Reflections on the various dimensions of feminine vocation from liturgical homemaking and child rearing to education and the spiritual life.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

On the Occassion of My Son's First Nameday

"Now she conceived again and bore a son, and said, 'Now I will give thanks to the Lord.' Therefore she called his name Judah." (Genesis 29:35, Orthodox Study Bible).
Dear Jude,
Today is your first nameday, the day we remember your namesake whose feast the Church in the West celebrates every year on this day.* And so, I am writing to tell you all about your name.

We named you Jude, which is another form of the name Judah derived from the Hebrew word for praise or thanksgiving. There are at least three men with a version of the Judah/Judas/Jude name mentioned in the Bible and they all have something to teach us.

The first is Judah, Jacob and Leah's fourth son named in the quotation above. Judah is the brother who convinced the others to sell Joseph the dreamer into bondage rather than kill him (Gen. 37:26-27). Later he repented of the treachery entirely and offered to give himself over to slavery in exchange for Joseph's beloved brother Benjamin. In the intervening years, Judah was not very lady-wise (Tamar!), but, as the Bard has said, all's well that ends well!

And so it was Judah, the fourth son, who received the patriarchal blessing from Jacob who bypassed the older three because of their iniquities. In this way, Judah became predominant among the twelve tribes of Israel; from his tribe came the Lion, the Root of David, who prevails and overcomes (Rev. 5:5).
"Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise; [. . . ] The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from his loins, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the expectation of the nations" (Gen. 49:8a, 10)

In the New Testament, beside Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, we find Jude Thaddaeus, the faithful disciple and apostle, and we find the epistle of Jude.

The Jude who authored the New Testament book bearing his name is the brother of James the Just (v.1), who in turn authored the epistle of James and presided at the first ecumenical council in Acts 15:13. (James the Just is not to be confused with James the son of Zebedee). James and Jude are both called "brothers" of our Lord Jesus as they were his kinsmen, usually thought to be legal cousins through Joseph.

In his epistle, Saint Jude the brother of Christ, exhorts his readers "to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (v. 3b) and to reject the heretical teachers who had "crept in" to the Church and become hidden reefs "in your love feasts" (v.12). While his brief letter is hotly polemical, Jude's advice to the faithful is not to confront the false teachers with strong words or deeds but rather to "remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ," to "build yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit" and to "Keep yourselves in the love of God" (v. 20, 21). Love and obedience to God as truly revealed in Christ and his apostles is Saint Jude's prescription against falsehood and his road map for salvation.

While both western and eastern liturgical traditions celebrate the Apostle Jude and Jude, the author of the last general epistle, as one and the same person, biblical scholars point to textual evidence suggesting they were really two separate individuals (see Jude v. 17).

Very little is known of Saint Jude the Apostle, but we are given a small glimpse of him in the Gospel story itself. We find it in the heart of Saint John's Gospel, in the extended telling of the Last Supper communion of Jesus and his disciples in the upper room.

In this last Passover feast before his passion, Jesus, in a most corporeal and intimate way, gives himself to "His own who were in the world," whom "having loved [. . .] He loved them to the end" (John 13:1). Christ, the pre-eternal Word of God, washes his disciples' feet, gives them his own body and blood in the appearance of bread and wine, and reclines with them at the table disclosing the very heart of God to them in the inaugural mystical and eucharistic "love feast." And so it is, as during the pillow talk of this intimate exchange, that Saint Jude's voice is heard in conversation with his Lord:
          "Whoever hears my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him."
          Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, "But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?"
          Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me." (John 14:21-24)
At this pre-passion point in the story, Saint Jude, along with all the other disciples, surely expected Christ to establish an earthly messianic kingdom. Here we see Jude asking how Christ could fail to manifest himself to the world in such a case. Perhaps he also wondered why Christ would withhold his salvation and glory from some while giving it to others.

Jude, my son, these are questions with which you, too, may struggle from time to time. I know I do. It is easy to want Christ to change our outward circumstances, to meet our "felt needs," to improve our earthly situation. It is also easy to struggle with the evil and desolation we see in the world and desire everyone to see and know the intimate love of Christ which we experience in communion with Him. How could God exclude any or allow any to be lost?

When we read John's narrative, it seems on one level as if Christ ignores Jude's question. Yet, we see in the both the repetition and differentiation of His reply the simple but profound answer: Christ's kingdom is not of this world; it is established in the interior castle, that is, in every believer's heart who individually chooses to love and obey the Savior.

Without doubt God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4). It is equally sure that He does not demand our love without first giving us His; "We love, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Christ demonstrates this chronology by first washing the disciples' feet and breaking bread with them. Then He spells out the relationship of His love to ours in His "new commandment" to love "as I have loved you" (John 14:11). It is this new commandment that is foremost when Christ urges his disciples to demonstrate their love for Him through obedience.

While there is a hard lesson is Christ's response to Saint Jude, namely, that not everyone will accept Christ's love nor choose to love and obey Him in return, the real revelation here is that the Father, Himself, will "come to him" who receives Christ, and the triune Godhead will "make our home with him." Many do not comprehend or receive the Light that shines in darkness, but for those who receive the Light, they themselves become the very abode of God.

Saint Jude understood and embodied Christ's response to his Last Supper question. Pious tradition tells us that Saint Jude went, along with Saint Simon, another of the twelve, to preach the gospel in Mesopotamia, Arabia, Idumea, and Syria, and that Jude was martyred in Beirut around 80 A.D.

Saint Jude so opened himself to the indwelling love of God that, incarnating Christ's Messianic Kingdom, he poured himself out in love and obedience to his Savior proclaiming Light to those in darkness, seeking the salvation of all.

This is your namesake, my son. And this is my prayer for you today as we remember and honor your patron, Saint Jude:

I pray that you, like Saint Jude the Apostle, will so open yourself to the inebriating love of God that you, too, embodying Christ's Kingdom, will pour yourself out in love and obedience to our Lord, sacrificially serving others and tirelessly witnessing to Christ's grace and truth.

I pray that, like Saint Jude the brother of our Lord, you will "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints [. . .] praying in the Holy Spirit" and "keeping yourself in the love of God."

I pray also that, like Judah the patriarch, you shall make repentance your friend and remember your obligation to brother, to lady, and to Lord.

I pray that as your name is so you shall be: perpetually giving Eucharistic thanks and praise to the Lord; for in so doing, you shall, like all the faithful Judes of Scripture, prevail and overcome, teaching the nations obedience, bearing the very Lawgiver in your soul.


Saint Jude, pray for us that we may be made worthy to join you at Christ's mystical banquet, bearing the Son in our souls, perpetually giving thanks to the Lord our God!


