An Author Interview by… the Author Himself!

Cover for Orthodox Theology and Technology: A Profoundly Gifted Autobiography

Interviewer: You’re interviewing yourself? Some of your opponents might say that’s a bit odd and egotistical. I’d like to give you a chance to respond to what your opponents are saying.

C.S. Hayward: Um, well, yes, I have plenty of ego, and this is a bit unusual, and some people who know me might find it a surprise, if perhaps a believable surprise. But may I comment?

Interviewer: Certainly. What do you have to say for yourself?

C.S. Hayward: As far as denying that I am proud, I’m not interested in defending myself. If I am to be defended, and I am not innocent, my defense would best be spoken by others’ lips. But as for a reason, I do have a particular practical reason for such an odd process.

Interviewer: What’s that?

C.S. Hayward: Awesome Gang offers a free interview for an author to promote his book, and I can only call that a work of mastery for all kinds of authors offering all kinds of books. But there is a weakness in such a master-stroke: the cookie cutter allows discussion of the Scandal of the Particular, but I wished something almost entirely driven by suchlike scandal. I want questions that allow me to speak, and at times much more particular questions, even if (for instance) my website’s author biography is very unusual for a personal biography:

Who is Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward? A man, made in the image of God and summoned to ascend to the heights of the likeness of God. A great sinner, and in fact, the chief of sinners. One who is, moment by moment, in each ascetical decision choosing to become one notch more a creature of Heaven, or one notch more a creature of Hell, until his life is spent and his eternal choice between Heaven and Hell is eternally sealed.

Man, mediator, midpoint, microcosm, measure: as man he is the recapitulation of the entire spiritual and visible creation, having physical life in common with plants and animals, and noetic life in common with rank upon rank of angel host, and forever in the shadow of that moment when Heaven kissed earth and God and the Son of God became Man and the Son of Man that men and the sons of men might become gods and the sons of God.

He’s also a writer with a few hobbies, but really, there are more important things in life.

Interviewer: What would you respond to people who say that’s not really the scandal of particular!

C.S. Hayward: It draws attention to something overlooked in a standard statement of what makes your uniqueness, as marketers would have it. I claim for myself the glory and the shame of being human. And I stand indebted to one monk who had managed some prestigious obediences, but as far as the story of his coming to Orthodoxy, wrote, “The story of _________’s coming to Orthodoxy was told to the priest who received him, under the seal of confession, and he received absolution for his sins.” And I can’t really do better than that. Or rather, I have only said anything much better and much more specific than that under the seal of absolution. I’ve had an interesting life story, and other aspects are told in my autobiography, Orthodox Theology and Technology (my first impulse was to mention The Luddite’s Guide to Technology, which I consider my work most likely to be significant). But the distinction I seek is in repentance, both in the sense of something all Orthodox are called to, and as a term for monasticism.

Interviewer: “Orthodox Theology and Technology?” Do you consider yourself a theologian?

C.S. Hayward: The story is told of a liberal scholar who went to the Holy Mountain and told a monk that he was a theologian, and the monk suddenly acted very obsequious and began kissing his feet. The academician asked why on earth the monk was acting that way, and the monk explained, “We had St. John the Theologian, and then some centuries later we had St. Gregory the Theologian, and then some centuries after that we had St. Symeon the New Theologian, and now, we have… you!

It is not a respected affirmation that one is the fourth in that series, but if I may speak for the “underdog perspective” (Fr. Seraphim of Platina said it is noble to defend the underdog), the standard Western use of “theologian,” especially without the idea that you bracket any religious beliefs you have and work in theology in an atheistic approach, is a concept that has legitimate use, and in a devout Western setting the claim to be a theologian is not meant or taken as a claim to be the fourth of that august company that directly experience God. For that matter, the Philokalia talks about people engaging in “theology”, meaning the direct experience of God and not the accumulation of the more usual kind knowledge concerning God.

Orthodoxy in recent years, to fill the gap of someone who works to understand God without the claim to be the fourth in that august company, has developed the term “patrologist” to mean someone who devoutly studies what academics trade in, and is the general term for someone who has not specialized in something with a more specific term. And I would claim to be a patrologist lite, perhaps not the best out there even in my interests. It’s kind of a way of answering a Westerner’s question of whether I study what a Westerner would consider theology, but without the implications of a claim to be the fourth Theologian in the Orthodox Church’s history.

