Work-Mystic

Surgeon General’s Warning

This and two other works were written when I was half-drunk with Elder Thaddeus’s Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives.

There is much that is true and Orthodox in that title, and there is something to its core point, but it is the most occultic book, with strange and awesome powers given to half-conscious thoughts, that I’ve seen yet. This post is retained for archival purposes but it is not particularly recommended as the author does not particularly recommend the book that furnished its inspiration.

CJSH.name/work-mystic


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Gentle Reader;

An intriguing book… found in questionable quarters

I have found a watershed moment after a friend gave me a copy of Elder Thaddeus’s Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives. I don’t know that everybody will have a watershed moment; perhaps others will understand its central point much more naturally than I do. But I am very grateful to be given the book.

Before going further, and talking about “work-mysticism”, there are some hesitancies I would like to mention. And I really don’t know how to say this with due kindness and courtesy to fans of Fr. Seraphim (Rose), including one dearly loved member of my parish.

Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives bears the “warning label” of the St. Herman of Alaska brotherhood Fr. Seraphim started. Let me blandly state that I have associated Fr. Seraphim’s following with some harassment, and it has resonated with others when I’ve said Fr. Seraphim’s following “tastes like Kool-Aid.” Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, like other titles from that movement, is exotic to the Western reader, really too exotic, almost as if works were chosen on unconscious, tacit criteria that included appearing sufficiently exotic to a certain kind of Western convert, and bears the mark of a rebellion against the common things of the West, where a more Orthodox response would be to be alienated from Western things without expending the energy to constantly fight it. It is also characteristic, though not universal, to read texts associated with Fr. Seraphim and get the feeling of a magic spell falling over me: after praying and being comfortable with the decision I read the “Nine Enneads” of Christ the Eternal Tao, but not more; my conscience felt almost like an instruction to “take two stiff drinks and stop cold.

One person who commented to me over email knew quite specifically that I was a member of ROCOR (quite probably the one Orthodox jurisdiction with the most nostalgia for nineteenth-century Russia), and tried to specifically make the point that nineteenth century Russia was no golden age. That much was not news to me; the priest who received me into the Church repeatedly emphasized, “There was never a golden age.” He didn’t mention nineteenth century Russia so much, but he talked about the Age of the Councils as being an Age when Ecumenical Councils were called because of how truly bad the problems and heresies were. But the other correspondent argued to me that nineteenth century Russia was a “Gnostic wonderland,” with something for every idle curiosity, and in his opinion the worst century in Orthodox history, and this is a problem for Fr. Seraphim because Fr. Seraphim got his bearings in Orthodoxy primarily from nineteenth century Russia. Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives tells of an elder who answered questions by speaking out of the Philokalia. I’ve read the Philokalia more than once, and the ascetical homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian, and the Bible many times more, and everything that is interesting about Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives is something I have never picked up even a little fromthe Bible, St. Isaac, and the Philokalia. Perhaps I haven’t read them enough, or grown enough, or something else enough, but I have not been able to pull a hint of Elder Thaddeus’s main points in any of the older classics mentioned.

With all that stated, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives is a pearl.

Perhaps one place to begin is to challenge the simplified psychology of “I have my thoughts going on in my head and you have your thoughts going on in your head.” Someone who knows a bit of actual psychology may recognize something contagious about emotion, but let’s wave this aside: psychology is basically about your self-contained mind.

Not so, according to Elder Thaddeus and the Orthodox Tradition. What the West speaks of today as “the seven deadly sins” was originally known as “the eight demons,” demons who tempt us with particular temptations. A great deal of what we today classify as psychology has to do with the activity of demons intruding on our thoughts and experiences. Destructive thoughts may be something we make our own: but they are not our own, not from the beginning. They are stings where demons inject venom into our hearts. Now we do have a say in whether the injection succeeds: God help us if we had no defense or no say in the matter! The Philokalia works at length on the science of spiritual struggle and how “a stitch in time saves nine.” To quote the rather technical definition of “temptation” in the English glossary to the Philokalia:

Temptation (πειρασμος — peirasmos): also translated in our version as ‘trial’ or ‘test’. The word indicates, according to context: (i) a test or trial sent to man by God, so as to aid his progress on the spiritual way; (ii) a suggestion from the devil, enticing man to sin.

Using the word in sense (ii), the Greek Fathers employ a series of technical terms to describe the process of temptation. (See in particular Mark the Ascetic, On the Spiritual Law, 138-41, in vol. i of our translation, pp. 119-2-; John Klimakos, Ladder, Step 15, translated by Archimandrite Lazarus [op.cit., pp. 157-9; Maximos, On Love, i, 83-84, in vol. ii of our translation, pp. 62-63; John of Damaskos, On the Virtues and vices, also in vol. ii of out translation, pp. 337-8.) The basic distinction made by these fathers is between the demonic provocation and man’s assent: the first lies outside of man’s control, while for the second he is morally responsible. In detail, the chief terms employed are as follows:

(i) Provocation (προβολη — proslovi): the initial incitement to evil. Mark the Ascetic defines this as an ‘image-free stimulation in the heart’; so long as the provocation is not accompanied by images, it does not involve man in any guilt. Such provocations, originating as the devil, assail man from the outside, and so he is not morally responsible for them. His liability to these provocations is not a consequence of the fall: even in paradise, Mark maintains, Adam was assailed by the devil’s provocations. Man cannot prevent provocations from occurring; what does lie in his power, however, is to maintain constant watchfulness (q.v.) and so reject each provocation as soon as it emerges into his consciousness — that is to say, at its first appearance as a thought in his mind or intellect (μονολογιστος εμφασις — monologistos emphasis). If he does reject the provocation, the sequence is cut off and the process of temptation is terminated.

(ii) Momentary disturbance (παραρριπισμος — pararripismos) of the intellect, occurring ‘without any movement or working of bodily passion’ (see Mark, Letter to Nicholas the Solitary: in out translation, vol. i, p. 153). This seems to be more than the ‘first appearance’ of a provocation described in stage (i) above; for, at a certain point of spiritual growth in this life, it is possible to be totally released from such ‘momentary disturbance’, whereas no one can expect to be altogether free from demonic provocations.

(iii) Communion (ομιλια — homilia); coupling (συνδυασμος — syndyasmos). Without as yet entirely assenting to the demonic provocation, a man may begin to ‘entertain’ it, to converse or parley with it, turning it over in his mind pleasurably, yet still hesitating whether or not to act upon it. At this stage, which is indicated by the terms ‘communion’ or ‘coupling’, the provocation is no longer ‘image-free’ but has become a logismos or thought (q.v.) and man is morally responsible for having allowed this to happen.

(iv) Assent (συγκαταθεσις — synkatathesis). This signifies a step beyond mere ‘communion’ or ‘coupling’. No longer merely ‘playing’ with the evil suggestion, a man now resolves to act on it. There is now no doubt as to his moral culpability: even if circumstances prevent him from sinning outwardly, he is judged by God according to the intention in his heart.

(v) Prepossession (προληψις — prolipsis): defined by Mark as ‘the involuntary presence of former sins in the memory’. This state of ‘prepossession’ or prejudice results from repeated acts of sin which predispose a man to yield to particular temptations. In principle he retains his free choice and can reject demonic provocations; but in practice the force of habit makes it more and more difficult for him to resist.

(vi) Passion (q.v.). If a man does not fight strenuously against a prepossession, it will develop into an evil passion.

To put the same in nontechnical language, if there is a smouldering spark where it doesn’t belong, put it out as soon as you can. If you don’t, and its smouldering set an armchair on fire, drop everything and use use a fire extinguisher as soon as you can. If you let the fire spread to your whole house, call the fire department as soon as you can: there is a divine Fire Chief Who mightily rescued St. Mary of Egypt. However, the best portion by far is to be attentive and do whatever it takes to snuff out sparks when they’re still only sparks.

Mysticism that relates quite directly to work

“Save yourself, and ten thousand around you will be saved.”

“Make peace with yourself, and Heaven and earth will make peace with you.”

These words are tantalizing, and Elder Thaddeus’s contribution in Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives may be to offer a big picture of a world in which our thoughts matter, and not simply for us. A great deal of human misery stems from our needlessly warring against others in our thoughts.

Before digging further into workplace applications, I would orient things with a vignette of Elder Thaddeus’s biography:

In 1978 Fr. Thaddeus told G., one of his spiritual daughters, of another [rare] vision he had seen in a dream. “I had barely fallen asleep when I dreamt that I had died. Two young men led me into a room and had me stand on some sort of platform between them. To my right were the judges. Someone in the far left corner of the room was reading the charges against me. ‘That’s him! That’s the one who cannot get along with anyone!’ I stood there dumbfounded. The voice repeated the same accusation two more times. Then the young man standing on my right hand said to me, ‘Do not be afraid! It is not true that you cannot get along with anyone. You just cannot get along with yourself!'”

To take a work-related example of the basic issue, I remember feeling really sorry for a train conductor who said it made things easier to say that there was “one Monday, then three ‘Almost Fridays’, and then Friday.” My concern is not that this was a crutch; some crutches are legitimate and quite helpful. My concern was that this is not a crutch that makes work bearable at all; it is a crutch that makes work simply unbearable. It’s a crutch that makes you relate to work as something you have to barely endure.

Now some jobs are barely endurable, or simply unendurable. In areas of the third world, there are sweatshops where women are expected to work fifteen hour days, seven days a week, even if they are violently ill, and rape is used as a mainstream disciplinary measure. On a lesser scale, I’m not sure I’d do well as a customer service doormat constantly dealing with verbally abusive customers. And I know that various grades of harassment exist in the first world as well. But beyond that, how many jobs in the U.S. really are beyond all endurance? I’ve left one job, not when my boss was rude to me and humiliated me in front of all my colleagues, but because the work was other than as advertised in a way that was increasingly impacting my health (and other attempts had failed to produce results), and I think that I may have been justified, but there are still things I would rather have handled differently. But even if “people don’t stop working for companies; they stop working for bosses,” the number of times it’s the right thing to leave is rare compared to how quickly we do resign.

Let’s look at this on a bit deeper level. The issue is not that the situation does not need to improve; the work situation quite probably does need to improve. But not from the angle of what Alcoholics Anonymous calls “a geographical solution,” moving in the hope that your problems will go away. Elder Thaddeus wrote:

4.5. If in each family there were just one person who served God zealously, what harmony there would be in the world! I often remember the story of Sister J. She used to come and talk to me often while I was still at the Tumane Monastery. Once she came, together with an organized group of pilgrims, and complained, saying, “I can’t bear this any longer! People are so unkind to each other!” She went on to say that she was going to look for another job. I advised her against it, as there were few jobs and a high level of unemployment. I told her to stop the war she was fighting with her colleagues. “But I’m not fighting with anyone!” she said. I explained that, although she was not fighting physically, she was waging war with her colleagues in her thoughts by being dissatisfied with her position. She argued that it was beyond anyone’s endurance. “Of course it is,” I told her, “but you can’t do it yourself. You need God’s help. No one knows whether you are praying or not while you are at work. So, when they start offending you, do not return their offenses either with words or with negative thoughts. Try not to offend them even in your thoughts; pray to God that He may send them an angel of peace. Also ask that He not forget you. You will not be able to do this immediately, but if you always pray like that, you will see how things will change over time and how the people will change as well. In fact, you are going to change, too.” At that time I did not know whether she was going to heed my advice.

This happened in the Tumane Monastery in 1980. In 1981 I was sent to the Vitovnica Monastery. I was standing underneath the quince tree when I noticed a group of pilgrims that had arrived. She was in the group and she came up to me to receive a blessing. And this is what she said to me, “Oh, Father, I had no idea that people were so good!” I asked her whether she was referring to her colleagues at work and she said she was. “They have changed so much, Father, it’s unbelievable! No one offends me anymore, and I can see the change in myself, as well.” I asked her whether she was at peace with everyone, and she answered that there was one person with whom she could not make peace for a long time. Then, as she read the Gospels, she came to the part where the Lord commands us to love our enemies. Then she said to herself, “You are going to love this person whether you want to or not, because this is what the Lord commands us to do.” And now, you see, they are best friends!

There is, at least in the U.S, the issue of what is called “an instrumental view of labor.” That is to say, work is a necessary evil we do to get money, and there would be no reason to work if we didn’t need the money. And work has indeed been cursed and disfigured by the Fall, but not created in the curse of the Fall. And really the “thorns and thistles” affects all our work, not just agricultural workers. There is no job under the sun that is free of thorns and thistles. Some jobs may have a honeymoon period, but as with a real honeymoon, it stops at some point and lets the real work begin. Life may indeed be easier with the wisdom Elder Thaddeus puts forth, but Elder Thaddeus had a difficult life; one of the dimensions of holier living is that it is more of a crown of thorns the more closely you approach the Christ God Who wore a Crown of Thorns en route to his crucifixion.

Returning to an instrumental view of labor, it treats the here and now that we are often to work in as the sort of thing that one endures, a negative to obtain a positive. And that much is fundamentally mistaken. We are created to work. Certain classes of work, such as a broad stretch of volunteering, activism, developing open source software, and also artistic activities like writing, musicianship, provide additional outlet to work beyond one’s regular job. We really are made to work. An allergic reaction to the experience of (paid) work is part of the U.S. culture that need not be there, like finding waiting more than a few minutes to be unpleasant (there are cultures where people can wait an hour without being ruffled), and it is possible to enjoy working. And be at peace with oneself.

Twelve Strategies

Here are twelve strategies drawn from Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives and the Orthodox spiritual Tradition:

  1. Be grateful.Count your blessings and be aware of how many blessings you have. Does your body work? That’s a blessing.I’ve studied several languages, and the more I’ve studied languages, the more I’ve become convinced that if you are knowing to know one word or phrase in your neighbor’s language, it should be “Thank you:” Spaseba—Russian; Terima kasih—Malaysian/Indonesian; Sheh-sheh—Chinese; Muy muchas gracias—Spanish. (See “Thank you” in many languages.)When I’ve said “Thank you” to people in their own heart language, they’ve been surprised and delighted at the gesture. No one seems to be offended at my pronunciation. Ever. If anything, clumsy execution only makes the endeavor more endearing.I’m not specifically suggesting that you learn languages, if that is not your thing. (For most people, it isn’t.) But please, pretty please, by all means, learn to be grateful, to say “Thank you” in letter and in spirit.
  2. Cultivate a deep respect for others with whom you cross paths.What can be respected about a mean boss or a crotchety co-worker? They are made in the image of God, and they are part of the royal family of the human race. There is something made for eternal glory that God himself respects in each person you meet. This doesn’t mean it is always easy to respect others, but the holier a person is, the more he finds something to respect in each person he meets. Some people are wary of giving compliments that feed a person’s vanity, but even then there is a lot of respect that can be given without inflicting needless temptation.
  3. Thirst for the cup of dishonor as if it were honor.This is a difficult step, and I one I have not mastered well. I want the most glorious assignment, or the most interesting, or whatever else would be most attractive to me, but I endure those that are menial. But it is a stroke of the masters to want the most menial work, and then perhaps be pleasantly surprised when some of their work is not menial.One health-oriented poster said, “Take the worst parking spot!” because it means a scant minute or two more walking. But it would be better, spiritually as well, to pick the least attractive parking spot. This point is made in the Gospel, Luke 14:7-11:

    And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them, “When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, ‘Give this man place;’ and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, ‘Friend, go up higher:’ then shalt thou have veneration in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

  4. Be obedient, in thought and action.As far as it is not sin, obey your boss, however wrong he may be, and offer him obedience on as many spiritual levels as you can.
  5. Pray for your co-workers, especially the ones who are difficult.We should pray for everyone, but watchful prayer that quashes, as far as possible, the faintest thought of hostility is best.
  6. As far as you can, go the extra mile and turn the other cheek.There is only so much we can do, but the Sermon on the Mount is clear on this point and gives it attention. Also relevant are the words of The Ladder of Divine Ascent: “[Humility] is to forestall one’s neighbor at a contentious moment and to be the first to end a quarrel.”
  7. Let the other person have the upper hand, be “higher.”It seems entirely natural to establish the upper hand if one can, and so much of our conversation, even banter, has a thread of control. But if one can seek the lower room, you will be someone no-one struggles against.
  8. Forgive seven billion times.In a Biblical culture where most people could not count to twenty without taking off any shoes, the strong rule was “Three strikes, you’re out!” St. Peter made a rather ludicrous question of the Savior: “Should I forgive seven times?” The Lord’s answer was even more ludicrous: “Not seven, but seven times seventy [or, more accurately, seventy-seven].” He might as well have said seven billion.We are to keep on forgiving.
  9. Beware the “demon of noonday”.Today we speak of a “midafternoon slump” and perhaps “low blood sugar.” The ancient monastic tradition spoke of a demon that tempts us to escape and makes the early afternoon something tedious that makes the here and now something intolerable, to escape. It is fought by rejecting escape as far as we can and by praying through it, until we realize God’s Creation is not the sort of thing one rightly wants to escape from.
  10. Be watchful of your thoughts, especially warring thoughts or negative thoughts.Different times have had different ideas of the worst sin; in caricature at least, Victorians were imagined to have made sexual sin the ultimate sin, while contemporary Protestantism usually gives that place to pride. In ancient times, apparently echoed by Elder Thaddeus, the worst sin was anger.One of the central themes that he keeps coming to is that we keep on holding warring thoughts, that if we would work on repenting and praying of, we would defuse a problematic situation, but we keep on holding onto our piece of the problem. Read Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives for all of the many things it says about the warring thoughts we are unaware of holding against our neighbors, including every boss and co-worker.
  11. Blessed are the meek: Be meek!One repeated characteristic of martial artists is that those who are truly good tend to be the last person you would ever find in a fight, and the more likely to put up his hands and say, “You’re the tough guy!”I’m not specifically recommending martial arts, but if martial arts produce in its experts what the Tao Te Ching says as “A great warrior is not warlike,” what then is to be expected of the true brothers and true sisters of the Prince of Peace? Quite a lot, in fact.
  12. Lastly, keep in touch with your priest or spiritual father, and do not engage in spiritual warfare above your strength.If following this advice would represent a basic change for you, then it is normally the sort of thing you should check in with your priest or spiritual father about. And there are some people you should, perhaps, leave alone, and there are some activities you should, perhaps, leave alone. Every spiritual father is different, but there have been a few specific situations where my spiritual father has advised me, appropriately under the circumstances as far as I can tell, not to try to mend fences. And if your priest or spiritual father does think this is helpful, you will have his blessing to boot!

Quotes and broader context

If I could fairly quote all of Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives without threatening others’ income or running afoul of the law, I would. However, here are a few gems from the collection. I am limiting myself to the first chapter, “On Thoughts:”

1.1. Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture. If out thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind, then that is what our life is like. If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.

1.7. A man who has within him the Kingdom of Heaven radiates holy thoughts, divine thoughts. The Kingdom of Heaven creates within us an atmosphere of Heaven, as opposed to the atmosphere of hell that is radiated by a person when hades abides in his heart. The role of Christians in this world is to filter the atmosphere on earth and expand the atmosphere of the Kingdom of God.

We can keep guard over the whole world by keeping guard over the atmosphere of heaven within us, for if we lose the Kingdom of Heaven, we will save neither ourselves nor others. He who has the Kingdom of God in himself will imperceptibly pass it on to others. People will be attracted by the peace and warmth in us, and the atmosphere of heaven will gradually pass on to them. It is not even necessary to speak to people about this. The atmosphere of Heaven will radiate from us even when we keep silence or talk about ordinary things. It will radiate from us even though we may not be aware of it.

1.16. An old woman came to me and told me that her neighbor was bothering her. She said the other woman was constantly throwing things so she was at her wits’ end. I asked her why she was always quarreling with her neighbor. But the old woman said she never even spoke to her evil neighbor. I insisted that she quarreled with her every day. I said to her, “You are convinced that she is doing evil things to you, and you are constantly thinking about her. Let her do whatever she is doing; you just turn your thoughts to prayer, and you will see that it will stop bothering you.”

1.19. Thoughts are planted in our minds all the time, from all sides and directions. Were it given us to see the radii of thoughts, we would see a real net of thoughts. Everyone has a “receiver” in his mind, one that is much more precise and sophisticated than a radio or television set. How wonderful is the mind of man! Unfortunately, we do not always appreciate this. We do not know how to unite ourselves with the Source of life and to feel joy…

Conclusion

It is my suggestion that Elder Thaddeus’s mystical theology in Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives has every relevance to the world at work. It has relevance to other places as well; in passages not quoted, the author speaks emphatically about family life and Chapter 1, “On Thoughts,” is followed up by Chapter 2, “On Family.” But it is no diminution of Elder Thaddeus to look at what his wisdom and legacy spell out for success at work. Perhaps Christians are not called to worldly success in the sense of abundant wealth; the Bible includes very wealthy business owners like St. Abraham and St. Job the Much-Suffering, and very poor prophets like St. Elias (Elijah) and St. John the Baptist and Forerunner. But I think of my Aunt Gail talking about a conversation she had with her son about his business, and praying that he would always have “enough.” And she was emphatic about “enough”: although she did not use the terms “wants” or “needs”, she was clearly praying that her son would enjoy the kind of success that was truly beneficial for him as a person. And usually that’s not “as much money as you want.” But it is “enough.”

And if this work-mysticism is not a door to abundant treasures on earth, at least not for all, it is a door to treasures in Heaven. It is an invitation to find treasure in difficulties as well as pleasant times, in conflict and dishonor as well as people who are easy to get along with, a door to living the life of Heaven starting here on earth. The joy is intertwined with suffering—but the joy is deeper than the suffering.

Christ is risen! Truly he is risen!

Spaseba,
Christos

Where Is the Good of Women? Feminism Is Called the Women’s Movement. But Is It?

CJSHayward.com/women

Three types of lies:
Lies, Statistics, and Infographics


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To begin with, I would like to quote a portion of a poster, posted for government-required regulatory compliance at a once bastion of Christian conservatism, Wheaton College. My choice of this part of departure is not specifically focused on Wheaton, which was presumably not trying to be provocative, but to represent enough of a mainstream influence of feminism that I am not discussing a lunatic fringe of feminism, but something basic and (on feminist terms) not particularly controversial.

I apologize in advance for the poor quality of the picture as it was an attempt to take an accurate picture of a part of a poster that was roughly one to two feet above my head. I will reproduce the graphics as best I can, including the dark, dingy look of the coins (on the original you can see the scissors cuts where the pictures of the quarters had been cut out), but in clarity because I want to represent the poster fairly and not by the standards of my photography in a difficult shot. The poster says at the top, “In Illinois, a woman makes 71 cents for every dollar a man makes.” Then there is a picture of 71 cents in coins, “for her” at the top, and a picture of a dollar bill, “for him” below. The picture is as follows:

The sign under description.
In the interests of fairness, I want to start with a crisp reproduction of what the Infographic said. It looked like:

For her:

71 cents in coins.

For him:

A dollar bill.And the natural response is outrage. But what if we tweak things a little and compare coins with coins? Then we have:

For her:

71 cents in coins.

For him:

One dollar in quarters.But the objection may come, “Um, that almost destroys the effect.” And my response is, “Yes. That is exactly the point.” And in this there are two visual lies exposed by this revamp:

  1. Whatever a man gets, it looks like literally a dozen times what a woman gets. The sheer space taken for $.71 in coins (and, following usual practice, as few coins as you can use to reach that amount), is dwarfed by the visual space taken by a dollar bill. For that matter, the visual space taken by a man’s four quarters is dwarfed by the visual space taken by a dollar bill. This may only register subconsciously, but it is a powerful subconscious cue: the real, emotional impact is not that a woman earns 71 cents on the dollar for a man, but more like a miniscule 5 to 10 cents on the dollar. This cue, which may only register subconsciously (compared to the revised comparison of $.71 in coins and $1.00 in the largest common coin, the quarter), is only more powerful for its subconscious effect.
  2. Secondly, the Infographic registers something else that only renders subconsciously. Compared to the currencies of other countries, especially before the slightly new look for larger bills, paper currency was big currency, and real money. If you walked into a store and paid for something cash, you paid with bills. Coins, while having some value, are often only something you get back as the smallest remaining money and have to figure out what to do with. Not only is spare change a small sort of thing compared to realmoney, it was honestly a bit of a nuisance. Now people usually pay with plastic or other non-cash items, and money is a bit tighter for most of us, so we may want the change more, but saying that she gets change and he gets real money is an apples and oranges comparison; the effect is like saying that he is paid in cold, hard cash, while she is paid only in coupons.

Lies.

Statistics.

Infographics.

Now it is not simply the case that Inforgraphics can only ever lie; the works of Tufte such as Envisioning Information and The Visual Display of Quantative Information never stop at tearing apart bad Infographics; they compellingly demonstrate that the visual display of information can be at one stroke beautiful, powerful, and truthful. Something a little more informative, if perhaps imperfect, to convey a 71% statistic would be to simply show 71% of a dollar bill:

For her:

Part of a dollar bill.

For him:

A dollar bill.But it is a serious misunderstanding of feminism to think that a feminist will argue this way. Instead it is another case of:

Lies.

Statistics.

Infographics.

The beating heart of feminism

I’m not sure how this plays out in feminism outside of feminist theology, but every feminist reader I’ve read has been in an extreme hurry to neutralize any sense that the Roman veneration of the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary. Now I have heard Orthodox comment that Roman and Orthodox veneration vary: Romans stress the Mother of God’s virginity, Orthodox stress her motherhood, and presumably there’s more. But one finds among feminist theologians the claim that since the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary was both a virgin and a mother, that means that you’re not really OK if you’re a woman unless you are both a virgin and a mother. And never mind that spiritually speaking it is ideal for Orthodox Christians, women and men to have a spiritual virginity, and to give birth to Christ God in others, the Roman veneration means a woman isn’t OK unless she is (literally) both a virgin and a mother. Fullstop. One gets the sense that feminists would sell a story that the Roman Catholic Church reviles the Virgin Mary, if people could be convinced of that.

A first glimpse of the good estate of women

I would like to make an interstitial comment here, namely that there is something feminism is suppressing. What feminists are in a hurry to neutralize is any sense that the veneration of the Mother of God could in any way be a surfacing of the good estate of women. What is it they want to stop you from seeing?

Let’s stop for a second and think about Nobel Prizes. There is presumably no Nobel Prize for web development, but this is not a slight: web development is much newer than Nobel Prizes and regardless of whether Alfred Nobel would have given a Nobel prize to web development if it wasn’t around, the Nobel Prize simply hasn’t commented on web development. There is a Nobel Prize for physics, and (the highest one of all), the Nobel Prize for Peace. When a Nobel Prize is given to a physicist, this is a statement that not only the laureate but the discipline of physics itself is praiseworthy: it is a slight that there is no Nobel Prize for mathematics (rumor has it that Alfred Nobel’s wife was having an affair with a mathematician). To award a Nobel Prize for physics is to say that physics is a praiseworthy kind of thing, and one person is singled out as a crystallization of an honor bestowed to the whole discipline of physics. And, if I may put it that way, the Mother of God won the Nobel Prize for womanhood.

Called the New Eve, She is reminiscent of the Pauline passage, And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. Christ is called the Last or New Adam, and Mary the Mother of God is called the New Eve. Let us not say that bestowing a Nobel Prize for physics on one scientist constitutes a rejection of every other.

At feasts of the Mother of God, the Orthodox Church quotes a passage from Scripture that seems at first glance surprising as a way to honor the Mother of God: a woman from a crowd tells Christ, “Blessed are the womb that bore you and the breasts that you nursed at!” and Christ replies, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” The text appears at first glance to downplay the significance of the Mother of God, and in fact has been taken to do so by Protestants. So why would the Orthodox Church read this text at all kinds of feasts in honor of the Mother of God?

The answer comes after a question: “Who heard the Word of God and kept it?” “Who pre-eminently heard the Word of God and kept it?” Of course many people have done so, but the unequalled answer to “Who pre-eminently heard the Word of God and kept it?” is only the Mother of God, She who said, “Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” The woman who spoke up at the crowd said, “Your mother must really be something because she bore you!”, and Christ implies, “My Mother is really something because she obeyed.” The Mother of God did not achieve the combination of virginity and motherhood; she obeyed God’s command, and in the wake of that obedience, motherhood was added to her virginity. But taking the Mother of God as a role model for women does not mean that women need to be both virgins and mothers, any more than Evangelicals who ask “What would Jesus do?” feel themselves obliged to learn Arimaic and move to Israel. I don’t want to downplay Mary’s virginity and motherhood, both of which are sacred offices, but it is a serious confusion—or rather a serious duplicity—to say that venerating the Mother of God means that women aren’t OK unless they pull off the combination of virginity and motherhood.

