Who Am I?

Weekend Update 02-19-2011

Posted: February 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | 4 Comments »

One part of me is appalled at what Fox News (and I use the term loosely) is doing. But there’s a voice in my head that whispers that those who buy into its pig slop and willingly subject themselves to it deserve what’s happening to them. The media outlet is basically the Jersey Shore of news.

After initially appearing that he would buck the food industry, Vilsack apparently forced by the White House to concede. Of course, when it comes to Big Food, Republicans are no different than Democrats and arguably even worse (though it’s hard to imagine how). Sigh. What’s the point in having a regulatory agency that for all practical purposes is run by those it regulates?

Here we go. Neither Republicans nor Democrats apparently learned anything from Herbert Hoover and the lessons of history. I like Robert Reich’s suggestion on restructuring income and payroll taxes. It makes a lot of sense.

Actually, I don’t think Republican leaders in Congress are craven leaders. I think it’s a deliberate extension of the well-known Republican post-Civil Rights era “Southern strategy” intended to shore up that part of their base while keeping the reality of their actions at arm’s length. Shrewd? Probably. But despicable nonetheless.

Robert Reich’s proposal remains one of the more sensible ones out there. But we all know sensible and reasonable ideas go nowhere fast in our country today.

We also can’t have reasonable regulations on food labeling like Europe. No, it might be bad for business if we were actually able to figure out what we were eating.

I’m not even sure what you do when such a large portion of your population loses touch with anything vaguely resembling reality. Historically, countries whose populations have succumbed to delusion haven’t fared too well.

No surprise that IE9 is years behind comparable products. IE has always lagged well behind everything else. Microsoft has no interest in making it any better than barely good enough. I use Firefox as my primary browser. If I encounter a site that doesn’t work well in Firefox and I really want to access it, I’ll try Opera, Chrome, and Safari. If it doesn’t work in any of those browsers either, I’ll typically decide I’m just not interested in the site.

The real problem with Social Security. Not that enough Americans are paying enough attention to notice what is happening. (Or have been deluded into believing it’s something else.)

The Republicans have a mandate to repeal the laws of arithmetic. I love that line and it’s so true! As a one-time teen parent who knows exactly what the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program achieves, especially in the poorest parts of our country. The effects of malnutrition during pregnancy and childhood development produce lifelong negative effects. I’m disgusted by attempts to cut or eliminate it.  And when I see things like proposals to cut $578 million from the IRS enforcement budget either those proposing it are as bad at arithmetic as the people who elected them or they are specifically representing the interests of tax cheats. Why do I say that? Because that particular item is not even a short term savings; it’s a net cost. Nor is it a small one. The last time I checked, IRS collected roughly $50 dollars for every dollar spent on it. (Among other things, that ratio illustrates how grossly underfunded tax enforcement is today in the US. If a company was receiving a 5,000% return from its collections department, it would be heavily increasing its investment until that return reached some smaller, sane percentage.) If you’re able to do basic arithmetic, you’ll see that cut won’t save anything. Instead, it will cost the government a net of roughly $5 billion dollars immediately. And the long-term costs will be much higher. Our tax system relies on our high rate of what is called “voluntary compliance.” The term doesn’t mean that you have a choice about whether or not to pay taxes. It means that you comply with the law voluntarily without any enforcement or active collection action on the part of the government. Our voluntary compliance rate sits at roughly 90% (last time I checked) and is one of the highest in the world. However, voluntary compliance relies on a mix of intangibles. For those who might be tempted to cheat, there needs to be a credible belief that the law will be enforced. Moreover, the population as a whole needs to believe that everyone else is paying what they are supposed to pay. When you cut enforcement action and people begin to see or hear stories of others who have gotten away without paying the taxes they owed, it undercuts that core belief. As voluntary compliance drops, it becomes a snowball rolling downhill. I don’t know what it is today, but back in the 80s, voluntary compliance in Italy reached a low of 10%. Italy’s a very different culture and our withholding system makes it difficult for people to avoid all of their tax obligation, but the intangible impact of cutting tax enforcement even in our country could exceed the tangible impact over time. Oh, and that roughly $5 billion cost of cutting IRS enforcement? It’s a continuing cost. It will cost you $5 billion dollars this year and $5 billion (or more, probably) next year, and so on and so on. It doesn’t cost as much as allowing the still unfunded Bush tax cuts to continue, but it’s not an insignificant direct cost and it undermines the principles under which our tax system functions.

