Thursday, December 22, 2011

More on Ron Paul's Non-Interventionism

I just read this article, and watched this video, which explain quite nicely exactly what a Ron Paul foreign policy would look like (the video), and how this is not new or strange (the article), but is in fact exactly "conservative" -- that is, old school Republican, which the party seems to have forgotten.

Something that particularly stuck out was this quote by Warren Buffet's dad, Howard:
Even if it were desirable, America is not strong enough to police the world by military force. If that attempt is made, the blessings of liberty will be replaced by coercion and tyranny at home. Our Christian ideals cannot be exported to other lands by dollars and guns. Persuasion and example are the methods taught by the Carpenter of Nazareth, and if we believe in Christianity we should try to advance our ideals by his methods. We cannot practice might and force abroad and retain freedom at home. We cannot talk world cooperation and practice power politics.
Our condition at the present time proves him right every point.  'Nuff said, I think.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Book Recommendation


I am almost done reading The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom, by Fr. Alexander Schmemann.

I cannot recommend this book more highly!

Of course, I believe it will have the most impact on Orthodox people, in affirming and renewing (again!) their faith, if only because it's written by an Orthodox priest, about the Liturgy that the Faithful experience every week.  So we have a real concrete experiential knowledge to what he's talking about.

However, even for those who are not Orthodox, or even who are not liturgical or sacramental, I think it gives a masterfully woven, completely historical and solidly scriptural look into what liturgy and sacrament are really all about.  So if you don't want to begin to understand, don't read this book. ;)

If you want to get a taste, Google Books has it, but with most of the book removed.  :( However, on quick review, I'm pleased to notice that there is a good portion of the first and second chapters -- definitely enough to get a feel for the book.  I must warn you, though, that it just gets better and better as the book progresses (kind of like the Liturgy itself ;) ), so -- as excellent as the first part is -- you're still only getting a little glimpse of the full glory.

Enjoy!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Non-Intervention In the Real World

I received a list of excellent questions from an Anonymous commenter on my last post, summarized by the first one: "How does non-intervention work in the real world?"  There are several followup questions, so I'll answer them here.

You write: "If we maintain a standing army, we keep it at home to secure our own borders"
So there is some discussion amongst non-interventionists as to whether or not the U.S. would keep a standing army? 


This is more a dispute between Libertarians in general.  Most non-interventionists (including myself) would not go as far as to completely disband the military.  However, we would significantly reduce it's size when not in times of declared war.  The details of the reduction (which branches get cut the most, what we do with the hardware in the meanwhile, how we keep people trained in it, etc.) would be up for serious discussion.

Would I be correct in assuming that “standing army” is a metaphor for all branches of the U.S. military? 

Yes.

Does that mean no power projection b y the U.S. naval fleet in the Pacific or Persian Gulf?

In the Pacific?  No, since those waters directly touch our own.  The Persian Gulf?  Maybe.  This would be an area for discussion

Does that mean no forward military bases in Korea, Germany, etc?

Each base would need to be evaluated, based on several criteria, including consultation with the host government.  (I mean, we wouldn't like it if Germany just put some "forward bases" on American soil, would we?  No.  Sure, we let them use our bases, but we would absolutely object to them owning a base here.  Quid pro quo, I say.)

What does this mean for the countries that the U.S. has guaranteed their protection?

Why are we guaranteeing protection for countries?  Are they paying for that protection (by money, resources, etc.)?  Obviously, Israel is at the top of the list.  The solution to that is easy: leave them alone, and stop sending money to their enemies ("Foreign aid").

What happens if some country, say Iran, decides to block the Strait of Hormuz? Keep in mind that even the threat of a blockade would send the oil markets sky-rocketing and the U.S. and world economy into a free fall. 

The answer to this is multi-faceted.  The first thing to do is to ramp up domestic oil production by removing the suffocating regulations the EPA has placed on the oil companies, and by lowering (or eliminating) the taxes for domestic oil, while (potentially) raising the tariffs for foreign oil.  That makes the impact of an action such as you describe much smaller.

Next (maybe even at the same time), we lift the sanctions on Iran: stop choking them out, and start a vigorous trade and diplomacy with them.  Become a partner that they would not want to harm.  (This is the carrot.)

On the other hand (the stick), make it clear that such an action would be viewed as an act of war.  If they proceed, we will get the Congress to declare war with clearly defined objectives, go kick their asses until those objectives are met, then come home.

This is what I was getting at in my original post.  Isolationists would just close their eyes and say "none of our business".  Non-Interventionists are simply reluctant to get involved militarily.  If we must get involved militarily, we will, but we would really prefer to solve the problem through truly peaceful means.  Also, if we do finally pull out the guns, we do so by following the constitutional process, and we don't lie about our reasons.  We finally "grow a pair".  If we're going to war for oil, then say "we're going to war for oil, because we need it.  We've tried every other way to get it, and none of it's worked."  If Congress won't pass that, then we don't go to war.  It's that simple.

One way the U.S. keeps the peace is via its military power projection throughout the world. 

Even if this is true (I don't think it is), my point is that this is a flawed method of keeping the peace.  It does not work, long-term.  In fact, it's already starting to fail.

But why do I say it's not true?  Because if you look at the century of US power, you find the bloodiest century in the history of the world.  There was no peace in the 20th century.  What peace are we keeping, when we are constantly at war?

