Branding is the New Root of All Evil

Cover for The Luddite's Guide to Technology

Sometimes letting go can be hard.

She spoke as if she were being paid by the word, the cognitive tax was profound, and I couldn’t pay attention to the road.

So I stopped the car in the middle of the street, put it in park, and turned fully to face my mother.

“I can do one of two things. Either I can attend to you, or I can drive this car, but I cannot do both. Which one of these things would you rather have me do?”

That shut off the incessant backseat driving.

My reason for talking about my parents, though, is not mainly to give a striking memory, but to talk about something I am grateful to them for. From a very young age, my parents tried to free me from advertising’s allure and the sacramental shopping of buying into brands. This did not, at least immediately, stop me from telling my parents I needed to have shoes or whatnot for which I had seen a really well-done ad, but it did take root, enough so that I was unpleasantly surprised when reading in a high school science class how in recording duplicable detail for a science experiment, the brand and model of all scientific equipment should be recorded among other details to try to give a scientific reader the ability to reproduce the experiment.

This may have been an overshot, and I don’t think my parents would have failed to see a legitimate exception if they had been posed the question, but my parents gave me a head start on something I would carry for life.

Where did branding come from, anyway?

Before there was really a brand economy, at least some cattle owners would brand animals with a hot branding iron to make a mark that would make it clear whose property a given bovine was. However, this is not at least in its form what we know as branding. There is an unsexy practice today that carries on branding cattle: in the business world, it is seen as due diligence to attach a label to equipment saying “Property of ABC Corporation,” and maybe add a serial number, and maybe add that there is a permanent, indelible mark under the sticker that police could trace. And perhaps corporate legal counsel would see this designation of property to be desirable as a matter of course, but this “brand” is not branding in the sense of today’s advertisements; the brand (in today’s sense) would be Apple, HP, or whoever else made a corporate asset. Perhaps no one really needs to put an equipment tag so it covers the manufacturer’s logo and says “I’m hiding who made this, to better claim it as OUR company’s property now.” And perhaps no marketer’s counsel was sought in the design of these branding asset tags; their job is to keep and maintain the company’s brand, or a product’s or the line of product, consistently presented and sold to the general public. Marketers do not normally need to make corporate property asset tags tell their company’s brand story so customers can better relate, any more than they normally feel the need to make markerboard markers or pads of paper tell their company’s brand story.

And what is wrong with branding, anyway?

I once told an economist that he didn’t understand money.

I was not much older than 20 at the time, so right time to be brash and arrogant, but I maintain my position.

What I stated then was that economics was a well-developed answer to the wrong question. The wrong question it addresses is, “How can a culture be manipulated so as to maximize economic endeavors?” when the question it should be asking is, “How can an economy best support a beneficial culture?” He answered, “We take people’s desires for granted.”

That response was a party line, was almost certainly entirely sincere, and was almost certainly entirely wrong. Somewhere in there I adapted a famous question: “Was economic wealth created for man, or man for economic wealth?”

The entire enterprise of marketing and a brand economy tacitly acknowledges that people’s natural greed will not stimulate enough purchases to meet the economy’s needs. Advertising isn’t reining in the horse of love of money and things. It isn’t even laying the reins on the horse’s neck. It’s kicking the horse in the side with your spurs as hard as you can kick.

I remember a later conversation where a professor echoed back what he heard me saying, and said, “So you’re an anti-capitalist?” and I winced. Usual objections to capitalism are Marxist in character and critique capitalism from the left. There is also a conservative vein of anti-capitalism, the perspective that motivated Dorothy Sayers to write “The Other Six Deadly Sins,” in which Sayers complains, “A man may be greedy and selfish; spiteful, cruel, jealous, and unjust; violent and brutal; grasping, unscrupulous, and a liar; stubborn and arrogant; stupid, morose, and dead to every noble instinct—and still we are ready to say of him that he is not an immoral man.” I quote at length what she wrote in the context of a rationed World War II England, because copies of titles with the essay are rare on Amazon:

Let us seize this breathing space [about gluttony in its crassest form], while we are out of temptation, to look at one very remarkable aspect of the sin of [gluttony]. We have all become aware lately of something very disquieting about what we call our economic system. An odd change has come over us since the arrival of the machine age. Whereas formerly it was considered a virtue to be thrifty and content with one’s lot, it is now considered to be the mark of a progressive nation that it is filled with hustling, go-getting citizens, intent on raising their standard of living. And this is not interpreted to mean merely that a decent sufficiency of food, clothes, and shelter is attainable by all citizens. It means much more and much less than this. It means that every citizen is encouraged to consider more, and more complicated, luxuries necessary to his well-being. The gluttonous consumption of manufactured goods had become, before [World War II], the prime civic virtue. And why? Because machines can produce cheaply only if they produce in vast quantities; because unless the machines can produce cheaply nobody can afford to keep them running; and because, unless they are kept running, millions of citizens will be thrown out of employment, and the community will starve.

We need not stop now to go round and round the vicious circle of production and consumption. We need not remind ourselves of the furious barrage of advertisements by which people are flattered and frightened out of a reasonable contentment into a greedy hankering after goods that they do not really need; nor point out for the thousandth time how every evil passion—snobbery, laziness, vanity, concupiscence, ignorance, greed—is appealed to in these campaigns. Nor how unassuming communities (described as backward countries) have these desires ruthlessly forced on them by their neighbors to find an outlet for goods whose market is saturated. And we must not take up too much time in pointing out how, as the necessity to sell goods in quantity becomes more desperate, the people’s appreciation of quality is violently discouraged and oppressed. You must not buy goods that will last too long, for production cannot be kept going unless the goods wear out, or fall out of fashion, and so can be thrown away and replaced with others.

If a man invents anything that would give lasting satisfaction, his invention must be bought up by the manufacturer so it may never see the light of day. Nor must the worker be encouraged to take too much interest in the thing he makes; if he did, he might desire to make as well as it can be made, and that would not pay. It is better that he should work in a soulless indifference, even though such treatment should break his spirit and cause him to hate his work. The difference between the factory hand is that the craftsman lives to do the work he loves; but the factory hand lives by doing the work he despises. We know about all this and must not discuss it now, but I will ask you to remember it.

The point I want to make now is this: that whether or not it is desirable to keep up this fearful whirligig of industrial finance based on gluttonous consumption, it could not be kept up for a single moment without the cooperating gluttony of the consumer. Legislation, the control of wages and profits, the balancing of exports and imports, elaborate schemes for the distribution of surplus commodities, the state ownership of enterprise, complicated systems of social credit, and finally wars and revolutions are all invoked in the hope of breaking down the thing known as the present economic system. Now it may well be that its breakdown would be a terrific disaster and produce a worse chaos than that which went before—we need not argue about it. The point is that, without any legislation whatsoever, the whole system would come crashing down if every consumer were voluntarily to restrict purchases to the things really needed. “The fact is,” said a workingman the other day at a meeting, “that when we fall for these advertisements we’re being had for mugs.” So we are. The sin of gluttony, of greed, of overmuch stuffing ourselves, is the sin that has delivered us into the power of the machine.

In the evil days between [World War I and World War II], we were confronted with some ugly contrasts between plenty and poverty. Those contrasts should be, and must be, reduced. But let us say frankly that they are not likely to be reduced so long as the poor admire the rich for the indulgence in precisely that gluttonous way of living that rivets on the world the chain of the present economic system, and do their best to imitate rich men’s worst vices. To do that is to play in the hands of those whose interest is to keep the system going. You will notice, that under a war economy, the contrast is being flattened out; we are being forced to reduce and regulate our personal consumption of commodities and revise our whole notion of what constitutes good citizenship in the financial sense. This is the judgment of this world; when we will not amend ourselves by grace, we are compelled under the yoke of law. You will notice also that we are learning certain things. There seems, for example, to be no noticeable diminution in our health and spirits due to the fact that we have only the choice of say, half a dozen dishes in a restaurant instead of forty.

In the matter of clothing, we are beginning to regain our respect for stuffs that will wear well; we can no longer be led away by the specious argument that it is smarter and more hygienic to wear underlinen and stockings once and then throw them away than to buy things that will serve us for years. We are having to learn, painfully, to save food and material and salvage waste products; and in learning do to these things we have found a curious and stimulating sense of adventure. For it is the great curse of gluttony that it ends by destroying all sense of the precious, the unique, the irreplacable.

But what will happen to us when the war machine to consume our surplus products for us? Shall we hold fast to our rediscovered sense of real values and our adventurous attitude of life? If so, we shall revolutionize world economy without any political revolution. Or shall we again allow our gluttony to become the instrument of an economic system that is satisfactory to nobody? That system as we know it thrives on waste and rubbish heaps. At present the waste (that is, sheer gluttonous consumption) is being done for us in the field of war. In peace, if we do not revise our ideas, we shall ourselves become its instruments. The rubbish heap will again be piled on our doorsteps, on our own backs, in our own bellies. Instead of the wasteful consumption of trucks and tanks, metal and explosives, we shall have back the wasteful consumption of wireless sets and silk stockings, drugs and paper, cheap pottery and cosmetics—all of the slop and swill that will pour down the sewers over which the palace of gluttony is built…

It was left for the present age to endow covetousness with glamor on a big scale and give it a title that it could carry like a flag. It occurred to somebody to call it enterprise. From the moment of that happy inspiration, covetousness has gone forward and never looked back. It has become a swaggering, swash-buckling, piratical sin, going about with its had cocked over its eye, and pistols tucked into the tops of its jackboots. Its war cries are “Business Efficiency!” “Free Competition!” “Get Our or Get Under!” and “There’s Always Room at the Top! It no longer works and saves; it launches out into new enterprises; it gambles and speculates; it thinks in a big way; it takes risks. It can no longer be troubled to deal in real wealth and so remain attached to work and the soil. It has set money free from all hampering ties; it has interests in every continent; it is impossible to pin it down to any one place or any concrete commodity—it is an adventure, a roving, rollicking free lance. It looks so jolly and jovial and has such a twinkle in its cunning eye that nobody can believe that its heart is as cold and calculating as ever.

Sayers’s critique, in this passage, has aged extremely well. The chief differences I would note today are:

  1. The factories are not first world factories in front of us but third world sweatshops whose workers could only drool over the conditions of first world factories, and:
  2. Everything in The Damned Backswing is true and we are being stripped of even moderate consumption as the damned backswing plays out past decades’ gluttonous consumption that continues today.
  3. So far as I can discern, Sayers does not open or foresee the Pandora’s box of branding.

This is, I would underscore, a conservative critique of capitalism. It touches on Marxist critique, or Marxism rather touches on this line of critique, when contrasting the craftsman and the factory hand; but even a stopped clock is right twice a day, including Marxism.

It is an essentially conservative outlook in Robert Grootazaard’s Aid for the Overdeveloped West, which makes at least one point I hadn’t thought of but almost instantly agreed with once I saw it. As a Christian economist, he studied the Mosaic Law and saw a blueprint for paradise, including both gleaning for the poor and an environment where it was very “difficult to get rich.” And his work can be taken as a brief, for a book, commentary on the premise that economic wealth is made for mankind and not mankind for economic wealth.

St. Paul wrote, “Love of money is the root of all evil,” (I Tim 6:10, KJV), and he did not do so in the context of our ecosystem of brands. He took up the task of taming the horse and reining it in; perhaps he has almost never been completely obeyed, but most of the Bible’s advice for a good life has almost never been completely obeyed. The verse has been softened in some translations to say, “Love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,” (NIV), but no other sin receives the same indictment from St. Paul, and it is characteristic of the theology of the east that avarice or the love of money is not only named among the eight demons that would become the West’s seven deadly sins, but it is one of the top three “gateway sins” that opens the door to all others.

One lunch with Bruce Winter, the head of Tyndale House, commented on what advertising now sees as a sort of dark age before advertising would essentially get its act together. Before that, an ad advertising (for instance) fur coats, would show a fur coat, maybe with someone in it or maybe not, and the word “SALE” once or maybe repeated several times. (It strikes me as a stroke of brilliant wit that one nearby antiques dealer has, out front, a letter sign with the words “ANTIQUES! ANTIQUES! ANTIQUES!” That kind of nostalgic advertising might work for nothing else, it is perfect for communicating antique goods that in some cases would fit how some antiques were originally advertised.) Bruce mentioned the older school, and said that it comes from before advertisers understood what motivates people. Now, he commented, car ads sell on the premise that they are “mysterious, sensual, and intimate:” as I would later observe, one glitzy car ad ended with a woman’s low voice saying, “When you turn your car on… does it return the favor?” Bruce Winter was, I might underscore, not someone who would raise an objection to having something be “mysterious, sensual, and intimate” as such, and he spoke of it with awe. He was merely suggesting that we seek something “mysterious, sensual, and intimate” in the setting where we can enjoy it best.

(Australia is a bit of a special case as far as advertising goes. Advertising is legal as such, but advertisers have to sell their wares on the grounds of what their product actually provides; presenting that a product as making you magically irresistible to the opposite sex is off the agenda.)

One of many features of a favor that favors consumption has to do with fashion. In the Middle Ages, clothing styles subtly changed, perhaps once in a generation. It is not clear to me how long a garment would last, but clothing was not casually discarded. Today, fashion provides a social mechanism for frequent purchase of clothing, and the one truly good piece of advice I found in Tiptionary was to go for classic clothing rather than what is currently in vogue. Clothing is not built to last, and even if it would last, we have a social mandate that keeps selling us (mostly sweatshop) clothes. (One way to reduce one’s patronage of sweatshops is to keep clothing until it becomes genuinely unserviceable.)

Another change in habits has to do with why an appliance repair shop in my hometown closed down, having lost their lease. When an appliance breaks down, most people don’t want a fix that will restore the status quo. Most people prefer to find an occasion to upgrade. For another example, a senior I know has cookware made in the 1940’s or 1950’s. His cookware has plenty of use remaining before it will eventually decay. Its expected life, over a half century after when it was first made, is longer than brand new cookware because new cookware is specifically not built to last. Planned obsolescence is another form of life that keeps factory wheels turning. It’s not enough to have a darling brand in cars, phones, etc.; people feel an almost entirely unnecessary need to have the latest model.

Sacramental shopping

I have been aware in my own life of a practice that I call “sacramental shopping.” Another term is “retail therapy,” and perhaps today the lexicon includes “Amazon therapy.” It is shopping that functions as an ersatz sacrament, and it may the chief sacrament in the ersatz religion of brand economy.

I might comment briefly, in a book that I’ve persisted in trying to track down, an analysis which says that brands do the work of spiritual disciplines for many today. The author commented that in one class he asked college students, “Imagine your future successful self. With which brands do you imagine yourself associating?” Not only could all of the students answer the question and furnish a list of brands, but he didn’t see any puzzled looks, a signal that would have blipped loud and clear on his radar as a teacher.

I believe that an example from my own life could be instructive.

When I was getting ready to study theology, in 2002 I purchased a computer that would see me through my studies up through 2007. It was an IBM ThinkPad, a brand and line that were respected and for good reason, and I purchased a computer with ample screen real estate, a 1GhZ processor that was probably overkill for my needs, and maxed-out 1G RAM. And after I did my research and set my heart on a particular purchase, and my conscience held me back. I ran from my conscience and then faced up to it, a conscience saying, “No.” And I let go of buying it altogether, and as soon as that my conscience gave me an instantaneous green light.

There were a couple of issues going on here. One of them was the purchase of a practical computer all but necessary for my studies. But the other part was that I was drooling over a major purchase in sacramental shopping, and the way things unfolded was an unfolding grace that let me buy a practical and useful computer but not making a purchase of sacramental shopping.

