Tinkering with Perl

Table of Contents

Most books you will find on Perl or any other programming language, are books intended to be a one-size-fits-all — or, at least, that’s how they’re advertised. This book does not attempt or pretend to be appropriate to most users; instead, I am trying to do one thing well.

Well, what am I trying to do? Let me first tell what I am not trying to do:

  • I am not trying to make a book that will be helpful to experienced programmers who want to pick up Perl.
  • I am not trying to make a book that will treat Perl in depth, or for that matter even touch many of the language’s strongest points.
  • I am not trying to make a book that will make a novice programmer into an expert programmer overnight.
  • I am not trying to introduce most principles of good software engineering.
  • I am not trying to make a book that promises quick results overnight; I am not trying to make a book that will quickly tell you how to get such-and-such done.

Well, if I am not trying to do all of that, then what am I trying todo?

I wrote this because trying to do this: create a book that would help my brothers learn to tinker.

I first tried to start my brothers straight off with Java. And Java is a ood language — it might have been better for them to know than Perl, and I think it would be a good second language to teach, when they are ready to mature, so that they can produce high quality software. But to learn all of those principles all at once is a heavy load, and one which can be confusing. I was telling them very good things, but I was boring them.

Then I began to think about how I first began to program. I first began to tinker in middle school with BASIC, on Apple ][ series computers. I wrote spaghetti code laced with gotos and all sorts of other things I would shudder to do now. I did not then learn to be a good programmer — at all. But I did learn to be a tinkerer, to play around and explore and put things together. It has been said that education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. That experience lit my fire; it started the curiosity and enjoyment that later caused me to become a more serious programmer.

This book is not an attempt to immediately achieve the end result of a good programmer. It has a goal which might be called more modest, but which might be called much more ambitious: lighting a fire. Once the fire is lit, it can be tended and carefully pruned; there will be plenty of time for the channeling and discipline necessary to let the fire achieve truly great things. I am not trying to do everything; I am trying, for now, to do just one thing. And do it reasonably well.

Chapter Zero: Preliminaries
Unix preliminaries
Directories
pwd
cd
mkdir
ls
Files
Editors
joe
Shebang
Permissions
chmod
Running your programs

Chapter One: Fundamentals
Comments
Variables
Scalars
Lists
Hashes
Statements
Assignment of variables
Assignment of scalars
Arithmetic
Assignment of lists
Assignment of hashes
Input and output
Input
Output
Flow control
Blocks
Conditional clauses
If-then
If-then-else
If-then-else chains
Loops
Foreach loops
While loops
For loops
Subroutines and functions
Arguments
Subroutines
Functions

Chapter two: Sample programs
Friends and pets
Running average

Chapter three: Debugging
Common types of bugs
Syntax errors
Misspelling
Forgotten semicolon
Single and double equals signs

Conclusion

Glossary

Preface

This book has two prefaces: one for a guiding adult, and one for a sharp child who will be exploring the language.

Preface (for children)

When you were younger — perhaps even now — you played or play with Legos, or some other similar building toy. When I was a boy, I played with Legos a lot, and I was very sad when my elaborate collection was destroyed.

Growing up means changing in some ways, but there are also ways in which an adult remains forever a child. It is a truly sad thing when the child inside of a grown-up dies; something important has gone out.

I am a grown-up now, and I still play with Legos. Only now, I play with them in a different form. Instead of using Legos that you can see, I use Legos that you can only see with your mind — I have to use my imagination. I play with these Legos when I program.

When you are holding Legos in your hand, you have in your head an idea of what you want to build. And you start putting the little bricks together, piece by piece, until you have built the thing you’ve imagined in your head. One little brick is very small and very simple — but there are ways to put them together, and if you put things together the right way, you can do some amazing things.

It is the same way with programming. This book will show you some of the little bricks we have, and then look at ways to put them together. It is my hope that you will begin to tinker — see how you can put things together, see what works, what doesn’t work. Then maybe you will imagine things, and see if you can build them out of these programming bricks.

There are many things to learn in programming, and this is only a beginning. But I hope that I may be able to help you begin to explore, and discover what it can be like to program.

