Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Shocking News from the Netherlands

According to a report by Toby Sterling of the Associated Press, a hospital in the Netherlands has for some time been practicing the mercy killing of infants deemed to suffering from incurable pain, from which there is no hope of improvement. The hospital is establishing a review board for the process of making such decisions on behalf of infants and other persons who are found to be mentally incapable of choosing for themselves whether or not to seek to end their lives. Euthanasia in the Netherlands was legalized three years ago. Adults in great pain with no hope of relief are permitted to ask their physician for a sedative and a lethal dose of muscle relaxant, so that they may end their lives. Now, with what is identified as the "Groningen Protocol," a panel of doctors would make such a decision for those who cannot do so on their own. Four mercy killings were performed in 2003, according to the hospital. Each was reported to the local authoritues; there have been no legal actions taken against either the hospital or the doctors involved. Belgium also allows euthanasia; and a measure to legalize the practice in France is reportedly being considered by the French legislature. In the United States, Oregon has adopted a law making the practice legal.

On one level, I can understand -- that's understand, not approve -- when an adult who is suffering might find the thought of ending the suffering by death to be a relief; and that some will do more than simply consider the idea, but will take the steps necessary to kill themselves. Call it euthanasia, call it "mercy killing," call it "death with dignity" -- call it what you will: the word is "suicide." Those who are cognizant of their circumstances, and of the results of their decisions, may well choose to die. Their choice doesn't make it right -- it doesn't set aside the law of God; and they will be held accountable for their choice, as will we all. But when the person to be put to death because someone else has decided their life is no longer worth living, and that the person to be "euthanized" is incapable of deciding whether or not life should go on -- when the government sanctions this, we have gone beyond what we would call murder. I'm not sure there is a word for it stronger than murder -- but it becomes "murder most heinous," or to that effect.

Why make such a big deal about this? After all, it's not even legal (yet) in the Netherlands. No one is proposing to do this here in the US -- yet. That's why we have to point these things out -- lest we, turning a blind eye to what is taking place elsewhere, miss the clues of the coming agenda of the prince of this world, whose hatred for us is so great that he will stop at nothing to degrade and destroy us, who are made in the image of God.

We do not always know the specific reasons for suffering. What has been revealed to us is that suffering is often essential for our transformation, for our salvation; or for the salvation and transformation of those around us, particularly if they are witnesses to our suffering in a God-pleasing way. If I seek to shorten my suffering by taking my life, I may jeopardize my salvation. That's bad enough; but, if I do so on "behalf" of someone else, I may very well jeopardize both my salvation, and theirs. No, the only wise course, as difficult as it may be, is to endure the suffering as best we can, striving for patience, and to give glory to God in all circumstances.

It is easy for me to sit at my keyboard and type these words. I am not in pain; nor is anyone in my family suffering in pain (so far as I know). May God save us from the time of trial; and grant great strength and mercy to those who are experiencing pain great enough to cause the desire for their life to end, that they may endure; and that their souls be saved.

The Election in the Ukraine

(You know, it has just dawned on me... Is this a substitute for the fact that there's not much left to write about the 2004 elections here? Nahhh...)

My email inbox contained a very interesting -- and in some ways, very disturbing -- article this morning. It contained a copy of an article by Justin Raimondo, entitled, "The Yuschenko Mythos"; it carries a November 29, 2004, dateline. As a result, I did a bit more exploring for news on this topic; and I recommend the following articles to you, if you're interested in knowing more about the subject:

It is Raimondo's article that is the most troubling of the set. Granted, it is a column hosted at antiwar.com, so it is not exactly an unbiased source. His article is worth reading, I think, if only for the reason that we will be challenged to ponder what is going on; and to ask about the role our government is playing in the region; and why we are doing what Raimondo suggests we are doing.

