Who Am I?

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 3

Posted: July 31st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 3

3.  God is the Creator from all eternity, and He creates when He wills, in His infinite goodness, through His coessential Logos and Spirit. Do not raise the objection: ‘Why did He create at a particular moment since He is good from all eternity?’ For I reply that the unsearchable wisdom of the infinite essence does not come within the compass of human knowledge.

4.  When the Creator willed, He gave being to and manifested that knowledge of created things which already existed in Him from all eternity. For in the case of almighty God it is ridiculous to doubt that He can give being to anything when He so wills.

Time before the beginning of time is not a concept that makes sense within our perspective of reality. Everything about us is ordered by sequenced events. We could not exist in any other way. Creation exists in the overflow of God’s love made uniquely real and manifest.

Green Mesquite BBQ

Posted: July 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Green Mesquite BBQ

Our family has long been patrons of the Zilker Summer Musical. In the last nearly quarter century, we’ve only missed a couple. We always donate at the musical and sometimes donate in advance as well. We’re fortunate to live in a community that supports the arts and which provides free offerings. (My daughter and I also attend the free Shakespeare in the Park put on by Austin Shakespeare each year.)

This year was one of those years we chose to be “official” donors so we were invited to the catered outdoor donor dinner and special preview performance (also the final dress and technical rehearsal, but usually with no interruptions). The dinner was catered by Green Mesquite BBQ. I had never been there, so I contacted them by email to see if their food would be safe for my children and me. They responded very helpfully.

“All of our meat is gluten free along with with our barbecue sauce. Our rubs are made by a local spice vendor, Texas Spice, and they do not add msg or gluten in our spices. We don’t add gluten products to our beans or potato salad. Our buns are bread so they are not gluten free.”

We attended, had a wonderful night. The food was delicious and we had no reactions to it. Although we’re not among the group of celiacs who tend to have strong and aggressive acute symptoms to exposure, we do tend to notice it. (The acute symptoms are not the real problem. The autoimmune response and the often more “hidden” damage to the body is the major concern for us with celiac disease.)

Given that positive experience, we’re adding this restaurant to our “safe” list.

Weekend Update 07-28-2012

Posted: July 28th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 07-28-2012

This column by Christina Romer on containing health care costs is a good one. The ACA is a good first step, saving an estimated trillion dollars in its first ten years just on the federal budget side, but it’s only the first step. With per capita health care costs more than double those of any other industrialized nation, many more steps are required. We certainly need more than the GOP “plan” (though that descriptor probably goes too far) to simply reduce government expenditures and nothing else — essentially shifting even more of the spiraling costs of our out of control system onto employers and individuals. That will simply have the effect of impoverishing our nation and throwing an increasing number of those who are sick or injured under the metaphorical bus.

America is a violent country. Like Krugman, I’m impressed by how much we’ve improved. I lived in the Montrose area inside the loop in Houston in the 70s during the peak in that graph. During that time, there were rapes on either side of us and a man shot and killed in the street less than a block away. As a preteen and young teen I learned to fend off street propositions for sex. They happened in broad daylight sometimes shouted from cars in the street as I waited at a bus stop. The Saturday Evening Post had a cover story with a stylized photo of a biker gang declaring, “There’s a New Gang in Town!” The patches on the “gang” were HPD (Houston Police Department). It really was that bad. We still have more violence than any of the other industrialized nations, but we have improved so much that I’m not sure it’s possible for those younger than me to really grasp how bad it was at the peak in that graph — especially if you lived in an urban area. We still have lot to do, of course. Both mass shootings like the recent one in Colorado and individual acts of violence like the murder of my friend’s son on vacation remain far too common. But things are not getting ever worse as some want to portray the situation. Rather they’ve been improving for a long time now.

This is an interesting little election year issue quiz. Not particularly surprising to me, but I “side with” President Obama on most of the issues that I ranked important to me among the questions. Back in my twenties Ron Paul would have ranked a whole lot higher, but I’ve changed a lot since those days.

This analogy to loaded dice when it comes to the effects of climate change is a good one. We’re experiencing the consequences of climate change now. The real question is what it will take to smash the blinders of denial or general apathy that many have?

Five Obamacare Myths. Not that it will matter to those determined to believe blatant lies. But still.

