Friday Dec 23, 2005

The True Meaning of Christmas

For if the works of the Word's divinity had not taken place through the body, man would not have been deified. And again, if the properties of the flesh had not been attributed to the Word, man would not have been throughly delivered from them... Yet the Word having now become human and making his own what pertains to the flesh, these things no longer touch the body, because of the Word who has come in it, but they are destroyed by him, and henceforth human beings no longer remain sinners and dead according to their own sufferings, but having risen according to the Word's power, they abide ever immortal and incorruptible. Whence also, whereas the flesh is born from the God-bearer Mary, he himself is said to be born, who furnished to others an origin of being, in order that he might transfer our origin to himself, and that we may no longer, as mere earth, return to earth, but as being knit into the Word from heaven, may be carried to heaven by himself. Therefore, he has similarly transferred to himself the other sufferings of the body also... so that we, no longer being merely human, but as the Word's own, may participate in eternal life... the flesh being no longer earthly, but being henceforth made word through God's Word who for our sake "became flesh."

-- St. Athanasius the Great, Orations Against the Arians 3.33

Wednesday Aug 10, 2005

Orthodoxy and Islam

This isn't a full book review of Archbishop Anastasios (Yannoulatos) of Albania's book Facing the World, which was a kind gift from the translator, the Monk Pavlos Gottfried, but simply (and quickly!) a passage from one of the chapters I especially enjoyed, on the Orthodox dialogue with Islam:

Throughout the theology of the eastern Church we encounter the certainty that the Holy Spirit works in ways that transcend human thought and imagination, ways that cannot, as a consequence, be contained within any theological paradigm, description, or speculation. Everything that is noble and truly good is an act of the Holy Spirit, and the fruits of the Spirit are the preeminent building blocks for harmonious coexistence: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal 5:22). This assurance from the apostle Paul leads us to the conclusion that wherever these fruits are found, evidence of the activity of the Holy Spirit can be discerned. Moreover, there appears to be a great deal of such evidence in the lives of many Muslims.

In the end, our relationships and the dialogue we have with every human being are defined by our obligation to love in a way that includes everything and everyone, for this is the central core of Christianity: "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 Jn 4:16). People who belong to another creed never lose their basic identity, their spiritual citizenship, so to speak. Even if they themselves choose to ignore it, they do not cease to be children of God, created in God's image, and consequently our brothers and sisters.

pp. 125-126

Amen, Amen. Eis polla, eti Despota!!

[GET IT]

Tuesday Jun 14, 2005

Intolerance, Monomania and Zealotry

It's funny. I'm a person of strongly held beliefs -- but I'm often characterized by my conservative friends as a liberal, and by my liberal friends as a conservative, and am no doubt suspected, by some, of intolerance, monomania and zealotry. Foo on them. I hope I don't fit in so neat a box, or rather, so ugly a box. At the same time, I can say with conviction that Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen is waaay too liberal for my tastes. George Will is too conservative. Fareed Zakaria is just right. (And I miss Meg Greenfield!)

Nonetheless, to be fair, Quindlen speaks for me in her May 30 column, Life of the Closed Mind:

The young men and women who began their college years in the shadow of September 11 graduate in its shadow as well. The intolerant, the monomaniacal, the zealots driven by religious certainty engineered the worst attack on American soil, and the result has been intolerance, monomania and zealotry driven by religious certainty.

Read the whole thing; it's well worth your time.

[READ IT ALL]

----------
P.S. I have been a Newsweek reader for many years, and have faith in their editorial integrity and standards. Despite her rant against conspiracy theorists, I suspect that as regards the retracted story on the desecration of the Qur'an by military interrogators in Guantanamo Bay, "the magazine was set up by the Pentagon to mask the administration's own malfeasance" (emphasis mine). Or at least hung out to dry. So, does that make me more liberal than Anna?

Tuesday May 24, 2005

Shame on BP and Morgan Stanley Ad Pull Policies

I agree entirely with the Editorial Board of Advertising Age:

Shame on BP. And shame on Morgan Stanley and General Motors and any other advertisers involved in assaults on editorial integrity and independence. By wielding their ad budgets as weapons to beat down newsrooms, these companies threaten the bond that media properties have with their audiences, the very thing that gives media their value to advertisers to begin with.

