Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Doth he thank the unprofitable servant?


I

Some months ago a colleague of mine whom I am fortunate also to call my friend and who is a skilled attorney-at-law of experience and accomplishment far surpassing my own said something to me over dinner that left me with an unsettling combination of feelings.  A few years ago his very bright young son, just beginning his promising studies at a fine university, had been killed in an accident.  On this evening some months ago over dinner my friend told me how the priests from his church had come to his home the morning of his son’s death as soon as they had learned the news.  My friend was very wise about the needs and limitations of such a moment, as were his priests: there was nothing they could really do about so unimaginable a loss, he said, except to sit with him, and so they did.  As he was telling me this, I was touched that he had volunteered to speak to me about it, moved by the decency of his priests, and yet also something else.  Briefly something more sinister and also shameful darkened my heart.

For as long as I have reflected upon it, I have thought that the loss of one’s child must be the worst death any one of us could know.  I myself have known a number of other deaths, but never that one, and I almost certainly never shall, as I have never married and have no intention to.  I shall not compare any grief I have known to that.  But what of the response?  What of how naturally my friend’s priests came to him?  Therein lies the selfish plea I quietly and briefly heard within myself over dinner that evening months ago.  When I suffered whatever of my own losses, some of which I have written about in these journals and all of which were known to those who knew me in face-to-face life, where was my parish priest?  My neighbor?  Kinfolk or friends?  And what is more important: is there any way to talk of one’s self-pity without exhibiting the very evil that is built into the term?  To pity is to feel sorrow for another’s pain.  It comes from ancient words meaning duty, loyalty, and piety.  What then is self-pity, other than duty, loyalty, and piety to oneself?  It is not merely to feel sorrow: it is to feel sorrow for oneself for, wretchedly redundant enough, one’s own sorrow.  That is a most abysmal kind of sadness.

II

Those of us who practice law will (or should) know that we are bound by a duty of care, and those more learned in the professional rules will also understand that the duty of care consists of the exercises of competence and diligence for those whom one is loyal to (and all practitioners will surely also understand that loyalty is also one of of our fiduciary duties).  Let us go beyond the legal meanings for a moment, though, and recall too that care comes from ancient words meaning to lament or to cry out: as one would over a burden one is responsible for.  This sense of the burden of care is not a purely objective one.  That is, while one might indeed feel weighed down by an obligation imposed purely from without, one's lamentation comes from within: whether one's motives in exercising care, then, are entirely selfish or whether they are possessed of charity (a word, odd enough, not related to care), one has subjective motives for the exercise of care at the same time that one has objective duties in it.  In a perfect advocate, who cares for his clients, or in a perfect friend, who cares for his brethren, external rules would be unnecessary: the charity within his heart would be sufficient.  Most of us are probably able to advocate, which is to say care, in that kind of heartfelt way to one degree or another, but the commandments—the commandments of a profession or those of ordinary righteousness— which are written in our hearts, are also written in the Rules of Professional Conduct or on tablets of stone, and such inscriptions are merciful to our corrupt predilections.  We know what we must do, often we fail, and, if we are sufficiently wise, we hope that Providence (or the mercy of friends and the earthly bodies that govern us) will take up the slack for our inevitable shortcomings.

Our shortcomings themselves will inevitably fall within those two elements of care: competence and diligence.  Competence can objectively enough be measured—and so also then can incompetence, more or less—but it is among the mysteries of the human psyche to determine how and why a man falls short or to the contrary does as he must in his diligence.  If a man does not work hard, perhaps he is lazy or malicious, but perhaps too he is burdened by evils not entirely or not at all within his dominion—maybe he is crippled by the lingering pain of trauma or by some wretchedness in his contemporary circumstances or let your imagination hypothesize by whatever all else.

III

Those who have been with Lasseter's Lost Reef from its beginning some three years ago (as well as any who have caught up by reading the old essays) will know that the First Expedition began when I was living in a temporary apartment one month after a fire had made my house uninhabitable.  It will also be known to the perspicacious reader that I took the occasion of beginning Lasseter's Lost Reef to examine a good many of life's other travails.  Recall—perhaps you will from my prior essays—the death of my dear mother now some eight years ago or the death of my beloved Kitty one year-and-a-half ago or indeed one or two other seminal and corrupt matters that studious readers will know without further description.  What place in all the world, O Achates, as I once quoted a certain namesake, what region of the earth knows not our travails?  Are our earthly misfortunes blessings of Providence for our chastisement or instruction? are they heroic sufferings for the comradeship of our yokefellows in this transient life? or are they merely the inexplicable pains of a short existence that one makes sense of as one is able and as one will for one's own consolation in its vanity but no more?

In negotiating their own trials in the grievously underrated film Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, Marlboro (played by Don Johnson) explained the management of life to his friend Harley (played by Mickey Rourke) with several quaint aphorisms that all began, "My old man used to tell me before he left this shitty world …."  Whatever the subsequent advice, the predicating statement is unassailable.  At some stage of the proceedings in life one can no longer lament the injustice nor the lack of sympathy in this world nor expect a compassionate outcome or reward for whatever one has been through, and one ought also to ask how competent one has been oneself in managing these cares, and indeed too how diligent.  So you have known misfortune.  Others have known far worse.  What region of the earth, O Harley, …?

