Monday, December 27, 2004

Disaster in Asia: IOCC Response to the Tsunami

Words do not begin to describe the aftermath of the fourth-largest earthquake in a century, and the tsunami triggered as a result that has devastated the nations along the Indian Ocean, from Indonesia to Sri Lanka and India, and even as far west as the country of Somalia, on the eastern coast of Africa, over 3,750 miles away. As of this time, the death toll stands at over 23,000 people, possibly half of whom are children. The number of homeless now at risk from disease and exposure exceeds 500,000.

The International Orthodox Christian Charities, together with many other humanitarian organizations around the world, is sending help. They have set an initial goal of raising $100,000 for the first phase of the relief effort. Please go to the IOCC web site to make a donation on-line.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Stem Cells in the News Again

Among the items debated during the recent presidential campaign was the question of the ban on stem cell research put in place by President Bush. Critics of the policy argued that stem cell research was essential; while supporters of the ban cited the grotesque practice of harvesting stem cells from aborted fetuses. It seems, in many ways, that the debate about stem cell research is an extension of the debate about abortion.

As has been noted here before, it is important to distinguish between stem cells taken from embryos, and those taken from a donor, even an adult. To date, as far as I have seen, there is little or no evidence that embryonic stem cells, regardless of the potential many claim exists, are the "magic bullet" that some researchers are seeking. On the other hand, there is dramatic evidence that the stem cells taken from one's own body may have a powerful impact in the healing process. The latest such case is reported by the Associated Press, in which stem cells derived from fat have helped in the restoration of the skull of a seven-year-old girl in Germany. Dr. Hans-Peter Howaldt of the Justus-Liebig-University Medical School in Giessen, Germany, who performed the surgery, said the damage to the girl's skull, caused by a fall about two years ago, affecting some nineteen square inches of her skull, was too extensive to be repaired with bone grafts from her body. He said the hope was that if bits of the child’s bone were mixed with stem cells, the cells would turn into bone-building cells that would create additional bone. This is apparently what has happened, although Dr. Howaldt reports that there is no conclusive evidence that the stem cells were essential to the process. However, the girl, whose brain could be seen in places where the skull had been destroyed prior to the procedure, now has a complete skull, and no longer needs to wear a protective helmet.

Isn't it amazing what we've learned to do? Isn't it amazing how wonderfully God has designed us, and all of creation? How can we fail to recognize His handiwork? How can we fail to give Him praise and glory, in wonder and amazement at all He has done for us? Glory to Thee, O Lord; glory to Thee!

Friday, December 17, 2004

Islam: You Need to Read This Article

Very insightful. Please read "Religious correctness" at the Islamitics blogsite. And thanks, Huw, for the heads-up.

The Depravity Within

Some of these reports are not for the faint of heart, nor the weak of stomach. Accordingly, one might ask, why even bother to make mention of them? Read on, O intrepid explorers of the blogosphere, read on...

Are there truly people in the world who are so desperate for a child that they will kill a pregnant woman and cut her open to obtain the fetus in her womb? Unfortunately, the answer is, "Yes." The latest report comes from Missouri. By the grace of God, the child was found alive in this case. It is not always so. There are enough children in orphanages around the world who would love to have someone adopt them, to love and care for them. But for some people, I guess this isn't enough.

Meanwhile, from Cancun, Mexico, comes a report that "takes the measure of a man." What is that? Man "tastes like lamb" -- at least, if he is roasted. Stewing is not the best option, according to the lost soul of this report.

Have you heard about "Project Entropia?" It must be spectacular. A 22-year old man in Australia has paid $26,500 for the rights to develop a 6,000 acre desert island in a virtual reality game. That's right: it's not a real island; it's an island in a computer game. The cash, however, is real. As of this writing, there are 185,425 people registered to play the game, in which buyers and sellers market virtual items for actual cash. What, there aren't already enough things to spend your money on? On the other hand, storing your virtual acquisitions will require, uh, virtually (sorry, couldn't resist) no closet space...

It may be that the last item is the most disturbing of all -- even more so than murder for abduction, and murder for consumption. (No cannibal jokes, please.) To take a life, created by God, and irreplaceable, is a staggering act. To take the material blessings that have been given to us by God and to use them to buy a building lot on a virtual island and build a virtual mansion there, instead of feeding the people in the real world who are hungry, and housing the homeless, and clothing the naked (and building for ourselves mansions in heaven thereby)... Has humanity, apart from God, sunk so low? And, given that it appears to be so, we must ask: How long, now, until our Lord returns? And, are we ready for the great and terrible Day of Judgment?

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Healing of the Russian Orthodox Church

Yesterday, at our annual parish meeting, one of the members suggested that we adopt a resolution to thank and support Metropolitan Laurus, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, and Archbishop Kyrill of the Diocese of San Francisco and Western America, our hierarch, for their efforts in the conversations with the Church of the Moscow Patriarchate that will, hopefully, result in the healing of the divisions in the Russian Orthodox Church, and the establishment of eucharistic communion between the Church Abroad and the Church in Russia. When it has been prepared in its final form, I intend to make it available at our parish website, at the discussion group based at, and at this location.

There is, however, more to the story - and it is this which prompts me to this blog entry. When the idea of the resolution was first proposed, there was some hesitancy on the part of some of the people present about what was being suggested. There may even have been some resistance; and it wasn't until an actual text was proposed and read that we could proceed. The final text was adopted without dissent.

For many, this is not an issue. There are members of the congregation of Holy Archangels Orthodox Church who come from other Orthodox backgrounds: Greek, Romanian, and Antiochian, among many. Others are, as I am, American converts to the Orthodox Church and faith. The remaining part of our congregation consists of those who have their roots in Russia. Together, we are, on the one hand, quite a "mixed bag"; yet we are also one in Christ: one family; One Body. It cannot be any other way, if we are truly going to be Orthodox Christians. The Body of Christ is not, and cannot be, divided.

The origins of the divisions in the Russian Orthodox Church are many, arising from the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, and in the aftermath of the Civil War, as the revolutionaries set about to destroy the Church, if for no other reason than that the Church was capable of serving as a rival center of power against the Bolshevik control of the state and its people. This is not to say that the Church would function as a rival power; simply that it could serve that function. Add to this the atheism of the Bolsheviks, and you have a script for the attempt to eradicate the Church and all of its influence from the Russian land and people.

