Friday, November 20, 2015

Things to do during Advent

Unlike what we do during Lent, the Orthodox Church doesn't prescribe a lot of activities during the Nativity Fast (aka Advent).  So, I was happy to find this list on the website of Holy Trinity Cathedral.

Suggestions for the Nativity Fast

The Nativity Fast is a gift that reminds us to slow down and be purposeful about how we are living these days leading up to the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord.
  • Pray for people: prepare a list of names, and once a week or more frequently pray the Supplicatory Canon to the Theotokos, or a portion of it. Ask the Theotokos to help those people.
  • Each week as you set aside the proportion of your funds to give to the Church in thanksgiving to God and for the operation of the parish, also set aside a portion to give to the poor. Then give it.
  • Celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas (San Anselmo, Dec. 6) which spiritually ushers us—with joyful exuberance—into the Nativity season. 
  • Celebrate the Feast of St. Herman of Alaska, December 13 (here at the Cathedral).
  • Fast from meat, eggs, cheese, and all dairy. Abstaining from particular foods is really the easiest part of the fast. Much more effort is required when fasting from anger, criticism, resentments, and wandering thoughts, especially those of lust and envy and wasting time in idleness and pointless entertainments. Even more effort is required when we engage in works of mercy to the needy.
  • Attend Vigil on Saturday evening, and by doing so, prepare yourself for Communion on Sunday. Confess at least twice during the Forty Day Fast, one of those times in the week prior to Christmas.
  • Volunteer at one of the many charitable institutions in our city.
  • In the week before Christmas read the Nativity accounts from St. Matthew and St. Luke to your children.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Schedules, A Date, Prayers, and Bible Reading

I had been taking the boys with me to church on Saturday nights and then taking them to Pizza on Monday nights.  Pizza night was a tradition from almost as long as we lived in Willow Glen, and I wanted to keep it alive for the boys.  Saturday's were always hard.  My ex-wife always saw other things as more important than the Saturday night vigil: "It's okay for them to miss tonight. They'll be Orthodox their whole life!"  After she kicked me out we decided that I would take the boys with me on Saturday nights, and she would take them with her on Sunday mornings.   But almost every week she would text me and say the boys had other plans on Saturday night, and I would think to myself, "well, at least they are going on Sunday."  But then I would hear that they did something else on Sunday.  It was very frustrating for me.  About a month ago I said to her, "How would you feel if I cancelled yout plans with the boys?" She didn't say anything to me then but about two weeks ago she sent me a text saying that Saturday nights don't work for her because the boys often have Boy Scout or social activities on those nights.  And she asked me if I would like Sunday instead.  So, the boys have been to the Divine Liturgy with me the last two Sundays, and it has been good.

On Monday night Basil Wenceslas and I went to pizza while Anselm Samuel had his first date.  He walked home from school with a girl, stopping at Starbucks on the way.  I was alarmed when his mother told me about this.  I added the girl to my prayer list.  I told Anselm he should invite her to Church and pizza night.

Beginning yesterday, I began driving to their house to chant the morning prayers with the boys, and then drive them to school. Today I added Bible reading.  We each read Psalm 1 aloud to each other and talked about it.  I think we'll read one of the 5 books of the Psalms, then read a Gospel, until we have read all the Psalms and Gospels. 

Thursday, November 05, 2015

A Reason to be Thankful

I had a heart-warming conversation this morning.  I was talking with a member of the U.S. grand jury for the district and asked if he had ever voted to not indict.  (The prosecutors only take cases to the grand jury if the evidence is overwhelming.)  This juror said, yes, he had disregarded the judges instructions and had twice refused to indict because he thought the law was immoral.  It made me proud of the Anglo-American system of justice.  I am greatly thankful to be be living in this tradition and not in the tyrannies of other lands.

