Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Imprisoned Earth

And we are now under house arrest in Idaho, where there have been ZERO deaths from the virus that will still kill exponentially fewer people than the common flu.

Worldwide, the death rate has ramped all the way up to 0.0002%. Seems like a good reason to imprison the planet in their homes and destroy the economy.

If this ever ends, all blame goes to a hysterical media that breathlessly announces new cases every day but never puts them in context. After the president announced that a combination of an old malaria drug and an antibiotic were showing effectiveness in curing the sick, The New York Times dutifully reported that Trump was exaggerating how well it worked. And that right there tells you all you need to know about the media and its handling of this farce. They don't want people to get well. They want you terrified, and they want to tank the economy, because after Russiagate and impeachment didn't work, surely this will. That's more important than tamping down the panic and curbing the spread of the virus.

They are the enemy. Not a virus. Not the president (though he could be pushing back far more than he has been). The media.

Turn off your TVs and stop reading the papers. They're only making the insanity worse.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

In the Madness, No Sense of Proportion


That's the number of Americans who have died from COVID-19 to date.

But you never hear numbers like that from the media. You hear how many new cases have been identified every day, and how we should all cower in terror and let the government declare total martial law.

The number of deaths is a statistical anomaly -- 350 as of March 22, in a nation of 330 million people.

Even in Italy, the hardest hit country, the number of deaths is 0.009% -- 5,500 deaths in a nation of 60.5 million.

The global number of dead is about the same as in the United States -- just under 0.0002%. That's 14,687 deaths out of a population of 7.7 billion.

The flu kills far more than this every year, and we don't declare worldwide martial law over the flu. So far this year, the flu has killed around 20,000 in the United States -- compared with 325 dead from COVID-19. Put another way, the flu is 60 times deadlier than COVID-19.

But it doesn't matter, as the feedback loop of fear is slowly pulling the entire nation into an enforced lockdown. I've seen people proclaiming that "tens of millions" will die. I know another who said "this is worse than AIDS." That's the unbridled hysteria that's allowing governors, presidents, and prime ministers everywhere to force the world into house arrest. In some corners of the world, people are being arrested for leaving home without a government-approved reason. In Wisconsin, one county has set up a website where you can snitch, Soviet-style, if you see any public gatherings of more than 50 people.

This is where we are, with all proposed "cures" being far worse than the disease, and with all reactions completely out of proportion to the danger posed. What good is it to "save the world" from a mutation of a bug that goes around every flu season, if we destroy the economy, our freedoms, and our entire way of life in the process? The insanity recalls the Vietnam era, when "we had to destroy the village in order to save it."

Even here in the middle of nowhere, small businesses are willingly committing suicide by shutting their doors, while people cheer them on by saying "thanks for being safe."

Our family has been taking advantage of patronizing what stores and restaurants we can before they shut their doors, in many cases forever. One eatery we enjoy will be shutting down after today; we wanted to show them our support before the end. The staff were very pleasant, but you could feel the sense of despair and finality in the air. I'm sure they were all wondering how they were going to feed their kids after today.

I grieve for the families who will face financial ruin over all this. For those who panic at the thought of being made prisoners in their own homes. For the fact that our old ways of life will never return. Because it increasingly appears that 9/11 was just a trial run for this madness. Back then, those in power got to see how much we'd give up in our fear. If the lockdowns do ever end, expect mandatory vaccinations, health checkpoints on the roads, temperature checks before you can enter public events, GPS tracking to make sure you don't go where you're not allowed to, and denial of travel and services if your microchip shows you're not in compliance with all health mandates or pose a health risk.

Don't laugh, This will be our world. And most people will embrace it with open arms. "Better safe than sorry."

All this, over 0.0001%.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Small Beacons of Hope

These kids are my new heroes.

In a world gripped by hysteria and increasing authoritarian lockdowns, these college students on spring break decided to live life on the beach in Florida.

Of course, Florida's governor went on TV to scold them all like an overbearing parent, while local governments are starting to shut down the beaches.

It seems the line that all the fearmongerers are settling in on is the idea of killing Grandma. You know, the same Grandma you couldn't be bothered to even pick up the phone to call a week ago. That's how they're going to keep people in line. There's always some kind of emotional blackmail involved in times like these. In 2001, if you didn't agree with the overnight encroachments on your freedoms with the Patriot Act and the creation of the TSA and Fatherland (sorry, "Homeland") Security, the question you were gaslighted with was "Why do you hate America?" Now, for those pointing out the insane crackdowns over a bug, you're gaslighted with "Why do you hate old people?"

The answer in both cases, of course, is "I don't, and you can't shame me into compliance."

After all, if we want to talk about hating old people, why have we made them prisoners in their own nursing homes, unable to have any visitors whatsoever? That says "I hate old people" more than anything I can think of -- to abandon them and completely isolate them.

When the world has lost its mind, we absolutely must seek out those voices that challenge the official narrative -- at least until they get censored. We cannot allow ourselves to be cowed into silence or submission. Take, for example, the reports coming out of locked-down Italy, suggesting that only two people out of the hundreds who have died are certain to have perished from the virus -- the rest had other underlying diseases.

The very fact that the media rush to tell you that that they all died from COVID-19 tell you all you need to know that there's an agenda behind all of this. My best guess at this point is that this is a way to get a popular president out of office. Not saying I like him, but if Russiagate couldn't take him down, nor could impeachment, then certainly China, who hates Trump, could have manufactured a crisis to tank the economy. As a bonus, the coming stock market crash will provide cover for those who have artificially inflated the economy with cheap money for the past several years. And once worldwide markets crash and unemployment surges, Americans will be forced to adjust to far lower wages and a developing-world way of life. The wealthy and powerful thus reduce American wages to the paltry levels seen in China, while they get richer by the day. If you still don't understand where the priorities of our governments are -- if you still don't understand whom they serve -- just look at how the markets have received around $2 trillion in bailouts already, while American citizens might be lucky to get a $1,000 check. Good luck surviving on that when you're out of work and have bills bearing down on you.

To top it off, now we're hearing that the pandemic, and presumably the lockdowns, could go on for 18 months. If this situation lasts for 18 months, civilization will be destroyed. The world will have descended into utter chaos. There's no other way to put it. We have to begin to collectively push back if we want to have any chance whatsoever of saving our world. Already, all of California and Pennsylvania are under effective martial law and house arrest. This must stop.

For now, I also have another hero. Though I doubt I'll ever darken the door of a church again, I have to give credit to this brave priest in Minnesota, quoting Archbishop Vigano, saying that this is the time that the churches must remain open. This good man says that if forced to close his church, he'll find someplace else for his congregation to worship. In a time when priests are barred from even visiting the sick in Italy, and when they can only go to offer last rites in the equivalent of hazmat suits -- when they are prohibited from doing their jobs -- someone has to speak up.

I've been critical of Vigano in the past for his public comments against Pope Francis. Now I'm starting to wonder if those who have been critical of the church under his leadership were right all along. What church, in a time like this, would close out the faithful from the Eucharist? Only a church that no longer believes what it says could do such a thing.

Right now, we have an SSPX church hanging on, and actually adding more Masses. They get it. But I imagine it's just a matter of time until they cave in as well.

At this rate, the future of the church may be in some underground equivalent of the catacombs, back in the early days of the faith, when worship was illegal. It boggles the mind that we've come to this so quickly.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Think for Yourself and Question Everything

We're in a situation now where what seemed like madness yesterday is defended or even compulsory today.

