Tuesday, September 30, 2008

For The Week Ahead

The "Saying of the Day" series is going on Fall hiatus, at least for two weeks. I have a number of other items to attend to, including some vacation time, so these posts will be gone until October 13 or thereabouts.

I hope to have a few substantial posts this week and next, but if not, rest assured that I am madly working on siding, door installation and other home improvement projects. Some of them will be fun.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Saying of the Day

Abba Poemen said, "Teach your mouth to say what is in your heart."

Sayings. Poemen 164.

Do Not Seek to Avoid

Fr. Stephen Freeman's latest post asks:

This may seem an entirely innocuous question. But I ask it in earnest. What do you want from God? On the level of the trite, we may want more of what we already have, but have it in abundance. We may want less of what we have, only have it in a healthy manner (relationships come to mind).

What is more difficult, for the heart, and for the spiritual life in general is to say: “I want God, and more of Him.” This is the statement of someone who has tasted of the heavenly gift and cannot be satisfied with less. It is rare.

Though it is rare, it is the common confession of the saints.

What do you want? Is there some degree to which you want God? With what degree of desire do you approach the Holy Cup? Do you want God?

Do I want God even though it may kill me?

Do I want God even though the “me” that I am may be swallowed up in something larger?

Do I want God even though it may cause me deep and life-long grief?

There are many of things we may want from God - but it is God Himself our heart desires. And though the cost of that may appear to be everything - as it should be - do we want anything less? Anything less is to dwell outside of the Kingdom.

What do you want from God?

What struck me most about this is those "negative" things will happen whether we seek God or not. We will have deep and life-long grief in our lives, Christian or non-Christian, weak or strong. Grief will come. The "me that I am" will be swallowed up in something larger, whether it is torment or blessing. We will die, whether we seek God or flee Him.

Christianity does not keep us from suffering. Sometimes we suffer more. But it is certain that Christianity will not keep disease and death at bay. Even with the miraculous recovery, the holy healing that could come, the grave awaits eventually.

No, we cannot escape these things, and so we should not fear asking God for Himself, seeking the Kingdom and His Righteousness. For in this we gain everything, even while we loose the present.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Saying of the Day

It was said of Abba Poemen that he dwelt at Scetis with his two brothers, and the younger one was a nuisance to them. So he said to the other brother, "This lad is making us powerless, let us get up and go away from here." So they went away and left him. When he saw that they did not come back for a long time, the young brother realized that they were going far away and he began to run after them, crying out. Abba Poemen said, "Let us wait for our brother, for he is worn out."

When he reached them he bowed to them and said, "Where are you going? Are you leaving me on my own?"

The old man said to him, "It is because you are a worry to us that we are going away."

He said to them, "Yes, yes, let us go together wherever you wish."

The old man, seeing his lack of malice, said to his brother, "Brother, let us go back, for he is not doing this on purpose but it is the devil who is doing it." So they turned back and went home again.

Sayings. Poemen. 180.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Faith of Barack Obama: A Review

Thanks to Mr. Michael Hyatt, President and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, I received a copy of The Faith of Barack Obamaby Stephen Mansfield on the promise to write a review.

It's a slim book--only 147 pages plus endnotes. It's divided into six chapters, the first is biographical, outlining Obama's childhood and discussing the "Is Obama really a Muslim" question. Mansfield makes a presuasive argument that the years Obama spent in Indonesia were not formative for his religious faith. On the contrary, Mansfield, relying on Obama's books, The Audacity of Hope and Dreams from My Father, makes a convincing case that Obama was raised respecting religion without actually having a faith of his own (p. 16). The following chapters deal with Obama's connection to Trinity in Chicago (Chapter 2); his expression of the black liberation theology in his books and speeches (Chapter 3); a slight chapter entitled "Altars of State" (the endnotes call this chapter "Our Civic Religion"), outlining how religion plays out in past and present presidential politics, a throw-away chapter about the faith of Hillary Clinton, John McCain and President Bush, and a concluding chapter which essentially repeats points made above.

All this is to say, while Mansfield's book is well-written and an easy read it is thin. The author does convincingly demonstrate that Obama is no "Muslim Manchurian Candidate." But what comes rapidly to the fore is that Obama's faith itself is slight, is thin, is little more than a tinge of liberal Protestantism seasoned with the black church experience. Obama doesn't seem to believe in doctrine. His prayer life is depicted more as interior dialogue with himself rather than seeking communion or conversation with God. Mansfield harps on Obama's insistence that doubt plays a large part in religious experience and punctuates with quotes from the candidate that equate all major religions. It's no wonder the book is short and thin on substantive analysis: there's little there to analyse.

