Who Am I?

Weekend Update 08-25-2012

Posted: August 25th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 08-25-2012

Too many of our media outlets lack any integrity whatsoever. Unfortunately, people reading or watching them assume they are still practicing modern journalism ethically.

Of course, if you don’t really understand mathematics, which it seems is true of far too many Americans today, I suppose it’s easy to be deceived by statements like Romney’s.

Mr. Ryan isn’t a serious man — he just plays one on TV. That’s a great line and perfectly accurate. Ryan is an empty suit who, for some bizarre reason, many people want to treat as some sort of credible, intelligent policy wonk. He’s not. He’s a flim-flam man. And anyone who can do basic arithmetic ought to be able to see that for themselves.

Another look at the GOP health care plan for America. (Mostly, it boils down to if you aren’t rich, as far as they are concerned you can go die.)

Of course, it’s been obvious that the GOP doesn’t want an electorate capable of critical thought, since such an electorate could see through their lies. The con man needs a mark. But it is interesting to see them enshrine that educational “goal” in their party platform here in Texas.

Understanding the ACA Medicare “cuts”. The real problem is that we have one party that does the normal political exaggeration and slanting, but within those parameters largely still speaks the truth while the other party simply blatantly lies. And the lies are often being presented to people as if they were simply a different opinion rather than a blatant falsehood.

If there’s anyone out there who still takes Niall Ferguson seriously, you should check this out. Of course, I guess people really don’t grasp that there are different kinds of wrong. Niall is deliberately misrepresenting facts in order to mislead people. Unfortunately, that’s become the norm in the GOP today.

And this represents an accurate portrayal of the actual math in Ryan’s plan. If those are the results you actually want to see happen in America, then fine, vote for him. But it’s despicable to have destructive goals like that and then try to mislead people that you are proposing something different. At least in this instance, the USCCB wasn’t fooled — not that Ryan gives a flip what his Bishops have to say. So much for being a devout Catholic.

The Romney-Ryan Economic Plan.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 10

Posted: August 23rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 10

18. If ‘love is long-suffering and kind’ (1 Cor. 13:4), a man who is fainthearted in the face of his afflictions and who therefore behaves wickedly towards those who have offended him, and stops loving them, surely lapses from the purpose of divine providence.

Indeed. Yet love is hard, especially toward those who are afflicting you. Of course, I’ve often seen people confuse love with allowing others to abuse you when there are other options. That’s not love. If you study the ancient Christian martyrs, you’ll encounter many places where, if they had an available option, they act to escape. In no small part, it was out of love for their persecutors. These were not people who feared death, but they also did not seek it. They loved life. Moreover, they did not want another human being bearing the burden of the evil of murder. So we do not allow others to abuse us. But we should not respond in like manner when they do. I can’t claim to have such restraint, sadly. But that’s not a reason to stop trying.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 9

Posted: August 21st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 9

17.  The aim of divine providence is to unite by means of true faith and spiritual love those separated in various ways by vice. Indeed, the Savior endured His sufferings so that ‘He should gather together into one the scattered children of God’ (John 11: 52). Thus, he who does not resolutely bear trouble, endure affliction, and patiently sustain hardship, has strayed from the path of divine love and from the purpose of providence.

On the one hand, I lived so much of my early life on the edge of crisis that most of the time I’m pretty good at getting through rough times. I can compartmentalize and focus on what needs to be done immediately. But I’m not sure that bear, endure, or patience describe me much at all.


Posted: August 20th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: , , | Comments Off on FrankenWheat

There are parts of this article that are over the top. Among other things, there isn’t generally gluten in vodka (distillation removes the heavy proteins) nor is there gluten in envelope adhesive. However much of it is quite true. The wheat we eat now bears little resemblance to the wheat we have eaten for most of our history — and even that wheat is a relatively recent introduction to the human diet.

I do want to note the distinction he makes in the article about modern wheat being more likely to trigger celiac disease. That does not mean older wheat is somehow safe for celiacs to eat. The autoimmune disease doesn’t work that way. Once triggered, any gliadin based gluten will trigger an autoimmune response. But we have so many more with celiac disease today because the disease is now triggered much more often than it was even as recently as the 1950s.

I also like the way he stresses the fact that gluten-free processed food is still bad for you. Do I indulge at times? Sure. And it shows in my weight gain over the past three years as I’ve come to terms with this disease and struggled to adapt to an entirely different way of eating. Too many people today seem to assume that simply removing gluten by replacing foods with gluten-free junk food is all you need to do. It isn’t.

My wife actually forwarded me the above article and even though she doesn’t have active celiac disease, she’s now considering going gluten-free herself. She already has auto-immune issues and, since her husband and two younger children do have active celiac disease, it’s not really a stretch for her. She would just have to stop eating gluten when she goes out to eat. Pretty much everything in our house and every meal is already gluten free.

