Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Snow and Stories

This morning after dropping my wife off at her office, the boys and I drove up to the snow on the Santa Cruz Mountains. Snow balls were thrown. Later in the day, when we got home we read stories from Tomie dePaola's "Bible Stories". And took a nap.
The boys and I just had a dinner of rice and beans. Later this evening I'll boil some cabbage, potatoes, and carrots for my wife to eat when she gets home from work about 8:30 tonight.
This is a good day.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Last week and a definition

Last week was a very very bad week. I will not go into all of the horrible details. There was much sadness, sickness, sleeplessness, and anger. There were flat tires and unattained goals. There was one horrible experience at 3 a.m. (My wife is right when she says nothing good ever happens at 3 a.m.) We missed every single service during the first week of Lent. There were too many tasks and not enough time. I didn't feel any relief from last week's suffering until Saturday morning when I made a tripple martini. I say again, it was a very very very bad week.

So far, this is a much better week. Time doesn't heal all wounds, but it does provide proof that human beings can, if not solve most problems, at least, out last them.

In other news, I coined and defined a new word over at Raphel's blog. (You'll have to look in the comments.)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A lenten Retreat

Bay Area Friends!

Holy Virgin Cathedral (where St. John Maximovitch lies in repose) is inviting all bay area young adults for the day!!
(Age not important)
Haven't you always wanted to visit: well now we can do it together and participate in ENGLISH!!

March 25, Sunday, which is NOT their Annunciation bc they are Old Calendar.

It's still in the works, so just SAVE THE DATE FOR NOW.

But here is a likely schedule:

Divine Liturgy in English.
First speaker following that (name of speaker is yet to be determined).
Second speaker, Dr. Matthew Steenberg (they like him at the BBC).
A choir concert

Dr. Matthew Steenberg, a 2001 Marshall Scholar from St. Olaf's College is a patristics professor from Oxford, who will give a talk on making the liturgy come to life for the worshiper.

There'll be Lenten food and stuff. The group this is aimed at is 18-30-year-old Orthodox people, but anyone is welcome to come.

Friday, February 23, 2007

3rd Lenten Email

Life in this world is preparation for life in the age to come. The Old Testament is preparation for the New Testament. Preparation and fulfillment are the two great themes in life and Scripture. That means they must be the great themes of the Church, which encompasses all of life and is the vehicle through which God produced and protects the Holy Scriptures. As you know, Lent is the preparation for the fulfillment of Pascha. But preparation and fulfillment are not just the themes of the grandest events in life. They are the pattern of even the smallest occurrences. Is bread broken without baking? Is wine enjoyed without crushing grapes? Even within one small service that is only served during Lent we see the pattern.

In the last email I sent you I told you about the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian. Although it is prayed often by the Orthodox and eastern-rite Catholics in their private prayers, it is most beautifully framed by the evening worship service which is sometimes called the Liturgy of St. Gregory (He also lends his name to a very popular style of singing.) but which is usually called the Liturgy of Pre-Sanctified Gifts. In this Liturgy the prayer follows a hymn. The hymn is the preparation for the prayer. The prayer is the fulfillment of the hymn. And the two together are preparation for something that occurs later in the Liturgy, and the whole Liturgy is part of the preparation for Holy Week, which is preparation for Pascha. The preparation and fulfillment just goes on and on, growing in beauty at every step, until one day, if we can not see it now, we will look around us and see that we are in Heaven. And in the words of C.S. Lewis in the “Last Battle” we will continue to move “further up” and “further in” forever and ever in an eternal procession toward God.

But here and now we are talking about the hymn that prepares us for the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian - walking before running, you know. The name of the hymn is “Let My Prayer Arise”. In a darkened temple, on bended knee, clothed in swirling clouds of frankincense we sing…

“Let my prayer arise in Thy sight as incense
And the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice…”

That is merely the refrain. If you’d like to hear the whole thing but are unable to make it to any services this Lent, you can listen to the attached [to the email, not this blog post] Windows Media file. It was recorded at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in New York.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Not Iraq

I have been very worried about my oldest son going to Iraq. Today my prayer was answered. I just read that the fearsome men of the 173rd Airborne are going to Aghanistan!!!!! Weeeee!!!! Hooooo!!!!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Second Lenten Email

Part of traditional Lenten practice is the reading of spiritual books. One story that I have just reviewed today is the Silver Chair, part of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I’m sure you are familiar with the story and its climactic scene where the heroes are confronted by the witch. She doesn’t try to kill them or take any kind of physical action against them. Indeed, she offers comfort (though in a prison) and attempts to grow doubt in the minds of the heroes; doubt about the existence of any world other than her underground abode, doubt about whether or not the sun even exists. (The whole scene is very reminiscent of Sigmund Freud‘s argument in his evil book, Society and its Discontents.) And the heroes are deceived.

