Tuesday, November 04, 2008

More on a post 11/4 World

After posting, I thought: "How overplayed is this phrase?"

Turns out, not so much.

What Should Obama Do? points out that we are (hopefully) more farsighted in a post 11/4 world.

Kyle Pfister at Just Sayin' Is All chronicles the voting queue this morning as a step "toward a post 11/4 world."

In a Post 11/4 World...

A Lexis-Nexis search for the phrase “post 9/11 world” in all English-language print and broadcast transcript outlets returns 999 hits since September 11, 2001. That such a context-loaded phrase has become shorthand for the change in our lifestyle is obvious from within, but what does it mean from a perspective outside of that experience? We can point to various watershed moments in history after which the paradigm for normality shifts and “everything changes.” I believe that today, November 4, 2008 is another one of those days.

As a short preface, I should explain my position vis-à-vis the presumptive president-elect. I campaigned for Dennis Kucinich during this election as I did during the 2004 election. I have been vocal about my feelings that Barack Obama might make a good president someday, but not yet. I have worried that in order to get to where he is in as short a time as he did, that he must be in someone’s pocket. I’ve echoed concerns that an Obama presidency will certainly be more polished, but isn’t likely to be more transparent. I have spoken openly that its just as wrong to vote for Obama because he’s black as it is to vote against him because he’s black.

I did cast a ballot for Barack Obama, not because I like his policies or think that he’ll make necessary changes; in fact, I think that he’s not likely to be radical enough in changing our foreign policy writ large with the so-called “War on Terror” being a prime example of our folly nor will he go far enough in nationalizing health care to truly make such a system workable and affordable. Essentially, I voted for change. For the hope that if enough people cast ballots the way I did, that states like Texas can’t be presumed to vote one way or the other.

The Obama campaign has promised things like “change,” and “hope.” While what Obama means by these words isn’t exactly clear (especially since his stance on many issues is centrist, maintaining status quo). When I step back and look at this election as a referendum on race, however, these words do make a kind of sense. I think that they’ve resonated with black Americans as well, since the greatest fears and hope we have seem to revolve around Obama as a “first and only.” Though I would be quick to criticize someone whose only rationale in voting for Obama was race, I certainly see Obama’s racial identity as a value-added component of his presidency.

Given the recent history of presidential elections in this country, there is reasonable concern that a post 11/4 world will reinforce the state of racial affairs in the United States. Even if Dick Cheney hasn’t rigged all the voting machines and purges of registered voters fail to effectively disenfranchise black voters, there is significant buzz among white Americans that “we’re not ready for a black president.” This statement really has very little to do with any person in particular or black people in general, but about the mindset of the people who think and say such a thing. They mean, I think, to say that there’s no way that a black person is capable of holding and executing such a powerful and prestigious position as President of the United States of America. Such a thought causes so much cognitive dissonance in these folks that they are literally scared for their way of life. For good measure, the Republican machine has cultivated rumors about Obama’s citizenship, his religion, his attitude toward gays, and his ability to serve in the CIA or FBI as fodder for those Republican voters who are too sophisticated to be swayed by a racial argument. A post 11/4 world might very well mean a retrenchment for openly racist Americans who would view Obama’s defeat as a victory for the Lost Cause.

A post 11/4 world might also bring that ray of Hope that Obama preached to us. Yes, an Obama victory means that he will no doubt be considered a race representative, and that his gaffes will be attributed to some supposed defect of the black condition instead of his own foibles. But the opposite is also true. The inescapable presence of a black man in position as what has often been referred to as the “most powerful man in the world,” suggests that white folks will have to do daily battle with the little racist thoughts that are so pervasive as to constitute a sort of “background radiation.” For our part, seeing one of our own in the Oval Office gives a reason to hope against experience that sometimes the system will work for us. We can only get over so many times before it becomes the rule instead of the exception. Certainly the man down the street, the lady at your grocery checkstand, and the kid in your daughter’s classroom aren’t going to stop holding racist beliefs or making racist comments or viewing every black person differently in 11/5, but those beliefs and comments will be on notice.

Finally, what this contest is about is Change. Whether the post 11/4 world brings a resplendent victory for Obama or chilling defeat for racial progress, we will be forced to enter into a conversation about who we are as a nation (including who “we” encompasses), what we believe, and where we are going. The necessary prerequisite to that conversation is a common vocabulary, and that vocabulary requires a common experience. Up till now, it has been the peculiar prerogative of white privilege to deny the subjective experience of discrimination. Life after this election means that we have to examine why racism has been so persistent in the way that Americans think and act.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Former Student Coordinates Care Packages For Troops

For several years, Brad Blauser ’92 has been a shining example of the kind of selfless service that all Aggies should strive to emulate. As a civilian contractor in Iraq, Brad has coordinated the donation and delivery of care packages for troops, wheelchairs for disabled Iraqi kids, and study bibles for soldiers. The following is his latest request for assistance in sending care packages to the troops:

Here's a list of commonly requested items for care packages (feel free to deviate and get creative), and the address where to send the boxes:

Brad Blauser
DLS Corp
APO, AE 09342

1. Comfort foods! Twinkies, doughnuts, cupcakes, Little Debby snacks, sweets, no chocolates (they'll melt on the way over), other things off the snack aisle. Health foods go over well also with the athletic/health conscious crowd. Any liquids need to be in sealed zip-lock bags or we end up with soggy boxes.
2. Pictures of yourselves / your kids and a hand written note of encouragement to / kids drawings for the troops. This makes each box personal for each of them. Troops will stop and read the letters before they'll even check to see what's inside the box. Maybe even include a self-addressed pre-stamped envelope. BE SURE to include a return email address of the donor - you're much more likely to hear from them as mailing letters takes much more effort here than sending a thank you email.
3. DVDs of the top 10 movies at Blockbuster.
4. Packaged coffees – ground up.
5. For the ladies - if you're doing gender specific packages - anything from Bath and Body Works or someplace similar.
6. Blade replacements for the Gillette Mach II or Fusion razors.
7. White crew socks.
8. DEET pump spray repellants.
9. PX Gift Cards from AAFES.
10. Re-hydrating drink mixes to add flavor to bottled water.
11. New toothbrush (SOFT).
12. Long Distance Phone Cards.

Now's a good time to start organizing groups to gather funds and items to send care packages to the troops for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas. As the time gets nearer, I'll post the addresses of Chaplains / units in areas who will need them most. Contact me with questions or ideas if you'd like to run them by me!

For more information about Brad’s multiple missions and to get involved, visit the following links:

Invite WFIK to be your MySpace Friend!
Invite WFIK to be your Facebook Friend!
Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids
CNN Report (Article) on Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids
CNN Report (Video) on Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids
Study Bibles for Soldiers

Opposing the Bailout

Below is the text that I've sent to both my senators today:
Dear Senator,

Please do all in your power to oppose the Paulson-Bernanke bailout plan. I understand that there are arguments against the plan from all different sides: from Democrats who think the bill lacks enough regulation as well as from Republicans who are opposed to the expansion of our government as well as our debt. I identify as a Democratic Socialist, but think that the plan proffered does not establish safeguards against another crisis, nor does it give the taxpayers who will fund the bailout any share in a fiscal rebound.

Bad mortgages are only one part of a larger economic downturn, and issues such as the evaporation of industry and jobs and the high cost of healthcare need to be addressed as part of a comprehensive solution. The companies responsible for creating a financial disaster through insufficient vetting of borrowers and predatory lending practices should be held accountable and, if necessary, be allowed to fail. The American public needs an economic and cultural wake-up call. We need the long, painful process of a depression to re-learn fiscal responsibility, the value of strong industry led by empowered workers, and a sense of frugality but also a sense of generosity.

I hope that you will be proactive and passionate in your opposition to this legislation, as well as look for sound ways to guide our country through the financial crises yet to come. Thank you for your service!

Jonathan Kotinek

Sunday, September 14, 2008

No need to wait til 2009

Previously, I speculated that the changeover from analog to digital television signal next year might provide the richest opportunity for a breakdown of the consumer economy that keeps our (relatively) highly educated and highly mobile populace from proving Marx & Engels' thesis.

To recap quickly, the elimination of the "opiates" of our working-class populace (television, movies, fast food, consumer goods -- all had cheaply) would provide occasion for those people to evaluate their status vis-a-vis the persons for whom they work. Since ours has become a service industry based economy, the elimination on a significant scale of any of these commodities would also create a large number of jobless people (who are also presumably more dissatisfied with their position in life).

The massive damage caused this weekend by Hurricane Ike has been likened to the hurricane of 1900 that destroyed Galveston. While the casualty reports (so far) don't show a parallel (thank God!), one possible parallel has yet to be explored. At the time that it was destroyed, Galveston was poised to overtake New York as the nation's biggest port and richest city. Houston is currently the nation's fourth (or fifth, depending on your source) biggest city and was the only major U.S. city with a growing economy (LINK?) going into this weekend. Massive power outages, floodwater and wind damage, and displacement of people are likely to put a huge dent in that growth.

This kind of disaster, both in economic and human terms has just as much, if not more, potential to act as a watershed moment for the downfall of the American economy (and political system).

A good doomsday prophet always hopes to be proved wrong, and that is the case here (tongue firmly in cheek...I don't claim to be good nor a prophet). Be mindful and watchful if you can, and if you can't do anything else, pray for those affected by the disaster.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Fly High...Part II

After a month-long stint as a delivery driver for DoubleDaves in Northgate (where my mad cleaning skills from Freebirds were not appreciated...) I found a job at the University Police Department. I stayed at UPD until I finished my undergraduate degree. About a month before graduation, I ran into Pierre at the corner store by my house and he asked if I ever thought about coming back to Freebirds. I told him I would if he would give me an interesting opportunity, and that is how I came to work at the Freebirds corporate office at a time of great change.