In an area with zero confirmed cases, in a state with eight cases overall and zero deaths, a local shop owner that we'll be dealing with later in the week called to inform us that he's sanitizing his facility and that he and his crew will be wearing gloves and masks. He wants us to know that he's taking every possible precaution to keep his customers safe.

In an area with zero confirmed cases, in a state with eight cases overall and zero deaths, our pediatric dentist informed us that when our daughter goes in for oral surgery this week, their people will be wearing the equivalent of hazmat suits. We can only accompany our daughter inside if we submit to having our temperature taken. Only one parent will be allowed inside, and that parent will have to wash hands before signing anything. 

For a mutation of a virus that hits every flu season. That has a 97% recovery rate. That has claimed the lives of fewer than 100 Americans, while the flu has killed at least 20,000 this year.

If you want to know what brainwashing looks like, look around your world today. If you want to know what social conditioning looks like, or mass hysteria, or suspension of critical thought, or blind obedience to authority, just look around.

History will look back on this time, with the social and economic collapse to come, as a dark time caused by a terrible viral threat. Those of us who haven't lost our minds will know the truth. Just as people are derided today for questioning the flimsy official narrative of 9/11, so those who question today's global panic will be derided as fringe lunatics -- corona-truthers -- for failing to fall in line. 

Remember. Remember how willingly the public handed over its critical faculties. Remember how we practically begged for our freedoms to be stripped away to those more than happy to take them, all because we let irrationality and panic dictate our decisions.

My kiddo says she's scared. So am I. Not of some bug, but of the way her world will change so drastically because a panicked population freely allowed it to happen. In this time of madness, we keep reiterating to her, as we always have, that she should always, always, always think for herself and never trust what someone tells her just because that person is a grown-up or an expert or a government official. If someone tells her to do something, she is to ask why. If that person can't justify his command, she is free to disregard it. 

That is how we have raised her, and that is how we should be raising our future generations. Because what are kids being told right now? To fear and obey. We need to be teaching them not to shut off their brains. Not to blindly submit to authority. Not to let fear override their critical thinking. But to question everything.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Lent 2020: The End of All Things

Well, that's pretty much it, folks.

Bowing to the insanity that has engulfed the planet, the Lourdes grotto, a beloved site of healing for countless thousands of faithful for a century and a half, has closed for the first time in its history, because of the draconian public quarantine in France. That's right, a place of miraculous healing has been closed over a virus panic.

And now even more churches are being forced to close their doors to public worship, with many being reduced to live-streaming from empty churches. The churches either can't meet the ever more stringent requirements of limiting how many people can congregate -- what began as gathering limits of 250 have fallen to 25 and now often to 10 -- or can't accommodate the "social distancing" requirements to keep people apart.

In our state, where there have been eight total cases of COVID-19 and zero deaths, of course the sensible thing to do was for our diocese to ban all public Masses. Makes perfect sense. Not an overreaction in the slightest.

Meanwhile, the hardest of the hardcore Catholics, the sedevacantists, have also given in and shut out the public from their churches.

Even the Orthodox churches are capitulating. The churches that stared down the Crusades and the Iron Curtain -- now closing, over a bug that fewer than 100 Americans have died from, that 97% will completely recover from, and that will kill a fraction of the people the flu kills every year.

One diocese closes its churches, then the neighboring one does, then the next neighboring one does. Just like a virus, it spreads, with no hope of containment. Same for so many other things. One restaurant bans dining in, and a thousand more do. One place bans gatherings of more than 10 people, and a million more do. Monkey see, monkey do. Panic and peer pressure say "if they're doing it, I guess I'd better do it too."

That's it. It's done. Even our last remaining beacons of hope are closed. Fear, hype, irrationality, and panic have won. They've reached critical mass. There's no going back.

I always said it would take a serious calamity to expose what our society is really made of. I just never expected the serious calamity to be a media-manufactured mass panic. Isn't it interesting, for example, that water companies are turning the water back on for people so they can wash their hands? That other utilities are suspending turnoffs? That some cities are suspending parking tickets to accommodate people who may be out helping others in need? That jails are letting petty criminals out to reduce crowding? That we're talking about sending every American $1,000? That we can so easily throw nearly $2 trillion to bail out the markets?

The obvious questions these actions raise are why these steps couldn't have been taken before. Why did you ever have to shut off utilities to the poor in the first place? Why did you need to issue parking tickets in the first place? Why did you need to arrest so many people in the first place? Why couldn't we have had universal basic income in the first place? And of course, the big one -- everyone says we can't afford universal healthcare, but the federal government can pull $2 trillion out of thin air to rescue the markets and no one even questions how we're going to pay for it.

Corporations will cry for the rest of the year about how much money they're losing, but don't buy it. Not when CEOs pull down such massive salaries, and certainly not when corporate boards authorize literally tens of billions of dollars of stock buybacks every year. That's money that could be going toward infrastructure improvements, job training, more jobs, better wages, better benefits. Instead, corporations light the money on fire just so their earnings per share will pop up by a few pennies.

Nor should you feel sorry for corporations complaining about their supply chains. If your greed had never led you to decimate our manufacturing base in favor of paying de facto slave labor in China next to nothing, rather than paying someone in America a living wage, you wouldn't be in this mess. Nor would everyone be scraping by in a service economy making crap wages because you pulled the plug on all the good jobs.

The curtain has been pulled back on the fraudulent, predatory rot that our society thrives on.

Certainly, the church has failed us as well, as even the slightest thought of civil disobedience in a time of hysteria and irrationality is apparently beyond the realm of consideration. This from a church whose people in its early days bravely spoke truth to power, even at risk to their own lives. Now? The church just buckles and says OK, whatever you want.

Sorry, Christianity. You've exposed yourself as a fraudulent joke. You have no faith. You have no courage. My Lenten season is officially done.

Critical thought has died in this new viral 9/11. In the days following 9/11, fearful people willingly handed over their liberties in hope of some kind of security -- and we're still living with the results today, in the constant surveillance of our lives made possible by the Patriot Act, and the constant harassment and privacy invasions from low-level TSA flunkies. And of course, there's always the looming menace of Fatherland (i.e., "Homeland") Security. Now here we are, in another age of "whatever makes us safer" -- where medical martial law has free domain to do whatever it wants. People will soon be cheering on the presence of the National Guard throughout the nation's streets.

I long for one leader, somewhere, to push back against this madness. But in an infantilized society that needs safe spaces and trigger warnings, and where "progressive" fascists will cancel you for expressing a contrary opinion or even saying the wrong words, we're unlikely to find one. Instead, we live in a terrified culture that's practically begging for more martial law. "Please, I'm scared. Take more of my freedoms." What can any leader do against such madness?

Indeed, that's why we can only find leaders who cave in to the pressure, which of course only feeds the panic and makes hysterical people even more certain that we're facing something worse than the black plague. "Look, even Trump is saying blah blah blah." Well, of course he is. Because if he told you to start using your common sense and pushed back, you'd probably torch the White House. Because that's how modern witch-hunters roll. They don't hunt actual witches anymore. They just silence people with critical counter-opinions by any means necessary. Think Antifa, the domestic terrorist group that no one, not even the cops, will do anything about. Think all the people who call you a white supremacist right-wing Nazi merely for having an opinion that's not "woke." That's what our society, along with common sense and rational thought, is up against.

Nobody can win in this environment. The propagandists have won, the mob has completely taken over, and the rest of us can only hunker down, try to withstand the onslaught, and pick up the pieces when this is all over.

