Monday, December 24, 2012

Call No Man 'Father'?

As you probably know by now, if you've followed this blog at all, I am a member of the Orthodox Church, after having been raised a Baptist.

One of the minor struggles for me in entering the Church was that we call our priests "Father". This seems to go against the direct command of Jesus in Matthew 23:9.

I'm posting now, because I just came across something in the Scripture the other day that clinched my viewpoint from "well, the Orthodox interpretation makes Scriptural sense, but it's not Scripturally obvious" to "Yep, that's the what the Scripture actually teaches." In other words, it solidified things so that I now see the Orthodox interpretation as actively Scriptural, instead of scripturally ambivalent.

But first, let me lay out the two interpretations, and why I'm empathetic to those who hold the standard Protestant interpretation.

The Protestant Interpretation

For Protestants, it's pretty simple: Jesus said don't do it; so don't.

The Orthodox Response

The Orthodox answer to the Protestant inquiry is: look deeper, and consider the entirety of Scripture. Quit "cherry-picking", and seek to understand what Jesus is actually saying, because it's not as simple as you're making it out to be.

I will not go into the details of our explanation here. That has been done elsewhere.[1]

In summary, the argument is that Jesus is commanding anyone called "father" here on earth to image forth in his own fatherly relationships not his own opinions and ideas and desires — that is, his own "fatherhood" — but rather the fatherhood of God the Father. His own "fatherhood" is not really fatherhood at all, but a lie, if it is not submitted to and patterned after the Father.[2]

The New Development (to me)

My point with this blog post is this: Until now, the Orthodox answer has, to me, made sense, and I call priests "father" without difficulty. However, I have understood that the argument, as presented, is not air-tight — from the hard-core sola scriptura perspective — in that it doesn't seem to really have any direct Scriptural support.

And I'll admit, in the English translations available, it doesn't. But that's the fault of the translations, and not of the Scripture, as we'll see.

The verse I "stumbled across" is not new to me. It is a quite familiar verse. Let's take a look at it in English:

Ephesians 3:14, 15 (KJV)
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named...

This verse is typically interpreted to mean that the entire family of the Church, or, by some, the human race, gets it's name from either the Father or Jesus (the English not being too clear on which is the antecedent of "whom"). This is typically extrapolated to refer to the name "Christian", or to the fact that all, both Jew and Gentile, are united in Christ to the One Father, something similar.[3]

These are, of course, all true, and definitely good exposition of the one shade of meaning in the word here translated "family". However, and here's the kicker, "family" is not the literal or primary meaning of the word, but a metaphorical interpretation that presumes and in fact relies upon the literal meaning. The word is the Greek "πατριὰ", or "patria", which literally translates to "fatherhood", being derived from the Greek word "πατέρ", or "pater", which is "Father".

Also, the word just before it, translated in the KJV as "the whole", is "πᾶσα", or "pasa", from the root "pas". It can mean "the whole", but more commonly means "all" or "every", as several of the other translations have it, and as the KJV itself has it elsewhere[4].

So, the verse, literally translated, and syntax adjusted for clarity, says that every fatherhood derives it's name — that is, "father" — from the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, let's take a look at the link between a name and using that name, that is: calling a thing or person by that name.[6] For reference, the word Jesus uses, translated "call", is "καλέσητε", or "kalesete", from the root "kaleo".

The word Paul uses for "is named" is "ὀνομάζεται"/"onomadzetai", the verb form of the noun root "onoma", meaning, simply, "name".

Thankfully, God provides us a wonderful exegetical tool in confirming that if something is named something, that is what it is called, and vice versa, in case it wasn't already obvious. For this, let's turn to Genesis 2:19, where God brings the animals to Adam

to see what he would call [καλέσει/kalesei] them: and whatsoever Adam called [ἐκάλεσεν/ekalesen] every living creature, that was the name [ὄνομα/onoma] thereof.

The next verse is even more direct:

And Adam gave names to all [πᾶσιν/pasin] cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every [πᾶσι/pasi] beast of the field.

The Greek here translated "gave name to all" is more obvious: ἐκάλεσεν Αδαμ ὀνόματα πᾶσιν. That is, "Adam called the names [of] every...". These are the exact three words used by Jesus and Paul.

So, if every fatherhood in the earth receives it name from the Father, then it follows that we call them according to their name: father.

It's obvious, when we look at the entirety of Scripture, that the basic meaning, from which all of the other metaphorical interpretations derive, is that anyone called "father" here is only worthy of the title insofar as he imitates God the Father.

Jesus is not wiping the concept of fatherhood, nor it's title, from our dictionary. Rather, He is re-connecting it to it's original prototype, it's ultimate referent. Which is exactly what we been said to start with. QED.


  1. If the link is broken, let me know, or just Google "Call no man father richard ballew"
  2. Incidentally, this is the exact explanation that some Protestant commentators give of Jesus' command not to be called "teacher", or "master" (depending on the translation), John Gill's commentary.
  3. Here is a good cross-section of these. (Scroll down to the "Parallel Commentaries" section.)
  4. The KJV has it as "every" over 200 times in 171 verses.
  5. I'm using the Greek edition of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, because we're discussing a Greek word.
  6. I'm just being thorough here. The link is "common sense". But let's be 100% and without a doubt clear that the Scripture does explicitly use things this way

Thursday, December 20, 2012

On the consumption of alcohol....Part 4: The Showstopper

So, the earlier Parts (1, 2, and 3) have covered what I was taught growing up regarding the consumption of alcohol, and a few logical fallacies involved with said teaching.

Now, dear reader, feast your eyes on the mythbuster passage, the simple command that brings the whole prohibitionist edifice floating (for cards don't "crash") down around them, leaving them to play the dreaded game, "52 card pickup".

*cue fanfare & drumroll*

Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. And thou shalt eat before the LORD thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the LORD thy God always. And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from thee, which the LORD thy God shall choose to set his name there, when the LORD thy God hath blessed thee: then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thine hand, and shalt go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose: and thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household, and the Levite that is within thy gates; thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no part nor inheritance with thee.
—Deuteronomy 14:22-27, KJV, emphasis mine

Here, we have the law of tithing, laid down by God Himself. And He commands that the children of Israel under the Law were to buy themselves and the Levites a few rounds (or shots) and have a good time before Him.

That's it! Ladies and gentlemen, if the Eternal One, Who doesn't change, sees alcoholic beverages as a good thing in certain contexts, even going so far as to mention them explicitly in a list of suggested items for consumption, and with words that cannot be construed otherwise — for He doesn't only say, "wine", which as we've seen previously could refer to non-alcoholic substances, but also "strong drink", which is unambigous — then I dare say it's OK for us.

'Nough said.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

On the consumption of alcohol....Part 3: Supportive passages

In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, I introduced the subject and gave a listing, along with rebuttals, of what I was taught in my youth from a prohibitive standpoint.

Note: I'm using the Masoretic numbering of the Psalms for this series, unless otherwise specified, since that's what the people used who were teaching me growing up.

In this post, I will cover the various Scripture passages that seem to support the acceptability of the consumption of alcohol by Christians, the arguments that were used against them, and the rebuttals of those arguments.

I will not yet, however, reveal the verse that changed it all for me, because it was not discussed at all when I was originally being taught. I'll save that for the next post.


There are several verses that seem to support the consumption of wine, but are not explicit about it, such as Ps. 104:14, 15, Judges 9:13, etc.

These were explained away as follows. The words translated "wine" in the Old (Hebrew) Testament and New (Greek) Testaments have a broad semantic range, and can refer to anything grape-related, including but definitely not limited to alcoholic wine. For example, they can refer to grapes themselves, grape juice (un-fermented), etc., in addition to alcoholic wine.

Therefore, the argument goes, since it is not necessary to read those passages as referring to alcoholic wine, we will not do so, since alcoholic wine is clearly evil — we wouldn't want the Scripture to be contradicting itself, right?!

When it is pointed out that the wine in these verses "makes glad" and "cheers" the heart, they simply deny that it is possibly talking about the effects of alcohol. They say that is referring to the fact that it tastes good, or some such.

Well, the argument is correct in it's premise (that the words can mean more than just alcohol), but are circular in their reasoning, and so non sequitur in their conclusion. i.e. "These verses don't speak of alcohol because the Scripture does not support drinking." When in fact, the verses are part of Scripture. So you're saying, "These verses don't speak of alcohol because these verses don't speak of alcohol." It's decidedly circular.

