Tuesday, October 11, 2011


As I mentioned an earlier post, buying responsibly requires a lot of effort. You have to become a minor expert in the product that you want. Putting in all that work, just so you can spend money (usually, spend more than you would otherwise) and then hopefully not do it again for years to come, seems like something of a letdown. There should be more payoff. For a blogger, of course, this means that surely I'm here to educate others about how they can also make more informed purchases. So now you get the gory details of my attempt to buy the right boots.

I started by searching online for boot brands that could be repaired. I identified local dealers, figuring that if they carried one or two repairable brands, they'd probably carry others. My first visit was to In Step Leather, a local biker shop. They had a decent selection, but understandably most of their stock was taller than I really wanted. Because I needed to ride a bicycle in winter, I couldn't have my boots restricting ankle movement. They offered to help track down what I needed, if I could come up with a good set of criteria; so I started a list:
  • Welt construction
  • Steel shank
  • 6" height
  • Soft toe
  • Lug sole
  • Waterproof
  • Non-insulated
  • Brown or tan leather
A logger boot would work, but I only found one brand that carried 6" loggers. For the most part, I was looking at work boots. I found four brands, each of which had one style that looked promising, ranging in price from $100 to $200. I tried other stores to see if I could try them on, but it was nearly impossible to find anything in stock. General-purpose shoe and clothing stores didn't carry the heavy-duty lines that I was interested in; industrial stores carried almost exclusively safety-toe boots.

Along the way, a friend suggested L. L. Bean, which I didn't know carried work boots. It turned out that they had one that fit my criteria, and it was made by Chippewa--one of the brands I had looked at but ruled out because I couldn't find the right style. The local store actually had my size in stock (sort of), and their satisfaction guarantee, free shipping, and no-hassle return policy were some added benefits to consider. Those factors alone would weigh heavily against most other options, where I'd be faced with ordering something online and paying return shipping if it didn't fit.

I also discovered that two of the boots were not made smaller than a size 8, which ruled them out altogether. So my list was down to three. Of those, the L. L. Bean was the most expensive (but with significant benefits, as I already mentioned). The Wolverine (it appears that the 6" is no longer available) was close in price, and both were American-made. But since I couldn't find a local supplier, it wasn't worth the small savings over the L. L. Bean. The remaining option was a Carhartt work boot, made by Red Wing. I discovered when I called about sizing that all Carhartt styles were temporarily discontinued. They had ended their contract with Red Wing and were transitioning to a new manufacturer. This explained why the Red Wing store was listed online as a Carhartt retailer, but said when I visited that they'd stopped carrying them. There were still boots out there in my size, but I would have to order them online, and the more time went on, the harder it would be to exchange them. Still, they could be had for about $50 less than the L. L. Bean, and as far as I could tell, would fit most of my criteria.

The main disadvantage to the L. L. Bean was the price tag. But the advantages were substantial. Again, I could try on the boots in the store and know what I was getting. Even if they didn't have my size in stock, I could order with free shipping and return them to the store if they didn't work out for any reason. L. L. Bean has a lifetime satisfaction guarantee, so that extends the benefit considerably. Also, they were American made, which was one of my top priorities starting out. $50 extra was still a tough pill to swallow, but in the end it seemed like the better option, especially if I could bide my time and wait for a decent sale.

It took a while, but I finally caught a 10% off everything sale for Columbus Day. In the meantime, I'd discovered that I could use points from one of our credit cards toward a $50 L. L. Bean gift card. I returned to the store, so I could try them on one more time, and realized that the medium was very snug. They came in a wide (EE) option, but the store didn't stock them. So I ordered online (knowing I could exchange them for free if they were too big) and waited an extra week for delivery. It was a good move. I don't think my feet are supposed to be EE, but they fit perfectly. The construction is exactly what I wanted, and the quality seems high. Out of my footwear purchases so far, this seems like the biggest win.