I was studying at an Orthodox seminary, but that seemed to get derailed because my need-based financial aid was not registered, and my strong hope is to get to St. Demetrios’s monastery in Virginia whether it takes one trip or several, insofar as I am able to. I’m not sure if you’ve read Everyday Saints and Other Stories, but the words are fragrant with the fragrance of Heaven yet simple such I have rarely, if ever, pulled off myself. In that book, Orthodox seminarians tend to be arrogant and clueless, enough so that a seminarian who should know enough patristics to know that thC.e Orthodox Church claims a wealth of only three Theologians, introduces himself as a theologian and is surprised when he is asked, “You’re the fourth?” And I wonder if having introduced myself as a seminarian I have introduced myself as arrogant and clueless in like terms.

Interviewer: Um, you’re introducing yourself as “C.S. Hayward.”

C.S. Hayward Yes, and may I say a few things about that?

First, I owe C.S. Lewis a greater debt than perhaps any mortal writer. I’ve read 90% of all he has written, including some of The Neglected C.S. Lewis, and he shaped me enough as an author that I’ve been told, “You write like an Englishman.”

And there’s also what Graham Clinton, founder of International Christian Mensa, said.

Interviewer: What’s that?

C.S. Hayward: I asked him, in perhaps inexusable vanity, if I might be the next C.S. Lewis. His first reply could be taken as a very diplomatic “No.” He said, “Sure, you could be, but why would you want to?”

But the next major point he tried to make was really about how the World Wars emphatically “killed off all our talent.” He said simply that all the A-level talent in England got killed off, leaving B’s like C.S. Lewis to be promoted when they would otherwise have had to work for a living (his term). The implication was that I was A-level talent wanting to be compared to B-level talent.

And on Facebook, which isn’t too keen on having people known by initalism, entered my name as Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward, expecting it to be collapsed and yield “CJSH.” Readers found enough kindness and affinity to condense to “CSH” meaning, “C.S. Hayward.” So why not?

Interviewer: So what has life been like? I noticed that you are applying, at 46, to a monastery that’s looking for novices in their 30’s.

C.S. Hayward: Yes; may I say a word about that?

Interviewer: Certainly.

C.S. Hayward: That is not simply an arbitrary or superstitious requirement; they are presumably looking for people who still have a certain flexibility to be able to adjust to monastic ways. And may I speak about that?

Interview: Yes.

C.S. Hayward: The mainstream understanding of learning languages is that languages are best learned as a child, and not as an adult. However, this is a rule of thumb and not an unyielding principle. The usual course of language development is to learn one’s first language, and then redeploy the grey matter that can learn languages once no new languages are being learned. But I’ve continued to learn languages, if not always very well, and at Cambridge I was told I was learning Greek as a child did. And when I took the modern languages aptitude test, as an adult, I scored (mumble) and was told for instance, “I’ve been scoring this test for thirty years and I’ve never seen a score this high.” I have master’s degrees in math and “theology.” Both were interdisciplinary, and both were from a world-class institution: UIUC and Cambridge.

I don’t want to mindread or psychologize what would motivate a monastery to make such a request, since retirees have become successful monks, but the obvious concern is a rational one: the monastery may prefer candidates who are not too set in their ways to adapt to monastic life.

And I have continued to have changing life circumstances: studying and returning to school, ineptly fitting recruiter roles in information technology, and retirement on disability. I was able to survive for two years studying theology at Fordham, and I have continued to make major adjustments every few years ago. So I believe I could age-wise be accommodated to monasticism. I’ve kept alive the ability to adjust to different circumstances as I’ve kept alive, at least badly, the ability to learn languages (and have read the Bible in English, French, Spanish, Latin, Greek, Slavonic, and modern Russian and just dipped into Ukrainian). I have a T-shirt that says, “Я ез США. Говорите медленное пожалуеста” (“I’m from the USA. Please speak slowly.”).

Interviewer: Who made it?

C.S. Hayward: I did, and I’ve been clearly advised not to wear it to a Slavic monastery. I might still use it as a night mask or as an undershirt.