(NB: This does not automatically make their conclusion false — that would be an example of the fallacy fallacy. It just means that the argument itself is invalid for proving the conclusion; ergo, the conclusion remains unproven.

To actively falsify the conclusion, we would need to discover something in Scripture which admits no other interpretation but that God happily supports the consumption of alcohol. This we will do in the next post. But invalidating this particular argument is all this rebuttal requires.)

Special cases

While the above argument is used for the entirety of Scripture, including the passages in this section, these are specifically thorny (for them) passages, mostly because they are so strongly pro-alcohol. Therefore, they usually garner more attention, and some additional arguments for and against.

Paul's instruction to Timothy (5:23)

Historically, clean drinking water has been hard to come by. The ancients would frequently add some alcoholic wine to their water, to purify it, but not nearly enough to really taste it or to get drunk off of it. The detractors say that this is what is being commanded here: that Timothy was so zealous for the Faith, which (according to them) includes abstention from alcohol, that he was getting upset stomachs from only drinking non-purified-with-wine water, and that Paul, out of concern for his health, was telling him to tone it down a bit and watch out for his health this way.

As for a rebuttal: Well, this argument is actually fairly accurate, as far as the historical reality, and the content of the command. However, what is not accurate is the assumption that a) abstention from alcohol was Timothy's motivation (Church Tradition tells us otherwise: he was actually a frequent practitioner of water-only fasts), or b) that even if it was his motivation, it is therefore somehow a command to all Christians everywhere. So we see that this is actually just another instance of the Exemplary argument, which I covered in part 2.

Give alcohol to the sick and dying (Prov. 31:6, 7)

Here we find a command to give alcohol to the one who is sick and dying, to ease his pain. The argument given against this is that the verse is supportive only of using alcohol as a pain reliever, and that now that we have more effective pain releivers, it is not necessary. It is usually conceded at this point that alcohol is not purely evil, but this concession is swiftly footnoted along the lines that this is a special case, and not generally applicable.

In "rebuttal", I simply concede the footnote. The argument has finally moved away from "alcohol is evil" to "when is alcohol OK", and that's progress. :) (It also happens to be the exact path on which my own convictions evolved in studying this issue.)

An interesting question, though, is: What does the writer mean when she instructs to give alcohol to the one who is "of heavy heart", so he will "forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more"? Isn't this recreational, having nothing to do with pain-killing?

The typical prohibitionist response is: no, it's sarcastic. It's not supposed to be seen as a real command. To which I reply: Based on what? But I'll concede the point, for now, for the sake of argument.

The Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11)

This is the big one that everyone always fights over when this topic is discussed. I'm not really going to cover the argument against, since I did that above (it's the circular one: alcohol is wrong (or, if as above they already conceded that it can be OK sometimes: "alcohol for entertainment is wrong") therefore Jesus couldn't have made alcoholic wine to keep the party going).

I will, however, point out that the passage, particularly the comment by the governor of the feast, makes absolutely no sense if this is non-alcoholic, especially in light of Luke 5:39.


So I have shown that the arguments made against the alcohol-supportive passages are specious. In addition to the proper rebuttal above, I would like to point out that the "wine doesn't really mean wine" argument is a direct violation of the "plain meaning" principle that most of those making that argument claim to hold. (This is the hermeneutical equivalent of Occam's Razor.)

I've detailed my own progression from "alcohol is evil" to "consumption of alcohol is only acceptable in certain dire circumstances, and certainly not for entertainment or gladdening of the heart".

Stay tuned, and next week I'll (finally) reveal the "gamechanger" verse, and show how it can admit of no other interpretation than that God supports the use of alcohol for entertainment purposes.

Monday, December 3, 2012

On the consumption of alcohol....Part 2: What I was taught

I'm going to just caveat this up front, instead of interspersing constant disclaimers throughout: I do not believe what I am teaching in this post. I am doing my best to present these teachings the way I received them, not creating any straw men.

My motivation for this is intellectual honesty. In my later posts, I will be addressing the key points (and some of the minor points) in this teaching, and I don't want to waste my time or yours with irrelevant arguments. I'm not here to win a debate by rhetorical tricks.

For sake of space, this will be in outline form, with some comments here and there.

The Arguments From Scripture

First, there are the anecdotal arguments. This includes arguments derived from stories in the Bible. The point of these was always, "See! If you drink, bad things happen, and when you don't, good things happen. Alcohol is evil." Because this is the basic argument, I will only list the passages for this type, without comment on each one; as I said in Part 1, I'll address the basic argument being used here later on.

  • Noah and his vineyard. (Gen. 9:20-27)
  • Lot and his daughters. (Gen. 19:30-38)
  • Amnon (2 Sam. 13:28, 29)
  • Job's sons and daughters. (Job 1:13, 18, 19)

This rebuttal is easy: Yes, alcohol, when overconsumed, can have bad effects. It can be turned to evil. But potential evil usage is no reason to forbid all usage. If it were, you would have to assume that all material objects are forbidden. Your feet can carry you into nefarious situations; should you therefore never walk again? Jesus said, "If your eye offends you, cut it out", right? Well yes. But He did not say, "If your eye has the potential to offend you, cut it out." Else we would all be blind.

Next, there are the exemplary arguments. This goes along the lines of, "See! People that were really close to God didn't drink. You shouldn't either, if you want to be close to God. Alcohol is evil."

  • Daniel and company (Dan. 1:5-21)
  • Nazarites (Num. 6:3)
  • Priests & Levites (Lev. 10:9
  • Kings (Prov. 31:4, 5)
  • John the Baptist (Luke 1:15)
  • Jesus on the Cross (Mark 15:23)

Another class of the exemplary arguments is a bit more stretched (if such a thing were possible). This is, for example, as in Ps. 75:8. The verse makes a metaphor of God's wrath as wine mixed with other things, and the forced drinking of that mixture is a punishment. It is assumed that because alcohol can be used as a punishment, it is therefore understood to be a bad thing.

In rebuttal to both types of exemplary argument, this is simply an error of composition/division, or perhaps of exaggeration. The fact that abstention is a tool that can be used (like fasting or other ascetic works) is no reason to command it of everybody. In fact, the fact that the Nazarites were a special class would tend to indicate the opposite: that such a tool is to be used carefully, and only by those who are called to use it.

Lastly, there are the arguments from commandment, and these all center around passages where the text seems to directly command abstention from alcohol. Since rebuttal of these is a matter of case-by-case hermeneutics, rather than listing them, I will address them in order.

Prov. 20:1

This is typically interpreted to mean that if you drink, you are deceived by wine/strong drink, and are therefore not wise. So if you want to be wise, don't drink.

But this is not the only interpretation that the passage admits. It could also be (and I think it is) referring to the alcoholic: the one who thinks that there is no danger, and no limit — that he's really not under the power of the drink. This, I believe, only applies to someone who has a problem with it, and is "in denial". It is not talking about the general consumption of alcohol in general.

Right now, this far along in the series, this is purely a matter of opinion. However, we will see later that it cannot be construed as referring to the casual consumer, else God would be at variance with Himself.

Prov. 21:17

This is applied as follows: "You want to be rich, right? Wine will make you poor. Look at the drunk beggar; do you want to be like him? Then abstain from this evil!"

However, the absurdity of this extremist interpretation is manifest: would you also forbid oil? Clearly you're reading the passage wrong. The beginning of the verse sets the stage: it's talking about "he that loveth pleasure". That is what makes a man poor, and prevents him from being rich: he spends too much on nice things!

Wine and oil are nice things, pleasures. But they are also expensive. Throughout the Bible this pair indicate riches and wealth. The poverty referred to here has little if anything to do with the deleterious effects of overconsumption/addiction.

Prov. 23:29-35

Here is the capstone of the Old Testament verses, the most direct. It is, however, merely another "exemplary" argument. See above for it's general refutation. But on this specific passage, let's simply say: it's warning against the evils of alcoholism, certainly. But not alcohol qua alcohol.

That this is true, note two characteristics: first, he describes a state of "blackout" drunkenness. No one is arguing that this is OK. It's not. But for the vast majority of humanity, one drink does not equal blackout. There are varying degrees, and there is room for moderation.

Secondly, he describes this particular case as saying, "When shall I awake? I will seek it yet again." In other words, he's talking about an alcoholic, not a regular person enjoying a drink here or there.

To them — that is, to alcoholics — as any AA meeting will tell you: Yes, the advice here is good advice. Complete abstention is the path for you. Don't even look at the stuff.