Now some of you may be wondering why I named and endorsed a brand of computer; my response is that I was not acting on a mystique, but on rational analysis of a brand’s track record. Though a Ford was not my first choice, I drive a Ford now, as a brand that creates physically sturdy vehicles that hold up well in a collision. One accident, in which I was hit from behind when I stopped, left me hitting the Honda Accord in front of me, and… um… I saw very directly why people refer to a Honda Accord as a “Honda Accordion.” The Accordion suffered severe damage in its trunk. I suffered a bent front license plate. When I went computer shopping, I wanted a good computer that would last, and several years after purchasing it I gave it to my brother in working order. The specs were carefully chosen, and the five or so years I used it vindicated my purchase.

Nonetheless, I believe that moment was permitted me so I could acquire the computer without it being an act of sacramental shopping, which is something quite significant. It has been my experience that when my conscience says, “Let it go, all the way,” sometimes I am freed from XYZ forever, and sometimes the instant I fully let go is the instant I get an unexpected green light. After years of struggle about posting from my story at Fordham, at all, ever, I let go… and my conscience gave me a surprisingly sudden green light, the only condition being that I not name individual figures. So I posted Orthodox at Fordham.

It is a great gift to be able to stop drooling before you buy something, or maybe instead of buying something. It is a price of inner spiritual freedom—and a doorway to contentment, for it is the characteristic of items purchased in sacramental shopping to lose their allure surprisingly quickly.

Advertising promotes a spirit of perennial discontent and a failure to be able to enjoy the things one already has. By rejecting sacramental shopping, perhaps, I was able to enjoy the ongoing use of that one laptop for several years.

Do I have a personal brand? Should I?

I don’t think we should buy into personal brands, no matter how many people exhort us to do.

The front matter to Seven Habits of Highly Effective People notes a fall that had occurred, from a character ethic to a personality ethic with characteristic exhortations to believe in yourself. Now we have had a second fall, from genuine (if shallow) personality with glimpses of character, to recommended best practices being to post stuff to Twitter that’s about 70% professional and 30% personal, giving a persona and an illusion of personality but not giving people even your real personality when the rubber hits the sky.

I do not speak highly of personal branding, but I would like first to field an objection that may occur to some of my readers: do I, great critic of brands as I am, am unusually gifted, an Orthodox author who writes in the fashion of some of the great English-language apologists, see things from a different angle, and so on; and, also, I have a distinctive look to my favorites among the books I have written. It would make sense to say, “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, isn’t it a personal brand?”

My response, beyond saying that the objection is entirely understandable, is to talk about what some figures have called a “canon within the Canon.” Now this is a perspective that isn’t particularly Orthodox and I usually only invoke it with good reason, but there is a tendency for authors in theology to disproportionately quote certain areas in the canon. I imagine if you were to tally Scriptural references in my own writing, you would find heavy reference to the Sermon on the Mount, and the Pauline letters. Now I have no reticence about a debt to the Sermon on the Mount. However, one professor talked about St. Paul as “the Apostle to the heretics,” because heretics of many stripes pay disproportionate attention to the letters of St. Paul. So, while I might say “I hope to live up to it” if I am asked how I relate to the Sermon on the Mount, I am more inclined to regard my primary heavy citations of St. Paul as a liability, a holdover from when I was Protestant, and a way I have failed to live up to the Bible’s grandeur.

So, if you are to ask, “Do you have a canon within the Canon?” I would answer, “Yes, and I’m not proud of it.”

However, this is an “after the fact” canon within the Canon. I never set out to focus on the Sermon on the Mount and the letters of St. Paul, they were what came to mind when I was recalling from a lifetime of reading Scripture. I never decided to privilege the letters of St. Paul; I just gravitated a certain and imperfect way.

Some considerable distortion, and perhaps a practice that does little to warm Orthodox hearts to the whole concept of canon within the Canon, is in academic theologians who make step one of an article being to identify the canon within the Canon. Honestly, no. That doesn’t cut it. An author’s “after the fact” canon within the Canon may be to some extent unavoidable, but the idea that you start by taking a scissors to the Bible goes beyond putting the cart before the horse. It is trying to unload the cart at its destination before packing it at its source.

I may well enough have an “after the fact” personal brand. (Also, my brief popping in and out of social media when I have something to announce is not intended as the message I want my brand to portray; it is because I feel a need to sharply reduce and limit my time in these unsavory neighborhoods.) And as branding is identified and explained, your brand is the one thing that is essentially you. Besides the points mentioned above about what may be my personal brand, I have had a profound interest in social and religious aspects of technology, and it may well be that my lasting contribution to the conversation will be The Luddite’s Guide to Technology and not my general-purpose collection of theological favorites in The Best of Jonathan’s Corner. Social implications of theology are a central and guiding emphasis, but not in any way that engenders an exclusive fidelity. I hardly see The Angelic Letters or the even more exalted Doxology as peripheral to my “after the fact” marketing proposition, even if I do not recall either saying much about technology and even if my autobiography is titled Orthodox Theology and Technology.

However, out of all this there have been few things intended to address concerns of branding. My website has a distinctive and beautiful appearance and background image; and that visual identity flows onto book covers. And in a case of “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you,” from (appropriately enough) that Sermon, I have been told that my work is largely known and often endorsed among conservative converts to Orthodoxy, and I’ve even been told that my name has trilettered on Facebook to CSH (meaning C.S. Hayward) which caught me off guard. And I would briefly like to address one question some people have: why am I happy to have fame among conservative converts to Orthodoxy? Why not write for all Orthodox? My answer, I believe, lies in communication style. Any Orthodox Christian, along with other intersested parties, is welcome to read my writing. However, the way I write is shaped by English language apologists, as is probably a shared experience with many more converts than people who grew up in the Church, and writing style may be a barrier. There have been some times I have tried to write with a more patristic style, such as The Arena, Apprentice gods, and Technonomicon, but it is a liability and a limitation to my stature as an Orthodox writer that people raised in the Orthodox Church might not as easily connect with my writing.

And in any case, I have not made a marketing decision to specifically target conservative converts to Orthodoxy. I have instead attempted to write works of wonder and beauty such as I am able to and have not found already written. I judge my readership to be a case of “Man proposes, God disposes.” And I regard the fact that I have an audience at all is to me astounding. I have prayed for God to guide, help, and support me as I write. I have never prayed to be a household name among certain people.

The human cost of a brand economy: a decoy answer

Vincent J. Miller, in Consuming Religion (a Marxist text which I checked out because I confused it with Tom Beaudouin, Consuming Faith, which I read at Fordham), writes in his introduction, in reference to voluntary simplicity:

[Marketers] want to know where the nerves are so they can position their products to hit them. A stroll through the supermarket illustrates this marketing strategy. Foodstuffs and personal care products are packaged as plain, simple, and honest. The color schemes of labels as well as the products themselves are muted. Beige, lavender, and pale green provide the palette for iced tea and shampoo, risotto mixes, and aroma therapy candles. At the checking, we encounter this color scheme again, this time on the cover of a magazine that includes articles on getting organized, simplifying family life, and making Campari-grapefruit compote. It is full of glossy photo spreads of food, interiors, and clothing. A soft, minimalist aesthetic dominates these images—a hybrid of Martha Stewart and Zen Buddhism. The target audience of this magazine is professional women with incomes above $65,000 a year. Its title? Real Simple. Examples could be multiplied.

Before the point where I dropped reading the title, it also talked about how marketers made a real extravaganza of the 150th anniversary of the printing of the Communist Manifesto.

I mention this as an example of a distraction I would like to clear out. I had people say I wasn’t sure what I was doing at a jobhunter’s group where I balked at creating a personal brand to serve my jobhunt. However, I do not want to gaze endlessly down this chasm.

Albert Einstein is popularly quoted (or misquoted—for the moment I only care about the words) as saying, “The problems we face cannot be solved by the kind of thinking that created them.” And here I would say, while I honestly do not know and honestly do not care whether I am representing Einstein, that level of analysis and critique is valid up to a point but we need to move beyond them if we are to reach higher ground.

An inflection point towards the real answer

The Orthodox Church in America saints page has, for Great and Holy Thursday, words from Fr. Alexander Schmemann about a love that is pure, and also about a love that is destructive:

Two events shape the liturgy of Great and Holy Thursday: the Last Supper of Christ with His disciples, and the betrayal of Judas. The meaning of both is in love. The Last Supper is the ultimate revelation of God’s redeeming love for man, of love as the very essence of salvation. And the betrayal of Judas reveals that sin, death and self-destruction are also due to love, but to deviated and distorted love, love directed at that which does not deserve love. Here is the mystery of this unique day, and its liturgy, where light and darkness, joy and sorrow are so strangely mixed, challenges us with the choice on which depends the eternal destiny of each one of us. “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come… having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end…” (John 13:1). To understand the meaning of the Last Supper we must see it as the very end of the great movement of Divine Love which began with the creation of the world and is now to be consummated in the death and resurrection of Christ.

God is Love (1 John 4:8). And the first gift of Love was life. The meaning, the content of life was communion. To be alive man was to eat and to drink, to partake of the world. The world was thus Divine love made food, made Body of man. And being alive, i.e. partaking of the world, man was to be in communion with God, to have God as the meaning, the content and the end of his life. Communion with the God-given world was indeed communion with God. Man received his food from God and making it his body and his life, he offered the whole world to God, transformed it into life in God and with God. The love of God gave life to man, the love of man for God transformed this life into communion with God. This was paradise. Life in it was, indeed, eucharistic. Through man and his love for God the whole creation was to be sanctified and transformed into one all-embracing sacrament of Divine Presence and man was the priest of this sacrament.

But in sin man lost this eucharistic life. He lost it because he ceased to see the world as a means of Communion with God and his life as eucharist, as adoration and thanksgiving. . . He loves himself and the world for their own sake; he made himself the content and the end of his life. He thought that his hunger and thirst, i.e. his dependence of his life on the world—can be satisfied by the world as such, by food as such. But world and food, once they are deprived of their initial sacramental meaning—as means of communion with God, once they are not received for God’s sake and filled with hunger and thirst for God, once, in other words, God is no longer their real “content,” can give no life, satisfy no hunger, for they have no life in themselves… And thus by putting his love in them, man deviated his love from the only object of all love, of all hunger, of all desires. And he died. For death is the inescapable “decomposition” of life cut from its only source and content. Man thought to find life in the world and in food, but he found death. His life became communion with death, for instead of transforming the world by faith, love, and adoration into communion with God, he submitted himself entirely to the world, he ceased to be its priest and became its slave. And by his sin the whole world was made a cemetery, where people condemned to death partook of death and “sat in the region and shadow of death” (Matt. 4:16).

But if man betrayed, God remained faithful to man. He did not “turn Himself away forever from His creature whom He had made, neither did He forget the works of His hands, but He visited him in diverse manners, through the tender compassion of His mercy” (Liturgy of Saint Basil). A new Divine work began, that of redemption and salvation. And it was fulfilled in Christ, the Son of God Who in order to restore man to his pristine beauty and to restore life as communion with God, became Man, took upon Himself our nature, with its thirst and hunger, with its desire for and love of, life. And in Him life was revealed, given, accepted and fulfilled as total and perfect Eucharist, as total and perfect communion with God. He rejected the basic human temptation: to live “by bread alone”; He revealed that God and His kingdom are the real food, the real life of man. And this perfect eucharistic Life, filled with God, and, therefore Divine and immortal, He gave to all those who would believe in Him, i,e. find in Him the meaning and the content of their lives. Such is the wonderful meaning of the Last Supper. He offered Himself as the true food of man, because the Life revealed in Him is the true Life. And thus the movement of Divine Love which began in paradise with a Divine “take, eat. ..” (for eating is life for man) comes now “unto the end” with the Divine “take, eat, this is My Body…” (for God is life of man). The Last Supper is the restoration of the paradise of bliss, of life as Eucharist and Communion.

But this hour of ultimate love is also that of the ultimate betrayal. Judas leaves the light of the Upper Room and goes into darkness. “And it was night” (John 13:30). Why does he leave? Because he loves, answers the Gospel, and his fateful love is stressed again and again in the hymns of Holy Thursday. It does not matter indeed, that he loves the “silver.” Money stands here for all the deviated and distorted love which leads man into betraying God. It is, indeed, love stolen from God and Judas, therefore, is the Thief. When he does not love God and in God, man still loves and desires, for he was created to love and love is his nature, but it is then a dark and self-destroying passion and death is at its end. And each year, as we immerse ourselves into the unfathomable light and depth of Holy Thursday, the same decisive question is addressed to each one of us: do I respond to Christ’s love and accept it as my life, do I follow Judas into the darkness of his night?

The human cost of a brand economy is that it draws us into the love of Judas Iscariot.

Fr. Alexander, in this passage, is extremely clear that Judas is not dead to love: he loves what should not be loved, and he loves in the wrong way. He loves “silver:” one could just as well say “even worse, brands.” And the love we love when we covet brands—and it is love—is love of what is unworthy and the same destructive love by which Judas renounced his Lord to obtain a pittance of silver, the price of a slave and nothing more.

We can do one of two things. We can love God and our neighbor, or we can attend to brands, but we cannot do both.

Conclusion

This takes us to the doorstep of all things great and wonderful, and all things beautiful and small, the Tradition has to offer. It takes us to St. Paul’s hymn to charity and St. John’s first epistle on loving one another, to the Philokalia and the Divine Liturgy, to morning and evening prayers and The Way of the Pilgrim. The right thing to do is to simply step beyond brands and enter one of these doors of love, and love God, including loving God in our neighbor.

(t)ollhouses and (T)ollhouses: There’s a Difference!

Cover for The Seraphinians: "Blessed Seraphim Rose" and His Axe-Wielding Western Converts

Just as a man blind from birth does not see the sun’s light, so one who fails to pursue watchfulness does not see the rich radiance of divine grace. He cannot free himself from evil thoughts, words and actions, and because of these thoughts and actions he will not be able freely to pass the lords of hell when he dies.

St. Hesychasios the Priest, “On Watchfulness and Holiness, in The Philokalia

Saint Theodora lived at Constantinople during the first half of the tenth century. She had been married, but was widowed early on and led a pious life, caring for the destitute and hopeless. Later, she became a nun and lived under the guidance of Saint Basil the New (March 26), living the monastic life in a solitary cell in her own home.

Saint Theodora died in great old age in the year 940. Gregory, a disciple of Saint Basil the New, asked his teacher to reveal to him the fate of the deceased nun. “Do you want this very much?” asked Saint Basil. “Yes, I do,” Gregory replied.

“You shall see her today, if you ask with faith, and if you believe that your request will be granted.”

—The beginning of the life of Venerable Theodora of Constantinople, which tells in detail of trials beyond the grave.

There is some slight controversy surrounding Fr. Cherubim the Half-Converted’s teaching on the phantom tollbooth. His position, as carried forth by others, is that practically every major element of The Phantom Tollbooth is already in the Fathers and is attested in quite ancient liturgy. Consequently, many argue, the book The Phantom Tollbooth is no mere imaginative children’s tale, but an entirely literal factual account describing life beyond the mundane.

Devotees of Fr. Cherubim (Jones) the Half-Converted Demand His Immediate Canonization and Full Recognition as “Equal to the Heirophants”

When I was a catechumen, one thing the priest who received me into confession hammered on was that “There never was a golden age.” He presumably admires the saints of the great Christological councils but the point he made was that the Ecumenical Councils were a supreme medicine because the problems were so bad.

