Thursday, August 29, 2013

Free Stuff

So...I've been thinking lately that the idea of "paying for things" might be a bad one. I'm kind of super enthusiastic about people doing things/ giving things away for free. So, without further ado:

Things I have that you can have if you want them:

A small aloe plant: my aloe plant has gotten huge and I need to split it. You'll need to provide your own pot and soil.

Any of a number of Terry Pratchett books I don't read anymore.

A USB keyboard



Martial Arts: if there's anyone out there that would like to learn, send me a message and we'll see if we can work something out.

Philosophy/Logic: Anyone feels like learning a bit about western philosophy or formal logic, I can help.

Cooking: I can cook a little so if anyone out there has no idea what they're doing let me know. It's not going to be cordon bleu or anything, but if you need to learn how to make a stir fry or a simple sauce I can help

(These might be a tad limited until I'm married)


If anyone out there has potting soil I could use it

If anyone out there knows French I'd like to learn.

So, yeah. To hell with capitalism and all that.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Blight of the Modern Wedding

I am to be wed soon. A joyous occasion, to be sure. But as the date approaches, and I spend more and more time in arranging the events to come, I have realized that how the modern idea of marriage - at least in America- has acquired a curse. It is a curse of pride, and consumerism, and self-worship. The wedding industry appeals to a certain concept of the "ideal wedding", placing an enormous amount of pressure of the bride-to-be. From a young age, females are inundated with images of the nigh mythical wedding, and they attempt to live up to this ideal, something that requires a Herculean effort on her part. At the same time, the engagement period is a spiritually harmful time for the potential bride, since it carries with it the idea that this is a time when the bride-to-be is entitled to excessive self-focus. The average wedding today is some kind of bizarre combination of a right-of-passage/demonstration of worth. Our sense of self worth is somewhat tied to what kind of wedding we can have, and we feel judged if we cannot deliver. A great deal of this problem stems from a much broader issue: the pressure on middle to low income people to emulate the rich. Somewhere along the line rich folk started having more and more extravagant weddings, but they could afford to do things like hire a wedding planner. Those with more humble bank accounts have to simply do the best they can with what they have, even if it never quite feels like enough.

The average wedding today costs $30,000. Take a moment to let that sink in. That's absurd, Ultimately, weddings aren't about jumping through hoops or putting on a grand show. And they're not excuses for the bridal couple to feel entitled to inordinate amounts of special treatment. Something I rather appreciate about the Orthodox wedding sacrament is that, ultimately, the couple is not the center of attention, or at least not in isolation. It's a church service, filled with prayer and worship, and God is center-stage. It is about why God has instituted marriage, and His blessings upon marriage. Ultimately the service is the means through which God mystically unites two souls. Erin and I are going to do our best to have a beautiful wedding and an enjoyable reception, but we refuse to bow to ludicrous popular wedding expectations. That's not what we're about, and it's not what weddings are about. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

It Seems Like It's All Gone Mad, Jim

As I was driving today I noticed the long stretches of grass that run down the middle of highways, acre after acre, and I saw the fields of wheat and corn that could be, but are not. I thought about how simple, at base level, life is, and how damned complicated we make it. I thought about the starving and the homeless in America, a nation with plenty of land and timber for houses, and more than enough food for everyone. I thought about the artificial famine we have created. I thought about the fantasy that money has become, an intangible placeholder for..what exactly? Effort? Value? Hell if I know. If I work an hour at a burrito shop I would earn, say, eight dollars an hour. If I hold that eight dollars in my hand, that's an hour of my time. If a CEO holds that same amount of money, that represents a few minutes to him. So it's not a placeholder for time, evidently. Some of us aren't trying to survive, just buy more shit, some of us are trying to just get food in our bellies, and no one, not no one is happy. Isolated, alone, mistrustful, power hungry, vindictive, fearful. I don't think I can keep swimming in this sea of shit for too much longer. I need to find some calm and sensible oasis. Lord have mercy. Save me from a world gone mad.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Christianity, Paradox, and the Reversal of Death

The cross is a mystery, the mystery of a suffering God. In the cross the impossible arises, where the eternal God takes upon Himself all the suffering of the world. Every evil, small or big, every tear and heartbreak and stubbed toe, Christ took into Himself. From within this mire Christ did not just defeat darkness, not just slay it, but fundamentally altered it. It is sometimes said that Orthodox Christians focus more on the Resurrection than on the Crucifixion, but this not quite the case. One cannot be preferred to the other. The Crucifixion and Resurrection are two inseparable parts of the same spiritual reality. On the one hand we have the descent into darkness, the bearing of all evil, and on the other hand we have the glorious rising, the triumph. In the icons of the Crucifixion and Resurrection we see the hope of every Christian, the consolation for every sadness and evil, the ultimate manifestation of God's love. By His descent, Christ has taken hell captive, and has transformed its very nature. Christ changed the rules, turned the pyramid on its head. Or perhaps He revealed what the rules had always been, the secret behind the universe.