But again, this only applies to alcoholics. It is not generally applicable. It can't be, or God would be at variance with Himself, as we will see.

Is. 5:11

Even if this were talking primarily about literal wine and strong drink (hint: it's not), it would still fall to the same rebuttal as Prov. 23:2-35 — it's talking about alcoholics.

Is. 5:22, 23; 28:7

These are not talking about literal wine/strong drink. The end of each passage makes it plain that this is a metaphor for erring vision and bad judgment, which are well-known side effects of overconsumption. Once again, any consumption does not automatically equal overconsumption.

Rom. 14:21

Here Paul says that abstention for the sake of a brother's salvation is good. This does not apply as a blanket command, though, obviously, and I would venture that it only applies in the brother's presence, even, although some may disagree.

Eph. 5:18

Here Paul commands directly: "Be not drunk with wine". And his reason is, "wherein is excess". Ok, fine: getting drunk leads to doing excessive things, probably sins, and that's not good. Better to be filled with the Spirit. I get that. But notice he does not say, "Don't drink wine." There is a difference between drinking and getting drunk.

But Steve! Where's the limit? Glad you asked. Here's where your discernment comes in. Get to know your body, and how much is enough. If you're not sure, ask your church, family, or (real) friends to help you figure it out. But let your moderation be known to all men.

1 Tim. 3:3, 8; Tit. 1:7; 2:3

Applicable only to clergy, and only to keep alcoholics from obtaining those positions; not even a prohibition against clerical consumption, let alone anything more.

1 Pet. 4:3

Once again, condemns alcoholism, not alcohol. Note the word "excess".


So here I have listed the common Scriptural arguments given against the consumption of alcohol, and my rebuttals to those arguments.

In the next Part, we will look at some of the positive uses/examples of alcohol in the Scripture, the arguments against them from the abstention crowd, and the rebuttals to those arguments.

And we won't have even gotten to the "showstopper" verse yet. :)

Monday, November 26, 2012

On the consumption of alcohol....Part 1: Overview

This is not a confession (because, as we'll see, I don't consider drinking to be an absolute sin); rather, it is a statement of position — i.e. where I'm "coming from" currently. It is not a statement of how I got here, or why I'm staying here. That follows below.


I drink. Not very much (I don't like the weight gain and brain damage it does if consumed in quantity for a long time), and usually not in large amounts at a time, either (I also don't like the feeling of being drunk; buzzed is great — drunk, not so much). But socially, sure, and also every once in a while at home when experimenting with different mixes, cooking, etc.

However, I was raised in a community and household that taught that consumption of alcohol was evil. There was some him-hawing over whether Nyquil counted or not, but the general idea was that consumption of alcohol for recreational purposes is absolutely verboten for all people at all times.

This stance was supported by Scriptures such as Proverbs 20:1, and others, taken in a woodenly literal, "exact words" sense, combined with certain assumptions about those verses.

Passages that seemed to support the recreational (John 2:1-11) or medicinal (I Tim. 5:23) use of alcohol were explained away using various historical/cultural and linguistic gymnastics.

How then, did I come to be a joyous consumer of the stuff? And what limits have I placed on this consumption, and why? How might this be applicable to your own practice?

Well, as I began to study the issue for myself, I found that a) the explanations provided for the "supportive" passages, and b) the assumptions made about the "prohibitive" passages were both somewhat suspect, in different ways.

Then, one day during my personal Bible reading, not related to studying, I discovered a key verse that had never been addressed, either positively or negatively, in all of the various discussions, sermons, etc. which I had come across on the topic. As far as I can tell, this verse admits of no other hermeneutic but that completely destroys the false assumptions mentioned above.

In fact, it admits only a hermeneutical hypothesis that allows us to make complete sense of both the prohibitive and supportive passages, understanding them as a coherent whole, rather than holding them in opposition.

All of this study was done under the personal ethic, "I don't drink". However, as I began to progress in this journey, my reasons for not drinking shifted from "It's not right" to "I'm not comfortable with it". By the time I finally started, I was obviously firmly in the "I'm OK with it, within reason" camp, and have been ever since.

The key point here is that I reached that camp based on my study, not the other way around. (i.e. I wasn't influenced to change my hermeneutic in order to justify my behavior; rather, I changed my behavior based on careful analysis an updating of my hermeneutic.)


In Part 2, I will present the "prohibitive" passages, along with the teachings that I was originally taught about them.

In Part 3, I will present the "supportive" passages, along with the teachings that I was originally taught about them. (e.g. How they were dismissed.)

In Parts following those, I'm not sure what order I'll do things in yet. (I'll update this post when I do it.) But I'll be covering:

  • a point-by-point deconstruction of the tactical errors of the teaching from my childhood (EDIT: This has been included in the second and third Parts),
  • the neglected verse I mentioned above, and how it affected everything, and
  • how it reordered everything (this will include an re-exposition of the prohibitive and supportive passages from this new perspective)

I may even include some meditations on the strategic errors of my childhood indoctrination, and possibly some anecdotes regarding the specific events in which I put these new discoveries to practice; I haven't decided on this part yet.

I'm also not sure as to the release schedule of these posts. I'm hoping for one a week, although it may wind up being once a month. If you feel it's been too long, and you're just on the edge of your seat waiting for the next one...let me know, and I'll try to prioritize a little better. :)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

On Strangers, Love, and Sin

Got some thoughts swirling about how everyone (even those we think we know) is really, when we get right down to it, an utter stranger; but how the miracle of love, which starts with God's love toward us, and rushes out (if we allow it) into all of our other connections, no matter how insignificant, destroys our illusions, and brings us to know and be known in truth, so that we are at once strangers and yet miraculously other-self-beloved (I don't have a word to express what I'm trying to get at here -- so frustrating).

And how this is dynamic, not static, so that it is a constant movement, a dance, a constant refreshing. As C. S. Lewis put it: "Farther up and farther in!"

Then I'm reminded of how I constantly fail to allow this love to flow. Instead, I act like I "know" someone, and treat them according to that illusion, or according to how -I- want them to be, for my own selfish desires, and not according to truth.

In that sense, I am what's wrong with this world.

What am I to do? Despair would say: if you are the problem, then leave!

But that's the worst possible answer! It's so bad, it's not even an answer at all. Leaving aside the stark reality that I can't leave the world — even suicide (which I'm NOT contemplating, by the way, so please don't call me about it...) would not take me out of existence, because I am not my own.

It would simply put me directly in the presence of the One Who sustains my existence. Remember: I am loved, therefore I am. There is NO WAY to sever that, and thus no way to leave the world, even if I wanted to, which I don't.

And there are lesser forms of suicide, which don't involve physical death. None of those would suffice to "fix the problem", either, and for exactly the same reason.

No, the wonderful truth is: I am the only one who can be me, loved of God in exactly the way I am, and returning that love — both upward (back to Him), and outward (loving others) — exactly the way He has called me to. (However much I fail at this return...failure is no reason to quit trying. :) )

So what's the answer? Romans 7-8, that's what. My problem is the same as Paul's:

For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

I suppose if the problem is the same, the answer must be, too:

I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; although with the flesh the law of sin.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me a sinner, and save me!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

On love...

I wrote this for a friend:

"I love you." More powerful expression never made.
The Song of Creation, these words cause the entire universe
to harken, to rejoice, to peer with trembling
at the union of lover and beloved.

Come, all you nations!
Come you earth!
Come you heavens, and that abyss that is above the heavens!
Mountains, hills, valleys,
Fruited plains and deserts,
well-springs and forests
Sea, air, and all the things therein
Cattle, birds, fish, and creeping things!

Come, all of creation, both visible and invisible!
Hear my voice, my cry.
Witness the mystery, and be amazed!

"I love you." Spoken, sometimes, in words, more often in deeds —
a look, a touch, a gift unexpected —
but always healing, always bringing life.

What then is this pain I feel? This loneliness? Where is my beloved?
To whom shall I flee when my soul sorrows,
longing to be granted entrance
to this garden of delights?
Or, having once tasted its sweet fruit, to return?

Nevertheless, I shall not fear.
Fear flees where love is. Death itself is slain by love!
I will never cease loving, and never fear! For Love conquers all.

Love loves me,
comforts me,
indeed, created and recreates me,
that I may love, for I am loved!

And so I shall. My neighbor and my enemy,
stranger, acquaintance, and friend —
My love shall embrace all!

I will acquaint myself with Love,
I will acquit myself by Love,
I will suffer all things for Love,
For all things pass away, but Love remains.