*Our Eastern Rite brethren commemorate St. Jude on June 19, while we Western rite folk commemorate Saints Jude and Simon together on October 28.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

More About Early Language Acquisition

I don't think it is controversial to acknowledge that the Unites States is way behind Europe, Canada, and other developed countries in teaching and learning world (or "foreign") languages. One major way we go wrong is by leaving out world language education until the high school years.

There is a plethora of research verifying the observation that second (and third, etc.) language acquisition in the early elementary grades carries clear multifaceted benefit for students and society. Here are few general points summarized from the research:

Students who begin learning a second language early, namely, by third grade, show greater learning proficiency across subject areas and disciplines, and especially in basic English-language skills, because language learning enhances cognitive development overall and because literacy and thinking skills transfer from one language to another. Students also gain exposure to other cultures and people groups. Additionally, young students are ripe for language learning as research indicates the greatest plasticity in children's brains before the age of ten. (See Lipton 2003.*)

Society benefits from a multi-lingual populace, not only from the enhanced cognitive development and appropriate cultural sensitivity of multi-lingual individuals, but also from the advantages accrued to business and national security. Those who wish to advance the national good through government service in areas such as intelligence, diplomacy, or the armed forces can meet an acute, chronic need by acquiring second language proficiency, especially in certain "less commonly taught languages" (LCTLs). (See Malone, Rifkin, Christian, & Johnson, 2005.)

Minority groups also benefit when their mother tongue is preserved. Preserving such heritage languages seems similar to preserving fine art or archeological artifacts. As mentioned in the previous post, Greek is the special heritage group of the Christian Church, as are Hebrew and Latin.

Language is one of the highest and most complex of man's creative productions in which he images his Creator, the pre-existent Word. How will you incorporate secondary language development in your child's education?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Greek: The Language of Our Birthright

As Christians, we have our own heritage languages to preserve, the languages of Scripture and of the Church Fathers and saints, which are not simply artifacts but are living witnesses to Divine Revelation. When we lose our ability to access the original texts of the divinely-inspired authors, we lose our birthright as a community.

It seems that, even among pastors and clergy, fewer and fewer are acquiring and maintaining fluency in biblical languages and integrating such knowledge with their ministry in meaningful ways. Who then is left to create, maintain, and update our English translations? How do we as a faithful lay community participate in the preservation of this most sacred revelation and provide accountability to the seminarians and scholars who hand us translations for adoption?

Our primary heritage languages in the Church are Hebrew, Greek, and, in the West, Latin. Latin instruction, although perhaps not as strong as previously, has an established history in American education and continues to linger in private and classical schools.

However, I would argue, that especially for Orthodox Christians, Greek should be given priority because it is the language of the New Testament but also of the Septuagint, which the Orthodox Church considers a divinely inspired translation. Thus, you get both Old and New Testaments with one language, not to mention the early Church and Byzantine Fathers. Hebrew then, is important but not as essential as Greek.

Learning the Greek of the Septuagint, of the New Testament, of the Early Church and Byzantine Fathers is a huge task to attempt as an adult on the side. (I know, I've tried.) Most of us are too limited in terms of time, energy, and interest to even think of such an undertaking. But this is not the case for school children in the primary grades.

When given an interesting curricular program and an enthusiastic teacher, what first-grader wouldn't thoroughly enjoy the challenge and thrill of cracking and practicing a foreign language? For the well-loved and un-jaded school child (sans learning disability), the world is her oyster and learning is truly a delight—as God intended it to be. She is rightly uninhibited by adult concerns; she has no financial or time constraints to keep her from her seasonal vocation, namely, to discover the world and enjoy it. It is the parent-teacher's job to provide the structured and unstructured learning opportunities and encourage discovery and enjoyment in a fun and loving environment free from shame an inappropriate compulsion.

I don't think public or even very many private schools are about to start offering Kione or Byzantine Greek, so consider this one more compelling reason to homeschool!

Once students have tackled Greek and/or Latin in the early elementary grades before they think it's work, learning modern languages will be a breeze in middle school, high school, and/or college. By becoming multilingual we can seize the personal and community benefits of maximizing our God-given potentials in this area as well as in others.

Let's not profane our birthright by exchanging it for the porridge of monolingualism.



*See specifically "Foreign Language Instruction: What Principals Should Know" under "Articles on FLES*."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Diana the Huntress Serves Dinner

Photo courtesy Henrik Wann Jensen

People.  I am on a culinary roll.  Since the hottest day in L.A. in recorded history, your everyday domestic goddess has improved the venison meatloaf menu.  Here it is for you to enjoy.

Serves 4.

Sweet & Tangy Venison Meatloaf
Ingredients:
  • 12 oz. venison breakfast sausage/ground venison (or ground beef, for all you mortals)
  • 3/4 cup onions , finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 cup BBQ sauce
  • 1/8 cup peach preserves
  • 2 eggs , lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper Ingredients



Position baking stone on a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350ºF for 20 minutes (or just 5, if not using a baking stone). Lightly grease a 9x5-inch (or smaller) loaf pan.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and knead mixture with your hands until everything is well blended but not overmixed.

Pour meat mixture into loaf pan and bake on baking stone until the meat is firm to the touch and has shrunk away from the sides of the pan or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 160ºF, 30-40 minutes.

Pour off excess fat and let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Note: This makes a mini or short loaf. Recipe can be doubled; every ingredient is doubled except eggs--use three large.  Increase baking time.


Meatloaf "Gravy" for the Table
My three-year-old loves this!  Mix equal parts
  • BBQ sauce
  • ketchup, and 
  • peach preserves.


Ginger Mashed Twice-Cooked Potatoes
With a rack placed in the middle of the oven, preheat to 400º F.

Steam until soft when pierced with a fork, approximately 5 minutes:
  •  4 lbs. potatoes, chopped into chunks for quick cooking
(Leave the skin on! The skin has most of the nutrients and it adds a wonderful texture and flavor.) 

Mash potatoes together with
  • 1-2 T fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T butter or Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread (vegan)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Lightly grease a casserole pan with
  • vegetable oil
Pour potato mixture into pan and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.



Zingy Peach Rocket Salad
Flash fry on a dry skillet over high heat until beginning to wilt and brown:
  • 1/2 cup red onion , sliced into rings
Let cool.

To make the dressing, combine and wisk or shake in a tightly sealed container:
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup lemon juice
  • 1/8 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon  salt (or to taste)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cayanne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
Toss
  • 6 cups rocket lettuce (a.k.a., arugla)
  • 2-3 organic peaches, ripe and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 3/4 cup pecan pieces

with onions and enough dressing to moisten. Distribute to serving plates and serve as the starter. . . . Zing!

From Jean M. Zimmermann | New York private art dealer & fine arts appraiser on artregister.com


Friday, October 8, 2010

Frittata!

Until a few months ago, I had never made a frittata. In fact, I think I had only eaten it once, maybe twice, before in my life. But, now. Now it is a household staple, a weekly menu item. And one of my almost-four-year-old's favorites. It's also pretty easy and quick to make.