Toward the end of the book, Mansfield seems to grasp this, casting the this election in larger terms. He writes of the immense role religion has played in public life and policy for the past few election cycles, and argues it is at its peak now. Thus the faith that Obama has of immense importance. Mansfield that the electorate has "before them an opportunity that may, if they choose, be embraced as the path to a new history. It is an opportunity to heal, to take the historic wounds and generational conflicts that political debates are shoving to the fore and respond them in the spirit of the great healers, in the manner of those who whish to fashion a future rather [sic] a short-term political victory.... Indeed, it may well prove that this is the longer-term importance of this thrashing time in our history, just as it may well prove that this is the more important meaning of Barack Obama's presence in our history at this moment." (p. 132, 133).

But removing the overblown conclusion, the inclusion of nearly an entire chapter on the history of Rev. Wright's church and content of his sermons, the entire chapter dedicated to the faith of the other presidential contenders (at the time it was written), and what you have is a lengthy magazine article. Maybe a two-parter, but an article nonetheless. Again, it's not the author's fault so much as it is the subject. The book was bound to be written and Mansfield's approach and prose is fine. What's lacking is the subject.

Saying of the Day

Abba John, who had been exiled by the Emperor Marcian, said, "We went to Syria one day to see Abba Poemen and we wanted to ask about purity of the heart. But the old man did not know Greek and no interpreter could be found. So, seeing our embarrassment, the old man began to speak Greek, saying, 'The nature of water is soft, that of stone is hard; but if a bottle is hung above the stone, allowing the water to fall drop by drop, it wears away the stone. So it is with the word of God; it is soft and our heart is hard, but the man who hears the word of God often, opens his heart to the fear of God.'"

Sayings. Poemen. 183

Friday, September 26, 2008

Saying of the Day

Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria, of holy memory, begged Abba Pambo to come down from the desert to Alexandria. He went down, and seeing an actress he began to weep. Those who were present asked him the reason for his tears, and he said, "Two things make me weep: one, the loss of this woman; and the other, that I am no so concerned to please God as she is to please wicked men."

Sayings. Pambo. 4

Cool Photo Template

I've been teaching myself some basic web design the last few months and set up my congregation's web page. It's so low-tech I've decided this was intentional. It reminds me of the good old days: 1995.

But the photo gallery is pretty sweet. Take a look over there and click on a few links to the galleries. Using Google's Picasa, I simply saved existing pictures as an html file, using a template I downloaded from this site, and uploaded that file to the web server.

It's pretty cool.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Saying of the Day

Abba Isaac came to see Abba Poemen and found him washing his feet. As he enjoyed freedom of speech with him he said, "How is it that others practice austerity and treat their bodies hardly?"

Abba Poemen said to him, "We have not been taught to kill our bodies, but to kill our passions."

Sayings. Poemen. 184

Judgment and Repentance

It is certain that on the Last Day we will be judged on what we have done. "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done" (Rev. 20:12 ESV; see also Matt. 25:35).

It is certain that our salvation depends not upon our keeping the Law, but upon the grace of God who gives us faith (Eph 2:8-10). Salvation cannot be earned or merited. Salvation--having eternal life in the Body of Christ is something outside of us that must be granted to us. Christ came to make the dead live, after all, and the dead cannot make themselves alive. Salvation is a gift.

So how do we reconcile these two views which appear to contradict one another? The one is the image of being judged, of being weighed, while the other shows that we never deserve it based on our own works or abilities.

They are not contradictory. Faith is a gift, but it must show fruit. Making alive is the work of Christ, but alive people do living things, not things of death. As James says, "Faith without works is dead." (Jam. 2:26)

This may be one of the greatest differences between Protestants and the Orthodox and Catholics. Protestants tend to ignore the judgment seat of Christ that weighs our works. When they think of the Last Judgment at all, they think of forensic justification, that our deeds will not be counted at all, that Christ will recognize Himself in us, as it were, and the subject of what we actually did in this life will never be mentioned.

It seems to me that Catholic and Orthodox Christians alike focus on Christ as our Judge. He says He is, after all (Matt. 25:31ff). And they recognize that He will judge our actions. When they consider their spiritual lives, they think of that Judgment seat of Christ. They think of their souls being laid open before Him. This vision alone should preserve all people from any sense of works-righteousness. This thought alone should keep every one of us from ever trusting in our own good works or holiness. Thinking of every thought, word and deed open and visible to our God, what could we possibly hope in besides the mercy of God?

Notice, I did not write that the leading Protestant views and the Catholic views (as I understand it) are incompatible. Both things are true. God does remove our sins as far as the east from the west. (Psa. 103:12) But He does "come to judge the living and the dead" and the works we have done. Both of these views must be kept together. Faith is not faith if it does not repent of our wicked deeds and strive to please God. Judgment will be...harsh...if we trust that we are basically good folks and trust in our niceness and generosity instead of throwing ourselves on the undeserved mercy of God.