IV

This nevertheless leaves us with unanswerable sorrow, a pervasive and inescapable condition of this life.  Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? as the King James Version elegantly puts it (Job 38:2—or, if you prefer, τίς οὗτος ὁ κρύπτων με βουλήν συνέχων δὲ ῥήματα ἐν καρδίᾳ ἐμὲ δὲ οἴεται κρύπτειν, as it is in the Septuagint: also elegant, and do the math, but they are not vastly different).  I seem to recall from my youth an interview with William Safire on the Book of Job where he said that the most conspicuous detail of the story was the disappearance of Satan after the first two chapters, but in my young adulthood I came to disagree with this.  I found two far worse and subtly far more conspicuous absences in Job: the absence of those slain in Satan's deal and the absence of any mention of Job's sorrow over their deaths.  Yes, in the end Job was restored many times over in his material wealth, and he was given more children in some sort of parity, it seems, with his loss—and the Septuagint even notes in particular that Job shall be resurrected unto eternal life—but those who were slain in Satan's wager with God, including Job's beloved children, were still dead, and for all the many remaining years of that holy man's life there is no mention in the text of his lingering sorrow for so grievous a loss.  Surely St. Job, as pious as indeed he was, must have felt that loss immensely.

V

A couple of months after my beloved Kitty died, my friend whom I mentioned at the beginning of this essay had a chance amidst our professional dealings to catch up with me a bit in the Old Courthouse here in Cuyahoga County.  (He and I had had to attend a hearing together, and afterwards we decided to sit in the hall of that gorgeous courthouse for a moment and talk about things.)  As we visited and discussed various matters, he told me that I should check my mail for a special notice.  He had gone, he then told me, to his fellow partners at the law firm where he worked and, knowing of the loss of my beloved cat, had convinced the firm to make a charitable donation in my cat's name.  Learning of this gift brought to my memory then, as it does now, the recollection of how he had taken time to speak with me when Kitty had been ill and how he had told me he would pray for her recovery.  I said to him then in the Courthouse with a touch of embarrassment that I should scarcely elevate my loss to any other—and I am quite sure that he understood the meaning of my remark—but without hesitation and with a warmth that rarely consecrates the lawyerly discourse of our halls of justice he shrugged this aside and assured me that my love of my cat and my grief over having lost her was a dear thing.

In the duty of care that a pious man owes to any other, competence is, as we have noted, a matter more or less objectively measurable: one has certain gifts, one learns certain things in this life, and the fortunes of life also mysteriously bestow further gifts upon a person.  Diligence, on the other hand … well one may have a sense of what one ought to do or even a sense of what one was meant to do, but actually doing it presents obstacles that are more inscrutable or mysterious to the rational mind.  Why would one group of persons who professed love to a man take the time to sit with him in his grief while another group professing likewise would do nothing or even do things quite certain to cause the man further grief?  Who knows.  We are unprofitable servants.  Sometimes we do our duty, and usually we do far less, and who will punish us?  We have the commandments, and yet our earthly masters are likely just as unprofitable as we are.  Neither the punishment nor the reward comes before we leave this shitty world.  We suffer loss as we must, scarcely a word is written of it, and we simply and indeed humbly hope the Lord will grant us, as He has promised Job, peace and eternal life (and let us say eternal life with all whom we have loved) in the age to come.



Those who are especially attentive may note that we lawyers also have a duty of confidentiality, and I have tried in this non-lawyerly writing to observe this: I asked my friend's permission before writing this, and I am grateful to him both for giving me his blessing for this essay and for having been a good friend.






Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Pamphleteer Too, Sir!

Lasseter's Lost Reef First Header
The original header for Lasseter's Lost Reef, from a 2012 photograph of our distant star taunting our terrestrial wasteland.


σὺν τὰ πάντα ἐποίησεν καλὰ ἐν καιρῷ αὐτοῦ
καί γε σὺν τὸν αἰῶνα ἔδωκεν ἐν καρδίᾳ αὐτῶν,
ὅπως μὴ εὕρῃ ὁ ἄνθρωπος
τὸ ποίημα, ὃ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεός, ἀπ' ἀρχῆς καὶ μέχρι τέλους.
If I had to state a purpose for this journal, it might be that verse, Ecclesiastes 3:11 (LXX).  I might also offer the photograph above and its quote, which were the original header of Lasseter's Lost Reef.  And further I might give you this from Lasseter's Lost Reef Βʹ:
Why would a man who was abandoned by those whom he had convinced to follow him continue himself to follow a course offering him only peril and misery, if he knew that the reward he sought did not exist?  One wonders too about the marvelous sense of itself the country of Australia must have to have named one of its major highways after an explorer and businessman who is chiefly famous for his catastrophic failure and is regarded by many as an incompetent and a fraud.  My use of marvelous is not ironic: that is, the story seems to me, regardless of quite who or what Lasseter was, a great and iconic tale that belongs permanently marked on the Australian landscape.
Really, any of those will do.

About these Essays

Lasseter's Lost Reef began in March of 2013, one month after a fire had deprived me of my house and four months after I had witnessed evil visited by a deranged Independent Baptist cult and its history of abuse and criminality upon one whom I had loved.  It also began in my full awareness that many who had professed to love me were aware of my travails and yet did nothing to console me.  Those topics are indeed well represented in the First Expedition, and therein they are discussed within the discretion that I permitted myself for such private matters.