Interviewer: I’ve just taken a look at Profoundly Gifted and Orthodox at Fordham. Eek! What sense did you make of that?

C.S. Hayward: The biggest is that the forces of evil only have a hand on me so far as I disobeyed. The first time they needlessly endangered my life, it was strongly in my conscience to complain to the President of the university. I failed to do so; had I obeyed, I might have had a channel open when things went really wrong. Also, I tried the hardest of my life to befriend the great Fr. John Behr, identified as A____ in the document. My conscience was to give him a wide, wide berth. My faults ratified others’ decisions and failings.

But there is one thing I would like to clarify.

Interviewer: Yes?

C.S. Hayward: I haven’t ever really been off-track except as… I may have tried plan A to get a Ph.D., and then a plan B, and then a plan C, and so on down the alphabet, but my as my spiritual director told me during one of our first meetings, God is always on plan A, even if we think we’re going down the alphabet. Even if I never succeeded at further entering a doctoral program or getting an academic position, even a community college adjunct professorship at a large College of DuPage.

Interviewer: You think you’re on a Plan A?

C.S. Hayward: Bookmark and read God the Spiritual Father sometime. I am not on my own Plan A, but God is on Plan A. The International Christian Mensa Founder’s unfailing, ever-polite requests for me to wake up, said, “Your job is not to write the books that PhD’s write. Your job is to write the books that PhD’s read.” And I have written books for scholars and nonscholars, gently suggested that Fr. John’s St. Vladimir’s Seminary can stop sucking Fordham’s staff, in more ways than one. (I’ve gone through that discipline myself).) I have also had a whole lot of being in the right place at the right time. My website is enormous, with a print “Complete Works” series that occupies eleven volumes of four to six hundred pages, and that’s a dense four to six hundred pages per book. Not all of it is excellent, but some are pretty good.

Interviewer: Sounds like you’ve shined through some pretty rough stuff.

C.S. Hayward: I have a lot to be grateful for, and not just in relation for my writing. I have a covered dental visit coming up where I’ll end up with a root canal, crown, and partial being paid for. You may say that a root canal is little to be excited about, but really, having dental work covered is something to be grateful for.

Interviewer: And you are grateful.

C.S. Hayward: I am not worthy or capable of thanking God adequately for all the good he continues to show for me. But I give praise, even when I am unworthy to give praise.

And I am glad to be visiting the monastery. I don’t know if they will require multiple visits, or whether they’ll follow a practice on the Holy Mountain and allow me to come as a pilgrim and stay as a novice. But in any case, the abbot’s decision will be part of God’s Plan A, even if I am not allowed to join. All that’s really left to me is due diligence. And I’m working hard on the “due diligence” part, such as having a collection of pants with varying waist sizes so I’ll have pants that fit me as my waist shrinks on a monastic diet. I’m really looking forward to it, I’ve been told the abbot is kind, and even if he makes a decision I don’t want him to make, God will still be on Plan A.

Onwards and Upwards, as we said at Avery Coonley School!

My Life’s Work

TL;DR

Own my complete collection in paperback! It is well worth it.

A Foxtrot cartoon featuring a tilted house and the words, "Peter, maybe you should take those Calvin and Hobbes books to the other side of the house.

OK, so I’m a dwarf standing on giants’ shoulders, but…


A life’s work between two covers…   er, almost a dozen pairs of covers with four to six hundred pages in between…   that could nicely adorn about two feet of space on your bookshelf…   a little smaller in size than the complete Calvin and Hobbes…

C.J.S. Hayward
Image by kind permission of the Wade Center.

“Must… fight… temptation…. to read… brilliant and interesting stuff from C.J.S. Hayward…. until…. after… work!”

—Kent Nebergall

If you don’t know me, my name is Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward, which I usually abbreviate “C.J.S. Hayward.”

But my name has to my surprise trilettered on Facebook to “CSH,” for “C.S. Hayward”. As in, the natural successor to C.S. Lewis. I take that as a big compliment.

