Who Am I?

Weekend Update 04-30-2011

Posted: April 30th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | 6 Comments »

The 60 minutes special on Mt. Athos is pretty amazing. I definitely recommend it. The behind-the-scenes travelogue is pretty interesting too.

Sojourner Truth (via Elizabeth Esther). Best line? “Where did your Christ come from? God and Woman…Man had nothing to do with it”

Robert Reich is right. When one side is proposing a vision for our country that essentially rips it apart and destroys it in order to benefit a tiny percentage of the wealthiest, there is no “middle ground” to find. There is nothing reasonable or worth discussing in the Republican budget. They’ve declared open war on the American people. It’s time to respond.

I wanted to point out Krugman’s post on the Progressive budget alternative in order to highlight his last sentence. “We supposedly face a fiscal crisis; why shouldn’t significant tax hikes be part of the response?” And that, of course, highlights the completely irrational turn our nation has taken. The critics of our little experiment in government here always said it would devolve. We seem to be doing our utmost to prove them right. And here’s the column fleshing out that thought in an excellent manner.

Indeed, since the Republicans have already voted along party lines for the Ryan budget, which piles on $6 trillion more dollars of debt in order to fund more tax cuts for the wealthy, they should at least vote to raise the debt ceiling to a level required by their own plan, right?

I guess the Republican motto is, “Kick’em when they’re down!” Seriously, though, real life is turning stranger (and meaner) than fiction. Maybe we should bring back the Dickensian orphanages too.

Krugman illustrates how any Republican plan that actually tries to cover most Americans ends up looking like “Obamacare” or “Romneycare.” That’s because Obama actually adopted the approach advocated by Republicans going all the way back to Nixon for his plan in the mistaken belief it would have bipartisan support. Instead, he revealed that Republicans have no plan, have been lying to the American people for decades, and basically don’t really want Americans to have access to health care. They hold most Americans in utter contempt and are no longer shy about showing that contempt. Strangely, a lot of those same people still vote for them. It’s one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen. He also illustrates the utter cruelty behind the proposals to raise the Medicare age.

Families celebrate diagnosis of incurable disease. Honestly, “celebrate” is probably too strong a word. I was certainly upset when two of my kids were also diagnosed with celiac disease. Nevertheless, celiac disease is an incurable disease you can truly control in a way that you can’t any others. And there is a certain relief in knowing what you have and that you have some power over it. One odd thing, though. Used to be that we never or rarely had anyone offer to bring a meal to us — no matter what was happening. Now, since my wife’s hospitalization, we’ve had a number of offers. We appreciate the kindness behind those offers, but ironically since all of us except my wife have been diagnosed with celiac disease, we have to decline.

Cool. Republicans are having to face a dose of reality. And unlike the fake “health care” mobs mustered by right wing activists and spurred on by Fox and talk radio, these are actually their real constituents expressing their anger. It will be nice to see the GOP disintegrate next year. (Knock on wood.) More on the anger they are facing here.

Bob Moore: A Man with a Mill and a Mission. His products were certainly a god-send after I was diagnosed.

A Chicago public school bans homemade lunches. My older kids sometimes qualified for reduced price school lunches when they were younger. But most of our children throughout much of their schooling ate lunches from home. My daughter has always hated school lunches. Of course, now she’s diagnosed with celiac disease, so a school lunch is out of the question. I see their policy at least has a medical exception clause, but I think that even with it, the policy is extremely wrong-headed. My guess? The policy has nothing to do with health. It’s in place to maximize the profits of the company contracted to provide lunches. Am I being cynical or just realistic?

Paul Ryan, the GOP flim-flam man.

The Jesus Prayer 24 – Spiritual Pride

Posted: April 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Prayer | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

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

Khouria Frederica answers a number of questions in her book that explore the differences between the practice of the Jesus Prayer and some of the practices and goals of Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. I think many people might find those sections helpful. They are, in my estimation, as well done as everything else in the book. I’m skipping past them in my own personal reflections, though, because I’m reasonably familiar with those religions and that perspective, and don’t really suffer any confusion. The differences between those religions and, once I began to understand it, Christianity, have always been apparent to me.

Can someone fall into delusion, even though trying sincerely to practice the Jesus Prayer?

That’s a serious question and the short answer is telling.

Only if spiritual pride seeps in, so be on guard against it.

Pride is subtle, though, and we easily deceive ourselves. Are we seeking Jesus or are we seeking spiritual power? I never assume the former is true. After all these years, I know myself better than that. Khouria Frederica shares an excellent quote from St. Macarius of Egypt.

This is the mark of Christianity: however much a man toils, and however many acts of righteousness he performs, to feel that he has done nothing; in fasting to say, “This is not fasting,” and in praying, “This is not prayer,” and in perseverance at prayer, “I have shown no perseverance; I am only just beginning to practice and to take pains”; and even if he is righteous before God, he should say, “I am not righteous, not I; I do not take pains, but only make a beginning every day.”

Humility, though, doesn’t really fit in our culture. We carry within us the image of the self-sufficient and self-made American. We are bombarded with images and messages that promote pride. Even when we’re embarrassed, it’s often pride that shows up as anger or hurt feelings.

