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,
Batter my heart, three person'd God,
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,

* 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: (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:

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:*

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:

Monday, November 25, 2013


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!"

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Πλατυτέρα των Ουρανών

This morning I posted the following on my Google+ page.  As I have settled into that account, I have taken to posting links of note and certain comments of mine there rather than here, and, although I have not articulated a very specific difference between what should go on Google+ and what should go on Lasseter's Lost Reef, I have a fairly clear intuition about it.  I still, though, have to decide about how to connect everything, such as perhaps by putting a widget here to show updates from my Google+ page, much like I have one in the right column for my Twitter account.

Nonetheless, this could have been a post here: it touches on what we were created to be and how we fall short, which puts it squarely within the purpose of this journal.  So I am putting it here as well.  At some point I may make the changes to this journal's layout that I've been kicking around so that I don't feel any further need to post the same thing in two places.

I'll note also that some of my more regular readers will disagree with a position that is at least implicit in my comment below.  I don't get into too much controversy online, and indeed I can be a bit gun-shy when I see things that offend me or contemplate writing about topics that I know will alienate certain readers.  I also am glad to have a pleasant rapport with a few people whom I know to hold contrary views on certain delicate topics.  There is, however, no sense in pretending about my views.  As I said, odd enough, in the very essay of mine that is also linked in the Google+ post below, there are realms of my conservatism that would rub some of my readers the wrong way.  Whether there should be female priests in the Christian Church is one of them.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Strike while the iron

Mister Rogers defending PBS to the US Senate

Fred Rogers appearing before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications in 1969

A short while ago musician Elaine Fine posted this video and wrote a lovely essay about it.  It is worth the read:

Grand Cultural Shift: Watch Fred Rogers talking to the Senate

The content may call to the minds of readers my recent essay Their heart is far from me and in vain they do worship me, which contained some consideration of Federal funding for programs that a couple of Congressmen considered lacking in practicality, and on this topic one of Ms. Fine's questions is apt: could such a moment as what we see in that video happen on Capitol Hill today?  Indeed most especially in light of that, the final seconds of the video and in particular the concluding words of Subcommittee Chairman John O. Pastore are poignant enough to bring a tear to the eye of even a hardened man.  The content of this wonderful video calls to my own hardened heart something else too.

I once saw a little boy, sitting on the floor before the family television set, cry when Mister Rogers' Neighborhood ended.  I thought it touching, and his young mother told me that he did that every time the program was over.  As far as I could tell then, he was a gentle and very intelligent soul, that very young fellow.  He is now a man, and, alas, he has not come into adulthood all that well.  He is no criminal—not as far as I know anyway—and he does not even really have any reputation for being shady or nasty—again, not as far as I know—but there is now a disturbing void in this fellow's personality.  He does what he does to manage his worldly affairs, and that he does well.  Why, I'll even say that in many practical matters he's a far cry more adept than I have ever been, possessed as he is of an ability to do what he wants with a cool and remarkable efficiency, and perhaps he is in some way aided in this by his major character deficit.  He has many happy acquaintances, he is a skilled glad-hander, and he is rarely exposed for his heartlessness to those whom he deals with, probably because circumstances rarely call upon him to exercise to the harm of others what is by now his deeply rooted selfishness and inability to relate in any intimate way to anyone.  On those occasions, however, when the circumstances do—when getting what he wants requires the abuse of another or when the needs of another require the slightest sympathy or sacrifice from him—he is contemptible.

In my work in the criminal justice systems (and I use the plural, by the way, because the caprice one finds between offices and jurisdictions defies the unity we aspire to in our rules and statutes) and also but more rarely in other legal areas, I see one universal quality to every man who can't quite get it together: he had an abusive father, or he had no father at all.  I say this with no artful stretch of the facts: in every instance where I have known the background of an offender or of just some poor loser who through bad but not criminal habits fell into the crosshairs of "the system," his daddy had beat him or abandoned him.  Now, by the time such a poor kid finds his way into adulthood, what can one say of the chap?  With maturity comes the capacity to exercise choice.  So a fellow doesn't work hard enough to pay his bills on time? or drinks himself half to death? or fathers six children by four mothers? or engages in criminal acts of violence? or just languishes in the perfectly harmless kind of solitary misery that is anything but harmless and is indeed almost certainly an offense to God as well as to the man himself?  Well, by golly, he's a man, and he makes his choices.

