Who Am I?

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 11

Posted: January 31st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 11

21.  God knows Himself and He knows the things He has created. The angelic powers, too, know God and know the things He has created. But they do not know God and the things He has created in the same way that God knows Himself and the things He has created.

22.  God knows Himself through knowing His blessed essence. And the things created by Him He knows through knowing His wisdom, by means of which and in which He made all things. But the angelic powers know God by participation, though God Himself transcends such participation; and the things He has created they know by apprehending that which may be spiritually contemplated in them.

These texts begin a series that touch on something critical — how do we know God? A key point in the two texts above is the difference between the way God knows himself and his creation and the way created beings know God and other created things. God knows himself in his essence and he knows all creation in its essence and being because he made all things and all things subsist in him.

But created beings cannot know God in his essence. St. Maximos is using angelic beings in this text, but the same is true of us. We know God through participation with him. The ancient theologians make the distinction between the unknowable essence of God and his energies or actions. (That’s why every way we have of speaking about God ultimately describes something God is doing if you stop to think about it for a minute.)

And that’s really how we know each other as well. I can’t know another, even my wife or child or other close relative, in their essence as God can and does. Instead, I know them through interacting with them and participating in life with them.

It’s a topic that sounds esoteric and hard to grasp, but it’s really not. It’s something we all intuitively recognize. It’s just hard to put into words.

Mary 12 – Protection of the Theotokos

Posted: January 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Mary 12 – Protection of the Theotokos

Icon of the Protection of the Theotokos

The Orthodox Feast of the Protection of the Theotokos celebrates an appearance of Mary, the Mother of God, at Blacharnae as recorded by St. Andrew, the Fool for Christ. (St. Andrew is depicted in the above icon wearing only a cloak.) The story of St. Andrew is available here. And the story of the manifestation of the Theotokos can be read here. The feast is commemorated on October 1.

The question St. Andrew asks his disciple, “Do you see, brother, the Holy Theotokos, praying for all the world?”, is an image which staggers me and yet, which feels right. Mary is always praying for us all.

An Akathist (particular sort of hymn) to the Protection of the Theotokos can be read here. I recommend reading it in its entirety, but I wanted to highlight the second prayer.

O my most blessed Queen, my all-holy hope, Receiver of orphans and Defender of the strangers, Helper of those in poverty, Protector of the sick, behold my distress, behold my affliction. On all sides am I held by temptation, and there is none to defend me. Help me then as I am weak, feed me as I am a pilgrim, guide me as I have strayed, heal and save me as I lie without hope. For I have no other help, nor advocate nor comforter, save Thee, O Mother of all the afflicted and heavy laden. Look down then on me, a sinner lying in sickness, and protect me with Thine all-holy Veil, that I be delivered from all the ills surrounding me and may ever praise Thy Name that all men sing. Amen.

Finally, the video below includes a slide show of many of the different icons of this feast as a hymn of the feast is sung.

Weekend Update 01-28-2012

Posted: January 28th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 01-28-2012

 I’m 100% with Fr. Orthoduck on this one. I’ve read the history of company towns in the US. I pay attention to what happens in other countries. I do the math and see where the various proposed policies lead. The only thing I can’t figure out is if the coalition of Tea Party, southern (primarily) evangelicals, neo-conservatives (an oxymoron if there ever was one), and other groups forming the modern GOP are blind to their hypocrisy or happily embrace it.

If you aren’t familiar with the folk song, Sixteen Tons, here’s Johnny Cash singing it.


And this is Tennessee Ernie Ford singing it.


It makes you wonder if we’ll have to slide all the way back to company towns ourselves before Americans remember that corporate America isn’t the friend of working Americans. It never has been and is even less so today.

My younger son lives off-campus (just) and cooks his own food now, but Baylor’s gluten free options and attentive staff in the dining halls was certainly important during his freshman year.

