Thursday, January 29, 2009

My Turn for Fame

About a month or so ago Kh. Frederica was at our little mission parish to meet with her spiritual advisor. Her daughter also attends Liturgy at Four Evangelists. After Liturgy I got a chance to sit down with her and ask to what we owe the pleasure of her visit. In answer to my question she pulled out her tape recorder and asked if she could interview me for her podcast. I think the intention was to discuss large families, instead we got off on quite a few tangents about special needs and charismania. The podcast is now posted on Ancient Faith radio. It was a lot of fun to do - and I'm giggling through most of it because we had soo many interruptions. She wanted to do a podcast on our large family and she got plenty of little ones who wanted to join in the attention! I haven't figured out how to embed sound links yet so you'll have to travel to Ancient Faith to enjoy it - it's titled "And Baby Makes Twelve" (that was right before we found at that I am pregnant again).

Not to be outdone, Tad was invited back to the Generation Orthodox podcast which is now up (I haven't given it a listen yet).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Obligatory Post: Inaugural Reflections

I've been attempting to put into words my thoughts about our recently inaugurated president. I am not a particularly political person by nature although I do care deeply about the foundation of our nation and preserving our citizens' rights to worship, parent and live with the freedom to follow our convictions without undue government interference. Although this article came from a Catholic source, it probably embodies my thinking better than anything else I've read or tried to contemplate on my own. I have a lot of questions in my soul about how our nation turned to such a leader with so much enthusiasm. I just don't get it in the deepest part of me. I am not a one-issue voter, I am a Character voter and the abortion issue to me is an excellent litmus test for testing the character of a person. Our current president has failed...miserably. What is wrong with so many who simply overlook his desire to annihilate the least and the lost while spouting rhetoric that holds himself up as a champion of human rights? I, like the author of this article, feel remarkably like an alien in my own nation.

Alien Nation

January 20th, 2009 by Doreen Truesdell (posted to on 1/20/09)

I am a middle aged, middle income, traditional Catholic female and I don’t belong here anymore.

The nation I have loved all my life has rebelled, like some arrogant teenager who smugly tells his mother and father that he knows more than they do. It’s been coming on for some time, but I’ve always comforted myself with the thought that I stood with a silent majority that was just too busy working and striving and living and dying to voice their concerns about where the culture of our nation was headed.

Forty years or so after the cultural and sexual revolution began, the “teenagers” have won, the silent majority is a minority, and this nation — on an executive level — has become alien ground to me and many others.

This is not just inaugural griping, this is the realization that our nation has finally, officially embraced the post-modern world; that, in addition to media elitists and collegiate intellectuals spreading nihilism, we finally have a U.S. president who embodies such a culture. Propelled into office by voter greed, Barack Obama will now lead the nation that leads the world, using his successful blend of atheistic humanism and political manipulation that make for easy-to-digest sound bytes. The immoralists are no longer only in the ivory towers, they are in the White House, not to mention the courts, the educational systems and the financial industries. And most Americans don’t mind at all or are too busy or distracted to notice.

obama.jpgThe U.S. has unequivocally, unabashedly and electorally embraced a subjective reality where truth is changeable, depending upon how it can serve our pocketbooks and our uninformed consciences.

“Every generation feels the same way, and yet the nation survives,” you may say. But I say our nation is dying and it’s closer to its death throes now than ever before in its history. The United States is 233 years old and it is creaking under the weight of its own arrogance.

“In the end Christ will triumph and the His truth will be vindicated,” you may also say, and I concur with a grateful heart. I thank God for His promises, which I know He will keep. But between now and His triumph could be the end of the great American experiment. Christ never promised the U.S.A. would be around to welcome His victory, and it’s not alarmist to say that our beloved nation may well fall before that glorious day arrives.

Stop. Before you click the “comment” link, stay with me a while longer because here’s where this article takes a surprising turn towards optimism. After two months of pondering what this new presidency and administration will wreak upon unborn babies, legitimate marriage, public education, health care and a bevy of other life-altering issues, I maintain there is opportunity alongside this heartache. In God’s universe, thanks to His mercy and providence, there always is.