Preface (for adults)

Most books you will find on Perl or any other programming language, are books intended to be a one-size-fits-all — or, at least, that’s how they’re advertised. This book does not attempt or pretend to be appropriate to most users; instead, I am trying to do one thing well.

Well, what am I trying to do? Let me first tell what I am not trying to do:

  • I am not trying to make a book that will be helpful to experienced programmers who want to pick up Perl.
  • I am not trying to make a book that will treat Perl in depth, or for that matter even touch many of the language’s strongest points.
  • I am not trying to make a book that will make a novice programmer into an expert programmer overnight.
  • I am not trying to introduce most principles of good software engineering.
  • I am not trying to make a book that promises quick results overnight; I am not trying to make a book that will quickly tell you how to get such-and-such done.

Well, if I am not trying to do all of that, then what am I trying to do?

I am trying to do this: create a book that will help my twelve year old twin brothers learn to tinker.

I first tried to start my little brothers straight off with Java. And Java is a good language — it will probably be better for them to know than Perl, and I think it would be a good second language to teach, when they are ready to mature, so that they can produce high quality software. But to learn all of those principles all at once is a heavy load, and one which can be confusing. I was telling them very good things, but I was boring them.

Then I began to think about how I first began to program. I first began to tinker in middle school with BASIC, on Apple ][ series computers. I wrote spaghetti code laced with gotos and all sorts of other things I would shudder to do now. I did not then learn to be a good programmer — at all. But I did learn to be a tinkerer, to play around and explore and put things together. It has been said that education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. That experience lit my fire; it started the curiosity and enjoyment that later caused me to become a real programmer.

This book is not an attempt to immediately achieve the end result of a good programmer in all regards. It has a goal which might be called more modest, but which I believe is ultimately more important: that of lighting the child’s fire. Once the fire is lit, it can be tended and carefully pruned; there will be plenty of time for the channeling and discipline necessary to let the fire achieve truly great things. I am not trying to do everything; I am trying, for now, to do one thing well.

CJS Hayward, 7-16-98

P.S. There are some intentional inaccuracies. This is because a fully technical treatment of the issues involved would, I believe, needlessly confuse children. Some parts are oversimplified; I intend them to be overridden by more nuanced treatments when an appropriate level of intellectual maturity is reached.

Some preliminaries

Here, we aren’t (for the most part) really talking about Perl; we’re talking about some basics that need to be done in order to use Perl. I will restrict my attention to unix machines. If you use another machine, you will have to read the documentation on your machine.

See also:

Unix preliminaries

Unix preliminaries

Here we will discuss directories, files, editors, permissions, and the famous shebang notation.

See also:

Preliminaries in generalDirectoriesFilesEditorsShebangPermissions

Directories

Directories in Unix are the same as folders on other machines. They’re a place to keep files.

There are four basic commands you need to know about directories: pwd, cd, mkdir, and ls.

Directories are stored heirarchically. This means that there’s a top level directory, which contains some directories, and each of those directories may contain some files and some directories, and so on. The full name of a direcory is something like this:

/home/jhayward/perl_guide/text/chapter_0/unix

The slashes ('/') tell where we are. The beginning slash indicates the root directory, the top directory of all; home indicates that I’m in the home direcotory in the root directory, jhayward indicates that I am in the directory called jhayward in the home directory (which is my directory to do stuff in), and so on and so forth.

You may refer to a file or directory by its absolute or relative pathname. If you specify its absolute pathname, you give the full path, all the way from the root directory down to where you are now. If you give a relative path, you tell where it is relative to where you are now. The file I am now editing has absolute pathname:

/home/jhayward/perl_guide/text/chapter_0/unix/directories.html

and relative pathname:

directories.html

from where I am now.

The directory .., in a given directory, is the directory one level up. So the directory

/home/jhayward/perl_guide/text/chapter_0/unix/..

is the same as the directory

/home/jhayward/perl_guide/text/chapter_0/

See also:

pwdcdmkdirlsFiles

pwd

pwd is a Unix command that means print working directory. It prints the directory you’re in now. If you’re logged in to a Unix machine, why don’t you type pwd (and hit return) to see what happens?

You can use pwd to see where you are; make sure you’re in the right directory.