The Mother of God is She who obeyed, and obedience is for everyone, and highlighted for women. And while it may be easy enough for feminist theologians to excuse themselves from a fabricated straw obligation to be both virgins and mothers if they are to be OK as women, excusing oneself from obedience presents more of a pickle, and one that they don’t want you to see. Feminism doesn’t like obedience (especially of women to men); engineered, synthetic feminist “fairy tales” like Ella Enchanted make it clear that for a woman to be in a position of obedience is a curse: a clear and unmitigated curse.

The First Eve fell because she disobeyed; the Last or New Eve offered the perfect creaturely obedience and the gates of Hell began to crumble at her obedience. The Incarnation, the point has been plainly made, would have been absolutely impossible without the consent, obedience, and cooperation of the Mother of God as it would have been without the Holy Trinity. And only a woman could have first opened that door. The Theotokos is called the first Christian; she was the first of many to receive Christ, and men learn from her.

A look at early Antiochian versus Alexandrine Christology may also be instructive. In Antiochian Christology, Christ was significant pre-eminently because he was the Son of God, born of a Virgin, lived a sinless life, died as a sacrifice, and rose as the firstborn of the Dead. In Alexandrian Christology, Christ was significant as a teacher primarily. At least one theologian has said that St. Paul’s epistles don’t make much of Christ, because not a single one of his parables comes up in St. Paul’s writing. But this is a misunderstanding: St. Paul was in fact making a (proto-)Antiochian use of Christ, and the Christ who was the Son of God, died a sacrifice, and rose from the dead is of central significance to the entire body of his letters. Christ’s teaching recorded in the Gospels is invaluable, but we could be saved without it, and many people effectively have been saved without that teaching as believers who did not have the Gospel in their language. But we could not be saved by a Christ who lacked the Antiochian distinctives: who was not Son of God or did not rise from the dead, trampling down death by death. If I may describe them in what may be anachronous terms, early Antiochian Christology held Christ to be significant as an archetype, while early Alexandrian Christology held Christ to be significant as an individual. And the distinction between them is significant. You do not know the significance of Christ as the New Adam until you grasp him as an archetype and not a mere individual on a pedestal, and you do not know the significance of the Mother of God as the New Eve until you grasp her as an archetype and not a mere individual on a pedestal.

On a level that includes the archetypal, the Mother of God is mystically identified by such things as Paradise, the earth, the Church, the Container of Christ, and the city, and many other things such as a live lived of prayer that completes its head in time spent at Church. To be a man is a spiritual office, and to be a woman is a spiritual office. The Mother of God serves as a paradigm, not only of Christians, but of woman. And that is noble, glorious, and beautiful.

There are more things that are beautiful about God’s creation than are dreamed of in feminism—and more things than are dreamed of even in women.

I remember one Indian woman I spoke with in an online author’s community; she was taking stories from Indian lore and trying to make concrete retellings of them: moving from the archetypes to individuals on a pedestal. And what I told her is, basically, don’t. The archetypal stories were something I could well enough relate to; the archetypal (Indian) loving elder in the story had the same pulse and the same heart as loving elders I knew as a small (U.S.) child. The archetypal level is universal. Now what happens in the concrete is important, profoundly important, but you miss something if you cut out its archetypal head and heart and then try to talk with the body that is left over. And there is real rapprochement between men and women: Christ the New Adam and Mary the New Eve enjoyed indescribable intimacy, an interpenetration or perichoresis where she gave him his humanity and he gave her her participation in his divinity. The Mother of God’s perpetual virginity stems from this; after such a perichoresis with God incarnate, a merely earthly husband’s physical union was impossible. I have heard a complementarian Roman Catholic theology suggest that the word homoousios to describe the relationship between men and women: homoousios being the word of the Creed used to affirm that the Son is not an inferior, creaturely copy of the Father but of the same essence, fully of the same essence. The statement may be an exaggeration; if so, it was forcefully stating something true. I have attempted postmodern thick description of differences between men and women; I was wrong, not in believing that there are real differences, but in assuming a postmodern style of thick description in rendering those differences. St. Maximus the Confessor is described as describing five mediations in which any gulf is transcended: that between male and female, that between Paradise and the inhabited world, that between Heaven and Earth, that between spiritual and visible Creation, and ultimately that between uncreated and created nature, the chasm between God and his Creation. All of these chasms are real; all are transcended in Christ, in whom there is no male nor female, paradise nor merely earthly city, Heaven nor mere earth, spiritual nor merely physical, Creator nor mere creature. All these distinctions are transcended in a Christ who makes us to become by grace what He is by nature.

The beating heart throbbing head of feminism

I have mentioned two points of feminism: first, an infographic that was mainstream enough to be proclaimed as part of a regulatory compliance poster; and second, the neutered veneration of the Mother of God that is not allowed to mean anything positive for the estate of women. However, these are not intended as the core of a critique of feminism; in part they are intended as clues. Feminism gives a clue about its beating heart throbbing head in an unsavory infographic, and in its haste to neutralize any sense that the veneration of the Mother of God could be any good signal for women (or the ordinary kind—those who are not both virgins and mothers). Another author might have substituted other examples, and I must confess a degree of instance in that I keep bumping into feminism and I have tried to understand it, but there are depths unknown to most feminists and I would be wary of claiming exhaustive knowledge that I do not claim for cultures I have lived in for months or years. But I still observe, or have acknowledged, one major point.

One text, Women’s Reality: An Emerging Female System in a White Male Society by Annd Schaef, admittedly considered dated by many feminists today, mentioned that the author mentioned that many men say that women understand them better than men. And this puzzled her, because on the surface at least, it looked quite frankly like a compliment paid, by men, to women. But then she put on her feminist X-ray goggles, observed that the beginning of ‘understand’ is ‘under’, and juridically decided that to “understand” is by nature to stand under, that is, to be an inferior. And so she managed to wrest a blatant affront from the jaws of an apparent (substantial) compliment.

There was a counselor at my church who was trying to prepare me for my studies in a liberal theology program, and he told me that there was something I would find very hard to understand in feminism. Now I found this strange as I had already lived in, and adapted to, life in four countries on three continents. And he was right. What I would not easily understand is subjectivism, something at the beating heart, or throbbing head, of feminism. And what is called subjectivism looking at one end is pride recognized by the others, and pride is a topic about which Orthodoxy has everything to say. Pride is the heart, and subjecivism the head, of what Orthodoxy regards as one of the deadliest spiritual poisons around.

It is said that the gates of Hell are bolted and barred from the inside. It is only an image, but some say that the fire of Hell is the Light of Heaven as it is experienced through its rejection. And Heaven and Hell are spiritual realities that we begin to experience now; and feminism is, if anything, bolted and barred from the inside. To pick another example, with the influential You Just Don’t Understand by Deborah Tannen, the metamessage that is read into men holding doors for women was, “It is mine to give you this privilege, and it is mine to take away.” And on that point I would comment: I won’t judge this conversation by today’s etiquette, in which more often than not people are expected to hold the door for other people; I will comment on the older etiquette that met feminist critique. And on that point I must ask whether any other point in the entire etiquette, much of which was gender-neutral then, received such interpretation? Did saying, “Please,” or “Thank you,” or “I’m sorry,” ever carry a power play of “I extend this privilege to you and it is mine to take away?” More to the point, do body image feminists wish to find a sexist power play in the saying, “There are three things you do not ask a woman: her age, her weight, or her dress size.”? Or Was it not just part of a standard etiquette that no one claimed to be able to take away?

But even this is missing something, and I do not mean “men who are fair and women who care.” The unfairness is significant, not for being unfair in itself, but because it is the trail of clues left by something that breaches care. And to try to address this issue by reasoning is a losing battle, not because logic is somehow more open to men than women, but because you cannot reason subjectivism into truth any more than you can reason an alcoholic to stop drinking, fullstop. Now one may be able to make the case to a third party that it would better for a particular alcoholic to stop drinking, or that a particular feminist argument played fast and loose with the rules of logic, but it is madness to bring this to feminism. What is unfair in feminism is most directly speaking a breach of one of the lowest basic virtues of the Christian walk, namely justice, and caring is at essence about the highest of virtues in the Christian walk, namely αγαπη or love, but this is not what’s wrong. Dishonest arguments in feminism are a set of footprints left by pride or subjectivism, and it is by pride that Satan fell from being an angel in Heaven to being the Devil. It is also through pride, here known under the label of “consciousness raising”, that just as Michael Polanyi has been summarized as saying that behaviorists do not teach, “There is no soul,” but induce students into study in such a way that the possibility of a soul is never considered, feminists put on subjectivist X-ray goggles that let them see oppression of women in every nook and cranny, even in social politeness. And if you read Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, which has its merits even if they are limited, it is well worth studying what he says about bullies. Bullies do not see themselves as triumphant, or for that matter as oppressors, but as beleaguered victims. Everything has significance, and everything hashostile significance. Why did someone bump a bully in the hallway? The possibility that it was a crowded hall and growing children can be just a little bit clumsy with the current state of their bodies, is never even considered. An innocent bump in the hall is the tip of an assault, the tip of an iceberg in which a piece is moved in chess to achieve their defeat. And the bully’s actions are only a modest self-defense. The bully has X-ray goggles that make everything plain, and the bully’s state of mind is what is built up by the X-ray goggles of “consciousness raising.”

“Consciousness raising” is a brilliant euphemism for taking women who are in many cases happy and well-adjusted and transforming them into alienated, hostile women who believe that everything outside of feminism has it in for them.

Unpeeling the infographic a little further

In my discussion above, I left unchallenged the figure that women make $0.71 on the dollar compared to what men make. How can I put this? Subjectivists do not go out of their way to use statistics honestly. Subjectivists go for the most convenient cherry-picked data they could. As others have said, they use statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts: for support rather than illumination.

Christina Sommer’s Who Stole Feminism: How Women Have Betrayed Women suggests that that book does not follow the ceteris parabis principle of comparing with all other things being equal. Motherhood is hard to grind out of women, and spending significant time with her young children is hard to grind out of most women. The “71 cents on the dollar” figure keeps cropping up; in one discussion I remember it was repeatedly claimed that women made 69 cents on the dollar until one person said “Please either substantiate this statistic or stop bringing it up. The comparison in that study compared men who had a single, so to speak, major time commitment to their work, to women who were working hard to juggle a major time commitment to work with a major time commit to their younger children. When things were genuinely ceteris paribus, when men were only compared to women who had worked without reduced employment to care for children, then the figure was more like 86-91 cents on the dollar.

Is 86+ cents on the dollar in 1987 and a closing gap acceptable?

There was a short story that a roommate read to me in high school; it offended me and I was I was horrified. It showed a hiring manager saying, “Insipid. Pathetic. Disgusting. Miserable.” as he threw one more resume into the trash. Then a doorkeeper said, “Your 3:00 is here.” The manager said, “You’ve got some balls applying for a position like this. Why are you wasting my time?” The applicant said, “I have wanted to work with this company all my life. I want this position; I have friends, family, and a religion, but all of them are secondary; I will miss the birth of a child if that is what it takes to work.” The manager said, “Get out. Are you going to go by yourself or will I have to call to have security escort you off the premises?”

In a flash, the applicant leveled a .45 magnum at him and said, “I want this job. Now will you hire me or do I have to blow you away?” The hiring manager said, “Very well. Report to my desk at 8:00 AM Monday.” After the applicant left the room, the manager pulled the intercom and told the doorkeeper, “Tell all of the other applicants to f___ off. We have our man.”

This story horrified me a great deal more than an F-bomb alone, and it was part of an attempt on his part to convince me that no one ever does any action for any motive besides financial gain. (In the past I’ve had several people try to convince me of the truth of this point. In no case did any of these people stand to benefit financially from their efforts to persuade me. But I digress.) However, my roommate was trying to help me appreciate something about the business world that this caricature caught right on target.

Women in the business world have been advised to make a practice of asking, “What’s in it for me?” And for that matter, compassionate men may be advised to make a practice of asking, “What’s in it for me?” and play by the rules of a jungle because compassionate men do not do the best at succeeding in the business world. Now must you ask, “What’s in it for me?”

The answer is a simple “No, it’s optional,” but there’s a caveat. If you do not negotiate based on “What’s in it for me?”, you are less likely, man or woman, to receive more paycheck, prestige, power, and promotion. In the short story it did not strictly speaking need to be a man who negotiated with a gun in a job interview. But it is more often a man and not a woman who is mercenary to that degree. I myself do not naturally gravitate towards that thinking even if I’ve been advised to, and my salary history is an IT salary history, which is something to be thankful for, but it has been below average for many of the areas I’ve been working in, and whatever gifts I may have are applied on the job without necessarily receiving even average pay.

Let us ignore for one moment the Times cover story about “The Richer $ex,” meaning women. Is it possible that the following could be justified?

For him, ceteris paribus

A dollar bill.

For her, ceteris paribus

A dollar bill.Could there be possibly more important questions for women than the question that began and ends this article?

The war against real women

In the Catholic social encyclicals, the modern ones since Rerum Novarum, the tone prior to Pope John Paul was celebratory, or sometimes complaining that the encyclicals were not progressive enough. But one thread out of this many-patched quilt is the call (added or amplified) for a “living wage”. That wage was something like $15 or $20 per hour, but not really set in stone. And there is a legitimate concern: perhaps not as dramatic as the situation in sweatshops, but being a greeter in Wal-Mart may be a great way for a kid to earn some change, but eking out a living on what Wal-Mart pays most employees in its stores is not really possible. Now there may also be a point in that the position labeled as progressive would result, not in a great many people earning $15-$20 an hour, but a great many people earning $0 an hour because businesses that can only keep employees paid a living wage have a short lifespan. (But let’s brush this under a rug.)

The consistent call was for work to pay a living wage, with one notable exception. Pope John Paul II called for a man to be able to earn a “family wage”, meaning not a living wage for an individual but some sort of support that would be sufficient for a family to live off of. And this was universally derided by feminist commentators, and not because John Paul II failed to also specify that women should be able to earn a family wage.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard, either in the context of artificial intelligence-related transhumanism or of planned exploration of Mars, the term ‘Melanesian’. The term may be racially charged, but I’m going to ignore that completely. The thought is vile on grounds that make it completely irrelevant whether the people being derided belong to one’s race or another. The basic idea of being ‘Melanesian’ is that for ages untold people have hunted, built, crafted things with their hands, told stories and sung songs, made love and raised children, and all of this is innocent enough in its place, but now we are upon the cusp of growing up, and we must leave ‘Melanesian’ things behind. The John 3:16 of the Mars Society is “Earth is the cradle of humankind, but one does not remain in a cradle forever.” We must grow up and leave ‘Melanesian’ things behind. Now the exact character of this growing up varies significantly, but in both cases the call to maturity is a call to forsake life as we know it and use technology to do something unprecedented. In the case of transhumanism, the idea is to use human life as a discardable booster rocket that will help us move to a world of artificially intellingent computers and robots where mere humans will be rendered obsolete. In the case of the Mars Society, it is to branch out and colonize other planets and the furthest reaches of space that we can colonize, and in the “Martian” (as Mars Society members optatively call themselves) mind heart, this mission, and the question of whether we are “a spacefaring race”, bears all the freight one finds in fully religious salvation.

All this is scaled back in the feminists who comment on Pope John Paul II’s call for a family wage, but there is something there that is not nearly so far on a lunatic fringe as transhumanism or the Mars Society, but much more live as a threat as it would be a brave soul who would call this a lunatic fringe. The feminist critique of Pope John Paul II’s call for a family wage is that it is unacceptable, and men should earn low enough amounts of money that it takes both parents’ work to support them. Women are to be made to “grow up”, and however much it may be untenable to deny a woman’s right to attend university or a woman’s work to do any job traditionally done by men, it is absolutely out of the question to allow a woman’s right to do a job traditionally done by women. They are to be pushed out of the nest and made to grow up. They are to be compelled by the economics of a situation where a husband cannot earn a family wage to work like a man.

The argument has been advanced that women are “The Richer $ex.” The question has been raised about whether men have become “the second sex”, as was the title of a classic of French feminism. A book could easily be pulled on The War Against Boys, and discussion could be made of how school and the academy are a girl’s game—and one Wheaton administrator described how some of the hardest calls he has to make is to explain to one parent why her daughter, with a perfect record of straight A’s, was rejected by Wheaton—and explain that Wheaton has four hundred others like her; Wheaton, which has a 45% male student body, could admit only female applicant with straight A’s and still be turning people away.

But the argument discussed just above is something of a side point. To put it plainly, feminism is anti-woman. Perhaps ire against men is easily enough found; Mary Daly, now unfashionable, makes a big deal of “castration” and defines almost every arrangement of society not ordained by feminism as “rape.” (This would include most of all societies in all of history that we have recorded.) And if Mary Daly is now unfashionable, she is unfashionable to people who follow in her wake and might be voiceless today if she had not gone before them. And Mary Daly at least may well wear a reform program for men on their sleeve. But others who have followed her, and perhaps used less brusque rhetoric, wear a reform program for women next to their hearts.

I would like to pause for a moment to unpack just what it may mean to elevate anger to the status of a central discipline. And gender feminism, at least, does make an enterprise fueled by anger.

Every sin and passion in the Orthodox sense is both a miniature Hell, and a seed that will grow into Hell if it is unchecked. Different ages have different ideas of what is the worst sin. Victorians, at least in caricature, are thought to have made sexual sin the worst sin. In the New Testament, sexual sin is easily forgiven, but in an age where men have Internet porn at their fingertips, it would be helpful to remember that lust is the disenchantment of the entire universe: first nothing else is interesting, and then not even lust is interesting: there is misery. Getting drunk once might feel good, but the recovering alcoholic will tell you that being in thrall to alcohol and drunk all of the time is suffering you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Many people today think pride, the sin that cast an angel out of Heaven to be the Devil, is the worst sin and all of us have a stench to clean up here. And to the Church Fathers, to whom love was paramount, anger was perhaps the greatest danger. Today we say that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping it will hurt the other person, or that ‘anger’ is one letter from ‘danger’. The Fathers said, among other things, that it makes us more like the animals, and by implication less like what is noble and beautiful in the race of mankind. And it is one thing to lose one’s temper and find that dealing that with one particular person tries your patience. It is another thing entirely to walk a spiritual path that is fueled by the passion of anger. And this feminist choice is wrong. It is toxic, and we should have nothing to do with it.

Gender feminism may elevate anger to the status of central spiritual discipline, but to quote Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women:

Writers of both contemporary history and science texts, especially for the primary and secondary grades, make special efforts to provide “role models” for girls. Precollege texts now have an abundance of pictures; these now typically show women working in factories or looking through microscopes. A “sterotypical” picture of a woman with a baby is a frowned-upon rarity…

In an extensive study of the new textbooks written under feminist guidelines, New York University psychologist Paul Vitz could find no positive portrayal of romance, marriage or motherhood.

Although this is not directly a remark about feminism, something of my joy in A Wind in the Door was lost when I learned that Madeleine l’Engle viewed kything, the main supernatural element in the book, regarded it as literal fact. The idea that a reader is supposed to entertain a willing suspension of disbelief is not disturbed, but she meant, literally, that ordinary people should be able to send things directly, mind to mind. And what I took to be a beautiful metaphor (perhaps today I would say it needs to transcended in the noetic realm), made for an ugly literal claim. And the same thing happened when I read Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men, which is presented as a novel of Discworld. It is not set in Ankh-Morporkh, nor does any standard Discworld character or setting make more than one or two combined cameo appearances. So it is duplicitously called a novel of Discworld. And it is in fact not really centered on the Wee Free Men, who certainly make nice ornaments to the plot but never touch the story’s beating heart. The story is Wiccan and advertises witchcraft; like Mary Daly, who gives a duplicitous acknowledgement of Christ’s place (I parsed it and told the class point-blank, “I am more divine than her Christ”), argues for Wicca and witchcraft, tells how one may become a witch, and in her ‘Original Reintroduction’ written some decades after writes with a poetic and highly noetic character which drips with unnatural vice as much as Orthodox Liturgy drips with glory and Life. It was in reading The Wee Free Men that I first grasped why the Fathers called witchcraft unnatural vice. Never mind that witches deal in plants, and probably know a great more many details than the rest of us. There is a distinction like that of someone who studies available books on anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry, perhaps learning more than those in the medical profession, but to be an assassin (“If a sword blow hits the outside of the arm about a third of the way from the elbow to the shoulder, you can sever an artery and cause substantial bleeding.”). The analogy is not exact; I believe it misses things. But the entire Wiccan use of plants constitutes unnatural vice.

And in the shadow of those following Mary Daly, there is never a reform program for men that leaves women untouched. Maybe the reforms for men may be more clear; but good old-fashioned chauvinist men are almost a distraction compared to women who resist feminist improvement.

The Good Estate of Woman

Is it demeaning that the Bible says of the ambitious woman, Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing? Or is it not much more demeaning to say of the ambitious woman, “She shall be saved from childbearing?”

Women desire quite often simply motherhood. The very strength of the desire for romance, marriage, and motherhood in the face of gargantuation opposition says that what feminism is trying to free women from is an estate of happiness that women have yearned for from time immemorial. If it is prescribed hard enough that women will enter the workforce and work at some job wanted by men, she very well may do that—in addition to wanting children. Wendy Shalit in A Return to Modesty:

“Just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you can’t be a doctor or a lawyer.” Girls of my generation grew up on this expression. “Just because you’re a woman.” It was a motto like motner’s milk to us, and now it is the philosophy behind Take Our Daughters to Work Day. “Just because you’re a woman.” In other words, being a woman is a kind of handicap that with hard work, one can overcome. Some are born deformed; others are born women; but be brave. I’m sure you’ll make the best of it.

Yet now that we are free to be anything, doctors and lawyers, now that we’ve seen that women can be rational, and that men can cry, what we most want to know, and what we are not permitted to ask, is what does it mean to be a woman in the first place? Not in terms of what it won’t prevent us from doing—we are not unaware of our bountiful options—but what is meaningful about being a woman? Rosie the Riveter was riveting only because she didn’t usually rivet, and now that so many Rosies do, we most long to know what makes us unique again.

Two different women said to me, nervously, before graduation, What’s wrong with me? I want to have children. One had landed a job with an investment banking firm; the other was supposed to land a job with an investment banking firm because that’s what her father wanted, but the scouts who came to campus complained she wasn’t aggressive enough. What’s wrong with me? I want to have children… [emphasis original]

I think of a friend from college who was a powerful athlete, and for that matter was into boxing, and after college wanted to… settle down and be mother to a family, and a large one at that.

There is the Calvin and Hobbes strip where Hobbes says, “You can take the tiger out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the tiger.” And what it seems is that women can be pushed to be androgynous or like men in so many ways, and yet you still can’t take the jungle out of the tiger.

And perhaps women’s happiness is found in cutting with the grain of motherhood than against it.

And perhaps in place of a spiritual discipline of anger that puts on feminist X-ray goggles and finds oppression and insult lurking around every corner and in the most innocent of acts, women might place such spiritual disciplines as thanksgiving.

The darker the situation, the more we need thanksgiving. In the last major ordeal I went through, what saved me from despair was counting my blessings, and being mindful and thankful for innumerable things and people, and telling other people how thankful I was for them. I don’t know how else I could have had such joy at such a dark moment.

The properly traditional place for women is not exactly for men to be at work and women to be at home without adult company; the traditional placement for both men and women was to work in adult company, doing different work perhaps but doing hard work in adult company. Feminists have a point that the 1950’s ideal of a woman alone without adult company all the worklong day can induce depression, and cutting with the grain of motherhood does not automatically mean reproducing the 50’s. The perfect placement is for men to be with other men doing the work of men and women to be with women doing the work of women, and that is denied to men as well as women. The War Against Boys: How Misguided Policies Are Harming Young Men attests that school has become girls’ turf. My own experiences in schooling were that in almost all areas that truly interested me, I was self-taught. Working first in math, then in theology, there was something more than the naive outsider’s question to academic theology: “Yes, I understand that we need to learn multiple languages, the history of theology, philosophy of religion, hermeneutics, and so on, but when are we going to study real theology?” This question is not in particular a man’s question; it could just as plausibly have been spoken by a young woman. But work and school both place its members as neuters; there may be some places of schooling that may be 80% male (I’ve been there), and there may be places of schooling that may be 80% female (I’ve been there), but the traditional roles for men and women are not optional; they are taken off the table altogether, leaving those who would have traditional roles holding the short straw.

But to say that and stop is misleading. I remember when I asked an Orthodox literature professor for his advice on a novella I was working that was a fantasy world based on the patristic Greek East instead of the medieval Latin West, and his advice, were I wise enough to listen to it (I wasn’t), was simply, “If Orthodoxy is not to work for the here and now, it simply isn’t worth very much.” And Orthodoxy has fashioned men and women who have thrived under pagan antiquity, under Constantine, under the devious oppression of Julian the Apostate, under the fairy-like wonderland of nineteenth century Russia, under the Bolshevik Revolution, under centuries in the Byzantine Empire, under Muslim rule after Byzantium shrunk and finally modern era guns ended the walls erected by a Byzantine Emperor ages before, in France by those fleeing persecution, in America under parallel jurisdictions. In every age and at every time the Orthodox Church has found saints who chanted, as the hymn in preparation for Communion states, “Thou, who art every hour and in every place worshipped and glorified…” And if you think our world is too tangled to let God work his work, there is something big, or rather Someone Big, who is missing from your picture. God harvested alike St. Zosima and St. Mary of Egypt. And it is not just true that God has fashioned and has continued to fashion real men in the intensely masculine atmosphere of a monastery of men; calling men’s monasteries simply schools that make men is to focus on a minor key. Helping men be men, and channeling machismo into povdig or ascetical feats, is a matter of seeking the Kingdom of God and having other things be added as well. I have heard of one man be straightened out on Mount Athos from his addiction to pornography and then depart and be married; that may not be the usual path on Mount Athos, but the strong medicine offered on Mount Athos is sufficient to address the biggest attack on manhood this world offers, and it is a place of salvation.

What prescription would I suggest for women? To get a part-time job while children are at school? To homeschool, and have some team teaching? To just stay at home? All of these and more are possibilities, but the most crucial suggestion is this:

Step out of Hell.

In From Russia, With Love: A Spiritual Guide to Surviving Political and Economic Disaster, I wrote:

The Greek word hubris refers to pride that inescapably blinds, the pride that goes before a fall. And subjectivism is tied to pride. Subjectivism is trying, in any of many ways, to make yourself happy by being in your own reality instead of learning happiness in the God-given reality that you’re in. Being in subjectivism is a start on being in Hell. Hell may not be what you think. Hell is light as it is experienced by people who would rather be in darkness. Hell is abundant health as experienced by people who would choose disease. Hell is freedom as experienced by those who will not stop clinging to spiritual chains. Hell is ten thousand other things: more pointedly, Hell is other people, as experienced by an existentialist. This Hell is Heaven as experienced through subjectivist narcissism, experiencing God’s glory and wishing for glory on your own power. The gates of Hell are bolted and barred from the inside. God is love; he cannot but ultimately give Heaven to his creatures, but we can, if we wish, choose to experience Heaven as Hell. The beginning of Heaven is this life, but we can, if we wish, be subjectivists and wish for something else and experience what God has given us as the start of Hell.

Step out of Hell, pray, and accept what God gives you.

Maximum Christ, Maximum Ambition, Maximum Repentance

Money

The Patriarchy We Object to

Unashamed

Microsoft Offers Better “Truth in Advertising” for Windows XP Dialog Box

Satire / Humor Warning:

As the author, I have been told I have a very subtle sense of humor.

This page is a work of satire, inspired by the likes of The Onion and early incarnations of The Onion Dome.

It is not real news.

CJSH.name/windows

Redmond, AP. Microsoft is preparing to release an update to Windows XP offering better “truth in advertising” for one of Windows XP’s most important dialogs. From a leaked screenshot:

A clarified version of one of the more important dialog boxes in Microsoft Windows XP, displayed when a program becomes unresponsive. The box that said, "End Now" is expanded to also say, "Lock up for 30 seconds and then just display another little window exactly like this one." The box that said, "Cancel" is expanded to also say, "Let's face the facts. You probably aren't going to win this battle of wills, at least not anytime soon. Why don't you give up now and save yourself the trouble?"
A Microsoft fan commented, “There may have been one or two glitches along the way, but XP was great—and Windows 7 will be the best Windows yet!” A Unix wizard muttered something about the tallest of the seven dwarves, before saying: “I know that some features are really advanced and it takes a long time to get them working, but did you know that old unfriendly Unix has offered users a choice between meekly asking a program to be kind enough to wind down, and forcing a program to immediately quit, since before the eighties? Since before Windows was a gleam in the future Sir Gates’s eye?”