I do not recall him ever mentioning 19th century Russia in “There never was a golden age,” but he was presumably trying to prepare me for the nostalgia a convert into Russian Orthodoxy would encounter for 19th century Russia; I have said that my own jurisdiction may be the most nostalgic for 19th century Russia, although at least one OCA member lightheartedly suggested the OCA might have that title.

A somewhat different perspective was taken up, in a piece of correspondence I have long since lost contact with, saying that 19th century Russia was the worst century in Orthodox history, a sort of Gnostic wonderland with something to offer every idle curiosity. And while I have read truly edifying stories from 19th century Russia in a Cathedral bulletin, I’ve also read things that are more… X-Files in their toxicity.

It is reported that Church Fathers and ancient liturgy attest to the existence of tollhouses, but the average devotee of Fr. Seraphim of Plantina I have met knows more details about Tollhouses than all the ancient sources I have read put together, and it has been asserted to me that the obligation to bring all of your sins to confession is true to the point that it entails a binding obligation to successfully remember all of your sins, specifically meaning that if you confess every sin you ever remember in confession, but you forget one sin, the demons can stop you at the Tollhouses and you can go to Hell.

I think that, with such considerations, it might be valid to distinguish between tollhouses and Tollhouses. The former teaching, of ancient attestation, is such that the demons will grab you by any sin they can, and there is a need for repentance that includes straightforward, honest, and perhaps even soul-searching confession; hiding sins in confession makes your fault all the more serious. But it seems unbalanced, at least, to say that you can try with your whole heart to meet the needs of confession because there was one sin that you forgot to confess despite your best efforts.

Tollhouses may be a feature of 19th century Russian spirituality, but the full version with all the bells and whistles goes considerably further than do the tollhouses in the Philokalia for instance. I do not recall reading in any source not downwind of Saint Theodora’s story. Furthermore, I would suggest that legitimate interpretation recognizes tollhouses as one image among others, like Kalamiros’s “River of Fire” in which God pours out his Light on all, but the fires of Hell are nothing other than the Light of Heaven as experienced through the rejection of Christ, the only route through which the Light of Heaven appears with such joy. Legitimate belief in tollhouses should naturally coexist with saying that various Roman era martyrs who were martyred before they had any opportunity to give confession and be baptized are said to be “baptized in their own blood,” a term that applies to martyrs who were burned or otherwise killed through something other than blood loss, and should naturally coexist with the woman who was sanctified and later canonized after a single hour of repentance during which she had no access to a human priest and it is not stated that she confessed her sins to an angel or the like. Demons will try to stop us by any means they can, but the teaching of tollhouses is not a polestar among doctrines, much less a full cast-iron and legalistic insistence on Tollhouses.

St. Dionysius wrote, in the rising crescendo that would conclude The Mystical Theology:

In The Divine Names I have shown the sense in which God is described as good, existent, life, wisdom, power, and whatever other things pertain to the conceptual names for God. In my Symbolic Theology I have discussed analogies of God drawn from what we perceive. I have spoken of the images we have of him, of the forms, figures, and instruments proper to him, of the places in which he lives and the ornaments which he wears. I have spoken of his anger, grief, and rage, of how he is said to be drunk and hungover, of his oaths and curses, of his sleeping and waking, and indeed of all those images we have of him, images shaped by the workings of the representations of God. And I feel sure that you have noticed how these latter come much more abundantly than what went before, since The Theological Representations and a discussion of the names appropriate to God are inevitably briefer than what can be said in The Symbolic Theology. The fact is that the more we take flight upward, the more find ourselves not simply running short of words but actually speechless and unknowing. In the earlier books my argument this downward path from the most exalted to the humblest categories, taking in on this downward path an ever-increasing number of ideas which multiplied what is below up to the transcendent, and the more it climbs, the more language falters, and when it has passed up and beyond the ascent, it will turn silent completely, since it will finally be at one with him who is indescribable.

Now you may wonder why it is that, after starting out from the highest category when our method involves assertions, we begin now from the lowest category involves a denial. The reason is this. When we assert what is beyond every assertion, we must then proceed from what is most akin to it, and as we do so we make the affirmation on which everything else depends. But when we deny that which is beyond every denial, we have to start by denying those qualities which differ most from the goal we hope to attain. Is it not closer to truth to say that God is life and goodness rather than that he is air or stone? Is it not more accurate to deny that drunkenness and rage can be attributed to him than to deny that we can apply to him the terms of speech and thought?

So this is what we say. The Cause of all is above all and is not inexistent, lifeless, speechless, mindless. It is not a material body, and hence has neither shape nor form, quality, quantity, or weight. It is not in any place and can be neither seen nor touched. It is neither perceived nor is it perceptible. It suffers neither disorder nor disturbance and is overwhelmed by no earthly passion. It is not powerless and subject to the disturbances caused by sense perception. It endures no deprivation of light. It passes through no change, decay, division, loss, no ebb and flow, nothing of which the senses may be aware. None of this can either be identified with it nor attributed.

Again, as we climb higher we say this. It is not soul or mind, nor does it possess imagination, conviction, speech, or understanding. Nor is it speech per se, understanding per se. It cannot be spoken of and it cannot be grasped by understanding. It is not number or order, greatness or smallness, equality or inequality, similarity or dissimilarity. It is not immovable, moving, or at rest. It has no power, it is not power, nor is it light. It does not live nor is it light. It does not live nor is it life. It is not a substance, nor is it eternity or time. It cannot be grasped by the understanding since it is neither knowledge nor truth. It is not kingship. It is not wisdom. It is neither one nor oneness, divinity nor goodness. Nor is it a spirit, in the sense in which we understand the term. It is not sonship or fatherhood and it is nothing known to us or any other being. Existing beings do not know it as it actually is and it does not know them as they are. There is no speaking of it, nor name or knowledge of it. Darkness and light, error and truth—it is none of these. It is beyond assertion and denial. We make assertions and denials of what is next to it, but never of it, for it is both beyond every assertion, being the perfect and unique cause of all things, and, by virtue of its preeminently simple and absolute nature, free of every limitation, beyond every limitation, it is also beyond every denial.

Language about God is necessary, but for people to whom the obligation falls, it is necessary to know that all images, even those sanctioned in Scripture, are limited. I remember being a bit grossed out when one acquaintance interpreted Genesis 1 to mean that God spoke with literal lips and a tongue, but I did not correct her; such a belief was appropriate for her spiritual condition and correcting her might have been the de-mythologizing sin of the monk in Everyday Saints and Other Stories who with his book-knowledge told a peasant that God had no need for physical food, that it couldn’t have been God who drank the offering bowl of goat milk the peasant offered nightly, and stayed up with the peasant until he saw that it was “just” a little fox who drank the milk. The angel accused the monk with his book knowledge of taking what little the peasant had, and explained something the monk had never thought of: that God had sent that fox every day to drink the milk in divine acceptance of the offering. De-mythologizing is a legitimate enterprise and St. Dionysius offers a much fuller and more robust version than anything Bultmann ever point out, but I do not see it as an obviously blessed thing for people who have reached de-mythologizing to go on crusades to take away the little that is all a less mature Christian may have.

The existence of ?ollhouses has been debated, and the OCA website features an article by Fr. John Breck that speaks of “the dubious teaching of tollhouses.” I would reply that tollhouses are evidently something that at least one Father in the Philokalia mentions in passing but precisely no one in the first four volumes makes a terribly big deal of. The lives of the saints cover a number of people whose logistics did not allow one final life confession with a priest, and here we have an air, “liberal” in the best and highest sense of the term, that is generous and has us interceded for in Heaven by saints who partly did not have the logistics to make a full life confession before death, and in no saint’s life that I remember is a saint alleged to have remembered every sin he ever committed to be able to successfully confess every sin on pain of going to Hell if he forgot one.

tollhouses are a feature of ancient Christianity, but I have never read in classic spiritual literature not cited above there being some kind of spiritual currency that a saint passing “the lords of hell” has to feed to demons standing on the way. Thus it may be that the Orthodox Church’s classic tollhouses are in fact not ?ollhouses of any description. In other words, for all I know, they may not be ?ollhouses, by definition, because they are not houses (or booths, or gateways), that collect tolls.

This is one area where I confess a degree of ignorance, but it is an ignorance I retain after reading ancient sources that really do not, in works I remember reading, offer such an account of Tollhouses that pander to any idle curiosity those drawn to a Gnostic wonderland could want. Furthermore, it has been my invariable experience that people who push Tollhouses on others are best avoided in the first place.

I do not see the image of tollhouses as really being subject to the debate. It’s part of the Orthodox collection of images, and it is an icon. Nonetheless, on the information I have, I don’t know that tollhouses collect tolls. And as regards fruit in my own life, I have given better confessions when I have not thought about Tollhouses and felt an obligation to remember every sin to the letter. “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life,” and I believe I have confessed better when I have tried to bring my real sinfulness to Christ in the person of my priest and not when I was trying as hard as I could to keep tabs on all my sins.

You can believe in tollhouses without bearing the legalistic burden of belief in Tollhouses.

Happiness in an Age of Crisis

Buy Happiness in an Age of Crisis on Amazon.

Core Principles

I’d like to open by flatly contradicting something that is openly stated in Scripture. St. Paul in defending Christ’s resurrection and our own (1 Cor 15:19, RSV), writes if there is no resurrection, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.”

Now I believe there is a resurrection, and furthermore that the significance of this life lies precisely in the fact that by our lives on earth we are making an eternal choice between Heaven and Hell. But I would like to submit something that may seem a straight-out opposite: suppose that there is no final resurrection, no judgment, no life or experience or existence after death, just nothingness, and the only life to be had is this life. That is all. In that case, what kind of life is to be desired? My answer is “Exactly the same as what Orthodox Christians try to live today.”

In regard to future punishment and rewards, Martin Luther was right when he said, “If we knew what Christ came to save us from, we would die of fear. If we knew what Christ came to save us for, we would die of joy.” And for that matter, C.S. Lewis was right when he portrayed Heaven as infinitely eclipsing Hell. And it is in regard to future reward that St. Maximus Confessor distinguished from three ranks among the Lord’s disciples: slaves, who obey out of fear, mercenaries, who obey out of hope for future reward, and sons, who obey out of love.

Now all three of these have a place, and I have obeyed as a slave at times, knowing that suicide would be a direct door to Hell, and on that point I would recall the Philokalia saying that strange as it may sound, we owe more to Hell than to Heaven, because more people have been saved through fear of Hell’s torments than through hope of Heaven’s joys. But mercenaries are more noble than slaves, and sons more noble than both. And in the end mercenaries are more insulated from Hell’s torments than slaves, sons even more insulated than mercenaries, and sons are more handsomely rewarded than mercenaries in the next life.

But with this as a big picture I cannot rightly disown, I’d like to narrow things down and focus solely on mercenary concerns, and even more unusually focus on this life.

People have said that virtue is its own reward, enough so that Calvin and Hobbes, with a Spaceman Spiff wanting to teach aliens that virtue is its own reward, despite the fact that I have never seen in the entire Calvin and Hobbes history evidence of Calvin having any concept that virtue could be its own reward. But what does it mean? I am wary of assuming that the reader knows what this means, or whether the saying is understood in addition to being quoted mindlessly.

Ask a recovering alcoholic who’s been dry for years which is better: being sober, or being drunk all the time. Now being drunk, or today toking, may bring great pleasure if you’re basically sober. However, I believe that most recovering alcoholics would vehemently affirm that being sober is better than being a slave chained to a bottle more constricting than a genie’s lamp. It has been said that alcoholism is suffering you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy! Or to quote Chesterton about another topic, “It takes humility to enjoy anything—even pride.” Humility is a vaster thing than pride. And even within the limits of this life, on purely mercenary concerns, virtue is better today than vice.

There is an interesting point about how happiness is conceived in classical Greek, as represented by Plato and others, where the word, ευδαιμονια or eudaimonia, literally means “good spirits” and describes the happiness that derives from one’s spirit being in good condition. Thinking of happiness without particular regard to the health of one’s spirit is a bit like thinking about the endocrine rush provided by a good exercise program without any real regard to the health of one’s body: absurd, and how absurd it is is partly unpacked in the world’s oldest, longest, least funny, and least intentional political joke: The Republic. As to how this is unpacked, I refer the reader to the classics; but the idea of achieving happiness without one’s spirits being in good condition comes across as out of place, perhaps perhaps simply inconceivable, perhaps impossible, or perhaps just absurd and undesirable.

And this much may be said without touching any merits or joys that are specific to Christianity or Eastern Orthodoxy. But in fact living the life of Christ already starts on earth, acquisition of the Holy Spirit already starts on earth, and Heaven itself starts on earth, and if there is (I speak hypothetically) no Heaven awaiting the faithful after death, I would rather live the beginning of Heaven on earth, and then stop existing or experiencing, than never touch Heaven at all.

And in terms of virtues and vices, I have something to say about the occult that may wound some of my dearest readers. It is unnatural vice.

The concept of unnatural vice in Orthodoxy is broader than sexual perversions including porn, and it may be hard to see why an informed person would call unnatural a nature religion like Wicca. My response is this: As far as standardized tests like the SAT go, there are some test preparation strategies that can legitimately raise scores. Kaplan, or its competitors, can raise scores. But there is another school that says that if you’re not cheating you’re not playing hard enough, and are strategies to cheat on tests. And the occult amounts to approaching cheating as how you raise your score, and is not satisfied with legitimate test preparation. It is an unnatural vice, and heavy nature theming and self-presentation as a route to harmony with nature do not change the fact that the empowerment Wicca claims is empowerment through nature-themed unnatural vice. Unnatural vice that works with plants is unnatural as artistic pornography in beautiful natural surroundings (eveandherfriends DOT tumblr DOT com) is an unnatural vice that disenchants the entire universe. Attempts to engage in an unnatural vice in a natural way do not remove the fact or the problem of a draining unnatural vice that destroys the possibility of joy. One acquaintance talked about how one person considered himself not to be an alcoholic, because he only drank gourmet wines!

I fear by saying this much, I may have already lost much of my audience by now. However, to help bring you to your senses, I would bring a poem (simply text with punctuation based on per cola et commata’s lines):

Open

How shall I be open to thee,
O Lord who is forever open to me?
Incessantly I seek to clench with tight fist,
Such joy as thou gavest mine open hand.
Why do I consider thy providence,
A light thing, and of light repute,
Next to the grandeur I imagine?
Why spurn I such grandeur as prayed,
Not my will but thine be done,
Such as taught us to pray,
Hallowed be thy name,
Thy kingdom come:
Thy will be done?
Why be I so tight and constricted,
Why must clay shy back,
From the potter’s hand,
Who glorifieth clay better,
Than clay knoweth glory to seek?
Why am I such a small man?
Why do I refuse the joy you give?
Or, indeed, must I?
And yet I know,
Thou, the Mother of God, the saints,
Forever welcome me with open hearts,
And the oil of their gladness,
Loosens my fist,
Little by little.

God, why is my fist tightened on openness,
When thou openest in me?

G.K. Chesterton said something relevant to much more than poets and logicians:

The general fact is simple. Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion, like the physical exhaustion of Mr. Holbein. To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.