The US has followed the way of Rome, and has lasted even less time, even when you take the rapidity of modern life into account.  Non-Interventionists say that we ought rather to follow the way of Byzantium, which lasted just over 1,000 years, and was only brought down by the combined efforts of the other two superpowers at the time: the Roman Catholic Church and the Muslim Caliphate.

To think that the greatest power in the world would simply walk away from its position is unthinkable. Especially since it would endanger its national security and economic stability.

Non-Interventionists don't advocate that we "simply walk away from [our] position".  That's what isolationists advocate.  This was my whole point: that we are not isolationists.  We are advocating, rather, that we solidify and strengthen our position by putting our military to proper use, and bringing the other engines of state back into the foreground where they belong.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Isolation vs. Non-intervention

Those conservatives who oppose Ron Paul's bid for presidency tend to do so because of his foreign policy.  The word "isolationism" is bandied about rather loosely.  To borrow a phrase from Inigo Montoya, "I do not think that word means what you think it means."

The detractors accuse Mr. Paul of wanting to isolate the United States, to stop having anything to do with the rest of the world, to withdraw our entire world presence to within our borders, and "go dark", supporting ourselves and our way of life, and the rest of the world be damned.  That is isolationism.

There is another concept, which actually comprises Mr. Paul's (and my) actual stance: Non-Intervention.

What is Non-Intervention?  It is maintaining trade and diplomatic relations with the world, to further our national interests, while remaining free of entangling alliances and military action, as much as possible.  If we maintain a standing army, we keep it at home to secure our own borders.  We maintain peace through strong defense and being "good neighbors".  Non-Intervention is just that: not intervening in the affairs of others.

The warmongers would portray non-interventionists as isolationists, who want to become the weird guy in the house on the dead end of the street, who never comes out and never talks to anybody.  If he does come out, it's only to yell at the kids to get off his lawn.

That is far from an accurate picture.  We are currently acting like the neighborhood mafia don, with the idea that the world is our territory, we run the show, and if you don't fall in line, we're gonna break your fingers and/or blow out your kneecaps.  Non-interventionists just want to be good neighbors.

We want to stop being the bully of the world.  We want to be well-adjusted adults, trading and talking with our neighbors, and at the same time maintaining our own sovereignty.  The use of military force should be a last resort, entered into reluctantly (although decisively), with clear goals, and a clear declaration of war.  It should be ended as soon as possible.

Our platform is one of vigorous trade and open diplomacy, avoiding entangling alliances, in the fashion of old Byzantium, with military force available and decisive, but used only when absolutely no other option remains.

This is not isolationism.  This is non-interventionism.  Hopefully, you can now stop confusing the two.

Monday, October 24, 2011

On Money....Economics 101

Something I've noticed recently, even among Ron Paul supporters like myself, is that people seem to have forgotten that ALL money, whether gold, paper, electronic, or moon dust, is fiat.

There is no such thing as "intrinsic value".

(To those reading this who already know how money basically works, feel free to skip down a bit.  The important bits that this explanation supports are marked below.)

Let's examine this from a purely economic perspective first. "Value" is entirely subjective. One can only speak of the value of one quantity of a thing in terms of a certain quantity of another thing.

In a barter system, you have individuals delivering goods and/or services (hereinafter, simply: "resources") in trade for other resources. The "value" of each resource is determined by the parties engaged in the transaction, and can only be understood, therefore, in terms of the other resource.

For example, Ghassan the shepherd and Sharif the carpenter each have a need. Sharif needs a few sheep to feed his family, and Ghassan needs a shelter for his sheep. So Ghassan and Sharif get together and talk about this, and come to an agreement: Sharif will build one 100 cubit square shelter for Ghassan's sheep in exchange for ten of those sheep. What is one shelter worth? What are 10 sheep worth? In this transaction: 10 sheep and one shelter, respectively. We cannot speak of actual value of the sheep without reference to the shelter, and vice versa.

But perhaps Sharif does not need sheep. Perhaps he has done this same transaction with all the shepherds in the area, and actually would be happy if he never saw another sheep in his life.

So a direct transaction is not going to happen. Ghassan still needs the shelter, though. He knows that while Sharif does not need sheep, he does need shoes, and the Al-Rabi the cobbler happens to need sheep. So Ghassan, Sharif, and Al-Rabi get together and discuss it for a while, and come to the conclusion that Ghassan will give Al-Rabi six sheep, Al-Rabi will make two pair of shoes for Sharif, and Sharif will build the one shelter that Ghassan needs.

What is the actual value of each item? the shoes are worth either 1/2 a shelter or 3 sheep per pair. The shelter is worth either 2 pair of shoes or 6 sheep. The sheep are worth 1/6 of a shelter or 1/3 a pair of shoes.

As you can see, the value of a sheep has risen in terms of shelters. (from 1/10 to 1/6) We'll come back to this when we discuss supply and demand later.

Now, though, let's focus on the complexity of this transaction. In a barter society, every transaction is like this one, and requires a lot of work to complete. Also, the transaction cannot be completed if Al-Rabi has taken a long journey, since it is his shoes and his need for sheep that allows Ghassan and Sharif to meet each others' needs.

So off goes Al-Rabi to Agorabad. But Ghassan needs that shelter right now! He can't wait until Al-Rabi returns: his sheep might die! So he strikes a deal with Sharif: I know you don't need sheep. But Al-Rabi will when he returns, and you will need his shoes. I will give you right now the sheep he will need then, if you will build me a shelter right now. You can use the sheep later to get what you need.

