Sunday, June 21, 2015

Reflections on Father's Day

This is now my third father's day.  Being called "daddy" by my soon-to-be-three-year old is something that 15, 10 or 6 years I would have deemed highly unlikely to impossible. Whenever my son says "daddy", it is at times difficult to hold back tears.  Here is a little boy who depends upon me and his mother for basically everything in his little life.  He is starting to assert some independence, but when it comes to the basics, he still needs me and will probably need me for a few more years before it becomes "uncool" or "embarrassing."  But, for the time being, I'll take every utterance of "daddy" with great joy.

My reasons for thinking that I would never become a father, let alone married, were myriad.  Chief among them was that I thought I was pre-declined for any possible date considering that when I started (very late when compared to most people), I was consistently rejected.  Then there was the possibility that I thought I would join the monastic life.  But, like I tell my students who think that they too will never have kids, things always change.

And what changes that being married and having a kid have made.  Perhaps to people who only know me on a very limited basis, I don't appear to have changed very much.  To those who are on more intimate terms, they see the change far more profoundly.  However, in self-examination, I tend to dwell on those areas I need to change but have not, for whatever reason.  But the changes that I and others have noticed were for the better.  Here are some general things I have learned over these past few years.

Parenting does change you because it requires sacrifice of self.  It requires you to forget about your own needs and wants and put the kid first above all.  Even though my wife and I were told by my priest during our premarital counseling sessions that we should not put our kids above our marriage, I find it difficult to impossible to do that.  My wife and I do spend a lot of time together in the presence of our son.  When we do get some time to ourselves, it's mainly to recharge or rest or sleep or get caught up on things that we simply need to do.  Date nights are scarce but they do happen.  But our kid always comes first.

Parenting is tough.  Duh!  I think the only people who would say otherwise are not parents themselves or just produced the kid and didn't do anything to raise him.  No more explanation needed.

Parenting requires you to be inventive.  I've found out just about every free thing a toddler can do around this town so he's entertained and we are not scrapping by.  

Parenting can also be low tech.  Do you want to know how far a tickle session can last?  I don't know what the record is but for the past 30 minutes before he went upstairs for his nighttime routine, I chased my son around and tickled him which he kept asking me to do!  It can grow tiresome, except for him.

When you get past one hurdle, another gets in the way immediately.  Our son has made great progress in his speech and vocabulary acquisition this year.  Now, we're on to another fun chapter:  Potty training.

Kids aren't going to sit still even at church.  I have to admit that I get frustrated taking my son to church because I spend a great deal of the Divine Liturgy out of the church tending to him and chasing him down.  He wants to get around and explore and play.  Sometimes this causes groans and moans from others in the nave who, I think, have forgotten what i is like to have young children.  As much as I try to prepare him to sit still and emphasize the importance of being quiet, when we get there, nothing of the sort happens. 

The faith resonates with him.  He doesn't understand the whys, the hows, the whats and the wheres, etc.  But, at home, he honors his icons, even saying "Pray for me" before his icon of St. Eleftherios and "have mercy" before his Christ icon.  He can make his sign of the cross (though in the Roman Catholic manner; nothing wrong with that. We can change later).  And he knows to say "Amen" after prayers in the evening and at meals. 

I've learned much over these past three years.  I've still much more to learn.  There is one thing, however, that I have only started to being to think to understand. This is something I would have had a hard time of doing without being married and having kids.  That thing is compassion.  I don't think that anyone can really even define compassion before they have kids.  And I don't think we can even begin to understand just how hard John 3:16 hits home until we have kids. 

To all the fathers out there, Happy Fathers Day.  To my father, in particular, thanks for showing me what I need to do to be maybe half as good a father to my son as you were to me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Freedom of Religion vs. Freedom of Worship

The United States Citizenship test--take by immigrants who wish to become citizens--asks the tester to name two rights guaranteed under the First Amendment.  There are five rights:  Religion, Press, Assembly, Petition and Speech.  All of these rights are listed here because the Federal Government says it has no authority to dictate how individual States or citizens exercise these rights, if at all.  However, since 2008, a change has been made which, in my opinion, is not small or insignificant.  The change is that word "religion" has been changed to "worship."  This has caused some controversy and I was reading some headlines this morning, I discovered that the junior Senator from the State of Oklahoma, Mr. James Lankford, has sent a letter to the Director of Homeland Security requesting that the word "religion" only be accepted (assuming the tester listed that at all) in place of "worship."   The article's writer said that this is a "distinction without a difference."  Au contraire!

Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but I believe that the people who authored the text of the U.S. Constitution were educated persons who knew what words meant. I would daresay that they knew more English words and how to use them correctly than most high school seniors who just received their diplomas this past month.  Considering that the Founding Fathers were journeying into unknown territory as far as government was concerned, I'm sure that the right vocabulary and grammar were an absolute necessity to communicate the ideals they wanted to enshrine.  They did not choose "worship."  They chose "religion."  And there is a distinction!  Quite simply, worship is private and personal.  Religion is public and communal.

Worship is the style of religion.  Religion is the substance that can (or not) make up a person.  For instance, I am a Greek Orthodox Christian.  I worship according to the Byzantine Rite following the parameters set up in the Typikon of the Great Church of Christ (with revisions made by Violakis).  That means, on most Sundays or feast days, I worship God according to the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  No one, especially in the federal government, may dictate to me or to my church that I should be using some Roman Rite or some contemporary style on Sunday mornings or at any time I am engaged in prayer at my home or anywhere else I choose to be.