“That may be,” the Microsoft fanboy said, “but Microsoft has the best ads. You have to admit that those Seinfeld ads were classic!”

The Unix guru opened his mouth, closed it, and refrained from further comment.

Ajax without JavaScript or Client-Side Scripting

CJSH, a Python 3 based experimental, programmable Linux / Unix / Mac command line shell

A Fully Functional Windows 95 Emulator That Runs Right in Your Browser

Usability for Hackers: Developers, Anthropology, and Making Software More Usable

The Way of the Way

Surgeon General’s warning

I read a book I shouldn’t have read and got way too intoxicated with Taoism for way too long. This sydnrome is not unique in those who have come to Orthodoxy.

This posting is kept live for archival purposes.

CJSH.name/way

C.J.S. Hayward's Early Works
Read it on Kindle for $3!

I Beyond

Beyond doing, there is being.

Beyond time, there is eternity.

Beyond mortality, there is immortality.

Beyond knowledge, there is faith.

Beyond justice, there is mercy.

Beyond happy thoughts, there is joy.

Beyond communication, there is communion.

Beyond petition, there is prayer.

Beyond work, there is rest.

Beyond right action, there is virtue.
Beyond virtue, there is the Holy Spirit.

Beyond appreciation, there is awe.

Beyond sound, there is stillness.
Beyond stillness, there is the eternal song.

Beyond law, there is grace.

Beyond even wisdom, there is love.

Beyond all else, HE IS.

II Order

Love and the Spirit are the basis for all true order.

When love and true religion have departed, there is honor and morality.
When honor and morality have departed, there are rules.
Rules do not depart when they have lost their power. They grow and multiply.
When rules have grown to their full measure, there is chaos.

The more the rules, the less the order, and how does that profit anyone?

III Silence

The value of silence, of stillness, of meditation, of rest, is great.

I will not attempt to explain it with words.

IV Power

Strength is made perfect in weakness.

A vessel that is solid is worthless.
A vessel that is empty and hollow has room to be filled.

If you wish to become strong, learn weakness.

V The Heart

Thought goes before deed; that which fills the heart will fill the hands.

Greater than any conquest without, is the conquest within.

Remove the log from your own eye, and you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. Master the mountain within, and you will be in a right state to challenge the mountain without.

Do you consider yourself ready for the task? You do not take it seriously.

Do you despair of ever accomplishing it yourself? You are ready to receive help.

VI Wealth

Poverty is a deadly bane. Yet it can be made a blessing.

If you wish to see the power of love and the Spirit of God at work, look at those who have nothing else.

Wealth is a blessing. Yet it can become a deadly bane.

Look at the wealthy.
There are few who own and are served by many possessions.
There are many who are owned by and serve many possessions.

Look at the wealthy.
There are many who can buy their children toys, video games, and cars.
There are few who pick their children up and hold them.

Look at the wealthy.
There are many who can afford any pleasure they want.
There are few who know joy.

Look at the wealthy.
There are many who can buy any vacation or entertainment device they want.
There are few who ever know leisure, rest, peace.

Look at the wealthy.
There are many who have more money than the poor would know how to spend.
There are few who are as generous as the poor.

Look at the wealthy.
There are many who can buy the softest and most luxuriant pets.
There are few who truly know the feel of a human touch.

Look at yourself.
Look at most of the people in the world.
Are you not wealthy?

VII Through

Joy comes through suffering.

Freedom comes through discipline.

Glory comes through humility.

Security comes through letting go.

Masculinity comes through not being macho.

Femininity comes through not being a sex toy.

Life comes through death.

VIII The Kingdom

The Kingdom of Heaven is not a kingdom of this world.

It is a kingdom in which the weak have been chosen to shame the strong.

It is a kingdom in which the foolish have been chosen to shame the wise.

It is a kingdom in which the poor have been chosen to shame the rich.

It is a kingdom in which the humble have become the friends of God.

It is a kingdom in which that which the world has told, “You are worthless,” God has told, “You are priceless.”

It is a kingdom in which there is more rejoicing over one filthy sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous men who do not need to repent.

It is a kingdom in which vulgar peasants have been chosen to shame great theologians and sages.

It is a kingdom in which many wealthy men gave great and ostentatious gifts, and a poor widow, dropping in two pennies, surpassed them all.

It is a kingdom in which the power to conquer is held, not by the man who is able to stand behind the barrel of a gun, but by the man who is willing to stand in front of it.

It is a kingdom in which, to become a leader, you must become a slave.

It is a kingdom which begins, not with the love that you pour out, but with the love that is poured out on you.

IX Service

A river in health has water flowing in and water flowing out.

If it dams its outflow, saying, “I will gain more fresh water this way,” then it only grows stagnant. Its greed and selfishness create an illusion of gain, that is only loss.

It must give out as it has received, and then it will be filled with water fresh and pure as it was first filled.

So it is with men.

Proclaim Christ at all times, and use words if need be.

Words are powerful, and can speak mightily.
Deeds are more powerful, and can speak more mightily.

The way to teach is not as a master.
It is as a brother, as a friend, and as a slave.

The one who seeks to control and dominate does not understand how to lead. Manipulation is not much different from dominating by intimidation; it is only better hidden. Both are hurt and pain lying and saying that they are health. If you wish to become a leader, scrub out a wastebasket.

X Lessons

Once, after years of teaching, the Buddha was walking with his students, and one of them asked him for one last, final lesson.

He bent down, and picked a flower.

All of his students looked intently, waiting for an explanation.

All but one.

The one student smiled.

And to this one student, Buddha smiled back.

Lessons are everywhere. They are in books and in the classroom, to be certain. But there are many, many other places.

Look at a single blade of grass. Its beauty bears the fingerprints of the Creator. There is a lesson there.

Feel the warmth of a friend when you give him a hug. We were not created to spend time only in solitude, but also in community, and touch is vital. There is a lesson in the touch of another person.

Write a story or draw a picture. You will learn something when you do it.

Pray. There is a lesson in the simplest prayer.

Where is there not a lesson to be learned?

XI Children

Children are a lot like everyone else, except that they have not fully learned how to act like everyone else. Therefore there is much to learn from them.

There is nothing like a child seeing that you are hurt, and coming up and giving you a hug. There is nothing like a child making a gift to give to someone.

There is also nothing like a child being loud, rude, and inconsiderate, ripping a toy away from someone smaller because he wants it and he is strong enough to take it. There is nothing like a child staring into your eyes with eyes of ice and saying, “I hate you.”

Children embody good things that others have forgotten. A child knows how to imagine, how to look at how pretty a flower is, and they have not yet learned that it’s not OK to say that you’re hurting and need help. Children also embody pure and unmasked vice; it is very easy to see a child lie, manipulate, tear apart the one who doesn’t fit in, and fight anyone who dare stand in the way of his selfishness.

Confucius said, “When I see a virtuous man, I try to be like him. When I see an evil man, I reflect on my own behavior.”

XII Untainted virtue

Become as a little child, but do not become childish.

Become loving, and yet become firm.

Become strong, and yet become gentle.

Become wise, and yet do not rely on your own wisdom.

Become great, and yet become humble.

Become filled with imagination and dreams, and yet do not forget the world.

Become as a skillful warrior, and yet become peaceful.

Become ancient, and yet do not lose your childhood.

Become timeless, and yet use time wisely.

XIII Shadows

When people are unwilling to draw near to God and neighbor, they become religious.

When people shun worship, they create ceremonies.

When people are afraid to pray, they babble endless words.

When people abandon the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they try to create order by rules and regulations.

When people refuse to let themselves be drawn into holiness, they ordain priests.

When people flee from confronting the evil that lies within, they become self righteous and holier-than-thou.

When people do not accept the glory of the reality and substance that is found in Christ, they flee to familiar comforts and embrace mere shadows.

XIV Fullness

Once a father gave each of his three sons a penny, as a test; he would bestow his inheritance on the son who could go into the marketplace and, in a day, buy something to fill the room.

The eldest son came, with his pouch filled with sand. He took the sand and threw it, scattering it through the room. It covered a little of the floor, but not all of it.

The second son came, with his arms full of straw. He spread the straw on the floor, scattering it through the room. It covered all of the floor, but it did not fill the room.

The youngest son came, and, opening his hand, held out a tiny candle. He lit it,

and filled the room with light.

XV Wrong Questions

It is possible for an answer to a question to be wrong.

“Is murder good or evil?”

“Good.”

Yet it does not take an answer for there to be a mistake.

“How many times must I forgive my brother before I may bear a grudge against him?”

If you are asking such a question, you are already mistaken. Here are some, to avoid:

“What is the rational justification for faith?”

“What must I do to make myself good and make myself righteous before God?”

“Where should I seek out suffering in order to take up my cross?”

“How may I learn humility?”

“How do I decide for myself what is good and what is evil?”

“How much force is necessary to bring order to this situation?”

“How do I choose the lesser of two evils?”

“What words constitute a true prayer?”

“What is the necessary, time, place, and form for true worship?”

“Where do you draw the line between proper use of food and drink, and gluttony and drunkenness?”

“How much money do I need in order to be able to do something good?”

“What kind of rules should I use to infuse life to my spirituality?”

“What denomination should I join?”

“Who is my neighbor?”

XVI The Middle Path

In many ways, the Way a is balance. The temptation is not infrequent to try to avoid one error by embracing its opposite.

Good speech and writing does not contain words for the sake of words. Neither is it cut short for the sake of being concise.

Order is not gained by adding rules to what God has given, nor freedom by acting as if sin were not evil.

Wisdom is not gained by deifying the mind as something supreme which God must bow down and worship, nor humility by rejecting it as a piece of filth which God did not create.

In moderation and balance are work, play, rest, exercise, thought, meditation, words, music, silence, food, drink, and refrain, all good things.

XVII Evil

Do you wish to see twistedness and depravity beyond belief?

Look within.

XVIII Impossible

If a man were offered five dollars to not think of a glowing pink bear, he would not be able to claim the prize. Yet he would have been doing it perfectly until he tried.

Likewise, people act inconspicuous until they try to act inconspicuous.

That is easy; they are matters where something is done automatically until they are tried.

Were a plank of wood a foot wide laid across the floor, anybody could walk across it without falling.

Yet, were it crossing a yawning and abysmal chasm, firmly secured so that it would not shake, many people would try to walk across it without falling, because they would, seeing the possibility of falling, cease to walk perfectly across the plank and instead try to walk perfectly across it.

The prayer of faith is like this; he who offers a prayer of faith succeeds, and he who tries to offer a prayer of faith fails.

That is more valuable and more difficult; it is a matter where it is not done automatically, nor something that is done by trying, but something that can be done only by doing. It is easy; children do this with great power until they grow up and learn to try.

There is something greater yet, which is most valuable and impossible.

Man is fallen, and sin and evil have pervaded his whole being. Sin must be escaped to enter into life, for its wages are absolute death.

But what is the way for man to escape from sin? Automatic doing or trying or doing or not-doing? Wisdom or stupidity or knowledge or ignorance or tantrism or willpower or doing nothing?

That is like asking what brand of gasoline to use to extinguish a fire.

Such proceed from man and are inescapably tainted by evil. At their worst, they are straw. At their best, they are straw. They cannot save.

God emptied himself of divine power and majesty to become a man, and then emptied himself of even human power and majesty to die on a cross.

He who was without sin became anathema, bearing the curse for sins.

Now, to those who have earned in full the full measure of God’s wrath, he offers this: that they accept the gift of God taking the curse upon himself, so that they will not have to bear it themselves.

The impossible is freely given to whoever believes, praying, “Jesus, please forgive my sins and come into my heart.”

This is the message of the Cross. It is foolish and weak. There is no way around it, no escape.

You cannot stoop to such useless nonsense? There is some question which remains unresolved, which must be answered before you can accept it?

Then go, and extinguish your fire with gasoline.

XIX A Difference

Once a man was on a beach, where countless thousands of starfish had washed up, their life and water ever so slowly ebbing into dust.

Someone came along, and asked him, “What are you doing? Had you the rest of your life to spend doing this, you would not scratch the surface of the dying starfish. You cannot help more than a drop in the bucket. Why do you think that it matters?”

The man calmly, patiently, bent over, took a starfish, and threw it up in the air, arcing as it came down to splash back into the life giving water.

“It mattered to that one.”

XX Not

Teaching is not fallible men claiming divine authority.
It is divine authority claiming fallible men.

Righteousness is not, do what is right and you will be justified.
It is, be justified, and you will do what is right.

The beginning is not man reaching up to God.
It is God reaching down to man.

God is not a reflection of the best in man.
Man is a reflection of the best in God.

Wisdom is not mind establishing the place for faith and building it up.
It is faith establishing the place for mind and building it up.

You do not come to see the world as you should and therefore know God.
You come to know God, and therefore see the world as you should.

The Cross was the point where the power of sin and death crushed God.
It is the point where God crushed the power of sin and death.

XXI The Other Side

The foundation is that God loves you and your neighbor.
The foundation is that you shall love God and your neighbor.

Only those who believe can obey.
Only those who obey can believe.

A wise man will pursue love.
A man of love will pursue wisdom.

Christ shared in our life and died our death,
That we may share in his death and live his life.

The believer abides in the Father, in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.
The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit abide in the believer.

Inside of your heart, there is a void that can be filled only by God.
Inside of God’s heart, there is a void that can be filled only by you.

XXII Necessary

If you have nothing that you are ready to die for, then you have nothing that you are ready to live for.

If you will not lose yourself, then you can not find yourself.

If you can not accept that your own wisdom is not the final measure, then you can not become wise.

If you can not let go of efficiency, then you can not use what has been entrusted you properly.

If you do not fear God, then you will not know either courage or peace.

If you do not renounce everything to gain Christ, then you can not truly gain anything.

If you do not see the net sum of all your good works as ——, then you can never produce good works.

XXIII Teaching

Once a man came out of a church service, visibly moved. He walked along with the town cynic, and began to speak.

“There’s a new preacher, and his message is totally different.”

“Really? What did the old one say?”

“He said that we have all sinned, and that Jesus died for our sins, and that, unless we accept his forgiveness for our sins, we’re all going to go to Hell.”

“And what does the new one say?”

“He says that we have all sinned, and that Jesus died for our sins, and that, unless we accept his forgiveness for our sins, we’re all going to go to Hell.”

“Bah! Doesn’t sound like much of a difference to me.”

“Oh, there’s a world of difference. He says it with tears in his eyes.”

XXIV Faith

The just shall live by faith.

Not, “The just shall live by works,” to which faith is a means. “The just shall live by faith,” of which works are a result.

Not, “The just shall live by meaning,” to which faith is a means. “The just shall live by faith,” of which meaning is a result.

Not, “The just shall live by rational explanation,” to which faith is a means. “The just shall live by faith,” of which rational explanation is a result.

Not, “The just shall live by mystery,” to which faith is a means. “The just shall live by faith,” of which mystery is a result.

Not, “The just shall live by power,” to which faith is a means. “The just shall live by faith,” of which power is a result.

Not, “The just shall live by security,” to which faith is a means. “The just shall live by faith,” of which security is a result.

Not, “The just shall live by happiness,” to which faith is a means. “The just shall live by faith,” of which happiness is a result.

The just shall live by faith.

XXV Means

The more haste, the less speed.

The more prudishness, the less purity.

The more rules, the less order.

The more will, the less power to obey.

The more excess, the less satisfaction.

The more license, the less freedom.

The more wrong means, the less right ends.

It is necessary, not only to believe that God has given the right ends, but also that he knows the best means to those ends.

XXVI Law

There is the Law for the lawless.

There is no Law for the righteous.

The Law is not a tool to help people obey. It is a mirror to show people that they can’t obey.

It is meant to show people that however hard they try, they need something greater: that the Something Greater is how they are to obey.

Alas, for how many have tried to obey with the Law?

XXVII Virtue and Vice

The one man perfect in virtue was the Man of Sorrows, and we are not greater. In this world, virtue is no escape from suffering.

Yet vice is anything from the path of joy. Joy, indeed, is a part of virtue, and can not truly be separated from it.

Virtue is hard to begin with, but ends in joy.
Vice is easy to begin with, but ends in misery.

What does Heaven look like?

He who is proud will see that every man present is present, not because of, but despite what he merits.

He who is rebellious will see people serve an absolute King.

He who desires self-sufficiency will see that joy is offered in community.

He who seeks wealth, prestige, power, and other ways to dominate others, will find his effort in Heaven to be like buying a gun in a grocery store.

He who strives will see that there is no one to strive with.

He who despises the physical will see a bodily resurrection.

He who desires his own interpretation and his own set of beliefs, will see absolute truth in crystalline clarity.

To those who will not let God change their character to virtue and love, even Heaven would be Hell.

XXVIII Wrong Tools

Does one use an ice cube to start a fire?

Does one use a chainsaw to mend a torn garment?

Does one use nerve gas to heal paralysis?

Then why do people use worry to create security, or wealth and power to create happiness, or excess to create satisfaction, or distortions of pleasure to surpass pleasure in its proper function?

Perhaps the reason that the Tempter is the Father of Lies, is that only a master of illusion could make sin appear desirable.

XXIX Fallenness

Fallenness is subtle, and appears in many ways.

People do reverence to nothings, and disturb the order.

What should be used is loved, and what should be loved is used.

People consider ends which are good themselves, to be merely means to other ends, ends which are trivia. It is like seeking to heal a man deaf and dumb, so that he can tell you what time it is.

People try to achieve the right ends through the wrong means.

People take the right action for the wrong reason.

People try to do good by themselves instead of relying on the Spirit.

As well to give a thirsty man a canteen, without first allowing it to be filled with water.

Man alone can not escape sin. Only in God is that power found.

XXX Peace

Peace is not the absence of violent conflict between men.

Peace is first of all a peace between God and man, and then virtue inside a man.

Peace is not an absence of anything, but the presence of love.

The manifest presence of love does not leave room for people to try to kill each other, but it is far more than an absence.

In that way, peace is like many good things. Right action does not lie, steal, or commit adultery, but its essence is not what it does not do, but what it does do: in the Spirit, act according to love and compassion. Virtue does not contain vice, but it is a positive thing, the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, moderation, courage, justice, wisdom, honor, purity, timelessness, balance, obedience, submission, honesty, chastity, simplicity, penitence, faith, hope, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, humility.

Violence can not create peace. Only love can.

XXXI Nothing Else

Nothing can atone for the insult of a gift, except for the love of the person who gives it.

Nothing can allow the power to do good, except letting go of grasping power as the means to do good.

Nothing can sanctify any activity, possession, or skill, except offering it up completely to God.

Nothing can bless any activity of man reaching up to God, except for the activity of God reaching down to man.

XXXII Deprivation

Too much information; not enough wisdom.

Too many subtleties of interpretation; not enough understanding of the plain and simple.

Too much amusement; not enough leisure.

Too many activities; not enough true accomplishment.

Too much on the surface; not enough in the core.

Too much acceptance; not enough love.

Too much filled-by-man; not enough filled-by-God.

Sometimes, more is less.

XXXIII The Upside-Down Kingdom

The Kingdom of Heaven knows madness in which there is infinite method. The kingdom of this world knows method in which there is infinite madness.

It is a kingdom in which walking is a luxury, and driving a car is a necessity.

It is a kingdom in which lifelong marriage is less cherished than the isolated pleasure of sex.

It is a kingdom in which peace is pursued through intimidation and violence.

It is a kingdom in which men pursue freedom and joy by doing what they were never meant to.

It is a kingdom in which labor-saving devices destroy leisure.

It is a kingdom in which an unexpected moment of rest at a busy time, is considered an annoyance.

It is a kingdom in which certainty is pursued through doubt.

It is a kingdom in which men try to elevate and build up, by separating from foundations.

It is a kingdom which ignores, ridicules, or kills the prophets God sends it.

It is a kingdom which manages to be so terribly practical that it loses what practicality is meant to achieve.

It is a kingdom in which holding power is more esteemed than being loved.

Which kingdom is really the upside-down kingdom?

XXXIV He Who Is

He is the Way.

He is Truth.

He is Tao.

He is Light.

He is Life.

He is Love.

He is the Word.

He is Mystery.

He is Beyond.

He is the Origin.

He is Energy.

HE IS.

It is in him that we walk, and live, and breathe.

It is by knowing him that we know ourselves.

It is by being united with him that we become ourselves.

XXXV Rotting

When people forsake the Spirit, they embrace rigid asceticism.
Asceticism gives birth to libertinism, and libertinism gives birth to death.

When people forsake wisdom, they embrace rationalism.
Rationalism gives birth to anti-intellectualism, and anti-intellectualism gives birth to chaos.

When people forsake faith in God, they embrace faith in man.
Faith in man gives birth to faith in nothing, and faith in nothing gives birth to nothing.

There are ten thousand improvements on the Way. Do you know where they lead?

XXXVI Eden

In Eden, there were no temples.
There was no place where men did not come to meet God.

In Eden, there were no priests.
There was no one who did not know God intimately.

In Eden, there were no oaths.
There was no falsehood.

The words, “At that time, men began to call on the name of Yahweh,” do not tell of heights to which man had risen. They tell of the depths to which man had sunk.

The Kingdom of Heaven does not know a great many things.
Rather, it knows what was unspoiled in Eden, and something yet greater.

Its members are gentle, humble, and pure.
They carry a sense of timelessness about them, and they make peace.
They repay evil with good, and rejoice when persecuted.
They walk in the Spirit.
They have overcome the world.

Eden saw the image of God.
The New Jerusalem will see sinners redeemed, who are not only God’s image, but share in the divine nature.

In Eden, men saw by lights God had made.
In the New Jerusalem, there will never be a lamp, for God himself will be their light.

XXXVII Unconditional

Like is because. Love is despite.

If you begin to understand all of the reasons man has given God not to love him, you will begin to understand the nature of God’s love.

Love is not desire, nor is it want, nor is it even duty.
Love is love.

When does love prove that it is love?

When you look into a man, see some virtue, something beautiful, something great he has done for you, and love him more?

No. When you look into a man, see some vice, something ugly, some great wrong he has committed against you, and love him more.

It is perhaps those who are called unloveable who are easiest to love, for love for them will truly be love.

XXXVIII True Learning

A student, beginning the study of a new language, will first ask, “What does this word mean? What is the word for that?” Translation will be difficult.

As time passes, he will learn more of the skill of translation. He will know more words, and understand not only what word stands for what word, but what idiom stands for what idiom.

Then, gradually, something else will begin to happen. He will begin to understand the new language, not in terms of the old tongue, but on its own terms. He will learn to think in the new language. He will begin to understand that which lies a step beyond words or even idioms, that which can not be translated. His words in the new tongue will begin to sound, not like a new translation, but like the language itself.

Then, even more gradually, this will be done, not with effort, but as a part of him. His speech will flow, free and unconstrained, as in his native tongue. Translation, in the end as in the beginning, will be difficult; in the beginning, as an unnatural artifice to which there is no alternative, and in the end, as an unnatural artifice which does not compare to the beauty and simplicity of the language itself.

The language has been mastered, not when the student has become skilled in translation, but when he does not need to.

The Way, the Kingdom, the Spirit, are like this.

They are not new. They are ancient. But sin has grown so great that they are not even recognized.

Of course it is possible to strive to make these clear. It is in their nature that this be done. The Way has come, that those who are blind may see.

There are many parables which tell, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like.”

Yet the parables say always, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like,” never “The Kingdom of Heaven is.”

It can never be fully translated.

It must be learned.

XXXIX Heaven

The blind will see God’s face.

The dumb will sing praises to him.

The deaf will listen to the eternal song.

The lame will dance for joy.

Those convulsed by spasms will rest in perfect stillness.

The leprous will feel God’s touch.

But all this is dwarfed by the shadow of the wonder beyond wonders.

Sinners will be made holy.

XL God

Believe and know that which can be grasped by reason.
Believe that which can only be called mystery.

So also, know God who is very personal.
So also, know God who is beyond personality.

Call him firstly and finally, “Abba,” Daddy.
Rest in his bosom.

Know also that, though man is like God, God is not like man.

Embody Tao, and walk according to the Way.

The nature of God — three persons who are yet one — is vast and incomprehensible.

He is all of the things of which I have spoken, and more, far more.

XLI Better

It is good to love so that any sacrifice considered is made.
It is better to love so that sacrifice is no longer considered.

It is good to understand through profound symbols.
It is better to come to the point of understanding from which profound symbols are made.

It is good to have faith be a part of everyday life.
It is better to have everyday life be a part of faith.

It is good to abstain from what should not be done.
It is better to do what should be done.

It is good for the Way to become a part of you.
It is better for you to become a part of the Way.

It is good to know a friend so that you understand his words.
It is better to know a friend so that you understand without words.

It is good to see an enemy, with all the evil he has done you, and love him.
It is better to love so that you do not see an enemy.

XLII Knowledge

He does not know how to swim who can recite manuals and comment on them.
He knows how to swim who can fall into water and not be harmed.

Those who have pursued knowledge have learned that knowledge is never mastered when it resides only in the head.

This character of knowledge is difficult to describe; something of it is captured in that the word ‘know’ tells of the union of male and female.

Knowledge proceeds from faith. The call is to believe and know the truth.

There is much to wisdom that is not captured by systematic theology, and he is wise who knows systematic theology and the rest of wisdom.

The call to know God and know yourself is a call to truly know.

The one who knows the Way, knows it in the head, the heart, the hands; it rests in his spirit.

XLIII Sanity

Sanity builds an immense boat in the middle of a desert.

Sanity offers up the son of the promise on the altar.

Sanity leaves net and boat to obey the words, “Come, follow me.”

The only true sanity will let go of everything to grasp the Way.

Therefore,
He who follows the Way may have no possessions.
He who follows the Way may have no identity.
He who follows the Way may have no security.
He who follows the Way may have no good works.
He who follows the Way may have no friends.
He who follows the Way may have no family.
He who follows the Way may not have even his own life.

The Way costs everything. To follow it, one must let go of, renounce, hate all of these things, offering them up completely to God.

Then, and only then,
His possession will be the Kingdom of Heaven.
His identity will be Christ.
His security will be the providence of God.
His good works will be the good works of Christ.
His friends will begin with God.
His family will be all who follow the Way.
His life will be eternal.

Of the old things, he will expect nothing back.
That which is given back will be taken to be an unexpected gift.

Even then, he will not have them as before.
He will not have them except according to the Way.
They are not his; they belong to the Way.

XLIV Greatness

A great leader is not overbearing.

A humble man is not self-depracating.

A man of love is not accepting.

Why is this?

It is because they follow, not the pattern below, but the pattern above.

XLV Leaving Room

A great teacher does not spell out every detail.

He leaves room open for the student to understand.

Think about why a joke is funny. It causes no laughter if it is explained.

A great teacher leaves room for his students to learn.

XLVI Voice

Wind, earthquake, and fire are but heralds of something greater.
That something greater is soft and still.

That is the voice to listen to, and the voice to imitate.

It is shouting which makes a man hoarse.

If you wish to be heard, do not raise your voice.
Speak in a gentle whisper.

XLVII Between

The Way between man and God does not leave them separate.
It draws them together.

The Way between two people does not leave them separate.
It draws them together.

The Way between man and nature does not leave them separate.
It draws them together.

Where there is separation, the Way enters the separation and creates intimacy.
Where there is discord, the Way enters the discord and creates harmony.
Where there is absence, the Way enters the absence and creates presence.

In the beginning was the Way.
And the Way was with God.
And the Way was God.

XLVIII Slowly

Slowly, slowly, ever so slowly.

It is over untold aeons that coal is turned to diamond.

The Way is not speedy, hasted, or rushed.

It is always on time, because it is never in a hurry.

It is nonsense to pray, “Lord, give me patience, and give it to me now.”
God gives patience, patiently.

God draws people into the Way, according to the way of the Way.
It is ever so slowly and imperceptibly that they grow in virtue.

The time to obey is now.
The time for results to come, is God’s concern, not yours.

Do not be in a hurry with God.
God is not in a hurry with you.

XLIX Prayer

Do not spend a season without food,
nor a week without drink,
nor an hour without air,
nor a second without prayer.

Prayer is not useful. Wonders come of it, but it is not useful.
Prayer makes innumerable petitions, but it is not a tool to get things.

Prayer is the step by which a man walks in the way.
Prayer is the letting go by which a man rests in the Spirit.
Prayer is the force by which God draws man into himself.

Prayer does not draw into communion with God to ask and receive.
Prayer asks and receives to draw into communion with God.

L Control

A microbe controls the biologist who studies it. It causes him to place it on a glass slide, and look at it through a microscope.

A mountain controls the climber who scales it. It causes him to flatten himself against the rock, grab on to tiny holds, and move according to their pattern.