Ghassan and Sharif have just invented currency, although very primitive, and although it is based on real goods, it is still "fiat". Each sheep's value is set at the time of the transaction. What makes this currency and not simple bartering is that Al-Rabi, who Sharif is expecting to use the currency with later to procure shoes, had absolutely nothing to do with the transaction. Whether the value of the sheep remains stable depends entirely upon how closely the number of sheep Al-Rabi actually asks for in return for the shoes matches the originally expected number.

Well, time goes on, and eventually enough of these kind of transactions occur that people who are not Shepherds are raising a bunch of sheep they don't want. It's getting sort of cumbersome to maintain and transport the currency. So they all get together and decide to use something a lot easier to carry and care for to represent the sheep. They decide to use little wooden sticks: one per sheep. They even begin calling these "sheep", even though they are not actually sheep.

Of course, the little wooden sticks are "fiat" in the universally understood sense of the word. No one in his right mind would trade a little wooden stick for a sheep. But when the little wooden stick is bound by a promise that it can be traded for one sheep...that's important. It is backed by the "full faith and credit" of the sheep owner -- or whoever has the martial ability to take his sheep from him regardless.

-----IMPORTANT BITS-----

This is the foundation of money: trust, and consequences for breaking it.

I repeat: ALL MONEY IS FIAT. There is no such thing as intrinsic value.

(If you disagree, and you got here by skipping the "basic stuff" above, go back and read it.  You're back?  OK.  If you still disagree...let me know in the comments.)

So let's fast-forward to the modern dispute over the gold standard. Gold bugs will typically say, "But Gold has intrinsic value! It cannot lose its value like paper (or electronic bits) can!" Remember: there is no intrinsic value. Gold is useless to all but the goldsmiths (and nowadays, the electronics industry).   So for everyone else, gold's "intrinsic value" is still based on the the trust that whoever needs to be paid will actually accept it as payment.

If we ever have a society where goldsmiths and electronics are not needed (post-apocalyptic survival scenario, for example), it won't have any value at all, except whatever people want to assign it for use as currency (fiat again, and very meta).

Now before my fellow Libertarians lynch me as being anti-gold (I'm not), let me qualify:  There is an "intrinsic value" of sorts to gold and other precious metals.

This value lies in the statistical likelihood that any particular party will place their full faith in the future usability of the metal as currency.  Actually, that's not quite right.  It rather lies in the individual's understanding of that statistical likelihood.  In other words, whatever "intrinsic value" gold has, it has because the people using it calculate that there is a high statistical likelihood that the other party will also value it (for whatever reason).

In fact, this statistical likelihood is what all value is, let alone "intrinsic" value.  (See above.)  The reason government "fiat" money has value is because the force of arms raises the calculated statistical likelihood (and therefore the recognized value) of it's acceptance, as long as the people trust that a) the government can and will in fact use force of arms, and b) said use of arms will be effective.

I think by now it should be obvious that the argument over whether paper money is better or worse than gold money lies in the difference of who enforces the fiat: the government's use of arms, or the circumstances of the moment (the free market).  :)

In the case of paper money, it's the government issuing the fiat, and enforcing it with the power of the sword.  In the case of gold, it's still the government issuing a fiat, and enforcing it with the power of the sword.  (See US Constitution, Article I, Section 10, cf. Section 8).

The difference is this: even if the government fell apart entirely, it is most likely that people would still continue to value gold.  It is this valuation that is referred to as "intrinsic value".

The argument put forth by the "gold bugs" (myself included) is that the difference between the people's continued valuation and the government's fiat-ed valuation would be significantly smaller, and therefore less damaging to the economy for a plethora of reasons.

One of those reasons is that it's really difficult for the government to just "print" more gold coins, gold being scarce like it is.

While this is true, we must remember that the government could still inflate or deflate the currency another way: by exercising the Constitutional power to fix the value by fiat.

To do so, however, requires openness and explicit action, with a direct, obvious-to-all consequence; as opposed to a second- or third-hand effect that is easily obfuscated, and the primary actions of which are passed off to a third party to carry out (e.g. the Fed), so that the People remain ignorant of what's really going on.

And so (finally) we reach the true point: the argument for the gold standard is not, and should not be framed as, an argument for the inherent good of some material or another, as though that material will magically fix everything.

The argument is, rather, an argument for direct, open government.  (If we are going to have government setting the value of the currency at all, that is.)

Gold and silver are the (constitutional) means for carrying this end into effect.  They are not the end themselves.

Monday, October 10, 2011

On "the groove"

I've noticed something. There are times when I am "in the groove", whether I'm working, or playing.

Some After-Action Report observations on these moments, in no particular order. Your experiences may be different; I would love to hear about them!

-- I am not aware of the "larger world": I am completely focused on what I'm doing. This is not to say that I forget about the "larger world", just that it is not important. What I do remember of it is brought to conscious thought only if it's relevant to what I'm doing, and only then for actual application.

-- I am usually enjoying it. Either what I'm doing itself, or the conquering of it.

-- I am usually completely fascinated by the beauty of whatever processes are involved, either physical, mental, or spiritual. (Usually, in fact, it is the unique combination of the three that is fascinating and beautiful.)

I know it's hard to imagine that there is beauty in everything...but there is. A subtler point I've noticed lately is that it's usually the finding and revelling in this beauty that -puts me into the groove-.

-- My ego (or rather, my awareness of it) is usually either completely wiped out, or vastly reduced.