Spinach Frittata*
Heat in large skillet over medium heat:
  • 2 T olive oil
Add and cook, stirring, until lightly browned:
  • 1 C chopped onion
Add and cook until heated through and wilted:
  • 2 C frozen chopped spinach
Season with
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/8 t freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 t lemon juice
  • 1 T fresh snipped basil (or 1 t dried)
  • 1 T fresh dill (or 1 t dried)
Stir to combine. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Preheat the broiler.
Meanwhile, beat together until smooth:
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/2 t salt
  • pinch of ground black pepper
Add the onion-spinach mixture.
Heat in a large, ovenproof skillet over medium heat:
  • 2 T olive oil or butter or Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread (vegan)
When just hot (before butter begins to bubble or brown) pour in egg mixture. Reduce heat and cook until bottom is set (about 3 to 5 minutes).  Place skillet under the broiler for 30 to 60 seconds to finish cooking; do not brown. Loosen with a spatula and slide onto a plate.

Serve in wedges with organic red grapes and french country potatoes. (I use Trader Joe's "Country Potatoes with Haricots Verts & Wild Mushrooms" from the frozen section.)

Serves 4.


*This recipe is inspired by/adapted from the Zucchini Frittata recipe in The Joy of Cooking, 1997 edition.  Also delicious!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Domestic Goddess? Check.

We've been having a cricket problem at our place.  Crickets? A problem?  Well, we thought the first one was cute and harmless.  Then we got acquainted the rest of her family . . . her sisters, brothers, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, first cousins, second cousins, BABIES, third cousins, etc.  Then we observed the cricket cuisine: fallen Cheerios, phone ear plug cushions, the bite valve of my sports bottle. . .  Um. No more Mr. Nice-Guy.

So, today I prepped rooms for insect spraying, packed separate bags for the children, took out the trash, vacated the home for said spraying and drying/airing, turned in paper work at the housing office, napped baby at a friend's place, returned home, put daughter down for nap and—all while juggling baby and keeping him away from pesticides and disinfectants—vacuumed, swept, mopped, wiped down the baseboards in every room with disinfectant, put the rooms back together, and took a cool shower to recover.  I must have vacuumed up over a dozen crickets in the living room, most of them still alive and hopping.

And yes, it was 107 degrees today in my neighborhood. And, no, we don't have central air.

Then I nursed the baby down for another nap, read the daughter a story, made venison meatloaf from scratch with an original brand-new recipe (which we all loved), wiped and polished bookcases and shelves, served dinner and got children down for bed.

Oh, and the venison?  Hunted in the wild and made into sausage at home . . . by my uncle (a master bowman), not me.  But still.

Today I feel like Diana, goddess of the hunt. Beware my vacuum wand, O leaping green stags of the carpet!

So, yes; I am a domestic goddess. One that comes replete with your common household goddess attributes such as rage, ire, and fury, unrealistic demands, fickleness, vanity, and general unpredictability. 

There are three things for which I am grateful, three for which I give thanks:
(1) I am grateful for a most patient, accommodating husband.
(2) I am grateful that my children will not remember every moment of their time with me in childhood.
(3) And most importantly, I am grateful for the fact that I am not God.  (And so are a lot of other people.)


Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like You, glorified in holiness,
Marvelous in praises, doing wonders?
-Ex 15:11

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tomatillo Chicken: Entrée Evolution

When mothering small children it is hard to balance the all responsibilities of maid, nanny, and cook.  One way I stay sane is by cooking double (or triple) for leftovers.  I don't have the time or patience for cooking from scratch every day of the week. 

Here's a recent success building multiple menus using leftovers:


Day 1: Chicken Verde Tacos
Sprinkle
  • 2.5 lbs. boneless chicken breasts (thawed if using from freezer)
with
  • Salt and 
  • Freshly ground black pepper.
Add to slow cooker along with
  • 1.5 C tomatillo salsa verde (I use Trader Joe's)
  • 1-3 t chopped or crushed garlic.
Cook for 2 to 3 hours on low or until chicken is cooked through but still moist.

Shred chicken using two forks and serve in warmed corn tortillas with shredded lettuce, salsa, pico de gallo, and lime wedges.  (Store remaining chicken in the cooking sauce to prevent dry out, and retain all the sauce for day 3 recipe.)

In our house two to 2.5 shredded chicken breasts serves two adults and one preschooler.


Day 2: Chicken Taco Salad
For each adult, toss the following together in a serving bowl: (measurements are approximate)
  • 2-3 handfuls lettuce
  • 1-2 handfuls tortilla chips, crushed
  • 1/2 C leftover shredded chicken verde
  • 1/4 C red kidney beans
  • 1/4 C grated raw zucchini
  • 2 T sliced black olives
  • Corn salsa to taste (optional)
  • Pico de gallo (optional)
  • Shredded cheese (optional)
  • Salsa verde (or other salsa of your choice)
  • Ranch dressing or homemade dressing (see below).

Simple Homemade Taco Salad Dressing
Shake together in a tightly sealed jar
  • 1/2 C Mayonnaise
  • 1/4 C lime juice
  • 1 T finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 t crushed garlic (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste


Day 3: Tomatillo Chicken-Potato Casserole & Corn Bread
Combine in slow-cooker
  • all remaining leftover shredded chicken verde and sauce
  • 1/2 lb fingerling potatoes, cut in half or smaller for bite-size pieces
Cook on high for two to three hours or until potatoes are tender.
For the last hour, add to the crock
  • 1 zucchini, grated
  • 2-3 oz. sliced black olives 
If the sauce is too runny, put a towel across the top of the crock pot, under the lid, and replace the lid slightly ajar.  This will allow steam to be released/absorbed making the sauce thicker.
For the last 20 minutes of cooking, sprinkle on top
  • .5 to 1 C shredded Monterrey Jack cheese.
When all the vegetables are cooked and the cheese is melted, serve with hot sauce and molasses corn bread muffins (see below).

Serves three.  (If you want to serve more or have eaters with heartier appetites, add more potatoes, zucchini, olives, and cheese.)


Molasses Corn Bread Muffins
Follow the recipe on the back of your corn meal box making the following substitutions:
  • Use white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose.
  • Replace 2 T of the sugar with 2 T molasses.
  • In our house, we also replace the milk with almond milk.

The artistry does not compare, but I like to think of this kind of menu planning as similar to a classical musician's "variations."  When I do have the energy and/or a creative streak, it is joy to make beautiful, healthy, innovative meals.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Innovation of Christ with Regard to the Dignity & Equality of Women

Some of my favorite passages of summary from Pope John Paul II's Papal Encyclical "On the Dignity and Vocation of Women":
Christ's attitude to women confirms and clarifies, in the Holy Spirit, the truth about the equality of man and woman. One must speak of an essential "equality", since both of them - the woman as much as the man - are created in the image and likeness of God. Both of them are equally capable of receiving the outpouring of divine truth and love in the Holy Spirit. Both receive his salvific and sanctifying "visits".
 
