Who Am I?

Male and Female He Created Them

Posted: June 30th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I wasn’t particularly shaped by Christianity, culturally or otherwise, growing up. Since I’ve become Christian, I’ve struggled with the various Christian ideas about what it means to be a human being and to be male and female. None of them ever really seemed to fit to me. Some of them I found repugnant, but many were not. They just didn’t feel right.

This lecture by Fr. John Behr finally begins to fill that gap. If you’ve had those moments where you hear something, your perception shifts, and it just feels right, that was my reaction. He walks through the primary texts and ties them together in a way I’m certain I’ve never heard before (though I’ve heard many of the elements at one time or another).

He also ties together a number of things I’ve heard and read over the years, but somehow never quite connected the dots. God’s creation of the human being is not something completed in the distant past of Genesis. Rather, it’s a project God begins, but one that is only completed when Jesus utters the words, “It is finished.” What is finished? God’s project. The creation of the human being is accomplished. And when Christ rests in the tomb on Saturday, it’s not something like the seventh day sabbath of Genesis 1. It is that sabbath.

When you perceive reality through that lens, it changes everything. I’ll certainly take Fr. Behr’s perspective over much of what passes for discussion about “authentic” manhood or womanhood in modern American Christian circles. I wanted to offer it to others who might read here as well.

Male and Female He Created Them



Posted: June 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | Comments Off on Hiatus

I’m going to take another brief hiatus. This one’s not for an emergency or anything like the last abrupt one. I’m just swamped for the next few weeks with personal and work happenings. I got the things I wanted to write out of my system and finished my reflections on the book I was writing about. So it’s a good time to take a breather and focus on everything else happening. I’ll be back soon.

Black Eyed Susan

Posted: June 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , | Comments Off on Black Eyed Susan

Last week I traveled to one of my employer’s computing centers in Martinsburg WV for a major installation for one of my projects. When I travel for work, I take enough food to sustain me in a pinch. In this case, it turned out my hotel was right across the street from a grocery store, which was convenient. (I always stay in hotels with microwaves and refrigerators.) It was a good chance to meet some of the people with whom I’ve worked for a decade or more in person. They also wanted to have a dinner out with my coworker and me one night. (That’s fairly normal on our business trips, especially the first time people meet in person. Since I was diagnosed, I’ve noticed that a lot of interactions between people revolve around meals and food.) Since I have celiac disease and my coworker is vegan, that presented more of challenge than usual.

The restaurant they found was called Black Eyed Susan. The atmosphere was great and the food was safe and delicious. I tried the shrimp and grits and the steak salad. They were both excellent. Even more than the food, I appreciated the extra effort my Martinsburg coworkers made to include me. I so often have to either decline or go somewhere and just get something to drink that I deeply appreciate it when people make an additional effort to consider my needs.

You can’t mistake true hospitality.


Posted: June 27th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Uchi’s

For her birthday, I bought my wife tickets to see her cousin’s band, Explosions in the Sky, at the new ACL Live venue. For our pre-concert dinner, I made reservations at Uchi’s. My wife wasn’t sure if she would really enjoy either the restaurant or the concert, but she’s always game for new experiences and appreciated the thought and effort behind the planning.

The dinner was simply magnificent. It exceeded our wildest expectations. I’m not sure where to begin, but I think I’ll start with the service. Our waiter listened to my wife’s preferences and made recommendations for her. She tried his recommendations, though for a few of them she was a little hesitant, and loved every one of them. However, my experience was even better. For every single sushi or tasting about which I asked, our waiter instantly knew if it was gluten free or could be modified to be gluten free. He didn’t have to stop and think about it. He didn’t have to go ask the chef. He just knew. Unfortunately, some of my favorite sushis, like tako and unagi, are not gluten free but the food was so wonderful I hardly missed them.

I had a gluten free chef’s selection of sushi. I’ve eaten a lot of sushi over the years, but I honestly can’t recall ever having any better. Everything was perfectly seasoned and the fish practically melted in my mouth. The same thing was true of every tasting I tried, whether raw or lightly cooked. The balance of flavors and texture were always as perfect as anything I could imagine.

I’ve heard people in Austin raving about Uchi’s for a good while. Now I know why.

And the Explosions in the Sky concert? It was one of the best concerts I remember attending. Moreover, my wife loved it. The venue is wonderful. Michael came up to give my wife a hug and say hi before the show, which impressed her. And while I had heard their music, it doesn’t prepare you for the power of a live Explosions concert. For some reason, it had never occurred to me that Michael was their front man, but his stage presence was a joy to behold. He’s a wonderful performer. It all added up to as close to a perfect night as you can get. My wife and I both loved every minute of it.