The office was located in a small suite in a non-descript one-story building on Lincoln. Pierre brought me in as a Project Manager. Project Management was a new concept for me and Freebirds, so I got to build the position to suit me. Tom was in the office then as HR manager, and had built an incredible framework for Freebirds employees...book scholarships, training, regular opportunities to share suggestions. I learned about Gantt charts and watched Devon as he created the Freebirds brand from scratch (with a little magic from Corel). We tried (with limited success) to launch a Freebirds employee newspaper (the original title was "Bird Crap") and even tried to get it printed on news stock. I got to help Devon first find a place and then set up the mock-up of the Shepard Plaza store in a warehouse in north Bryan. It was serindipitious that the warehouse had tens of thousands of old soda crates; we used them to make the mock-up life size and three-dimensional.

I started developing my computer abilities during this stretch, too. I created the first internet to fax order system for the 'Bird, and got it set up with the help of Brian B. The big project that I had great hopes for and saw die on the vine was Bird TV. The concept was to put cameras in each store and send live feed of people waiting in line at one store to all other stores. Ironically enough, the project bogged down because the cables from the cameras to the computer were getting too much interference from electronic pollution in the store, and the cost of setting up DSL in each store was prohibitive. When I left the Project Manager position, I got to hire two people to do my job: one for operational projects and another for personnel projects.

A special memory from my time in the office was the development of a business plan. In developing the Freebirds plan, we referenced others, including Chipotle's, which referenced Freebirds as a model. We also, at that time, were dealing with a trade dress infringement suit with a little place in Dallas (across the street from what would become the first Dallas location at Lovers and Greenville).

I was HR manager for a short spell after that. I was there long enough to get moved into the new office building on Longmire. I instituted a policy of having a presence in every store, every day, and felt that I made a real difference. Before long, though, I was looking to get back to the operations side of things and work more closely with the great people I was seeing in the stores. The GM position at the Rock Prairie store opened up, and I jumped on the opportunity. It had been several years since I had been in the store, but I got caught up to speed quickly. The biggest challenge for me was learning the kitchen and paperwork expectations.

I inherited April as an Assistant GM. I was ready and willing to work with her, but she didn't like my management style (or something) and left not long after I got there. Her parting words to Crane and Craig were "have fun on your sinking ship, boys." I don't think either were too disappointed, however, since they both became Assistant GMs. I have to brag and say that the Rock Prairie store, at that time, was the best of all the stores. I had great morale...my store had the lowest turnover of all locations, and Freebirds turnover was about half of industry average in the first place. I demanded a very clean store and hard work, but felt that I gave a lot of opportunity to those who stepped up. I created a payscale that gave regular raises for skills acquired as well as time in service. Our food was the best quality too, thanks to Bob. People that made Rock Prairie worth working at: James, Craig, Erin, Bob, Derrick.

It was during my stint as GM that Pierre (or Alan?) brought in a brand consultant. I don't remember the guys name, only that he had us read The Flight of the Buffalo. That brand consultant was, I think, the beginning of the end. But, he did provoke a marketing challenge that gave each store a small budget (Crane did a music festival in our parking lot with ours) and solicited ideas for a company-wide strategy. Intrigued by the success that places like Joe's Crab Shack and In-and-Out Burger had with innuendo in their advertising, I mocked up a shirt with a burrito on the front and the words "Eat me." Our suggestion was that this shirt could be a customer loyalty reward. When I presented the idea in a group meeting, it got batted around a bit before I shouted out "Unwrap My Monster." If you've seen the shirt you know the rest is history.

I finally left Freebirds for the second time because I realized that my vision wasn't in sync with that of my superiors. I had bought into the promise of Freebirds, Alan's plans for growth, and expected that what we needed were well-trained highly dependable managers to go and grow these stores. I invested a lot in training, but still managed to average 15% on my bottom line. The Texas Avenue store was setting the standard at around 20%, so I wasn't cutting the mustard. My only regret is that I cashed out my ghost stock when I did, instead of holding on to it until Pierre sold the company last year.

All of which brings me back to my experience last night. A bright new sign advertising that "Tacos...are back" reminded me that I'll never eat my favorite Freebirds meal again: grilled steak tacos, nor my second favorite, a loaded quesadilla crispy from the butter on the grill. About 15 people walked in behind me, and the shift manager planted himself on the register, the grill guy retreated to the grill, and the runner started changing out tomatoes. The remaining three or four (!) rollers looked like they were in molassess. My server was friendly enough, but in sort of a generic way. When he ran out of sour cream on my first burrito, he kind of shook the gun once or twice, shrugged and asked if I wanted anything else. I explained that I'd like the rest of the sour cream portion, to which he made no reply but started to go roll up the burritto. Thankfully, he was an incredibly slow roller, and I was able to get his attention after calling his name four times and explaining that I was willing to wait for him to go get more sour cream since I'd also like it on my second burrito.