I’m an Eastern Orthodox author, who grew up reading C.S. Lewis, and has read almost everything he wrote, including some of those reviewed in C.S. Lewis: The Neglected Works, but have written many different things in many styles. Readers have written things about parts of the the colllection like (J. Morovich):

A collection of joyful, challenging, insightful, intelligent, mirthful and jarring essays written by an Eastern Orthodox author who is much too wise for his years.

and (D. Donovan):

Each piece is a delight: partially because each ‘speaks’ using a different voice and partly because a diversity of topics and cross-connections between theology and everyday living makes the entire collection a delight to read, packed with unexpected twists, turns, and everyday challenges.

And all this for some of this collection.

These pieces are a joy to read, and a gateway to help you enter a larger world, and open up doors that you never dreamed were there to open. Want to really see how “There are more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy?” Read these.

This little library includes nearly everything I’ve written–roughly 365 works in 12 volumes. The works in each volume are quite varied and most are short.) I omit software projects and the occasional interactive webpage. What all is offered? Works in this series include: novellas, short stories, poems and prayers, articles, and humor.

The one single work I would recommend most by far, and has been strongly recommended by others, is The Consolation of Theology. It is based on a classic The Consolation of Philosophy, and it is meant to give consolation, joy, strength, insights and things that are beyond mere insight. In a pandemic, a collapsing economy, and times when grandmas are buying shotguns, and perhaps other things in the pipeline, happiness is possible, in our reach, and it is real.

My story includes Protestant origins and a progressive discovery of Orthodox Christianity. Because this is a collection of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, I have set the works I would particularly recommend in bold in the Table of Contents.

I’ve also dropped the specified price per volume from $29.99 to $19.99.

C.J.S. Hayward

Buy the C.J.S. Hayward: The Complete Works on Amazon now!

 
(Please note: In the past, a bug prevented an avid reader furious he couldn’t read more than the first half of the Kindle edition. The Kindle edition has one review at one star, from someone who read the first half of the book and was infuriated he couldn’t read further. I’ve since fixed that bug, but the review is live and probably deterring people from purchasing. I can and do write well-received titles.)

Why Tithe?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

One priest I know, former Evangelical Orthodox, said that a youth in the parish had asked him for a pastoral reference. When the priest got the form, it asked, “To your knowledge, has this person received Christ as his or her Lord and Savior?”

The priest said that what he wanted to write was, “Yes, almost every single Sunday!”

Protestant converts to Orthodoxy can take some things to excess, and The Protestant Phenotype tells of problems with converts I’ve never seen in other Orthodox. However, it is sad if tithing is only really done by Orthodox who were Protestant and when they were Protestant they recognized and practiced the Biblical necessity of tithing.

A financial advisor said, “I have never seen a person driven to financial ruin by tithing.” Neither have I.

One question which is asked is, “What do we get if we tithe?”

My answer to that question is as follows:

Every good thing you have was given to you from God. Your money, your possessions, your friends and family, the saints and angels’ care for you from Heaven, your life, God himself is in your life because of God’s generosity. And God does not owe you any of this.

And this generous God who has given you so much, said (Mal 3:10, Classic Orthodox Bible), “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.“)

Proverbs says a lot about money, and in it is the promise, Proverbs 19:17, “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.” And this comes from the same source as tithing.

As my own dear Vladyka has said, “The Lord never remains in debt.The Akathist to St. Philaret chants:

To thee, O camel who passed through the eye of the needle, we offer thanks and praise: for thou gavest of thy wealth to the poor, as an offering to Christ. Christ God received thy gift as a loan, repaying thee exorbitantly, in this transient life and in Heaven. Rejoice, O flowing fountain of Heaven’s treasures! (Repeated thrice.)

Giving to the Lord and the poor is something we owe… but God does not receive any of our gifts. He receives them all as loans, to be repaid at heavy interest.

Besides the fact that giving feels wonderful, it builds us a character of bubbling up generosity, like a fountain, a fruit of the Spirit, that is the very opposite of a tight fist. God wants you to live his own overflowing and abundant life. You get a character that is healthier and experience more of the abundance of Heaven itself.

And what may come with all that is that tithing may transform you into eternal life, where God himself repays you for all eternity with riches we cannot even imagine on earth.

Incidentally, this is the one point in Scripture where we are all called to put God to the test. The general rule is not to tempt God. And here we are not merely permitted but abundantly invited to tempt the Lord and find in it an occasion where God will give you good things you cannot even imagine now.

