Saturday, March 21, 2015

Freefall


I have been told that skydiving is an awesome, exhilarating sport.  After one takes care to obtain the proper equipment, and then ensures that the proper equipment actually works, one boards an airplane that takes off and climbs to some dizzying height.  The door opens and one leaps into the freedom of freefall.  The vast vistas, the rush of wind.  One exults in the rush, the speed, the drama.  From way up, though one is plunging faster and faster, the lack of perspective gives the appearance of floating.  Just about everyone who makes the leap enjoys this sensation of freefall.  But at a certain point, reality intrudes, and a decision is made to avoid the consequences of allowing gravity to pull one unimpeded towards an unpleasant meeting with the uprushing earth.  One pulls the cord.  A parachute deploys.  Descent slows from a plummet to a float.  With legs bent to absorb the shock, we touch down and hope our ride isn’t too far away.


Full disclosure.  I’ve never jumped from a plane. Or a balloon. I have, in a moment of sheer insanity, jumped off a gazillion feet high diving platform at an outdoor pool near my cousins’ house in Louisville, KY.  At some point during that fateful morning, I concluded that such a jump was a good idea.  However when I started climbing the stairs and then the very long ladder to the top, and kept getting higher and higher, I began to have second thoughts.  Peer pressure and teenaged stupidity took me to the top of the platform.  The view was awesome.  The pool looked like a tiny rectangle of blue with tiny figures looking up, waving their arms and shouting things I could not hear.  The urge to freak out was overwhelming.  I don’t know how long I stood on top of that platform looking down at that swimming pool – time screeched to a crawl.  Eventually the embarrassment of taking too long overruled whatever shred of common sense I had left.  I walked to the edge.  Closed my eyes.  Stepped off.


It took a surprisingly long time to fall what seemed to me at least 100 feet.  I remember thinking that the whistling noise one heard when Wile E Coyote invariably fell from the top of an impossibly high canyon when one of his pursuits of the road runner went inevitably awry – that’s the sound I heard, the wind shrieking in my ears.  But in less time than it takes to read this sentence, I smacked the water hard, as one is wont to do from this sort of height.  I can only thank God that I had the presence of mind to keep my legs together.  It’s sort of surprising that they allowed young people like me to leap off of diving towers like that.  It sort of surprises me that anyone thought it would be a good idea to build such a diving tower anywhere, much less at a swimming pool open to the public.  But as has been said about baseball fields in corn patches, if you build it, they – idiots like me – will come.


With a mixture of trepidation and astonishment, I have watched, in my lifetime, the arbiters of this American culture that I call home, board the moral equivalent of an airplane, ascend to the awesome, dizzying heights of moral ‘freedom’, all the while explaining with increasing vehemence just how hateful those people are for presuming to tell us how to live our lives.  Our culture is airborne now, circling higher and higher.  Many on board are intoxicated by the freedom of living without restraints, in this case, without seatbelts and, more significantly, parachutes.  The side door is flung open, and one by one all of the passengers hurl themselves into the absolute freedom of moral freefall.


During my lifetime, here has been a real revolution in American morality in general, and in sexual morality in particular.  Sex between young people during high school or college has become expected.  Living together before making a long term commitment to one another has become the norm.  Masturbation seems all but universal.  Access to pornography, once restricted to a risky visit to the bad side of town, is now one click away on one’s computer or phone or tablet 24/7 at a location of one’s choosing.  Adultery elicits a yawn from the wider culture (unless the perpetrator is a minister or a politician, thus making the real offense to be hypocrisy).  Homosexuality has gone from being a criminalized offense to being celebrated by the media, affirmed by the wider culture.  The more liberal Christian denominations, always about 15 years behind the cultural curve, are lining up to demonstrate their bona fides by saying ‘yes’ to ‘gay’ clergy, ‘yes’ to homosexual marriage, and no to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.


The philosophical justification behind this increasing climate change in morality has been relativism.  Relativism, of course, had been a stream of philosophical discussion since the 19th century. It was being discussed in the humanities classes I took in college.  Indeed, relativism was already being used as a justification for the avant-garde morality of some of my peers and instructors, who viewed themselves as the heirs of the cultural breakthroughs of the 1960s.  The majority in the wider culture, however, dismissed this tiny intellectual elite as moral reprobates, while continuing to send their children to be educated in their institutions of higher learning.  But what the majority culture failed to comprehend was just how corrosive an acid relativism would prove to the strands that held 20th century American morality together.


