Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thinking about Shopping on Thanksgiving? Just Don't!

HT:  Katrina Trinko at National Review Online

Look, do what you want.  But if you feel that, for whatever reason, you must shop on Thanksgiving Day, at least ask yourself:  How does shopping on Thanksgiving show how thankful you are for what God has given you?  Also, ask yourself this:  Is it not hypocritical to condemn stores for making employees work on a holiday while going to these same stores?

Ms. Trinko at NRO makes the case far better than I do.  For those of you who have never worked retail (I have), this is not a fun time to work.  Most people who shop on Thanksgiving Day or Black Friday or even throughout the whole "holiday season" are unreasonable, demanding, rude, mean, snappy, discourteous, sinister, etc.  The people who work retail are the recipients of some of the nastiest comments ever heard.  So, why add to their misery during this season by making them give up a day off which is meant to be shared with family and friends and substituting instead all sorts of vitriol?

Ms. Trinko writes:

Just don’t do it.

Don’t shop on Thanksgiving Day. I don’t care how much joy shopping gives you. You’ve got 25 days to shop for Christmas if you start on Black Friday. That’s enough.

Yes, you’ll have the opportunity to shop: At least 15 major retail chains will be open on Thanksgiving, including Walmart, Macy’s, and Best Buy (according to ThinkProgress).

How fantastic would it be if no one showed up?

We already have people stuck working to man the airports and restaurants. We shouldn’t be asking even more people to work, particularly when shopping (thankfully!) isn’t even part of our Thanksgiving tradition, unlike traveling to be with family or enjoying a meal together.

I worked at Borders for a couple of summers and a Christmas during college. That’s not very much retail experience: Many of my colleagues in journalism had worked several years already in retail. But it was enough to give me a taste of what a nightmare the work schedule could be. You don’t get weekends off when you work retail — if anything, they’re the days you’re least likely to get off because everyone else is out shopping then.

Yes, most of us got two days off at some point during the week. But they could be any days, and they could change from week to week, too. Managers hated requests for particular days off. You could sometimes swap a shift with someone else or get them to take on your shift, but it was a little risky to rely on that for an important occasion.

For many of us, our workweeks are Monday through Friday. We have weeknights and weekends off, and so do most of the people we know. That makes it significantly easier to see one another, and to have gatherings of family and friends.

But if you work retail or other jobs that involve regular weekends and nights — and many of your friends and family do — it’s tougher to get everyone together. It’s hard to find a day when everyone is off and can gather together.

It used to be that holidays were those days: A time when just about everyone, regardless of his job, was able to spend the day with loved ones.

Making Thanksgiving a working day is going to change that. It’s going to take away from retail employees a rare universal day off.

And frankly, I can’t imagine what you could buy on Thanksgiving that would make that trade-off worth it to our culture.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Starting to Understand the Compassion/Loving Kindness/Mercy of God

I was once told that the only way to begin to understand, even in the most basic of terms, the compassion/loving kindness/mercy (choose alternate noun) of God was to become a parent.  No child, no matter how well he or she is raised, no matter how good his or her intentions are will never ever love his/her parent as much as the parent loves him/her.  At the time I heard this I was single and was not planning on marrying, let alone have kids, but it stuck with me.

Fast forward several years and I am now happily married to a beautiful woman and am a father to wonderful little 16 month old son who is the light of every day.  His giggle alone is enough to forget everything that happened on the worst of days.  My son is at that age of temper tantrums and not taking a liking to the word "no."  He's also in the habit of throwing things which can really hurt you if they get you in the right spot.  I was sitting down next to my son who was playing with his toy piano.  He's able to hold it one hand and with it, he just smacked me across the cheek with it.  I went down.  That blow really hurt.  I immediately corrected him and took the piano away and then went to get some ice to counter any bruising or swelling that may ensue.

I sat in my chair for awhile icing down my cheek and for the rest of the evening, my son would come up to my chair and put his head down between my legs while grasping my knees.  When he came up to me, his expression was not a happy one, but almost as if he was experiencing some regret.  I wasn't mad at him; he simply doesn't know better at his age.  Nonetheless, it still looked like he was apologizing to me and feeling guilty about what he had done.  I didn't want my son to feel guilty or bad in any way so I picked him up and held him, assuring him that I was not angry and that I loved him.

At that one singular instance, I understood, as much as any human can, the compassion and mercy of God.  Here was this little boy, feeling bad (and it may not have been due to his hitting me, but this was too much of a coincidence) and coming to me.  And I, sitting in my chair, nursing my wound (which turned out to be nothing), was not angry in the least.  Would I have felt the same if my son didn't come up to me like he had?  I believe so.