Ten percent is a baseline; God never remains in debt if you give him more, and if you give more than 10% you are entering a blessing.

But I do not want to go into that here.

God has given, and continues to give, everything we have. If we salute God with our tithes, his every blessing is on the 90% we keep.

Tithing is too good a treasure to only leave for converts.

Don’t miss out on the blessings of tithing!

And if you’re really not used to it, try this. Start giving just 1% of your income with your parish. Then, with each fast, increase it a little more, maybe another 1%, until you reach 10%. It’s easier than you think.

Why I’m Glad I’m Living Now, at This Place, at This Time, in This World

Four flags of a United States in distress.

First Things, in a column by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, muses,

Truth to tell, I’ve always had something of a soft spot for the Archbishop. He’s liberally daffy but more amusingly candid than most of that persuasion. Of course he has a very high opinion of himself, but he’s never tried to hide it. I particularly liked his public statement that he would have made a great Bishop of Salzburg in the time of Mozart but ended up as Bishop of Milwaukee in the time of rock and roll. There’s something perversely refreshing about a bishop who doesn’t mind saying that he’s too good for the people he’s called to serve.

If I had been meant to live in Salzburg at Mozart’s time, God would have done that. If I had been meant to live in the Middle Ages, in the desire that underpinned my second novel, God would have done that. And if I if I had been made to live in the age of many Church Fathers, God would have done that too. As it is, God’s providence has placed me here and now… and God may make of me a Church Father anyway, without a time machine. To nostalgic Romans, it may be a sadness that the door to the Middle Ages is closed, but to Orthodox living at the corner of east and now, the door to being patristic remains ever open, and I may die (or be subtilized by the returning Christ) a Church Father anyway. As things are, God has given me a whole lot of being in the right place in the right time, and put me in the days of… C.J.S. Hayward! I got onto the web by accident (or rather by providence that I did not see as significant) and I have multiple major websites and a big bookshelf on Amazon.

As I write, incidentally, the majority of U.S. flags I’ve seen are black and white with a strip of color, the old “Don’t tread on me” rattlesnake flag is seen not infrequently, and when I popped in to LinkedIn turned up a friend reflecting on a news item that grandmas are buying shotguns. I did not expect that, but I am not in the least surprised.

And one other thing: I can’t meaningfully prep apart from measures I have taken that have been unfruitful. I am on maintenance medications, and if I stop taking them, I’ll die within days. And as I write I seem to have COVID.

And in all this, I am grateful. St. John Chrysostom’s final words were, “Glory be to God for all things!” and I echo them. I have food, shelter, clothing, medicine, and really quite a lot of things that I do not need and I am not entitled to. I only need to be faithful today with what I have today. God will bring tomorrow, and not knowing what tomorrow may bring i s much less important if you know Who will bring tomorrow.

And my death is, basically, non-negotiable. God, in his great mercy, does not let us know ahead of time when we die, because we would put off repentance and be incorrigible sinners in the hour of death. A few saints know ahead when they will die. They are so secure spiritually that they will not be less faithful for knowing. For the rest of us, it is mercy that we do not know. I could, possibly, die within days. I could for that matter die sooner: when I got my first COVID injection, a blood clot formed in my leg and dislodged to make trouble in my lungs, and the doctor said I was lucky I got to the hospital when I did, because it could have killed me. I think COVID injections are the greatest breakthrough in human health since DDT, but I digress. I could die an old man, like my grandfather who lived to be 95. I could live to see the returning Christ. And which of these, or other possibilities, hold, is not my concern. Each day has enough trouble of its own—and I have found solving a life’s problems on a day’s resources to be an entirely preventable ticket to despair.

Some people think that this life is only a preparatory life and is therefore unimportant St. Nikolai, in Prayers by the Lake, talked (I forget exactly where) about how birth and death are only an inch apart, and the ticker tape goes on forever.

This makes what we choose in this life incredibly important. We can only “save for retirement” between birth and death. We can only repent between birth and death. After death, improving the lot we have eternally chosen in this life will be impossible. I wish to live in repentance for the rest of my life, but I have not gotten to monasticism yet, but if death cuts short my attempts, that matters less than you might think. God treats an active intent as if the person had done what is intended; I do not see I can rightly stop seeking monastic repentance, but if I am faithful and fail, I am in the same position as martyrs said to be “baptized in their own blood” because they were martyred before they could even reach baptism.