God grant me the grace to live this.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Poem by a friend...

My friend Jake Haskins posted this poem, and it touched me enough I asked him if I could repost it, and he agreed. :)

Why, oh heart, do you love so easily?
Do you not know the rocky precipice
Upon which you tread?

Your hopes have been dashed,
And tears shed,
But still you love.

You run heedlessly into the fire,
Though you've been burned,
But still you love.

You break again and again,
But still you love.

Why, oh why, oh heaven above,
Must I traverse this rocky shoal?

You take wing and are smashed below,
But still you love.

God's grace will find you
And make you whole,
Nourishing your soul --
This is why we love.

We see His proofs of love all 'round,
His blood on the ground,
And we can love.
Hope eternal and the Love which confounds,
Dispensation so profound!
God lowers himself to the ground
That we may love.

The freeing gift lifted high --
Draw nigh! Draw nigh!
Hope eternal,
Earth raised to heaven.
This is our hope;
This is our Love.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Life Update...Part 2

After Pittsburgh, I flew to Baltimore, where my dad picked me up, and from whence we drove home to Frederick.

The next morning, we hit the road semi-early in Dad's Pinto, and went to visit my dad's brother and sister and aunt in West Virginia.  This is an approximately 4.5 hr. drive through the beautiful mountains of Appalachia.  I was raised, for part of my childhood (ages 3-8) in these mountains, and for the rest of it in their foothills.

Once we got to WV, we stayed the rest of the day and the first night with my aunt Sharon and her husband Jack.  They are wonderful people, and we had a wonderful, relaxing time!

They own several acres on top of a mountain near Rainelle, WV.  This includes two houses, a barn/shed area, a garage, a garden, and lots of grass.  We stayed in the guest house, which is the "old house", having been built in the early 1900's.

The next morning, we left to go to my uncle Tom's place, which is about 30 minutes from Sharon and Jack's.  What that means, in WV distances, is about 10 or 15 miles as the crow flies.  He lives on about three acres pretty far back in the sticks.  He loves it, and frankly, I'm not so sure I wouldn't either. :)

He fed us some venison from a deer that he had shot (there's always plenty of meat, for those who are willing to shoot it), which was absolutely delicious.  We stayed there with him and his girlfriend all that day, and that night as well.

Late in the day, we went about 20 minutes (actually 2 miles as the crow flies) up a nearby mountain to see the wind farm at the top of it.  We got very lucky, in that for whatever reason, while we were up there, they went through the shut-down process.

Tom thinks it's because of some EPA regulation about bats (we were up there just before sunset), but I think it may have been because of the approaching storm.  Or maybe both?  Either way, it was neat to see (and hear) them shut them down.

Apparently, they don't lock them, they just adjust the angle of the blades to not catch the wind, and they put some limited braking on them.  Also, they constantly turn the angle of the whole assembly to not catch the wind as well.

As we came back down off the mountain, it started raining in fits and spurts.  We got back to Tom's trailer, and put on some Two and A Half Men and some Family Guy in the background, while we all got pretty sauced on some whiskey and beer and just shot the breeze for a while.

Then we went to bed (I went first...I have no idea when the rest of them did), and when we got up in the morning, Dad and I had some breakfast, then said our goodbyes.

We left from there and went to Aunt Norma's.  (She's my great-aunt.)  She's always a blast to be around, and we stayed and chatted with her for an hour or two, while I had some shots of moonshine.  (1/2 a shot straight, followed by 3 shots mixed with some soda, all in the course of about 15 minutes.)

I didn't get drunk (I could still think, walk, and talk just fine), but I did get powerfully tired.  Once we left Norma's to go back to Frederick, I slept for probably an hour in the car, in spite of the fact that it's not really a good car for sleeping in!

After that, I had to pee mightily, and so since there were no towns anywhere near, we stopped and I went on the side of the road, like a real man.  :P

The rest of the trip back to the MD was pretty uneventful.  We took the back roads instead of the freeway, so that added about an hour to the trip.

On the way back, we stopped at a Hardee's somewhere in VA.  I looked around me and declared: This is Carl's Jr.!   See, I had thought that Hardee's went out of business (I remember when I was young we went there all the time), or that at the very least there were none on the West Coast.  But as soon as I saw their milkshake offerings, and the six-dollar burger, I put 2 and 2 together.  Turns out we do have Hardee's, and they are still going strong -- they're just named Carl's Jr. out here.  So I never really did stop eating at Hardee's....Go figure! :)

Anyway, we got back to Frederick, and Dad and I went over to a place on 40 and played some pool.  He beat me 4-1.  This was totally expected, as he's always been pretty good, and he plays all the time, whereas I've played (other than that night) maybe 4 or 5 times in as many years.  I was happy to beat him that one.

And no, he didn't throw that game.  I was just on a roll for some reason.  He was rather incredulous, and thought I had been sharking him; but nope: I was just in a really good groove. :)

So that night I stayed at his house in Frederick, and he took me back to the BWI airport the next morning, from whence I departed and returned to San Francisco.  At SFO, I got on the BART system, and made my way to Concord, where Dave Henderson picked me up and drove me the mile back to his place where my car was parked.  Thanks, Dave, for letting me store my car there, instead of having to pay daily parking fees! :)

And that's the story of my trip.  A couple of weeks later, my car got hit, but it all turned out OK.  I'll tell you about that in Part 3.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Life Update...Part 1's been quite some since I posted anything, let alone a life update. As I mentioned in my last post, I went on vacation recently. The first half I took for the first year residency at Antiochian Village for the Antiochian House of Studies' St. Stephen's Course. (Note: The Course is really great, but I am taking a year off of it for personal reasons, and will re-evaluate next summer whether I want to continue it or not. This is not the fault of the Course, but is simply due to the circumstances of my life at the moment.) The flight -- on Southwest, of course :) -- across the country was beautiful, if predictably and happily boring. It was interesting to see the clouds hugging the ground, and the sharp division between the Bay Area, which was covered, and the central valley, which was decidedly not.

Once I got to Pittsburgh, PA, there was a bit of a wait while the rest of the people who were taking the shuttle from the airport to the Village. Then we took a two hour drive, with one stop for snacks, to the Village. Once we got there, we registered, and they also served pizza. It was pretty good pizza; nevertheless, it was still the worst food we had all week. (In other words, it was good, but it only got even better from there. :) ) For example, here's a picture of lunch the next day:

Apparently, the gazebo in the backyard is somewhat of a landmark there....I had a friend of mine from St. Timothy's ask me to take a picture of it. So here you go, Jon (taken through the screen of my hotel-like, well-appointed room):

Anyhow, in the mornings we had an abridged version of Orthros.  The iconography in the chapel is all hand-done (probably by the iconography students, if I had to guess, although I never confirmed that), and is rather unique.  The figures are all strictly canonical, in the Greek style.  But the backgrounds and decorative work are airbrushed gradients and other items.  They are incredibly beautiful, if not entirely mainstream.

After Orthros, we had breakfast every day, then class.  All the main track classes were held in the same room,

after which lunch, more classes, dinner, more classes (except Wed., when there was a social, involving cheese, veggie platters, chips, and beer, wine, and harder liquors, including rum, whiskey, vodka, and gin), then bed.

There was no curfew per se, but rest assured that we weren't all up partying all night.  With a schedule like that, and myself being among the youngest in attendance (26 yrs. old [at the time]), we were all more than willing to hit the sack after that last class, around 11 p.m.

Come Friday morning, we had Liturgy for the Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist.  Then off to the airport.

I left Pittsburgh and went to Baltimore.  What I did after that, I'll relay in Part 2.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Better than expected...

Well that turned out better than expected!

Not the PayPal button...that got me nothing(Edit 10/6/2012: there was one generous fellow who was able to contribute; may he be blessed).  No, I'm talking about the whole car thing.

I'm not going to say much here yet, because I'm working on a "major life update" series of posts, which will include the car drama.  But suffice it to say that I'm no longer hurting for cash.

Of course, if you want to give me money, I'll still take it -- haha -- but no rush now.

Look for the first post of the life update series this weekend.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

New Button

EDIT; UPDATE (10/06/2012): As per my latest post, I am no longer in need.  God has provided.  Many thanks to the one who did contribute -- and out of your own lack to boot, like the churches of Macedonia; may God bless you out of Zion, and remember you in His Kingdom always.

You may notice the new PayPal Donate button on the right column.

