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Category: asceticism

The end of “The 4400″

by Andrea Elizabeth

We finished watching The 4400 last week. I blogged about the series half-way through here. In that post I mentioned being perplexed about the series being cancelled. *Spoiler alert* The problem started for me when the show begab centering around Promicin shots instead of the original 4400 people, each with unique special abilities, who had been abducted by the people of the future and sent back in 2004 to save the world from their fate. Promicin is the extracted chemical that is found to have given the 4400 their abilities, which if injected in the population will give half of them abilities, but will kill the other half. The first couple of seasons had the original 4400 trigger ripple effects for change in ordinary people. Then it became about Promicin envy and conspiracy theories.

I much prefer personal stories to the over-arching conspiracy stories, which I have trouble following anyway. I watched X-Files for the individual phenomena, not the smoking man stuff, which I still don’t understand. I liked the first book of The Hunger Games when it was about Katniss and her family and friends better than the second when it got all professional. I still haven’t finished the third global book.

I have a theory that stories mirror the writer’s theology. If a character has a positive arc, then usually it means that the author believes hard times can make good people stronger. They believe in free will. And that God is sort of mean for either allowing or causing bad things to happen, but it will all work out in the end. This is western stories. I haven’t thought about if Russian stories are like this. There are obvious messianic messages in The 4400. The abilities are like miracle-working. At the beginning there were the Chosen who were sent to bless the world. But then when they extracted the Promicin, it was more like evangelization where the 50% who were injected were made into “Christians”, and the other 50% died of a leaking brain hemorrhage, even though they wanted to be “Christians”. This seems Calvinist to me, except they would say no one wanted to be Christians, but some were made so anyway and to the others the message was lethal.

Let’s see, how would a free will person view it? I suppose Christianity is sort of like being injected with the Holy Spirit and the mysteries of the Church. And there are lethal side effects. You have to learn to die to yourself. If you do, maybe you’ll become a miracle worker that will help people. If you stay selfish you’ll either make people stumble or become an example of what not to do, which can still motivate people to change. Their choice.

The ending had one person develop the ability to subject everyone with whom he came into contact, and increasingly beyond his proximity, to the effects Promicin so that half the people died instantly and the other half developed abilities. I suppose it was a little like judgment day, except there didn’t appear to be any difference in anyone’s character, sort of like Calvinism, only they were all innocent seeming.

The third post on cultural relations

by Andrea Elizabeth

It seems that cultural relations historically start out with the need to acquire goods or land. In the case of Greece and Troy, it was the need to acquire a woman, which can be the same thing. This is also what caused The Fall. So if relations are initiated by a feeling, justified or not, of deprivation, and sustained by certain laws to prevent murder and promote fairness or by the need to be loved in return, which can also be viewed as a result of deprivation, we must have been created with a vacuum. Appetite is not necessarily bad, though I do not understand how Eve could have felt deprived, except by just having the command not to eat of the one tree. That, incited by the devil, was probably enough. His suggestions were logoi that we should not listen to. Therefore perhaps our feelings of deprivation are not real, but warped deceptions.

But we cannot totally escape our need for food and a family or monastic community. Paradise is partaking of them in obedience.

It’s about time

by Andrea Elizabeth

Today is the 1 year anniversary of the passing of my much loved Mother-in-law. I didn’t have her death in mind as the reason for my coincidental sabbatical to a new blog, but perhaps it is fitting that the anniversary signals the time to return.

I have noticed with other people that major life decisions can follow the passing of a loved one, even if one is not conscious of the timing. I have wondered if it is a result of stress, but maybe we take more stock in what is truly important when we become more acquainted with death.

Today is also the first Monday of the Nativity Fast for Orthodox Christians. The Scripture reading for today from Colosians 2:

16
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths,
17
which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.
18
Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
19
and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.
20
Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations –
21
Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,
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which all concern things which perish with the using – according to the commandments and doctrines of men?
23
These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
1
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.
2
Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
3
For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

The first thing that comes to mind is the Protestant criticism of our Church calendar with its feasts and fasts and veneration of angels. But to reject them totally would be to deny the Scripture, “when you fast” and would tend towards gnostic denial of material things, and thus the Incarnation. So I suppose we read this as a reminder that Christ is the goal of the observances, and not an independent adherence to rules.

A blessed fast to us all.

Progress and masculinity

by Andrea Elizabeth

Chapter 3 of Atlas Shrugged is very painful to read because it is difficult to totally vilify technology and efficiency. If something is ineffecient, it is usually because of negative reasons such as poor construction, poor planning, or misguided goals. Rand goes too far in saying that nature is less efficient than technology. Slowness isn’t the only criteria for inefficiency. Tolkien provides the antidote for this mistake of hers, but even he gets impatient with the Tree Ents. Still, I can’t help but find this passage compelling:

“What she [Dagny Taggert] felt was an arrogant pleasure at the way the track cut through the woods: it did not belong in the midst of ancient trees, among green branches that hung down to meet green brush and the lonely spears of wild flowers – but there it was. The two steel lines were brilliant in the sun, and the black ties were like the rungs of a ladder which she had to climb.”

