Saturday, December 26, 2015

New Year's Resolution....RESOLVED!!!!!

Last December I discovered the goodreads annual reading challenge.  You set the number of books you want to read throughout the new year and the counter keeps track of your progress, as you enter in the books you've read.  It makes it a sort of game, and it became addicting.  I set my goal to be 36 books for the year, 3 books a month, thinking it was an ambitious but doable goal.  I ended up completely exceeding that goal and read 55 books this year!

This is the first time I've ever read so many books and it's been the best year of my life.  I hardly ever get bored since I always have something to do, and I hardly ever feel lonely since the authors and characters keep me company.  I have always felt that reading is really a conversation, with the author so eagerly and eloquently sharing their thoughts with me.  Remembering the person behind the book, I am always amazed and honored that words on a page allow me to defy place and time, to sit and have a conversation with great minds.

Tricks that helped me read more:

  1. Ebooks are really my savior.  I think people who still prefer paper books are crazy.  I really don't think I could have read so much without the use of ebooks.
  2. I ALWAYS have books on hand, and some to spare.  I always have an audiobook and ebook on my phone, and an ebook on my iPad, sometimes extra ebooks in case I finish one and want to start the next one right away.  It is also always safe to have a paper book on hand in case your phone or tablet dies or you just can't use them to read for some reason.
  3. Audiobooks.  Having an audiobook on hand makes walking, driving, or commuting with public transportation so much easier.  I'd say if you have to do any commuting or menial labor regularly for at least 15-20 minutes at a time, then audiobooks are right for you.  I have an hour commute to work everyday, and I love it.  Traffic doesn't even bother me because that just gives me more time to listen and finish up the audiobook.
  4. Good fiction.  I actually had to put a cap on how much fiction I allowed myself to read, since I began to neglect the more weighty books and just breeze through fiction.  I think reading fiction is really the best thing to turn a non-reader into a reader.
  5. Shorter books.  If I ever fell behind on my monthly goal, or was reading a really long book, I'd pick up shorter books to help me along.
  6. BUILD YOUR LIBRARY FROM THE START! I already had a million ebooks and audiobooks downloaded and already had an idea of what I wanted to read.  I never had to waste time trying to figure out what to read next.  And because I have such a huge selection which I'm constantly adding to, I always feel the urgency to keep reading.
Almost every single one of the 55 books I read in 2015 I would highly recommend.  In particular, once I enjoy a book by a certain author, I tend to try to read all of the works of that author.  I guess you could say I fall in love with that person's mind.  In my next few posts, I will give author/book recommendations for various different topics.

I HIGHLY recommend everyone to check out the reading challenge and set a goal for yourself this coming new year!!!  (And add me as a friend so we can encourage each other!)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Contemplation on Children

C.S. Lewis named G.K. Chesterton as one of the writers that deeply influenced him, particularly his book The Everlasting Man. Reading him, I can see why. Chesterton is definitely one of the most original and ingenious authors I've ever read. I'm in the process of working my way through all his writings. Recently I've been reading The Wit and Wisdom of Chesterton, and one chapter is entitled, "In Defense of Baby-Worship." In this little reflection Chesterton explains how we would greatly benefit from looking at adults in the same way we look at children.  This chapter very much spoke to me since my sister recently had a baby, and since it brought me to reminisce on times watching my other nieces and nephews grow.

A good narration of the chapter is on Librivox (just 8 minutes long):

Here is the text:

The two facts which attract almost every normal person to children are, first, that they are very serious, and, secondly, that they are in consequence very happy. They are jolly with the completeness which is possible only in the absence of humour. The most unfathomable schools and sages have never attained to the gravity which dwells in the eyes of a baby of three months old. It is the gravity of astonishment at the universe, and astonishment at the universe is not mysticism, but a transcendent common-sense. The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is put again upon its trial. As we walk the streets and see below us those delightful bulbous heads, three times too big for the body, which mark these human mushrooms, we ought always primarily to remember that within every one of these heads there is a new universe, as new as it was on the seventh day of creation. In each of those orbs there is a new system of stars, new grass, new cities, a new sea. 
There is always in the healthy mind an obscure prompting that religion teaches us rather to dig than to climb; that if we could once understand the common clay of earth we should understand everything. Similarly, we have the sentiment that if we could destroy custom at a blow and see the stars as a child sees them, we should need no other apocalypse. This is the great truth which has always lain at the back of baby-worship, and which will support it to the end. Maturity, with its endless energies and aspirations, may easily be convinced that it will find new things to appreciate; but it will never be convinced, at bottom, that it has properly appreciated what it has got. We may scale the heavens and find new stars innumerable, but there is still the new star we have not found--that on which we were born. 
But the influence of children goes further than its first trifling effort of remaking heaven and earth. It forces us actually to remodel our conduct in accordance with this revolutionary theory of the marvellousness of all things. We do (even when we are perfectly simple or ignorant)--we do actually treat talking in children as marvellous, walking in children as marvellous, common intelligence in children as marvellous. The cynical philosopher fancies he has a victory in this matter--that he can laugh when he shows that the words or antics of the child, so much admired by its worshippers, are common enough. The fact is that this is precisely where baby-worship is so profoundly right. Any words and any antics in a lump of clay are wonderful, the child's words and antics are wonderful, and it is only fair to say that the philosopher's words and antics are equally wonderful. 
The truth is that it is our attitude towards children that is right, and our attitude towards grown-up people that is wrong. Our attitude towards our equals in age consists in a servile solemnity, overlying a considerable degree of indifference or disdain. Our attitude towards children consists in a condescending indulgence, overlying an unfathomable respect. We bow to grown people, take off our hats to them, refrain from contradicting them flatly, but we do not appreciate them properly. We make puppets of children, lecture them, pull their hair, and reverence, love, and fear them. When we reverence anything in the mature, it is their virtues or their wisdom, and this is an easy matter. But we reverence the faults and follies of children. 
We should probably come considerably nearer to the true conception of things if we treated all grown-up persons, of all titles and types, with precisely that dark affection and dazed respect with which we treat the infantile limitations. A child has a difficulty in achieving the miracle of speech, consequently we find his blunders almost as marvellous as his accuracy. If we only adopted the same attitude towards Premiers and Chancellors of the Exchequer, if we genially encouraged their stammering and delightful attempts at human speech, we should be in a far more wise and tolerant temper. A child has a knack of making experiments in life, generally healthy in motive, but often intolerable in a domestic commonwealth. If we only treated all commercial buccaneers and bumptious tyrants on the same terms, if we gently chided their brutalities as rather quaint mistakes in the conduct of life, if we simply told them that they would 'understand when they were older,' we should probably be adopting the best and most crushing attitude towards the weaknesses of humanity. In our relations to children we prove that the paradox is entirely true, that it is possible to combine an amnesty that verges on contempt with a worship that verges upon terror. We forgive children with the same kind of blasphemous gentleness with which Omar Khayyam forgave the Omnipotent. 
The essential rectitude of our view of children lies in the fact that we feel them and their ways to be supernatural while, for some mysterious reason, we do not feel ourselves or our own ways to be supernatural. The very smallness of children makes it possible to regard them as marvels; we seem to be dealing with a new race, only to be seen through a microscope. I doubt if anyone of any tenderness or imagination can see the hand of a child and not be a little frightened of it. It is awful to think of the essential human energy moving so tiny a thing; it is like imagining that human nature could live in the wing of a butterfly or the leaf of a tree. When we look upon lives so human and yet so small, we feel as if we ourselves were enlarged to an embarrassing bigness of stature. We feel the same kind of obligation to these creatures that a deity might feel if he had created something that he could not understand. 
But the humorous look of children is perhaps the most endearing of all the bonds that hold the Cosmos together. Their top-heavy dignity is more touching than any humility; their solemnity gives us more hope for all things than a thousand carnivals of optimism; their large and lustrous eyes seem to hold all the stars in their astonishment; their fascinating absence of nose seems to give to us the most perfect hint of the humour that awaits us in the kingdom of heaven.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Beautiful Words from a Female Lifter

This is taken from a post on the Starting Strength website forum:

To be 100% clear, her point is that it's not about the weight loss.  The point is not the vanity.  The point is to stop being afraid of finding out what you're capable of.  The point is developing a skill, and tapping into your athletic potential.  Yes, the author is a woman who was once overweight and now weighs less than me, but this is about her strength journey, not her weight loss journey.

"Lost 13 inches of bellyfat, 67 lbs and learned to meditate."
Things at the gym have changed quite a bit in a little over a year. When I began the Starting Strength program I couldn’t perform an un-weighted squat, and when my coach wasn’t there I would all but get run off of the equipment. It’s been a while now since anyone has tried to give me unwanted advice or interfered with my workouts, even when training alone. Now, in between sets, I get asked about my program and lift technique. 
After I answered a couple of her questions, a younger and overweight woman replied that what I was doing would not work for her. It would, of course, make her bigger and bulkier, and I could not possibly understand because I didn’t know what it was like to have a weight problem. She is smaller than I was when I first started training and her trying to skinny shame me was hard to wrap my head around. It is beginning to sink in; I am no longer the fat chick trying to do squats. 
I used to meditate in a quiet room with candles and incense searching for calm and discipline. That was fine, and l cherish my quiet candled room. However calm focus is needed every day in life and life is seldom quiet. I meditate now when I am under the bar. 
The harnessing of the mind and the body, breath held and all the noise in your head stops and the only thing that exists is you and the weight. In all my years working in the “Alternative Health Field” I have sought the mind body connection, the grounding, the centeredness, with only slight success. Now I am beginning to understand, beginning to understand why I lift, how simple life really is. All the candles in the world aren’t going to teach you that type of focus and discipline. 
I have noticed in my business dealings I am viewed differently, approached differently, and their opinion is much less important than before. I navigate there the same way I do in the weight room. 
Several of my friends train with me now, all women. Others interest in what I simply saw as me getting healthy is humbling. 210lbs girls don’t think people are interested in them working to lose their ‘fish bowl’ as my friend so lovingly calls hers. 
62 weeks of strength training have flown by. My most recent program was the Texas Method and it saw me through my Great Grandmother’s fast decline, her death, and a car wreck. It also pushed me to my 1 rep squat PR of 225. 
This is not where I saw this trip taking me. And why I decided to listen to that strong old guy is most days beyond me. I do know that now I am stronger than I have ever been. I dropped 13 inches off my waist and close to 5 inches off each thigh. I weigh 143 lbs., lighter than I have been since I was 12 years old. 
Rarely am I asked how I got stronger. Much more often I am asked how I lost so much weight and kept it off. It doesn’t matter, the advice is the same. Buy the book and do what it says.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


I recently finished a little book entitled Humility by Andrew Murray. It was a great read which emphasized the root of all evil as pride and the root of all holiness as humility.