[READ IT ALL]

Tuesday May 17, 2005

George Otis, Jr.: The Twilight Labyrinth


Why Does Spiritual Darkness Linger Where It Does?

4 stars (out of 5).

The Library of Congress classifies Otis's book as follows: "1. Demonology. 2. Spiritual warfare. 3. Mythology -- Comparative studies. 4. Occultism -- Religious aspects -- Christianity. 5. Occultism -- Controversial literature." On the off chance that that doesn't sum it up for you, I would describe it as an exploration, from an evangelical Christian perspective, of the presence of persistent, localized evil: an analysis of why certain places are just bad places, that badness taking either more or less spiritual forms, from hauntings to high crime rates. There is, according to Otis, a rational explanation -- and moreover, a solution.

Humbly offered, here's my take, from an Orthodox perspective.

I have to say, I really liked the book, and with a few exceptions, our worldviews are extremely similar. In general, the world he describes -- in which demons, dark forces, and corrupt places and objects are matter-of-fact reality -- is the same world we would recognize as the world in which our spiritual battles take place, with the analogs on the divine side being angels, the grace of God, and holy places (Mt. Athos, churches, altars/sanctuaries) and holy objects (icons, crosses, relics, liturgical items). But Otis seems to shy away from such things. Admittedly, the rituals by which an icon is (properly) prepared seem somewhat parallel to the rituals by which pagan artifacts are prepared; i.e., with prayers, chants, and a liturgical service of dedication, culminating with the sprinkling of sanctified water. (Obviously there is no Christian analog to demonic possession of people, since obedience in Christ actually sets you free, rather than enslaves you.) These parallels would almost certainly give Otis the heebie-jeebies. But if he believes in the real badness of the one 'toolkit', I have trouble understanding his objection to embracing the real goodness of the other. Not every holy thing represents the syncretistic re-branding of a still quite unholy thing. More on this below.

Second, while the bibliography is chock full of reference works (I looked through all of them), there's not a single ancient Christian authority cited, no Orthodox (or perish the thought, Roman Catholic) saint or theologian, no spiritual texts from the first, say, 1,800 years of Christian spiritual warefare. How can this be? Monks and nuns, martyrs, clerics, and lay Christians, have fought these same forces for two thousand years, in many cases quite successfully. The lives of the saints are full of stories and examples of pagan temples falling at the prayers of holy men and women, idols smashing to dust, demons being defeated by the sign of the cross and the prayers of the faithful.

One of the best examples comes from the lives of the Bishop-martyr Cyprian, Virgin Martyr Justina and Martyr Theoctistus of Nicomedia, who perished in the year 304, and are commemorated on October 2:

St. Cyprian was a pagan and a native of Antioch. In early childhood he was given over by his misguided parents for service to the pagan gods. From age seven until thirty, Cyprian studied at the most outstanding centers of paganism: on Mount Olympus, in the cities of Argos and Tauropolis, in the Egyptian city of Memphis, and at Babylon. Once he attained eminent wisdom in pagan philosophy and the sorcerer's craft, he was consecrated into the pagan priesthood on Mount Olympus. Having discovered great power by summoning unclean spirits, he beheld the Prince of Darkness himself, and spoke with him and received from him a host of demons in attendance.

After returning to Antioch, Cyprian was revered by the pagans as an eminent pagan priest, amazing people by his ability to cast spells, to summon pestilence and plagues, and to conjure up the dead. The mighty pagan priest brought many people to ruin, teaching them magic spells and service to demons.

In Antioch there lived a Christian, the virgin Justina. After turning her own father and mother away from pagan error and leading them to the true faith in Christ, she dedicated herself to the Heavenly Bridegroom and spent her time in fasting and prayer, remaining a virgin. When the youth Aglaides proposed marriage to her, the saint refused. Agalides turned to Cyprian and sought his help for a magic spell to charm Justina into marriage. But no matter what Cyprian tried, he could accomplish nothing, since the saint by her prayers and fasting overcame all the wiles of the devil.