Learning to Sin. Fr. Stephen’s post expresses something I’ve always had a hard time putting into words that those who have been raised within an American evangelical context can understand. There’s nothing particularly natural or intuitive about a true Christian understanding of sin or ourselves as sinners. Moreover, when it’s presented simply as the violation of some arbitrary list of rules or regulations, the underlying reality is, at best, clouded. It’s only as you understand sin as your participation in death and the destruction of the world that its nature begins to become clear.

Sorry for your loss; here’s the bill. Sarah Burke’s death was a tragedy, compounded for her family by an exorbitant bill. It must have been doubly shocking to them, since that sort of thing can’t happen in Canada or any other industrialized nation except the US. This sort of thing happens every day to people in our country. The main problem with the ACA is it doesn’t do nearly enough. But it’s a start, at least. This story further illustrates how much we desperately need health care reform. Even if you have a job and insurance, you aren’t safe. Not really.

The ridiculous thing about electric power deregulation in Texas? We did it after the disaster in California. It’s an example where ideology (and probably some hefty under the table “incentives”) trumps reason and basic common sense. So, what have we gotten for it? Ratepayers have had to shell out an average extra $3,000 over the past decade. (Duh. The profits have to come from somewhere.) And we’re now on the verge of achieving third world status when it comes to blackouts and power reliability. Our grid has the lowest reserve margin in the nation. (No regulators to speak of to make power generators maintain an acceptable margin. Moreover, reserve margin by definition is power capacity you aren’t selling most of the time. And finally, blackouts and the threat of blackouts make power more profitable. Again, duh.) It makes me wonder just how bad it has to get in our state for people to wake up and see what’s being done to them — often with their consent or even encouragement. It boggles my mind.

This is a useful chart comparing the federal tax returns of Obama, Romney, and Gingrich. I also found it interesting to note that, as a percentage of income, Obama gave the most in charitable donations with Romney just a little behind. Gingrich, the new darling of southern evangelicals, gave just 2.6%. Normally, I think what a person does or doesn’t give should be their own business. But in addition to the serial adultery, lying, and ethics violations, that’s another factor that should, in any race where faith actually mattered as anything more than a veneer, make evangelicals look askance at him. Instead they’re embracing him. Of course, they’re actually white southerners first and evangelicals second. Things really do tend to fall out that way still in the south.

A gluten free brownie won the 100th episode of Cupcake Wars! And here’s a brownie recipe from the bakeshop that won.

Those iPhones, iPads, and other techie gadgets we love here in the US? Yeah, they come with a significant human price tag. “And right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China.”

Star Wars Uncut was an effort in which people took 15 second increments of the original Star Wars movie and redid it in any style or manner they wanted. The best of each 15 second piece was then voted on by everyone. However, up until now you had to watch it 15 seconds at a time. Now, Star Wars Uncut: The Director’s Cut ties all the segments seamlessly together and adds the score. It’s pretty amazing, though probably less so to those who aren’t fans of the original movie.


Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the program formerly known as food stamps, is the latest federal program to come under attack by the GOP. It’s basically just the latest effort by the GOP to incite class warfare between various groups of non-wealthy Americans. Why do they keep coming up with these? I think it’s pretty simple. They want to direct attention from the way they are looting America to anything else and tactics like this seem to work. The reality? SNAP is working very well and doing exactly what you would expect in a severe and prolonged recession.

Although this is normally my update page with short blurbs about things I’ve found interesting, I’m going to break that rule for a bit of my own personal story. Growing up, there were periods when we were reasonably well-to-do and periods when we were not. I became a teen parent during a period when my parents had very little and my first wife’s parents weren’t in much better shape. We were poor, desperately poor, as young teen parents during the largest previous recession (measured as always since the Great Depression) in the early eighties. It’s these programs, in part, that keep severe recessions from turning into something with the social effects of the Great Depression (as captured in The Grapes of Wrath). That’s one of the reasons that even before I was a Christian, I never could buy the complete hard-line libertarian perspective. Civil liberties? Sure. But the essential social darwinism when you press individual liberty and responsibility toward their extremes? Not so much. (Of course, as a Christian I’ve come to glimpse the ways we so share a common nature that it can be hard sometimes to perceive where the lines of cause and effect and responsibility begin and end. We’re much less an individual in the libertarian sense than we often think. But that’s another discussion.)