And, to borrow from a childhood favorite, A Wind in the Door (my esteem is much less for it now), the heroine “felt as though fingers were gentle fingers pushing her down,” I sought to stay when I visited Mount Athos and was told that the conditions for being made a saint are in America, and implicitly reminded that monastic “white martyrdom” is an artificial surrogate to the “red martyrdom” of the Church in a hostile world.

I would like to quote a unicorn in C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, though I’m not sure it applies to our world:

He said that the Sons and Daughters of Adam and Eve were brought out of their own strange world only at times Narnia was upset, but she mustn’t think that things were always like that. In between their visits there were hundreds and thousands of years when peaceful king followed peaceful king till you could hardly remember their names or count their numbers, and there was really hardly anything to put in the History Books.

As to the question of why God did not create Narnia and bring me to it, I reply that every excellence is incomparably excelled in what “eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor any heart imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” I can’t get to a real Narnia, but I’m trying to get to a real “better than Narnia,” a “better than Narnia that begins on earth, as I discuss in A Pilgrimage from Narnia:

A Pilgrimage from Narnia

Wardrobe of fur coats and fir trees:
Sword and armor, castle and throne,
Talking beast and Cair Paravel:
From there began a journey,
From thence began a trek,
Further up and further in!

The mystic kiss of the Holy Mysteries,
A many-hued spectrum of saints,
Where the holiness of the One God unfurls,

Holy icons and holy relics:
Tales of magic reach for such things and miss,
Sincerely erecting an altar, “To an unknown god,”
Enchantment but the shadow whilst these are realities:
Whilst to us is bidden enjoy Reality Himself.
Further up and further in!

A journey of the heart, barely begun,
Anointed with chrism, like as prophet, priest, king,
A slow road of pain and loss,
Giving up straw to receive gold:
Further up and further in!

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner,
Silence without, building silence within:
The prayer of the mind in the heart,
Prayer without mind’s images and eye before holy icons,
A simple Way, a life’s work of simplicity,
Further up and further in!

A camel may pass through the eye of a needle,
Only by shedding every possession and kneeling humbly,
Book-learning and technological power as well as possessions,
Prestige and things that are yours— Even all that goes without saying:
To grow in this world one becomes more and more;
To grow in the Way one becomes less and less:
Further up and further in!

God and the Son of God became Man and the Son of Man,
That men and the sons of men might become gods and the sons of God:
The chief end of mankind,
Is to glorify God and become him forever.
The mysticism in the ordinary,
Not some faroff exotic place,
But here and now,
Living where God has placed us,
Lifting where we are up into Heaven:
Paradise is wherever holy men are found.
Escape is not possible:
Yet escape is not needed,
But our active engagement with the here and now,
And in this here and now we move,
Further up and further in!

We are summoned to war against dragons,
Sins, passions, demons:
Unseen warfare beyond that of fantasy:
For the combat of knights and armor is but a shadow:
Even this world is a shadow,
Compared to the eternal spoils of the victor in warfare unseen,
Compared to the eternal spoils of the man whose heart is purified,
Compared to the eternal spoils of the one who rejects activism:
Fighting real dragons in right order,
Slaying the dragons in his own heart,
And not chasing (real or imagined) snakelets in the world around:
Starting to remove the log from his own eye,
And not starting by removing the speck from his brother’s eye:

Further up and further in!

Spake a man who suffered sorely:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time,
Are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us,
and:
Know ye not that we shall judge angels?
For the way of humility and tribulation we are beckoned to walk,
Is the path of greatest glory.
We do not live in the best of all possible worlds,
But we have the best of all possible Gods,
And live in a world ruled by the him,
And the most painful of his commands,
Are the very means to greatest glory,
Exercise to the utmost is a preparation,
To strengthen us for an Olympic gold medal,
An instant of earthly apprenticeship,
To a life of Heaven that already begins on earth:
He saved others, himself he cannot save,
Remains no longer a taunt filled with blasphemy:
But a definition of the Kingdom of God,
Turned to gold,
And God sees his sons as more precious than gold:
Beauty is forged in the eye of the Beholder:
Further up and further in!