The universal struggle between good and evil, between Christ and His enemies has now taken center stage in this nation. For decades most American Catholics have lived relatively comfortably by accepting shades of gray. Little by little the grays became darker as more of the Church’s moral teachings were questioned, ignored and rejected. Now, the gray areas have turned to blackness. It is no longer possible for lukewarm Catholics to remain faithful. The gray areas are gone. American Catholics will either embrace the white light of Truth or accept the darkness.

So where does this leave aliens like me? Totally reliant upon God, and for many of us it will be the first time in our lives. I used to define myself as an American Catholic, but now I realize I am a Catholic in America. The nation I used to depend upon to accept my spiritual composition is gone. No longer does our citizenship agree that our laws are, and should be, based on Judeo-Christian concepts. No longer can a Christian assume his moral beliefs will be given fair representation or even toleration in the public forum.

As aliens, we have an important role to play as keepers of the faith on hostile soil. Here’s our opportunity to get off the fence on every controversial issue that offends God and start pulling our weight as Catholics in America. Many Catholics already are very publicly defending Christ and His Gospel truths. Most aren’t. Are you defending Christ in America? Am I?

This era, just beginning, represents our time in the long history of the Catholic Church to accept suffering, offer prayers and penance, and do battle in the public forum so that the voice of Christ can be heard. It is our turn to live as Catholics who look only to the magisterium of the Church for instruction on true human dignity and authentic social justice.

We will join Catholics from around the world who “lost” their countries long ago — Italians, Greeks, Slavs, Chinese, Russians and others who have already inured themselves to the agonies of living in an atheistic nation, one that they used to love with patriotic fervor but now are estranged from. We will lean on the rich Catholic tradition of the Church Militant and go on living in an alien nation while fortifying ourselves with the Word Made Flesh, He who makes His dwelling among aliens the world over.

Are you up to this challenge? As Americans, we’ve grown undisciplined, flabby and unused to suffering. We can’t bear the pain of unpopularity; how will we bear persecution? And it is coming. With this new administration we have the makings of unprecedented Christian persecutions in our nation that will make martyrs and saints of many who stand up for Truth. You won’t have to be a political activist to have it thrust upon you: parents, clergy, health care providers, teachers, workers of all kinds will find themselves facing moral issues that assault the foundations of the Catholic faith. Which issue will be the one that forces Catholics like you and me to confront how shallow our relationship with Christ has been? Which issue will finally inspire us to make the commitment to “put out into the deep,” whatever the cost?

Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta, after visiting our great nation years ago, said she pitied us our “poverty.” She understood the seriousness of the spiritual poverty that the U.S. suffered. We may be on the brink of changing that poverty, one Catholic, one Christian at a time.

The history of the Church is one of suffering and triumph. From that perspective, the Obama presidency could be the beginning of a great renewal of Christianity in America, if each of us lives the faith the way Christ calls us to. So in an important way, this article is not about losing a nation, so much as gaining a deeper relationship with Jesus, the King of all nations. We, who have always assumed that our nation would validate our faith, now find it must be validated only by God.

“[T]he new age has begun; and…much must now pass away,” Gandalf says in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Let it pass. With prayerful renewal and faithful responses, we can find that God alone will suffice. Then maybe, in small ways that have great power, we can work to bring our beloved nation back to God.

Doreen M. Truesdell, a former newspaper journalist, is a freelance writer and editor. She and her husband, Stephen, live in upstate New York with their four homeschooled children, aged 4 to 13.

Monday, January 19, 2009

From Hindu to Orthodox: The Conversation Continues

Anjali has created quite a stir in the blogosphere with her post about her conversion to Orthodoxy from Hinduism via Baha'i. She had one person ask her some specifics from a Hindu perspective about the relevance of the resurrection for Christians. Since she took the time to try to explain her point of view in detail, I have dug out the question and the response from the comments section and onto its own post for all to read. Maybe it's time for Anjali to start her own blog?! (Not that I mind her using mine at all but she has plenty of fodder to keep a forum of her own going for quite some time!)

