Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for September, 2003

Funeral Yesterday: Mildred N. Baker

Yesterday, Anna, Sofie and I spent all day in downstate Illinois near Lincoln. One of our “adopted grandparents” died this past weekend, and we went to the funeral.

Glenn and Mildred Baker lived across the street from us in the small town where I last pastored. They were Presbyterians, but since the church were I ministered was literally across the lot from their home, they had had ongoing relationships with several of my predecessors, and, of course, with various church members.

When Anna and I first moved in to the parsonage and I began my role as senior pastor, I was encouraged by our church treasurer, the late Lynn Edwards, to go over and introduce myself to Glenn. As things turned out, I was too busy in my first weeks to do other than wave at Glenn as he mowed his lawn on his John Deere lawn tractor. But introductions to the Bakers were soon taken care of, when, shortly after we arrived, Mildred walked across our back lawn to bring us cookies as we stood on the back porch talking to a neighbor. Soon we were eating dinner at their place with some regularity.

The Bakers were farmers, and, when we met them, in their eighties. They had seen their share of heartache. Their first child, Samuel, died in infancy. Their only other child, Sandra, almost ten years prior to our arrival at the church there in town, died at age forty in a car accident. In typical Midwestern farmer tradition, they remembered often, grieved a little, and went about their daily chores and routines.

Glenn and Mildred were careful to watch over our welfare, being young, newlweds, and having signed on to serve a church with a history of turmoil. When Anna needed new tires on her car, since she was travelling almost an hour one way to finish her bachelor’s degree, the Bakers bought them. When they learned our microwave had gone on the fritz, they gave us one that they’d “just had laying around.” They were frugal to the point of eccentricity. Glenn would wear the same pair of overalls till they were falling off his body–though he had a brand new pair still in the package waiting to be worn.

When we left the church, the Bakers were both angered at what had happened to us, and saddened that it had happened. Since we remained in the area, never more than an hour away, we visited frequently and kept in touch. When we left Illinois for Baton Rouge, so Anna could go to library school, we quite literally on our way out of town visited Mildred, who’d just broken her hip, as she recovered in the hospital. There we were, Ryder truck towing our car and our two cats and a ferret, parked illegally, but visiting the Bakers.

When we returned to Illiniois, to live and go to school in Chicago, we continued to visit the Bakers. Mildred, of course, had gone from the broken hip right in to the nursing home. Glenn every morning would wake, go argue politics at the local hangout, then head to the nursing home to have breakfast with Mildred. He would often eat lunch and dinner there. The separation was difficult for him, and it was challenging for him to keep the house, so he put his affairs in order, and moved in to the same facility as Mildred. He would then be able to have all his meals with her.

Glenn died on Christmas Eve 2001. Though I was asked to officiate at his funeral, I hadn’t pastored in some years, and truth to tell, I was too shocked and saddened to do so. Glenn’s death was unexpected. We went to the funeral and said our goodbyes.

News of Mildred’s death this week, however, was not unexpected. Shortly after arriving in the nursing home, she began to deteriorate badly. She soon lost her ability to communicate, though she seemed to recognize us when we visited. Not long after that, she lost conscious awareness of her surroundings. Though we did not know it, in the last several weeks, she’d stopped eating, and they were having trouble getting her the nutrition she needed. She died Sunday, coincidentally my birthday. She was ninety-three years old.

She has a sister-in-law and her granddaughter who have survived her. The rest of those in attendance were her former school children. Mildred taught at a one-room school house not twenty miles from the funeral home, and only miles from her gravesite, and a good dozen of her pupils, themselves in their seventies, came to pay their respects and to say goodbye.

As Anna and I drove around the area yesterday, we remembered why it was that we love small towns. Everyone knows everyone. Though you’d nearly run your neighbor off the road to get your beans in to the elevator and get the best possible price, you also know that disaster is nor respector of persons. When tragedy hits, you help your neighbor. I’ve seen farmers who otherwise would be at one another’s throats, join hands to help another farming family make ends meet. I suppose that when you farm, you risk your entire family’s livelihood and your own sense of self-worth everyday. A life like that will either solidify your vices, or at least make an honest man out of you.

We relived a lot of memories. Our year and a half in that small town was in a lot of ways a very difficult time. But there were many good memories that we were able to revisit yesterday. Including all of the ones involving the Bakers.

May the Lord grant rest to the soul of Mildred N. Baker. May her memory be eternal.

Read Full Post »

Thirty-six years ago, at about 11:09 a.m., on a Thursday in southcentral Kansas, I entered the world some weeks early. Weighing in at only a bit over five pounds, and only fifteen inches long, my early birth coincided with not-fully-developed lungs, so I was in the hospital for another two weeks, on oxygen. My mother could only look at me through the glass. She was not able to hold me for the first two weeks of my life. Such was medical care in those days.