Manifest Destiny and Immanent Domain both seem tied to the above. There is something inevitable about “progress”, at least to the western mind. However stone age cultures quickly adapted when they were introduced to iron age tools.  But they were content before that, and didn’t seem to sense the importance of progress.

The above passage also makes me ponder the idea that nature is feminine and progress is masculine. Villifying progress seems to vilify masculinity. Indeed, one might characterize the expansion of the railroad as rape. But does that make men in “uncivilized” cultures feminine? No, they exert their energies towards territorial disputes and raiding. The same characterization can apply there too. What is the difference between the Genesis command to “fill the earth and subdue it”, and that characterization? The former requires permission from the feminine first, I suppose. Can you ask a tree what it wants to be used for? I believe so, but it takes an artist and a poet to properly hear the answer.

And there is also the issue of communication, which is a very human and natural thing. We crave access and sharing, which technology makes easier. Too easy in some cases, I’m sure. But to be against it is to close oneself off and make oneself unavailable. One may not like the invasive nature of railroads, telegraph and telephone lines, and highways, but even the pony express cut through Indian lands requiring the building of forts in the western frontier to protect them. White man’s communication trumped the preservation of Native American life. We should have befriended them and asked them to send smoke signals for us. And paid them for it. In higher technology?

This chapter also gets into international trade with Mexico. The argument for being our brother’s keeper is criticized very strongly. Again the vagueness of who our brother is is brought out. As is the amount of state control instead of free enterprise said brother is under. I believe in private property, so in that way I agree with Rand. But her heroes don’t come across as greedy, which I think is a side effect that needs to be addressed. They may say they only care about money, but their lifestyle is much more spartan. Resentment and envy is the greed of the less fortunate. Characterizing the less fortunate as lazy and inept sounds too harsh, but I wish the left would sound more like they valued hard work and that they believed laziness is a vice. Laziness and ineptitude alone do not account for poverty, however. There are tons of other variables in the equation. But to blame it all on rich people’s self-serving policies sounds too deflective.

Merton and baking

by Andrea Elizabeth

I just came across this quote,

“Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves. They never get around to being the particular poet or the particular monk they are intended to be by God. They never become the man or the artist who is called for by all the circumstances of their individual lives. They waste their years in vain efforts to be some other poet, some other saint… They wear out their minds and bodies in a hopeless endeavor to have somebody else’s experiences or write somebody else’s poems or possess somebody else’s spirituality.”

- Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

I haven’t read Thomas Merton before because of my reservations about him. This quote inspires me amidst those reservations. The feeling I get about Merton is that he is a bit self absorbed and too independent in his thinking. This quote confirms it. He is judging others by his own idealistic standard – you are your highest goal. Ick. But there’s truth also – a person has to make his faith his own. I don’t like the harshness of his method however. While it may be helpful, at least for ourselves, to put things in our own words, the way we learn is to repeat others’ words. He also seems to be advocating innovation.

This quote made me think of my quoting the big three yesterday (Tolkein, Lewis, and Rowling. Should I have tried to provide comfort myself instead of letting them do it for me? I was relating what comforts me because I needed it. But can a needy person comfort? That’s something I don’t try to do here, directly. I’m not the comforter. I aim more for stoicism in my teaching and turn to others’ music and food to make myself feel better. Must ambivalence follow me everywhere?! I’m that way with my kids too. Work hard! Here’s a treat, made by someone else, to make it bearable. I haven’t made homemade dessert in a long time. My mother used to. My daughter had until recent weight consciousness affected her. Empty calories is one reason I dont, but I still buy them. The thought of making cookies or something seems too personal, too hands on. Man, I am getting sociopathic. I make meat and vegetables – Viking food! Argh! You touch meat minimally during preparation, and you use a knife to chop off the heads of broccoli. Yes, that is satisfying. Take that, you silly veggie! I’m gonna cut you this way, and that way, before I sever you down to the nub. But first, I’m gonna skin you. I commit animal and vegetable martyrdom.

But baking. That’s putting things together. Caressing and kneading synergistic components into a new, rising, soft, warm thing. It’s creation, not slaughter. It’s resurrection. This must be why I enter more into Holy Week than Pascha.

Can you stand it?

by Andrea Elizabeth

Plumbing in our new house is going to be further evaluated on Monday. This guy preliminarily says that he doesn’t think there’s a sewer leak because everything seems to be draining properly. If he’s right, then the first foundation estimate is probably correct, and we wont have to wait for the middle of our house to settle down before we can work on it. But jacking up the edges will probably break things, like sheet rock, bricks, plumbing, and windows. This is why we can’t get new flooring or paint until it’s all fixed. I don’t like waiting, but that’s life.