Friday, September 23, 2011

dress shoes

My old dress shoes were from Payless, because of course, I wanted to pay less. I actually had two pairs--one that I kept at work, and one that I wore to church. That doesn't say much for multitasking, but it saved me a lot of trouble commuting. I didn't have to wear dress shoes with shorts, or mess them up by traveling in the rain and snow, and I didn't have to carry them back and forth in my already overstuffed bag. It also created a natural rotation so that (if I had shoes where it mattered), they could rest between uses. I managed to keep them going for quite some time, but as luck would have it, they both wore out within a few months of each other.

My first thought was to select a high-quality brand, figure out what size and style I would need, and then watch for a used pair on eBay. I started the process some time ago by visiting a shoe repair shop and asking what to look for in a repairable shoe. That gave me a little bit to go on, but I still felt in over my head. I tracked down some brands that were listed on shoe repair sites and visited a few stores to try them on. I hadn't achieved much clarity, when it occurred to me that I might still have another pair hanging around. These were the shoes that I wore in our wedding 15 years ago. I believe I got them free at church. Sure enough, I had shoved them somewhere in the back of the closet and forgotten about them. They're extremely stiff and not very comfortable, but I figured I could get by with them for a while.

A few months later, while shopping for boots, it occurred to me that work shoes might be a better way to go. I rarely need to dress up all that much, so they would probably meet my needs. They would be designed for comfort and probably have wider, less constricting toes. Good ones should be repairable, like any good work boot. So I started looking for brands of work shoes. I knew Red Wing, of course, and I discovered some John Deere oxfords. I also discovered Doc Martens, which appeared to have an industrial line.

I couldn't find a promising local vendor for the John Deere shoes or for Doc Martens. Sure, plenty of stores sell Doc Martens, but to get the industrial line, you have to go somewhere that specializes in safety shoes. I didn't want steel toe or anything like that, and the selections weren't good enough to find anything else. They ran more expensive than the John Deere, so if it came to ordering a shoe online, I figured there wasn't much point.

I thought Red Wings would be my best bet, since I knew there were local dealers. But there was really only one style that I was interested in, and the local store didn't carry it in stock. They said I'd have to pay in advance to order, so I wasn't much better off than with the other brands--plus, they were the most expensive option.

I finally decided to try ordering the John Deere shoes, but I discovered that they were discontinued. I also discovered that a lot of online stores will list sizes based on what they think they can get from the manufacturer. So although it appeared that I could get them for around $70, I was all the way up to $100 by the time I found someone who could get me a pair in my freakishly small size. (I don't know why they could get them when others couldn't, but who am I to complain?) And even at that, they weren't sure there would actually be any available.

After I ordered, I started wondering what I would do if I couldn't get the John Deere shoes. I had pretty much assumed that I couldn't get anything American made, but by this point I'd started to think a little more about that issue. Sure, locally made was my first choice, and American made was the next best thing. But if I couldn't get that, was everything else all the same? I would say now, not really. You see, there are at least two kinds of imports. There's the stuff, like Persian rugs, that we import because it originated in some part of the world where the quality is simply unparalleled. That's just where you have to go to get the real thing. Then there's the stuff that we import because it's cheaper to make it somewhere else and ship it halfway around the world. I would say the first kind is morally superior, because it's not about eliminating jobs here and exploiting lower standards over there, just to save a few bucks.

So even though Doc Martens are a British brand, that doesn't necessarily put them on a par with Dan Post boots (the manufacturer of the John Deere brand) made in China. As it turns out, most Doc Martens are also made in Asia, but not all. Some of their vintage styles are still made in the UK, and although this does not include their industrial line, they are still supposed to be roomy, comfortable, repairable shoes. Of course, they're also more expensive than other Doc Martens, but that's to be expected. I found an online coupon and ordered a pair to replace my shoes at work, which had just developed a split in the sole.

