Friday Apr 08, 2005

Paris Hilton and me... in the same article!

I kid you not.

Check out the Marketing Sherpa case study entitled Sun Microsystems Tests High-Impact Brand Revival Campaigns Online: 3 Broken Rules. (Better hurry, though -- it's only available for free viewing for a short while longer.)

They also posted some cool screenshots and such from our quarterly NC Web launches.

No shots of Paris, though. Bummer...

Monday Apr 04, 2005

The History of Our Salvation:

Reading the Old Testament During Lent and Holy Week

O almighty Master, who hast made all creation and by thine inexpressible providence and great goodness hast brought us to these all-revered days, for the purification of soul and body, for the controlling of passions and for hope of resurrection, who, during the forty days didst give into the hands of thy servant Moses the tablets of the Law in characters divinely traced by thee: Enable us also, O good One, to fight the good fight, to complete the course of the fast, to preserve inviolate the faith, to crush under foot the heads of invisible serpents, to be accounted victors over sin; and, uncondemned, to attain unto and worship the holy resurrection. For blessed and glorified is thine all-honorable and majestic name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

-- Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, The Liturgikon: The Book of Divine Services for the Priest and Deacon (Englewood, New Jersey: Antakya Press, 1989), pp. 370-371.

From the first Presanctified Liturgy of the Lenten season, the Old Testament is offered to us for instruction and inspiration, and revealed to us as our guide through the forty days-those forty days which we keep in memory of Moses' sojourn on Mount Sinai, during which God gave into the hands of His servant the tablets of the Law in characters which He Himself divinely traced. This is, of course, a reference from the Book of Exodus. The second Old Testament citation in this prayer hearkens from the earliest chapters of the Book of Genesis, in which God curses the serpent who has just led Adam and Eve into temptation:

On your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.

And on Holy Saturday itself-the final day of Holy Week and the very eve of Pascha-at Lauds and again at the Vesperal Liturgy, it is "The Great" Moses himself, the central figure of the Old Testament, who reveals to us the meaning of this great day, as we sing in the doxastikon:

Moses the great mystically prefigured this present day, saying: "And God blessed the seventh day." For this is the blessed Sabbath, this is the day of rest, on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works. Suffering death in accordance with the plan of salvation, He kept the Sabbath in the flesh; and returning once again to what He was, through His Resurrection He has granted us eternal life, For He alone is good and loves mankind.

-- Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, translators, The Lenten Triodion (London, England: Faber and Faber, 1978), pp. 652-653, 656.

It is no accident that the central figure of the Old Testament, Moses, and the central events of the Old Testament, the exodus from Egypt, the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai, and the Israelites' forty year pilgrimage in the desert, frame for us our forty day pilgrimage to Pascha.

Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia describes Great Lent as "an annual return to our Biblical roots. It is, more specifically, a return to our roots in the Old Testament; for during Lent, to a far greater degree than at any other time of the year, the Scriptural readings are taken from the Old Testament rather than the New." (Ibid., p. 38.)

Alexander Schmemann, of thrice-blessed memory, goes even further:

One can say that the forty days of Lent are, in a way, the return of the Church into the spiritual situation of the Old Testament-the time before Christ, the time of repentance and expectation, the time of the "history of salvation" moving toward its fulfillment in Christ. This return is necessary because even though we belong to the time after Christ, and know Him and have been "baptized into Him," we constantly fall away from the new life received from Him, and this means lapse again into the "old" time. The Church, on the one hand, is already "at home" for she is the "grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit"; yet, on the other hand, she is also "on her way" as the pilgrimage-long and difficult-toward the fulfillment of all things in God, the return of Christ and the end of all time.

Great Lent is the season when this second aspect of the Church, of her life as expectation and journey, is being actualized. It is here, therefore, that the Old Testament acquires its whole significance: as the book not only of the prophecies which have been fulfilled, but of man and the entire creation "on their way" to the Kingdom of God

-- Schmemann, Alexander, Great Lent (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1974), pp. 38-39.

And so as we go on our way to the great feast of Pascha, the Old Testament is our book, our guide, and our constant companion.