Interesting to read about Anjali's conversion to Orthodox Christianity. As a fellow spiritual traveler, I would like to better understand your statement, "As for Hinduism and other ancient faiths pre-dating Christ - I have not "discarded" them, I believe Christ fulfills them - basically, every way in which Baha'u'llah claims to be a fulfillment, I believe that is already found in Christ and the Christian faith.

How is Christ the fulfilment of the Hindu tradition? As someone born in the Hindu tradition, I still don't get, what is so special about Jesus's resurrection as you experienced it in the Eastern Orthodox Church as different from other Christian sects? Why does it feel different to you from the hundreds of miracles that is commonplace in Indian epics and puranas? Regards.

Dear fellow spiritual traveler,

Well you are definitely right in not seeing it spelled out in this blog post – I actually originally wrote this to respond to Orthodox Christians who were curious about my religious background, so I think I’ve left a lot out with the assumption they already understood it – plus I was trying to make it short, since you can already see how long it is :-)

Well, in the beginning, the resurrection made no difference to me – especially because of all of the miraculous/supernatural phenomena I had heard concerning various Hindu yogis and the Hindu myths as well. That was one of the reasons why I never cared when Christians talked about the resurrection – a) Hinduism had its own miracles; b) why would I care if someone else (Hindu or not) had a miracle anyway, it had no effect on me; c) why would I care about a bodily resurrection anyway, since as Hindu I viewed the body as a source of bondage. The first time I realized Christians wanted to rise from the dead in new bodies, I was revolted by the idea. I thought it sounded like some very primitive fairy tale idea compared to Hindu concepts of the body, birth, and death. In any case, I figured Jesus was an enlightened yogi-type figure or maybe even an avatar, that maybe he was just misunderstood. As a Hindu, I read the Gospels and thought it was about Vedanta. And I know there are Hindu gurus who have written volumes about the Gospels from this perspective.

For these reasons, I didn’t see Jesus as unique, and in some ways, less sophisticated than his Hindu counterparts. In the course of reading Hindu myths, I had grown accustomed to the idea of oral traditions changing, different versions of myths being handed down, of the essentially important message having more to do with symbolic meanings and metaphysical issues, not necessarily the outward details of these stories. I assumed the same had happened with Jesus. And I certainly noticed certain universal themes, the idea of God coming to earth to save his people reminded me of the avatars of Vishnu.

What got me more interested in Jesus was when I realized that we actually have quite a bit written about him with an effort to preserve what historically happened, not just to convey various spiritual messages. Despite what people say about how little we know, we know more about him than the true historical figure of Krishna. And as I began reading more about Judaism and the earliest Christians, I became convinced that these people were genuinely trying their hardest to preserve their sacred scripture without mistake, and that they were intending to preserve the history, not taking the freedom to change details to reveal a new moral story – and not basing everything on mystical experiences and visions either (thought some of that is in there too, of course).

I really overlooked Judaism and Christianity when I explored religions earlier, because they seemed kind of boring to me. Their were some miracles, but for the most part, it was a lot of history, and it didn’t seem as interesting, exotic, or spiritually enlightening (boy was I wrong about that part!) as the myths and writings of other religions. But I now began to really respect the uniqueness of that endeavor, I realized there was something different happening here. I could read these writings and really get a look at historical people in historic places, it was more concretely based in historical reality than, say, the story of Ganesh losing his tusk. Instead of thinking it was just boring, I began to really respect this and get curious. Various other books piqued my interest in the Biblical basis for the Big Bang theory, the archeological evidence supporting the historicity of various Biblical figures, the written documents concerning Jesus himself by non-Christians. I began thinking – well, if Jesus was an avatar or powerful figure like this, maybe I should start looking more deeply at this. Even if Krishna were an avatar too, Jesus seemed much closer in history and more concretely accessible through research. So I kept reading more, trying to understand Jewish beliefs and culture at the time of Jesus, and what his teachings would have meant at the time.