Now, having said the phrase First Expedition, let me also note that this journal got its title from a fellow named Lasseter who led a vain expedition for a reef of gold he claimed to have found in the Australian outback, and whose abandonment by his entire party and disappearance in the bush were followed by a second expedition that confirmed Lasseter's death and the folly of his quest but left that quest a lasting place in Australian folklore and in the hearts of those who wish to believe that his lost reef truly exists.  His full name was perhaps Harold Bell Lasseter, or maybe it was Lewis Hubert Lasseter, or it was both at different times as Lasseter's sense of himself and of his mission changed.  He was a man of inscrutable variability, a man whose claims of his past and whose present oddities of mood and behavior confounded his party from the beginning of their expedition and indeed confounded a good many other folk earlier in his life.  The origins, real or imaginary, of his lost reef and the cause of his devotion to it—a devotion driving the man to his own death—remained to those who knew him, like his uncertain identity and biography, a mystery, and surely thus they shall remain to us.  You can read further about Lasseter in this link, also provided on the right-hand column: Lasseter's lost reef | State Library of New South Wales (http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/discover_collections/history_nation/exploration/lasseter/index.html), and that is but a beginning.  His tale is well worth investigating, each new resource you may find yielding bizarre new twists.  A good yarn, that one—indeed a perplexing collection of yarns.

All of my essays through this one, in any case, are the First Expedition (which are conveniently labelled with that phrase too: you can click the First Expedition Label in the right-hand column to browse them), and the essays from this moment forward are the Second Expedition (also thus labelled and likewise searchable).  Alas, in the abandonment of my First Expedition, we have nothing so compelling as, say, my having been left to die by a German trapper who may have later become a Nazi saboteur in England (truly, you must read further about that Lasseter chap)—although perhaps some natives did find me laughably alien to their society and try to bury my wearied remains in a shallow grave—but at least my variability of mood and the doomed character of my quest is without doubt in that First Expedition.

Lasseter's Lost Reef consists of two journals, this one and Lasseter's Lost Reef Βʹ.  The simple explanation of their difference is, whatever I do not find suitable to this journal but wish to publish anyway goes on Lasseter's Lost Reef Βʹ.  The essays here will be more rigorous and likely less frequent, but I scarcely think that either journal will receive especially prodigious updates.  If you wish to subscribe by news reader or e-mail, the options (on each journal) are available on the right (note too each journal is a separate subscription from its own page), and each journal also has at the top of every page a link to the other as well as further pertinent links, including a Contact page, should you wish to write to me privately.

"We are not what we were intended to be," I wrote in March of 2013, "and neither is this crummy world we live in.  Death is all around, and we are pervaded by it."1  The First Expedition of Lasseter's Lost Reef was a failure.  For further details of its purpose and its folly, please consult the essay The Ruin of Rural England: a Diatribe (http://lostreef2.blogspot.com/2015/12/the-ruin-of-rural-england-diatribe.html) on Lasseter's Lost Reef Βʹ.  I have contemplated going into more meticulous detail about my sorrows, which is to say pleading for more charity, but I have also contemplated the vanity of such grasping for the wind, and I am guided now by the latter contemplation.  I sought religious and spiritual consolation of a few sorts, and I did not find it.  So now, in our Second Expedition, let us say that we are merely searching for my remains.  (Should you care to explore further than these journals, there is also an archive of older Lasseter's Lost Reef Βʹ posts available on Tumblr: <http://lasseterslostreef.tumblr.com>.)

"I wasn't made for this—" I also wrote in March of 2013, "this pallid shadow of life—the evil that I have known.  I long for home."2  It's a funny thing longing for home.  One has a palpable sense of where one ought to be, and yet one knows that one has never been there.

and their Author

Attorney: just a simple lawyer.

Akediast: from the Greek ακηδία, meaning [one possessed of] unrighteous despair or lethargy.

Orthodox Christian: my mother, αιωνία η μνήμη, emigrated from Greece as a young woman, and she brought the Orthodox Christian faith with her to America and gave it to her boys.

Author of an Inconsequential Journal: what good a reef worth millions? I would give it all for a loaf of bread.

Man of No Noteworthy Accomplishment: merely allow me to ask that you never refer to this journal as a "blog."



1 Virgil T. Morant, Timor mortis conturbat me, Lasseter's Lost Reef, 12 March 2013, http://lostreef.blogspot.com/2013/03/timor-mortis-conturbat-me.html
2 Id.



Sunday, July 20, 2014

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!




I recorded this eight nights ago upon returning home from a Cleveland Orchestra concert at Blossom Music Festival.  The thought had occurred to me during the evening's country drive, and this was not the first time I had considered making some sort of video or had even briefly attempted.  On this occasion I was simply lucky.  Being out and about is generally good for my spirits, a drive into the country usually especially satisfying, and good music too along with these things contributes to a sufficient degree of confidence to last a short while upon returning home.  I was also fortunate in the lighting, I think, which was more by chance than by design—I am not, after all, a cinematographer.  I've shared this in a few other online platforms, and so I share it here as well.

