Today on Facebook someone commented that “most people cannot remember a time when the government worked for us instead of against us.”
I was moved by this idea to write about the concepts of government, perception, optimism, and consciousness. Mostly I wondered, don’t people remember and keep the words of Abraham Lincoln, and the founding fathers? That ours is a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people?” And how can people not see all the good things the government does for us?
To me, seeing the good things our government does is a lot like the ability to perceive God. How could someone not see evidence of God everywhere? I see evidence of both a good God and a good government everywhere.
To me, seeing good is like seeing a lot of things that are there, but we’re not aware of. It is a matter of wanting to see something, putting yourself in the right place, at the right time, and tuning your attention appropriately.
For example, we don’t often see bats in the summer, at least in Wisconsin. But there are quite a few around. If I want to really see them, I discovered there’s a roost in an old building next to the Grafton Public library where I used to work. Go to the parking lot at dusk any night all summer long, and see hundreds of bats coming out of their roost at night. It’s quite spectacular. Another example is looking through a microscope to see tiny lifeforms, invisible to the naked eye. Or using a telescope at night to see details on the surface of the moon we just can’t perceive without help.
Or even just becoming aware or conscious of something you never noticed before, can help you see it. For example, before I test drove and then bought a Honda CRV, I had never seen one before. But after I became aware of them—amazingly—I saw them everywhere!
We also have to engage our will to see things, too. We have to want to see things. One can look at a partially-filled glass and call it half empty, or half full. We make such choices. And it is purely a matter of choice.
So for those who say the government does nothing for us, really? Is that true? Or is it that you’re just not perceiving things correctly?
I decided to started a list of things I can see that government does for me. Below are just 10 things I can think of off the top of my head.
My ability to read, do math, have understanding of lots of subjects—all courtesy of the fine education I received at Wauwatosa Public Schools and the University of Wisconsin system. I had an excellent education in public schools: primary, secondary, and college
The Internet. Public academic institutions attempting to share information developed the first internet.
My favorite radio station I listen to daily, which is WUWM-FM. If not for FCC regulations, turning on a radio station would be a mass of noise.
Traveling safely on the roads. From speed limits to stop signs, rules of the road and police officers, I might have crashed and died long ago
My ability to worship freely—and in a building exempt from taxes. Our government guarantees my freedom to worship — something we take for granted in this country.
A clean healthy home and yard thanks to garbage pickup. Imagine if there were no garbage trucks to pick up our waste. It would get pretty smelly and we’d get pretty sick.
A safe house that doesn’t fall apart on me. Thanks to building codes, permits, licenses, and inspectors—and people cooperating with them all—our homes don’t fall apart in the wind and keep us dry in the rain.
Mail delivery. Wish it was still the Pony Express sometimes (I just love horses) but I’m very grateful for the ability to send and receive mail.
Roads kept paved and clean of snow, ice, leaves, trash, and dead animals (imagine the graveyard our highways would be if no one ever picked up roadkill!)
Laws that make it very easy to start a small business and that reduce my tax overhead. Think we’ve got red tape? You should hear how much harder it is in other countries. A friend from Germany heightened my consciousness to how easy we have it here. Again, half full, or half empty?
Anything you can add to this list, of things government does for us?
MILWAUKEE–This week I had the privilege to attend a lecture at Marquette University by one of the most preeminent authors, scholars, and theologians of our generation: His Eminence, the Most Reverend Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, MA, D.Phil, titular metropolitan of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Great Britain.
With his bishop’s hat, flowing robes, scraggly white beard, and distinctive British accent, this esteemed professor emeritus at Oxford could surely be mistaken for a Defense-Against-the-Dark-Arts instructor at Hogwarts. (To see what I mean, check out this interview with Metropolitan Kallistos on the Philokalia.)
A prolific theologian, many would count him a worthy candidate for eventual sainthood, possibly even of the kind called Equal-to-the-Apostles.
Like every Orthodox bishop I have ever met, his warmth, grace, and above all, humility was most noticeable. He’s very down to earth. What brought him to Milwaukee? Word has it His Eminence was drawn to view the collection housed at Marquette of the original manuscripts and writings of his esteemed Oxford predecessor, J.R.R. Tolkien. Thanks to Marquette for that! The Metropolitan gave us much to think about and mediate upon, particularly as we are about to embark upon our inner journey through Lent.
Given the state of the world “out there” today, our collective prayerful journey through the Lenten desert “in here” in 2016 may well be one of the most crucial, or perhaps most meaningful, of our lives. May our prayers bear much fruit.
Lenten Meditation: In the Image and Likeness of God
In Orthodoxy, we learn to hold our hand in a very specific way to make the sign of the Cross. Join together index, middle finger and thumb, to represent the holy Trinity. Fourth finger and pinkie, folded down into the palm, represents the dual nature of Christ as both fully God and fully human.
This theological symbol we make using our own hand could summarize Metropolitan Kallistos Ware’s lecture.
Like Christ’s paradox of being both fully human and fully God, Kallistos pointed out how we human beings, too, are full of paradoxical duality. Humankind embodies both hope and disappointment, frailty and strength, beauty and ugliness, “Godlike apprehension and the quintessence of dust,” he said. We are both earthly and heavenly, temporal and immortal, spirit and flesh. In theological terms, we know from Genesis that we are made “in the image and likeness of God,” while formed out of dust. Grounded in the earth, “our personhood reaches out into infinity and into eternity.” This paradoxical duality causes us human beings to be a mystery–to our very selves.
Even though we may know we are “‘made in the image and likeness of God,’ we understand only a very small part of our personhood,” said Kallistos. “We don’t understand ultimate fulfillment. We don’t yet know what we will be. And so we ask ‘Who am I? What am I?’” Perennially, in every generation.