How much of this is a concern to those who are not of Russian origin? It probably goes without saying that those members of the parish who are from Russia, whether the children and grandchildren of the earlier waves of emigres, or who have only recently left Russia, will have strong feelings about the possibility of reconciliation between the sundered branches of the Orthodox Church of Russia. Some will see no other possible course; while others cannot see how the Church Abroad can have anything to do with a body they had been told was under the control of the atheists, and had (actively) participated in the closure and destruction of churches, and the arrest, torture, exile, and execution of hundreds of thousands of persons whose only crime was that they would not renounce their faith when ordered to do so by the authorities of the state. But why should those who are from the Antiochian, or Greek, or Romanian, or Serbian churches, or who are American converts, care about the potential reconciliation of the Russian Orthodox Church?

When the conversations between ROCOR and the MP were beginning, I had conversations with a number of people in the parish who were worried about what it all might mean. My reply to them was, "How will it change anything here? Will the music change? The icons? The Divine Liturgy? The vestments? The preaching? Imagine, for a moment, that your worst fears with regard to the situation come true: how will that affect us here? Our mission remains the same: to save our souls by living the Orthodox faith and way of life; and to bring the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ to a world in darkness, and in the shadow of death." I don't think that this alleviated their concerns to any great extent; but we all did agree that, in the end, we must pray; and trust our bishops to discern, and follow, the will of God. The same is true for those who are ready without hesitation for immediate and full restoration of relationships with Moscow: We must pray, and follow our bishops, waiting for them to find the way we are to go. And, when all is said and done, what will change here?

Let me answer my own question. What will change will not, on one level, be at all discernible. We will go about the tasks appointed to us, laboring fro salvation on behalf of ourselves and of others, exactly as if the conversations between ROCOR and the MP had never started. But there is and aspect that those who oppose, or even are "merely" concerned about, the on-going dialogue for restoring eucharistic communion, must think about - our Lord's prayer that we all may be one.

If we are not willing to reach out to our brothers, we are not Orthodox. If we are not willing to forgive, we are not Orthodox. If we are not willing to repent, and ask our brothers to forgive us, we are not Orthodox. If we will not do all that is within our power to achieve reconciliation, short of compromising the faith -- and, the last I heard, no one was proposing we do that -- then all the attendance at worship, all the reverencing of icons, all the attention paid to music, and to the ritual, and to the way the church looks, and so on -- all of this is meaningless, if we close ourselves to pursuing the restoration of familial relations, of communion, between our parts of the suffering Russian Orthodox Church. This is not to say that we accept any circumstances, ignoring problems that need to be resolved, to establish unity. It may well be that the end result of the meetings of the committees working on the he question will be that the time is not yet right for restoration of communion; although I hope this will not be the case, and I find the reports of the work of the committees to be encouraging. But we must be engaged with our brothers, out of love for them, and obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ, if we truly desire to be living and acting as Orthodox Christians.

May God bless and guide all our hierarchs (MP and ROCOR) in this effort to be restored to each other, for the glory of His Name, and the blessing of His Church.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Canada and Same-Sex Marriages

The headline reads, “Canadian High Court OKs Same-Sex Marriage.” In the story, carried by the Associated Press (AP), we find that the most likely outcome of the Canadian Supreme Court’s ruling will be the introduction of legislation to approve same-sex marriages on a national level. The legislation, to be introduced early in 2005, is expected to pass without difficulty, making Canada the third nation, with Belgium and the Netherlands, to make same-sex marriages legal.

The head of the ruling Liberal Party, Prime Minister Paul Martin, has reportedly said that party members in Parliament are free to vote their consciences; but that all Cabinet members must support the legislation. I suppose that this resonates with me, in that it calls to mind the situation that developed in the Episcopal Church in the mid-1990’s, leading us to make the move to become Orthodox. The House of Bishops met in September, 1995, to consider the recommendations of a committee that had been established by the 1994 General Convention, charged with the task of finding a way to keep both those who favored and those who opposed the ordination of women within the church. This committee proposed the amendment of the canons to require that any leader of the church, lay or ordained, who spoke against the ordination of women be removed from their position. Knowing that if I spoke my mind about what the Church has always taught and believed could lead to my being defrocked, I saw that this proposed change, adopted in a straw vote by the bishops, and subsequently by ECUSA as a whole at the 1997 General Convention, would be the metaphorical “bullet in the back of the head” for persons such as me. It was the “trigger event” that led us to make the change we had been longing for – to become Orthodox.

It should be noted that the court decision states that religious officials cannot be required to perform such marriages against their beliefs. Presumably, the legislation that will be offered will have the same safeguard. Here again, however, there is an ECUSA connection. When, in 1974, the ordination of women, originally performed in violation of the Constitution and Canons of ECUSA, was considered at the 1976 General Convention following the “ordinations,” it was determined that, in effect, the ordinations were not “invalid”; they were instead, “irregular.” With an amendment to the Canons of the Church, the situation was “regularized.” In 1977, the House of Bishops adopted what came to be known as the “conscience clause”; the concluding paragraph of the “Statement of Conscience” adopted at their meeting in Port St. Lucie provided that:
In the light of all this and in keeping with our intention at Minneapolis, we affirm that no Bishop, Priest, Deacon, or Lay Person should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities as a result of his or her conscientious objection to or support of the 65th General Convention’s action with regard to the ordination of women to the priesthood or episcopate.
In the debate leading up to the 1997 change in the canons, the argument was advanced, to the effect, that “opponents of women’s ordination have had almost twenty years to come to grips with it. It’s time they either get with the program, or get out.” Thus, while it appears on the basis of today’s court decision that there is a “conscience clause” regarding churches and a protection from a requirement to perform same-sex marriages, who is to say that this cannot, and will not, be changed in the future? The groundwork is already there…

There is another significant element of the AP report that is not immediately obvious from the headline and opening paragraphs. The decision rendered by the court was apparently set in motion by a request made by former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who asked the court to respond to these three questions:
  • Does the federal government have exclusive authority to define marriage?
  • Does the charter protect religious groups from having to perform gay weddings against their beliefs?
  • Is the proposed same-sex marriage law constitutional?
Prime Minister Martin added a fourth question: Is the traditional definition of marriage - between one man and one woman - also constitutional? (The court declined to respond to the fourth question; at least, for now.)

I’m wondering what prompted the fourth question? Is there some quirky provision in Canadian law that is open to diverse interpretations? Or is this looking for another way to “open the door” for more than just same-sex marriages?

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, 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!

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Elections, Persecution, and the Orthodox Faith

Some Last Minute Observations Before Tuesday's Election

Thursday's blog was headlined, "Is Persecution in America Possible?" A parishioner spoke to me at length today, and made a few points that are worth repeating.