The John Deeres arrived, and the sizing was pretty accurate. If anything, they were a touch loose--but I can live with that. I was mostly concerned that they might end up being too small, so I couldn't wear them. They're oiled leather and look very much like work boots--more than I was expecting once you're wearing them with pants so you can't see how high they go. But I think they'll do the job, and the nice thing is, the care should be the same as for whatever boots I finally buy. I kind of wish I'd thought more about the whole "made in China" thing sooner, but aside from that, I'm happy with the purchase.

The Doc Martens took quite a bit longer to arrive, but they also turned out to be the right size. They're not pointy like a lot of dress shoes, but they're also not quite as roomy as I was hoping. I think that and the stiff leather account for any discomfort I felt up front. I doubt they'll ever be my most comfortable shoes, but as dress shoes go, they should break in OK. I think I'll keep them at home for a while and try to figure out which pair makes more sense to have at work. The Doc Martens look nicer and would probably work with a wider range of casual-to-dress clothes. But if they're the less comfortable of the two, I might better save them for less sustained use, like church and special occasions.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

obsessing about leather

Of course, if I'm going to invest in shoes and boots that I hope will last for years to come, I also need to make sure I take proper care of them. There's no point resoling worn-out uppers. Coincidentally, we also recently bought a used leather couch. (That one was Julie's idea, but I like it.) In the process of moving it, I managed to scuff some corners, so we'd been trying to figure out what we could do about that. It all worked out nicely, because it turned out the solutions were quite similar.

I spent quite a bit of time looking online for information about leather care. One thing I began to discover was that experts tend not to advise what's popular. Products like mink oil and Sno Seal are downplayed in favor of regular conditioning. The general idea seems to be that leather is skin, and its main problem is that it's no longer wrapped around a living animal. Since it lacks a natural source of moisturizing agents, it needs regular treatment to keep it flexible, breathable, and waterproof. Greasy or waxy products that clog the pores will diminish breathability and will generally not soak into the leather well enough to keep it flexible. Instead they advise conditioners made mostly of beeswax or lanolin.

Of course, one of the problems with looking online for this kind of information is knowing how far to trust the sources. Mostly you find Web sites for leather care products, where they tell you why other stuff doesn't work right. Obviously. But I did find one or two sites run by leather repair shops that said the same thing. I also got an important recommendation in passing from a biker apparel shop. When I was looking for local boot dealers, I came across In Step Leather, which specializes in motorcycle apparel but sells a wide range of boots. Unfortunately, they didn't have the specific brands and styles that I settled on, but they were very helpful throughout the process. Since they do a lot with leather, I asked about our couch, and they recommended Outback Leather on Main Street in Laurel.

Outback does all kinds of leather repair and sells some leather care products. They specialize in equestrian, which I guess is a good idea, so close to the Laurel Race Track. The shop has loads of character, and the proprietor was very helpful. He confirmed what I'd read online about leather conditioning and recommended a brand called Bickmore. Regarding the couch, he suggested conditioning the whole thing, while emphasizing the scuffed areas. After a few applications, there was significant improvement. You can still see the marks if you look for them, but some are almost completely invisible, while the worst are just slightly discolored.

Because regular conditioning is supposed to waterproof leather, I've also become a bit obsessive about applying the stuff to my shoes. I figure I'll do this for a while, since I don't know how long they sat around before shipping, or how well the leather was oiled in the first place. Later, I'll settle into a more regular routine. So far, my obsession has paid off. I don't know if I ever would have found the solution for the couch if I hadn't been thinking so much about boots. It will take longer to determine how much it helps to extend the life of my shoes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

overthinking footwear

I'm afraid I've developed something of a shoe fetish. Don't get me wrong--I won't be the next Imelda Marcos or anything; my closet should fit me for years to come. But just as the Fathers warn that there are two types of gluttony--the kind where you eat everything in sight, and the kind where you eat only the best food money can buy--I'm pretty sure there are at least two types of obsession when it comes to shoes.