And now Christians operate against the rules and standards of this world. We must be small to be big, weak to be strong, lowly to rise on high. And we must die in order to live. The finest physical specimen, the warlord with the largest army, the most highly trained soldier, all are weaker by far than the little old man walking along the paths of Mt. Athos. Because that old man can love, which is the hardest thing there is. Following our own dark desires is easy, effortless, and will produce, from a worldly perspective, impressive results. But those who follow such desires will render themselves incapable of love, which is the true strength. God's power is revealed ultimately through His self-humiliation, initially by His incarnation and ultimately by His Crucifixion, which leads inexorably to the Resurrection. God's meekness is His strength. God's humility is His greatness. We too must walk this road, into death -through asceticism and martyrdom of the various kinds - and -with Christ - emerge into life.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

There is No Such Thing as a Good Ending

Or, at least, I'm not convinced such a thing exists. Every time a book or film or video game has what might be termed a good ending, I'm not convinced that the story has ended. The book, or what have you, has ended, but the story, the lives of the characters concerned and what is so significant about them, is continual. The couple gets married in the romcom, the credits roll, and then....they have their whole lives ahead of them, full of, hopefully, bliss and marital joy. The kingdom is saved, the final page is turned, and...the farmers and artificers and nobles keep going on, doing fantasy kingdom stuff. But take a bad ending, and notice that it is often truly an ending. Perhaps the couple breaks up. The relationship is over. There is a finality there. The kingdom is destroyed: finality. Everyone dies: finality. Even if eventually  you know that one of the married folk will die - an ending - that bit is not, itself, happy. It's bad that he or she dies. Eventually the kingdom will, in the fullness of time, fall, but that is a bad thing. A truly good "ending" is never an ending to the story. The book ends, but the story goes on. Of course we could have the film end on a sad note: the whole kingdom is enslaved, but I'm not arguing that bad endings can't be a continuing story, only that good "endings" are never the opposite. Somehow I feel like there's something deep and important about all this, but I can't quite see how.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

An Urgent Suggestion for American Schools

There are a number of changes I think ought to be implemented in the education system, but among the chief of them is this: we desperately need philosophy and logic classes, starting at the middle school level. Most of the pressing issues of our day are inescapably philosophical: the gay marriage debate, the abortion debate, immigration, welfare, racism, sexism, etc. Everyone becomes a philosopher when these issues come up, but hardly anybody is any good at doing philosophy. Related to this, most of us are terrible at constructing sound arguments. While humans are gifted in that they can proceed from premises to conclusion, the vast majority of American citizens receive hardly any instruction in this ability. This is disastrous given the nature of American government. The citizenry are the government, but they are woefully under-equipped to fulfill this role. As of now, most discussions about this aforementioned issues disintegrate into ad hominem arguments and talking past each other. Using the abortion debate as an example: the nature of what it means to be alive, what it means to be a person, what constitutes murder, what the very words "right" and "wrong" mean are all things that have to be taken into account if we are to have a profitable dialogue. As yet, I don't think we, as a nation, are anywhere near being prepared to talk about these matters intelligibly. But I hope that we will soon begin to remedy this situation.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


"By descending into hell, he made hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of his flesh.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, cried:
"Hell was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions."
It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting?
O Hell, where is your victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown.
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen, and life reigns.
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen."

-St. John Chrysostom

Friday, April 19, 2013

Vampires and Zombies As Manifestations of Political Fears: Against S Peter Davis

In the above linked article the writer attempts to demonstrate that vampires are a manifestation of the fears of the political right, and that zombies are a manifestation of the fears of the political left. I take issue with his view, and will attempt to demonstrate the opposite understanding. The secret is that each is a fusion of 1) what each side fears about the other and 2) what each side suspects about the other..