-- When I spend a day "in the zone", I'm very tired afterward, but it's the best tiredness ever. :) And while my body and mind might be exhausted, I'm still refreshed in a way that I have yet to come across any other way. Once I've gotten a good night's sleep after one of these days...the next morning is the absolute best. If I cultivate this, I find it easier to slip back into the zone. If, on the other hand, I allow myself to indulge in a little lazyness and just bask in the "good feeling", it goes to waste. Not only does it go to waste: sometimes it even becomes negative! i.e., my productivity actually dips below average for a few days.

-- There are rhythms and cycles to a) when these "zone days" happen, and b) how intense they are/can be.

So here are a few take-aways I'm going to try to put into conscious practice, and see if they hold true:

1) Find the beauty in everything. Frequently, this is related to Christ somehow. Sometimes, I can't see how, but I can still see the beauty and thank Him for it. Find it. Revel in it.

2) Don't worry. Worrying is counter-productive anyway, not to mention spiritually damaging, since it comes from lack of faith.

3) Don't overwork or underwork yourself. "Whatever you do, do it with your might," yes. But also, take care of the body that allows you to manifest that might. Note: your brain is part of your body. Learn what makes it tick, and don't be stupid.

4) For those times when you just have to overwork yourself, do it in a planned fashion, and take a couple of days off afterwards to recharge. Then GET BACK TO IT. Learn to find the "sweet spots" in your body's (and your mind's/spirit's) rhythms for each different kind of "zone".

Schedule your work and play (remembering that most "play" is actually also work) around these "sweet spots". There are some days where being mentally "in the zone" just is not going to happen. Even these days can be useful, if you've planned for your "grunt work" (any repetitive, relatively mindless tasks) to be done then -- because this is another kind of "zone". For these days, what little mind you have available can be focused on the task at hand. If even this is not possible, focus it using memorized prayer or short, repeatable passages from Scripture.

(Note: you should be doing this all the time, and the focus should not be originated in the mind, while the heart does other things. Rather, it should originate in the heart, and be carried out by the mind. Nevertheless, this is especially important on days where you are doing "mindless" tasks, so as to keep what mind you have from wandering into sin.)

Something I've also noticed lately: If I cannot (or rather, could not...sometimes "can" and "could" are two different things) have at least my heart (if not my mind and body) in prayer while doing a thing, that thing usually turns out not to have been a good thing.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Update...

Well, it's been quite some time since I posted...a little over a month, in fact.

In the mean while, I've turned 26, and also gotten a chance to visit some relatives I didn't even know (until recently) that I had, in West Virginia.

I had a wonderful time with my Dad, visiting my uncle Tom, my aunt Sharon and her husband Jack, and my Great Aunt Norma!

One of the neatest things about the whole experience was hanging out with Aunt Norma, who is about to turn 91 next month. She's got stories to tell, lemme tell ya! And fascinating ones, at that.

She took us to a couple of unmarked family graveyards from back in the day. (The graves are marked, but the actual graveyards aren't. You have to know where they are, since they are back in the forest off the beaten paths -- you have to hike a bit.)

She told stories about each of the people buried in these graveyards, some of whom she knew from when she was little, and some of whom had even fought in the Civil War!

I took lots of pictures and video, and when I got back to CA, I renewed my Ancestry.com membership and started my research back up with the new data I had gotten from the trip.

It was awesome to find the Civil War military service records of some of my ancestors, and to be able to help some of the other people who are researching the same section of the tree with the more accurate details gleaned from the trip. (Some of them had a lot of fuzziness in their data.)

Anywho...that's it for now.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On communication, the Gospel, and bibliolatry

A friend of mine sent me a link to this article, about a group of Jewish scholars who are trying to recreate the "authentic Scripture" using all the methods of textual criticism.

She asked me what I thought about it. Here is my response.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

My understanding of Mary's story...

In response to my previous post about the ever-virginity of Mary, a fellow on one of the forums I frequent asked:
I'm wondering why Mary would choose to get married if she took that vow of virginity.

Here is my response, the historical bits of which I drew from On Orthodox Veneration of Mary, by St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. I also include my own speculation about the motivations of the priests, and several other things, based on the facts of the historical bits.

-----------------------------
/begin forum post answer

This is a very good question, and one that is not answered in the Scriptures. It is, however, answered by the teaching of the Church.

Here is the answer, as best as I understand it:

According to the Tradition, Mary's parents, Joachim and Anna, were aged and barren. They asked God for a child, and an angel informed them that they would bring forth a daughter. Overjoyed, they promised to consecrate their child to God, as Samuel was consecrated by Elkanah and Hannah in ancient times, under the same circumstances.

Like Samuel, Mary was delivered to the Temple service at age three. Upon arrival, she walked straight into the Holy of Holies, taking the grace of God which rested upon her into the Temple, which until then had been without grace. (This was the newly-built Temple into which the glory of God had not descended as it had upon the Ark of the Old Covenant, and on the Temple of Solomon.)

While she was given a place in the quarters specifically set aside for the virgins such as herself, she spent so much time in prayer in the Holy of Holies that one might say she lived in it. (Note that this is totally appropriate, if she is, as I have shown above, the Ark of the New Covenant.) So that nothing might distract her from prayer and heedfulness to herself, Mary gave to God a vow of virginity, in order to please only Him her whole life long.

Now, officially consecrated Temple service such as this ended at 12, so that the young ones might take their place in society. Once she reached that age, she was no longer permitted to stay in the Temple. Normally, for a female, the priests arranged a marriage to someone with good prospects, etc., like the parents would have if she were still under their care. If the parents were still living, their wishes would be taken into consideration as well.