Kings and poets afford us grand or eloquent reflections upon matters that are nevertheless true enough of even the smallest or least gifted of us.  Ozymandias may exceed most of us in having for a greater age at least a pedestal and a few words remaining on the lone and level sands (or a poem about it anyway), but the king goes where every one of us is going, and even his mighty pedestal and shattered visage are not immune to this fate.  What do ordinary men think of their mighty works, and what do they think of the historical or divine might they reckon themselves to belong to?  Even in this, in vain ideologies or false histories, many haven't even the nobility of an ancient king's dead heritage.  It is not merely that every one of us is weak or that every individual life is ephemeral.  Many odious and petty pharaohs understand and accept that much.  No, on top of this it is something the tyrant denies or fails to understand (for the sake of the charge against such offenders I am, I admit, inclined to say it is denial, vengeful and impotent tyrant that I myself am): the might and truth one claims of the past are often just as illusory as both one's present and one's claims to the future.  Many beliefs emerge from little better than death or oblivion, and to death or oblivion such beliefs return.  The best they can hope for, and indeed in this they are often an admirable success, is to bring a bit of useless misery with their mighty works before they are swept away in the sands.

Shortly I am off to another concert at Blossom, and I am reminded also of a certain poem by Petrarch, my own forlorn bark adrift in this tempest.  (Someone brought the poem to my attention on, of all places, Twitter.)  The seat beside me shall be empty.  I sometimes fill it with a client or an acquaintance, but one way or another I attend my beloved concerts alone.  If I were not a subscriber to the Orchestra, I would scarcely have motive these days to draw myself out for such noble entertainment.  I am reminded also that I have yet to make my last payment for my seats at the upcoming season, a task I have procrastinated for sheer sorrow but ought to get on right away.  I have few joys, and, even if the sad harp sounds notes of pain, those concerts are among them.

I said that I had thought of making other videos, and indeed at the time that I began Lasseter's Lost Reef I had in mind artfully photographing something of the wreckage of my home while it was still freshly ruined from the fire.  I even shot a few things, but I found the task too daunting.  So, for now, what you see of Lasseter's Lost Reef is the only evidence you get of the colossal wreck.  The house is repaired, but the wreckage never really was what happened in the fire anyway.  The fire was merely a diversion or perhaps a figure representing the sorrow that fell before.  I'm sure that scarcely another soul thinks much of either the figure or what it represents, although I think of the latter daily.  It is, after all, my life, and, unlike the ancient king, I am still here.




Thursday, April 17, 2014

Kéž duch můj sám


Truls Mork - Dvorák Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 - II. Adagio


This evening is Great and Holy Thursday, it is some four months since the last time I posted an essay here in Lasseter's Lost Reef, and shortly I am off to Severance Hall to attend a concert by the Cleveland Orchestra.  As you can surmise from the Google+ post below, and as you would know if you have followed Lasseter's Lost Reef Βʹ or my adventures on Twitter, I have kept up a bit elsewhere—more indeed than even remotely approximates "in good health" on Twitter—but this site has languished.  I realized somewhere around those four months ago that I had ended a stage in my work here, and, in preparing an essay on it, I quickly also concluded that somehow there was failure in the endeavor.  I shall complete and finish that essay, most of which I wrote in January and have not worked on since, and post it to Lasseter's Lost Reef Βʹ, and I shall also put a review up here of what I find of note thus far.  Then I shall proceed with the next stage of this endeavor.

For now, I offer you this essay on a beloved work of music which I am very pleased to be attending this evening.  It is, though, a sad thing for an old Orthodox boy from way back to be missing the Lenten services.  In prior years, as I have been a subscriber to the Orchestra for a long time, I traded any Holy Thursday tickets for another night, but this year—indeed since my departure from the parish I once sat on the council of and represented as one of its attorneys—I have not attended services.  I should hope that, if there are any Orthodox among my readers, at least some would not be so pedantic as to regard this as absolutely forbidden.  I do not believe in a Churchless Christianity, and I do not find it especially spiritually nourishing to have been away, but I also … I won't say accept it, because that would sound either like approval of my state or impotency to correct it … but I do recognize to some degree how it is a part of my spiritual crisis.  I am not observing any lenten discipline during this season of Great Lent, but I have been in some state of deprivation.  Again, this is not said to elevate a wretched state above its wretchedness or to pretend that there is no ill in being without a church (with a lowercase 'c').  Perhaps I shall explain further in later remarks possessed of more time.

For now, I shall have, after I clean up and get myself out of here (and bid a "see you again soon" to my beloved cat), an evening of music that edifies me nonetheless in my Thursday evening, regardless of whether it is Great or Holy.  As, I take it, a certain Czech song goes, I wish all alone my spirit would be allowed to dream, I wish my heart's delight not disturbed.  There may well be some worthy dreams in this evening's music, moments of tranquility, however the outbursts of anguish may condemn them.