The fact of being a man or a woman involves no limitation here, just as the salvific and sanctifying action of the Spirit in man is in no way limited by the fact that one is a Jew or a Greek, slave or free, according to the well-known words of Saint Paul: "For you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28).
[. . .]
The "innovation" of Christ is a fact: it constitutes the unambiguous content of the evangelical message and is the result of the Redemption. However, the awareness that in marriage there is mutual "subjection of the spouses out of reverence for Christ", and not just that of the wife to the husband, must gradually establish itself in hearts, consciences, behaviour and customs. This is a call which from that time onwards, does not cease to challenge succeeding generations; it is a call which people have to accept ever anew. Saint Paul not only wrote: "In Christ Jesus... there is no more man or woman", but also wrote: "There is no more slave or freeman". Yet how many generations were needed for such a principle to be realized in the history of humanity through the abolition of slavery! And what is one to say of the many forms of slavery to which individuals and peoples are subjected, which have not yet disappeared from history?
But the challenge presented by the "ethos" of the Redemption is clear and definitive. All the reasons in favour of the "subjection" of woman to man in marriage must be understood in the sense of a "mutual subjection" of both "out of reverence for Christ".

For a full treatment of the biblical and traditional Christian teaching regarding the dignity of women see the rest of the Encyclical.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Books to Help Quiet and Heal the Soul

for E. A. O.




Sleeping with Bread is a great place to begin a soul quieting; it very simply and accessibly guides individuals and groups in contemplative prayer and self-knowledge.  The authors base their simplified approach on the classic examen of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. 











In the quiet place of our soul, we can steep ourselves in the overwhelming love of God.  Anchoress Dame Julian's work is a classic which simply yet profoundly heightens awareness of God's all-permeating love.  Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, and so many others pull the famous phrase from Julian: "All shall be well . . .  All manner of thing shall be well." 











In The Art of Prayer anthology, we learn that there is nothing more important than prayer in the life of faith.  Many short passages from various church fathers elucidate the nature, methods, ends, and benefits of prayer.











From a prayerful place we can let the healing trickle from the spirit to the psyche.  Dr. Barrs, a Nazi concentration camp survivor, combines Thomistic theology with a Christian view of psychology to teach us how to understand and integrate our feelings. 








A conversation of Saint Seraphim of Sarov with N.A. Motovilov: A wonderful revelation to the world is a another book centering the soul in the heart of God.  Saint Seraphim gives instruction on how to acquire the Holy Spirit, a daunting and mystical topic to be sure!

Dear Mormon Missionaries (A Third Question)

[Note: Like the previous two letters in this series, a draft of the following was written between my first and second meetings with the LDS missionaries.  I wrote the three letters because writing helps me to get clarity about what I'm thinking and also because I hope to inspire good conversation.  My intention is to gain greater understanding by raising sincere questions about things that don't make sense to me in a way that is respectful and not bashing.  I hope I have succeeded in maintaining such an attitude here.]

Dear Mormon Missionaries,
When we met the first time a few weeks ago, I asked the two of you how you make sense of LDS incongruities with historic Christianity as well as apparent inconsistencies within LDS history.

Given these apparent incongruities and inconsistencies, I asked, how did you come to believe that Mormonism is the true faith?

At the time, you gave a very interesting answer: Elder B said he prayed and had a supernatural experience that seemed to confirm the Mormon faith to him.  This is an answer I have heard on several occasions from LDS representatives.

And after your experience, I wanted to know, did you also come to answers or explanations of the doctrinal incongruities.  Neither of you had come to nor were able to give answers or explanations at the time for the incongruities I described. 

I asked if that bothered either of you that there were significant incongruities within and without for which you could give no account.

Elder A explained that Latter Day Saints teachings are a matter primarily of faith and not of reasoning.

If it’s a matter of a personal faith experience, I wondered, how do you adjudicate the contradictory claims of such subjective religious experience?  For example, I pointed out that individuals of various faiths have personal mystical experiences that, in their minds, confirm the validity of their respective religions.

How would you recommend the Mormon faith to me when others could recommend faiths as diverse as Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism to me each on the same basis of their own personal faith experiences?   We also factored in my own religious experiences that seem to confirm for me the faith that I currently hold. 

Why should I accept Mormonism on the basis of your experience?

Of course, you didn't want me to accept it on the basis of your experience; you wanted me to read the book of Mormon myself and pray and ask God to show me if it were true.

I wanted to know why should I spend time reading the Book of Mormon, when I currently have little reason for thinking that it is true and several reasons to suspect that it is false including my own religious experiences within my current faith tradition?  

We agreed that neither you nor I felt compelled to read the Koran and pray and ask God if it were true in order to rule out the Muslim faith for ourselves.  Is this a double standard?

I suggested that it would be reasonable to expect you to first provide me some reasons to think that Mormonism is true such that I would be motivated to continue to investigate.  You agreed.

Christianity, after all, is the religion of evidence, firmly and inextricably rooted in the history of time and place.  The Gospels tell us that Jesus was born in the days of “Caesar Augustus . . . while Quirinius was governor of Syria,” and that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.  The names, the times, the places are all independently verifiable historical facts.

In this vein, Saint Paul makes it clear that Christian belief is based on the historical evidence of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Saint Paul makes reference to more than 500 eyewitnesses, contemporary with his original epistolary audience, to corroborate the veracity of the resurrection and concludes that, if the evidence is faulty and the history inaccurate,
if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, [. . .] and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. [. . .] If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:3-19, esp. vs. 14-19)
I find what Saint Paul says as interesting as what he does not say.  Why does he not simply urge his readers to pray and ask God to reveal to them whether Christianity is true and whether Jesus rose from the dead (or remind them of such personal experience that they may have had at conversion)?  Certainly God has the power to give direct special revelation to whomever he chooses.  So why would God's chosen apostle Paul—who himself had received a powerful direct revelation of the resurrected Christ—present an argument from eyewitness testimony/historical evidence? 

This is the same Paul who draws on the sacred and secular traditions of his various audiences in order to present sophisticated and compelling arguments for the faith. For example, in Acts 15, Saint Paul uses different apologetic approaches with different groups.  First he goes to the Jewish synagogues in Thessalonica and Berea and "reasoned with them out of the scriptures [the Old Testament Law and Prophets], opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead" (Acts 15:2b-3a).  In Athens, in contrast, Saint Paul "disputed [. . .] daily with them that met with him" (15:17), eventually presenting a philosophical argument in Mars' hill wherein he cited the Greeks' own religious and literary traditions in order to make his case (15:22-31).