Statement of the Antiochian Archdiocese on the Passing to Eternal Life of Pope John Paul II

We join in mourning the loss of Pope John Paul II, the great leader of the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time we rejoice in his ministry, and the legacy of compassion that he leaves to the world. We bring to mind the teaching of St. Ignatius of Antioch in his exhortation to Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna on the role of the bishop:

Lift up all men, as the Lord lifts you; put up with all in love, as you actually do. Be diligent in unceasing prayers; ask for more understanding than you have; watch with a sleepless spirit. Speak to each individual after the example of God; bear the sickness of all, as a perfect athlete. Where the labor is greatest, the gain is great.

(Ignatius to Polycarp 1:2-3)

It seems clear that Pope John Paul II, in his episcopacy, was true to this teaching. He touched many people of all races and religions by his example of caring, love, and compassion. He also served as a strong example of what it means to suffer and die with grace. He has “fought the good fight.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP had met Pope John Paul II on two occasions and was impressed by his faithfulness, and holiness. Surely his soul is resting in peace and his memory is eternal.

And on the topic of Lenten reading...

I highly recommend these daily "Dynamis" sermons from David Patton, based upon the Orthodox Church lectionary and delivered to your email inbox one day in advance. Dynamis is a project of the Education Committee of St. George Orthodox Christian Cathedral in Wichita, Kansas.

For more information, visit the Dynamis page on Yahoo groups or the Dynamis home page. To subscribe, click here.

Kyriacos Markides: The Mountain of Silence

A Search for Orthodox Spirituality

5 stars (out of 5).

I was in California all last week, and the cross-country flights on Monday and Friday gave me time to finish this splendid book.

At first, I have to say, I found Markides somewhat irritating. He was like a cub reporter following a saint, and I was pleased to be irritated -- on Fr. Maximos's behalf -- at the obvious and simplistic questions, at the secular "doubting Thomas" approach to many of the elder's stories and sayings, at the frequent comparisons to this off-beat charismatic healer or that far-away guru du jour.

But once I got into the thick of the book (which, at 272 pages, isn't all that thick), I began to appreciate two things. First, that Markides's questions were clearly not simply his own, but were on behalf of the likely majority of his readers who would have exactly the same questions. This is not a book written for "Orthodox cognoscenti", but for lay people of any tradition. It assumes no prior familiarity with the Athonite spiritual tradition -- and from that perspective, it is entirely sucessful in finding and revealing the Orthodox spirituality which is the subject of the search.

The second thing I came to appreciate was the clear organization of the book, which is surely Markides's doing, since unedited conversations are never this organized. Not with any Orthodox I've ever met. :) (Present company included.) The table of contents is revealed as the curriculum for a comprehensive general introduction to Orthodox faith and spirituality, with each chapter well organized and relatively self-contained. You could do far, far worse than to begin an exploration of the Orthodox Church with Markides and Fr. Maximos as your guides.

The bottom line -- and why I gave this book five stars -- is that it helped me and inspired me to pray. Starting Lent with this book has made it a better Lent (thus far, anyway) than I've had in a few years. It has both comforted and challenged me, both confirmed what I believed and taught me things I never knew. It changed me -- and you can't ask any more of a book than that.

I highly recommend it to anyone, Orthodox or not, beginner or... well, in the company of Fr. Maximos and the elders whose wisdom he shares with us, we're all beginners.


Sunday Mar 27, 2005

Happy Easter, Part I

A joyous Easter to my brethren and sistern who celebrate the feast today, on March 27.

For us Orthodox, however, this is only the Second Sunday of Lent, on which we celebrate the memory of St. Gregory Palamas. Easter, for us, falls this year on May 1 -- five weeks away.

For more information on how the Church calendar works, check out this article on Dating Pascha in the Orthodox Church by Dr. Lewis J. Patsavos, Professor of Canon Law at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, or this article on The Date of Pascha by Fr. Nabil Hanna. You can also read Dr. Patsavos's article on The Calendar of the Orthodox Church, which is broader in scope.

Catholic and Protestant friends, party on!

Orthodox friends, back to the mujadara...

Wednesday Mar 23, 2005

Invasion of the Giant 10's!

Rich Burridge has a great entry in his blog about the Royal College of Art project to carpe London with life-sized sculptures illustrating the ten primary attributes of Solaris 10. Read all about it -- and kudos to Fiona for a brilliant piece of non-traditional marketing, perfectly executed.