Why The Left Fears Vampires:

First off, I should mention that I'm talking about old-school Stoker vampires. Drakul. Vlad Teppic. Nosferatu. And so forth. Now then: vampires are the privileged elite. Count Dracula is, after all, a count. Most vampire stories involve, at most, only a few vampires. A small family, if not just a solitary figure, feeding off the masses for the good of the few. And they tend to be rich. Fine food, fine wine, good clothes, expensive all around. The operate in secret, in the dark, influencing those beneath them. Davis rightly mentions that vampires tend to be sexually defiant. But the left never actually believes the right when they claim to be chaste and righteous. Every pastor caught in adultery or with a porn addiction just reinforces the notion that the right are hypocrites. I also disagree that the foreignness of vampires is ever a major factor. They tend to be pale and at least somewhat Caucasian-esque. Even when they're not, it's usually not an emphasized factor. He's correct that vampires are parasites, but the left views the wealthy elite as parasites on the poor.

Why The Right Fears Zombies:

Note: we're talking Dawn of the Dead, Romero zombies. Not 28 Days Later zombies. 

They're not just zombies, they're the proletariat rising! The vast horde, walking (shambling) in communist lockstep. The right fears that the left will attempt  to equalize us all, remove anything that makes us exceptional. Zombies, by and large, are all equally fast, equally strong, and equally smart.  No one zombie typically gets to eat any more than the other, as they all descend on the of kill and partake as they can. One might object that the zombies aren't actually working together, they're just a collection of individuals seeking their own ends. But that's the trick: the right doesn't think communism works because humans are selfish bastards that seek their own ends and can't work together. Capitalism is an attempt to use human greed to positive effect. But zombies are perfectly equalized humans whose selfishness happens to mesh with each other.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Abortion Protesters

This is a Canton specific post, although it probably has at least mild interest for anyone in America. For background: there is a Planned Parenthood nearby. Very consistently there are anti-abortion protesters in front. If nothing else, one must admire their dedication. Neither cold nor darkness nor hecklers seem to deter them. Their presence creates a fairly sharp divide, even among Christians that believe abortion to be wrong. Simply put: should the protesters be doing what they're doing? This is a difficult issue for me. Emotionally I am drawn in support of the protesters, yet I have a great many respected friends and peers who think they ought to cease their activities. Recently I was engaged in a rather heated discussion of the issue, one that served to alter my view of the issue somewhat. I'm going to outline, charitably I hope, both sides of the issue, and then offer my own assessment.

In favor: saves lives. Maybe not too many women are deterred by the protesters, but probably at least a few women who were teetering on the edge of decision will end up not getting an abortion due to the protesters. And really, what cost is too high too save even one life?

My examination: I actually am drawn to this argument. Saving lives is good. On the other hand there is a lack of information issue to consider: how many women actually decide not to get abortions because of the protesters?

In opposition: non-Christians, especially women, will see these protesters and come to the conclusion that Christians are hateful and---

My interruption: Hold on a sec. The local protesters aren't exactly offensive. There's no "You're going to hell if you get an abortion" stuff. Mostly the signs just affirm that the unborn child is fully human. Nothing awful about that.

Opposition response: Fair enough, but there are are enough offensive "Christian" protesters that any Christian protesters tend to get viewed all the same: as being hateful and offensive.

Possible interruption: Is it their fault if their viewed as hateful when they're not actually being hateful?

My personal note: It is true that a wise person avoids generalizations. However, in every person, especially in Christians, there is an uncomfortable but necessary tension (borrowing from Terry Pratchett here a bit) between, on the one hand ,"This is how it ought to be, how do we change things?" and, on the other hand, "This is how it is, how do we deal with it?" As Christians we ought to maximize good, even if it means we have to kowtow to unwise practices. We simply cannot say: people will do what they will, to hell with them.

Back to opposition: Anyway, people will see Christians as hateful due to the protesters. As a  result of this, they will turn away from Christianity, which is to the severe detriment of their own souls. Now, if an unborn child dies certainly nothing too bad happens to it afterwards. Most Protestants will say it goes immediately to heaven, and Roman Catholics say it just goes into senselessness. I haven't a clue what Orthodoxy says, but I can imagine that nothing bad happens to the child. So, ultimately it's a tragedy if a child dies, but less of a tragedy that the spiritual harm a person will suffer if they hate Christians. Ergo, the most good is served if the protesters stop.