The thing is, the right choices and the responsible habits are a lot harder for people who have been neglected, abused, or otherwise from youth habituated into this or that odious, reprobate, or at least unseemly set of ways.  There is another thing too: even if there should be no institutional punishment for such a soul, punishment is built right into his existence: he suffers the punishment himself, if he has sufficient conscience, or he inflicts it upon others.  And where did it all begin?

That young man who wept when his beloved Mister Rogers said goodby had some problems in that family of his.  Deplorable problems, and his father, alongside what I surmise to be a shocking absence of any spiritual or moral guidance, was one of them.  That he may now be at the very worst a non-violent psychopath who rarely has any need to hurt anyone is a blessing, I suppose.  At least he's not a criminal.

* * *

One of the purposes of criminal sentencing is punishment,1 and that is instructive here.  If you're like me and hence know a whole lot of pithy quotes from venerable and ancient sources that you otherwise have no education in, then you may be acquainted with the famous line from the beginning of Corpus Iuris Civilis, the Body of Civil Law compiled under Emperor Justinian I and owing some credit (including for this quote) to the jurist Ulpian (Gnaeus Domitius Annius Ulpianus): Iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius suum cuique tribuens [or tribuendi]: that is, Justice is the constant and perpetual wish to render every man his due.  Does a man who brings evil upon another not have as his due some consequence that may chasten or rehabilitate him—or indeed just habilitate for starters the soul who hardly ever knew the right practice in the first place—just as those who are harmed have some restoration and protection from further harm as their due?  This is not an inherently pessimistic or spiteful principle of punishment to the wrongdoer.  To the contrary, at its most righteous, it has the aspiration to rid a bad man of what makes him bad—the pain of chastening is, after all, corrective—while it seeks to provide remedy and shelter to those whom he has harmed, and truly in this it properly regards the dignity of all.  At the end of the age the angels will cast the children of the evil one into the fire, but now, before the final judgment, is every bad man just so much chaff to be gathered and burned for the sake of the harvest?  (See and cf., for example, Matthew 3 and 13.)  Punishment without mercy has such finality that the judge who would impose it ought to regard it as vigilantly as he should his very life, for it demands that all hope for the offender is truly lost.

When I was in law school, I wanted to become a prosecutor, and my late Greek-American mother, who, although she spoke English fluently, always had a few words and phrases that were marvelously all her own, was very proud of this and liked to tell people, "My son is going to be a persecutor."  (I have of course instead gone on to work on the opposite side in my criminal practice.)  Little did my mother realize, at least when she was first saying it, her charming word choice reflects the worst that we find and not just in legal practice: in all walks, anyone who regards bad men and surmises what they are really made of and what ought to be done with them runs the grave risk of walking into Pharisaism with a clear eye to the horizon of persecution.  It is true—and this essay does not argue against it—that a man who is not a lunatic is able to grasp the consequences of his deeds, and that he is able to choose to do what is good and to eschew what is evil, but it is equally true that we are creatures of habit, all of us, and we do and continue to do what we are accustomed to, what we have been trained to do, and whatever we are convinced works for us or are convinced is inevitable to us (and we are also often mistaken about these two convictions).