We all wound God every day in our sins.  Does He still forgive even if we don't come up to Him and look like we're sorry?  Yes.  Do we understand why?  No.  While we dwell on earth, we cannot just openly look upon the majesty of God, but can only perceive Him and His Energies piece-meal and opaquely.  I started to understand.  God doesn't forgive because we're repentant (some of us; most, probably aren't), but because He loves and out of love created.  In the same way, I did not harbor resentment towards my little boy nor want him to be punished, but forgave him, not because of his act, but because he is my son.  A tautology, I'm sure and circular reasoning.  But if there is a better reason to forgive because I am someone's child, I don't know what it is and I don't want to know.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Politics of the Cup

This is a very thought provoking article from Father Stephen. I encourage every one to read it in its entirety.  For me, the defense of closed communion rests with what Fr. Stephen says here:

 Those who separate the Eucharist from the Church also separate themselves from the Church – they seek to eat while “not discerning the body.” The treatment of the Eucharist clearly reflects the treatment of the Church.
The mystery of the Eucharist is integrated into the Church.  The Eucharist cannot be anything more than a token of hospitality outside of the Church.  For all those demanding to receive the Eucharist, but refuse to be a member of Christ's body this comment astutely sums it up:

A person who receives communion from a church but refuses to be a member is a little like a person who has a friend with benefits who [sic] he refuses to marry.

Share and comment.

HT:  Father Stephen at Glory to God for All Things

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Importance of the Incarnation

One of the many criticisms directed against the Orthodox Faith and her adherents is that it places way too much emphasis on the Incarnation of the Lord when it should be more or exclusively centered upon the Lord's Cross and Crucifixion.  I find it fascinating then that those who make such criticisms even bother to celebrate the Christmas season since its focus is on the Lord's appearance in the flesh.   The other problem is that those who make such criticisms are stuck in an "either...or" mentality.  Pascha and Christmas embrace one another in the Orthodox faith.  One cannot be without the other.

The Scriptures and the hymnography of the Church are replete with many examples of how Christ is consubstantial with His creation, namely, us humans.  Although many of the early battles over orthodox doctrine centered upon whether Christ was consubstantial with the Father, Christ's consubstantiality with His creation was not and cannot be simply forgotten.  It is the very foundation for our salvation, which is more than simply a declaration of forgiveness, but is an ontological reality in which we are made, by grace, one with the one who created us.

With this "both...and" approach instead of the "either...or", as we begin the long march towards Bethlehem let us also have our sights set on Calvary. 

Jesus lay as an infant int he cavern in the reign of Caesar Augustus that He might lay in the tomb under Pontius Pilate.  He was hounded by Herod that He might be caught by Caiphas.  He was buried in baptism that He might descend into death by the Cross.  He was worshiped by wise men that the whole of creation might adore Him in His triumph over death.  The Pascha of His cross was prepared by the Pascha of His Coming. The Pascha of His Resurrection was begun by the Pascha of His Incarnation.  The Pascha of His Glorification was foretold by the Pascha of His Baptism.--Fr. Thomas  Hopko, The Winter Pascha, p. 11

Monday, November 11, 2013

Positively Labeling

I was reading a story the other day about some religious topic where the writer got off topic and referenced an incident that occurred in a bookstore.  A man of Hispanic origin (I don't know why he felt the need to include the man's ethnicity in this) ran into this writer in the Bibles section of a bookstore asking if the writer could help in selecting a Bible for him, but with the insistence that the Bible be a Catholic Bible.  The writer asked why and the man responded that he is a  Catholic, not a Christian.

There are probably any number of variants upon a story like this which end with  "I'm not Christian, I'm (fill in the confession here)."  Of course, we could spend hours arguing with this man in the article that Catholics are Christians but not all Christians are Catholics ad nauseam.  And, it won't do a lot of good.  Of course, there is the reverse situation. Many people will identify themselves as Christians but go out of their way to insist that they are NOT Lutheran, they are NOT Methodist, they are NOT (Roman) Catholic, they are NOT Presbyterians, etc.  So, what are we to do with labels?  Should we embrace them?  Discard them?  A little of both?

The fact is that as human beings we have this need to categorize and define.  In fact, I would argue that our western civilization's existence is predicated upon the need for nice and neat categories, following the lead (or we think we are following the lead) of Aristotle who held that all that is known is knowable.  And because what is known is knowable, there are different categories to explain how something is known.  I've always thought Aristotle was the most boring philosopher.  If anyone takes the time to read him, his works read like dry lecture notes from a college professor who has been teaching the same college course for 45 years in the same tweed jacket.

We label both positively and negatively.  We label ourselves by what we are and by what we are not.  I would submit that we do the latter more than the former simply because it's much easier to say what were against and thus be vague to proclaim what we are in favor of.  So, what should we do with labels in the Christian world? 

I argue that we keep the labels and we keep them positively.  Rather than define ourselves by what we aren't, Christians of all confessions need to state emphatically what they are.  And my reasoning is simple: it's the honest thing to do.

How many people have left one church for another because they heard good music at the new church, or they heard the pastor's sermons were good, or they had a good kids' program?  So they go to the new church and later on they hear a sermon on something doctrinal which leaves the recent converts in a state of shock.  "What?" they ask.  "That's what this pastor, this church, this congregation believes?  I didn't sign up for this."  They leave as quickly as they came.

Of course, it helps if the label is defined consistently across the board.  Seventy five years ago, Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans didn't have the internal differences from church to church they do now.  One person's Lutheran church is often not the same as another person's Lutheran church.   Lutehran does not mean the same for an ELCA Lutheran as it does for an LCMS Lutheran.  What's more important then?  The name or the meaning behind the name?

