Genesis 1:14-23

And God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years,  and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.

And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also.

And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth,  to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens.”

So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”

And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.

Previous blog:  Genesis 1:1-13

Next:  Genesis 1:24-2:3

Genesis 1:1-13

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,

the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.

The Spirit of God hovered over the face of the water.

Then God said,

“Let there be light”; and there was light.

And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.

And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”

So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so.

God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so.  God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so.  The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

Next:  Genesis 1:14-23

1st Day of Great Lent

And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:5)

Two hymns to ponder from the services for Monday, the first day of Great Lent, one from Matins:

LET US BEGIN THE ALL‑HOLY SEASON OF FASTING WITH JOY;

LET US SHINE WITH THE BRIGHT RADIANCE OF THE HOLY COMMANDMENTS OF

CHRIST OUR GOD:

WITH THE BRIGHTNESS OF LOVE AND THE SPLENDOR OF PRAYER,

THE STRENGTH OF GOOD COURAGE AND THE PURITY OF HOLINESS!

SO, CLOTHED IN GARMENTS OF LIGHT,

LET US HASTEN TO THE HOLY RESURRECTION ON THE THIRD DAY,

THAT SHINES ON THE WORLD WITH THE GLORY OF ETERNAL LIFE!

(1st Monday of Great Lent, Matins)

The 2nd hymn is from Vespers of the first day of Great Lent:

LET US PRESENT A GOOD FAST, WELL‑PLEASING TO THE LORD!

A TRUE FAST IS ALIENATION FROM THE EVIL ONE;

THE HOLDING OF ONE’S TONGUE, THE LAYING ASIDE OF ALL ANGER,

THE REMOVAL OF ALL SENSUALITY,

OF ACCUSATION, FALSEHOOD AND SINS OF SWEARING.

THE WEAKENING OF THESE WILL MAKE THE FAST TRUE AND WELL‑PLEASING.

(1st Monday of Great Lent, Vespers)

The Wages of Sin is Death

“The classical Christian teaching is that death originated in the sin of Adam and Eve and spread to all of humankind, since all sinned (Rom. 6:23) and the ‘sting of death is sin’ (1 Cor. 15:56). This mystery is deeply and profoundly embedded in human personal and social reality and is not subject to scientific or empirical verification. Yet both common experience and modern medical science tell us something about it. We have established statistical correlations between overeating (gluttony) and heart disease, sexual promiscuity and dangerous sexually transmitted diseases, and excessive drinking and liver disease, to name just a few. We are only beginning to realize how the stresses generated by various kinds of deception, vengefulness, and manipulation in the workplace and in the home can lead to a whole range of life-threatening illnesses. Where the vices rule, death draws near.” (Vigen Guroian, Life’s Living towards Dying, pgs. 42-43)

God’s Response to Original Sin: Mercy

“In this way, then, did God from the very beginning constantly show kindness to the human race. For as soon as He created the first man, He straightway and from the first settled him in Paradise, granted him that gift of a carefree life, and offered him the enjoyment of everything in Paradise except one tree. Because he wished to indulge his taste, and because his wife misled him, he trampled underfoot the command which God imposed on him and committed an outrage against the great honor which God had bestowed upon him. But see even here the magnitude of God’s kindness. For God no longer had to judge worthy of any forgiveness one who had proved so ungrateful for unearned benefactions, but He should have put him beyond the pale of his providence. But He did not do so.

Not only that but, like a loving father who is moved by his natural affection for his unruly child, He does not measure His rebuke to the sin nor, again, does He forgive him altogether, but He punishes him with moderation, so that the child, like a ship, may not thereafter run aground on a reef of greater evil. This is the way in which God works.

Since man had shown great disobedience, God cast him forth from his life in Paradise. God curbed man’s spirit for the future, so that he might not leap any farther away, and He condemned him to a life of toil and labor, speaking to him in some such fashion as this: ‘The ease and security which were yours in abundance have led you to this great disobedience. They made you forget my commandments. You had nothing to do; that led you to think thoughts too haughty for your own nature, for idleness hath taught all evil. Therefore, I condemn you to toil and labor, so that while tilling the earth, you may never forget your disobedience and the vileness of your nature.