The acid of relativism is the simple idea that there is no such thing as absolute truth, but that right and wrong are relative, depending on the situation, the circumstances and the context.  This means that no one is in a position to judge another person as being ‘wrong’.  Starting with the universities and the arts and media communities, this acid began eating away at the seemingly impregnable fortresses of cultural morality in America.  For most of our nation’s history, and even further back into its colonial past, there had been consensus on what was right and what was wrong when it came to sexual morality.  It was assumed by nearly everyone that marriage between a man and a woman constituted the right context for sexual relations and for raising children.  There were, of course, plenty of individuals who made decisions to behave outside these boundaries.  But the fact that there were hypocrites (people who acknowledged the norms but flaunted them) or counter-cultural deviants did not change the reality of what the wider culture’s considered to be ‘normal’ sexual behavior.  Words such as ‘adultery’, ‘fornication’ and ‘sodomy’, among others, described behaviors that fell outside what was considered normal and conducive to healthy relationships and thus healthy society.  And just as aberrant sexual behavior did not alter that there was a normative context for sex, just because there were marriages that failed did not alter the fact that there was a normative context in which to raise children and regulate sexual relations.  The clincher for American morality was that this wasn’t just society’s norm, it was also the morality prescribed by God himself in the Christian religion of the majority, both Protestant and Catholic.  Since the majority of Americans were Christians, adopting God’s morality as their own made perfect sense.  The Bible provided a blueprint for relationships in general, and for sexual morality in particular.  And if God himself has shown us how we are to live and relate to one another, ignoring his commands would be akin to us deciding we were going to ignore the natural law of gravity.  Trouble would result accordingly. This was the world into which I was born and the moral context in which I grew up.


America today is a very different place, morally, than the world in which I became an adult, much less the America of the 19th, 18th and 17th centuries.  The rapidity of these fundamental changes in sexual morality has been breathtaking.  But what is perhaps most astonishing is the speed in which the Christian morality that defined four hundred years of the American social contract has simply collapsed.  The supporters of moral libertarianism have seemingly won a stunning come-from-behind victory.  The present rash of court decisions in favor of gay marriage and against discrimination are simply a victory lap for the culture’s purveyors of the new morality.  But what they and almost every other person on the current cultural bandwagon are not comprehending is that while relativism is extraordinarily effective at demolishing foundations of culture, it is by definition incapable of sustaining the coherent positive morality necessary to maintain a viable substitute.  In other words, we have witnessed the moment when our culture has leaped out of the plane.  In the name of freedom and the validity of everyone’s (except the ruling) morality, we have succeeded in throwing off every restraint controlling sexual morality (with the exception of a few, which won’t last long).  We are witnessing the giddy feelings that accompany the thrill of freefall.  Those driving these changes and celebrating the overthrow of the Christian underpinnings of our culture think that they have set themselves and our culture free to be ourselves.  But what they do not fathom is that the culture cannot survive the corrosion of its foundations.  As William Butler Yeats observed:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned,
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
(‘The Second Coming’, 1919)

Just this past week, multimillionaire gay fashion designers Dolce and Gabbana gave an interview to an Italian fashion magazine that set off a firestorm in the upper echelons of our emerging culture:

‘We oppose gay adoptions,’ they say, ‘The only family is the traditional one. No chemical offsprings and rented uterus: life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed.’ He said, ‘You are born to a mother and a father – or at least that’s how it should be.  I call children of chemistry, synthetic children.  Rent uterus, semen chosen from a catalogue.’  Stefano Gabbana added, ‘The family is not a fad.  In it there is a supernatural sense of belonging.’  In an interview in 2006, Gabbana revealed in another Italian magazine that he had approached a woman to be the mother of his baby but said he struggled with the idea.  ‘I am opposed to the idea of a child growing up with two gay parents,’ he said.  ‘A child needs a mother and a father.  I could not imagine my childhood without my mother.  I also believe that it is cruel to take a baby away from it’s mother.’ (http://m.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-31907007)