OK, let me put a few slices of it on the table for you here; and maybe then you'll want to read the entire article. Raimondo's point includes the idea that we are being sold an image of one candidate as being the torchbearer for the western ideas of liberty, freedom, and capitalism; while his opponent, who has been declared the winner in the now-disputed, and much protested, election, is characterized as the candidate of the forces that would prefer a return to the style and practice of the Soviet Union, and its Communist rulers. Behind the smokescreen, Raimondo points to two less obvious aspects of the support by the U.S. for Candidate Yushchenko: The oil pipelines that cross the Ukraine from Russia, to bring Russian oil to the West; and a continuation of the Cold War policy of atempting to contain Russia, circling her with a "belt" of states tied to the West. The "up front" portrayal of the Ukrainian election as a battle between the forces of freedom and oppression is menat to divert our attention to extend capitalism, and the hegemony of the West, to the borders of Russia -- even to areas once part of Russia herself, and still very much tied to the success of both the Russian economy and the defense of the Russian state.

There's no reason -- yet -- to panic about the stance of our government. However, given our recent track record in Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo, I am not optimistic about what our attempt to dictate who should rule in sitautions such as the Ukraine means for the long-term peace and stability of the world. (If I could, I'd have this site set up to play a copy of Steppenwolf's "Monster" while you read this article...)

I also found an interesting blog on this topic. See "Ukraine in the Membrane"; which I found by way of a link at the Politburo Diktat blogsite.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Family Gathering

My goodness, but it has been difficult to blog post-election. I'm not alone in this; I've noted that a number of the non-Orthodox blogs I read on a regular basis have growm silent, moved away from politics, or have dropped in frequency of postings. Even some of the Orthodox bloggers have tailed off; and I must confess that it has been more difficult to even cruise to another blog and read what's going on. Many of the issues that were percolating in the weeks and months leading up to the election have similarly cooled down. The most heated of these, the question of the legalization of same-sex marriages, still pops up from time to time. A recent poll here in Arizona reported that 49% of those asked favored an amendment to the Arizona state constitution that would limit marriage to being the union of a man and a woman; while 43% opposed such an amendment. (State law already makes such a limitation; and the state courts have upheld the language as being constitutional.) Such an amendment to the state constitution is expected to be offered in the next session of the Arizona Legislature, which begins in January, 2005.

The week before the Thanksgiving holiday, I had the great joy of being able to visit with my extended family, thanks to the generosity of my brother, who bought my plane ticket and my sister and her husband, who gave me a room in their house (and fed me within an inch of my life!). The occasion was a surprise party for our father, who will be 70 years young next month. It was the first time in about nine years that I was able to visit with my father and step-mother face-to-face; and in fourteen years since I'd seen my brother and his wife. I'd seen my sister and her husband last year, as they had come to Phoenix for him to be examined by the doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona -- or it would have been fourteen years for them, as well. I got to see two other sisters, meet one's husband, see their children -- it was great! I also had the opportunity to see many of my aunts and uncles, and some of my cousins, and nieces, and nephews, for the first time in many, many years.

One other source of joy was the interest in the Orthodox Church and faith and way of life on the part of my family, and also some of the friends of the family who visited during the time I was there. Some of my family are Christians; some are searching; some are, well, pagans. But no matter who was asking me questions about what we believe as Orthodox Christians, and why, none of the questions were antagonistic; and, even when the answers got a bit long-winded (no big surprise there to anyone who knows me!), they showed a great deal of patience, and perhaps even interest, as well. I don't think I changed anyone's mind; but I wasn't there to do that. As far as our faith is concerned, I was there to bear witness to the Truth as I have been privileged by God to know Him; and with love for all to share what I have been given freely with all who may ask. Of course, there is the hope that some of my family will be moved to explore the life-transforming power of our Orthodox faith, and be blessed by the teachings and worship and community of believers I hope they will find should they visit an Orthodox parish...

There are several articles on the hook right now that may deserve some comments; and I'm sure I'll get around to doing just that -- but not right now...

The Constitution, Fallujah, and Thanksgiving

According to a report by Reuters, dated November 24, 2004, a teacher in California has been barred from giving his students copies of documents that mention God -- including, among others, the Declaration of Independence. Now, I will have to say that I will concede the possibility that the materials cited in the Reuters report could have been "selectively edited" to overly-emphasize the religious ponderings (pre-blog, of course!) of the Founding Fathers; but I suspect that this is not, in fact, the situation. Anything is possible in the People's Republic of Kalifornia! I will also say that I'm, well, disappointed, that the teacher has sued. It's an understandable response, especially in today's cultural climate; and I guess I don't really blame him for doing so -- but still, it's a disappointment that some other avenue of redress either doesn't exist or wasn't (so far as we can tell from the news report) explored. Why does it always seem that the initial response is to go to court and to sue, especially for big monetary damage awards? (Credit is due to the blog "small dead animals" for the link to the Drudge Report, where the link to the Reuters article was found. I'm probably going to add "small dead animals" to my blogroll here.)