Human beings are born with a sense of needing something. We are driven to find it. It is like we’re born as a puzzle with a missing piece. There is always a sense of something missing, which drives us to go out and seek for something: a yearning for fulfillment.
Kallistos’ comment parallels a core teaching in A Course in Miracles, how there is really only one problem in life –separation from God–we often go looking in the wrong places to find the solution. It might be relationships. It might be material wealth. It might be adventure, a good time, a sense of wonder. It might be creating a life of comfort around us, in which we feel physically safe—which we do by accumulating wealth or power. Or it might be investing our lives in something more than ourselves—raising our children, or contributing to a cause.
Yet none of these truly, deeply satisfy. When we chase things and power—we always seem to need more. When we seek fulfillment in others, they all seem to leave us, eventually: if they don’t let us down, they grow up and move way, or they die. When we seek wealth and power, we find it never lasts: the more we have, the less safe and more vulnerable we feel, and we never can take it with us. And though we may devote our lives to a “cause,” often that cause is never truly fixed, but continues on past our time here.
The only way to find that missing piece of the puzzle—to fully know ourselves—is through getting to know God.
“We have within us a God-shaped hole,” Kallistos said. “Only when it is filled can we become fully human.
‘You see, the two questions, ‘what is God?’ and ‘what is man?’ are intimately connected. It is only when we look into the depths of our hearts: it is there that we find God, reflected back to us. Self-knowledge and God-knowledge are utterly co-dependent. If you know yourself, you will know God. And if you know God, you will know yourself.”
In the image of God is the image of the Trinity, and the image of Christ, Kallistos explained. Quoting Charles Williams, he said: “It is not good for God to be alone.” God is three persons in relationship, loving one another, in an interpersonal way: “not just a unit, but a union,” he said. God is communion. God is a relational being. God is social and dialogic. God is self-giving: sharing, reciprocal, responsive, and in solidarity.
We are formed in this same image and likeness. We, too, are social, relational beings, sharing, reciprocal, responsive, and in solidarity. Dialogic means two persons in communication with one another. “It means ‘I need you in order to be myself.’”
“I need you in order to be myself.”
I understand this idea very well. I was born into a wonderful, loving, kind, generous–yet flawed–family. Like so many families, mine suffered some kind of breakdown in structure long before I was born, leaving it bereft of stable emotional support structures. Emoting was just not safe. Love was conditional: fail to behave properly, and love was withheld.
For many years I suffered the consequences of conditional love: self-loathing, low esteem, self-harm, depression, suicidal thoughts. Thank God, my one attempt at suicide was very lame and I failed.
Psychologist Frank Dance described growth in human communication from birth on to traverse a spiral shape like a helix. At birth we are the center of our universe: there is only us and our needs. We cry, and God in the form of our mother meets our needs. We think we cause everything. As we start to move higher and see farther, we realize we share this world and live in the context of others: family, parents, siblings, cousins, extended family, neighborhood, city, state, planet. We circle back around, reflecting upon our past experiences while moving forward, higher up in an ever-enlarging circle. We learn that are NOT the center, we are not alone, who we are affects others, they affect us, and so forth.
With each passing experience, our circle of experience grows bigger and we rise higher. Only by interacting with others do we see ourselves: our gifts, our talents, our abilities, within a context of a social structure. As we come around to higher levels we develop the ability to empathize: to imagine ourselves in someone elses’ shoes, feel what they feel. We develop perspective, empathy, and compassion.
But for some of us who grow up with conditional love, movement forward along the growth track can feel like an electric shock. Perhaps because of abuse, neglect, or addiction, we stop moving forward. We recoil. We put on thick gloves and shields. We build a wall. We, in essence, get stuck at a developmental stage of feeling like we are at the center of the universe. The world “out there” is going to harm us, and we have to defend ourselves, put up walls.
That was the kind of family I grew up in, emotionally. Lots of walls.
Then I had the transformative experience Metropolitan Kallistos described: “I need you in order to become myself.”
I distinctly recall the moment. I was in my mid-20s, newly married, deeply in love with my new husband. We spent a lot of time gazing into each other’s eyes, sharing our stories. And then it happened. I saw myself as he saw me: I saw what he loved in me, in myself. Unconditional agape love: so strong and pure, no matter what I did, how I behaved, what mistakes I made, it forgives and endures forever. I will never forget the uplifting sensation of the opening of my heart, when I was first experienced seeing my own value, my own worth, reflected in the eyes of another. To clarify: it was not that I was validated by him. My husband did not validate me. My husband was simply the mirror–not the source. What I saw was who I REALLY am–love itself. I saw the I AM that is love, that is God–reflected in his eyes. I AM, HE IS, WE ALL ARE, that LOVE. There is only One.
That sensation of opening, of seeing that love, felt uplifting, as a revolution completed in the helical journey. I was up at the next level, looking back, and a whole new vista appeared. I experienced level of compassion for my own broken family that I had never been able to perceive or conceive of before. They simply were stuck back there, and did not know about this kind of love! How sad! (I won’t get into the years spent trying to share it with them. That’s a whole ‘nother discussion!)
Our society today is stuck, like I was, in a conditional love. Society needs to move along the path of growth. We have all suffered so much hurt, so much abuse, so much pain, many of us frozen in fear, are afraid to love, afraid to move on, afraid to trust, afraid to fall, afraid to let go.
A wonderful anthem for this generation: Let It Go! Good Lord: help us let it go! (Queue up Disney.)
Here is the point: as tightly as we cling to our fears, that does not stop the unconditional love from being there, right here, right now, right before our eyes. Love is eternal. It has and always will exists. Remember: death was overcome! John 8:51. Why hold on to fear? What is needed is to open our eyes, to simply be able to perceive God which is love. In order to perceive it, we must seek mirrors — those who reflect that love back to us. We must become mirrors ourselves: we must look deeply and with love into the eyes of anyone and everyone with whom we interact, and reflect that love to them, and act upon our love.