The kind of person Christ will make of you is the kind of person our culture does not even notice, much less admire.

Love for enemies is one of the main tests for true humility. Quoting St. Silouan:

The Lord is meek and humble, and loves his creatures. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is humble love for enemies and prayer for the whole world.

If a spiritual manifestation or encounter produces anything else, I would question whether or not it is the Holy Spirit.

The Jesus Prayer 23 – The Third Stage of the Jesus Prayer

Posted: April 27th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Prayer | Tags: , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Prayer 23 – The Third Stage of the Jesus Prayer

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

For this section, Khouria Frederica continues to draw from a treatise, About the Jesus Prayer and the Lord’s Grace,  by Archbishop Anthony Golynsky-Mihailovsky (AD 1889-1976). The third stage is described as follows.

The third level, according to Abp. Anthony, is Mental-Heart Active Prayer, and in it the mind prays within the heart; “the entire inner man prays.” The site where attention rests “appears naturally in the depth of the breast, in the region of the heart.” It is still “active” because the person still follows her own will sometimes, God’s will other times; her whole being has not yet been united in the service of God.

It’s at this stage, when the active mind engages with the perceiving nous, that the extent of the threads of evil and sin within ourselves begins to become apparent. Our minds begin to find and expose the deep roots of the compulsions which drive us. When we work through those battles and corresponding confrontations with the evil one, the mind becomes free to descend into the heart. Abp. Anthony writes:

The Lord Himself, residing in the heart secretly up to this point, starts dwelling openly and with the full authority in this shelter that was destined for Him from the very beginning, and rests there on his throne.

Khouria Frederica writes that the next three levels or stages that Abp. Anthony describes are beyond her comprehension. That means they are certainly beyond mine as well. These three beginning stages may well take years or decades, though, and are more than enough to keep us occupied.

The Jesus Prayer 22 – The Second Stage of the Jesus Prayer

Posted: April 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Prayer | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Prayer 22 – The Second Stage of the Jesus Prayer

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

For this section, Khouria Frederica continues to draw from a treatise, About the Jesus Prayer and the Lord’s Grace,  by Archbishop Anthony Golynsky-Mihailovsky (AD 1889-1976). The second stage is described as follows.

The next stage, according to Abp. Anthony, is Mental Active Prayer. Here the Prayer is still carried on by the action of the mind, rather than effortlessly by the Spirit, but hope begins to awaken as a person can perceive just a bit what the forthcoming fruits can be. The mind “begins immersing itself in prayer gradually and with pleasure. … Do not force yourself to move with your attention to the heart — it occurs naturally later.”

Disruptive thoughts, memories, and even distraction by lofty theological ideas are apparently normal during this stage. It’s in and through the direct connection of prayer that God heals us, and the devil most of all wants us to cease praying. We are also tempted to judge and that’s a very dangerous path to follow. Our minds are engaged and we tend to judge everything and everyone, anyway. It gets even worse if we begin to believe that we can do this — that we can pray.

Don’t judge anyone. “I am the foremost of sinners,” said St. Paul (1 Tim. 1:15). How could that be? You can see people everywhere whose overt sins are more egregious than your own. But you cannot see what they struggle against inside, or know how many or few talents their Master has allotted them to draw on. You can know only yourself, and should expect that the more that knowledge grows, the more you will be shocked at the duplicity and meanness within. Abp. Anthony says, “Even what has been understood up to this point as good turns out to be a cunningly knit web of the devil.”

Any and every time we judge ourselves a better person than another, we are falling into that trap. We become the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. It’s a more subtle, but highly effective attack.

Slava Tebje Gospodi

Posted: April 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | 2 Comments »

Hauntingly beautiful. Pay attention to the images.


Christos Voskrese!

Posted: April 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Comments Off on Christos Voskrese!

I’ve loved this song and video since I first saw it. Christ is risen!



The Miracle of Holy Fire

Posted: April 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Comments Off on The Miracle of Holy Fire

I compare this to Easter as I’ve typically experienced it. Though we won’t have much Easter or Pascha celebration ourselves as a family this year, I find myself curiously comforted that the below is happening this year as it has happened every year. And I pray I never become so jaded that it fails to move me. Christ is risen!



Today He Who Hung the Earth upon the Waters

Posted: April 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Comments Off on Today He Who Hung the Earth upon the Waters

Nothing much to say. Fed dogs. Letting kids sleep a little longer before I head back out. This hymn seems like something I needed to hear this morning.

Weekend Update 04-23-2011

Posted: April 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 04-23-2011

Below is a video from TEDxAustin by Robyn O’Brien on the unhealthy truth about our food.

These 14 points of fascism are worth reading. We’re sliding a bit too far for comfort in that direction.

No, the FDA and the USDA are not able to protect our food any longer. It’s a combination of factors. On the one hand, Republicans have gutted their personnel and ability to regulate effectively over the last few decades. And on the other, the same corruption and close ties to the industry supposedly regulated that permeates the SEC and other financial regulatory agencies also controls the agencies that regulate the safety of our food. I don’t know how to fix the problem at this juncture, since it continues under either party. And if Americans don’t even care when this failure is injuring and killing our children in ever increasing numbers, I don’t know if there’s anything that get us to care. I don’t know any motivator more powerful than a threat to my children. But the response of most of the country seems to be apathy instead. The same thing can be said for growth hormones.