A thermometer controls the patient who uses it. It causes him to sit still and close his mouth.

There are many other things that control, for good or evil, and the control rarely extends only to the moment.

Lust causes a man to look at a person and see only breasts and legs.

Devotion to mammon causes a man to think of “What does this cost? What am I willing to pay?”, and worry for his riches.

Playing a tactical assassination game causes a man to think about how to kill stranger and friend, and jump in fear at every sound, paranoid without cease about which stranger or friend is trying to kill him.

But,

The Way causes a man to be filled with peace and innocence.

Forgiving wrongs causes a man to be undisturbed by hate and anger.

Prayer causes a man to be filled with trust and security.

Mercy causes a man to be filled with love.

A man can choose what will control him.
He cannot choose whether or not he will be controlled.

It is those who most resist control, who are most under control, and whose master destroys.

What controls you?

LI Great

A step into the Way has been made by the person who ceases to say, “God, look how big my problems are!”, and instead says, “Problems, look how big my God is!”

Greatness is in God, and in everything that comes from him.

The Way is great.
The Kingdom of Heaven is great.
Tao is great.

I do not know words that will hold the greatness of God.

Greatness comes to a man, not by conquering a city, nor by earning a million dollars, but by growing into accordance with the Way.

To enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, become as a little child.

LII Accordance

A true climber will climb according to the shape of the mountain.

A true wayfarer does not stay in hotels, ride tour buses, and buy shiny trinkets; he steps into the culture, meeting its people, listening to its music, tasting its food.

A true architect will not take a medieval cloister and attach to it an addition that belongs in a shiny new mall. Rather, he will build new buildings that fit the pattern of the landscape, and new additions which fit the pattern of the old.

Being will do, but it is a doing which is in accordance with being and does not strive.

A man who walks in the Way will not strive with what around him is not evil.

One does not write poetry to defy the rules of a language; it is rather to write in accordance with the nature of the tongue.

A poet may change the structure of his language, but he does so only according to its spirit.

An intercessor can change the will of God, but he will do so only in accordance with what God wills.

God is eternal, constant, timeless, unchanging.
In time, he has constantly changed his will, that there may remain inviolate his unchanging love.

Therefore, to change the will of God is in accordance with God’s will.

Such change will be the nature of change made by a man who walks in the Way; he will never try to make changes which are haphazard or random. If that is how it is changed, even more accordance is how it is not changed.

He who walks in the way will know accordance.

LIII Freedom

Freedom of motion is the freedom of a skeleton intact. It is a freedom that allows a person to run, and jump, and dance.

What comes of breaking a bone is freedom to bend a limb in ways it was never meant to move, freedom to have sherds of bone tear at living flesh, freedom to writhe in agony, and freedom to die.

That is not freedom.

It is only in accordance with the Way that there is freedom.

It hurts to kick against the goads.

For freedom, all who walk in the Way have been set free. Freedom is the nature of the Way.

LIV Return

To the faithful, God shows himself faithful.

To the forgiving, God shows himself forgiving.

To the kind, God shows himself kind.

To the wise, God shows himself wise.

To the patient, God shows himself patient.

To the pure, God shows himself pure.

To the loving, God shows himself loving.

When the Spirit places virtue in a man, he is ready to see that virtue in God.

Seek what is right, and it will be accorded to you.

LV Title

“Master!”

“Do not call me master. There is but one.”

“Surely you know that you are a sage.”

“He is a fool who considers himself wise.”

“Teacher?”

“Do not think of me as teacher, either.”

“But I see in you such wisdom, such gentleness, such peace. If I may not call you master, nor sage, nor even teacher, then how may I call you?”

“Brother.”

LVI Growth

A wise man learns from the words of the simple.

Only a man of little learning says, “I have nothing to learn from you.”

In this, wisdom reflects the Way.

Growth is not like an empty room being filled with boxes, where each thing placed inside leaves less and less room for more.

It is rather like dominoes being placed on a table; the more are set in place, the more possibilities are created to add more.

The more a man grows in the Way, the more he is able to grow.

LVII Measure

Playing with one sniffly child and lecturing to one thousand eminent scholars,

Blessing a meal and commanding a mountain to be thrown into the sea,

Praying for a minute and praying for an hour,

Giving up a shoe and giving up life,

These things are not different in the Way; they are different only in men’s minds.

One who walks in the Way will not care for numbers, or fame, or so-called greatness. They come, and he will not be puffed up; they leave, and he will not be distraught.

There are many people who have faith to move mountains. Then why is it not seen? Because the Spirit does not lead them to perform parlor tricks to obviate the need for faith.

The Way is silent as light; ears filled with the din and noise of the world must grow silent to hear it. It performs great wonders, but they go unnoticed.

The Way has its own measure.

LVIII Behold

Behold the candle. It gives itself up, that others may have light.

Behold water. It does not resist one who pushes against it, yet it changes the shape of mountains.

Behold light. Men see it, and by it see all else.

Behold. Even the pebbles beneath your feet tell of God, of the Way, of the man who walks in the Way. They bear its imprint.

LIX Unity

When two believers come together, the power of their prayer increases tenfold.

A hand or a foot on its own is dead. The sum of such hands, feet, eyes, and other members is still dead. That it is larger and more complete means only that its stench will be greater.

Yet there is the breath of life, animating the body of every man alive.

Life is in each part, and each part is united with the whole.

The body is controlled by the head, which loves it, and the breath of life animates each member.

Christ is the head.
The Spirit is the breath of life.
All who follow the Way are the members.
There is infinite variety among them.

Why are they different?
Because they are members of one body.

The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

LX Increase

The step from boyhood to manhood has been made, not by the one who looks into the mirror and finds the first excuse to shave, but by the one who looks into the mirror and finds the first excuse not to shave.

Dignity is found, not by the one who tears others down, but by the one who builds others up.

Good works shine before men, not when they are paraded, but when they are done in secret.

Ceasing to make God the image of man comes, not by making God the impersonal image of not-man, but by letting God be God:
HE WHO IS,
mysterious and incomprehensible,
unlike a man,
far beyond anything that can be captured by personality,
and therefore more personal than any man.

He who loves God will have all the more love for his neighbor, and he who loves his neighbor will have all the more love for God.

The more love and joy are shared, the more they abound.

The more prayer, worship, and Communion abound, the more they become special, sacred.

LXI Sight

One who sees will look at a gift and see also the love which gave it.

One who sees will look at a face and see also a person.

One who sees will look at artwork and see also an artist.

One who sees will look at the physical and see also the spiritual.

One who hears will listen to the words of a friend, and hear both what is said and what is not said.

One who hears will listen to a question, and hear also the thoughts, the perspective, and the knowledge from which it came.

One who feels will sense the presence of God’s love in the dryness of the absconditus deus.

The Way is a way of reality and substance.

An artist who creates a masterpiece will care for the smallest detail, but the compilation of technical details never forms art. One who abides in the way will never despise accident, for he knows that a forest is never seen by chopping down trees; yet neither will he look at accident and fail to see substance.

Look at the surface and see into the depths.

LXII Practicality

Nobody who enjoys wine takes some grape juice, throws some yeast in, and hopes that it will be ready in ten minutes.

Instead, it is carefully prepared, and stored away to rest. Years will pass before it graces a table as fine wine.

This is how a wise man is like the master of a storehouse, producing from it treasures old and new.

In studying the Scriptures, looking into the wonders of Creation, listening to the voice of the Spirit, every morcel of wisdom will be carefully stored away, allowed to ferment for minutes or years until the right moment comes.

Even in use, the thought of utility does not come. Like all else in the way, wisdom is pursued, not for the sake of using, but for the sake of having.

The first lesson in practicality is to let go of it.

LXIII Gifts

To come into being is not something one causes; it is given by God.
The forgiveness of sins is not something one earns; it is given by God.
Obedience is not something one accomplishes; it is given by God.

The Father created man in his image.
The Son was crucified that men’s sins might be forgiven.
The Spirit is poured out that men be given the power to obey.

Do not do; obey.

LXIV Intimacy

It is only to a stranger that respect is shown by formality and distance. To a good friend, respect is shown by a love that has no need of such things.

It is only to a foreign student of language that thoughts of grammatical rules occur. To a native speaker, the language flows.

It is only to someone outside that obedience looks like willpower and rules. To someone inside, obedience flows from the motion of the Spirit and its fruit, virtue.

The Way is a way of closeness, intimacy. It knows the great order which lets go of the silliness of little order. It has no need for formal structure, ceremonial laws, and other such trivia.

It is in this Way that men greet each other with a warm embrace and address the Creator of Heaven and earth as “Daddy.” It is in this Way that men grow into all that is good and pure.

It is in this Way that men become of one spirit with HE WHO IS.

No distance.

LXV Invisible

Good acting does not cause people to think about what good acting there is. It allows them to see into the characters.

Good clothing does not cause people to think about what good clothing they are wearing. It allows them to move without discomfort or restraint.

Good government does not cause people to think about what good government they have. It allows them to go about their affairs without interference.

A good window does not cause people to think about what a good window it is. It allows them to see clearly what is on the other side.

A good waiter does not cause people to think about what a good waiter he is. He allows them to enjoy their meal.

A good temperature does not cause people to think about what a good temperature the air has. It allows them to live undisturbed by heat or cold.

A good preacher does not cause people to think about what a good preacher they have. He allows them to think about what a great God they have.

The Way is as silent as light. It is gentle, soft, and unobtrusive. One who walks in the Way does not seek his own glory.

It is from the Way that issued the words,

“My precious, precious child,
I love you and will never leave you.
When you see but one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

LXVI Mercy

When man embraced evil, he was expelled from Paradise and bestowed a curse. Accursed, that time would see him wither and die.

Yet even in that curse, was an act of great mercy.

The true curse would have been an imperishable body, filled with eternal youth.
A body forever young, as spirit and soul rot in vice.
Tine would see bitterness and suffering grow without end.
Worse than a curse to die away from the Way, is a curse to live apart from the Way.

But Mercy did not do that.

Mercy gave another gift, a gift greater still.

In the Way, though men waste away outwardly, inwardly they are renewed day by day.

The moment of death is transformed into a birth into life.

After death comes the resurrection; spirit, soul, and body filled with a life even greater than that of Eden. Men will become the sons of God, sharing in the divine nature.

HE WHO IS took death beyond death, and transformed it into life beyond life.

LXVII Not-Doing

Swallowing a pill is a difficult thing to learn.
It is difficult because a child will strive to do it, and it is something which can only be not-done.

Even discipline follows the path of not-doing.
Discipline does not force a square peg into a round hole; it slides a round peg into a round hole.

Six days of work were not evil, but it was one day of rest that was holy.
Rest surpasses work because it was before.

Before the worlds began, before even the creation of time, the Father is in glory with the Son.

In that glory is absolute rest.
In that glory will be the rest of all who follow the Way.

From being issues doing; from being and not-doing issue doing.

This is the order of the Way.

Not-doing leaves room open for God to fill.
Faith is a rest-in-God; it is a state of being and not-doing.
It is from faith that actions proceed.
Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

To those who not-do, abide, receive, believe, life is given.
The Son rests in the Father’s bosom, and the Spirit flows between them.
In this nature, rest, glory, and love, will they share.

Be and become.
Not-do and rest in God.
Let love flow into action.

LVXIII Honesty

To walk in the Way is to become honest.

Honesty certainly does not lie on an income tax form, but there is something more. To become honest is to become unmasked.

A mask is an armored shell.
It protects from feeling pain.
It protects from being healed.
It protects from growing and becoming real.

To remove it is to become naked and vulnerable.
It is to allow people to look into your eyes.

The pain of removing it is the pain of being healed.
It is like swallowing pride.
To swallow pride tastes foul, not because of the nature of humility, but because it is the taste of the foul and bitter nature of the pride that is swallowed.

After the mask is removed, there is a warmth and freedom like the freshness that comes after tears.

There is substance and reality in the image of God.
There is substance and reality in the Way.

There is too much substance and reality to fit inside of a mask.

LXIX Interaction

The Kingdom of Heaven does not know interactions based on power: “I will compel you to do this.”

Neither does it know interactions of economic character: “I will do this for you if you do this for me.”

Instead, its interactions are based on love, freely and lavishly bestowed.

This lavishness is embedded in the words, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

He who uses power to compel things from other people, or economic exchanges to bargain things from them, does so for a reason. He does so in order to gain what is good, desirable, and beneficial for himself.

The question, “Why does he want that?” is a misplaced question. He does not wish to benefit himself as a means to something else. He loves himself.

This is how you should love yourself.
This is how you should love your neighbor.

Love is not the son of want.

Love is the foundation of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Love is the air which its citizens breathe and through which they see.
Prayer is love in communion with God.
Kindness is love wearing work gloves.

It is freely received and freely given, poured out without measure.
It is shared, and increases all the more.
It is generous, like the woman who poured pure nard over Jesus’s feet.
It is a cascade of flowing water, which cleanses what is soiled and heals what is wounded.
It is full of joy; finding something good, it seeks to share.
It is forgiving; it looks upon the person who has wronged it, and says, “I love you.”

Love God.
Love the brothers and sisters, all mankind, yourself.
Love the stars, the waters, the animals, the trees.

All that is written about the nature of godly living is an explanation of love.

Heaven, the hope of the ages, is the final hope of being united and immersed in love with God and the saints.

The Kingdom of Heaven is a kingdom of love.

LXX Being

The rock, the foundation, the origin of all.
A state of being eternal and changeless.

All glory, all holiness, all authority, all wisdom.

Beyond all measure.

Infinite stillness.

Life beyond life.

Light without any darkness.

One.

LXXI Dim

Thomas Aquinas wrote many books; among numerous others, he wrote a Summa Theologica of encyclopaedic volume.

Late in life, he had a vision.
In this vision, Christ spoke to him from the Cross.

The vision profoundly affected him.
He became silent, and ceased to write.

And all his great and wonderful writings?

He declared them to be straw.

LXXII End

A journey is a long voyage that leads home.

Childlike faith meets testing and fire and new experiences, that it may become childlike faith.

Depths of theology, profound insight, and great learning, lead to hearing the simple words, “Jesus loves you,” and trusting them.

The Alpha is the Omega; the First is the Last; the Beginning is the End.

All good things come from God through the Way;
all good things return to God through the Way.

LXXIII Around

To worship is to take a little step into Heaven.

A candle which is lit, glows. It sheds light and warmth on all that is around it.

One who walks in the Way will carry little pieces of Heaven with him. He will bear with him a sense of timelessness, peace, joy, and love.

Bringing Heaven down to earth is very important.
It is to be not-done and done.

A relief worker, returning to a war zone, said, “I’m going back to Hell, to plant some flowers.”

LXXIV Maps

All mapmakers face a difficult task.
They have a flat surface with which to represent a surface which is not flat.

Many maps of the world look very different.
Some have a grid which preserves latitude and longitude.
Some preserve the area of each part.
Some preserve something else.

Someone who knows only flat surfaces may be confused.
He may think that each mapmaker has produced a map of his own perspective.
He may imagine something vague and indefinite, tell a parable of blind men feeling an elephant, and call it great arrogance when mapmakers examine something which looks like a map and declare it unacceptable.
This is not a mark of openmindedness, nor of nuanced understanding, nor of humility.
It is a mark of ignorance.

The truth is not something indefinite and unreal.
The truth is very definite and real.
Maps vary because they represent something too definite and too real to fully capture with a flat surface.
A mapmaker never alters geographical features which he doesn’t like or which do not seem to make sense to him.
Mapmaking is an activity of absolute fidelity.

LXXV Within

A parent has properly disciplined a child, not when he behaves properly upon sight of an authority figure, but when he behaves properly regardless.

Protection from drunkenness does not come from restricted access to alcohol, but from learning to know and respect one’s limits.

Order is not externally imposed; it comes from what is placed within.

Training does not give men the power to conform reality to their nature, but to conform their nature to the ultimate reality.
Fighting the evil without never comes without fighting the evil within.

To walk in the Way is always to look inwards.

LXXVI Bread

There is no need to worry about what to eat; God feeds even the birds of the air, and we are worth more than many sparrows. He knows our needs and desires before we begin to pray. He desires to give even more than we desire to receive.

It would seem that a man of faith would believe in this, and not annoy God by interrupting him with requests for bread.

Yet the model for prayer asks for the coming of the Kingdom, the forgiveness of sins — and, day by day, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Why is this?

It is because man does not live by bread alone.

God wishes that man be nourished in body and spirit.
As bread sustains the body, prayer and communion sustain the spirit.

Therefore, we are invited to share his presence in the smallest detail of our lives.
It is by prayer that we receive each meal as a gift wrapped in love.
It is by prayer that a blade of grass can draw us into the heart of the Father.

Pray continually.

LXXVII Meta

Cognition is made complete by metacognition.

Cognition sees that wealth will buy an abundance of possessions.
Metacognition sees that life does not consist of an abundance of possessions.

Cognition finds an edge in the rat race.
Metacognition climbs out of the rat race.

Cognition finds a way to admire the Emperor’s new clothes.
Metacognition asks, “Why is that man naked?”

Cognition gives the greatest volume of food to the highest number of beggars in the least amount of time.
Metacognition shares a human touch with at least one beggar.

Cognition asks, “What does this say?”
Metacognition asks, “Is this orthodox?”

Cognition asks, “How can I do this?”
Metacognition asks, “Is this right?”

Cognition thinks.
Metacognition thinks about how cognition thinks.

Cognition is necessary, but it is even more vital to take a step back and restore things to sanity.

LXXVIII Undisturbed

LXXIX Life

Of what is to be known, I know little.
Of what I know, I can explain little.

These words tell of the Way by which a man may find life.
Come to the Way of which these words tell.
These words are imperfect; the Way is perfect.
Do not come to these words to find life.
If you do, they will kill you.

LXXX Love

Love is the foundation and cornerstone of Law and virtue.
Love is the character of a saint.

The Law, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, care for the poor, worship God alone”, is an extended commentary on the actions which love dictates.

Virtue is only another name for the different sides of love. Patience and forgiveness are the nature of love when it is wronged.

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.
The greatest of these is love.

LXXXI Beyond

Beyond doing, there is being.

Beyond time, there is eternity.

Beyond mortality, there is immortality.

Beyond knowledge, there is faith.

Beyond justice, there is mercy.

Beyond happy thoughts, there is joy.

Beyond communication, there is communion.

Beyond petition, there is prayer.

Beyond work, there is rest.

Beyond right action, there is virtue.
Beyond virtue, there is the Holy Spirit.

Beyond appreciation, there is awe.

Beyond sound, there is stillness.
Beyond stillness, there is the eternal song.

Beyond law, there is grace.

Beyond even wisdom, there is love.

Beyond all else, HE IS.

Doxology

Open

Stephanos

Technonomicon: Technology, Nature, Ascesis

The Watch

CJSH.name/watch

The Steel Orb
Read it on Kindle for $3!

Metacult: So, Pater, I was thinking—wait a minute; I hear someone scratching at the door.

Janra: Hi, Vespucci. How are you?

Vespucci: Doing well. Take a seat.

Janra: Where?

Vespucci: Anywhere.

Janra: Anywhere?

Vespucci: Anywhere…

Off! Off! Get off my lap! Only my wife is allowed to sit there. You know that. Anyways, the Radical Gadgets catalogue came in today…

Janra: By the way, I phoned the company today. I think I can get some World War II vintage mechanical—

Vespucci: Don’t even think about it. If you—

Pater: Easy, brothers. As you were saying?

Vespucci: As I was saying… Radical Gadgets has the most interesting tools. The cover product this month was an e-mail filtering package that uses Bayesian filtering techniques to block unwanted messages.

Janra: That’s original! I checked Freshmeat today, and I think they only have half a dozen well-known anti-spam packages, not counting lesser products and tools that have just been released. Does Radical Gadgets always find products this original?

Vespucci: But it is original. And it’s not an anti-spam package. It has nothing to do with spam.

Pater: Huh?

Vespucci: Let me explain. You know that Bayesian filtering looks at a message and uses statistics to guess what category it belongs to, right?

Pater: Yes; go on.

Vespucci: But that will work whether you use it for incoming or outgoing e-mails. Most people use the filtering techniques on incoming e-mails, to try and reduce the fire hose of spam coming in. But you don’t have to stop there. You can also filter outgoing e-mails.

Pater: Why would I want to filter the e-mails I send out?

Vespucci: You’ve never sent a flame? Come on; I remember a couple of times that you flamed me over something minor, and sent a very embarrassed apology when I waited two weeks and simply sent it back, and asked you to read it aloud, and tell me whether that’s what you want me to hear from you. And it’s not just you. When you’re talking with a person face to face, there are two eyes looking at you and reminding you that a person hears every cutting word you say. That doesn’t stop conflicts, but it does mitigate some of the abrasive things we’re tempted to say. On a computer, it seems like there’s just a keyboard and pixels—no person you can actually hurt. So people hit harder, and you have incredible flamewars, often between people who conduct themselves like responsible adults when they’re talking to someone face to face. It’s possible to learn discipline, of course, and conduct yourself maturely, but all too many people don’t realise there’s a discipline you have to learn even if you’re mature.

And so instead of just assuming that the only bad e-mails are offensive messages from people who’ve never seen you, telling you that part of your body isn’t big enough and you need to buy their snake oil, or that you’re impotent, or that you’re not man enough for a relationship with a real woman and will have to content yourself with pixels on a screen—apart from these, there are offensive messages that you send out and then wish you could somehow take back and delete.

And this program does just that. Once you’ve trained it on your sent mail folder, it watches messages you send out, and uses the same Bayesian technology that’s so powerful in identifying spam, and identifies when you’re writing something you’ll regret later. Then it saves it, quarantining it in a separate folder until you come to your senses and delete it.

Pater: That’s… um, I’m going to go to their computer and order it from their website. Please excuse me for a moment. I really need to—

Metacult: Sit down, Pater. You’re not going to e-mail out any flames while we’re here talking.

Vespucci: Hmm… um, I hadn’t meant to have a big discussion about the anti-flame software. There were several things that caught my attention, but what caught my eye most was a watch that keeps exceptionally accurate time.

Pater: Huh? Who would need a more accurate way to keep time? Most cultures find an hour to be a short time, and a cheap digital watch keeps more accurate time than a $5000 Rolex, because our watches are too accurate already. It would be awfully hard to explain our to-the-second accuracy to an aboriginal—I can’t see why, besides pride that wants a possession to boast about, someone would benefit from a more accurate watch.

Vespucci: Oh, but there is benefit—worth paying $5,000 for a digital watch. Even worth having to change the batteries too often.

Pater: How?

Vespucci: The Watch doesn’t just have an oscillating quartz crystal; it has an array of sensors in the watchband that measure skin temperature and conductivity, pulse, even a clever estimate of blood pressure, and feeds all of these into an embedded chip with some extraordinarily clever software.

This software takes these data and gets a picture of the person’s emotional state. You know how time flies when you’re having fun?

Pater: Didn’t Einstein explain his theory of relativity by saying, “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute—and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.”

Vespucci: Um… that has nothing to do with the theory of relativity, and I’m not interested in discussing Einstein’s spacetime now. If Einstein said that, he probably had a merry twinkle in his eye. But…

Come to think about it, that is a pretty good picture. The Watch estimates your emotional state for one purpose: it keeps track of how long time seems to be passing. It has a normal timer that can count forty minutes until dinnertime, but it can also tell you how long the wait will feel like. And that’s something no other watch can do.

Metacult: So it deals with subjective time? I read a book once which was trying to argue that time could be understood as something besides the number a machine has counted to. It talked about how a small child will ask Mom how long she’s leaving for, and Mom’s answer—she’s really trying to avoid feeling guilty about leaving the child alone—are singularly unhelpful for a child trying to figure out how much perceived time must be endured before Mom returns.

Vespucci: Yes, and the minute-hour quote captures that. All watches tell what time it is from a machine’s perspective. This is the only watch that tells time from a human perspective.

Metacult: Wonderful. What does it take into account besides clock ticks and the person’s emotional state?

Vespucci: Huh? What else contributes to our experience of time besides the physical time and our psychological state?

Pater: Your question betrays nominalism. The way you’ve framed things shuts out the true answer.

Vespucci: We’re entering the third millenium; I don’t see why you’re dragging in a controversy from medieval times.

Janra: Mmmph. Excuse me. I think I need a glass of water.

Metacult: Sit down, Janra. And don’t look at me like that. I’m going let you answer that.

Janra: Certainly. Here are the steps to hunt a bear: First, fire your gun. Second, aim your gun. Third, locate a bear. Fourth, buy a gun.

Metacult: Try again.

Janra: Clothing to wear in winter: a heavy coat, then on top of that a good sweater or two, then two shirts and two pair of pants, then underwear, with woolen socks over your boots.

Metacult: Please be serious.

Janra: I am being serious.

Metacult: Then be mundane.

Janra: Oh. That’s another matter entirely.

Your entire approach is backwards and inside-out, as backwards as trying to shoot a bear before you have a gun, and as inside-out as wearing your anorak next to your skin.

How? Let me respond to your second comment. If I said, in the most reverent of tones, “We’re standing at the forty-second latitude and eighty-seventh longitude,” you’d think I was making a mountain out of a molehill: yes, we’re at a particular latitude and longitude, but what does that have to do with the price of eggs in China? It’s true, but what does that have to do with anything we’re discussing? Yet people say, “We’re entering the third millenium” as if it is this great statement of far-reaching consequences, the sort of thing that should settle a matter. As you yourself did.

People in the Middle Ages often did not know what year it was, or even what century, any more than people today know what latitude and longitude we’re at—quick—do you know what latitude and longitude you’re at? The reason is that we think the past is under a glass bell, where we humans are living our lives while those odd and quaint creatures under the bell are not the same as us. And it doesn’t need to be that way. For a long time after Shakespeare’s death, when people put on Shakespeare, they didn’t try to reconstruct period accurate costumes. Why? Did they not know that Shakespeare lived long before them? Perhaps, but they also recognised that Shakespeare was a human who worked with human problems and wrote human drama, and that the reason his plays are worth performing is not because they’re old but because they’re timelessly human. And we forget this when we take great care to dress actors in funny costumes that tell people that this is something quaint from long ago and far away.

You know that many of your physical possessions that make up the physical world come from far away: when you buy something at Target, and make no effort to find treasures from faroff land, you buy a lamp that was made in China or underpants that were made in Mexico. You know that the whole world is interconnected, so even if you don’t go hunting off for exotic imports, a great many of the things you buy were made far away.

You can as much live without ideas from bygone ages as you can live in a house you built with your own hands—or for that matter, be born in a house you built with your own hands. That isn’t how things work. Nominalism is one of innumerable ideas that has survived, just as the custom of using pots and pans has survived.

Vespucci: If it’s one of innumerable ideas, why pay it that much attention?

Janra: Because I can count on my fingers the number of conceptual revolutions that are more important today than nominalism. Trying to understand how people think today without looking at nominalism is like trying to look at a summer meadow without seeing plants. There are other important ideas, but this one makes the short list.

Vespucci: Then why have I not heard more about nominalism, when I hear people talking about postmodernism, for instance, or modernism? And what is nominalism to begin with?

Janra: For the same reason a fish won’t tell you about water. Modernism and postmodernism are both nominalism writ large; nominalism is a seed, whose flower is modernism, and whose fruit is postmodernism.

Vespucci: Hmm. I hear the distinct accent of a person laboring in the prison of one idea.

Janra: Bear with me. Nominalism may be seen as the lock on a prison: we need to pay close attention to the lock to see if there’s any way to open it. Then, if we can get out, let us see if there are not many more ideas available after we have paid proper attention to nominalism.

Now what is nominalism? In a sentence, nominalism says, “There’s nothing out there; it’s all in your head.” A nominalist doesn’t literally mean “nothing” is outside our heads; you can’t put on a watch and say, “I refute nominalism thus.”

Vespucci: But it was a non sequitur when—

Janra: Yes, I know, I know. Another tangent. But let’s forget about saying that matter is just in people’s heads and not something external to mind. As I was saying, you can’t put on a watch and say, “I refute nominalism thus.” But if we really follow nominalist logic, you can’t put on a watch. You can have nerve impulses that result in the motion of some elementary particles, but a watch is a tool-to-tell-time-which-you-wear-on-your-wrist, and a tool-to-tell-time-which-you-wear-on-your-wrist does not and cannot exist in nature. All the meaning that makes those atoms a watch can only exist in minds, and for the same reason what-we-call-a-watch can’t have the time displayed on its face. It can have elementary particles that are placed like so and interact with light just so, but the meaning that can read a time in that configuration isn’t at all in the atoms themselves; it’s in your head. This is clarified in a distinction between “brute fact” and “social reality:” brute fact is what exists outside of minds and social reality can only exist in minds, and almost anything humans value consists of a small amount of brute fact and a large portion of social reality—larger than most people would guess. Everything is either brute fact or social reality.