An inner work
People make mistakes all the time, every day of the week. Whether surrounded by unloving people, terrorists, or conditional love, many in this broken world go through life alone, with conditional love. We withdraw our love for them, put them in prison, and leave them to suffer alone.
That, in a nutshell, is the problem.
“One human being in solitude is no human being,” Kallistos said.
We are not being fully human when we are like abused children, hiding alone in the closet. We all need to come out of the closet.
The answer, of course, is that we are never actually alone in the closet at all. So long as one child hides in a closet, we need to rescue them, get them out, look into their eyes, reassure them of the truth: What is real is Christ God within us, complete man and complete God, a relational being–that’s Who is real. He is right here, inside our hearts, ready for us to find him. He promised and he keeps his promises. A heart that seeks Him, finds Him.
This message is arguably the most profound truth in all of human history. This message represented a re-setting of our reality as human beings: an entirely new paradigm. It was so profound, back in the day, that it reset our consensus calendar to begin retroactively with Christ’s birth. Look at the calendar we all share. We are in the Year of Our Lord, 2016.
“Christ’s birth,” Metropolitan Kallistos said, “was the birthday of the whole human race. Not until then were the full dimensions of human personhood revealed.”
“Theology is actually a branch of Christology,” Kallistos said, not the other way around. Above all else, “we are to be faithful imitators of Jesus Christ.”
Kallistos issued a challenge to all Christians: we must go beyond simply imitating Christ. “We will greatly err unless we take it further.”
“Let us not forget Hamlet, who reminded us: ‘I have bad dreams,’” he said. “Human beings reside midway between majesty and lowliness. While we are flawed icons, always remember: Christ is our constant companion until the end of days.”
Freedom, Self-Knowledge, Creativity, Growth and Cosmic Dominion or Priesthood
Metropolitan Kallistos encouraged us to consider five points: freedom, self-knowledge, creativity, growth, and cosmic dominion or priesthood.
With regards to freedom, he challenged us to recognize that God’s freedom is absolute and unlimited, while human freedom is limited. It is within our limitations that our freedom is to be found. Don’t worry about shackles and injustice and prison bars. They mean nothing.”You must change your mind about the purpose of the world, if you would find escape,”as A Course In Miracles so eloquently states.
Knowledge of self arises out of knowledge of God. What is He always telling us? “God says: become your true self,” Kallistos said. That’s it. Everyone can become their true self. Everyone. “Recognize that nobody is dispensable, unnecessary, or useless. It is tragic that anyone ever feel that no one would notice if they died.”
It is in our own creativity that we “bless the Lord….for in wisdom hast thou made them all.” (Psalm 103-104) All of us are made in His wisdom.
Recognize that we humans are sub-creators, as Tolkien said. “God creates out of nothing, we create out of what God has given us.” It is in offering what we make of the world, and giving it back to God, that we become truly ourselves. We transfigure, revealing in glory, what was hidden.
For example, God gives us wheat which we transform into bread and give back to him. Likewise, He gives us the gift of the vine, we transform it into wine, and give it back to him. He receives our offering, transforms both, and gives them back to us in the Eucharist. He told us to do this to re-call him back to us. Western Christianity translates it “do this in memory of me,” but the correct translation from the Greek is “do this to call me back.” It is in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, prayerfully made by our own hands, in a circle of giving, that He comes back into us: his sacrifice was not just on the Cross. His sacrifice continues every week Divine Liturgy–a Eucharistic mystical supper of his body and blood transformed mystically–to keep us alive, spiritually.
Of course, Kallistos pointed out, human beings are not the only creatures to whom God loves and gives his fruits and seeds.
“Squirrels collect nuts,” Kallistos said, “but they don’t transform them into liqueur!” Only human beings can transform, transfigure, and transmute what God gives us into something else.
“To be human,” Kallistos said concerning growth, “is to be a pilgrim, a journey from the image to the likeness.” The image is essentially our equipment, whereas the likeness is holiness. The journey is “the act of reaching forward,” or as I describe, moving along that path of growth, in an ever widening spiral, higher up, seeing more.
And through all of eternity, Kallistos assured us, “God will always remain a God of surprises.”
Cosmic Dominion and Priesthood
Regarding cosmic dominion and priesthood, “dominion does not meant domination,” Kallistos said. It is always to good to “remember the gentle service of Christ washing the feet of his disciples.
“Christ said ‘I am the One who serves.’ We in modern times have forgotten this.”
“Reflect on the contemporary ecological disaster. To say ‘environmental crisis’ is not strictly accurate. The crisis is not ‘out there,’ but in the human heart. The ecological disaster is a spiritual problem. We have lost sight of our true relationship to the world God has given us. Our human image is grievously distorted. What we need is an ecological change of mind.”
It is important, he said, to bear in mind the distinction between the king, the steward, and the priest. The concept of a king is not popular and is widely misunderstood today.
Many Christian ecologists, Kallistos said, call upon us to be “stewards,” for the world belongs to God, not us. But there is a disadvantage in that view. By taking on a managerial or utilitarian point of view, our egos inflate and we succumb to the temptation to elevate ourselves above creation. How do we prevent this?
“See nature not as an ‘it’ but as a ‘thou,’” he said. “Act as priests of the Creation. We are ordained, through the laying on of hands, to a natural, intrinsic priesthood, that is both eucharistic and doxological. How we become our true selves is to be who we are: Man the Offerer.”
“We must turn the world itself into a eucharistic offering—requiring, on the one hand, sacrifice, and on the other, love,” said Kallistos. “Love is at the heart of the Trinity.”
A commandment of God not written down, Kallistos said, is: “Love the trees.”
Many criticize organized religion for how it causes us to have to worship God, and to believe blindly. But God does not need us to worship Him. Nor does He need us to believe in Him. He exists whether we worship or believe in Him or not.
