Category: community

His Grace Bishop Maxim

by Andrea Elizabeth

His Grace Bishop Maxim (Vasiljevic) of the Western Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America blessed us from Alhambra, Ca with a visit to our parish for our annual St. Maximus lecture on his feast day. He gave an overview of St. Maximus’ cosmology regarding the unified logos of creation, divided and scattered by the fall, and reunited in Christ who introduced the new mode of reunification. He very much recommended his compilation of scholarly lectures, Knowing the Purpose of Creation through the Resurrection, ‘delivered at the international conference on the thought of Saint Maximus the Confessor in Belgrade by Metropolitan John Zizioulas, Bishop Atanasije Jevtic, Father Andrew Louth, Father Maximos of Simonopetra, Christos Yannaras, and many others.’ He donated copies to the Church, so I got one. He also brought copies of his books, History, Truth, Holiness, Studies on Ontology and Epistemology, and The Thunderbolt of Ever-Living Fire: “American” Conversation with an Athonite Elder, and a CD of St. Maximus’ 400 Chapters on Love. I look forward to learning from all of these books as I pray to continue according to my indomitable human logos utilizing my gnomic (and God’s ungnomic/unhesitating) free will to my ever-well-being telos in Christ.

Miss Sadie Thompson 2

by Andrea Elizabeth

So many issues.

“From the 1921 theatrical adaptation of Maugham’s story through both previous films, Davidson is a figure of religious intolerance, and Sadie after her conversion is presented as a zombie, reciting by rote the religious rhetoric pounded into her by Davidson’s psychological pressure. Here, Sadie quietly and with dignity relates how she came to reassess her life. “When O’Hara walked out on me,” she says, “and I had nobody to turn to, Mr. Davidson helped me. I didn’t feel lost anymore. I’m back to myself again. Like I was, long ago.”[3] Seeing an open Bible on her dresser, Dr. Macphail, the text’s representative of “objective” modern science, nods contentedly, as if to imply, “She can’t go far wrong with the Good Book.”

After being raped by the minister (who, since a Hays Code ruling in 1928, still cannot be identified on film as a minister), Sadie’s newfound “faith” waivers. However, in the 1950s text, the tolerance Dr. Macphail urges is not of Sadie as victim but of Davidson. “You mustn’t confuse what he did with what he believed in,” he tells her. Macphail’s unprecedented defense of the lapsed theocrat is part of the text’s desperate attempt to preserve the religion already shielded by Davidson’s unofficial status. By reconstructing Davidson as an example of “abnormal” psychology (he explicitly disparages “Freud, Adler, and Jung,” the decade’s other gods), the conservative religious ideology can be upheld as being essentially correct; only individuals occasionally go wrong. As Macphail says of Davidson after the rape, “He just couldn’t practice what he preached.” Sadie closes the circle uniting the men in the text verbally as well as vocally (and politically and sexually) when she says to the doctor, “You talk just like him.” And Macphail says disingenuously, “Do I? I didn’t realize.”

As a reward for her final capitulation, the forfeiture of her anger, O’Hara miraculously returns, suddenly willing to forget Sadie’s past. He belatedly explains that there should be no double standard for B-girls and marines, putting it in acoustic terms: “Counting up all I’ve done . . . I had no right to sound off.” Reunited and reengaged, Sadie rides off, propped up on her speedboat, happily restored to spectacle status, awaiting a rosy future with O’Hara.

The most reactionary and conservative version of Maugham’s story, Miss Sadie Thompson locks the woman into spectacle on all sides. Sadie’s happiness for the first hour rests on being the prized object, prime spectacle, “the only white woman” there. In the musical numbers, she cannot capture her own voice, and when she does speak her own experience, she is either barred access (presented as “hysterically” talking to herself offscreen) or unconsciously repeats the dominant ideology, presented at every point as inevitable. According to this classical text, the woman’s submission to spectacle status in both image and voice is, finally, the only possible course.

The convulsive repressiveness we saw in response to women’s efforts to speak in the films of the forties went underground in the fifties, camouflaged by spectacle on the one hand or transmuted into hysteria and melodrama—as in Sunset Boulevard .”