It is only 100 pages, but the chapters cover the fundamentals of humility. It has chapters about Christ's examples and teaching of humility in the Gospels, and examples of the disciples' humility (and lack-thereof).

Murray also explains how humility/pride is manifested in one's daily life and extremely relevant to one's every thought and interaction with others.

He also explains how humility is central to faith in God (only if you are humble can you completely put your trust in God) and how humility fundamentally means "death to self" and a deep recognition and understanding of yourself as nothing.

Murray ends with how humility leads to true human happiness and exaltation in God.

I highly recommend this eloquent book if one wants to understand why humility should be the sole focus of one's Christian life.

Below are a few amazing excerpts from this book:
I cannot too earnestly plead with my reader, if possibly his attention has never yet been specially directed to the want there is of humility within him or around him, to pause and ask whether he sees much of the spirit of the meek and lowly Lamb of God in those who are called by His name. Let him consider how all want of love, all indifference to the needs, the feelings, the weakness of others; all sharp and hasty judgments and utterances, so often excused under the plea of being outright and honest; all manifestations of temper and touchiness and irritation; all feelings of bitterness and estrangement, have their root in nothing but pride 
Listen to the words in which our Lord speaks of His relation to the Father, and how unceasingly He uses the words not, and nothing, of Himself. The not I, in which Paul expresses his relation to Christ, is the very spirit of what Christ says of His relation the Father. "The Son can do nothing of Himself" (John 5: 19) "I can of My own self do nothing; My judgment is just, because I seek not Mine own will" (John 5: 30) "I receive not glory from men" (John 5: 41) "I am come not to do Mine own will" (John 6:38) "My teaching is not Mine" (John 7:16) "I am not come of Myself" (John 7:28) "I do nothing of Myself" (John 8:28) "I have not come of Myself, but He sent Me" (John 8: 42). "I seek not Mine own glory" (John 8:50) "The words that I say, I speak not from Myself" (John 14: 10). "The word which ye hear is not Mine" (John 14: 24). 
It was because this humility was not only a temporary sentiment, wakened up and brought into exercise when He thought of God, but the very spirit of His whole life, that Jesus was just as humble in His intercourse with men as with God. He felt Himself the Servant of God for the men whom God made and loved; as a natural consequence, He counted Himself the Servant of men, that through Him God might do His work of love. He never for a moment thought of seeking His honor, or asserting His power to vindicate Himself. His whole spirit was that of a life yielded to God to work in. 
Brethren, here is the path to the higher life. Down, lower down! This was what Jesus ever said to the disciples who were thinking of being great in the kingdom, and of sitting on His right hand and His left. Seek not, ask not for exaltation; that is God's work. Look to it that you abase and humble yourselves, and take no place before God or man but that of servant; that is your work; let that be your one purpose and prayer. God is faithful. Just as water ever seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds the creature abased and empty, His glory and power flow in to exalt and to bless. He that humbleth himself -- that must be our one care -- shall be exalted; that is God's care; by His mighty power and in His great love He will do it. 
In striving after the higher experiences of the Christian life, the believer is often in danger of aiming at and rejoicing in what one might call the more human, the manly, virtues, such as boldness, joy, contempt of the world, zeal, self-sacrifice,--even the old Stoics taught and practiced these,--while the deeper and gentler, the diviner and more heavenly graces, those which Jesus first taught upon earth, because He brought them from heaven; those which are more distinctly connected with His cross and the death of self,--poverty of spirit, meekness, humility, lowliness,-are scarcely thought of or valued
In the creature, humility is the one thing needed to allow God's holiness to dwell in him and shine through him. In Jesus, the Holy One of God who makes us holy, a divine humility was the secret of His life and His death and His exaltation; the one infallible test of our holiness will be the humility before God and men which marks us. Humility is the bloom and the beauty of holiness. 
Humility and faith are more nearly allied in Scripture than many know. See it in the life of Christ. There are two cases in which He spoke of a great faith. Had not the centurion, at whose faith He marveled, saying, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel!" spoken, "I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof"? And had not the mother to whom He spoke, "O woman, great is thy faith!" accepted the name of dog, and said, "Yea, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs'? It is the humility that brings a soul to be nothing before God, that also removes every hindrance to faith, and makes it only fear lest it should dishonor Him by not trusting Him wholly. 
Look not at pride only as an unbecoming temper, nor at humility only as a decent virtue: for the one is death, and the other is life; the one is all hell, the other is all heaven.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Physical Strength

I just finished reading Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe, an incredible strength training author and coach.  Though the rest of the book goes into meticulous detail concerning the proper form and biomechanics of barbell training, the first chapter begins with an eloquent passage concerning the necessity of physical strength even in this day and age.  After reading it, you will see why I fell in love with him immediately.  Emphasis is my own:
Physical strength is the most important thing in life. This is true whether we want it to be or not. As humanity has developed throughout history, physical strength has become less critical to our daily existence, but no less important to our lives. Our strength, more than any other thing we possess, still determines the quality and the quantity of our time here in these bodies. Whereas previously our physical strength determined how much food we ate and how warm and dry we stayed, it now merely determines how well we function in these new surroundings we have crafted for ourselves as our culture has accumulated. But we are still animals - our physical existence is, in the final analysis, the only one that actually matters. A weak man is not as happy as that same man would be if he were strong. This reality is offensive to some people who would like the intellectual or spiritual to take precedence. It is instructive to see what happens to these very people as their squat strength goes up.