However, the priests knew of Mary's vow. Because of it, they understood that she could not enter into a normal marriage. They also knew that they had to marry her off so that she would be taken care of according to both law and custom.

What to do, what to do?

They would solve their dilemma by betrothing her to an elderly widower (with his permission and understanding, of course). The two would be married for society's (and the law's) sake, but remain physically separate for her vow's sake.

But whom to choose?
[Edit: here is where I begin my own speculation]
Now, the priests knew several things. First, they knew that according to the Scriptures, Messiah would come from the house of David. Second, they also knew that according to the same Scriptures, He would be born of a virgin. Third, they knew that the time for that to happen, according to the prophet Daniel, was upon them.

They also had this fellow, Simeon, who had been told that he would see the Messiah in his lifetime, which was already dragging on a bit.

Additionally, because of the promises to the fathers, geneologies were some of the most important records they kept, and they kept them quite fastidiously. (Where else did you think Matthew and Luke got their information? After all, also according to tradition, Matthew's younger brother was a priest, with full access to the archives.) So they knew that any offspring of Mary was "first in line", if you will, for the throne of David, as far as the lineage from Nathan was figured (the secondary line).

They also knew from their records that Joseph was "first in line" for the throne, as far as Solomon's line -- the main line in the first place -- was concerned. And -- oh, look! -- he happens to be an elderly widower, too!

The priests were not stupid. They had "connected the dots" already -- probably as soon as Mary walked straight into the Holy of Holies without being killed, if not before.

How much of all this the priests bothered to tell Mary is not known. I assume not much, since they she seems to be rather clueless when Gabriel makes his announcement to her.

(Joseph doesn't seem particularly surprised. In fact, he seems somewhat hesitant, which would seem to indicate that he knew and believed what was going on. He maintains this humble hesitancy up to the point where Gabriel shows up and tells him to knock it off. This only makes sense if he knew way more than we initially tend to assume, based solely on Scripture. Which would make sense -- how else would he have agreed to this whole thing, unless the priests filled him in?)

But still, Mary and Joseph's ignorance notwithstanding, something tells me the whole birth of the Messiah thing wasn't that much of a surprise to the priests. Well, to a few of them, anyway.

They had all the ingredients in place. The only thing left to do was actually betroth the second in line (Mary, a virgin to boot) to the first in line (Joseph, who also "just happened" to be an elderly widower), and voila! out pops the Messiah. And so they did. And He did.

Suddenly a lot of things make way more sense (to me, anyway). It explains why the priests later on got so upset when Jesus didn't turn out to be quite the kind of Messiah they were hoping for -- they had put a lot of time and effort into setting the whole thing up!

Additionally, the sting of Jesus' rebukes of the scribes and Pharisees seem even more justified with this view in mind. Not only could they have figured out Who He was -- they themselves had set up the circumstances for Him to come! He wasn't condemning them for lazyness -- e.g. "You guys need to get off your duff and figure this out!" No, they knew Who He was. And they still rejected Him.

This scenario also answers one of the nagging questions I had about His visit to the Temple at age 12. How is it that a 12 year old boy from a backwater town is even given an audience among the most learned doctors and scribes of the day? Because they knew even then Who He was.


------


Sorry for being so long-winded, but this reads better as a story than as a straight academic answer, IMHO. :)

/end forum post answer

On the Sacrifices...

DISCLAIMER: When I ran this by my priest/pastor/spiritual father for review, he said that nothing immediately jumped out at him as incorrect. However, he did say that it reads like it is my own speculation, made without reference to the teaching of the Church. In this, he is correct. So take it for what it's worth, which is to say -- it's my so-far-uninformed opinion on the matter. :) I do look forward to delving into the teaching of the Fathers (old and new) on the Liturgy, but I haven't done so yet.
------------------------------------------
Ok, this is going to wander a bit, but bear with me.

I find it interesting that in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, prior to the invocation of the Holy Spirit upon the gifts, the offering is referred to as "this reasonable and unbloody service"; whereas after the invocation, they are referred to as "this reasonable service."

Why the difference? Because the invocation itself calls upon the Holy Spirit to
make...that which is in this cup, the precious Blood of Thy Christ.

Prior to this, the gifts are our offering to God as a royal priesthood, and are symbolic of "ourselves and our whole lives," and all that we have received from Him in the first place. It is "Thine own of Thine own" that "we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all, and for all."

The language around this is reminiscent of St. Paul's admonition to the Romans (12:1,2), and to use, that we "present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is" our "reasonable service."

Now, according to the prayer, we
offer unto Thee gifts and spiritual sacrifices for our [the priests'] sins and for the errors of the people.

However, as these are unbloody at that point, it is evident that they do not take away these sins themselves, for
without the shedding of blood is no remission.

No, we offer these gifts unworthily, and ask that they may be changed into bloody Gifts in which there is remission, since we cannot offer anything of ourselves that would suffice.

And so the very next sentence is:
and make us worthy to find grace in thy sight, that our sacrifice may be acceptable unto thee; and that the good spirit of thy grace may dwell upon us and upon these gifts here offered, and upon all thy people...

This is fulfilled later, in the invocation and change of the gifts into Gifts by the Holy Spirit. The reason being that any offering by the priests is made acceptable only in and through and in conjunction with the offering of the High Priest. And Christ, being our High Priest, has offered Himself upon the Altar.