Weekend Update 06-25-2011

Posted: June 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | 1 Comment »

Justice Clarence Thomas is ethically and morally challenged. Now there’s a shocker. In other news, the sun rises in the east.

The Jesus Prayer 26 – Thoughts

Posted: June 24th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Prayer | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Prayer 26 – Thoughts

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

I’ll conclude my series of reflections on Khouria Frederica’s book with this reflection on the path thoughts take to pull us away from prayer. The fathers identify stages such thoughts take.

1. Provocation. Provoking thoughts can arise from our subconscious or whispered by other powers. They can appear blasphemous, evil, or even noble and good. If blasphemous, we might wonder how we could think such a thing, which is always a good indication that it may not be your own thought. The fathers consistently advise us to ignore provoking thoughts. Don’t try to argue with them or agree with them. Keep praying.

2. Interaction. Of course, we don’t usually do that. Instead, we engage the thought. Our nous turns from God and begins to consider the thought instead. The thought has a foot in the door. The fathers advise crying out to God for help. Wrap your nous in the Jesus Prayer.

3. Consent. “At this point, the nous has become intoxicated with the thought and embraces it. A sign of this stage is that the nous becomes absorbed in gazing at an image or playing out a fantasy.” It’s at this point, when we have consented to an image or fantasy, that we become responsible for sin as Jesus warns, especially in the Sermon on the Mount.

4. Captivity. With consent, the ability to resist the thought begins to crumble. At some point, it will be put into action.

5. Passion. After repeatedly consenting, we no longer have the ability to use our will to resist. The thought appears and we act without resistance. It has become something we suffer, similar to a compulsion or addiction. We are ruled by it. Jesus came to heal us and set us free. Without spiritual healing, we are helpless.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 37

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 37

76. When a man sticks to the mere letter of Scripture, his nature is governed by the senses alone, in this way proving his soul’s attachment to the flesh. For if the letter is not understood in a spiritual way, its significance is restricted to the level of the senses, which do not allow its full meaning to pass over into the intellect. When the letter is appropriated by his senses alone, he receives it Judaic-wise merely in the literal sense, and so lives according to the flesh, spiritually dying each day the death of sin on account of his forceful senses; for he cannot put his body’s pursuits to death by the Spirit in order to live the life of bliss in the Spirit. ‘For if you live according to the flesh, you will die,’ says St Paul, ‘but if through the Spirit you put to death the body’s pursuits, you will live’ (Rom. 8:13).

I’m not going to pretend I understand exactly what St. Maximos intends in the text above, but I do think I detect a warning in it about the way a disturbing number of people today treat the Holy Scriptures. It seems such treatment is not an entirely new thing at all.

The Jesus Prayer 25 – Forgiveness

Posted: June 22nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Prayer | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Prayer 25 – Forgiveness

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

Last week I briefly posted on love of enemies, one of the most difficult aspects of Christianity. Today, Khouria Frederica answers a question on the topic. How can I forgive someone if I’m afraid they’ll do it again? She notes that people often confuse forgiveness with vulnerability, but they are very different things. When we forgive, we let go of our desire for vengeance, which we often call justice. We may have been genuinely wronged and the one who wronged us owes us a debt. We release them from that debt. That frees us more than it frees them. We are the ones keeping track of the wrongs. Often the one who wronged us is not. We are expending energy, not them.

But that does not necessarily mean that we continue to make ourselves vulnerable to that person in the future. If they have acted in a dehumanizing way toward us in the past and we reasonably believe they will continue to do so in the future, it is not loving to allow someone to dehumanize themselves and us.

You are never required to allow someone to hurt or abuse you, physically or emotionally, and in a case like that, permitting abuse could make you an enabler and partner in that sin.

Someone also asked Frederica how we can love an enemy who wishes to kill us and destroy our country. She responds much as Fr. Stephen did in the podcast I linked in my post last week. She also includes a long quote from St. Nikolai Velimirovic (AD 1881-1956). I’m going to include the entire quote. I found it helpful. Given recent events, it could easily be applied to someone like bin Laden.

He is a man; do not rejoice in his fall. He is your brother; let not your heart leap for joy when he stumbles. God created him for life, and God does not rejoice in his fall. And you also, do not rejoice at that which grieves God. When a man falls, God loses; do you rejoice in the loss of your Creator, of your Parent? When the angels weep, do you rejoice?

When your enemy falls, pray to God for him, that God will save him; and give thanks to God that you did not fall in the same manner. You are of the same material, both you and he, like two vessels from the hand of the potter. If one vessel breaks, should the other smile and rejoice? Behold, the small stone that broke that vessel only waits for someone’s hand to raise it to destroy this vessel also. Both vessels are of the same material, and a small stone can destroy a hundred vessels.