The strongest of these arises from the Gospel of St. John the Theologian. In what is, in many ways, our Lord's "farewell discourse" to His disciples before His arrest, Passion, and crucifixion, He says, "Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also." (John 15:20) Two points arise from this. The first is that we should expect to be persecuted, if, in fact, we are faithful followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was certainly persecuted; and why, then, should we be surprised if the prophecy He gave to those closest to Him should come to pass? The other point is that we must be aware of the "propaganda" we have been given through our culture. The parishioner making this point (a reader of this blog; who, if permission is given to identify, I will be happy to give the credit for provoking these thoughts) is an emigre from what was, at one time, the Eastern (i.e., Communist) Bloc, and very aware of the reality of how governments -- all governments -- employ propaganda. Is America more perfect than was Christ? Of course not. Those of us who were born and raised here have been taught that this is the "land of the free, and the home of the brave." I do not doubt that no nation has enjoyed more freedom that has been available to us here; nor do I question the bravery of many who helped shape this land, and protect it against enemies. But we should not be mistaken. We should not think that somehow this land is perfect, without flaw, without sin, without the possibility of error. And, being governed by sinners -- and how could this be otherwise? -- why should America somehow be immune from the worst of human impulses? We are not -- and so persecution is indeed possible -- and, given our Lord's prophecy, inevitable. To think or say anything else is simply not an Orthodox understanding of human being, human culture, and human history (past, present, and future).

As I have been considering the passage from the Gospel above, I have recalled other instances as well. One is from the same discourse in the Gospel of St. John: "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (16:33) One is even so obvious that I'm surprised (and a bit embarrassed to admit) that I didn't think of it right away. It's from the Beatitudes, which we sing at almost every Divine Liturgy:
[10] Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
[11] Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
[12] Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.
(Matt. 5:10-12a)

Some Last Words About the Election

Our Lord Jesus, speaking to Pontius Pilate, said, "My kingdom is not of this world." As Orthodox Christians, we should also be instructed by this truth -- this world is not our home. This, taken with the admonition, "Trust ye not in princes, in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit shall go forth, and he shall return unto his earth; in that day all his thoughts shall perish," should keep us from getting too twisted up about the choices available to us on Tuesday (or in any election, for that matter). Yes, we are "in this world" -- but we are not meant to be "of this world." We have a duty to fulfill as citizens of this world; but we must do so in a manner befitting being a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven. We are not meant to serve the prince of this world. So pray; pray for God's guidance when deciding to vote; and for guidance in selecting the candidate to support. Once again, there is no "perfect" choice -- and so we must consider the "package" that each candidate brings, the positions for which each candidate stands, and make our choices according to the principles and practices and teachings of our Orthodox faith. As I have said before, we will be held accountable on the great and terrible Day of Judgment for all we have said and done and thought and felt -- and that includes our voting record as well. (No secret ballots where God is concerned!)
And may God have mercy and help us all...

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Is Persecution in America Possible?

In a word, yes. But don't take my word for it! Or, in other words, I'm not alone in saying this; as I've done in previous posts to this blog. (They're in the archives; you can take a look, if you want to do so.) But it's always nice to find you're not alone, shouting this to uncaring ears. (And besides, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you... [grin])

Two very thoughtful, and thought-provoking, articles are found at Doxos, and at Itslaterthanyouthink. I've added the latter site to my blogroll, together with a site named, "Bill's Comments," which I also found interesting. Hey, it's amazing what you can find when you're in work-avoidance mode! Check 'em out; I think you'll be rewarded.

Heresy and the Episcopal Church

Although it has been nine years now since I resigned as a priest in the Episcopal Church (and just a few weeks from the ninth anniversary of our baptism and chrismation in the Orthodox Church), I cannot help but continue to follow the news about what is happening to them. After all, that was my church from the time I was fifteen years old. Even after you've left a relationship, even when it is impossible to go back (not that there is any desire to do so), having spent over twenty-five years being involved with that entity, there are still good people there, people that I'd rescue from that sinking ship and bring to the shelter of Holy Orthodoxy, if they'd show even the slightest sign of interest. It's sad.

Earlier today, as I did my rounds through the blogs I read regularly, I found at Fr. Joseph Hunneycutt's site (Orthodixie) a reference to a report about a pagan "liturgy" being promoted by the Office of Women's Ministries of the Episcopal Church. His site has a link to an article by Christianity Today, "Weblog: Episcopal Church Officially Promotes Idol Worship." One interesting development: as I followed the links provided in the CT article, I found that the webpage for the pagan liturgy was "not found" (how odd...); and the main page at the OWM had an "official reply" to the CT article. Hmmm... Looks like they got caught...

Others who have been following the "crisis" in ECUSA know that a long-awaited report from the Lambeth Conference of Bishops has just been issued. Many who'd hoped that the Archbishop of Canterbury, titular head of the Anglican Communion, through the report of the Eames Commission (II *), would take steps to discipline ECUSA for last year's consecration of an openly-homosexual man as a bishop, must have been sorely disappointed by the report, which said little, and did less, in my opinion. But no one should have been surprised by this result. The bottom line is that there is nothing, apart from its own membership, to restrain the Episcopal Church from continuing in its descent into heresy and apostasy. (There is no joy in writing this, by the way.) They were at the doorstep of adopting liturgies for the blessing of same-sex "marriages" at their last General Convention; will anyone be surprised as these activities become officially sanctioned in many diocese, and ultimately approved at a coming General Convention? And isn't the incorporation of such pagan-influenced liturgies, as described in the CT article, a "logical" next step for a group that has lost its moorings in Scripture, Tradition, and Reason?

Brothers and sisters, we must pray that those faithful who remain, who are sickened and dismayed by the turn of events they have endured until now, will be strengthened by God to flee that rotting hulk, and come to the Orthodox Church and faith. We must also pray that those who are blinded by false teachings and teachers, and by the sins of the world, the flesh, and the devil, may be awakened by God, and enlightened as to the true nature of what their "church" is doing, and where their "church" is taking them; so that they, too, will desire to flee, and come to the safe harbor of the Orthodox Church. Lord, have mercy.

[Footnote] [I call it "Eames II" because there was an earlier "Eames Commission" that considered the question of how the traditionalists in diocese with "progressive" bishops might receive "alternative episcopal oversight" in the wake of the consecration of Barbara Harris, an openly-lesbian woman who was among the first round of those ordained (so-called) to the priesthood in an "irregular" (that is, uncanonical) manner -- that is, before ECUSA officially acted to allow women to be ordained. That Commission also came back with a report "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Its recommendations, inadequate at best, were ultimately rejected. This is one reason why many didn't really expect anything to come out of a second Eames Commission -- including me.]

Sounds Gross, but it Works...