As the nature of our culture has changed, our relationship with physical activity has changed along with it. We previously were physically strong as a function of our continued existence in a simple physical world. We were adapted to this existence well, since we had no other choice. Those whose strength was adequate to the task of staying alive continued doing so. This shaped our basic physiology, and that of all our vertebrate associates on the bushy little tree of life. It remains with us today. The relatively recent innovation known as the Division of Labor is not so remote that our genetic composition has had time to adapt again. Since most of us now have been freed from the necessity of personally obtaining our subsistence, physical activity is regarded as optional. Indeed it is, from the standpoint of immediate necessity, but the reality of millions of years of adaptation to a ruggedly physical existence will not just go away because desks were invented.

Like it or not, we remain the possessors of potentially strong muscle, bone, sinew, and nerve, and these hard-won commodities demand our attention. They were too long in the making to just be ignored, and we do so at our peril. They are the very components of our existence, the quality of which now depends on our conscious, directed effort at giving them the stimulus they need to stay in the condition that is normal to them. Exercise is that stimulus.

Over and above any considerations of performance for sports, exercise is the stimulus that returns our bodies to the conditions for which they were designed. Humans are not physically normal in the absence of hard physical effort. Exercise is not a thing we do to fix a problem - it is a thing we must do anyway, a thing without which there will always be problems. Exercise is the thing we must do to replicate the conditions under which our physiology was - and still is - adapted, the conditions under which we are physically normal. In other words, exercise is substitute caveman activity, the thing we need to make our bodies, and in fact our minds, normal in the 21st century. And merely normal, for most worthwhile humans, is not good enough.

Friday, May 8, 2015

A Rare Speech by MLK

A friend of mine recently brought to my attention one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s lesser known speeches, "Beyond Vietnam." His critique of the government's actions and how it affects people at home, as well as the state of America into the far future, is still extremely relevant and applicable. It is a very powerful speech and extremely quotable, so I decided to share a few amazing passages.

"There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such."

"Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor."

"Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition."

"We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible."

"It is with such activity that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”"

"we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."

"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see than an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

"This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man."

"We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation."

"If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight."

The full text and audio can be found here:

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

An Ode to Friends

This life is a tunnel with no light at the end, only Someone assuring us that if we keep walking, we will get out of it. This tunnel is a maze that we can only hope we are getting better at solving and closer to exiting.

Friends are little candles along the way. Some last longer than others before they go out, and sometimes we ourselves are candles that last for different periods of time for others. It feels wonderful to have a candle, and it feels wonderful to be a candle.

Sometimes we can be candles for one another, and therefore have a flame and light that burns twice as strong.

These candles do not always lead us along this maze in the best possible way, but they always help us understand this maze a little better. And they are often better to have than wandering on our own in the dark.

Sometimes, these candles are so helpful, that we actually begin to enjoy the maze, even when we mess up.

Sometimes the candle burns all the way to the end.  Sometimes a candle goes out but can reignite at a different time, and perhaps many times over.

These little flickers of light, while not themselves the light that we hope is at the end, comfort us, remind us, and give us a little taste of that overwhelming, beautiful, radiant light that we faithfully anticipate together.  We must remind each other of that light.  We must revel together in the thought of that light.  But we must not settle for the current, tiny, albeit immediate light that is one another, and lose sight of that light that we cannot see, but which has been promised to us.

This tunnel is dark, damp, confusing, with scary sounds resounding against the walls, with dangers and obstacles to overcome.  But how much joy a little candle in the hand, with wax dripping, warming and hardening all over it, can bring.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Does the Devil really exist?

I've been reading Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism by Fr. Alexander Schmemann for Lent, which is the first book Fr. Athanasius Farag recommends on the topic of baptism.  (Schememann was also Fr. Tom's father-in-law by the way :,-) )  This book is mind blowing.  It is a very short book, only 150 pages, and yet in so few words it makes everything begin to make sense.  One section in particular has been very enlightening for me, the section in which he discusses the prayer of the renunciation of the devil in the baptismal liturgy.  It is so clear and helpful that I wanted to share some excerpts of it.