By his spells Cyrian set loose demons upon the holy virgin, trying to arouse fleshly passions in her, but she dispelled them by the power of the Sign of the Cross and by fervent prayer to the Lord. Even one of the demonic princes and Cyprian himself, assuming various guises by the power of sorcery, were not able to sway St. Justina, who was guarded by her firm faith in Christ. All the spells dissipated, and the demons fled at the mere look or even name of the saint. Cyprian, in a rage, sent down pestilence and plague upon the family of Justina and upon all the city, but this was thwarted by her prayer. Cyprian's soul, corrupted by its domination over people and by its incantations, was shown in all the depth of its downfall, and also the abyss of nothingness of the evil that he served.

"If you take fright at even the mere shadow of the Cross and the Name of Christ makes you tremble," said Cyprian to Satan, "then what will you do when Christ Himself stands before you?" The devil then flung himself upon the pagan priest who was in the process of repudiating him, and began to beat and strangle him. St. Cyrian then first tested for himself the power of the Sign of the Cross and the Name of Christ, guarding himself from the fury of the enemy. Afterwards, with deep repentance he went to the local Bishop Anthimus and threw all of his books into the flames. The very next day, having gone into the church, he did not want to emerge from it, though he had not yet accepted Holy Baptism.

By his efforts to follow a righteous manner of life, St. Cyprian discerned the great power of fervent faith in Christ, and redeemed his more than thirty years of service to Satan. Seven days after Baptism he was ordained reader, on the twelfth day, sub-deacon, on the thirtieth, deacon. After a year, he was ordained priest. In a short time St. Cyprian was elevated to the rank of bishop.

The Hieromartyr Cyprian converted so many pagans to Christ that in his diocese there was no one left to offer sacrifice to idols, and the pagan temples fell into disuse. St. Justina withdrew to a monastery and there was chosen Abbess. During the persecution against Christians under the emperor Diocletian, Bishop Cyprian and Abbess Justina were arrested and brought to Nicomedia, where after fierce tortures they were beheaded with the sword. The soldier Theoctistus, looking upon the guiltless sufferings of the saints, declared himself a Christian and was executed with them.

Knowing of the miraculous conversion to Christ of a former servant of the Prince of Darkness, and how he shattered his grip by faith, Christians often resort to the prayerful intercession of the Hieromartyr Cyprian in their struggle with unclean spirits.

What I don't understand is why their story, and the tremendous, 2,000 year old literature on the spiritual battle which is readily available today, is completely absent from Otis's book? I fear for him the fate of the seven sons of Sceva...

A third difference is that Otis doesn't seem to have any concept of the Church, the ekklesia. Individual believers, or groups of believers gathered for a particular task or on a long-term mission, sure -- but the Church as the Body of Christ, doesn't appear to be on his radar. Much less a priestly ministry, sacraments, etc. These things, I think, would actually complement and complete his mission, not contradict it.

I think part of the issue stems from an oversuspicion of churchly things (like festivals, icons, incense, etc.) as being syncretistic. Certainly religions like Santeria represent a total corruption of elements of Roman Catholicism, and the result is anything but Christian. At the same time, it is truly possible to baptise a culture -- which is quite different from applying a thin veneer over pagan realities. Not everyone who reverences the Virgin Mary is, in delusion, praying to the goddess; not everyone who reverences an icon is worshipping a demon's idol. Sure, you have elements of old pagan entities edging their way into the life of St. George, for example --- but there really was a St. George, and he was a great martyr and hero of the Church. Same for St. Nicholas. Strip away the pagan elements, and you still have the Bishop of Myra in Lycia, who was the image of Christian charity, and also a warrior of the true faith: legend has it that he hauled off and slugged Arius at the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea when the latter would not not stop his blasphemy against Jesus. And you have thousands of saints who are simply themselves, with no pagan elements burnishing (unnecessarily) their legends. The life of St. Antony the Great of Egypt could easily be a chapter in Otis's book, given his famous struggles with demons in the graveyard and the tomb:

In this [early] period of his life St. Anthony endured terrible temptations from the devil. The Enemy of the race of man troubled the young ascetic with thoughts of his former life, doubts about his chosen path, concern for his sister, and he tempted Anthony with lewd thoughts and carnal feelings. But the saint extinguished that fire by meditating on Christ and by thinking of eternal punishment, thereby overcoming the devil.