Our Christian life, however empowered by the Holy Spirit, is not on autopilot. Christ commands that we be active in this life of the fruits of repentance, by taking up our cross, by seeking the kingdom, by hearing the word of God and doing it. The violent (that is, the forceful) bear it away. (Matt. 11:12)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Saying of the Day

Abba Paphnutius said, "When I was walking along the road, I happened to lose my way and found myself near a village and I saw some people who were talking about evil things. So I stood still, praying for my sins. Then behold an angel came, holding a sword and he said to me, 'Paphnutius, all those who judge their brothers perish by his sword, but because you have not judged, but have humbled yourself before God, saying that you have sinned, your name is written the book of the living!'"

Sayings. Paphnutius. 1

Randomness, Thereby Proving I Am Generation X

When I got home I picked up after the dog, washed up and put some T-Bones on the grill (outrageously on sale this weekend). After supper I tackled the lawn, which was about five days past needing a mow. Not shameful looking, but getting close.

I bought my lawnmower from my congregation when they were cleaning out a storage shed. It was an inexpensive push mower, perfect for me and useless for the church, which occupies nearly the entire block. The trustee at the time got it started on the first pull. I paid him and never had a problem with it. Until last night.

The tank is full, the throttle was set, the gas line bled with the bulb--everything in place. If it's not the spark plug, I haven't a clue.

I have no moral for the story. I was in a strange mood yesterday, and apparently it continues.

Of interest: This discussion at Weedon's Blog, especially the comments.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Why I Don't Talk Economics

I feel somehow responsible for posting on the economic brouhaha that transpired last week while I was muddling through with a sinus and ear infection. As they say, America's economy was about to collapse.

I was vaguely unconcerned. I have virtually no investments. Oklahoma's economy is doing quite well. Even my town's economy is not too shabby, though we could certainly use more business development.

But everything's connected. I know that. Severe trouble would have to (will?) hit here too. And I realized today that the money I do have socked away to pay taxes with was in danger last week, since money market valuations briefly fell below $1--the standard.

My thoughts:

The king was in his counting house
counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlour
eating bread and honey

The maid was in the garden
hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird
and pecked off her nose!


There's my work and all that I do, all that I left undone, all that I could do.

There are too many hobbies. There are too many projects.

Then of course, are all the chores, the mowing, the cleaning, the fixing, the painting, the folding.

Then there's my children who are growing up right in front of me and I feel that my time is spent carping and correcting and sighing and cajoling and I'm missing it.

Then there's t.v. and two hours of Heroes last night.

Then there's movies.

Then there's computers and blogs, games and sports.

There is working out.

There are also car repairs.

There are books and magazines.

And there's sleeping and eating and resting.

And our enemy scatters and distracts and shines lights upon those things we are not doing and gives us thoughts about yesterday or what could be and we are left with half-finished everything, addled minds and arthritic fingers.

Distractions from now.

Saying of the Day

Abba Paul the Barber and his brother Timothy lived in Scetis. They often used to argue. So Abba Paul said, "How long shall we go on like this?"

Abba Timothy said to him. "I suggest you take my side of the argument and in my turn I will take your side when you oppose me." They spent the rest of their days in this practice.

Sayings. Paul the Barber. 1.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tech Problems Today

Thought I'd broken the computer in my study at church today. Windows Service Pack 3 tried to load and froze. Then it had to uninstall and re-install. Meanwhile USB devices weren't working correctly. I couldn't Hotsync my Treo. All this took hours to work out.

I was able to find stuff to do in between loading and downloading and restarting and so forth, but nothing on my to-do list, which including updating things here, working on the church's website, writing reports, a Bible study and sermon work.

Sometimes I feel like going for a hipster PDA, or getting out the old Moleskine and getting on with life.

I know what Weedon's suggestion will be. If he wants to give me a scholarship to buy and convert everything to his semi-pagan platform, I'll try it :)

Saying of the Day

One of the Fathers asked Abba Sisoes, "If I am sitting in the desert and a barbarian comes to kill me and if I am stronger than he, shall I kill?"

The old man said to him, "No, leave him to God. In fact, whatever the trial is which comes to a man, let him say, 'This has happened to me because of my sins,' and if something good comes, say, 'It is through the providence of God.'"

Sayings. Sisoes. 34

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Saying of the Day

A brother asked Abba Sisoes, "What shall I do, abba, for I have fallen?"

The old man said to him, "Get up again."

The brother said, "I have got up again, but I have fallen again."

The old man said, "Get up again and again."

So the brother said, "How many times?"

The old man said, "Until you are taken up either in virtue or in sin. For a man presents himself to judgement in the state in which he is found."