One issue is that the minister expects her to return to the states to face jail. I see a problem with the legislation of morality with punitive reprisals. What else could the state do? Enforce counselling? That’s what they do in civil cases, but what hope is there in that. Ms. Lawrence doesn’t seem too fond of Jung and Freud either. It’s like the attempted stoning of the woman caught in adultery. Sadie did want to change her ways not only because of the threats of Davidson, but because of how she saw she put other people in painful situations. The men were in pain before meeting her. Her incitement gave them hope of relief. *bigger spoiler alert* Davidson commits suicide after taking it, so that didn’t work. Can Sadie change? Will O’Hara still want her once he gets her? I think the movie is pretty convincing in promoting O’Hara as her only real help as someone willing to commit himself fully to help her instead of just offering advice and referrals elsewhere.

Then there’s the issue of her zombie state vs. feeling alive when she was getting fun attention. But there are happy nuns. St. Mary of Egypt found communion in solitude. Perhaps there is a transition state of withdrawal when one quits leaning on dysfunctional fixes. Ms. Lawrence is more concerned about her being portrayed as having a dysfunctional voice. Or one that is only functional when people are allured. I was not comfortable with her submission to Davidson even though I was glad she saw her methods more critically because of him. And I found the 23rd Psalm reading pretty moving and it’s effect on her nicely portrayed. Maybe he should have just referred her to God after that instead of the reflective conversations afterward. But I’m not comfortable with committing a damaged person to solitary confinement either. Nor is everyone in this day and age ready or able to go to a monastery. I think it’s a pretty dysfunctional age and maybe God will have mercy on people’s pitiful attempts to find positive connection.

why I didn’t post yesterday

by Andrea Elizabeth

I had to find a new toaster oven. The old one is too slow. Probably because it is too big with no extra elements to compensate for the extra air that needs to be heated up. Pop up toasters have the elements right next to the bread, but you can’t pre-butter, so they’re out. If I had been true to my anti-technology convictions, I would have stuck with the old one. Not that it isn’t technological. The Indians would have toasted their sliced bread on a stick over a fire. But technology thrives on, if I’m the least bit inconvenienced, I have to put the “old” in the landfill for one that offers more convenience. Used to be old was at least 500 years. I actually would have stuck it out, but my husband is an engineer and he makes toast on Saturday mornings, and the ever increasing slowness was really messing with his groove. I told the three kids I rode to Connecticut with last week that I participate in technology as a sacrifice of love for them. If they have cell phones, then I need one, or else they would have to write me a letter, since 5 out of 6 of them have now moved out, and the one in Connecticut is now married to a Connecticut girl. But the mail from Connecticut takes almost the same amount of time as the mail from Grapevine. Not that they call anyway, but they do text sometimes, and I would probably text while blundering into the Morris Dancers. So beat me up. It would make my day. Heck, liking that article already did the job, so thanks for making my day. Really. But Clint only said that because he knew he would win. I believe that I would lose if these smooth talkers really engaged what I wrote. They’re just being condescendingly nice to the hick by not. Thanks for your patronage. Really. Except when they’re not. The thing is, I’m a content over style person, except when it’s dancing. Then style is everything. Not that raw emoting can’t be beautiful, but when it’s jerky, atheist Darwinist emoting, it’s just gross. Monkeys are smoother than that. Actually, Clint didn’t care whether he would win or lose. Apathy can give a person the edge.

But I really like the new toaster. It’s smaller and the elements heat up faster, I just found out. And the new silver lining reflects a lot of light, so it’s really shiny, sparkly pretty. I almost let myself get more into character and said it gives me feels, but that’s gross.

Before I went to Walmart to get the toaster and other various and sundries, my dog killed one of my horse trainer’s chickens. I hadn’t realized Merry’s long leash wasn’t in the car, so I had to put her in the empty peacock pen. After my ride on the fabulous multitatlented Copper, the half Arabian, half quarter horse strawberry blond wonder, I heard the sound of dog chasing distressed little half-grown chick and ran to the pen where it had somehow gotten itself trapped. I yelled, No, Merry! But she wouldn’t cease and desist and by the time I got there she was huddled in the corner over her prey. I pulled her off and the little thing was half through the chain link like Winnie the Pooh in Rabbit’s hole. It was blinking, crooked and still. I called to the trainer who got her out and said her neck was broken. She held her till she died. She put her in a horse feed bag that had other barn trash in it and told me to take it to the “curb” which isn’t a curb because it’s a country road with grassy edges. She said it was ok, she has lots more. She raises them mostly to keep the bug population down. She has 3 different broods right now. If Merry’s on a long leash, the chickens can outrun her as she runs out of slack. But in a confined space she has the advantage. I’m thinking that since she was a stray she survived on birds. She’s very fast. The trainer’s mostly shelter obtained 9 dogs run free and herd the chickens a little, but don’t catch them. She’s a good trainer, and Merry listens a little more to her than me, but maybe she doesn’t want to take over, or she knows Merry is too hard wired.