Elton John, the father of two no doubt extremely well-adjusted children he acquired through the services of a laboratory, blew his hairpiece: On Sunday he wrote on Instagram: ‘How dare you refer to my beautiful children as “synthetic”.’  ‘And shame on you for wagging your judgmental little fingers at IVF – a miracle that has allowed legions of loving people, both straight and gay, to fulfill their dream of having children.  Your archaic thinking is out of step with the times, just like your fashions.’ Elton says he’s never going to wear Dolce & Gabbana again.  Because they are bastard people. And it’s not just Elton John.  Courtney Love Cobain tweeted, ‘Just rounded up all my Dolce & Gabanna pieces.  I want to burn them. I’m just beyond words and emotions.  Boycott! senseless bigotry.’

Dreher, with some restraint, comments:  

‘So let me get this straight: Courtney Love is shocked beyond the ability to feel or articulate anything because two Italian gay guys say that children need a mother and a father?  And she’s prepared to burn – yes, burn – her extremely expensive D&G attire? Gosh, I wonder what she did with her John Galliano Frocks after the alcoholic courturier ranted in public about his mad crush on Hitler?  Granted, sympathizing with Nazism is not as bad as supporting the traditional family.’

This is what freefall looks like.  After undoing all the restraints, it’s all lovely.  But what if one discovers that the person over there wants to do it a different way, a way that you find offensive.  How does one stop them?  Mr. John and Ms. Love, for all their self-righteous fuming, have no moral ground on which to stand to criticize D&G’s support of the traditional family, or against anyone else’s behavior, for that matter.  The same critique they have leveled against the former American cultural majority can now be leveled against them.  Relativism reveals this attempt at moral imperialism as hypocrisy.  All that’s left is outrage.  And outrage is a response that has become all too familiar in this age of social media. But while outrage may impress and motivate the first time or two it’s wielded as a weapon by the twitterati, it wears like a designer dress that’s been seen one time too many.  One can only affect nuclear outrage so many times before it begins to seem a wee bit out of proportion.



A life without restraints sounds so appealing.  A life without troubling guilt.  A life where I can be the person I want to be.  A life free from someone else passing judgment on me.  A life without the spectre of consequences.  The great problem with the cul de sac turned into by our culture is that it works only if I am the only person on the planet.  If another person living the same free life makes choices that discomfit me or other people, who is anybody to judge?  There is no moral ground on which to make such judgments.  The gay couple who sues the Christian baker for denying their request that she bake for their wedding reception even though she feels it violates her sense of morality is making just such a moral non sequitor.  Insisting that the members of the wider culture accept one’s own choices without passing judgment while refusing to extend the same acceptance to another minority for the choices she is making is simply hypocrisy, and their subsequent media and legal actions are harassment pure and simple.  There is no moral case to be made.  It’s intimidation by outrage and lawsuit, which is another way of saying these men are bullies.

The wind is whistling in our ears as we experience our new found freedom from morality.  We are reaping our elite’s carefully cultivated garden of relativity.  The 360 vistas of moral liberty are as stunning as we were told they would be.  But nobody talked about the uprushing earth in our late-night dorm room talks.  Nor does anybody seem to have any idea what to do about whatever unpleasant consequences this might portend.  Now that they have what they think they want, ‘consequences’ are the last thing anyone in this crowd wants to think about.  None of the media talking heads, none of the bloggers, none of the article writers, none of the tweeters wants to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm for the new day by forecasting anything but sunny springtime weather.  Like modern day Marie Antoinettes, the new lords of our American culture want desperately to have their cake and eat it too.


I wish I were just an observer, watching as our culture leaps out of the plane and experiences the inexorable reality of gravity, falling into the void of our new relativistic presuppositions.  But it’s my culture, too, along with everyone else.  Having won the culture wars and vanquished the long-time Christian consensus that defined our society for so long, our new masters are taking us all with them.  I just don’t think any of them have thought through… the consequences.



Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Devil, the Demons, and the Scandalized American Media

Amanda Marcotte has written an article for Slate.com entitled ‘Why the Fringe Fundamentalist Belief in Demonic Possession has Real-Life Dangers’.  If one was looking for examples of how much pejorative flashing-red-light verbiage one could put in a sentence, this would rank close to the top.  Her choice of a picture of Pat Robertson just below the title goes far towards completing the circuit of associating traditional Christianity with utter loopiness.  What follows is a series of accounts of so –called Christians doing awful things to other people and blaming it on the existence of demons or the devil.  ‘All this may seem too outrageous to believe,’ writes Marcotte, ‘but the sad fact of the matter is that there are many pockets of evangelical Christianity that believe that bad or sinful behavior is caused by demons literally possessing or oppressing people and therefore need to be exorcised.’  Marcotte’s strategy is that of guilt by association – all Christians who believe in a personal devil and in the activity of demons are, by association, just as dangerous as the crazy people and extreme examples she cites as her evidence.  It’s a rather crude attempt at literary shaming, intended to put all Christians in their place, or in this case, in their marginalized discredited fundamentalist box.

Marcotte's caption to this picture in her article:
Pat Robertson has been vocal about his belief that people can be possessed by demons
Yes, I'm sure it's shocking, if not sensationalist, to discover that there are conservative Christians who are mentally unbalanced and who say and do outrageous things.  But I'm guessing that there is a comparable percentage of people from a secularist perspective prone to do and say similar outrageous things.  This is a symptom of our common humanity, not of being a 'fringe' and thus discredited religious minority.  Marcotte's attempt to discredit 'Fundamentalist' Christians because of their belief in demonic possession reveals more about her attitude towards Christianity than it sheds light on the particular beliefs of some marginalized (by her) 'fringe' group.  I can only assume that she simply isn't aware that almost all Christians (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Pentecostal) for almost all of Christian history, beginning with Jesus Himself, have believed in the reality of personalized evil.  This is not just a case of intellectual snobbery or bigotry on Marcotte's part, it's actually a reflection of a significant amount of sheer ignorance, smack in the middle of a topic she is presuming to lecture the rest of us about.  Just because a very large segment of the population doesn't share one's secularist presuppositions doesn't give one the right to subject them to ridicule by association.  I'm pretty certain she would not appreciate it if the same tactics were being used on her.  It rather exposes the fact that, at least in this case, while she appears to know exactly what she wants to say, she doesn't appear to have a clear grasp on what it is she is talking about.

Assumptions that seem to inform Marcotte and others in her circle.

What Marcotte and I can agree on is that there are a lot of ignorant people out there who take swags of what they heard at church or saw on TV and scraps of what they read online here or heard from friends there and construct the world-view in which they live.  This is done, for the most part, without thinking critically about the ideas they are embracing as true.  Religious people do this all the time, but - and here is the surprise - so do non-religious people.  Non-religious people are just as prone to credulity as those who profess religion.  What Marcotte seems to imply, and where I disagree with the whole thrust of her article, is that if an idiot who professes to be religious says or does something injudicious, then the religion itself must be the problem.  And while I have observed this level of prejudice against Christians on Slate.com before and have come to accept that when it comes to reporting on these sorts of issues this website is more concerned with creating propaganda than it is with wrestling deeply with issues, I have not gone the next step and impugned all journalism because this particular journalist refuses to acknowledge that she wears the rose-colored glasses of a particular secularist world-view and assumes, rather blithely, that she sees clearly and can speak for and to everyone. 

Jesus dealt with the devil

I believe in the devil and in the demons.  I believe this because my Church, over a long history, has experienced these things to be real.  I believe this because my Lord, Jesus Christ, confronted the reality of the devil and the demons again and again during the course of his ministry.  And I believe this because the evil that is being experienced today by so many people in so many places seems more than the sum of its parts.  And I believe this because I have witnessed, when praying for someone, the terrible presence of a power that was seeking the destruction of the person for whom we were praying.  I’ve been asked on a number of occasions in the classes I’ve taught in Ethiopia and Kenya – ‘Why don’t people in the West experience the reality of the spiritual world the way we do?’  My only answer is that the devil and the demons may show their power to cow people into serving them over here in Ethiopia and Kenya, but in the West, they don’t need to do much of anything.  The culture does such a good job of marginalizing and ridiculing and discrediting Christianity and making people content with lies, why would the devil and the demons want to step in and cause a useless distraction?