When I returned from our clergy retreat in Denver last week, I brought home something I didn't have when I'd left -- a cough. It got so bad over the weekend that a kind parishioner even brought me a bottle of cough syrup; which, of course, I didn't take, as it was before the start of the Divine Liturgy. Yes, of course, it is permissible to take medication and still receive the Holy Mysteries of our Lord's Body and Blood; that is not breaking the fast we otherwise properly keep before communion. But that doesn't apply to me, does it? [grin]

The cough has persisted; and so I decided to use a technique which, since I have discovered it about three years ago, has resulted in losing maybe a day to the symptoms of a cold; and has virtually eliminated the two to three trips per year to the doctor for an antibiotic to wipe out the sinus infection that always seemed to accompany a cold. (I'm one of those types who won't go to see a physician for a cold as long as the mucus is clear, or white. Once it turns green, of course, guerilla warfare doesn't work any more, and the heavy anti-bacterial artillery becomes necessary.) The technique has a fine-sounding name: nasal (or sinus) lavage. In other words: washing with a mild salt water solution.

Here's how you do it. First, go to a restaurant supply store, or a good department store (or a 99-cent store), and pick up a squirt bottle; you know, the kind that is used to serve mustard and ketchup in many restaurants (ok, diners). Put in about one-half to one teaspoon of sea salt, and a bit of hot water. Swirl the water in the bottle until the salt is completely dissolved; then fill the rest of the bottle with water. Set aside to cool.

Now, my daughters will say that the next part is really gross. Too bad. Take the bottle of salt water with you to the sink. Lean over, and turn your head to one side, so that your nostrils are in an "up-and-down" (rather than side-by-side) alignment. Put the nozzle of the squirt bottle into the upper nostril, and squeeze gently. This gets a bit tricky; as your sinuses fill, the water will begin to run across the top of your throat. Don't clamp down; try to just let it flow. Eventually, the flow will begin to run out the lower nostril. Bingo! This is what you want to achieve. Let it flow for about 30 seconds. Then remove the nozzle, and slowly turn your head back to the center, allowing the remaining water to flow out. You can blow your nose gently to help clear it. Then turn your head to the other side, and repeat the process, reversing the direction of the flow.

That's really all there is to it. You can repeat it as needed; two or three times a day is usually enough to knock out the worst forms of congestion and post-nasal drip. Some warnings: If you wait until the congestion gets really bad (but before the green stage), the salt water may really burn when you flush the system. That's actually a good sign; you've got, in that case, some really inflamed tissues in your sinuses when that happens, and the salt water will actually help soothe them. Also, if you wait, the pockets of congestion may actually cause some of the salt water to get trapped; and it will leak out later, usually at the most inopportune moment! (So I don't use the lavage before going to serve in the altar!) Earlier is better; it takes fewer treatments, and doesn't burn, if you start doing this just after the symptoms begin.

My cough? I used the treatment last night, and wasn't bothered by the cough at all overnight. I repeated the treatment this morning; and, so far, haven't had any cough to speak of. I fully expect to be completely free of the cough by tomorrow. For what it's worth...

Oh, all the standard legal-jargon disclaimers apply. (Your results may vary. I am not licensed to pratice medicine or any form of physical therapy or treatment by any state board regulating the treatment of coughs and colds and the like; and so on.) Consult your doctor, if you think that's necessary and helpful. Yada yada yada...

Monday, October 25, 2004

Whoop, whoop: St. Petersburg Times Endorses John Kerry

Never let it be said that I don't hear the comments posted to this blog. Now that I have a bit of time (sorely lacking last week, what with traveling to Denver for our fall clergy retreat, and coming home with either "altitude sickness" or a touch of the flu, knocking me out for another day and a half), I've gone to read the editorial ("John Kerry is Better") in the St. Petersburg Times that "Audiatur" originally made reference to as he spammed the first (of several) comments on this blog. I was "invited" (I'm trying to be polite here) to respond to what was said by the (anonymous) writer of the editorial. Oh, by noting that the editorial write is anonymous, I'm not inferring anything -- this is typical for such newspaper editorials. Please accept, in advance, my apology for what is gong to be a very long blog.

Audiatur took exception to my initial dismissal of the SPT editorial as a "screed"; yet, having read it again, my opinion is unchanged. I find it to be a long, monotonous harangue. Audiatur said,
This, verily, surprised me a great deal. I thought that you will – point by point – annihilate the arguments of the editorial and prove that all of them are false and distorting the truth.

Well, let's take a look at the editorial. It begins with some degree of praise for President Bush's handling of events immediately after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and pursuing the al-Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan. They quickly chide him for having departed from his pledge to pursue a "humble foreign policy" -- although I would think that most people would allow a president some latitude for foreign policy promises made in an environment that had not, at that time, been shaped by terrorist suicide bombers flying hijacked domestic airliners into skyscrapers and government buildings. The Times editorial also takes the President to task for not having done more to
build a united front in the war against terrorism and by seeking a broad consensus for dealing with important social and economic issues at home. Instead, he squandered that support by pressing divisive and arrogant policies, including a pre-emptive war in Iraq.

Anyone who finds any evidence in any blog I've written here, comments I've left somewhere else, or in any sermon or letter I've written, that indicates my support for the war in Iraq wins a prize; and I'll go in for testing for a loss of mental ability. Indeed, I think I've gone the other way, even hinting broadly that the war in Iraq, and the whole "war on terror" mindset is a pointer to such bleak scenarios as are described in George Orwell's 1984. So I'm not a Bush supporter with regard to Iraq. However, I think it is fair to say that I did not doubt the assertions made by many in our government that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons in his arsenal, and that he would not hesitate to use these weapons if he felt it were to his advantage -- and this would include his making these available to terrorists (not necessarily al-Qaeda) to use against his enemies, including the United States. After all, he had not hesitated to use such weapons in his war with Iran, and had even used them against his own subjects, the Kurds, when they sought greater autonomy. To this day, one of the great puzzles is why Iraq did not use such weapons against the coalition forces in the first Gulf War, when Hussein's forces were driven out of Kuwait. But now I'm wandering away from the editorial and its arguments...

Here, in summary form, are the reasons why the Times thinks it is time for a change away from a second Bush administration:

  • "Regressive" tax cuts that "widen the gulf between the rich and the poor."

  • President Bush "frittered away" the "record surpluses" he had received on coming into office.

  • President Bush has presided over a "net loss of jobs."

  • He has broken his promise to make health care more accessible and affordable.

  • He has blocked steps to control drug costs, such as by allowing prescription drugs to be imported from Canada.

  • He has allowed a "rollback" of key environmental laws.

  • President Bush is making a "cynical push" for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
  • (Audiatur: Do you expect me to refute this?)