Sayings. Sisoes. 38.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Saying of the Day

A brother went to see Abba Silvanus on the mountain of Sinai. When he saw the brothers working hard he said to [Abba Silvanus], "Do not labor for food which perishes. (John 6.27) Mary has chosen the good portion." (Luke 10:42)

The old man said to the disciple, "Zacharias, give the brother a book and put him in a cell without anything else." So when the ninth hour came the visitor watched the door expecting someone would be sent o to call him to the meal. When no-one called him he got up, went to find the old man and said to him, "Have the brothers not eaten today?"

The old man replied that they had.

Then he said, "Why did you not call me?"

The old man said to him, "Because you are a spiritual man and do not need that kind of food. We, being carnal, want to eat, and that is why we work. But you have chosen the good portion and read the whole day long and you do not want to eat carnal food."

When he heard these words the brother made a prostration saying, "Forgive me, abba."

The old man said to him, "Mary needs Martha. It is really thanks to Martha that Mary is praised."

Sayings. Silvanus. 5

Friday, September 19, 2008

Saying of the Day

Abba Moses asked Abba Silvanus, "Can a man lay a new foundation every day?" The old man said, "If he works hard, he can lay a new foundation at every moment."

Sayings. Silvanus. 11

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Saying of the Day

The Fathers used to say that someone met Abba Slivanus one day and saw his face and body shining like an angel and he fell with his face to the ground. He said that others also had obtained this grace.

Sayings. Silvanus. 12

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Saying of the Day

Another time, another magistrate came to visit [Abba Simon]. The clergy went on ahead and said to the old man, "Abba, get ready, for this magistrate has heard of you and is coming for your blessing." So he said, "Yes, I will prepare myself." Then he put on a rough habit and taking some bread and cheese in his hands he went and satin the doorway to eat it. When the magistrate arrived with his suite and saw him, he despised him* and said, "Is this the anchorite of whom we have heard so much?" and they went away at once.

Sayings. Simon. 2

* The magistrate no doubt expected a famous monk to be fasting strictly.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The "Only Thing Left" in the LCMS?

In the Summer 2008 (Vol. 25, no. 4) issue of Focus on Concordia Seminary, a magazine written for alumni and donors, President Dale A. Meyer dedicates his column on the Synod's restructuring proposals.

In the course of the article he allows that the situation today is vastly different than it was in 1847 when the Synod was founded. He offers that congregations themselves are not as important to people today, and loyalty to a church body is not as significant as finding a congregation that "fits what they like." It's probably true, and he makes pains to say that he's simply describing what people seem to do.

But he concludes:

That's why, I believe, we want a Synod also in the 21st Century, not a restructuring to perpetuate an institution but a restructuring that really joins us and keeps us accountable to one another for the only thing really left, a theological enterprise centered in the Scriptures of Jesus Christ.
Is this what we're in? A "theological enterprise"? Is this the "only thing left"? How sad. How very sad that the Church--the Body of Christ which has spanned every place and every age since Pentecost is reduced to being a "theological enterprise."

I don't want an enterprise. I'm not sure I even like this theology.

I've understood for a long time that the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is not Church. It is a non-profit organization. But to describe the bonds of unity that we are supposed to have as a "theological enterprise" is either only an inelegant, crass statement we should ignore, or a clanging fire bell to wake us up.

Saying of the Day

A brother said to Abba Serapion, "Give me a word." The old man said to him, "What shall I say to you? You have taken the living of the widows and orphans and put it on your shelves." For he saw them full of books.

Sayings. Serapion. 2

Not Too Shabby

I could survive for 1 minute, 16 seconds chained to a bunk bed with a velociraptor

Created by Bunk Beds Pedia

Monday, September 15, 2008

On Skipping Church

If you want to hob-nob or rub elbows or network, join the Lions or Rotary or something. You can even tell off-color jokes and not get the evil eye. The only problem is the other people don't have to pretend to like you like they do at church.

Saying of the Day

[Again, from a Desert Mother]

She also said, "Just as a treasure that is exposed loses its value, so a virtue which is known vanishes; just as wax melts when it is near fire, the soul is destroyed by praise and loses all the results of its labor."

Sayings. Syncletica. 21

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Saying of the Day

[This one from a desert Mother]

[Syncletica] also said, "We must arm ourselves in every way against the demons. For they attack us from outside, and they also stir us up from within; and the soul is then like a ship when great waves break over It, and at the same time it sinks because the hold is too full. We are just like that: we lose as much by the exterior faults we commit as by the thoughts inside us. So we must watch for the attacks of me that come from outside us, and also repel the interior onslaughts of our thoughts."

Sayings. Syncletica. 24

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Saying of the Day

A brother asked Abba Tithoes, "Which way leads to humility?" The old man said, "The way of humility is this: self-control, prayer, and thinking yourself inferior to all creatures."

Sayings. Tithoes. 7

Friday, September 12, 2008

Saying of the Day

[Hyperechius] also said, "It was through whispering that the serpent drove Eve out of Paradise, so he who speaks against his neighbor will be like the serpent, for he corrupts the soul of him who listens to him and he does not save his own soul."

Sayings. Hyperechius. 5

Worship From That Side, Part II

Readers left some good provacative comments on the post below. After further thought, I realized that the Sunday I had off was quite similar to what I experienced when I first served at the altar. Everything then was opposite--everything that I used to hear, I spoke or sung. When I had received for years, now I was giving. It took a long time--years--to be comfortable enough to be able to worship, and not be distracted with what was coming next, not to be mentally scrambling to stay ahead of what was happening. Only after I got comfortable and confident enough to preside was I able to "relax" and pay attention to what I was doing and what God was doing in the liturgy. Now I can sing an unfamiliar hymn, say, and not be distracted by what I have to do after, where I stand, what page to be on, and so forth.

The "Vacation Sunday" reversed that perspective again. Suddenly I was off-balance and on unfamiliar territory again. But it did give me some insight into those folks who have never become comfortable, who think that the liturgy is at fault, which was the point of the previous post. The liturgy qua liturgy is not somehow flawed at all. If there is a problem, it is our perception and reception of it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Worship From That Side

There is certainly a different perspective I have worshiping God while sitting in the chancel than I do while sitting in a pew. It was demonstrated to me a few weeks ago on vacation.

The service rushed past. We used Divine Service I so I didn’t need to look at the book much. Instead, I sang those words and looked at my daughters standing next to me, helping them, encouraging them, cajoling them into participating. We sang the hymns, and one was entirely unfamiliar. Hard to sing, hard to pay attention to the words. It was slow and felt like this would be going on for some time.

The sermon was hard to listen to. Between listening on a clinical level, evaluating his delivery and so forth, and the distractions around me, I didn’t get much out of it. Communion liturgy went by quickly, but I was at the altar rail longer than usual. I had the sense of being a half-engaged participant, kind of like the feeling of being at a graduation ceremony. I felt detached during that hour, and it seemed as if the time before and the visiting after were more engaging and concrete than the hour siting, standing, listening, singing and praying when I remembered to.

Perhaps all this simply means I am made for standing up here, because I can’t stand out there very well. Perhaps it means that having children in church is really a big job like people tell me. Could it mean that the way we “do church” is wrong? That we need more engaging things like Rick Warren talks about? I don’t think so. Singing songs that may have moved me emotionally still would have meant me singing and being distracted by the kids, the guy who sang below every note, the huge bass voice in the back and my mother’s whispered singing that somehow I could still hear under everything else. A dynamic, flash animated, audio-visual sermon I still would have dissected. Dramatic dialogues and skits professional acted would have made the hour feel like a short play rather than a graduation ceremony. I don’t think any of those things designed to engage people really do if something else is wrong.

And that’s it.Something else was wrong. It wasn’t the vacancy pastor at my parent’s church that was bad. He did a fine job. The organist played well, only slower than I liked.The liturgy was done well, different than I do it, but well. Communion was conducted well. It wasn’t that these things were boring. I wasn’t bored. But I was distracted, I was unconnected, I was on auto-pilot or parent mode or whatever you want to call it. I had the problem.

It's like this: would you rather spend the evening reading God's Holy Word or the latest Dean Koontz novel? One of them would be more entertaining. One of them would tempt me to stay up too late reading. One could be called a "page-turner." Hint: it's the one that has a serial killer, a dog, and a government conspiracy. But we would never say that we should stop reading God's Word, or that God's Holy Precious Life-Giving Word is somehow less than a Dean Koontz novel. Or that the Holy Scriptures were not written as well. Or that something is wrong with the Bible because of how I feel about reading it. Something is clearly wrong with me when Dean Koontz is more appealing than Deuteronomy.

You could say that there's a divine reason the Scriptures cannot be read like a "page-turner" can. You could say that the spiritual encounter with the living God, with the Eternal Word who continues to speak in Scripture cannot be borne for too long. Priests and Pastors alike testify that presiding at the liturgy is an exhausting task. St. Christopher is right: when you carry Jesus you carry the world He bears as well. Likewise with Scripture: our finite souls cannot bear the infinite Word too long in our weakened state. Better--our sinful souls cannot bear the holy too long, even when it comes in blessing.

But that is my problem, not God's. It is my sin that is at fault, my weakness, not our Lord's. That the liturgy was a blur of the familiar and did not engage me that day was a fault of circumstance and sin. Not God's.

Saying of the Day

[Hyperechius] also said, "It is better to eat meat and drink wine [thereby breaking a fast] and not to eat the flesh of one's brethren through slander."

Sayings. Hyperechius. 4

It's A Good Day Too

To my Mother and Little Sister (who turned 21 seven years ago): Happy Birthday!

There's no celebrating happening this day. There's commemorations and prayers, vigils and somber reflection.

But you both need a cake, a song, a smile. It was your day first.

Free Fonts

If you are into graphic design or simply enjoy cool fonts, check this site out. Pirate themed fonts, Creepy Fonts, Blackletter, and more.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Saying of the Day

Some brothers who had some seculars with them went to see Abba Felix and they begged him to say a word to them. But the old man kept silence. After they had asked for a long time he said to them, "You wish to hear a word?" They said, "Yes, abba." Then the old man said to them, "There are no more words nowadays. When the brothers used to consult the old men and when they did what was said to them, God showed them how to speak. But now, since they ask without doing that which they hear, God has withdrawn the grace of the word from the old men ad they do not find anything to say, because there are no longer any who carry their words out." Hearing this, the brothers groaned, saying, "Pray for us, abba."

Sayings. Felix. 1

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Saying of the Day

A soldier asked Abba Mius if God accepted repentance. After the old man had taught him many things he said, "Tell me, my dear, if your cloak is torn, do you throw it away?" He replied, "No, I mend it and use it again." The old man said to him, "If you are so careful about your cloak, will not God be equally careful about his creature?"

Sayings. Mius. 3

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Readers Speak: Against Controversy

And they like the controversy, despite what Abba Matoes said. It is common to all blogs, and all media, for that matter. Controversy gets readers. Looking back over my analytics data, the most hits have come from posts about converts to Orthodoxy, LCMS problems, and whenever Pr. Weedon links to me (no controversy there--his blog is just extremely popular).

But why is controversy popular? There is the element of schadenfreude, to be sure. This ought to give us great caution, for one day it may be us on the headlines and disgraced in whatever manner. There is what Walker Percy observed in Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book (as I remember it): controversy, tragedy, catastrophe and the like charm us because we hate ourselves and our lives. We crave something, anything that will break the monotony of existence, the dullness of our souls and minds, the daily grind that crushes us.

That we are vapid and suffer ennui is undeniable. But controversy and wickedness and catastrophe do not truly wake us from the accidia and vapidity of our lives. It really only feeds it, nourishes it. True life, a true waking from spiritual slumber can only come through the life of Christ and living by the Spirit. True wakefulness, true engagement with the world, a genuine break of monotony are found in the riches of the inner life. The kingdom of heaven is within us.

Of course, our blockbuster-loving, high octane cravings for entertainment rail against such statements. How could prayer and fasting, service and humility, love and meekness possibly give us satisfaction? How can peace excite us an awaken us from the doldrums of the commute, the cubicle, the field and the factory?

They cannot as long as we feed ourselves a constant stream of decadence and mayhem, films of destruction and hilarity, roaring crowds and large screens, stimulation and stimulation.

Are these that satisfying, after all?

Saying of the Day

This is what [Abba Or] taught: In all temptation, do not complain about anyone else, but say about yourself, "These things happen to me because of my sins."

Sayings.Or. 12

Sunday, September 7, 2008

For Some, Politics Is Religion

Agree or disagree, but this guy's onto something:

If there is one thing that can be said of most democratic operatives, activists, and seriously interested groupies, it is that politics is for them religion. When they involve themselves in more traditional religious activities, it is usually for the sake of convenience and image. Thus the Annointed One’s [Obama's] enthronement ceremony involving old pagan forms was simply a more honest and appropriate ritual than that which we have seen before. Hats off to them. I mean, if you are going to rigidly support the state sanctioned killing of millions of babies, at least provide some decent ritual befitting of all that blood. Such is much more anthropologically sound.
The Ochlophobist

New (for me) Blog

Bryce Wandrey runs a nice blog called
Lutheran Theology:A Forum to Discuss the Theology and Descendants of the Sixteenth Century German Reformation (perhaps the longest blog title I have every seen, but the entries are substantial and appropriately brief for the purposes of blogging).

I'm planning on checking it out more in the coming days, and if encourage you to do the same.

Saying of the Day

A brother who had sinned was turned out of the church by the priest; Abba Bessarion got up and went with him, saying, "I, too, am a sinner."

Sayings. Bessarion. 7

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Saying of the Day

A brother said to Abba Matoes, "Give me a word." He said to him, "Restrain the spirit of controversy in yourself in everything, and weep, have compunction, for the time is drawing near."

Sayings. Matoes. 12

One Take on Calvinism

The difficulty with Calvinism is that people cannot conclude that they are loved based on the promises of God in the Gospel. So Calvinists tend to look somewhere outside the gospel for their assurance of God’s love and his call.

Calvinists over the years have attempted to respond to this difficulty in a number of ways. Some have said that you cannot really know. Others have said that you can know by the way in which God blesses your life. Others have pointed to their effectiveness as preachers or evangelists as proof that the Gospel be working in them. Still others have sited their church involvement as their source of hope. Still others point to the joy in their hearts as the “Blessed Assurance” of God’s election. Others still have said that “the hour you first believe” must be a mountain top spiritual experience for you to be certain. In all these explanations it is not purely the gospel and Sacraments which give you the assurance of God’s favor and love in Christ. Rather it is something about your response to the Gospel that counts.

The most popular type of Protestant Christianity in America today – American Evangelicalism - finds in your feelings about Jesus the assurance that you are loved by God and elect of Him. Even among those groups which have long since discarded Calvin’s theology there is still a strong tendency to rely on “the palpable presence of God in the Worship” as a sign of God’s love and favor. And that is why the worship services of so many have the goal to get you to have some type of emotional response to the service. (Steadfast Lutherans)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Saying of the Day

He also said, "Satan does not know by what passion the soul can be overcome. He sows, but without knowing if he will reap, sometimes thoughts of fornication, sometimes thoughts of slander, and similarly for the other passions. He supplies nourishment to the passion which he sees the soul is slipping towards."

Sayings. Matoes. 4

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Saying of the Day

[Abba Matoes] also said, "The nearer a man draws to God, the more he sees himself a sinner. It was when Isaiah the prophet saw God, that he declared himself 'a man of unclean lips.'" (Isa. 6:5)

Sayings. Matoes. 2

Computer & Productivity Stuff

Google has a new web browser. It's pretty sleek and quick. Take a look here. However, there are already some security issues with it: not from hackers, but from Google themselves. Perhaps Firefox is still the best bet.

is a pretty cool little tool for note-taking, personal database construction (think recipes and go from there), productivity help and as a sort of computerized common-place book or Control Journal. You can keep a copy only on your personal computer or put it on-line, password-protected or public. Note: in order to customize it and add some really handy features, you must not be afraid of doing some html or css programming. And for basic users, don't be scared of warnings that the program is a Java or ActiveX security risk. It's not, since you are running the show.

More on Television

So, I either watch much more television than I realize, hit a real nerve with those who refuse to admit addiction, or am really missing out on television freedom.

I'm not sure a DVR is in our future, though. It's not the $5 a month fee, but the fact we don't have digital cable and don't have a big desire to add it again...though I do miss the "menu" features....

Thanks for the comments on the post below!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

On Television Addiction

According to Reuters, "Some 79 percent of 1,000 DVR owners reported that the technology has improved their relationship, according to the NDS DVR Report....The results show how fast the DVR has become an indispensable part of many people's lives in the US," said Steve Tranter, vice president, broadband and interactive delivery, NDS Americas. "It's one of those technologies that, once you use it, it makes you wonder how you coped before."

I just don't get it, but I imagine the last sentence explains it. I suppose one would have to watch a lot of television too.

Saying of the Day

Abba Matoes aid, "I prefer a light and stead activity, to one that is painful at the beginning but is soon broken off."

Sayings. Matoes. 1

Monday, September 1, 2008

Saying of the Day

Happy Labor Day! I'm away from my copy of Sayings of the Desert Fathers, so I found this at Word from the Desert. I have been drawn to the story St. Moses the Ethiopian for a few years now, for reasons I cannot quite put my finger on--except that he is a great example of one who overcame temptation with the power of God.

Among other things, this too is told of him: Four robbers, not knowing who he was, fell upon him in his monastic cell. He tied them all together like a package, put them on his back like a bundle of straw, and took them to the church where the brethren had gathered. “Since I may not hurt anyone, what do you want me to do with these?”

The robbers confessed and knew then that he was Moses, the onetime notorious and well known robber. They glorified God and spurned the world because of his conversion. For they reasoned thus, “If he who was such a strong and powerful thief fears God, why should we put off our own salvation?”

It was said of Abba Moses the Ethiopian, that the demons attacked him, trying to draw him back into his old ways of intemperance and impurity. He was tempted to such an extent, that he nearly failed in his resolution. Then he went to the great Isidore, I mean the one in Scete, and related all the details of the contest to him.

Isidore said, “Do not be discouraged. These were the beginnings, and for this reason they were the more severe as they attacked, since they were testing your character. A dog does not by nature stay away from a meat market, but only if the market is closed up and no one gives him anything does he stop coming by. So also in your case. If you stand firm, the demon will have to leave you in discouragement.

Palladius, Historia Lausiaca 19.1 6
Abba Moses the Ethiopian, commemorated 28 August

Mike Baker on Martyrdom

Mike Baker wrote the following, worthy of some serious meditation:

Read this passage and weep at how far we have degraded from the early church! As modern Christians try to copy the early church in her practice and legacy, hear very personal words from one of our early patriarchs. We who are Christian elitists complain when our congregation's climate control does not work properly on Sunday and we presume to even hint that we practice as they practiced?

Modern Christians institute "home church" and "small groups" and all other sorts of novel concepts under the false justification that they are following the ways of the early church. There is a difference between pretending to be like the early church in superficial things and learning from the apostolic example. To quote the passage presented below: "Do not talk Jesus Christ and set your heart on the world."

We need to rethink what we call persecution. We need to rethink what we consider to be difficult times and suffering. Our view of discipline is a mere shadow. It has the shape of following Christ, but none of the form or depth that distinguishes the real object from the darkened, two-dimensional copy that is cast to the ground by the light.

Modern church dilutes the message of Christ for mere public approval while scores of disciples of the early church eagerly waited to die for their own faith as their witness to the truth of the Gospel. Our view of showing the world a true "witness" is a pathetic farce. When we think "witness" we think of mailers, t-shirts, and telling co-workers that we will pray for them. We should rename our current Synodical outreach movement Spark! or Flicker! compared to with the steadfast, blood-written testimony of our church fathers as they pointed to Christ with their last breaths. They were ablaze. We're just blowing smoke.

This kind of "extreme" talk from the early fathers is so alien to our current brand of religion that it makes modern Christians very uncomfortable:

"You never grudged anyone. You taught others. So I want you to substantiate the lessons that you bid them heed. Just pray that I may have strength of soul and body so that I may not only talk [about martyrdom], but really want it. It is not that I want to merely be called a Christian, but actually to be one. Yes, if I prove to be one, then I can have the name. Then, too, I shall be a convincing Christian only when the world sees me no more. Nothing you can see has real value. Our God Jesus Christ, indeed, has revealed himself more clearly by returning to the Father. The greatness of Christianity lies in its being hated by the world, no in its being convincing to it."

"I am corresponding with all the churches and bidding them all realize that I am voluntarily dying for God--if, that is, you do not interfere. I plead with you, do not do me an unseasonable kindness. Let me be fodder for wild beasts--that is how I can get to God. I am God's wheat and I am being ground by the teeth of wild beasts to make a pure loaf for Christ. I would rather that you fawn on the beasts so that they may be my tomb and no scrap of my body be left. Thus when I have fallen asleep, I shall be a burden to no one. Then I shall be a real disciple of Jesus Christ when the world sees my body no more. Pray Christ for me that by these means I may become God's sacrifice. I do not give you orders like Peter and Paul. They were apostles: I am a convict. They were at liberty: I am still a slave. But if I suffer, I shall be emancipated by Jesus Christ; and united to him, I shall rise to freedom."

"Even now as a prisoner, I am learning to forgo my own wishes. All the way from Syria to Rome I am fighting with wild beasts, by land and sea, night and day, chained as I am to ten leopards (I mean to a detachment of soldiers), who only get worse the better you treat them. But by their injustices I am becoming a better disciple, "though not for that reason am I acquitted." What a thrill I shall have from the wild beasts that are ready for me! I hope they will make short work of me. I shall coax them on to eat me up at once and not to hold off, as sometimes happens, through fear. And if they are reluctant, I shall force them to it. Forgive me--I know what is good for me. Now is the moment I am beginning to be a disciple. May nothing seen or unseen begrudge me making my way to Jesus Christ. Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the devil--only let me get to Jesus Christ! Not the wide bounds of earth nor the kingdoms of this world will avail me anything. "I would rather die" and get to Jesus Christ, than reign over the ends of the earth. That is whom I am looking for--the One who died for us. That is whom I want--the One who rose for us. I am going through the pangs of being born. Sympathize with me, my brothers! Do not stand in the way of my coming to life--do not wish death on me. Do not give back to the world one who wants to be God's; do not trick him with material things. Let me get into the clear light and manhood will be mine. Let me imitate the Passion of my God. If anyone has Him in him, let him appreciate what I am longing for, and sympathize with me, realizing what I am going through."

"The prince of this world wants to kidnap me and pervert my godly purpose. None of you, then, who will be there, must abet him. Rather be on my side--that is, on God's. Do not talk Jesus Christ and set your heart on the world. Harbor no envy. If, when I arrive, I make a different plea, pay no attention to me. Rather heed what I am now writing to you. For though alive, it is with a passion for death that I am writing to you. My Desire has been crucified and there burns in me no passion for material things. There is living water in me, which speaks and says inside me, "Come to the Father." I take no delight in corruptible food or in the dainties of this life. What I want is God's bread, which is the flesh of Christ, who came from David's line; and for drink I want his blood: an immortal love feast indeed!"

"I do not want to live anymore on a human plane. And so it shall be, if you want it to. Want it to, so that you will be wanted!"

St. Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr, from his Letter to the Romans, [ca 110 A.D.]