Celiac Central’s archived webinars. How did I not know about these?

Anyone who’s interested in it has probably already watched Rob Bell’s most recent video — Rediscovering Wonder. But if you’ve somehow missed it, here it is.

If you are an America who wants to restore our rightful place as the laughingstock of the world …

Why I Am Not An Atheist 4 – Theodicy

Posted: July 27th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Theodicy is a term generally used to describe the problem of reconciling a powerful and benevolent God with the suffering and pain in the world. It’s generally presented as an argument for atheism, so it may seem odd that I’m describing it as one of the reasons I’m not an atheist. Hopefully I can unravel that apparent conundrum.

I do want to be clear. Christianity does assert a single creator God on whom all that exists is contingent from moment to moment. Our God is one who is both immanent (everywhere present and filling all things) and transcendent. Christianity teaches that this God who is fully revealed in Christ is a good God who loves mankind. Moreover, this God is such that the only word, inadequate as it is, that we can use to capture his essence and being is love.

So it is true that the problem of evil is a very real one for Christianity. While I don’t intend to explore that problem in this post, I have discussed some of my thoughts in various places in the past. However I do acknowledge this is truly a deep philosophical problem — for Christianity. But atheism presents itself as the rejection of all Gods and any concept of deity, not merely a rejection of the Christian God. As such, I always wondered why its arguments, such as this one, seem to often be so narrowly focused.

I’ll illustrate by drawing on my pre-Christian Hindu perspective. Suffering is acknowledged, of course, but it cannot be described as a problem for Hinduism. Now, it’s been a long time since I actively thought from a somewhat Hindu perspective and I was never a particularly devoted practitioner by any stretch of the imagination. But that lens did generally shape how I perceived the world around me for much of my first three decades of life. And I did meditate, read the Bhagavad Gita (sporadically, at least) and other texts, and commentaries on them. I searched online and found one of the texts that still sticks in my mind from chapter 18. (Always keep in mind that it’s not easy to translate these texts into English. Concepts don’t necessarily match well at all.)

Within the hearts of all living entities, resides the Supreme Lord, O Arjuna and by the potency of the illusory energy orchestrates the movements of all living entities like figurines on a carousel.

This page actually includes four commentaries or different perspectives with Hinduism on that passage. The one by Sridhara Swami captures what would have been my understanding. It’s maya (often translated illusion, but flowing from the idea of “not that“) that binds us to samsara, the wheel of suffering within which we are locked by the cycle of death and rebirth. Through transcendence, we can stop revolving from one life to another. (Reincarnation and our attachment to the illusion of the material is actually more a core part of the problem in Hinduism than something desired. I guess that’s another reason I find it odd that a significant percentage of Christians today embrace reincarnation.)

Other religions have different perspectives, of course, but as far as I can tell, it would be hard to frame evil and suffering as a problem within their frameworks. (The exception is probably Judaism, though I don’t think the problem takes exactly the same shape that it does in Christianity.) And yet, as I’ve heard atheistic arguments over the years and as I’ve heard and read stories of people who embraced or converted to atheism rather than being raised within it, this problem of evil is often close to the core. I often don’t get the sense that people even see that it’s an anti-Christian argument and not one that actually supports atheism.

Finally, I find it strange that this particular argument is so common. After all, atheism itself offers a pretty poor ultimate response to pain and suffering. I don’t want to be flippant, but for all practical purposes, the modern atheistic answer seems to boil down to something pretty simple.

Life’s a bitch and then you die.

I’ll take Hinduism or Buddhism or Shintoism or any of a host of other answers over that one. I guess I’ll never be a good materialist. That lens has never held any appeal for me. Yes, it can be difficult to resolve a God of love with all the suffering and evil that exists. But I would rather make that effort, however deep the rabbit hole goes, than abandon it.

But let’s say I was willing to embrace the materialist perspective. If I did, I think Nietzsche carries it to its logical conclusion. And that will be the topic of my next post in this series.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 2

Posted: July 26th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 2

2.  How can the intellect not marvel when it contemplates that immense and more than astonishing sea of goodness? Or how is it not astounded when it reflects on how and from what source there have come into being both nature endowed with intelligence and intellect, and the four elements which compose physical bodies, although no matter existed before their generation? What kind of potentiality was it which, once actualized, brought these things into being? But all this is not accepted by those who follow the pagan Greek philosophers, ignorant as they are of that all-powerful goodness and its effective wisdom and knowledge, transcending the human intellect.