Jesus dealt with demons

The Apostle Paul urges Christians to ‘Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.’ (Ephesians 6:11-12)  The Apostle Peter warns, ‘Be sober, be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brothers and sisters throughout the world.’ (1 Peter 5:8-9)




It’s only been in recent years and amongst the secularized Western elite that questions have ever been raised as to the reality of personalized evil.  For the entirety of Christian history, Christians have seen their calling as advancing the gospel of salvation into the territory of human hearts controlled by the evil one.  The devil is seen as a usurper who destroys those whom he deceives.  The Bible reveals that God did not abandon the captives to their fate but launched the rescue mission we now describe as the incarnation, the passion, the resurrection and the ascension of Christ.  Jesus has broken the devil’s power and the Church is called to occupy his former territory in Jesus’ name.  It’s an awesome calling, and one that too many in Christ’s Church have forgotten.

But the devil is not going without a fight, and it is terrible and bloody and ugly.  The saints all bear witness to this fight, and it continues to the present day.  In the face of such anti-Christian screed produced by the likes of Marcotte, it would be good to remind ourselves of what a clear-eyed Christian perspective on the evil one actually looks like.  St. Anthony the Great, the Coptic monk who lived for 105 years, was known for his particularly violent battles with the demons.  This is what he says in a letter about the demons:

St. Anthony the Great
I want you to know, my children, that I cease not to pray to God for you night and day, that He may open for you the eyes of your hearts to see the many hidden malignities which the evil spirits pour upon us daily.  I want God to give you a heart of knowledge and a spirit of discernment, that you may be able to offer your hearts as a pure sacrifice before the Father, in great holiness, without blemish.  Truly my children, they envy us at all times, with their evil counsel, and hidden persecution, and subtle malice, and spirit of seduction, and their blasphemous thoughts, and their hardening of heart, and their many griefs which they bring upon us at every hour, and the faintings which they make our heart to faint daily, and all the anger and mutual slander which they teach us, and the self-justifications in what we do, and the judgments which they set in our hearts, causing us…to judge our fellow…and the contempt which they set in our hearts by pride, when we are hard-hearted and despise each other, when we are bitter against each other with our hard words, grieving at every hour, accusing each other and not ourselves, thinking that our toil is from our fellows, sitting in judgment on what appears outwardly, while the robber is all within our house [i.e. the devil is in us]; and the disputes and divisions wherein we dispute against each other until we establish our own way, to appear justified in the face of each other. 
St. John Climacus' Ladder of Divine Ascent
The evil spirits make us jealous for works which we are not able to accomplish, and cause us to faint in tasks in which we are engaged, and which are profitable for us.  They make us laugh when it is time for weeping and weep when it is time for laughter, and simply turn us aside at every time from the right way…  But when they fill our hearts with these deceits, and we feed on them and they become our food, then God is patient with us and He comes to us to bring us back again…  Therefore weary not of praying for the goodness of the Father, if perchance His help may come upon you, that you may teach yourselves to know what is right… 

In truth, my children, I tell you that every person who delights in his own will, and is subdued to his own thoughts, and takes up the things sown in his own heart, and rejoices in them, and supposes in his heart that these are some great chosen mystery and justifies himself in what he does – the soul of such a man is a lair of evil spirits, counseling him to evil, and his body a store of evil mysteries which it hides in itself: and over such a one the demons have great power, because he has not dishonored  them before all men… 
St Marina the Great
For they know that our perdition is from our neighbor, and our life also from our neighbor….  For this cause, therefore, he who sins against his neighbor sins against himself, and he who does evil to his neighbor does evil to himself; and he who does good to his neighbor does good to himself….  Therefore, let us rouse up God in ourselves by support of one another, and deliver ourselves to death for our souls and for each other; and if we do this, we shall be manifesting the very substance of God’s compassion for us.  Let us not be lovers of ourselves so as not to become subject to the power of evil spirits.

St. Anthony, Letter VI, quoted in Thomas Hopko, The Lenten Spring (Crestwood, NY:  St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1983), 77-79.


And so closing our circle: Yes, Amanda Marcotte brings with lurid force the stunning revelation that there are some certifiably loopy people out there.  And some of them are Christians.  Shocking, I know.  And wonderfully distracting from what turns out to be the real issue.  That there is evil, and there are demons, whose raison d'etre is our destruction.  But what may surprise is that their context is not abstract; rather their context is relational.  Hell will result from our relationship with our neighbor, says Anthony; as will salvation.  It’s there that the devil intrigues and the demons play. And while the means of our deception and destruction may be legion, the preferred method of the hour, at least in my experience, is simply that of being right in one’s own eyes.  Works every time. (Even on Slate). Sadly.

As Jesus Himself taught us to pray: 
Deliver us from [the] evil [one].

St. George

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Getting from Here to There - A Progress Report

Dear Friends and Partners,

Well, it’s March in Virginia, and snow from yesterday’s (this past Thursday's) storm limns the branches while the tires of my car crunch the ice on the road in the bright sunshine of this 10 degree morning.

It sure was pretty.
But this is usually what happens around here when it snows, for some strange reason.
I remember thinking this might pass for normal when I lived in Massachusetts thirty years ago.  But Virginia?  I even saw a pair of good ole boys ice fishing in the middle of a nearby lake.  Ok, if this was Minnesota I could understand.  But Virginia?

Ice fishing is becoming quite the popular sport here in central Virginia.

As many of you know, Virginia is something of a foreign land for me.  Since 2008 Kenya was my home, and prior to that Ethiopia from 2000.  When I came here nearly two years ago, I was facing many challenges.  Although, many hopes and dreams died that year, God had other plans for me.

Though I have often felt like a wanderer this past year-and-a-half, I can hardly call Virginia a wilderness.  I have been blessed with a wonderful Church community – a place where I can rest and heal and grow.  I’ve been blessed with new friends, as well as some old friends who have stood with me when I thought I was going crazy.  And I’ve been blessed with enough work to pay my bills, help pay for my daughter’s upcoming wedding and cover an unexpectedly steep tax bill.  But most astonishing to me, I’ve been blessed with a way to go back ‘home’ to Nairobi.  His Eminence Makarios, the Archbishop of Kenya has invited me to return to Kenya and teach in the Makarios III Patriarchal Orthodox Seminary in Nairobi.  And the Orthodox Christian Mission Center has accepted me as one of their missionary candidates, enabling me to raise support so that this call might become a reality.

Since November, I have been working to raise the two years of support I need to return.  Through the generous response of many individuals and several parishes, I can now account for 76% of what I need (up from 67% just last week!).  This figure amazes me, since I hardly knew any American Orthodox Christians when I came here twenty-two months ago.  So I must first thank God for His goodness towards me through His people here in my adoptive home.

But 24% remains to be raised, and this seems daunting to me.  Towards this end I have given presentations at three churches, and in the coming weeks, I will be speaking at another four parishes.  And while I am grateful for whatever offering may be taken or for one-time gifts that might be give, what I really need is for individuals and parishes to become a partner with me in this ministry, who will commit to monthly financial support and regular prayer support.  I already have individuals who are giving $200/month, $150/month, $100/month and $50/month, and some parishes who have put me in their budget for $150/month or more.  If I am to make it back to Kenya and to my work training the new generation of leaders for the Church there, this is the kind of support I really need. 

May I ask you to pray and ask God if He wants you on my support team?  You may not have ever taken on a financial and prayer ministry like this and may be cautious of committing yourself.  Or you may already be supporting another ministry or missionary.  The important thing is to be a good steward of what God has entrusted to you, and to do with it what He wants you to do.

Not Virginia in March, but OCMC HQ in St. Augustine, FL

If you want to join my support team, you can start right now by going to the OCMC website and clicking on the ‘Support’ button at the bottom of my page:
Or if you email me, I’ll be glad to send you a support envelope that you can mail in to OCMC: jwblack@ocmc.org .

I have not lacked for opportunities to speak about my dreams of returning to Kenya.  A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed for the Orthodox Christian Network internet radio program ‘Come Receive the Light’.  You can listen to my interview here, starting at minute 11:00 - http://myocn.net/working-missionary/
And last week, my priest and I were interviewed on local television about a lecture series our Church is sponsoring on Christianity in Africa.  You can watch that three minute interview here:  http://www.newsplex.com/featuredat5/jayjamesonfaith/headlines/Jay-James-on-Faith-Christianity-in-Africa-294437751.html
You can also read my blog ‘Onesimus’ at: http://onesimusredivivus.blogspot.com/ or friend me on Facebook (Bill Black).

My recent lecture at UVA on the Surprising Origins of Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa

So please continue to pray for me, that God would continue to use this time of my ‘exile’ for repentance and healing.  But also pray that the remaining amount of my support would be raised.  Specifically, pray for my upcoming visits to these parishes, that God would raise up supporters and partners for the work in Nairobi:
Sunday, March 15 at St Mary Orthodox Church in Falls Church, VA
Saturday and Sunday, April 25-26 at Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Linthicum, MD
Sunday, May 3 at St Luke Orthodox Church in McLean, VA
Sunday, May 10 at St. Basil the Great Orthodox Church in Hampton, VA
I still have openings on March 22, April 5 And April 19 if your parish is looking for a missionary to support!

May God bless us as we together seek to respond to Jesus’ call on our lives and walk in repentance.


Bill

My Church choir on a road trip to a Church in the Great Rift Valley to sing at a wedding!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Grits - Everything You Need to Know

I have my father to thank for this.  God only knows where he came across it.

Be still, my heart!  You can have some after Lent :-) 

What are Grits?
Some folks believe grits are grown on bushes and are harvested by very small people shaking the bushes after spreading sheets around them.  Many people think they are made from ground up bits of white corn.  These are lies spread by Communists and terrorists.  Nothing as good as Grits can be made from corn.  Research suggests that the mysterious Manna that God rained down upon the Israelites during their time in the Sinai Desert was most likely Grits.  Critics disagree, stating that there is no record of biscuits, butter, salt, or red eye gravy raining down from the sky at the same time, and that God would not punish his people by forcing them to eat Grits without these key ingredients.

How Grits are formed
Grits are formed deep underground under intense heat and pressure.  It takes over 1000 years to form a single Grit.  Most of the world’s Grit mines are in Georgia and are guarded day and night by armed guards and attack dogs.  Harvesting the Grit is a  dangerous occupation, and many Grit miners lose their lives each year so that Grits can continue to be served morning after morning for breakfast – not that having Grits for lunch and dinner is out of the question.

Yankees have attempted to create a synthetic Grits.  They call them Cream of Wheat.  As far as we can tell, the key ingredients of Cream of Wheat are Elmer’s Glue and shredded Styrofoam.  These synthetic grits have also been shown to cause nausea, and can leave you unable to have children.

Historical Grits
As mentioned earlier, the first known mention of the Grits was by the ancient Israelites in the Sinai Desert.  After that, Grits were not heard from for another 1000 years.  Grits were used during this time only during secret religious ceremonies, and were kept from the public.  The next mention of Grits was found amidst the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii in a woman’s personal diary discovered in the seat of an old sedan.  The woman’s name was Herculania Jemimana, who was known as Aunt Jemima to her friends.

The Ten Commandments of Grits
I.  Thou shalt not put syrup on thy Grits
II. Thou shalt not eat thy Grits with a spoon or knife       
III. Thou shalt not eat Cream of Wheat and call it Grits, for this is blasphemy
IV. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s Grits
V. Thou shalt use only Salt, Butter and Red Eye Gravy as toppings for thy Grits
VI. Thou shalt not eat Instant Grits
VII. Thou shalt not put ketchup on thy Grits
VIII. Thou shalt not put margarine on thy Grits
IX. Thou shalt not eat toast with thy Grits, only Biscuits made from scratch
X. Thou shalt eat grits on the Sabbath for this is manna from heaven.

How to Cook Grits
For one serving of Grits:
Boil 1.5 cups of water with salt and a little butter.   
Add 5 Tbsp of Grits.
Reduce to a simmer and allow the Grits to soak up the water.
When a pencil stuck into the Grits stands alone, they are done.
That’s all there is to cooking Grits.

How to Make Red Eye Gravy
Fry salt cured country ham in cast-iron skillet.
Remove the ham when done and add coffee to the gravy.
Simmer for several minutes.
Great on grits and biscuits.

How to Eat Grits
Immediately after removing your grits from the stove top, add a generous portion of butter or red eye gravy.  Do NOT use low-fat butter.  The butter should cause the Grits to turn a wondrous shade of yellow.  Hold a banana or a yellow rain slicker next to your Grits; if the colors match, you have the right amount of butter.  In lieu of butter, pour a generous helping of red eye gravy on your Grits. There should be some left for sopping up with your biscuits.  Use biscuits made from scratch.  Never ever substitute canned or store-bought biscuits for the real thing because they can cause cancer, tooth decay and impotence.  Next, add salt.  The correct ratio of Grit to Salt is 10:1.  Therefore for every 10 grits, you should have 1 grain of salt.  Now begin eating your Grits.  Always use a fork, never a spoon, to eat Grits.  Your Grits should be thick enough so they do not run through the tines of the fork.  The correct beverage to serve with Grits is black coffee. DO NOT use cream or, heaven forbid, Skim Milk.  Your grits should rarely be eaten in a bowl because Yankees will think it’s Cream of Wheat.

Ways to Eat Leftover Grits
Leftover Grits are extremely rare and may only be a rumor.  Spread them in the bottom of a casserole dish, Cover and place them in the refrigerator overnight.  The Grits will congeal into a gelatinous mass.  Next morning, slice the Grits into squares and fry them in ½” cooking oil and butter until they turn a golden brown.  Many people are tempted to pour syrup onto Grits served this way.  This is, of course, unacceptable but delicious.

Blessing Before Eating Grits
May the Lord bless these Grits,
May Yankees never get the recipe,
May I eat Grits each day while living,
And may I die whilst eating Grits.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

'Perhaps you have never met a bishop before.'

I am reading John McGuckin's Saint Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2001), which I commend.  I am learning much about the fraught relationship between St. Gregory and St. Basil (I thought these guys were saints!  But - surprise!- it turns out, they are in many ways like us.)

McGuckin recounts a remarkable incident in St. Basil's life, after he had become the bishop of Caesarea.  The Arian emperor Valens was making a progress through Cappadocia, one of the aims of which was to examine the theology of the many bishops there and replace those of Nicene persuasion with respect to the divinity and humanity of Christ with Arians.  St. Basil was ordered to meet with the emperors chief interrogator in the matter, the Prefect Modestus.  McGuckin, following St. Gregory's account of the event, picks up the story from here:

The Prefect 'roared like a lion' but Basil was like a martyr unflinching in his trial, as Gregory paints him.  He was accused of 'not honoring the religion of the emperor,' and answered that if he followed the Arian tradition he would be guilty of worshiping a creature.  Gregory depicts Basil before Modestus' tribunal as if he were a martyr from the old times confessing his faith before a persecuting pagan magistrate.  The more the official 'seethes and rages' the more Basil replies with calmness and superior dignity, as Christ did to the servant of the High Priest when he too was under the duress of arrest.  Basil is threatened with punishments for his insolence: confiscation, exile, torture, even death.  All of these things lay within the power of the Prefect, but Basil enjoyed the bold freedom of a confessor.  The famous encounter deserves a retelling:

'None of these things can hurt me,' Basil replied.  'How can that be true?' said the Prefect.  Basil said to him: 'It is because confiscation holds no threat for a man who owns nothing unless you want to have these few threadbare rags, and a few books which represent my whole sub stance.  As for exile I do not know the meaning of it since no place can confine me, nor do I have any place that I can call my own, either where I live now or anywhere else where I might be exiled.  All belongs to God and I am merely a passing guest enjoying his hospitality.  As for torture how can I suffer that since I barely have a body any longer?  Unless you mean the right to inflict the first stroke, of course, for this alone is in your power.  But death would be a welcome friend as far as I am concerned for it would send me to God, and for him alone I live, and order my existence, and for him I have died to the most part, and towards him I have long been hurrying.'  The Prefect was struck with amazement.  He said, 'No man to this day has ever spoken to me like this, with such boldness.' 'Perhaps you have never met a bishop before?' said Basil.
From St. Gregory, Oration 43.49-51, Patrologiae Graecae, ed. J.P. Migne, 36: 560-561.
John McGuckin, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, 182-183.

May God raise up such shepherds for His Churches in our day.