For quite some time, I've been thinking (more than doing anything) about buying more responsibly. I've tried to be realistic about it, which I guess is part of the reason that not much has happened. You see, my financial decisions affect more people than me, and while I would be willing to make a certain level of sacrifice to placate my own sense of moral responsibility, in general I've tried to avoid forcing that on others. So, once you subtract out the big-ticket items that affect the whole household and the routine purchases that Julie typically handles, there's really not much left. In fact, my primary means of buying responsibly is not to buy at all, or to muddle along with something until it's completely worthless. An example here would be my infamous first pair of Crocs, which I'm still wearing years later, even though they have rather large holes in the bottom.

A somewhat less well-known example is my trusty pair of boots. My real snow boots, which I'd had since I think 5th or 6th grade, wore out sometime after we moved to Maryland. Since Maryland winters never get very severe, I decided not to replace them and fell back on my hiking boots, which I'd got free from my father-in-law. They're probably around 15 years old now, and the past couple of winters I've had to hit them with Super Glue to keep them from falling apart. I realized last winter that this couldn't go on forever, so I started planning to buy new boots.

Now, at this point I should probably explain what I mean by "buying responsibly." (There's hardly an accepted definition.) The path of least resistance is to buy in accordance with the marketing we're subjected to every day. Being a world-class cheapskate and someone who doesn't exactly like to shop around, for me this would normally mean buying from Walmart or a similar discount department store. After all, who doesn't like everyday low prices? But when you stop and think about it, this is a very superficial way to do business.

Somewhere back in the dawn of time, someone needed food or clothing or shelter, and did what he could to find it or make it. Before too long, he figured out that, although he wasn't good at everything, he could trade for things that others did better. This created an opportunity to specialize and get even more skilled, and everyone benefited from the system. Money was introduced, because it's easier to carry than, say, a sheep; and merchants arose, whose business was getting stuff from remote places. But generally speaking, you were still not far removed from the actual producer. Values of things made sense and depended on factors like how much labor went into production, how far you had to go to get them, and how scarce the raw materials were. You pretty much knew what you were getting, where it came from, and whether it was a fair price. In those days, the effect that your purchases had on people in your own community was pretty obvious.

Today, the system is much more complex, and part of the outcome is that I can easily conduct a transaction without even thinking about the people involved. I'll never know anything about the Third-World sweatshop worker who assembled my sneakers. The guy in the store who helps me buy them doesn't know her either. He also doesn't know much of anything about the product and barely knows how to run a cash register. I'm pretty sure some kind of machine could do his job better, and if I buy my sneakers online, I assume it did. I'm not thinking about the small shop owner who can't make enough money to stay in business, or the laid-off factory worker who can't find a job for his skill set, or the absurd amount of fuel that it takes to move my cheap goods halfway around the world, or the living standard of the person who does make them. I'm just thinking about what I want and how cheap I can get it.

So, if I'm going to buy responsibly, I need to turn off the marketing, stop buying reflexively, and consider the most important priorities. For me, there are at least three:
  • Products made and sold as locally as possible. Some products can realistically be found in the local community; for other things, like shoes, this often means buying American. It's hard enough to find shoes manufactured in the USA, without worrying about whether they were made in the Pacific Northwest or the Deep South. I would love to buy a shoe made here in Maryland, but if I can't do that, I'd at least like to know that most of my money is helping to support American industry.
  • Products made to last. This means at least two things. They should be made well, so that they don't wear out quickly; and they should be constructed according to renewable methods, so that they can be easily repaired. Most shoes these days are made with glue-on soles. Repair shops have figured out ways to work with them--mostly by cutting off the soles and re-building them according to more traditional methods--but it seems more sensible to buy shoes made properly in the first place, if the intention is to use them as long as possible. I'd rather not chuck shoes in a landfill when they still have life in them. So repairability is big for me.
  • Products that can multitask. I don't want to have to buy a separate pair of shoes for every activity. So for instance, if I'm buying boots, I want them to work for walking, hiking, shoveling snow, and riding a bike in winter.
Following these priorities is not easy. It's not the kind of information that manufacturers or retailers want you to think about. So I've found myself spending a lot of time thinking about shoes. I tell myself that it's just for now--that once I've bought the shoes I hope to buy, I can go years and years without thinking about them again. But right now, it really does feel like an obsession. Case in point, this is already a long post, and I haven't got to the details of my purchases yet. There is more to come . . . .