Thankfully, one of the heroes had labored hard in asceticism prior to embarking on the adventure. He had lived a semi-hermetic life in a marsh, eating no meat only eels. (If you ever look in a very old British cook-book you will find plenty of recipes for eel, a traditional Lenten food in those islands.) Just as he was about to slip under the spell of the witch’s reasonable-sounding argument he seems to have remembered the power of his past asceticism for he subjected his body to the pain of fire, thus clearing his head of the witch’s cobwebs. That is, he mortified his flesh (8:13) in order to save his life, and the lives of his friends.

In the practice of the Orthodox Church we do not put our bodies into fire in order to clear our minds. (Doing grave harm to one’s body is forbidden.) However, we still manage to fit in a lot of physical stuff in order to rid our minds of the devil‘s deceits and the world‘s cloying comforts. Prostrations have been found to be particularly useful (and exhausting), especially when coupled with the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian:

"O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, lust of power, and idle talk. (prostration)
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. (prostration)
Yea, Lord and King, grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother, for thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen. (prostration)."

Of course, the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love is none other than the Sprit of Truth Who dispels every reasonable-sounding enchantment that the enemy, or his agents wrap around our minds

First Lenten Email

During the Church's major fasting periods I send emails to my non-Orthodox friends. Most of them think Lent and Advent are just plain weird. It is my hope that the emails change their mids about that. I don't usually post those emails here because, I think, all of the readers of this blog are Orthodox and know this stuff already. But beginning with this Lent I will post the texts of the emails here, too.

Hi. Just as I do during Advent, I send out messages during Lent.

Aside from the Wednesday and Friday fasts, Lent is the only one of the Church’s fasts that is of Apostolic origin. Originally, the fast was only for people preparing for baptism on Pascha and it varied in length according to local custom. (There is a very interesting late 2nd century letter written from the Bishop of Lyons to the Bishop of Rome that discusses some of these differences.) In some cities the fast was kept as 1, 2, or 3 days with no food at all. In some the fast was kept for 40 hours. In other cities the week from Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday was kept as Lent. In some cities it was kept for 40 days as a fast from luxurious food such as meat or olive oil. (The humble lentil gets its name from the season). So while the overall idea of Lent was universal from the start of the Church the way Lent was observed was not universal.

This local variation is the occasion for a very famous saying. In the 5th Century St. Monica was a member of the church in Milan. Milan was what I think of as a hard-core church. They not only kept the Wednesday and Friday fasts but it was their practice to fast on Saturdays, too. When St. Monica visited Rome she was surprised to see that the Christians there did not observe a Saturday fast. Returning home, she asked her bishop, St. Ambrose, what she should do. He told her: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

For both eastern and western Christians Lent is a time of increased prayer and almsgiving but the actual days and methods of fasting were never identical.
Western Christians: 40 days (skipping Sundays, for the obvious reason) of fasting from some kind of food, increased prayers and almsgiving from Ash Wednesday until Easter. I’m not sure, but I think western Christians do pilgrimages during Lent, too.
Eastern Christians: Lent begins at Forgiveness Vespers 40 days before Palm Sunday (Holy Week is a fasting period too, but is not thought of as Lent) and includes Sundays but for the obvious reason the fast is relaxed on Sundays: alcohol and olive oil may be consumed on Sundays.

Because I am an Orthodox Lent begins for me on this coming Sunday. (But last Sunday was our carne-vale. We like to move into things gradually.). It is a physically demanding service but I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Below is an essay (originally broadcast on the National Public Radio program All Things Considered, March 2, 1998) by Frederica Mathews-Green that explains what the service is about better than I ever will be able to.

