Dark? — Second Showing

“DARK?”: ELEGIES hosted by Saint Constantine School Saturday March 2, 7p
Presentations featuring
  • paintings by Nick Papas in remembrance of the falling asleep in the Lord of his sister Diana
  • live piano performances from Douglas Robinson
  • electronic compositions from Jim John Marks

which explore the Orthodox perspective on the mourning of death and the celebration of resurrection. 

Question & answer to follow for students, parents, guests and public.


One Too Many Memes About Politics

It feels like this needs to be said at this point, and so here is another open letter (also copied from FB).
In my last open letter I confessed my fear, my lack of balance, and my desire to focus on myself. I stand by those commitments.
But in addition to the hysteria which my social media has been steeped in for the past 18 months, and most particularly the last 2 months, my social media is now absolutely saturated with a wide variety of calls for “calm”, “unity”, “coming together”, and “respect for the country” and this requires some response.
Politics never solved anything.
Full stop, no qualification.
There is right, and there is wrong, and all too often, especially in a country like ours which has two authoritarian parties who want to legislate how you live (one based on “traditional” morals and one based on “relevant” morals, but still) we can mistake real, meaningful, important and thoroughly necessary discussions about morality for politics.
The function of a civilized society is for a group of _like minded_ people to create a common effort for the common good. The contemporary idea “diversity is our strength” is completely antithetical to the very ontology of a civilized society. Do not mistake me here, I am not advocating xenophobia, racism, segregation or bigotry of any kind. I am not. But it is to ignore history to pretend that a geographically large, demographically diverse culture will stand tall for very long.
The very wisdom of our founding fathers was the federated republic. It allowed diversity at the national level by creating a model in which most governing (and thus the day to day _agreeing_ happened at the much more local, county & state level. Not all Americans had to be the same, but if all Virginians were more or less alike, that made Virginia work out pretty well and it didn’t matter if people from Massachusetts were quite different because their interactions not only legal, but fiscal were pretty limited.
Unfortunately a great evil, slavery, destroyed that model and that vision. The expression “don’t make a federal case out of it” would cause most modern, engaged, informed Americans to look at you like you have six heads. We have to recognize at some level the dream is _dead_, it has been for a long time, and this current trajectory toward a very large, very diverse country run by a large over-arching central government _will fail_ — most likely catastrophically and at great cost to human life and suffering. It isn’t about us becoming too Right Wing, or too Left Wing. We’re too _big_ and too _different_.
We cannot “come together” as a country. There has _NEVER_ been a time when this country came together in any kind of unified way. Even at the very start, there had been Loyalists as well as Revolutionaries. There have always been the rural and the urban, the Original Colonist (WASP) families and the Recent Immigrants, the Wet and the Dry, male and female… we have never been united, and we never will be, nor should it necessarily be a goal to be so.
It is true that hysterics solve nothing and often create harm. In the face of real challenges, I’ve tried to force myself to make comparisons to the early 80s and early 60s rather than the late 30s. Jumping to metaphors about fascism is basically (a) name calling (b) preaching to the choir (as your intended target will stop listening) and (c) the least effective way to get those on the fence to take you seriously.
In the face of real moral crisis, it is _unacceptable_ to remain silent. Calm, peaceful, Christ-like response is required, for sure. We are often all too ready to allow ourselves a “clearing of the Temple” moment when it comes to injustice or immorality.
Too many of the current calls for calm, for peace, for unity &c. are coming from those who simply wish to silence “the opposition” rather than from those who wish to see genuine civility. I will NOT be quiet. I do NOT respect my love of this country by standing idly by while the rich and powerful flush people’s lives down the toilet for their own profit and ego. I don’t think it is at all unreasonable to look to MLKjr and Gandhi to recognize we can be _emphatic_ about our “no more” without becoming hysterical or violent.
The real key, do you want to know the real key, is to reject dichotomy. Nothing is actually a dichotomy; at least not with human beings. We are far too complex and our inter-relationships are far too complex for dichotomy.
The problem with Donald Trump isn’t that he’s Right Wing. The problem is, he’s a completely immoral and amoral person. I am not concerned about his presidency because I’m a Liberal (I’m not), I am concerned about his presidency because he embarrasses me as a human being and as an American. He has no regard for the Truth or for human dignity. And a Great America would be an America which valued Truth and human dignity. Don’t make it about Republican and Democrat. Don’t make it about Left and Right. Don’t even make it about Right and Wrong as such. Make it about civility, cooperation, the common good, and the dignity of the human person — and then don’t insist on _political_ solutions to make those things happen, make them happen each and every day by how you live your life. Insist on it from the people around you, not from the people on Facebook hundreds or thousands of miles away.
