Perhaps this day to which I refer is a largely fictionalized one, and, to be honest, I would rather make a point here than look up 17th or 18th century statistics. The point is that up until fairly recently, every town and village had to get used to a certain degree of difference within people - they had to adjust to a wide spectrum of humanity. In some towns derision might replace the hoped-for kindness and respect, but learning to deal with Others, for better or for worse, was a major part of former times.

Modernity and its technological marvels have allowed us to cure many diseases once incurable, to give the maimed and the crippled the chance at a normalized lifestyle, to hospitalize those who cannot care for themselves. And it is not a bad thing that we can help so many that were otherwise doomed.

However, there are consequences. Firstly, the spectrum of difference has narrowed - what is different is not quite as different. We do not learn to see that God has made man with infinite variety, and so instead we become prescriptive like the inhabitants of Waknuk in The Chrysalids. The minute differences between the normal and the other normal become everything, and magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Elle tell us how we are to look.

Secondly, as the wrinkles of difference are ironed out by the flatiron of technology wizardry, and as the remaining abnormalities are shut up into homes or aborted before they have a chance to live, we lose. We lose on an opportunity for ascesis, for humility, for learning to serve the alien and the stranger in our midst.

- V.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Random Thought

Is it just me, or does a mid-rant Bill O'Reilly bear an uncanny resemblance to Lewis Prothero from Silver Pictures' V for Vendetta?

Just a thought.

- V.

On the Origins of Antisemitism

I have given some thought over the years to the question of antisemitism, mostly because it is an irrational belief leading to irrational (and wholly evil) actions, and irrationality bothers me.

Now when I was younger my parents "explained" the theodicy of antisemitism by telling me that the Jews were God's special people, and for this reason the world hates them.

I don't have any real issue with the theory that the world hates God's people - this seems amply borne out by persecutions and martyrdoms from the time of St. Stephen to this present day and hour. And Christ Himself said that the world would hate His followers.

I do take objection to the theology of that explanation. For it is one of the most basic teachings of the Church that we Christians are Israel, the heirs of the promises of the Old Testament, and God's own people. (Only in the heresy of dispensationalism is this teaching overturned.) As such, I cannot accept my parents' simplistic and heretical explanation, and must look outside of it.

One possibility (again relating to theology) is that the Jews brought down a curse upon themselves when certain of them were calling for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. "May His blood be upon us and upon our children," they said.

I have two problems with this interpretation. First, and most importantly, Christ said, "Father God, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Are we seriously going to posit that God is carrying a grudge for an act that He Himself forgave? Secondly, as it has been Christians (or, rather, those bearing the name of Christ) who have done most the persecuting, it leaves us in the awkward position of claiming that God's people - the meek, lamb-like, child-like, loving servants of God - have been required or appointed to act as the tools of the devil in carrying out a curse.

Having exhausted the theological possibilities, let us look at this more rationally; rather than looking to God for reasons why the Jews have been hated, let us look to something a little more human. It appears to me that there are two logical reasons for the genesis of antisemitism, if anything that gives rise to hatred can be called logical.

First, xenophobia. In my estimation, this sin is a perversion of a love of kin. Something good has been turned to something darker, and when xenophobia turns to action, we see the birth of evil. Not only does the fear of the alien explain hatred of the Jews, it explains hatred of Gypsies, of the Irish, of the French, etc.

Second, usury. This shouldn't ever have become an issue, as usury was specifically forbidden in the Old Testament, and was not practiced by the early Church. However, certain Christian rulers needed great amounts of money to finance their wars, Crusades, and explorations. No sane person would lend large sums of money interest-free for such risky ventures: too much risk, no security. Risk is only mitigated if the money is loaned with interest. Not being permitted by the Church to handle usurious transactions with other Christians, these rulers went to the only non-Christians in their midst: the Jews, who were not permitted to do much else but loan money. Naturally, these Jews grew wealthy, as a kind of banking elite. The unfortunate corollary to wealth is that it stirs up envy, and the unfortunate corollary to usury is that it stirs up anger and desperation. The net result is that some that bore the name of Christ grew to hate the Jews for practicing a business that Christians imposed upon them to finance unChristian wars.

Which is as nonsensical as it seems.

- V.