Monday, June 27, 2011

1812 Overture

Ft. McHenry is one of the few places where I can feel patriotic. Although it was used to imprison Maryland legislators suspected of favoring secession, it was also where the Battle of Baltimore was fought and won. The War of 1812 may have been a silly war, but at least here in Maryland it wasn't for the sake of American expansion. Here, it was about freedom from British control, plain and simple. Our clippers harried British ships, and when we came under full-scale attack, our well-prepared defenses won the day. The Star Spangled Banner may be our national anthem, but its home is in Baltimore.

While poking around online for information about the War of 1812, I came across a reference to the 1812 Overture. I knew about it, of course--a popular tune at Independence Day celebrations, during fireworks displays, and the music to which V set his explosions in V for Vendetta. If I'd had to guess, I would have supposed it to have some connection with our War of 1812. Not only would I have been wrong, but I would have had twice the reason to be embarrassed.

The same series of Napoleonic Wars that led Britain to blockade American ports also saw the invasion of Russia. But Napoleon stretched his army too far, and he was forced to retreat, losing most of his men along the way. Tsar Alexander I commissioned the building of Christ the Savior Cathedral as a thank-offering, and it was completed 68 years later amid festivities. It was at that point that Tchaikovsky wrote the Overture to commemorate the battle. The piece includes two renditions of the troparion of the Holy Cross, which had been something like the Byzantine national anthem and was often used in times of great distress as a corporate prayer for deliverance. It's a familiar tune to me--my local parish is dedicated to the Holy Cross, so we sing the troparion pretty much every Sunday.

Apparently Tchaikovsky was very popular in America during his lifetime, and his composition was just so well-suited to the 4th of July! It's one of the few classical pieces written for cannons. So despite Cold War concerns about all things Russian, its popularity has survived the 20th c. largely intact. I suspect that most Americans have no idea where it originated or what it's about. (At least, it makes me feel better to think that I'm not the only one.) It's just another selection in our patriotic repertoire.

Which is fine with me. I'll quietly look forward each year to hearing the former Byzantine and Russian national anthems played prominently for American Independence Day.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

foreign language in elementary school

The HC school board is currently considering a proposal to pilot a foreign language program at the elementary school level. The idea is to integrate the use of computer technology into regular classroom instruction and eliminate the hour-long segment that they spend each week in a separate computer lab. (I guess they would still potentially use the lab space, but it would be with their homeroom teacher, and it would relate directly to whatever they're working on in class anyway.) This would free up two half-hour time slots each week for language instruction, which would be undertaken according to a content-based approach. The language instructor would work with the students on content they're expected to learn anyway--science, social studies, etc.--but conduct the class in a high percentage of the foreign language, so they get exposed to its various elements. Obviously, the emphasis would be on vocabulary and situational dialog; there would be little technical discussion of the grammar and structure of the language. The proposal is to teach all students in all schools Mandarin Chinese, but they estimate that they could offer two language options for about 10% more cost.

I have no objection to them studying a foreign language, and I'm reasonably sure the integrated approach to technology could work, though I'm not at all certain that it will. I guess my main question relates to the language selection. Now, I'll readily admit that as someone who has studied several different languages, I'm probably biased by not being personally interested in Chinese. I understand why it was chosen--the number of people in the world who speak the language, the role of China in the world economy, and the length of time and effort required to achieve some level of fluency (which makes it more beneficial to get an early start)--but I still think an argument can be made against it.

It's certainly sensible to learn the language of our new overlords. China produces the goods we buy, and loans us the money to buy them. When our politicians bicker us into default, it is China that will be first in line to repossess our country. History is filled with examples of major powers whose languages became the common currency of trade and government--Akkadian, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, etc. English is one of the more recent examples, but we're probably not far from the time when the sun really will set on the British/American Empire. China is a logical choice for the next big thing.