Basically, due to some rather unusual circumstances, I'm a bit strapped financially right now.  If you want to give me money, you can use the button at right! :)

This will be used to keep me afloat for the next two weeks until I get my regular paycheck.

I find myself in an unusual situation at this time, and just need a few dollars to get me through the next two weeks.

I am usually good with my money, and I work a full-time job making a decent wage.  Recently, I saved up to go on a vacation (half of which was not really a vacation, but attendance at a theological school residency).

Everything would have been fine, except that when I got back, my (parked) car got hit.

The other party is refusing to pay for it, in spite of the fact that both insurance companies and the police said that it was the other party's fault (they were drunk, and I wasn't even IN my car -- it was parked).

So now I have to use my own insurance to pay for it, and wait for them to go after the other insurance for the deductible, which I have to pay up front.

Normally, even this would not be a problem.

However, having it happen immediately after coming off of a two-week unpaid vacation -- well, I now, after paying rent and my bills, have $93.30 to my name, to get me through the next two weeks until I get paid again.

If it were just me needing food, that would not be a problem.  I've had to tighten my belt before, and have no problem doing so now.

However, because the other party is refusing to pay, I'm having to pay for a rental car in the meanwhile, which is $20/day.

Obviously, I don't have money for both the car and food and any other expenses that might come up in the interim.

So I'm here, begging for a few hundred dollars total to get me through to the next paycheck.  I make enough that I most likely won't need anything after that.  (I hope not, anyway!)

I'm going to do whatever odd jobs I can find in the mean while to try to earn some immediate cash.  But anything helps!

Can you spare a few dollars?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On the use of instruments in early Judaic worship

I recently read this fairly good article, regarding Orthodox Music.

However, in defending the exclusive vocality of Orthodox Sacred Music, it makes a statement (fourth footnote) that I see fairly consistently whenever such a discussion comes up.  It states,
Conversely, the Psalms that mention mankind (and not the angels) praising God with musical instruments are generally understood by the Church Fathers as possessing a spiritual rather than a literal meaning. It is well known among Judaic scholars that the use of musical instruments was proscribed from ancient Temple worship just as it is still forbidden in the Orthodox Church today.
Additionally, the top commenter adds:
I especially am grateful for the paragraph regarding the Psalm mentioning use of instruments “Praise him with timbrel and harp,etc” as not being literal.
This is an attitude that is pervasive these days in Orthodox musical circles: that the use of instruments was forbidden in Judaic worship, and that the Psalms referring to instruments are "not literal", that they "possess a spiritual rather than a literal meaning".

The top commenter continues:
 I’ll get challenged with that by Protestants and Romans alike, and tell them that in pre-diaspora Judaism the only thing they used was the shofar to signal the start of Sabbath. No instruments!
The problem is: this is simply not the case.  The Scriptures record, as a historical matter, the explicit use of instruments in the worship of God, under David.  The Chronicles record[1] that:

[David] appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the LORD, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel.  Asaph was the chief, and second to him were Zechariah, Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom, and Jeiel, who were to play harps and lyres; Asaph was to sound the cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God.
With them were Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen and expressly named to give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever.  Heman and Jeduthun had trumpets and cymbals for the music and instruments for sacred song.

And that these were officially set over "the service of song", and not just common people who in their enthusiasm busted out their instruments to play along, is further evidenced by earlier in the same book[2]:

These are the men whom David put in charge of the service of song in the house of the LORD after the ark rested there.  They ministered with song before the tabernacle of the tent of meeting until Solomon built the house of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they performed their service according to their order.  These are the men who served and their sons. Of the sons of the Kohathites: Heman the singer the son of Joel...and his brother Asaph, who stood on his right hand, namely, Asaph the son of Berechiah....  On the left hand were their brothers, the sons of Merari: Ethan the son of Kishi....

And again, afterwards[3]:
David and the chiefs of the service also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals.
They were all under the direction of their father in the music in the house of the LORD with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the order of the king.  The number of them along with their brothers, who were trained in singing to the LORD, all who were skillful, was 288.
Again, 2 Sam. 6:5, cf. I Chr. 13:8, shows that instruments were a key part of Israelite worship.

And lest you say, "Well, that was only prior to Temple worship", no, I Kings 10:12 shows that king Solomon provided instruments for use in the Temple as well.  It reads:
And the king made of the almug wood supports for the house of the LORD and for the king's house, also lyres and harps for the singers.
And this cannot be a mystical meaning referring to their voices, because he made the instruments.  In fact, he gave those instruments over to the very same people his father had appointed[4]:
Thus all the work that Solomon made for the house of the LORD was finished: and Solomon brought in all the things that David his father had dedicated; and the silver, and the gold, and all the instruments, put he among the treasures of the house of God.
(...and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with 120 priests who were trumpeters; and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever," the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God.
Nor was all of this merely David's idea.  2 Chr. 29:25 and 26 says that it was the LORD's command by his prophets:

And he stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, harps, and lyres, according to the commandment of David and of Gad the king's seer and of Nathan the prophet, for the commandment was from the LORD through his prophets.  The Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets.

This is also evidenced by the fact that the practice was renewed in second temple worship.  The book of  Nehemiah records that -- see chapter 12.

I have no problem admitting that the angelic song is vocal.  However, please don't try to tell me that the Judaic Temple worship was without instruments, and that the Psalms are referring to some mystical meaning and NOT (as opposed to in addition to) literal instruments.  Because that's just plain false.

If I were to speculate on the reason this (false) dichotomy between the spiritual and literal meanings of the references to instruments is so popular, I suspect it is due to several factors, including these two:
  1. The desire to repudiate Protestant and post-Vatican II Roman Catholic worship forms, and
  2. A lack of knowledge of the Scriptural statements about the matter (hopefully this post will fix that)
As for #1, I think that holding a polemic stance towards those worship forms is not necessarily healthy, and speaks more to our own insecurities as either former Protestants and Vatican II Roman Catholics, or as living in a "gestalt" that is currently dealing with an influx of these.

We don't need to make up arguments based on false premises in order to "repudiate" those forms.  Rather, the best way, IMHO, to do this is to do worship the Orthodox way, and make no apologies (or polemics) for it.  When the people who worship with instruments are ready, they will understand; but they won't before that.  I should know: I was one.


[1] I Chr. 16:5, 6, 42
[2] I Chr. 6:31-33, 39, 44
[3] I Chr. 25:1, 6, 7
[4] 2 Chr. 5:1, 12-14, emphasis mine
[5] Neh. 12:27

Thursday, August 9, 2012

On the refutation of arguments...

I am still very busy, as I said in my last post.  However, I would like to take a moment to point out something  that has been bugging me for quite some time, which has application to discussions everywhere.

One of the most popular logical fallacies these days (in my experience, anyway) is a particular rhetorical tool known as "denying the antecedent."  Wikipedia describes this as:
[T]he consequent in an indicative conditional is claimed to be false because the antecedent is false; if A, then B; not A, therefore not B.
Let me give an example.  Say you and I are having a debate, and you build your conclusion on the existence of purple polka-dotted people-eaters.  In this case, I have one of several options: I can

1) Ignore your argument entirely, and attack your conclusion from a completely different angle, and show why such a conclusion is impossible, or

2) Accept the logical deduction of your conclusion from the existence of purple polka-dotted people-eaters, but attack the existence of such creatures, or

3) Attack the logical steps by which you get from PPDPE's to your conclusion.

Responses 2 and 3 are wonderful rhetorical tools.  They win debates.  Why?  Because people then assume that the conclusion is therefore false, committing the fallacy mentioned above.

However, the only way that that could be the case is if it can be shown that the argument is "if and only if A, then B".  In other words, that "not A, then necessarily not B" is actually the case.  However, in most debates that is extremely hard to prove.

This fallacy has many and subtle forms to it.  Frequently, "armchair atheists" will be very guilty of this.  They may say, "Prove God's existence to me."  Then, they shoot down each argument that they receive.  They then assume that God does not exist.  They think, because no one can prove it to my satisfaction, then it must not Be.

Also, Christians can be guilty of this as well, with their own argumentation from Scripture.  For example, the article that prompted this post contains a quote from Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson (an openly practicing homosexual):
We have allowed the Bible to be taken hostage, and it is being wielded by folks who would use it to hit us over the head,” he said. “The sin of Sodom had nothing to do with homosexual sex but was a failure to care for the poor, the widows and the orphans. Scripture is not as plainspoken as some would have us believe.
Ok, let's assume that that is in fact the case.  Let's grant the point.  He has pointed out that "A" -- the argument against homosexuality from the "sin of Sodom" -- is invalid.  Let's grant the point, for the sake of argument.  He has encountered the argument "If A, then B" -- where "B" is the Christian assertion that homosexuality is a sin.  To which he has replied "not A".  But his conclusion ("therefore, not B") is the fallacy we've been discussing.