On the first night of Lent, as Vespers comes to an end, my husband turns from the altar. He asks everyone to form a circle around the interior of the church, and when we’re in place, the person next to him—in this case, our son David—steps over to face his dad. My husband crosses himself, bows to David, then says, "Forgive me, my brother, for any way I have sinned against you. " David says, "I forgive you," and they embrace. Then it’s David’ s turn to bow to his dad and ask the same question, and receive the same forgiveness and embrace.
The ancient rite of forgiveness has begun. David steps to the next person in line to repeat the exchange, and a different parishoner faces my husband; before the evening is over every single person here will have asked for and received forgiveness from every other.
Orthodox Christians have done this for centuries, every year on the first night of Lent, to cleanse past wounds and allow a fresh start. When I next look up I see David embracing his younger brother Stephen. Where David is quiet-natured, a cool stream, Stephen is a geyser, full of passionate opinion, wide-flinging love and, not infrequently, anger. There were things to be forgiven there.
At last the rite has reached my point in line, and one at a time I bow to people I worship with every week, looking each one in the eye. Each moment is intimate, and I feel on the wobbly border between embarassment, laughter and tears. When I ask 12-year-old Melanie to forgive me, she says, "Not that you’ve done anything, but okay." Basil is giving out enveloping bear hugs with exclamations of "Praise Jesus! Praise Jesus!" Down the line, worshippers dip and bend as in a country dance.
I come to my daughter Megan, who will be eighteen in a few days. She has made it safely to adulthood past an adolescence that had it rocky places; yes, there are things to forgive here too. I bow to her and manage to say, past the lump in my throat, "Megan, please forgive me for any way that I have offended you." I could think of a million mistakes I had made. She looks at me, her lashes wet, and says, "I forgive you, Mom." Then she bends to touch the floor and stands again, and says to me, "Please forgive me, Mom, for everything."
Can a mother do such a thing? You bet. A moment later we are in a marshmallowy embrace.
Soon we are headed across the parking lot, the boys racing ahead. Megan puts her arm around me as we amble along, and I look up at a black sky spattered with stars. From this night to Easter morning a desert stretches, but it has begun with light.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Day before Lent starts

Well, this has been a nice day. Woke up late. Had toast with butter. Went to Stanford to put Two Small Farms flyers on the doors of all of the graduate students’ apartments. (My wife is the site host. If we get 40 people to sign up we get our veggies for free.) On the way to Stanford we stopped at Peet’s (I am a stock holder.) to get some coffee. We put up flyers for a couple of hours. It was the best time I’ve had with my wife in a couple of weeks. She thinks I should apply to Stanford to work on a Ph.D. when I finish the program at UMass Boston. I don’t know. I’m already 38. If I was 28, sure. But what would I do with a Ph.D. at 45? Start a new career in the highly competitive field university teaching?

The boys and I left her there to do homework for her M.P.A. program. We came home, played ball, read books, took a nap. When we woke up we made brownies and watched the first half of the Silver Chair (Part of the BBC Narnia production).

Brownies and Martinis are how I am splurging before Lent. Won’t really have time to splurge tomorrow, which is the real splurge day, Cheesefare. The brownies: Not so good. The Martinis: “…large and very strong, and very well made” as James Bond said in Ian Flemmings novel, Casino Royale. (It is a very fun book and has much to reveal about post-war Britain.)

Usually, I prefer my martinis in a small glass, a champagne goblet is the perfect size. (I have mostly large cocktail glasses but, usually, I only fill them 1/2 way up.) Or maybe, just slightly larger, like the glasses David Niven holds on that tray in the 1957 re-make of “My Man Godfrey”. Yes, that is probably the perfect size. But not for today. Today was definitely a BIG day. What, you may ask, are my ingredients? 4 oz of Beefeater London Dry Gin (the last premium gin still made in London), 1.25 oz of Gaetano D’Aquino Extra Dry Vermouth, and two largish pimento-stuffed (No exotic stuffing for me, thank you. I’m Orthodox.) olives.

Speaking of olives, if there is a Whole Foods Market near where you live, you should stop in and buy some of the Mt. Athos olives to support the monks. You will find them in the olive bar. They are very good.

So how are you splurging before the onset of Lent? Pancakes? Crepes? Milkshakes? Fondue?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Since the death of my father I have been thinking about the stories of my ancestors. Here are some parts of some of their stories.

The first member of my family to enter history in this country did so a private in the Pennsylvania militia during the war of 1812. No one knows how he performed during the war. We do not know what battles, if any, he fought. We do not know if he survived the war.

The next time one of my ancestors is mentioned in history is during the Civil War. We were Unionists and fought in the guerilla battles in Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri. During the Battle of Springfield my grandmother’s grandfather was taken prisoner by Union soldiers while in a Confederate uniform. He was a spy. He was up on a horse with a rope around his neck when the word came to get him down. Had the messenger been slower would I be here today?