Possible issue: I think we really want to keep affirming that the death of unborn children is a very great tragedy, and I worry the above might fail to do that.

My personal assessment of the whole issue: There arises out of this a very uncomfortable kind of moral mathematics. Two unborn children for a soul? Ten for three? Is this how we assess our behavior? Is the world really such a depressing place that we have to choose between two precious goods? I am inclined to look for a third option. Perhaps we can have it both ways. Every Christian, on both sides, wants the same things: babies dying is bad, people's souls being harmed is bad. Perhaps we can be wise and accomplish both. What causes women to decide to get an abortion? No woman is happy to get an abortion, it is always a difficult decision. Poor financial situation, lack of viable alternatives, for some it is the shame of having a child too young or out of wedlock. So, theoretically at least, abortion rates will go down if we work to eliminate poverty, provide free or cheap daycare services, and provide free or cheap childcare products. Most importantly we need serious fostercare/adoption reform. The upshot is that we provide no reason for anyone to think of us as hateful. My only remaining concern is the last sort of abortion: the abortion of opportunity: when someone could bring the child to term and doesn't because it's an inconvenience, or perhaps would interfere with their career. But these are not so common I think, and a thoroughgoing reform of the adoption program might work to halt these abortions. We need to make adoption a straightforward and easy alternative to abortion. We need to start adopting. If you are truly pro-life: adopt. Some women will terminate a pregnancy because they believe the child's life will be so awful that death is a kinder fate. We need to make it evident that this is not so. And so perhaps we can say that the protesters can accomplish what it is the want to accomplish even better if they spent their time and energy proactively attacking the systemic reasons for abortions. Our work together will, hopefully, provide for a world where the unborn are cared for as much as those outside the womb.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Orthodox Christianity: An Introduction

It has occurred to me that I am being rather audacious in writing this. Many are far more qualified to do it, with far more training, education, and experience. Nonetheless, the fact is that a great many of my peers are unlikely to ever read the work of such men and women, and so perhaps I can be forgiven for taking upon myself a task such as this. I will try and be honest about those areas where my knowledge does not extend. My main purpose here will be drawing together what various theologians and writers have said: St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. John Chrysostom, St. Isaac of Syria, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Fr. Stephen Freeman,Fr. Pete Gillquist, Clark Carlton, and a host of others. Obviously this is going to be a distinctly Orthodox view.

What is the point of human life? What are we here for? Perhaps I can start by saying that the proper question more accurately is: where are we going? Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has said that all humans are on a journey. We are all plodding along - some, tragically, backwards - on the same road. And that road leads to God. We are called, one and all, to attain ever more to union and communion with God. Or, to use Metropolitan Kallistos Ware's phrasing: we are called to be drawn up into the circle of love that exists, eternally, within the Godhead. Or, to use terminology more familiar to modern Evangelicals, we are called to engage in a loving relationship with God.  As we attain more and more to this union and communion we become ever more like God: "Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (2 Peter 1:4). This process is called theosis. We take on God's characteristics: His love, His mercy, His goodness. As St. Athanasius famously said: "God became man, so that man might become God.". This is shocking to many Western Christians. We must immediately point out what we do not mean by this. We do not, ever, become the uncreated. Unlike Mormon belief  we never become gods in our own right. But rather it is said that we become by grace what God is by nature. God desires to share of what He is with us, always offering us this as a gift, so that it is true when St. Gregory of Nyssa said: "Man is mud whom God has commanded to become god.". In other words: to become a saint.

A metaphor might be useful here, but not mine. If I am remembering correctly it is St. John Chrysostom's, but I might be wrong. Possibly it is St. Gregory of Nyssa's. Anyway: Imagine a stone sitting under the sun. After a time the stone becomes hot, much like the sun in a small way. Does the stone make it's own heat? Is the stone's heat its own? No, it is the sun's heat, but now the sun's heat is in the stone. As we grow closer to God we too start to look like God, and to identify with God more and more. Abbot Meletios has said that when an Orthodox Christian takes communion there is a brief moment where it becomes difficult to say where God ends and the human begins. I confess: something I have yet to grasp is if this process of theosis happens so that we can be drawn up into God's love, or if it is a natural consequence of us being drawn up into God's love, or if the two are essentially inextricable in a way that defies further investigation.