Meanwhile, there are some interesting reports from the war in Iraq. It was big news recently, when an embedded reporter captured on video the shooting by a U.S. Marine of an Iraqi who was apparently unarmed. That reporter has posted his thoughts about the experience, and it's worth reading. Meanwhile, a soldier on the ground has also written of the event. His thoughts can be found here. (Again, thanks to "small dead animals" for the "Letter from Fallujah" link.)

Finally, it wouldn't be the Thanksgiving holiday without some domestic violence arising as the family turkeys argue about the family turkey. One such entry is found in this report from the Boston Herald. It's so sad to read these stories, again and again. At least, no one was killed here. What a way to have to remember the Thanksgiving holiday: "Oh, yes, that's the day Uncle Raoul was killed by Uncle Albert..."

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Protodeacon Nikolai Porshnikoff

It is with great sadness that I report to you that Protodeacon Nikolai Porshnikoff has fallen asleep in the Lord. He reposed yesterday morning, November 10/23, 2004, after a long illness. At the time of his death, he was reportedly awaiting a kidney transplant. He was ordained to the diaconate by St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco -- probably the last person ordained by St. John -- and he always took the fact that he was ordained by St. John as a great and wondrous blessing.

I first encountered Fr. Nikolai at the Divine Liturgy at Holy Virgin Cathedral in San Francisco, where he served faithfully for over forty years. He was a giant of a man, with a voice that, I swear, literally shook the building at times. The stories of his physical strength abounded. He owned and operated an auto body shop; and I was regaled with tales of how he could fix dents with the hammer blow of the side of his fist; and how he could raise the front end of a car just by lifting it with his arms and legs. To see him, and to hear his wonderfully powerful and deep bass voice, made me a believer in these tales. Why not? He was legendary -- and when I became a presluzhnik (acolyte), the legend only grew greater.

He seemed to be a fierce, gruff man. What I found was that he had a heart that was at least as large -- if not larger -- than his physical frame and presence conveyed. He had a deep and profound joy in serving in the temple of the Lord; and he was willing to take the time to instruct (and, where necessary, correct) the altar servers, such as myself. This was especially true for me after I was ordained as a deacon. He took time to teach me how to serve; for which I will always be grateful. He knew of my desire to one day be a priest, even while I was still just a presluzhnik; and I have no doubt he prayed for me to become a priest, if that was God's will. I know he shared that desire, as he told me one day while we sat at the church in Russian River; he longed to be "one of the brotherhood." There is no need to say that he was far more worthy than I will ever be of that honor and privilege.

Brothers and sisters, of your mercy, pray to God for the blessed repose of this giant of a man, whose voice, and very being, were an inspiration to so many. May God have mercy, and give rest, to His servant, the Protodeacon Nikolai.

Memory Eternal!

Monday, November 22, 2004

Bombing Mosques and Dodgeball

In a "Plugged In" segment written for the Arizona Republic, contributor and quasi-blogger Salvador Reza writes that someone has asked, "What would U.S. citizens do if their cathedrals, their synagogues, their churches were being bombed, attacked and destroyed?" His answer? "Independent of party affiliation they would rise up in arms the same way the average apolitical Sunni population is doing right now." He concludes, "It is time to take a deep breath, reassess the situation and get out."