We lived near the bottom and despite working every scattered job we could find and some help from our families (even though they didn’t have very much), programs like Food Stamps and WIC and Medicaid were all that kept us from the absolute bottom. Even so, there were times when food was pretty short, indeed. There were times we lived without electricity and even brief periods we lived without running water. (A phone was an impossible luxury. I don’t remember ever having one during that period.) I would sometimes drive (an old 1965 Chevy with eternally bald tires and running on a hope and a prayer) to where I could find some sort of work, living out of my car. I even remember standing in line to get free government surplus american cheese.

Things never got as bad (as far as poverty goes) during my second marriage, but we still needed WIC with my older son and sometimes infant care (immunizations and such) at the free clinic. My military training, GED, and age (passing 18 makes a huge difference when job-hunting) as well as the end of the recession meant I was one rung higher on the scale of the working poor. (And since my second wife had … difficulties … keeping a job even with her college degree, a lot of that depended on me and a plenty of overtime.) WIC makes a huge difference in families with pregnant or breast-feeding mothers and very young children. Never underestimate its impact. Study after study have shown it’s an incredibly effective program.

By the time I met my wife of twenty-one years, I was a little more secure as an entry level federal civil servant, but not by much. And my older son’s hospitalization from abuse some months before we married and the subsequent medical and legal bills (from the seemingly never-ending custody case in which, unlike my 2nd wife, I couldn’t seem to find any free or reduced price legal help) demonstrated how close to the edge we still were. Free or reduced school lunches for my older son (once he started kindergarten) and later WIC when my wife became pregnant with my younger son helped keep us afloat. Even so, a phone was still a sometime luxury. And when we first moved from a city apartment to a suburban duplex before my younger son was born, my wife was largely isolated with no phone and no car for a period of time when we had only one functioning vehicle. (For most of my life, I’ve depended on hand-me-down cars or trucks from family members which we got either for free or very cheaply. The relatively late model Ford Taurus I bought at Carmax four years when the last of those reached the end of its life was my first car purchased from a dealer with a loan. I was forty-two years old. It was also the latest model car I had ever driven. At the time I bought it, it was only two years old.) That period was extremely hard for her, especially since she had never lived even that close to poverty before, but we got through those days.

My wife also couldn’t work during those early years of our marriage. One of us had to get my older son to various doctor appointments and deal with all the lawyers on an ongoing basis. (I had to conserve leave for the times I had to be somewhere.) Later she did work full and part time during some of the rough stretches. And she’s done that as needed over the course of our marriage. But as a rule, she prefers to focus on the kids. But unlike much of what I read and hear, we both recognize that’s a luxury. Yes, at the professional end of the spectrum, men and women speak of careers. But for most of us? Work is about survival.

There is one thing I know in my bones. Unless you are in the very top reaches of the wealthy in this country, none of us are more than a step away from needing the social safety net, even as inadequate as it is in our country. If you don’t believe that could ever be true for you, then you’re living in delusion. One bad turn of luck is all it takes. It could be a death, a serious illness, a divorce, or simply bad luck during a severe economic downturn. None of us live as far from the edge as we would like to believe. Don’t be fooled. And don’t buy into the Republican efforts to incite class warfare between the middle class and the poor.

Mary 11 – Our Lady of Sorrows

Posted: January 27th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Mary 11 – Our Lady of Sorrows

This feast is a devotion of the Roman Catholic Church to the seven sorrows Mary suffered. Many Catholic Churches have Our Lady of Sorrows as their patron and name, so most of us have probably heard it before, even if we didn’t understand what it meant. The feast was officially added to the calendar of the Latin Rite in the 19th century, but it goes much further back than that. The seven sorrows are as follows.