Realizing that the devil would undoubtedly attack him in another manner, St. Anthony prayed and intensified his efforts. Anthony prayed that the Lord would show him the path of salvation. And he was granted a vision. The ascetic beheld a man, who by turns alternately finished a prayer, and then began to work. This was an angel, which the Lord had sent to instruct His chosen one.

St. Anthony tried to accustom himself to a stricter way of life. He partook of food only after sunset, he spent all night praying until dawn. Soon he slept only every third day. But the devil would not cease his tricks, and trying to scare the monk, he appeared under the guise of monstrous phantoms. The saint however protected himself with the Life-Creating Cross. Finally the Enemy appeared to him in the guise of a frightful looking black child, and hypocritically declaring himself beaten, he thought he could tempt the saint into vanity and pride. The saint, however, vanquished the Enemy with prayer.

For even greater solitude, St. Anthony moved farther away from the village, into a graveyard. He asked a friend to bring him a little bread on designated days, then shut himself in a tomb. Then the devils pounced upon the saint intending to kill him, and inflicted terrible wounds upon him. By the providence of the Lord, Anthony's friend arrived the next day to bring him his food. Seeing him lying on the ground as if dead, he took him back to the village. They thought the saint was dead and prepared for his burial. At midnight, St. Anthony regained consciousness and told his friend to carry him back to the tombs.

St. Anthony's staunchness was greater than the wiles of the Enemy. Taking the form of ferocious beasts, the devils tried to force the saint to leave that place, but he defeated them by trusting in the Lord. Looking up, the saint saw the roof opening, as it were, and a ray of light coming down toward him. The demons disappeared and he cried out, "Where have You been, O Merciful Jesus? Why didn't You appear from the very beginning to end my pain?"

The Lord replied, "I was here, Anthony, but wanted to see your struggle. Now, since you have not yielded, I shall always help you and make your name known throughout all the world." After this vision St. Anthony was healed of his wounds and felt stronger than before. He was then thirty-five years of age.

In other words, I think that Otis has, with no bad intent, thrown out the baby with the bath water, and his efforts are surely hindered because of it.

One interesting nit:: In a footnote at the bottom of page 371, he writes

Reckless claims and dubious practices are not unique to the present generation. In the third century, for example, the Catholic Church [i.e., the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church -- the split between east and west was still many centuries in the future] routinely conducted pre-Easter masses, or "scrutinies," in which catechumens seeking admission to the Church were exorcised. The scrutinies included a rite known as "exsufflation," in which the priest blew into the candidate's face to express contempt for the demons and drive them away.

In fact, we still have a baptismal liturgy on the eve of Pascha (you could accurately call it a pre-Easter mass). In our parish, we start at 10 AM Holy Saturday morning, but really it's prescribed to begin later in the afternoon -- even with the morning start, it begins with vespers and morphs into the Liturgy after a long series of reading from the Old Testament that take place while catechumens were/are being baptized. I was received into the Church at this liturgy in 1981. And the first part of the service of baptism, the enrollment of the catechumen, begins with a series of exorcisms in which the priest breathes cross-wise into the candidate's face.

The Renunciation and the Acceptance -- the child will be held by Godparent or Godparents (Nuno and Nuna in Greek) as he stands in the narthex of the church facing east (towards the altar). The priest, standing in front of them, blows three times into the child's face in the form of the cross to drive away any evil spirits and adverse power and blesses him each time saying "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen". He then places his hands on the child's head, which symbolized the taking of possession of the candidate in the name of the Holy Trinity and recites a prayer addressed to the Triune God: "In your name, O God of truth... I lay my hand on your servant who has been found worthy to seek salvation in your Holy Name and protection under the shelter of your wings. Banish from him the old error, fill him with faith and hope in you... so that he might know that you are the only true God... Grant him the ability to live in accordance with your commandments."