Before the Civil War he and his brother were pioneers and Indian fighters. His brother lost his life during an Indian counter-attack. My great-great grandfather survived that particular attack. My great-great grandmother hid in the cabin during the fight and heard her brother-in-law’s screams as he was scalped alive. She would tell the story to my grandmother (my father’s mother) when she was a little girl. My grandmother told it to me.

My father’s mother’s mother together with her husband (grandma and grandpa Jones) were in the land race for homesteads on the Cherokee Strip. They staked their claim and he went back to the land office to file it. While he was gone a man came and tried to steal the claim. She killed him with a shotgun blast in the stomach. The land was lost to bad investments sometime before the Great Depression.

My father’s father worked in lead and zinc mines around Commerce, Oklahoma. During the summers he, my grandmother, and my father would move out of the house and go down to the river to camp. They spent all summer on the river. During the day he would go to the mines but at night he and my dad would fish. This was my dad’s fondest memory of his dad. (I have the tackle box that my grandfather bought my Dad when he was 9).

The mines were a horrible place. There was no safety equioment. Before the men went down in the mines they would inhale aluminum dust. The theory was that the lead would stick to the aluminum and be coughed up at the end of the shift. The aluminum dust and a wet handkerchief over his mouth was his only safety equipment. My grandfather was also a union organizer. He helped organize the workers in the mines of the Tri-State Zinc and Lead Ore Producers Association. My dad said he saw his dad leave the house many nights with a pistol and a yellow arm band. And many nights he came home beaten up very badly. Silicosis killed him when he was 42.

My mother’s mother’s mother was called Grandma Reynolds. She was Cherokee. She and her husband lived on a farm in Oklahoma. They had five sons and one daughter. The farm was sufficient to feed them but for cash my great-grandfather and his sons cut wood. Their daughter married my mother’s father when she was 16. He was in his thirties. They had a stormy marriage.

Her husband, my gradpa Cagle, died a couple of months before I was born. His father worked as watch repairman in St. Louis. I do not know how they met.
My Grandpa Cagle fought in WWI. He was in charge of a horse team that pulled a canon. After the War he became a preacher in the United Pentecostal denomination (they are modalists). He was beat up by his neighbors in Waterloo, Illinois for showing hospitality to some black people. Later, sometime in the late 1950s he was kicked out of his denomination because he came to believe in the Trinity. But before that happened his 3rd daughter met my father in a hop field in Oregon.

My father was kicked out of his house when he was 14. His mother had inherited a house when my grandfather died but a few days after the funeral she had a new man and signed the house over to him. He had four sons. He told my Dad to leave. None of my relatives would take him in so he lived on the streets of Commerce, Oklahoma. He would sleep in doorways or in the town theater. (he would hide inside after the last show.) When the man died my father moved back in with his mother. But the house was left to the man’s sons so my father and his mother had to rent a place. Shortly after that is when my Dad became a Christian. He was 17 when that happened.

For work he did just about anything. He said the hardest job he ever had was sharpening the bit of a drill when he worked as a roughneck. The drill had two bits. As one was being used to go into the earth he would sharpen the other. The process was to heat it over a fire and then pound it back into shape with a 12 lb. sledge hammer. He swung that hammer from dawn till dusk. But the job that took him to Oregon where he met my mother was following the wheat harvest. When he was 21 he signed onto a crew in Oklahoma that kept moving north as the season progressed. When he got to Oregon he stopped, got a job (he had learned the butcher’s trade. That is what kept him out of WWII. He was a crew leader in a meat packing plant that supplied the Army with beef.) , an apartment, and started preaching on Sundays as a supply preacher for the Four Square denomination.

One day his room-mate saw an ad that said harvesters were needed in the hop fields. Well, my Dad and his room-mate went down to the field on their day off and each took a row of hops to pick. In the rows next to them were several teenage-girls, they were singing hymns. My father and his room mate, Cecil started talking to them. Cecil started courting the woman who would be my mother. But my father was secretly in love with her.

For two or three Sunday mornings Cecil and my Dad drove to my mother’s house to pick up her and one of her sisters for church. But one Sunday, Dad woke up before the alarm went off and made sure it would not go off. He got dressed very quietly and went to pick up my Mom. When she asked “Where’s Cecil?” he answered “I guess he wanted to sleep in.” By that afternoon they were going steady.