  1. The prophecy of Simeon. (St. Luke 2: 34, 35)
  2. The flight into Egypt. (St. Matthew 2:13-14)
  3. The loss of the Child Jesus in the temple. (St. Luke 3: 43-45)
  4. The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross.
  5. The Crucifixion.
  6. The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross.
  7. The burial of Jesus.

And there are seven graces Mary is said to bestow on those who pray seven Hail Marys daily while meditating on the seven sorrows.

  1. I will grant peace to their families.
  2. They will be enlightened about the divine mysteries.
  3. I will console them in their pains and I will accompany them in their work.
  4. I will give them as much as they ask for as long as it does not oppose the adorable will of my divine Son or the sanctification of their souls.
  5. I will defend them in their spiritual battles with the infernal enemy and I will protect them at every instant of their lives.
  6. I will visibly help them at the moment of their death, they will see the face of their Mother.
  7. I have obtained from my divine Son, that those who propagate this devotion to my tears and dolors, will be taken directly from this earthly life to eternal happiness since all their sins will be forgiven and my Son and I will be their eternal consolation and joy.

There’s much more to the feast and devotions, of course, but I’m just trying to provide a brief window into them in these posts, not an in-depth exploration. I will just note, since it’s an area that can become confusing, that Catholics and Orthodox don’t generally mean the same thing when they speak of grace or graces. And as a rule, neither of them usually mean what Protestants typically mean when they use the word. I know, it can be hard to communicate effectively when people use the same words, but mean different things when they use them. But that’s just the way language works sometimes. It’s just something to keep in mind.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 10

Posted: January 26th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 10

18.  The self-indulgent person loves wealth because it enables him to live comfortably; the person full of self-esteem loves it because through it he can gain the esteem of others; the person who lacks faith loves it because, fearful of starvation, old age, disease, or exile, he can save it and hoard it. He puts his trust in wealth rather than in God, the Creator who provides for all creation, down to the least of living things.

19.  There are four kinds of men who hoard wealth: the three already mentioned and the treasurer or bursar. Clearly, it is only the last who conserves it for a good purpose – namely, so as always to have the means of supplying each person’s basic needs.

I’ve never been particularly interested in the esteem of others, so that one probably doesn’t describe me. The other two descriptions of those who love wealth for other than a good purpose? I fear they do. Obviously the fourth describes the way we should hold wealth — loosely and in trust. That also seems to describe the healthy church we see very early in Acts.

Mary 10 – Nativity of the Theotokos

Posted: January 25th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Mary 10 – Nativity of the Theotokos

Next in the series, I plan to write briefly about the major feasts of Mary in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. Many of the main ones are common to both traditions (which is hardly surprising since they were mostly one tradition for a thousand years). The Roman Catholic Church today has many more Marian feasts than Orthodoxy. I’m not familiar with all the Roman Catholic feasts, so I won’t even try to write about each and every one, but I will try to cover the major ones.

This feast is the first major feast of the traditional Church year on September 8th on both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic calendar. (I won’t discuss differences between the Gregorian and the Julian calendars in this series.)  In the Catholic Church, this feast is called the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The feast celebrates the birth of Mary to her aged and previously barren parents, Joachim and Anna.

Here’s a short Orthodox hymn for this feast.

Your Nativity, O Virgin,
Has proclaimed joy to the whole universe!
The Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God,
Has shone from You, O Theotokos!
By annulling the curse, He bestowed a blessing.
By destroying death, He has granted us eternal Life.

And a recording of the above troparion as well as some other hymns for this feast.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 9

Posted: January 24th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 9

17.  There are three things which produce love of material wealth: self-indulgence, self-esteem and lack of faith. Lack of faith is more dangerous than the other two.