Freedom of Religion is the inalienable right that I may practice the dictates of my Church without fear of any federal government infringement.  This means that if I choose to close by business on a Sunday to observe the Sabbath, I may do so.  This means that if I choose not to bake a cake for a bunch of racists for their annual hate-a-thon against anyone, I cannot be compelled to.  This means that if I choose to give money to a beggar in the street, I may do so, regardless of some ordinance which forbids "panhanding."  And on and on it goes.

Religion is for all seven days of the week. Worship is for that one or two or three hour or whatever amount of time a person puts in at church, synagogue, mosque, drum circle, etc.  Freedom of religion dictates who I want to be in the presence of others who are not part of that particular church community. 

Now, obviously, I do not have the right to practice a religion that would deprive someone else of their life, liberty or property.  That means, if my church commanded me to kill a person on the third day of every month and I obeyed, I would rightly be prosecuted.  But my right to practice my religion in terms of with whom I choose to associate, business or not, is sacrosanct.  I am depriving nobody of life, liberty or property by not associating with them. Only the most twisted and sophistic reading of plain text can say otherwise. 

Regardless of one's religious proclivities in this nation which is becoming a less religious nation, that does not mean that those who choose to adhere to the dicta of their respective churches should abandon them.  That's the point of the first amendment, that it is guaranteed that I may hold on to my beliefs regardless of how society has moved with them.  At one point in time, many of the original states had State Churches.   Massachusetts, whose constitution was written by the very religious John Adams, even had the Congregationalist Church set up as the State Church.  Now, in time, that went away, but not because it was ordered to by a Supreme Court of the Congress of the United States.  Because there was a state church did not mean that the Methodists, Presbyterians or Baptists were persecuted and thrown in jail.  They may not have been well liked, but that is a far cry from genuine persecution.

So, I support Mr. Lankford's letter and his aims.  We are a nation founded on the freedom of religion, on the right to practice our religion even and especially in the public sector. Changing the wording is changing the meaning and for those who wish to become citizens, they are being taught a lie.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Triple Crown Winner and Disproving Science

Yesterday, American Pharoah defied the odds and became the first Triple Crown Winner in 37 years.  Even if horse racing isn't your thing (it's certainly not mine), one cannot help but be impressed by the accomplishment of this rare feat. 

In the lead up to the Belmont Stakes, I couldn't help but notice on Facebook, twitter and many other media outlets about how science demonstrates that American Pharoah was not going to win the Triple Crown.  Now, notice the difference between saying the "odds do not favor" versus "science does not favor."  Science, we are constantly reminded, is grounded in fact which can be observed and measured.  So, if science says that there would be no Triple Crown Winner this year, then there should have been no Triple Crown Winner this year.  Lo, and behold.  Here, we are.   After all, just becomes teams don't match up on a piece of paper doesn't mean they don't play.  If a team is supposed to win nine times out of ten, there is still that one game for an upset.  That's what make sporting events fun.

Now, I have yet to notice one single person saying that the result "disproves" science.  And I don't think they should.  Because science is the result of observation and measurement, you cannot disprove that sound travels at 340.29 m/s, unless, of course, you were just wrong.  If all of the articles and memes and other media were talking about merely the odds, then no one should give it a second thought.  However, let's say for sake of argument that  American Pharoah was deemed to win by some religious authority, the media would go out of its way to say that the actual result disproves religion.  Of course, such a thing didn't happen, but one needn't search too hard to find that there are numerous "Studies", "archaeological evidence," "textual evidence," etc. that disprove what Christians teach from morality to God.  Every year around Easter, numerous news magazines like Time and Newsweek run articles about the Jesus Seminar and how their conclusions disprove what the Church teaches about Christ and His Resurrection.  And we are ordered to buy into that without any argument whatsoever.  Because, if science says, it must be true.

I am not writing this to deride science. I love science.  Had it not been for a few bumps in the road, I would have gone into medicine.  I love chemistry and biology in particular.  But science itself is not infallible.  It has been made that way by modern society as a more plausible alternative to God and, because of this, has become a religion in of itself, though the people who actually think this way will never admit that.  But science and scientists aren't always correct either.  One famous example I can give is that the famous Alexandrian scientist Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the earth, but was about 2000 miles off.  Why?  He assumed that the earth was completely spherical and that the city of Cyzicus was directly south of Alexandria (which would form an arc on a circle).  He was wrong on both counts, but we can certainly excuse him for his mistakes.  Science evolves in its conclusions all the time based on the accumulation of more evidence.  But it does not explain the why of life?  Science can explain a lot of "whats" and "hows", but not "whys" especially the "why are we here" type questions.

I do not believe there is a contradiction between science and religion.  The two do work harmoniously together.  But science does require a moral component and science by itself does not have one.  That is why we have laws and religion.  We can technologically progress, but because we can doesn't always mean that we should.  Science needs responsibility to function well.  Science by itself does not guarantee a world that would resemble the planet Vulcan.  But still, even the Vulcans still had to deal with emotional and biological issues that could only be settled, at times, by fights to the death.

Science was not disproved yesterday by American Pharoah's winning of the Triple Crown.  The odds were not in the naysayers' favor.  Nor is the Resurrection of Christ disproven because one person thinks he found a tomb with an inscription on it of Jesus' name (that was later proven to be a hoax).  The only thing I want is for those people who venerate science so highly not use it as a club against those of the Christian church in particular and religion, in general.  And vice versa.