Dystopia is here. It's no longer the stuff of novels and Hollywood movies. Fiction has become reality.

I've never understood most of society, and why people do the things they do, or why they so willingly do what they're told. I always use seatbelt laws as a good example. Over a period of a few decades, we went from polls showing most people opposed mandatory use, to accepting laws that made failure to buckle up a secondary offense, to then accepting laws that made it a primary offense, to now listening to people scold you for being so irresponsible if you don't wear a seat belt. It always should have been a personal choice. But like the frog in a pot of water that slowly boils to death, we become desensitized to the limits the state places on us, until we end up cheering on those limits and begging for more. The only difference this time is that it didn't take a few decades for the mass capitulation to take place, but just a few short months.

It's scary how it took no time at all to see us revert back to our primal, tribal instincts. Ratings-driven media have pushed us all into our reptilian brains. It seems we've never been any more than a bunch of stupid apes beating our chests at each other. Just look at the chaos at any supermarket for evidence, where people are stocking up like we've just experienced a nuclear winter, idiots get into fights over toilet paper, and even bigger idiots, in true capitalist fashion, are hoarding the TP and reselling it for $50 a pack. And just wait until the global economic depression kicks in, as it inevitably will. All this will look like a walk in the park.

People are ugly. We're seeing just how ugly. It's almost too bad we aren't experiencing a major plague, because it seems this planet could use a good cleansing. I wouldn't miss 99% of the population. Good riddance. People suck. 

In any event, our society will never go back to the way it was, and we can only guess what new permanent restrictions on our lives will come out of this unprecedented time of insanity. At this point, we can only imagine how much worse this episode will be. We've been through ridiculous panics before when people shut off their thinking brains -- think Y2K, or mad cow disease -- but nothing ever approaching this. And the paranoia is only going to ratchet up, until we see people, Soviet-style, turning in their neighbors for walking down the street. (Already, people in California -- where six people out of a population of 40 million have died -- are calling the cops on their coughing neighbors.) Statewide or even nationwide mandatory quarantines and hospitalizations are probably only weeks, if not days, away. The entire United States will become a giant prison. Violence will erupt in response, as the paranoia ratchets up, people think everyone has the plague, . Get ready. It's going to get much uglier out there.

For now, I'll leave some helpful links from the precious few who haven't completely lost their minds. Expect some, if not all, of these pieces to eventually disappear. Truth is always a casualty in times like these, as the authoritarians in charge will inevitably ramp up the censorship.

The emperor has no clothes:

Medical martial law and pandemic panics are nothing new.

From Off-Guardian: Panic Pandemic: Why Are People Who Should Know Better Buying the COVID-19 Hype?

From Unz Review: The Coronavirus Hoax, by Ron Paul. If only this man could have been president.

From VoltaireNet: No Quarantine Has Overcome Disease. (Facebook is already censoring this article as "going against its community standards," though it doesn't say how the article does that.)

From Intellectual Takeout: Coronavirus Mass Hysteria, by Dr. Steven Hotze.

From Spiked: Life Inside the Italian Lockdown

(3/18) From Off-Guardian: COVID-19 Global Lockdown. Kudos to C.J. Hopkins, for his satirical wit that's so welcome right now.

More to come, no doubt.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Lent 2020: The Old World Is Passing Away

The state of Washington is now effectively under martial law. All public gatherings of 50 people or more are banned. (But don't try skirting the law with 49, because the state promises to shut those down, too.) Sit-down restaurants can only offer take-out. Bars, coffee shops, movie theaters, gyms, doughnut and ice cream shops, salons, barber shops, museums, art galleries -- all closed by order of the governor. The citizenry is, for all practical purposes, under house arrest.

We're seeing shelter-in-place orders spreading through Northern California, and curfews being enacted elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the president is recommending that people avoid all gatherings of more than ten people.

What's happening in Washington state will soon be happening nationwide. It's coming. It's just a matter of time.

Societal norms will soon begin to break down as cities go dark, our routines are disrupted, and we're all made de facto prisoners in our own homes. As paranoia sets in, your neighbors will snitch on you for walking out your front door. Censorship of critical views will ratchet up -- heck, for all I know, this blog will vanish. And thefts and lootings will rise as we barrel full-speed toward an almost certain global economic depression.

All this for a virus that around 97% of people will completely recover from. For a virus that won't even come close to killing as many people as the cold or flu. The CDC says that between 20,000 and 40,000 Americans have already died this year from the flu -- compared to 87 deaths nationwide from COVID-19.

Let me say that again: 20,000 to 40,000 have died from the flu, and no one bats an eye -- but 87 have died from COVID-19, and we shut everything down and fly into a panic.

To put the numbers in a worldwide perspective, the WHO estimates that 250,000 to 500,000 people die yearly from the flu. So far in 2020, about 6,000 worldwide have died from COVID-19.

Those numbers mean that the flu is 300 to 500 times more deadly than COVID-19. So where is the equivalent panic about the flu? Where is the common sense? Where is the critical thought?

Amazingly, I've already seen people on social media demanding that Washington's governor do even more. If you're living under an extreme curtailment of your right to free movement and you're begging for even more, you are no longer a rational person. Because a rational person would realize that the virus poses a low risk to most of the population -- far lower than the flu -- and would surely question why we're seeing a reaction out of all proportion to the danger if we don't do the same for far more dangerous scenarios. If we wouldn't capitulate like this during an ordinary flu season, then why are we doing it now?

And the answer appears to be that we're lab rats in some kind of social experiment, to see how easy it will be for people to roll over and sacrifice everything because an authority figure tells them to. What the ultimate goal is, I have no idea. Maybe a massive economic meltdown was already on its way, and getting people to blame it on a virus lets those responsible off the hook. Maybe we're setting the stage for world governments to enact mandatory vaccinations on its citizens. Whatever the case, it's undeniable that the entire planet is being gaslighted. Media and authority figures say boo, and a compliant public dutifully runs around like Chicken Little, literally begging for those same authority figures to take their rights away.

Or consider this viewpoint, from one of the rapidly shrinking voices of reason, about how this virus created its own virus of fear in the first place -- specifically, how social pressure led from "just take sensible precautions" to "we need to lock down the world":

It doesn't even matter at this point if COVID-19 isn't a deadly pandemic worse than the black plague. People think it is, and that's all it takes to do the damage that the panic-peddlers want. Propaganda works, all too well.

These are times I thought I'd never live to see. Unabated panic is turning us into an authoritarian police state on complete lockdown, almost overnight. And if those in power can scare people into doing this over a virus that poses a low risk to most people, then they can do it over anything. The precedent has now been set. There is no going back to the way things were. It's naive to think we ever can.

This is no longer America. This is an irrational people gripped by media-driven fear.

There's not much more to say. We are living in unbelievably dark times.

Notably, a secretary to the pope warned that people will abandon the church if the church abandons them in their time of need. She's right about that. But it's too little, too late, as that damage has already been done, with so many churches having rushed to close their doors when people needed them the most.

I don't think the Western church will recover from that massive misstep. Nor do I think our society will recover. We'll bounce back just fine from the virus. But the damage done from the virus of fear and panic will leave a deep and lasting scar that will change the way we live forever.

And we have no one to blame but ourselves, for letting fear control us.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Lent 2020: Churchgoing As an Act of Defiance

Today took me to an Antiochian Orthodox church. The priest talked about the challenges we face in not compromising the way we worship in these times of panic and said he remained committed to keeping things as they are, as much as his bishop and local ordinances will allow. Leave it to Orthodoxy to hold the line. A church that withstood the Crusades and the Iron Curtain isn't going to let a bug lay it low.