What do you think of St. Maximos’ prescription? We certainly live in a culture consumed with love of material wealth. Other than books, ‘stuff’ doesn’t hold much appeal to me and I’ve never seen the allure of money for money’s sake. Nevertheless, I remain a product of our culture. I am wealthy compared to most of the people alive today (as are most of us in the US) and I’m happy that’s the case. I enjoy my privileges of birth and am not inclined to sacrifice them. I’m happy that my children are largely safe from starvation, disease, and war and can have much that they desire. As a culture (and I’m speaking only to the Christians within our culture), do we largely lack faith? I’m struck by the fact that so many of us have defined material wealth as a sign of God’s blessing on us. Sometimes it seems our faith is actually in our wealth.

Mary 9 – Hail Mary

Posted: January 23rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mary 9 – Hail Mary

In this post I want to look at one of the best known Marian prayers in the West, the prayer known simply as Hail Mary. It’s a prayer that’s so widely known and recognized that even those who weren’t raised Roman Catholic are often familiar with it. I learned it when I went to Catholic school for three years in Houston. It’s not a prayer I typically pray today, though when it springs to mind, I always try pause and pray it. As I’ve written elsewhere, I seem to be one of the people to whom the Jesus Prayer came unbidden and that prayer, rather than any distinctly Western prayer, remains at the core of my simple and poorly followed prayer rule.

But I do appreciate this prayer and the entire rosary prayer rule that often accompanies it. For those unfamiliar with the rosary, it’s a devotional crucifix with a chain of larger and smaller beads. You use the beads to count prayers and over the course of the rosary eight different prayers are typically prayed as the person praying meditates on different mysteries from the lives of Mary and Jesus. The most often recited prayer is the Hail Mary, but over the course of the rosary the Apostle’s Creed is recited as well as the Our Father, the Glory Be and others. (By contrast, the Orthodox prayer rope is usually just used to count repetitions of the Jesus Prayer, sometimes with prostrations. And you aren’t taught to meditate on any mysteries; the ultimate goal is prayer of the heart.)

I suppose to those who had a less pluralistic formation than my own, this will sound strange. But I remember fairly often reciting the Hail Mary (mentally or verbally) during my Hindu oriented meditations. I had actually forgotten that tidbit until I was writing this post. I wouldn’t say I was praying as Christians understand prayer, but looking back it seems like I was heard anyway. I suppose that’s not surprising. If we truly believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the true and faithful man and became true humanity, joining our nature to his divine nature, then in some sense through her yes to God, Mary became the mother of humanity. And your mother always hears you, though she may not do as you intend or expect. I had never really thought in those terms before.

Anyway, the prayer itself developed in the West during the medieval period, with something at least similar to the form we have now dating back to the thirteenth century. That’s why it’s really only found in the Western Church. By that time, the rift between East and West was pretty much complete. The prayer itself is simple.

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Though it’s a short prayer, it’s filled with richness. The first part of the prayer comes entirely from the Holy Scriptures. The first two lines contain the Gabriel’s initial greeting to Mary. Her state as blessed is then reinforced twice more. Elizabeth, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, also calls Mary blessed among women. And then, inspired by the Holy Spirit in her Magnificat, Mary herself prophesies that all generations will call her blessed. The third line is also uttered by Elizabeth and surely it’s one we must all affirm. The fourth line of the prayer asserts a critical theological point. Mary did not simply give birth to a man who later became divinized. The baby growing in her womb was a human child, but he was also God before the ages. The prayer then closes petitioning Mary to pray for us, something she surely does anyway, but it’s still good to ask.

Truthfully, I’ve never understood why so many Protestants seem to hate this prayer. It’s mostly taken from the Scriptures which they hold in high esteem and is a rich and beautiful prayer that is easily remembered. But then, many Protestants today don’t seem to actually consider, much less call, Mary blessed. I guess we all pick and choose the Scriptures we want to honor and follow to one extent or another.