The Exorcisms -- The prayer is followed by three exorcisms and yet another prayer, the prayer of acceptance, at the end of which the priest, in summary of all that was said before, asks God to drive out and banish from the child any and every evil and impure spirit which may be hiding and lurking in his heart and make him a reason-endowed sheep in the holy flock of Christ, an honorable member of the Church, child and heir of the kingdom. The child and Godparent will then be asked to face west and renounce Satan and all his works, and all his worship and all his angels, and all his pride in a question and answer form three times and then asked to breath (instead of the old tradition of spitting) down on Satan. Facing west signifies the west, a place of natural darkness, where the Devil, who is darkness himself, makes his abode.

I'm not sure why he'd call this reckless! In fact, if you read it, you'd think Otis had written out the prescription. Explicit renunciations of old pacts, explicit rejection of the devil --- hard to get more in your (his) face than this! And yet it's entirely different from sitting on some mountaintop overlooking a corrupt city and yelling to the enemy that you're gonna kick his butt, which is what he seems to be criticizing. (And rightly so. :)

Anyway, when you net it all out, I believe Otis is not nearly as far from the Orthodox Christian faith as it might appear at first blush. We just have a very different vocabulary to describe what appears to be, in large part, a common worldview, common objectives, common tactics -- and above all, a common enemy.

[GET IT]

Tuesday May 10, 2005

The First (and Only) Time Traveler Convention was a bust! :(

Sadly, it appears that the First (and Only) Time Traveler Convention was a bust. According to Rocketboom Boston field reporter Steve Garfield, "Well, the time came and went for the time travelers to arrive here at MIT, but we're still not sure if they actually showed up."

Doesn't mean that they were't there -- just that they blended in rather well if they did.

Which, of course, they could, being possessed of vastly superior technology.

Me personally, I think they were there.

Just laying low, like a bunch of blue state guys at a red state picnic...

Sunday May 08, 2005

Seeing and Believing: The Thomas Incident

There is much more to St. Thomas Sunday and today's gospel reading (St. John 20:19-31) than meets the eye.

Read all about it in this lovely article by the saintly Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Saturday May 07, 2005

The First (and Only) Time Traveler Convention

Technically, you'd only need one, since if you missed it the first time, em... you could always come back. :)

Logically, the premise is hard to dispute. Announce the thing in media that will endure -- the organizers suggest acid-free paper notes stuffed into "obscure books in academic libraries" as one sure-fire approach -- and once they invent time-travel, having found the invitations, some future touristas are bound to come back and attend the first (and only) convention.

Naturally, this singular event was held at MIT.

Impressively, it featured one of the world's most eminent physicists, Professor Alan Guth.

And finally: before you write this off as silly hogwash, check out the photo of the time machine at the bottom of the page. I believe this one really works, having seen what it can do.

P.S. Thanks to Rocketboom for spreading the word! Now there's enduring media for you.

Monday May 02, 2005

Kali Anastasi! (a.k.a. "Happy Easter, Part II")

Well, finally! Five weeks after Western Easter, and not coincidentally, the Sunday following the Jewish Passover, we celebrate Holy Pascha. And there is no better way to celebrate than to read the The Paschal Homily of our father among the saints, St. John Chrysostom ("the Golden Mouth"), here presented courtesy of monachos.net:

If any man be devout and loveth God,
Let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast!
If any man be a wise servant,
Let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.

If any have laboured long in fasting,
Let him now receive his recompense.
If any have wrought from the first hour,
Let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour,
Let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour,
Let him have no misgivings;
Because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour,
Let him draw near, fearing nothing.
And if any have tarried even until the eleventh hour,
Let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.

For the Lord, who is jealous of his honour,
Will accept the last even as the first.
He giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour,
Even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour.
And He showeth mercy upon the last,
And careth for the first;
And to the one He giveth,
And upon the other He bestoweth gifts.
And He both accepteth the deeds,
And welcometh the intention,
And honoureth the acts and praises the offering.

Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord;
Receive your reward,
Both the first, and likewise the second.
You rich and poor together, hold high festival!
You sober and you heedless, honour the day!
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted
And you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith:
Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.

Let no one bewail his poverty,
For the universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities,
For pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death,
For the Saviour's death has set us free.
He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.

By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:
"Hell," said he, "was embittered
When it encountered Thee in the lower regions."

It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
Is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion
Unto ages of ages.

Amen.

