Archive for the ‘Fall Issue IC 58 2010’ Category

Conversations by E-Mail -Fall 2010 IC 58

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

These are extracts from recent postings to the OPF’s e-mail discussion list. If you are an OPF member and wish to take part, contact Mark Pearson or Jim Forest .

Global warming: The evidence is in: global warming is happening in our time. What remains to be seen is that the global warming now occurring is, in whole or in part, the result of human activity. Do we or don’t we contribute to, or even accelerate, these natural cycles? The jury is out on this one.

I suggest we behave as if global warming in our time is connected to our activity, even if it finally proves otherwise, and do our best to minimize whatever human activity contributes to the problems attendant to the rise in Earth’s temperature, and work to avoid the deleterious effects of that warming in historical time.

Monk James

A greener coffee hour: I’m doing research on what our parish could do to have a “greener” coffee hour, so I’m interested to hear what your parishes have done. The stipulation is that it has to be as easy and as low-effort as possible – the easier it is, the more people will participate.

Michele Hagerman

One example: In our parish, we have divided the alphabet roughly in half, making sure an equal number of families are in each half. If it is your week to supply the food, then it is also your week to clean up. Some Sundays we use disposables, but usually we use regular plates, cups and flatware.

We have three women who have taken on maintaining the kitchen and doing the extra stuff each week as their ministry. They keep our paper products stocked and make sure the kitchen and social hall are cleaned. One of them always takes home the towels and wash cloths and launders them. On any given Sunday, many other people pitch in and help, so the division of labor isn’t as rigid as it may seem. Once a month our youth group has to do the dishes.

Claudia Riedel

Styrofoam banned: In our parish styrofoam is banned – a good start. Folks use a selection of coffee mugs provided by the parish, and wash their own. Recycled paper products are used for the food line for easy clean up, metal utensils are used.

Michael Taylor

Real dishes: Here’s what we have done in our parish. With donations from members, we bought a portable dishwasher. We asked the congregation to bring a few mugs – everyone drinks out of mugs, be it lemonade, water, tea or coffee. We bought plates. Each month two or three people sign up to clean up. It’s working well. One of our members brought some very plain glasses she didn’t need anymore.

Though we have banished styrofoam, we use paper on Pascha night when we have so many people.

Lin Richardson

Death penalty: The main argument used by proponents of the death penalty is that it protects society in two ways, by removing the opportunity for the condemned criminal to recommit and by deterring others who would commit the same crime.

The deterrent effect of capital punishment may be irrelevant in an absolute sense, but social and justice problems are never without context. Discussing whether or not capital punishment deters is perfectly relevant in our social context. If we can remove deterrence as a justification of capital punishment, we can move on to other things like what is truly an effective punishment and how exactly do we serve justice.

The first of the proponents’ defenses, that capital punishment prevents any reoffence, is bogus since no one believes it is the only way to do so. Proponents do, however, believe that deterrence is an absolute argument in favor of capital punishment; therefore, rebutting that argument with evidence does justice an absolute service.

Pieter Dykhorst

Revenge: Most people agree that capital punishment is not a deterrent but nonetheless want to retain it for reasons of “justice,” i.e, revenge. That’s a gut level human response. I think we need to expose the desire for “justice” as really the desire for revenge. For those who call themselves Christians, we have to challenge the desire for revenge as being incompatible with being a follower of Jesus Christ.

Paul del Junco

Justice: Justice is a value to which we mere mortals can only aspire. Yet, even at our best, the most “justice” we can hope to accomplish is restitution and restoration, a return to equilibrium; it’s not for nothing that one of the nearly universally recognized symbols of “justice” is a set of balancing pans or scales.

It remains to be proved that imprisonment somehow satisfies the barest demands of “justice.” It would be more coherent to require convicts to adhere to strict standards of restitution and restoration. In the case of murder, convicts might be sentenced to support the families of their victims.

It is unthinkable for a Christian to be in favor of the death penalty, since no Christian may serve as an executioner. This is a self-evident truth of our faith, as can be understood by a close reading of the canons and patristic literature.

One of the most powerful Christian arguments against the death penalty is that it shortens the time which God’s Providence might allow even convicts to come to repentance. If it is a sin to kill people, no sophistry will ever make it a virtue. It is incumbent on us to work for a “consistent pro-life ethic” if we hope not to share in the bloodguilt of others who commit murder in our name.