As I wrote this post, it dawned on me for the first time that I probably owe more to Mary for praying and acting in ways to bring me to her Son than I had every realized. And in my blindness, I never even said, “Thanks.”

Thank you, Mary, for loving me even as I despised Christianity and rejected your Son.

Weekend Update 01-21-2012

Posted: January 21st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 01-21-2012

As it happens, my favorite color is blue, not pink, though I don’t dislike pink. So I don’t share the specific problem. But I tend to shape my appearance the way I like, though I’ve mellowed considerably with age. These days I at least make an effort not to embarrass my wife. When we were dating (I guess that’s the right word) back in the 80s, I used to raid my wife’s closet for shirts and sometimes the 80s style jackets to wear to clubs. (And since I dressed that way everywhere I went, I guess for other places as well.)  I would also raid her earrings and sometimes other costume jewelry. She married me anyway. 😉 I’ve never been big on conformity and I don’t shame easily.

America is especially unequal and has especially low social mobility. Shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but probably is. The Dream isn’t doing so well.

Throughout 1976-1979 I frequented both the theaters discussed in this article. The Alabama was a block or so from my house. It showed cheap matinees during the summer. It was at that theater I watched Jaws, Grease, Star Wars, and other movies over and over and over again. River Oaks would show marathons and other than mainstream movies. It was there I saw marathons of Alfred Hitchcock movies, Liza Minnelli movies, Streisand movies, the hours long (4? 6?) Dylan movie, Tommy, and many more. Houston’s not a particularly nostalgic place, but those theaters hold a special place in my memory.

When did Kumbaya become such a bad thing? This is kind of bizarre, actually.

Supporting the interstate commerce implications of health care, MA groups file an amicus brief. Seems a lot of uninsured skiers injured in other states cross state lines to get emergency health care as mandated under existing laws.

The GOP has the world it wants — one in which the overwhelming majority of our country absorbs the economic risk so that those at the top face no risk. They get massive payouts whether they succeed or fail. They’ve done a masterful job of setting groups of us against each other while they have — quite literally — looted our country over the past several decades.

A post on pink slime which includes the Jamie Oliver videos. As with many things we eat today, it doesn’t even really qualify as food.

Ari Fleischer wants us to feel sorry for the wealthy and their [gasp] horrible tax burden. Of course, his figures on the increase in the share of taxes the wealthiest pay are correct. He just conveniently omits the fact that over that same period of time their share of income (income, not wealth!) has grown from 11% to nearly 25%. Over that same period of time, wages have essentially stagnated on average (and dropped for many) for the rest of us. Today, more than half of Americans subsist below or not too far above the poverty line. You know that old saying about squeezing blood from a turnip? Yeah. Greed apologists like Fleischer want to squeeze some more blood from us turnips because the poor Potters of the world are suffering so much with their heavy tax burden. (It’s a tax “burden” that has Romney paying about 15% in taxes and Buffet with a lower tax rate than his employees. To give credit to Buffet, at least he acknowledges there’s something wrong about that. Romney appears to be proud of it.) On top of that, it ignores the fact that federal income tax is only one piece of the tax burden. The working poor and middle class also pay payroll taxes, which takes a much larger proportional bite out of their income than it does the wealthy. And then there are sales taxes, property taxes, gas taxes, state and local income taxes (for those states which have them), and fees of all sorts. Even the unemployed poor can’t escape taxes. And as far as the wealthy go, even if the overall share of income tax they pay has increased as more and more of the total income has gone to them, their overall tax burden has dropped significantly, especially since 2003. Of course I’m sure that Ari Fleischer and the other propagandists like him are counting on the fact that a significant number of Americans seem to be unable to do basic math anymore. Romney’s dance on the issue of his taxes is bringing some attention to this issue, at least.