As I was talking to the priest after the service, he mentioned that the congregation was small for the day. I'd say there were 40 or 50 people present, but he said there were ordinarily 50 kids alone on a given Sunday. So apparently a lot of people are self-sequestering. We already know the Catholic church's reaction to the panic is to close its doors, so one assumes that a lot of people are just not coming of their own volition, even if you're not one of the three-quarters of the churches, in Father's words today, that haven't shut down.

It's almost as if going to church has become an act of civil disobedience, in a world that's being terrified into conformity and submission. Heck, it's getting to the point that leaving your house is in itself a revolutionary act.

The Gospel reading today was appropriate, in that in involved the paralyzed man whose friends dropped him through a hole in the roof when they couldn't get through the crowds to see Jesus. Jesus healed the man, of course, which is one lesson in itself: When you're sick, come to Christ, who can heal us. Don't run away from his presence. Come near to him instead, and be not afraid. As Father reminded us today, for believing Christians, death has already been destroyed, so if sickness and death do come to us -- even if they come to us from ministering to the sick when others fear to do so -- why on earth would we fear it?

Father also said today that it's his belief that sometimes God allows sickness to happen, to remind us we're not in charge. That's a lot different from the Catholic priest who said a few weeks back in a terrible sermon that God brings sickness upon us as punishment -- and the difference says a great deal about how the Eastern and Western churches view their relationships with God. In the West, God is angry, vengeful, spiteful, wrathful. In the East, God is a supernatural physician who wants to heal our souls so that we might find our way back to him again. In short: God seeks our humility in the East so that we might walk with him, but in the West he's a judge who will love us if we do right but punish us if we do wrong. This is exactly why Orthodoxy has always appealed to me.

The past week has really revealed a lot about the human race, little of it good. We've seen that people are easily manipulated by the panic their TVs feed them. We've seen that they'll act like selfish jerks and hoard basic supplies, and if you want some toilet paper, pay me $50 a roll, and if you don't like it, screw you, because I've got mine. I tell you -- as much as I am a philosophical fan of anarchism, times like these prove that humans aren't fit to govern themselves, because we'd just revert back to the law of the wild, like a bunch of apes beating our chests at each other and jabbing each other with pointed sticks.

Of course, perhaps most tragically of all, we've also learned that a Christian church that has historically faced down disease and persecution with courage and faith now has as little faith as the society surrounding it.

With very few exceptions, I think it's safe to say that Christianity is dead in the West.

For as long as it can hold out, then, long live Orthodoxy.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Lent 2020: But the Media Told Me to Panic!

It's ironic that the Gospel reading in the Catholic church today is that of the Prodigal Son. For those unfamiliar, it's a story about a wayward child reconciling with his father. Jesus' intent was to tell us that no matter how far we may stray, or how much we may offend God, we will always be welcomed back into his embrace if we return to him with a humble and contrite heart.

I say it's ironic because if Jesus were alive today, he'd have to change the story. The father in the parable would see his son at a distance, and instead of running out to greet him, the father would be wearing a surgical mask and holding out his arms to stop his son from embracing him. "Son, I'm glad you're back," he would say, "but social distancing is important."

This is the situation we find ourselves in as church after church shuts down in fear, and those that remain open are releasing strict guidelines regarding contact with hands, icons, and other people in general. Even the Byzantine Catholics in our neck of the woods have now banned antidoron, the blessed bread that Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches offer to all worshipers. And the arch-conservative SSPX has ordered all holy water fonts drained.

As I've said before, it's always good to practice good hygiene and take commonsense precautions during cold and flu season. But we're not facing down the black plague here. We're facing a virus that the overwhelming majority of people will recover from. The reaction is out of all reasonable proportion to the danger the virus causes. Fear, by far, is the much larger virus at this point -- fanned by the media and accepted uncritically by what seems like the majority of the human race.

The hysteria, sadly, has finally hit our region, as we found when we were out on a routine grocery run yesterday. The supermarket was being picked bare as people were panic-shopping, their carts overflowing with multiple loaves of bread, pallets of bottled water, huge jars of sauces and juices, boxes and boxes of cereals and pastas, and loads of toilet paper. There wasn't a single pack of TP to be found -- the entire aisle was empty.

It feels like we're subjects in a social experiment right now, and the way most people are reacting is downright terrifying. It makes you wonder how they'd react if we faced an actual crisis.

What are you going to do with 50 rolls of TP, anyway? You can't eat it. And it's not like you're going to be holed up in your house with no escape for the rest of the year -- unless the feds declare martial law, of course. And granted, that is possible, considering the entire state of Washington is now effectively under house arrest. But still, why toilet paper, of all things? I've heard reports of people driving from Spokane, an hour an a half away, to raid our stores for toilet paper. What is the psychology behind this? I am completely baffled. You think you're living in Mad Max world, and your primary concern is toilet paper?

Anyway, it was heartening to see, following the draconian lockdowns on churches in a time when people need the churches to minister to them and remain a beacon of hope, that the Diocese of Rome has at least partially reversed its decision to lock down all its churches. It seems they're becoming aware of the optics of what they've done.

Because when places like the Diocese of Seattle shut down all their churches, they are sending a loud and clear message that they are giving in to the same fear that's gripping our society. Right now our church doesn't look the Christ that healed the lepers, or the martyrs who died for their faith. It isn't the church that calls people in for prayer during times of calamity. Instead, it looks like the disciples who all ran and hid after Jesus was arrested. They chose fear and self-preservation over standing in solidarity with their Lord.

What can a church possibly offer the people in the way of hope and courage and faith when it cowers in the shadows like the disciples who abandoned Jesus in his darkest hour?

Friday, March 13, 2020

Lent 2020: Fear Is a Virus

And so here we are.

Schools, colleges, sports leagues, parades, conferences, major festivals -- all shutting down.

One case of COVID-19 shut down two major professional sports leagues. One case.

March Madness? There's plenty of madness going around this March, but there won't be any on the basketball courts.

Seattle, meanwhile, becomes a ghost town, as all public gatherings of 250 or more are banned.

Seattle's Catholic diocese suspends all Masses until further notice.

And many nations in Europe are effectively shut down, with their people under virtual house arrest.

As we see Seattle slowly slipping into martial law, and willingly so, we can only sit back and watch as the same hysteria-driven overreach overtakes the rest of the nation.

Fear is a virus, and it's spreading faster than COVID-19.

It's spreading with the aid of a ratings-driven media that cares more about making money off panic than about responsibly informing people.

It's spreading like wildfire in a nation of infantilized adults who were already predisposed to run shrieking from one panic to the next. People who call the police over petty matters because they don't know how to solve conflicts. People who need safe spaces and trigger warnings. People who are so fragile that they want to ban what others can say so no one's feelings get hurt. People who were given coloring books at cry-ins after Donald Trump was elected.

It is this thumb-sucking, Chicken Little environment that has allowed hysteria to disrupt our everyday way of life. It is this panic-stricken population that could very well grind commerce to a halt and crash the markets, sending us spiraling into an economic depression.

So far, about 0.0003% of the U.S. population has contracted the virus. We're shutting down the country for that. For a virus that the overwhelming majority of people will recover from completely. A virus that will take far fewer lives than the flu will this year.