Wednesday Apr 27, 2005

Sunday of Orthodoxy at St. George Cathedral

Yes, I know the Sunday of Orthodoxy was well over a month ago -- but the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese's Orthodox Observer only comes out once a month. Here's a screenshot of their recent article on the celebration of the Sunday of Orthodoxy in Worcester, led by Archbishop Demetrios (a living saint, IMHO) and the hierarchs of SCOBA.

And an interesting article from the Orthodox Christian News Service, A Tale of Two Cities -- 2005 Update, which compares Orthodox life in Worcester and Pittsburgh, where I grew up.

The Orthodox bishops in Pittsburgh are good men, every one of them. The latest addition is Bishop Thomas Joseph, a friend and classmate from St. Vladimir's Seminary. And the people of Pittsburgh -- well, there are none better. I have every hope that things will look up from here.

Tuesday Apr 26, 2005

Before there was Pascha, there was Pesach...

My grandmother, Bess Cohen, was the fifth of the seven children of Max Schneider and Anna Silverbloom who survived into adulthood. I think there were four other brothers and sisters who didn't -- including a pair of twins, if memory serves -- but I suppose this wasn't that uncommon for the beginning of the 20th century. All of those Schneider siblings -- Charlie, Lee, Tom, Eve, Bess, Etta and Esther -- married (some more than once) and had children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. It's quite possible that there were some great great's of the elder siblings running around, since my kids are (almost) old enough to make me a grandfather. Fortunately, thus far they've held off. To the best of my knowledge.

My grandmother passed away in February of last year, at age 96. Her two kid sisters, Etta and Esther, are still vigorous in their mid-90's, and were the senior Schneiders in attendance at last Saturday's Schneider Family Centennial Seder, celebrating the coming to America of Max and Anna and their family in or around 1905. They weren't so hot at record-keeping back then, so everything -- including the ages of the original seven -- are approximations.

We all met up in Florham Park, New Jersey, for the Passover Seder, since the Schneiders had settled in that general area (and there are still lots of us there), and the organizing cousins pulled out all the stops. We had a hospitality suite -- I should probably mention that we were in a lovely hotel, as we outgrew home-based Seders many moons ago -- with family photos dating back almost 100 years; two song books, one produced in memory of my mom, whose played the piano each year at the rousing post-Seder sing-along; a custom Hagadah (Passover service book); a family cookbook that my Aunt Nan pulled together; a five-generation family tree from my cousin Micah that covered the better part of a ballroom wall; even a comemorative tee-shirt, courtesy of my cousin Shelly. All told, there were over 115 of us there, only about a third of whom I'd ever met before. And I have to say, they're a pretty cool bunch.

The New Jersey Jewish News published a lovely article: Enter Schneiders, exit loneliness, which has much more detail than I've been able to capture here, and lots of great stories from Seders past. Well worth a read. There's a photo album too. Well worth a look... if you're in one of the photos. :)

Now here's the interesting part.

My wife and kids had such a lovely time with the extended family that Marta suggested we should always have the Seder on a weekend, to make it easier for more people to attend. True, this contravenes Old Testament law -- and likely messes me up for Palm Sunday, big-time. (This year, because of the centennial, and because I knew it would make mom and my grandmother very happy, I made an exception and attended the family feast.) But the Schneiders have alway done things a little bit differently. The latest poll results from my cousin Bobby suggest that at least 60 of our relatives were in favor of the new plan.

So, next year, in... New Jersey, most likely!

Thursday Apr 21, 2005

The Life of St. Mary of Egypt

This past Sunday, the fifth Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrated the memory of St. Mary of Egypt (fixed feast April 1), honoring her as the very image of penitence. If you haven't read her life, it's well worth your time; it was composed by St Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, and uniquely, is read liturgically as part of the Great Penitential Canon of St. Andrew of Crete at Matins on the fifth Thursday of Lent.

Troparion - Tone 8

The image of God was truly preserved in you, O mother,
For you took up the Cross and followed Christ.
By so doing, you taught us to disregard the flesh, for it passes away;
But to care instead for the soul, since it is immortal.
Therefore your spirit, O holy Mother Mary, rejoices with the Angels.

Kontakion - Tone 3

Having been a sinful woman,
You became through repentance a Bride of Christ.
Having attained angelic life,
You defeated demons with the weapon of the Cross;
Therefore, O most glorious Mary you are a Bride of the Kingdom!