More from Fr. Maximos

Fr. Maximos tells Markides: "We lost the knowledge of God at the moment when we transformed the Ecclesia [Church] from experience into theology, from a living reality into moralistic principles, good values, and high ideals. When that happened," Fr. Maximos said humorously, "we became like tin cans with nothing inside." (p. 55)

Perhaps this explains my discomfort with the "Christian Right", and my concern that they are often neither one nor the other.

Fr. Maximos continued: "Learn how to accept sorrows as divine gifts, including personal failures. Through experiences of grief human beings have the opportunity to place the stone of their heart into a grinder and turn it into dust. They must go through these sorrows of the heart. Through grief they may come out victorious. Life itself is a form of askesis [ascetical effort]. People just don't recognize it and lose heart."

"What does not kill me gives me strength," [Markides] muttered, quoting the well-known aphorism.

"Right," Fr. Maximos replied and nodded. [Markides] was almost certain that he had never heard of Nietzche. (p. 60)

I'm almost certain neither of them have ever heard of Conan the Barbarian. :)

And Fr. Maximos tells a story of his own spiritual father, the Elder Paisios: "One day old Paisios was visited in his remote hermitage by a group of five obnoxious young men, full of pride and arrogance. He patiently spent several hours showing them extra attention. But a theology teacher who was present became irritable and impatient. 'How could you tolerate them?' he asked him. And the elder replied, 'Have you ever wondered how God could tolerate you?'"

Now there's something to noodle on this Lent...

Tuesday Mar 22, 2005

Kyriacos Markides: The Mountain of Silence

At the recommendation of my friend Mike Christakis, I'm starting off this Lent reading Kyriacos Markides's account of his "search for Orthodox spirituality", to quote the sub-title. I'm only part-way through, but so far, it has been an enlightening journey (for both him and me).

One of the conversations he records in Chapter 3, while engaging in its own right, seemed particularly germane in light of the turmoil swirling around poor Terri Schiavo, as the federal government -- all three branches, in fact -- struggle to find the elusive "right thing to do."

Markides recounts a dialogue between Thomas, his neighbor on Cyprus, and Fr. Maximos, the spiritual father (or elder, gerontas in Greek) who is guiding the author on his quest. Thomas's secular sensibilities are upset by the monastic life of renunciation, and he questions Fr. Maximos on the value of such a life.

I hope the author will pardon this long citation:

Thomas... asked thoughtfully whether it was worthwhile for someone to abandon wordly activities and join a monastery. "If yes, then a parent can say, 'Okay, it is worth the sacrifice on the part of our family to have our son or daughter living in a monastery. But if it is in vain, why should my child waste her life like that?'"

"This question is answered by the very life of nuns, monks, and hermits," Father Maximos replied. "If we monks could not find a realization of our expectations here, do you think it would be possible for us to stay and carry on with this austere and deprived existence? What would be the purpose of it? Take me for example. I was eighteen years old when I became a monk. Being a monk does not mean that you do not have the normal urges of a man. You also wish to live with a woman, to go out and enjoy life as it is commonly understood. You have all the sexual urges that everybody else has, and like everybody else you would like someday to get married and have a family. Becoming a monk does not mean you have automatically transcended your human desires and ambitions."

"Yet, another power pulls you in the opposite direction and that is the experience of the Christ. When we enter the monastery we wonder, 'Am I going to find what I am looking for?' Or just forget it, get this black cassock off, find a woman, marry, have children and live like any other ordinary human being? A monk owns nothing, not a single penny. Yet, we stay. And not only that, we are attracted to this life. It fills us with enchantment and it revitalizes us even after twenty, thirty, or forty years have passed since the time we started on this path. I meet some old monks in their eighties who are still enthusiastic about the monastic life. I have been a monk for twenty years and I have never, not for a single day, felt tired of this lifestyle. I have never experienced boredom, never had any doubts about whether I made the right decision to become a monk. Never! I feel as if my life is a continuous motion in the direction of Christ. I found what I was looking for. Had it not been so then neither I nor the other monks would have remained in the monastery. It would have been absolutely foolish and meaningless. Why should we undergo all this deprivation? Wouldn't I be an idiot to do all these things without some concrete spiritual gain? Therefore the answer to your question is our very life. Each one of us is the answer."

pp. 35-36

St. Seraphim of Sarov uses the image of commercial trading to describe the Christian life.\* We trade in exchange for something of tangible value. Fr. Maximos's comments on the monastic life -- which is only, in the end, an extreme pursuit of the same spiritual life we all seek -- point to the tangible value of that life to its adherents. If we aren't actually receiving something of more value than what we give up in exchange for it, we would be idiots, to use his word, to persist.