But I wonder if it isn't morally superior to change tactic, especially if we're not quite ready to admit defeat on the world stage, and instead reach out to those who live within our borders in ever-increasing numbers and will likely surpass English-speakers in the overall population. I'm talking about the Hispanic population, with whom we share this half of the world, and many of whom have one way or another made their way to the United States. Learning the language of those who are powerful, because we must, is one thing; but learning the language of those who are not, because we can, is something altogether different.

I also wonder if we aren't missing an important aspect of language learning. It used to be standard to learn Latin, not so much because of all the Latin-speakers out there with whom we could converse, but because of what it teaches us about our own language. I'm not so naive as to think that we'd return to that any time soon, but doesn't this other purpose of learning a foreign language apply to some degree when we learn any other language? It helps us to think about similarities and differences, and with good instruction, we can understand how those connections arise. But the further two languages are removed from one another, the harder it can be to find informative connections. Especially when we're talking about language taught at the elementary school level, they probably won't draw many conclusions about grammatical structure by experiencing two languages. But cognate words are much easier to discover and can be very useful in building vocabulary in one's own native language. It seems to me that students would gain more insight about English by learning one of its closer relatives.

The point about needing more time to learn Chinese was one I didn't think of until it was specifically brought up in discussion. There is a great deal of sense to it, but I wonder how realistic it is. A lot of the point of how this program is designed is to make it something that will work for all students. But do we seriously think that all, or even most, students will continue their study of Chinese once they have other options? And don't the same factors that make it a longer enterprise to learn Chinese also make it that much easier to lose in a summer what they've learned during the school year? How much benefit will they retain over time?

Consider writing, for instance. I don't know if there is any intention to teach Chinese writing--I would assume there would be, but maybe it's considered too complex to bother with. Either way--if they don't cover writing, students have missed an area of learning; if they do, the struggle will be long and hard, and most of them will probably forget everything they ever learned. On the other hand, a language like Arabic would also take substantial time to learn, would have quite a bit of relevance in today's world, and would challenge students with its writing system. But here, "challenging" does not mean "inaccessible." Arabic writing is difficult, but it is still an alphabetic system (technically, it's an abjad, but I'm trying not to be technical) and therefore involves a relatively small set of characters. Even if some information is lost over the summer, the task of reviewing and re-learning at the beginning of the next year is much smaller. But if we're talking about a language program for all students, it's probably better to go with something that uses the same basic Latin characters students are already familiar with.

I also like the argument that teaching English-speaking students Spanish will help them interact with their fellow students whose first language is Spanish. If it is true that Spanish-speakers typically have more difficulty adjusting to American schools than other immigrant groups, anything we can do to help bridge this gap and make the transition easier will likely save the schools money they might otherwise spend on special assistance programs.

For these reasons, I think Spanish is the better way to go. I say this as someone who has never formally studied Spanish, who doesn't speak Spanish, and who has no Hispanic heritage. But if we're going to teach one foreign language in all elementary schools, I think Spanish wins as the most useful and attainable option.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

in defense of polygamy

We've been paying for TV for a couple of years now. It has its advantages, I suppose. There are more options for the kids, not many of which are worth having. (My own recollection of a childhood without pay TV is that I mostly watched prime-time programming--the Muppet Show, of course, but action and sci-fi shows like A-Team, Airwolf, and Automan come to mind.) We decided to pay extra for DVR, which has the distinct benefit of eliminating commercials from much of our viewing. Mostly the broader selection seems to have had the negative effect of niche viewing. Where before Julie and I used to spend time after the kids went to bed watching sit-coms and a few action dramas like Alias and Lost, now she has a long list of TLC-type programming and I have local government TV. I can only take so much of little people and hoarders and coupon clippers, and my tolerance for shows about wedding dresses and giving birth is almost non-existent. She groans in what I assume is agony, if she happens to walk through the room and catch 15 seconds of a school board meeting.