When I became a man, I put away childish things:
Married or monastic, I must grow out of self-serving life:
For if I have self-serving life in me,
What room is there for the divine life?
If I hold straw with a death grip,
How will God give me living gold?
Further up and further in!

Verily, verily, I say to thee,
When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself,
And walkedst whither thou wouldest:
But when thou shalt be old,
Thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee,
And carry thee whither thou wouldest not.

This is victory:
Further up and further in!

And for our world, I would quote C.S. Lewis in saying that “humanity has always been on a precipice.” Such study as I have had of Byzantine history leads me not to wonder that Constantinople fell, but that over a millennium after Constantine, after many times the Empire should have resolved, it took modern cannons to break through Constantinople’s walls and subdue the great city. “Humanity has always been on a precipice”–and it seems to be increasingly more of a precipice.

It is believed by some Orthodox that Hinduism has room for the demonic and OrthoChristian.com describes Orthodox mission in India as “Perpetual Embers,” but do not speak ill to a Hindu of Krishna and the milk-maids. However, it is not provocative to call Kali demonic: a goddess of death who wears a necklace of skulls and bestows madness as her special blessing. Or at least I don’t see why it need offend a Hindu.

I have what I would call an “unintendedly kept loan” in that I was loaned a copy of the Bhagavad-Gita (“Song of God”) by an Indian woman, and then lost all contact and don’t see how to return it. Nor was the loan small; the Bhagavad-Gita was accompanied by commentary, as is Hindu tradition to unpack their greatest classic, in a beautiful two-volume boxed set. And the front matter talked about our being in the “Kali-yuga,” or age of Kali. I don’t know or understand what exactly a Hindu would mean by the Kali-yuga, but I can take a guess. And I have had some contact with the movement called “Traditionalists,” which find certain underlying themes in many world religions that are threatened in the modern way of life and are sympathetic to Hindus who would see a Kali-yuga:

There is a singularity which has developed over past centuries, was present in decisive breaks made in the scientific revolution that paved the way to hard science as we know it, and has been unfolding and accelerating, and now crassly has vomited TV’s and cellphones on Africa, the poorest continent. One obvious question is, “Do you mean the Book of Revelation?” and my answer is an emphatic “Yes… and No…” There are certain things which I believe we have been told will pass as Revelation is fulfilled. These include great tribulation, the coming of the Antichrist, and the return of Christ in glory to judge the living and the dead, and the glorious resurrection. But trying to pin down Biblical prophecy down in detail is essentially an attempt to get a crystal clear view into deep waters that are impregnably and unfathomably murky. Don’t, at least not before the prophecies have been fulfilled.

However, while I have extreme suspicion for detailed point-for-point pinpointing the events in Revelation, I think it is a much more possible and profitable measure to study the singularity we are in as a singularity, a point I explore with some video in Revelation and Our Singularity.

A student of World War II may be able to pinpoint a linchpin in German manufacturing. There was a single point of failure in a ball bearing factory. If that factory had been taken out, it would all but destroyed Nazi Germany’s capability to produce cars, trucks, tanks, and airplanes. Now let me ask: where is the linchpin in our technological society? Trick question! There are so many that no one knows how many there are. One of the most Luddite statements I’ve read is from a computer programmer: “If builders built buildings the way computer programmers write programs, the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization.”

At Honey Rock, there was a delightful place called “the Web” that used World War II cargo netting to make a great amusement for kids. It, after several decades, fell beyond safe use, and the camp’s people tried hard to find replacements. There were none to be found, came the conclusion from their research. Furthermore, it is now a respectable number of decades since technological museum curators have computer media that they believe to likely be intact but which they have no idea how to interpret. Cryptanalysis can break all sorts of very well-engineered codes. However, storage media produced with neither the desire nor attempt towards secrecy cannot straightforwardly read media that was intended to be straightforward to read.

