20110829 Hurricanes, Babies, and Education

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The Weather.  Irene

  • Hurricane.  Need to be prepared more generally.  Spiritually, you don’t prepare for specific traumatic events (and demonic assaults) that have been forecast, you maintain constant vigilance.  Then we are ready for everything that comes along.  This fits in with a couple pieces of traditional Christian wisdom: 
    • Christ told us that we do not know when we will be called to answer for our lives (be it through our own death or the Great Judgement), so we have to live prepared for that time.  Sometimes that is described as living in constant awareness of death.  Another way to think of it is that we should always be holy as God is holy.  This isn’t just the best way to be prepared, it is the perfect way to live even if there was no such thing as death, judgement, or spiritual crises.
    • Don’t live in the past or the future, but doing what love requires at that moment.  Worrying about the future doesn’t add a bit to our stature or make us any more prepared.  Relax, trust God, and do what needs to get done.  
  •  What does this mean?  What does living in the moment do to help you prepare for future crises?  Let me give you some examples:
    • The prayer rule.  If you follow your daily prayer rule, then you will develop self control, defense against logismoi, battle experience through demonic skirmishes, discernment, and the instinct and ability to effectively reach out to God and His Church in times of need.  You will have turned your heart into a defensible fortress defended by seasoned warriors.
    • Fasting.  It is true that we fast in part to build up anticipation for a coming feast, but there is so much that this discipline does for the soldier of Christ.  It also shows how present activities work to get us ready for something.  In this way, you can see that delayed gratification is not about living for the future, but about how living correctly and well today leads us from glory to glory.  It also teaches us how to be holy (i.e. compassionate, humble, selfless, strong) when we are tired, hungry, and surrounded by increased temptations.  These are skills that make us great warriors when times are really tough.
  • Hopefully you get the picture.  One last digression and I’ll get to the point: it sounds like I am trying to sell you survival gear; “pray and fast, and you will be able to defeat even the most experienced and entrenched demonic foe!”.  But the real idea is that, while good things inevitable come from being good, we should be good not because we want power in return, or because we are scared not to, or even because someone who really knows what’s best for us (God!) told us we should, but because it puts us in conformity with the will of the Perfect Love that is God.  What more could anyone really strive for?
  • So what is my point?  Learn lessons from the hurricane.  Don’t be one of those yahoos that panics at the last minute because he doesn’t have bread in the pantry or milk in the fridge.  Keep your pantry stocked all the time.  The wise virgins had their oil and were thus ready for the bridegroom in the middle of the night.  Be like them.
  • So how was the hurricane?  Honestly, it was dwarfed by the feast we celebrated in its midst: the Dormition of the Theotokos.

 The Birth of Our Daughter: Claire.  A beautiful time.  What lessons am I willing to share?

  • Love has obvious rewards.  This was a real epiphany for me.  It is something that I have know at some level – it’s something we’ve even talked about here.  But I felt it, KNEW it stronger than ever before.  There is love.  There is unity.  My favorite atheists – the thinking ones who appreciate the varieties of human experiences that come through community, sacrifice, and devotion – love to point out that the connections we feel with one another and with God are completely located within our own skin.  There is no invisible string connecting us, no psycho-spiritual bond between us.  Moreover, we go gaga over babies not because they are the fruit of flesh made one in love, but because this ensures that we give up things we want so that new life might live and our genes continue beyond our death.
  • But the epiphany is that the things happening within our skin ARE the connections between us.  Or, at least, they are enough to demonstrate that unity and love are real.  Scientists are skeptical about shared lives because they can describe the chemistry that leads lovers to bond with one another – and because they can manipulate things so that this chemistry gives “false positives”.  But what kind of evidence for bonding would you expect?  Do we need some kind of pineal tractor beam to REALLY allow us to love one another?  Isn’t the fact that the touch of a lover causes our chemistry to change the same sort of thing as a pineal tractor beam?  Isn’t the fact that (forgive me for being so descriptive) the mixing of bodily fluids, shared between husband and wife during an act of mutual sacrifice, leads to new life – life to which both the husband and wife are automatically devoted and which completes their life together proof of something more than evolution?  What would you expect love to look like?  If it looked any different, then we would assume that it, too, was too “normal” to mean anything as grand as theology would claim for it.  And because it would exist in a fallen world (just as do the chemicals and organs, and procedures we have now), it would be subject to misuse and misdirection (Type 1 and Type 2 Errors).
  • The birth process also provides some useful balance to our approach to transhumanism (I haven’t forgotten my promise to do a show(s) on this – I’m still researching).  Remember our discussion about artificially-induced longevity, and how it went against God’s gift of shorter life (a gift because it protects us and this world from our sinfulness)?  We have to be careful.  Obviously, if we are driven to embrace technological extensions by fear of death/mortality, or by a desire to achieve theosis through any other means than Christ, we are setting ourselves up for disaster.  But the issue is not black and white.  There are other motives, and there are degrees.  Genesis 3:16 describes some of the punishments of disobedience.  One of them is the woman’s pain of childbirth.  I have seen that pain four times now.  What about the epidural?  Is this contrary to God’s desire?  Are we setting ourselves up for disaster, as when man tries to get around his punishment – the toil of agriculture – through destructive fertilizers, monoculture, and genetically manipulating crops?  Or is it more like adapting permaculture techniques, something that allows us to be more of the humans we were called to be by using our knowledge in a way that serves life and creation?  The epidural is proof that a fundamentalist, black and white approach to interpreting scripture to explain technology is misleading.  Orthodoxy demands discernment.

