Recapturing the Awe

Lent is here. It’s a big deal to the faithful, the biggest deal of all.

Fasting. Prayer. I don’t think I need to get into what Lent is. How about we chat about what Lent isn’t?

Lent is not suffering for suffering’s sake.The purpose of fasting for 40 days (Eastern tradition) or giving something up for 40 days (Western) isn’t to make you miserable. It’s to provide focus and clarity.

The Resurrection is the central tenet of Christianity. If it were false, if it never happened, all would be, as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, in vain:

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

–1 Corinthians 15:12-18

So yes, Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection, is a big deal. Millions, like St. Paul himself, have died for it. This is why the Lenten period is so important. Continue reading “Recapturing the Awe”

Physicality = Mentality = Spirituality

 

Here we are in February, and I can reflect upon two New Year’s Resolutions I decided to make in late December:

  1. Adhere to every Greek Orthodox fast day in 2018
  2. Lose some fat

No, these two things aren’t unrelated. And I have done both before. But this year, I felt that I needed a little spiritual cleansing as well as physical cleansing, which often lead to mental and emotional cleansing. It sounds esoteric, but to paraphrase  Alexander Juan Antonio Cortes (who you should follow if you’re in any way interested in fitness):

Physicality = mentality = spirituality

Everything is connected. I’ve written about the benefits of fasting before, and I stand by my assertion that “When I’m not worrying about the food I consume, I start to think about the other stuff I consume.”

I’ve also discussed my thoughts about physical fitness, and how it helps improve other aspects of my life. It’s amazing what a little self-discipline and enforced unpleasantness can do–let’s face it, lifting feels good, but there are some days when you just don’t want to go to the gym.

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Lastly, I’ve discussed how the only way to get anything done and done well is to get obsessed and stay obsessed. Ruthless focus is what you need. At least in my life, when I haven’t been obsessed with something, I just kind of meander around.

This isn’t a post to brag, although I’ve been pleased with my results. Instead, I’d like to hopefully inspire anyone reading this to

So let’s put this all together. First, we’ll go over what I’m doing, and then we’ll go over what I’ve learned. Continue reading “Physicality = Mentality = Spirituality”

Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days

The logo from the Marvel comics The Inhumans

What is it about tragedy that brings out the worst in people?

I know what you’re thinking: Tragedies can also bring out the best. We have seen how America has banded together in the wake of the terrible devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose.

But then, there’s the recent Las Vegas shooting.

I’m not going to go into the gory details here, but suffice it to say an incredibly evil man shot a bunch of people at a music festival, killing close to 60 and wounding hundreds of others before turning the gun on himself.

Once again, the reaction to this act of inhumanity is nearly as inhuman as the act itself.

No, you see, it wasn’t the killer who bears responsibility. It’s the NRA. It’s NRA members. It’s the Republican Party of the United States of America. It’s any lawmaker who didn’t vote to enact laws (that wouldn’t have made a difference anyway).  It’s anyone who supports the Second Amendment. It’s anybody who likes country music. It’s anybody who voted for Donald Trump. It’s Donald Trump himself (for God’s sake, the man is living rent-free in 60,000,000 people’s heads. Why does anybody let a politician control their thoughts and emotions?!).

The impulse to immediately start casting blame at people who had nothing to do with an act of violence instead of blaming the actual perpetrator is terrifyingly inhuman and evil. 

It’s sick and it’s wrong and it explains so much of what is going on in this country.

This attitude explains why there seems to be no hope of communication, no hope of reconciliation. One group of people wants the other to actually die.

How do you overcome this? How do you get over hatred, which seems to be one of the easiest, most enjoyable emotion to succumb to?

For starters, you have to imagine the other person as a human being with a soul and inherent worth. This might take a hell of a lot of imagination, but it can be done. And once it’s done, you start to extrapolate what would happen if this person were to die:

  • Do they have wife? Children? A family?.
  • Do other people enjoy spending time with them? Are other people relying on them?
  • How would other people’s lives be impacted if this person were to die?
  • What about the important people in your life? How would they be affected if you died?
  • How would you feel if someone that you cared for were murdered merely for their beliefs or opinions?

Really, it’s no different than the old cliche of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. These are really basic, human questions to act. And yet humanity seems in such short supply. Continue reading “Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days”

The First Thanksgiving

kandili

Thanksgiving 2016 will be particularly bittersweet this year. It will be the first Thanksgiving holiday since my mother-in-law died of pancreatic cancer on July 6 of this year at the age of 56.