I know well enough that kids that work in food service don't get paid enough to care, but at one time Freebirds was enough of an experience that we worked hard anyway. It makes me sad to see it sink to mediocrity, if nowhere else at least in my mind, because it held forth such promise once. I used to make the comment that Freebirds and Chipotle were different like Bennigans and Chili's were different. They make basically the same food, but if you want a Monte Cristo, you don't go to Chili's. I fear that, in my heart at least, that analogy is broken on both sides now.

Fly High...Part I

I had Freebirds for dinner last night for the first time in a long while. The experience was disappointingly blase, and in ruminating on the visit and my time with Freebirds, I felt compelled to compose something of an ode to the 'Bird that was. This memory is dedicated to Tom Thweatt, who was with me at Freebirds during the zenith of the development of the culture. My apologies to Pierre, Alan, Charles, Burt, Chris...and any of the old guard who might take offense.

My Freebirds Story

Like most of the good things that have happened to me, my "career" at Freebirds was an accident. Conrad and I, on a rare, coincident day off from Discount Tire stopped into a very deserted Freebirds one July morning. Being the young, recent high school graduates that we were, we both ordered Super Monsters. I think that was the only Super Monster I ever finished at a single sitting. Before we left the store that morning, Barry had hired both of us, and we had both quit Discount Tire by the end of the week.

There are a number of great memories from that first semester working at the Bird. The Freebirds on Northgate was, at that time, the only Freebirds anywhere except for the Santa Barbara store. I learned most of my management style from Charles: work harder than anyone else, and never expect anyone to do something that they've not seen you do. I don't recall all the names of my trainers. Besides Charles, there were Louie and Teri...and one other that I completely failed to recognize when she showed up after a shift dressed to go out (Robin?). I tracked more for the front of the house, concentrating on becoming a "grill god," while Conrad picked up the special power of steak cutting. In those days we cut the steak from big briskets right in the store. I worked a catering event for a Halloween party at 3rd Floor Cantina not long after I started. That was a blast!

Before too long both Conrad and I were shift managers, and Lee had joined us at the apartment and at Freebirds by then and he was managing shifts as well before it was all said and done. I'd have to look at HR records to be clear on exactly when it all happened. I remember Nema being the GM of the store, but Barry was still around then too. The whole store was a great community both in and out of work. Many of us lived in small frame houses rented from Culpepper Realty (courtesy of Jim Elmquist) just north of campus. Pierre would sometimes drop in after closing and make tacos for his group of friends. I remember that when I was promoted to shift manager, Barry told me that I was the youngest and quickest to make it there and it happened because I "worked like I got paid more than I did."

One task I secretly relished was cleaning the fatigue mats. I'd load them up in the back of Barry's ancient white van (that had been purchased as surplus from the university), take two rolls of quarters, and take the mats to the car wash just northwest of the intersection of Villa Maria and Finfeather. I'd spray down the mats, scrub them with the soapy brush, and rinse them before loading them back in the van. It was a nasty, smelly job, but Barry told me that any leftover quarters were mine to keep, and that was how I paid for laundry. One glorious summer I got to be a personal assistant for Pierre, which meant that when I wasn't running errands, I got to bounce ideas around with him. The only other person that I've found as much creative synergy with in conversation is Blake Godkin.

There were great times and good friends at Freebirds then: Brandon, Christos, Allison, Conrad, Lee, Charles, Burt...so many. The first time I left Freebirds was just after the Texas Avenue store opened. I had helped collect bricks from the rubble of what had been Deware Field House and been part of cleaning them off in the field next to what was then Brazos Brewing Company (now Blue Baker). Pierre treated everyone that wanted one a brew. I wish I had taken him up on the offer. In November of 1997 the corporate office for Freebirds had started to take shape, and a Human Resource manager had been hired. Disappointed that I hadn't even been asked to interview, I asked Barry for some background. I had heard rumors that the position was being created and had indicated interest early the summer before. Barry told me that the hire had needed to take place quickly (it had happened while I was at Ft. Leonard Wood for BCT & AIT). Further, he said, I could expect not to see any further promotion so long as I had my military obligations. After telling Barry that he had violated Federal Law, I made arrangements to leave.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Be the Change...

Mahatma Ghandi, in the statement "Be the change you want to see in the world," echoed the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov who said, "Acquire peace and thousands around you will be saved." Few political leaders in the U.S. are doing as much as Dennis Kucinich to wage peace and call the Bush43 administration to account for the direction they've taken the country.

Rep. Kucinich is working to deliver one million signatures in support of his articles of impeachment by September 10. If you are so inclined, I hope that you'll sign on and do what you can to effect this change.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Up with Dennis...

Hello friends. I just watched Dennis Kucinich's speech "Up with America" from the DNC this past week. I still struggle to fathom that we can't see clear to think of this energetic, inspirational, and insightful man as "electable." The disgrace that he suffered at the hands of the media in collusion with the DNC is unconscionable...and yet he is the image of love stumping for the Dems.

This literally brought tears to my eyes. God bless you Dennis. I hope someday we can get this man and his vision into a position to move our country in the right direction, and I hope we do it before its too late.