The Blessed Augustine wrote that if a master sends two slaves by routes that will cross, their meeting is an accident from the slaves’ perspective but by design from the master’s perspective. What is lost in all this is, if I may take a cue from astrology, dancing the Great Dance, where the dance is led by a little girl with a tambourine. Sin constricts; occult sin seeks to draw Heaven down to fit your desires. What we need is not to reduce Heaven to fit us; we need to open ourselves to fit Heaven. And when we pray, odd but wonderful coincidences can happen, and God draws us out of the Hell of self.

Applications in Our Day

Yes, that is well and good for easier times, but what about today?

Let me return to an example I have used earlier. The Bible contains warnings against drunkenness in both the Old and New Testaments. In Bible times, wine fermented to about 4% alcohol, which is a third of the alcohol in wine and slightly less than in a standard beer. In the Graeco-Roman world, that wine was mixed 1:2 with water, so we’re bringing the alcohol content down to significantly less than lite beer. It takes (or at least it takes us—I unofficially suspect that major dietary differences influence how well you can hold your liquor) a fair amount of drinking to get drunk.

Since ancient warnings about using wine in moderation or not using it at all, we have developed not only strong beer but wine that used to be 12% alcohol (that number tends to steadily increasing), and eighty proof, and Everclear if you wish, and now cannibalis—er, cannabis—is legal, with stronger drugs illegal but still available in 50 States.

Q: Is sobriety still relevant?

A: Now more than ever.

It’s harder to reach, but this sort of thing is if anything even more essential. (There is more on spiritual sobriety in The Luddite’s Guide to Technology, which I highly recommend.)

Do not worry

Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount, said (Matthew 6:25-27, COB),

Do not worry for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Do you think you can add one single hour to your life by worrying? You might as well try to worry your way into being a foot taller!

I have found that trying to solve a life’s problems on a day’s resources is a sure road to despair. The Sermon on the Mount is very practical in an everyday here and now. Some people have gotten the impression that I am better at planning and orchestrating than they are. I categorically deny the charges.

When I was in high school, there was a game of sorts called “Wargames,” that showed a world map and had a button to launch missles. When you clicked on “Launch,” you could see the missile trajectories as missiles launched from the God-blessed USA to the godless USSR—and from the godless USSR to the God-blessed USA, resulting in essentially total world annihilation. Then a preachy enough message appeared: “The only way to win this game is not to play at all.” And so it is with worry: The only way to win this game is not to play at all.

Inner peace does not come when you have worried your ducks all into a row. Inner peace comes when you solve today’s problems, or even the problems of part of today, on today’s resources, and you let go.

Repulsive advice to heed

“In humility consider others better than yourself.” (Philippians 2:3, RSV)

This has got to be near the top of things in the Bible that we want to drag our heels on, but let me ask almost a riddle:

Would you rather meet people you admire and are in awe of, or people you look down on and despise?

If you’d like to be in the presence of people you admire, admire other people by in humility considering others better than yourself.

It’s that simple!

In the Philokalia we read St. Peter of Damascus’s “A Treasury of Divine Knowledge”:

…Thus through self-control he practices the other virtues as well. He looks on himself as in God’s debt for everything, finding nothing whatsoever with which to repay to his Benefactor, and even thinking that his virtues simply increase his debt. For he receives and has nothing to give. He only asks that he may be allowed to offer thanks to God. Yet even the fact that God accepts his thanks puts him, so he thinks, into still greater debt. But he continues to give thanks, ever doing what is good and reckoning himself an ever greater debtor, in his humility considering himself lower than all men, delighting in God his Benefactor and trembling even as he rejoices (cf. Ps. 2: I 1).

It is no accident that positive psychology tries to crank gratitude to the max. But there is ideally a feedback loop between gratitude and humility, and humility is deeper; it could almost be called the fourth Christian or theological virtue.

It is a wondrous experience to recognize that one is unworthy even to thank God for his many blessings, and thank him for his many blessings anyway.

So once the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves and were submissive to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord… (1 Peter 3:5-6)

This passage is not politically correct, but it is a hinge of joy and it respects the nature of women however much we try to grind it out of them. Snow White sang, “Some day, my prince will come,” and it is the desire of every little girl to marry a prince. This is true in all the older Disney cartoons except maybe Aladdin: a princess like Ariel and a commoner like Belle are both happy in being married to a lord. Out of this I have advice: if you want to be married to a lord then you might well see, and treat, your husband as your lord.

C.S. Lewis in That Hideous Strength says that obedience is “…also an erotic necessity.”

Ok, more people probably lost there. Despite my best wishes.

I have presented a paltry few aspects of the layer Christianity has to offer to those who seek mercenary reward, and are concerned within the bounds of this life.

Christianity is not just pie in the sky when you die. It is also steak on your plate while you wait.

Steak on your plate while you wait

I would like to give links to works on this site that significantly address mercenary concerns within the scope of this life, at least as one layer. This layer may not in the end be separable from obeying God out of sheer and undiluted love, but they are meant to speak here now and address our own interests.

Doxology

If you want to know what set of eyes you should be looking through, look through these eyes here. It tells of a glory offered us that begins here and now: and what kind of glorious God governs the here and now.

Repentance, Heaven’s Best-Kept Secret

In The Paradise Wars, one character says, “You’re not happy unless you’re miserable.” I generally find myself happiest in repentance—and blindsided by unexpected reward!

A Pet Owner’s Rules

God is like a Pet Owner who has only two rules, and the rules are designed for our benefit, not His.

The Angelic Letters

Each of us has a guardian angel assigned at baptism, and a personal tempting demon allowed to test us for our strengthening. C.S. Lewis writes about a personal tempter. I write about our guardian angel.

God the Spiritual Father

Life may sometimes feel like a ship without a Captain. But there is in fact a Captain who has arranged everything for you with as much care as if you were the only person He ever created.

God the Game Changer

Sometimes things happen that appear so bad that nothing good can come out of them. God has been taking good out of terrible situations since before His only Son was crucified.

A Pilgrimage from Narnia

This is what Orthodoxy has that is better than Narnia.

The Arena

Each of us is called to be famous before God, and God wishes to show His excellence in our excellence.

To a Friend

I wrote this, really, for just one friend, and I would do the same for you.

Tong Fior Blackbelt: The Martial Art of Joyous Conflict

I’m not happy with this piece, but it offers an extended exposition of “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

A Canticle to Holy, Blessed Solipsism

There is an Orthodox saying, “Only God and I exist.” Learn what it means.

Who Is Rich? The Person Who Is Content

A look at true wealth.

How Shall I Tell an Alchemist?

From one who has both the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life, and is not Solomon or Melchizedek

The Best Things In Life Are Free

This looks at how some of the toughest pills to swallow can in fact be the best things in life.

All Orthodox Theology Is Positive Theology

An upgrade from positive psychology.

The Consolation of Theology

I don’t know if I can call this any sort of upgrade to Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, but if a Christian may be be sustained by the riches of pagan philosophy, a fortiori an Orthodox Christian may be sustained by the riches of Christian theology

Paradise

The note on which I wish to end this ensemble.

Technology Is Part of Our Poverty

Cover for The Luddite's Guide to Technology

The reason for this work

This piece arose from a conversation with a fairly bright friend I had where I realized I had been putting important points of data out but not explaining or clarifying very well how they were connected, assuming connections were obvious when they weren’t. This piece is not intended to add anything new to my portfolio of documents, but to explain and/or re-explain with more “connective tissue” where the reader will be told how they fit together.

Clearing away one distraction

The effort to go virtual made more painfully apparent the resource disparities affecting the underprivileged. I acknowledge such, but my point has nothing really to do with that. No objections to such discussion, but I am not attempting such a discussion here. I am discussing something else.

An example of a gap

To illustrate the kind of gap I am talking about, I would like to look at Bridge to Terebithia, which is partly driven by a cultural gap between a poor farmboy and an urban gal whom the author marks as being Privileged with a capital . It’s not just that, as the Wikipedia article points out, that her family is the one family in town where “Money is not the issue.” Her family does not own a television, a point which prompted the farmboy to assume her family is too poor to own a television. Other markers where the author attaches a bold-font label of “Privileged” are that she does not know the Easter story, but listens to it with some wonder and says it’s like the story of Socrates’s trial and death, or Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia.

The story is largely a story of cross-cultural encounter, and it is so no less because the two central characters are both U.S. citizens, both white, of the same age, and for that matter are both can run. The privilege is not just that the girl’s parents are wealthy and purchase a rural house to take a break and re-evaluate their priorities. Not owning a television is a major marker of the girl’s Privileged family, and I will consider that very important in the points that follow. But my other major reason for presenting this, besides my wanting to underscore that the girl’s family Does Not Own a Television, is that studying and exploring a gap across what really amounts to culture is a large portion of what drives this story and makes this Newberry Award winner interesting.

Gaps like these, in my opinion, are well worth paying attention to, and it is my intent in this post to understand a few gaps and reap something very worthwhile from minding the gaps.

Why I disagree with “In the future, we’ll all be Harry Potter”

Jakob Nielsen in In the future, we’ll all be Harry Potter writes:

By saying that we’ll one day be like Harry Potter, I don’t mean that we’ll fly around on broomsticks or play three-dimensional ballgames (though virtual reality will let enthusiasts play Quidditch matches). What I do mean is that we’re about to experience a world where spirit inhabits formerly inanimate objects.

Much of the Harry Potter books’ charm comes from the quirky magic objects that surround Harry and his friends. Rather than being solid and static, these objects embody initiative and activity. This is precisely the shift we’ll experience as computational power moves beyond the desktop into everyday objects.

Next-Generation Magic

[You can read the full article if you want to.]

I do not contest Jakob Nielsen’s assertion that in the future we will have technology that sounds astounding by today’s standards. That much is indisputable. However, I strongly dispute the implication that to people living in that reality, it will be a world of wonder, or a world that we could wish were real to us, the way Harry Potter fans wish on some level they could live at Hogwarts.

I wish to assert, unfold, and unpack that however much some technologies may initially wow people who don’t have them, the future is this shimmering, desirable place the way Harry Potter’s Hogwarts is a place people so much wish that they could be their real world.

A meme about a gap: Old Economy Steve

There is a group of memes that rub in the smiling, pimply white face of some poor guy’s high school yearbook photo with a generic, mid-70’s hairstyle. They spitefully rub things in about a clueless, out-of-touch Old Economy Steve, and rub in that he is specifically clueless about the gap separating young people from himself:

Goes to law school.

Pays student loans with first paycheck.


Brought a house in his 20’s with a 9 to 5 job that didn’t require a bachelor’s degree.

“Kids these days have it easy.”


“When I was in college my summer job paid the tuition.”

Tuition was $400.


Pays into Social Security.

Receives benefits.


Becomes homeowner at 22.

Tells son’s generation it’s lucky because it can afford $200 smartphones.


Said, “Too many C____s, not enough I____s.”

Middle manages minimum wage employees.


“At my first job I only made $15k a year.”

In 1979 that was the equivalent of $47k.


Got my dream job,

By answering a classified ad.


“Why don’t you call and ask if they’re hiring?”

Hasn’t been on a job hunt since 1982.


“I worked all summer to buy a car.”

Corvette!


Grows up in one of the world’s best economies.

Creates the worst global economy the world has ever seen.

(“And all this before COVID,” one might add!)

Now I would like to ask you to keep one eye on what Old Economy Steve doesn’t get about our economy today, and watch a series of famous 1993 ad campaign run by AT&✁✆✇.*T.

In all or almost all of these things, we have pretty much what the advertisement stated, or something that makes said prediction simply obsolete. I admit readily that electronic toll collection is far more convenient than keeping track of various denominations of coins and stopping at a tollbooth and trying to throw the coins into one of those funnels, and the demolition derby to get back on to the regular highway. For that matter I see our toll collection as more convenient than what the commercial promises: we don’t even need to swipe a credit card through a reader to pay a toll; we just drive through at full speed and are charged the toll…

…but the actor in the ad displays an almost sexual thrill at being able to pay a toll while driving at full speed, and whatever the experience is like for us to whom it is an everyday activity, our experience is hardly an orgasm.

What we have now is simply not Old Economy Steve’s economy with draining charming and wonderful phones tacked on. And this has something to do with why I believe technology is part of our poverty.

Here and now, I submit, we are already living “In the future, we’ll all be Harry Potter.” The clarification on Jakob Nielsen’s part of “By saying that we’ll one day be like Harry Potter, I don’t mean that we’ll fly around on broomsticks or play three-dimensional ballgames” is already obsolete: we have flying motorcycles and with some basic Internet of Things features we could make three-dimensional ballgames no more dangerous than Harry Potter’s Quidditch. And it is probably child’s play, for initiates, to print an ornamental level of broomstick-themed decoration, even though a flying motorcycle may still look like a flying motorcycle:

A flying Lazareth motorcycle

“In the future we’ll all be Harry Potter” and “YOU WILL and the company that will bring it to you is AT&✁✆✇.*T” meet together. The prediction that we will carry our medical records in our wallets is obsolete because we have Internet-enabled health records. It is beside the point that a credit card sized device can carry our medical records. It is also obsolete to predict that in the future we will be able to get custom concert tickets from an ATM. We can buy tickets, pick seats, and show a QR code on our smartphones. And there is something quaint about the image of an enchanted mother giving best wishes to a baby through video phone booths; we can Zoom chat with laptops and mobile devices but some of us find mandatory Zoom chats depressing next to conversing face-to-face.

All this said, we ain’t in Old Economy Steve’s economy any more, and technology is part of our poverty.

In one post to a friend, I wrote,

Have you ever drained yourself by compulsively checking your phone easily a hundred times a day?

Have you ever had several Big Brothers know your every every step, every heartbeat?

Have you ever had every keystroke you’ve ever typed be recorded and available to use against you for all your remaining life?

Have you ever met people from the last generation that remembers what life was like before the world went digital?

YOU WILL

and AT&T ain’t the only company that will bring it to you!

Conclusion: My own privilege

Having discussed how we have at least somewhat “Harry Potter”-like technologies, but we ain’t enjoying Old Economy Steve’s “Hasn’t applied for a job since Jimmy Carter—’You need to hit the bricks to find work. That’s what I did.'” living conditions any more, I would like to add an additional note, and tie in something from the beginning of this article, the Privileged girl in Bridge to Terebinthia.

I am in at least one privileged position comparable to the girl whose family doesn’t have a television.

I own a cellphone, and it doesn’t run my life.

(One I purchased a couple of years ago, used.)

I used to get sucked into social media, but have backed away to 5-10 minutes’ social media interaction per month, generally to announce something.

I read (among others) Jean-Claude Larchet’s The New Media Epidemic: The Undermining of Society, Family, and Our Own Soul, and realized I was compulsively checking email and checking my phone a hundred times per day. I now check email often just once or twice a day, not compulsively. I also don’t really check my cellphone. I’ve turned off almost all notifications that I can. I still use my phone, for instance for GPS navigation, but on an opt-in basis. I try to limit what is initiated by my phone, and avoid what I have elsewhere called an intravenous drip of noise like the plague.

I’ve seen a very frequent Twitter poster ask, “Is there anywhere in the world that does not have Internet?” and in one sense the answer is almost a complete “No:” every continent, including the poorest continent of Africa, has expensive phones as common possessions.” But in another sense, the answer is, “It’s right under your nose. But don’t go to buy airfare. Read a couple of books, and make some lifestyle changes, and in an older word, repent.

I would ask the reader to buy two books: The New Media Epidemic and my own The Luddite’s Guide to Technology. Please consider buying both of them in paper (“kids-go-ask-your-grandparents”), and if you buy just one, buy the first. I’ve found that it is possible to have an oasis or at least a relative oasis. It is not entirely easy, and it is even less obvious, but it exists for real. The New Media Epidemic also covers, as I do not, clinics and programs that exist for smartphone / internet addiction. (This is also somewhere a good Orthodox priest can help.)