"Let me ask you another question," Thomas continues. "Who is more useful to society, a doctor or a monk?"

Father Maximos grinned and sighed. "I have been asked this question before. What does monasticism offer to society? Well, this question is characteristic of a modern way of thinking. It is an activist orientation toward the world. Every act, every person, is judged on the basis of their utility and contribution to the whole. Parents urge their children to excel so that they may be useful to society. Based on our spiritual tradition I prefer to see human beings first and foremost in terms of who they are and only after that in terms of their contributions to society. Otherwise we run the risk of turning people into machines that produce useful things. So what if you do not produce useful things? Does that mean that you should be discarded as a useless object? I am afraid that with this orientation contemporary humanity has undermined the inherent value of the human person. Today we value ourselves in terms of how much we contribute rather than in terms of who we are. And that attitude toward ourselves often leads to all sorts of psychological problems. I see this all the time during confessions."

p. 36

And thinking of Terri Schiavo, while I believe that the judicial processes she has enjoyed (endured?) thus far came to a reasonable conclusion -- obviating the obvious political grandstanding of the legislative and executive branches "on her behalf" -- yet I see the pictures of her and wonder if the decision to withdraw her life support is being made on the basis of utility, on the basis of what she can contribute, vs. who she is. She lives, she breathes -- she cannot feed herself. Many others, we would sustain in those same circumstances, without a moment's hesitation.

God help her and her family.


\*St. Seraphim made the following statement in his famous conversation with Nicholas Motovilov:

"In acquiring this Spirit of God consists the true aim of our Christian life, while prayer, vigil, fasting, almsgiving and other good works done for Christ's sake are merely means for acquiring the Spirit of God."

"What do you mean by acquiring?" I asked Father Seraphim. "Somehow I don't understand that."

"Acquiring is the same as obtaining," he replied. "You understand, of course, what acquiring money means? Acquiring the Spirit of God is exactly the same. You know well enough what it means in a worldly sense, your Godliness, to acquire. The aim in life of ordinary worldly people is to acquire or make money, and for the nobility it is in addition to receive honours, distinctions and other rewards for their services to the government. The acquisition of God's Spirit is also capital, but grace-giving and eternal, and it is obtained in very similar ways, almost the same ways as monetary, social and temporal capital.

Sunday Mar 13, 2005

The Sunday of Forgiveness

Each year, as the Orthodox Church stands at the very threshold of Great Lent, we hear these words from Jesus's Sermon on the Mount:

If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

-- Matthew 6:14-21

The Sunday of Forgiveness takes its name from the first verse in this passage. And therefore, at the conclusion of Vespers on this day, the Church prescribes a unique ritual: everyone in the church, from the oldest priest to the youngest child, bows down before everyone else -- one at a time -- and asks forgiveness of the other. "Forgive me," implores the one; "God forgives," responds the other, embracing and exchanging two or three kisses of peace -- and then they reverse parts, so that everyone has both asked forgiveness of, and forgiven everyone else, everyone has bowed down in front of everyone else, everyone has embraced everyone else. And all the while, the hymns (canon) of Pascha are being quietly chanted in the background. So does the Orthodox Church enter the season of Great Lent.

So the obvious question is, what if I haven't done anything (bad) to the other person? What am I asking their forgiveness for? And why are they asking forgiveness of me?

This is a close cousin to the other obvious question, why do I need to go to confession if I don't have anything to confess?

It turns out these questions share a common answer.

Think back to last week's lesson. Recall that the last judgment itself is based on six simple questions:

1. Did we give food to the hungry?
2. Did we give drink to the thirsty?
3. Did we take in the stranger?
4. Did we clothe the naked?
5. Did we visit the sick?
6. Did we come to the prisoner?