This is where I began to realize that there was a whole story here that was unknown to me as a Hindu. I began to learn about the Judeo-Christian metastory for all of humanity. I used to think that the Old Testament really only concerned Jewish people, just as Hindu creation myths seemed to be so entrenched in India – meaning we hear about the origin of the Ganga, the founding of the caste system, things that are very Indian. I never imagined as a Hindu that all people really originiated in this way, then spread out and lost their Hindu belief system, as that was never a part of our mythology. But in the Old Testament, I found a (proposed) history for all of us – not just the Jews….combined with all the other ideas I was having that I have described above, I felt that if I were to believe any of these stories, this one was the one I trusted the most. The story of creation and the Fall, and the promise to send a Savior – yes, it was similar to Hindu concepts of an avatar, but to me it seemed it was in keeping to what St Paul talks about when he says that people have written in them, innately, a knowledge of God. To me, what the rishis were seeing, as well as the myths of avatars – the myth of this savior type that can be found in various cultures – was the innate seed planted by God within the human soul, for us to be able to recognize our need for Christ. And when Jesus came, unlike many similar figures, he emphasized the crucial importance of his followers traveling to the ends of the earth to bring tidings of his coming so that everyone could be saved, restored to God. As with all things, there is a concrete urgency on the practical, earthly, level - this is all on a very real level, it's not just happening on a mythological level or in some Jungian way, if that makes sense?

I know I’m still not going into enough detail to really iron these thoughts out, but you can see how long this is already getting! The way Eastern Orthodoxy came to be very useful for me – I simply did not understand the way others were describing salvation and sin and justification – the Eastern Orthodox emphasis on theosis was similar to the Hindu idea of Self-realization, further demonstrating to me that the rishis were truly “on to something”, as it were. It just made a lot of sense, whereas the Western perspective seemed really random to me. Also, I didn’t understand how Adam’s fall led to all of us having fallen nature, and I didn’t unerstand how Jesus’ victory spelled victory for the rest of us, until I read “On the Incarnation” by St. Athanasius. If I had just read that book from the start, it would have saved me a lot of confusion. It was also Eastern Orthodoxy that finally made me understand that Christianity was actually very unique in the importance it places on the body, the idea that a human is both body and soul together, not one without the other. I used to think this was backwards, until I realized that the body is way too amazing of a thing to pass off as just a cage – I realized I was actually insulting the work of God by not realizing it’s incredible importance to the state of being a human. I also learned that this was not a primitive belief at all – in fact, it was the opposite – it was very novel compared to the Hindu and Platonic notions that the body and soul were separate, and that the soul was what we truly were, the body just a cage…

I know I am leaving this kind of vague by simply referring to another book, but again, I see this message is getting lengthy. I think to truly address your question, I'd have to give a really solid catechism, actually! In a way, I think your question, as simple as it sounded, really struck at the core of my spiritual journey, and I don’t know how I can write it out briefly or quickly – it would have to encompass all of the books I read, the experiences I had, the thoughts and feelings I mulled through….I wish I could write it more clearly and in greater detail, but that would end up being a book, I think! I’ve been meaning to try to tackle this very thing….but I haven’t really had the time to sit down and do it, and I feel I realize more and more everyday, making it kind of overwhelming to write about it in a way to do it justice…

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Holy Moly is Right!

Anjali emailed me this evening pointing out that her post on Thoughts was linked here. It has generated quite a bit of traffic to this blog but I'm especially thrilled that, more importantly, it has generated a lot of great discussion and commentary about the issues Anjali addressed in her post. I think Anjali is also doing a stellar job at entertaining the questions and comments which have come her way so far.

Tad's Famous! (Well, sort of...)

Tad has long been a big fan of Generation Orthodox and somehow he got himself a guest spot on their first podcast of the New Year! I'm listening to it as I type so no comments yet but I'm sure it's gonna be awesome!