Thursday Apr 14, 2005

Rocketboom (daily vlog with amanda congdon)

From Garfield's artcle: "At Rocketboom.com, chirpy, irreverent host Amanda Congdon delivers oddball news and snarky observations in a primitive studio (or maybe a one-bedroom)."

I've watched the last week's worth -- she is/they are a hoot!

Bob Garfield's 'Chaos Scenario'

Fascinating article, subtitled 'A Look at the Marketing Industry's Coming Disaster', on 'What happens if the traditional marketing model collapses before a better alternative is established?'

If?

I think 'when' is the better question.

Even the good TV has gone bad, as CSI gets worse with every spin-off, on-brand and off. (I have to confess, though: I have a real soft spot for NCIS, mostly because their cartoon characters are a lot more fun to watch than the huffing and puffing prototypes on the more 'serious' iterations.) Not even worth mentioning the dynasties that started bad.

TV advertising has gone down hill with them. Does anybody remember the adZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz from this year's Super Bowl? I was hoping for excitement on the order of another wardrobe malfunction, and all I got was Sir Paul McCartney huffing and puffing out the oldies. A dose of any of the ED remedies currently blanketing the market would have helped the show. (Of course, if it had run for more than four hours, it would have meant an embarassing trip to the emergency room...)

But the alternatives aren't much more feasible or appealing, at least for now. The glitzy, personalized billboards served up to Tom Cruise in Minority Report, based on retinal scans, are still a ways away. And as Chas Edwards notes in his blog entry on 'TV's Micro-Targeting Future',

Seemingly everyone wins when a commercial featuring all-wheel drive airs on TV sets in Rockland County, N.Y., but not on TV sets in Westchester, N.Y., if the snowstorm turns to rain while crossing the Hudson. But here's the rub: This kind of ad targeting means dozens if not hundreds of 30-second commercials for every single advertising campaign, each spot racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in video production costs. In other words, creative costs could quickly outpace the media costs to place those spots on the air. Likewise, the investment in ad agency staff required to plan, place and track dollars spent across hundreds of channels, websites and radio networks—rather than just a handful in a typical ad campaign today—could put agencies out of business overnight.

So scratch that approach for the near term. And finally, as Garfield asks in 'Chaos Scenario',

Content will be enormously diverse, agrees Forrest Research research director Chris Charron, but will it constitute a legitimate advertising medium? “A lot of people talk about these social networks and blogs and the blogosphere as being great ways to attract consumers and attract eyeballs and potentially good advertising opportunities, but history shows that is not the case, even recent history. Remember GeoCities? I think they were bought by Yahoo for $3 or $4 billion. Well, it never became a very viable advertising outlet and that’s because it wasn’t a great context for people to place ads. Advertisers weren’t interested in putting them on a personal homepage for Chris Charron for my friends and relatives to see.”

Of course, if any of you advertisers would like to drop $3 or $4 billion (the billion also applies to the $3, by the way) to advertise on my blog, I'm fine with it, and I'm sure Sun would be happy to help... for a slice of the pie. I hope you all haven't given up on blog ads just because of that GeoCities thing.

If at first you don't succeed...

Tuesday Apr 12, 2005

They Know Why I Fly

My new best friend, Kim Creaven, is the advertising director for American Airlines Publishing, the fine folks who bring us American Way and Celebrated Living magazines, plus CBS Eye on American, and many of the nice touches you'll find in the Admirals Clubs.

Why is Kim my new best friend, you ask?

Because she just sent me the latest issue of American Way AUTOGRAPHED by my very favorite editor, Sherri Gulczynski Burns, and my very favorite columnist, Jim Shahin. And I got way more than autographs: I got PERSONAL NOTES. I'd tell you what the notes say... but they're personal.

Sorry. :)

This one is going in my permanent collection.

This is one to show the grand kids.

(I don't have any grand kids yet -- just saying.)

I am in editorial wannabe heaven here. I thumb my nose at other airlines and their boorish, boring magazines. American Way rocks.

Kim, Sherri and Jim rock.

These people know why I fly.

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jsolof

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