The very best his "not A" assertion can do is to reset the discussion back to the raw assertions -- "B" for Christianity, and "not B" for him.   In order for his argument of "not A, therefore not B" to be valid, he would have to show that "B iff A" (that is, "B if and only if A").  This he has not done.
(NB: Lest I fall into the same fallacy -- I should mention that proving his argument false does not make his assertion of "not B" necessarily incorrect.  It just means that his assertion is in no way proven or not proven.  I disagree with his conclusion that homosexuality is not a sin.  But it is on other bases that I do not agree, not based on the sin of Sodom.)

Thursday, July 26, 2012


I have been somewhat neglectful of this blog recently.  I beg your forgiveness (those two or three who actually care, anyway).  :)

I do not know when my next post will be, nor it's subject.  I do not expect one in the next month or so, though, since I am very busy at the moment.

I suspect that once I've finished this Unit of the St. Stephen's Course, and have returned from Antiochian Village (and the few days' vacation I've planned afterward), I will likely have something (or -things) to post.

Let me know if you'd like to get my thoughts on any particular matter, and I will consider it! :)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

On the right use of money...

I love it when someone else writes up something on a particular topic, and does it so well that I don't really have anything to add, except: 'Yup, pretty much.'

Today's blog entry by a fellow Orthodox Christian is one such instance.  Go read it!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My new gun...

So I bought a(nother) rifle.  My first rifle is a .22, so not sure if it really qualifies...haha.

Anyway, this new one is a Ruger Gunsite Scout, (caliber .308).

I took it out to the range last Friday, and put 30 rounds through it: Ten 140 grain rounds, ten 150 grain, and ten 180 grain.

I was using the unadjusted (i.e. as-is-out-of-the-box) iron sights at 100 yards.  The results weren't too bad!

Note: this is the last 10 (the 180 grains).

As you can see, the unadjusted iron sights shoot a little high and a little left, on average.  (This is even more obvious from the other 20 shots, but I don't have that photo right now.)

So...while I'm saving up to get a nice scope with mil-dots and all, I went to Wal-Mart and got a cheapo (but functional) $60 scope.  Also, I added a basic sling.  (That was on my .22, but figured it'd probably be more useful on this .308. I'm gonna get another sling for the .22 -- they are pretty cheap.)

As you can see in the photo, I had to remove the picatinny rail to get it to fit the gun, but it's cool.  I can put it back on if whatever nice scope I wind up getting is small enough on the front end, or if I decide to put some kind of long eye relief or red dot/holographic sight or whatever on it instead.

So...I'm planning on taking it back out to the range this Saturday.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Obesity...a partial solution

Michelle Obama is spearheading a war on obesity.

I think obesity has indeed become a problem.  I do not, however, agree with Mrs. Obama that the answer is to  mandate, from the Federal or State level, what we can and can't eat.  That's just more government, more tyranny, more bureaucracy, which means more cost.  It's ultimately not sustainable anyway, and will cause more harm than good.

The actual problem runs deep: consumerism, which manifests as gluttony.  We cannot fix that with any government incentive.

However, there is another thing that is exacerbating the problem immensely, and we can fix that legislatively, since it is caused by legislation.  That "thing" is the vast array of obesity-helping products that we consume in rather vast quantities, including (but not limited to) high-fructose corn syrup.

Scientists and doctors agree that over-consumption of high-fructose corn syrup is one of the leading causes of obesity.  But why is it so plenteous and cheap?  Shouldn't this be a self-fixing problem?  Given the vast level of consumption, shouldn't the price for this substance have gone through the roof?

Well, yes, it should have.  But it hasn't, because the ingredients to make it are subsidized by the government, keeping prices artificially low.  If the government didn't subsidize it, it's price would go through the roof, and consumption would decrease, and obesity with it.

So...Mrs. Obama, the solution is not to go all nanny-state on us.  The solution is, on the legislative side anyway, to stop subsidizing corn.  Pretty simple.  Reduce obesity and save a ton of money doing so.

"But Steve!  Corn is a food staple of the world!  We can't stop subsidizing it, or we'll all starve!"  No, Chicken Little, the sky is not falling.  We won't starve.  Why we won't is a whole 'nother post, though.

Edit: This post inspired by this one.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I would like to clarify some things about my support for Ron Paul specifically, and the R3VOLUTION in general.
I am getting some very disturbing vibes out of the Campaign the last couple of days.  This has prompted some introspection on my part.  So here goes.

Ron Paul is both a man and a movement.  But as a movement, the label "Ron Paul" is just that: a label, nothing more.  He happens to be the one leading the charge at the moment.

We've known from the beginning that the man is not the movement.  He started it, yes (or rather, preserved it through the Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush II years).  But the movement is a fundamentally deeper, vaster, and more powerful thing than even he understands, I think.

I say this because, although he himself has said many times, "You can't stop an idea who's time has come," his campaign released a statement to the effect of "Ok, now everybody play nice" today.

This was, undoubtedly, in response to two very messy state conventions (OK and AZ) over the weekend, and rumors of "hostile takovers" planned for several others, including Idaho.  The Ron Paul supporters at these conventions were, shall we say, zealous. The Campaign seems to think that they were over-zealous.
However, if the Campaign thinks they can put a lid on this, then I don't think the Campaign understands the very movement they've started.

Ron Paul is, I still believe, the best man for the Presidency. But this movement isn't about Ron Paul, ultimately.  It's about a return to sanity, a return to freedom, a throwing off of the corporate and globalist shackles that have been so carefully and fully laid on us over the last couple hundred years.  It's about retrieving the original vision of the founding fathers of America.  It's about once again raising the lamp of liberty beside the open door.

Ron Paul chose to do this by taking over the Republican Party.  To his credit, the Campaign has made it quite clear that this is still their goal.  And frankly, they are right: the Presidency would be really nice, but the House and the Senate would be better.  (Both the Presidency and Congress would be wonderful!)

Those who support Ron Paul do so because we genuinely care about this country.  We want to see him, or someone like him, as President.  We willing to go to extreme lengths to make this happen, whether he himself wants us to go to those lengths or not. If he doesn't want to be President, then by all means, let's get somebody else to carry the torch. It's not about the man.

Frankly, while I understand and even admire his call for civility, I disagree with it -- and for the same reasons!

Here's why I disagree: we've tried being civil, and the response has been nothing but insult and injury.  THEY have turned this into war, not us.  And in wars that are fought to win, there is no civility.

THEY have declared war on us by the plethora of instances (at every level) of blatant lies, underhanded tricks, and outright lawlessness.  We have persevered.  We have been civil.  We have used the very unjust rules that they created to beat them at their own game.  So do we get a nice concession and a "good game, well played" from them?  A civil response?

No.  Rather, they give us actual physical violence and torture.

So I say "to hell with civility".   No, let's not stoop to violence and torture, as they have.  Rather, I'm saying, -- both to "them" and to the Campaign -- "they" have given up all rights to civil discourse.  We should send the message loud and clear:

You have thrown away civility.  You have declared open war on us.  So we are coming for you.  We are coming for your positions.  We are coming for your prestige.  We are coming for your power.  You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.  You have three choices: Join us, get out of our way, or oppose us.

Choose wisely, but we warn you not to underestimate our power.  If you choose to oppose us, you will be destroyed without mercy, for you have shown no mercy.  There will be no second chances, no quarter.  We will take no prisoners.

You have been warned.  The gloves are off.  Don't like what you've seen?  This is just the beginning!

The R3VOLUTION is here to stay.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

On Iran

Well, I was going to write a nice piece on Iran, but I don't think I need to. Lawrence Vance over at already did, and I'm not sure how much more I can add. I may still write one of my own, but I'm not sure. Read his piece in the meanwhile. :)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On Ideology vs Practicality, Ron Paul edition.