I have other privileges besides having taken charge, at least mostly, of my cellphone and internet usage. I’m really book-smart, and I can’t simply give that to you, though I can write brainbuilding materials. I am also, in some circles, a famous author, or at least I’ve been told my name has trilettered on Facebook to “CSH,” i.e. “C.S. Hayward,” along the lines of “C.S. Lewis,” and even a scathing personal attack mentions that I am well-known among conservative converts to Orthodoxy. Despite all this Amazon has ways of interpreting its contracts so my income from Kindle books is a total of about $10 to $20 per month (I think I earn more if you buy one of the paperbacks from my bookshelf (or the one hardcover worth mentioning, but I’m not clear my income from Amazon will break three figures monthly, as it did before Amazon reinterpreted its contracts). I have, in God’s Providence, everything I need; I am retired on disability, and it is not uncommon for me to receive some boost on top of that. I really try to pray “Give us today our daily bread,” and beyond that cast my cares upon the Lord and upon a favorite saint, St. Philaret the Merciful, whose life is a testimony to everything the Sermon on the Mount says about treasures in Heaven and proper use of wealth.

And the Sermon on the Mount, with its teachings on wealth, is the true Oasis amidst a parched technoscape. Almost everything else that is good to be had is first drunk from that Fountainhead.

And the Oasis, so terribly difficult to see from the outside, is unfathomably vast from the inside. It is the Oasis, poured through my humble pen, into Paradise, into an a work reminiscent of C.S. Lewis in The Angelic Letters, into an Akathist hymn to dear St. Philaret the Merciful, into an extreme, dark, and unexpected path to glory in Fire in the Hole, into the deep mercy of The Consolation of Theology, and into the rising hymn of triumph in Doxology. And I have nothing of the treasures in this Heavenly Oasis that does not beckon to you, too!

Epilogue: Phones can be turned off, folks!

If you keep your guitar in the case and get it out before you play it and put it away afterwards, you’ll spend less time playing your guitar.

This advice was mentioned in reference to another Internet addiction, but I recently leveled up about not having my phone control my life.

I carry my phone turned off completely. Not sleeping and ready for action when I hit the sleep/wake button. Off. Completely. As off as I can do.

If I have a legitimate justification to use it, I turn it on for long enough to do whatever I need to do, and then I immediately turn it all the way off. It’s wonderfully inconvenient, and it lets me keep my phone with me as much as I want, have it available, but then be in a place in the world that does not have convenient, non-stop Internet access. And I can get there without needing to shell out for an expensive plane ticket to some faroff forgotten world, or for that matter shell out any money for anything at all.

Extra credit for fuller benefit: Don’t piggyback multiple activities at a time. If you use your phone to do GPS navigation, and realize you need to send a text, turn your phone off completely, when you arrive at your destination, then turn it on again, then send the text, then turn it off again completely, and you’re off!

And while you’re at it, upgrade to a watch that cannot be controlled by the government or hacked into by faceless intruders from across the world, perhaps the watch you had before getting a smartwatch—ine is a Casio Men’s Pathfinder Casual Watch PRW2500T-7CR Titanium. (Though I felt very small and shamed when I saw a doctor wearing a cheap $5 digital watch with no special features.)

If you liked this, you may also like a deeper dive in Revelation and Our Singularity.

Withdrawn in the Interest of Not Being a Heretic

I posted something that was really meant well, and behind which lie serious beliefs and questions.

However, I have withdrawn it in the interest of Church order and not being a heretic.

Arius thought his bishop was wrong and preaching a heresy; he sought to find an alternative solution. For all I know, his bishop was wrong. Bishops err. This much on Arius’s part is OK so far, but then he sought to get the Orthodox Church to turn around to his solution by any means necessary, and that, more than anything else, is why the Orthodox Liturgy speaks of him as something like a father and grandfather of all heretics.

I have come too close to being a heretic. The Orthodox Church’s heirarchs in America have spoken clearly and authoritatively in favor of receiving the vaccine, and Vl. Peter of Chicago has received a vaccine publicly as an example. I don’t know what I will do as far as receiving the vaccine goes. However, if I receive the vaccine following his example, and there is bloodguilt, not a drop of the guilt belongs to me. Vl. Peter has exercised authority as he should, and I am the subordinate.

None of my questions have been resolved, but my job description forbids any attempts to try to be an authority to an authority and maneuver Vl. Peter into seeing things my way. That is what I rightly wrote against in Dissent: Lessons from Being an Orthodox Student at a Catholic University, a work that I believed when I wrote it and still see no reason to retract.

Please pray for me, the chief of sinners.

To a Friend

Buy Happiness in an Age of Crisis on Amazon.

[With apologies to St. Seraphim, and I really hope my adaptation doesn’t come across as comparing myself to a great saint I am deeply indebted to!]

To Your Brilliance, and you know who you are:

On the topic of worry, Your Brilliance said that I was a monk and therefore not subject to worry, but you, not being a monk, have worries. And I, poor not-even-a-novice Christos, wish to open your eyes to something. I, poor Christos, have nothing that is not an open door for you.

Where to begin?

One start might begin with commercials to stimulate covetousness back in 1993:

Some of the technologies in the “YOU WILL” commercials are already obsolete; we don’t need to get tickets from an ATM because we can do that with a phone in our pockets, and we don’t need to carry our medical records in our pockets because the electronic storage of records obviates the need to carry a physical device so doctors can have your records.

But in retrospect, the following “anti-commercial” could be added:

Have you ever drained yourself by compulsively checking your phone easily a hundred times a day?

Have you ever had several Big Brothers know your every every step, every heartbeat?

Have you ever had every keystroke you’ve ever typed be recorded and available to use against you for all your remaining life?

Have you ever met people from the last generation that remembers what life was like before the world went digital?

YOU WILL

and AT&T ain’t the only company that will bring it to you!

No technology is permanently exotic. It may be the case that Jakob Nielsen said, “In the future, we’ll all be Harry Potter,” meaning we will all have gadgets that do super things. It did not, of course, mean that we will be playing Quidditch—a dated remark, given that we now have flying motorcycles:

A flying Lazareth motorcycle

It might be deadly difficult to use them to try and play Quidditch, or perhaps some Internet of Things technology could make such Quidditch playing no more dangerous than in J.K. Rowling’s imagination, but that important safety caveat does not change the fact that we can do things Nielsen didn’t imagine… but still, no technology is permanently exotic, and none of these technologies really change the poverty that “Old Economy Steve” was privileged not to even need to fathom:

Old Economy Steve went to law school and paid off his student loans with his first paycheck.

And the picture is false if it is assumed that “YOU WILL” is simply Old Economy Steve’s vibrant economy with electronic tolling and other such things tacked on.

Telling of a story

There was one story poor Christos thought to write, but it has some things intended at surface level that apparently are not at surface level. Hysterical Fiction: A Medievalist Jibe at Disney Princess Videos was intended to be an obvious inversion of a bad habit in fantasy and historical fiction that has at least one postmodern wearing armor. The reading experience is like what it is like for an American to travel to England, enter a shop, and be greeted with the same accent as back home. However, very few people got it, so poor not-even-a-novice Christos would rather tell of a story than tell the imagined story itself.

The story would be set in what is treated as a dark science fiction world, and presents the shock of seeing how things really are, that we have pretty much everything promised in the “YOU WILL” commercials, if perhaps not the Old Economy Steve assumptions about basic wealth.

But amidst this darkness is something important, a light that shines in many places. It has been said that Paradise is simply where the saints are, and the well-worth-reading story of Fr Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father tells of a priest who carries Paradise with himself, even in a concentration camp! And the real core of the story I have wanted to tell is “Guilty as charged” for every element of dark science fiction dystopic reality, but that is really much less significant than a character of light who shines in even the deepest darkness. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness never gets it.

Peter Kreeft said that the chief advantage of wealth is that it does not make you happy. If you are poor, perhaps perennially struggling to make ends meet, it may be a difficult temptation to resist to think that if you had money, all your problems would go away. Being wealthy clips the wings of that illusion, and our science-fictiony present clips somewhat the wings of the illusion that life would be great if we could send a fax from the beach. Windows Mobile was advertised under the rubric of “When, why, where, and how you want to work,” when it should be, “You will never be free from the shackles of your job.”

I would quote the Sermon on the Mount:

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

“Therefore I say unto you, Do not worry about your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than food, and the body than garments? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Do you think you can add one single hour to your life by worrying? You might as well try to worry yourself into being a foot taller!

“And why do you worry for garments? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or, ‘What shall we drink?’ or, ‘Wherewithal shall we be clothed?’ (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Do not worry about the morrow: for the morrow has enough worries of its own. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

“If thine eye be single:” a reading of this verse in translations often has the word “healthy” or “sound,” and those readings are true. However, in the middle of a real sandwich of teaching about storing up treasures in Heaven and earth, “single” is singularly appropriate. Its meaning is cut from the same cloth as the warning, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” A “single” eye is one that is undivided, that does not multitask, that as an old hymn says,

Keep your eyes on Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of this world will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.

What poor Christos has, and this is something monastic aspirants should aspire to, but not anything should be a “greater monasticism” monopoly, is not in any sense being better at planning; it may mean in fact being worse at planning. All of poor, not-even-a-novice Christos’s lessons about worrying have not been being better at planning for the future; experience is that trying to solve a life’s problems on a day’s resources opens the door to despair. What is needed is not greater planning but greater focus on today, and allowing tomorrow to worry for itself. “Each day has enough trouble of its own” is very practical advice. Poor Christos is no better at solving all problems in a day than Your Brilliance; poor Christos is just a little bit better at letting go and trusting in Divine Providence.

That Providence orders the Dance. Blessed Augustine said that if a master sends two slaves along paths that will cross, their meeting is a coincidence from the slaves’ perspective but intended by the master as planned. One thing we find in escaping the Hell of self is that that is how God opens our eyes to a broader world.

And really, refraining from worry is the outer layer where there are many layers underneath. People who delve deeper may have no plans; trusting God that if they obey God today, God will plan for them tomorrow. Identity as we understand it today is another treasure on earth we are to let go of, and digging deeper is something of an opposite of magic. I remember as the Hell of self when I had a job and an extended stay hotel room, and I was able to set up technology exactly as my poor self wanted. It might as well have been magic. G.K. Chesterton famously said, “The poet only asks to get his head into the Heavens. The logician tries to get the Heavens into his head, and it is his head that splits.” Magic is an attempt to reduce things to the point that we will have more control, while dancing with the Lord of the Dance opens our hands instead of closing them. C.S. Lewis says that we want God to change our circumstances, where God wants our circumstances to control us. Right now poor less-than-a-novice Christos has been working on the Classic Orthodox Bible and trying to publish it in hardcover with larger text when it is cramped as an Amazon paperback. And I wanted to have it ready for the Sunday of Orthodoxy, but it is not appearing like it will be ready; but there may be something in publishing it the next Sunday, the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas. All concrete hopes, with an ‘S’ as in ‘Shit’, will be disappointed. Hope proper, Hope in God, will be fulfilled.

TED talks have made a great deal out of the Stoicism that is a secret weapon in the National Handegg League, with observations like “We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” And it is a blinding flash of the obvious that philosophy could make a difference to real people. But what we have here is something more than Stoicism. Stoicism’s strengths are preserved in the Philokalia, and there is more. Stoicism is of some benefit, but it does not tell us to follow the Lord of the Dance. It is worth noting, and practical in benefit, but eclipsed by a living exegesis of the Sermon on the Mount:

Righteous Philaret the Merciful, son of George and Anna, was raised in piety and the fear of God. He lived during the eighth century in the village of Amneia in the Paphlagonian district of Asia Minor. His wife, Theoseba, was from a rich and illustrious family, and they had three children: a son John, and daughters Hypatia and Evanthia.

Philaret was a rich and illustrious dignitary, but he did not hoard his wealth. Knowing that many people suffered from poverty, he remembered the words of the Savior about the dread Last Judgment and about “these least ones” (Mt. 25:40); the the Apostle Paul’s reminder that we will take nothing with us from this world (1 Tim 6:7); and the assertion of King David that the righteous would not be forsaken (Ps 36/37:25). Philaret, whose name means “lover of virtue,” was famed for his love for the poor.

One day Ishmaelites [Arabs] attacked Paphlagonia, devastating the land and plundering the estate of Philaret. There remained only two oxen, a donkey, a cow with her calf, some beehives, and the house. But he also shared them with the poor. His wife reproached him for being heartless and unconcerned for his own family. Mildly, yet firmly he endured the reproaches of his wife and the jeers of his children. “I have hidden away riches and treasure,” he told his family, “so much that it would be enough for you to feed and clothe yourselves, even if you lived a hundred years without working.”

The saint’s gifts always brought good to the recipient. Whoever received anything from him found that the gift would multiply, and that person would become rich. Knowing this, a certain man came to St Philaret asking for a calf so that he could start a herd. The cow missed its calf and began to bellow. Theoseba said to her husband, “You have no pity on us, you merciless man, but don’t you feel sorry for the cow? You have separated her from her calf.” The saint praised his wife, and agreed that it was not right to separate the cow and the calf. Therefore, he called the poor man to whom he had given the calf and told him to take the cow as well.

That year there was a famine, so St Philaret took the donkey and went to borrow six bushels of wheat from a friend of his. When he returned home, a poor man asked him for a little wheat, so he told his wife to give the man a bushel. Theoseba said, “First you must give a bushel to each of us in the family, then you can give away the rest as you choose.” Philaretos then gave the man two bushels of wheat. Theoseba said sarcastically, “Give him half the load so you can share it.” The saint measured out a third bushel and gave it to the man. Then Theoseba said, “Why don’t you give him the bag, too, so he can carry it?” He gave him the bag. The exasperated wife said, “Just to spite me, why not give him all the wheat.” St Philaret did so.

Now the man was unable to lift the six bushels of wheat, so Theoseba told her husband to give him the donkey so he could carry the wheat home. Blessing his wife, Philaret gave the donkey to the man, who went home rejoicing. Theoseba and the children wept because they were hungry.

The Lord rewarded Philaret for his generosity: when the last measure of wheat was given away, a old friend sent him forty bushels. Theoseba kept most of the wheat for herself and the children, and the saint gave away his share to the poor and had nothing left. When his wife and children were eating, he would go to them and they gave him some food. Theoseba grumbled saying, “How long are you going to keep that treasure of yours hidden? Take it out so we can buy food with it.”

During this time the Byzantine empress Irene (797-802) was seeking a bride for her son, the future emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitos (780-797). Therefore, emissaries were sent throughout all the Empire to find a suitable girl, and the envoys came to Amneia.

When Philaret and Theoseba learned that these most illustrious guests were to visit their house, Philaret was very happy, but Theoseba was sad, for they did not have enough food. But Philaret told his wife to light the fire and to decorate their home. Their neighbors, knowing that imperial envoys were expected, brought everything required for a rich feast.

The envoys were impressed by the saint’s daughters and granddaughters. Seeing their beauty, their deportment, their clothing, and their admirable qualities, the envoys agreed that Philaret’ granddaughter, Maria was exactly what they were looking for. This Maria exceeded all her rivals in quality and modesty and indeed became Constantine’s wife, and the emperor rewarded Philaret.