Since you exalted yours to great heights and refused to remain within your proper bounds, on this account do I command you to return again to the dust from which you were taken, for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.’ To increase man’s pain and to make him feel his fall to the full, God did not settle man at any great distance from Paradise, but nearby. However, He blocked off the entrance to it, so that man might see each hour the joys of which he had deprived himself by his failure to obey; thus might man profit from this constant admonition and in the future be more careful to keep the commandments God had given to him. When we enjoy blessings without perceiving the manner of the benefaction as we should, and then are deprived of them, we get a fuller perception of these blessings, and we also endure a greater pain of loss. This is what happened in the case of the first man.” (St. John Chrysostom, Ancient Christian Writers: Baptismal Instructions, pgs. 44-45)

The Lenten Spring (2012)

We just read the verses from matins on Wednesday that the Lenten Spring has arrived – the Flower of Repentance.  Lo and behold, today the 1st crocuses emerged, as if on command to joyously announce the season – as they have done for the last several years.  (see also The 2011 Lenten Spring has Arrived  and The 2010 Lenten Spring has Arrived)

In Matins this morning, I read both of the readings for the day from the Holy Prophet Zechariah (8:7-17, 8:19-23)

There were two segments that really stood out in my mind.

Zechariah 8:16-17

These are the things that you shall do:

Speak the truth to one another,

render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace,

do not devise evil in your hearts against one another,

and love no false oath;

for all these are things that I hate, says the LORD.

Simple rules for keeping Great Lent.   The real fast has to do with the heart and doing God’s will, not just avoiding certain foods.  Fasting is lived in honesty, true judgments, making peace

Zechariah 8:19

Thus says the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful festivals for the house of Judah: therefore love truth and peace.

The fasts of the Lord are to be seasons of joy and gladness, cheerful festivals.  How can we make them so?   Certainly if we love God more than the world, we will understand the joy in a season of self denial.

What greater joy that to do the will of God?   Love truth and peace.   This is God’s will for us.

The Great Depression and the Great Recession (2)

This blog is the conclusion of The Great Depression and the Great Recession (1) in which we consider two articles which compare and contrast the 20th Century’s  Great Depression with the 21st Century’s Great Recession.  In this blog we are looking at “The Debt Bomb” by Louis Hyman from the Winter 2012 edition of the WILSON QUARTERLY.   Hyman sets the scenario:

“In the last hundred years, economic inequality in America has peaked twice: in 1928 and in 2007. It is no coincidence that our periods of greatest inequality have coincided with excessive lending. An industrial economy based on mass production requires mass consumption. Either credit or wages must be provided to keep the wheels of industry turning. When wages stagnate and inequality widens, debt gains nearly unstoppable momentum.”

The Great Depression came to an end during WWII after which there was a great economic boom in America and other parts of the world.

“Living in mortgaged homes, driving in financed cars, postwar Americans relaxed at new shopping centers. They borrowed more but also earned more, which meant that while the habit of borrowing grew, debt as a share of income remained relatively stable. Consumer credit kept factories humming, and those well-paid industrial jobs kept the debt burden contained. Banks and finance companies rather than capital markets funded the borrowing, which kept a leash on the credit available. The lender always had skin in the game.

The origins of the shift from a relatively egalitarian manufacturing economy to an unequal financial economy can be seen in the midst of this prosperity.”

The boom, as history has shown in capitalist countries is only part of a cycle which also has a down side.  The prosperity following WWII  changed as “…consumers also began to rely more on borrowing to make ends meet. The careful balance between rising debt and rising income was coming undone.”

The modern American economy began to shift away from manufacturing and more toward profit making through financing – investing and lending which tempted people with potential huge profits over short periods of time.

“As profits in other parts of the economy receded, the profits of this kind of lending exploded. And as consumer debt began to crowd out business debt, less money was available to invest in productive businesses and create the kinds of good jobs that had made America’s postwar formula work.”

“When Jack Welch took the helm at General Electric in 1981, largely on the strength of his success in managing the company’s consumer finance division, his vision was clear, he would later write: ‘Finance is not an institution—it has to be . . . the driving force behind making General Electric ‘the most competitive enterprise on earth.”’  Some older divisions, such as the lighting operations, would be continued, but the profits would be reinvested in financial products.”

“While GE’s profits grew, its manufacturing businesses shrank. In 1980, the year before Welch took control, the company had employed 285,000 people in the United States. By 1998, the U.S. payroll was down to 165,000. For Welch, and for successful American corporations generally, profits mattered more than all those well-paid factory jobs. The incentive was plain. CEOs had a responsibility to the shareholders to produce more profit. A dollar invested in debt made more money than a dollar invested in a factory. For the country as a whole, however, the rising profitability of finance came at a devastating cost.

As finance gained in strength and in its importance to the American economy, bankers increasingly complained that their creativity was being hampered by those pesky regulations that had safeguarded the economy since the 1930s.”

To me what Hyman is portraying is that manufacturing creates jobs that pay well and thus prosperity is spread to a great number of people (the workforce).  On the other hand, the movement in an economy to becoming increasingly based in financial products reduces the workforce thus causing  a loss in good paying jobs and concentrating wealth in the few.   The effects on the nation’s economic well being is negative – as was seen in the 1928 and 2007, both years in which the American capitalistic economy collapsed.