See also:

Unix preliminariesDirectoriescdmkdir

cd

cd is a Unix command which means change directory. It changes the directory you are in to another one.

In general, you can type:

cd pathname

where pathname is the absolute or relative pathname (as discussed before) of the directory. For example, to go to the parent directory (the directory one level above) for your current working directory, you can type:

cd ..

What do you think will be the result of typing in the following commands:

pwd
cd ..
pwd

Why don’t you type them in, and see what happens?

Finally, as a special case, if you type

cd

without anything else after it, it will take you to your home directory. Your home directory is the directory you are given on the computer to do things in.

See also:

Unix preliminariesDirectoriespwdmkdir

mkdir

mkdir is the command to make a directory. We will probably be making files as we tinker; let’s create a directory for those files.

First, go to your home directory:

cd

Then make a directory — say, one called tinkering.

mkdir tinkering

Now, we should go into that directory before doing most of the other things suggested in this book. So go into that directory:

cd tinkering

Remember to go to that directory before each time you start reading this book. If you’re not sure what directory you’re in, you can always type

pwd

to find out what directory you’re in. From any place in the system, you can type in the following to go to your tinkering directory:

cd
cd tinkering

Now we’re ready to talk about files and editors.

See also:

Unix preliminariesDirectoriespwdcdls

ls

ls is the Unix command to list the files in a directory. To see what files and directories are in your current directory, type:

ls

You may not see anything — if you are following this book in order, you should be in an empty directory. Keep this command in mind, though; it should come in handy in the future.

See also:

Unix preliminariesDirectoriespwdcdmkdirFilesEditors

Files

A directory is a place to keep things on a computer; a file is what sort of thing you actually keep. We are going to be interested in creating, and modifying, Perl programs.

A file should have a name consisting of letters, numbers, and/or underscores. Perl programs should end by having “.pl” added to the end. Here are some examples of good filenames:

hello_world.pl
test.pl
list_pets.pl

Each file (of the sort we’re working with) will hold one program, and (for now) each program will be stored in one file. So a file is where you store a program. You will create these programs with editors, and then make them usable by setting the permissions.

See also:

Unix preliminariesDirectorieslsEditorsPermissions

Editors

Editors are programs that can be used to create and change files. In our case, we are interested in text editors, which are specifically for editing filies that contain text.

There are a number of different editors, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses. For now, I will have you use an easy-to-use editor called joe.

See also:

Unix preliminariesFilesjoe

joe

joe is the name of an easy to use editor for Unix systems. To use joe to create a file called hello_world.pl, type:

joe hello_world.pl

You will now see a screen that is mostly blank. Type control-K and then 'H' to get a help screen. That will bring up on the screen most of the commands you need to know to edit files.

We are going to create our very own program. Type in the following, exactly as you see it on the screen:

#!/usr/local/bin/perl

print "Hello world!\n";

Then type control-K and X to save the file. It will ask you what file to save it as; type:

hello_world.pl

Keep reading to find out how to run the program.

See also:

Unix preliminariesFilesEditorsShebangPermissions

ShebangIn Unix, the characters “#!” at the beginning of a file tell the computer what program to use to figure out what to do with it. This is referred to as the shebang notation.

In order to tell the computer that your files are Perl programs, you should put the following line at the beginning of every Perl program, exactly as it is typed here:

#!/usr/local/bin/perl -w

or

#!/usr/bin/perl -w

(Which one should you use? One of them will work, and the other won’t. Try it.)

If you don’t do that, the computer will be very confused when you tell it to run your programs.

See also:

Unix preliminariesFilesEditorsPermissions

Permissions

When you create a text file, Unix doesn’t normally expect that you’re going to run it like a program. So, you have to tell it that you’re giving yourself and perhaps others permission to run them as programs.

This is accomplished with the chmod command.

See also:

Unix preliminariesFileschmod

chmod

chmod is the Unix command used to set permissions, including telling the computer that a file can be run as a program.

To make it so that everybody can use a program, type:

chmod 755 filename

where filename is the name of the file, which should be something like “hello_world.pl”.

Alternately, to make it so that only you can use the program, type:

chmod 700 filename

You must do this before you can run a program. If you’ve been following along this book in order, please type:

chmod 755 hello_world.pl

And now, you’re ready to run it!