We Orthodox have many problems in this country.   One of our big problems is that as we are being introduced to more and more people across the USA,  too often we end up defining ourselves in terms of what we're not.  Oh, we're not like those Protestants and their clappy happy praise services.  We're not like those Catholics and their allegiance to the pope or opposition to birth control.  Defining yourself in terms of what you're not leaves too much room for people to guess who you really are.  Is that the kind of introduction you want to give to seekers?  No one introduces himself by saying, "Hi, my name is not Mr. Smith or Mr. Williams or Mr. Jones."

The would-be Bible purchaser above probably knew exactly what he meant by Catholic.  We, Orthodox, too should know exactly (as far as human speech allows) what is meant by Orthodox and articulate that positively.  Saying who we're dislike only invites antagonism.  If we begin saying that we're not like the Presbyterians, it would not be completely unfair to hear the retort "what have you got against them?"  Let us use the label Orthodox positively, let it be defined and, most importantly, practiced positively. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Whom do we want in the Church

A few days ago, I was on YouTube looking up the video for the induction of the band, Rush, into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame, which I had never seen, despite the fact that I call myself a diehard Rush fan.  But I've had other things to do.  After I had watched the video, I was looking at the videos appearing on the sidebar which are related.  One of the videos was entitled "RUSH Does NOT Belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."  I was immediately horrified and offended.  How can anyone make this argument?  I'm glad I watched the video.  (Warning:  Some foul language used)

The person who made the video, who, at first sight looks like someone you would never take seriously (long hair, wearing a stocking cap. He looks like Jay from movies like "Clerks," "Dogma," and "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back).   After I got past that, the guy makes a very cogent and  persuasive argument.  I expected it to be a vitriolic attack on Rush based on personal taste, but it's anything but.  His argument rests that Rush is actually too good and too pure for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame which has repeatedly admitted into its halls many artists who are not Rock and Roll artists period.  This would include people like Michael Jackson, Arethra Franklin, Run DMC, etc.  Now, I myself would never deny any accolades to these artists, but the guy has a point:  They are not rock n' roll artists.  Why are they there then?

To him and also to me, the reason is simple:  Commercial success.  Rush does have commercial success and always has.  But that reason alone has been used to justify the exclusion of other great artists.  Case in point:  Metallica.  Metallica has had great commercial success and is largely responsible for making thrash or speed metal a staple of American mainstream heavy metal music.  Who else has done this?  Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth.  Are any of them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?  No.  Should they be?  Since they are not as commercially successful as Metallica, probably not.

The guy on the video has a valid point.  Rush does not deserve to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because it was never guided by simply commerical success.  In fact, Rush is a favorite victim of music critics and magazines for as long as they've been around (40+ years). Rolling Stone has constantly and consistently either ignored them or derided them.  But, Rush is now in and the critics can't complain any more (I guess they can, but it's pretty useless now).

This got me thinking about the Church. Should the Church receive anyone and everyone that may want in even if they're even the most nominally Orthodox or Christian?  If the Church is truly catholic, i.e. universal, then it is for all.  However, it seems that many churches today in the Christian world want to be catholic in terms of diversity of opinion rather than in unity of the faith.   True catholicity is the latter, not the former.  The faith is catholic.  The faith is unchanging and for all.

Should the Orthodox Church or any church for that matter, in an attempt to reach out and be truly catholic do so at the expense of her own doctrine?  Should the churches reach out to atheists, practioners of other religions, nominal Christians, etc. and say that they are welcome to bring their own beliefs into the church with them?  I would hope most serious Christians would answer no, but the fact is that the opposite is happening.  Churches are reaching out by saying that doctrine doesn't matter, unity of the faith doesn't matter.  The only thing that matters is that we call ourselves by the same name, whether that be Catholic or Orthodox or Lutheran or Methodist, or what-have-you.  What you actually believe is between you and God.

The inevitable result is that you have many people under the same roof and as many as divergent opinions.  How would you even preach to this group?  How would this group even worship together?  How would this group even decide on a building together?

Our faith is a communal one, not only with God but also with our fellow man.  And that community acts and works together in the worship of God.  It has to.  Otherwise, it is absolute chaos.  So, what are we to do with people in the church who, for whatever reasons, insist on believing what they wish even when it stands in stark contrast to the faith handed down to the saints once and for all?  Are they to be anathematized and cast out or are they to be tolerated within the ranks of the church?

My fear is that such "tolerance" will lead to two things.  First, those who clearly hold heterodox beliefs will demand more and more concessions to accommodate their heterodoxy and if such concessions are not immediately granted, they will threaten to leave.  Second, once concessions are granted and more and more are given, the faithful will break off and there will be schism.  This is exactly the situation we find in today's Anglican Church, the ELCA and even the United Methodist Church.    Why are churches more concerned with the number of people rather than the purity of the message?  Maybe it's the same reason why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame admits artists who are not rock and roll artists:  commercial success.

The sad thing is that even if churches recognize the why, the fact is churches are not making plans to change.  Catholicity now means encompassing the whole regardless of the faith instead of the faith encompassing the whole.