When one sheep is lost, should the rest of the flock rejoice? No, they should not. For behold, the shepherd leaves his flock and, being concerned, goes to seek the lost sheep. The shepherd’s loss is the flock’s loss too. Therefore, do not rejoice when your enemy falls, for your Shepherd and his Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, does not rejoice in his fall.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Thou Good Shepherd, remove malicious joy from our hearts, and in its place plant compassion and brotherly love. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

I do not pretend there is anything easy about forgiveness and love of enemies. People hurt us. They often hurt us deeply. I have been hurt and I’m sure I’ve hurt others. I do not pretend that I’m any good at forgiveness and love. But I can perceive their beauty, even if dimly. Ultimately, if anything draws me to Christ, it’s this. On my better days, I want to love. But even on my worst days, I want to want to love. And I think that’s at least a start.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 36

Posted: June 21st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 36

75. When the senses have the intellect in their clutches, they propagate polytheism through each individual sense organ; because in their slavery to the passions they pay divine honors to the sensible objects corresponding to each organ.

St. Maximos carries it a step further here and names our slavery to our senses and the passions they engender as the root of polytheism. I find that intriguing and, in truth, can see some of the truth in that insight in my experience of present-day polytheism. And sometimes, I suspect, a person’s polytheism might be less overt. At one point does devotion or slavery tip over into the next best thing to worship? It’s a question worth pondering.

Health Care in the US – A Post Mortem

Posted: June 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

I do have a few thoughts about the state of health care in the US as a sort of post mortem following my wife’s recent health crisis. I’ve been paying attention to the insurance statements and bills as they have arrived and the results have been eye-opening even for me.

The amount billed by the various providers and hospital totaled over $50,000. If we did not have insurance, a fact of life for over 40 million Americans, that’s how much we would owe. There was nothing optional about it. If my wife did not receive the care she received, she would have died. Even with all the medical care she received, there were some frightening moments. Sepsis can be fatal despite quick medical intervention.

That’s the fundamental reason “market forces” (the voodoo doll of many modern conservatives) don’t work in health care. There is no point where you can say, “I don’t want that,” and walk away. It doesn’t matter how much it costs. In an emergency, you won’t even fully understand everything that’s happening, nor will you have time to research it on your own. Instead, you listen to the medical providers, and make the best decisions you can. But there is no price that is too much to save the life of someone you love.

However, the problem does not stop with the uninsured in our country. Millions more are under-insured or poorly insured. They have policies that don’t negotiate procedure prices with providers and whose coverage is more limited. While someone with such a policy might not have had to pay $50k, they could have easily been on the hook for anything from $5,000 to $25,000. And after the insurance company paid the claim (if they paid it), someone with such a policy either would have been faced with exorbitant premium increases or had their policy canceled outright.

Fortunately, we have a good insurance policy with a large group. The negotiated, allowed amount from all the procedures and care in our case was less than $5,000. (That’s another problem with our current system, of course. If you have decent insurance, you won’t actually know the “secret” negotiated amount your insurer has negotiated with the provider until after the fact. It’s another ancillary reason the magical “market forces” don’t work.) Out of that amount, we paid $500 or so ourselves with the insurance company paying the other roughly $4,500.

While I’m glad my family has decent health insurance, fewer and fewer Americans do. (If the Republicans get their way with Medicare and repealing rather than improving elements of the Affordable Care Act, that number will spike tremendously. Hopefully my countrymen are not stupid, delusional, and self-destructive enough to take that path, but that’s not yet clear.) Since my two youngest children both also have celiac disease, I’m grateful for the extra time the ACA bought us by allowing them to remain on our coverage until they 26. By then, hopefully, the remaining provisions of the law will be fully in place and they will be able to obtain the coverage they need at an affordable price.

I’m not thrilled by the ACA. Given that Medicare operates at a 98% medical loss and has a great deal of negotiating strength (at least where Congress hasn’t stripped that power as they did in the prescription drug extension to Medicare), I would vastly prefer that we simply extend Medicare to all Americans. However, Republicans and Democrats have been fighting that battle fruitlessly for four decades. I agree that it was better for the Democrats to concede and pass the long-standing Republican health care reform plan than continue to do nothing. (The Republican response, of course, proved that if they had ever been serious about health care reform, they aren’t anymore. The Democrats passed the Republican plan and the Republicans threw a hissy fit and launched a massive propaganda campaign in response. It would almost be amusing if it weren’t so disgusting.) Hopefully we can continue to improve the ACA, which will, by reforming the overall health care sector, also save Medicare. We don’t have a Medicare problem. We have a health care problem.

I guess it remains to be seen if a majority of Americans grasp reality or if a majority of us are mired in delusion. That’s really what it comes down to.