Monday, December 16, 2013

Τί ἐστιν ἀλήθεια;


No Country for Old Men (2007) - "I feel overmatched."

or: Tommy Lee Jones the Theologian

I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.
(Abraham Lincoln in a 23 January 1841 letter to his law partner John T. Stuart.)*

One of the greater challenges amidst life's travails, ὅτι μεθ' ἡμῶν ὁ Θεός, is the conspicuous silence of the Lord to one's suffering.  To be sure, a more mundane offense is the silence of one's fellow man, but, when one has no mundane fellowship to offer one company, where else has one to turn but to one's Creator?  Alas, one is not likely to be cast to the ground by a blinding light or to hear a voice from out of the whirlwind or even the Voice of a gentle breeze.  (See Acts 9:3-4, Job 38:1, and III Kingdoms 19:12 LXX, and cf. I Kings 19:12 KJV or any translation based on the Masoretic Text.)  Indeed, if one looks to heaven, whatever wonder one may experience at the marvel of Creation or whatever sorrow at its dreariness or corruption, one ought not be surprised if one does not behold the heavens opened or the Son of man at the right hand of the Father.  (See Acts 7:55-56.)  We hear a great deal about the Lord's majesty, and, if we look in, let's face it, the wrong places in our times of need, we hear a great deal of boilerplate about inviting Him into our hearts (a wonderful bit of language I have yet quite to find so finely stated in Holy Scripture), but making it through our trials on the journey to eternal life is not so simple or easy a matter.  God does not make it so, He does not promise it to be so, and we ought not think it so.

When I chose the title for this journal, it was not just a throwback to an old Internet nickname of mine that I knew from my youth of listening to Midnight Oil and the band's many references to Australian figures and stories, such as that of Harold Bell Lasseter and his lost reef of gold.  Even when I chose the nickname for myself some five years ago, it was not just some quaint homage to a beloved continent or one of the great rock and roll bands to have come from it.  No, I knew well that I was choosing the name for its inherent commentary on the folly and futility of our pursuits and on the possible deception that contributes to the vanity of our earthly purposes.  So it is especially fitting that I come to this moment in my Lost Reef and let it be the spirit of this essay: I am some thirteen months into my current trial (and some nine into this journal), and my misery has not abated.  In many prolonged moments—and the autumn has been harsh—it is quite a bit worse than at most others, it has been overall consistently pernicious, and through it all God has yet to answer.

My time and experience in this rotten world had, to be sure, already been enough prior to last year for my faith to have been tested in other major episodes.  In my boyhood and youth, for instance, amidst the disintegration of my family, I went through a period of unbelief, initially somewhat willful but eventually simply a matter of what I knew in life during that period and a time nonetheless possessed of intense yearning.  As a young man in my middle and late twenties, and by then also a more mature Orthodox Christian, I began to ascertain that what should have been "young adulthood" had been squandered on vague but onerous familial responsibilities and a general spiritual lethargy amidst a disturbing paucity of love in a varied wealth of treachery, and I languished.  If one knew me face-to-face then, one could see without any great discernment that I was an unhappy fellow, and in some moments I was downright unpleasant to be around.  I got through it somehow.

About three years ago, and for a period of some months, I went through a difficulty that I thought proved my faith once and for all.  A nice little number of folk around me knew that I was troubled, and no one did anything.  I prayed, and God did not relieve me.  Shall I give up on this whole believing in God business? I somewhat simplistically asked myself, reckoning that I was standing on the brink of atheism, but I never took the plunge, and I was never blown into the chasm.  Believing in God, you see, was not just some choice, as in, "Having evaluated the erudite argumentation and the scientific evidence, I conclude this, or I have proven that."  Nonsense.  Believing in God, however troubled by doubt and sorrow it has been, has always been a product of experience and perception.

To be sure, there can be choice involved, as, for instance, if you asked me, "Was Phaedra Aingworth the woman who gave birth to you?" I would find in the totality of my memory of her (and without, by the way, need of recourse to, say, my Birth Certificate) the most reasonable choice in answering, "Why, yes, of course she was!"  The reason for choosing such an answer is not that it makes me feel better, and it certainly is not something so bland as my having been "indoctrinated" from my youth to believe the woman to be my birth mother.  If the question is asked, though, one has to give a bit of thought to one's answer, there you have the choice.  I suppose even, if a boy thought very ill of his mother, he might choose not to call her that, just as, say, an adoptive son may nonetheless choose to say that his adoptive mother is his mother with no need of an adjective to qualify the term.  We see choices in true belief if one has to think about or explain it, and we see also (most obviously in these last two hypotheticals) purpose—and in this we should also see the danger of perverting truth or fact to a purpose and thus towards false belief, marvels of dishonesty that we can be, making reason the slave of our most insidious passions—but believing something does not require that one be presented with alternatives or test a hypothesis in some cognizant way, nor should it.

As for believing in God, it must be admitted that this is a more complex matter.  One tends to know mother and father from infancy and in direct and intimate association.  God is a bit harder.  It is not my intention in this brief essay to explain what it is of my experiences that kept me from the chasm of atheism some three years ago, and so also not my intention to explain how, despite substantial threats, it has not happened in these last thirteen months or so either.  I do hope to let that continue to unfold in this journal—as it is already taking place in these writings—but that is not something I expect to finish any time soon, and certainly not today.  For today, it is the hardness that I reflect on.