So when we offer our unworthy oblations (for we received from the Father even that which we offer), we ask that they be "for our sins and for the errors of the people", not in themselves, but in what they will become.

This becoming is not by our power or due to our worthiness, as though this were some magic ritual in which we punch the cosmic vending machine and out pops our treat.

No rather, they are fulfilled,
through the compassions of thine Only-Begotten Son, with Whom Thou art blessed, together with thine all-holy and good and life-giving Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

We ought not take these things for granted!
How marvelous are thy works, O Lord! In wisdom hast thou made them all.

And again,
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen!

"Therefore", as I noted above, the apostle beseeches us,
by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
And how reasonable!



Selah. [Stop and think about it.]



Ok, moving on. :)

Note that at the invocation, the request is not just that the Holy Spirit descend upon the Gifts. Rather, it is that God would
send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these Gifts here spread forth...

Then comes the request regarding the gifts specifically, that they be changed by Him into the Body and Blood of Christ.

But to what purpose?
Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast.

Id est, the Holy Spirit makes the Sacrifice present to us so that we may partake of it, and receive it
unto cleansing of soul, unto the remission of sins, unto the communion of Thy Holy Spirit, unto the fulfillment of the kingdom of Heaven, unto boldness toward Thee, and not unto judgment or condemnation.

If the Holy Spirit is present only in the Gifts, and not in us also, we do not receive the benefit, for
It is the Spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing...

The Flesh has no power of it's own, even as it had not power of it's own before it was offered (i.e. while Christ was "in the days of his flesh").

Nevertheless, we must eat the Flesh, since it is actually what was offered (cf. Heb. 10:5-10). The saving action is from the nature of God, and not inherent to the nature of the Flesh.1 However, the Power is mediated to us by means of the Flesh, for two reasons.

1) The natures are two, true, but the Person is One, and so cannot be separated or divided.

2) We also have flesh, which is to be included in our salvation, as the author says previously,
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same...

And so we must have faith, yes, but we must also eat the Body and Blood.

Since the Holy Spirit is the superintendent (and Actor) of this whole "operation of God", we ask for Him to come down upon not only the Gifts, but us also, that we may be partakers.

This is what is meant by "the communion of the Holy Spirit".


Selah.


Now, some refer to the Liturgy as the "perpetual sacrifice of Christ". Unfortunately, there is a common misunderstanding regarding this. Many propose (some antagonistically, others dogmatically) that we are "re-sacrificing Christ".

But this is an error, as I intend to show.

The epistle to the Hebrews makes this quite clear:
[Christ] needs not daily, as those high priests [under the Law], to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.

And later,
nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest enters into the holy place every year with blood of others; for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world he has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many...

And again,
...we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once. And every priest stands daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he has perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

No, we do not "re-sacrifice Christ". Rather, by the Holy Spirit, the corruptible, "unbloody" gifts that we set forth (unworthily!) are changed into the already sacrificed Body and already shed Blood of Christ, so that we may eat the sacrifice, and thereby be included in the new covenant of which it is the seal, receiving therein the remission of sins, as was promised,
...their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.

It is "perpetual" in that we perpetually receive it, perpetually partake of it, and therefore are perpetually cleansed by it.

This is contra the Protestant error which says that "the blood is applied by faith alone", and their other error of "once saved always saved." If these were not errors, then we would either not need the Eucharist at all (in direct contradiction to the command of the Lord), or need to partake only once (also in direct contradiction to the command of the Lord).

This is because the Sacrifice cleanses the sins that are past (Rom. 3:25), but not those that are not yet committed. This is indicated by the quotation of the promise of the new covenant by the author of the letter to the Hebrews (10:16, 17):
'"This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days," saith the LORD, "...their sins and iniquities will I remember no more."'

and by his conclusion based on this:
Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. ... For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins...

This is scary! It seems that if we sin willfully after our baptism and first communion, "there remains no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries."

And yet no man is without sin, and so we must "find the way through repentance", confess our sins, and partake (again) of the sacrifice, and so be cleansed (again) from all unrighteousness.

That is why the author included the word "willfully". We must take the context of the letter into account. First, he writing to Jews, who were being tempted to return to Judaism. Pursuant to this, he makes it clear (10:29, 38, 39) that he is referring to a willful rejection of the Christian Faith, not the incidental sins which we may commit "whether voluntary or involuntary, of word or of deed, in knowledge or in ignorance" due to the weakness of the flesh.

He is not referring to the sincerely repentant sinner, but to "a man that is a heretic after the first and second admonition..., knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sins, being condemned of himself", whom we are to "reject", seeing that God already has done so (Hos. 4:6).
------------------------------------------------
1See Hippolytus, "Against Beron and Helix", beginning at the part (Fragment V), which reads:
For lately a certain person, Beron, along with some others, forsook the delusion of Valentinus, only to involve themselves in deeper error, affirming that the flesh assumed to Himself by the Word became capable of working like works with the deity by virtue of its assumption, and that the deity became susceptible of suffering in the same way with the flesh by virtue of the exinanition; and thus they assert the doctrine that there was at the same time a conversion and a mixing and a fusing of the two aspects one with the other.

Which doctrine was also condemned at Chalcedon.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On the Mary's continued virginity after the birth of our Lord...

There are some (I used to be among them) who say that Mary did not remain a virgin after the birth of our Lord, but rather consummated her marriage with Joseph and had several other children by him.

The tradition of the Church is that she was raised as a virgin in the Temple, in accordance with the Law, and was betrothed to Joseph as a protector who was much older (and had several children by a previous wife who had died), and that she preserved her virginity according to her vows even after their marriage.