And note that all of these questions regard, not what evil things we did, but what good things we failed to do. If we examine our lives and our hearts, which the disciplines of Lent allow and encourage us to do, not many of us stand guiltless in this regard.

And then look again at last week's reading, and recognize that "inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me", and "inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me." (Matthew 25:40, 45) What we do, or fail to do, for each other, we do or fail to do for God Himself. We sin against God in sinning against each other.

And the converse is equally true. Because we share one common human nature, and in the Church, as we form together the Body of Christ (as St. Paul writes in Romans 12:5, "we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another"), what we do, or fail to do, for God, we do or fail to do for each other. We sin against each other in sinning against God. The victimless crime where "no one got hurt", the private sin in which "no harm was done", is simply a fantasy, an illusion. I could be alone on a desert island and sin there in my solitude -- and I would be sinning against all of you, and in need not only of God's forgiveness, but of yours. And the converse holds true, which is why we offer forgiveness on this day even to those we are meeting for the first time.

And so on this day, as a token of what I should be doing every day, from my heart, I ask your forgiveness for everything I have done that I should not have done, and for the much longer list of things I should have done that I failed to do. Whether we know each other or not. Whether or not we've ever met. And from my heart, I share with you God's forgiveness and assure you of my own, in a virtual embrace and kiss of peace. Perhaps the first time this has ever been done by blog. :)

And in our minds and hearts, may we hear the words of the Paschal verses:

This is the day of Resurrection; let us be illumined by the Feast, let us embrace each other! Let us call "brother" even those who hate us, and forgive all by the Resurrection. And so let us cry: "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!"

Saturday Mar 12, 2005

Randall Rothenberg: Where The Suckers Moon

The Life and Death of an Advertising Campaign

5 stars (out of 5).

This splendid book was an early Christmas gift from Brian Nienhaus and my friends at Grey|San Francisco. Randall Rothenberg was an embedded reporter before the phrase was coined, chronicling in detail the brief but intense relationship between Subaru of America and their advertising agency, Wieden & Kennedy.

Despite the subtitle, telling the story of W&K's "What to Drive" campaign is only half the point of the book, serving as the framework around which Rothenberg delivers a detailed history of the advertising industry and the entrepreneurial personalities who built it. Grey Advertising, for example, was founded by two men named Larry Valenstein and Arthur Fatt, who believed that de-emphasizing their ethnic roots would enable them to grow beyond the bounds of the New York garment district where, unlike most everywhere else, Jewish agencies could be employed.

He tells the colorful story of Subaru of America, founded by Philaelphia furniture-man Harvey Lamm, whose original goal was to import a tiny, ugly car from Japan, and sell the 71 inch wheelbase, 360cc, 25 horsepower vehicle -- the feds classified it as a covered motorcycle rather than a car, since it weighed in at under 1,000 pounds -- for $1,297. Zero to fifty in 37.5 seconds, but 66 miles to the gallon!

And he traces the development of Fuji Heavy Industries, which started out in the world as the manufacturer of the Zero fighter, deployed with such deadly effect in World War II. Broken up by the allied authorities after the war, five of the constituent companies were eventually permitted to reunite; their corporate symbol, five small stars linked to a bigger star, represents the constellation we call the Pleiades -- in Japanese, "Subaru", which means "unite".

Did you know that Subaru is properly pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable -- soo-BAR-oo -- and that an advertising exec, Paula Green, believing it sounded too foreign for the American market, took it upon herself to change the pronunciation, leading a room full of dealers to chant "One, two, soo-ba-ROO"?

Read this rich, detailed, and informative book, and you'll learn this and much more. It will totally hook you on -- or turn you off of -- an incredible industry. As for me, I'm lovin' it.

Brian, Betsy, Yumi -- thanks for the education!


Note: My wife drives a Subaru Forester; we're on our second one (it's a lease, that's why -- the things run forever), and they've been totally delightful cars. Comfortable, great in the snow (thanks to "The Beauty of All-Wheel Drive"), completely reliable ("Inexpensive, and built to stay that way") -- and that horizontally-opposed engine, the brainchild of Fuji engineer "Endless" Momose, really kicks!