In this text, St. Maximos notes, as I commented on Tuesday, that the pagan Greek philosophers did not grasp this point about the fundamental nature of reality. I will also note, especially since I have a son now studying physics and we like to discuss it, that all our studies so far point back to a singularity. That is to say that everything points back to an event before which we can say nothing. We label that singularity the Big Bang. I don’t want to oversimplify, but it does look a lot more like the Christian perspective than many of the other ancient perspectives on origins of reality.

Does God Suffer?

Posted: July 25th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Does God Suffer?

I was actually surprised by this lecture by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, but probably not for the reason many would assume. (Take some time to listen to the podcast or my comments probably won’t make much sense.) I’ve been reflecting on the underlying reasons for my surprise and I think it’s tied to the often sideways and backwards way I’ve lurched into Christianity. It hasn’t been a formal process and I’ve often had very different questions and assumptions from the typical modern, English-speaking, Western individual.

In this instance, I wasn’t surprised by the Metropolitan’s conclusions. In fact, I had apparently assumed erroneously that they were the common Christian belief. Yes, I’ve encountered discussions of God as impassable, but I simply assumed that meant his nature and the activities flowing from it never changed. God is love. And that never changes. God’s attitude toward his whole creation is love and that too never changes.

I did not, however, ever associate the idea of God’s unwavering nature of love with the Aristotelian concept of the unmoved mover. I’m bemused to discover that many Christians have and do. That concept of God, in many ways, looks to me more like the Hindu Brahman than anything we see revealed in Christ.

Does God suffer? Of course! If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be a God of love.

Love suffers when the beloved suffers.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 1

Posted: July 24th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 1

1.  First the intellect marvels when it reflects on the absolute infinity of God, that boundless sea for which it longs so much. Then it is amazed at how God has brought things into existence out of nothing. But just as ‘His magnificence is without limit’ (Ps. 145:3. LXX), so ‘there is no penetrating His purposes’ (Isa. 40:28).

I want to note something in this text that’s somewhat tangential. I’ve often encountered a modern idea that the ancient “Greek” fathers twisted the Christian tradition they received into something else through the influence of  Greek philosophy. (I’ll note that St. Ephraim, St. Isaac, and many others weren’t actually Greek at all. They are called “Greek” fathers, I believe, because they wrote in Greek.) Yet above we see St. Maximos referring to the ex nihilo act of creation by God. That stands in sharp contrast to pagan Greek philosophy. Yes, they used the terms available to them in the language of their time. We do the same today. The words we have are our available tools. But they used that language to fight against Greek philosophy and Christian heresies in those areas where they did not conform to the faith that had been handed down to them. If you actually read the fathers, you can’t help but see that truth. It permeates their writings.

Reflecting on St. Maximos’ text for today, all I can say is go read Colossians. If your mind doesn’t marvel and your heart (nous) isn’t at least momentarily stilled in wonder, I’m not sure you’ve allowed yourself to truly understand what it says.

Celiac Update – Osteoporosis

Posted: July 23rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Celiac Update – Osteoporosis

After I was diagnosed with highly advanced stage celiac in April 2009, my gastroenterologist ordered a bone density scan. The results showed full blown osteoporosis (I believe around -2.4) in my spine. I was shocked. No middle-aged man ever thinks about osteoporosis. My doctor referred me to an endocrinologist. She decided to treat me with a regimen of maximum calcium supplements (600mg three times daily) and see if that in combination with strict adherence to a gluten free diet would suffice. She noted that none of the medicines for osteoporosis are tested on middle-aged men and there’s no clinical data of any significance. She didn’t want to make me a guinea pig and I wasn’t inclined to be one.

The following year, my bone density scan had improved to the osteopenia range (-1.9 or -1.8, I believe) so my instructions were to continue my treatment plan. Last year, there was no significant change, but since it didn’t get any worse, my doctor wanted to continue the regimen.

This year my numbers improved to -1.1 (anything under -1.0 is considered normal). It’s still osteopenia, but barely. My doctor wants to wait two years for my next bone density scan since at this point there’s unlikely to be significant change in a year. But it looks like I beat osteoporosis! That’s good news in my book.