Meet Our Miriam

I've been meaning to post here about Miriam since she gets so little discussion. She's such a sweet, easy child that I really don't have any angst over her disabilities which I need to hammer out (now you know the true mission of this blog for me!). I decided to use the questions Meg answered by Adam as a vehicle for my readership to get to know my eldest child. So here goes:

What is Miriam's specific diagnosis?

Miriam has Trisomy 21 - commonly referred to as Down Syndrome. She was diagnosed at birth.

Tell us about Miriam. How old is she? What's her personality like? What does she love/hate?

Miriam is 13 years old and sweet as can be. We adopted her from Hong Kong (when it was a British holding) when she was almost 5 years old and I was very pregnant with Betsy. The family joke about her origins is that she is our Chinese British National with a Polish last name - all of which means absolutely nothing to her. Miriam is nicknamed "Girly" and she is a girly girl. She loves to play with nails and hair and dolls. Her favorite toys are her little princesses and her crate full of horses. She loves to play soccer, hates basketball. She could sing all day long - especially songs to Jesus - and loves to pretend with playmobiles and her younger brothers. We always say Miriam is the best Christian among us. She is so sincere in her worship and devotion. She has always loved Mary and had a special connection in her heart. She may not understand a lot about theology but somehow I think she understands things about God I will never learn this side of Heaven.

What therapies, diets, special interventions, etc. have you used to help Miriam? Is there any one thing that has been the most helpful for her?

Miriam hasn't required a lot of special therapies. She has had speech off and on and we continue to work on her speech goals at home. She is very hard to understand and has trouble stringing together more than 4 or 5 word sentences. The whole family follows the Feingold Program which removes all artificials and certain preservatives from our diet. We also avoid corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup for Miriam. The diet helps her to focus a bit better. At times we have given her fish oil supplements which also helped her focus a bit I think.

What is the most wonderful thing about Miriam?

Miriam has been our easiest child to parent. She is sweet, compliant, eager to please and willing to try just about anything. When she first came from Hong Kong it was maybe close to a year before we even saw her cry (which, honestly, worried us a bit). Then one day she stood at the top of the steps and cried and screamed bloody murder. I was shocked - until I realized she wasn't really sad, she had suddenly discovered how to get her brothers in

Miriam is one of our "lifers" here - she's just not going to make it in the great wide world alone and so we have a long time to look forward to Miriam's companionship. I have really enjoyed building our relationship with that in mind and Miriam is developing a wonderful little sense of humor. I think "companion" is the word that describes Miriam best.

What is the most embarrassing moment you've had with Miriam?

Miriam has some embarrassing moments with the typical things - she doesn't know when her nose has boogers and she forgets to close her mouth when she chews, things like that. But I think her most embarrassing moment actually happened with a male friend of mine. She had gone on vacation with our friends Michelle and Dan and their children. On the last day they were trying to get cleaned up and Miriam misplaced her bra. In exasperation she went to Dan and announced, "I can't find my booby thing!" Unfortunately her speech is such that she had to repeat it several times before Dan could understand what she was saying and refer her to Michelle.

How does Miriam's Down Syndrome affect her sibs?

Miriam might be fortunate in that she has sibs with much more annoying disabilities than hers. Compared to her brother, her sibs find her extremely easy to get along with and very pleasant. The little ones don't really notice that there is anything different about her. They play with her and fight with her just like they do with each other. I really like that they are growing up sort of taking people's disabilities for granted. They have been exposed to lots of other people with lots of different disabilities and have learned that there are all types of people in the world, that some of them need more help in life than others and they can be the ones to offer that help from time to time. The older ones have observed that Miriam has a very positive outlook and I think they enjoy that about her. I hope that as life moves along they will also realize they have learned a lot from her.

How have you changed your parenting style to accommodate Miriam's emotional needs?

Well, Miriam hasn't really taxed my parenting skills nearly as much as some of the other children. I am more patient. It just takes her longer to do things and learn things. I spent five years teaching her phonics but when she got it she really took off. I think more than anything I have had to realize that not all kids are this easy. If she were our only one I might be tempted to think I was the best parent in the world (and she would definitely be quite spoiled)...