“Contrary to what many politicians and pundits have claimed, the upsurge of securitization was not simply a product of ‘deregulation.’ Regulations may have changed to promote a certain kind of financial system, but at no point did the state abandon the market to itself. It was the interplay of public and private purposes and mechanisms—Freddie Mac, S&Ls, mortgage-backed securities—that made these new sources of capital possible.”

Hyman offers a warning that there are lessons to be learned, or history will simply repeat itself.

“That structural connection between economic inequality and the nation’s financial crisis is still largely ignored. The dangerous investment choices that precipitated the crisis are but a symptom of this underlying cause. Income stagnation continues, pushing Americans toward greater borrowing and less saving. Unemployment remains extraordinarily high. And those who do find work often have to accept lower wages.

Meanwhile, as those at the bottom hang on, profits continue to concentrate at the top. Without a good alternative, capital continues to be invested in consumer debt rather than in the businesses—big and small—that provide jobs. Bankers are once again skittish about lending. If we are to find solutions to the crisis, it is more important to ask why so much money flowed into mortgage-backed securities and so little into productive businesses than to search for villains to blame for what went wrong.

During the Great Depression, New Deal policymakers figured out ways to harness the resale of debt, but they recognized that increasing the supply of credit without also increasing wages would only lead to another crash. But in the last 40 years, debt levels have climbed while wages have remained stagnant because securitization made it much easier to lend to consumers than to businesses. That continuing imbalance is a threat to the long-run stability of the American economy.”

Romans 8:38-39*

Asceticism – fasting, self denial, abstinence, taking up one’s cross, following Christ – was in the early days of Christianity seen as a way to imitate the Holy Martyrs whose love for God was not diminished by suffering or death.  So as we prepare to enter into Great Lent, we encounter this hymn from the Wednesday of Cheesefare Week:

40 Martyrs of Sebaste

NO TRIBULATION, THREAT, OR HUNGER,

PERSECUTION, FIRE, SWORD, OR SAVAGE BEAST

COULD SEPARATE THE HOLY MARTYRS FROM GOD!

THEY WERE BOUND BY HIS LOVE, AND LIVED AS EXILES IN THIS WORLD!

THEIR SUFFERING HAS WON THEM A GLORIOUS PRIZE:

THEY INHERITED THE HEAVENLY KINGDOM,

WHERE THEY CEASELESSLY PRAY FOR OUR SOULS!

Self denial, abstinence, fasting – asceticism makes us ask: do we love the world more than we love God?

(* “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels,  nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,   nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”)

The Great Depression and the Great Recession (1)

Blogging for me is a way to express some thoughts and reactions to things I read or learn about.  As I’ve note before one doesn’t have to know something to blog, one only has to have an opinion which one is willing to express.  So I’m going to venture off onto economic issues because I recently read about them, first in  the WILSON QUARTERLY 2012 article “Revisiting the Great Depression” by Robert J. Samuelson.   I found interesting his thesis that

The role of the welfare state in today’s economic crisis recalls the part played by the gold standard in the calamitous 1930s.”

“Just as the gold standard amplified and transmitted the effects of the Depression, so the modern welfare state is magnifying the effects of the recession.”

I’ve read different comparisons between the 20th Century’s Great Depression and the recent Great Recession of the 21st Century, but Samuelson is the first I’ve seen indicate that the current “welfare state” may have the same drag on the economy that the gold standard had in the 1930’s.   The gold standard is thought by some to have hamstrung the economy in the 1920’s and 30’s limiting growth by limiting the amount of capital available to be invested in the economy.    Samuelson defends comparing the effects of the gold standard on the economy of the 1920’s with the effects of the modern welfare state on the modern economy:

 “Casting the welfare state in this role will strike many as outrageous. After all, the welfare state—what Americans blandly call ‘social spending’—didn’t cause the 2007–09 financial crisis. This dubious distinction belongs to the huge credit bubble that formed in the United States and elsewhere, symbolized by inflated real estate prices and large losses on mortgage-related securities. But neither did the gold standard directly cause the 1929 stock market crash. Wall Street’s collapse stemmed, most simply, from speculative excesses. Stock prices were too high for an economy that was already (we now know) entering recession. But once the slump started, the gold standard spread and perpetuated it. Today, the weakened welfare state is perpetuating and spreading the slump.

What has brought the welfare state to grief is not an excess of compassion, but an excess of debt.”

Samuelson goes on to describe how the US pulled out of the depression because of certain demographic truths.  But he also notes what factors today are not exactly the same as in the time after the Great Depression.  Our climb out of the Great Depression had some factors in its favor which are not true today.