See also:

PreliminariesFilesPermissions

Running your programs

If you’ve been following along the text in order, you have created a program, and made it executable (runnable). Now, you can run it:

hello_world.pl

What happened? Did it print out, “Hello, world?” If so, great! If not, you probably made a little mistake somewhere — as has every programmer, great or small — and you need to go back and see what happened.

See also:

Unix preliminariesFilesShebangPermissions

Fundamentals

This chapter introduces the basic building blocks you will combine and fit together to make programs.

Comments

When you are writing a program, you are writing for people as well as computers. Most of the time, after a program is written, you or someone else will want to make changes — to add new features, or to fix bugs. There is a joke which my father likes to tell:

A construction worker, at lunch break, opens his lunchbox, and says, “Salami again! I hate bologna!”

Then, the next day, he says, “I wonder what I have today.” He opens his lunchbox, and says, “Bologna again? I hate bologna!”

This continues for a week. Finally, one of his coworkers says, “Why don’t you ask your wife to give you something else for lunch? That way, you wouldn’t have to have bologna all the time.”

The construction worker says, “Oh, I don’t have a wife. I make my own lunches!”

In this joke, the construction worker eats the sandwiches he hates because that’s what he made earlier. This joke is a lot like programming. The construction worker is like a programmer, and the yucky bologna sandwiches are programs that don’t have very many little notes, in English, to explain things. It can be very difficult, even for experienced programmers, to figure out or remember what a program is doing if it doesn’t have notes to explain things. These little notes are called comments, and you can say anything you like in a comment. (But we generally use comments to explain programs.)

Comments are done differently in different computer languages, but there is some feature that tells the computer what is a comment and what is the rest of the program. In perl, a comment begins with a hash mark ('#'), and continues to the end of the line. If you want to make a comment that uses more than one line, put a hash mark on a second line. Here are some examples of what is and is not a comment:

# This is a comment.

# This is a comment, which
# uses more than one line.

#
# This is a comment, too.  It uses blank lines to make
# things better to look at.
#

                # This is a comment which begins in the
		# middle of a line.  You can put a
		# comment to the right of something 
		# else, to explain what it does.

This is not a comment.

The comment begins #here.

See also:

Statements

Variables

In school, you may have used variables to refer to different numbers. The variables x could be 3, or 4, or 0, or -9.5. One variable can mean any of several different numbers. (But it can only mean one thing at a time.)

In computer programming, we use variables to represent all sorts of different things. In Perl, there are three different types of variables we will use: scalars, lists, and hashes. The names sound a little funny, but don’t let that scare you.

See also:

ScalarsListsHashesAssignment of variables in general

Scalars

A scalar is a variable that can either refer to a number, or some text, which is called a string. A string is usually enclosed in quotes, like this:

"This is a string."

Note that the quotes are not actually part of the string; they are put around the string to tell when the string begins and ends.

You can give a variable almost any name that you can make from letters, numbers, and underscores ('_'). Furthermore, you must put a dollar sign ('$') before a scalar to tell Perl that it is a scalar.

In general, it is a good idea to have a variable name consist of a few words that describe what the variable tells you. There are a couple of ways people have of putting words together. (You have to do something to tell when one word ends and the next begins, because itishardtoreadwhenyoucan’tseparatewords.) One way is to capitalize the first letter of each word; another is to separate words using underscores ('_'). It doesn’t matter which way you do it, but you should pick one way and stick with it. It is very important that you spell a variable exactly the same way every time you use it; otherwise, the computer will think you are using different variables. Here are some examples of good variable names:

$NumberOfTrucks
$AverageHeight
$PlayerName

Or, if you prefer underscores, then you can do it this way:

$number_of_trucks
$average_height
$player_name

In this book, I will always do it the first way.

See also:

VariablesListsHashesAssignment of variables in generalAssignment of scalarsArithmetic

Lists

A list is a variable that lets you keep track of several things. If you were shopping for groceries, you’d keep a list: apples, ketchup, bread, sausage, and so on. A list is a variable that keeps track of several things, instead of just one. A list is named like a scalar, but instead of having a dollar sign ('$') in front of the name, we place an atgry ('@'). A good name for a list would be something like:

@GroceriesToBuy

See also:

Variables in generalScalarsHashesAssignment of variables in generalAssignment of lists

Hashes

Hashes are a little more complicated than either lists or scalars, but they are very useful.