  • Another round of arguments about Iraq. (Let's don't go there again...)

Someone will have to explain to me how the tax cuts have been "regressive." I understood that the tax cuts were across-the-board percentage reductions. If that's the case, that's hardly regressive. Granted, those who have a larger income will receive a larger amount of money by the same percentage reduction -- that's basic mathematics. But, given that the income tax is structured to take a larger percentage from the top-most earners, I don't see the tax cuts as having been unfair to anyone. So, the Times doesn't get any points from me on that issue.

As for "frittering away" of surpluses, and the "net loss" of jobs, well, those who can remember will recall that the economy began to "cool off" in the months before the Bush administration even came into office in January, 2001. The boom of the 1990's that produced much of the employment, and the surplus for the federal treasury, was coming to an end as the Clinton administration was ending its control and handing over the reins. When you add the incredibly negative impacts to the national economy that followed the attacks of September 11th later in that same year, and the massive cost necessary to pursue the "War against Terror" (even before Iraq), well, only the most economically naive persons -- Democrats? -- would think that things would stay "rosy." Although the Times editorial doesn't come out and say this, I seem to recall, perhaps from the debates, a claim of a net loss of some 800,000 jobs over the last four years. I also seem to recall an estimate that the immediate impacts of September 11th included a net loss of 1 million jobs. If that was correct, then we're now 200,000 jobs to the good. If so, score one for the Bush administration, and a loss of a point for the spin-meisters at the Times.

I don't know about the Bush promise to make health care more acessible and affordable. I think the prescription drug program added to Medicare is a big mistake that will come back to bite us all in the years to come; but I don't hear anything from candidate Kerry that makes the situation any better.

Are there any major drug manufacturers located in Canada? (I don't mean any disrespect by asking this; I truly don't think there are any, but concede that I may very well be ignorant on this point.) I've always understood that the vast majority of the pharmaceuticals available in Canada came from manufacturers in the US and the UK; and that it is government-imposed cost controls that hold down the prices there, making these drugs seem more affordable than here. There is also the question of the quality of such drugs. Otherwise, why limit the importation to drugs from Canada? Why not Mexico? Or Thailand?

And where does the Times get off by labelling the President's support for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage as "cynical?" Hey, you don't agree with him, fine -- it's a free country. You don't have to agree; or vote to ban such marriages. Regular readers of this blog know what I think about the subject of same-sex "marriages," and the ultimate futility of trying to block these by means of governmental action and legislation. This doesn't mean I want to see the government make such unions "legal"; just that I think it will happen, and probably sooner than later. But the President is trying to do the right thing here, I think -- and he has my support. I can't give my support to a candidate who says, "Well, privately, I believe {x}, but publically I must vote {y}," where {x} and {y} are diametrically opposed. Tell the people -- no, tell the VOTERS -- what you believe, and why: and then take your lumps, if they disagree with you. When you go into office, whether in Washington, the state capital, or city hall, you're going to represent ME, among others -- and so I want to know what you think, and what you believe. This whole, "I believe one thing, but will, on behalf of my constituents, vote something else entirely," just says to me that you're a whore, for sale to whomever offers you the most for your vote. This applies to any politician who adopts that approach, in my book -- but hey, candidate Kerry: if the shoe fits, wear it.

The editorial also makes a few arguments for Sen. Kerry. These are, in summary,
  • He has reached across the aisle to "normalize relations" with Viet Nam; and in support of a balanced budget and welfare reform.

  • He has a "detailed, sensible plan" to make health care coverage more accessible and affordable.

  • He pledges to defer any programs that would prevent reducing the deficit by half.

  • His plans are "mainstream." (Whatever that means...)

When was normalizing relations with Vietnam a burning issue in this country? Who is surprised that a man who testified before the U.S. Senate about American "war crimes" in Vietnam during the time that American prisoners were being tortured by their Vietnamese captors for refusing to do so would later, as a U.S. Senator, work to "normalize" relations with that country? Why is this something we should applaud? Why is this something we should reward with the highest office in this land? As for the balanced budget and welfare reform, my recall is that these actions developed in the mid-1990's, after the mid-term elections under Pres. Clinton produced a Republican-controlled Congress for the first time in some forty years. You have to be an incredibly committed politician to stand in opposition to efforts, such as restraining out-of-control Congressional spending, and making changes to an abuse-prone welfare system, that have the high degree of public support that the Republican-initiated efforts generated. Was this "reaching across the aisle?" Or was it "climbing aboard the train before it left the station?"

The "detailed, sensible plan" for health care is anything but -- at least, not in what is put before us as voters. It is lacking in details; and promises that the federal government will, among other things, pick up 75% of catastrophic health care costs. Great. How will that be paid for? You know the answer: more taxes. Hey, you can read the plan for yourself: "Affordable Health Care for All."

Do you believe any politician who promises, on the one hand, more jobs, better pay, better health care, improved national defense -- and, on the other hand, hey, any of these programs I've promised will be deferred if we can't also reduce the deficit by half? If you do, please say hello to Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and others of that ilk. The rest of us know that the secret code behind such a plan is "TAX INCREASES."

Are you tired? I'm tired. We're all tired. Even the big-time bloggers are getting weary, and are ready for it all to be over. As far as I'm concerned, unless something really egregious happens, this is "it" for this election cycle. There are plenty of other matters waiting for my comments - even if only in my own mind.

So, vote -- or don't vote. I've said it before; one more time won't hurt. I will not vote for Kerry; I don't want to vote for Bush; I wish one or the other was likely to win by a landslide, so I could just ignore the whole thing. I will also repeat this:
If you are going to cast your vote for Kerry, be sure you know why you're doing what you're doing -- and maybe pray before you vote, and seek the will of God to guide you. If you are going to cast your vote for Bush, be sure you know why you're doing what you're doing -- and maybe pray before you vote, and seek the will of God to guide you. If you are going to cast your vote for someone else, be sure you know why you're doing what you're doing -- and maybe pray before you vote, and seek the will of God to guide you. I don't know which candidate is the one favored by God; I do know that each of us will be held accountable for our actions, our choices, indeed, for every idle word spoken, on the great and terrible Day of the Lord -- and let that guide your actions -- and your vote -- as well.
(Happy now, Audiatur?)

May the Lord have mercy on us all.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Some Political Ads Worth Sharing

WABC-AM radio personality Mark Simone has crafted a fake ad that does a pretty good job of catching Sen. John Kerry at his, uh, "best." I'm afraid that a forced reboot has caused me to be unable to find the source that originally directed me to this site, so that I can't properly give them credit. The description is found at the News Talk Radio 77 website; and the ad itself can also be heard here (make sure your sound is turned on).