By God’s grace, I have seen thirteen thousand one hundred forty-nine days. Only a few of those days can match this morning’s events. My baptism. My marriage. Sofie’s birth.

Today, my wife, Anna, and our daughter, Sofie, worshipped together at All Saints Orthodox Church. For Anna, it was her third worship at All Saints (her fourth Divine Liturgy all told). For Sofie, it was the first time she worshipped with her mommy and daddy at the Divine Liturgy. It was positively the best birthday present I could have ever received.

Sofie slept peacefully through the first part of the service. Then during the Great Ekteina (Great Litany) with the Procession of the Bread and the Wine, she took part in the blessing of the children. It is the custom at All Saints for Father Patrick to place the Chalice over the heads of all the children, one at a time, and pray “May the Lord our God remember you in His Kingdom, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.” Sofie woke then, as we took her slumbering self from the car seat, so that I could hold her for Father Patrick’s blessing. Anna then took her down to the nursery to feed her. Sofie continued to sleep through the rest of the service.

Then, when the parishioners went to commune the Holy Gifts, I took Sofie from Anna and headed forward to receive the blessing. It wasn’t until just before I stood in front of Father Patrick that I realized Anna had slipped out of the pew and followed behind me. Anna’s never done that before. So there we were, a family, each one at a time receiving from God’s priest the merciful blessings of our Lord.

(And did I mention that I got another icon of St. Benedict–for my study carrel–blessed this morning?!)

The lections this morning were Galatians 2:16-20 and Mark 8:34-9:1–since we were marking the leave-taking of the Feast of the Holy Cross. During the reading of the epistle, the reader, Tresa, got to the part “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” and broke down. It took a handful of tries, with encouragement from Father, for her to complete the reading. I was convicted and condemned in my hard-heartedness. But I’ll blog about that at a later date.

Glory to God who has given this sinner such measures of grace! Brothers and sisters in His peace, pray for me, an unworthy sinner, that I may be counted worthy to partake of His Kingdom.

Read Full Post »

The Fatherhood Chronicles XVIII

These needed to be posted. (I’m not blogging. Really.)

Here’s Anna and Sofie on a recent visit to the library. (Library. She’s such a Healy.)

Same Sofie. Same lap. Same visit.

Not sure what’s going on here. But, dang she’s cute!

Read Full Post »

Study Carrel Sanctification

So, I arrived early yesterday morning to the library, and headed downstairs to my study carrel. I had with me my vial of holy water and the icons which had been blessed the day before. Standing outside the door to my carrel, I sprinkled the entrance and prayed:

Visit, we beseech thee, O Lord, this place, and drive far from it the wiles of the Enemy. Let thy holy angels dwell herein, who may keep us in peace, and may thy blessing be always upon us.

Holy Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the malice and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the divine power, thrust into hell Satan and the other evil spirits who prowl through the world seeking the destruction of souls.

I entered the carrel and again blessed the four walls and the desk and books on it. I venerated the holy images of our Lady and our Lord. I placed beside the icon of God’s Mother, an image I had of Father Seraphim (himself devoted to the Theotokos). Beside Christ’s icon I placed a picture of Anna and me (and one of Sofie will soon follow).

I didn’t have much more time before I had to head to my office in the philosophy department (for my allotted office hours–allowing students, who never do, to drop in), so though suitably blessed, the carrel went unused until later in the evening.

Then I spent a good two and a half hours reading Plato, and gathering research for the Timaeus: a modern commentary by A. E. Taylor, a translation of Proclus’ commentary, as well as a few other books on the dialogue.

The feeling of refuge I experienced while studying in my carrel was quite distinct. I sincerely felt this to be a holy place (I venerated the icons on entering and leaving the carrel), and the study in which I was engaged was dedicated to him who is the Truth.

Yep, I’m gonna really like my study carrel.

Read Full Post »

Today was the first occasion I can recall in which I have a very conscious memory of celebrating an Orthodox feast two years in row. I’m sure my sometimes sporadic attendance has spanned similar feasts, though most likely one of the lesser ones. But I recall exactly one year ago today attending the Divine Liturgy for the celebration of the Holy Cross. Last year Anna had just left to see her brother in Pittsburgh, taking the car. So I hopped the bus to All Saints and worshipped at the Feast.