Let’s say that you know some people, and you want to keep track of what kind of pets they have. Suppose that you know John, Sue, and Mary. Let’s also suppose that John has a dog, Sue has a cat, and Mary has a goldfish. What would be good would be a single variable, called Pet: if you plugged in John, you would get dog; if you plugged in Sue, you would get cat; if you plugged in Mary, you would get goldfish.

A hash is a variable that can do that. We refer to a hash in slightly different ways, depending on what you want to do. If you refer to the whole hash, you put a percent sign ('%') in front of the hash. So the hash with the pets might be:

%pet

But if you want to refer to a specific pet — say, you want to find out what pet Mary has — you would do it like this:

$pet{"Mary"}

(We put the “Mary” in quotes, because it is a string, and the computer will get confused if it sees the letters M, a, r, and y all by themselves.)The expression

$pet{"Mary"}

should be read as, “Mary’s pet”.

See also:

Variables in generalScalarsListsAssignment of variablesAssignment of hashes

Statements

Let’s say that you are going to play at a friend’s house. What you might do, could be explained as a list of activities:

Ask your parents for permission to visit your friend.
Call your friend’s house, and ask permission to come over.
Finish getting dressed.
Walk over to your friend’s house.
Take chewing gumm off of your shoe.
Greet your friend.
Play with your friend.
Eat a snack.
Play some more.
Say goodbye.
Walk home.
Take off your shoes.

What we have done here, is to break one bigger activity (visiting your activity) into a sequence of smaller activities. Another way of putting it is that we are explaining how to visit your friend by saying what smaller things are necessary to visit your friend.

When you are programming a computer, you do the same thing. The little commands are called statements. A statement is a command that tells a computer to do something small, as a part of doing something larger. (Saying to walk to your friend’s house, when you are explaining how to visit your friend, is like a statement.)

As we work further, we will learn more about different kinds of statements. But first, let’s make sure that we understand what a statement is: a statement is an individual command you give to the computer, as part of telling it how to do something. In the description of how to visit a friend’s house, each line, like “Greet your friend,” or “Remove chewing gum from your shoe,” is like a statement. The whole list, all together, is like a program.

One final note about statements: In English, you usually end a sentence with a period ('.'). In Perl and many other computer languages, you end most statements with a semicolon (';'). For example:

This sentence ends like a statement;

See also:

Assignment of variablesInput and outputBlocksIf-thenLoopsSubroutines

Assignment of variablesIn math class, with a story problem, your teacher might have said something like this: “Suppose we have five cats…” What is going on here is that we have some number of cats, and we are saying that the number of cats is specifically equal to five.

Another way of saying what the teacher said is,

Let the number of cats be five.

We can use a variable for the number of cats. Let’s put a variable in there:

Let NumberOfCats be five.

Or, to say it a little differently,

Let NumberOfCats equal five.

With computers, we drop the ‘let’, even though it’s understood.

NumberOfCats equals five.

(Now, we are not simply claiming that the number of cats equals five. We are commanding that it be so.)

Finally, in Perl, we use an equals sign ('=') when we mean “equals”, and we use numerals: we write '5' instead of “five”. And remember — most statements end with a semicolon, and we put a dollar sign ('$') in front of scalars. So let’s change the period into a semicolon, and put a dollar sign in front of the variable:

$NumberOfCats = 5;

And that’s how we do it in Perl. We have just assigned the variable NumberOfCats a value of five.

We can also assign a variable to other things. For example, if we know the number of cats, and we know the total number of cats and dogs, we can find out the number of dogs by subtracting. If we have thirteen cats and dogs total, and five cats, then here is how we can get the number of dogs:

$NumberOfCats = 5;
$NumberOfCatsAndDogs = 13;
$NumberOfDogs = $NumberOfCatsAndDogs - $NumberOfCats;

The computer has done the subtracting for you, and figured out the answer.

Note: In an assignment, there is one variable on the left side of the equals sign, which is changed. Nothing on the right side (unless it is also on the left side, which will be discussed later) is changed.