No argument about the need for an "exit strategy" -- although it might be that we would be better served if we had a exit strategy for the 5,000 or so U.S. military personnel still on the ground in Bosnia. Remember Bosnia? The troops were deployed there in 1995, during the first Clinton Administration, and were only supposed to have been there for "a year or so." Here's what President Clinton said in his address to the nation about the U.S. intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina:
First, the mission will be precisely defined, with clear, realistic goals that can be achieved in a definite period of time. Our troops will make sure each side withdraws its forces behind the front lines, and keeps them there. They will maintain the cease-fire to prevent the war from accidentally starting again. These effects, in turn, will help create a secure environment so that the people in Bosnia can return to their homes, vote in free elections and begin to rebuild their lives. Our Joint Chiefs of Staff have concluded that this mission should -- and will -- take about one year.
Five years later, in December, 2000, the Pentagon announced a troop rotation schedule for the next five years -- in other words, until some time next year, in 2005. If it has been so difficult to withdraw from a relatively quiescent Bosnia, what does this mean for any attempts to withdraw from Iraq?

But I'm wandering from the point of the citation from Mr. Reza's quasi-blog. His question about what we would do if our churches and cathedrals were targets brings two thoughts to mind. The first is that, when we bombed Serbia (again, during the Clinton Administration), churches and cathedrals were bombed -- we dropped bombs on the Orthodox Christians of Serbia on Pascha (Easter Sunday, for those in the West). The second is that, if Christians use their places of worship as armories and fortresses, launching attacks from a church or a cathedral, and harboring the attackers upon their retreat to such places, we should not be surprised if these houses of prayer become targets. I don't think for a minute that there is any great plot to destroy mosques as such; but when a mosque is used for purposes of insurgency, it loses its status as a place of worship worthy of protection, and becomes a legitimate target.

I also note that a school in Albany, New York, is being sued because a seven-year old girl was injured during a game of dodgeball. As a result, the school has banned the game, as have schools in Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. I'm not surprised, mind you. But it does make me wonder how we managed to survive our days in school, lo, these many years ago, without the army of lawyers and the agents of government there to make sure that no one got hurt; or, if they did, they received payments for the pain and suffering and trauma...

Thursday, November 11, 2004

My Sister Joins the Blogosphere!

Click on the title/link above and be transported (by the magic of the internet) to HeatherPond, the blog started and maintained by my sister, Heather; and an expansion of a group she has hosted on Yahoo! Groups for some time now. Heather, a self-styled elf from Lothlorien, brings an interesting perspective to matters of this "middle earth." (Yes, she's a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings saga...) We don't always agree on everything; but we do agree on many things!

Welcome, sis, to the blogosphere! And y'all check it out, hear?

Friday, November 05, 2004

Post-Election Blues (and Reds)

The election has been over for a few days now; and yet I can't seem to get it out of my mind. I'm still attached to the news and analysis programs on Fox and MSNBC, and the News Hour on PBS, in a manner reminiscent of how a recovering heroin addict clings to his methadone. I've spent a lot of time and energy reading the secular blogs of both the left and the right; and hardly any time at all reading the Orthodox blogs. I'm still trying to make sense of "what it all means" for the days and weeks and months and years ahead; and to chart a course for myself, our family, and our parish, as we look at the maps showing a deep red interior with a blue border to the north, east, and west.

For those of you into the maps, you'll already know about the red states/blue states map. There's also one colored, not by state, but by county -- and the red is even more pronounced. There are also a series of maps that are done by percentage by state, and by county, that have been dubbed by many the "purple haze" maps, as the blends of reds and blues result in a predominantly purple map. Then there are the maps that are "weighted" by population density, and so are also purple; and the ones that show the staes in sizes based upon the number of electoral votes. Anyway, one can spend an inordinate amount of time examining these maps, trying to sense the national dynamics -- and still not get anywhere. I guess it boils down to the fact that 59,459,765 people voted for the re-election of President Bush; while 55,949,407 people preferred Sen. Kerry. Not very many votes, as a percentage of the total votes cast, separate these two totals; while in many ways, the ideological differences are, on many issues, enormous. Put another way: the distance between the vote totals is like the distance from the curb-top to the street; while the ideological distance is more like the Grand Canyon...

Analysis of the results abounds. I highly recommend:
And hundreds and hundreds more...