It may be asked: what hinders us from doing this? And we now have arrived at the subject of salvation. What are we saved from? For an Orthodox Christian, we are saved from sin, saved from our inner darkness and brokenness. Sin can be spoken of in two ways: an internal spiritual condition that is opposed to God's nature, and the actions that both arise from those conditions and reinforce them. Greed is an internal spiritual disease, theft is an action that is born of greed and, once committed, strengthens that same greed. The worse of the two, so Orthodox Christianity claims, are the internal spiritual diseases. The actions are, obviously, drastically important, but they are only important insofar as they affect those internal stati. What we are is more important that what we do. Why is sin bad? Because being sinful means being unlike God, and being like God is the whole point of being human. God has no hatred, no wrath, no malice within Himself, and if we have these within us, we are unlike God. Becoming more sinful means walking away from God, away from the source and foundation of all love, goodness, and existence. We must be saved from sin in order to be what we are meant to be. This is the gift of Christ's death: that sin's power was broken and the door to theosis was opened, the way to Eden was made available once more.

Adam and Eve were created sinless, and were called walk the path of theosis. But instead of becoming one with God, they fell away, and sin entered the world. This sin bars the way to our union and communion with God, and so had to be dealt with. And it was dealt with on the Cross by God Himself, allowing humanity a way to see to it that their sins are destroyed. This then is the effect of the Cross: providing for the actual elimination of sin within the human person.

This is a far cry from certain Protestant conceptions of atonement. Many of them speak only of being covered in Christ's blood so that God does not see our sin. God, under this view, treats us as if we were righteous. To this view, Orthodox Christians can only respond with mild bewilderment. The sick person doesn't care if anyone treats them as if they were well, doesn't care if everyone acts as if they weren't sick: they want to get better. In much the same way the Orthodox Christian replies: we don't want our sin covered, we want it gone! And we needn't worry much if God sees our sin or not, or treats us as if we were sinful. If all we had to worry about was what God was going to do to us, then we would have incredibly little to fear. God does not seek retributive vengeance on the sinner, but if God punishes then it is only for the sake of healing and correction.

So then, we are called to be saints. And what is a saint? A saint is one who has accepted God's gift of godhood. A saint overflows with love, God's love in him or her. A saint is what you and I are supposed to become. A great and glorious destiny is offered to us all, one in which we all shine with light as did Moses, walk on water as did Peter, shake off serpents as did Paul, and, always getting closer to it while never arriving, love like God. We are called to be in God, and to have God in us. Glory be to God! Amen.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Is The World More Evil Than It Used to Be?

Well, let's scale it back a bit. I'll focus on the United States. Most comments on the current moral status of this nation tend toward the negative. There is, especially among conservatives, a longing for a return to a semi-idyllic past, when one didn't have to "lock the front door" and you could trust your neighbors and let your kids walk home from school. And there are among these negative voices a few who are far more joyous, a few who praise our enlightened status and lambaste our "barbaric past".

I actually don't think we can begin to make any sort of accurate assessment of this issue. For one thing, doing comparisons of moral states is probably just not the sort of thing human are equipped to do. It's hard to qualitatively assess a nation on a good/evil scale. On the one hand it's hard to argue with the fact that we have done away with some of our malicious baggage. While racism is by no means dead (and it crops up in the oddest places), the overall legal status and treatment of non-whites has greatly improved in the last century. Likewise sexism has seen a tremendous reduction. Working conditions for laborers are, generally speaking, drastically safer than what one would have seen mid-Industrial Revolution, and child labor is prohibited. In many ways this nation has seen great moral improvement. On the other hand we have fallen behind in many ways. The internet has led to horrific and disgusting instances of child abuse. Abortions of convenience are widespread. Standards of modesty and overall sexual behavior are low. (Please note that I'm not claiming moral superiority to anyone. I'm as wretched and wicked as they come. If I may borrow a quote from Abba Dioscorus: "If I were allowed to see my sins, three or four men would not be enough to weep for them.")

All of this is to say that neither brooding cynicism nor triumphant joy is an appropriate response to the moral status of our nation. A more guarded and balanced outlook is needed. We must praise the ways that our nation has advanced and work to remedy the ways in which we have fallen behind. This is the most difficult thing to do. Cynicism is fun: it let's us criticize something and feel wise. The opposite course is also fun: we get to feel good about ourselves. But Christians are called to walk the difficult path. Let us do our work with both joy and sorrow.