Monk James Silver

Repentance: The possibility of a person guilty of murder coming to a state of repentance seems to me the strongest support a Christian could have on opposing the death penalty. Who are we to close the door on a life that might return to God?

I have always found it deeply moving to hear from murder victims’ families how, after an execution, they didn’t find any resolution or sense of justice but who felt their sorrow only deepened when one more life was lost. I favor the idea of criminals working in prison to pay some kind of reparation to victims families. I would be interested in how European countries sentence criminals that we would put on death row.

Monica Klepac

Suicide prevention: One of the people I was fortunate to meet on my recent lecture trip in the US was David Miller, an associate professor of school psychology. We discovered we had a common interest in suicide prevention. He is the author of Suicidal Behavior in Children and Adolescents: School-Based Prevention, Assessment, and Intervention. It’s due out December from Guilford Press and is already available for pre-order on Miller focuses on how school staff can respond to potentially suicidal youth. He recommended two other books:
November of the Soul: The Enigma of Suicide by George Howe Colt. Written by a journalist, it provides a broad overview of suicide for the general reader.

Why People Die By Suicide by Thomas Joiner. Joiner is a distinguished professor of psychology at Florida State University who, Miller writes, “is the most prominent researcher in suicide alive today…. Joiner lost his father and his grandfather to suicide, so he has personal experience with this topic.”

Jim Forest

Hiding the pain: One of the books that I highly recommend is Dying to be Free: A Healing Guide For Families after a Suicide, by Beverly Cobain and Jean Larch. People need not wait until someone they know dies by suicide to read any of these books. They can help teach people how to minister to wounded families and they also give information of the warning signs of suicide.

One myth that I keep hearing is that it is only people who seem really down or depressed that are in danger of a suicide attempt. Not so. Many people who are depressed cover over it with a buoyant personality to hide their pain. I was extremely depressed most of my life growing up – in fact I wanted to grow up to find a way to die – but no one had a clue because I was a good student, active in athletics, drama, band, cheerleading, etc. etc. I wore a smile all the time. Inside I felt as if a bomb had gone off and left me mangled, but no one could see it but me.
Our son Joshua also knew how to hide his pain, and I think he felt society expected that of him – “to be a man.” He was a risk taker since the time of being a young boy – so that what could have been real attempts at suicide were not clear to us.

There is such an apathy in the world when it comes to suicide – it really feels that people don’t care and want to stay far away from the families involved. But I must admit that I was the same way before it happened to us. I didn’t give suicide much thought. I thought that our family had immunity. I was wrong.

Renee Zitzloff

One issue politics: I had an interesting exchange with an Orthodox priest recently via Facebook. He had posted a link about voting “Pro-Life” in which he said that Christians should use a voting guide in order to know who to vote for. The link provided names of politicians whose anti-abortion stand is demonstrated by their voting record.

Our exchange amounted to me expressing concerns that a priest was telling people how to vote and basing it solely on one criterion. I laid out a few concerns about other life issues. I was told I “didn’t understand abortion” and what the Bible and Orthodoxy taught about it. I got analogies to the Nazis and genocide, was told it was my Christian duty in a democracy to vote as he suggested, and I was told my approach (which I don’t think he understood) was “helping increase evil in the world.”

It was a very hard conversation to have.

Aaron Haney

Another kingdom: As a parish priest, I do not endorse political candidates or parties. All candidates represent a host of positions, some acceptable to Orthodoxy, others not.

The church represents a kingdom not of this world, and acknowledges this world is not the Kingdom. Our agenda is very different than political candidates and parties who represent nothing but this world.

I know my views would be condemned by those (some of them priests) who feel that anyone who votes for a “pro-choice” candidate should be excommunicated. But there are many issues which are pro-death issues that we end up voting for if we simply base our votes on one issue.

We each must answer to God for all the choices we make. When we make pro-war choices, we will have to answer for each civilian – child, man or women – murdered during the war. We cannot escape these realities. We cannot abdicate our responsibilities because these choices are hard and mean we fall under God’s judgment. In a democracy we are faced with voting – making difficult choices that have multi-implications for good and ill. It is what led some ancient Christians and kings to avoid baptism until they were on their deathbeds. They hoped to avoid the judgment of God. We are judged by God even if we try to avoid judgment!

Let us not be deceived into thinking that as long as we reduce the world to one issue that we reduce God’s judgement of us to only that one issue.

The political divide in America has widened, and those on either extreme often no longer recognize their rivals as fellow Americans, fellow Christians or even fellow humans.