There is a remarkable moment in the movie No Country for Old Men where Tommy Lee Jones, his lawman character having reached some age, witnessed bad things, and gone through the failed pursuit of an evil man, confesses to an old friend, "I always figured, when I got older, God would sort of come into my life somehow.  He didn't."  Here is the entire scene, well worth a couple of minutes of your time:



Let's don't presume that this is some kind of atheistic comment.  Consider what he goes on to say about God's silence and how his friend responds: "I don't blame Him.  If I was Him, I'd have the same opinion of me that He does."  "You don't know what He thinks."  The exchange is not one of godlessness: it is one of the hardness of this life ("This country's hard on people," a remark whose country ought just as much be the entire world as it is the outback where the events of the story take place) and of the folly of expecting God to give one comfort or of believing that, if He does not, it means He has judged one lacking.

When I went through the lesser trial (lesser than my present distress, that is) three years ago, I understood that among the strengths and truth of Orthodox Christianity is that it does not hyper-personalize God.  (Oh, the Orthodox faith is the faith that laid out the Trinitarian dogma of God's three persons, but of course you realize that I do not mean personalize in this sense.)  Although I  long for the Lord's comfort, and although I have yet to be rid of the extreme vexation I feel at His silence, I do not believe that He promises these things in this life, and neither does my Church.  One's suffering may be of any duration, and God knows and usually offers no explanation.  Indeed it is a sure way to drive oneself to madness, delusion, or apostasy to try very hard to discern what God's reasons may be for causing or permitting this or that fortune or misfortune.

I should mention also, I may have more readily turned away in my childhood on account of having had a greater expectation of discernible parental comfort from God.  Now, although He is my Heavenly Father, I have long understood that this is not to be evaluated in human relational terms.  I have an earthly father, and the Creator of the universe ain't him.

Let me leave you with another scene from Tommy Lee Jones the Theologian, this one taken from The Fugitive.  The young deputy marshal in the scene is perturbed, and in one ear made a bit deaf, because his boss, Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard, just killed a fugitive who was holding the young marshal hostage, and he did so by shooting him at close range rather than negotiating with the chap.  The elder marshal virtually speaks as a prophet.



By the way, although Abraham Lincoln was likely generally inclined towards a somber mood, the despair he expressed in the letter quoted at the top of this essay was, it seems, particularly influenced by his having just lost Mary Todd.  He would be reunited with her and marry her almost two years later, but at the time of his letter, he was bereft of her.  Perhaps he too tried to bargain, a perfectly normal inclination in grief, but, whatever the man did, there is no bargaining with God.  President Lincoln's fortunes, and those of his Mary, took their course, but it would be vanity to presume that any favorable outcome or an outcome of any quality in this life flowed from a negotiation with the Lord.  And who even knows why the Lord permitted the man to experience that despair or any other depression he may have known?  God, like Deputy Marshal Gerard, doesn't bargain, and, also like His fugitive-hunting prophet, He has no need we can place upon him of explaining anything either.



For further reading:

Three Candles, by Now Extinguished, http://lostreef.blogspot.com/2013/04/three-candles-by-now-extinguished.html
Batter my heart, three person'd God, http://lostreef.blogspot.com/2013/04/batter-my-heart-three-persond-god.html
And look also for a forthcoming supplement to this and those two essays on Lasseter's Lost Reef Β’.
For the Lloyd is with us, http://lasseterslostreef.tumblr.com/post/70496237191/for-the-lloyd-is-with-us



* It's the Internet.  Although I knew this quote, I cannot remember quite from what sources I knew it.  I searched it out through Google and found it on the Abraham Lincoln Research Site in a page called Depressed? Read Abraham Lincoln's Words: http://rogerjnorton.com/Lincoln84.html (retrieved 16 December 2013).  I have decided, trusting in my prior memory of it, not to search out a more authoritative or in any case hard citation (no pejoration intended here towards the Research Site: I am simply not acquainted with it other than from this search).

Friday, December 6, 2013

Housekeeping Β’ and a Journey into Fingal's Cave


The Hebrides, Op. 26 "Fingal's Cave" by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)


And then there was St. Barbara the Great Martyr, whose pagan father secluded the beautiful girl from all but those whom he approved to instruct her, who saw the Divine imprint upon Creation and longed to know her Creator.  Did she, in gazing from her seclusion, contemplate how the Lord ordered every ray of light and every shadow to fall in precise order through the trees and to cast themselves as the life upon the earth should require?  Did she imagine herself stripped of her fetters and wandering the fields He clothed while yet their own garments were a moment more spared the oven?  Or did she one fine day love her earthly father and, in professing Christ to his idolatry, ask of him bread and receive a stone and soon thereafter the collapsing walls of the caves it had been hewn from?  She added to her father's bathhouse a third window to represent the Holy Trinity and inscribed the Sign of the Cross upon the marble.  For this she was questioned and chided, for her faith she was tortured, and for her steadfastness and by a swing of the blade by her fathers own hand she was murdered.  The Orthodox Church commemorated St. Barbara two days ago, as it does every year on the 4th of December.