This ad was quite moving: see Ashley's Story. My thanks to Michele at A Small Victory for this one.

This is probably it until Monday at the earliest... (Yes, I know, I've said things like that before...)

MONDAY UPDATE: Here's another shot at the election -- and, no doubt, what some people fear will be true... Bush Wins Florida!

Comments and Comments

If you take a look at the bottom of each message here, you're going to find it reads something like "Comments (x)|Trackback (x) (x)comments" (where x= some number >= 0).

Here's what's going on. The first "Comments" field is based on Haloscan; and is going to be phased out, as I have elected to move away from allowing anonymous commentators to leave comments. The final field for "comments" is powered by Blogger; and you'll be required to sign in to leave a comment. In a way, I'm sorry to take this step; but I find it to be necessary, given recent developments. My thanks to Huw Raphael for his advice and assistance in addressing this situation.

So, unless you want your comments to disappear -- which they will when the Haloscan side is dropped, and you've chosen to comment there -- please be sure to use the right-hand "(x) comments" link. Thanks.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Can't You People Read?

For the most part, the following blog is directed to two otherwise unknown people, identified only as "Lia Hanna" and "Audiatur et altera pars," who have taken great exception to several of my recent blogs, and have filled the comments section with vast snippets of comments from both the editorial pages of an unidentified newspaper (the "SPT"), and their own thoughts as well. Neither posted either an email address, or a web site; for, if they had, I could direct this to them privately. As this is not an option, I choose to do so here.

First, let's say a bit about courtesy in the blogosphere. Personally, I find it difficult to read comments broken up over page after page after page, when each page is designed to be limited to 1000 characters. As I said in my reply to the first set of comments by "Audiatur," The user should put up their own blog, and link/trackback here. The same is true for you, "Lia Hanna" -- please don't go throwing up 12 pages of comments. If you can't make your point succinctly, start a blog, post your comments, and link/trackback here. That's why the trackback feature is provided, for goodness' sake! If you don't know how to use that feature, just ask!

Now, "Audiatur," as to your objection to my response to the reprinting of the SPT editorial as a "screed" -- don't take it personally. No, I don't expect that every comment made here be laudatory, or in agreement with what I have said. If you've read the comments here, you'll see that this rarely happens anyway! I don't expect everyone to agree with me. I do hope ("expect" would be too strong) that there be some courtesy here. When you take ten pages in a comments section to "make your point," you've done it wrong -- at least, in my opinion. You also objected to my request for assistance in blocking such extended comments as you have posted. Yes, I'd like to block anonymous comments, especially when these are excessive in length. I am not in any way opposed to dialog; but, as I've said before, start your own blog; leave a brief comment with a link; and send a trackback. I guarantee you, unless I'm out of town or ill, I'll swing on over to your site, and join the conversation.

But most of all, I want you folks -- that is, "Audiatur" and "Lia Hanna" and anyone else who hasn't figured this out yet -- to hear this: Just because I have stated my opposition to the candidacy of Sen. John Kerry, I have not endorsed the re-election of President George Bush. (But this isn't the first time I've said this... That's why this is titled, "Can't You People Read?") Your argument isn't with me, unless you think you can convince me that I should support the Kerry candidacy. On this, you cannot: his position on abortion alone is enough to make him unsupportable for me as an Orthodox Christian. I disagree with his policies on the defense of this country; I disagree with his policies on taxation and government spending; and I disagree with his stand on other moral issues as well. At the gut level, as I have watched him during the debates, in news interviews, and on the campaign trail, I do not trust him. As I have said a number of times, I find myself in quite a dilemma, not knowing which other candidate, if any, should receive my vote; and yet I am not able to simply say that I will not vote, as I believe we, as citizens, have a responsibility to fulfill in these elections.

Quite frankly, I am not interested in any new debates on the topic of the candidates for President of the United States. I was asked by some friends, and by some parishioners, to share my thoughts, and the blogs you've been seeing here on that topic are the thoughts I've been working through in trying to reach my decision. You don't have to agree with me; and you don't have to like my position. But please use a little common sense and courtesy when using my blog -- MY BLOG -- as your soapbox.

Thank you.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Is God Really a Republican?

Yes, I know, I said I probably wouldn't blog again until late in the week... But I just received two emails to which I'd like to reply, using the blog to do so... The writer of the emails is a person unknown to me; and, as I don't reply to such emails, I have not been able to ask for permission to repost the emails, or to cite the author by name. In the event that the author is a reader of this blog, please feel free to comment!

One of the emails has the subject line used as the title for this blog entry; while the other has as its subject line, "The World Without Saddam: Is It Really Safer?" (My internal editor is yelling, "That should be 'more safe,' not 'safer'!" -- but we won't go there...) As I have never made the argument that the world is, indeed, better off with Saddam Hussein removed from power, I don't feel a need to reply in detail to this email, which I simply scanned, rather than reading for purposes of commenting in depth. I'm not suggesting Hussein should have been left in power; no one asked me before the U.S. invasion of Iraq how I thought either way. Of course, I'd hope for a better future for the people of Iraq, and it seems only logical that their chances for a better future have been improved with the removal of this dictator from power. On the other hand, I'm old enough now to have seen the "law of unintended consequences" take what seemed to be a good idea at the time and make a bad situation even worse. If a Taliban-style group eventually comes to power in Iraq, things may, indeed, have been better off with Hussein still in place. I'm certainly no expert there.

No, what provoked this reply came about because of certain things said in the email about the political affiliation of God. Last time I checked, I said that I'm having trouble reconciling myself to a vote to re-elect President Bush; and that there is no way that I can cast a vote for the election of Sen. Kerry. I've never said that God favored one or the other, or both, or neither. I've said that, as Christians, the kingdom for which we hope is not of this world; and we must live according to the principles of that kingdom, while at the same time fulfilling, to the best of our abilities, our duties as citizens here. Well, I'm starting to rant. Let me pull up the quotations...

However, the current President Bush has invaded a sovereign nation in violation of international law, even though Saddam did not pose an immediate threat outside the borders of Iraq. I strongly oppose these actions. In an earlier post, I said that the American invasion of Iraq was a violation of Iraqi sovereignthy. I've made similar comments, both in replies posted here, and in comments left on other blogs, to the effect that, if the shoe was on the other foot, and we had been invaded by an outside power or coalition that opposed us, and sought to impose its positions, we, too, would fight back, as some Iraqis are resisting our presence. I don't approve of killing; I do understand how some Iraqis oppose, on principle, the presence of foreign soldiers on their soil. Oh, and I don't agree that Saddam Hussein was not a threat outside of Iraq. Evidence? The Iran-Iraq War, and his invasion of Kuwait would seem to be evidence enough of his willingness to threaten those outside his borders. Add to it his talk -- even if it was only empty bluster -- about acquiring additional chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons capability... At a certain level, he had to be taken seriously. That, by itself, did not, and does not, justify our invasion of Iraq. Remember, I've never been a promoter/booster of the "War on Terror."