My new gardening hobby:  sprouting.  Seeds, canister, and lid (and lessons) courtesy of Sprout People.  I’ve also built a trial hugelkultur bed.  I’ll let you know about it once I have more to report.

From the Sartyr’s Trident (Satire).
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The Mail Bag.
Thank you for your kind words, prayers, and encouragement!  A new reader (I don’t think he is a listener yet) took me to task for claiming that the UOC-MP is conciliatory.  What do you think?  Should the UOC-MP abandon the Russophiles in its flock so that it can better cater to the needs of the rest of Ukraine?  Or is it best to give bishops and priests the tools and authority to respond to the needs of their flocks as the Holy Spirit leads them?  The UOC-MP is in a difficult spot.  All who minister to the needs of diverse people are (just ask any priest or bishop here in the USA!).  But is the answer really to give half your people a stone instead of bread?  And the point about the EP being the natural home of the UOC (vs. the MP) is a red herring: the Ukrainian Church should be autocephalous.  Period.  This should be obvious to everyone.

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Volya: On Education
Review: crunchy is an intentional, holistic approach to holiness.  We call it “crunchy” because it roughly aligns with some of the goals of granola types (ecology, love, humility, equilibrium, communitarianism).  In the libertarian crunchiness that I espouse, it adds the concepts of personal responsibility, self-reliance, a love of tradition, and virtue.  Education is a big part of this.  What does this mean in practical terms?  It means recognizing that the standard solution/pattern may or may not be what is best for you and your children.

  • For younger children, public schools may be fine.  But public education must be augmented by Church school, camps, retreats, pilgrimages, liturgical worship, and home learning.  Actually, this is exactly backwards.  The family is the parish of the home.  And it MUST be the institution that drives education.  How else will the child learn to build his life on the solid rock of Christ?
  • For teenagers, public schools in many areas start becoming more problematic.  Consider homeschooling, Classical and Orthodox co-ops (and if there isn’t one, I guarantee there is interest/demand in your community – you aren’t the only parent who wants this).  Church camps, retreats, and pilgrimages become even more important, even trumping things like sports and secular music camps (if you teenager is musically inclined – why not send him to chanter’s camp!?).
  • The situation really reaches a crescendo when it comes to choosing a college.  You really have to ask yourself; “What are the goals of the next 4-6 years? What are the non-negotiables”  If growing as an Orthodox Christian (or even remaining one) is a non-negotiable goal, then act like it!  Don’t even entertain campuses that do not have an OCF or a local parish!  Why would you!?  If you are not intentional about this decision, then strange things will happen.  They may still happen, but shouldn’t you do what you can?

But maybe the situation is not as dire as we suppose.  Sending a child off to college – even a secular bastion of liberalism – may not be akin to sending him off to Babylon to worship false gods.

Next we have an interview with a good friend and listener, Matthew Woessner.  He is smart, well-educated (PhD, OSU), a wonderful teacher (he’s a professor at Penn State Harrisburgh), and intentionally traditional/conservative.  One of his areas of expertise (one he shares with his wife, April Kelly Woessner – also a PhD from OSU and a good friend) is the politicization of academia and how it affects – or doesn’t affect students.  They found that the fears of conservatives about liberal brainwashing were largely unjustified – at least when it comes to political science (a field dominated by liberals).  I find this reassuring.  However, we cannot extrapolate too far from their evidence (and their evidence is good): college is still full of siren songs.  We should be far more concerned about the culture of egoistic hedonism that dominates many campuses than about the political opinions of professors.  And, as Matthew hints in the interview, there are departments whose overt anti-clericalism and hostility towards traditional mores may still be poisonous to the innocent (actually, this is my opinion – he just recognized that other departments are hostile towards conservatism).

Well, enough from me!  Let’s hear what Matthew has to say!