I recently read this article, in which the author vociferously whines about Ron Paul's takeover of her local Republican Party. In the comments, several Ron Paul supporters responded calmly, cogently, and intelligently. For the most part, they were met with ignorant, childish, ad hominem responses. However, I was intrigued by this comment, made in reply to a Dr. Paul supporter. It was one of the few non-Paul-supporter written posts that actually added to the conversation, both in content and form. In summary, he raises the question of Dr. Paul's competency to accomplish his vision, and also about the timeline that the good Congressman has set for doing so. Is he able to? and wouldn't that plunge the world into chaos? My answer to both of these questions is "Yes". However, my answer to the second is continued, "...and he knows it, but he also knows it won't happen on that timeline. But I'm OK with that, and so is he, and here's why." Here's my actual response (currently awaiting moderation), long form:
This is an excellent breakdown of things. As a Ron Paul supporter, I am aware of these issues; here are the reasons I still support the good Congressman. 1) You said: “I find myself primarily interested in the ability of the candidate to execute his ideology”. You also rightly pointed out that unless we get a supermajority in both houses of the Congress, he will be governing largely by veto. My response to this thought is: I don’t want a candidate who is able to execute his ideology, if the ideology itself is flawed. This is a conversation of tactics vs. strategy. If the strategy is wrong, why bother implementing it? So for me, ideology is primary, and ability to execute is secondary. 2) Now, regarding the ability to execute… First, as this very article points out, both in it’s content and the event that caused it to be written in the first place, RP’s supporters are his army, and they are very good at getting what they want done done, in the face of massive opposition. I do not underestimate RP’s ability to execute his vision at all. Secondly, the ability to execute breaks down into two main areas: offense and defense. Offense is the ability to actually do what you want, in spite of opposition. This is primarily reflected (in our government) by things such as getting bills passed, issuing Executive Orders, etc. Defense is the ability to keep the opposition from doing what they want. This is reflected by the power of the veto, combined with a non-supermajority, or possibly even non-majority, of the opposition. When it comes to switching ideologies, though, this is where a good defense (which you and I both agree that Dr. Paul will be able to run without a problem), will turn into a good offense. The art of any war, either with weapons or diplomatic or political, is to frustrate the enemies purposes, thereby creating the space for yourself to move and accomplish your own objectives. Even if you cannot at first accomplish your own objectives against them (at first), if you can keep the enemy from accomplishing theirs against you, you will have time and space to build and execute the necessary offense. Anyone who has played the dark pieces in Chess (competently, anyway) knows this. 3) Regarding the timeline. Yes, you are right. I think it would plunge the world (outside our borders) into chaos if we “just marched home”. I think RP knows this. I think the Congress, including whatever RP supporters get voted in, knows this, even if RP doesn’t (or does and is OK with that). But that’s how ideology works: you have to aim for the stars. In reality, you’ll most likely hit the moon, or maybe a street light, but at least you’re headed in the right direction. This is why ideology is primary for us. Another analogy: in martial arts, we were taught to “punch through the target”. What this meant, on a practical level, is that we were to aim for a “point of contact” approximately 6″ behind the actual target. If RP were to say, “We’ll get out of running the world in 10 years,” he would face two problems: 1) by setting that timetable, he would pretty much guarantee that it would actually happen in 30 or 40, if it happened at all, and 2) he would be termed out of office long before anything real happened. Conversely, by setting a (admittedly unrealistic) timetable of “get it done yesterday” (haha), he gains two advantages: 1) he has urgency and decisiveness on his side, and 2) he will probably actually get it done in 5-8 years, which is within his term limits. In other words, he’s “punching through” his target. —- tl;dr; When you start talking about tactics, the conversations start getting very long. But on a strategic level, Congressman Paul has demonstrated and is currently demonstrating the ability to get his vision accomplished. I trust him to continue that trend.

Monday, March 5, 2012

On thinking...or lack thereof...

People nowadays. Seriously! Apparently people have no clue how to actually think through things anymore, and understand subtleties. Everything is knee-jerk reaction to 5 second sound bites and inflaming headlines (the articles for which they obviously don't bother to read, and if they do, the content is so overshadowed by their emotion toward the misleading article they might as well not have read it, for all the rational thinking they do about it). Case in point: If you actually read the article and listen to what Dr. Paul says, you see that he is making a clear distinction between the Federal Government vs. the States and the People. He is not against helping your neighbor at all. He is against stealing from some people and borrowing from our enemies in order to inefficiently and stupidly muck things up worse, all in the name of "charity", not to mention upholding the Constitution! In this, he is well in line with conservative (real conservative, not neo-con) thought throughout the course of our Country's history. Perfect example: Davy Crockett But to read the comments on the FB post, you would think that Dr. Paul had advocated the death penalty for people who give to victims or something. People just spout off a gut reaction to the completely inaccurate headline, and make all kinds of judgments and assumptions about Dr. Paul with absolutely no information whatsoever. (This is obvious to those of us who actually know his policies and have studied the thought behind them.) Ugh! For example(s): 1. Many of the commenters say, "He would accept Federal Aid if it was him!" he wouldn't. And they say, "Congressman vote themselves pay raises all the time, and he wants to be on the President's salary, and..." blah blah blah. They don't realize that he has voted against every pay raise for himself and fellow congressmen, that as President, he would take the salary of the average American (currently approx. $39K/yr. -- which is less than I make, by the way), and that he has consistently returned unused monies from his congressional budget back to the Treasury. Also, he is very thrifty with his own money and his campaign's money as well. The man practices what he preaches. 2. Many of them say, "He wants to send it for Foreign Aid, but not for Domestic?", he doesn't want to do that either. 3. Many of them say, "He would be singing a different tune if it were his district!" Um...clearly they didn't even read the article or see the actual interview, because he made a direct comparison to his own district, which is a hurricane zone. He said he been elected time and time again, in spite of hurricanes like Ike, which ripped through his district, because of, not in spite of, his stance. He understands FEMA's stupidity.

Monday, February 20, 2012

On Missions: Part 4

After my "epiphany" earlier, it remained only to unpack the details of the simple concept. I started by bringing to mind one of my favorite saints: St. Nina, Equal to the Apostles and Enlightener of Georgia. Several things stick out about her life. First of all, would you look at that title! Is that big, or is that big? No Protestant missionary I know of would be considered on par with the Apostles, let a alone given an official title of equality. No Protestant missionary I know of would be considered "Enlightener" of an entire nation. But when you delve into the details of her work, you see that the title is not hubris, and it's not exaggeration either. St. Nina, by the grace of God, became truly worthy of it.

More importantly, we begin to see the scale on which evangelism is carried out in the Orthodox Church.

Other examples abound, such the work of St. Joseph of Aramathea in England, St. Patrick in Ireland, Sts. Cyril and Methodius among the Slavs (nowadays several nations, including Russia), Sts. Innocent and Herman in Alaska, to say nothing of the works of the Apostles themselves in their various lands: St. Thomas in Persia and India, St. Matthew in Egypt, St. Paul in Asia Minor, the Grecian peninsula, and Italy (and perhaps Spain also), etc.

All of these echo and perpetuate the work that God Himself did with Israel, culminating in Pentecost.

I think we are too much a "microwave" culture: we want it fast. It's too easy for us former Protestants to adopt (or rather, to retain) an impatient missionary ethos which expects that a man or a team will go preach to a people, and if the Holy Spirit moves, 3000 people will be baptized in one day. Then we get discouraged when it doesn't happen.

What we forget is that Pentecost may have occurred over the course of one day, but it didn't "happen in a day". It was the result of some 1500 years of preparation by God. Jesus didn't just pop up in the middle of some strange land and start preaching. No, the entire period of the Law was preparation for His coming. God worked with the nation, shaping it's culture and language until the time was right for His Son to enter into it, and even then there was more work to be done. He trained his "missionary team" (12 Apostles, and "the Seventy" in addition to them) for three and a half more years, and only then were they ready to receive the Holy Spirit. Only when the Holy Spirit descended on this painstakingly prepared people did things really start "popping".

It seems, from examining the great missionary works of the Church since then, that we Orthodox follow that same modus operandi. Missionaries are sent to a nation, with the goal of baptizing that entire land: its people, its music, its culture, its social and governmental forms — in short, it's entire being — into the household of God. Sometimes, the first missionary wave accomplishes this. Sometimes, it takes several. Indeed, in some lands, there is still much work to be done. But this is always the goal.