Thoughts from anyone? Should those without a diagnosed problem with gluten but with other potentially related health issues consider going gluten free? Heck, should everyone start avoiding FrankenWheat?

Weekend Update 08-18-2012

Posted: August 18th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 08-18-2012

The Ryan Choice. Good post by Robert Reich. Yep, Paul Ryan embodies the full evil of the modern right-wing social darwinism. Odd that people who largely reject evolution embrace that ideological perversion of the theory.

I like the terms coined in this post. YOYO (You’re On Your Own) economics vs. WITT (We’re In This Together) economics. It does indeed form a stark difference. I would also call Paul Ryan’s approach the “I’ve got mine; screw you” attitude. I also want to take a moment to note that the USCCB has sharply rebuked Ryan (one of their own), though not by name, for his budget — the budget resolution the House passed. I’ve been critical of the USCCB in the past for often appearing to pick from a select few issues for their public statements and actions while ignoring others that seem equally contrary (at least to my eyes) to Catholic doctrine and practice. I remain disturbed that they still have not (at least that I can find) issued a public statement denouncing Texas’ recent execution of a man with an IQ of 61.

Paul Ryan’s love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing, because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades.Tom Morello speaks. “Don’t mistake me, I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lotta “rage” in him: A rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment. Basically the only thing he’s not raging against is the privileged elite he’s groveling in front of for campaign contributions.”

Whose plan destroys Medicare? Frankly, if you need to read the post to answer that question, you either aren’t paying attention (and you really should since this will have major implications for you and for everyone you love) or you’re an idiot. I can’t think of a nice way to say it. I’ve been told I don’t suffer fools easily, but things have reached the point where I’m not even inclined to try.

Essentially, the health care “policy” of Romney, Ryan, and the GOP in general looks like this. In what fantasy universe does anyone consider these social darwinists “pro-life”? Their policy proposals are specifically designed to kill people — the ones like Ken they consider “undeserving”. Maybe we need to return to Christian emperors. At least some of them accomplished a lot of good. If we’ve degenerated to the point where there is any credible chance that RomneyRyan could be elected, then we’ve proven what all the naysayers at the founding of our country right. Mob rule doesn’t work, in part, because mobs can’t think coherently.

Yes, even assuming he’s telling the truth instead of blatantly lying, Romney’s alleged 13% effective federal tax rate is shameful. Of course, he’s running on Ryan’s plan to effectively reduce his tax rate to near 0%. Self-interest? (And not the enlightened sort.)

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 8

Posted: August 16th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 8

15.  A soul’s motivation is rightly ordered when its desiring power is subordinated to self-control, when its incensive power rejects hatred and cleaves to love, and when its power of intelligence, through prayer and spiritual contemplation, advances towards God.

Without self-control, we are ruled by the passions flowing from our disordered nous. We tend to lash out when provoked; it’s not easy to embrace love. And ultimately, we need to know God.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 7

Posted: August 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 7

14.  Evil is not to be imputed to the essence of created beings, but to their erroneous and mindless motivation.

This is an important point. There is a mystery to evil as the nature of creation is good. As such it can even be difficult to describe evil as a separate thing. Rather it is more the perversion of something. God did not create evil, but in the very freedom instilled in the essence of his creation, God created the space that allows evil to exist. Ironically, evil rules, dominates, and destroys us in ways that God never would. We truly suffer evil. And God suffers with us both as the lover of creation and, through Christ, by joining us within our suffering.

Picky Eater?

Posted: August 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: , | Comments Off on Picky Eater?

I’m late writing about this, so it’s likely old news to at least some of the readers out there. But it’s been on my mind, so I’m going to write about it anyway. Kendall Egan’s post on Special Diet Backlash? pointed me to this New York Times article on The Picky Eater Who Came to Dinner.

Given that two of my kids and I have celiac disease, it’s worrisome when people start to think of “gluten free” as some sort of fad if it means they won’t take us seriously. We do appreciate it when restaurants take the time and care to provide safe food and make it easier to order. We tend to go to a relatively small list of places that have proven to us they are safe.

When we go to a party or other event by an organization, friends, or family we tend to bring food we know is safe, check in advance if safe options will be available (which usually requires a fairly extensive set of questions), or even eat beforehand and just have a beverage of some sort at the event. We try not to impose, but at the same time we have to know at all times exactly what we are eating before we eat it. We have no “tolerance” or room for error.

However, unlike someone with a severe food allergy (like a peanut allergy), we won’t immediately react nor will we tend to react in highly visible ways. Unlike an allergy, though, when an immune response is triggered, the antibodies and inflammation can linger for weeks from a single exposure. So we are particular vulnerable to those who think, for whatever reason, that it’s okay to lie to us or hide something from us. Fortunately, that’s not a common occurrence today, but if a backlash against those on a special diet grows, it could become more common.

