"The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God." -St Irenaeus of Lyon

Archive for November, 2010

Yes I know I still have a blog

My apologies for letting the blog slip.  Being in a different post-graduate environment can provide a shake-up for just about anyone.  Additionally, being in a different country creates a considerable urge to go fun and interesting places on the weekends.  I tested my investigative detective skills at 221B Baker Street this weekend, so I’m feeling confident in my deductions.

I am going to shift my blogging targets to 4 posts a week, suspend the “Friday Forum” in favor of an “Anytime Forum,” and try to keep the “Life in England” tag active for my friends and family.  Additionally, I am going to stop my regular Sunday blogging on the Gospel readings associated with the Orthodox Church.  My ability to attend the Divine Liturgy here is a bit limited as my local community only serves the service twice a month.  As a result, I either go to Matins with my local community or I attend services at a different parish.  From what I can tell, there are 3 slightly different lectionaries in use owing to some jurisdictional pluralism on the island, so it’s hard for me to study the right gospel for Sundays.

Watch this space as I hope to be resuming a reasonable posting rate this week!


Sometimes you need familiarity

Important occasions need to be observed.  Anniversaries only come around once a year.  Particularly when life gets busy, we can forget the importance of taking time out to observe an anniversary.  And sometimes, the only way to mark an anniversary is to create a tradition of sorts.

Such was my English adventure two weeks ago as I marked the anniversary of my baptism.  My friend Irenaeus and I went up to Walsingham, a site of ancient English pilgrimage.  I have been to Walsingham before.  Incidentally, on my last trip to Walsingham, I decided to make the final preparations for my baptism.  It seemed a very fitting place to return to.

However, Walsingham is familiar to me for more than just the past visit.  Walsingham is England’s Nazareth.  In 1061, the Most Holy Theotokos appeared to Lady Richeldis instructing her to build a replica of the Holy House in Nazareth.  When construction completed, a spring bubbled up.  Pilgrims flocked to this site to receive the holy waters.  Walsingham is the home of the Theotokos.  As Christians live into the command of Christ: “Behold your mother” (John 19:27), her home is our home.  Additionally, my icon from my visit to Walsingham stands watch over my bed, even when I am at home.

Walsingham also has one of my favorite prayer shrines.  It is the Chapel of the Holy Spirit on the grounds of the Roman Catholic Shrine.  The chapel features a beautiful mosaic of Pentecost.  I particularly like the spirit of the chapel in that the intercessory candles seriously mean business.  I can wrap my hand comfortably around the larger candles.  The atmosphere carries the attitude of purposeful intercession.  I cannot help but to bring some of the childish approach to prayer, as “Flame on!” screams through my head Fantastic 4 style when I light the candle.  I am reminded not to take myself too seriously and find great joy.

I went up to Walsingham purposefully even as I had a term paper due the following Thursday.  I worked out my paper-writing efforts around my trip.  As such, I managed to enjoy my weekend quite thoroughly.  The intentionality of the anniversary reminded me considerably of the intentionality around my actual baptism.  Many of my friends came from all over the world to witness my baptism.  And I carried them with me in my heart as I returned home so to speak.

Mind the gap!

Sorry for the unexpected break from blogging.  I have been orientating myself to the wonders of the London Underground.  Please mind the gap between the train and the platform.

Gaps exist all over the place.  Sometimes the gap represents a chasm that should never be crossed, sometimes the gap requires building a bridge, and sometimes the gap simply needs to be negotiated.  Daily living requires knowing which type of gap you face, and that can be the hard part.

Sometimes you need to know if you are on the train or on the platform.

The scenery of the train changes.  You get on and things morph.  One minute you’re in the thick of the city, the next you’re catching glimpse of a field, and still in a coming moment you can’t even imagine why someone would have decided the train should run here.  There are no other roads in sight.

Until you get to the next platform.  You make a choice of whether you have arrived at the end of the journey, passively accept that people will board the train, or actively encourage others to board the train.  Once again, mind the gap between the train and the platform.

Orientating oneself to the gap instantaneously can be a bit of a struggle.  Sometimes the gaps that are the hardest are the gaps that require you to step up or step down.  I’ve never been praised for my vertical endowment.  Greeting a foot gap on the train is never all that enjoyable, particularly when I’m doing something important like carrying groceries.

You encounter strange companions on your journey.  Some people even appear to be traveling to your exact destination in exactly the same way.  You might even be so bold as to strike up a conversation.

I have been doing considerable processing of the gaps I have encountered living in a different country.  Some gaps are definitely noticeable; others can be downright intimidating.  But I’m here for the journey and meeting new people along the way.

Pure joy

I just finished my first term paper so I don’t have much really to write about today.  I think I have a maximum of original and thoughtful words I can write per day.

Presently I am most excited about this project from Imogen Heap. 

You can even join in at home from your computer.