Pater: Is the boundary between brute fact and social reality a brute fact or a social reality?

Metacult: Shut up.

Janra: Imagine three umpires at a baseball game: the first says, “I calls ’em as they are.” The second says, “I calls ’em as I sees them.” But the third says, “Some’s strikes, and some’s balls, but they ain’t nothing ’til I calls ’em.”

With apologies to Kronecker, God created cold matter. All else is the work of man.

Pater: Whoa. Is the basic faculty that lets man create social reality derived from brute fact or social reality?

Janra: Shut up.

Now I have been showing what happens when you push nominalism a good deal further than non-scholars are likely to do. But in fact nominalism has been seeping into our consciousness for centuries, so that we might not find the claim that nature is beautiful to be a mistake, but we see with nominalist eyes and hear with nominalist ears. Most of people across most of time have understood and experienced symbols very different from how a nominalist would.

If we assume that matter is basically something cold and dead, devoid of spiritual properties, then of course a symbol can only exist in the mind, a mental connection between two things that are not connected by nature. Any similarity is in the eye of the beholder, or if not that, is at least a coincidence that isn’t grounded on anything deeper. There is no organic connection.

But if we look at how people have understood symbols, their understanding has to do with a view of reality where a great many things are real, where a symbol bespeaks a real and spiritual connection. The crowning jewel of this understanding of symbol was the claim that man is the image of God. When Christians talked about man being the image of God, they were not talking about what we would understand by a photograph or a painting, where pigments are arranged in such a way that an observer can tell they were meant to look like God; they meant a real and organic connection that went far beyond a mere representation of God; they meant that we were what you would think a kind of magical statue which not only represented God, but embodied his actual presence: God’s presence operates in us in a real way, and every breath we breathe is the breath of God.

Now the reason we began discussing nominalism was that you said something, and I said, “That question betrays nominalism.” Do you remember what you said?

Vespucci: No.

Janra: We were discussing what I consider to be a very interesting watch, and you asked what could contribute to our experience of time besides what an ordinary watch tells, and our emotional state.

That question betrays nominalism. You were in essence asking what could interest us in time besides the brute fact of what most watches tell, and the social, or at least mental, reality of our emotional state.

But there’s a world of other things out there.

Vespucci: But what else is there?

Metacult: Hmm. I think we need to work a bit harder to help you look at what you believe. You’ve been keeping up on superstring theory, right?

Vespucci: Yes. I loved the explanations I could get of relativity, and I love how scientists can turn our commonsense notions upside down.

Metacult: Do you know any classical, Newtonian physics?

Vespucci: I did in high school. I’ve forgotten most of it now, but I don’t remember it being nearly as exciting: a lot of math to go through to get at common sense.

Metacult: May I instead suggest that your common sense is a nonmathematical version of Newtonian physics?

Newton’s physics was big on grids: everything was placed on a grid of absolute space, and absolute time. And it connected rooms the wrong way: different places are on the same meaningless grid, but they’re not connected besides the grid.

To the medieval mind, it wasn’t so. Each space was its own little world as far as Newton was concerned. But they were connected spiritually. There is an icon of two saints from different centuries talking, and the medieval mind was comfortable with this because it saw things other than “but they’re from other parts of the spacetime grid!”

Vespucci: But what does this have to do with time? It seems to me you’re going off on a tangent.

Metacult: Ok, back to time. Time isn’t just a grid adorned by emotions. It’s spiritually connected. You yourself are not self-contained.

Pater: And there’s liturgical time. One of the things that shocked me was that people seem to have no time. It helped me to appreciate the colorful time I had breathed. I was stunned when people experienced time as torture. I experienced it as a sacrament, a channel of God’s grace.

From other conversations, I get the impression that the liturgical year isn’t real to you: one source of holidays among others. But it is real: interlocking cycles of day, week, year, so that you are breathing in this rhythm and are given something to live in each moment. Sometimes you’re feasting; sometimes you’re fasting; often you’re given something to meditate on.

Vespucci: So the watch would do a more complete job if its little computer were programmed to keep track of the liturgical cycles? I think the engineers could do that.

Pater: Errmmmmm…

Metacult: I think what he means, but cannot articulate, is that what a computer could make of the liturgical cycles are not the place that makes liturgical time. They are more of a doorway into the place, into a room that the Spirit blows. If the watch were to keep track of that, it would have to have, not more sophisticated computer programming, but something else altogether, something sensitive to spiritual realities.

Pater: And that’s just what a scientific computer, even a very small one, cannot do. Science works on nominalism. It’s brought a lot of good stuff, but it can’t perceive or work with spiritual qualities, any more than a pair of binoculars will improve your hearing. And that’s fine when you recognise that spiritual qualities are left out, but the temptation is to say, “Because science is so powerful, it sees everything that’s real.” And a watch designed by scientific engineering can do scientific things, but if it were to try and see liturgical time from the inside, it would inevitably kill what breathes in it.

Janra: So if we were to imagine a watch that keeps track of time, true time, it would need not only sensors and a miniature computer, and a time-keeping quartz crystal, but something attuned to spiritual realities.

Pater: If that were possible. In my culture, we never wear watches. The best watch would be no watch, or perhaps a rock on a wristband, where if you go to it looking for trivia, it doesn’t give what you’re looking for—and in so doing, reminds you of something important, that you need to look elsewhere.

Janra: What about a watch that had a rock alongside the things we’ve just described?

Pater: Ermmm…

Janra: And what would men’s and women’s models look like? Would the rocks be respectively rough and smooth?

Metacult: Actually, men’s and women’s experience of time differs significantly, so if you had a watch with a truer way of telling time, there would be a much bigger difference than men’s watches being heftier and women’s watches being slender.

Janra: How?

Metacult: I remember one time when you were talking with a new mother, and whenever the baby needed care, you stopped talking so that Mom could pay attention to her new son. It was a thoughtful gesture, and one that wasn’t needed.

Janra: Why not? I’d have wanted to be allowed to give the child my full attention.

Metacult: I know. So would most good men. A man’s particular strength is to devote his full attention to a task. A woman’s particular strength is to lightly balance several tasks, giving genuine attention to each. That mother was perfectly able to give attention to her son and listen to you at the same time. That’s why she looked at you, slightly puzzled and with an attention that says, “I’m listening,” when you stopped talking.

And there are other differences as well. If there is a situation that colors a man’s understanding of time, it is a brief period of intense pressure. A woman’s understanding of time more has the hue of a longer period that requires sustained attention. And even that misses something. The difference between a man’s experience of time and a woman’s is not so much like a difference between numbers as a difference between two colors, or sounds, or scents. It’s a qualitative difference, and one that is not appreciated—usually people feel in their heart, “She’s treating time the same way I do, but doing an unexplainably bad job of it.”

Vespucci: I forgot to tell you, the watch also asks when you were born.

Pater: Why? To remind you if you forget your birthday?

Vespucci: I’m surprised, Pater. It’s so it can keep track of your age. You experience time differently as you grow. What seems like an hour when you’re five only seems like half an hour when you’re ten, or fifteen minutes when you’re twenty, or five minutes when you’re sixty. Time seems to go faster and faster as you grow: there’s one change between when you’re a child and an adult, and senior citizens say that every fifteen minutes it’s breakfast. The quality and pace of time change as you age, which is why young people think youth lasts forever and the rest of us think it vanishes. They say that once you’re over the hill, you begin to pick up speed.

Pater: What does “over the hill” mean?

Vespucci: Um…

Metacult: He really doesn’t understand. To him, aging is about maturing and growing, not only for children, but adults as well. He values his youth as a cherished memory, but he’s enjoying his growth and looking forward eagerly to the joy awaiting him in Heaven. He doesn’t understand your self-depracating humor that speaks as if aging were a weakness or a moral failing.

Vespucci: Ok.

Metacult: Which reminds me. One of the ways my experience of time has changed as I have grown has been to recognize that time flows faster and faster. For some people, this is a reason to try way too hard to be healthy—taking care of their bodies, not because their bodies should be taken care of, but to try and postpone the inevitable. But I’m looking forward to the Heaven that’s getting closer and closer, and I am delighted by a glimpse into the perspective of a God who created time and to whom all times are both soon and now.

But the other major change is more internal, more a matter of discipline. I used to live in hurry, to always walk quickly and love to play video games quickly. Then I set foot in Malaysia, and something changed.

There was a difference, which I imperfectly characterized as life being lived more slowly in Malaysia. Which is true, or was for me, but is somewhat beside the point. And I experienced the joy of living more slowly. You know how I’ve thought that it takes humility to enjoy even pride, and chastity to enjoy even lust. At that point I would have added to those two that it takes slowness to enjoy even haste.

Vespucci: So you tried to be as slow as you had been quick?

Metacult: Yes. I observed that I had been obsessed with time under the tyranny of the clock, and so I tried to abolish time by being slow. Which isn’t right; besides chronos, the time a clock can measure, there is kairos, relational or task-oriented or creating time, where you are absorbed in another person or a task, and there time is a glimmer of eternity. And I was interested in the idea of living time as the beginning of an eternal glory, which Pater understands much better than I ever will. First I tried to negate time and live as something less-than-temporal, and I am slowly realizing that instead it means embracing time and entering something more-than-temporal.

In liturgical time—and Pater could say much more about this than I—it flows. Here it moves quickly, there it moves slowly, and there it spins in eddies. It isn’t just the speed that flows; it’s the color, if you will. Just as the priest is the crowning jewel of the priesthood every person is called for, so the touch of Heaven as we worship is the crowning jewel of what time is meant to be.

And I had also been realizing that I had sought to escape time, and not cherish it as God’s good creature. Most recently, I am trying to… There’s a famous quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes, saying, “I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I’d give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Now I’m looking for a time that is on the other side of complexity: not the mundane ordinariness of disfigured time, but a beautiful ordinariness on the other side of this complexity we’ve been discussing.

Vespucci: How do you think that will work?

Metacult: I don’t know. Part of it has to do with the metaculture you used for my nickname. I don’t simply breathe in my culture and ask “How else could it be?”, but am in the odd position of being able to step into cultures but never be absolutely at home. And have part of me that doesn’t fit. That’s not quite right; I do connect, partly in a way that is basically human, and partly in a way that is—

Janra: Don’t try to explain. That would take an hour.

Metacult: At any rate, a fair number of people talk about living counterculturally, and one way you can live counterculturally is let live time as a blessing rather than a curse. People who say technology determines our lives are almost right, and that almost makes a world of difference if you’re willing to live counterculturally. The pressure on us to live in hurry is not a pressure that no one can escape. It is a pressure that few try to escape in the right way—but you can, if you try and go about it the right way.

But quite a lot of the rest of it has to do with very basic parts of the Christian life. God wants us to seek him first, and when we do, he knows full well what else we need. “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be given to you as well.” includes a life where time unfolds as a rainbow or a river, something of both color and flow, like the year with its beauty in due season.

Vespucci: Do you see time as a line or a circle? Something that keeps moving in a direction, or something that does the same thing over and over again?

Metacult: Both, of course. God is revealing himself in history and transforming it to his ends. And there is decay; decay follows a line down. In our lives, we are progressing towards Heaven or Hell, and in each day… here we meet the cycles, but if we live well, the cycles in our lives aren’t just an aimless meandering, but like a man who keeps running through a ditch, digging. In one way, he’s going to the same places again and again, but in another way, he’s going deeper—and he may meet both the earth’s warmth in winter (or coolness in summer), and the water of life. The line moves through circles.

Janra: So what would make the perfect watch?

Vespucci: Are there any we haven’t covered?

Metacult: Umm… we’ve looked at one big change from a normal watch—instead of adding a calculator, that Radical Gadgets catalogue had a watch that tries to tell a more human time by taking your age and emotional state into account as well as what most watches tell. That was sort of a Pandora’s box. I think we could all agree that that watch was leagues more human than any normal watch… and it was just human enough to reveal how un-human watches are.

Vespucci: How?

Metacult: When the only kind of watch kept track of seconds, it was easy enough to think that time was simply what a watch told. But when one watch started to pay attention to how you feel…

It was kind of like when you’ve been in the freezing outdoors for a long time, so long that it still hurts a little, but you can almost ignore it. Then you come inside, and THEN it stings. It’s not until you enter a genuinely warm room that you realize how cold and numb you really are.

The Watch in that catalogue was just human enough to reveal how un-human watches, and the time that they tell, are. It did what no other watch could. It’s enough of a success to be a spectacular failure. Someone brought up liturgical time, which led to the suggestion that the watch be programmed to keep track of liturgical time. And then we stumbled into a hole with no bottom. Why can’t a computer keep track of liturgical time? Well, you see, the Spirit does more than just follow calculations… A watch would need far more than better electronics to do that, far more than scientific engineering can provide. Although I did like the suggestion of adding a rock. Even if I don’t see how to make a rock sensitive to women’s time and men’s time. Or rather, what to do to appropriately respect the difference.

Vespucci: Janra, what you said about nominalism interests me. Could you give a more complete explanation?

Janra: I’d love to, but I need to be somewhere next month.

Vespucci: Please be serious.

Janra: I am being serious.

Vespucci: Then be mundane.

Metacult: He is being mundane. If you’d like a good introduction, read Philip Sherrard’s The Rape of Man and Nature: An Enquiry Into the Origins & Consequences of Modern Science. In it, Sherrard says almost nothing about time and everything about the things time is connected to. I think it goes overboard, but if you read it and pay attention to the haunting beauty that keeps coming up, then you’ll learn something about being human—and living in human time. It doesn’t use the word ‘nominalism’ very much, but it says quite a lot about it.

Vespucci: Are there any other things you’ve all left out?

Metacult: Only about two billion. I’ve talked about kairos as an absorbed time instead of a time when you’re watching the clock. What I haven’t talked about as kairos as a divinely appointed time, where you are in a divinely orchestrated dance, and you are free, and yet your movements are part of the divine plan. We are human, not by “just” being human, but by allowing the divine to operate in us; it is the divine, not the human, that we need most to be human. I haven’t discussed that. We haven’t discussed, in connection with nominalism, how there is a spiritual place in us where we meet God, and we have the ability to reason from what we see, and in tandem with nominalism we have become impoverished when both functions are dumped on the reasoning ability and we don’t know where we can meet God, where our minds connect with the very Reason that is God himself. It makes a difference whether we experience time through both our reasoning ability and this spiritual meeting-place, or through our reasoning ability alone.

I also haven’t talked about turning back the clock. When people rightly or wrongly believe there is a golden age they’ve lost, and try to re-create it, they end up severing connections with the recent past and even the golden age.

Vespucci: How does that work?

Metacult: I’m not exactly sure.

My guess is that a living culture has a way of not being ambiguous. It gives corrections when you make false assumptions about it; that’s why people experience culture shock. People trying to re-create a past golden age need never experience culture shock; if you make a false assumption about the golden age, the golden age won’t correct you. So the golden age appears to be whatever you want, and people who aren’t satisfied with the present, and want to re-create past glory, end up pushing a fantasy that is different both from the present and the past. The Renaissance and Enlightenment neo-classicism both tried to re-create the glory of classical antiquity and are both notable as departures from the past. People who aren’t trying to re-create the past can preserve it, saying, “Be gentle with this tradition. It was not inherited from your parents; it is borrowed from your children.” People eager to restore past glory all too often, if not sever, severely damage the link between past and future.

I also haven’t talked about keeping up with the Trumps, and your unadvertised way to say “No!” to the tyranny of the urgent. I haven’t even talked about—

Janra: Stop! Stop. You’re going way overboard. He got your point. In fact, I think he got your point half an hour ago. He—

Pater: Could I interrupt for a moment?

Janra: Certainly. What is it?

Pater: I know this is going to sound REALLY strange, but I want a watch.

Vespucci, Janra, Metacult: Huh?

Pater: You heard me.

Janra: But why?

Pater: I know this is going to sound strange, but I want one.

To you a watch represents all sorts of problems, and I don’t wonder if you’re dumping too much on it. But that’s another issue. I don’t have the ticking clock in me that you do. There’s an issue of sensitivity—I know you hate watches and probably planners, but I burn people by being late and forgetting that just an hour’s delay to me is not “just” an hour to them.

Is it really impossible to make a watch that can represent liturgical time, or even hollow out a space liturgical time can abide in? I thought it was possible now to make a watch that will keep track of sunrise and sunset. Scientific engineering can’t do some things, but could there be another kind of engineering? I suppose that “even” that technical marvel in your catalogue, the watch that knows how long something feels like, would make an awfully neat conversation piece.

Metacult: I think I may know of just the thing for you.

This watch is a sort of hybrid. Part of it is traditional electronic—something that tells hours, minutes, and seconds, that displays the date, and has a timer, alarm, and a stopwatch accurate to the nearest hundredth of a second—and for that matter it’s water resistant to two hundred meters. It’s a bit battered—which adds to its masculine look.

But that’s not the interesting part. The interesting part has an exquisite sensitivity to liturgical rhythm, such as purely electronic gadgetry could never deliver. And it is a connected time, a part of the Great Dance that moves not according to the wearer’s emotions alone but what the Great Choreographer orchestrates. It moves in beautiful ordered time. And there is more. It can enter another person’s or place’s time, and fit. Among other things.

Pater: This is great! Where can I get one?

Metacult: Just a second while I take off my watch… here’s the littlest part. The rest is already inside your heart.

Christmas gift guide 2015: A tale of two watches…

The Horn of Joy: A Meditation on Eternity and Time, Kairos and Chronos

The “natural cycle” liturgical clock

Technonomicon: Technology, Nature, Ascesis

Why This Waste?

CJSHayward.com/waste

The Best of Jonathan's Corner: An Anthology of Orthodox Christian Theology
Read it on Kindle for $3!

“Why This Waste?” quoth the Thief,
Missing a pageant unfold before his very eyes,
One who sinned much, forgiven, for her great love,
Brake open a priceless heirloom,
An alabaster vessel of costly perfume,
Costly chrism beyond all price anointing the Christ,
Anointing the Christ unto life-giving death,
Anointed unto life-giving death,
A story ever told,
In memory of her:

“Why This Waste?” quoth also the Pious,
Kings and Priest and Prophet one,
Regarding in Heaven and earth a cornucopia great of blessing,
Rank on rank of angelic host,
Seraphim, cherubim, thrones, domonions, powers, authorities, principalities, archangels and angels,
Sapphire Heavens and an earth growing living emeralds,
A sun of gold, a moon of silver,
A Theotokos eternally reigning after Heaven kissed earth,
The Son of God who opened the womb of death,
Pageantry of uncreated God and creation made one with God,
“Why This Waste?” indeed.

“Why This Waste?” quoth the Skeptic,
A pageant missed, other else ignored,
A hawk’s eye opened to root out magical thinking in the Pious,
A man’s eye closed to his own magical thinking one must needs embrace,
Materialist or naturalist to be,

“I see no evidence of God or any spirit,”
Quoth he through his spirit,
With the breath of God.

“Why This Waste?” quoth the Mother,
A child borne in her womb,
Soon become a corpse nestled in her bosom,
Rejecting the empty consolation of lies that lie evil away,
Facing the stark, hard truth,
Of clay in the hands of the potter,
Dust is she too,
To dust also to return,
The last word, this is not:
“Why This Waste?” quoth not another Mother,
Whose Son’s death as a sword her heart pierced,
And seeth the infant son lost,
In no wise lost, but found on her Son’s throne in Heaven.

“Why This Waste?” quoth the Father Almighty,
Seeing his creation enter sin, death, and decay,
Then moved Heaven and earth, nay the two hands of his Son and Spirit,
To right things wrong, straighten all things bent,
Until sinners should become saints,
The physical body sown in dishonor raised in honor,
Spiritual, incorruptible, imperishable, glorious,
Every move Satan makes one step closer to God sealing checkmate,
The truimph of God using every attack of Satan in victory eternal.

“Why This Waste?” quote you and I,
Having lost some things in a global economic crisis,
More losses to come, it would seem.
It would seem.
Fearing that the providence of God,
Faileth us in a disaster.
“Why This Waste?” quote we in error,
Mistaking the limits of sight for those of faith itself.

Why This Waste?

Death

Doxology

Hymn to the Creator of Heaven and Earth

Open

The Voyage

CJSH.name/voyage

I

He kicked the can, which skittered across the sidewalk. Shards of glass bounced off, their razor sharp edges gleaming in the light. Jason sat down on a park bench, and glared at the old man sitting on the other end. He looked decrepit and stupid, with a moronic smile. The man was feeding pigeons. The geezer probably didn’t even own a TV. A boring man doing a boring thing in a boring place on a boring day.

Jason liked to verbally spar with people. He liked to free them from their deceptions, their illusions. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” and he would rather be hated as a gadfly than loved as a demagogue.

As Jason sat thinking, the old man said, “It’s a beautiful, sunny day, isn’t it?”

“The Poet Wordsworth aptly called it ‘the dreary light of common day.’ It is a dull surface, under which ferments a world of evil. Did you know, for instance, that Hitler’s Holocaust was only one of many massive genocides this century that killed over a million people? Did you know that even Hitler’s Jews are dwarfed by the fifty million who died in Stalin’s purges?”

The smile disappeared from the old man’s face. “No, I did not.”

“You who say that it’s a beautiful day — what do you know about suffering?”

The old man’s face quivered, ever so slightly, for a moment. “My best friend, when I was a boy, was named Abraham. He died at Auschwitz. My eldest brother, on the other hand, was swept up by the Nazi propaganda and became a concentration camp guard. He was never convicted of war crimes, but he hanged himself a week after I was married. I am now a widower.”

Jason was silent for a moment. He was struck with respect at this man’s suffering — and watched as a tear gathered in his eyes, and slowly trickled down his wrinkled cheek. As he looked, he saw part of why the old man looked so ugly to him — his face bore scars of chemical burns.

A sense of discomfort and unease began to fill the young man. He shifted slightly, and began to talk about something else.

“I have read many books about knights and ladies, about wizards and dragons. In those stories, there is magic and wonder; there are fairies who grant wishes. The hero wins, and the story is beautiful. This world is so bleak and desolate and gray next to those worlds. If only there were another world. If only there were a way to get in.”

“How do you know that there isn’t?”

The young man looked with puzzlement. “What do you mean?”

“How do you know that this fantasy isn’t true?”

“I have never had any reason to believe in it.”

“When you were a little boy, did you believe in the Holocaust?”

“I hadn’t even heard of it, let alone having reason to believe in it.”

“But was it true?”

The young man looked as if he was about to answer, and then said, “Do you really believe in another world, in magic and wonder?”

“I might.”

“Tell me about it.”

“I cannot now explain it in any words that would make sense to you. I could try, but it would sound like complete nonsense.”

“Try.”

“Pretend that I am blind. Explain to me the colors.”

Jason opened his mouth, paused for a second, and then closed it.

“Am I to believe that you are some sort of great wizard, and that you have a gift of seeing into and travelling to another world?”

“Maybe.”

The old man spoke in enigmas and riddles, and yet there was something about him… He did not seem to be lying — and if he was, he was a far better liar than most. He was a puzzle, and Jason liked puzzles. He had been tricked and manipulated many times, and it might at least break the tedium to be tricked and manipulated by someone who was more interesting than he looked. So he decided to play along.

“Do you think that I could make my way into another world?”

“Maybe.”

“Is it hard?”

“It is very hard, and very easy. How much do you want to do it?”

“Very much.”

“If I send you on great and difficult tests, to meet many trials, will you do it?”

“I will.”

“If I tell you to spend long hours studying spell books and grimoires, finding potions and amulets, are you ready for that?”

“I am.”

“And if I set before you tasks more difficult and strange, and send you to do battles against monsters more evil than assassins and more deadly than dragons, can you do that?”

“I will try.”

“Can you trust me?”

For a moment, Jason’s mask slipped. He stalled. A minute passed — a minute that seemed like a year. Finally, he croaked, “I don’t know.”

The old man nodded, and said, “I understand.” He looked at the young man; there was something in his eyes that the young man could not identify.

“The way is difficult, with many trials, and the last one is the most difficult of them all. I cannot tell you what they will all be like, or even their number. When we next meet, I will be ready to give you the first.”

“When do you want to meet next?”

“No matter when; we will meet.”

“Can you help me?”

“I cannot do your tasks for you. But I give you this.”

The old man placed his hand on the young man’s head, his palm atop the skull, fingers and thumb spreading out across his scalp. He closed his eyes — and Jason felt that it would be proper to do the same. He sat in absolute silence and stillness. A moment passed.

Finally the old man removed his hand. Picking up his cane, he stood up, and slowly began to walk away, leaving Jason sitting and pondering.

II

The next day, doubts filled Jason’s mind. Had he dreamed the encounter? Why would there be such a bizarre old man? If he really had the powers and knew the wonders he hinted at, why on earth would he be sitting in a park and feeding pigeons? Each city had its share of eccentrics, but still…

As he went about his studies and activities for the next few days, he was nagged by thoughts about the man. He loved fantasy, from childhood games of make-believe to reading books and watching movies — but all of his yearning would not make it com true. He felt that he could neither believe nor trust the old man. Yet their interaction had excited, not quite a hope, but at least a desire that it could be true. He believed in fairies as a child, and he wondered if there might be a time to believe in fairies again.

He didn’t talk with anyone about it; others would probably think him a fool. He was sitting in a diner, sipping a cup of coffee and pondering, when a familiar voice said, “May I join you?”

He looked up, startled, and then said, “Please.” As the old man sat down, Jason asked, “I forgot to ask your name.”

“Senex. And yours?”

“Jason.”

“The name of a hero, if I am remembering my mythology correctly,” Senex said.

Jason had been thinking of how dull and common his name sounded next to ‘Senex’, and was again slightly startled. The man still looked old, wrinkled, and ugly — and yet there now seemed to be the faintest hint of something regal about his appearance. After a time, Jason asked, “Do you really have quests for me?”

“Yes, I do. They will help prepare you to enter, and receive the gift and the power.”

“And what is the first?”

Senex reached, with both hands, into his pocket. He moved his hands for a little while, as if grasping something slippery, and then brought forth a loosely closed hand. He held his hand over the table, and opened it.

“What do you see?”

“I see nothing. Your hand is empty.”

“Do you really see nothing in my hand?”

“Nothing.”

“Look closer.”

“I still see nothing.”

“Wait.”

Senex turned his hand, slowly, slightly, from side to side. At last, a tiny gleam of light caught Jason’s eye. He immediately bent over to look more closely.

“What do you see?”

“I see a tiny grain of sand.”

“Take it.”

Jason picked up the grain of sand, and looked at it for a second. “What is my first quest?”

“You have already embarked on your first quest.”

“When will I be done?”

“I don’t know.”

The old man stood up, and walked out of the diner.

III

Back in his room, Jason took the grain of sand out of the napkin he had wrapped it in, and placed in on a white handkerchief on his desk.

It was small, and barely visible. It did not quite look the yellow of beaches — more like a tiny, oddly shaped pebble.

He pulled out a pin, and began to push it about. It rolled irregularly, like a tiny football. As it turned about, it gleamed every now and then. He pulled out a magnifying glass through which to look at it. Magnified, it appeared a small, bulbous crystal, which turned light and dark as it rolled over the fibers of the cloth.

“I wonder if…” He wrapped it up and went to a jeweler, to see if it might be a diamond or some other precious stone.

He came back, disappointed. It was sand, the same as untold numbers of other grains on beaches and in children’s sand boxes. It puzzled him. Was it more precious than diamond, a key to a magical portal? It did not scream out, “I am magical!”; it did not glow in the dark, or levitate in the air, or shock him as he touched it. If there was something special about it, it was more subtle than that. But how would Jason unlock the secret? Time passed, and he began to doubt that there was any secret at all — that it was anything more than a common grain of sand.

It was in one of these moments of doubt that he again encountered Senex in the diner, drinking a cup of coffee.

“I don’t get it,” Jason said, sitting down. Senex still looked into his coffee, sipping it. “What don’t you get?”

“You hint at a world of wonders, and then give me a common grain of sand. Are you playing games with me?”

Senex set down his coffee, and looked into Jason’s eyes. “What do you think?”

Jason looked at the old man. He began to open his mouth, and then swallowed. “I cannot say that you seem cruel, but neither can I say that your words and actions make any sense to me.”

“And?”

After Jason said nothing, the old man said, “What were you looking for?”

“Something great. Something awesome. Something mysterious. A storm of light, maybe. Turgid forces. Ritual magic.”

“And what did you find?”

“A common grain of sand.”

“Is that all?”