There was a time Americans respected the opinions of those with differing political views. Today, the conservative right wing has lost that human attribute. I resent having my patriotism and may faith challenged because I oppose the policies of the President, and I will proudly vote for Senator Kerry
There is a very good chance that the author was noty directing these words to me. I do, however, want to note that I have not cast aspersions on anyone who has a different point of view. I may not agree with your point of view, but I don't think that everyone has to think what I think -- except maybe when it comes to belief in God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! But in matters of faith, as well as in political discourse, I desire to persuade you, not bludgeon you into accepting a different point of view. As long as we can discuss things in a civil manner, let's hold the conversation. Should we reach a place where it becomes obvious that neither of us is going to budge, let us part amicably. As for questioning anyone's patriotism, challenging their religion, or even telling anyone for whom they should vote -- it hasn't happened here. God willing, it never will. This is not to say that I have not questioned some of the positions espoused by a candidate, and the faith implications of these -- such as when Sen. Kerry announces that he is a "good" Roman Catholic, and yet disagrees with his church's stand on the issue of abortion (if only in his public policy decisions). I have done so, and will continue to do so as I think it appropriate. But I have always sought to do so in a respectful way; and again, hope that I will always do so.

Last quote. Obviously, I do not believe that God is a Republican, or a Democrat. Choosing the right war on terrorism is not a question of religion. God is not a Republican; God is not a Democrat. God is not voting in this election; of this, I have absolutely no doubt. God loves the Republicans; God loves the Democrats. God loves the independents, and the Green Party supporters. God loves the people who support the Libertarians, and the Constitution Party; God loves the members of the Socialist Workers Party, and the Communist Party. God loves the Orthodox; God loves the Catholics; God loves the Protestants; God even loves the atheists. The only war I know of that I can say God would want us to choose to fight is the war we fight against ourselves and the temptations that lead us into sin. Other wars may happen, because of human wickedness, and we may have to defend ourselves, and I'm sure that, even then, God understands -- even though He does not approve. But I've said all that before, as well.

If you are going to cast your vote for Kerry, be sure you know why you're doing what you're doing -- and maybe pray before you vote, and seek the will of God to guide you. If you are going to cast your vote for Bush, be sure you know why you're doing what you're doing -- and maybe pray before you vote, and seek the will of God to guide you. If you are going to cast your vote for someone else, be sure you know why you're doing what you're doing -- and maybe pray before you vote, and seek the will of God to guide you. I don't know which candidate is the one favored by God; I do know that each of us will be held accountable for our actions, our choices, indeed, for every idle word spoken, on the great and terrible Day of the Lord -- and let that guide your actions -- and your vote -- as well.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us, sinners...

From the Lighter Side

Wednesday night was the last of the three presidential debates, held in our neighborhood -- Tempe, Arizona. Of course, the price of admission would pay off the mortgage for the church... I missed the live telecast, as we were in church for the Vigil for the feast of the Protection of the Theotokos; and, I must say, what I saw of the replays brought little or no joy. The difficulty in determining what to do, and who to vote for, has become very tiring.

A friend sent this in an email, and it seems to sum things up quite well; at least, from where I am right now: If God had wanted us to vote, He'd have given us candidates.

This is probably the last time I'll blog until after the clergy conference (in Denver) concludes on Wednesday...

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

"Wealth and 'Illth'"

I've just finished reading an absolutely excellent posting by Huw Raphael; and there's no way for me to try to describe it, because he's said it better than I could hope to achieve. Here's an excerpt:
Robert Anton Wilson (perhaps quoting someone else) uses the word "wealth" in opposition to the neologism "illth". Think about it for a moment - if something promotes the "common weal" of things, it's called "wealth". What about those things that decidedly do not promote the "weal" of anyone? Ill and "illth" seem correct.

One more taste:
So, do I carry St Gregory's teaching one step further? Is it possible that the extra money I have isn't mine? Yes, I worked for it, yes, I earned it. That's not what I'm saying. I have it at God's grace. For what has He given it to me if not for His own greater glory?

To read the full article -- and you really do want to read it -- just click HERE.

The Presidential Election and the War in Iraq

That's why there isn't a churchgoer in America who doesn't know which candidate his pastor wants him or her to vote for.
E. J. Montini, in today's Arizona Republic

There must be a few who don't know, as I still don't know which candidate, if any, will get my vote! I must admit that I am somewhat intrigued by some of the arguments advanced by Mr. George Soros, especially when he says,
If we re-elect him (that is, President Bush) now, we endorse the Bush doctrine of preemptive action and the invasion of Iraq, and we will have to live with the consequences.

It's probably a mark of a terrible pride on my part to quote myself here, but I want to use a part of my sermon from Sunday as a part of this "internal conversation in your midst" as I wrestle with the decision about my vote for the presidency. The text was from the Gospel according to St. Luke, and was centered on our Lord's commandment, "Love your enemies." Here's part of what I said:
I don’t know how this works itself out on the world stage. I don’t know if it is possible for a nation to act in this way. And yet I can’t help but wonder how the world might have been changed if, after the terrorist attacks of 9-11, we had responded, after remembering and honoring and burying our dead, we had coolly, calmly, set about rebuilding that which the terrorists had destroyed, not striking back by declaring a war in which force meets force; but by saying, in words and deeds, “You cannot defeat us. No matter what you do, you shall not change our way of life. We shall prevail, and you shall not stop us.”

It's hard for us to imagine the "shape" of a "war on terror." Mr. Soros believes that American military action in Afghanistan was justified, as it was the base of operations for al-Qaeda. In another way, it was, and is, a questionable action: a sovereign country not at war with us was invaded by the United States. Part of not imagining the "shape" of a war on terror begins here: in a world so linked together by means of communications and commerce, are there still places in the world that are so "wild 'n' wooly" that a band of terrorists can operate openly, regardless of what the government (however nominal) might think? Was Afghanistan so wracked by its war with the Soviet Union, and ensuing civil war, that the Taliban was powerless to act to expel al-Qaeda? Or was there a tacit understanding between them, thereby making the Taliban complicit in the terrorist acts of al-Qaeda? Our military "intervention" there was certainly understandable; but is it justifiable?