Some of the recent readings in the Orthodox lectionary, most especially because we have just commemorated some monks and hierarchs, and certain readings are prescribed for such occasions, have dealt with the contrast of, on the one hand, relief and healing through communion and the faith of Christ and, on the other, the burdens that we must suffer in this world.  There were, for instance, the healing of the blind man near Jericho (Luke 18:35-43) and that of the woman with the twelve years' flow of blood (Mark 5:24-34).  Thy faith hath saved thee, the Lord said to the former, and Thy faith hath made thee whole to the latter, and indeed are these two statements really all that different?  What is salvation, if not to be rid of the disruption that pervades this life and corrupts what God intended otherwise?  In yesterday's Epistle reading, Galatians 5:22-26 and 6:1-2, the Apostle Paul begins with the fruit of the Spirit, a famous list of marvelous benefits—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance—but he moves immediately to those who suffer spiritual fault, the perils to those who would help them, and the bearing of one another's burdens.  In yesterday's Gospel reading, Matthew 11:27-30, the Lord, meek and lowly in heart, promising rest to those who labour and are heavy laden, puts forth the famous offer of his easy yoke and light burden.  If, having concluded the day's reading in the lectionary, one were to proceed a bit further in Galatians, by the way, one would see further contrast between the communal bearing of burdens and the cares that the individual shall bear alone: don't think that you're something, for you are nothing, and yet you shall carry your own burden.  (All references KJV.)

This is, as you may have surmised from the title, another tidying up and organizing post, but, in making the transitions that I shall announce here, and in going through my days, I have the themes of readings such as those quite prominently on my mind.  The woman with the flow of blood or the blind man, for instance: do you reckon that either of them was especially weak in his or her own component of faith prior to the encounter with the Lord?  For twelve years did the woman lack something herself that she ought have had, something that failed to liberate her of her physical malady and ritual defilement?  Did she not believe enough?  Have sufficient conviction of the righteousness and mercy of her Creator?  Or could it be, rather—and to paint a more complete icon of such an event—that her faith, as well as the blind man's, is not just the individual's belief in God, which we would call faith in God, but is the faith of God?  Do you detect in our discussing this in English a meaningful distinction and understanding of faith denoted by the prepositions?  The woman did not heal herself, nor did the man, and yet their faith made them whole, when they encountered Christ, Who is Himself faithful.

Consider also how the Apostle Paul speaks of the fruits of the Spirit and then immediately of burdens.  Surely he does not mean to suggest that those whom he warns of their present or future burdens are bereft of the Spirit.  Why, one need not turn many pages to find examples of the man himself despairing of his own life or recalling some agonizing afflictions, even ones suffered during his missionary work and his contact with the churches that he writes to.  The fruit of the Spirit and the faith that makes us whole are not promises of a cure right now.  How many years might any one of us wait for our physical infirmity to depart, our psychic turmoil to end, or our promised reward to arrive?  How many saintly lives end still in pain and expectation?  The Beatitudes and Woes recorded in Luke were also among this week's readings, if memory serves.

In further drawing the boundaries for Lasseter's Lost Reef and my presence on the World Wide Internet, I have, as you can see both at the top of the page and in the right-hand column, begun Lasseter's Lost Reef Β’.  You will remember from the first Housekeeping post that I added a Google+ widget to this journal (see that on the right too) and noted that I sometimes leave commentary in my Google+ profile as well as links to sites I find noteworthy.  As the last several of my Google+ comments became rather unusually long for the format, I decided to stake out another place for such writings: that is, for essays that are not as disciplined or focused as what I wish to put here, that are generally easier to write, but that nonetheless may have some substance.  I shall still have remarks for Google+, and that and the here-today-gone-today Twitter (where I also periodically perform my stand-up routine) are the places to find most of my links.  I suspect that the second Lasseter's Lost Reef will see more frequent updates than this, the first, but I make no promises.  My yoke is flighty and the online burden I offer unpredictable.  In any case, my first post on Tumblr, a reflection on my baptism and what it means to be Orthodox, can be found here:

http://lasseterslostreef.tumblr.com/post/69164542403/what-is-your-earliest-human-memory

I have installed comments on my tumblr, and readers are as welcome to comment there as they are here and on Google+.  If you would care to follow any of these three pages by RSS, you can do so quite easily (although, be warned, friends of the here-today-gone-today and "I gotta have Virge's latest now" Internet, the G+ RSS only goes through every two hours, and Tumblr seems to be slower even than that).  Those links are:*

http://lostreef.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default
http://lasseterslostreef.tumblr.com/rss
http://gplusrss.com/rss/feed/3ba2a71207dce71bbb2d2f05db4ca090528ea10cf2208

Last evening, at the top of the Cleveland Orchestra concert, guest conductor and artist-in-residence Leon Fleisher began by announcing the death of a great man and dedicating the concert to him on behalf of the Orchestra, pianist Jonathan Biss, and himself.  The first piece was Felix Mendelssohn's Hebrides overture.  Mendelssohn's musical reflection on those Scottish isles could not help but be shaded by the news.  No further commentary is required.  Have a listen.






* 7 December 2013.  I have burned what should be a more timely updated feed for the Tumblr site by Feedburner, and there is already also a Feedburner alternative for this one.  So, if you would prefer:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/LassetersLostReef
http://feeds.feedburner.com/LassetersLostReefB



Monday, November 25, 2013

Housekeeping

Let me take a moment from the cares of my day to update readers on a bit of housekeeping.  I have added a Google+ Updates widget in the sidebar.  There you will find brief excerpts from recent posts on my Google+ page, which you can also access by a couple of other links in the sidebar as well.  Like my use of Twitter (which has been available to you on the right for several months), I use Google+ to post links to interesting or edifying pages as well as some of my own thoughts.  Unlike Twitter I am not therein constrained to 140 characters, so I reserve Google+ for those comments that take a bit more space, and my hyperlinked recommendations there are likewise more sparse than their kin on Twitter.  Even if you do not have a Google+ account (or a Twitter account, for that matter), you can look at the page and follow the links and whatnot.