If the jury feels the law is unjust, we recognize the undisputed power of the jury to acquit, even if its verdict is contrary to the law as given by a judge, and contrary to the evidence...If the jury feels that the law under which the defendant is accused is unjust, or that exigent circumstances justified the actions of the accused, or for any reason which appeals to their logic or passion, the jury has the power to acquit, and the courts must abide by that decision.
4th Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Moylan, 1969

[The jury has an] unreviewable and irreversible acquit in disregard of the instructions on the law given by the trial judge...The pages of history shine on instances of the jury's exercise of its prerogative to disregard uncontradicted evidence and instructions of the judge; for example, acquittals under the fugitive slave law.
D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Unites States v. Dougherty, 1972

    'You're not concerned with the law, Members of the Jury,' I told them, 'you are concerned with justice!'
    'That is a quite outrageous thing to say! On the admitted facts of this case, Mr O'Higgins is clearly guilty!' His Honour Judge Graves had decided but the honest twelve would have to return the verdict and I spoke to them. 'A British judge has no power to direct a British jury to find a defendant guilty! I know that much at least.'
    'I shall tell the Jury that he is guilty in law, I warn you.' Graves's warning was in vain. I carried on regardless.
    'His Lordship may tell you that to his heart's content. As a great Lord Chief Justice of England, a judge superior in rank to any in this Court, once said, "It is the duty of the Judge to tell you as a jury what to do, but you have the power to do exactly as you like." And what you do, Members of the Jury, is a matter entirely between God and your own consciences....'

Horace Rumpole [John Mortimer, "Rumpole à la Carte," The Third Rumpole Omnibus, Penguin Books, 1998, p.265]

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Truck, work, dating and stuff

I moved out of my sister's place a few weeks ago and into my truck.  I ran out of money (kids needed stuff, I got another big tax bill from 2013) so I haven't been able to get my truck how I want it.  All I've done is put in a wooden floor and a closet.  I sleep on an army cot, which is fairly comfortable.  My sister gave me some blankets and a pillow.   I need to put a window in it, and before winter comes I want to put in a wood burning stove. 

I quit the banking job about a month ago and went back full-time to the YMCA.   It is convenient to work at the YMCA when one lives in a truck.

I've been dating a lot.  Nice women I've met at the YMCA.  None of them are Orthodox, though.  I've taken two to church with me and they seemed to enjoy it.  We'll see how that goes. 

My child support was reduced by a couple of thousand dollars last month.  That was a huge relief but I still owe arrears for the year i didn't have the money to pay the former amount.  The new amount still takes most of my paycheck but I can live with it.

And life just goes on.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Three Conversations

I had three interesting conversations today.  The first one, at about 11 a.m., was with one of my dealers (I am a bank rep to car dealers.  My bank finances automobile purchases, usually to people with low incomes and very bad credit histories.)   The dealer I was talking with was saying that his customer was balking at the interest rate. Now this customer had a 7 year history with the credit bureaus that showed him not paying back any loan ever, defaulting on a car loan, less than a year at his current job, and only a month at his current address.  The dealer wanted me to do something about the interest rate.  And then words I never expected to come out of my mouth did, in fact, come out of my mouth. "Your customer is the highest risk I have ever seen my bank approve.  He earned this interest rate. If he wants this S-class Mercedes he is going to come up with a $30,000 down payment and pay 23.99% interest on the loan.  You need to tell him we are the only bank willing to finance him so he needs to decide if he wants to pay it or keep riding a bicycle." In reality, I think the customer should buy a Ford Focus but what I have learned is that the people with the worst credit histories want the most expensive cars.  I don't know what the customer decided (I'll find out in a few hours) but my first job is to protect the bank's assets.

About 3 p.m. today I received a phone call from a dealer I have been trying to sign up since November.  It was the General Manager of the dealership group (Toyota, Volvo, McClaren) calling to apologize for how an assistant sales manager at one of the dealerships spoke to me last week.  I was more than a little astonished.  Yes, the assistant manager was rude, but not very rude.  I told the GM that I hadn't given it a second thought and that I was looking forward to serving him.  And then the GM told me to come by next week and pick up the signed agreement.  Why is this a big deal?  Because I've been trying to get this agreement since LAST NOVEMBER!!!

At about half past 3 p.m. today I picked up my two youngest sons from school.  We went to Starbucks.  We drank our drinks and played cards (kings corners, my mother's favorite card game).  Then I drove them back to their mother's house so I could go back to work.  On the way there we saw some Mormon missionaries riding their bicycles. 

I asked my boys, "See those Mormons?  How are they different from Christians?"  They both quickly said "they think there are more than one god".  Then I asked them, "how are they like Christians?"  They didn't know the answer.  So I told them, "Like us, the Mormons believe Jesus came back from the dead."  That surprised both boys.  So I asked, "What did God tell Adam about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?"   Basil answered, "He said we can't eat the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden" (I think it's interesting that he identifies so much with our first parents that he said "we".)   And I asked, "Is that what Eve told the serpent God said?"  Basil said "yes" but Anselm, who knows the long story better than Basil, wasn't so sure.  So I told them that our first mother Eve added to what God said, that she said God said to not even touch the fruit.  And I went on to explain that the reason the Mormons believe the lie about there being many gods is that truth is mixed in with that lie, and that Satan, the very serpent in Eden has always used lies mixed with truth to deceive people.  We are usually smart enough to recognize falsehood when it stands alone, but when it is mingled with truth Satan can more easily deceive us.  But if we pay careful attention to the truth taught by the Church, "the foundation and pillar of truth" we will be less likely to be deceived. 

I think that is something the boys will think about a long time.  I sure hope it impresses them with the importance of listening to the Church. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Chess and Michael Farady

About noon today my former wife called me and asked if I was near Basil's school.  He was sick and waiting in the nurse's office.   As it happened, I was just leaving one of my dealers not 3 miles from Basil's school. When I got him home I medicated him (he has an ear infection, I think.) I made him lunch, played a game of chess with him, and helped him with is chess homework (he's working on mating in 2 moves) before I went back to work.

At 4:30 I picked Anselm up at his school and we drove to Los Gatos where I visited with one of my dealers.  It was kind of a useless visit since my bank specializes in serving dealers who sell to people with bad credit and this dealership is in one of the richest areas of California.  But I still have to visit him.  Anselm sat in the car and read an electronics textbook while I was seeing the dealer.  When my meeting was over we drove to my parish for the Vigil of the Annunciation.

Anselm is a boy of ever changing enthusiasms.  He has moved from painting to wood carving to coin collecting to Rubik's cubes to ceramics to stamp collecting.   Now he is very interested in electronics. The table in his room is covered with diodes, bits of wire, circuit boards, solder, switches, batteries, speaker parts and lights.  While we were driving to church tonight he said, "Dad, will you buy me a Faraday switch?"

"Anselm, I am very poor, and I am saving as much money as possible to buy a van or a truck to live in.  I will buy you one if I am able.  But tell me what you know about Michael Farady."

Anselm said,"I know he invented the Faraday switch and the Farday cage."

"Yes, and he proved the link between light and electricity, and discovered benzene, and made the discoveries that lead to the electric motor, and is called the Father of Electronics, but do you know the most important thing about him?"

Anselm said he didn't.  So I told him.

"He was a Christian.  And it was his his faith in the rational God that lead him to make all his scientific discoveries."

"Was he Orthodox?"

"No.  There were no Orthodox left in his country when he was born.  But he believed in the Trinity and that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and came back to life, and he believed the Bible.  And that is the most important thing about him.  It's why he was able to be a scientist.  There is a reason why science did not develop among the pagans.  Hindus think their god Brahman, if he is aware of the universe at all, is just dreaming it, the Buddhists are not even sure the universe exists, and the animists, such as the Chinese, worship a chaotic bunch of gods and spirits who have no order and make no sense.  You see the Chinese folk religion..."

"You mean like accupuncure?"

"Yes, that's part of it, but also fortune-telling, the black dragon, astrology, and tens of thousands of spirits and gods,   It's a crazy and unpredictable mess.  But the true God is a God of order and....

"Natural law!", Anselm interjected.

"Yes, natural law.  He is reasonable and His creation is knowable.  And it is because of Faraday's faith in God (he was a deacon in his church) that he had the theological and philosophical foundation to do science."

So we talked about God making sense, and our faith being rational until we got to church.  And at church during the vigil, when we sang the Polyeleos we smiled at each other when we sang the line "To Him who by understanding made the heavens, for His mercy endureth forever, hallelujah hallelujah".

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Being with the Boys

My ex-wife, Athanasia had to fly to Orlando for work for a few days.  So Sunday through Tuesday nights I stayed at her house with the boys.  

At lunch time on Sunday I picked the boys up and brought them to the YMCA where I work so they could go swimming while I finished the work day.  Then, after work we went grocery shopping and then back to their home.  When we got there the Icon corner was cluttered with other stuff, dust covered everything.  I set Basil Wenceslas to dusting and removing things that didn't belong, and Anselm Samuel was tasked with cleaning the lampada filling it with oil and replacing the wick. 

Once that was done we made supper together and ate it.  We played two fun games after supper.  The first, Ticket to Ride is one of the best board games I've ever played.  The second game, Bananagrams, was fun, too but it wasn't a fair game for an adult and children to play together. 

After the games we said evening prayers.  Basil was a little upset that we did the Lenten tones.  He didn't know it was Lent.  But when I explained it to him he was alright.  He quickly remembered the Lenten music and by the time we were finished he was chanting the responses with the correct music.  I've been sick since mid February (mostly better now) and have lost a lot of my hearing so I it was difficult for me to sing the prayers.  I was very glad when last night and this morning Anselm was able to lead and Basil was able to respond while I just stood and prayed before the Icons with them.

Each night after prayers we fell asleep listening to a recording of "An Irish Country Courtship".  I like the whole series.

I took Anselm to his swim team meeting.  It was fun watching him.  He's been swimming at the YMCA for years but I didn't know he was good enough to make the team.  He tried out for the team last week and was selected.  He's really good.

This morning, after I dropped Anselm off at his school, Basil asked me what my favorite holiday is.  I said, "Well, that's a difficult question to answer.  I really like St. Patrick's day when Anslem and I made the book about St. Patrick and you and I made soda bread and we all prayed that prayer written by St. Patrick.  And I like Christmas when we read the books all Advent and go to church on Christmas and we cook the sausage we ground and stuffed ourselves.  And I like Thanksgiving when your mom cooks the best turkey and we go to the Cathedral in San Francisco.  And I like Pascha.  We always make the Paskha and Kulich. Do you remember the year we took the train to San Francisco, walked through the tunnel, bought BBQ pork buns in Chinatown on the way to the hotel, and then shared them with everyone after the liturgy?" 

Then Basil leaned over, put his head on my arm and said, "I love you, Dad."

I loved being with my boys the past few days. 

Friday, March 06, 2015

A log near the fire

I haven't been to church since Christmas.  I work every day.  Also, I haven't been reading or praying as a Christian should.  I didn't think about it much, and certainly didn't think it would be a problem.  But a few days ago I read something in a British newspaper that rattled my faith.  I began to have serious doubts about whether or not God exists, whether or not Jesus really did all the things reported in the Gospels, whether of not there is life after death.  It would be difficult to describe how alarmed I was by these thoughts. 

The last couple of weeks I have been sick.  Yesterday I was even too sick to go to work.  I just remained in bed and listened to Ancient Faith Radio.  My doubts are gone now.   

This experience reminded me of something my Dad said in a sermon many years ago.  He as preaching on "forsake not the assembling of yourselves together" and said that a log pulled away from the other logs in a fire will soon stop burning; the logs need each other to burn hot.

I will be so glad when I can quit one of my jobs and start going to the services again.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

A Christmas Book Recommendation

In the past I used to read to my sons during Advent and Christmas.  Due to my work schedule and not living with my sons I wasn't able to do much of that this year.  But if I had been able to I would haves read this book to them.  It is a beautiful story about a woman and a boy who plant and work on a Christmas tree farm.  Combines two of my favorite things: Christmas and farming.