On the way down the driveway, Joe, our horse that is boarded there, followed me, and Rebecca, who was riding, let him. When I turned around, the wind, and it was pretty windy, flapped the bag and he jerked back and stopped. I slowly approached and he sniffed it. I think he felt bad for the little bird and wanted to pay his respects. I got the feeling as I continued walking down the streets of Laredo that the little bird could hear the crickets chirping and was comforted by all of our tributes. I dedicated the wildflowers, and even the few strewn plastic flowers, blown off some of the jumps by the wind, to her as I passed them. She thanked me for trying to stop Merry, for being sorry, and for not letting her get torn into little bits as she died.

That was before I also had to get more granulated and tablet chlorine for my new algae plume in the pool. After I spent a lot of money and added the new products, I decided to research the high cyanuric acid level on my new test strips. Turns out that most pool chlorine adds cyanuric acid to stabilize the chlorine from the destabilizing effect of sunlight. But our pool is mostly shaded, so the acid level has built up to over 100, causing the chlorine to be ineffective. The only way to get rid of it is to partially drain the pool. Then it will build up again as you chlorinate. Great. Now I’ll have to find some liquid chlorine that doesn’t have it.

It was also before I went to the cleaners and picked up my daughters’ bridesmaid dresses, and my and George’s parent outfits from the wedding we got back from 1 week ago today. May God bless the happy couple.



On depression and anxiety and coupling

by Andrea Elizabeth

“Even at prayer, the demons suggest an imaginary need or desire, a feeling of emptiness and/or sense of void for various unlawful things, in reality unattainable, and then stir up remembrance of these fantasies, inciting the nous to pursue them. When such fantasies are momentarily realized, the darkened psyche experiences a fleeting satisfaction, but when the psyche is faced with the transitory nature of these fantasies, it becomes depressed and miserable. Even when the nous is at prayer, the demons attempt to keep filling it with the thoughts of these things, in order to deceive the psyche into believing that fantasies will become permanent satisfactions, thereby destroying the fruitfulness of the nous‘ prayer (St. Evagrius the Solitary, 1981).

“[…] Long and excessive desire for any imaginary need or desire for the sensory brings sorrow to the heart and darkens and disturbs the nous. It banishes pure prayer and all tenderness from the psyche and brings a painful pining or longing in the heart. This leads to measureless hardness and insensibility, and for this reason the demons usually bring depression upon those who have undertaken to lead a spiritual life. For example, ascetics, who attempt to live an angelic life, i.e., a life on a higher plane, are particularly affected by such fantasies as the demons of depression and anxiety often attack them, implanting in their minds an idealized vision of the fulfillment and earthly bliss to be found in the communion with women and/or in the marital state, whe in reality, after the initial excitement of the passions passes, man is left to that which is described by the Holy Apostle Paul as anxiety for the things of this world and great distraction (see 1 Cor. 7) (St. Symeon the New Theologian, 1995).” (Orthodox Interventions, p. 94, 95)

The chapter then goes into what to do about the feelings. But I want to first think about the nature of this fantasy. I believe it is basically the desire to couple with someone or something. They talk about marriage, which is the ultimate permanent coupling, but it can also be the desire for friendship or other family relationships such as exist between a parent and child. Or a desire to possess or control people, animals, or things. The monastic seeks to forsake all these things in order to couple with God. His relationship with people and things thereafter is one of self-emptying, not coupling, except for the direction he gets from his spiritual father.