Where, in this land where people are hoarding bottled water and toilet paper, has our critical thinking gone? Where is our common sense?

Common sense dictates that if you're sick, if you're old, or if your immunities are compromised, you should make your best judgment about whether to stay home or go out. It dictates to the rest of us that we take commonsense precautions, like following good hygiene habits.

It does not dictate turning your house into a bunker and shutting down the entire world.

It does not justify allowing an authoritarian government to restrict your freedom of movement until it tells you otherwise.

I am far less scared of a virus than I am of a human race that allows itself to be so illogically paralyzed by fear. If we ever do face a real crisis, I tremble to think how people will act.

I am far less scared of a microscopic bug than I am of people who willingly allow the state to restrict their movements. Because a government that seizes power rarely gives it back. What you allow to be normalized now will become commonplace once you're desensitized to it. You'll allow even greater intrusions into your life the next time someone tells you to panic, because "we have to be careful."

A terrified populace is an irrational populace that will willingly hand over its autonomy in hopes of being saved from every supposed nefarious threat.

This is what we're sacrificing, all because we've allowed the media to instill us with panic. We're freely allowing them to tighten a noose around our lives.

What happened to the land of the free and the home of the brave? I didn't even see people freak out this much over 9/11.

People seriously need to get a grip. You can't erase risk from life. You take a risk every time you step out your front door. If one person dies in a car crash, we don't ban cars. We just remember to drive more safely.

Even worse than all this, though, are the churches going along with the insanity.

Instead of offering more Masses to accommodate crowds of 250 of less, Seattle's bishop decided to deprive every Catholic in the diocese of the opportunity to come to Mass and receive the Eucharist. In the midst of the Lenten season -- the time when we recall how Jesus went fearlessly to the cross, enduring torture and death for those he loved. He did that, and we can't even handle a virus.

This is the same Christian church whose faithful visited and healed the sick when others refused to touch them. Who went to their deaths for refusing to bend the knee to tyrants. Who were tortured, imprisoned, abused, fed to lions for remaining steadfast to their faith. Who met in secret at risk to their lives when the state made Christianity illegal. But now our church leaders act as if the sky is falling and shut down their places of worship -- places that, more now than ever, should be beacons of faith and hope in a world overtaken by fear. Who boldly tell the rest of the world: Be not afraid.

"Let your light shine before men," Jesus said. Well, today's church seems more intent on shining no lights at all, but rather turning out the lights and sending people away. The saints and martyrs must be shaking their heads in utter disbelief.

I'll probably still observe Lent, but my faith in the church is gone. I will seek out the churches that haven't lost their minds and caved in to fear, but I imagine it's just a matter of time until even they capitulate.

The bottom line is, I can no longer hide my contempt for about 99% of the human race. I try my best from day to day, but I just can't do it. I guess this is what I need to work on during Lent, and man, is it hard. The fact is, my wife and I have always felt like aliens on this planet. I'm glad I have her, or I think I would have lost my mind by now.

"Must I fear what others fear?" asks Chapter 20 of the Tao Te Ching. "What nonsense!"

Seems Lao-tzu had more wisdom than most of our civic and religious leaders combined. And that's to say nothing of the terrified lemmings who have sacrificed their common sense and critical thinking on the altar of irrational fear -- the church included.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Lent 2020: Dying in Defense of Peace

The saint celebrated in the Catholic church today serves as a reminder that embracing peace and nonviolence is not a passive way of life. It takes great courage and resolve, as Christ himself exemplified. He could have called down legions of angels to his aid when he was being beaten. He could have called on his disciples to avenge his death. Instead, he freely suffered the abuse, all the way up through his crucifixion, exposing the violent injustice of the world against him, an innocent man, for the great evil that it was. And he didn't stop there: He actually asked the Father to forgive those who put him to death.

St. Maximilian of Tabessa, following in the peaceful example of Christ, who went to his death rather than meet violence with violence, was beheaded on this day in 295, at the tender age of 21. His crime? Refusing an order to serve in the military. He is the earliest known Christian conscientious objector.

Many, if not most, Christians refused to join the military or commit acts of violence in the early church. Before Constantine entangled the church with empire in the fourth century, Christians spoke truth to power -- which by definition included rejecting the empire's violence. And given that Jesus was unambiguous in telling his followers to turn the other cheek and love their enemies, their stance would have come as no surprise.

Precious few Christian groups still adhere to the way of nonviolence spelled out in the Sermon on the Mount. The Quakers and Anabaptists are the only significant branches of Christianity to still do so. But their views would have been commonplace in the opening centuries of Christianity, as these quotes from the second through fourth centuries attest to:

"The Christian does not hurt even his enemy." ~ Tertullian

"Christians, instead of  arming themselves with swords, extend their hands in prayer." ~ Athanasius of Alexandria

"[W]e no longer take 'sword against a nation,' nor do we learn 'any more to make war,' having become sons of peace for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader." ~ Origen

"Christians are not allowed to correct by violence sinful wrongdoings." ~ Clement of Alexandria

"Christ, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier." ~ Tertullian

Those words echo an early saint, Martin of Tours, who upon his conversion to Christianity left his military service with the words: "I am a soldier of Christ. It is not permissible for me to fight."

Maximilian of Tabessa was similarly convicted of the necessity of followers of Christ to be peacemakers. And so when he was brought before Cassius Dio, the proconsul of Africa, to swear his allegiance as a soldier to the emperor, he refused. An ancient account of their exchange has been preserved:
Maximilian: "I cannot serve. I cannot do evil. I am a Christian." 
Cassius Dio: "You must serve or die." 
Maximilian: "I will never serve. You can cut off my head, but I will not be a soldier of this world, for I am a soldier of Christ. My army is the army of God, and I cannot fight for this world. I tell you I am a Christian." 
Cassius Dio: "There are Christian soldiers serving our rulers Diocletian and Maximian, Constantius and Galierius." 
Maximilian: "That is their business. I also am a Christian, and I cannot serve." 
Cassius Dio: "But what harm do soldiers do?" 
Maximilian: "You know well enough." 
Cassius Dio: "If you will not do your service I shall condemn you to death for contempt of the army." 
Maximilian: "I shall not die. If I go from this earth, my soul will live with Christ my Lord."
The young man was promptly beheaded, sacrificing his life in service to the peace of Christ.

In more recent years, another brave young man suffered greatly for his defense of the Christian way of peace. Ben Salmon was a Catholic conscientious objector who refused to fight in World War I. At age 28, when the clamor for the United States to join the war was growing, Salmon stood fast and proclaimed: "Let those that believe in wholesale violation of the commandment, 'Thou Shalt Not Kill,' make a profession of faith by joining the army of war. I am in the army of peace, and in this army, I intend to live and die."

For refusing his draft order, Ben Salmon was initially sentenced to death. The sentence was later reduced to 25 years, but it had already become clear how the public, in its patriotic frenzy, viewed those who sided with peace over war. (We all know how public hysteria leads to irrational behavior, don't we?) He refused to labor in prison and spent most of his days in solitary, given only bread and water to eat. He went on a hunger strike and was eventually force-fed, in between beatings from sadistic prison wardens. When he was near death, a priest refused him communion. Another priest who did offer him communion was punished by his bishop for aiding and abetting a traitor. (A traitor to whom, one wonders? To Christ, the Prince of Peace?)

Eventually the young man was sent off to a mental institution, before he was finally released in 1920. But by then, his health had been destroyed by the flag-waving lovers of war who had long abused his body. He may have been a free man, but he was still a social pariah, just as Christ the peacemaker would be in our time, and he died young and broken during the Great Depression. 