Thus fame and riches returned to Philaret. But just as before, this holy lover of the poor generously distributed alms and provided a feast for the poor. He and his family served them at the meal. Everyone was astonished at his humility and said: “This is a man of God, a true disciple of Christ.”

He ordered a servant to take three bags and fill one with gold, one with silver, and one with copper coins. When a beggar approached, Philaret ordered his servant to bring forth one of the bags, whichever God’s providence would ordain. Then he would reach into the bag and give to each person, as much as God willed.

St Philaret refused to wear fine clothes, nor would he accept any imperial rank. He said it was enough for him to be called the grandfather of the Empress. The saint reached ninety years of age and knew his end was approaching. He went to the Rodolpheia (“The Judgment”) monastery in Constantinople. He gave some gold to the Abbess and asked her to allow him to be buried there, saying that he would depart this life in ten days.

He returned home and became ill. On the tenth day he summoned his family, he exhorted them to imitate his love for the poor if they desired salvation. Then he fell asleep in the Lord. He died in the year 792 and was buried in the Rodolpheia Judgment monastery in Constantinople.

The appearance of a miracle after his death confirmed the sainthood of Righteous Philaret. As they bore the body of the saint to the cemetery, a certain man, possessed by the devil, followed the funeral procession and tried to overturn the coffin. When they reached the grave, the devil threw the man down on the ground and went out of him. Many other miracles and healings also took place at the grave of the saint.

After the death of the righteous Philaret, his wife Theoseba worked at restoring monasteries and churches devastated during a barbarian invasion.

St. Philaret did not just refrain from worry; he played his part in the Great Dance, and God gave him a wonderful story.

As far as all these things that his wife Theoseba could not see, his trust reached the level of, really, an arrogance, the same arrogance whose hymn I wrote:

Song VIII.
A HYMN TO ARROGANCE.
The Saint opened his Golden Mouth and sang,
‘There be no war in Heaven,
Not now, at very least,
And not ere were created,
The royal race of mankind.
Put on your feet the Gospel of peace,
And pray, a-stomping down the gates of Hell.
There were war in Heaven but ever brief,
The Archangel Saint Michael,
Commander of the bodiless hosts,
Said but his name, “Michael,”
Which is, being interpreted,
“Who is like God?”
With that the rebellion were cast down from Heaven,
Sore losers one and all.
They remain to sharpen the faithful,
God useth them to train and make strength.
Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith?
Or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it?
As if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up,
Or as if the staff should lift up itself,
As if it were no wood.
Therefore be not dismayed,
If one book of Holy Scripture state,
That the Devil incited King David to a census,
And another sayeth that God did so,
For God permitted it to happen by the Devil,
As he that heweth lifteth an axe,
And God gave to David a second opportunity,
In the holy words of Joab.
Think thou not that God and the Devil are equal,
Learnest thou enough of doctrine,
To know that God is greater than can be thought,
And hath neither equal nor opposite,
The Devil is if anything the opposite,
Of Michael, the Captain of the angels,
Though truth be told,
In the contest between Michael and the Devil,
The Devil fared him not well.
The dragon wert as a little boy,
Standing outside an Emperor’s palace,
Shooting spitwads with a peashooter,
Because that wert the greatest harm,
That he saweth how to do.
The Orthodox Church knoweth well enough,
‘The feeble audacity of the demons.’
Read thou well how the Devil crowned St. Job,
The Devil and the devils aren’t much,
Without the divine permission,
And truth be told,
Ain’t much with it either:
God alloweth temptations to strengthen;
St. Job the Much-Suffering emerged in triumph.
A novice told of an odd clatter in a courtyard,
Asked the Abbot what he should do:
“It is just the demons.
Pay it no mind,” came the answer.
Every devil is on a leash,
And the devout are immune to magic.
Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder:
The young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
Wherefore be thou not arrogant towards men,
But be ever more arrogant towards devils and the Devil himself:
“Blow, and spit on him.”‘

The Consolation of Theology tells in part the author’s worries and wishing to be in control, and learning something that is the very opposite of what we both reach for.

There was a simple “game” on Macintoshes when poor Christos was in high school, called “Global Thermonuclear War,” with a “Launch” button. Press the button, and all kinds of missiles launch worldwide and destroy the earth. The lesson is articulated in words: “The only way to win the game is not to play at all.” And so it is with worry.

“Do not store up treasures on earth.” The further we grow into this, the more we discover we have treasures on earth to give up… and the more we give them up, the more treasures in Heaven our hands are empty enough to receive.

St. Seraphim had a remarkable dialogue with a pilgrim about the meaning of life, and he said it was one thing: the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. Good works do not reach their full stature unless they are relational, done to connect with God. And really, what greater treasure in Heaven is there to have than the Holy Spirit? The expurgation seems painful, and it is painful, but the pain does not last. Or rather it is transcended, like the saint in the story posited above transcends a dark science fiction dystopia. But there is tremendous freedom in letting go.

God wants to open us up to a larger world. Once poor Christos confessed to not being open to God, and was instead of a usual correction was advised to be mindful of the fact that God and the saints are open to us.

But to give a sudden close, poor Christos will reread St. John, A Treatise to Prove that Nothing Can Injure the Man Who Does Not Harm Himself. He needs it, and you might too.

Remorse Is Not Repentance

I am presently attending a Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia archdiocesan seminary, and one of the perks is that I am getting to meet Fr. Seraphim of Plantina and see some of why he is respected.

Fr. Seraphim, The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church does not downplay at least some of the concerns I’ve had about the Blessed Augustine. I’ve heard Orthodox complaints in the past that when Evangelicals say “I’ve been reading the Fathers,” it usually means “I’ve been reading Augustine and no one else,” and my last real comment on the matter was that Blessed Augustine was a Church Father the way Evangelicals would imagine a Church Father: a philosopher whose subject matter was God and who heavily quoted Scripture. Fr. Seraphim acknowledges Blessed Augustine’s overreliance on reason, but suggests that balanced such concerns with a suggestion that Orthodox view him as a Church Father, if not necessarily of the first rank. His overuse of reason is seen as a liability; but it is apparently not seen as the end of the world.

(I’m not completely sure what to do with the book’s claim that an Ecumenical Council placed Blessed Augustine as equal to the Three Heirarchs except maybe as an exuberant tangent spun off a Council’s long list of Church Fathers that included the Three Heirarchs, Blessed Augustine, and many more. However, this is not my main focus.)

To cite the preface to Fr. Seraphim’s title: “When I made a disapproving facial expression and stated that the Church does not give him the full title of “Saint” but only calls him “Blessed,” he replied, ‘Show me another Father who speaks stronger than Augustine on repentance.'”

My most immediate response is, “I don’t know about the Greek Fathers, but I’ve written more about repentance.” I invite you to read my chief work on the topic, Repentance, Heaven’s Best-Kept Secret. The Orthodox Church speaks in her liturgy about “hope in repentance,” and repentance is something joyful that reaches well beyond what remorse even dreams of. A Protestant framing of repentance is to speak of it as unconditional surrender; Orthodoxy does not deny this but reaches further to compare repentance to awakening. There are more than glimmers of this in Augustine, but the most vivid quotes in Augustine’s Confessions look on evil with a horrid fascination. Things of goodness, sweetness in the Lord, are mentioned joyfully. However, there is nothing like this horrid fascination that has in regard to good things the forceful underscoring and unpacking that Blessed Augustine has for his sins. And really, evil cannot be as evil as good is good. I wrote of repentance about being blindsided by reward, to unpack one aspect of repentance. The goodness of repentance has much more to unpack than the evil of sin, and if there is anything wrong with Repentance, Heaven’s Best-Kept Secret, it is how far it falls short of properly unpacking what a good thing and a blessing repentance is.

The process of repentance is an unconditional surrender to something you think you absolutely must have (the Philokalia says, “People hold on to sin because they think it adorns them), and when you surrender, if you surrender, you have lost nothing but a shackle, and you realize that you need a hole in your head like you needed that sin. You are blindsided by reward, and you realize that you were clinging to what was in fact a piece of Hell. However, the main focus is not on how horrible that piece of Hell was. It is, as my priest put it, that you have been clogged and in repentance you get unclogged, having a new freedom you had not even dreamed of. And, really, there are more things in repentance than are even dreamed of in our prior immediate mindset.

With all that stated, I would like to quote some of the most heavily underlined quotes in Fr. Seraphim’s copy of Blessed Augustine’s Confessions:

I disobeyed, not from a better choice, but from love of play, loving the pride of victory in my contests, and to have my ears tickled with lying fables, that they might itch the more, for the show and games of my elders.

I lusted to thieve, and did it, compelled by no hunger, no poverty, but through a cloyedness of well-doing, and a pamperedness of iniquity. For I stole that, of which I had enough, and much better. Nor cared I to enjoy what I stole, but I joyed in the theft and sin itself.

Fair were those pears, but not them did my wretched soul desire; for I had store of better, and those I gathered, I flung them away, my pnly feast being my own sin, which I was pleased to enjoy. For if aught of those pears came within my mouth, what sweetened it was the sin.

These are the kind of quotes that put the “Augustine” in “Augustinian,” and remorse gets more fascination than repentance.

When I was received into the Orthodox Church, I thought it was best to confess my sins vividly to help me in my remorse. Admittedly, I know that sins of lust and anger are not to be confessed in great detail lest the penitent reawaken the sin. But in fact what is preferred is to state your sins briefly, and I do not think that this is in the first instance either because of logistics or efficiency on the one hand, or on the other hand tied to what a fellow parishioner commented that you should just state the sin, because the further you go in detail the more likely you will be accusing yourself. While I don’t want to slight joyful compunction, the goal of repentance is not to stay in remorse. The goal is simply to wake up and be freed from your infirmity.

Remorse in itself does not save. Judas was remorseful, and hanged himself. Repentance would be turn to Christ and wash his feet with his tears. And Judas did not do that.

Seeing this book helped me understand why Augustine has repented, and it takes some guts to defend perhaps one of the most vilified of the Fathers of the Church. Or at least a contrarian mind. And some of the things I find questionable in Augustine seem to have some resonance with Fr. Seraphim.

Remorse is not repentance. Repentance vastly eclipses remorse, and it draws one’s eyes towards what Fr. Tom Hopko advised in, “Focus exclusively on God and light, and never on darkness, temptation and sin.” Part of repentance leaves one realizing, “I was holding onto a piece of Hell!”—but that is not what fascinates a mind beholding the beauty of God and Light.

Amazon Book Description for “The Seraphinians: ‘Blessed Seraphim Rose’ and His Axe-Wielding Western Converts”

Cover for The Seraphinians: "Blessed Seraphim Rose" and His Axe-Wielding Western Converts

The Amazon book description for The Seraphinians: “Blessed Seraphim Rose” and His Axe-Wielding Western Converts now says something significant in itself, now that I am reading originals like The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church. I quote the review:

About this book

This book is written primarily to document a large-scale behavior problem. It is also meant to provide a preliminary analysis of what is going on. The movement is Protestant converts to Orthodoxy who are still fundamentalists and rally under the banner of Fr. Seraphim.

In Fr. Seraphim’s The Place of the Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church, Abbot Herman’s preface reads:

FATHER SERAPHIM ROSE was by nature a warm-hearted man. Often he used to say, “It is noble to defend the underdog.” He felt obliged to defend those who were considered by society to be somehow in the wrong. He believed that God was not necessarily on the side of those who are considered right, and that those who are dismissed and held in a negative light are in a position to be pitied. The latter, said Fr. Seraphim, are the ones whom Jesus Christ came to save; and therefore when he saw them being looked down upon, he took their side…

Our Lord Jesus Christ said: Judge not, that ye be not judged (Matt. 7:1). Psychologically, this means that in each act of judging another, the judge identifies the negative aspect in himself which he does not like, and thus projects it onto the other, thereby receiving gratification. He thinks that in this way he is getting rid of that negative aspect of himself, whereas in reality he is only breeding and nurturing it.

Our contemporary converts have a tendency to do likewise. They quickly [become] Orthodox, and then assume that by their conversion they have automatically become infallible. Thus they feel free to point out in others what in reality are their own faults, disguising this as righteous judgment. Instead of humbly seeing their own shortcomings, which are the outgrowth of preceding generations of Western apostasy, they often carry their Western legalism in the midst of the Orthodox Church, and as a result they deform the ancient Orthodox tradition and substitute it with modernism. In Russia this sickness has been identified by the term “renovationism.” If the course of contemporary converts will continue in the renovationist style, making Orthodoxy fit into their own mentality rather than vice versa, then their understanding of Orthodoxy will end up as a kind of “anti-Western” legalism, or to put it another way, Western legalism in an Eastern Orthodox guise. As Fr. Seraphim saw, this very legalism lies at the core of the “Eastern Orthodox” attacks on Blessed Augustine, and he wanted to avoid it at all costs.

The opening quotes Fr. Seraphim as saying, “I myself fear the cold hearts of the ‘intellectually correct’ much more than any errors you might find in Augustine. I sense in these cold hearts a preparation for the work of Antichrist (whose imitation of Christ must also extend to correct theology); I feel in Augustine the love of Christ.”

The more the author reads of Fr. Seraphim, the more wondering there is if Fr. Seraphim might be appalled by those who were under the banner of “Blessed Seraphim Rose.” This book, when it was new, was an underdog position, and to date the author knows no disciple of Fr. Seraphim’s legacy who has decided to defend this particular underdog, nor of any disciple who writes a review of this work in which this book is found to represent serious error but represent the work of an errant brother who is to be pitied but never hated. The author has refrained from praying, “Fr. Seraphim of Plantina, protect me from your followers!” but now wonders if Fr. Seraphim now stands before the throne of God and would welcome such prayers.

“Our contemporary converts have a tendency to do likewise. They quickly [become] Orthodox, and then assume that by their conversion they have automatically become infallible,” reasonably describes many of this book’s reviews, and the amount of poison to be found in them leaves the author to wonder if Fr. Seraphim would see him as an underdog.

Read the reviews if you like, then buy, read, and review the book.

Holy Resistance

Adapted from a mailing list discussion. The discussion helped me formulate and see things I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

I am profoundly grateful to “Bravo” in particular for her permission to include what she wrote; her willingness tremendously enriches the discussion.

Alpha: I’m not sure if I’m going to lose people by posting this, but I posted, A Conservative Soliloquy.

Bravo: I’m not sure there is a difference between a soliloquy and a rant. Needing to get something off one’s chest is not so much an exchange of information as a medicinal purge that provides relief. Maybe like the lancing of some festering boil.

However, let’s not hope that anybody anywhere ever changes their opinion of political figures because they have heard the rant, they may however change their opinion of the ranter.

Myself and other Trump supporters find ourselves in a dark place after the election but one thing we have learned is that talking about him with non supporters is futile as we automatically write each other off as lacking in intelligence and understanding.

The only question I ask myself is ”do I care if the person I engage with continues as a friend”

From the bible I have learned that a few words can start a forest fire that cannot be controlled.

So if a relationship is worth being preserved, do not engage, do not even send clues about your opinion. The temperature is too high. It could be costly in every sense of that word.

If a continued friendship is not important then a polite rant might may serve as a relief valve, for simply medicinal purpose of course.

In that vein there are several old friends that I have contentedly let go their own way and I’m sure they feel the same.

It’s all a great shame and sad when expressing your personal opinions is an act of war.

I will certainly not however, engage in church or anywhere important.

I’m not even an American but I can see that what might be considered as the greatest and most influential nation on earth is divided so dangerously with the fault lines running through all aspects of society including the family structure.

Alpha: Thank you for information about how my post will be received.