The fact is, it is us human beings who need to worship. That is our nature. Whether we worship money and stuff, logic and science, sports figures or movie stars, political heroes or villains–the truth of the matter is, we are eschatological beings: we have a need to worship. Why? Because we are designed with that missing puzzle piece that is God; we are designed to come into union with Him. That is what worship is. Worship is about opening ourselves to Him.
The truth of the matter is, “the human person is a mystery,” Kallistos said, “an inexhaustible mystery.”
“A day without prayer is a wasted day.”—Metropolitan Kallistos Ware
“Today is all that we have. Pray every day,” he said. “A day without prayer is a wasted day. Today, make a fresh start in all these things. Show compassion. Show practical help to the people around you. Then you will be a true person.”
I am so grateful I got to hear him speak, particularly now, at the beginning of Lent.
And particularly this year, this Lent, in the year of our Lord, 2016, let us all meditate upon our hand and who we really are: you and I are both made in the image and likeness of God. Fully man and fully God; relational, dialogical beings. In our hearts we find God who is love. We find ourselves, we who are love, and we become true selves: mirrors, divine sub-creators.
May your prayer bear much fruit this Lent, and may the Good Lord have mercy on us.
Lyme Disease: Why It’s Spreading, How It Makes You Sick, and What to Do about It
by Alan G. Barbour
I found this book, owned by the Eastern Shores Library System (Wisconsin), to be an engaging and thorough analysis of one of the most mysterious, debilitating, and fastest growing infectious diseases in the world. In a somewhat dry yet readable fashion, the author provides a comprehensive, up-to-date explanation in layman’s terms of the medical history, etiology, epidemiology, symptoms and treatments of Lyme disease, as well as balanced coverage of the political bifurcation in the medical world regarding its treatment, which the author refers to as “Earth” and “Twin Earth.”
Stories are so powerful, particularly the stories of people who led exemplary or extraordinary lives. One of the uncounted things I love about Orthodoxy is it’s edifying and illustrated storytelling. As part of every service, every day of the year, we tell stories and show pictures, yes from the Bible, AND from exemplars from throughout history. Exemplars who guide from the other side. Like athletes with mentors, Orthodox are spiritual athletes who look to the blessed saints for counsel and inspiration.
I also love that we tell not only HIStory but HERstory as well–we lovingly remember and revere women’s holy stories, too.
In the lifelong pursuit of ever striving to attain Theosis, success stories are edifying. We learn ways to build our own spiritual muscles. Studying those who overcame barbs and stings and snares and hurdles of difficult life journeys–of the soul’s longing for holiness–teaches strategies to apply to win our own game.
The Fifth Sunday of Lent is set aside for the telling of the miraculous story of the Holy Mother Mary of Egypt, as recorded by eyewitness St. Zossima. Some stories are worthy of a feast, and this is one. Clearly she was a victim of child sexual abuse and suffered greatly. As Victor Frankl’s story taught, in enduring the horrors of Nazi concentration camps, the choices we make, the thoughts we think, create the meaning of life. The meaning makes life. Story is life. In every moment we have this powerful gift. No one can take from us the divine gift.
Here is her story. In reading her story, may you find edification as well.
What a headline for this post, hey? Bear with me on this one…
A friend of mine of Facebook recently posted a series of very joy-filled messages to his friends, sharing his recent Chrismation into the ancient Holy Orthodox church. He is a very kind-hearted and bright person, and received dozens and dozens of posts from friends congratulating him, being supportive.
This morning, on Holy Saturday, he posted a negative complaint of utter frustration with his own family, who apparently do not understand his journey, and have not been very supportive.
This is so very typical. I know that after I was Chrismated in 1999, I had a similar experience. I had been “high” on my newfound faith, my new discovery of the power of prayer, in love with God and my new church family, when I started having a series of very dark and frightening dreams, almost to the point of nightmare. Also, I suddenly experienced a major break in a relationship with a very beloved in-law family member, which threw me into a state of deep anxiety, self-doubt, anger and depression.
For my friend, for this to happen to him, now, during Holy Week, particularly, is very common. Priests, monks and laypeople engaged in dedicated spiritual practice will confirm that negativity always arises much moreso during Holy Week than at any other time. Every year on Palm Sunday, Fr. Bill reminds us of this in his sermon and shares his strategy of how to be on guard for it. He simply refuses to argue, be critical, or pass any judgment about anyone or anything during Holy Week. Period. If something negative or disturbing comes up, he uses procrastination and puts off dealing with it until Bright Week, after Pascha. He says that invariably, whatever the issue was, it dissolves into nothing by the next week.
Finally, a good use for procrastination! Maybe it could be used all the time! Any time anyone says something negative or you are tempted to get angry or pass judgment or you’re having fears or negative thoughts — just procrastinate. Put off the judgment, the fear, the worry, the concern, to next week.
I’m going to try this!
The reason excess negativity arises during Holy Week, and after blessed events like a Chrismation when we’re most prayerful, filled with light and love and hope, is because the enemy is attracted to the light. Yes, folks, there is an an enemy. He’s been very crafty this past century, getting people to think he’s a myth. What a great strategy for an enemy, hey? The fact is, the enemy is real, he lives in the dark, he has since the very beginning, and he’s always wanting more company, down there in the dark. Maybe the darkness is like a vacuum. This world is in darkness, we were born into. We’ve been mucking around in it our whole lives. And when we finally step out, into the light, maybe we pull some of that darkness along with us. Or the hole we leave behind gets filled and explodes out after us. And it does seem to have a certain kind of magnetism, that wants to drag us back into the depths of anger, depression, anxiety, uncertainty, fear and other muck that is the darkness. That makes sense to me, as to how it works.
It is said in our faith that the Sacraments are the best way to cleanse us of these negative energies, and I have experienced that to be true.