Jason pulled the napkin from his pocket, and unfolded the grain of sand. “All I see is a common grain of sand. Maybe there is something else, but it is invisible to me.” He looked at the old man in puzzlement, and saw a look of knowledge in Senex’s eyes. “Can you see something else, something that is invisible to me?”

“I can.”

“What?”

“Tell me everything that you know about it. What is it?”

“It is something that is found on beaches.”

“That is where it is found. What is it?”

“It is an odd-shaped, bulbous thing, very tiny.”

“That is its size and shape. What is it?”

“The jeweler said that it is not diamond, or quartz, or anything else like that.”

“That is what it is not. What is it?”

“The jeweler said that it is a crystal of silicon and oxygen atoms.”

“That is its scientific structure and constituency. What is it?”

“Is it all of these things?”

“All of these things are true of it. What is it?”

Jason drew a deep breath and said, “I don’t know.”

“Make it into a rabbit.”

“How am I supposed to do that?”

“If you can’t do that, make it into something else. A fish, perhaps.”

“I can’t.”

“Destroy it.”

Jason placed the grain of sand between a knife and a spoon, and crushed it to dust.

“You have broken it into smaller pieces. Now destroy it.”

Jason dropped the spoon and knife; the fragments that were the grain of sand, settled on the table. “I can’t.”

“What is it?”

“I don’t know.” Jason looked into the old man’s eyes, expecting to see a look of sadistic pleasure. Instead, he saw the look of greatest compassion.

Jason said, “It is a mystery.”

The old man smiled.

Jason gathered the fragments into his napkin, and walked away.

IV

Jason began to think about stones and crystals. The exquisitely rare crystals, the diamond as their queen, were prized, not only because they were beautiful, but because they were rare. Quartz and other crystals, in their luminous beauty, were no surprise to be said to be magical. So it was not too surprising that there should also be a hidden, tiny beauty to the stone and crystal commonly called a grain of sand. Few people owned these gems, not because they were hidden deep within the earth, but because they were hidden from people’s notice. When entering another world, Jason would like to be ready to appreciate its beauty — and who knows? Perhaps sand was a treasure imported en masse from that world. In the mean time, he would enjoy his newfound crystalline treasure.

V

Jason asked Senex, “Am I prepared to enter another world, the world from which crystals come?”

Senex answered, “You have begun to begin.”

Jason asked, “Are there wonders which make sand pale in comparison?”

Senex answered, “There are wonders which make sand look very bright by the light they shine on it.”

VI

Senex lit a candle. Jason watched, waiting for an explanation.

The flame danced and spun. It filled the white column of wax beneath it with a soft glow that melted into the darkness. The flame itself, divided into tongues, danced and jumped again and again into the air, looking as if it just might fly. All around, it illuminated the surrounding forms with a golden light; shadows loomed on the walls and melted into the surroundings.

As Jason watched, a thin layer of clear, molten wax began to form atop the candle. As the flame burned, the heat began to seep into the wax, and the tiny pool grew deeper. A drop, like a tear, began to form on one side of the pool. The molten wax flowed, the stream carrying an indentation in the top of the wax column. The flame jumped and blazed, then settled down as, one by one, drops of molten wax trickled down the side.

The candle was tapered and thin, and it seemed to Jason only a minute until it burned all the way down, and a tiny red glow in the wick rested at the base of an ascending, twisting, turning stream of wispy smoke. Jason sat in peace, enjoying a sense of calm and fullness, digesting the beauty he had watched.

Senex’s voice broke the silence. “You have passed your second test, Jason.”

VII

The old man had helped Jason open his eyes to one part of the natural world, and he began to explore, with the wonder of a child, the magic all around him.

He discovered that there was one type of item which was the easiest thing in the world to cut with a knife — but, as soon as you had cut it, the cut would instantly heal; there it would be, as whole as ever! It would shape itself around whatever you put it in, and could squeeze through even the tiny holes in cloth — but he had to be careful, because it would also climb the cloth like a ladder. It was quite mischievous — there were some things, which resembled grains of sound, which it would take and make completely invisible.

There were other things that would hide behind, and yet mimic the people and the trees. They were like marionettes, except that they exaggerated and distorted the profiles of whatever they were making fun of. They also played hide and seek with the light, and were very quick — whenever the light would peek to see if it would find them, they would already be hidden somewhere else.

He saw great, massive citadels with vaults beneath, storing hoards of gold and gems deep within, under protections that a dragon’s fire could not scratch. Those citadels were decorated, so that even those who dare not break in, would yet come and visit, seeing the gay streamers and the skittish sentinels.

There was another creature that Jason could not see, but was forever sneaking up and tackling him. It never knocked him over, but always wanted to play — it would tousle people’s hair, and tickle the little children. It played with the other creatures, too — it jumped around on the grass, and danced and spun with the leaves.

There were other strange creatures that skittered around timidly — some jumped along the ground; some climbed trees and buildings; some swam like fish through the air. Most fled at his approach, but a few would let him touch them — and they were soft and warm.

Even greater than his joy at this beauty was a sense that, beautiful as these things were, they also hinted at something else, a deeper magic. Jason tried to see what it might be, but it always eluded him.

VIII

Enthralled as he was, Jason could not shut out a sense that the beauty was not alone — that there was also something dark and perverse as well. With such beauty, Jason thought in his most enthralled moments that this surely must be the best of all possible worlds. But they he was shocked by ugly realities that forced themselves upon his consciousness: robberies and rapes, children being treated cruelly, and children treating others cruelly. The beauty made him feel as if, somehow, if he opened his eyes wide enough to see all the beauty there was, everything would be perfect — but, try as he might, it didn’t work. It was like smelling the softest lilac fragrance on the breeze — and then being punched in the stomach.

It was sinking into a darker mood that he again met Senex, this time on a street littered with garbage. He greeted the old man harshly: “Wave your magic wand, old man, and make this refuse turn into flowers. Open my eyes, so that I may see that all suffering is an illusion, that we live in the best of all possible worlds.”

“Suffering is not an illusion, and we do not live in the best of all possible worlds.”

“What of the world you said I had begun preparing to enter? Is it not an escape from suffering?”

“Do you not remember the very first question you asked me? Do you not remember the answer?” Tears began to gather in Senex’s eyes.

Jason savored a thrill of pleasure at watching the old man suffer, and knowing that the same darkness tormented them both. Then he realized what he was doing, and felt a sense of shame and revulsion at himself. He hated himself and the old man for what he felt.

“If you were going to attack a dragon,” the old man finally began, “would you rush at it with neither weapon nor armor nor training? Or would you take at least a little preparation before setting out to attack a leviathan that has slain many heroes far greater than yourself?”

Jason said nothing.

“The questions you ask are big questions, and they must be faced. I wrestle with them, too. And I fear. I do not blame you at all for asking them, though your attitude in asking pierces me.” A tear trickled down Senex’s cheek.

Jason felt a black hole of shame inside his heart. The darkness he saw, and hated in the world around him — Jason now realized that it was inside him, too. It was like a worm, attacking from outside, and gnawing from within.

He wanted to die.

“Jason,” the old man’s voice said. “Jason, look at me.”

Jason stared at the ground.

“Please.”

Jason looked up and cringed, expecting a storm of fury. He looked up, waiting for his punishment. But his gaze was met by teary eyes — and compassion.

“I forgive you.”

IX

It was with a certain heaviness that Jason awaited the coming lessons. Not that they doubted that they were good — he was sure of that. But up ahead loomed a fierce battle. The worst part of it was that he knew that the enemy, the worm, was not only lurking at large. It was also inside his heart.

Yet dark as the darkness was, it could never put the light out. And Senex was showing him new things at each meeting.

Senex had with him a book. He said, “Close your eyes and imagine.” He opened its dusty leaves, and began to read:

“You pull your arms to your side and glide through the water. On your left is a fountain of bubbles, upside down, beneath a waterfall; the bubbles shoot down and then cascade out and to the surface. To your right swims a school of colorful fish, red and blue with thin black stripes. The water is cool, and you can feel the currents gently pushing and pulling on your body. Ahead of you, seaweed above and long, bright green leaves below wave back and forth, flowing and bending. You pull your arms, again, with a powerful stroke which shoots you forward under the seaweed; your back feels cool in the shade. You kick, and you feel the warmth of the sun again, soaking in and through your skin and muscles. Bands of light dance on the sand beneath you, as the light is bent and turned by the waves.”

Senex began to lead Jason through mathematics, history, philosophy, literature — and Jason began to behind a new and different beauty, a beauty that cannot be seen with the eye, nor touched with the hand, but only grasped with the mind. He began to explore imagination, and ideas, and metaphors. He saw light dance in the poetry Senex read; he saw the beauty of order and reason in the philosophers Senex cited. The connections, the play, the dance of ideas was wonderful. Together they explored ideas, and it was an awesome beauty. Jason had a razor sharp mind, and he began to make connections that surprised even Senex.

X

“I still wish that I were a fairy,” Jason said, “or that I could become one.”

“What do you think you are?”

A searing pain, a pain of dark memory, flashed through Jason’s soul. “I don’t know,” he said. “I hate myself.”

“Do you believe that there are some things for everyone to enjoy?”

“Of course. You have shown me what I was blind to — that, outside of us, there are rocks, and stars, and the sky, and trees, and blades of grass, and snails, and stags, and chipmunks, and fish, and eagles, and logs, and mountains, and clouds, and wind, and rain, and the moon, and silence, and music, and beauty, and artwork, and poetry, and stories, and theorems, and arguments, and logic, and intuition, and laughter, and happiness, and books, and subtlety, and metaphors, and words, and st—”

Senex cut him off. “Do you believe that any of it has been given specifically to you?”

Jason looked down at his feet.

“What are you looking at, Jason?”

Jason mumbled, “My feet.”

“What are your feet?”

“I don’t know,” he said, pausing for a moment. Then he continued, “I don’t know where they are from, but they move about at my command, like two strange servants, carrying me wherever I want to go.”

“What do they carry?”

“A house that has eyes to see, and hands to let me touch and move things, and innards that support and let me live.” He paused for a second, and then said, “It is a clockwork masterpiece.”

“What lives in this house.”

“Well, there is at least a mind that can learn, and think, and explore, and feel.”

“Is that rubbish?”

Jason begrudgingly admitted, “No.”

“Jason, why are you so downcast?”?

“Because that is not all. Because there is a worm. It roams the world, and it lives deep inside of me.”

“I know.”

Jason drew back in fear. “What are you going to do to me?”

“What do you think?”

“You must hate me.”

“I hate the worm inside of you with all my heart. But I do not hate you.”

“You don’t?”

“Jason, I love you.”

Jason looked up. His face quivered, and tears began to slide down his cheeks. “You do?”

“Jason, may I give you a hug?”

Jason nodded his head.

The tears flowed from deep within. They were tears of sorrow, but yet they were different from the bitter tears he had fought before. They were painful, yet also tears of cleansing and healing.

XI

“In the stories I read, I believe that there are people like us, and also strange and wonderful people like fairies, and elves, and dwarves, and gnomes. I wish I could know them.”

“I believe that there are people like us, and also strange and wonderful people like blacks and Hispanics and Asians and Native Americans. And I count myself the richer for the friendships I have shared with such people.”

Senex paused, and then continued. “I believe that you have seen much of the beauty that can be perceived with the body and with the mind, and also that you are beginning to appreciate your body and mind — yes, I know that you still wonder why they were given you. You are close to being ready to enter the other world now.

Jason suddenly looked up. “There’s more?”

“There is much more, my friend. I think that you are ready for the last trial before entering. The challenge is this: that you must make a friend.”

“So I can enter after I make a friend?”

“Yes, but you can’t make a friend in order to get in. You must make a friend for the sake of making a friend.

“Does it matter which race?”

“It matters a great deal, but not in the way that you are thinking. You will be blessed by a friend of any race; the difference is not the amount of blessing, but what kind.”

XII

Jason was walking along a sidewalk, and saw some children playing in the street, kicking a ball around. Then he watched in horror

a truck comes along

a child kicks the ball

a little girl runs after it

in front of the car

girl trips

brakes screech

Time seemed to slow down; Jason watched everything in horrible slowness.

Then Jason realized he was lying on his side, on the opposite sidewalk. The little girl was in his arms, screaming and holding her knee. The ball was still in the street — flat as a pancake.

Adults began to come out of the building. A young woman ran over to the girl, yelling, “My baby!”

An older woman, with wrinkled walnut skin and silvery skin, walked up to him and said, “Son, you wanna come in? You bleedin’.”

Jason looked down. There was a rough abrasion on his elbow, and his shoulder hurt.

Inside the apartment, he was in the same room as the little girl. Her mother was gently wiping her skinned knee with a warm, wet washcloth; the girl was screaming bloody murder. He also had a cloth washing over his elbow; it stung sharply. The children had come in, and were simultaneously and very quickly trying to explain what happened.

The chaos subsided; the children were calmed, and (the children speaking more slowly, and one at a time) the adults understood what happened. “You gonna be soah t’marrah” — and he was.

The family invited Jason for dinner, and told him that he was welcome any time. They were very warm and friendly; at first Jason thought this was because he had saved their little girl. The family was grateful, extremely so, but…

He started to visit from time to time, and he saw the same warm welcome extend to anybody who came in. The family was warm, and emotional, and playful, and as time passed, Jason began to know the specific people —

Emma, the matron who had first invited in, was wise, gentle, and motherly. She was a big woman with an even bigger heart, that seemed to have ample room for anybody who came into the house. She was the person most in charge.

Harold, her younger brother, was full of stories and jokes. He was the life of gatherings, and often had people laughing. He was the person who had travelled the most throughout the United States, and seemed to have his finger on the pulse of the nation — how it had changed, how it had stayed the same, throughout the years.

Jane was Edna’s eldest daughter, and the mother of the little girl whom Jason saved. All of the people in the family had an easy-going, warm, welcoming manner — it really was not long before Jason felt as if he were one of the family — but the welcome seemed to crystallize in Jane. She took the most effort to include Jason, and asked him the most questions.

Alfred was Jane’s husband. He worked at a factory, and was quite the musician; he played several instruments, and often managed to get the whole family singing and dancing.

Anne was Edna’s second daughter, and was perhaps most actively involved in race relations and the womanist movement. Through him, Jason saw a kind of feminism which was completely different; what most struck Jason was that, in its adamant advocacy of womanhood and motherhood, neither Anne nor any of her other womanist friends found any need for abortion, or regarded children as an inconvenience.

Erica, the little girl whom Jason saved, was a little ball of life. She was insatiably curious and inquisitive; more than once, she managed to put Jason somewhat on the spot: “Why you a comin’ heah? Da other white folk doan come heah much, like they afraid of us, o’ sumthin’.” — but she asked in perfect innocence and sincerity, and the open warmth of the others (especially Jane) defused the tension. She was also quite a cuddlebug, and (Jason eventually discovered) more than a little bit ticklish.

Steve, Alfred and Edna’s second child, wanted to be a scientist; he was somewhat quiet, and a bookworm. Jason was sometimes amazed by his intelligence, and was able to talk with him about some of the things he had learned from Senex.

Ronald, the baby of Alfred and Edna’s family, was full of energy, and energy, and energy, and energy. He would run around the house all day long, and it did not take long for Jason to learn what was Ron’s favorite word: “Again!” He seemed to have a tireless enjoyment of the things he knew.

Monica had been adopted by the family, and (in a sense) was Anne’s baby. The two of them were quite close, and she seemed to be able to learn very quickly anything Anne told her.

There were also a number of neighborhood children going in and out of the house; the family treasured them, and seemed to welcome them as if they were their own. James wanted to be a pilot; Michael was very much interested in fire, and loved the Fourth of July; Desiree loved to dance with anyone and everyone; Edward chased the other children around.

Jason cherished his moments visiting the apartment, and grew especially fond of Erica. She would often sit on his lap and try to understand the things Jason was talking about (though Jason tended to too often talk about things that were rather complex to reasonably expect a child to understand), and would often playfully tell him how funny he was. Jason came to love the music, the dancing, the laughter, the emotion. He was struck by how different the family was — and how human.

As he came out of the apartment, he saw Senex walking towards him, and tipping his hat. “I am pleased,” Senex said, “and I think that you are ready to enter.”

XIII

Senex said, “Are you ready to hear a story?”

Jason said, “I think I am.”

Senex said, “This is the most important story that I will ever tell you.”

Jason said, “I am listening.”

Senex began, “Once upon a time, there was a coruscating Light, a surge of power, a rock greater than a mountain. And from this Light was begotten… another facet of the same eternal Eternal essence. Father and Son. Between them shot a fire of love and energy. In and among and from them were glory, majesty, light, power, love, goodness.

“And the Light spoke, and star upon star upon star upon star poured fourth, pulsing with life. They all joined in the great Dance, and spun and turned in wheel within wheel within wheel within wheel. As they danced the great Dance and sung the great Song, the Light and all of the stars revelled in the glory and beauty.

“The first and most glorious of the stars that were formed, held a place in the dance that was second only to the Light itself. The very least of the stars held a place of glory to contemplate for a lifetime, and this was the greatest.

“Then the first star turned, and stepped out of the harmony of the dance, and spoke to the Light. He demanded to be placed above the Light, to lead the Dance himself. ‘I am the greatest of the stars; I am greater and wiser and more glorious than you. Cede to me my rightful place.'”

There was something about the demand that jarred Jason, filling him with revulsion to the very core. In it, he saw the essence of everything that is perverse and vile and impure. He wondered why the Light did not blast the star out of existence right there.

“The Light paused, and then said, ‘You believe that you are better than me.

“‘You believe that you are wiser than me.

“‘Prove it.

“‘You and your glory were the beginning of my plan; you are not the end of it. I have a plan deep within my heart. You may form whatever plan your wisdom may find for you. And we will let the plans play out, and we will see whose plan is the wiser – yours or mine.’

“And then the star screamed out his blasphemous accord, screamed a scream that tore the very fabric of space. And a third of the stars joined him in his rebellion, and became dragons, and serpents, and worms.

“Thus began a cosmic war.

“The Light again created, a creation that was vivid and new and detailed and wondrous. Slowly, with the patience of an artist, he formed rocks, mountains, and trees. The smallest blade of grass was perfect. He formed a great rock surrounded by lights, then plants which live, then animals which move, then finally men in his own image, likeness, and glory. When he stopped to rest, all of the stars stood watching in awe.

“Then the darkened star came, in the form of a serpent, and beguiled man, to do the one thing that is accursed. And the man and woman, created as immortal gods, bore in them a curse, and began to die from the inside out. They, also, stepped out of the harmony of the dance and out of the source of health; their spirits rotted in vice and evil, and the worm began to infest and grow inside their hearts. There was perversity after perversity after perversity after perversity. One generation after the first sin, came the first murder: brother murdered brother. And the people were quick to embrace evil and forget what is good, even the Light himself.

“And all of the dragons, and serpents, and worms, cackled and screeched with unholy laughter, and the stars winced in pain. The first of Dragons taunted the Light: ‘Your plan? Your glorious and wise plan? You have indeed made a fine creation for me to soil. Thank you; I very much enjoy watching the curses grow and multiply.’

“And the men grow wicked, so that they all deserved to die.

“All but one.

“One man walked in the Light.

“And the Light called out to the one man. ‘You. You there in the desert, where neither rain nor mist dampen the earth.’

“And the man answered, ‘Yes?’

“And the Light commanded, ‘Build an immense boat.’

“And the dragons and worms cackled and jeered.

“And the man, ridiculed and cursed by even his friends, built an immense boat.

“And the great Dragon said, ‘One candle? You hope by lighting one single candle to vanquish a whole world of darkness? Come, old fool; it doesn’t work that way.’

“And the Light remained silent.

“Then the Light called to a man, and told him, ‘Leave your kin, your land, your family, everything that is dear to you, and I will give you a son, and make you into a great nation.’

“And the man took up his belongings and left.

“And the Light gave the man a son, and the son grew and matured.

“Then the Light told the man, ‘Take your son, whom you love, and sacrifice him to me.’

“And the man obeyed, taking the son up on the mountain to sacrifice. He raises his arm, knife in hand, to strike the child dead.

“And the Light, quick as lightning, sent a star to say, ‘Stop. Because you have not withheld from me even your son, I will bless you richly.’

“And the Dragon says, ‘What’s the point of this? Do you call one or two righteous men to help us see how evil all the rest are? Or could it just be that you are unwilling to admit defeat?’

“And the Light remained silent.

“And in the great Dragon, was the faintest tremor of fear.

“Then the Light called another man, and told him to forsake riches and luxury to free his people from slavery. The man hesitated, shied away from the task before him – and ultimately obeyed.

“Then the great dragon said, ‘Can’t you just end it now? I know that you’ve lost, but I’m beginning to feel uncomfortable.’

“And the Light continues his work.

“Through the man, the Light gave a law, showing what is right and what is wrong. And the people – staggeringly, and with many misgivings – started to obey.

“Then the Dragon came to the Light, and the Light said of another man, ‘Have you seen this servant of mine? He is upright and blameless.’

“The Dragon scoffed and said, ‘Well, of course! Look at all the prosperity you have given him. That is why he worships you. Take it away, and he will curse you to your face.’

“The Light said, ‘Prove it. I give you permission to take away everything that he holds dear to him – only do not touch his body.’

“The Dragon breathed fire, and destroys the man’s livestock, his possessions, his children. And the man wept in misery. He was told to curse the Light and die. In agony, he screamed in pain and cursed even the day of his birth – but refuses to curse the Light.

“Then the Dragon said, “You know, a man will give everything he owns for his health. You have given this man abundant health – and he is still healthy. Only take that away, and he will curse you to your face.’

“And again, the Light gave permission, only requiring that the dragon not slay him. And the man was covered in painful sores from head to toe, his body wracked with pain, tortured. He was in agony. When three of his friends came, they sat with him for a week in silence because his pain is so great. And still, the man refused to curse the Light.

“The friends then talked, insisting that the man had done wrong, yet he does not even accept their claim. Finally the Light came and spoke through a storm, healing the man and restoring what was lost twice over.

“And the stars rejoiced.

“Then the Light pulled another corner of the veil off of his plan. The Light begotten was sent, and became a man himself, suffering and walking the dust of the fallen world. He called people, telling them to abandon net and boat to follow him – and they obeyed. He healed the sick, diseased, and injured; he casts out fallen stars who have taken possession of people. The dragon attacked again again, trying to have him killed, and tempting him in every way. And yet the Light in earth remained pure and blameless. He began to call people about him, and teach them.

“Then one of the Light’s closest friends betrayed him, and the Light himself was hung out and exposed to die. And when the Light died, darkness reigned.

“And the dragons, and serpents, and worms, jeered and cackled. And the great Dragon taunts, ‘Your great and wise plan gave me an even greater victory than I had hoped for. I set about to destroy your creation – and now I have destroyed your uncreated Son.’

“And tears flowed.

“Then a surge of light and power flowed, and the begotten Light was alive, transformed, coursing with the power of an indestructible life, and bearing with him the cure for the curse. And the fire of love and energy flowing among and in and from the Light flowed into his followers, too. The Light ascends back into Heaven from whence he came – and dwelt inside them.

“And in the community of those who believe and accept his cure, heroes and martyrs stand for the truth and fought, alongside the stars, against the darkness. And as all were watching — the Light, the stars, and also the dead, that is those who walked before, and now stood cheering those who walk now as they continue in the battle — the wisdom of the plan formed by the Light was revealed in the community of those who believe. In this community, in those whom the Light again draws into the great Dance, was

“A large family of many children for the Light
Mother, and brother, and sister for the begotten Light
A body for the begotten Light to live in
A dwelling place and temple for the eternal fire of love and energy
A witness to the world
A moral preserver and purifier to the world
A servant to the world
A warrior against the great Dragon

“With all of its faults and foibles, the community reached out, and invited others also to step into the Dance.

“Then, as the begotten Light left the world, he returned – in full, unveiled glory and majesty, with all of the stars with him. The dead and the living members of the community were imbued with the same life as he has, their bodies transformed, and shared in the divine nature. The earth was destroyed in a great apocalypse, then remade even better than before. All — the living and the dead alike — were brought forth, and brought to account for their life and deeds; those who had chosen a curse were accursed, and those who had chosen were imbued with life beyond intense. And it was before the renewed, regenerated, transformed community of believers that the Dragon stood, and saw the wisdom of the plan. And it was below their feet that the Light crushed the Dragon, before casting it and all of its minions into a lake of fire. And all of those watching saw in full, not only that the Light is more powerful, but also the immeasurably greater wisdom.”

After a time, Jason said, “That is the most beautiful story I have ever heard.”

Senex said, “Would you like to have slain the worm that is inside your heart? Would you like to dance the great Dance?”

Jason said, “Yes, I would.”

Senex said, “The story is true, and we are now living between the first and second comings of the Light. And he bears with him the cure for the curse — and, if you ask him, he will help you slay the worm that is inside your heart, and let you join his forces to fight the darkness that is in the world.”

“How do I do that?”

Senex said, “You must pray a prayer, something like,

“‘Lord Jesus, come into my heart.
Forgive my sins.
Draw me into your Light.
Fill me with your Life.
Make me your own.
I give myself to you,
And accept you giving yourself to me.'”

A look of surprise crossed Jason’s face. “Is this Christianity?”

“Yes.”

Jason’s surprise turned to disgust. “But Christianity is narrow-minded and intolerant and repressive and archaic and — You deceived me, and tricked me into thinking it was something beautiful!”

“Jason, have you ever heard Plato’s allegory of the cave?”

“No.”

“Plato made an allegory, which was more or less as follows:

“Imagine that there is a cave. In this cave are prisoners who have been there from birth. They are shackled, and held in place.

“Behind the prisoners is a wall, and behind the wall a fire.

“People carry things back and forth, above the wall, so that they cast great, flickering shadows on the wall. And as these prisoners grow up, they will never see what a chair, or a book, or a sword looks like. They will only see the shadows on the wall.

“And they will become very good at identifying and recognizing the shadows, and think that they are the realities themselves. They won’t think that a pot is a pot. They will think that the shadow is a pot.

“Now imagine that one of these prisoners is brought out of the cave, into the world. He will first be blinded by the light, and then only slowly be able to see. He will see nothing he will recognize, and he will curse those who brought him out.

“But, eventually, he will learn to see — and he will see things infinitely fuller, and richer, and more real than ever before. He will see the realities that cast the shadows.

“Now imagine that he is taken back in the cave again. At first, he won’t be able to see anything in the darkness; the others in the cave will believe that he is blind. When he does adjust, he will begin to speak of realities beyond the shadows, which are far greater than what is seen — and the other people will think him mad as well as blind. They will vow to kill anyone who should take anyone else up out of what they believe is reality, into the light.”

Senex paused a moment, and then continued.

“There are two things which I would like to say.

“The first is that there are a lot of evil Christians, and Christians have done a lot of bad things. I have been bored by a lot of dull Christians, and hurt by a lot of hypocritical Christians. And I am ashamed of a great deal of what has been done in the name of Christ.”

“The second is that what you have seen called ‘Christianity’ is only a shadow cast in bad light. What I have been doing is helping you to see the reality itself, in the light of the sun.”

“But why didn’t you tell me it was Christianity to begin with? Wasn’t that deceptive?”

“I did not tell you for a reason. I wanted to un-deceive you, and show you the reality itself. If I told you that I wanted to show you Christianity, you would have thought I meant the ugly shadow that is called Christianity — and would you have wanted to know anything about it?”

Jason begrudgingly said, “No.”

After a time, Senex said, “I can see by your face that you have more questions. What are they?”

“They are questions you won’t like.”

“Ask them.”

“What about the Inquisition? What about the intolerance? What about saying that all those other people’s religions are wrong? What about saying that everyone else is damned to Hell?”

“The Inquisition was one of the darkest moments in Christian history, and it has done damage that hurts people down to this day. It, along with the Crusades has fractured the relationships Christians have with Muslims and Jews to this day. And it does another, even deeper damage. It makes people believe that standing for the truth is evil.”

“But what about not accepting other religions? What about Hell?”

“Jason, do you know the worm inside your heart?”

“Yes.”

“The worm is inside my heart, too. It is in everybody’s heart. And it needs to be killed again and again and again. And, if you do not fight it to the death, it will kill you.”

“But… I still don’t see why you have to be so intolerant.”

“Jason, if I am shot in the arm, can a doctor help me?”

“Yes. He can help stitch you up, so your body can heal.”

“What if I refuse to be stitched up? What if I shoot myself again and again, and insist that the doctor heal me without stitching me up or stopping me from shooting myself?”

“But… the doctor can’t help you because you won’t let him.”

“That’s right, Jason. A doctor can’t help you if you choose injury over medicine. And Jesus is a doctor with the only medicine that works.