In light of an apparent apostolic tradition of missionary work that unites both reasoning and faith, why do Mormon missionaries seem to emphasize the latter in contrast with the former?

When I met with you for the second time (by appointment) and third time (by happenstance), you maintained a position of faith on the basis of your personal religious experiences and the claims of Joseph Smith and did not have any further explanations for the incongruities I had wondered about.  Since it is the claims of Joseph Smith that are under consideration, it would be rather circular for me to believe that his testimony and revelations are true because he says they are.   So that leaves subjective religious experience as the recommended basis for belief.

You explained that, as missionaries, you are trained to lead people in the process of pondering and praying and that you are not equipped to provide (or perhaps even interested in providing) other evidences or answers to questions such as mine.  (I also note that you do not have access to the Internet during your mission and therefore cannot do any independent research on questions that are raised in your conversations.  Why is this?)  I expressed sincere sadness that your missionary training and approach would be what seems to me, rather one-sided.

The God I know from Scriptures, from Christian tradition, and from my own experience, is a God who created and values all my various capacities, who invites me to engage with him fully, completely, and holistically with all that I am.  Faith and reason are not at odds with each other in God’s orderly cosmos.  It seems to me, then, that subjective religious experience is a necessary but not a sufficient ground for faith and belief.

I expressed that, while God is ultimately a mystery and faith is essential to our relationship with him, I am uncomfortable with any religion that asks me to leave my mind or “logic” at the door.

At the end of our first meeting, I told you honestly that your appeal to pray and ask God if Mormonism were true felt somewhat manipulative to me; although I am sure that was not your intention.  For me to pray that prayer would seem to me to be insulting God by second-guessing the natural and supernatural revelations he has already made plan to me. 

If I perceive significant objections to Mormonism and I currently experience God in my present faith while also having good reasons for believing as I do, why would I ask God if something contradictory is true?  Wouldn’t that be akin to asking God to reveal to me whether 2 + 2 equals 5?  He has already revealed to me through the natural revelation of reason that 2 + 2 equals 4, and that, therefore, it does not equal 5. 

Why don’t Mormon missionaries simply pray that God would grant us wisdom and guide us into all truth?  Why aren’t Mormon missionaries trained and equipped to provide corroborating evidence that LDS claims are true?

In any other area of life, wouldn't I be considered imprudent if I formed beliefs on the basis of personal phenomenology to the exclusion of other evidence?  Why would we think that our process of belief formation in the area of religion would be fundamentally different from how we form beliefs in the rest of life?  Using reason seems one important way we are to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1).

When I ask for corroborating external evidence, I am perplexed when no such evidence is provided.  I am doubly perplexed when I am then cautioned against over-relying on reason or logic or being “carnally minded.”  Surely you would not say that Saint Paul was being carnally minded when he presented arguments and evidence that his audiences would understand and find compelling? 

If I discover reasons to suppose that my current beliefs are false or inadequate and that the LDS church offers a truer picture, I will pursue it. 

So I continue to ask my third and final question: What corroborating evidence or reasons are there, besides personal experience, for thinking that the Mormon faith is true?  For example, are there corroborating reasons to suspect the early Church experienced apostasy?  Is there any archeological, historical, or DNA evidence to support the historicity of the stories recorded in the Book of Mormon?  Is there external (non-LDS) corroborating evidence to show that the “reformed Egyptian” manuscript Joseph Smith used as his source for the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price is correctly translated? Etc.  If my current beliefs are false, I want to change them and conform myself to the truth.

I want to be quick to reiterate what I have said a few times during our discussions: while I have questions and doubts about the LDS faith, I am not attacking any LDS members personally.  I deeply sympathize with where you are at and respect the good will and zeal that motivates you to serve God and practice the faith that you've been taught.  Every Mormon believer I know is warm, generous, and friendly.  I am fortunate to have several Mormon neighbors who make living where I do very pleasant.  I am grateful to be able to share many familial and social/civic values with the LDS community and am glad to work together on matters of mutual concern politically and around the neighborhood.

As we ended our third conversation, Elder A said that he loved the Book of Mormon, and I believe that love is real and sincere.  As I said when we parted, if you truly believe that Jesus is there in his fullness in the Mormon faith, that is where you should be. 

I cannot know to what degree your belief is honest and well-founded, but I am sure that what it means to have well-founded belief changes as we mature and age and encounter new evidences for and against our beliefs.  A child is certainly justified in believing what his parents teach him simply on the basis of it coming from them.  Adult belief, in contrast, requires further justification. 

I believed you when you said that you were on a journey and that you intend to learn more and more about what you believe and why.  Such an attitude is commendable, and I hope that I, and everyone who reads this letter, will embrace the same in our own lives.

I do enjoy debating and sparing, but our conversation is not about that; it's about what is true.  It is a discussion worth having because what is at stake is, well, everything of value in this world and the next.


Yours in Christ,

Jen

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Thinking Like A Scientist

My friend Chloe loaned me her copy of Science is Simple: Over 250 Activities for Preschoolers; Katherine and I love it.

What I like best about Peggy Ashbrook's approach is her emphasis on helping kids learn to think like scientists rather than merely memorize scientific facts.  Her activities are designed to develop inquisitive habits of mind where students observe, anticipate, and discover for themselves.

I am a strong proponent of classical education (as you can see in the sidebar links), but classical education theories and practitioners can tend to focus too exclusively on memorization in the grammar stage (elementary grades) to the neglect of creativity, imagination, and conceptual formation.

I think we often underestimate what children can grasp and do.  As I've stated elsewhere, I'm pretty sure the stages of child development are permeable rather than rigid and static.  While I do think the grammar stage should be heavy on fact absorption, I would hate to deprive my children of the joy discovery and imagination during those magical childhood years.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dear Mormon Missionaries (A Second Question)

[Note: This letter was written after my first meeting with the missionaries and before my second.  I am publishing it now because many of my questions remain unanswered, not least because we ran out of time (and were distracted by lots of little people wanting attention).]

When you stopped by the other day, in addition to asking for your take on the incongruities between Mormon teaching and traditional Christianity, I also asked how you deal with apparent inconsistencies within Mormonism itself.

Again, I ask in all sincerity and hope I do not give offense.  

From my outsider's perspective, it seems that LDS prophets/presidents have given differing teachings on certain issues.  Two such especially troubling issues are those of ethnic groups and of polygamy, respectively.

Here's what I see from my perspective . . .

From my reading of 2 Nephi 5:20-25, the Book of Mormon teaches that, in contrast to those who are "white [. . .] and delightsome," "dark skinned" people are "cursed," "loathsome," and inferior ("And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed" v.23).

I've also seen some quotations attributed to previous LDS leaders, directing such a sentiment toward African Americans and other specific ethic groups applying the "seed of Cain" doctrine to say that dark skinned people are spiritually inferior and that (white) Mormons should not intermarry with them.  (I know that not everything one finds on the Internet is reliable, but it looks like at least some of the citations given in the link above check out.  Please let me know if my information is bad.)

I understand that current LDS teaching does not endorse the belief that one race is superior/inferior to another, but I am troubled by the fact that blacks have only been able to hold the LDS priesthood since 1978.  I am also confused by the apparent incongruity between the statements of previous LDS leaders and the current position.  The previous teachings are deeply disturbing to me.  

Can you help me understand how you reconcile yourself with the past teachings and policies of the LDS church on the issue of race and ethnicity?

Also, while polygamy is not endorsed for present practice, it was previously an endorsed practiced.  It also seems that the current ban is temporary, that it will one day return, and that it will ultimately be practiced in the highest level of heaven.  At least such is the view I see when reading through Doctrine and Covenants 132 as well as other LDS publications.

In one LDS publication, The Desert Weekly (v.43, p. 540), quotations from the 1890 General Conference regarding polygamy are given along with the following summary of that assembly's decision to suspend the practice of plural marriage:
"Such is the authoritative position of the Mormon Church. Briefly summarized it may be read in this way:
The revelations of God given to Joseph Smith, including that on plural marriage, are binding upon the people, unless 'their enemies came upon them and hinder them from performing that work.' 
They performed their 'work' in establishing polygamy until 'their enemies came upon them and hindered them,' and disobeyed the law of the land until through persecutions and punishments they were compelled to conclude that 'it is not wisdom to make war upon sixty-five millions of people,' nor 'to carry out this principle against the laws of the nation and receive the consequences.' But it is yet to be re-established, for 'all that He has promised in this code of revelation has been fulfilled as fast as time would admit.  That which has not yet been fulfilled will be."
If polygamy is a holy state and one that is central to LDS eschatology, can you help me understand the change in emphasis today which seems to downplay the importance of plural marriage in LDS history and doctrine?

Can you help me understand the LDS position on polygamy?  I find it quite confusing.

Why do only men receive the priesthood in the LDS church?  Is the "patriarchal grip" in the marriage ceremony symbolizing that women have to enter heaven and achieve divinization through their husbands?  From some of my readings of LDS texts, I am uncertain whether women can actually become gods in the celestial kingdom or just men.  What is the official LDS teaching on this matter?

It's possible I'm reading it the wrong way, but when I read Doctrine and Covenants 132, I can't help but feel concerned by the apparent tone and attitude toward women.  It appears that Joseph Smith is informing his wife, Emma Smith, that God "commands" her to "receive all those" her husband "has been given" or else she "will be destroyed." From the context, it looks as though Joseph is being called "a ruler over" all the "virgins" given to him as "his property'; that a man's wives "belong(eth) (un)to him."  Am I reading this right?

There also seems to be some contradiction within the passage.  First it states that a man's first wife must "give her consent" before her husband "espouse the second."  However, shortly thereafter it says that if any man have a wife [. . .] and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood," and she doesn't
"believe and administer unto him, [. . . ] she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law.
Therefore, it shall be lawful in me, if she receive not this law, for him to receive all things whatsoever I, the Lord his God, will give unto him, because she did not believe and administer unto him according to my word; and she then becomes the transgressor"  (Doctrine and Covenants 132, especially 51-66).
From my outsider's perspective, it's difficult to see how this attitude toward marriage and toward women is of God.  Am I missing something?  How does LDS teaching handle this passage and the church's past practices of polygamy?

I have great respect for you and where you're coming from and do not intend to bash the LDS faith.  I ask these questions sincerely.  Understanding that you come to my door to tell me about your faith, I present you with my honest questions.  I would like to understand your position on these important issues.

Yours in Christ,
Jen

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Preschool in a (Tissue) Box

I've discovered a way to homeschool preschool that meets my current survival criteria: (1) It doesn't make me crazy, and (2) Katherine digs it.

On a good day, and those are fewer than I like to admit, it goes something like this:  We wake up and do our morning routines, including morning prayers.  Then "we" start on the chores assigned for that day of the week.  Between chores, or when I've been doing a chore long enough that Katherine is likely to become bored and in need of attention, we pull out the "draw box."  We do an activity from the draw box and then continue on with chores until lunch and nap time, as time allows.

Our preschool draw box is a tissue box emptied of tissue and filled with little pieces of paper each with an activity written on it.  For Katherine, all the activities are games or just fun things to do with mom.  Knowing that she gets to draw a piece of paper out of the box after we complete a chore, keeps her in a state of happy expectancy.  She loves that its a "surprise," and because she's drawing and thus picking the activity, we avoid any power struggles or attitude problems that might have arisen if I had just announced an activity of my choosing.  (Never mind the fact that I chose all the activities to begin with.)

For my part, the activities are designed to meet my curricular or learning objectives for her current development.  Each activity is also easy, simple, and not too long in duration so that I can pull it off without much if any preparation regardless of which one is drawn out of the box.  I like that I do not have to put any advanced thought or planning into the day's "lesson," since I already did it once when I wrote the activities on the pieces of paper.  If I'm really not up for the activity she pulls first, I just ask her to draw again.  If she is uninterested in the first drawn activity, I also let her draw a second and choose between the two.

Here is a sampling of activities that have been in or will be added to our draw box: (arranged by subject area)

Literacy/Language Arts
  • Do a "Little Book to Read and Color" from A Beka Book (sent us by Grandma)
  • Read a (library) book; work on literacy basics such as introducing/using book vocabulary (front/back cover, title page, author, illustrator), showing how print is read left to right by following the words with your finger while you read, having child predict what will happen next, discussing literary elements (character, setting, events), etc.
  • Select and rehearse a poem, story, song, memory verse to recite/tell/perform for Dad when he comes home
Greek
  • Match capital letter flash cards with lower case flash cards; when a match is made, sing the corresponding sound song to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell," as in "The alpha says 'ah,' the alpha says 'ah.'  Every letter makes a sound; the alpha says 'ah.'"
Numeracy/Mathematics/Science
  • Play the card game "War" (to learn "more than" and "less than" concepts)
  • Do our shapes puzzle (and rehearse the names of all the shapes) and other puzzles (from Grandma)
  • Do a page from her time/clock coloring book (practice telling time)
  • Play games with the Hundreds Chart such as "can you find [#]?" and simple addition/subtraction such as "What is two and two more?"
  • Play the card game "Go Fish!"
  • Play store with an assortment of coins—she puts things from around the living room in her shopping bag and then checks out with the checker (me) by paying me the right change as requested (e.g., "That book costs 30 cents; that's a quarter and a nickle).  When we're done playing store, I have her sort the coins back into piles by kind and put them away.
  • Play the card game "Uno."  
  • Measure things around the house or on our person with various measuring instruments such as yard stick, tape measure, scale, etc. (We've also previously made our own hand measuring tape by dipping Katherine's hand in paint and pressing it down over and over again, tips to wrist, so that we can see how many hands tall or long something is.)
  • Read Animal Baby/Ranger Rick magazine (subscription from Grandma)
  • Put lots of different objects in a paper bag or cardboard box with a hand hole cut in it.  Without looking, take turns feeling one object at a time, describing it's weight, texture, shape, and size, and then guess what it is.
History/Social Science
  • Color a print out of the United States flag (say the Pledge of Allegiance)
  • Color a printout of the U.S. bird(bald eagle)/flower(rose) (discuss its significance/symbolism while coloring)
  • Color a printout of the Statue of Liberty (discuss its significance/symbolism while coloring) 
  • Color a printout of our state flag/flower/bird (discuss its significance/symbolism while coloring) 
  • Color a printout of the icons on U.S. coins/bills (penny, nickle, dime, quarter, half dollar, dollar)
  • Color a printout of a map (house floor plan, neighborhood, city, county, state, country, world) and locate familiar places and people on the map
  • Look at a calendar and count how many days, weeks, or months until child's (or other family member's) birthday and/or the next feast day
  • Read a library book (plan ahead and get books related to holidays and/or specific people, places, jobs, or time periods of interest)
Dexterity/Arts & Crafts
  • Sew a Cheerio/Joe's O's/Kashi Heart to Heart necklace; eat it or give it to a friend.
  • Sew a felt purse or pupet with yarn (thanks to Jen Marie for getting us a couple of these at the dollar store)
  • Paint (outside on the patio)
  • Make a collage
  • Make rubbings of various textured objects (e.g., leaves, coins, corduroy, etc.)
  • Make a card for an extended family member or friend and send it in the mail
  • Draw a self portrait 
  • Role play characters from a favorite story (or professionals in society such as firefighters, police, doctors, bakers, Daddy, etc.); use props and/or costumes if you want; put on a little play for an audience of dolls
  • Make paper bag or sock puppets and put on a puppet play
  • Dance and improvise instruments (e.g., pencils on paper plates for drums) to music from different genres or time periods and/or poems
Health & Fitness
  • Talk about what kinds of foods are healthy; make a collage of healthy food and a separate collage of not-so-healthy food using a saved supermarket mailer
  • Talk about the different food categories and have your child sort food photo clippings into the various categories.  Make collages.
  • On a place-mat-sized paper, trace a plate, fork, spoon, knife, and cup where they would be set for a meal.  Have child make a menu (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) by drawing or pasting pictures of healthy food on the plate.
  • Read a library book (plan ahead and get books related to health, safety, and the body)
  • Play "Simon says."  For one variation, play with a large, saved, cardboard box, have child and parent take turns playing Simon—e.g., "Simon says get in/on/under/over/in front of/behind/beside the box."  For another variation, focus on movement such as skip, gallop, run, jog, walk, dance, hop, jump, slide, roll; add slow, fast, etc.
  • Play ball games (catching, kicking, hitting); drink water during and stretch afterward
  • Have a dance party (drink water during and stretch afterward)
  • Sing and act out songs like "Father Abraham" and "The Hokey Pokey"


What would or will you put in your preschool draw box?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dear Mormon Missionaries (A First Question)

Thanks for stopping by the other day and taking the time to talk with me.  I appreciate your zeal and commitment to your faith that leads you to dedicate your time to telling others what you believe.

I am glad you took down my phone number and look forward to meeting with you again soon.  While I am not looking to convert, I do have genuine questions about the faith that you profess.

When we spoke, I explained why I have a hard time considering the Mormon faith as an option.

The church I attend now is not the church I grew up in.  I was raised in a cultish house church that identified itself as a non-denominational Christian community; it was in a vein similar to what is commonly called Evangelical Protestant with loose roots in the Seventh Day Adventist tradition.

While not a full-blown cult, it was cultish in several ways.  There was a powerful "them versus us" attitude toward all other Christian communities that bred judgmentalism, feelings of superiority, and proselytizing zeal.  This attitude kept us closed off from interacting with others in a genuine and open way and thereby limited our ability to learn from them or see ourselves in a true light.

The definitive theology of the group was largely the invention of one or two leaders whose sway was established through power, charisma, and manipulation; their personal histories and (lack of) education did not recommend them.  The theology preached had significant holes and incongruities; when questions were raised about these holes and incongruities, the leadership became defensive, dismissive, or patronizing.  The group was controlling and emotionally incestuous.  Uniformity was often equivocated with unity.

I accepted the doctrines and disciplines of my childhood church wholeheartedly and did not question or test them until they started to collapse around me when I was well into college.  In high school and as a freshman and sophomore in college, I was a hot-handled proselytizing zealot.  I was probably about your age when, like you two, I went about trying to convince other Christians of "the fullness of the faith."  I believed it was my righteous duty to enlighten the benighted.  (The zealot is still in me—old habits die hard—but, by God's grace those habits no longer rule me.)

Later, in a graduate psychology class I learned the technical term for what I had experienced: foreclosure.  It's what happens when a child makes a premature commitment to a life identity.  The problem is not in adopting the beliefs of the parents but rather in defining the direction of one's adult life on a trajectory that has not been sufficiently tested against the alternatives, that has not been given time to mature into an adult belief system.  Directions are chosen too soon and without sufficient exposure to alternatives.

After taking a class in child development, my college roommate wondered what would happen if you taught a child the opposite names for all the colors so that they believed red was green and so forth. She thought it would be an interesting experiment (one that, of course, she would never really undertake).  I think I know what would happen because it is similar to what happened to me.  When I learned that what I had been taught about the world and the church was false, my world turned up side down and I was disoriented and depressed for a quite a while.

I eventually joined the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church because it offered an essential ingredient which my childhood church lacked: secure moorings in truth evidenced by two centuries of doctrinal and pastoral continuity.

That brings me to my first question about the LDS faith: I would honestly like to know how you explain the disjuncture between the doctrine and discipline of the LDS church, on the one hand, and traditional Christianity on the other hand.

While Mormons and traditional Christians use some of the same words, we do not mean at all the same thing when we speak of Jesus Christ being the begotten Son of the Father.  Your own president/prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, agreed that we define our terms differently when he said, "The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak."

Before Joseph Smith, no one taught or believed the set of beliefs taught by the LDS, especially (among other beliefs) that God the Father has a body, that Jesus and Lucifer are brother sons of God, that we pre-existed as God's spirit children in heaven before we were born, and that we will have our own planets to populate (in polygamous marriages) and be God over in heaven if we are properly sealed and sufficiently righteous in this earthly life.

One of the watershed experiences in my conversion process was reading the works of the Apostolic Fathers—the generation of church leaders, such as Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who were discipled and appointed by the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ—as well as successive Church Fathers, such as Saint Athanasius and the Capadocian Fathers: St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus.