Monday, August 04, 2008

More on Beijing 2008

Last month I commented on a Slate.com story about boycotting the Beijing 08 Olympic Games. This week I was directed to an editorial in April's Economist highlighting the spectacular failure of the IOC's "quiet diplomacy":

A DEVELOPING country gets the Olympic games as an acknowledgment of its new, exalted status. An authoritarian government, awash with money, exploits the chance to project a peaceful, progressive image. Critics of the regime use the games as a chance to demand more democracy and human rights. There are demonstrations, forcefully broken up.

This is the story, more or less, of the Beijing Olympics 2008—so far. But it also describes the run-up to the Mexico City Olympic games of 40 years ago. Then, the protests ended in a massacre, an awful sign of how far governments can go to protect a cherished sporting show.

In "honor" of the start of the 08 games I'm wearing this shirt by Thread Pit on Friday:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Be ye therefore perfect...

Does cross-posting something on my blog that I wrote for a TexAgs count as cheating? I hope not.

Anyhow, this grew out of the "Christians, why don't you believe in... thread, this will be a reference point for Orthodox Christian soteriology. This is an important topic for discussion, even among Apostolic traditions, since the definition of salvation and why we need it differs even between the East and West. Orthodox soteriology will also sound foreign to protestants who hold to sola fide. I encourage readers to engage all linked articles and post thoughtful questions and dialogue. If you want to start a thread about your faith tradition's theory of salvation, please be my guest. =)

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect
(Matt. 5:48)

...till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ

(Eph. 4:13)

...as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

(2 Pet. 1:3-4)

The Orthodox understanding of salvation is often called deification or theosis. St. Athanasius notes in his treatise On the Incarnation that “God became man that man might become god.” St. Gregory Palamas tells us that we are able to become by grace what God is by nature The Orthodox notion of salvation is not juridical; that is, it is not simply justification for guilt. Valeria A. Karras, points this out in her paper Beyond Justification: An Orthodox Perspective:

Robert Eno has pointed out the second generation of Christians, the Apostolic Fathers, “have been seen as presenting an almost total disappearance of the Pauline point of view.” A search of Greek patristic literature on the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae shows that, over a period of a couple of centuries that includes the theologically-rich fourth century, most Greek Fathers don’t talk much about dikaiosuvnh (“justification” or “righteousness”) except when exegeting a passage using that term. The striking exception is Gregory of Nyssa, the late fourth-century bishop who was younger brother to Basil of Caesarea, but, interestingly, when Gregory uses the term, it is almost always in the context of the true, Christian way of life, in other words, works of righteousness; neither Nyssa nor any other Eastern Father ever writes in terms of what Lutheranism calls “forensic justification” (some would claim that the mid-fourth century Alexandrian bishop Athanasius did, but we will return to this issue later).

The absence in Eastern Christianity of a soteriology in terms of forensic justification is serious because Orthodoxy believes not only in ecumenism across geographical space, but especially “ecumenism in time”, i.e., the need to be consistent with the theological tradition of the Church from the earliest centuries. Thus, the traditional Orthodox mind is immediately suspicious of biblical interpretations that have little or no root in the early life and theology of the Church; this is true in spades of particularly the forensic notion of justification, and of its consequent bifurcation of faith and works. Sola scriptura means little to the Orthodox, who as opposed to placing Scripture over the Church, have a full sense of Scripture’s crucial but interrelated place within the Church’s continuing life: the apostolic church communities which produced many of the books of the New Testament, the communities of the catholic Church which over a period of centuries determined which books circulating through various communities truly encapsulated the elements of the apostolic faith; the dogmas and Creed declared by the whole Church in response to the frequent controversies over the nature of the Trinity and of the theanthropos Jesus Christ, controversies which frequently arose precisely from dueling perspectives of which biblical texts were normative and of how those texts should be interpreted.

This of course does not mean that the Orthodox do not believe that each generation of Christians may receive new insights into Scripture, especially insights relevant in a given cultural context. However, it does mean that the new insights must remain consistent with earlier ones, and that one or two Pauline passages (and one specific interpretation of those passages) are not considered theologically normative – particularly as a foundation for a soteriological dogma – unless the early and continuing tradition of the Church show them consistently to have been viewed as such.

History is important in a second way. Because of its less juridical exegesis of Pauline soteriological statements, Eastern Christianity has never had anything approaching the kind of faith v. works controversies that have enveloped and (for both good and ill) theologically shaped the Christian West, whether one considers the late fourth-/early fifth-century Pelagian controversy or the 16th-century Protestant Reformation begun by Martin Luther. Rather, the East has maintained a somewhat distant and even puzzled attitude toward the theological polemics which have raged over justification in terms of faith or works.

The Orthodox notion of theosis is relational in that we become like God by communing with God, as was man’s created purpose. Mankind’s fall from grace was that Adam & Eve broke communion with God by eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and, rather than repenting and returning to --God, they persisted in sin—Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. God removed them from Paradise as a mercy since if they were to further disobey and eat of the Tree of Life they would become eternally sinful. It is instructive that the original sin was a distortion or perversion of created intent: mankind was created for communion with God, but rather than following God’s plan for theosis they partook of the tree to become “like God.”