I, too, have many dear friends and relatives who are hardcore atheists, or claim to be Christian but follow an avowed anti-Christian leader (Ayn Rand), or who are in the space in which I used to be. For decades I harbored grievances against organized religion for centuries of abuse and injustice to innocent men, women and children. I was particularly upset about the genocide of indigenous peoples–the wonton destruction of entire cultures which were peaceful and innocent. Today, a lot of people are very upset by the revelation of years of sexual abuse of children within the structure of one of the world’s major religions. It is completely understandable, and a good thing, to be outraged about that!
What I didn’t understand before I stepped out of the darkness and into the light is that God didn’t do these terrible things to man, through religion. Man did this to man. Religion is like anything – it can be wielded for good, or for evil. To condemn religion is like forbidding the use of cars because people die on the freeway in accidents. Or forbidding people from going swimming because some people drown. Or saying we should have no more corporations because some harm people. (I do draw the line on this analogy to guns. This does not apply because guns are designed for no other purpose than to kill or harm. If guns were built with auto-correction to NOT be lethal, but to only hit extremities, and with safeties that identified the trained user and would be disabled if say, a child picked it up–then I’d reconsider.)
Religion is not the problem. Mankind’s behavior is the problem. In fact, God’s been trying to help us out of this for millennia. He’s sent umpteen saints and messengers. He came down himself to teach us. He dictated an entire Course In Miracles for us to get it. And still many of us are not getting it!
This culture we are in is ruled by dark side in a multitude of ways, primarily by false egoic identification with form. We’ve come to identify with *things*, losing sight of who we really are, made in the image and likeness of God. Our culture doesn’t support that teaching anymore; on the contrary, it teaches us that we are weak and vulnerable and need to live in fear. That stokes the ego big time.
What I’ve come to realize is that for people to turn, to see the light, what is needed is an experience of something bigger than them, that touches their hearts. Be it a near-death experience, the birth of a child, or something breathtakingly beautiful in nature that God created. Something that diminishes the ego enough for it to get out of the way, and allow the heart to see and to hear, with that inner vision.
That is what what I always pray for people, is for God to touch their hearts that they may see Him. When talking to such friends, I try to get them to just consider the possibility of having an experience like that. For example, musicians can hear harmonies and tones and chords that others cannot, because their ears have been trained. For those with untrained ears, they cannot hear those things; yet that does not mean they do not exist, simply because the untrained ear cannot hear it. If you start to study music, your perceptions change. You perceive sound in new ways. You perceive things you never could perceive before. This is how it is to find God. It is all about, as Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain said, tuning yourself to the channel of God, like dialing in a radio station. This is why A Course In Miracles includes 365 daily lessons on perception.
God is not an irrational blind belief, which is how many atheists perceive us who are pious. God exists whether we believe in him or not. He does not need us to believe in Him. He does not even need us to worship him. He simply loves us and wants us to find our way home. The worship is for our benefit, not his. Religous practice never was and is not now supposed to be forced on anyone. One of our greatest gifts, which He could have but has never taken back, is our free will. The only way to find our way home is to adjust our perceptions, to tune our hearts, to His frequency, because we want to. This is what ascetical practice is for. This is what the church and its traditions of fasting, prayer and the sacraments are all about — helping us get tuned properly.
Science is just now discovering that the heart contains neurological tissue on par with the brain.The heart is not just a pump–it is a sensory organ and a brain, processing information it receives from the world. This is good news, because God can only be experienced through the heart-brain, not the head-brain. More and more people, through the pursuit of science, will begin to experience His presence. I believe that to be true. To hear, feel, see, and get to know God, it takes training and practice, just like anything else. The Orthodox have preserved, in Christianity, the ascetical practices the best.
The Orthodox have also retained the translation of Christ’s teaching, at the last supper. To paraphrase the Greek, for which there is no English equivalent, partaking of the sacrament of the bread and wine, of the Eurcharist Supper, is the way He told us to “call him back” to us. It is much more than simply “remembering” him. This is why the Eucharist in the Divine Liturgy every Sunday is the highlight of an Orthodox Christian’s life, and why every Divine Liturgy is like a little Holy Week and Pascha, or Easter service. He actually comes into the bread and wine, he becomes, again, a sacrifice, so that we may be healed or our negative afflictions, and live in the light.
So, if you’re having a great day, don’t be surpised when seeming “bad things happen.” Stay in the light, don’t get sucked in, by simply procrastinating on it. And remember that the path God is through the heart, not the head.
Have you ever seen your guardian angel? I heard mine once, clear as a bell, and it saved my life.
I was in my car, driving home from work a little past 5, northbound through downtown Milwaukee on I-43. Traffic was moving well, about 45-50 mph. Radio on, thoughts random, I was in the middle lane and had just passed through the old courthouse tunnel when all of a sudden I heard a voice say “Laurel! Get in the left lane NOW!” The voice was loud, clear, imperative. “OK,” I said reflexively, did a quick over-the-shoulder check and swung into the left lane — just as a huge piece of metal on the back the truck I had been following fell off and bounced into the road, right where I had been. It was huge. Would have gone right through my windshield. Talk about chills up my spine! On the drive home, I was in shock, said “thank you” repeatedly, and have told this story countless times in the years since. I am still grateful–both for being saved, and for the chance to hear my angel’s voice.
That saving voice confirmed what I’d felt since early childhood. Guardian angels are real, and I am blessed with one.
Discovering Orthodoxy many years later, I love its breadth, depth and inclusivity, cherishing with great deliberation and heart not only all of mankind and all created beings and matter here on earth, but also that which is beyond space and time. Angels grace every Divine Liturgy, where they are quoted and thanked, their presence visible to all in icons and palpable to some occasionally with prickles on the back of the neck. Prayers to our guardian angels are part of every little red pocket prayer book. And so are parties in their honor. How cool is that?