Fr. Ted Bobosh

Abuse of authority: There are priests who are into everything concerning their parishioners lives, apparently drawing on a monastic concept of the spiritual father who commands absolute obedience from his spiritual children. Add in someone with a personality that lends itself to a “cult of personality” and you might get a priest who attempts to dictate to his parishioners how they’re to conduct themselves in every area of their lives and who, via the internet, may be tempted to control the lives of those who are not his parishioners. It used to be that such priests could only pontificate via the printed word. Now they’ve got Facebook, blogs and e-mail. I could tell you stories that would make your toes curl.

Michele Hagerman

Consistently pro-life: When my wife was pregnant with our first son, she had a doctor who suggested that she have an abortion due to a past medical event in her life. Fortunately we went to see a specialist who informed us that the advice we had been given was based on information “long out of date” and that there was nothing to prevent my wife from delivering a healthy baby. Later we went for “genetic counseling,” which we concluded was a money-making scam, closely aligned with the abortion industry. This was years before I joined the Orthodox Church but I could see the twisted priorities in play, and my view on the abortion issue was irrevocably changed.

However, that didn’t mean that I stopped caring about poverty, war, racism and all of the other social/political ills that inflict our country – on the contrary. I don’t particularly like getting into a numbers game when deciding which “evil” is worse. Clearly the number of abortions performed in the country is horrific, but so is the thought of people being allowed to die of a treatable disease because they can’t afford health insurance. In the latter instance, not only is a human life lost, but a person who has been living by the social contract, going to work, paying taxes, etc., is betrayed by their own country. Supporting any politician who takes money from large insurance companies to thwart change in American health care strikes me as morally bankrupt.

During the Bush years, hunger increased. There was also an increase in infant mortality. This most recent leak of secret documents about the Iraq War shows that the Pentagon is aware of some 100,000 Iraqi civilian casualties – incomplete figures that do not reflect, for example, individuals who simply “disappeared” or those with chronic medical conditions who died because they no longer had access to the drugs and medical services. For anyone who wishes to be truly pro-life, these facts matter.

We need to count not only abortion deaths but deaths caused by social neglect. African Americans die younger and more frequently of diabetes, stroke, heart disease and cancer than do their Caucasian counterparts. Native Americans have their own set of issues that shorten their life spans. Both these populations share decreased access to regular preventative healthcare and testing that are commonplace for more affluent whites.

Social policies have real life and death impact. If you want to run a coal mine, but you don’t want inspectors around to get in your way, back candidates who will oppose mine safety regulations. Too darn bad when a handful of guys gets killed now and then. This sort of scenario follows through worker safety and in matters of consumer safety where tainted meat or lettuce can literally kill you. It just takes a little more brain power to see the threat to life posed by a worldview in which profit and political domination are the dominant factors.

David Golden

St. Maria of Paris icon available: We often get requests for mounted icons of St. Maria of Paris (Mother Maria Skobtsova). Now there is one available from Come and See Icons, a reproduction of an icon that Nancy and I commissioned from the iconographer John Reves. See it here:

The icon page includes a short biography of St. Maria.

The icon is 8 by 10 inches. It sells for $27 plus postage, $5 of which is donated to OPF by the producer.

Jim Forest


Recommended Reading Fall 2010 IC 58

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Towards a Truly Free Market
by John Medaille
Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 282 pp, $27

The economy is very sick, perhaps terminally, because of an economic system that provides capitalism for the profits in good times – and socialism for the losses in bad times, but mostly for those “too big to fail,” whose folly typically brought on the catastrophe. Thus, good times and bad times alike lead to an increasing concentration of wealth – and the economic and social precariousness that entails.

The system is broken, but Medaille’s book argues that both traditional alternatives – socialist or laissez-faire capitalism – are deeply flawed. Both ignore the essential human need for control of productive property, and not merely consumer goods. These ideologies lead to economics based on flawed analysis of labor, land, and money – since all of them act very differently than normal commodities. A flawed anthropology, combined with flawed economic analysis, lead inevitably to an “economic science” which consistently fails to predict economic downturns.

Medaille proposes an alternate analysis which provides an economic defense of Distributism – the wide dispersal of productive property – as a more efficient and more just system. He provides a number of case studies. For instance, the 80,000 owner-employees of Mondragon Cooperative Corporation do many of the things anarcho-capitalists and socialists demand, but do them in the real world and not simply on paper. Most of the profits go to the owner-employees, but also fund social insurance programs, training institutes, research centers, a school system, and a university. Medaille also provides a number of policy suggestions for reducing the cost of government, ending bailouts, and reforming health insurance.