Saturday Mar 05, 2005

The Sunday of The Last Judgment

Each year, as the Orthodox Church prepares to enter the season of Great Lent, we hear, from St. Matthew's gospel, Jesus's account of the last judgment:

"When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'"

"Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'"

"Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.'"

"Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

-- Matthew 25:31-46

A sermon on this theme is practically superfluous. I can give a good one in four words:

"No, He's not kidding."

Okay, here's another one:

"Yes, He is serious."

It's that simple because the judgment itself is that simple, based on six simple questions:

1. Did we give food to the hungry?
2. Did we give drink to the thirsty?
3. Did we take in the stranger?
4. Did we clothe the naked?
5. Did we visit the sick?
6. Did we come to the prisoner?

The simplicity of this judgment would be apparent to the rural Palestinians to whom Jesus was speaking. Sheep and goats are separated because, at night, the sheep like to sleep outside in the fresh air; the goats, without the thick coats, prefer the warmth of a cave. Sheep are valuable; goats are not. Sheep are white; goats are black. It is literally a black and white decision.

The one un-simple question is why? Why would such an important (and eternal) thing like the judgment rest on six questions? And why on these six questions in particular?

It is -- simply -- because, as St. John writes in his first epistle, "God is love." (1 John 4:8) And having been created in His image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-27), that love is in us. Moreover, that love has been renewed in us, poured out on us, every day of our lives. And the love of God -- and this is critical -- isn't puppy love. It isn't Valentine's Day love, or Senior Prom love, or staring dreamily into each other's eyes love. The love of God sacrifices that which is dearest to it in favor of the beloved.

It was this love that caused Abraham to bind Isaac, his son, his only son, whom he loved, to an altar of wood, in order (had God not interceded) to offer him up as a burnt offering. (Genesis 22:1-19)

It was this love that held Jesus to the cross. Do you think a few iron nails could have held the Son of God to a piece of wood? He who created both the iron and the wood out of nothing?

"Our God," writes St. Paul in the Epistle to the Hebrews, "is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:29) And if "God is love", then this love is a consuming fire. If this love is in us, then we are on fire.

And, on the last day, when God is revealed as "all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28), when the consuming fire of His love is engulfing us, one of two things can happen.

If we are on fire with it ourselves, then we have returned to that from which we were made: we are in paradise; we are in heaven; we are home.

But if, on the other hand, we have allowed that fire within us to go out, if it has been extinguished by disdain and neglect and the passage of time, then... well, what happens when you cast a piece of cold, dead driftwood into a blazing fire? Great for fire; not so good for the driftwood.

It is, in the end, really that simple.

Six simple questions. Four simple words.

"Yes, He is serious."

"No, He's not kidding."

Sunday Feb 06, 2005

Smiting, Yearning, and Leaping

I've been Orthodox (Christian) for going on 24 years now, and if you figure I've said the Prayers Before Holy Communion at least 50 times a year, that nets out to well over a thousand times. And yet this morning, one of the prayers that I've been staring at for all these years veritably leapt off the page at me:

Thou hast smitten me with yearning, O Christ, and by Thy divine love hast Thou changed me. But with Thine immaterial fire, consume my sins and count me worthy to be filled with delight in Thee, that leaping for joy, O Good One, I may magnify Thy two comings.

Who ever said religion was boring, or prayers were dull? We have big action verbs going on here! Smiting, yearning, leaping -- and immaterial fire!\*

I am smitten with yearning for more.

This prayer is from the lovely Prayerbook for Orthodox Christians from Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Brookline, Massachusetts.

\*Note that this immaterial fire is not the fire of purgatory, the Roman Catholic doctrine of which the Orthodox do not hold. I rather suspect the reference is to the Holy Spirit, Who descends upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) in the form of tongues of fire, resulting in delight, joy, and magnification (praise) of Christ in His first and (anticipated) second comings.

Saturday Feb 05, 2005

I fear: therefore, I am?

Every year, at about this time of year, Newsweek publishes an interview with a group of actors and actresses who are the odds-on favorites to be nominated for Academy Awards: their annual Oscar Roundtable. In their own words, "we gathered the most celebrated actors of the season for an intimate talk about the pains and joys of a life in pictures."