One of the few shows that we have managed to watch together is Sister Wives. I guess it meets all the usual requirements of standard TLC fare--prying into someone else's family life, border-line freak show, abnormal numbers of kids, and the tired format of reality TV, where even the most mundane moments are supposed to generate suspense and tension. I'm mostly interested in the phenomenon of polygamy--interested enough, I guess, that I can put up with the rest of it.

I should say, I'm not a polygamist in reality or in principle. Personally, I can't imagine how or why anyone would want to have more than one wife. Sustaining one such relationship takes enough energy, and as I've told Julie, I don't even envision myself remarrying if something ever happened to her. I also don't think polygamy was ever God's intent for human relationships; but the fact is, he did allow it. And that, I think, is significant.

From Mesopotamian law, we get a picture of polygamy for expedience. The motivation seems to be mostly childbearing. If a first wife couldn't produce, a second wife might be taken. Laws were provided to protect the rights of the first wife, since the wife with children might otherwise supplant her as more valuable. This same pattern plays out in the Bible, with Sarah and Hagar and later with Leah and Rachel. The only other kind of polygamy we see is when Israel's kings start taking multiple wives for political reasons. Both types seem to produce negative side-effects--internal family strife, religious compromise, and even tribal warfare. But they are tolerated within limits, as is divorce, probably to prevent the kind of actions people might have taken without that allowance. (Think, Henry VIII . . . )

What's harder for me to understand is polygamy that seems to be valued for its own sake. I've heard--though I'm no authority on the subject--that Mormon doctrine teaches salvation for the man as head of a household, where his wives' salvation depends on their relationship to him. I suppose, if that is widely known and accepted, it could be a motivation to extend salvation through marriage. But is that really a doctrinal difference between mainstream Mormons and the polygamist type? Or is it simply that polygamy became a cultural norm within Mormonism, and some conservatives turned it into a religious conviction, mostly because their church betrayed that practice? The reason for polygamy never really seems to be addressed in the show--it's presented as a lifestyle choice, often based on upbringing, but otherwise without much explanation.

But I think it's this presentation as a lifestyle choice that holds my attention. In a culture where we've come to accept extramarital sex, cohabitation, divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, and even same-sex marriage as more or less a matter of personal choice, why do we look at polygamy as just some obscure freak-show fodder? As a Christian, I look at the options out there, and I see polygamy as a whole lot more defensible than most of them. I'm sure there are abuses, and I would guess that making it illegal skews the numbers of those willing to make that choice toward the lunatic fringe. But the family in the show seems reasonably healthy--arguably, a good deal more healthy than so many half-families and re-mixed families resulting from divorce. The women chose this relationship as adults. The kids seem to interact well together. They seem to be getting by financially. I'm not even sure how they can be prosecuted, since he's only married legally to one of the four wives; but in any case it seems like an archaic legal stance to consider this criminal activity, while a man sleeping with multiple women but married to none of them would be considered safe, legal, and normal.

Is it that we just haven't had enough activism directed at recognizing polygamy as a lifestyle choice? Is it that we're culturally biased to accept choices that destroy family more easily than those that promote it? I don't know, but I can't escape the feeling that this is something worth defending. I wouldn't want to be polygamist, I wouldn't advise polygamy. But if we're destined to have a culture of choice, how can we possibly rule it out as an unacceptable option? And maybe, just maybe, having polygamy as a viable option on one end of the spectrum would help to create a more balanced perspective on traditional family.

Monday, May 2, 2011

from the Akathist for the Repose of Those Who Have Fallen Asleep

I'm no friend of Osama bin Ladin, and I'm not about to dispute whether he deserved to die. Still, as Gandalf told Frodo, "Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life." If we can't give the latter, we shouldn't be too quick to cry for the former either.