If a man has been trained from his youth, through abuse or abject neglect or false indoctrination, to regard himself or others as inherently evil and adulterous and to behave accordingly, how reasonable is it to think that he makes his moral choices with the same clarity and rigor as one who was not been thus abused, neglected, or deceived?  If one raises one's children in an environment of mistrust, a place where those who should love you break their promises and then even tell you with a straight face that they have kept them (a favorite practice of the habitually deceitful), where is the surprise in finding that these children become adults who are both mistrustful and inclined to practice deceit themselves?  A man who is not a lunatic makes his choices with awareness of their consequences, yes, but a man who is not taught how to repent, who knows no fervent motive to repent, for whom truth is the label on a pack of lies, will not have the means to reorient his spiritual mind to the good, which is what repentance (μετάνοια) means, and he will have a devil of a time recognizing truth, because his vision has been clouded by a lifetime of lies.  Even a few ingenuous tears for the kindhearted Fred Rogers can't so easily wash away the insidious opacity of a degenerate upbringing.

* * *

I would at this point, if I followed a certain practice I have well established in prior essays, having just now concluded in this essay a discussion that did not have me as the subject, take a moment for some more subjective remarks, a word or two about my own sorrows, secure in the knowledge that I have avoided being altogether self-absorbed by having given what I hope is a more objective commentary in the prior part of the essay.  It is not, mind you, a practice I find fault with, but it is one I shall exercise here in a somewhat different way.  I don't know whether the practice will hold for any future essays.

The last essay I wrote took a lot out of me.  A few other posts have been painful to write too, and, really, every labor for the last year has had a consistent difficulty that is usually not inherent to the labor: it is the milieu that I live in.  A reader said to me in a private message a few months ago, making reference to the church and its cartoonishly odious pastor whom I discussed in Batter my heart, three person'd God, "[I]t sounds like that church sort of undid you."  Indeed.  It hasn't helped things any, while my Orthodox parish ignored and abandoned me, to have roamed a bit through the nitwit Christian blogosphere, the pervasive degeneracy of which constitutes a better argument in favor of the Doctrine of Total Depravity than any of the actual arguments that any Calvinistic bloggers have ever written.2  I am further burdened also by the current season and many of its commemorations.  I wrote a bit about those in my last essay, but among those that I did not mention was my birthday, which came and went this fall without a mention.  I have always been a solitary sort, and that particular oversight is one I have been accustomed to for a long time.  Indeed for all of my adult life, with, to be sure, one or two transient exceptions, my mother was the only one besides me who remembered my birthday, and she's been dead for several years.  Since this one has been an especially crummy year, this causes me grief now that it had not caused before.  Readers can get some sense of what made the year bad from other entries in this Lost Reef, and there is of course a good deal more to it that I have not dared to write in these pages.

In case any of you should wish to play online detective, by the way: the boy I mentioned at the top of this post was not a veiled version of myself.  I have known his family for some years, and the moment of his tears was a poignant one that planted itself firmly in my memory.  So, seeing Mister Rogers a few hours ago and reading Elaine Fine's reminiscence easily called the poignant tale and the later sad developments to mind.

1 In the State of Ohio's Revised Code, for instance: "The overriding purposes of felony sentencing are to protect the public from future crime by the offender and others and to punish the offender using the minimum sanctions that the court determines accomplish those purposes without imposing an unnecessary burden on state or local government resources." R.C. § 2929.11(A).  That the law prescribes "minimum sanctions" needed in order to "accomplish those purposes" should be fascinating to anyone acquainted with those courts that show a predilection (or, in the statutorily unrelated matter of Federally mandatory sentences, a legislated requirement) to assume the worst, ignore mitigation, and punish maximally.  A foible, to be sure, one can also find in a good many folk who have never donned the black robes.
2 It is worth mentioning that Mister Rogers was a Presbyterian minister, but he taught children that they had good in them, and he said that God loved that goodness, so, whatever his understanding of this point of Calvinism, one would scarcely expect to find anywhere in his work a view of Depravity so severe and so noxious as, say, "the devilish theology that naturally arises out of our children’s sinful hearts."  See The Devilish Perfidy That Arises out of David P. Murray's Response to a Dumb Article by Peter Enns.