This year's group consisted of Annette Bening, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Paul Giamatti, Hilary Swank, and Kate Winslet -- about as talented, and apparently, well-adjusted, a set of actors as you're likely to find.

I was fascinated when the conversation turned to their fears: fears I share, at least some of the time -- and maybe you do too. Take a listen:

You're all successful actors. Do you still have that fear, after each job, that you'll never work again?
WINSLET: I feel like that all the time.
GIAMATTI: I do, too.
WINSLET: Leo doesn't. [Laughter]
SWANK: I was just working with Clint Eastwood. He's 74, and he says he never knows if each job is going to be his last.
BENING: When I was starting out, I thought there must be a point at which that goes away—that successful people didn't have insecurities or demons. What you realize is that, if anything, it gets worse.
GIAMATTI: Every job feels like the first job. I'm always fumbling through it, trying to figure it out and going, "I'm going to get fired. I'm going to get fired."

Have you ever gotten fired, though?
GIAMATTI: Oh, a bunch of times. I got fired from an episode of "Frasier." I wasn't funny. They kept tinkering with the script, and it sucked, and I was having a bad time. I was happy to be shown the door, actually.
SWANK: I got fired off "Beverly Hills, 90210." It was in its last stages, when no one was watching it, and I thought, "If I'm not even good enough for this, I'm never going to make it." So I was coming off this one-hour show, and I was testing for another one-hour show with this very well-known executive—
BENING: Who will go nameless.
SWANK: Very nameless. And he said, "I would hire you, but you're just too 'half hour'." [Laughter] But you have to trust fate, because four months later I got "Boys Don't Cry."

Does the fear of failure ever go away?
WINSLET: Fear is a great thing for an actor, because you have to confront it, you know. There's always the feeling of "I can't do this. They've got the wrong person." This job is so exciting, and most of it is terrifying, but the day I say "That's it, I know how to act" is the day it ceases to be interesting.

I really give these guys credit for their honesty. Weird to say that, I know, about a bunch of people who make their living pretending to be other people. But it certainly jives with my experience: the wonderful and terrible thing about working in this industry, about working for Sun.

Actually, about being a grown-up. :)

The whole interview is a worthwhile read: you can check it out here. And go see the movies!

Saturday Jan 29, 2005

Man on Fire

2 stars (out of 5).

There's an old joke about two old ladies in a nursing home. "The food here stinks," gripes the one. "Yeah," says her neighbor, "and the portions are so small!"

My complaints about this movie are along the same lines.

On the one hand, this flick is totally formulaic and predictable. Gruff, tormented ex-spook loner, hooked on Jack Daniels and water, signs on as a bargain basement bodyguard to a cute little kid who captures his heart before the bad guys capture her. He spends the rest of the movie trying to get her (and himself) back.

But that's not what happens here. Twisting the formula, the girl is dead a third of the way into the two and a half hour movie, and thus Denzel Washington's motivation throughout the over-long remainder is revenge, not rescue. And, the girl being beyond redemption, so therefore is he.

I would have expected to see Steven Seagal in this, or Jean-Claude Van Damme. Denzel, despite his over-the-top creepiness in Training Day, is too nuanced and thoughtful a guy to carry out this bloody vendetta. And the reverse twist, at the end of the movie, is just plain bizarre. Not to mention the fact that he takes bullets to the chest better than I take splinters. That JD and water must have medicinal properties even I never suspected.

Redeeming things, somewhat, are some great supporting performances by Dakota Fanning (adorable as the kidnappee), Radha Mitchell and Marc Anthony as her parents (note to J. Lo: your new hubby might not make the best dad -- just saying...), and Christopher Walken as I've never seen him before: likeable. Good turns, too, from Rachel Ticotin and Giancarlo Giannini. Mickey Rourke plays himself.

Oh, and the most bizzare thing of all: a caption, before the closing credits -- Tony Scott must have gotten himself a new caption machine or something, the way he over-uses it -- dedicating the film "to Mexico City, a very special place." After 146 minutes of kidnappings, corruption, and an exploding Rave club (cheered on by the Ravers, of course), this is not where I want to spend my next vacation.

I'm going to Disney World!





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