Lately, my worship has been one of coming with great needs. There have been plenty of times in the last year and a half or so, in which I’ve had experiences of Scripture cutting through all the clutter and hitting me right in the midst of my heart. There have been times of great joys and emotions. But of late, I come so often not feeling as though I have anything to offer, but rather feeling like one big sinkhole of need. Part of this is my physical exhaustion. Four weeks of not getting more than three or four hours of sleep at one time (I think the record was that one morning I got five in a row), and usually getting only about an hour and a half or two at one stretch, really does a number on you. Anna and I are both feeling it. It sure makes parenting at two a.m. really hard. More to the point, it makes parenting at 3:00 in the afternoon, after an entire day of a sleepless Sofie crying almost non-stop, an exercise in impossibility. How do parents do this? And how do they do it, and not kill one another?

Last night was one of those nights. Sofie didn’t sleep much yesterday, but her wakefulness was generally calm and mild. A little fussy at times. But usually calmed with a diaper change or a feeding. A mid-afternoon trip in the car to the library resulted in a long, four-hour nap. Regrettably, things went downhill from there.

So after an evening of frequent interrruptions to our movie (“The Rookie”), after a long night of fussing and crying, and of Anna and I snapping at one another, I headed to the Liturgy one carved out shell of a man. Tired, mad at myself, feeling frustrated at not knowing what I as a parent should know. I drove in silence trying to place all my worries, cares, and guilt in a box labelled “To Present to Christ at Worship”. But the lid kept popping off.

We had two chrismations today. This only exacerbated my pent-up anguish. How much I wish I and my family could stand and be sealed! How much I needed the heavenly medicine of the Body and Blood of our Lord. But whether tax collector or Pharisee, I stood outside looking in.

There were some measures of grace. God in his mercy always meets us where we’re at and calls us higher. On arriving for Matins (Orthros), I presented the diptych I’d brought to be blessed, and an empty vial for holy water. My friend, Nelson, greeted me with the kiss of peace and an embrace. Father stopped and took my hand.

About an hour later, the entire congregation were going forward, prostrating three times on the way to the table on which lay the Cross of Blessing. It is the custom at All Saints (I cannot speak to how widespread this is) to arrange a large tray of red carnations as a bed on which the Blessing Cross is then placed for veneration. The flowers are blessed and processed before the congregation, and the Cross placed on them. After three prostrations, the worshippers then venerate the cross and part with a final prostration. We do this prior to and following the service. I cannot rationally speak to why these prostrations and venerations were a grace to me. But I was somehow strengthened.

After the service, Nelson brought the diptych to me, commenting on its beauty. I told him it was going in my study carrel at school so that I could always study in holiness. He grinned and nodded.

On leaving, I was fortunate to take home with me one of the blessed carnations. (I remembered from last year!) It now resides with my icons, to assist me in my prayers.

The holy water will partially refill the vial I keep at home, and the remainder will go with me tomorrow as I pray over and bless my carrel with the water. I will invoke the aid of St. Michael of Hosts to watch over and guard my place of study. In it will go the icons, as well as an image of Blessed Seraphim that I printed off from my computer.

Before leaving for home, though, I followed an impulse and headed back into the nave to speak to Father Patrick. He finished speaking with Nelson, and came over to where I was standing. I kissed his hand and asked for his prayers for Anna and me. His earthy (or incarnational) advice was quite welcome and calming. And he assured me of his prayers.

Before thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master
And thy Holy Resurrection we glorify.

Read Full Post »

Sexuality, Free Will and Determinism

There are essentially three positions on whether human actions are wholly determined by antecedent causes and whether free will is compatible with that determinism. Soft determinism affirms that actions are wholly determined by antecedent causes yet that free will is somehow compatible with this determinism. Hard determinism affirms that actions are wholly determined by antecedent causes and denies that free will is compatible with this determinism (i.e., there is no free will). Libertarianism (not the political version) denies the wholly determinate relation between actions and antecedent causes and affirms that free will obtains in all human actions.

Libertarianism and hard determinism seem rather straightforward–whether or not one accepts their respective positions. Soft determinism, however, leaves some difficulties: how is it that all aspects of human actions are determined yet humans may freely choose or not choose to do a certain thing? On the one hand, soft determinism takes what is a common experience–that we appear to freely choose our acts–and attempts to reconcile it with the deterministic processes of the natural world. (Appeals to quantum physics do not help, because although some indeterminacy obtains at the submicro level, at the macro level Newtonian physics still holds.) But on the other, it fails to coherently account for how it is that one may freely choose what one is determined to do. While Kierkegaard can address this matter in existential terms (I freely choose this inescapable absurd reality in which I live), this hardly clarifies the difficulty.

I mention the issues of determinism because it seems to me that the positions taken on the matters of human sexuality, specifically sexual orientation, align themselves with one of the above positions. For example, one frequently hears from gays and lesbians that they did not choose their orientation, that, in a sense, they cannot help but be who they are. This is determinism. Opponents of gay and lesbian sexual behavior speak in terms of free will, that such behavior is sin and that those who engage in those behaviors freely choose to do so. This is libertarianism.