Every year on November 8 the Holy Orthodox Church celebrates the Synaxis of the Supreme Commanders Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, and of the other bodiless and heavenly orders, the Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Powers, Authorities, Principalities, Archangels and Angels.
Some Orthodox prayers sung in their honor:
Troparion of the Angels, Tone 4 Supreme Leaders of the Heavenly Hosts, we implore you that by your prayers you will encircle us, unworthy as we are, with the protection of the wings of your immaterial glory and guard us who fall down before you and fervently cry: deliver us from dangers, for you are the commanders of the powers above.
Another Troparion of the Angels, Tone 1 Let us praise Cherubim, Seraphim, Thrones, Powers, Authorities and Principalities, Dominions, Archangels and Angels, for they are the Bodiless ministers of the Unoriginate Trinity and revealers of incomprehensible mysteries. Glory to Him Who has given you being; glory to Him Who has given you light; glory to Him Who is praised by you in thrice-holy hymns.
Kontakion of the Angels, Tone 2 Supreme Leaders of God’s armies and ministers of the divine glory, princes of the bodiless Angels and guides of men, ask what is good for us and great mercy, as Supreme Leaders of the Bodiless Hosts.
Exaposteilarion of the Feast, Tone 2 O Archangel Michael whose countenance is like lightning, gleaming in an ineffable manner with the illuminations of the Trinity, of exceeding divine brilliancy, thou dost traverse the whole creation like lightning, fulfilling the divine command, watching over, preserving, and sheltering those who joyfully laud thee.
We must always remember that we have choices at every turn, and whatever we do, in open or in secret, we do in the presence of our guardian angel. Of that, I am convinced! According to Orthodox teaching, each of us have been assigned a guardian angel. But it is possible to drive it away by our actions. I’m sure glad I didn’t dishonor or discourage mine, years ago.
Let me know if you’ve ever had an encounter with your guardian angel.
By the holy intercessions of Your Angels, O God, have mercy upon us. Amen.
Could the answer to our economic woes be to simply apply a model from nature to our economic system?
Take this example.
I’m building my new writing business from the ground up, one aspect of which is offering the service of resume writing. I came up with several ideas for how I can promote this business online, and went to GoDaddy to secure some unique URLs, usually available for $12.99 a year or less. One had been bought by a URL broker, which they wanted to sell for $5000. Way outside my start-up budget, I took a different, less-usefully-spelled, name. Then I had an idea for marketing my business and came up with the perfect URL for that. It turns out no one else is using this URL, either, but it has been absconded with by yet another URL broker. This time it didn’t say how much the URL would cost. I had to fill out a form inquiry.
Here is the response I received:
My name is Jeffrey G…, and I am a Domain Broker with [brokerage firm].
Currently, I am representing the owner of [the URL.] I spoke to my client and based on many criteria his expectations are $11,000.00. Highly premium domain names can provide the competitive edge your company is looking for.
Please let me know if you would like to setup a time to talk.What works best for you?
Thank you for your response. Please don’t take the following personally, but rather, directed to your field of business.
Frankly, I find your business to be morally deplorable, right up there with extortion, kidnapping, gambling, ticket scalping, futures trading, the drug trade, and the white collar mafia that is the insurance industry. Your “business” supplies no constructive work, value, or benefit to me or to the economy, but acts instead as a parasite on others, driving up the cost of conducting business for those who do actually DO the work, and driving up costs for clients, benefactors, and society.
I am an experienced entrepreneur and small business owner of 20+ years with a family to support. My goals are not to get rich, but to build a new business from the ground up, after losing my prior family business of 12 years which employed up to 25 workers in two states. I simply seek to support my family, pay off our now-bloated mortgage, restore my retirement fund, accumulate savings to be able to put my daughter through college, and cover our health insurance cost. When we had to cut our losses, lay off our staff, and liquidate our assets to pay down as much debt as possible, my husband and I were denied unemployment compensation, despite having paid in thousands of dollars on our own behalf. As the owners, we were deemed the “responsible” parties to our own lay-off.
The true “responsible” parties to the economic “crisis” our country and the world has gone through are businesses like yours, that operate on a model of parasitism, which supply no true value, no real service, to people and the economic system, but simply operate as opportunistic leaches, stealing ideas and sucking the wealth from those who actually DO the work.
Again, please do not take this personally. It is a criticism of the system in which we all operate, a system built and maintained by people who choose to participate in it.
Please extend to your employer my thanks for his “offer” of $11,000 to use my good idea for a URL for MY fledgling business, which he is holding ransom.
Also please extend my counter-offer of $100 — which according to “many criteria” I have, should cover his “costs” incurred for kidnapping the good idea I had for MY business, which, by the grace of God, will grow to take care of my family.
I look forward to your response to my counter-offer.
Maybe a bit harsh, but perhaps you can tell, this really annoyed me. And it really got me to thinking.
Parasites. That business is truly acting like a parasite. Everything I wrote is true.
I have long been a proponent of the collaborative Deming system of business management. As you may know, W. Edwards Deming was an American sent to Japan by our government in the 1950s, where he taught the same system he’d used to help our American industries rapidly re-tool to wartime production with a new, untrained workforce at the start of the war. In a nutshell, here’s how it works.
First, assume the best about people. People are inherently smart, good, and want to do well in their jobs. Problems are caused by systems, not by people. Problems are solved by people, making very small changes to the system. Give people their freedom, communicate, and entrust them to change the system they use in their jobs in ways that improves their ability to do those jobs, and they will. Efficiency results naturally. This collaborative management system was foreign to Japan. But because they were down and out and had nothing to lose, they tried it. It worked incredibly well and within a generation, Japan’s economy and reputation was restored. This system works because it is filled with the spirit of Truth.
Often Truth is found by looking at things with a new perspective, changing perception, changing the paradigm.