Intercessions from the Morning

God is love: he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him.  In Jesus Christ, we see how God loves us.  Let us renew our faith in His love.  Lord Jesus, you loved us and gave yourself for us.

You have given us life and light this morning.  Let us give thanks for such great gifts. Lord Jesus, you loved us and gave yourself for us.

You are sole master of the future.  Keep us from despair and the fear of what is to come.  Lord Jesus, you loved us and gave yourself for us.

Love has no ambition to seek anything for itself.  Strengthen our will to give up selfishness today.  Lord Jesus, you loved us and gave yourself for us.

May Your love in us overcome all things.  Let there be no limit to our faith, our hope, and our endurance.  Lord Jesus, you loved us and gave yourself for us.

-Taken from the Morning Office

The Fallacy of the Modern Academic

Academics have a curious relationship with the ideal.  Many people think the ideal is obtainable, provided that we take our time to discover the relevant parameters.  People have expectation that policy can be shaped exclusively as good policy.  Generally, the solution to creating good policy involves taking space to find out enough information.  If we just take our time to collect appropriate information, then we will be able to implement better decisions.

I am sympathetic to this view.  I often think we rush around too much, leaving all sorts of people in our wakes.  Yet, I also contend the exaltation of information in decision making is the fallacy of the modern academic.  Simply, the idea that we could possibly have all of the information we require before acting is false.

A belief that we have all of the required information does not lend itself to the creation of processes to acquire information as processes unfold.  Unfolding processes often require acquiring information on the fly, asking people to punt from their own best professional judgment, and embracing mistakes inherent with the learning process.  People working in learning processes will mistakenly assume that some information is urgent, ask for the wrong forms of information, and underestimate the time required to gather information while hopefully creating space for other persons to participate in the learning process.

Certain challenges of being human lend themselves better to a “wait and see” process of decision making.  However, removing oneself from the day-to-day realities of decision making is a luxury uniquely afforded to academics [and for the sake of argument, other elites].  Being present within a situation on the ground, acting with your best possible judgment, and making decisions out of simple necessity all have their place.  Yet, I contend that the most difficult decision involves the choice to be present.

Many policymakers seem absolutely content to make decisions removed from the “contamination” of the ground.  We can wax eloquent about the appropriate nature of particular situations that change drastically when we encounter the lived experience of that situation.  Hot button issues like abortion, homosexuality, poverty, unemployment, educational reform, AIDS, what have you all contain various divisions that get reshaped entirely when one has to enter the situation.  A teacher working day in and day out in a low-income school has a distinct perspective, shaped significantly by the tension between the ideal and the pragmatic.  A physician working in an urban center has a distinct perspective.  In my opinion, callousness is the main threat that blocks people on the ground from affecting meaningful change.  Learning to hold the ideal and the pragmatic in tension is important.

“Let’s study this” generally is the academic approach.  The academics can take their time.  They generally do not have to live with seeing the daily humanity of the situation.  Humanity is full of joys and losses.  We can get into trouble when we assert that the pragmatic is only negative.  Yet, an idea that somehow a comprehensive national policy will emerge from on high strikes me as a complete and utter fallacy.  This fallacy exalts a particular view of things that remains detached from the situation.

In my mind, pragmatists engage.  Sometimes we have the option to engage.  We get to choose.  Considering carefully the net impact of our options before engaging is important.  Embracing the learning processes that occur alongside of our engagement is also critical.

Oh no, Not responsibility!

Today was a good blogging day in that I received a comment on a post I wrote months ago about educational realities.  I am encouraged when other people post their thoughts on my posts.

We live in a world that has a rather perverse concept of rights.  My dictionary defines perverse as “showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable, often in spite of the consequences.”  We actively question who can define the terms of reasonable and acceptable.  My commentor suggested that the key place of authority relies on parents disciplining their children.  I would contend that people waffle when trying to frame concepts of obligation.

Looking at good parenting provides an interesting springboard.  I have gotten to know some families with fantastic children.  Even just thinking about how awesome these kids are induces homesickness.  It’s a rather impressive feat as I do not generally like children.  But I have noticed that these children flourish under sound parenting.  The more I watch people who can parent small children well, the more I conclude that obedience is a gift that has to be freely given.  It is generally hard to demand obedience.

We have an instinctive, child-like reaction to commands we do not respect: “Oh yeah, make me!”  We fight and claw and whine to avoid responsibility.  Whether we learn obedience from our parents, from our churches, from our employers, from the legal system, or from [insert authority of choice], we always have the option to disregard authority when authority asks us to do something unpleasant.

We call this reaction our “rights.”

How does obedience function in adult life?  We live in a world seemingly constructed to render this concept meaningless.  Generally, people with the most money can manipulate the system such that the system serves the interest of the rich.  We view intervening agents with suspicion, particularly if we assert that agent negates an individual’s rights.

Can we speak of obligation and responsibility in our societies?