I’m pleased at the protests to union-busting efforts in Wisconsin and other places. But I will note that when the people of a state choose to vote for people who take public positions directly opposed to the interests of most of the state’s population, there is some sense of getting the government you deserve. The same thing has long left me bemused by the behavior of so many people in some of the very poor states of the South. They vote for people who outright say they want to end programs on which a vast number of the people in the state depend or have depended in the past. And the same people are often in favor of the continuation of policies that simultaneously increase poverty and the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few. Of course, I’ve lived in many of those states growing up and I recognize there is a deliberate exploitation of an undercurrent of racism that supports some of it. It’s somewhat less overt than it used to be, but it’s still very much present. I’m not sure what excuse the people of Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, etc. have for their voting choices. If you vote in people who say they are going to do harmful things to you, you shouldn’t be surprised when they actually try to do them.

Then again, Robert Reich is probably right about the Republican strategy. It does look like the Republicans are actively working to pit different classes of voters against each other in order to distract the vast majority of Americans from the fact that they are looting America and bankrupting our future in order to further enrich the wealthiest 1%. And they seem to be achieving a surprising degree of success with that strategy. Go figure. I like his question. Who is more valuable? One hedge fund manager or one teacher? Just by having the income of the top 13 hedge fund managers taxed at the current income tax rate rather than at the current 15% special rate for “capital gains,” we could pay for 5 million teachers. Think about those numbers and let them sink in. We have never been a classless society, contrary to popular myth, but we are entering (or have entered) a period of active class warfare. Nobody seems to be responding effectively on our behalf. We desperately need a Teddy Roosevelt.

These two writers are going to a different church every Sunday in the Portland, OR area. A Year of Sundays chronicles their experiences. The articles so far have been insightful and entertaining. They aren’t Christian and they aren’t merely attending Christian groups. If either of those facts bother you, consider yourself duly warned.

Of course, the American people have notoriously short memories and probably don’t collectively recall what a government shutdown really means. And this time, instead of occurring late in the year in the middle of a strong and growing economy, it will happen in the middle of tax season in an economy that is still struggling. The damage will be much, much worse. If the House of Representatives does shut down the government through their failure to legislate, will it finally be the death knell of the modern Republican party? That would at least offer one bright ray of sunlight in an otherwise bitter pill.


The Problem of Evil?

Posted: February 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I definitely recommend the lectures series on Eastern Orthodoxy and Mysticism: The Transformation of the Senses given by Hieromonk Irenei Steenberg. The lectures are excellent, but I actually found the manner in which he handled the Q&A sessions following each one and some of the answers he gave on the spot in response to questions even more impressive.

As I was listening to the lectures a second time, something in the third lecture that I had overlooked the first time through caught my attention and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I think it captures much of my instinctive response to the particular shape the discussion of “The Problem of Evil” often takes today, but which I could never quite find words to properly express.

Father Irenei, in the part of the lecture in which he is discussing the limits of what we can say and know, makes the point that it’s a misnomer to describe evil as a problem. A problem has a solution. We may not know or have discovered the solution, but it’s reasonable to believe that a solution exists. He uses the illustration of a complex math problem. It might be hard. It might be beyond our present ability to solve. But it’s reasonable to believe it can be solved. By calling evil a problem, we imply there is a solution — that the gordian knot can be undone.

But evil isn’t like that. It’s truly a mystery that in some ways transcends our understanding. We don’t ultimately solve the question of evil. We never fully understand it in all its ramifications. We are invited instead to trust the God who also transcends our understanding — the God who has made himself immediately and personally accessible to us all by assuming our own nature. We are invited into a communion of love beyond our understanding. We are told that God has overcome evil and defeated death on our behalf. We can place our confidence in that particular God or not, but either way, we still can’t solve or resolve the problem of evil.