I converted to the Church's viewpoint on this based on the fact that I thought the Scriptures were ambiguous about it (they do have explanations for those passages that might seem to indicate that she did not remain a virgin), and it did seem to be the majority (actually, the only) viewpoint until the Reformation — there was no reason to disbelieve it. But I didn't hold it dogmatically; just as a "Ok, whatever you say, as long as it's not actually contradicted by Scripture".

However, I recently realized something that has brought me from the "Ok, whatever, Scripture is ambiguous about it" viewpoint to the "I actually believe that this is what Scripture teaches" viewpoint.

So what was this epiphany?

It's rather simple. I realized that Mary's response to Gabriel's initial announcement makes no sense unless she had in fact taken vows of virginity, and had zero plans to change that, in spite of her pending marriage.

Think about it. In the Jewish world, due to the expectation of the Messiah, the gift of having children was seen as a great blessing — you, young lady, might just be the one who bears the Christ! Young Jewish wives who didn't have children were looked down on as rejected of God or some such.

So here comes Gabriel, saying, "Rejoice, Mary, you're going to be blessed with a child, and He will be the Messiah!"

If she was planning at all on consecrating the marriage with sexual intercourse, her response would/should have been something on these lines: "Wonderful! Hallelujah! We'd better get to work straight-away after the wedding! Have you told Joseph yet that he's gonna be the father of the Messiah?"

But she didn't say that. Even nowadays, her response only makes sense in the light of a vow of chastity. How much more so then, when she was already betrothed? If she was planning on having a normal physical relationship with Joseph, then her statement "seeing that I know not a man" as the reason behind her question ("how?"), was not even true, because even if she hadn't "known a man" up to that point, she was certainly planning on it. So there would be no basis for her to ask "how", because the answer would be obvious: by the normal means.

But she wasn't planning on ever participating in the normal means. So she asks: "How, since I know not a man?" In other words, "Well, I know how that would happen normally, but my vow precludes me from that. What means, then, is left?"

Now some might object that she was merely asking how this would be, since it was to happen before she got married. But notice that Gabriel's announcement does not mention a time period. We know from the narrative that it happened before their marriage. But there is no mention of this in the announcement itself, so Mary wasn't reacting to that. Indeed, there is ample evidence in the Scriptures (with which she was quite familiar) that sometimes the promises of God for the bearing of a child would not happen for many years (10, in Sarah's case).

So it's obvious that her response was not triggered by a statement that it would happen before she was actually married to Joseph. No, she was under a vow of virginity, as the Church has always held. And she did not break that vow, even after their marriage ceremony.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Romanides on the East/West Schism...

I just read this essay by Fr. John Romanides, examining the political realities that lead to the Great Schism of 1094:

http://www.greekorthodoxchurch.org/romanorthodox.html

I find this fascinating, since it explains very well how so many doctrinal issues crop(ped) up, many of which are being battled over today on various forums.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Big Shepherd, Little Shepherd: An exploration of the pastorate, using Ps. 23(22). (Introduction)

Today over at the Stuff Fundies Like blog, Pastor Jack Trieber received quite a bit of criticism for a point he made at the end of a sermon.

I responded, in his defense, on the discussion board for that post. In the course of the discussion, it was asserted that Ps. 23 does not describe the job of a pastor.

I disagreed, and promised to produce this blog post as proof of my counter-assertion: that each promise is made into a pastoral responsibility in the New Testament.

However, I now realize that if I do this as one post, it's going to be a long one! So I'm going to break it down into it's constituent parts, as a blog series.

I'll update each post with a "Table of Contents" at the top as I go. I'll also notify the forum of each one.

May the Lord grant me wisdom and knowledge in the Holy Spirit as I study, and humility in my presentation. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"God Gave us a Book" -- um....

I came across this article today, in which the author expresses his opinion regarding Scripture.

I have to wonder, though, if this article is actually satire. It is such a fantastic example of the errors of Protestant (particularly "low-church") thought in many areas!

I will do my best not to die laughing and/or get completely pissed off while I review the problems with it.

In the first section, I do think he's dead on when he says, "Secularism is, more fundamentally, an utter denial of the sacred..." (So you see, I'm not disagreeing just to be contrary.)

In the second, (I'm still agreeing with him), his description of what the Bible is and how it came about (his understanding of inspiration) is excellent!

It's the third section that goes completely off the rails. And even it starts good. All the way through his statement, "Christianity is not merely a creed or an experience", I'm saying, "Amen!"

But his next sentence is astounding: "[Christianity] is, rather, a body of rational ideas which come from the mind of God."

*double-take* Say what?

This is the root of all of Protestant (and, to a large extent, Roman) error. Christianity certainly contains "a body of rational ideas which come from the mind of God." But it is highly inaccurate to say that Christianity IS that body of ideas.

He goes on to say that Jesus personifies the nature of God in that His life perfectly manifested that body of ideas.

Then he piles folly on folly and states, "Now that Jesus is gone, God communicates to us by means of a book." (emphasis his)

Bwahahahaha! He needs to read Matthew 18 and John 14-16.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The importance of Sanctification: an existential viewpoint

I was over at the Stuff Fundies Like Forum, looking around, and saw a question posed by the Forum's creator:

Our identities are very tied to our flaws here in this world. The "me" (or "id" if you're so inclined) that I live with is prone to all kinds of things that the Bible calls sin and yet those behaviors make up a large part of both how I see myself and how others see me.