Speaking of life, I said yesterday in our Arena Class that life is purgatory, just some places are hotter than others. Discerning when one should stay in the heat, and when one should back away is the hard part. I don’t think we can help when we are overwhelmed and can’t cope, but we should always try to stand it. There is a limit, and beyond that I believe is more hurtful than helpful. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, sometimes it just doesn’t seem like you do. If it feels like you do have a choice, then you should probably stay. I just thought of that. I bet it’s right.

Angels watch

by Andrea Elizabeth

If heavenly-mindedness causes a certain detachment from earthly cares, I ask, in the midst of Dionysius the Areopagite’s Celestial Hierarchies, where does that leave earthly-goodliness? I would say, focus also on the children, ironically, because ‘their angels behold the face of the Father’. Lots of things are done for the sake of children, and I pray they are done with discernment and wisdom attained by proper, pure devotion to heavenly things.

You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry

by Andrea Elizabeth

***The Avengers spoiler alert***

Ever since watching The Avengers, I keep going back to the secret to Banner’s finally controlling when he turns into the Hulk. ‘I’m always angry’. At first it would seem that then he would always be the Hulk. I guess the chemical explanation would be that it’s the spike in anger ‘hormones’ that causes the change. And it would at first seem wrong to always stay angry. But maybe there’s something to be learned. Isn’t anger connected with surprise at expectations not being met? Should we not have those expectations in the first place? Should we expect things not to go according to our plans? Does it depend on if we plan rightly, according to God’s will? Then should it be a result of being surprised, or a voluntary permission to the force inside of us to correct things? That sounds better. Puts Jesus and the money changers in a different light.

The Avengers

What role does social order have in individual purity

by Andrea Elizabeth

Yesterday I ambiguously said that some people do not seem psychologically up for purity, then later added the Romans 1 passage that says immoral people are without excuse. A lot of people understand that passage to be against atheism, but the context has more to do morality. Nature reveals God, and when people reject that, they exchange what is natural for what is unnatural – sin, contra Calvin. So, if people at large, democratically speaking, have rejected God and become immoral (though we can’t be so simplistic as to say that atheists are all immoral, but I can’t judge their private thoughts and lives either way), then their culture’s products will reflect that. And if Orthodox (right believing and acting) Christians live in said culture, then they will be affected by it. Even if they are raised in a sheltered environment, individuals have to decide for themselves to reject aspects of their culture. Just the fact that it’s there, even if being spoken against, presents a choice to everyone. And as Sherlock (and the movie Inception?) says,

So if gay marriage is legalized, then it becomes a norm that will unwittingly shape us. We have already accepted people living together, yet I think it still has a second tier status. Sarah Palin had a morality platform until her teenage daughter was found to be pregnant, after sort of trying to cover it up with her brother’s baby blanket. Then she shrugged and had to bow off the stage. It mostly became, “kids these days.” A hundred years ago girls had to go in more profound hiding, the baby was removed, or they were forced into marriages with made up stories about premature births. No shrugging. But were these fear inspiring measures the proper antidote for seduced young people? It created orphans, but less of them? In that case I think all children of young people are orphans in a way, whether they are legitimized and kept or not. Young people aren’t equipped to raise them securely.

Back to the point about being tainted by culture. If there is legitimacy given to immorality, and that generation is bent, so to speak, by it, then the proper, straight and narrow way becomes increasingly difficult. Being habitually bent forms a contracture, as it were. And to go in and immediately and forcefully straighten it is too harsh a remedy. Things can break. This is why the road to purity is a slow process. Sometimes malformed things need to be forcefully broken, usually under anesthesia, but the recovery time still takes a while. And I think the motivation to be fixed isn’t introduced theoretically only, but by example. Straight and tall is more attractive. So, physician, heal thyself first.

Another thing. Fr. Hopko once said something to the effect of, just because a person is male, doesn’t make him qualified to be a priest. Likewise, just because a person is married to someone of the opposite gender and of a certain age, doesn’t make them a good parent. It is possible, theoretically, that a given gay couple could be better parents than a given heterosexual couple, like those who give brandy to toddlers and such (I found some pictures, but they’re too horrible to link to). Yet I still believe priests should be male, even if a female could do a “better job”. Because ordaining someone or marrying someone is supposed to sanctify the act. I don’t understand the mystery of it exactly, but “sanctifying” an improper, unprescribed, sinful act is not orthodox. You can debate what is the lesser evil, but you still have to call them evils. Don’t do evil. Period. It messes up your soul. Don’t abuse your kids, and don’t do abominable acts that exchange the natural for the unnatural.

Self-esteem

by Andrea Elizabeth

Contrary to popular opinion, self-esteem is not all that it is cracked up to be. Abbot Tryphon explains here, in this 4 minute podcast.

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