Persons who take a determinist stand on sexual orientation usually appeal to biology (a gay gene, brain formations, or other biological states) and/or to sociology (family environment, culture, religious faith, etc.). Either of these factors, or both, serve to determine someone’s sexual orientation before they consciously “choose” to act in conformity to that orientation. Thus they may not freely choose to be gay or not. Homosexuality is their constitutional makeup.

Persons who take a libertarian stand on sexual orientation sometimes (though clearly not always) deny any biological connection, frequently accept that sociological factors strongly influence human choice, but ultimately deny that any sexual behavior is completely determined by biology or sociology and is, ultimately, behavior freely chosen.

It seems to me that the hard deterministic stance in sexuality questions is not consistently held. Proponents for the acceptance of homosexual acts frequently want to claim that these acts arise from some sort of determining factors and cannot be helped. On the other hand, other venues of human action are not determined. For example, violent attacks on gays and lesbians (because they are homosexual) are rightly and widely condemned. But if sexual orientation is biologically and/or sociologically determined and gays and lesbians cannot freely choose to act in any other way than in accord with such orientation, doesn’t it stand to reason that homophobes similarly are so constituted biologically and/or sociologically that they cannot but act in ways that conform to their homophobia? Or is it the case that only sexual orientation is deterministic while violence against gays and lesbians (because they are homosexual) is freely chosen? But how is that the case? And why are the two matters different? If determinism obtains, surely it obtains for all human action?

Some who argue from the deterministic stance take something that looks like the soft determinist approach. That is to say, orientation is wholly determined, but we are free to act in ways that either go against that orientation or are in conformity to it. That is to say, while orientation cannot be helped, sexual acts are freely chosen. This is the experience of many “ex-gays,” that though they have (or, in some cases, the claim is that they once had) a same-sex orientation, they freely choose to act sexually in heterosexual ways, marrying persons of the opposite sex, raising biological children, etc. It is not clear to me, then, given this position, why there is an animus in the gay community against these “ex-gays,” unless, that is, the criticism comes from hard determinists. Or unless there is an unspoken moral principle that acting against one’s predetermined sexual orientation is illicit. But this is a matter that steps outside of the question of determinacy. On the simple issue of determinacy, if one is free to choose one’s sexual acts, then whether or not one is determined in one’s sexual orientation carries no moral weight.

The libertarian position is that sexual orientation is composed of many factors, but is ultimately chosen (and in some cases unchosen) of one’s own free will. There may be biological and sociological influences, but ultimately the determining factor is human volition. These freely chosen acts then become habituated and gays and lesbians experience their orientation in what feels to them like deterministic ways. For my money, the libertarian position is the only consistent position in the sexuality debate.

But if the libertarian position is the best position to take on these matters, it only answers the question as to whether or not sexual acts are freely chosen or wholly determined. It does not, of itself, answer the question as to the licitness of same sex acts. That, it seems to me, is the responsibility of religion and ethics.

Read Full Post »

Okay, so I’m minding my own business, working my way diligently through Plato’s Republic, when we come to the end of Book V and what knowledge, ignorance and opinion are. Quite simply, knowledge is knowing those things that are completely (e. g., the ideas); ignorance is not knowing those things that are not; and opinion is opining that which neither completely is nor is not in any way. Isn’t it obvious?

Sure, I’ll grant you that the double negatives can spin you ’round the first time you encounter them, but a slow consideration of the statements yields, voila, the understanding one would need. Still, I had some fun with them. One gentlemen wanted to assert that the only thing that we could know is that “Today is today.” I asserted, on the contrary, one could know that today is Tuesday. What about culture? Aren’t the names just human convention? And so forth. No. We can know that today is Tuesday. We cannot know, for example, that today is Friday. The gentleman conceded. “Okay. But that’s all we can really know.” Hmmmm. No, we can know that what is true cannot at the same time also be false. We can know that the One cannot be many. And so forth. He was skeptical and left claiming that when he came back, he would prove me (and Socrates) wrong.

Then there was the other gentleman who caught me after class with the proposition: “Wouldn’t you say that all knowledge is really just opinion that coincides with God’s omniscience?” (Shades of Berkeley!) No, I replied, we can really know things. “But can’t we be wrong?” Certainly. “So then all we know is merely opinion.” But that itself is a claim to know something and is not itself an opinion; therefore not everything we know is opinion. He frowned. This was not going the way he had planned. He left mumbling something about how I turned his words around on him. (Funny, that’s the same thing Euthyphro, in the eponymous dialogue, says of Socrates. Or for that matter, what the power-pragmatist Thrasymachus says of Socrates in the very Republic under consideration today.

And I put away my notes and headed to my office to blog about the day’s events.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 461 other followers