And that worries me. All posts like the one in the Times tend to make a comment about celiac disease before proceeding on with their rant. But celiac disease is not only more common than many such writers seem to understand, it also doesn’t have any visible markers. There’s no way to look at someone with celiac disease and tell that they have it. It’s a largely invisible disease.

And that’s without even discussing the increasing numbers of people who are being medically diagnosed (not by WebMD) with non-celiac gluten intolerance or sensitivity. They may have more tolerance for exposure and cross-contamination than those of us with celiac disease and the consequences of exposure may not be as severe as the celiac autoimmune response, but they still have a real, if not thoroughly understood medical condition. They don’t deserve to be ridiculed or dismissed either.

My advice to those hosting dinners, parties, or events? Decide up front whether you care about the dietary restrictions, voluntary or otherwise, of those you are inviting before you invite them. And be clear about whether or not you are willing or interested in special diet requests or needs. If you aren’t, that’s fine. If if you just aren’t sure how to handle such needs, just be up front about it. If someone actually cares, we’re always prepared to discuss it. Perhaps we can cook and bring something safe so we can blend in to some extent. But if you find such things a bother or imposition don’t be surprised if we decide we would rather not attend.

Weekend Update 08-11-2012

Posted: August 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 08-11-2012

Luck vs. Skill. Indeed. I’ve often written how cognizant so much of my success has been the result of societal support when I most needed it and then simply on luck. Yes, I had the intelligence, skill, and drive to take advantage of those fortunate opportunities when they came my way, but I didn’t somehow create them and the dice could have gone many different ways. Most teen parents don’t end up where I have. I was extremely lucky.

“In the hands of Christ, bread always becomes His body: all things become what they truly are.” Fr. Stephen knocks another one out of the park.

Richard Beck take a good look at the theology of Dark Knight Rises. Well worth a read.

At one point in Hope Springs Tommy Lee Jones’ character expresses his fear of first telling Meryl Streep’s character he loved her. He thought that would send her running. She could have had anyone she wanted. Why would she want him? I think that’s something many men experience. I always thought my wife was out of my league and never have understood why she chose me and stuck with me through some pretty awful times. I’m not sure she’s ever really understood why I told her Dirty Dancing and, in particular She’s Like the Wind, captured my feelings. I still sometimes think I’m a fool to believe I have anything she needs. I see who I am in the mirror. And I had so much pain when she met me. Almost a quarter of a decade later, though, and she still believes in me. She see something different when she looks at me than I see when I look at myself. I don’t know where I would be today if I hadn’t met her, but I’m certain it would be a much darker place.

She’s Like the Wind

Pluralism and the Various Christian Gods 3

Posted: August 10th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

This next post in the series has been a long time coming. So if you want to review the earlier posts in the series, here are links to them.

I ended my last post with the question I often hear posed by other Christians to each other and sometimes even to me. What about the fate of those in groups who believe things about God that are wrong? That group could and probably does include all of us, after all. That question seems to flow from the odd obsession within at least parts of modern Christianity about whether or not this or that group or this or that individual is “saved.” I can’t really discern the source of that obsession. I could speculate, but it would be pure speculation. I understood immediately the old Romanian monk I once saw in a video who said (in subtitles) something like, “All will be saved and I alone will be damned.” I don’t understand most of my fellow American Christians on this topic at all.

I do think it has something to do with the way so much of Christianity has externalized salvation and damnation as something done to humanity by God rather than something that (at least when it comes to “damnation“) to a large degree we collectively do to ourselves. Do we turn to Jesus of Nazareth, follow him, receive healing, and find our life, our only life, in God? Or do we turn away toward death and dehumanize ourselves?

We are saved together, but we are damned alone” is a truism of the Christian faith. In one of his podcasts, Fr. John touches on this inescapable nature of Christianity. It’s a podcast worth pausing for ten minutes and absorbing, especially if you’ve externalized salvation and damnation as something done to you rather than with you.

I still find The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis one of the best illustrations of this principle at work. I think it’s important that anyone reading this understand something of my spiritual situation when I was eleven and twelve years old. (I don’t remember exactly when I read the Narnia series for the first time, but it was one of those years.) I was living inside the loop in the Montrose area of Houston. I was then attending a Catholic school, St. Anne’s, after having attending many different public and private school in various parts of the country. I was not Catholic, though I guess I would say I identified as Christian, having been baptized some years earlier. I sometimes attended youth group activities at South Main Baptist Church. I also have distinct and vivid memories of receiving communion at an Episcopal Church, though I don’t recall which one. However, I also remember attending Hindu and Jewish ceremonies. My parents hosted a number of different events, including a past life regression seminar that also imprinted itself on my memory, and we hung out with a lot of different interesting people.