The NY Times has a long article, Is Sugar Toxic?, that’s well worth reading.

And there’s antibiotic resistant staph in much of our meat supply in the US. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has paid attention to the way we have shifted our meat production.

If you missed it in the comments of last week’s weekend update, this is well worth reading.

Robert Reich wrote on the extortion politics of the GOP. It would wreck our economy (and probably much of the global economy as well), but this is beginning to have the same feeling as negotiating with terrorists. If they’re bluffing, then at some point you have to call their bluff. If they aren’t, then they’re collectively insane.

If you read the chart, the country with the most government expenditures as a percentage of GDP, Sweden, also has no net debt. In fact, they have a small net surplus. That’s not a net deficit, mind you; it’s net debt. You can also find the US on the chart. So when Republicans spout their line about “a spending problem” just be aware that they’re lying again. It’s getting to the point that the old joke about politicians in general applies more and more to the GOP. How can you tell a Republican is lying? His lips are moving.

Personally, I think it’s about time the Republican party made the dismantling of Medicare an official part of their platform and backed it up by a party line vote in the House.  After all, it’s what they’ve always wanted. Now, at least, it will be a little harder to credibly pretend they support Medicare.

I enjoyed Leeds’ Shocking News! I particularly enjoyed this one:  “Shockingly, they [S&P] “believe there is a material risk that US policymakers might not reach an agreement on how to address medium and long-term budgetary challenges by 2013.”  (Apparently, they detect some sort of extreme partisanship that the rest of us have missed.)

Is it time for the Republican Party to collapse and fade away like the Whigs did? Probably not, but one can dream. Still, when people like Ryan start getting booed by their core constituency, it does fuel the dreams.

My wife’s cousin’s band, Explosions in the Sky, is playing ACL Live on June 17.

Patients are not consumers. Exactly. And the whole turn of our health care system from largely non-profit to a massive for-profit industry that really took root in the 1990s is disgusting and sickening.

Sam Richards. A Radical Experiment in Empathy.

Maybe we do get the government we deserve. Maybe, as a country, we really are stupid enough to deserve these idiots. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

The Jesus Prayer 21 – The First Stage of the Jesus Prayer

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Prayer | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Prayer 21 – The First Stage of the Jesus Prayer

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

For this section, Khouria Frederica draws from a treatise, About the Jesus Prayer and the Lord’s Grace,  by Archbishop Anthony Golynsky-Mihailovsky (AD 1889-1976). Abp. Anthony suffered greatly under Communist rule. He was sustained by the Jesus Prayer and was unfailingly kind and forgiving. His treatise was circulated in handwritten copies and was only published legally after the fall of the Soviet Union. He explains that the Philokalia intentionally skips the first levels of the prayer. Those who are ready for it find it helpful and it will not harm those who are not yet ready.

Abp. Anthony describes first the beginner’s experience, that of saying the Prayer simply as an act of will, a phase variously called “verbal,” “vocal,” or “oral.” He prescribes how many prayers should be said as what times, interspersed with physical gestures. After each ten repetitions, he says, one should make a metania (pronounced “meh-TAN-yah”), making the sign of the cross and bowing, reaching the right hand to the floor. After thirty-three repetitions, one should make three prostrations, kneeling and then touching the forehead to the floor. You don’t have to perform those gestures, of course, though you may well benefit if you do. They are a standard part of a monastic’s prayer life.

This is thus the Verbal or Oral Stage of the Jesus Prayer. In the beginning, it’s hard work. Our minds wander constantly and we have to keep bringing our attention back to the prayer. Gradually it becomes easier as the peace and beauty of God’s presence begins to draw the mind’s attention. Abp. Anthony notes that because true prayer is hard work, we should get adequate rest, speak less, express opinions less, and avoid controversy. I’m not very good at any of the things in his list. I’m rarely shy about expressing opinions and I seem to be constantly busy.

At this stage, we also need to be careful not to be deceived by any supernatural or visionary experiences. In my own mind, I’ve long contrasted the modern charismatic movement with the stories of the ancient monks. While charismatics often embrace any supernatural or ecstatic experience or visitation, the ancient monks were much more cautious. Even when visited by a true angel, they would initially reject the idea that an angel would visit anyone as unworthy as they perceived themselves. They remembered always that the devil can appear as an angel of light and that every spirit is not the Holy Spirit.

Khouria Frederica also shared a brief historical aside on prostrations. I wanted to share it as well.

Prostrations sometimes occur during Orthodox worship services, particularly in Lent. When I was first introduced to this practice I said, “Like the Muslims?” and my friend replied, “The Muslims got it from us.” To be more precise, much of the Muslim Middle East used to be Eastern Christian. Christians and Muslims both got the practice from Judaism. A Bible concordance will show many Old Testament references to “They fell on their faces.”