The consequence of the broken communion and persistence in sin is that man became subject to Death. Christ effects our salvation by restoring communion in His person—fully man and fully God, and by destroying Death. He calls us to “be perfect” because He has made that perfection possible…not easy…but possible, through imitation of Him.

When the Son of God assumed our humanity in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, the process of our being renewed in God’s image and likeness was begun. Thus, those who are joined to Christ, through faith, in Holy Baptism begin a process of re-creation, being renewed in God’s image and likeness. We become, as St. Peter writes, “partakers of the divine nature” (1:4)

Because of the Incarnation of the Son of God, because the fullness of God has inhabited human flesh, being joined to Christ means that it is again possible to experience deification, the fulfillment of our human destiny. That is, through union with Christ, we become by grace what God is by nature—we “become children of God” (Jn 1:12).

“Deification” p. 1692, The Orthodox Study Bible, 2008, Thomas Nelson Publishers

With the Incarnation, God has assumed and glorified our flesh and has consecrated and sanctified our humanity. He has also given us the Holy Spirit. As we acquire more of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives, we become more like Christ, and we have the opportunity of being granted, in this life, illumination or glorification. When we speak of acquiring more of the Holy Spirit, it is in the sense of appropriating to a greater degree what has actually been given to us already by God. We acquire more of what we are more able to receive. God the Holy Spirit remains ever constant.

Theosis: Partaking of the Divine Nature by Mark Shuttleworth.

All of this is intended to be worked out in “fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), and while we are corporately saved (2 Pet. 3:9), I’m called to worry about my own shortcomings and simply love everyone else. Fr. Matthew puts a nice twist on the mote:log injunction (Matt 7:5) by telling me to keep my eyes on my own plate. And while he is speaking specifically about fasting, the concept maps nicely onto thinking of myself as “chief among sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Comparative Religion

I wrote this in response to a thread at TexAgs.com asking whether or not the resident Christians had studied other faith traditions. Please forgive any inaccuracies I may have written below, as my study has been self-initiated and is, in all likelihood, incomplete.

In-between my formative years when my family attended first an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church (Worth Baptist, Ft. Worth), then Southern Baptist churches (Matthew Road, Grand Prairie; First Baptist, Euless) and my conversion to Orthodox Christianity, I did study Buddhism and Taoism. Growing up, I went to my best friend's synagogue (Congregation Beth Shalom, Arlington). In college I had gone from my Baptist roots (First Baptist, Bryan) to non-denominational (Grace Baptist, College Station). When my then fiance and I started talking about churches we visited churches based on her background as well (St. Thomas Episcopal, College Station). We ended up halfway between our faith backgrounds (A&M United Methodist, College Station).

Our pastor there, Buddy Walker, a Baptist convert himself, helped me start to understand issues such as infant baptism. When I brought my thoughts about Buddhism to him, he also made the point that the same Christ that said to love our enemies probably wouldn't have much problem with most of what Buddha said.

I have in the last two years done fairly extensive reading on Baha'i and Islam. What I have found in all of my reading and participation is that there seems to be something innate in most people that draws them to be part of something bigger than themselves. I concur with prof. gradoo that I'm likely to have approached all of my study through the lens of some basic "Christian" assumptions, but I've also shattered some of those assumptions along the way (e.g. OSAS, Sola Scriptura).

The assumptions that I have left are that we are intentionally created (though I don't take a dogmatic position on how or when); that Christ is God; and that our calling is to love one another. Besides Christianity, Buddhism & Taosim come the closest to providing a framework for understanding my experience. The difference for me between these two and Christ is that instead of the person being subsumed in an everythingness of Being, in Christianity, the person becomes an integral part of unity in God, but retains his personhood. For a great meditation on Lao Tzu as a pre-Christian prophet (ala Aristotle) see Christ the Eternal Tao by Fr. Damascene Christensen.

Coming to Orthodox Christianity, I struggled with some concepts (e.g. veneration of icons, the role of the Theotokos, confession) more than others that were more familiar in my upbringing (e.g. the Trinity). What I discovered is that while there is a wealth of texts and traditions in Christianity, so too there are a wealth in other faith traditions as well. This is, finally, what I think faith is. I decided that I would trust Christ's word that he had established a temporal church and that it would persist (Matt. 16:18) and be led by God into all Truth (John 16:13). Along with trusting that Christ’s church existed and persisted to our times and had preserved Christ’s teachings intact and unaltered, I had to trust that those things which I didn’t cognitively understand would be made clear.

