Friday, June 17, 2016

The Angel Cried to the Lady Full of Grace or On Marrying Jordan



As of this post, the 2016 Paschal season is over and I am looking towards Pentecost (hush you Gregorian calendar users who celebrated Pentecost months ago).


When it comes to liturgical hymns for the Paschal season, my favorite is "The Angel Cried" which is sung write near the end of the Eucharistic Prayer in the Divine Liturgy and before the Lord's Prayer, taking place of another Theotokian (Marian) hymn usually sung during this time. Listen here:





For me, it exceptionally captures the joy and elation of the season and its celebrations.


During this Paschal season, I got married to Jordan. Having grown up Latin Rite Catholic and not having any friends or family prior to my conversion to Orthodoxy that were Orthodox or Eastern Catholic, I had never been to an Orthodox wedding until my own, and had only watch YouTube videos of them. No amount of wedding planning or preparations truly prepared me for that day, especially emotionally.


When Jordan walked down the aisle to meet me in front of the iconostasis, the above hymn was sung by the choir. Now this hymn takes on a new meaning for me. Not only does it celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, the salvific action of Christ for His Bride (the Church), but now also celebrates the joining of myself to my bride. It now also celebrates the resurrection of myself, dead to Alex the bachelor, but risen anew as Alex the husband, called to lay everything, even my life, for Jordan.


Really, I just wanted to share a beautiful hymn, and now made even more meaningful for me.


Christus resurrexit! Resurrexit vere!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Getting Married!

Next month, I will be married. I have told others off and on how I met my beautiful fiancée, but now I want to tell more on a wider format, and it will only be from my point of view, not hers.


Back in 2012, I was a member of the swing dance club at ISU as a Heartland student, and as winter break was approaching and finals right around the corner, the club threw a winter dance. It started roughly at 8 PM, ended roughly at 11 PM. Afterwards, there was a blues dance after party until 3 AM.




I showed up with my friends, and the swing music started. I was enjoying the music, talking and dancing with my friends on one half of the dance floor. At around 9 PM, one of my friends saw that a group of women from Bradley University were on the other side of the dance floor, grabbed me by my shoulders, and pushed me towards the Bradley women. I tried to catch my balance, but I was not doing well at that, so I grabbed the first woman I could out of the group to regain my balance. Luckily for me, grabbing this woman was much smoother than my flailing around for balance. As I grabbed her, I said "We are going to dance now." She responded, "O--okay!"


Assuming she was from Bradley, I said, "So, I hear you are from Bradley."


She looked at me confused and responded, "Um, no. I go to ISU."


We got to talking a bit more. She said that she was a part of the Doctor Who fan club, a biology major, loves Sci-fi, classic rock, and also swing dancing. Great! I love Doctor Who as well! I used to be a physics major, so I love science. Sci-fi is one of my favorite TV genres, I grew up on classic rock, and I clearly love swing. Needless to say, we hit it off quite well.


After meeting at 9 PM, we danced for the rest of the night together, including the blues after party until 3 AM. Two weeks later, we started dating. A year after we started dating, I proposed. She said yes. Now, we are going to be getting married. And yes, we still dance together.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Income Inequality and Democracy

We live in a post-Enlightened society that strives for itself to be egalitarian. We promote democracy to all shores, and look down upon nations who lack in democracy. We sneer at the "un-democratic," while praise nations that have a well established democratic process. Meanwhile, an issue keeps popping up: income inequality. So, in this egalitarian push for more democracy, what is the connection between democracy and income inequality? Is there even a connection between democracy and income inequality?

To be honest, it took me awhile to figure out what income inequality was even referring to. As one who works in the financial sector and working towards both a finance and a philosophy degree, inequality was merely a symbol on a balance sheet. Therefore, income inequality must merely a symbol on a balance sheet showing two or more incomes that are not equal. So, dear reader, to avoid the same confusion that I had of this otherwise seemingly broad term, I will narrow the definition to: "the degree of inequality in the distribution of family income in a country" taken from the CIA Factbook.