Weekend Update 07-21-2012

Posted: July 21st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 07-21-2012

The personal in Romney’s case frames the larger picture. Maybe that will break through the delusion many have that Romney (and the GOP in general) won’t do what they have actually proposed doing and for some of which they have even already voted.

Who exactly is dividing America?

Let’s try to stick to the real world when we talk about Medicaid. Amen. I’m sick of everyone from the media to ordinary people letting the GOP get away with blatant lies. I used to joke that you could tell that a politician was lying when his lips were moving — but it was a joke. The modern GOP has made that reality. And they get away with it. Not only that, they get away with it to the point that when the policy proposals they have actually made and the things for which they have actually voted are accurately portrayed to GOP voters, those voters believe the people they support don’t support any such thing. We’re living in Wonderland now. As a teen parent, Medicaid was the only reason we survived. Metaphorically, but also literally. When my infant daughter had pneumonia it was Medicaid that ensured she had the care she needed to live. So pardon me while I sneer at the “pro-life” stance of (mostly) white conservative evangelicals who have never been in a position where they actually needed Medicaid.

The problem is that the prosperity of America’s big businesses has become disconnected from well-being of most American citizens.

Pathos of the Plutocrat. Quoting The Rich Boy no less.

Jay Smooth at Ill Doctrine on Mitt Romney’s Blackest Week Yet.


Weekend Update 07-14-2012

Posted: July 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 07-14-2012

The drag on our economy caused by public sector job loss, primarily at the state and local level, has been and continues to be enormous. The math isn’t even very difficult and the underlying concepts are not particularly complicated. Unfortunately, we’re in a situation where far too much of our population and the politicians they elect are choosing to see a fantasy world through ideological lenses rather than anything that even vaguely correlates with reality. Nor is it a matter of intelligence. As far as I can tell, intelligence hardly even seems to be a factor. And right now I don’t see any clear path out of delusion for our country.

Robert Reich on the Libor scandal(s). I can’t figure out why so many Americans not only put up with this, but actively and vigorously support the politicians who actively encourage this sort of behavior and fight against any regulation that attempts to prevent it. Do GOP voters suffer from some bizarre form of Stockholm Syndrome? There has to be some way to explain otherwise utterly irrational behavior.

Just as GW was and remains the merest fraction of a man that his father is, the same can be said of Mitt and George.

Big lies about taxes. And how many Americans are stupid enough to believe them? And yes. Stupid. No more mincing words. If the shoe fits…

Who’s Very Important? Sigh. Of course there aren’t enough of them to actually elect anyone. I still find it bizarre that they can get so many people who already have been harmed and will be hurt even worse by their desired policies to vote for their candidates. Of course, it seems like a lot of people simply don’t believe the candidate for whom they are voting or plan to vote will actually do the things that candidate has promised to do

Texas absolutely last in the nation in health care quality. Also here. Of course, I can’t imagine that’s surprising to anyone who has actually lived here. Still. I was born in Louisiana. I lived in Mississippi for a short while as a child. I went to high school (and had my first daughter and marriage) in Arkansas in the poorest county in the Ozarks. By comparison Texas is rich. There’s no reason things have to be even worse here. The good citizens of our state choose to gamble their lives that they can get away with this situation and it might not touch those they love. Of course, they are all honorable men. Our governor, the illustrious Rick Perry, is absolutely committed to keeping us dead last in the country when it comes to health care. He demonstrates his commitment in various ways.

Waiting for health care. Watch the video. I’ve lived at all segments of our society over the course of my life — from the poorest of the poor to where I surprisingly find myself today. If you are one of the loud voices complaining about the way health care reform “infringes on your freedom” or similar nonsense, then you are the oppressor. You are the slaver. You are the abuser. You’re the bad guy in this story. If you have a different image of yourself, you’re out of touch with reality. If you claim the name of Christ, I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes when you face him.

Josh, the singer, was one of the teens always around our house and part of the teen “garage band” we hosted. Now? He’s amazing. I remember when he tried to play chicken with a car in front of our house … I took him to the emergency room. One of a zillion stories. It’s hard for me to connect the teen in those memories to this man.

Regressive vs. Progressive.