The Fence of Matthew Shepard. I really have little to add. I have no idea how people can follow Jesus and not see him on the crosses of the world. I have no illusion about my own strength or piety. I fear I would have been silent in the face of the nazis or any of the other tragedies of a similar sort in history. But I at least hope I wouldn’t justify my weakness. I know where Jesus hangs, whether or not I am strong enough to hang with him.

I hadn’t realized the Republican strategy when it comes to Medicare, Social Security, and now health care, was actually a Leninist strategy. Nor did I realize that is was openly acknowledged as such by GOP operatives and had been for decades. It’s a bizarre world in which we live, my friends. It makes sense of all their strategies and public pronouncements, but it’s still pretty strange.

Not that the code ever fooled anyone about the extent of Southern racism, but it’s still strange that the GOP no longer feels constrained to speak in coded messages.

Why I Love Religion, and Love Jesus. A really good spoken word response to that other video which went viral.


Here’s a short illustrated explanation of health care reform narrated by Jonathan Gruber, the MIT professor who helped design both the Massachusetts health care reform and the Affordable Care Act.

Below is a talk by Mikko Hypponen on three types of online attack. Only one of them is illegal. It’s definitely something to think about.

Mary 8 – Protoevangelion of James

Posted: January 20th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mary 8 – Protoevangelion of James

The oldest surviving complete text containing the even older oral tradition of the life of Mary is the Protoevangelion of James from the second century. There appear to be some older works that are quoted in later writings, but none of those have survived. The Protoevangelion of James is about the life of Mary up to the events surrounding the nativity. It’s not written by James, of course, which is why the Church did not include it in the canon lists of the New Testament. The only texts considered Scripture by the Church were those surviving texts written by an apostolic author — someone who had seen and been sent by the risen Lord. However, while some works were rejected completely and were not to be read at all, there were in the ancient world (as continues to be true today) many works that were considered valuable to read even though they were not Scripture. The Didache (often considered to have been distilled by those who were ‘traditioned’ the faith by Paul and/or Barnabas) and the Shepherd of Hermas are such works from the first century. This is one from the first half of the second century. If you’ve never read it, it’s not very long and worth taking the time to read.

The writing also describes a couple of events that are celebrated as major Feasts within the annual liturgical calendar of the Orthodox Church. It describes the Nativity of the Theotokos, born to her aged and previously barren parents, Joachim and Anna. And it describes the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple (the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the West).

I happen to find some of the things people use to reject the protoevangelium interesting. For instance it describes Jesus being born in a cave as is depicted in the icons of the Nativity. If you look around online, you’ll find some people attributing the reference to a cave as Mithraic in origin and a reason to reject the account. Ironically, modern archeology has revealed that animals in that region at that time were often kept in naturally insulated rock-cut caves. It’s an instance where an ancient tradition that had been discounted by many is now known to be pretty likely. And that makes sense. Many of the people who preserved the text lived in that region. If the text (or the older oral traditions it captured) had been discordant with things they knew, they wouldn’t have accepted and preserved it.

You’ll also find people who reject the tradition because of its description of temple virgins. They attribute those references to the pagan Roman vestal virgins. However, there’s ample evidence in the text of Scripture and in extra-biblical sources like the Mishnah for a liturgical role for specifically Jewish temple virgins. Moreover, the document and the oral tradition it captures date from a time when many Jews were still converting to Christianity. The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem was not some distant event. It was still recent. And, at least according to apologists like Justin Martyr, Jewish leaders were trying to stem the conversions and discredit the Christian claims. If the description of temple virgins had had no basis in reality, there would have been no ground for the tradition to take root. That should be easy to see with just a little bit of historical imagination.

I have to admit I find it odd that so many people who don’t hesitate to read modern commentaries, theological, and inspirational books, reject out of hand ancient works that fall into the same category. You do have to be discerning, of course. But in a modern landscape filled with the likes of Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, John Hagee, Tim LaHaye, Mark Driscoll, and Bishop Spong you have to be pretty discerning in what you choose to read today as well.