Evil is a mystery. We can see its impact, its effects. We sometimes know when it’s at work around us. But it’s often beyond our understanding.

None of which means we should give up or succumb to evil. We are to fight it in our lives. And we are to offer pastoral care to all those suffering evil. God gives us the grace, the power, to do both if we choose to avail ourselves of him. But those actions form a way of life, not an intellectual understanding of evil nor are our efforts necessarily effective at reducing evil on some large scale. We are to offer our efforts nonetheless. That act in creation is part of our reasonable worship. It’s part of our eucharistic function as priests in creation.

But we need to resist evil, not solve it. If we focus on the latter, I think we make ourselves vulnerable.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 18

Posted: February 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 18

48. Since the devil is jealous both of us and of God, he persuaded man by guile that God was jealous of him (cf. Gen. 3:6), and so made him break the commandment. The devil is jealous of God lest His power should be seen actually divinizing man: and he is jealous of man lest through the attainment of virtue man should become a personal participant in divine glory. The foul thing is jealous not only of us, because of the glory which we attain with God through virtue, but also of God, because of that power, worthy of all praise, with which He accomplishes our salvation.

The devil is jealous and he turns that jealousy into one of his strongest weapons. We become jealous of others. We believe others, even God, are jealous of us.

God, though, is not jealous. He is love. He empties himself to come to us when we were not seeking him. As St. Maximos says, God seeks to make us all personal participants in his divine glory. That’s the traditional understanding of Christian salvation. It can be hard to discern that in the modern Christian cacophony.


Rant on “Entitlements”

Posted: February 16th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Misc | Comments Off on Rant on “Entitlements”

What’s the point of having your own blog if you can’t engage in a political rant every once in a while? 😛 For anyone reading who prefers to avoid US politics entirely (and I don’t really blame you), just skip this post. My blog will return to its normal fare in the morning.

So, for those who don’t mind a little political ranting from time to time, I’m going to focus this one on the issue of the deficit and so-called “entitlement programs.” First, I would like to say that I really wish we had some viable form of “the press” left in this country that could expose political propaganda rather than simply parroting it. (Or, in the case Fox, actively generating their own propaganda expanding and sometimes shaping the propaganda from right-wing politicians and political groups.) The widespread use of the blanket term “entitlement programs” precisely illustrates the ease with which even the most transparent manipulations are repeated almost without challenge.

The term itself is a deception. It’s used to lump entirely disparate programs together. Why? Well, that’s where it gets interesting. The two main programs so lumped together are Social Security and Medicare. Let’s see what happens when we don’t lump them together, but consider them separately. I believe doing so exposes the nature of this deliberate act of deception.

What is Social Security? People try to categorize it, but the truth is it’s not one specific thing. It has some of the features of a defined benefit pension plan. And it also has some of the features of an insurance program. It’s a social safety net administered (with extremely small administrative costs) by the government and funded through payroll taxes. Contrary to much of the noise you are hearing, Social Security does not have any major problems and is not a significant contributor to the budget deficit. It does require some minor tweaking — not least raising the current cap on the payroll taxes which fund it — but it doesn’t require any major overhaul.

We are entering a period where, instead of taxes collected exceeding the amount paid, Social Security will have to tap its reserves. Mostly that’s because Generation X, my generation, is significantly smaller than the Baby Boomer generation. By all the demographics I’ve seen, though, the Millenials are a much larger generation and as they continue to enter the work force much of that generational imbalance will be self-correcting. That’s not to say that there may not be some minor tweaks required to the tax or benefits in the long-term, but that should be based on actuarial data, not political rhetoric.

Nor is it true that the Social Security trust fund has been “raided.” While I think politicians, especially over the last thirty years, have used the trust fund to disguise the impact of their actions (especially when it comes to tax cuts), the fund itself is intact. It’s invested in the safest of government securities — exactly where the safest and most conservative funds keep their money. Yes, that provided additional funds to our Federal Government “account” in years when those securities were purchased, but they are not worthless “IOUs” any more than our currency is just paper. Those are government securities backed by the full faith and credit of the United States and if we failed to honor them, one of the immediate impacts would be that we would lose our international credit rating. The impact of that would be severe and spread far beyond Social Security. So the Social Security trust fund is as secure and safe as anything in our country. (I’ll also point out that critics of that approach fail to answer the question of where the government should have put a fund of that size. It’s not the sort of thing you can go deposit in a bank without distorting the financial system and economy beyond recognition.)