The levels of distrust and hatred seem staggering; but part of this is probably magnified by the anonimity of the Internet. At least, I hope this is the case! In the speech he gave following Sen. Kerry's concession, President Bush acknowledged the need for "the healing" to begin; and indicated he would "reach across the aisle" in an effort to accomplish this healing. This has prompted some to say that, having won, it is not the President who needs to reach out, but the Democrats. In response, some Democrats have pointed out that, after the votes received by the President, more than any other candidate for the office, the next-highest vote totals were achieved by Sen. Kerry, who also got more than any other candidate, except for President Bush. This election was one of the three closest elections in history (the closest being in 2000); about as far away from a "landslide" as one could get and still be victorious; and certainly not, according to the more "classical" understanding of the term, a "mandate." As it is not unreasonable to expect the Democrats to be gracious in defeat, it would not be out-of-bounds to hope that the Republicans would be magnanimous in victory -- for the good of the country, and for all of the people who dwell in this land. We have a lot of work to do; and we're going to need each other to get it done.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Election Day at Last! (Peace and Quiet Hereafter?)

Well, as of this moment, three of the four registered voters in our household have already voted. The polls in Arizona opened at 6 a.m., and we arrived shortly thereafter to get in line. My wife's was the seventh vote cast in our precinct; our eldest daughter's the ninth vote, and my ballot was the tenth to be cast. The change of address (made on-line) for one of our daughters didn't go through, apparently. They offered her a provisional ballot, but I said I'd take her to our old precinct, and see if she is still on the rolls there. If she is, great - she can vote there. Otherwise, we'll go back to the first polling place, and let her cast a provisional ballot. The line of people who wanted to vote had grown three or four times in length during the 20 minutes or so we were actually present at the polls. It's going to be an interesting day...

It's too late to be of any help, but I just found a web site that lists all of the non-major-party candidates for the Presidency. Well, it's interesting to read! You can find the list here.

Richard Viguerie, the man who raised direct-mail political contact and fund-raising to an art form with the election of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States, was interviewed by Bill Moyers for a segment of the program Now; the interview was shown yesterday on our local PBS station. He said something interesting: the battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party begins on November 3rd. As he described it, this struggle between the conservatives and the "neo-cons" will take place regardless of the outcome of the election taking place today. His remarks touched on the distinction he finds between the "conservative movement" that arose with the nomination of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater as the Republican Party's candidate for President in 1964, and the "neo-conservative movement" that has more recently directed policies and events in the Republican Party. I mention this in part because my semi-random surfing of news and discussion on the elections has brought me to a seven-part series on the transformation of the conservative movement, and the possibility for the establishment of a fascist-style government in the United States. I've only read the first part; but the information presented, and some of the links, make interesting reading. Here is a link to the seventh part of the series, "It Can Happen Here," with links to the first six parts above it. Oh, and if you want to have some "fun" with the topic, there's a quiz you can take: "Are You a Neoconservative?" The four categories of the quiz are "Isolationist," "Liberal," "Realist," and "Neoconservative." This will probably come as a shock to some of you who know me, but, of the four, I was a "Liberal!" I'm doing more research now to determine if this is a "good" thing... Anyway, given the earlier threads regarding persecution, I want to finish the series mentioned above about fascism in America. I'll report back later if there's anything worth discussing. I suspect there will be, as, in an introductory piece, the author wrote,
But after awhile, even an honest conservative will have to start wondering just what George Bush has to offer, other than an ability to attack his opponent. And he might even start to notice that Bush and the "conservative movement" aren't really all that conservative. At least, not the kind of conservative that I used to know.

Do the labels "liberal" or "conservative" even apply in the Orthodox realm? I'm not asking this question to set up a response -- it is genuinely and sincerely put on the table for discussion here. I don't have a preconceived notion. In part, this is because of the tension that exists between who I am now, and who I was before I became Orthodox -- in other words, the cultural legacy/baggage I bring to my life in the faith; and the tension that comes from being a citizen of both the Kingdom of heaven and of an earthly polity. If nothing else, this election cycle has brought these questions to the conscious level in a way I've never before experienced; and in a way that impels me to consider them, nto only for myself, but also in my capacity as a "public figure" -- as a priest, called to be (and accountable before God and my hierarch and peers) as an example for the people of God. Well, your observations and comments are obviously invited on this point!

If I don't stop here, this could ramble on for a long time; and there are some things to do before I leave to pick up the last voter in our household... So, that's all for now!