I’m not Pro Life and I won’t be marching. Not because I’m Pro Choice, because that’s another false dichotomy. I’m anti-abortion, don’t get me wrong. Honestly, I don’t know I’ve ever met someone who was pro abortion. I think pretty much everyone recognizes we’d be much better off as a culture if there were no abortions because there were no _need_ for abortions. I genuinely believe that. I’m not Pro Life because this is a label which represents a political strategy which has spent the past 50 years FAILING and stubbornly refusing to recognize the failure as ITS OWN rather than it’s opposition. Screaming “murder” at people DOES. NOT. WORK. And the millions of aborted children over the past 44 years are as much on the heads of those who refuse to recognize the ineffective nature of their insistence. We scream and scream but we do nothing to (a) reduce the insane rate of unintended pregnancy in this country (b) provide pregnant women with meaningful alternatives to abortion or (c) make it clear our interest is in making their lives better, not judging their past behavior.
The last time I ran the numbers, 1 in 20 women of child bearing age has an unintended pregnancy in the USA every single year. One third of those end in abortion. So the “good news” is the majority of unintended pregnancies are not aborted. But instead of being horrified that in a well educated, affluent culture we have an epidemic of unintended pregnancies, instead we have a movement which seeks to reduce sex education in schools (or replace it with “abstinence only” curricula) despite demonstrable correlations between this education and reduced pregnancies, restrict access to birth control both by encouraging insurance companies not to cover it and by supporting pharmacists who refuse to sell it to the point of funding their legal battles when they’re sued over it.
If you want less aborted babies you have to stop encouraging the circumstances which make more women unintentionally pregnant. “They shouldn’t have sex” isn’t your decision to make. Even if it were, it won’t stop them. That isn’t a solution. Arm chair moralizing never accomplished anything. Where are the outreach programs to help women either (a) place their child in a good home or (b) afford to raise the child properly on their own? Where are the movements demanding comprehensive education for our children so they don’t “find out the hard way” when pubescent curiosity out paces information? Where is the outcry when a pharmacist abuses their role in society to impose their personal morality on customers who depend on them?
So no, I’m not Pro Life and I will not march, but you would be hard pressed to find someone more pissed off about the abortion rates in this country. I’m sorry, but your body ends where the baby’s body begins and you don’t get to choose if that baby lives or dies as if that’s somehow an amoral decision. There is no rhetorical defense of it, and there’s no medical defense of it. Despite the Pro Choice insistence life does not begin at conception, there’s no medical definition of when it actually does start. This is obvious if you talk to people. A women who is pregnant who wants to be pregnant doesn’t talk about the fetus, or the alien parasite, she talks about the baby. If a woman who is pregnant is killed in an auto accident, the situation is far worse for the offender than if the woman had not been pregnant. We don’t _really_ believe it isn’t a baby. Because it is. This idea it is somehow unreasonable for a woman to “have to” carry a child to term and give birth because she is unintentionally pregnant also doesn’t hold any water. It’s reality. It’s ontology. Pregnancy leads to birth. Sex (done often enough) leads to pregnancy. I’m not saying “you deserve what you get” but I am saying participating in a given reality is _acceptance_ of that reality. If giving birth is so unreasonable a proposition to you as a person you would consider murder to avoid it, your only defensibly moral option is to not have sex. That’s not a political stance, that’s just how mammals work.
I’m not a Feminist, and I won’t be marching with them, either. Not because I’m a misogynist nor because I don’t recognize the inequality of opportunity and autonomy in this country, but rather because Feminism (at least for the past 50 years) is a label which describes a movement which actually vehemently any feminine. It is a movement which seeks to turn women into men. It seeks to make us equal by making us interchangeable and this is not only a rejection of immutable realities it is also a very bad idea. The prongs of contemporary Feminism are essentially (a) get women not to have children (through birth control and abortion) (b) in spite of this get women to have sexual relationships exactly the same way men do (as if there is no risk for them as there is for men) (c) take on all the worst traits in masculinity because these are the traits which have made men oppress women for centuries and by adopting them it is then possible to “combat” men to force equality. The problem with Feminism is there is absolutely nothing _feminine_ about it. Feminism completely confirms misogyny in its agreement that the feminine is weak, ineffectual, unvaluable and overdue for replacement.
I am too pro-feminine to be a Feminist.
Do not think this means I cheer when male-controlled authoritarian government puts undue controls on women with the stroke of a pen. Legislation is not the solution. Dichotomy is not the solution. Hysteria is not the solution. False unity which silences needed opposition is not the solution.
I continue to strive to be calm. But I will not be silent. I will not pretend to be united to people whose morality sickens me. I will not shy away from calling a spade a spade when someone is trying to pass it off as a rose. I will not be passive for 4 years while awaiting “another turn” to make a difference in the direction my country is going. Neither will I resort to name calling, hyperbole, smug celebration, hysterical sobbing &c.