Now Medicare is another story entirely. It’s basically a health insurance program specifically for the group of citizens in our country requiring the most health care (and usually the most expensive health care) overall. Its costs are spinning out of control. However, its costs are spinning out of control because the health care system in our country is broken, profiteering is rampant, and the entire system is breaking down. Yes, there are some ways that Medicare has been even more strongly impacted by ridiculous laws. (The law prohibiting it from negotiating drug costs like every other insurance program in our country does is one such example.) But by and large, there’s nothing we can do to “fix” Medicare without reforming the overarching health system within which it operates. We pay more than double the cost per capita for health care than the next nation on the list (Japan last time I checked). And our health care results, by every measure, are worse than every first world country and even some second world countries. Heck, Cuba gets better results at a lower cost than we do.

Maybe I’m overly suspicious, but I think the attempt to lump those two programs together is a deliberate attempt to gain the political support necessary to siphon money from Social Security to private financial interests (banks and investments companies). In order to do that, Social Security benefits have to be reduced. You can raise the administrative costs substantially and maintain the same level of benefits. Social Security has traditionally been the political third rail, but by exploiting the crisis in health care in our country, I think those who have long salivated at the prospect of raiding it see their opportunity.

After all, nobody in our country can honestly believe after the last two years that Republicans have any interest whatsoever in actually fixing the US health care system or doing anything whatsoever to address its problems. So they can’t really be interested in doing anything to “fix” Medicare. No, the end game here looks to me like an effort to “privatize” (which really means further enrich banking interests and Wall Street) Social Security while allowing Medicare (and most of our private health care system as well) to basically collapse.

If anything like serious journalism were still practiced anywhere on a significant scale in our country, our politicians shouldn’t be able to get away with it. Of course, even if there was still something like a serious press in our country, a large portion of our population seems to willfully prefer propaganda to truth. At least they go out of their way to find sources who distort reality or fabricate delusion. (And yes, if you choose to watch Fox, you are certainly part of that group. Personally, I almost never watch any of the 24 hour “news” channels, though on the extremely rare occasions that I do, CNN seems like the least offensive among them. I certainly don’t listen to most of the tripe that airs on talk radio.)

Of course, the real sources of the present budget deficit are the Bush tax cuts and our two foreign wars. Both were and continue to be completely unfunded. If we let the Bush tax cuts expire and instituted a “war tax” of some sort (lots of ways we have done that in the past for other wars), we wouldn’t have much of a deficit problem at all. Letting the Bush tax cuts expire wouldn’t even impact most of us very much. After all, we were doing just fine with the rates as they were under Clinton. The vast majority of those cuts went to the most wealthy. And contrary to another common delusion in our country, the overwhelming majority of us will never be in the wealthiest one percent. If you seriously believe otherwise, I have this bridge I’m trying to sell …


The Jesus Prayer 1 – History, Scripture, and the Meaning of Mercy

Posted: February 16th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Prayer | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Prayer 1 – History, Scripture, and the Meaning of Mercy

This series of reflections is on The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

It seems to me that a life of unceasing or constant prayer is very often dismissed as impossible by many Christians today. I’m not entirely sure why that’s so. For most of Christian history, the discipline of prayer has been one of the central practices of Christian faith. And it seems clear that St. Paul considered prayer extremely important. In no fewer than four places in the Holy Scriptures, he exhorts those hearing his words to pray constantly or unceasingly. If it’s captured that many times in the texts of Scripture, we can be certain it featured prominently in his oral exhortations and teachings.

Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (Rom. 12:12)

Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance. (Eph. 6:18)

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with Thanksgiving. (Col. 4:2)

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances. (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

I think, to riff off Chesterton, the discipline of constant prayer has not been attempted and found impossible or wanting by so many Christians today. Rather it has been found difficult and left untried.