The above link ranks 144 nations by their GINI index, or the index of which income is distributed equally. Rating from 0 to 100, the higher the index, the more unequal the distribution. A brief summary of the list is seen as:

Sample GINI Indexes
Rank
Nation
Index Rating
1
63.2 highest
43
45.0
144
23.7 lowest

 It is almost a given in post-Enlightenment Western society that democracy is a great thing, something all people should strive for without question. The Economist publishes an index that ranks how democratic a nation is. [Note: that link goes directly to the Economist page, but to see the published file, you have to register. Registration is free, but only after having registered, then you can download the pdf. Luckily, someone has done that, and reproduced that PDF without the need to register here.] The index of 167 nations is broken up into four groups:

  • Full democracies: 24 countries, and most are comprised of the majority of the OECD countries.
  • Flawed democracies: 52 countries, mainly Latin America and Eastern Europe
  • Hybrid regimes: 39 countries
  • Authoritarian: 52 countries, mainly Africa and central and east Asia

Therefore, if a country is labelled as a democracy, no matter how flawed, the country ranks in the top 50th percentile, i.e. better ranked than the other half of the world. Even more so, about half of the population lives in the democratic societies, and a third live in the authoritarian societies.

True, direct, or pure democracy is supposedly egalitarian by nature: it attempts to take power from the few and gives it to the majority. This makes those in the majority equal to each other. On the contrary, income inequality is by nature anti-egalitarian: wealth flows upward towards the minority and leaves behind the majority in poverty. The strange phenomena is that most of the countries with a democracy rating in the Economist Democracy Index (an alleged good) also have a high GINI index (an alleged not good). So what is the deal? Would the majority (who has the power) not also strive for the majority of the wealth? Would they not use the power they hold to enforce a legislation of a more equal distribution of wealth?

It turns out that the World Bank also asked this question and released a study of their own, attempting an answer. By looking at Latin American countries (both relatively high in the Democracy and GINI indexes), the study compares the growth of democratic elements, such as education, with the growth or decline of income inequality. Their conclusion? Income inequality trends towards more inequality before trending towards less inequality.

I am not entirely convinced by that answer. Our democracy is more established than most of Latin America and Eastern Europe, plus we rank higher on the Democracy index (19 out of 167), and yet we rank 43 out of 144 in the GINI index; we rank higher than even some of those Latin American and Eastern European countries. Do they educate their citizens better, as indirectly implied by the World Bank study? No, that is not it either, as we rank 5 out of 187 in a United Nations Education index, ranking much higher than those other countries in question.

There is a saying that "absolute power corrupts absolutely." If, in democracies, the power belongs to the majority of the people, then should it not follow that the majority could then be corrupted? The issue is not necessarily with whether the people are educated properly, but whether the people wield their power properly. We continue to utilize our power of the majority to wage war on drugs, on the Middle East, or even on the un-democratic. We clamor for a greater aid for the impoverished, but never actually legislate any real change. We continue to use our power to create a comfortable life, an easy life, and a self-privileged life. Maybe the deeper issue is not necessarily with the rich and the poor becoming more divided, but with the power of the majority finally having been corrupted and squandered.

I am not trying to imply that democracy in and of itself is a bad thing, although I am going to be critical of any idea that gives the power to the masses. Nor am I fully convinced that income inequality is as big as a problem as the media pushes. Yes, a CEO should make more than an entry level worker. Yes, the owner should take home more income than the employee. Yes, the more qualified employee should earn more than the less qualified even if the job is the same. However, I will also scrutinize any employer who fails to provide a full time employee a living wage, a board of directors who gives the CEO a raise then tells lower management and the employees that not only will they not get a raise, but that there may be layoffs because the company cannot afford that much in its Wages Payable budget, or even a manager who pays an employee more than another because one is a woman of color and the other is a white male. It just strikes me as odd that there are enough democratic societies, especially the US, Latin America, and Eastern Europe that still fail to look after our poor. Why to we continue to claim to be democratic and egalitarian, and then continue to use our democratic processes to vote in the politicians that do nothing to change the status quo?
Word count: 1103 words

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Brave New 1984


By Biblioklep found at <http://biblioklept.org/2013/06/08/huxley-vs-orwell-the-webcomic-2/>

While an amusing comparative look at both Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, the two quintessential works of dystopian literature, I cannot help but think about the truth of this when also compared with the world we live in.