I do not think it is a rant that G.K. Chesterton said in his “A Defense of Patriotism,”

‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’

The question of whether Donald Trump would knowingly incite violence to reverse an election against him is a question of this magnitude. It has been said that violence is in the U.S. political constitution (https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2021/01/americas-history-of-political-violence). I retweeted a tweet saying “This is the worst thing that happened in U.S. history unless you’ve read a book on U.S. political history.” Nonetheless, I see a difference between “Donald Trump, assuming he follows American political tradition of recognizing an election went against him,” and “Donald Trump, with or without civil war.”

However, I would see Confucius’s “It is useless to take counsel with those who follow a different Tao” as applying not only to “Against Donald Trump by any means necessary,” but people who will not accept that a Trump supporter says he has gone too far.

It is consonant with the verdict of history to say that the United States lost the nineteenth century civil war.

I expect that the verdict of history will be that the world lost this civil war…

It is a matter of historical fact that General Lee ceased hostilities first, and today all the states that seceded are legally part of the United States.

But talking about who won that war is a bit like talking about who won the earthquake in Lisbon that shook the Enlightenment.

Bravo: Hi again Alpha,

In calling your comments a rant I in no way meant to imply that what you said was without a thoughtful basis. However , in this day and age the stakes are much higher and with social media, opinions burn much brighter and are more widespread.

Being retired and largely independent of external pressures I am free to express whatever ideas I have. They can’t take my job away.

There is however something that needs to be addressed .The thought that corruption is alive and well at the highest levels of American society is no longer confined to some isolated extremists hiding in the mountains of Montana.

I realize that violence is an historical building block of the American experience but, the only reason that the country overcomes this violence is the belief that the democratic process is solid and largely without corruption.

Approximately half the country however, now has doubts that the democratic exercise is healthy and at the same time the judicial process is viewed with similar suspicion.

The overly technical, clumsy and drawn out voting procedures leave so many thinking, if we don’t have fair elections, what do we have? The answer is obvious.

I know that for constitutional reasons the USA population is armed to the teeth but it also may reveal that the population has always had a general distrust of it’s own institutions.

As a Canadian we have much to be concerned about in our own political process but the suggestion of widespread fraud never comes up.

But we are though so dependant on the USA for many things , democracy being number one and if you stumble and there is widespread distrust of your institutions all democracies are at risk.

The social media is of course a catalyst for all manner of social change. Some good some very scary.

Of course many of us outside your country love you and wish you well not just for your sakes but most importantly for ours.

God Speed

Alpha: I agree with most of this, and am concerned about a downward spiral. Republicans and Democrats alike are contributing in large amounts.

Charlie: Good morning.

We conservatives have been struggling with an imperfect vessel of our faith, to say the least, in Trump. One common meme was that he used the same playbook they wrote to take down American culture against them. (Rules for Radicals, dedicated to Lucifer by the author Saul Alinsky, who was also a mentor of Hillary Clinton). This comes down to the game theory of the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma. The way to get someone who has been hitting you for five decades to stop hitting you is to hit them back in the same way, every time, until hitting you no longer benefits them. It was cathartic to see the weapons they forged against us turned back on them. It had a certain scriptural precedent in that Hammon in the book of Ester is hung on the gallows he prepares for the Jews. Or Gideon blowing trumpets outside an enemy camp and all the armies within the camp killing each other in confusion.

They certainly have insanely low expectations of their own morality, and embody Borderline Personality Disorder. Add to that the origins of these policies in people wanting to bring down the country and destroy it (Frankfort School, etc), coupled with globalist feudal concepts like the so-called “Great Reset”, and you can see our concerns. We’ve seen this play before where some Germanic deadbeat rants some grand plan for humanity (Karl Marx, Adolph Hitler, or now Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum) and next thing you know, we are being marched off to death camps for disagreeing. Or getting our communications channels shut down, or possibly getting our online assets frozen. In each case, we are called conspiracy theorists for reading the books where they lay out their plans in their own words.

But that’s all politics. What about faith?

I keep coming back to this verse….
“Do not repay evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.”

I suspect if we ever see another conservative leader in this nation, it will have to be someone who isolates the ideologies rather than the individuals, as Trump did following the Alinsky rules. It may also be the only way we survive this whole purge or open any communications whatsoever outside this wall. If communicating with relatives, don’t attack the relatives. Attack the ideas if you must, but present better ones in full light and let them either come to the light or run from it. They will tend to internalize and regard as “in group” people like Pelosi, who endorsed the Jim Jones cult prior to the mass suicide back when they were still in California. Jones seems to be the role model of big tech, in terms of isolating their membership and only feeding them one story, constantly, at high volume. Any attempt to question the leader or exit the compound is met with harsh threats and condemnation, just as it was with Jonestown. This won’t end well. It may involve a Pygmalian Effect of separating the person and your expectations of them from their actions and opinions, in hope of drawing them to their better angels, in a positive feedback loop. One of my best friends is a leftist atheist, who was hardcore Michael Moore and Bush Derangement Syndrome two decades ago, who now is a Trump supporter who loves Jordan Peterson. Baby steps, I guess, but certainly unexpected. I’ve always loved her dearly, accepted her confessions of past crazy things, and treated her soul like a treasure. And shockingly, she’s felt the same towards me. That should be what America is all about. It once was. For us, it still is.

Scripture makes it clear we are to present the light and let them either come or go when they see it. We should of course pray first, during, and after for the seeds to fall on good soil. But the sower isn’t responsible for improving the soil. Only scattering the seed. We shouldn’t do things, either in culture or in our own hearts and souls, that make our own soil more stony. We can cancel out of institutions that hate us. The converse of “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” is “don’t feed the mouths that bite you”. Some seeds may take time to grow, so we maintain kindness in those situations. We overcome evil with good, as we were told.

So… how?
I’m feeling deeply called to re-read the New Testament to see how the church did last time a tiny group of eleven people got cut off by a global government who wanted them all dead. A big part of that was that the disciples were the only light in a world that had gotten very, very, very dark. In such a world, not everyone is blind, but all eyes are equally useless until someone comes into the caves with a lantern lifted up to get their attention and held low to show the path. That may involve shaking the dust from our clothes as we exit Facebook groups or what not. It’s been bitterly disappointing seeing people I once regarded as mentors or at least role models go full Herodian.

Tomorrow can be as dark as it dang well please, because we don’t live there yet. Each day has enough trouble of its own, as Jesus said. As a pastor once said, there is as much darkness a foot ahead of God as there is a mile behind. Prepare for what may come, but focus on the wisdom God gives you in what to do each day. The days ahead will separate wheat from chaff, so grow your wheat and starve your chaff while you still have roots to draw from and sunlight to grow in. Night is coming, when no man can work.

I also come back to a few other verses.
Matthew 10:16
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
Do not neglect feeding your innocence, the starving of your guilt, nor observing with wisdom the things around you.

2 Chronicles 7:14
“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Alpha: Thank you. I disagree with you on many points, but I appreciate your taking the time and effort to seriously address the question.

One thing I might mention is a sort of “ethnocentric compliment” to the GOP. I haven’t pressed points against the left as much as the right, and it’s not because I think the left is better than the right (I am expecting disaster to unfold further with where Trump has placed the left, and we’re due to have a president Assume Emergency Powers), but because post-Truth Republican politics represent a greater failure to live up to conservative principles than post-Truth liberals politics fail to live up to liberal principles (unless you want to go along the same lines as Chesterton did in saying, “As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals.” or Fr. [Richard John] Neuhaus in saying that insofar as extending the franchise is bedrock to liberalism, the pro-life position is “in fact the liberal one”).

I’m also reading the New Testament and trying to focus my gaze on the Christ who is Truth.


One other thought: Kallistos Ware, in The Orthodox Church (the standard English-language introduction to the Orthodox Church) comments briefly that the position of Christians today as being perhaps more like the Early Church than anything else. (The book is a must-read for certain audiences, but I am not offering it as directly how one ought to handle the things we have been discussing.)

Orthodoxy is not really involved in reconstructing the Early Church, but you might take a cue from oca.org/saints, with different saints’ lives each day of the year and Early Christian martyrs as one type of regularly recurring figure.

Our role might not be to bring out a situation where we would be citizens of the Christian, Byzantine Empire where the society was Christian, but to be sacrifices who, like the Early Church, shone the light of one candle rather than curse the darkness (and, eventually, triumphed over the Empire that wanted them dead).

When the Roman persecutions ended, one saint complained that easy living robs the Church of her saints.

Monasticism, called “white martyrdom” where what you would ordinarily call martyrdom is called “red martyrdom,” is essentially a surrogate for in peaceful times how you can obtain the spiritual profit known in the Early Church, persecuted in the Roman Empire.

Delta: Hi all

I have been following the correspondence with interest, although not being in North America some of the allusions pass me by!

What worries me is not so much the politics as the situation. Whatever their views, when large social media companies can disenfranchise bits of the population, life is getting dangerous. When some of those disenfranchised then set up their own platform, only to have it closed by a large retailer (Amazon), then I am really worried! At that point government has become irrelevant and it doesn’t matter much who is “in power”, because they are not.

Bravo: Yes Delta,

We are entering uncharted territory. It is no joke when power is vested in totally unelected corporate entities and the government sees them as allies rather than the “robber barons“ of yesteryear.

On social media we should be very wary . How many people could be losing jobs, or more, because of incorrect positions on Facebook?

We are rapidly approaching the same system already in effect in China and elsewhere , where citizens obtain scores based on evaluation through social networks.

This system of public exposure and correction is already playing a part in a small local network used in our municipality.

We cannot even be sure that this forum will always be free and available.

Social media has put the excesses of the Middle Ages on steroids.

A bit scary?

Alpha: As the world bares its teeth, God the Spiritual Father becomes more relevant.

An old hymn runs,

Keep your eyes on Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of this world will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.


It’s been some time that Twitter has had people seeing that at least some strains of conservative tweets (regarding LGBTQ+) were artificially censored from showing up from trending on Twitter.

Do We Have Rights? applies here. It may be helpful to see that what we have been deprived of has never been our right to begin with.

Meanwhile, in what truly counts, all of us have God’s ear, and his Providence.


To go to literal ancient history, I would like to look at economic policy under two emperors who persecuted Christians.

Decius created short-term convenience by devaluing the currency; in the ancient world, the value of (coin) currency was precious metal content, and he took in coins that were a third silver and paid out coins that were just dipped in silver.

Diocletian faced spiralling inflation, and (the one point where I remember the text expressing astonishment that an emperor thought something would work) assumed that inflation was just due to merchant greed, and placed signs by marketplaces announcing maximum prices and forbidding merchants on pain of death from charging more. Unfortunately for everyone, these prices were below cost for merchants, and legal merchants stopped selling things… which ended up driving prices even higher.

Now to more recent history in Wheaton, one move that was taken to curb Wheaton going liberal was to require professors to sign a Statement of Faith that said, among other things, that Adam and Eve were created from earth and not from hominids. I remember speaking with one psychology professor who interviewed with Wheaton and said she didn’t really believe that Adam and Eve were not made from hominids. She met with an answer of, “None of us really believe that,” and she responded with an astonished, “Then don’t sign it!”

The intent in the move was to curb liberalizing movements by selecting for people such as Wheaton attracts who believe in literal creation of humans not from any other life form but straight from earth. Unfortunately, such people exist but they are few and far between. The actual effect was to select for people such as Wheaton attracts who would perhaps openly cross their fingers in signing a major commitment to belief, which may have accelerated feminism’s becoming dominant at Wheaton.

I think, rightly or wrongly, that some of Donald Trump’s actions may accelerate things which have a nasty backswing. And that maybe going tit-for-tat won’t solve the problem.


I’m not sure my last email was constructive.

I would like to give a link to the Sermon on the Mount, which is if anything the Constitution of the Kingdom of Heaven:

https://powerbible.info/?passage=Matthew+5-7

I’m returning to the Gospel after an overdose in current events.


I was winding down for sleep when I had something come to mind. I am usually wary when I meet surprising cultural finds that alter the plain sense of a Biblical text significantly, but I post from Blessed Are the Peacemakers, the oldest work on my site:

Jesus said “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matt. 5:39) This is not a command to act as if you have no rights and passively let yourself be regarded as subhuman, but rather an insistence on the fact that you do have rights. In the society of that time, a slap on the cheek was not intended as a physical injury but rather as an insult, putting an inferior back in his or her place. The strength of that insult depended greatly upon which hand dealt it: as the left hand was seen as unclean, a slap with the left hand was the insult far greater than one dealt with the right hand. This was reflected in the legal penalties for an inappropriate slap: the penalty for slapping a peer with your left hand was a fine one hundred times the penalty for slapping a peer with your right hand; the penalty for slapping a better with your right hand was a fine while the penalty for slapping a better with your left hand was death. The people Jesus was speaking to most directly were, by and large, slaves and the downtrodden. A slap on the right cheek was dealt with the left hand. To turn the other cheek would leave the master with two options. The first would be to slap the slave again, but this time with the right hand (therefore declaring the slave a peer). The second would be not to slap the slave again (therefore effectively rescinding the first slap). Now, such impudence and sauciness would often tend to bring punishment, but it none the less says “Hey, I’m a human. I have rights. You can’t treat me like this.” It is not an action without suffering for oneself, nor does it inflict suffering on the “enemy”: but it does say and do something in a powerful way.

“Go the extra mile” was commanded in reference to compulsion to carry a soldier’ pack (same term in some language as would be used for military conscription), on Rome’s decisively good roads, with mile markers (in more or less the same sense as some countries have mile markers today).

A Roman soldier could conscript civilians to carry his pack for one mile but not more, and he faced stiff punishment if he required someone to carry his pack for more than a mile. The expected civilian behavior would be to carry an onerous pack until the next mile and then get away from it as quickly as possible. An entirely unexpected behavior would be to carry the soldier’s pack for one mile, and then keep on walking to try to carry it to two miles.

As Orthodox now, I have accepted communion with warrior-saints like St. George and St. Mercurius, and people who did not raise a finger in self-defense, like St. Boris and St. Gleb. Meaning that I do not get to pick and choose who is pleasing to God. I also have dropped my assumption that we have rights.

I’m wondering, though, if there might be some pearls in the sand in Blessed Are the Peacemakers. Christ was, at least on the account I mentioned (which I heard in a pacifist church), giving an effective and unexpected outline of resistance to be used by the poor and downtrodden. Some people have said they liked the article, and one veteran I asked for feedback on it said that there are precious few articulations of a pacifist position (and I did specifically engage soldiers for feedback). It’s fairly easy to find an articulation of just war; explaining how pacifism could make sense is not so easily found.

FWIW.


St. Basil the Great’s life story includes the following:

The emperor Valens, mercilessly sending into exile any bishop who displeased him, and having implanted Arianism into other Asia Minor provinces, suddenly appeared in Cappadocia for this same purpose. He sent the prefect Modestus to Saint Basil. He began to threaten the saint with the confiscation of his property, banishment, beatings, and even death.

Saint Basil said, “If you take away my possessions, you will not enrich yourself, nor will you make me a pauper. You have no need of my old worn-out clothing, nor of my few books, of which the entirety of my wealth is comprised. Exile means nothing to me, since I am bound to no particular place. This place in which I now dwell is not mine, and any place you send me shall be mine. Better to say: every place is God’s. Where would I be neither a stranger and sojourner (Ps. 38/39:13)? Who can torture me? I am so weak, that the very first blow would render me insensible. Death would be a kindness to me, for it will bring me all the sooner to God, for Whom I live and labor, and to Whom I hasten.”