Then in Scripture we read that we will enter a sinless state in eternity. So how much of the "me" that I know now will go away? Will I still be recognizable as the person I am today or do we all enter some state of being holy clones when stripped of our battle wounds and fatal flaws?

One answer is that we will enter a state of being the "me" that we were originally intended to be before the fall. But I guess some part of me kind of likes being the one I am now even while recognizing the fallen state with which I still struggle.


My reply was as follows:

=========================================================================

This is an excellent question, one I hadn't really thought about before. But as soon as I did, several verses popped into my head, and I've had somewhat of an epiphany. (And boy am I feeling convicted right now!)

The "me" that is "prone to all kinds of things that the Bible calls sin" is called "the old self" (ESV) or "the old man". Also, "the image of the man of dust."

I think the Bible makes it clear that 1) we do NOT know what we will be, but 2) "when He shall appear", those things that "the Bible calls sin" will be stripped away, no matter how large a part those behaviors make up of our current self-image.

Here's the epiphany: that's why sanctification is so important!

(That's also why we Orthodox don't distinguish between justification and sanctification -- or not nearly as much anyway. But I digress.)

The more like Christ, who is our life, we are, the more of "ourself" we get to keep. ("Nevertheless not I, but Christ...")

Here are the relevant Scriptures that came to mind:

That the "old man" will be stripped away:

...but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. ... Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. -- I Cor. 13:10, 12b


(I know, I know...this verse is referring specifically to certain spiritual gifts. But the general principle is applicable to the conversation here.)

As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. -- I Cor. 15:48ff


That this is a great motivation for sanctification:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. -- Col. 3:1-10


]Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure. - I John 3:2


Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
...
The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light."
-- John 12:24-36, cf. pretty much all of I John


Ok, I'm going to go repent in sackcloth and ashes now.

P.S. ephiphany #2:

In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.


I always thought Paul was being redundant here. But he's not. He's saying, "you walked in these things when they were your 'life'. Now they are not your life (or your "id" if you prefer), so why are you walking in them?! You must put them all away."

I need to go ponder that while I'm busy with the sackcloth and ashes. :)

Monday, January 10, 2011

On rocks and mustard seeds

...And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose Kingdom shall have no end. — Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed


Regarding the eschaton, that's as far as the Church takes it, officially.

However, it does have some definite teachings regarding the Kingdom and the End. Here is my understanding of her teaching.

The Kingdom is already established and active. (Or did you miss the whole "Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand" bit?)

1 Cor. 15, and Heb. 2 make it quite clear that Christ is reigning now, "for He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet."

This is the Gospel of the Kingdom: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!" (Is. 52:7)

This is why Jesus said, as the foundational reason ("Go ye therefore") for the Great Commission: "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." (Matt. 28:18)

To "preach the Gospel" doesn't mean we go get people to check a doctrinal box that says they believe in Christ (although that box will be checked somewhere along the line, as the beginning of their salvation).

No, to "preach the Gospel" means to herald to all that Christ reigns, by death having trampled down death!

Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. — Ps. 2:5-9 (MT)


This is why the Apostles (and we as their successors in the Faith [II Tim. 2:2]) were witnesses "unto the uttermost parts of the earth." (Acts 1:8, cf. Is. 52:10)

This is also why the first Gospel Sermon on the day where Acts 1:8 began to be fulfilled was from Ps. 2. :)

Now, there is an admonition that goes with the Proclamation:

Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. — Ps. 2:10-12 (MT)


So, since God the Father has set His Son on His Holy Hill of Zion, we proclaim the Kingdom, and teach all men to observe all His (our King's) commandments, lest they perish from the way.

The Jews, who knew the Psalms, understood this, which is why they were "pricked to the heart," and replied, "what shall we do?"

This is why all those who believe the Gospel are saved (I Cor. 15:1); because if you really believe that He is King over all, you will obey Him. (Luke 6:46) Or at least sorrowfully acknowledge your failure to do so, and truly repent, which counts too (I John 1:8-10). The Judgment in Matt. 25 is not a catechetical quiz. It's an examination of life-style, of obedience to the command to of our King to love our neighbor as ourselves.

I mean, how else did Paul get from "gospel = death, burial, resurrection, public witness" (I Cor. 15:1-8) to "He reigns" (v. 25)? Because it was the death, burial, and resurrection that was in mind in Ps. 2, as Peter clearly says (the "public witness" part) in Acts 2.

(In this context, Heb. 2 makes a whole lot of sense! Let the reader understand.)

That's also why Jesus quotes Isaiah 62:11 to John in Rev. 22:12 -- He is The End to whom YHWH said, "Say ye to the daughter of Zion..." So He did. :)

(That He is The End, we see in the next verse, Rev. 22:13: "I am...the end...")

Getting back to eschatology: None of this makes any sense if we are still waiting for the Kingdom. It's here already. Get used to it. :)

(NB: The reason this may not be so obvious to some is that the Kingdom is not a Kingdom of this world [John 18:36], and it's not an outward Kingdom [Luke 17:20, 21], easily seen.)

The Kingdom is already established and growing. "Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands," has already come ("which Rock was Christ").

"The stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth." That's happening now. (cf. Matt. 13:31, also cf. Matt. 21:44 with Dan. 2:35)

Anybody care to guess what another name for the Kingdom is? (Hint: see I Pet. 2:1-10, cf. Rev. 1:4-7, 5:10, cf. Eph. 1:20-23)