Medaille’s book may cause you to rethink both what economies are for and how they should work to achieve a greater degree of justice and efficiency.
Daniel Lieuwen

Atheist Delusions
by David Bentley Hart
Yale University Press, 252 pp, $17

One often hears sweeping generalizations about how evil Christians have been and the malign influence of Christianity in general in the development of civilization. It’s true that Christians, individually and collectively, have committed many horrific sins, but, in summing up the past, we are simply often believing and repeating conclusions that come from historians and journalists hostile to religion in general and to Christianity in particular. The result is often worse than caricature – a comic book disguised as history.

Hart carefully looks at some of the charges, then turns on the light. Christians did not, he shows, burn the Library of Alexandria, or torture millions during the Inquisition, persecute Galileo, or wreak havoc across Europe during the Reformation in the name of religion. Christianity gave the world hospitals, modern science, and the moral framework to regard all as worthy of life. Hart even points out that it would not even be possible for contemporary promoters of atheism like Dawkins and Hitchens to make their arguments were it not for concepts of justice and fairness rooted in the “Christian Revolution.”

The primary focus of Hart’s book is the “Christian Revolution” – the social impact of a religion radically different than any other in the centuries when Christianity replaced paganism. Since the Enlightenment, pagan civilization has been eulogized as an era of wisdom, progress and scientific advance that was derailed by bigoted, sex-denying, book-hating Christians. Hart shows that, much as we owe to the ancient world, it was a culture of slavery, infanticide, and of contempt for the faceless men and women of the vast underclass. Christianity, “the only true revolution in history,” changed everything from the bottom up.
This is a book that I’ll be recommending to friends for years to come. Jim Forest

Christ after Communism:
Spiritual Authority and Its Transmission Today
by Fr. Stephen Headley
Orthodox Research Institute, 560 pp, $26

The resurrection of Orthodox Christianity in the post-Communist Russia after decades of persecution by an atheist regime remains one of the most remarkable stories of recent decades. A gifted scholar of religion in both eastern Asia and Russia, Fr. Stephen Headley (now rector of an Orthodox parish in Vezelay, France) provides a complex and sensitive portrait of Orthodoxy in Russia during the post-Soviet period drawn from his close relationship with several Moscow parishes and many in-depth interviews. He tells the story of Russian Christianity from within, with an eye for religious devotion, church reconstruction, the revival of iconography, and the remarkable vitality of religious expression in films. The result is a beautiful and informative book, a must for anyone interested in religious life in modern Russia and its lessons for Christians in other countries.
— JF

Hidden and Triumphant:
The Struggle to Save Russian Iconography
by Irina Yazykova
Paraclete Press, 194 pp, $27

Irina Yazykova’s book traces the history of iconography during the Soviet era. Her main concern is with the process of icon-making, an art passed down from master to student. How did this transmission occur in Russia when nearly all the living icon painters were persecuted, locked up or killed?

In the years before World War II, Maria Sokolova may have been the last remaining iconographer in the country. Having been fired as a schoolteacher for refusing to deliver a classroom lecture advocating atheism, she traveled across the country in search of boarded-up churches and monasteries in order to make copies of the ancient icons. “It is difficult,” writes the author, “to even imagine the courage … of this woman. … But when she saw her country in a state of moral and physical collapse, Maria Sokolova viewed it as her duty, and made it her personal mission.”
A major theme of the book is the complex relationship between the “canon,” the standard forms used in icons from time immemorial, and the force of living faith within a particular iconographer. Yazykova stresses the paradox that a slavish adherence to the canon can be lifeless, while too much personal intrusion turns an icon into a mere religious painting. Iconography is a spiritual discipline, and, like all spiritual disciplines, one in which “[Christ] must increase, but I must decrease.”

Mercy Without Borders
By Mark and Louise Zwick
Paulist Press, 228 pp, $20

The Zwicks present stories, from their time in El Salvador when death squads stalked the land to the streets of Houston where refugees and immigrants have fled over the last thirty years.

The Zwicks went to El Salvador to live with the poor, landed in the middle of a civil war, and then returned to the United States to begin Casa Juan Diego House of Hospitality in San Antonio, Texas, to receive refugees from the Central American wars and later immigrants from many countries.