With respect to the comparative religion, I don’t disbelieve Judaism but think that Orthodox Christianity is a fulfillment of the Law and Prophets in Christ (and Judaism post-Javneh has a flavor of damage control for the “Christian problem”). Islam is a radical monotheistic reaction to Christianity. Baha’i is a universalist reformation of Islam. Buddhism/Taoism, like many pre-Christian religions (including Native American religion and Zoroastrianism) reveal mystical truths which are fully revealed in Christ. I’ve not studied Confucianism, Hinduism, Jainism, or Sikhism in any depth past casual reading. Confucianism is more of an system of ethics than a faith, and as such isn’t necessarily at odds with Christianity. In the case of Hinduism and Jainism, I think that multiple gods and/or ancestor worship can be influenced by evil spirits and/or point to later, more fully revealed truths in Christianity. Sikhism also points to a “Universal God,” which is beyond human ken…also has the ability to be interpreted as fulfilled through the Trinitarian understanding we have of God as uncreated and outside of time.

The bottom line to comparative religion for me is a truth that I discovered in Orthodoxy (it certainly wasn’t an aspect of the Evangelism Explosion training I received in the Baptist Church) is that I am called to focus on my own salvation, to work that out in “fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12) and not worry about what someone else is or isn’t doing, but to love them as icons of Christ.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Field of Drama

I suppose I could have just as easily titled this as the third part of the decline of American power.

Ever wonder why we have evolved into a nation of overweight, uptight, litigious video gamers? Here's a good example of why:

After three weeks of clearing brush and poison ivy, scrounging up plywood and green paint, digging holes and pouring concrete, Vincent, Justin and about a dozen friends did manage to build it — a tree-shaded Wiffle ball version of Fenway Park complete with a 12-foot-tall green monster in center field, American flag by the left-field foul pole and colorful signs for Taco Bell Frutista Freezes.

But, alas, they had no idea just who would come — youthful Wiffle ball players, yes, but also angry neighbors and their lawyer, the police, the town nuisance officer and tree warden and other officials in all shapes and sizes. It turns out that one kid’s field of dreams is an adult’s dangerous nuisance, liability nightmare, inappropriate usurpation of green space, unpermitted special use or drag on property values, and their Wiffle-ball Fenway has become the talk of Greenwich and a suburban Rorschach test about youthful summers past and present.

On the one hand we have examples of creativity, industriousness, and exercise. On the other worry about property value, noise, and liability. Which nation do you want to be?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Orthodox Perspective on Ordaining Women Priests

With a nod to the folks over at Vox Nova, who made me think hard enough to write something down.

The Anglican Church has voted to approve the ordination of female bishops, further intensifying rifts caused by the ordination of women to the priesthood.

The teaching I’ve received from my spiritual father, Fr. Matthew, on the matter of a female priesthood goes like this:

On either side of the beautiful gates there is an icon of Christ (right) and the Theotokos (left).

As icons, they represent the spiritual and physical reality of actual persons, and as such reflect the glory of God. They are also icons of perfect manhood and womanhood; that is, the highest calling that any man can aspire to is that of priest, and the highest calling any woman can aspire to is that of mother. Not all men will be priests and not all women will be mothers, but certainly no man will ever be a woman (plastic surgery and hormone supplements notwithstanding) and no woman will ever be a priest because these we are specifically created for different functions.

Fr. Alister Anderson has written a response to the Anglican decision to ordain women in the priesthood and his comments echo the teaching I related above:

We Christians who advocate only a male priesthood as being the only valid apostolic ministry of the Church do not in any way deny that women have equal rights and opportunities to work. We believe that women should be paid commensurately with men for their labor and skill. But certain leaders deprecate the male priesthood as being a bastion of male chauvinism and a violation of civil and equal rights for women. Nonsense! The Church is not a secular institution governed by democratic processes. The Church is a spiritual organism and not just a secular organization. She is a spiritual and supernatural monarchy with God as Her king and supreme judge. We Orthodox Christians declare that while men and women are equal in the eyes of God and under the secular law, they are very different in their human nature because God has created them for different functions. A bishop, priest and deacon have a specific function within the family of the Church. To ordain women to the sacred ministry would only confuse and destroy that function. In terms of human function a woman can no more be a priest than a man can be a mother.

The full article

Saturday, July 05, 2008

At long last...an update

It seems people (my dad) check this site and notice when I don't post. Since last I posted, the world has continued to move. Marking such progress, its of special note that the Northwest Passage, long sought at great cost, is open for the first time in recorded history.

I've discovered that there are more Kotineks out there! Hi Lauren, if you're reading.

While I voted for Ron Paul in the primary, it doesn't mean that I've permanently crossed the aisle. I held out hope that if there were a Republican candidate with good plans for foreign policy, trade, and health care it would force the remaining Democratic candidate field into more substantial positions.

Anyhow, hope you enjoy reading the updates and I hope I get a chance to write again soon!

Night Falls on Lake Somerville, July 4, 2008

A Medidation on the Decline of American Power, Part II

All of this doomsday scenario making leads us back to the 08 elections. Is there the possibility of change?

From my perspective, there are three very basic areas in which we need radical shift if we are to stave off the worst of the possibilities I've described:

1) Develop a coherent, workable foreign policy. Isolationism can't work. Jingoism paints targets on our collective chest. Removing ourselves as the coordinators/occupying force in Iraq and Afghanistan would be a good start (replacing with U.N. command is a possibility).