“But this system required favorable economics and demographics—and both have moved adversely. A younger population was needed to lighten the burden of supporting the old, the largest claimants of benefits. Rapid economic growth was needed to generate the tax revenues to pay for benefits. Indeed, the great expansion of benefits started in the 1950s and ’60s, when annual economic growth in Europe and the United States averaged about four percent or more, and the expectation was that this would continue indefinitely. Long-term economic growth is now reckoned closer to two percent a year…”

But the unfavorable demographics in Europe and the US during the current economic crisis are not those of the post-Great Depression times.  So modern governments have tried a different set of solutions to the economic crisis:

“The means of escape from these unhappy trends was to borrow. Some countries with extensive welfare systems that didn’t borrow heavily (examples: Sweden and Finland) have fared well. But most governments became dependent on bond markets.”

The results of government efforts have to date not been totally successful, though some would argue a point harder to prove: what was done prevented an even worse economic disaster.    Samuelson offers a moral to the story:

“The mistake, popularized largely by economists, was to believe that regulation of the economy could be derived from theory and converted into practical precepts for policy. The reality is that economic life is not solely described or dictated by rhythms suggested by economic models. It moves in response to institutions, technologies, beliefs, and cultures that follow their own logic, sometimes with completely unexpected, mystifying, and terrifying consequences.”

The world’s economy has proven to be more difficult to push into recovery than many had hoped.  President Hoover in the 20th Century was criticized for not doing enough to stimulate the economy because of his conservatism; President Obama has been criticized for doing too much because of his being liberal.  But the two crises represent different times with efforts made having results that cannot exactly be compared to each other.   As in chaos theory, there are so many factors, and so many unpredictable factors that shape the world’s economy that trying to predict the exact effects of certain “stimulus” efforts  may not be possible.

In the next blog I will look at another WILSON QUARTERLY article, “The Debt Bomb”,  which analyzes the causes of the ongoing Great Recession.

Next:  The Great Depression and the Great Recession (2)

The Flower of Repentance

From the Matins Hymns for Wednesday of Cheesefare Week (the week before Great Lent Begins) comes two hymns which offer us thoughts for Great Lent.  The first is a jubilant proclamation of the arrival of the Lenten Season.

THE LENTEN SPRING HAS COME!   

Lenten Rose

THE FLOWER OF REPENTANCE!                                       

BRETHREN, LET US CLEANSE OURSELVES FROM ALL EVIL,

CRYING OUT TO THE GIVER OF LIGHT:

GLORY TO YOU, LOVER OF MANKIND! 

For Christians a season of repentance is joyful not mournful for it is exactly an entire season devoted to obeying Christ’s very first sermon: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.”    Time has a unique relationship to the Kingdom of God – time is fulfilled by the Kingdom.   Time was set in motion by the Creator to be fulfilled, and now we come to that season in which we experience the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom –  a time of repentance.

We are called not to cleanse ourselves of meat and animal products but of evil!

The second hymn challenges us to consider what this season of fasting and abstinence means for our lives.  Food fasting for a period of time in itself means nothing, for devils never eat!  Food fasting is just a way to practice abstinence – what we really are to be fasting from is sin, evil and the passions.

The healing of St. Paul (Acts 9:17-18)

IN VAIN DO YOU REJOICE IN NOT EATING, MY SOUL!

YOU ABSTAIN FROM FOOD, BUT ARE NOT PURIFIED FROM PASSIONS!

IF YOU HAVE NO DESIRE FOR IMPROVEMENT,

YOU WILL BE DESPISED AS A LIE IN THE EYES OF GOD!

YOU WILL BE COMPARED TO EVIL DEMONS, WHO NEVER EAT!

IF YOU CONTINUE IN SIN, YOU WILL PERFORM A USELESS FAST:

THEREFORE, REMAIN IN CONSTANT WARFARE,

THAT YOU MAY STAND BEFORE THE CRUCIFIED SAVIOR,

OR RATHER THAT YOU MAY BE CRUCIFIED WITH HIM WHO DIED FOR YOUR SAKE://

REMEMBER ME, LORD, WHEN YOU COME IN YOUR KINGDOM!

Our warfare, Chrysostom said, is not to make the living dead but rather to make the dead to live.  The constant warfare is a spiritual battle against our own self-centered passions, against temptation and anything that turns our lives away from a dependency on God.  The human does not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).

Take up the cross and follow Christ

Fasting, prayer, scripture reading, repentance, seeking forgiveness, forgiving and generously giving charity to others are the ways in which we practice the faith especially during Lent.   Being a disciple of Christ is not a spectator sport:  note the hymn’s reference that we are not just to stand before the crucified Savior.  Rather we are to be crucified with Him!   When we deny ourselves, we imitate Christ who died on the cross for humanity.  He did not please Himself, but served us in love.  Lent is a season devoted to imitating Christ not just contemplating Him.