All holidays after a loved one passes are difficult. My son’s birthday in August was just not the same without my mother-in-law.

She was diagnosed on November 1 of 2015 after seeking relief from what she thought was back pain that spring and summer. She and my father-in-law owned and operated a restaurant, so she chalked up her back pain to the long hours spent waiting tables and helping my father-in-law in the kitchen. It turns out it was stage IV pancreatic cancer.

The funny thing about the initial diagnosis and the beginning of chemotherapy is the confidence. Though pancreatic cancer has a combined one-year survival rate of 20%, the specific five-year survival rate for stage IV pancreatic cancer is 1%. You can do the math to figure out the one-year survival rate if you really feel compelled to do so. 

Her diagnosis came about six weeks after I had started a new job in Washington, D.C. after a long bout of unemployment followed by a return to school for my MBA. I needed this job to take care of my wife and my son, move on with my career, and try to build some kind of wealth. The downside was that my new employer wanted me to start two-and-a-half weeks after I got the offer. My wife and I agreed that I was to leave New England, get a temporary place to live, start working to try to pay down some debts, and then the rest of the family would follow so my wife could get a job down here and we could get a house. My in-laws, of course, were planning on coming with us.

And then came the diagnosis.

My wife stayed up so she could help with her mother, and I began working two days from New England and three days down in D.C., making that journey, usually by car, two days a week. I’m still operating under this arrangement.

Chemotherapy started shortly after her diagnosis, though God only knows how long she was suffering before the cancer was detected. At first she didn’t look any different than her robust fifty-six years, but we soon noticed changes. First, she would come back from chemotherapy a shell of herself, tired, weak, and miserable, looking like she had aged ten years in a day, her hands cold and tingling, her lips and throat chapped, her appetite gone due to the medication. After two weeks she would start to feel like her old self . . . just in time for another chemotherapy session.

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My wonderful wife brought her to the cancer specialist, as well as all of her other appointments, making sure she took her pain pills, ate what she could, and got her rest. Over time, we saw more and more changes, gradual at the time but shocking when we look back at the photographs. She grew thinner, like all of the fat and muscle had been boiled off of her body, leaving a skeleton covered with a thin layer of skin. The color left her olive complexion, leaving her looking waxy and unnatural. Her face, normally smooth, grew wrinkly. She never lost her auburn hair, though she let it go fully gray and cut it short just for convenience’s sake. Only her eyes stayed the same, retaining their sparkle and vivacity until near the very end when even that left her. 

And then she had trouble sleeping. And then she couldn’t eat. And then she couldn’t go to the bathroom. And then she couldn’t walk unaided. And then she couldn’t walk at all.

She made it to that first Thanksgiving, and then to Christmas that year, where she even did some Greek dancing with my wife and her cousins and her aunts and other friends of the family.

“I just want to make it to Easter,” she’d say.

“You’ll make it farther than that,” my wife and I would say, confident that she would be the one to beat the odds. Why? Well, because we were special, right? Isn’t everybody?

As time wore on, we just prayed to God to take her soon.

She did make it to Easter, but wasn’t able to go to Church. Our priest, wonderful man that he was, came to administer the holy unction on Holy Wednesday, and communion that Sunday. He or the deacon came quite often to give communion and comfort to her.

After Easter, she would just say she wanted to make it to my son’s, her only grandchild’s, fourth birthday in August, and maybe, just maybe, her fifty-seventh birthday in September.

Alas, she did not make it. At the end, she was drugged out on morphine in her room, because the only alternative was pain so bad she couldn’t even speak. We had a desultory Fourth of July barbecue with my brother-in-law and his girlfriend, trying to act happy and normal on a beautiful summer’s day, but it was all pretense. And two days later, she was gone.

My mother-in-law died peacefully, or as peacefully as one can die from a satanic disease that eats you from the inside out, around 10:30 in the morning surrounded by her family. She was a woman of strong faith throughout her first, which helped her, and all of us, through this ordeal. She had a smile on her face as she died, leading me to believe that maybe, just maybe, she liked what she saw on the other end. For that, I sure am thankful. Continue reading “The First Thanksgiving”

The Two Things You Should Never Talk About at Dinner: Why Religion and Politics Will Always Mix

norman-rockwell-family-dinner

You’ve been there before: Family meal. Drinks have been shared. That aunt you love but who has a certain political philosophy that doesn’t exactly mesh with that of your father starts talking about the patriarchy this or gun violence that. And you see your father, polite man that he is, struggle to keep his face impassive. Eventually he can’t keep quiet anymore and rattles off a few statistics refuting your aunt.

An awkward silence falls over the table. Your mother tries to change the subject: “Wow Grandma Jane, your potatoes came out great. Aren’t the potatoes great?”

But your aunt won’t let things go. Neither will your father. And then, out of the blue, your teenage cousin, the one with the dyed purple hair and the septum ring, says she no longer believes in God.

“Religion is pointless,” she says matter-of-factly. “There’s nothing when you die, so what’s the point?”

You grimace, down the last half of your wine in one gulp, announce you’re going to get desert, and promptly drive to the nearest body of water to see how long it will take you to drown.

Religion and politics: If you want to make–and keep–friends and maintain harmonious family relationships, you don’t talk about them. According to conventional wisdom, there are some things you should just keep you yourself.

Nonsense. You know how we feel about conventional wisdom around here.

Keeping these things off-limits, wherever this idea came from, is another way to make us accept what the Powers-That-Be think should be in the zeitgeist, and to keep this zeigeist one-sided. Now, scratch your chin and wonder who gets to benefit from that . . .

That’s right! The status quo, whichever side the status quo might be on.

If we’re not discussing and thinking about these things with our families, we internally believe that this is because we don’t know enough and should therefore listen to an accept what our so-called betters have to say about things, whether the comport with our own beliefs or not. You’re smart, and can understand why this isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Religion and politics will always matter, and therefore should always be spoken about. If other people can’t discuss the topics without getting emotional or butt-hurt, that isn’t your problem. It’s theirs.  Continue reading “The Two Things You Should Never Talk About at Dinner: Why Religion and Politics Will Always Mix”

My Imaginary Friend


It’s the 21st century. I’m an educated man, living in the modern world of scientific and technological marvels. It’s truly the greatest time to be alive

But I’m also still a Christian despite this. 

What gives? Aren’t I too smart for this?

I’m not here to convert anyone, or even get into the theological weeds. This is just an attempt to answer a lot of questions I’ve gotten throughout my life from atheist friends who just can’t understand why I stick with my faith. 

Instead of quoting chapter and verse, I’m going to present some logical arguments. 

Logic? And religion? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Hasnt religion outlived its usefulness anyway? It’s ultimately nothing more, the argument goes, than a fanciful delusion, an evolutionary survival mechanism designed to make us all feel safe and keep us in line. After all,  belief in some mythical sky fairy keeping tabs on us is a powerful psychological coping mechanism. 
But religion also turns its adherents into angry, power-hungry, murderous freaks who hate science, and sacrifice reason and logic on the altar of superstition.

Some “evolutionary survival mechanism.”

And we all know what Christians are really like: goofy at best, but typically theocratic, woman-hating nut-jobs who want nothing more than to ban all fun, freedom, and sex in the name of the all-holy Jeebus, amen!

Why are we like this? Well, because Christians are hypocritical assholes. Why else? You watch TV, don’t you?

I’m trolling here, but only a bit. These are actual arguments against religion. Here are some more:

  • Science has proven that the material world is all that there is. 
  • Any unexplained phenomena has a scientific basis that we just haven’t discovered yet. 
  • Evolution. 
  • Dinosaurs. 
  • You’re a racist. 

And so on.

I’m not here to refute all of these, since (a) they’re pretty much weak arguments on their face and (b) Eve Keneinan, Chris Landsdowne, and Dean Esmay do far better jobs of it than I do. But given the strong anti-Christian bent in the Western world lately, these are issues I’ve had to grapple with quite a bit. 

So why stick with religion? It’s really not that difficult an issue for me. 

There are two approaches I take to faith: the spiritual and the logical.

I’ll save the spiritual for another day except to say I tried the atheist hat on for a bit when I was in high school–you know, that time of life when we hate our parents and think we know everything about everything–but realized it just wasn’t for me.

But a logical argument for faith? Absolutely. Here I’ll throw out some more common anti-Christian arguments and how I deal them.  Continue reading “My Imaginary Friend”