And it is certainly difficult. I’m the first to confess that my rule of prayer is a poor one and even so I fail to keep it as often as I succeed. My efforts at constant prayer still produce sketchy results at best. But I do believe that St. Paul would not have kept exhorting those under his care to pray constantly if it were not humanly possible to do so.

Moreover, the practice and seriousness of the ascetic discipline of prayer colors and shapes the whole of Christian history. I first encountered the Christian discussion of unceasing prayer through Bro. Lawrence, but the Desert Fathers of the third and fourth centuries are the ones to whom Khouria Frederica turns in this chapter. We think we need novelty in prayer lest it become stale and we become numb to it, but the following story speaks volumes about that conceit.

Abba Pambo (AD 303-75) could not read, so he asked another desert dweller to teach him a psalm. When he heard the first words of Psalm 39, “I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue,” he asked the other monk to stop and then meditated on that verse alone — for nineteen years. (Asked whether he was ready to hear at least the remainder of the verse, he replied that he had not mastered the first part yet.)

We now live in a literate culture with easy access to almost any text we desire, including myriad translations of the texts of Scripture. Moreover, there are everywhere churches that claim to be “bible-believing.” But can we honestly say that we take the texts that seriously? What does belief mean in this context?

The particular form of the Jesus Prayer arose because so many of those who encountered Jesus in the Gospels asked for mercy. I’m not sure exactly why this prayer is the one that kept coming to me when I was searching for a breath prayer, but that likely had something to do with it. (And perhaps it’s also an example of the mercy of our Lord. He knew the prayer I needed, even if I didn’t.)

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.
      Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.
            Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.
                  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.

Khouria Frederica then asks a good question. What does it mean to ask for mercy? I never realized it was a good question until I read this section of her book. I had always read it the way we see it used in Scripture and in many contexts of history, literature, and life. Asking for mercy is a way of asking for help.

But a lot of Christians today think of mercy as something a prisoner begs from a judge — basically a plea for leniency. While that’s a limited, but valid, meaning of the term in English, that’s not the way it’s used in Scripture, common Christian usage, or even in general usage. If you take mercy on someone, you help them. I’ve always seen it so. But I realized that in my Christian context, a lot of my fellow Christians have equated mercy with the leniency of a judge, not with rescue.

God’s forgiveness is a gift bestowed on all humanity. We don’t need to ask for it. We don’t need to do anything to gain it. He is a good God who loves mankind. His forgiveness is abundant and free. The following quote captures the real problem better than anything I could write.

So this isn’t a question about whether we’ve forgiven. No, the problem lies elsewhere; the problem is we keep on sinning. Sin is in us like an infection in the blood. It keeps us choosing to do and say and think things that damage Creation and hurt other people — and the ill effects rebound on us as well. There can even be sin without guilt. Sometimes we add to the weary world’s burden of sin through something we did in ignorance or unintentionally, for example, by saying something that hurt a hearer for reasons we knew nothing about. Our words increased the sin-sickness in the world, yet we are not guilty for that unintentional sin (though we are still sorry for inadvertently causing pain). Sin can be recognized as a noxious force on earth without having to pin the guilt on someone every time.

In the Eastern view, all humans share a common life; when Christ became a member of the human race, our restoration was begun. The opposite is, sadly, true as well; our continuing sins infect and damage everybody else, and indeed Creation itself. It’s like air pollution. There is suffering for everyone who shares our human life, everyone who breathes, even the innocent who never did anyone harm.

I will add that we need look no further than the life of Christ to see the truth of that last sentence. If there was ever anyone who was truly innocent, it was he. And yet he shared in all our suffering. So when we cry to him for mercy — for help — Jesus understands in a way only another human being could. We keep asking for mercy because we continue to need help. At least, I continue to need help every moment and every day. I suppose I shouldn’t presume to speak for others who may need less help than me. Sometimes, if I stop asking for mercy, I begin to believe I no longer need any help. That rarely ends well.

I’ll close with another quoted paragraph from this chapter. It describes what has been slowly (sometimes imperceptibly) happening in my life.