In everyday living among the masses, we look more like Brave New World. We have movies, television shows, Youtube, and video games that allow us to mindlessly forget reality. The family unit has been dissolved and promiscuity has found itself as the replacement. We are more obsessed with our own public image by our physical beauty and material possessions than we are with the state of our souls. Religion (but not necessarily spirituality) is seen as backwards and repressive. We love our drunkenness and parties complete with fornication and threesomes ("orgy-porgy!"). Sexual promiscuity is even mass produced via feelies ... I mean movie-format in both DVD and media streaming online. Even as I type this, Spotify has just advertised a way to "attract women in less than 60 seconds," complete with a sexy blonde sitting quite seductively. We even fight for the legalization of soma ... I mean marijuana. Facebook (and other forms of technological social media) are connecting us more while drifting us apart.

However, on the flip side, news outlets are flooded recently with stories concerning the NSA and their "spying eyes," as if we did not already know that Washington did not already have Nineteen Eighty-Four's Big Brother watching us night and day. Remember, President Bush may have signed the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, but President Obama still enforces it.  The NSA, the DoD, and the DHS have been able to keep tabs on all United States citizens and most non-citizens. (BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU). President Obama has droned citizens without trial for the sake of "security." (WAR IS PEACE). As American society at large has deemed Christianity as the enemy of progress with Islam as the martyrs of Christian Crusade-like advancement, American news outlets refuse to talk of near-genocide of Christians by the hands of Islamic terrorists in the Middle East. (IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.) There is even this quote found on the White House webpage:
There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to flag@whitehouse.gov.
I am sure the Ministry of Love ... I mean the White House will be nice and friendly to those thoughtcriminals they find.

We are in an ever flowing flux of two dystopian thoughts living side by side simultaneously. On one hand, we have the everyday society found in Rouge City in Steven Spielberg's A.I. Artificial Intelligence while having the technological overlords found in V for Vendetta. I, for one, am not okay with this.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On True Apostolic Fasting


Χρήστος Ανέστη!  Christus resurrexit!




Bright (Easter/Pascha) Week is over, a week of joyful celebration as Pascha Sunday is celebrated for eight days as one day.  We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song!  This season marks the reason we are Christian: the Resurrection.  This is what separates us from everyone else.  We do not believe in myth nor abstract thoughts as the pagans but in concrete events that happened in history.  This gives us the power to sing:

"Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν,

θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας,
καὶ τοῖς ἐν τοῖς μνήμασι,
ζωὴν χαρισάμενος!"

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

Also, to throw in a wonderful Baroque song about the Resurrection that we all know:




Though the season continues until Pentecost, the fast free celebration of Bright (Easter) Week has come to an end.  Now we are called back to our cycle of joyous fasting.  First of all, Christ assumes that we are going to fast.  He had no need to mandate it, because He acted as if we were already knew that we had to.

The Didache (Διαχε), or "The Teaching of the Apostles," is a early Christian work dating possibly earlier than even some of St. Paul's.  It is a short summary of Christian ethics and actions, a proto-catechism of the early Church.  On fasting, it mandates:
But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites [early Church term for unbelieving Jews], for they fast on the second [Monday] and fifth day [Thursday] of the week. Rather, fast on the fourth day [Wednesday] and the Preparation (Friday).
This fasting is abstaining from all animal products, oil, and wine.  This consumption of only fruits and vegetables leaves us focused on a lack in our diet, forcing us to reflect on our sinful lack of God, and further forcing us to orient ourselves back towards Him.  In our control over our diet such as this puts us in the habit of controlling the rest of our passions to allow God to work through them the way He plans.  Food is not evil, but our overuse of food is.  Sex is not evil, but sex outside the proper context is.  Fasting forces us to re-orient our passions back to the Lord.

This fast of vegetation-based diet is not just only found in the Apostolic Fast (Wednesdays and Fridays), but is also the proper way to fast during Great Lent to prepare for Pascha/Easter and the proper way to fast during Advent to prepare for the Nativity.  Also, for my Eastern brothers and sisters, the proper way to fast during the two weeks proceeding the Dormition of the Theotokos (Assumption of Our Lady).  The great wisdom of the liturgical calendar is that the fasting periods not only force us to re-orient our passions, but to also truly appreciate the feasts that celebrate the Resurrection, the Incarnation, and the icon of perfect Christian end.