“I don’t believe in Hell because I want to think about people dying. I believe in Hell for the same reason I believe that shooting yourself is bad for your health — because that’s the way it is. I know that other religions are things people put a lot of work into, and take very seriously. But they are not the doctor’s medicine, and the cold, harsh reality is that taking the medicine — all of it — is the only way to be healed.”

“What about homosexuals? Can’t they be Christians like everyone else?”

“Homosexuals can be Christians just like everyone else, the exact same way that everyone else is a Christian. Namely, by letting the doctor heal all of their injuries. All of us have different wounds, and they all need to be healed. I have wounds that most homosexuals don’t. I am a recovering alcoholic. I haven’t had a drink for sixteen years now, but I spent twenty years of my life as a drunkard. Whatever wounds we have, be they homosexual lust, or drinking too much alcohol, or pride, or any of ten thousand other sins, we need to have them to be healed. All of them.”

Jason thought for a while, and then said, “This is the most difficult thing that anyone has ever asked me. I don’t know if I can do it.”

Senex said, “I know it’s difficult, and I can’t do it by myself. But there is help. It is a difficult path, but the Light will give you the strength, and give me the strength. And remember the community in the story? They will help you, as they help me.”

Jason leaned back, and thought for a time. Then he closed his eyes, trembled, and prayed,

“Lord Jesus, come into my heart.
Forgive my sins.
Draw me into your Light.
Fill me with your Life.
Make me your own.
I give myself to you,
And accept you giving yourself to me.”

And angels rejoiced.

And Jason entered another world.

Actually, to Me, It Is a Very Good Day

Unashamed

The Spectacles

A Wonderful Life

Virtual Tour

CJSH.name/virtual_tour

Virtual Tour is a CGI script meant to let webmasters take pictures and assemble them into an interactive tour. I invite you to see it in action in the Virtual Tour ‘Impressions of Cambridge’, whether or not you’re a webmaster. It’s worth a visit!

License: This project is free software, available under your choice of the Artistic, GPL, and MIT licenses. If you like this software, you are invited to consider linking to CJSHayward.com.

Version RedHat RPM Unix .tar.bz2 Unix .tar.gz
1.0b, development virtual_tour-1.0b-1.i386.rpm virtual_tour1_0b.tar.bz2 virtual_tour1_0b.tar.gz

Adminisgrator’s Guide: Setting Up a Virtual Tour

Playing Around

A reference Virtual Tour is available in my ‘Impressions of Cambridge’. I would encourage you to play around and see how Virtual Tour ticks, how it looks when it is put together.

You can log in to your script’s administrative pages by adding ‘?mode=edit‘ to the end of the URL: if you have a script at ‘http://example.com/cgi-bin/virtual_tour‘, then ‘http://example.com/cgi-bin/virtual_tour?mode=edit‘ will let you log in and set up the pages.

Views and Places

There are (virtual) places one might stand, and virtual views. One place will normally have more than one view. (You can stand in one place, and look around and see different things while you stay in the same place.) The left and right buttons do not mean “Move left” or “Move right”; they mean, “Staying where you are, turn left” and “Staying where you are, turn right.” The forward and backwards buttons mean, “Move forward/backward while facing the same way.” In other words, the backwards button means “Back up,” not “Turn around.” This is not the most consistent way of handling directions, but it seems to provide more intuitive play.

Grids and Paths

If you want, you can manually connect all of the views, but the script provides two shortcuts. The first shortcut is a grid: if you set a Full View Name of “St. John’s College 0 0 W”, that means, “On the St. John’s College grid, at the coordinate (0, 0), facing West.” Virtual Tour will look for a picture in ‘St_Johns_College_0_0_W.jpg‘, stripping out the period and apostrophe and converting the spaces to underscores, then adding ‘.jpg’ to the end (or any other image suffix you’ve asked it to add). Note that this is case sensitive; don’t leave your computer looking for ‘.jpg‘ files if you have your pictures stored in ‘.JPG‘, or give a room of “St. John’s College 0 0 W” while your image is stored in ‘st_johns_college_0_0_w‘. The title given to the user will be something like “‘Impressions of Cambridge’: St. John’s College: 0 East, Zero North (Facing West).” Note: by paying attention to the view titles when visiting ‘Impressions of Cambridge’, you can tell what the coordinates are. Virtual Tour will automatically link a view with other views at the same place (if the user turns around), and will also link one place to adjacent places on the grid. It should not be necessary to specify too many links manually; normally it should be enough to manually connect e.g. grids with paths, and then let Virtual Tour handle all of the links within a grid or a path.

Note: ‘link’, as I’m using the term, does not mean an HTML link <a href="CJSHayward.com">like this</a>. I am using to denote the setup behind what the user will intuitively understand as, “At the end of this path, I can move around in this grid.” In other words, the nuts and bolts of navigation. Usually this refers to links you specify manually, not the ones that Virtual Tour will automatically create between parts of a path or a grid that are next to each other.

A path is similar to a grid, except that it is one-dimensional. Rather than having two coordinates, it only has one, indicating how far you are along the path, and instead of letting you face ‘N’, ‘S’, ‘E’, and ‘W’, you can face either ‘F’ (for ‘Forward’), or ‘B’ (for ‘Backward’). A sample Full View Name might be “King’s Parade 3 B”, which would load the image Kings_Parade_3_B.jpg.

Normally, I created either all or none of the views for a point on a grid or path. In other words, “St. John’s College 0 0 N”, “St. John’s College 0 0 E”, “St. John’s College 0 0 S”, and “St. John’s College 0 0 W” should all exist if at least one exists, and likewise “King’s Parade 1 F” and “King’s Parade 0 B”.

Coordinates for grid points, and positions along a path, must be integers.

Manually Linking a Grid and a Path

What I did to connect “St. John’s College 0 0” with “King’s Parade 3”, so that “King’s Parade 3” is intuitively south of “St. John’s College 0 0”, is to create four links from four different views:

  1. Go to the “Room View” screen for “King’s College 0 0 S” and set the “Forward” link to “King’s Parade 3 B”.
  2. Go to “King’s Parade 3 F” and set the “Forward” link to “St. John’s College 0 0 N”
  3. Go to “St. John’s College 0 0 N” and set the “Back” link to “King’s Parade 3 F”.
  4. Go to “King’s Parade 3 B” and set the “Back” link to “St. John’s College 0 0 S”.

The last two steps help make Virtual Tour behave the way a player would expect when he tries to back up. This sets the path’s forward direction to the grid’s North. Various directions need to be adjusted if the path’s forward direction is to the grid’s South (basically, the ‘B’ and ‘F’ portions of the path are swapped), or the path leaves from the grid’s North, East, or West. Basically, if you’re not sure, try to work it out (or take a guess), test it, and expect to get it wrong the first couple of tries, but you’ll be getting the hang of it before too long.

This is most easily done after the views are all created, not as you are adding views.

I know that this is cumbersome and slightly confusing; I’m sorry, but I haven’t taken the time yet to make a simpler and more intuitive way of doing this.

Directories, Files, and Images

The virtual tour will look for images in ‘/var/www/html/virtual_tour/‘ (if you installed from an RPM), or whatever place you told it to store its HTML files in (if you installed manually). If you’re not sure where it is, go to the home page (‘http://example.com/cgi-bin/virtual_tour‘ for an RPM install, or what you specified for a manual install), right-click on one of the images, and select “View Image.” That should let you see the image’s URL in your browser’s URL bar, which will be in the same directory as where you need to put your pictures.

The default image size (640×480 at installation) can configured from the ‘Miscellaneous’ menu, and you can override this for individual images if you want.

Notes

That’s what you need to know to set up a Virtual Tour, even if it’s tersely stated. Play around with it, and if you’re a programmer, think about what would be needed to produce something that behaves like ‘Impressions of Cambridge’. And, if you think of something important that should be here but isn’t, please contact me so I know what else to add.

-Jonathan

Catch the Furball (Demo)

A four dimensional maze

Private logistics: privacy-sensitive todo, calendar, scratchpad, personal information management (PIM)

The Sign of the Grail

Usability for Hackers: Developers, Anthropology, and Making Software More Usable

CJSH.name/usability

Usability begins with anthropology

… and hackers have a good start on anthropology

If you’re reading this text, there’s a good chance that you are already halfway to being an anthropologist. Note: for the purposes of this chapter, ‘anthropology’ is used to refer to cultural anthropology. Other anthropological disciplines exist, but it is cultural anthropology and its techniques which are most directly relevant here.

How could an author know that you are probably at least half an anthropologist? Let’s turn the question around, and suppose you are a Python hacker. Why are you reading this article? Visual Basic .NET has enormous marketing muscle behind it, possibly eclipsing the marketing budgets for all open source technologies put together. Guido van Rossum holds a dim view of marketing, as does much of the Python community. Monster.com lists three thousand Visual Basic positions, almost five thousand .NET positions, but only one thousand Python positions. Why are you reading a “usability for hackers” article when you could be reading a title like Completely Master Visual Basic in Thirty Seconds or Less?

You are probably a hacker. It does not matter if you were mortified when you found out the preferred JavaScript technique to create an object with fields that aren’t globally accessible variables, or if you wince when you hear of a devious way to get technology to do things that shouldn’t be possible, or if you have no desire to be considered a 133t hax0r. You’re probably a hacker. The classic “How to Become a Hacker” for the most part outlines things that have a very obvious relationship to being a hacker: attitudes towards technical problem solving, or learning an open source Unix, learning to program and contribute to the web, and so on and so forth. Towards the end there is a particularly interesting section because on the surface it looks completely beside the point. The section is titled “Points for Style,” and mentions learning to write well, reading in science fiction, training in martial arts, meditation, music (preferably obscure), and wordplay. Other things could be added: avoiding mainstream TV or having arcane hobbies and interests, for instance, so that in a social context hackers may ask each other questions about obscure hobbies as a rough social equivalent to, “What’s your favorite TV show?”

Not that any of these is necessary to be a hacker, but together these common trends point to a personality profile that can learn the anthropological style of observation relevant to usability work much more easily than the general public, or even Joe Professional Programmer who regards learning new technologies as a necessary evil rather than a joy, works in Visual Basic .NET after being swayed by advertising, goes home and watches TV after work, has probably never heard of ThinkGeek, and would probably rather do gift shopping at Walmart even if he does know of ThinkGeek.

All of this is to say that the culture surrounding you is not like water to a fish. It is a basic fact of life that you don’t automatically share the perspective of others. Cross-cultural experience or ethnic minority status may accentuate this, but this is true even if you’re not (regarded as) a minority. And this kind of experience provides a very good foundation for anthropological ways of understanding exactly how you are not a user and users don’t think like you.

Anthropological usability techniques

An introductory example: Card sorting

One basic challenge for organizing a site’s information architecture is the taxonomy, or way of breaking things down. If one is asked what an example of a good taxonomy, one example of a taxonomy par excellence is the biological taxonomy that organizes all the way from kingdoms down to species or subspecies and varieties. And indeed that is one kind of taxonomy, but it is not the only possibility. If one is asked to break down a list of a fork, spoon, plate, bowl, soup, and macaroni and cheese, one obvious way is to put the fork and spoon together as cutlery, the plate and bowl together as dishware, and the soup and macaroni and cheese together as food. But this is not the only basic way, and it can make sense to put the fork, plate, and macaroni and cheese together as representing one complete option, and the spoon, bowl, and soup together as representing another basic option. Stores and websites that have adopted the latter approach, such as a gardening store or website that organizes its products according to the type of garden a customer is trying to make and what the customer is trying to do, see a significant increase in sales. Even biology could use other complementary technologies: a taxonomy that classified organisms according to both ecosystems and their roles within their ecosystems and ecological subsystems could say something very valuable that the eighteenth century classification wouldn’t.

In terms of websites, an information architecture that corresponds to the organization’s org chart is never a helpful choice. Even when we are talking about an intranet intended only for organizational insiders, one section or subsite for each department is not the right choice: one better option would be to support workflow and design around the tasks that employees will be doing with the intranet.

What is the best information architecture? That’s not a question to answer by looking something in a book or even thinking it out; it is something that we should work out based on what we observe doing research, even if we also read and need to do a bit of thinking. And this is the best practice across the board for usability.

One valuable exercise to help guide information architecture design is called card sorting. In this exercise, we get a stack of index cards, perhaps 3×5″, and write the individual names of different pieces of functionality the website should offer, trying to name things neutrally so that the names do not have common terms suggesting how certain parts belong together. Then we shuffle and lay out the cards, and individually ask subjects (people who will participate in an experiment and who are not insiders, whether employees of your organization for an external website, or information technology professionals) to organize them so that cards that belong together are put in the same stack.

Then we note which cards have been placed together, thank the subject, and move on to the next person.

On looking through the notes, we may see a few things. First, not all people think the same. We will likely see some breakdowns that are very similar, but there will likely be two or more breakdowns as fundamentally divergent as our breakdowns of the fork, spoon, plate, bowl, soup, and macaroni and cheese. Second, there will probably be a breakdown that simply catches us off guard. And this is good; it means the exercise is working.

After doing this, we can go about looking for a preferably standard information architecture that will gracefully serve the major ways we observed of breaking things down.

Focus groups: Cargo cult research for usability

With an eye to how to best approach observation, we would like to take a moment to talk about Coca-Cola’s blunder with “New Coke” and explain why focus groups, bringing in a group of people and asking them what they want, are deprecated as a recipe to make products that look good on paper but don’t wear well in normal use. For those of you who don’t remember the uproar some years back, the Coca-Cola company announced that it was switching to a new and improved formula, and there was massive public outlash from people who wanted the old Coke back. (Now the company sells both the old formula as Coke Classic and the new formula as Coke II, and Coke Classic is vastly more popular.)

Why would the Coca-Cola company announce it was terminating its cash cow? The answer is that it did naïve marketing research, ran taste tests, and asked members of the public which they would choose: the formula today sold as Coke Classic, or the formula today sold as Coke II. The rather clear answer from the taste tests was that people said they would rather have the new formula, and it was a clear enough answer that it looked like a sensible course of action to simply drop the second-best formula. It wasn’t until everybody could see that the Coca-Cola company had given itself a PR black eye that the company woke up to a baseline observation in anthropology: the horse’s mouth is a vastly overrated source of information. Most anthropological observation, including the kinds relevant to usability, are about paying close attention to what people do, and not be too distracted by their good faith efforts to explain things that are very hard to get right.

Anthropological observation: The bedrock of usability

There is more than one way to see the same situation

The kind of observation needed is probably closest to the anthropological technique of participant observation, except that instead of participating in using software or a website, we are observing others as they use software. Half the goal is to understand how the same thing can be observed differently. To quote from James Spradley’s Participant Observation, which is an excellent resource:

One afternoon in 1973 I came across the following news item in the Minneapolis Tribune:

Nov. 23, 1973. Hartford, Connecticut. Three policemen giving a heart massage and oxygen to a heart attack victim Friday were attacked by a crowd of 75 to 100 people who apparently did not realize what the policemen were doing. Other policemen fended off the crowd of mostly Spanish-speaking residents until an ambulance arrived. Police said they tried to explain to the crowd what they were doing, but the crowd apparently thought they were beating the woman.

Despite the policemen’s efforts the victim, Evangelica Echevacria, 59, died.

Here we see people using their culture. Members of two different groups observed the same event but their interpretations were drastically different. The crowd used their cultural knowledge (a) to interpret the behavior of the policemen as cruel and (b) to act on the woman’s behalf to put a stop to what they perceived as brutality. They had acquired the cultural principles for acting and interpreting things this way through a particular shared experience.

The policemen, on the other hand, used their cultural knowledge (a) to interpret the woman’s condition as heart failure and their own behavior as life-saving effort and (b) to give her cardiac massage and oxygen. They used artifacts like an oxygen mask and ambulance. Furthermore, they interpreted the actions of the crowd in an entirely different manner from how the crowd saw their own behavior. The two groups of people each had elaborate cultural rules for interpreting their experience and for acting in emergency situations, and the conflict arose, at least in part, because these cultural rules were so different.

Before making my main point, I would simply like to comment that the Spanish-speaking crowd’s response makes a lot more sense than it would first seem. It makes a lot of sense even on the assumption that the crowd did in fact understand the police officer’s explanation that they “apparently did not understand.” What the article explicitly states is that the police officers were using an oxygen mask, and that is a device that needs to be pressed against a person’s face and necessarily cover the same parts of a person’s face one would cover to try to cause suffocation. If you’re not expecting something like that, it looks awfully strange. Furthermore, although I do not know whether this actually happened, it is standard operating procedure to many emergency medical technicians and paramedics who perform CPR to cut off the person’s top completely, palpate to the best place to place one’s hands, and mark the spot with a ball-point pen. This may or may not have happened, but if it did, it is appropriate enough for neighbors to view it as an extreme indignity. Lastly, although today’s best practices in CPR are more forceful than was reccommended in the past, “heart massage” is a technical term that does not refer to anything like softly kneading a friend’s shoulder. The people I have met who do CPR regularly say they crack ribs all the time: cracking ribs may not be desirable on its own, but if a responder is doing good CPR with enough force to be effective, breaking a patient’s ribs is considered entirely normal and not a red flag that CPR is being done inappropriately. Furthermore, the woman’s age of 59 raises the question of osteoporosis. Racism is almost certainly a factor in the community’s memories; the community had quite probable stories circulating of bad treatment by police officers and possible police brutality. I know that the police tried to explain what they were doing, but if I saw police apparently trying to suffocate a member of our community, possibly saw an offensive indignity in that a senior’s shirt and underwear had been cut away, and saw an officer keep on forcefully shoving down on her chest and probably heard ribs crackling with every shove, it would take quite some believing, almost a reprehensible gullibility, to believe the other officers who tried to explain, “No, really, we’re trying to help her!”

(And, for reasons below, I would be very wary of saying that she probably would have survived if only the crowd hadn’t intervened.)

I may pause to note that neither group, nor apparently the authors of the newspaper article or anthropology text, appears to grasp how the situation would be viewed by a doctor. “Heart massage” is now more commonly known as “Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation,” or CPR, recuscitation being an otherwise obscure synonym for resurrection or returning from the dead: in French religious language, for instance, resuscitation is the term one uses for Christ returning to life after death on a cross. There is, to the purist, some fundamental confusion in the marketing-style slogan, “CPR saves lives.” Clinically and legally, death occurs when a person’s heart stops beating. If a person is still alive, and if there is any chance of saving the person’s life, then CPR is both premature and inappropriate.

Once a person enters a state of “cardiac arrest,” meaning death, then there might be a possibility of getting that person back by cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, even if that is a long shot. CPR at its very best is a third as effective as a heart beating normally, and even under ideal conditions can slow deterioration to give the emergency room perhaps a 5% to 10% chance of getting the person back. And that is assuming that ideal conditions are possible: in reality ideal conditions don’t happen. Though most people giving CPR do not have to deal with a crowd interpreting their efforts as assault, hoping to deliver perfect CPR is like hoping to become a good enough coder that one need not contend with debugging: Eric Raymond implicitly showed great maturity as a programmer by saying he was dumbfounded when his first attempt at Python metaprogramming worked without debugging. The person who does CPR in a public setting will contend not only with the difficulties of CPR itself, but an “uh-oh squad,” bystanders who second-guess one’s efforts and create a social dynamic like that of giving a speech to an audience of hecklers.

Now there is no question of blows or physical restraint when it comes to the idea of CPR or cardiac massage as a way to save lives that is apparently shared by the newspaper article author, the anthropology author, and possibly the police, and the medical view that CPR is “only indicated in the case of cardiac arrest,” meaning that it is premature and inappropriate unless a person has already died, but can preserve a remote chance of getting a patient back after the patient has crossed the threshold of clinical death. Emergency room doctors who view CPR as slowing deterioration and holding onto a slender chance of getting someone back will be quite grateful for CPR performed by police officers and other members of the general public who view CPR as a skill which saves lives. But the understanding is still fundamentally different, and differences like this come up in how computer interfaces are understood: differences you will want and need to appreciate.

Applying this foundation to usability

The core of usability testing is designing some sample tasks, asking users to do them, and observe, as a fly on the wall, without helping. If you can record sessions, great; if not, a notepad, notebook, or netbook works well. (The advantage of recording sessions is that almost invariably people will say, “There’s no way the user could have that much trouble with our design,” and a five-minute video of a user looking everywhere on the page but where users are intended to look, is worth a thousand arguments.) Usually studying five users is sufficient.

There is a saying in customer service of, “The customer is always right.” One may read the cautionary tale of a salesperson who kept on winning arguments with customers and somehow never closed a sale. And the principle is very simple. A customer who is wrong is to be treated as a valued customer as well as a customer who is right, and whether your customer is right or wrong, you treat each customer as a valued customer. Unless you are talking about an abusive customer, in which case it is appropriate to draw a line in the sand, you don’t send a message of “I’m right, you’re wrong.”

That’s not what I am talking about when I say, “The user is always right.” Anyone who teaches programmers or remembers what it was like to begin programming remembers hearing, “There’s no way the computer can be right! The computer has to be running my code wrong, or the compiler isn’t working right!” And it is a slow and at times painful lesson that the computer is in fact (almost) always right, that no matter how right your code seems, or how certain you are, if your code is not working, it is because you did something you did not intend, and your code will begin working when you find out how your code does not obviously say what you think it does, and adjust that part of your code. Bugs in libraries and (more rarely) compilers and interpreters do exist, but one important threshold has been crossed when a programmer stops blaming the tool for confusing bugs and begins to take responsibility personally.

And in the same sense that the computer is always right, and not the sense that the customer is always right, the user is always right about how users behave. If the user interacts with the user interface and does something counterproductive, this means the same sort of thing as code doing something counterproductive if it’s been compiled. The user, who is always right, has identified an area where the interface needs improvement. The user should be regarded as “always right” just as the computer should be regarded as “always right,” and when the user is wrong, that’s good information about where the user interface has problems.

I could say that the only thing we really need to do at all is observe the user. But observing the user includes a major challenge: it includes the major task of grasping things that violate our assumptions. The task is something like first encountering how JavaScript’s support for object-oriented programming includes objects and inheritance, but without classes, first coming to a scripting language and asking, “When does integer overflow occur?” and being told, “Your question does have an answer, but it matters less than you might think,” or the experience of a novice programmer who posted to a forum, “How do I turn off all the annoying compiler warnings I’m getting?” and was extremely frustrated to have more than one guru say, “You want to beg your compiler to give you as many warnings as you can get, and treat all warnings as errors.”

It was a deft move for Google to give Chrome a single search and URL bar, but the main reason may not be the one you think. Searching was heavily enough used that Firefox made life easier for many users by adding a second bar to the right of the search bar so that we could search without first pulling up the Google homepage; for heavy users, simplifying the URL bar and the search bar into one full-width piece is the next refinement. But this is not the main reason why it was deft for Google to give Chrome a unified search/URL bar, or at very least not the only reason.

My own experience helping others out with their computers has revealed that something obvious to us has been absolutely nonexistent in their minds. Perhaps you have had the experience, too, of telling someone to enter something in a page’s text field, and they start typing it in the URL bar, or vice versa typing a URL into a page’s search field. What this unearths is that something that is patently obvious to web designers is not obvious to many web users: “Here is an important, impenetrable dividing line, and all the chrome above that line belongs to the browser, and everything below that line (above the bottom chrome, and excluding any scrollbars) belongs to the website.” This division of labor is obvious enough to most web designers that only experience could teach them that there are some people who don’t understand it. But the real world has many users who do not have any such concept, and behaviors like typing search terms in the URL bar (years before Chrome was available) are clues to “This is something that’s out there.”

And if you think, “Ok, but users are more sophisticated now,” you might go through your website’s search logs and see how many website addresses you can see. It won’t be nearly as many as ordinary search terms, but have you ever wondered where the addresses to MySpace and porn sites in your search logs come from?

Culture shock is a fundamental reality of when things go contrary to your expectations; most of us experience small amounts of culture shock in our day-to-day living and much greater amounts if we travel to another country or do something else. The three examples given above, of classless objects in JavaScript, integer overflow in scripting languages as not terribly important, and asking for a more draconian handling of warnings are examples of culture shock in relation to technologies. As a rule of thumb, if you aren’t experiencing culture shock from your user observations, you’re not deriving full benefit from them, and you don’t understand your users well enough to make the fullest improvements to the design. As a rule of thumb, if you aren’t experiencing culture shock from your user observations, that’s because you’re taking a shower with your raincoat on.

It’s just like (hard) debugging

I would like to make one closing parallel to debugging. There are several types of debugging I am not talking about: for instance, a missing close parenthesis causes an immediate error that makes it fairly quick work to find out what is wrong and what line of code it is. A traceback can also provide an excellent starting point for quick and effective debugging. Although debugging a failed unit test may not be quite so easy, a unit test is not just a tool to say that something is wrong, somewhere; it is a tool that should point a finger, and usually narrow the search field significantly. And many other bugs that are neither syntax errors nor resolved with the help of unit tests are still easy enough to fix that we need not be terribly aware of them; when we think of debugging we may only think of the few hard bugs rather than the majority of bugs which better programmers resolve without really thinking about it, like we turn on light switches on entering a darkened room, or unzip a coat outdoors when the day warms up, without giving the matter too much conscious thought or vividly remembering that we do this. (This is, incidentally, somewhat of an ethnographic observation of good programmers.)

What I am talking about, as hard bugs, are bugs where you go through every investigative tool you can think of, and still cannot pin down what is going on. (This may include a relatively small proportion of bugs that also generate tracebacks or unit test failures.) Observing the bug seems like observing, not a miniature ship in a bottle, but a ship in a seamless glass sphere: there’s no way you can tell that the ship could have gotten in there, but it is quite clear that the ship in fact is in a glass container that has no openings that you can imagine the ship getting in through.

Isaac Asimov said, “The most exciting sound in science is not, ‘Eureka!’ [I’ve found it!], but ‘That’s funny,'” and the history of science bears him out. Today, X-rays are widely known among scientifically literate people to be a very high-energy, short-wavelength radiation belonging to the same spectrum as visible light, but it was not always so; the name ‘X-rays’ is itself a holdover from when they were a fascinating and mysterious mystery, with the ‘X’ in ‘X’-rays referring to something unknown. It was known that they were radiation of some sort, but they passed through some opaque material and in general did not fit into anything people had a conceptual place for.

In the middle of efforts to understand this mystery, there was one physicist who stumbled upon a golden clue that X-rays might be something like light: he left unexposed photographic plates near a source of X-rays, and upon using and developing them, observed that they had all been partially exposed. His response, however, was to contact the photographic supply company and demand that they replace the photographic plates as defective. As Winston Churchill observed, “Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick himself up and continue on.”

In debugging, hard bugs, the kind that remain unresolved after we have investigated all the usual suspects, are rarely solved because we go looking for the right error and find exactly what we expected to find. With the analogy of the ship in the sphere, it is more like deciding there has to be some kind of concealed seam from gluing or otherwise sealing an aperture big enough to allow the ship to enter, at least in pieces, and after looking the glasswork over, using magnifying glasses and lights, and still finding no trace of a seam, you stop ignoring something you had noticed along the way: the ship itself appeared surprisingly glossy. When you stop to look at the ship for a second, you realize that it is not made of the wood and cloth you expected (and that it appears to be at first glance), but as far as you can tell is shaped out of colored glass. And, after doing a little more research, you learn of a glassblower who makes colored glass ships and forms seamless glass spheres around them. In this case, you were not wrong in saying there was no seam; there is still no way that such a thing could have been crafted at room temperature, and there is in fact no ultra-subtle seam that you failed to notice in our efforts to find the seam to an aperture through which the ship could have been inserted at room temperature, even in pieces. But that’s not the point. The ship in a globe was made at glassblower’s temperatures, and there it is possible to create a seamless sphere around a colored glass ship.

Hard bugs are debugged successfully when you learn to stop when you stumble over the truth. And the same is true in the anthropological side of usability techniques: some things you can know to look for, and find, but the much more important competency is to recognize when you have stumbled over the truth, and stop and pay attention to something you don’t know to look for.

Almost all of the difference between doing user observation badly and doing it well hinges on learning to recognize when you have stumbled over the truth.