Since I have a much more narrow design for the essays in this journal—a design, mind you, that I have stretched a bit in this post or that—I am now devoting to Google+ all things outside that design, even any lengthier commentaries I may have that are nonetheless a bit less disciplined or in any case outside the scope of Lasseter's Lost Reef.  This morning, for instance, I left a comment of a somewhat personal nature, flowing a bit from a comment on a previous post here, and it was in fact a rather lengthy comment: a month ago I might have made that an essay here, but now there is a better place for such as that.  I also posted an adorable photograph of a kitten with a duck.  The photo has thus far garnered sixty-four Google Plus Ones.  No other work of mine has been "liked" or "favorited" so generously, and this in but a few hours.  I'm so very proud.

Today is the feast day of St. Catherine the Great Martyr of Alexandria.  St. Catherine was an educated woman and possessed of considerable intellectual rigor.  She argued for Christ against pagan philosophers to either their embarrassment or their conversion.  She died a witness to the faith a short number of years before Emperor Constantine won a decisive victory and made the Empire no longer violently intolerant to Christians (by the way, he did not, contrary to popular misunderstanding, make Christianity the religion of the state: that happened after Constantine).  You have perhaps heard of the ancient Monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai, home of some of the most ancient texts and icons of the Christian faith?  It is appropriately dedicated to her.

In what I took to be at least a bit of a coincidence this morning, over on the fascinating web log The Second Achilles the author, who goes by the handle Alexander's Other Secretary, posted an insightful little commentary comparing the Biblical Judith to Alexander the Great.  Just a short number of days ago The Second Achilles also featured a piece on I Maccabees and its characterization of Alexander.  Those of you raised on the Western and Protestant canon may nonetheless have heard of these books, Judith and I Maccabees: your forebears rejected them some years ago, ostensibly because no ancient copies in Hebrew were known.  Greek, even the Greek of the Hellenistic Jews and the Septuagint and indeed the Greek of the Old Testament that was frequently quoted in the New, wasn't good enough for the Reverend Luther, it seems.  You have to interpret prophecy to get a touch of Alexander out of Daniel, but you can find him by name and in no small detail in I Maccabees.  Alexander the Great is a character of some personal significance to me in ways that I intend to discuss in a future essay.  The story of Judith struck a chord with me in a number of ways, and, as I said, it was a bit of a coincidence this morning too.  St. Catherine was a woman of intellectual strength and great faith.  Judith was a woman of strength of will, godly faith also, and of devotion to her people.  She prayed fervently to the Lord to strengthen her in her task for Jerusalem and to guide her hand, and then she decapitated a bad man.

I am given in a moment of tangential reflection also to think of another book of the αναγιγνωσκόμενα.  I once recommended Tobit to someone whom I had given a copy of the Authorized Version (King James's boys, you see, translated and published most of what they and many others quite unkindly call the Apocrypha in their translation of the Bible, although it is omitted in a good many, probably the overwhelming majority, of King James Bibles these days).  A story of a young man sent on an errand by his father and guided by the angel Raphael, protected from peril, and brought to the young woman whom he was to marry.  The young woman herself benefited from the heavenly messenger's assistance, as she and seven short-lived husbands had a bit of trouble with a demon.

Having thus been reminded by a cognitive path I shall not take the time to map for you at this moment, I am given to wonder, who are such female saints or their equivalents—venerated or revered women, we need not quibble over the word saint—in some of the more noxious perversions of Christianity I have seen in recent times, to say nothing of women revered in the milder and more reasonable spheres of heterodox Christianity?  Are the heroines of toxic faith perhaps "Biblical" mothers who discipline their children to death by hypothermia (perhaps you have heard the news)?  Are the saints of Bible-believing Christians those who conceal the sexual abuse of their daughters or disbelieve it altogether?  Perhaps the most highly venerated are the ones who, despite knowing otherwise, simply permit their troubled children to die by the children's own hands, hands guided not by the Lord, as Judith's were, but guided only by sheer Satanic despair, inculcated from youth by … well, I said this was just going to be a bit of housekeeping.  Pardon my digression.

I have to attend to a trial transcript anyway.  I would very much like to get a certain client of mine released from prison as soon as possible.  A tough row to hoe, this one, but—and I say this in complete personal belief as well as professional advocacy—he doesn't belong there.  He may indeed die there, if his sentence is carried out to its current end.  Obviously I end on this note, not so much to impress some explicit gravity to my nebulous post, as I do it just to make myself sound important, which of course I am not.  But nonetheless, I must be off.

Here is a picture of a kitten and a duck for you.  Oh, would you look at that!  It has just now gone to sixty-five Plus Ones.  With such accolades, perhaps I should not be too quick to dismiss my pride as mere self-importance.


"Meow!"  "Quack!"