Ben Salmon spent much of his incarceration writing a lengthy refutation of the deeply misguided Catholic doctrine of just war -- which, notably, the church has never actually used to oppose a military conflict.

"Either Christ is a liar or war is never necessary," Salmon wrote during his imprisonment. And that is indeed the central issue. It remains so today, as so many who follow Christ cheer on endless war and glorify the military. 

As we mark our days of penance in Lent, let us remember the violence in our own lives and hearts, the kind that St. Maximilian, Ben Salmon, St. Martin of Tours, and so many early church fathers rejected in their witness of Christ, the Prince of Peace. Indeed, the very kind of violence that led to Jesus' death on the cross. It is simply impossible to embrace Christ and violence at the same time.  

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Lent 2020: What's in It for Us?

There's a certain contingent of Christianity that would probably be happy turning the government into a theocracy. Evangelical preachers in particular are always talking about how we need to have Godly leaders making Godly laws -- which, of course, usually amounts to opposing abortion and homosexuality, sending immigrants away, promoting war and glorifying military power, getting "tough" on crime, supporting capital punishment, and any number of other things that reflect the angry tribal God of the Old Testament more than they do the reconciling, enemy-loving Jesus of the New Testament.

But here's the important point: If you think being a good Christian has anything at all to do with power, you're missing the point. If those in positions of power enact good policy that helps those in need, all the better -- but it's not the goal of the Christian life. As Jesus reminds us in today's reading from Matthew, he came not to lord himself over others but to be their servant -- to humble himself, not to aggrandize himself with power and majesty.

Just after Jesus tells his disciples that his fate is to die soon in Jerusalem, once again disabusing them of the notion of a prophesied Messiah who would come to avenge them against their political oppressors, the mother of James and John comes along and asks if Jesus will grant them the privilege of sitting at his right and left hands in his kingdom.

Jesus must have been left wondering whether everything he said went in one ear and out the other. He announces that he's going to be killed, and the only thing the disciples are worried about is jockeying for power?

"You don't know what you're asking," Jesus tells them, before a squabble breaks out among all the disciples. It appears that they still don't get the upside-down values of the Kingdom of God, where the last will be first and the first will be last. "Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant," he reminds them, "and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave."

Jesus tells us that his kingdom is not of this world. It is a kingdom we build in our hearts when we follow in his ways and do the will of God -- when we come to serve, and not to rule.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Lent 2020: We're Not in Charge

Danielle Evans
"Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted." So says Jesus in today's reading from Matthew.

This passage is a key part of Jesus' upside-down teachings of the Kingdom of God, where the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Humility, I've found, is very important to the Orthodox way of life -- far more than it seems to be in Western Christianity, which more often than not comes off as very arrogant, prideful, and boastful. It's also probably the hardest virtue to cultivate, because our ego rails so hard against it. I once heard somebody quip that humility is the one virtue that, if you think you have it, you definitely don't.

We all should be humbled at this particular moment in our history. For no matter how civilized, advanced, and intelligent we think we are as a species, our entire society has been whipped into a panic and brought to its collective knees over media-driven fear of a microscopic virus. Maybe we've all been so sheltered from discomfort in our narcissistic first-world bubbles that we've become detached from the fact that we're all finite organisms. Maybe we've forgotten that we get sick and that every single one of us, without exception, will die. Or maybe we're just being reminded of how irrational our species is when authority figures instill them with fear. 

Whatever the case, we're not in charge. We never have been, and we never will be. And this is an awfully good time for the human race to reflect on that reality.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Lent 2020: Following Where the Faithful Lead

I left off yesterday pondering whether it's time to pursue Orthodoxy, in light of our Catholic diocese's decision to choose fear over faith in responding to the current virus panic. I took particular inspiration from a letter from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, proclaiming that it will not be altering any of its services and that "no genuinely believing Christian can for one moment accept that the Holy Mysteries might bring or be the source of sickness or ill health."

Today, I found that the same letter had been included in this past weekend's bulletin at an Antiochian Orthodox church in my neck of the woods -- and that the Greek Orthodox Church as a whole declared that the Eucharist "cannot be a cause of disease transmission," proving that they believe what they say about the Body and Blood of Christ.

"Faithful of all ages know that coming to receive Holy Communion, even in the midst of a pandemic, is both a practical affirmation of self-surrender to the Living God, and an apparent manifestation of love," the Greek church stated.

What a refreshing contrast to the local Catholic capitulation. I took both things as a sign that I should contact the priest at our Antiochian Orthodox church, which I've done. I now await a reply.

This isn't the only reason I'm looking East. It just happens to be the flashpoint for something I've been pondering over the past several weeks. Anyone who reads this blog knows my past struggles with Catholicism, especially its rigid legalism that turns God into a distant abstraction and the many dogmas and doctrines that I've always wrestled with. Going into Lent, I began to think more about the Orthodox view of theosis and how a theology not viewed through Augustinian lenses seems both so ancient and so relevant, vibrant, and full of truth.

I prayed about this -- at least to the extent that I do pray, which is to say awkwardly and not well. I just asked for clarity to know where I belonged, whether it was with the Latin church, the Eastern Catholics, or the Orthodox. And it seems I'm getting the signs I asked for.

This could all go nowhere. We'll see. But I find myself once again thoroughly disillusioned with a church that adopts the ways of the world rather than acting as a bulwark against the world when it loses its way, a beacon of hope and truth and faith in a world currently gripped by irrational panic and selfish hoarding.

In a hysteria-driven climate that has the entire nation of Italy now on lockdown, with public Masses banned in Rome, someone has to come out and say that while taking sensible precautions is prudent, we as a people are better than this. In a situation where even a doctor has publicly asked people to act more rationally, we need voices that say "fear not." My church isn't doing that. I see the ones that are. And that tells me that their faith is firmly where it needs to be.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Lent 2020: Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed; Fear the Size of a Virus

"And Jesus took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to his disciples, and they were all going to drink from it, until Jesus stopped them, saying, 'This is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many. I was going to have you all drink from the cup, but there's a nasty bug going around, so never mind.'"
~ The Gospel of Things Jesus Never Said
I'm equally bewildered and discouraged when I see how easily manipulated most people are. You really see it when, like my family, you don't watch TV. When you go out amongst the public and they're all spouting opinions on some passing trend you haven't even heard about, you know without a doubt that they got it from someone on television. They don't call it programming for nothing.

Recent examples include the corporate media's collusion with the donors behind the Democratic Party to coalesce support around Joe Biden, a man who appears to be in cognitive decline and who barely registered in the early polls and primaries. But when Bernie Sanders was making too much headway in the early primary and caucus contests, the DNC orchestrated a psychological coup by having most of its presidential candidates drop out on the eve of Super Tuesday and getting them all to endorse Biden en masse.

Combine that with the predictable smears against Sanders, including the "socialism" bogeyman in a nation where people can't tell the difference between social democracy and totalitarian Stalinism, and the old McCarthyist dog whistle from 2016 that says "anyone who disagrees with me is a Russian bot," and you've just manufactured consent for rallying around the former VP. The media paints a picture of Democratic unity around Biden, and low-information voters dutifully go out and pull the lever for him.

And thus are the neoliberal policies of the donor class protected for another election cycle. Their policies might continue to crush the poor and working class as they have for decades now, but at least the rich can still get richer and continue to buy legislation. Sure, backing such a weak candidate means the plutocrats might lose to Trump, but they don't care about that. The important thing is that Sanders has once again been marginalized, right along with Tulsi Gabbard. One presumes that Biden's campaign slogan will be something like "At Least He's Not Trump" -- because he really doesn't have anything else to run on. But that's OK with all the lesser-evil voters who are already shaming people into falling in line in November.

The masses have been given their marching orders, and as usual, they are dutifully complying. Whoever controls the narrative controls the world, as they say.

Same goes for COVID-19, the virus that everyone is freaking out about. And why are they freaking out? Because the news fans the panic and hysteria around the clock, in an attempt to keep you glued to the set. Once they have you held captive, their ratings go up and they can sell you stuff.

And boy, manufacturers of bottled water and toilet paper must be thrilled, as people conditioned by their TVs to panic descend on grocery stores and fight each other for the last roll of Charmin on the shelves.

People are easy to manipulate and control. Politicians know this. The media knows this. That's why both hold so much power over people's lives.

I saw the panic and hysteria beginning to creep in to our neck of the woods a few weeks ago, when our priest tried to nip things in the bud by giving the congregation a quick public-service announcement on how to prevent the spread of illness. He also very wisely advised everyone to turn off the news. Yes, there's a virus going around. Yes, people are getting sick. But overreacting helps no one.

His advice was sensible. It's cold and flu season. Take any sensible precautions that you normally would. Freaking out will only make things worse.

And so it was with surprise when I walked into our church this morning to find the holy water fonts inside the main doors empty. In place of the water where we dip our fingers to make the sign of the cross were packets of hand wipes and bottles of sanitizer.

This didn't bode well, I thought.

Then moments after we sat down, our priest came out in front of the altar and announced that the bishop had ordered several changes to the Mass for the immediate future. The bishop ordered all holy-water fonts to be drained. He told people not to shake hands during the sign of peace. He banned reception of the communion host on the tongue, limiting it to distribution in the hand only. And he also banned the administration of wine altogether, as we all drink from a common cup.

This, after our priest encouraged us just a few weeks earlier to turn off the news and not panic.

Granted, the bishop is his boss. And as a former military guy and a clergyman trained in obedience, our priest was never going to go against his boss' orders.

A weird vibe hung over the entire Mass. I know I wasn't the only one who felt it. I don't know what others were thinking about all this, but my first thought was that the leaders of our diocese had abandoned faith in favor of fear. The church is supposed to be a place of hope. It's the place many people come for comfort. Their sanctuary. And now things that are very important to their faith are being taken away from them.

Our priest, to his credit, tried to spin the directive as keeping with the Catholic tradition of balancing faith with reason. But changing the entire order of the Mass so dramatically and suddenly revealed no such balancing act whatsoever. In fact, it suggested quite boldly that the church doesn't really believe what it teaches. Is holy water truly blessed, or is it just a bowl of dirty water? Is the consecrated wine truly the sacred Blood of Christ, or is it still just plain old wine? Do we as a church believe in the Real Presence or not? If you really think you're distributing the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ at communion, how could you think that receiving the essence of God Incarnate could make you ill?

Sitting next to someone at church could get you sick. Touching a pew or a missal or a statue or a doorknob that someone else touched could get you sick. Using the church restroom could get you sick. If you're that worried about illness, you might as well just shut down the church completely. Sadly, that's what the city of Rome has done, and I wouldn't be surprised to see forced church closures elsewhere.

None of this even takes into account the antiseptic qualities of both the alcohol in the wine and the precious metals used in the chalice, or the fact that the chalice is wiped with a cloth and rotated after each person drinks from it. More than 20 years ago, the American Journal of Infection found that people who receive communion wine from a common cup as often as once a day were at no higher risk of contracting an infection than people who don't even attend church services.

I'm reminded that the Bible tells us more than 80 times to not fear. I'm reminded that we're told to have faith. I'm reminded that Jesus healed the same lepers that no one in society would approach. I'm reminded that St. Charles Borromeo brought communion to victims of the plague in Milan, when even doctors refused to treat the ill.

Of course, if you feel sick or your immunity is compromised, it makes sense to use your best judgment on whether you should go out in public at all. But being in the presence of the divine is not a place where we should have to bring our concerns about illness. The Eucharist is medicine, not poison. And following the actions of our bishop, I can't help wondering if the complaints that traditional Catholics often raise against the modern church don't have some validity. Traditionalists often say that modern reforms have taken away the sacredness of the Mass and, with it, a deep sense of enduring faith. Because if you truly, in your heart, believe that what's in that chalice is what you say is in that chalice, you wouldn't ban its use out of fear of infection. You might counsel people to use their own discretion, but to remove the choice to receive completely from the entire diocese comes across as nothing else but a heavy-handed action based in fear, one that displays a distressing lack of faith. Anyone in the pews who is already struggling with his or her faith is going to stumble over seeing the church take such an action. After all, if the church has so little faith, why should that person?

The bottom line is that for the church to ban holy water and the Blood of Christ suggests both a striking lack of faith and a capitulation to fear. It's as if the church doesn't really believe that the Precious Blood is what it says it is.

In striking contrast, I came across a missive from the London and Western Europe Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. The letter was shared by the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Washington, D.C., and addressed the church's approach to the virus. It reads in part:
The Church of Christ has endured through many centuries -- in the course of which she has been confronted with countless illnesses and diseases, small and great -- in solid faith and with peaceful hearts, each member of the Church knowing that he or she is part of no worldly or man-made institution, but the Harbour of Life that is Christ’s Body. We are fed the food not of men but of angels; we are inspired by the truth, not of this world, but of God Himself; and we are ruled, not by worldly fear which grows and begets more fear, but by the peace of Christ which surpasseth all understanding (Philippians 4:7) and brings unfailing comfort, whether in times of peace or peril. In the present moment, therefore, I urge you to be not afraid (Isaiah 43:1) nor let the concerns of the moment shake you from the firm foundation that is unhindered faith in the living God, Who heals the sick and restores the broken-hearted. The present situation may be a cause of great upset in the world around us, but in the Church, and in our Christian lives, we continue unhindered and undeterred in all that God has delivered into our hands for the salvation of our souls. 
[...] In our churches, we shall continue with the celebration of all our rites, customs, Divine Services and above all the offering and receipt of the Holy Mysteries in precisely the same manner as we have always done. No genuinely believing Christian can for one moment accept that the Holy Mysteries might bring or be the source of sickness or ill-health: by no means! The Mysteries of Christ are the true medicine of our souls and bodies, and bring nothing but life -- and life eternal. Any whose hearts are troubled by present matters should pray fervently for an increase of faith so that fear can be cast aside; and the Church will continue her ancient witness to the love that is beyond fear, bringing the Holy Mysteries to the world, and to each of us, in a time when it needs them profoundly.  
Do not be afraid!
Likewise, over in France, Bishop Pascal Roland has expressed his criticism of the decision to shutter all churches in Rome and has promised not to cave in to the hysteria. He vowed not "to prescribe the closing of churches, the suppression of masses, the abandonment of the gesture of peace during the Eucharist, the imposition of such or such mode of communion deemed more hygienic, because a church is not a place of risk, but a place of salvation."

If we lack enough Catholic bishops brave enough to stand up for the faith, then perhaps it's time to give Orthodoxy another look. But stuff like this is the reason I ultimately hold to my own beliefs, taking what works from the churches I've visited and studied and making them my own. Because sooner or later, the institutional church will always disappoint you.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Lent 2020: Be Perfect? Are You Kidding Me?