In attempting to follow the Gospel in a particular historical situation, using the approach of Catholic Worker founders Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, they have listened to the stories of joy and sorrow, violence and benevolence, crosses and small miracles, told by men and women who have undertaken incredible journeys.
— JF

Beauty for Ashes: The Spiritual
Transformation of a Greek Community
By Stephen Lloyd-Moffett
St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 240 pp, $20

This is just the book to read for anyone who has given up on the church. It provides a portrait of a northeastern town in Greece, Preveza, where the history of corruption in the local church will strike readers as both scandalous and ordinary.  The book covers the religious and political history of the region from the time of the Apostle Paul to the arrival of Metropolitan Meletios in 1980. With great sensitivity, the author deals with the issue of sexual misconduct within the church, the restoration of the local church to spiritual health, and renewal of trust between church leaders and laity. He also provides a short biography of Meletios, a bishop who applied the ancient faith in a modern context to inspire social and religious change. The author writes: “For Meletios, the church is the place where the individual should feel most at home, for it is closest to one’s divine origin.”

This is a book for parish leaders, priests, prelates and anyone able to appreciate how a simple prayer of the heart can transform the church and change the minds of even its most cynical critics.
Ioannis Freeman

On the Neurobiology of Sin
by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo
Synaxis Press, 88 pp, $15 (Cnd)

This small book is intended to be controversial and provoke debate and discussion on some extremely important subjects.
In both Christianity and Islam, religion has fallen prey to fundamentalists and political demagogues. A major part of the collapse of Christianity in the West and the radicalization of Islam results from pre-occupation with superstitions and our disconnect from reality. For Christians, this entails dogmatizing the notion that mental illness is a demonic possession, making passions and “sin” into abstractions that somehow infect people like phantoms, insisting on black and white absolutes and over-dogmatizing the human condition. Both Islam and right-wing, fundamentalist Christians impose their political ideologies on their religion and end up with a religio-political ideology in place of a living faith. Seeking to dogmatize every mystery of the human person, and impose absolutes where none can exist, morality has collapsed into ideological moralism and so deadened the life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ among Christians, and turned ordinary Islamic citizens into violent murderers.

The book invites a closer look at the gap between destructive moralism and life affirming morality, between superstition and reality in the Christian life.
— JF

Creative Suffering and the Wounded Healer
by Byron J. Gaist
Orthodox Research Institute, 456 pp, $30

Gaist, an Orthodox psychotherapist living in Cyprus, has built a bridge between Orthodox Christian theology and Carl Jung’s analytical psychology. Most appealing about the book is that it neither diminishes Orthodox theology nor weakens Jung’s conceptual boundaries. Rather than interpreting spiritual experiences as psychology, Gaist builds a bridge out of similar beliefs about human experience shared by Orthodoxy and analytical psychology, something many other authors have been unable to construct due to their doubts about what is real. There are chapters on the meanings of suffering and passion, asceticism and the imagination, and dynamics of healing. This book should be read by Orthodox Confessors, spiritual counselors, psychotherapists, anyone interested in the Church Fathers, and people concerned about contemporary psychology when it comes to care of the soul. Ioannis Freeman

Why Forgive?
By Johann Christoph Arnold
Orbis Books, 232 pp
free download at:

In this book ordinary people tell astonishing stories of forgiveness. Why forgive? Each contributor has his or her own way of answering the question.

For example, Steven McDonald, a former policeman, tells of having been shot at close range by a teenager on a Harlem street back in 1986. “Before I knew what was happening, there was a deafening explosion, the muzzle flashed, and a bullet struck me above my right eye,” Steven recalls. He was left a quadriplegic, dependent on a mechanical ventilator.

A major element in his journey to forgiveness was the birth six months later of his son Conor.
“Conor’s birth,” McDonald writes, “was like a message from God that I should live, and live differently. And it was clear to me that I had to respond to that message. I prayed that I would be changed, that the person I was would be replaced by something new. That prayer was answered with a desire to forgive the young man who shot me. I wanted to free myself of all the negative, destructive emotions that his act of violence had unleashed in me: anger, bitterness and hatred. I needed to free myself of those emotions so that I could love my wife and our child and those around us.”

Other stories pertain to forgiveness and marriage, forgiving parents, and accepting responsibility while managing to forgive ourselves. This is an excellent book for discussion group use. Let the participants write their own accounts of forgiveness.
Ioannis Freeman

In Communion / Fall 2010 / issue 58