Theosis is a vast and daunting goal even to imagine, so there’s something distinctively, sweetly Christian about using a prayer that is so simple. There have been plenty of other religions that taught convoluted mystical procedures for union with God, but for Christians it is as straightforward as calling on our Lord and asking him for mercy. As you form the habit of saying this prayer in the back of your mind all the time, it soaks into you, like dye into cotton, and colors the way you encounter every person and circumstance you meet.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 17

Posted: February 15th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 17

47. Sin first enticed Adam and tricked him into breaking the commandment; and by giving substance to sensual pleasure and by attaching itself through such pleasure to the very root of nature, it brought the sentence of death on all nature, since through man it impels all created things towards death. All this was contrived by the devil, that spawn of sin and father of iniquity who through pride expelled himself from divine glory, and through envy of us and of God expelled Adam from paradise (cf. Wisd. 2:24), in order to destroy the works of God and dissolve what had been brought into existence.

Man was not created perfect and immortal. I often hear descriptions of creation in my Christian circles that sound like the point of the Incarnation was to restore man to a former condition. You find little sense of that anywhere in the first millenium of Christian faith and practice. Rather, the consistent sense is that man was created immature, almost like a child, with potential toward God and life or destruction and death and the freedom to grow. But in the creation narrative, humanity never really does anything but sin.

It’s not that we were immortal and God punished us with death for violating his rules. Who would want to worship a God like that? The goals of the devil and all he represents are destruction and annihilation. When we turned from our only source of life — something the story tells us we did immediately — we should have ceased to exist. God, who begrudges existence to none of his creation, extended the period of our physical death and preserved some remnant of our being in that shadowy half-existence the ancient Hebrews called Sheol.

I think a lot of people misunderstand the problem and thus perceive God and the work of Jesus in a strange light.


Do You Love Me?

Posted: February 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »
 






Musicals were part of the air I breathed growing up. Stage, television, movies — and the albums from musicals often playing at home. I still remember the songs. They punctuate my life and my perception of the world around me. Fiddler on the Roof captures many of the things that make us human. Even when I was no more than 7 or 8 years old, I remember the song above was one of my favorites.

Do you love me?

Is that not the question we all ask? Is that not the deep yearning of our heart? We want to love and we want to be loved, but what does love look like? Oh, for a season it can look and feel like the following.

The feelings in those moments can be overwhelming — almost like a drug. Sometimes, when I see so many people leaping from one relationship to another, I wonder if they have become addicted to that feeling and are constantly chasing a new rush. Love does not use another to meet your own needs, so if that is so then what they are feeling is no longer love. It’s the natural emotions of love twisted into a passion.

The love Tevye and Golde describe grows over time through shared lives. You don’t really see it happening as you struggle to survive and fight your way through the crises life throws your way. One day you look at this other person and you realize they have become the story of your life. Two separate lives have become one shared life. Oh, there are still individual strands and unique threads, but the core around which they are all woven has become one.

And when you do perceive that reality, you see that love is not ultimately the grand drama of Romeo & Juliet. Rather, love is that text on a weekend morning.

Coffee on please. Thx.

Love is not the violent wind that tears down mountains — though it does knock down our delusions of self-sufficiency.

Love is not the earthquake that knocks us off our feet — it’s the stable ground on which we learn how to stand.

Love is not the raging fire destroying life — it’s the fire of the hearth.

Love is the still, small voice.

May we have ears to hear.


Weekend Update 02-12-2011

Posted: February 12th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 02-12-2011

Gluten free Chex cereals have made life easier. And they’re good with almond milk too. It was also pretty cool that the commercial below aired during the Super Bowl.

Go native IPv6! Hopefully many more organizations will in 2011.

Robert Reich on why the whole “job killing regulations” thing is dumb.

Maybe the Republican propaganda machine really is as effective as any that have ever existed. A survey asked 10 fairly simple questions about the health care reform act. Only 18 percent of those who identified as Republican were able to answer 7 or more of the questions correctly. By any standard, that’s abysmal. Apparently they are all violently opposed to a law that exists only in their minds. How do you even have a rational discussion with people who seem to have lost their connection to reality?

The Potters of the world have finally won over the Baileys. Widespread individual home ownership is apparently no longer an American value or goal.

I think ERF is a good acronym. Eat Real Food.