In part, the liberty taken to invade Afghanistan set the stage for the American violation of the sovereignty of Iraq as well. The operating paradigm now seems to be, if we find it necessary to take action against a state, either because of what that state has done, is doing, or may one day do, or because of a group that is operating against our interests within the boundaries of that state, we will respond in whatever way, and at whatever level of force, diplomatic, economic, or military, we deem necessary and/or appropriate. In defense of President Bush, I will say that he did, prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001, identify Iraq as part of an "axis of evil"; and few people questioned at the time the existence of the now-infamous "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq. Those who had followed the news reports over time knew that Saddam Hussein had used chemical and biological weapons in the war with Iran, and against the Kurds in Iraq; and had threatened to use them during the first Gulf War, following his invasion of Kuwait. However, this does not mean that the American invasion of Iraq is justified; and the argument that the wrold (including Iraq) is now better off because Saddam Hussein has been removed from power doesn't change the fact that the ostensible reasons for acting with our military power were unjustified, then and now. I'm glad that this tyrant is gone from power, and I hope that the Iraqi people will be able to establish a peaceful and prosperous life for themselves. But we've soiled our national honor by the use of military force.

Of course, this misuse of power against sovereign nations did not begin with President Bush. The NATO bombing of Serbia, undertaken at the direction of President Clinton, was a similar violation of a sovereign state by our military presence and power, as we sought to intervene to direct a conflict to an outcome we desired. I had then, as I have now, a sense that part of the flexing of our military "muscles" is due to the fact that there is no one nation at present with the capability and the will to interpose itself in such a way as to restrain our actions. That era ended with the disappearance of the Soviet Union; and a glimpse towards the horizon doesn't show that China, or any particular bloc, is positioning itself to be the counterweight to American actions. It pains me to say this, but we, as a nation on theinternational stage, seem to have become the schoolyard bully, threatening those we can intimdate, and beating those who resist, bringing about both their capitulation and sending a message to others, "You'd better do what I want, or this will happen to you." We'd like to see ourselves as the helpers of those in need around the world: the down-trodden and enslaved, the suffering, the poor; but, even as we do these charitable acts, it becomes less and less difficult to imagine as well the extension of an American hegemony into a new world empire.

All of this is "in play" as we move inexorably to Election Day. There is no doubt that President Bush, if re-elected, will continue on the course he has followed since 9-11. It sounds bizarre to say it, but this is a part of the reason why I say I can trust him, where I do not think I could ever trust Sen. Kerry. I do not agree with the President in this action; but I do trust him. As I've said before, I do wish we had more of a choice this November... Anyway, if we define matters as, "A vote for Bush-Cheney is a vote to continue an unjustifiable use of American military power, including the on-going war in Iraq," I cannot say that I can vote for the re-election of President Bush. But I feel even less safe contemplating the shape of the world with a Kerry presidency; and for this reason (and many other reasons as well), I cannot (and will not) vote Kerry-Edwards. In one way, I can't wait for this election to be over...

Oh, and, with a nod to Mr. Montini: My endorsement of a candidate is my opinion alone, and does not constitute a directive from me or from the church as to the candidate for whom you should cast your vote!

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Sin, Natural Orientation, and Choice

Those who support ordaining gays contend Scripture does not ban same-sex relationships, and that there was no understanding in biblical times that homosexuality was a natural orientation, not a choice.

Following a link ("Episcopalians") from the blog of Fr. Joseph Hunnicutt (Orthodixie: see sidebar), I found an article which contained the amazing statement quoted above. The most amazing part is this: "there was no understanding in biblical times..." On a par with that is what follows: the concept that homosexuality is a natural orientation, and not a choice. When was this determined to be true?

It is entirely possible (and plausible) to take the arguments for homosexuality as a "natural orientation" and use, in place of homosexuality, the idea of non-monogamy among heterosexuals, and have an equally-valid sounding proposition. Examined from the standpoint of biology alone, it makes more sense for the male to seek to inseminate as many females as possible, in order to enhance the distribution of his genetic information. Similarly, why should a female be limited to reproducing with only one male? The chances of her genetic material being passed to succeeding generations must surely be better enhanced by having multiple offspring with multiple sires -- right? But no one, really, is making this argument; so why do we accept the "natural orientation" argument for homosexuality?

Often left undiscussed in this is the distinction between "orientation" and "behavior." One's "orientation" may, indeed, be directed in a manner that is inappropriate, even forbidden, to be put into action: this is true of both homosexual desires and the desires for other forms of sexual expression and activity outside of marriage. Here, homosexuality is neither better or worse than adultery or fornication. Having such an "orientation" is not, of itself, a sin; but acting upon the impulses that arise therefrom may very well be sinful, and therefore condemned.

Behavior is a choice. To say otherwise is to make the person the captive of his nature -- but this is not what we, as Orthodox Christians, believe. For us, the "nature" (ousia) defines the sum total of our being, with all its inherent potentials and limitations. Natures, however, simply "are" -- they do not act. For the nature to be put into action, it requires a person (hypostasis). Thus natures do not act; persons put the nature into action.

Are we limited by our nature? If we reply that this is true, we make ourselves nothing more than animals, who act primarily upon instinct, although the ability to learn is not entirely absent. But we are more than this: we have the ability to reason, and to remember, and to perform abstract calculations, and to use our imagination. We can discern and employ cause and effect, and can determine right and wrong, and recognize good and evil. We can recognize an impulse towards a negative, and restrain ourselves (although this takes time, and effort, and an act of our will); we can recognize an opportunity for good, and choose to act to accomplish this good. As human beings, we are made in the image, and after the likeness, of God. As such, we are more than animals; we are but a little lower than the angels.

All of us are beset with passions, with sinful desires and impulses. Do we act upon these? Then we have sinned. Do we resist them? Then we do rightly.

There is another point to consider regarding our nature. The human nature we possess is a fallen nature; not at all what we were meant to be before our protoparents chose to disobey the commandment of God in the Garden of Eden. There was no escape for us from this nature; yet this did not prevent God from requiring holiness from us, as evidenced by the law of the Old Covenant. And then, in the fullness of time, God sent His Son, and we who were under the law were delivered from the same, being a new creation in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thus, we have in Christ the ability to transcend our old nature; which has been buried with Christ in our baptism. We have been given a new life, the life of our Lord, risen from the dead, and no longer subject to sin or death. We have been given the Holy Spirit to enlighten us to the truth, and to empower us in our new life in Christ. We have the ability to choose to follow the divinely-given impulses to the good; and to resist and overcome the desires to sin. Sin is always a choice. To say otherwise makes us the slaves of a fallen nature, and the servants of a lie.