But what about those in the world? Depression and anxiety certainly affect them too, even if they are married and have best friends. Abuse and neglect were listed in passing earlier in this chapter as contributing factors, along with heredity and chemical imbalance, but the process of the contribution wasn’t mentioned, I suppose because the patristic literature doesn’t talk about it except as it is directed towards lust for women, though I know greed and avarice and gluttony are listed too. Still, there is something about sexual sin that hits us deeper. It is intimately involved with our bodies and our hearts. Food comes close to this relationship, which is why fasting is prescribed.

Romantic fantasies affect married people after a process of complaining about one’s spouse, I suppose. Perhaps one’s complaints are legitimate, which is where forgiveness and humility about one’s own faults fits in, if the spouse doesn’t cross certain lines. Thankfulness is often an antidote for complaining. But hopefully one can also communicate with one’s spouse about things that bother one.

People who marry obviously believe in coupling with another person, and have expectations about what that should be like. We can’t say that all expectations are fantasies. We should be treated and treat others well. The married person believes in two-way relationships, not just one-way kenosis. I suppose depression and anxiety can be symptoms of the line being crossed into fantasy. But what if proper expectations legitimately are not met? This is the case of abuse and neglect, or the death or serious illness of a loved one. I’ll speculate that the person involved in this legitimately disappointing coupling, whether it be between spouses, friends, parents and children, or other partnerships, has to learn to be a monastic. Still, I am thankful for this statement,

“But from depression, wo/man comes to know the fruits of the evil spirit of listlessness, impatience, anger, hatred, contentiousness, despair, sluggishness in praying, etc. (Macarius of Optina, 1995). This can be healed by prayer, hope in God, meditation on Holy Scripture, and living with godly people (St. John Cassian, 1997).” (p. 96)

Thanks for that last acknowledgment.

Carrie’s PTSD

by Andrea Elizabeth

What if Carrie’s reaction was a result of post traumatic stress? Let’s say her high school telekinesis episode was the PTSD exaggerated response to a lifetime of exaggerated isolation and skewed religious teaching. We can understand her response and believe that it was almost an inevitable reaction to the combination of certain chemicals. But human free will makes these reactions not inevitable. We can believe that if Carrie had more mature love for her fellow students she could have understood their motivations better and had more compassion on them too. She couldn’t bear their rejection and humiliation. This can be seen as pride. Jesus would have done different.

But don’t children need to be shown love in order to give it? Christ had Mary. I think we put a lot of pressure on people to be Christlike who have not had a parental relationship with someone like Mary. Of course a perfect parent isn’t guaranteed a perfect child, and Christ was God, so. But Christians want to be Christlike, and that is why they need a spiritual parent. I don’t think it should be expected that being a hermit Christian is the way for most people to go. If they mess it up, I don’t think it’s all their fault, even if they have a conscience, which is why they still have stuff to confess.

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.

What’s in the closet?

by Andrea Elizabeth

While driving my daughter to community college, I listened to part of the Diane Rehm show where pannelists were discussing what is being done with all the information that is being gathered about us nowadays from our smartphones and debit cards. While giving us new access to each other, information, goods and services, these things give sellers and other information aggregators access to our habits and activities. It is a two edged sword. The people who called in worried about privacy issues were kindly dismissed as conspiracy theorists, and told that this information gathering is also used to save the lives of soldiers and lost children. This reminds me of the story of St Kilda island where medical care for dying children made the inhabitants give up their ancient way of life. I hear that even the Amish use modern medicine’s technologies. With x-rays, MRI’s and DNA interpretation, there isn’t much privacy left. Yet somehow with all this, we still can’t peek into God or the true nature of ourselves. This takes grace.

Winter’s Bone

by Andrea Elizabeth

Winter’s Bone is another look at female submission. Middlemarch (see post below) provided the traditional British perspective, this movie is set in the Ozarks. I’ve been thinking lately about my affinity for British traditional culture. Winter’s Bone brings home my affinity with the South. 3/4 of my grandparents are from the South, with their ancestors hailing from Arkansas and Mississippi. (The other one was the son of a German immigrant) A couple of centuries before that they came from England and Scotland, hence the aforementioned affinity, I suppose. I’ve also heard that British culture is more mirrored in the south than in the north. There are differences, however. Lording it over a person has a different character in England than in the southern backwoods. Southern aggression is less verbal and more violent.