What is the hardest thing about parenting a child with Down Syndrome? What is the best thing?

I have yet to find a particularly hard thing about parenting Miriam. She does have some typical teen moments these days with the eye rolling and attitude but honestly on her it's just sort of funny. Probably the hardest thing for her is to admit that she needs help. She has trouble letting me know when her cycle has begun and then she gets embarrassed or scared and hides her dirty underwear and pajamas. I think we had a breakthrough the day we both started on the same day and she figured out that even Mom has this problem - since then she's gotten much better at letting me know.

We are fortunate that Miriam doesn't have any of the physical problems that can go along with Down Syndrome. She was born with a healthy heart and spine, her physical development seems normal. Many parents of children with Down Syndrome seem to struggle with the day to day physical problems the most - esp when these kids are infants to toddlers and having one surgery after another. We have never had to deal with that. She was walking and talking and doing all the things a kid should be doing by the time we adopted her.

Not only is Miriam an easy kid, her disability is easy. I can just say to people, "Miriam has Down Syndrome" and suddenly they know exactly what to expect from her. It's so much more complicated with, say, Philip who looks mostly "normal" but whose disability is so complex and can't be summed up in a couple of easily decoded words for people. So if you have to deal with a disability I would say Down Syndrome is a good one. It's so ironic to me that about 90% of babies diagnosed in utero with Down Syndrome are now aborted in this country. I just don't get what is so bad about Down Syndrome that you need to kill a baby who might or might not have it (the tests are often false positives and I don't get the whole killing babies thing no matter what the circumstances). Maybe if they would actually let these babies live they would eventually meet up with older children with Down Syndrome and get a clue.

The best thing has to be Miriam's personality. Occasionally she will balk if I ask her to do something but it doesn't take much to get her to see the bright side of everything. She forces me to stop and smell the roses. I can forget about her in all the busy-ness of the day because she is so content to be in her little corner of the world but the times when I really stop and look into her eyes and see how they smile really bring me to a joyful place. I sit next to her at the dinner table and that's become our time to really relate to one another. I am so blessed to be her mom.

How has parenting Miriam changed you?

Oh boy. Parenting changes everybody and when you have a kid or four who have disabilities that can really change a person. I think Miriam makes me a better person. She keeps me humble, she reminds me to stop and enjoy the simple things.

Monday, January 5, 2009

O Holy One...

visit and heal our infirmities for your name's sake.

Praying this prayer each morning has helped me to understand the healing power of God. In the charismatic church we did a lot of shenanigans to "get" the Holy Spirit to "come" and "heal". Usually nothing happened, sometimes God in his mercy chose to acknowledge our prideful and ridiculous efforts and heal in spite of us. But whatever we thought was happening, the focus was always on the idea that there was a wound (be it spiritual, physical or pyshcological) in a person, we needed to get God to come to the wound, fix it and then kindly leave.

But as I've meditated on this idea of Christ visiting and healing I realized we had it all wrong. Christ visited the kingdom of darkness specifically for the purpose of healing us enough to lead us to the Kingdom of Light. But his visitation is not a breeze through on His way to WalMart to help some other poor sod find a parking spot. He *visits* our infirmities. He comes in, he settles down for the night, He infuses our infirmities with His power, His mercy, His grace. It is the infusion of Him that heals. And it is a visit only in the sense that this temporal world of iniquity is temporary. We are all visitors here. As visitors, though, we need to deal with the world. We can only do this when infused with Christ within our being.

There are more thoughts I have on this which I'm having trouble getting into words and what I've written I'm sure doesn't do justice to what I'm thinking and, most importantly, beginning to know in my innermost being - that somehow Christ is in me, that He has infused my being with His Being specifically for the purpose of healing this sickness with which I must live for now. This makes much more sense of Christ's suffering and crucifixion - His visitation into our iniquities - His complete infusion of himself into the sickness of humanity - in order to heal and restore at the Resurrection. This can only happen because Christ is the Light. No matter what place he visits, he Is Light and He Brings Light. Am I way off base here?!