Her father was horrified that his daughter had fallen in love with a Trinitarian. To get her away from him my grandfather immediately resigned his pastorate and moved his family back east, to Oklahoma, I think. But they kept writing to each other. And 7 weeks after they met my Dad drove into the town where my mother was living. 8 weeks after they met they were married.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Prince of Persia

Is this article evidence that Iran is still ruled by a demon? (See Daniel 10:13-20)
If so, would even the might of the United States, poised to invade from the sea, Iraq and Afghanistan prevail against them?


Yesterday, the boys and I walked to a pet store. While we were there we played with the hermit crabs. Anselm asked if we could buy some. I said, "No. I'm afraid that you might hurt them." He looked a little confused and said, "I wouldn't hurt them. I'd just use the big knife to cut them in half and eat them."

The Best Thing About the Internet

Six years ago today I decided to break up with my girlfriend. (She was 10 years too young for me. I only dated women who were 18-25. I was 32. It wasn't smart. I had a lot of boring dates.) So I went to this website where I came across the most amazing woman I would ever meet. She was (still is) older than me. That in itself was kind of exotic. I quickly wrote an ad designed to almost match what she said she wanted. I even lied about being a scrabble master. Then I replied to her ad. We did a few emails. We talked on the phone. We met here a couple of weeks later. Six weeks after we met we got married in Tahoe. (The exact place was at Caeser's Palace, but it has new ownership and a new name.)
And here I am with her six years later. It never would have happened without the internet.

Monday, February 05, 2007

My Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday. My wife bought me two books: Rich Dad, Poor Dad and Wind in the Willows. We also went to Santa Cruz and played ski-ball. Anslem and I won a lot of tickets and exchanged them for all kinds of neat things. The neatest being a whoopie cushion. He absolutely falls on the floor laughing every time it sounds. For dinner we went to my favorite Greek resturaunt. Then we drove up highway 9 to Felton and played at the covered bridge park, or the boys did, anyway. I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad out loud to my wife. It is a good book and I love the information it contains but is written in what I think of as that very annoying repetitious 1st-person self-help-book style. I always feel as though the authors who write in that style think their audiences are stupid. It needs to be rewritten. But the info is good.

In other news, we drove by Prophet Elias and saw that they have an expansion/rennovation program going on. We've got to make it to their festival this year. I've heard it is the best in California.

It was a good birthday. I think it was the best since I turned 18, exactly 20 years ago.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Live Music

There is a phenomenon of the electronic age which seems to go hand-in-hand with the isolation of Man. Sitting in our single-family detached homes with green no-man’s lands separating houses from each other and even from the streets on which they are located, we can listen to pre-recorded and digitized music, completely cut off from the beauty of humanity, the spontaneity of humanity, the work of humanity. Music has become mere numbers written on silicon.

Gone are the reeds, strings, woods, and metals of the instruments. Gone is the sweat dripping off of Miles Davis’ forehead as he works to make beauty out of air. Gone is the nearly unbelievable (but I’ve seen it so I know it is real) accu-speed of Segovia’s fingers. Gone are the sequine-sheathed hips of the chanteuse swaying, keeping time like a metronome. Gone is the singer whose voice having reached the limit pushes more and stretches to reach the impossible note, the note that conjures memories of lives not lived. Gone is the shared experience of sitting in a small room with 300 other people listening, dancing, thrilling to the music. Those things just don't matter to the modern computerized recluse listening to music alone.

Don’t settle for what the corporations want to sell you. MP3s, iTunes, and CDs are mere artifice. But live performances are altogether different. They are genuine and real experience. To that end, I recommend the following musicians who are noted for the excellence of their live performances. I’m also including the names of a few good places to experience live music. I encourage you to look them over, buy tickets, and enjoy music the way it should be enjoyed: Live.

The musicians you should go see, and some places where you should see them.
Pink Martini, Steve Tyrell, Red Meat, Superdiamond, Madeleine Peyroux, Bimbo’s 365 Club, Marisa Monte, Gillian Welch , Kim Nalley , Eden Atwood , Carolina Herring , Lavay Smith and the Red Hot Skillet Lickers , Jazz at Pearls , Rube Waddell , Tilly and the Wall

A note about all of these acts. They are not listed because I even enjoy all or even most of the music they produce. For instance, I don't really like Tilly and the Wall. But they do something that is really neat. They eschew the drums other bands use. Instead they have a tap dancer. That alone makes for a fabulous live show. I mean, how often do you get to see live tap dancing today?

What musicians have you seen live who you think the rest of the world should see?