By contrast, this article compares Michael Pollan’s simple campaign to try to get people to start eating real food again to the excesses of gourmands who fly to Paris for cheese or Vietnam for pho. It’s a ridiculous premise. I’m not sure what the agenda of the author really is, but he must have a hidden one. If I hadn’t actually read Pollan, it wouldn’t be obvious that the author is taking him completely out of context and misrepresenting what he advocates. After all, Pollan’s main point is: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” Compare that to the way he’s characterized in the article.

I highly recommend this lecture series: Eastern Orthodoxy and Mysticism: The Transformation of the Senses. I found it amazing. The answers during the Q&A sessions were sometimes even better than some of the things said in the lecture, which I find highly unusual. I’ve listened to it once and will certainly listen to it many more times.

Who says Republicans have no new ideas? 😉


The Jesus Prayer – Introduction

Posted: February 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Prayer | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

This series of reflections is on The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

In her introduction to the book, Frederica Mathewes-Green is careful to state that she is no expert in the practice of the Jesus Prayer. In fact, like most of us, she tends to often live as though she could “pull down a window shade” between God and herself. It’s something most of us do. We don’t pray constantly because we don’t live with a constant sense of the presence of God. If you pause and consider the way we live, it’s a bit ridiculous. In many ways we’re like the small child who hides her eyes and believes we can’t see her because she can’t see us. It’s endearing in a toddler, but we would look askance at an adult who still lived as though that were true. Yet, there is no place we can go where God is not.

Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from they presence? If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there! (Ps. 139:7-8)

Indeed, since God is the source of life and sustains all that is, if we could escape God’s presence, we would immediately cease to exist.

The Jesus Prayer is a means by which we learn to experience God directly. Our problem is that we do not perceive reality truly. I was listening to a lecture and I was struck by something said about the Transfiguration of our Lord. Jesus did not change during the transfiguration. He was always God — always filled with the divine uncreated light. Rather, people — including his disciples — were not able to see him truly. And in the Transfiguration they were granted the grace to experience the full reality of Jesus. We still have the same problem today. All creation is filled with the glory of God and we do not have eyes to see it.

Khouria Frederica mentions the nous in her introduction. I’ve written about it before, but I like the way she describes it. The cogitative part of our mind, the intellect, is not the nous. Rather, the nous is the receptive part of our mind. It’s the part that experiences, that understands. The Jesus Prayer helps us still our noisy intellect so we can perceive and hear God. That strikes me as an especially good description.

There is an aspect of learning to still the mind in forms of meditation that I’ve practiced in the past. I’ve always had a sense that some aspect of that was needed in Christian practice even before the Jesus Prayer came to me. “Be still and know that I am God,” the psalter exhorts, but the truth is that we do not know how to be still. Our minds never stop whirling.

When Christians pray the Jesus Prayer, we are trying to still our mind in order to open our nous to God. It’s a very specific goal and we call on Jesus as Lord to have mercy on us and help us. As someone who is now a Christian looking back on some of those other forms of meditation I’ve practiced I see the danger that I didn’t see then. We do not wish to open ourselves, our nous, to receive anything or any experience. That is unwise. Rather we seek to hear and experience the one we call Lord.

I found this book a good, practical guide to the Jesus Prayer. This is the prayer that came to me some years before I even knew it was a tradition. I thank God constantly for that grace. And I look forward to reflecting on it once more.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 16

Posted: February 10th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 16

43.  The Lord gave clear evidence of His supreme power in what He endured from hostile forces when He endowed human nature with an incorruptible form of generation. For through His passion He conferred dispassion, through suffering repose, and through death eternal life. By His privations in the flesh He re-established and renewed the human state, and by His own incarnation He bestowed on human nature the supranatural grace of deification.

It is no longer the nature of man to die.

I think we sometimes lose sight of that truth as Christians today. We are no longer slaves to death. Moreover, we can now become like God. We can become one with God. Before the Incarnation, that was forever beyond our reach. God was wholly other from us. While we could not know or commune with God, the Word could and did become one of us. That’s why the best short description of salvation is union with Christ. As we are one with Christ, so we become one with God and with each other.