The verse from Proverbs that you often hear quoted is interesting:
Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth (24:17)
but mostly, I think, for the words that follow:
Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him.
Proverbs is mostly common sense wisdom about the world around us, and as such, it is often messy. We'd like this to be a more exalted standard--love your enemy as God does, or some such thing. But no, the point here is that God may care more about teaching you a lesson in humility than about justly executing your neighbor. Or to put it in more secular terms, dancing in the streets over the death of our opponent may have more far-reaching consequences than the death itself.

But for Christians, the standard is Jesus, is it not? He who rebuked his disciples for wanting to call down fire from heaven. He who forgave his enemies while they were putting him to death. He who told us to love and pray for our enemies. I know it's not an easy standard, but what good would it be if it were? This is one of the things I love about liturgical prayer. There's no rule that says we must pray in the words of the Church, though we are certainly supposed to pray with her heart. When we don't know how to do that, we have a wealth of model language to help us. Here, then, are a few pertinent sections from the Akathist for the Repose of Those Who Have Fallen Asleep:

Kontakion 2

Enlightened by the illumination of the Most High, Saint Macarius heard a voice from a pagan skull: "When you pray for those suffering in Hell, there is relief for the heathen." O wonderful power of Christian prayer, by which even the infernal regions are illumined! Both believers and unbelievers receive comfort when we cry for the whole world: ALLELUIA.

Ikos 3

O Glad Light, Redeemer of the world, embracing the whole universe with Thy love: behold, Thy cry from the Cross for Thine enemies is heard: "Father, forgive them." In the name of Thine all-forgiving love we make bold to pray to our Heavenly Father for the eternal repose of Thine enemies and ours.
Forgive, O Lord,
those who have shed innocent blood,
those who have sown our path of life with sorrows,
those who have waded to prosperity through the tears of their neighbors.
Condemn not, O Lord,
those who persecute us with slander and malice.
Repay with mercy those whom we have wronged or offended through ignorance,
and grant that our prayer for them may be holy through the sacrament of reconciliation.
O Lord of unutterable Love, remember Thy servants who have fallen asleep.

Kontakion 5

Thou hast given us death as a last prodigy to bring us to our senses and to repentance, O Lord. In its threatening light, earthly vanity is exposed, carnal passions and sufferings become subdued, insubmissive reason is humbled. Eternal justice and righteousness opens to our gaze, and then the godless and those burdened with sins confess on their deathbed Thy real and eternal existence and cry to Thy mercy: ALLELUIA.

Ikos 5

O Father of all consolation and comfort, Thou brightenest with the sun, delightest with fruits, and gladdenest with the beauty of the world both Thy friends and enemies.
And we believe that even beyond the grave Thy loving kindness,
which is merciful even to all rejected sinners, does not fail.
We grieve for hardened and wicked blasphemers of Thy Holiness.
May Thy saving and gracious will be over them.
Forgive, O Lord,
those who have died without repentance.
Save those who have committed suicide in the darkness of their mind,
that the flame of their sinfulness may be extinguished in the ocean of Thy grace.
O Lord of unutterable Love, remember Thy servants who have fallen asleep.

Kontakion 6

Terrible is the darkness of a soul separated from God, the torments of conscience, the gnashing of teeth, the unquenchable fire and the undying worm. I tremble at the thought of such a fate, and I pray for those suffering in Hell as for myself. May our song descend upon them as refreshing dew as we sing: ALLELUIA.

Ikos 6

Thy light, O Christ our God, has shone upon those sitting in the darkness and shadow of death and those in Hell who cannot cry to Thee. Descend into the infernal regions of the earth, O Lord, and bring out into the joy of grace Thy children who have been separated from Thee by sin but who have not rejected Thee.
For they suffer cruelly. Have mercy on them.
For they sinned against Heaven and before Thee,
and their sins are infinitely grievous,
and Thy mercy is infinite.
Visit the bitter misery of souls separated from Thee.
Have mercy, O Lord, on those who hated the truth out of ignorance.
May Thy love be to them not a consuming fire
but the coolness of Paradise:
O Lord of unutterable Love, remember Thy servants who have fallen asleep.