Winter’s Bone redeems this aggression somewhat, however. Ree, the female lead, has to come to terms with the worst in southern culture, but she ends up somehow making me feel good about it. Lately, for example, I’ve worried about the effect on the Appalacian trees, not to mention the Sequoia’s in California, that air polluting older vehicles have. Winter’s Bone makes having a nice, new, clean, fuel efficient car look like a sell-out of one’s soul.

Dreaming 2

by Andrea Elizabeth

Without traffic, it is an hour and 10 minutes to St. Maximus the Confessor Orthodox Church in America. Each time I’ve attended, I’ve felt it very much worth the drive to Denton County. However, there are other things to consider when one would thinks they would like to attend two services a day. One of these considerations is that Parker County, where I live, which is the county to the west of Tarrant, which is the one west of Dallas County, doesn’t have an Orthodox Church. Last fall I shared this dream of a semi-monastic community in my neighborhood. Problem is, the residents would have to have a job, and the jobs are in Tarrant County. The property I described that is in my neighborhood just came up for sale last weekend. The newish, niceish house is 2,600 sq ft, there’s a “bunkhouse” with kitchen and bathroom where the owners lived while they were building, and has 13 acres of mostly cleared dry land, and a little cow pond. The other problem is, it’s listed at $495,000. Seems to me only 4 to 6 single, co-ed adults could segregatedly live in the existing buildings, so at most, that could be over $100,000 a piece to live in pretty shared environs, which is hard to do when one is used to independence. I don’t know how families could work yet. Here’s a wider shot taken last fall, for perspective. I think you can zoom in and see the bunkhouse just to the left of the main house, and to the right of the pump house or whatever that is.

But here’s another idea. On the Parker County/Hood County border to our south, 15 minutes away, is this cute little structure. It’s oldish sign says Temple Hall United Methodist Church, and their internet listing says they meet on Sundays at 11am. I wonder if they’d rent it out during other times. Methodists are open-minded, right? Probly not twice a day, but one has to start somewhere. I wonder if Methodists like icons.

When the pursuit of virtue by society turned to self-preservation

by Andrea Elizabeth

Some of the audio, not to mention the concepts, is a bit hard to understand, but I find the following idea from Leo Strauss’ lecture on “Plato’s Political Philosophy: Apology and Crito,” (h/t Gabriel) the first of the series, enlightening. I hope it is the point he was making.

Apparently Professor Strauss believes that Niccolo Machiavelli ushered in a shift from political or social science being based on virtue to it being based on circumstantial realism/”hedonism”. The virtues became imaginary and unattainable and a more pragmatic approach was adopted. I believe he’s saying that a person’s drive for self-preservation became the goal, not the attainment of the virtuous, ideal telos of all mankind. I like being able to pin this shift on one person and one time in history, which not all agree with Professor Strauss as occurring, but it makes comparing and contrasting, and closure easier.  Even if Machiavelli is being used as a scapegoat, what should he care at this point? The ones who disagree probably don’t think he’s the model citizen either.

I have at times considered that a selfish focus can lead to good. Nice trees and shrubs make people want to shop at certain locations, thus it is profitable for merchants to beautify the polis. However, setting the bar as low as Machiavelli does degrades humanity, and thus stifles it.

On the other hand, idealistic people can become too narrow in what they think the ideal is. The ideal man or woman behaves thus and has a certain kind of appearance. It can get pretty discriminatory and limiting. Louisa May Alcott seems to have suffered from not fitting into an ideal mold in her father’s comparison. He believed his fair hair and mild manners were perfect, whereas her dark looks and passionate manner, being the opposite, must be evil. “What Would Jesus Do” also presumes that a person can imagine the ideal on their own. We can’t completely discount this because our nature is in the divine image. Balancing this with our sinful habits and delusions is the challenge.

Another point Professor Strauss made while talking about how the idea of human nature changed with Machiavelli, was that man began to be seen as an individual and not as a social being. In his desire for self-preservation, he saw after the fact that he needed to be social. I guess this goes along with believing sin is natural. In the Orthodox view, sin is unnatural. Thus, if desiring society is virtuous, then individualism is sinful and not natural. This also fits with the idea of Being as Communion, which I haven’t read.

One can easily idealize and imagine what the perfect society would be like, but its virtuous reality may be far different from that. As long as we strive for it however, by grace we’ll attain it someday – maybe in the next life.