Many of us today — growing numbers, in fact — are down and out. Perhaps what economists, politicians, pundits, and all of us who care, need to do — if we genuinely seek to solve the economic problems which are leading to all kinds of other problems in the world, rather than play the shame, blame, guilt game — is to give a fresh look at our economic system.
I propose we look afresh at our economy through the lens of nature.
Consider the premise that our economic system is an interdependent, complex organic system: our economy is an organism. If we want to heal our anemic economy, we should start by eliminating the parasites which drain it of its resources, drain it of its energy flow–which is money. Money is the oxygen of the economy. It energizes everything. When oxygen is blocked, things die. When the flow of money is blocked, businesses choke, flow of money to consumers stops, and conditions worsen.
Let’s digress a moment to talk about consumers. Truly it is a ridiculous notion that corporations are “job creators.” I challenge anyone to show me a single corporation that operates a department of “job creation.” Instead, corporations are ALWAYS looking to get as much work out of as few people as possible. I’ve been writing professional resumes for almost two decades, and one of the best things you can boast of is an achievement showing how you did something that “improved productivity:” a euphemism for “job elimination.” Whether it’s bringing in new equipment or software or reinventing processes – the corporate goal is profit – frequently and without regret, at the expense of jobs. Jobs will only be created in so far as the job produces profit. Companies won’t hire until they absolutely have to.
So what truly creates jobs? Demand is the ONLY thing that creates jobs. What is demand? Consumers with disposable income are the true job creators – consumers with extra cash, over and above what they need to live on, and which they are able and willing to spend, to put into circulation.
Just like trees give us oxygen and allow us to live, consumers with money to spend create jobs. Consumers are an integral part of the organism. Without consumers with extra cash, the economy dies. In the natural organism analogy, consumers are the different cells throughout the body. Public sector, private sector, small business and large — diversity and interdependence creates a healthy organism. Consumers are brain cells. Bone cells. Blood cells. Muscle cells. Skin cells. Even fat cells. The body needs them all. And all of them need oxygen–money–to do their jobs. Smart economic policies support the movement of oxygen — money – through the body – to all consumers. Smart economic policies support anything that enables consumers to engage in spending: family-supporting wages, good health, security, peace, freedom to use their God-given gifts and talents. A stable environment. In this way, the whole organism — the economy — thrives.
Parasites Must Go
The truth is, policies and business can be analyzed for how much they help circulate oxygen (money), or choke the flow. Smart leaders who truly care to fix the economy will identify the worst offending policies, businesses, and business models that serve to choke the flow, that suck the life and wealth out of the system, and don’t give back. These policies, businesses and business models are parasites, pure and simple. A healthy economy should do everything in its power to eliminate parasites. Either change the laws and alter the practice in ways that share and encourage flow. Or eliminate them entirely.
On the positive side, identify and support policies and businesses that demonstrate an increase in energy flow to the greatest numbers of consumers and other businesses–as well as to the environment. Protecting the environment is good policy because without a healthy, stable environment in which to operate–costs go WAY up. Just ask business owners located along the Gulf of Mexico, the East Coast, Oklahoma, anywhere there’s been ecological disaster — why a stable, healthy environment is a good thing for the bottom line. Anything that causes mass destruction — whether war or environmental — costs the health of the economy.
Economy as a living organism. Any thoughts on this idea?
I could hear “a giant sucking sound,” as H. Ross Perot used to say, as I read about the life-saving drug for cystic fibrosis in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (A Charity’s Investment a prescription for profits for drug maker.) With its insanely outrageous cost borne by taxpayers, clearly this was not about saving lives, but about enriching a very few individuals beyond comprehension.
$841 a day (for two little pills)
$25,230 a month
$307,000 a year for the rest of of their lives (and paid for by all of us, either through Medicare, or through jacked up premiums which all of us will bear.)
In 1992, Perot was referring to the sound of good-paying American jobs being flushed down the drain with the passage of NAFTA.
This time the sucking sound is billions of dollars, being drained out of our weakened and faltering American economy, into a private loo, where it will pool and stagnate.
Next time you hear someone say there’s not enough to pay for health benefits, not enough for food stamps, not enough for schools, not enough, not enough, not enough, remember where this money has gone.
Last month, [Vertex Pharmaceuticals] stock shot up more than 60% again, from $52.87 to $85.60, after positive early data from a clinical trial of Kalydeco and another drug it is developing with funding from the foundation. On April 19, the day after the news was released, the company’s market value jumped by more than $6 billion.
That same day, two company executives sold huge chunks of stock options. Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Ian Smith alone sold 745,685 shares worth more than $60 million. Most shares were sold at $81.50, with options purchased from $29 to $39.
Enough money to run a small country, drained from taxpayer and donor coffers, now hoarded by a few, is where the money has gone.
The broken promise of NAFTA was that it would be good for America by lowering prices — planting the seeds for more jobs and opportunities. Does anybody disagree, that that this two-decades-long experiment has failed to deliver? What NAFTA planted instead was the seeds of Greed, and today, we reap the harvest: a weak, nearly ruined economy, immigration and drug wars, and concentrations of power unprecedented in American history.
This latest corruption of our charitable system — a non-profit foundation financed the development of this drug and will reap “profits” from it, which they will funnel back into creating more drugs — violates the public trust of taxpayer and donor alike. This latest corruption is yet another shoot off the Choking Vine of Greed.
Our founding fathers are no doubt clucking their tongues, shaking their heads. It is a disgrace.
There should be a huge public outcry over this story. There should be united resolve by officials at all levels to take swift and immediate action to fix the system, for the gross violation of constitutional principles. There should be a bipartisan amendment to the Constitution passing quickly throughout the land, to correct the error of Citizens United which led to this, and to the IRS non-profit debacle. There should be clear resolve to not make the same mistake again, and reject the pending Pacific Rim free trade agreement. There should be resolve to heed the historic warnings of the Founders against consolidation of power, recognizing how it as an invitation to the Vampire of Corruption–which will suck the life out of us.