The great thing is that secular health science supports this wisdom of the liturgical calendar even if it does not realize it.  I have read or heard from numerous sources, including a water show in Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, that it is healthy for both the human person and the Earth's ecological systems to refrain from animal products at least twice a week.  This does not even mention an additional two months of the year that Christians have already been doing from the beginning.  I also was listening to a favorite NPR science podcast of mine called Science Fridays that discussed the dangers of eating too much red meat.  Just further secular support of an already apostolic Christian habit.

Here in the West, we, unfortunately, only abstain from meat on Fridays.  During Lent (although unknown, we are still mandated to abstain on all Fridays throughout the year, or at least give up something of great pleasure). It seems as though we have forgotten in modern times.  This is one thing we can learn from the East: the laity partaking of the aesthetical fasts of Lent, Advent, and the Apostolic Fast (and the Dormition fast if we are daring).  Not only would Mother Earth thank us by not eating all her animals too quickly, but also our souls would thank us. To take it from Celeborn in The Fellowship of the Rings: "Do not despise the lore that has come down from distant years; for oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know."

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Beatles or On Moral Relativism...

Recently, I had found my iPod and an auxiliary to auxiliary cable to listen to it while I drive and remembered how awesome the music I had on there. Among my awesome music consists of most of the Beatles albums. Upon remembering this, I chose to listen to my favorite Beatles album, Rubber Soul, and from there, more reflection on the songs ensued as like before.



Again, the lyrics will be typed in black bold and my commentary will be typed in red italics.


He's a real nowhere man,
Sitting in his Nowhere Land,Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.
But what makes this human person a "nowhere man?" Where is he dwelling that is so empty that it contains nothing?

Doesn't have a point of view,Knows not where he's going to,Isn't he a bit like you and me?

And this is where. This is the emptiness of moral relativism, that there is no truth. Without a set of absolute and objective truths to guide us, we "know not where [we're] going to[.]" As this mindset of "there is no truth" heavily prevails in the overall social mind of Western society, this "nowhere man" is just like us. Empty and wandering.

Nowhere Man please listen,You don't know what you're missing,Nowhere Man, the world is at your command!

A little dogma goes a long way. Dogma does not enslave but frees an individual. Holding to absolute truths allows for people to communicate with others. A person who believes that "there is no absolute truth" commands not the world and all its wonder, but an egotistical universe in his own mind, isolated from the rest of society. The irony is that "there is no absolute truth" is in fact a dogmatic statement.

He's as blind as he can be,Just sees what he wants to see,Nowhere Man can you see me at all?

As I said, moral relativism isolates the person into blindness. The person holding onto relativism refuses to listen to anyone else, because "there is no objective and absolute truth. Your truth is good for you while mine is good for me." This cuts off communication. How could two people communicate when they have built a world of their own in their own heads, built on this idea? "My truth is mine, your truth is yours." How egotistical.

Nowhere Man, don't worry,Take your time, don't hurry,Leave it all till somebody elselends you a hand!

Here I will say, "No! Hurry! Find that absolute truth! Find it as fast as you can!" This will make Nowhere Man the fullest human. Truth must be objective, and not living to that objective truth makes one a liar.

Doesn't have a point of view,Knows not where he's going to,Isn't he a bit like you and me?


The statement "there is no truth" is actually quite interesting to dissect and think about in and of itself.
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There is no absolute truth.




This makes an absolute statement, therefore...



...false.

...this statement is...

...true


There must be absolute truth.


By being true, we have discovered an absolute truth.




The original statement is therefore contradictory.




There must be absolute truth.








The statement rejecting absolute truth in fact logically points to an absolute truth. The objective reality of absolute truth is therefore binding on each and every human being, and it is our duty to follow this truth and mold our lives in reflection of this truth. To fall short of this is dehumanizing and the person failing to do so is nothing more than a liar.

--With bacon,
The Wandering Thinker