Here is one that discusses the Orthodox concept of evil/demons/Satan/dark powers:
The "modern man,” even an Orthodox, is usually quite surprised when he learns that the baptismal liturgy begins with words addressed to the Devil. The Devil indeed has no place in his religious outlook; he belongs to the panoply of medieval superstition and to a grossly primitive mentality. Many people, including priests, suggest therefore that exorcisms simply be dropped as "irrelevant” and unbecoming to our enlightened and "modern” religion. As for the non-Orthodox, they go even further: they affirm the need to "demythologize” the New Testament itself, to "liberate” it from an antiquated worldview—of which "demonology” is precisely an essential expression—which only obscures its authentic and eternal message. 
It is not our purpose to outline, even superficially, the Orthodox teaching concerning the Devil. In fact, the Church has never formulated it systematically, in the form of a clear and concise "doctrine.” What is of paramount importance for us, however, is that the Church has always had the experience of the demonic, has always, in plain words, known the Devil. If this direct knowledge has not resulted in a neat and orderly doctrine, it is because of the difficulty, if not impossibility, rationally to define the irrational. And the demonic and, more generally, evil are precisely the reality of the irrational. Some theologians and philosophers, in an attempt to explain and thus to "rationalize” the experience and the existence of evil, explained it as an absence: the absence of good. They compared it, for example, to darkness, which is nothing but the absence of light and which is dispelled when light appears. This theory was subsequently adopted by deists and humanists of all shades and still constitutes an integral part of our modern worldview. Here the remedy against all evil is always seen in "enlightenment” and "education.” For example: explain to teenagers the mechanics of sex, remove the "mystery” and the "taboos,” and they will use it rationally, i.e. well. Multiply the number of schools and man, who is naturally good, will ipso facto live and behave rationally, i.e. well.
Such however is certainly not the understanding of evil in the Bible and in the experience of the Church. Here evil is most emphatically not a mere absence. It is precisely a presence: the presence of something dark, irrational and very real, although the origin of that presence may not be clear and immediately understandable. Thus hatred is not a simple absence of love; it is the presence of a dark power which can indeed be extremely active, clever and even creative. And it is certainly not a result of ignorance. We may know and hate. The more some men knew Christ, saw His light and His goodness, the more they hated Him. This experience of evil as irrational power, as something which truly takes possession of us and directs our acts, has always been the experience of the Church and the experience also of all those who try, be it only a little, to "better” themselves, to oppose "nature” in themselves, to ascend to a more spiritual life. 
Our first affirmation then is that there exists a demonic reality: evil as a dark power, as presence and not only absence. But we may go further. For just as there can be no love outside the "lover,” i.e. a person that loves, there can be no hatred outside the "hater,” i.e. a person that hates. And if the ultimate mystery of "goodness” lies in the person, the ultimate mystery of evil must also be a personal one. Behind the dark and irrational presence of evil there must be a person or persons. There must exist a personal world of those who have chosen to hate God, to hate light, to be against. Who are these persons? When, how, and why have they chosen to be against God? To these questions the Church gives no precise answers. The deeper the reality, the less it is presentable in formulas and propositions. Thus the answer is veiled in symbols and images, which tell of an initial rebellion against God within the spiritual world created by God, among angels led into that rebellion by pride. The origin of evil is viewed here not as ignorance and imperfection but, on the contrary, as knowledge and a degree of perfection which makes the temptation of pride possible. Whoever he is, the "Devil” is among the very first and the best creatures of God. He is, so to speak, perfect enough, wise enough, powerful enough, one can almost say divine enough, to know God and not to surrender to Him—to know Him and yet to opt against Him, to desire freedom from Him.  But since this freedom is impossible in the love and light which always lead to God and to a free surrender to Him, it must of necessity be fulfilled in negation, hatred and rebellion. 
These are, of course, poor words, almost totally inadequate to the horrifying mystery they are trying to express. For we know nothing about that initial catastrophe in the spiritual world— about that hatred against God ignited by pride and that bringing into existence of a strange and evil reality not willed, not created by God. Or rather, we know about it only through our own experience of that reality, through our own experience of evil. This experience indeed is always an experience of fall: of something precious and perfect deviated from and betraying its own nature, of the utterly unnatural character of that fall which yet became an integral and “natural” part of our nature. And when we contemplate evil in ourselves and outside ourselves in the world, how incredibly cheap and superficial appear all rational explanations, all "reductions” of evil to neat and rational theories. If there is one thing we learn from spiritual experience, it is that evil is not to be "explained” but faced and fought. This is the way God dealt with evil. He did not explain it. He sent His Only-Begotten Son to be crucified by all the powers of evil so as to destroy them by His love, faith and obedience.

Here is another, discussing the relevance of the act of renunciation:

When this rite of renunciation came into existence, its meaning was self-evident to the catechumen as well as to the entire Christian community. They lived within a pagan world whose life was permeated with the pompa diaboli, i.e. the worship of idols, participation in the cult of the Emperor, adoration of matter, etc. He not only knew what he was renouncing; he was also fully aware to what a "narrow way," to what a difficult life—truly "non-conformist” and radically opposed to the "way of life” of the people around him— this renunciation obliged him. 
It is when the world became "Christian” and identified itself with Christian faith and Christian cult that the meaning of this renunciation began to be progressively lost so as to be viewed today as an archaic and anachronistic rite, as a curiosity not to be taken seriously. Christians became so accustomed to Christianity as an integral part of the world, and to the Church as simply the religious expression of their worldly "values,” that the very idea of a tension or conflict between their Christian faith and the world faded from their life. And even today, after the miserable collapse of all these so-called "Christian” worlds, empires, nations, states, so many Christians are still convinced that there is nothing basically wrong with the world and that one can very happily accept its "way of life,” all its values and "priorities,” while fulfilling at the same time one's "religious duties.” Moreover, the Church herself and Christianity itself are viewed mainly as aids for achieving a successful and peaceful worldly life, as spiritual therapy resolving all tensions, all conflicts, giving that "peace of mind” which assures success, stability, happiness.  The very idea that a Christian has to renounce something and that this "something” is not a few obviously sinful and immoral acts, but above all a certain vision of life, a "set of priorities,” a fundamental attitude towards the world; the idea that Christian life is always a "narrow path” and a fight: all this has been virtually given up and is no longer at the heart of our Christian worldview. 
The terrible truth is that the overwhelming majority of Christians simply do not see the presence and action of Satan in the world and, therefore, feel no need to renounce "his works and his service.” They do not discern the obvious idolatry that permeates the ideas and the values by which men live today and that shapes, determines and enslaves their lives much more than the overt idolatry of ancient paganism. They are blind to the fact that the "demonic” consists primarily in falsification and counterfeit, in deviating even positive values from their true meaning, in presenting black as white and vice versa, in a subtle and vicious lie and confusion. They do not understand that such seemingly positive and even Christian notions as "freedom” and "liberation,” "love,” "happiness,” "success,” "achievement,” "growth,” "self-fulfillment”— notions which truly shape modern man and modern society, their motivations and their ideologies—can in fact be deviated from their real significance and become vehicles of the "demonic.” 
And the essence of the demonic is always pride, pompa diaboli. The truth about "modern man” is that whether a law-abiding conformist or a rebellious non-conformist, he is first of all a being full of pride, shaped by pride, worshiping pride and placing pride at the very top of his values. 
To renounce Satan thus is not to reject a mythological being in whose existence one does not even believe. It is to reject an entire "worldview” made up of pride and self affirmation, of that pride which has truly taken human life from God and made it into darkness, death and hell. And one can be sure that Satan will not forget this renunciation, this rejection, this challenge. "Breathe and spit upon him!” A war is declared! A fight begins whose real issue is either eternal life or eternal damnation. For this is what Christianity is about! This is what our choice ultimately means! 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Honor Fr. Thomas Hopko with 4 Hours of Your Time

Our beloved father, Fr. Thomas Hopko, passed away two days ago, on Wednesday, March 18, 2015.   He has been such an impactful spiritual father to so many of us, despite most of us never having met him.

I grew up listening to him, since he was one of my dad's professors and a good friend of his at St. Vladimir's Seminary, and so his teachings are laced throughout my entire understanding of our Orthodox faith.  One lecture in particular was life changing for me, "Sin: Primordial, Generational, Personal."

Thank God he was extremely prolific in making podcasts on Acient Faith Radio.  I think the best way we can honor him is to make his teachings known and accessible to many more people, and for many more generations to come.  One way to do this is to transcribe his podcasts.  I've transcribed podcasts before, and his podcasts are each about an hour long, and so to transcribe one podcast would take about 4 hours of labor in total, writing/playing back/editing/etc.  If you transcribe 15 minutes at a time, you could very easily finish this project within four days.

Not only will transcribing his podcasts make them more accessible, but by the time you finish transcribing one podcast, you will practically have it memorized.  Everything he says is made of gold, and his thoughts are so clear and thoroughly explained that this is no doubt going to be an amazing spiritual exercise, especially in these last few weeks before Lent is over.

318 of his lectures/podasts on Ancient Faith Radio need transcription, from 2006 to this year.  If 318 people volunteer, this project could be done within a few weeks.

I created a spreadsheet with the title, description and link to every podcast that needs transcription.  You can pick which one you want to transcribe and sign up there.  The spreadsheet has 4 pages (you click on the tab at the bottom to switch between pages), for his series "Speaking the Truth in Love," for "Worship in Spirit and Truth," for his lectures at the Orthodox Institute conference in 2011, and for miscellaneous lectures give by him.

So, how can you get started?  Here is what you should do:

  1. Listen to one of his podcasts for your enjoyment
  2. If you like one of them, think about when you can set aside 4 hours of your time, and sign up for that podcast on the spreadsheet:
  3. Read the transcribing guidelines:
  4. Start typing!
  5. Send it in to Ancient Faith Radio:
  6. When they post it, update the spreadsheet with the link to your transcript.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Lost in the world of fitness supplements?

There is nothing more confusing out there than health and fitness supplements, even if it is your basic whey protein powder or your basic multivitamin. There are so many damn companies claiming to be your most effective supplement choice, and all of them have sponsored athletes that look great and use all their products. Then there is the ingredients labels. What the hell is all this stuff? You might try to look up each ingredient individually but all you'll end up with is, uhh I guess it's okay? But who the hell knows? Are the combinations good? Are the proportions good?

I have been supplementing with protein powder almost on a daily basis for five years now, ever since I started lifting with little 5 pound dumbbells in my dorm room.  In terms of protein powders, I've used whey, egg, casein, and vegan powders. I've also used various vitamin and mineral supplements (multivitamins, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B complexes, Vitamin E, iron, whatever else), pre-workout supplements, protein bars, fish oil, BCAA's, melatonin, and a ton of random stuff that I've gotten free at the gym or that come as free samples when you buy these supplements.

It has been a long confusing road in figuring out what is useful and what is healthy. I am still trying to educate myself as much as possible, but so far my go-to references are: will give you information on ingredients and general supplement analyses. It looks at scientific research studies and grades the supplement based on the robustness of the research done and the amount of supporting evidence.

If after reading up on the various ingredients and types of supplements, you decide to take one, next comes figuring out which company to buy from. will give you information on which companies are best to purchase from. It independently tests the product's label accuracy, purity, nutritional value, ingredient safety, and projected efficacy.

If you're in this health and fitness thing for the long haul, chances are you either already are or will eventually be taking some sort of supplement.  If you want to understand what you're putting in your body, you can ask your doctor, look at best seller lists, read Amazon reviews, and ask your friends, and still none of that will be enough.  You will need to continuously look at objective and reliable references, and so far and are best that I've found.  Check them out, if only to enjoy learning about the biochemistry.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Rethinking an Oppressive Social Practice

A social convention that I think needs to be modernized is looking down on farting and blessing for sneezing. We now know that you can get people sick with your sneezes, and you can control your sneezes. But farting doesn't get people sick, and you can't control them, and when you do try to hold them in you cause yourself great discomfort. When they come out, your physical relief is replaced with psychological torture, hoping people don't realize its you who farted if its silent, or several moments of embarrassment if it makes a noise and is obviously from you. You don't really get relief from sneezing, the noise is disturbing, and you could potentially cause other people several days of bed riddenness. Why do we reward such a practice with a blessing? Why don't we instead rejoice at the relief of another person?

Modern society has come very far. Oppressive practices like slavery have ended, women can now receive an education, work, and make a difference in the world. But this convention oppresses everyone and probably has the greatest practical influence on our day to day lives.

This practice is especially oppressive for women, because of the sexist concept of it being "unlady-like" (I still have no idea what that means). Women are already subject to so much day to day physical discomfort, from having to submit to a higher expectation of not farting, to wearing heels, to trying to suck your stomach in and pretend you're thinner than you actually are, or worse, wearing a corset, which is basically a torture chamber for your internal organs. All of those things probably even increase the pressure for the fart to come out and make it harder to hold it in.

Everyone would benefit from such a social revolution. Maybe we would all just be happier people. Even if I never have to fart again, I would still be more at peace with the world, knowing that I would be accepted and not ostracized simply for being human.  If someone farts, instead of being disgusted with them, I could take it as a way of them announcing to me, "It's okay, I'm human too.  You can be yourself."  And I could smile at them and take it as a gesture of love rather than offense.  Do we not already see it as a sacred rite of passage in romantic relationships?  When you have accepted each other and are finally comfortable enough to fart in one another's presence?

Maybe farting technology would have progressed long ago if we were simply honest and open about this reality.  Maybe they would have invented pills or underwear that make your farts smell good, and so every time someone farts it is a pleasant surprise.  Or maybe we would have figured out a way to turn it into reusable energy.  But instead we brush it under the rug and suffer as a community, and as a globe.  Why must we see it as a problem when it can be a solution?

This was written while trying to hold in a fart (or a few) while in the quiet room at the library.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

You Should Stop Reading My Blog

I am so utterly thankful and honored that there are people who read my blog.  There is so much content out there on the internet, and yet you choose to engage with me and entertain my thoughts.  But I cannot deny that you do have to set aside some of your time to read my posts, which may be hit or miss, while there is plenty of other content out there that is more beneficial to read.  So the least I could do for you, my beloved readers, is direct you toward other blogs that are much better than my own.

One of my favorite blogs is Fr. Stephen Freeman's blog "Glory to God for All Things."  He updates much more consistently than I do and has infinitely better thoughts to share.  So, hypothetically speaking, if you had to pick, you should stop reading my blog and read his.  It will be quite an upgrade.

Any one of his posts is a worthwhile read, but to start with, his most recent post is "Saved in Weakness."  This post is relevant as Lent is fast approaching, one in which he speaks about confession and repentance.  Another huge plus is that he uses some excerpts from one of the most amazing books of all time, The Way of the Pilgrim.

Here is the link to his blog and his post "Saved in Weakness":

I love you and I don't want you to leave me, but if you leave me for him, I will understand.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Boredom During Liturgy

I stood during Nativity liturgy, lamenting my inability to focus.  I already let most of the liturgy pass me by, in one ear and out the other.  How am I going to go the rest of the night like this?  I decide to try something.  I look at the page number we were on, and the last page number of the book.  Fifty pages of English text to go.  Hm, that's not as bad as I thought.  Then I think, okay, what is the hardest part of liturgy?  What part feels like it just drags on and on?  It's the Seven Short Litanies.  Okay, when it comes to the seven short litanies, I will count them on my hand.

The litanies come.  As each one is said, I count them off.  It flies by, and I'm startled by how short each prayer is.

I continue to try to pay attention to the flow of the liturgy, and how each prayer is different and has its purpose.  It struck me how each prayer is so powerful and succinct.  What I thought was nauseatingly long turned out to be a super short crash course in the theology of the church.