If public outcry and action by our leaders does not occur, it means one thing: America is lost. It means our pledge of allegiance to the ideal of “one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all” is broken. It means we have abdicated our authority as the owners of this country, and sold our Republic to the highest bidder. It means we bought an oligarchy, a Fascist state led by giant corporations, no less bureaucratic and bloated than our old government, but instead beholden to no civil authority, but only profit. It means we have bowed down not to God, but to the almighty dollar.
If this is so, then Lord, help us, and our children.
Is it too late? No, not yet. The corporations have not yet taken away our right to petition the government–although they’re trying. They have not yet stolen our voices–although they’re trying that now, too, at the highest levels, and at the state level. We still have our brains, our hearts, and our minds. But time is short. The time is here to stand up, declare who we are and to whom we pledge allegiance. The time is now, for each of us to make a choice.
Do we blindly succumb to the life-sucking Vampire of Corruption? Do we allow our country to fall to the Choking Vine of Greed? Or do we open our eyes, reach out, clasp hands, cut the vine and renew our commitment to the common good, and resolve to share with one another, and stop the insane drive to hoard it all? Do we continue to congratulate those who excessively accumulate wealth, envy them, strive to be like them? Or do we choose instead to follow the founding father’s historic “prime directive,” the guiding principle of the United States of America which unites by way of cooperation, fairness, sharing, and not by hoarding? Do we at last, as I wrote about previously, Occupy Ourselves, see our own failings, and join a 12-Step Program to recover from our own addictions?
What we need is to pass a constitutional amendment correcting Citizens United: we need to say clearly that a corporation is NOT a human being. We need to reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement: just as NAFTA did in Central American, it will only wreak costly havoc for many innocent people and concentrate more wealth into the hands of a few. We need to restore, renew and rebuild integrity in our government: reject leaders who point fingers instead of fix systems, and who call for consolidating more power. We need to instead elevate those who stand up for individual sovereignty at the local level. We need to support those who value our government for what it is, a gift from our ancestors which gave you and I the power to make this country what “we the people” want it to be–“of the people, by the people and for the people”–not of, by and for drug lords and corporations. We must, as H. Ross Perot said years ago, stand up and take ownership of the country — not abdicate ownership to those who worship the almighty dollar.
Our system of government — as broken and messed up as it is — is better than any other system on the planet! Don’t destroy the best system on earth– protect it! Restore it, repair it, and keep it safe for our children, as our veterans did for us, for generations.
It’s up to us. As Thomas Jefferson said, “The People…are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”
Today in the mail I received campaign literature from Mr. Joe Voiland, who is running against Ozaukee County Circuit Court Judge Tom Wolfgram. His argument for qualification: despite having been appointed by former Republican governor Tommy Thompson in 1994, despite having been re-elected repeatedly ever since, despite having the endorsement of every law enforcement agency in the county and a reputation for fairness and wisdom, Mr. Voiland argues that Judge Wolfgram is unqualified for office solely because he signed the Recall Governor Scott Walker petition last year. And there, printed in Mr. Voiland’s campaign literature, is an enlarged reproduction of Mr. Wolfgram’s petition signature.
This is as astonishing demonstration of ignorance. To argue that the Judge is unfit for office simply because Mr. Voiland disagrees politically with the petition which Mr. Wolfgram, exercising his rights and duties as an American citizen, signed in good faith, demonstrates both a lack of understanding of the true purpose of our constitution, as well as a careless attack upon it.
Our founding fathers, steeped in the history of Western civilization which proved repeatedly that consolidation of power always leads to corruption, understood the inherent weakness and fallibility of mankind. They understood how easily we, and by extension our governments, succumb to temptation. So they brilliantly designed the system to check and share power, to prevent its consolidation, automatically.
One important check is our Bill of Rights, which brings the weight of law to protect the exercise of inalienable, God-given gifts. By empowering individuals to keep watch on our leaders — to speak freely, to assemble, to petition our government, to bear arms when necessary, to regulate our militia, to vote–we actively participate in preventing corruption, which is the purpose, the spirit, of the Constitution. Our union, still becoming after two centuries ever “more perfect,” recognizes the universality of these principles: unalienable rights continue to be recognized with the law expanding to protect the free exercise thereof by an ever-widening circle of individuals, regardless of various petty differences in the eyes of God.
Mr. Voiland would encourage people to break the spirit of the law by engaging in blacklisting, which is in fact a type of corruption. Indeed, the publication on the internet of the names in the petition, promoting access and use of the list in just the bully-like way Mr. Voiland has done, creates a chilling effect. By the spirit of the law, petition signings should be as sacred as the secret ballot — the purpose of secrecy being to prevent just such abuse. The McCarthy-like blacklisting Mr. Voiland has demonstrated discourages others from petitioning in the future–thereby dismantling an important check on power, undermining our Constitution, and leading to further corruption.
That Mr. Voiland does not understand this Constitutional design, purpose and function, nor the danger to our union inherent in his careless political strategy, demonstrates how un-fit for judgeship he is.
I encourage everyone in Ozaukee County Tuesday to re-elect Judge Wolfgram, and demonstrate your belief in the wise spirit of our Constitution, recognizing the universality and unalienability of rights for us all — even those with whom we may, even vehemently, disagree.
Sweet words and great truths have value when uttered by righteous lips. They take root only in people of good will and clean conscience. Truth, when used without judgment, can commit a crime. And he who possesses sincerity without reason commits a twofold evil, first against himself, then against others. Because there’s no empathy in his sincerity. A Christian must not be a fanatic but have love in his heart for all. He who throws words around carelessly, even true words, does evil. Veneration is a good thing, and the predisposition for good is also good, but spiritual judgment and breadth are needed to guard against fanaticism, that false companion of reverence.” –Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain