Saturday, February 23, 2008

Brother Ass

I got three really good Christmas presents from my husband this year. The first is an out-of-print book by Eugene Trubetskoi called Icons: Theology in Color. The second is a 4-CD collection of all the audio recordings of C. S. Lewis known to exist. The third is a super-awesome cell phone.

I used to own a phone the color of a construction worker's hat, and, indeed, I never saw one like it in the hands of anyone in a different profession. I do not dislike construction workers. They are simply not a group of people I would look to for fashion advice. And these days, I think, a woman's phone is as important a fashion accessory as perhaps, socks. Socks aren't a defining piece of the wardrobe, but on the occasions when they peek out from under the skirt or pants, a woman can be comfortable knowing they aren't construction-hat yellow.

I am able to download these CD recordings of Lewis’ onto my phone, and listen to them any time I choose. One of the selections is Lewis' audio presentation of The Four Loves. While something like the book, it is an independent presentation and not a verbatim-reading of the book. We have owned an audio-tape copy of this for almost 20 years, but it is an entirely new experience being able to listen to a digital version while waiting in the Little Caesar's drive-thru.

Anyway, Lent is near, and what Lewis says here about the body is entirely realistic and encouraging, if not specifically Orthodox.

There are three views of the body. To some it is a sack of dung, food for worms, a prison, filthy, shameful, never to be thought of except for the purpose of self-humiliation. That, oddly enough, is a common view among ancient Pagans. To others it is glorious. By it, rather than by his soul, man is godlike. Nudists, I suppose, think so. Thirdly, we have the view which Saint Frances expressed when he called his body, “Brother Ass.” All three, maybe, I’m not sure, are defensible, but Saint Frances for my money.

“Ass” is exquisitely right, because no one in his senses could either reverence or hate a donkey. It’s a useful, sturdy, lazy, obstinate, lovable, and infuriating animal; deserving now the stick and now a carrot [or barbeque]; at once pathetically and absurdly beautiful.

So the body. There’s no living with it unless one recognizes that part of its function in our lives is to play the role of buffoon…

And the body…would betray and frustrate us if this ceased to be so. It would be too clumsy an instrument for rendering love’s music…unless this very clumsiness could be felt as adding its own grotesque charm.

This is from part two, Eros.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Guest Post: The Miracle on Ice Remembered

One of the most memorable things from my childhood was watching on TV with my father the 1980 US Hockey team's games with the Soviets and Finland.

The games were on tape delay and I couldn't stay up that late, so each morning during their amazing run my father reported the wins from the previous night. This group of college guys beat Czechoslovakia, then Romania, then West Germany. With each day I saw my dad's interest and excitement wax and, in my own way, I perceived that more than the victory of a mere sports team inspired his mood.

But I was too young to fully grasp what was going on. I was allowed to stay up to see the game with the Soviets, and we even stayed home from church Sunday morning to see the team beat Finland for the gold medal.

Only in the past few years have I been able to understand what it all meant and this, ironically, has been aided by my being a Russian Orthodox priest.

I now pastor many people who lived under that oppressive Soviet regime. I baptize their children, I marry them, I counsel them, I visit them in the hospital, and I celebrate Liturgy for them and give them Communion. In other words, I am the conduit for them to practice that which was most important to them, the thing that was taken away from them, and the thing that, because of the societal shift of mood of the American people, was given back to them: their Faith.

The American people changed because of this collection of young hockey players and what they accomplished. Ronald Reagan was elected president in part, I believe, because of these kids. America was no longer able to suffer a “wimpy” president and his approach to a world in crisis. Reagan delivered an American victory in the Cold War, brought down that atheist regime, and helped return the Faith to a suffering people. And, all this, in my humble opinion, started in a small town in upstate New York twenty-eight years ago.

In the words of the announcer for that fateful game with the Soviets on February 22, 1980: “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”


Monday, February 18, 2008

Sky Music

When I was a kid I had a best friend up the street named DeeDee Delene Delene Lenise St**** (I'll omit her last name). As far as I can remember, I was told that her aunt's name was Delene, and her grandmother's name was Delene, so they gave her the two names Delene Delene to honor them both. Now that I'm older I think DeeDee was probably a nickname for one name, Delene, and Lenise was her middle name. Anyway she was my best-best friend.

My kids know all about DeeDee. They know about Jerry, my other best friend, who lived next door, had chickens, and called her parents by their first name, Tom & Vivian. They know how I was bitterly jealous of DeeDee and Jerry because they had long hair and my mother made me cut mine (not to mention, call her Mom).

We would spend hours and hours together outside after school and during the summer. We would sell lemonade and pretzels. We would play tag and hopscotch, make clover necklaces, pop tar-bubbles, search for four-leaf clovers, and walk door-to-door trying to sell flowers (which we picked from other people's yards) and week-old newspapers to our long-suffering neighbors. We would stare at the clouds for what seem now like hours at a time.

It thundered and rained all last night, and a little this morning. But the sun has had his face washed, and the day is now gloriously sunny, windy and almost warm. There are some fine clouds in the sky and on the horizon.

Mark took the boys to the zoo, and I went outside with the girls. They jumped on the trampoline and I lay on a towel watching the clouds. They reminded me of a kaleidoscope, how they churned and disappeared in spirals, loops, in every direction of space, but all in an Eastward movement together. I forgot how pretty they are.

The girls became interested, wondering whether I had fallen asleep. In turn they each came over, put on the sunglasses and lay down.

Margaret was the most enchanted. She said in a sweet voice, "Mom, I just made up a song about clouds."

"Really? Let's hear it."

She smacked her lips, took a deep breath, and began,


She stopped. She lifted the sunglasses and looked at me. "I can't remember the rest."

"So you just made up a song about clouds and you can only remember the first word?"

She burst into a fit of giggles.

"Great song Margaret."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Idylls of the Priest

Last week, the the phone rang. It was Paul.

Paul has a farm, makes award-winning muscadine wine, pickles okra, and raises all sorts of creatures. He also makes peach moonshine, but I don't think they give ribbons for that at the State Fair. He is, as far as I know, the archetypical country-boy--and an eight year-long convert to Russian Orthodoxy.

Since he has a good bit of land, Paul is in charge of our Holy Trash. These are the things used in the church that could still contain pieces of, or could have touched the Holy Things: candles, crumbs, plates, napkins--anything we just wouldn't want mingled with regular trash. So he burns it for us.

Paul: "Father Mark, we have a situation..."

Fr Mark: "What is it?"

Paul: "The goat ate the Holy Trash."

Fr Mark: "What?"

Paul: "I had the Holy Trash in the bed of the truck. I was going to haul it to the back of the farm to burn. The goat got in and ate it."

Fr Mark: "Well, Paul, you know what this means…

Paul: "What?"

Fr Mark: "It means you have to burn the goat."

The question on my mind, is whether in the almost 2000-year history of Orthodox Christianity something like this has happened before. It seems likely. It seems even likelier there is a canon somewhere about it.

NOTE: Paul didn't burn the goat. The priest was kidding.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Countdown Begins

Next Sunday is the Publican and the Pharisee, which is a day that makes every good Orthodox Christian say, “Lent—already?”

In order to get ready for Lent, I introduced broccoli into the macaroni & cheese I served the children for supper tonight. This is the year I am going to keep all the kids vegetarian for Lent.

It might take a gradual weaning for everyone, since meals where Mark is not in attendance I give the kids easy food: PBJ, bean burritos, mac & cheese, pizza, or chicken nuggets. It’s easier for me because I don’t try to impress or excite them with nuanced spice combinations, multiple sides, or fancy entrée’s.

In fact, I don’t think I am capable of that kind of art in the first place. One reason is the canvas on which I am plying my art would prefer a peanut-butter-mac-and-nugget-Pizza Hut flavor to the varied and subtle combinations I might sometimes try—often with negative or indifferent results.

I saw a commercial last night which illustrates my husband’s approach to the salad bar. There is a man walking in front of a salad bar with a weak-looking pile of lettuce on his plate and a sneer on his face. He perks up: “Ooo cheese!” as he grabs the tongs. His wife says, “Honey those are carrots.” He drops them as if he has suddenly discovered something slimy on the handle. He walks further, “BACON!” Then his wife hits him in the head—“I could have had a V8!”

This guy (like my own husband) probably would have preferred a coke.

But I shouldn’t complain since my husband has given me two things (next only to his love and income) which will last till death we part. The first one (not to be diminished by what any wife would consider a treasure with the second) is a conversion from vegetarianism to “carnivorism.”

After eighteen years of rice, beans, cheese, and tons of texturized vegetable protein in the shape of corn dogs, hamburgers, bacon, sausage patties and links, my husband decided to start eating real meat.

His life as a vegetarian didn't start this way. But for about fourteen years prior to his “conversion” he was the most reluctant vegetarian I had ever known. He would prefer any flavor or shape of TVP to pasta, beans, rice, or a crisp piece of vegetable or fruit.

He started to slip several years after our church began having barbeque fundraisers. He would eat a ceremonial barbeque sandwich which was a humorous highlight of the event. He then began secretly slipping out to local BBQ joints when he worked late on Thursday nights. After discovering that he couldn’t modify vegetarianism to include pork barbecue every Thursday, he realized that he was just delaying the inevitable.

So he said to me one day in 2007, “OK. I think it’s time I just started eating meat… it’ll be cheaper than fake meat and it’ll be easier on you and the kids.” A few weeks after his conversion to meat he gave me the second treasure of our marriage.

While this is perfectly applicable to his conversion from vegetables to meat, it is nonetheless preeminently quotable in every other realm of our lives together:

“Honey, I can’t believe for 18 years I was such a dumb ass.”

Thursday, February 7, 2008

More on Senator DeMint & the Marines

Here's more on Senator DeMint's efforts in Berkeley.

I do not believe a city that has turned its back on our country's finest deserves $2 million worth of pork-barrel projects. So, I will introduce legislation to revoke the funding.

Included in the $2 million worth of pork are some particularly wasteful projects.

One earmark provides gourmet organic lunches to schools in the Berkeley School District. While our Marines are making due with MREs of Sloppy Joe and Chili with Beans, the organization Chez Panisse is getting federal tax dollars to design meals that promote "environmental harmony." Chez Panisse's menu features "Comté cheese soufflé with mâche salad," "Meyer lemon éclairs with huckleberry coulis" and "Chicory salad with creamy anchovy vinaigrette and olive toast."

Are we to understand that the city that has been home to many of the country's most rich and famous cannot afford to pay for its own designer school lunches?

Another $975,000 earmark is for the Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service at U.C. Berkeley, which may include cataloging the papers of Congressman Robert Matsui. Is it really necessary to tax the paychecks of Marines so we can earmark nearly $1 million for a school that is already sitting on a $3.5 billion endowment?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Miss Potter

We watched a lovely movie tonight called "Miss Potter." It is about Beatrix Potter, my favorite children's book artist (N.C. Wyeth, Jessie Willcox Smith, Arnold Lobel, and Howard Pyle running closely behind). It stars Renee Zellweger and the guy who played young Obi Wan Kenobi in the most recent Star Wars trilogy.

During the first part of the movie there are scenes when Peter and Jemima come alive on the painted paper. All the chldren liked it, but Max and LMark became restless during scenes in which one could see the relationship between Beatrix and Norman beginning to blossom.

So we stopped the movie and decided to get everyone ready for bed.

As one of my wedding gifts I was given a boxed set of the Peter Rabbit series in little books. I put it away after Margaret tore the cover off the box. Over the years I would take them out, but some form of disrespect or indifference would force me to put them away again.

I pulled them out tonight because I wanted the children to understand that the magic of Peter Rabbit was in a book, not on the television. While Mark read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe to the girls, I showed the boys my beloved books. I read the tales of Benjamin Bunny, Two Bad Mice, and A Fierce Bad Rabbit.

I started Squirrel Nutkin too, but the boys became restless again. Then something fell out of the book and tapped my wrist.

I rustled around where I thought it fell (praying it was not a bug) and discovered a thin, faded-pink ribbon tied into a bow. I knew immediately what it was.

When Rose was a baby she didn't have any hair. She wasn't exactly bald, but her hair never wanted to grow in the places that would make a little baby girl (or in reality, any child or grown person) look cute. Not that she wasn't cute, she just had to rely on her face and fat belly to pull it off. During her first year of life, "Patchy and Bald" might be good words to describe her hair--or her head, depending on what region you're viewing.

Because we didn't discover her sex prior to her birth, we were well stocked with neutral colored clothes. Of course, people would always guess she was a boy. After that began to irritate me, I replaced the neutral outfits with pink, frilly dresses so there woudn't be any confusion.

After the first fifty people saw her in pink and still cried, "Oh what a cute little guy!" I decided to do them a favor. I began sticking bows on her head.

Nothing would stay because there was no hair on top. I didn't like headbands, so I opted for a homemade bow. I tied a little bow out of ribbon and stuck it to her head with toothpaste. It worked marvelously. Moreover it was cheaper than a regular infant headband, and gave her head a minty-fresh scent.

So I found this little bow (with dried toothpaste on the knot) and deposited it in a safer place than Squirrell Nutkin.

Friday, February 1, 2008

I Heart My Senator (the Other One)

DeMint to Berkeley: Support Our Marines or Lose Federal Funds

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) released the following statement in response to the decision by the City Council of Berkeley, California to evict the U.S. Marine Corps Recruiting Station from the city.

“This is a slap in the face to all brave service men and women and their families. The First Amendment gives the City of Berkeley the right to be idiotic, but from now on they should do it with their own money. If the city can’t show respect for the Marines that have fought, bled and died for their freedom, Berkeley should not be receiving special taxpayer funded handouts. I am currently drafting legislation to ensure that American taxpayers aren’t forced to pay for this insult by rescinding all of the earmarks for Berkeley in the Omnibus Appropriations bill, and to transfer the funds to the Marine Corps.”