On my own, I was also practicing transcendental meditation nightly. (Sadly, I never managed to levitate, though I did learn some really good relaxation techniques that continue to serve me well.) My parents also ran a small publishing company and a small press bookstore. I helped out at the bookstore and there were books on palmistry, numerology, and runes among other things. I absorbed them and became pretty good at them. My mother had starting reading tarot when I was much younger and it had always fascinated me, so I also learned tarot reading (a practice I continued though increasingly sporadically until my early thirties). I also dabbled in astrology, mostly out of curiosity, but even modern astrology gave me some insight into the way the ancient mind regarded the heavens.

So it was in that context I read the Narnia series. I caught some of the Christian allusions, of course, but not all of them. I did, however, love the series — especially Aslan. Later in life, as I truly encountered Jesus again, I think I recognized him most because he resembled Aslan in the ways that mattered. First, consider the plight of the dwarves.

Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs’ knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn’t taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he’d found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said “Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.” But very soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarreling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot. But when at last they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding noses, they all said:

“Well, at any rate there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.”

“You see,” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”

Damnation is not something Jesus inflicts on us. We do it to ourselves. I never really found this vision described in Christianity until I stumbled across Orthodoxy. I imagine it persists in other places as well, but not the ones I traveled. And yet it corresponds precisely with the ancient Orthodox perspective. We can stand in paradise in the unveiled presence of the God who is everywhere present and filling all things and we perceive it as torment instead. God does not hate some of us and love others. He loves us all. But some of us cannot stand to be loved. And most particularly, when we fail to love, we turn ourselves into creatures who cannot bear to receive love — especially the fire of God’s unveiled love.

And then there is the case of Emeth, the Calormene warrior, who has sought Tash his whole life. In his one words, he says:

“For always since I was a boy I have served Tash and my great desire was to know more of him, if it might be, to look upon his face. But the name of Aslan was hateful to me.”

Jewel, at one point in the book, describes Emeth in the following way.

“By the Lion’s Mane, I almost love this young warrior, Calormene though he be. He is worthy of a better god than Tash.”

And indeed he is. Emeth describes his encounter with Aslan.

“But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”

Of course, if pushed too hard there a variety of ways the metaphor can collapse. Nevertheless, there is a truth in that scene so deep that it imprinted itself on the soul of even that young preteen exposed to so many different things. I almost despaired of finding a modern Christianity that actually taught the above before I stumbled onto Orthodoxy. (Actually, Catholicism is returning to that same belief after a medieval detour. I’ve now read their Catechism. But that was not immediately clear to me since older views linger among Catholics on the street.)

So it’s from that perspective I can on the one hand say that Calvinism describes a God I consider unworthy of worship, much less love, and at the same time freely acknowledge and point to Calvinists whom I believe are some of the best Christians I know. (Hopefully nobody is using me as a measure, since they are easily better Christians than me. I’m still trying to figure out what that even means.) I feel no tension between those statements. From my framework, they can both easily be true.

It’s in a similar vein I find myself bemused by the current Christian debate contrasting belief and behavior or actions. Both sides of the debate seem to fall into the same trap — treating them as somehow different. They aren’t. It’s impossible for us to act in any given moment in any way that does not express and expose our true belief about reality. We act out of our beliefs and our actions in turn shape the way we see the world. It’s a process of continual reinforcing feedback. Now it’s possible to desire to believe something different than we actually do. It’s also very common for us to express beliefs different from the ones we actually hold (and which manifest in our actions) either because we think that’s what we should believe or because it’s what we want others to think we believe. It’s also certainly possible for us to regret our actions and wish to change accordingly. But in the moment, when I speak or act, I am expressing the beliefs I actually hold at that moment in time. We all understand the father pleading to Jesus for his son, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief.

I will note that the more I experience and get to know this strange God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, the more incredulous I become that his love could not eventually warm even the coldest and most twisted heart. Like St. Isaac the Syrian, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and others, I find I’m unwilling to assert that the dwarves have no hope. It may be that they don’t. And if true, it breaks my heart. But in the Resurrection, Christ has broken the bonds of death. It’s no longer the nature of man to die. And don’t we say that where there’s life, there’s hope?

I find it horribly sad that so many Christian sects today will not pray for the dead. Almost as sad as their refusal to accept the prayers of those who are alive in Christ, though they presently sleep in the body. I’m not sure I really understand the reality they perceive, but it’s clearly different from the one I see. But then, too often today the Resurrection is presented as little more than an afterthought, not the very substance of our faith.

And that concludes this brief three part look into the way at least one modern pluralist handles our Christian pluralism. I’m not sure how many people might find it helpful or interesting, but perhaps some will. Let me know if there was any point on which you think I might not have expressed myself clearly.