What Saint Nicholas Taught Me Today

(I posted most of this to Facebook today and realized it was really more of a blog post and, given the dirth of new music being posted [we are reprising the Dark? show at a local private school for a few months and the focus has been on events there] here, I might as well include it here as well since what little readership I have in both locations does not overlap much.)

Today, December 6 (on the Gregorian calendar), is the feast of Saint Nicholas the wonderworker, archbishop of Myra — aka Santa Claus. Yes, he is real. He lived in the Fourth Century in Asia Minor and was present at The First Council of Nicaea (aka The First Ecumenical Council) where, according to tradition, he became so frustrated by the heresy being spoken by Arius that he struck the man in the face, nearly getting himself deposed from his role as bishop in the process. This story has led to a popular image meme which often “goes viral” in Orthodox circles at Christmas time:

Jokes about “punching heretics” aside, I actually see a very apt warning for us in our Culture War culture (especially in light of the recent election). The lesson is this:

All too often “loving the sinner and hating the sin” looks _exactly the same_ as hating the sinner.

I openly confess I spend too much of my time trying to hate sin and not nearly enough of my time loving virtue. I obsess about the rules, the “do and don’t” of religion and all too often neglect the reality of the state of my soul before God is not measured by whether or not I tried to prevent the de-Christianization of my culture, it will not be measured in how eloquently I spoke out against hypocrisy, compartmentalized thinking or flawed rhetoric but rather will be measured in _how I treated those who break the rules_. Can I FORGIVE?

No one enters Hell because they sinned. We all sin. Hell is for the UNREPENTANT. What makes us unrepentant? Being unforgiving (Matthew 6 & 18, Mark 11 & Luke 11) and failing to defend with self-sacrificing love those who are in need (Matthew 25). “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love[ing forgiveness], I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13)

Am I the publican or the Pharisee? (Luke 18)
Am I the prodigal or the brother? (Luke 15)
Do I participate in The Eucharist as a true thanksgiving, a true _communion_ with my fellow believers all around me as we entreat God to transform us into the Body of Christ his Church? (John 6)

After all, the Lord’s Prayer is supposed to teach me I can only expect to be forgiven as I forgive. Jesus’ warning after the feeding of the multitude is “Amen, Amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”. After all, Matthew 25 doesn’t tell me I will be judged by the ten commandments or the systematic doctrine of Saint Paul. It says I will be judged by whether I have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, or comforted the sick or imprisoned.

This bit really scares me, let me tell you. The more “charity” or “outreach” I get involved with in terms of these folks, the scarier it gets. When Jesus said “the poor will be with you always” there is a deep wisdom about just how bottomless the pit of Need really is. No matter how much you do, you aren’t “helping”. We can’t help. But we MUST TRY and we MUST love our neighbor.

The problem most of the time is I am too proud to admit I sin as much as the prodigal and the publican but where I differ from them is in my _lack of genuine repentant humility_ rather than in my superior virtue. The problem most of the time is my arrogance prevents me from embracing my fellow parishioners and believers to truly share one cup and be one body. The problem most of the time is I am very bad at keeping the rules and yet spend all my time trying to while getting very frustrated with all the people around me who fail to keep them — Just. Like. Me.

The purpose of my life is not to eventually successfully keep a prayer rule, or to ultimately conquer my raging righteous indignation, or to remain completely chaste… although I am in desperate need of all those things.

The purpose of my life is to grow in faith, in the realization I have no control over myself in my current state, I am in God’s hands, and the only peace, the only success, the only joy, the only love I can and will ever have will only come when I _STOP FIGHTING_ and rest in His arms, let his grace fill me and finally admit my own sins are more numerous than all those around me. At some point or another, probably many times, I have judged all of you. Forgive me.

Today I am trying to learn from Saint Nicholas NOT to let my passion for God’s Truth burn so hot I lash out to strike “sin” a blow. I am trying to learn wrestling to “be better” and “do good” and “keep the rules” is not a recipe for deification, but a recipe for despair.

Despair is the one thing it may be healthy to fear. Despair uses pride to destroy hope. My sins are so massive even God can’t really forgive me and transform my life, I might as well give up. Our arrogance is very adept at getting us into this place completely implicitly so despair sets in long before we even see the danger.

Pray for my priest. Every time I go to confession he has to listen to me go on and on about how I am “still” the same raging, impatient, arrogant, judgmental sloth I was the last time I came. He has to gently remind me, AGAIN, I am myself. It is quite likely these struggles, these sins, these passions, will be what I wrestle with the rest of my life (however long or short it may be).

We all too easily forget the par of the story about many saints which matters the most. Saint is born, saint grows up, saint’s life ends up in such a condition they seek a deliberate quest for communion with God, SAINT STRUGGLES IN PRAYER FOR SOME CRAZY NUMBER OF DECADES, saint becomes illumined by God’s grace, saint performs miracles or is happily martyred or whatever else.

We always miss that bit in the middle because it tends to be the shortest part of the reading. But this is the bit we are all living in MOST OF THE TIME.

Pray for my God son. He makes the mistake of coming to me for advice about not only life, but about faith. My answer to almost every question he asks is the same “I have no idea, I’m as lost as you are, the best I can say is ‘pray more’ and God willing you will find the truth. If you do, let me know.”

Pray more.

I need to stop worrying about what other people are doing.
I need to stop worrying about what I’m doing.
I need to take my own advice.

Dark? – The Album

The gallery event for “Dark?” is this coming Saturday evening, 1 October 2016. In preparation all work-in-progress and presumed complete audio has been removed from SoundCloud and the complete album is being published to BandCamp for purchase, download and/or streaming.