Think of the person you hate the most.

Now, think about sending that person your love and best wishes for a happy and contented life.

That's hard, isn't it? Whether it's Donald Trump, your ex, or that car salesman who knowingly sold you a lemon, loving our enemies is one of the hardest parts of the Christian walk.

Yet that is exactly what we are commanded to do, for acts of love -- especially for those who we think don't deserve it -- are what set followers of Christ apart from others. "If you love only those who love you," Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, "what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much." Likewise: "If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even the pagans do that."

And then Jesus drops the bombshell: "You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect."

How in the world are we supposed to do that?

When I was studying Buddhism, there was a particular meditation practice designed to generate a sense of lovingkindness and equanimity toward everyone. You would start off by sending your love to someone you loved. That's easy, right? Then you send that same love to someone you're neutral toward. You might know them in passing, but you have no strong feelings about them. Again, pretty simple. But once you've done that, now comes the hard part. You're supposed to think of someone you dislike and send them that exact same love that you so generously offered to those who love you back. I tried it. It is extraordinarily difficult.

In Buddhism, you have to figure all this out on your own. The Buddha never claimed to be divine, only a teacher. So you could never really look to him for help whenever you felt like you were sinking under the tremendous weight of trying to figure everything out by yourself. Rugged individualism is great until it isn't. We all reach the end of our rope eventually, when we simply have nothing more to give. Then what do you do, if you find you're still falling short of where you want to be?

Well, one thing that brought me back to Christianity, when I was bearing a heavy load on my shoulders, was Jesus' promise from Matthew 11 that he would help us carry those loads:
"Come to me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest. Let me teach you, for I am humble and gentle of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light."
As followers of Christ, we can know that we're not alone in our struggles. We always have his example to follow as we strive to do better every day, even as we fall short over and over again. We may have a cross to bear as we follow in his footsteps, but he promises us that we never bear it on our own.

Again, this is the path of theosis. The practice of cooperating with God's grace to become like him. It's a gradual and ongoing process for most of us, one that's likely to occupy us for the rest of our earthly lives -- and perhaps even beyond.

Our society talks a lot about tolerance. It speaks of tolerance as though it were a virtue of some sort. But what really is tolerance? It's not about genuinely loving and accepting someone as they are. It's merely agreeing to give someone else the space to be themselves even if you don't like them. It doesn't ask anything of us but to look the other way. It seeks no transformation of heart from us.

Fortunately, the Father doesn't act like that toward us. God doesn't just tolerate us. He loves us. Even when he knows how rotten we can be, he always welcomes us back into the embrace of his loving arms. Can we do the same for our enemies?

If we are to be perfect as our Father is perfect, then we aren't called just to tolerate the Trumps, exes, and crooked car salesmen of the world, but to actively love them. Because this is how the world heals, and it's how we empty ourselves of our pettiness and our egotistical need to be right, better, superior. It helps us see that our enemies, just like us, are broken people every bit in need of God's mercy, and as deserving of his love, as we are.

For most of us, this is simply too tall of an order. Fortunately, we have help. All we need to do is humbly accept it.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Lent 2020: Show Me, Don't Tell Me

If you're following this Lenten journal, you'll notice that I don't mention Paul much. There are many reasons for that, but the primary one is that my focus is on the life and teachings of Jesus, which Paul almost completely ignores. Much like the Nicene Creed that skips completely over Jesus' earthly life and ministry, so Paul places his focus on the death and resurrection. In doing so, we lose Jesus' instructions to us to live out the example he set out for us, so that we might build the Kingdom of God on Earth.

More to the point, we lose sight of the fact that our life in Christ is meant to be one of actively following in his ways, of picking up our cross and following him daily. "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to the Father in heaven," Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount. "Whatsoever you did for the least of these, my brethren, you did for me," he says when separating the sheep from the goats in Matthew 25. "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord' and not do what I say?" he asks in Luke.

Ever since the Reformation, Paul's writings have been used to argue for a sola fide view of religion -- that is, faith alone will save you. Martin Luther emphasized this idea largely in reaction to the selling of indulgences in the Catholic church. The corruption of many medieval priests led Luther to essentially throw out the baby with the bathwater, in the sense that he laid the foundation for a way of thinking that says you can live however you want once you've "accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and savior," to use the modern evangelical lingo. "Sin boldly," Luther wrote. "No sin can separate us from him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day."

Yes, Luther really wrote that. I suppose he could have come to no other conclusion, given that this was a man so neurotic that he spent literally hours in the confessional every single day recounting all his sins. He saw no way out of his predicament, except to conclude that he didn't need to recount his sins at all. And he used the writings of Paul as his escape hatch.

So if you've ever wondered why so many Christians act like such huge jerks, completely antithetical to the ways of Christ, that's why. There is a massive contingent of Christianity that believes once you're saved, you can do whatever you want, because your ticket to heaven is irrevocably punched. More often than not, these same folks are very fond of quote-bombing from the letters of Paul, often to the complete exclusion of the words of Jesus himself. Draw your own conclusions about what that means, but I've had evangelical Christians tell me they had no idea what the Beatitudes or the Transfiguration are -- I kid you not -- while they could cite any verse in Romans from memory. 

Now, of course, Paul never knew Jesus. But James did. And James preached that faith without works is dead. James also said that we should confess our sins to one another, and that's why the Catholic and Orthodox churches have the sacrament of reconciliation, or confession -- the same sacrament that caused Luther such inner turmoil. Luther, not coincidentally, wanted to remove James from the New Testament, calling it an "epistle of straw." One pictures Luther regarding James in the same manner as a child who, unwilling to hear an unpleasant statement from an adult, sticks her fingers in her ears and says "neener, neener, can't hear you."

So why am I bringing this up? Because of the readings in today's lectionary. First, we have God speaking to his people in the Book of Ezekiel:
"But if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die. All their past sins will be forgotten, and they will live because of the righteous things they have done."  
"Do you think that I like to see wicked people die?" says the Sovereign Lord. "Of course not. I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. However, if righteous people turn from their righteous behavior and start doing sinful things and act like other sinners, should they be allowed to live? No, of course not. All their righteous acts will be forgotten, and they will die for their sins. 
Sure sounds to me as if salvation is far from a one-time, one-and-done deal. Sounds to me that if you transgress, God expects you to get right with him again.

Yes, but that's the Old Testament, you say. OK, let's flip over to today's Gospel reading, again from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus sets a high bar for his followers:
"But I warn you: Unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven."
He goes on to say that cursing another person, even as little as being angry with them, makes us subject to judgment. So if we have a quarrel with someone, we should leave our sacrifice at the altar and make amends first.

This view of scripture is often criticized as promoting a "works-based salvation," meaning that we have to do a certain number of good deeds to earn a heavenly reward. But that's not the point, and it never was the point. The point is that Jesus expects his followers to act with kindness, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness -- to be Christ-like, rather than claiming to follow Christ but then acting nothing like him. It is, in essence, what he asks of us in return for what he's done for us.

In other words, saying you're saved is easy. Anyone can do that. But actually showing me you're saved is another thing entirely.

"Someone may argue, 'Some people have faith; others have good deeds," James writes. "But I say, 'How can you show me your faith if you don't have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds."

You can't act like a garbage human being and expect to be rewarded for it. Actions have consequences. The bottom line is, we have to walk it like we talk it. That's our lifelong homework assignment. Are we up for the challenge?