To put things in miniature, like almost any at least half-serious website I have switched from sending unencrypted HTTP to confidential HTTPS. This was a right decision, I believe. However, to do that I need to get a stream of certificates, and if someone by any means shut down my ability to obtain certificates, my website would practically be dead in the water. Search engines would now be linking to security error pages; even bookmarks wouldn’t work. I might be able to get the word out that my website was served via HTTP, if I wasn’t blocked from social media by that time, but my use of the recommended practice of serving webpages confidentially via HTTPS introduces one more single point of failure. (That’s why I’m revamping and roughly doubling my “Complete Works” collections in paperback. Amazon believes it has a total right to delete anything from a Kindle any time.) We are going from fragile to more and more and more fragile, to an effect like that in The Damned Backswing.

In a homily a few weeks back, my priest said,

Let us go to the Egyptian desert, and overhear a conversation taking place between a group of monks led by Abba Iscariot. This took place in the third century and the conversation went like this.

Abba Iscariot was asked, “What have we done in our life?”

The Abba replied, “We have done half of what our fathers did.”

When asked, “What will the ones who come after us do?”

The Abba replied, “They are doing the half of what we are doing now.”

And to the question, “What will the Christians of the last days do?”

He replied, “They will not be able to do any spiritual exploits, but those who keep the faith, they will be glorified more than our fathers who raised the dead.

We live in an exciting time.

My spiritual director said, “We think we are not on Plan A any more, not on Plan B, not on Plan C, and so on down the alphabet, but God is always on Plan A.

If you wonder how that could possibly be, I invite you to read God the Spiritual Father.

Branding is the New Root of All Evil

Cover for The Luddite's Guide to Technology

I would like to talk about something I am grateful to my parents 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.

King

O King of Kings,
O Lord of Lords,
O God of Gods,
Who hast created me,
Why do I wish to be a king?
And why am I not satisfied,
That the Risen Christ,
Victor, King,
Hast taken our human nature,
And hast enthroned our royal race,
On His own Heavenly Throne.

If it is honour that I seek,
What more is there for me to ask,
If you admit me to your courts of worship,
And I receive the Holy Mysteries?

If it status,
And Thou receivedst me as faithful,
Anointed,
Prophet, priest, and king,
What there is more for me to ask?

Or is my disease different,
Not from any lack of honours paid,
But something cured by humility,
Not sated by the adding to the sum of my possessions,
But sated by subtracting from the sum of my desires?

And the particulars of my case:
What of them?
My PhD program was shut down,
At ill-famed Fordham University
(“We have no initials!“),
And it was not mere politeness,
When the head of International Christian Mensa said,
“Your job is not to write the books that PhD’s write.
Your job is to write the books that PhD’s read.”
And I was missing something,
When I wished some kind institution,
Would grant me some honorary degree.

A psychologist pulled me aside and asked,
“How many profoundly gifted people do you think there are at Harvard?”
Then another question and then another,
Until he drove a point:
“The average Harvard PhD has never met
Someone as talented as you.”
Did I mention that as a child,
I wished for an IQ of 400?

There are a great many stupid things I’ve wished.

What more do I wish to ask,
Now that I am retired on disability,
With a roof over my head,
And a little more income?
Is Heaven given to me less?
Is Christ? Is the Holy Spirit?
Should I ask my dear Archbishop PETER for coronation,
Or just follow an ad for “Real English titles of nobility?”
Even if His Eminence were to give me,
One of the bare titles that he doesn’t like,
Would I be the more the King of my website?

I have a roof over my head;
A wrecked career is not the worst option;
And the resources of Heaven remain open;
Even St. Michael, whose afterfeast falls as I write.
I pass through life like a vagabond,
Collecting letters after my name,
From the Sorbonne, UIUC, and Cambridge,
Possibly it is a blow of mercy that my studies at Fordham got no further,
And still I write:
And still I write.

Before the advent in force of body wave feminism,
I remember reading of women,
That the ones at peace with their figures,
Are not those of greatest external beauty,
And to be a model is to be still more insecure.
Trying to make peace with your figure,
By wearing yourself out through diet and exercise,
Is barking up the wrong fire hydrant,
Almost as foolish as me chasing honour.

People who win big,
Spend big,
And many lottery winners go bankrupt.

I would love to have a BMW,
But if a Ford is my biggest unmet wish,
I am doing well.

Why do I covet more,
When you give me freely,
More than I could imagine to ever ask?

Christ is risen!