2) Develop a fair trade policy. Bring production back to the states, encourage heirloom craftsmanship and buying locally. Use (what little) economic power we have to mandate fair wages and humane working and living conditions for workers abroad (this ought to have an beneficent effect on immigration as well). Don't trade with countries that won't play ball. Don't give personal rights to corporations.

3) Establish universal, centralized health care for all people in the USA.

I recognize that all three of these represent radical shift from the current state of affairs. I also think that we're at a tipping point economically, politically, and militarily. We don't have the luxury of making a slow U-turn. Unfortunately, neither of the presumptive major party candidates has the political will to pull off this kind of sea-change. A McCain presidency is a vote for status quo. Obama will make a good president someday, but not yet (and he agrees with me...waiting on the video from LaueOfficer). I don't think you get to where Sen. Obama is, as fast as he did without being in somebody's pocket, and that scares me (incidentally, I read an article in a magazine aboard a flight to Denver last year that cited specifically whose pocket he's in...but I can find no reference to this now). What scares me most is that someone with pockets that big isn't likely to be interested in much of a shift from business as usual either.

A Medidation on the Decline of American Power, Part I

For quite some time now (perhaps since the Democratic National Convention in July 2004) I've believed that the future of our country will, quite literally, ride on the outcome of the 2008 elections. In 2003, former president Bill Clinton noted, "We need to be creating a world that we would like to live in when we're not the biggest power on the block." We have not, in the interim, been exhibiting the sort of humility that President Clinton suggested. To the contrary, we've eroded the trust of our allies and sometime collaborators worldwide, our credit practices have caused the dollar to plummet, and our military--though still the most advanced in the world--is stretched dreadfully thin and cannot sustain the current deployments indefinitely. Domestically, we have sat idly by while watching as our elected representatives have traded in on our fears and expanded their powers; as Ben Franklin observes, perhaps we deserve neither liberty nor safety. Short-sighted attempts to solve the energy crisis with ethanol will make food and fuel prices continue to rise. We're scared of our food, and rightly so, because we don't know its provenance.

Most Americans are literate on some level. More than fifty percent of our economy is based in the service industries. Ubiquitous technologies such as internet and cell phones have made easier migration from family homesteads. Many Americans work to have enough money to have a place to stay and a way to get to work, and we don't seem worried about not saving. We are, in summary, creating a highly-educated, highly-mobile, poorly-compensated underclass. Marx only said that religion was the opiate of the masses because he had never seen TV.

The curious thing about critics of Marxism is that they focus on the failures of Communist states. Though I am decidedly not a Marxist scholar, my brief reading of his and Engels principles suggests that the theory hinges on the dialectical historical process resulting in a shift in the balance of power. Put simply, Marx and Engels weren't creating a business plan so much as making predictions of the future. The ironic part of all of this is that the only place in the world (so far) that has the necessary conditions to play out the Marxist experiment is right here in the good ol' USA. One need not imagine too hard to come up with a scenario that could mobilize a restless underclass: a severe disruption in the activities that take our minds off of our lives, or a steep spike in the cost of food and fuel, which leads to less travel, less eating out, less flying...what made up over half of our economy again? And those nations we bullied, think they'll watch from the sidelines as our country falls apart?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Boycott Beijing 2008?

Anne Applebaum at Slate.com has the right idea, why not boycott the 2008 Olympics?

Unfortunately, the American people have, as a whole, lost the stomach for prosecuting righteousness if it means getting our own hands dirty. Or, more to the point, not getting that Coke at McDonalds for lunch, paying for it with your Visa, driving there in your V-Dub, taking pictures of the kids' soccer game with your Kodak, letting them wear Addidas, or making dinner with your GE appliances. Or doing without a whole host of integral products and services. We wouldn't want of offend anyone now, would we? Yes, we really are that lazy.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Kucinich out of Race, I'm Changing Boats

Effective on Rep. Kucinich's official withdrawal from the 2008 presidential race tomorrow, I will be shifting my monetary, volunteer, and grassroots organizational support to Republican candidate Ron Paul.

The media blackout of Rep. Kucinich in the 2008 contest and the DNC complicity in a system that seeks to anoint an early frontrunner and channel all donations through the DNC is an abhorrent corruption of the democratic process. We Americans should all be ashamed of our system.

The big three issues in this race are our rampant militarism, health care, and the economy, and all three are inextricably linked. As was the case in 2004, Rep. Kucinich was the only Democratic candidate who could stand on a record of not funding the war, providing for an immediate withdrawal of troops, a universal not-for-profit health care system, and an economic policy that privileges working people, not corporations.

I have thought for some time now that the viability of the United States in the next decade would be determined by whether or not the 2008 election would be a real turning point, and none of the democratic "frontrunners" provide hope for substantive change. I'm not interested in changing the name of who is in power in Washington; I'm interested in changing who is in power in Washington, and that needs to be the American people. Since Rep. Kucinich can no longer carry that flag in the presidential race, I'm willing to be blind to party labels and support a man who has that vision.