It seemed like the heavens opened that night.  After 22 years, God finally decides to answer my prayer for the first time.  Is it possible I could go to church without dreading the four hours ahead of me?  Is it possible to pay attention the whole time, yes, the whole time, rather than intermittently shifting in and out of consciousness at random points throughout the liturgy?

Before, there were only two things I would try to do to force myself to focus during the service.  One is what Abouna has always taught us about prayer.  When you're in church, you leave all your problems and worries at the door.  It's not a time to let your mind wander and worry about what you're going to do after church, or how badly you're going to fail for procrastinating so much, or why is that person staring at me, or does this boy like me, or how could that person talk to me like that do they know who I am?  It's not even a time for personal prayer, it's a time to participate in the communal prayer of the church, with His body, and around His Body.  This method is a matter of brute force.  Every time I'd catch myself not paying attention, I'd bring my mind back to the prayer and try to really believe what we were saying.  But that did not make it any easier to enjoy the prayer or prevent my mind from inevitably wandering again.

The other rule of thumb for focusing is to pay attention to the prayer and try to actually pray it.  During the litanies, if we are praying for the sick, think of the people I know who are sick, so that that "Kyri eleison" actually means something.  Doing that also helps, but nonetheless is not a sustainable focus-enhancing method.

So, what is the divine inspiration that seized me and caught me up into the third heaven, you ask?  What is this high spiritual insight that I've received, that will make every Sunday different, rather than the same monotonous words every time?  That will make you ecstatic to get out of bed, antsy for church to start, and sobbing when it ends?

A gym analogy will help me explain.

Just like going to the gym, you can't just walk in having no idea what to do and with just the vague notion of "this is what I'm supposed to do to get fit."  You can't expect to get a good workout in by wandering around bsing on a bunch of machines until you're bored and waiting for an hour to pass by so you can tell yourself you spent an hour at the gym and deserve some chocolate cake.  When I go to the gym I know exactly what exercises I'm going to do, in exactly what order, and exactly how many reps, sets, and how much rest in between.  I am able to pace my energy and focus, giving my all in each rep yet not losing sight of what is next.  I have a solid grasp on the flow of my workout, and am fully conscious of what I should be focusing on during each exercise, knowing good form, knowing proper breathing, etc.  I also am fully aware that this is a process that will incrementally make me stronger, as long as I give it my all day in and day out.  I could be doing exactly the same chest routine for months on end, but it is always different, because I am always trying to push more weight.  The same routine is constantly changing me.

Likewise with liturgy, I realized I had no idea what I was doing or saying.  Liturgy starts, my conscious brain shuts off and goes into autopilot, I mouth the responses on cue, take communion, and leave with the realization "I know I was there, but I have no idea what happened these last four hours."  I go to church with a vague notion of why I should be doing this, with no deep connection or conviction that this is exactly the prescription that I must follow to constantly become a better person.  The prayers are said in the same order every time, but I don't really know why they are in that order or how they differ from each other in any meaningful way.  But perhaps if I had the same sort of exact knowledge of the liturgy as I do of my workouts, the same words would be new for me each time.

What I did during Nativity liturgy is try to have a proper grasp on exactly what is going on in the liturgy.  I've attended thousands of liturgies during my life, have all the words memorized, but I hardly have the order memorized, and I hardly have the purpose memorized.  Of course it is going to drag on if at any point, I have no idea exactly how much has passed and how much is left to go.  Of course focusing is going to be a laborious task, if I have no idea how to pace myself.

I've never taken a course in liturgy or even read a book about it.  But just paying attention to the progression of the liturgy and seeing it's unique component parts as unique component parts, rather than a giant combination of words that come between the beginning and the end, made the liturgy so much more enjoyable and manageable.

Several years ago Fr. Athanasius gave us an outline of the liturgy.  I think if I learn the outline and get a good grasp on its order, I won't fall victim so easily to the petty concerns that clamor for my attention.  Maybe these same words will actually start to change me.

Here is a link to the pdf of the outline:

Please comment with anything you find helps you focus!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Tips for New Year's Resolutions

I think it is rather naive when people set a million different resolutions for themselves for the new year, especially when they do not have a plan that will enable them to feasibly reach them.  But picking a few goals that are simple yet will provide a huge payout is certainly a worthy endeavor.  Here are two goals that I would consider to be among the most worthy and practical resolution's one could have.

Goodreads does a reading challenge every year that I just discovered: and the benefits of finishing a whole book--not just reading tons of short bits of writing--cannot be underestimated.

I've signed up for the challenge, to read 36 books this year, about three books a month.  I picked this goal because I'm normally reading three books at the same time: some literary fiction, something in health and fitness, and something philosophical/theological/spiritual.  I think it is a useful challenge to pose towards oneself, even if your goal is only to finish one book this year.  If you've never been much of a reader and if reading one book is your goal, you will probably exceed that challenge and discover that you had no idea how much you were capable of reading, let alone how much you could actually come to enjoy it.

Another resource that may be useful is Jamie Eason's Livefit Trainer:  This was the program that I followed which introduced me to lifting.  And now, several years later, I might be considered a seasoned lifter.  If anyone has a resolution to get more fit this year and to make fitness a permanent part of one's lifestyle, this is a great program to follow.

If you have any other ideas on worthy resolutions and useful resources, please share in the comments!