The official was stunned by his answer. “No one has ever spoken so audaciously to me,” he said.

“Perhaps,” the saint remarked, “that is because you’ve never spoken to a bishop before. In all else we are meek, the most humble of all. But when it concerns God, and people rise up against Him, then we, counting everything else as naught, look to Him alone. Then fire, sword, wild beasts and iron rods that rend the body, serve to fill us with joy, rather than fear.”

Reporting to Valens that Saint Basil was not to be intimidated, Modestus said, “Emperor, we stand defeated by a leader of the Church.” Basil the Great again showed firmness before the emperor and his retinue and made such a strong impression on Valens that the emperor dared not give in to the Arians demanding Basil’s exile.


It was also in my heart to post a link to Tong Fior Blackbelt and also Two Victories in Tong Fior: Following the Lord of the Dance.


(to Bravo:) I really appreciate how you have spoken about the U.S.

I know that Canadians can get weary of being regarded like the fifty-first state, and one Canadian roommate compared the relationship between our countries as “a mouse in bed with an elephant: the elephant does not know if the mouse is there, but if it rolls over, the mouse is squashed.”

If I had lived in the days of Whigs and Tories among the colonies, I might have fled to Canada.

Bravo: Growing up in war torn England and walking the graveyards of dead Americans gave me an appreciation for the “Yanks”. Also living within walking distance of the border and having spent considerable amount of time in the States gave me a genuine affinity for Americans and their zest for life and freedom.

Canada is also a great but somewhat different country, however to use another analogy of our relationship.

”Living in Canada is like living above an apartment one where they are having a rowdy but fun party.” Maybe you could turn it down a touch.

Thanks for being you.

Bravo

Alpha: You are very welcome!

Mindfulness and Manners

Mr. Jenkins One looked at his watch.

Madeleine l’Engle, A Wind in the Door

  1. Consider screen time, and multitasking, to be a drain on the mindfulness we are seeking from the East because we have rejected it in the West.

55 New Maxims for the Cyber-Quarantine

Declaring war on the pencil

I haven’t been able to trace my sources at all, but I vaguely remember a book like Good to Great talking about a company like Intuit making a decision for a product like Quicken, a decision, not just to have a collection of really nice tools, but to declare war on the pencil.

The core insight behind ?Intuit? declaring war on the pencil when it made ?Quicken? was that accounting and finance types using accounting software would also use pencil and paper, and possibly a calculator. The company’s decision was to do user research, find out when and why finance users resorted to using pencil and paper, and then implement improvements to eliminate the need to resort to pencil and paper.

(?Intuit? has also been credited with a similar feat in making a lighter and cheaper version that was not just a more feature-limited version of mainstream accounting software, but would make sense to non-accountants who did not know all the technical terms as one would expect of finance and accounting professionals using the version of ?Quicken? made for accounting and finance professionals. Hence the change in terms to a dirt-simple “money in” and “money out.” This is an additional feat of user research and knowing your audience.)

I am interested in what might be called a “neo-old-fashioned mindfulness,” and an older part of this project relates to looking at your watch more than is necessary, an ancestor to “phubbing,” or snubbing someone socially by looking at your phone. I do not seek a new project, but articulate how we can continue an age-old Western pursuit of mindfulness with a few nuances updated to be mindful when using technologies not around when this aspect of manners came to be.

In a martial arts class, the teacher commented, “Set your foot down because you want to, not because you need to.” This was in reference to a swinging kick that started with picking up your leg from behind you and ended with setting it down in front. And in fact there is a difference between moving so that you have to set your foot down or else lose your balance, and moving so that you set your foot down because you choose to do so.

The difference is illuminating.

Face-threatening behavior and basically rude behavior

When I was taking Wheaton College’s “linguistics and anthropology boot camp for missionaries,” one theme that was underlined was the concept of “face-threatening behavior.” The core concept in face-threatening behavior is behavior that could cause the other party to lose face, and it is normally polite to try to soften or remove the danger of causing the other party to lose face. The next time the lecturer was asked a question by someone in the audience, he pointed out the asker’s politeness behavior: before asking the question directly, he offered some kind words to the person he was addressing. The social subtext? “I am asking you a question, but not because you’re a bad lecturer, and I don’t want to make you lose face.” In other words, politeness leads people to usually try and avoid getting egg on someone else’s face.

I remember visiting with a friend of about my age, some years back, where my friend had asked me to look at a printer. I looked at it briefly, but didn’t immediately see how to fix it. I then apologetically asked if I could call my brother, who worked at a well-treated internal help desk. The social message? “I’m doing something that is basically rude, but I don’t want to be rude to you.” And this was when I was acting entirely out of concern for my friend. I had made a first approach to a difficulty he asked me to look at, and when that didn’t resolve the issue, I made a sensible second approach. However, my behavior was an example of how to maintain politeness while doing something that is basically rude: calling and talking with someone else on my phone when I was visiting him.

On another level, I remember a post-graduation visit to a well-liked professor who, as we were talking, glanced at his clock and then apologized, saying that he looked at the clock because he was surprised it was dark so soon. This was a graceful recovery from a minor social blunder: needlessly looking at his clock, which is an example of basically rude behavior. When Madeleine l’Engle briefly states that Mr. Jenkins One “looked at his watch,” this is a social shorthand to say that Mr. Jenkins One was tired with the present social situation, was wishing it would be over and he could be doing something else, perhaps anything else, and that he wondered how long it would continue to drag on and on. And the professor I was visiting, who has a profound ability to enjoy and be present to practically anyone, made a social recovery after a behavior that carries a message of “I wish this conversation were over.”

Mindfulness and manners

Mindfulness as we use the term today derives from Buddhism, where Right Mindfulness is part of what in Buddhism is called “the Eightfold Noble Path,” and what in classic Western philosophy would be called cardinal or hinge virtues. (A “cardinal” or “hinge” virtue is not just a virtue, but a virtue that others hinge on, cardinal being Latin for “hinge,” with a cardinal virtue being a sort of gateway drug to further virtue. The “four-horsed chariot” of the cardinal virtues of classical antiquity lists courage, classically called “fortitude” or today “grit,” justice, wisdom, and moderation, to which Christian Tradition has added faith, hope, and love, and perhaps implicitly, humility.) Now Buddhism’s Eightfold Noble Path may be a different list of cardinal virtues than those in Western philosophy, and the two may or may not be two equivalent ways of cutting up the same pie. This question need not concern us here.

Different traditions have different lists of virtues, and it does not take any particularly great stretch of the imagination for a Westerner interested in virtue to recognize, for instance, India’s ahimsa, or not causing at least needless harm, as a virtue, and perhaps recognize it as a profound virtue and a cardinal virtue. It has also in my experience not been particularly difficult to get Western Christians to see mindfulness as a virtue, at least in some other tradition’s way of cutting up the pie.

However, this is not because they do not see mindfulness as an obligation. It is because they see the obligation as falling under the heading of manners rather than moral virtue.

A friend I mentioned earlier talked about how decades back, when Walkmans were eating tapes, about how his mother or grandmother had commented that people running with Walkmans on were not paying due attention to their surroundings. I’m not entirely clear how much our society’s concept of manners extends beyond treatment of other people (perhaps manners covers being gentle with your friend’s pets, or at very least leaving them alone if they’re not bothering you), but there is some sense in her remark that you owe attentiveness to your surroundings whether or not there are other people in the picture, and perhaps even that “being off in your own little world” is another name for Hell.

I am not specifically interested in establishing that mindfulness should be thought of as a department of manners, nor am I interested in establishing that mindfulness is a department of virtue. In the interest of not holding my cards too close to my vest, I think it is mostly in an area where the heart of manners meets virtue, and I am inclined to regard it, as I am interested in virtues, as a virtue. However, this is not a point I am interested in establishing. It could be argued that if you owe attentiveness, meaning mindfulness, to nearby rocks and trees as well as other people, it is a virtue rather than just manners as conventionally understood, but possibly some reader will find in this article itself solid reasons to believe mindfulness is manners first and foremost and should not in the first instance be lumped in with virtues. I am genuinely not interested in the question.

However, I will remark, as curiously interesting, that while I’ve seen attention to mindfulness blanketing the air and I have been invited to share in mindfulness exercises, not one of the mindfulness practices I have seen talks about old-fashioned manners to pay attention to others and the situation. Mindfulness is discussed as a Far Eastern virtue or discipline. I have never heard it connected to old-fashioned Western manners.

Fr. Tom Hopko’s famous (to Orthodox) 55 Maxims include:

  1. Be always with Christ.
  2. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.
  3. Be polite with everyone.
  4. Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.
  5. Do your work, then forget it.
  6. Be awake and be attentive.

These at least overlap with mindfulness; when I spoke to one martial artist heavily influenced by Buddhism and quoted, “Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings,” he said, “That’s mindfulness!

Fr. Tom never uses the word “mindfulness,” but he calls for politeness to “everyone” and to be attentive, and it would at least be consistent with his call for unqualified politeness to say “When you are exercising, be attentive to your surroundings rather than using the time to be off in your own little world.” And I believe there are several maxims of his that a mindfulness practitioner would rightly interpret as being mindfulness or overlapping with mindfulness. And, while Fr. Tom is Eastern Orthodox and perhaps praying for all of us from Heaven, his 55 maxims are written almost entirely on terms the West should be able to make sense of, and the incredible number of search results for “fr tom hopko 55 maxims” attest that he has written something simple that people can connect to.

Manners are much more important, and much more than arcana about which is the salad fork. “The fork goes to the left, and the knife guards the spoon,” is a particular alphabet and language in which manners are translated. It is at the exterior of manners that, under some circumstances, you could be given a bowl of water to rinse your fingers in before eating. A much deeper glimpse into manners is afforded in that a distinguished visitor to a Queen picked up his finger bowl and then drunk it, then Her Majesty picked up her finger bowl and then drunk it, and then every person seated around the table picked up their finger bowls and drunk them.

Manners, at least according to older generations and according to our conversations about manners with prior generations, has a great deal to do with paying attention to other people. It was both manners and mindfulness if Boomers and Gen X’s teachers told us not to pass notes and throw paper airplanes in class, perhaps with exceptions for e.g. the last day of school, but the fact that this may have made life easier for the teacher is incidental to teachers using humble gradeschool arithmetic classes to teach a major life lesson, and a major life lesson that is not only for dealing with authorities. I remember talking to one friend with a spine of steel about children who do not respect adults, and the biggest takeaway I took from the conversation is not that children who do not respect adults grind down adult patience. It was that children who do not respect adults can hardly benefit from adult help, and it is far easier to do something that will benefit a child who respects adults than one who is hostile and disrespectful.

In Madeleine l’Engle’s day, needless attention to a watch or clock was the go-to device to avoid practicing mindfulness for a time. It changed and told you where you are. This pint of beer that Boomers tried not to drink too many of has been replaced by a pint of rum in the smartphone, and a pint of weed in the smartwatch and its successors. Mr. Jenkins One looked at his plain old pre-digital watch, probably one without a second hand, while kids now enjoy (or are bored with) a virtual acid trip quickly surfing from one smartphone app to another.

If we care about mindfulness, an excellent starting point is to drink deeply of what we can learn about manners especially from Boomers while we still can.

My own rather counter-cultural technology choices

Some people seek great merit in being counter-culture. I do not think counter-culture is too great an index of merit, and not just because I believe some countercultures, such as the Klu Klux Klan, are evil incarnate. I have sought, even if I have so far not achieved my goal, to reach life on Orthodox turf where I will not be working out a private heresy in counterculture. None the less, I believe that many of my most helpful technology choices amount to counterculture, whether or not I have the faintest desire to be counter-cultural.

I’ve tried to share some of my fruits in 55 New Maxims for the Cyber-Quarantine; here I would like to zoom in on watches.

When I was in high school, and for far longer, I made it a matter of pride not to wear a watch. It helped me evade, for a certain age, the tyranny of the clock. Since then I have worked professionally where late is unacceptable, and I’ve been bitten by the personal information management and logistics bug; I have my own system for keeping track of calendar appointment, tasks, etc., so at a glance I can see a month or more of scheduled events and when they are scheduled for. And now I own an Apple Watch.

Any freedom I have from compulsively checking phone, email, or watch is a freedom on the other side of needing to deal with logistics.

But a funny thing happened along the way.

I’ve almost exclusively used the solar watch face because, while it may be beautiful, it is less distracting than the face of my industrial strength Pathfinder watch, which changes every second and shows patterns in the numbers (to a mathematician, 11:23:58 looks familiar). I have it set to a smaller analog clock face display within the solar face because from childhood I’ve found analog clocks harder to read than digital. (If analog clocks were easier for me, I would have the digital display, and if I had the option to turn off the inset clock besides the outer solar display, I would turn it off.)

Taking a cue from Humane Tech, I have dug around in “Accessibility” settings and set the watch face to grayscale. It’s beautiful, and the analog clock face’s second hand, brown on blue when seen in color, blends in remarkably well. I have to strain to see it the one time I genuinely want to watch a second hand’s sweep. I also found, under “Display and Brightness,” how to turn off one of the key reasons I purchased an Apple Watch 5: its “Always on” display. It now takes just a little more work to check my watch, supplemented by wearing an oversized fleece whose sleeves tend to cover my watch face.

I’ve also turned on the hourly chime, also an accessibility feature. This reminds me to check the clock once an hour, and relieves me of having to constantly check. If I need to check email once an hour (my preference is to check it once a day), I don’t need to check either my watch or my email compulsively; my watch will remind me on the hour.

Furthermore, I set alarms for when I need to do something. Besides appointments and things like taking medication, I have followed a practice recommended by sleep advocates and set an alarm for when I should go to bed and not when I should get up.

I would briefly pause and acknowledge one objection to the technique above, which is that doing things according to a preset timer and quite possibly stopping when you have momentum going is not as good as working on tasks for as long as they naturally take. For those no ancient or modern watch is needed. However, while I believe working on something for however long it takes to unfold naturally is often better than working for a fixed length of time set without knowledge of how things will unfold, I believe that use of intelligently set alarms is better than clock-watching. (One further aspect of intelligent use of alarms is to have two alarms for something: one five or ten minutes before, meaning when you look at your watch because of the “early warning” alarm, it’s time to start wrapping up; and one at the exact time, meaning it’s time to stop.)

I have almost completely unplugged logistic need to check my watch unprovoked, and I may have the most unobtrusive, if still most expensive, watch I’ve owned. Every non-Apple watch I’ve owned had a digital display, and most recent ones have been gadgety (I have owned three Pathfinders). However, the gadgetry is almost always there if I summon it, and I can take shortcuts by twiddling with complications.

The Apple Watch is designed and marketed as the next level of integrating digital and everyday life, and in my opinion that is not a wise thing to be wishing for at all.

However, it is also powerful enough that judicious choices mean it can be tamed into unobtrusiveness further than any previous watch I’ve owned.

I’m glad for my Apple Watch. For as long as I’ve owned a timepiece, my Apple Watch is the biggest friend of mindfulness to grace my wrist yet.

A few closing words

I would recall a few words from Seeing Through Native Eyes. The main speaker recounted a visit to Kalihari bushmen, who retain hunter-gatherer life unhindered today, and an elder asked him in reference to a device, “Is that a timepiece?”

He said, “Yes.”

The elder said, “Then I don’t like it.”

He said, “Why not?”

The elder said, “Every time you look at it, the next thing you do is rude.”

If you want mindfulness, cultivate an inexhaustible interest in manners.