Now, regarding the methodology itself, how we go about doing this, I have noticed some common threads in all of the above-mentioned works, including God's work with Israel:

  • The exact opposite of the Protestant approach is taken, when it comes to building churches. A solitary missionary cannot celebrate the Divine Liturgy without another person. This is especially true of those who are women, such as St. Nina, who cannot celebrate the Divine Liturgy at all! So it is unheard of for an individual missionary in a virgin land to just build a church and start inviting people to come. He or she may baptize individuals, and may even form a church and begin serving the divine services. But they do not invite people to the church with the goal of converting them. Rather, they convert them with the goal of bringing them into the Church. This conversion is accomplished through purity of life, and the preaching of the Gospel, accompanied by "the signs that attend the Word", such as healing the sick, casting out demons, etc., the missionary prepares the people for baptism.
  • At the same time, he (or she!) frequently works on making the local language suitable to the worship of God, and identifying which aspects of the local culture may be kept and Christianized (e.g. the spirit-houses of the Aleuts), and which must be destroyed as the work of demons.
  • Also, the missionary will frequently find the ruler of the land (or the one with the most influence), and seek to convert him or her, since this is the fastest way to effect nation-wide change in the culture, so that the maximum effect will accrue from the preaching of the Gospel.
  • At the same time, the missionary wages spiritual battle on an immense scale, which is only accomplished with the help of the Holy Spirit. Demons must be cast out, who have long held sway over the people, and they frequently do not go without a fight. Princes must be bound by the name of Christ. Pagan religious rulers do not take kindly to the infringement on their territory, nor to the routing of their deities accomplished by the power of Christ, and so they frequently fight back. Many of the Apostles and others met their earthly end because of the machinations of these pagan authorities.

As you can see, this is not the calling of every believer. God has not appointed all to be apostles. So what, then, can or should YOU do to support and be part of the universal calling of the Church to evangelize the world? Before I list a few suggestions, let me clarify that you ought to work out with your spiritual father what your particular role is. What follows is merely some things that come to mind, and should only be considered suggestions to get the conversation started.

  • First of all, purify yourself. By God's grace, become the Saint you are called to be. Regular Confession of sins, watchful, prayerful attendance at the divine services of the Church (as many as you can), and frequent Communion at the Lord's Cup are absolutely essential. With the blessing of your spiritual father, establish a prayer rule and keep it. Learn love for your God and for your neighbor, and in every thing give thanks. This is paramount.
  • Secondly, learn your Faith. Learn anew the Gospel of your salvation, and with God's help believe it more and more each day. Learn of the Kingdom of God. Become intimately familiar with the Scriptures, the writings of the Fathers, and the texts of the divine services, both by reading and by paying close attention to their use. If you have a question about anything, do not hesitate to ask. Always be a catechumen in heart. But most importantly, while you learn these things, do them, and consider yourself the chief of sinners.
  • Working with your spiritual father, discover and put to use your specific gifts of the Holy Spirit, for the building up of your Local Church, and of all the churches of God in love.
  • Live your faith not just at Church, but everywhere, and "always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you for a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear". Do not be obnoxious about it. This is reactive, not active. Or rather, it's activity is first to BE the light, to which those who are in darkness will be drawn. (Note: this is what is typically referred to as "lifestyle evangelism".)
  • Be ready always to contribute in whatever way you can to the work, both at home and abroad. If you cannot give money, then perhaps time, or other gifts of love, such as encouraging letters, care packages, etc. You can always give prayer!

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive. But I hope you get the point. As St. Seraphim of Sarov wrote: "Acquire the Spirit of peace and a thousand around you will be saved."

On Missions: Part 3

I wondered for a long time what Orthodox Missiology "looks like". As I explore my Faith, I encounter more accounts of the work of great Orthodox missionaries in the past, and have had opportunity to hear from and interact with several missionaries whose work is in progress. I have, little by little, begun (by God's grace!) to understand what I am seeing. I am sure I have much more development to experience in this area, and I am by no means "the expert". If anything, this post is like the baby in the crib finally assigning the words "Mama" and "Dada" to the specific faces his parents, and attempting to reproduce the two words himself. On that note: I beg your forgiveness, in advance, for where I am either incomplete or incorrect in the following meditation.

I have noted several things, all of which sort of "gelled" over this past weekend. This process began a couple of weeks ago, when I asked someone more advanced in the Faith, but from a similar background, why our Church only supports two missionaries. I will tell you the answer below, but the important note for this paragraph is that during the course of the ensuing conversation regarding missions, the fellow made a rather astute observation, which stuck with me. He said, "Orthodox missions is not like Protestant missions, where they just send a fellow down the Amazon with a Bible in his hand, who just tells the natives about Christ and has them say a prayer and start coming to hear him speak." He didn't really go into what Orthodox missions actually is about, though. But it got me thinking.

The very next week, the lead-up to the "gelling" process continued with the visit and report of one of our missionaries, working in Romania. Her presentation lasted over an hour, and covered every aspect of her work, which was quite enlightening. Also, I asked Fr. Silas, "I thought Romania is already an Orthodox country. Not that I have anything against her work, but I'm curious: why is she working there, and not, as Paul desired, 'where Christ has not been preached'?" His answer was that the Orthodox culture and life of Romania has been almost destroyed by the communism of the Soviet Union, and this is a new generation. She is working with the remaining Church to "raise up the ancient landmarks", that is, to re-evangelize the country.

The third moment in this process was when the light turned on, and I realized: Orthodox missions is so vastly different, because a) it's based in a radically different theology, soteriology and ecclesiology, and b) it's several orders of magnitude larger in scope and depth than any vision I've heard from any Protestant group thus far. It's playing on a wholly different plane.

The goal of Orthodox Missions is to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) in it's absolute fullest capacity, to bring the salvation and reconciliation that Christ provided and accomplished on the Cross to the whole world. This is the "ministry of reconciliation that St. Paul refers to. This vision is deeply rooted in both the Old and New Testaments, in the purpose of God for Israel, in the vision of the Prophets, and in the work of God in Christ, and His Apostles.

In my next post, I will give some of my meager observations of the contours of Orthodox Missionary work, and show how this echoes, continues, and enters into God's own missionary work (Christ is, after all, called "the Apostle"), co-laboring together with Him. I will attempt to detail the task, and show various ways each of us might be an active participant in the work, to the glory of God—the Father Almighty, together with His Son, our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, and the All-Holy and Good and Life-creating Spirit—to Whom be all glory, honor, worship, and praise, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

(Here's part 4:

On Missions: Part 2

Even when I was in college, but especially afterward, I started to see the obvious problems with the approaches mentioned in my last post. But I didn't really know what to do about it. Those techniques were all I knew.

Over time, I stopped going to the church-sponsored door-knocking campaigns. By this time, I was the pianist of the church I was attending, which is a somewhat high-profile position, although not as high-profile as a paid staff position. One of the rules of the church was that any ministerial position, volunteer or otherwise, was supposed to be visibly (yes, they specified "visibly") involved with these weekly campaigns. I was able to "slack off" by claiming busyness, etc., but I still had to put in my token effort every couple of months, to keep anyone from getting suspicious.

(Let me clarify something here: I wasn't actively trying to deceive or anything. I just couldn't bring myself to actively go do something that I no longer believed in. But I didn't have anything to replace it, missiologically, so while I was figuring it out I "kept face" in the system. In retrospect, this probably wasn't the way to go about things, but you know how hindsight is, right?)

What I did know (and still maintain) is that every individual Christian is called to be a light in the world. This is popularly referred to (and pejoratively so in my former religious realm) as "lifestyle evangelism". Even while I was struggling with the public church soul-winning program, as described above, I was endeavoring to do "lifestyle evangelism".

Naturally, when I finally left those circles, and joined the Orthodox Church, some of my close friends, in attempting to understand/bring me back, brought up the question of evangelism. Of course, I hadn't really learned, yet, what the Orthodox missionary ethos looks like (I knew it exists), so the conversation went something like this:

Do they do soul-winning?
Them (summarized):
They must not be Christian! Don't they believe the Bible? What about Matthew 28:18-20?!!!
Erm....well, the Church does evangelize, but not like that.
But...that's the way that works! If not that, then what do they do?

Of course, at that point, the only thing I knew we Orthodox do was lifestyle evangelism, so that's what I said. I also knew we had missionaries, but I had no clue what they do, so I was not able to give an answer on this. Naturally, this caused at least one of my friends to write me off as a heretic, or at least a lazy back-slider, and another to look at me rather askance. I could almost see what little interest in Orthodoxy there may have been drain from their being, to be replaced by no small amount of animosity toward it.

This was, of course, unfortunate, and I pray that the Lord will not hold it against them in the day of judgment, on account of my own failing. On the other hand, it is my intent with these posts to correct my mistake.

(Here's part 3: