Wednesday, March 30, 2005


There is a Look my wife gives me sometimes after I finish spouting off some inane and optimistic platitude, a Look which comprises a simple syllogism on the subject of married life from the woman's point of view. It says, "I feel sucky, therefore you suck." Also, it says, "Shut Up!"

To this Look, there can be no reply--it is the ultimate smackdown upon the foolhardy male impulse to convince his woman that actually, she should feel fine, even though she doesn't--once the Look has been given, a man can only resort to a jest which bypasses the subject completely. So one tells her what she just said without speaking, and that one is going to go blog about it. Then one does so.

Somehow, this actually makes her feel better, even though one quit trying to make her feel better. I don't get how that works. I just wish I could learn to shift to Humor before I bring the Look down on myself.

Monday, March 21, 2005


The above is strange. It makes me think of this line from Futurama.

Ship: "If you really wanted to be with me, you'd merge your programming with mine."
Bender: "Whoah, whoah, whoah. Slow down. All my friends who've done that say that afterwards, all the passion went out of their relationship."
--from Futurama's Love and Rocket

And now we poor fleshbags can merge programming too. Yay.

I'm willing to say that there is indeed something about the American theory of government specifically, and the modern Western approach in general, which is superior to any form heretofore adopted by a society. However, I am constantly frustrated by the loose and sloppy approach to the question that is so frequently articulated by most people, and most especially (by way of unquestioned assumption) by journalists. "It's about freedom," one says. "What does that word mean?" say I. "Democracy!" says another. "What's so good about that--Hitler was elected democratically," say I. "Capitalism!" shouts another. "Oh lovely--we're great because we're a bunch of money-grubbing, selfish pigs," say I. "Christian roots!" intones another (smugly). "Yeah, letting the state and the Church mix has worked really well in the past," say I. "Secularism," the journalists trumpet. "By which you mean that once you achieve it, you might let superstitious evolutionary throwbacks like me live and benefit from your Enlightened Utopia if we don't make any noise and just die off quietly, because otherwise our stupidity and fanaticism would drag down the Greater Good, or whatever philosophical ethical system you subscribe to," say I.

I should note that this conversation takes place only in my head, as I read news articles and infer how this journalist or that interviewee would answer the above questions. Also I should note that I know the answer to the secularist is weak--I don't honestly know how to approach that. I disagree vehemently with him, but we don't have much common ground on which I can compose a witty and crushing retort. ;)

All that aside, however, I appreciate this article very much, if only because it articulates, or at least begins to articulate, what I consider the best account possible of why the American system is superior.

Specifically this section:
Despite what schoolchildren read in their history books, the reality is that the separation of church and state is not so much the foundation of American government as it is the result of a 250-year secularization process based not upon secularism, but upon pluralism. It is pluralism, not secularism, that defines democracy. A democratic state can be established upon any normative moral framework as long as pluralism remains the source of its legitimacy.

Or this quote:
The foundation of Islamic pluralism can be summed up in one indisputable verse: "There can be no compulsion in religion."
To explain, then, I would say that any superiority of the American system in particular and the Western system in general is based in a recognition of our common humanity, of the dignity of each person, and certain rights held by each individual. The specifics aren't important so much as the principle. The individual has a right to certain things so long as he does not infringe on any other individual's right to the same things. Or, to articulate it in Christian terms, the ideal society possible in a fallen world is built on the theological principle of free will--you have the ability to choose your manner of life and belief, but you accept the consequences of your choices, in this life and the next, which in practical terms includes consequences for interfering with the rights of another. Which idea is not exclusively Christian--it's simply the way things work.

Religions and philosophies can, or at least should, be able to abide by these rules. Insofar as they have, this so-called American Experiment has been a success. The failures have all-to-frequently come when one "-Ism" or another attempted to disregard them. But when it works, people are more or less at peace while the academics argue and religions and philosophies are judged on their merits rather than which has the most firepower.

I do find it ironic, however, that it was an article about Islam, not Christianity, that won from me a nod of unreserved affirmation that I have not given for several years.

**A final note--I know that there's a bit of a conflict between my use of the word "democracy" and Aslan's usage. For whatever reason, the word no longer means precisely "rule of the people" but rather "the way we civilized nations govern ourselves." When I use it pejoratively, I mean the former--when more or less approvingly, the latter.

Friday, March 18, 2005


"One word, Ma'am," he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things--trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."*

And if we can't find it, we'll make it ourselves.

And die trying, I shouldn't wonder.

* Quote from The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis

Thursday, March 17, 2005


"She was," he proclaimed, "so extraordinarily beautiful that I nearly laughed out loud. She... [was] famine, fire, destruction and plague...the only true begetter. Her breasts were apocalyptic, they would topple empires before they withered...her body was a miracle of construction...She was unquestionably gorgeous. She was lavish. She was a dark, unyielding largesse. She was, in short, too bloody much...Those huge violet blue eyes...had an odd glint...Aeons passed, civilizations came and went while these cosmic headlights examined my flawed personality. Every pockmark on my face became a crater of the moon."

I wonder if it is possible for any woman who has this sort of effect on men to not grow up to be a heinous witch. As they say, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely."

I enjoyed this article.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


Warning: blatant and pathetic introspection ahead

Truth be told, I am a bad seminarian. My chapel attentance is abyssmal, my class attendance not much better, and my attitude...well, the first two problems are a fairly accurate reflection of my attitude. Also, sad to say, of my personal prayer life.

Since this second year began last September, I've had the strange experience of growing both increasingly confident of my calling and eager to exercise it. Much of that I attribute to the fact that this year, I've had the opportunity to serve in various capacities: to chant in church, to teach Sunday School, etc. The chance to do something I actually consider worthwhile has been quite literally a godsend.

But I said that this was a strange experience--because, while my confidence in and eagerness for the priestly calling has increased greatly, my attendance at chapel hasn't at all, with the exception of those weeks when I am on duty to serve. My personal prayer life has also seen little improvement.

On those rare occasions that I notice or care about this, it disturbs me--if I want to be a minister of God, why in hell can't I seem to get my butt in gear to start preparing to do so? My good intentions scarcely last a day, much less a week, and the long and the short of it is that I don't end up liking myself very much at all. My increasing distance from what I still pathetically think of as home (my alma mater and my old friends there) only worsens matters. I'm a sucky seminarian, a lousy friend, and a lazy bum. And I don't care enough to do anything about it.

Of course I've spent a lot of time blaming all this on the church, or the school, or, occasionally and very unjustly, on my wonderful wife. But mainly on the school. Whether or not that blame is legitimate is beside the point. Whether or not the school sucks has no bearing on what I should be doing as a future priest. End of story. (so if I ever complain about the school, tell me to stuff it)

Nonetheless, tonight the president and chaplain of the school finally did something I wish they'd done a long time ago. Summoning all seminarians to a manditory meeting (which are called very rarely despite being very well attended whenever they are scheduled), they set out quite clearly the standard to which we are expected to measure up. Penalty? Suspension of seminarian status. Message? Put up or ship out. Response? Gratitude...without reserve, at least from me. However much it reveals my immaturity, I need to have clear expectations and clear consequences set out. I do the minimum amount of work required of me. That minimum, here, is ridiculously low. Therefore, I do practically nothing.

On the other hand, if I were capable (or if it were just to expect me to be capable) of forming myself as a priest on my own, there would be no need for me to attend a seminary. That being the case, it is long past time the people in charge here started taking an active hand in forming the young men here into priests. All too often over the past year and a half, they've spent their time asking us what we think the seminary experience should be. And if the time for that is past, then I'll certainly cheer. I came here hoping to be guided and formed into something worthwhile for God's work. I became Orthodox in the first place because I'd realized I was crappy at doing it myself. Obviously the actual work must be my own--but it's really, really nice to have someone actually challenge me.

Navel-gazing ended. Thank you for your forbearance.

Saturday, March 05, 2005


Seminarian's Wife: What are your pants doing? Your ankles are showing!

Seminarian (dignified): My pants are expressing their free will.

Seminarian's Wife: Your pants don't have any free will...You're Married!!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


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