Lessons from Other Areas

Live cross-cultural encounters

Learning and observing in cross-cultural encounters is an excellent way to learn how to pick up cues the way a user interface developer needs to. There are two basic cross-cultural encounters I recommend as particularly valuable. The first of these, as it takes shape in the U.S., is to spend time volunteering with an English as a Second Language program and tutor on computer basics. Or find out if you can tutor in classes at your local library. (If possible, work in an adult computer class that has seniors and not too many young people.) This may or may not be the most pleasant experience, but it is some of the most valuable. I remember one experience where I was working with a Sudanese refugee, quite possibly an escapee of the genocide against Christians, who had just had his life uprooted under presumably traumatic circumstances and was learning to deal with living in the U.S. all at once, which would presumably be trauma in itself. I remember in particular one moment when we had very slowly typed a word or two in a word processor, and ticked the button to close a document, and were staring at a dialog box asking if we wanted to save the document before closing. And I remember a slow dawning realization that not only did he not know the quite substantial cultural concepts involved in recognizing that this was how culturally one asks a question, expecting an answer in the form of a click on one of two areas of the screen to answer “Yes,” “No,” or “Mu” (“Cancel”), but the question itself, “Do you want to save this document before closing?” was a question that did not exist at all in his culture, and even if I spoke his native language I would probably not be able to explain the question on terms that would make any sense to him. That was probably my most difficult teaching experience, and the one where I have the most doubts about whether I succeeded in teaching anything at all. But it was a profoundly valuable experience to me, and helped me see how things could “go without saying” to me but be baffling to others.

The second of these two cross-cultural encounters is whatever you already have. Few if any of us have no cross-cultural encounters; whether one is ethnically or (a)religiously a majority or a minority, an immigrant or a native citizen of one’s country, or considering face-to-face encounters or Internet connections, most of us have at least some experience in cross-cultural encounter. The differences are there; if you have learned something from cross-cultural encounter, the experience can help us more readily recognize the cues you need to recognize.

History

While I am wary of reducing history to merely an apparatus to understand the cultures of previous times, most historians arrive at a fairly deep understanding of a culture that is not their own, and may arrive at a sensitivity to the ways, all to easy to ignore, in which historical texts veto modern assumptions. There was an experiment in which a question concerning Abraham Lincoln and a number of historical primary sources were given to a number of elementary school teachers, plus one historian of Lincoln, and a historian whose specialties were unrelated. During the time of the experiment, the elementary school teachers started with a wrong conceptual framework that imposed today’s basic categories on the texts, and did not progress to anything better. The historian of Lincoln started with a highly accurate conceptual framework and very quickly arrived at the answer. But what is particularly interesting is the other historian, who was trained as a historian but had little directly relevant knowledge to Lincoln. He started with the same conceptual framework as the non-historians, but by the end he had corrected his framework to the point of reaching where the Lincoln historian had started.

This latter historian is perhaps the most interesting, not because he was initially right, but because he was self-correcting: even though his starting framework was no better than the schoolteachers, he was able enough to adjust his perspective from cues based on the text so that he reached the framework the Lincoln historian started with. And, one would imagine, the Lincoln historian would have had a similar self-correcting sensitivity to the texts had he been asked the same kind of question about a historical setting he did not initially understand.

Getting history right is relevant to us in two ways. First, one understands one, or perhaps many, other cultures more or less well. Second, when one trips over a clue that one is wrong, one stops and learns from it, instead of hoping it will go away. Both of these strengths are a powerful foundation to usability.

Old Books and Literature

Books can be a very good place to sharpen anthropological competencies through meeting other cultures. However, I might clear the ground of some distractions if it is tempting to say, “But I meet other cultures in all my favorite books! I’m an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy.”

All science fiction is not created equal in terms of cultural encounter. There is a marked difference between reading Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and watching Star Trek. Heinlein understood both culture and culture shock, and though his book only treats one alien culture, it is written to create culture shock in the reader, and challenge us in assumptions we didn’t know we had. “Whaaa—? They can’t do that!” is a normal and intended reaction to several parts of the book. In Star Trek, there are many races, but culture shock in the viewer is almost nonexistent even when the plot is intended to surprise. To put it more pointedly, the average American’s culture shock from watching years of Star Trek is probably much less than the average American student’s culture shock from a few months’ experience in a foreign exchange program, perhaps less than the culture shock in the first month of that program. By comparison with a live encounter with another human culture, the alien races in Star Trek have less their own alien cultures than a shared personality profile we can already relate to even when we don’t like it.

Likewise, not all fantasy is created equal. J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis were both Oxford-educated medievalists who knew medieval literature intimately. The genre of fantasy that appeared in their wake, if you have seriously read medieval literature, seems by comparison like the opening rant in the movie Dungeons & Dragons, where a supposedly medieval character gives an impassioned “Miss America” speech about how horrible it is that the realm’s government is unlike a U.S.-style democracy. Today’s genre fantasy reads like the story of Westerners from our time who happen to be wearing armor; by contrast, in The Chronicles of Narnia some of the characters are indeed from the twentieth century, but in terms of how the story is put together there is something a bit medieval, and not individualist, about their characterization.

If our cultures’ science fiction and fantasy are not the best place to be challenged by another encounter, and to develop that kind of sensitivity, where can we go? One obvious response is to look to be challenged by books like the Dao De Jing and the Bhagavad-Gita. Those are both excellent places to look to be challenged, but if we assume that we can be challenged by the Bhagavad-Gita but not Plato, we are selling both of them short. The image in Plato of climbing out of the cave with its shadows and looking at the sun is something that a Hindu commentator on the Bhagavad-Gita can quite easily relate to, and in a certain sense Plato has more in common with that kind of Hinduism than with his disciple Aristotle.

What does it look like to read a text to see what one can pick up culturally? Consider the following text:

QUANTUM THEORY, THE. As recently as the opening years of the present century the vast majority of physicists still regarded Newton’s dynamical laws as something established for all time. And they were not without solid grounds for this faith. Many phenomena were indeed known, chiefly those which may be classed under the heading radiation, e.g. black body radiation and line spectra, which refused to accommodate themselves to any sort of theory founded on Newtonian principles; but it was generally believed that such phenomena would, sooner or later, be completely accounted for without any departure from the classical principles of physics. Even the theory of relativity developed by Lorentz, Einstein, Minkowski and their successors was regarded only as a widening or generalization of the Newtonian basis of physics. It was the culmination of classical physical theory. These phenomena we now believe, cannot be accounted for on the basis of classical physical theory, whether Newtonian or Einsteinian. The first act of sacrilege was committed by Max Planck, until recently professor of theoretical physics at the University of Berlin, about the end of the year 1900, when he initiated the quantum theory. One of the problems engaging the attention of physicists during the closing years of the last century was that of the radiation from a black body…

The reconciliation of these two aspects of the phenomenon, namely the independence of the energy of the ejected photo-electrons and the intensity, on the one hand, and the wave character of the radiation on the other, constitutes one of the most formidable problems which physical science has ever encountered…

Now I would like to make a couple of points. I could, for instance, have chosen an interminable fight narrative from a medieval Arthurian legend to say, “We look on Arthurian legends as mysterious tales of wonder. Did you know that a large portion of those legends is actually quite dull to the modern reader?” Some readers may be wondering, “This is a scientific article, not a cultural area where anything goes.” But, even if science is not a domain where anything goes, there are cultural issues here, and it may be possible to date the article by cultural markers as well as by values given for physical constants (Avogadro’s number appears to be given as 6.06 * 10^23, not today’s 6.022 * 10^23, and the unit of electrical charge is reported to have current values consistent with initial measurements, despite the fact that the initial reported experimental value was erroneous and subsequent experimenters fudged until it was found acceptable to report what is now believed to be the correct value.)

In the quoted text, there are two significant markers that date the text as showing significant cultural difference from how things are viewed today.

A physicist or philosopher today would say that Newtonian physics, Einsteinian physics, quantum physics, and for that matter superstring theory are fundamentally irreconcilable on an ontological plane but happen to predict the same behaviors for the kind of experiments one would expect of a high school physics lab: the predicted results for each of these theories are vastly smaller than even a top-notch experimental physicist doing high school experiments could possibly observe. But the reasons behind those differences are irreconcilable, like the difference between saying “You see this OS behavior because it is running natively on your computer” and “You see this OS behavior because it is being emulated under virtualization with several levels of indirection that are extremely slippery to understand.” The behavior predicted is interchangeable, but the reasons proposed for the behavior are fundamentally irreconcilable. Furthermore, this is not just true if one compares quantum physics with Einsteinian or Newtonian physics; it is also true if one compares Einsteinian with Newtonian physics: to today’s take on things, it is a bit astonishing to say, “on the basis of classical physical theory, whether Newtonian or Einsteinian.” The usual way of presenting things in a physics class today is to present Einstein’s theory of relativity as the first in a stream of foundational upsets after Newton reigned unchallenged and apparently eternally established for centuries. Today we would expect to need to dig a bit to find more examples of Einstein’s theory referred to as a further expansion developing Newton, which should still be considered “classical physical theory.”

The second quoted paragraph refers to how light (and, it may be mentioned, practically everything else as seen in quantum theory) behaves as a particle when treated in some ways and as a wave as treated in others. This duality has since hit the rumor mill well enough that a favorite illustration from science in theology programs is how light exists as both a particle and a wave, which reflects the extent to which the duality of light as particle and wave remains unresolved but is no longer regarded as, “one of the most formidable problems which physical science has ever encountered.”

Our point is not to deride the article, which is written at a higher level of sophistication and detail than, for instance, the Wikipedia. Apart from its certitude in the existence of an “aether,” slightly surprising in light of the fact that the Michelson-Morley experiment dates to 1887 and the article refers to 1900 as a past year, its picture of quantum physics portrays the same core science one would expect of a physics text today. But, even in physics, which is not in any sense a field where just anything goes, culture is present, and for that matter in this article the cultural cues alone are most likely sufficient for an historian of 20th century physics to closely date it.

This kind of cue is what you can practice learning in reading old books, and this kind of cue is what you need to be able to pick up in observing for good user interface development.

The way you observe that a user doesn’t share an understanding that is obvious to you is by the same kind of cue that can clue you in that a text doesn’t share an understanding that is obvious to you.

The last other area: Whatever you have

Whatever else you have is probably a resource you can draw on. Do you love birding? Birding is a hobby of observation. Do you do martial arts, for instance? A common theme in martial arts is harmony between opponents, and if you can attune yourself to a sparring partner, you should be able to attune yourself to a user. Comedy or performing arts? You’re not a good comedian if you’re insensitive to your audience. Have you made a lot of mistakes, and learned from them, or at least started to learn? Wonderful news! (Are you an amateur or professional anthropologist? That one doesn’t need explaining!) There is some connection between any two areas of life; let other skill support and strengthen your usability work.

Understanding the User

A lesson from optimization

Knuth said, for the novice programmer, “Don’t optimize,” and to experts only, “Optimize later.” Always writing for optimization is a recipe for bad, unreadable code, and for that matter slow code, compared to code written for clarity that is later optimized using that clarity. And Knuth also said, “Premature optimization is the root of all evil.”

In one production system I was working on, I wrote one search with the realization that the implementation I was using was extremely inefficient, and had to deliberately refrain from optimizing it, to leave for later. When the whole system was put together, it took a couple of seconds longer than was acceptable, and I began mentally gearing up to optimize the inefficient search. Before doing so, I did some testing, and found to my surprise that my inefficient search implementation took very little time to run, and when I began mapping things out, found the root problem. I had called a poorly chosen method, and with it made a purely preventable network call, and that network call took a few seconds. When that problem was fixed, the remaining code ran at acceptably fast times for even the largest accounts.

This story is my own version of something that keeps on being retold in the programming literature: “Our system was running slowly, and we had reasonable ideas about what was going on here, but our reasonable ideas were wrong. We didn’t know what the real problem was until we dug into some observation.”

This basic lesson in optimization is a fundamental phenomenon in usability as well. We will have reasonable ideas about what the usability issues are, and our reasonable ideas will be wrong. We won’t know what the real issues are until we dig into some observation.

What’s wrong with scratching an itch, or, you are not your user

The open source community is largely driven by scratching itches, but scratching a programmer’s itch is a terrible way to approach user interface design.

The story is told of a program used in an office where a popup window appeared and said, “Type mismatch.” And the secretary obediently typed M-I-S-M-A-T-C-H, a perfectly appropriate user response to an inappropriate error message. (This kind of thing shows up in many more subtle ways, some of which are not so obviously wrong.)

Designing a user interface that makes sense to someone who understands its inner workings, and designing a user interface that makes sense to its intended audience, are not the same thing. A mechanic’s understanding of how a car starts is very elaborate and detailed, but a user should be able to get by thinking, “I turn the key and press the gas, and the car starts” without necessarily thinking anything about what’s under the hood. If users need to understand what’s under the hood to operate the car, the car needs improvement.

Worst practices from the jargon file

The jargon file defines the extremely pejorative “PEBKAC” as:

[Abbrev., “Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair”] Used by support people, particularly at call centers and help desks. Not used with the public. Denotes pilot error as the cause of the crash, especially stupid errors that even a luser could figure out. Very derogatory. Usage: ‘Did you ever figure out why that guy couldn’t print?’ ‘Yeah, he kept cancelling the operation before it could finish. PEBKAC’. See also ID10T. Compare pilot error, UBD.

And the particular example is unfortunately revealing of an attitude user interface people need to avoid like the plague.

It is common enough in computer programs to have modal dialog boxes; the humble JavaScript alert(“Hello, world!”); is one of innumerable ways to get them. And what they mean from an ordinary nontechnical user perspective is, “A box popped up, probably one that you don’t want and may not understand. What is even more annoying is that it is blocking your work; you can’t continue what you are doing until you get rid of it.” And so an entirely appropriate way to deal with these annoyances is get rid of them as quickly as possible.

The example given in the jargon file’s definition of “PEBKAC” is, “‘Did you ever figure out why that guy couldn’t print?’ ‘Yeah, he kept canceling the operation before it could finish. PEBKAC.'” For a long time, at least, attempting to print from a GUI gave something that looked like a modal dialog box, but for this “modal dialog lookalike”, there is one important difference in behavior. When you click on the button to make it go away, it destroys your print job.

This is not a case of a problem existing between the user’s keyboard and chair.

It is a case of a problem existing between the user interface designer’s keyboard and chair. PEBKAC.

To pick on the jargon file a little more, “Drool-proof paper” is defined as:

Documentation that has been obsessively dumbed down, to the point where only a cretin could bear to read it, is said to have succumbed to the “drool-proof paper syndrome” or to have been “written on drool-proof paper”. For example, this is an actual quote from Apple Computer’s LaserWriter manual: “Do not expose your LaserWriter to open fire or flame.”

Let’s ignore the fact that this sounds less like a technical writer trying to be easy to understand, than corporate legal counsel trying to ward off ambulance chasers.

There is a very user-hostile attitude here, the basic idea that if your system is too difficult for your users to understand, the users must be too stupid, and making something user-friendly is a matter of stretching to meet people you shouldn’t have to cater to. Stories and terms like this circulate among programmers. I might suggest that terms like these, for your software’s audience, are little, if any, better than a racial slur. They reflect an attitude we don’t need.

Python and usability

You do not really understand Python until you understand something about usability as it appears in Python. Usability is the soul of ‘Pythonic’.

It’s not all about the computer!

There is something genuinely different about Python, and to explain it I would like to discuss the advantages of C.

If you want to nano-optimize every ounce of performance you can get, there is little serious competition to C. You can write assembler for different platforms, or write in a C++ that is multiparadigm like Python and have some parts of your program use high-level features like objects, templates, and operator overloading, while still writing almost unadulterated C for parts that are performance-critical. And the group of programmers that “vote with their keyboards” for using C this way, includes Guido van Rossum, who created Python. The first and canonical Python implementation is written in C, and a Pythonista underscoring the point that Python’s switch statement is a very efficient dictionary will explain that Python’s dictionary is implemented in tightly optimized C.

But this kind of advantage comes at a price. In the canonical list of ways to shoot yourself in the foot in different programming languages, C is “for people who want to load their own rounds before shooting themselves in the foot.” In one Python forum, a wannabe 133t hax0r asked how to write a buffer overflow in Python, and a wry Pythonista replied apologetically: “We’re sorry, but Python doesn’t support that feature.” But C does support the “feature” of buffer overflows; its default string handling never leaves home without it. With manual memory management and manual handling of pointers, C also supports “features” including all kinds of memory leaks and subtle pointer errors that can be extremely difficult to debug. Python closes this Pandora’s box, although Python is hardly the only language with the wisdom to do so. Python, PHP, Ruby, Perl, Tcl, and Java all close the Pandora’s box that must be wide open if you are to have tightly optimized C.

C has been called a language that combines the power of using assembler with the ease of using assembler, and I know of no compiled language that surpasses C for power over bare metal, or for corresponding possibilities for tight optimization. However, this is not the only way to keep score. Python keeps score by another metric: programmer productivity.

The one overriding concern motivating decisions in Python is not how you can get the tightest control over the computer’s productivity. It’s how to let the programmer be most productive, and it has been said of this relentless pursuit of programmer productivity that capital sentences are passed with less thorough deliberation than obscure Python features. And if you’ve used Python, the difference you have experienced is precisely because of this one overriding concern, this relentless pursuit. The people in charge of Python have decided that Python isn’t about what to do to optimize the computer; it’s about what you do to empower the programmer.

If you’re interested in usability, you have a good working example of usability to look at. To put Python’s strength a little differently, Python is a language where the one overriding concern and relentless pursuit is usability for you, the programmer. If you are working on usability, you are working to give end-users the same kind of thing that Python gives you. You are making a product more Pythonic to use, as opposed to giving the more C-like experience of an interface that lets users load their own rounds before shooting themselves in the foot.

Usability is about how to go from giving C user interfaces, to giving Pythonic user interfaces.

Hayward’s Free Intranet Employee Photo Directory

So, you’ve hired a hacker (revised and expanded)

Usability, the soul of Python: an introduction to the Python programming language

Within the Steel Orb

Un-Man’s Tales: C.S. Lewis’s “Perelandra,” Fairy Tales, and Feminism

CJSHayward.com/unman

Knights and Ladies, Women and Men
Read it on Kindle for $3!

A first clue to something big, tucked into a choice of children’s books

I was once part of a group dedicated to reading children’s stories (primarily fantasy) aloud. At one point the group decided to read Patricia Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons. I had a visceral reaction to the book as something warped, but when I tried to explain it to the group by saying that it was like the Un-man in Perelandra, I was met with severe resistance from two men in the group. Despite this, and after lengthy further discussions, I was able to persuade them that the analogy was at least the best I could manage in a tight time slot.

I was puzzled at some mysterious slippage that had intelligent Christians who appreciated good literature magnetized by works that were, well… warped. And that mysterious slippage seemed to keep cropping up at other times and circumstances.

Why the big deal? I will get to the Un-man’s message in a moment, but for now let me say that little girls are sexist way too romantic. And this being sexist way too romantic motivates girls to want fairy tales, to want some knight in shining armor or some prince to sweep them off their feet. And seeing how this sexist deeply romantic desire cannot easily be ground out of them, feminists have written their own fairy tales, but…

To speak from my own experience, I never realized how straight traditional fairy tales were until I met feminist fairy tales. And by ‘straight’ I am not exactly meaning the opposite of queer (though that is close at hand), but the opposite of twisted and warped, like Do You Want to Date My Avatar? (I never knew how witchcraft could be considered unnatural vice until I read the witches’ apologetic in Terry Pratchett’s incredibly warped The Wee Free Men.) There is something warped in these tales that is not covered by saying that Dealing with Dragons has a heroine who delights only in what is forbidden, rejects marriage for the company of dragons, and ridicules every time its pariahs say something just isn’t done. Seeing as how rooting out from the desire for fairy tales from little girls and little kids in general, authors have presented warped anti-fairy tales.

Ella Enchanted makes it plain: for a girl or woman to be under obedience is an unmixed curse. There is no place for “love, honor, and obey.”

The commercials for Tangled leave some doubt about whether the heroine sings a Snow White-style “Some day my prince will come.”

The Un-man’s own tales

Perelandra has a protagonist who visits Venus or Perelandra, where an unfallen Eve is joined first by him and then by the antagonist, called the Un-man because he moves from prelest or spiritual illusion to calling demons or the Devil into himself and then letting his body be used as a demonic puppet.

How does the Un-man try to tempt this story’s Eve?

[The Lady said:] “I will think more of this. I will get the King to make me older about it.”

[The Un-man answered:] “How greatly I desire to meet this King of yours! But in the matter of Stories he may be no older than you himself.”

“That saying of yours is like a tree with no fruit. The King is always older than I, and about all things.”…

[The Lady said,] “What are [women on earth] like?”

[The Un-man answered,] “They are of great spirit. They always reach out their hands for the new and unexpected good, and see that it is good long before the men understand it. Their minds run ahead of what Maleldil has told them. They do not need to wait for Him to tell them what is good, but know it for themselves as He does…”

…The Lady seemed to be saying very little. [The Un-man]’s voice was speaking gently and continuously. It was not talking about the Fixed Land nor even about Maleldil. It appeared to be telling, with extreme beauty and pathos, a number of stories, and at first Ransom could not perceive any connecting link between them. They wre all about women, but women who had apparently lived at different periods of the world’s history and in quiet differences. From the Lady’s replies it appeared that the stories contained much that she did not understand; but oddly enough the Un-man did not mind. If the questions aroused by any one story proved at all difficult to answer, the speaker simply dropped that story and instantly began another. The heroines of the stories seemed all to have suffered a great deal—they had been oppressed by their fathers, cast off by husbands, deserted by lovers. Their children had risen up against them and society had driven them out. But the stories all ended, in a sense, hapily: sometimes with honours and praises to a heroine still living, more often by tardy acknowledgment and unavailing tears after her death. As the endless speech proceeded, the Lady’s questions grew always fewer…

The expression on [the Lady’s] face, revealed in the sudden light, was one that [Ransom] had not seen there before. Her eyes were not fixed on the narrator; as far as that went, her thoughts might have been a thousand miles away. Her lips were shut and a little pursed. Her eyebrows were slightly raised. He had not yet seen her look so like a woman of our own race; and yet her expression was one he had not very often met on earth—except, as he realized with a shock, on the stage. “Like a tragedy queen” was the disgusting comparison that arose in his mind. Of course it was a gross exaggeration. It was an insult for which he could not forgive himself. And yet… and yet… the tableau revealed by the lightning had photographed itself on his brain. Do what he would, he found it impossible not to think of that new look in her face. A very good tragedy queen, no doubt, very nobly played by an actress who was a good woman in real life…

A moment later [the Un-man] was explaining that men like Ransom in his own world—men of that intensely male and backward-looking type who always shrank away from the new good—had continuously laboured to keep women down to mere childbearing and to ignore the high destiny for which Maleldil had actually created her…

The external and, as it were, dramatic conception of the self was the enemy’s true aim. He was making her mind a theatre in which that phantom self should hold the stage. He had already written the play.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Lady is complementarian to the point where one wonders if the label ‘complementarian’ is sufficient, and the demon or Devil using the Un-man’s body is doing his treacherous worst to convert her to feminism. Hooper says he is trying to make her fall by transgressing one commandment, and that is true, but the entire substance of the attack to make her fall is by seducing her to feminism.

A strange silence in the criticism

Walter Hooper’s C.S. Lewis: Companion and Guide treats this dialogue in detail but without the faintest passing reference to feminism, men and women, sex roles, or anything else in that nexus. It does, however, treat the next and final book in the trilogy, That Hideous Strength, and defend Lewis from “anti-feminism” in a character who was a woman trying to do a dissertation on Milton: Lewis, it is revealed, had originally intended her to be doing a dissertation on biochemistry, but found that he was not in a position to make that part of the story compelling, and so set a character whose interests more closely paralleled his own. So the issue of feminism was on his radar, possibly looming large. But, and this is a common thread with other examples, he exhibits a mysterious slippage. His account gets too many things right to be dismissed on the ground that he doesn’t know how to read such literature, but it also leaves too much out, mysteriously, to conclude that he gave anything like such a scholar’s disinterested best in explaining the text. (It is my own opinion that Hooper in fact does know how to read; he just mysteriously sets this ability aside when Lewis counters feminism.) And this slippage keeps happening in other places and context, always mysterious on the hypothesis that the errors are just errors of disinterested, honest scholarship.

Jerry Root, in his own treatment in C.S. Lewis and a Problem of Evil: An Investigation of a Pervasive Theme, treats subjectivism as spiritual poison and problem of evil Lewis attacks in his different works: Root argues it to be the prime unifying theme in Lewis). But with slight irony, Root seems to turn subjectivistic, or at least disturbing, precisely where his book touches gender roles and egalitarianism. In his comments on The Great Divorce‘s greatest saint-figure, a woman, Susan Smith, is slighted: among other remarks, he quotes someone as saying that women in C.S. Lewis’s stories are “he neglects any intellectual virtue in his female characters,” and this is particularly applied to Sarah Smith. When he defends Lewis, after a fashion, Root volunteers, “a book written in the 1940s will lack some accommodations to the culture of the twenty-fist century.” But this section is among the gooiest logic in Root’s entire text, speaking with a quasi-psychoanalytic Freudian or Jungian outlook of “a kind of fertile mother-image and nature-goddess,” that is without other parallel and certainly does not infect the discussion of Lewis’s parents, who well enough loom large at points, but not in any psychoanalytic fashion. Root’s entire treatment at this point has an “I can’t put my finger on it, but—” resemblance to feminists disarming and neutralizing any claim that the Catholic veneration of the Virgin Mary could in any way, shape, or form contribute to the well-standing of women: one author, pointing out the difficulty of a woman today being both a virgin and a mother, used that as a pretext to entirely dismiss the idea that She could be a model for woman or a token of woman’s good estate, thus throwing out the baby, the bathwater, and indeed the tub. The Mother of God is She who answered, Be it unto me according to thy word, an answer that may be echoed whether or not one is a virgin, a mother, or for that matter a woman.

The critique Root repeats, on reflection, may meet an Orthodox response of “Huh?”, or more devastatingly, “Yes, but what’s your point?”, not because Lewis portrays a saint as “no model of intellectual virtue,” but because Orthodox sainthood is not a matter of intellectual virtue. Among its rich collection of many saints there are very few models of intellectual virtue, admittedly mostly men, and usually having received their formation outside the Orthodox Church: St. John Chrysostom was called “Chrysostom” or “Golden-Mouth” because of his formation and mastery of pagan rhetoric. But intellectual virtue as a whole is not a central force in the saints, and Bertrand Russell’s observation that in the Gospels not one word is put in praise of intelligence might be accepted, not as a weakness of the Gospel, but as a clarification of what is and is not central to Christian faith. And in terms of what is truly important, we would do well to recall the story of St. Zosima and St. Mary of Egypt. If Lewis’s image of sainthood is a woman who is not an academic, this is not an embarrassment to explain away, but a finger on the pulse of what does and does not matter for sainthood.

Root mentions the Un-man briefly, and gives heavy attention to the man who would become the Un-man as he appears in the prior book in the trilogy, but does not reference or suggest a connection between the Un-man and feminism. Root became an egalitarian, and shifts in his book from speaking of “men” to saying “humankind”. And this is far from one scholar’s idiosyncracy; a look at the World Evangelical Alliance’s online bookstore as I was involved with it showed this mysterious slippage not as something you find a little here, a little there, but as endemic and without any effective opposition.

Un-man’s tales for Grown-Ups

During my time as webmaster to the World Evangelical Alliance, the one truly depressing part of my work was getting the bookstore online. Something like eighty to ninety percent of the work was titles like Women as Risk-Takers for God which were Un-man’s tales for adults. I was depressed that the World Evangelical Alliance didn’t seem to have anything else to say on its bookshelves: not only was there a dearth of complementarian “opposing views” works like Man and Woman in Christ, but there was a dearth of anything besides Un-man’s tales. The same mysterious phenomenon was not limited to a ragtag group of friends, or individual scholars; it was dominant at the highest level in one of the most important parachurch organizations around, and not one that, like Christians for Biblical Equality, had a charter of egalitarian or feminist concerns and priorities.

Conclusion

G.K. Chesterton said, “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” That might hold for Chesterton’s day, and classics like Grimm and MacDonald today, but today’s fairy tales, or rather Un-man’s tales, do not tell children the dragons can be killed. Children already know that deep down inside. They tell children dragons can be befriended and that dragons may make excellent company. For another title of the myriad represented by Dealing with Dragons, look at the tale of cross-cultural friendship one may look for in The Dragon and the George. When first published, Dealing with Dragons might have been provocative. Now Tangled is not. And reading Perelandra leaves one with an uncomfortable sense that C.S. Lewis apparently plagiarized, in the Un-man’s tales, works written decades after his death.

This issue is substantial, and Lewis’s sensitivity to it is almost prophetic: sensibilities may have changed, but only in the direction of our needing to hear the warning more. And it is one Christians seem to be blind to: complementarianism seems less wrong than petty, making a mountain out of a molehill. But the core issue is already a mountain, not a molehill.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Aim for something better than Un-man’s Tales.

Barbara’s tale: the fairy prince

A Dream of Light

The Sign of the Grail

Veni, vidi, vomi: a look at “Do you want to date my avatar?”