From my reading of the historical documents—the letters, cannons, teachings, scholarship, and creeds of the Church—it seems that the teachings regarding church leadership and hierarchy, the sacraments, the eternal Triune Godhead, the two natures of Christ, the incarnation and passion of Christ, and the nature of salvation and sanctification have all remained consistent over the Church's life being affirmed by the seven Ecumenical Councils of the "one, holy, universal, and apostolic faith."

Can you tell me what the Mormon church teaches regarding the Church Fathers? I've not been able to find a specific date as to when the apostasy is supposed to have begun—do you know of one? Are there any explanations offered as to why the apostasy would have lasted so long, and, if so, what has been offered to support this interpretation of events?

These are honest questions I have; I do not mean to personally attack you or any LDS faithful. I am always open to discussing religion or any other topic that brings us closer to understanding the truth.  Jesus claimed to be the Truth, and it is my joy to seek and conform myself to Him.

Yours in Christ,
Jen

Friday, June 18, 2010

Thirty-Minute Vegan Pasta Challenge

Along with millions of liturgically minded Christians the world over, we don't eat meat on Fridays.  Dairy is also off my diet since it doesn't agree with my breastfeeding son.  Plus, my family is currently rather broke.

So, on Fridays, I like to give myself the following challenge: Make a new delicious vegan pasta sauce, from whatever happens to be in the pantry, in the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta.  I do not usually plan ahead.  The challenge starts when I enter the kitchen and put the pasta pot on the burner.

Tonight's recipe was a great success, so I thought I'd share.

Spinach and Walnut Pesto Penne
Set salted water to boil for pasta.
Heat in a sauce pot over medium-high heat
  • 1 or 2 T olive oil
Dice and add to pot
  • 1/2 onion
Cook, stirring, until soft.
Add
  • 1 C frozen spinach
  • 1/2 C frozen peas
Cook stirring until thawed.
Add to pot
  • 1/4 C (leftover) Chardonnay or other white wine
Blend in a blender
  • 1 14 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes
and add to pot.  Stir to combine.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer.
Cook
  • 16 oz pasta (I prefer whole wheat penne)
Meanwhile, without rinsing blender, add to blender and blend
  • 2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 C fresh, snipped basil, or 6 cubes/teaspoons frozen basil
  • 3/4 C walnut pieces
  • 1 t salt or to taste
  • 1/2 t freshly ground pepper or to taste
  • 1/4 t hot pepper sauce (optional)
Blending may require more liquid, so use water from the pasta pot and/or olive oil. 
Pour walnut pesto into spinach-tomato sauce.  Mix and cook until heated through.
Serve over pasta.

Serves 6 to 8.


Anyone else want to take the challenge and share your recipe?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Orthodox Unity On the Horizon?

In response to the decision of the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference, which met in Chambésy Switzerland in June of 2009, over fifty hierarchs assembled in Manhattan in May 26-28, 2010, to lay the groundwork for more complete unity of Orthodox churches in North America. 

Historian Matthew Namee tells us why, despite some glaring tensions highlighted in the opening addresses of both chairman Archbishop Demetrios and vice chairman Metropolitan Philip, the recent Episcopal Assembly may be the best chance yet at achieving what we've all been longing for:
Over the past century or so, there have been no fewer than five attempts to bring the various ethnic Orthodox jurisdictions in America into some measure of administrative unity.  [. . .]
There are two really big lessons from all these failures: you can’t have unity without getting broad-based support at home, here in North America, and you can’t have unity without the explicit support of the Mother Churches. Never, in the history of Orthodoxy in America, has an attempt at administrative unity had both of these necessities.
Until now. The Episcopal Assembly, which [held] its first meeting [May 26-28, 2010], includes every single Orthodox bishop in America—every one. No jurisdictions are left out. And the Episcopal Assembly not only has the blessing of the Mother Churches; it was actually mandated by the Mother Churches. It wasn’t “our” idea, over here, like the Federation and SCOBA were. The Episcopal Assembly was created by the Mother Churches themselves, who essentially told us, “Get your house in order.” And the end goal is clear and explicit: “The preparation of a plan to organize the Orthodox of the Region on a canonical basis.” (Article 5:1:e of the Rules of Operation) This is not just SCOBA Part II. For the first time in history, the Mother Churches are, openly and in unison, calling for us to unite administratively.     [Read Namee's full article here.]
As His Eminence Archbishop Nicolae of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese reminds us in his opening address as the Episcopal Assembly,  
We can never forget that the unity of the Church is not an option. We are united in faith expressed in worship, but we are also united in faith expressed by action. The unity we find when celebrating the Liturgy together must also be expressed in the way we organize ourselves internally and in our outreach to the world. Sometimes, we might be tempted to withdraw into ourselves because of the frustrations we feel with the dissensions in our parishes and the squabbling in our dioceses. However, we can never allow ourselves to accept factions and divisions within the Church as a permanent reality. It makes a lie of what we say we believe. This is true both in our search for a closer unity within the Orthodox Church especially here in North America, as well as in our search for unity with the other Christian Churches.

In saying this we always need to remember that unity is a gift from God. We may argue for the need for a more coherent ecclesiastical structure, but even when we have achieved success at creating a better organizational framework, we still experience this unity as a gift from God, not the result of our efforts. We know that any agreement or constitution is not worth the paper it is written on if the necessary good will and love are lacking. Only God can give us this.


We are called by some the “diaspora.” Others reject this designation. There is certainly a dynamic tension. Let me suggest that in the push and pull of what we were and what we are yet to become we find the “now and not yet” of the coming Kingdom. The development of our Orthodox Church in a pluralistic “new world” has forced all of Orthodoxy to grapple with the missionary imperative of the Gospel. 
Let us all pray with fevour for a fully united Orthodoxy in our lifetime and likewise for unity between East and West.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"A Sincere Gift of Self"

An old truth eloquently and simply stated strikes home, though we've heard it a thousand times before. This is why I love a good children's book. I have deep admiration for authors who can make plain to little ones what we adults so often obscure with too many words.

In this vein, I thank Pope John Paul II for making plain to me, a little one, what I so often obscure with my convoluted and disjointed thinking. It is not a new truth revealed but an old familiar truth clarified and illuminated.

It is this: that a woman's vocation and fulfillment consists in "a sincere gift of self"—to Christ her heavenly spouse, to her earthly spouse, to the children of her womb, and to all God's children—"according to richness of the femininity which she received on the day of creation and which she inherits as an expression of the 'image and likeness of God' that is specifically hers."

While more verbose than a children's book, I am finding the Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women) to have the searing brilliance of God's truth made plain. I am learning in what "feminine genius" consists and what it means to pour myself out for my family and others in a uniquely feminine way. Care to read with me on "a subject of constant human and Christian reflection"?