See also:

StatementsAssignment of scalarsAssignment of listsArithmeticFunctions

Assignment of scalars

There are a few ways to assign a scalar. You can assign a scalar to a given value:

$NumberOfCats = 5;
$MyCatsName = "Zappy";

Or you can assign one variable using another:

$NumberOfNoses = $NumberOfPeople;

This tells the computer that the number of noses is the same as the number of people. Or, to put it another way, it takes the value stored in the variable NumberOfPeople, and stores a copy of it in $NumberOfNoses.

There are several things that you can do with a string. One useful thing you can do is concatenate two strings. For example, if you concatenate the strings “My cat’s name” and ” is Zappy.”, you get, “My cat’s name is Zappy.”

Did you notice the space between the quotation mark and the “is”? That space is important. Computers don’t know when you should add a space to separate words. If you concatenate “My cat’s name” and “is Zappy.” without the extra space, it would come out, “My cat’s nameis Zappy.”

In Perl, you can concatenate two strings by putting a period ('.') between them. For example, you could get the whole sentence like so:

$WholeSentence = "My cat's name" . " is Zappy.";

Or, to do it differently,

$FirstPartOfSentence = "My cat's name";
$SecondPartOfSentence = "is Zappy.";
$WholeSentence = $FirstPartOfSentence . " " . $SecondPartOfSentence;

Do you see what I did here? I didn’t have a space before “is” in SecondPartOfSentence, but I put another space in between the two parts. There were three strings here: $FirstPartOfSentence, ” ” (a string consisting of only a space), and $SecondPartOfSentence. I concatenated all of them together, just as you add 3 + 1 + 2 to get 6. Putting in an extra space can come in handy, when you want to make text look good.

There are other ways to assign scalars, and they will be covered when we discuss arithmetic and functions.

See also:

Variables in generalScalarsStatementsAssignment of variables in generalArithmeticAssignment of listsAssignment of hashesFunctions

Arithmetic

Perl, like many languages, lets you do arithmetic with numbers. You can have a statement like

$Average = ($FirstNumber + $SecondNumber + $ThirdNumber) / 3;

and the computer will do the arithmetic for you. It will add the three numbers, and divide the result by three. The result is stored in Average.

You may have noticed that I had parentheses — why are they necessary? This has to do with something called order of operations. Let’s say we want to figure out what 3 * 4 + 5 equals. Well, what do you do first — multiply 3 by four, or add 4 and 5? If you multiply first, then 3 * 4 = 12, so you have 12 + 5, or 17. So the expression equals 17. But what if you add first? Then 4 + 5 = 9, and 3 * 9 = 27, so we have 27. The number you get depends what you do first.

Parentheses are a way to tell the computer what to do first. Everything inside a pair of parentheses is calculated before everything outside of the pair of parentheses. Everything on an inside pair of parentheses is calculated before things on an outside pair of parentheses. So, for example, if we have (((3 * 4) + 6) / 9), that means that we first multiply 3 * 4 = 12, to get ((12 + 6) / 9); then we add 12 + 6 = 18, so we get (18 / 9), and then we divide 18 / 9 = 2, so we get a result of 2.

At least for now, you should always use parentheses to tell the computer what it should do first. Use parentheses, so that the computer knows exactly what order you want it to do things in.

Two notes:

First, if you ask it to do something that’s going to give a fraction (like “What is five divided by three?”), it will give a decimal for an answer. Usually, if there is a decimal involved in a calculation, the result will be a decimal. (With decimals, an answer will usually be a little more or a little less than it should be. That is a kind of error that happens with computers.)

Second, you can’t divide by zero. If you try to divide by zero, your program will stop running. It is good practice, before dividing by a variable, to make sure that it is not zero (see if-then).

It is generally good, when doing arithmetic calculations, to break them into as many small steps as possible. It is better to have several simple calculations than one really long and confusing one.

See also:

ScalarsAssignment of scalarsConditional clausesIf-then

Assignment of lists

There are a few ways to assign a list. One way is like this:

@MyFriends = ("John", "Susan", "Mary");

The list is assigned to something described by a left parenthesis ('('), some scalars separated by commas (','), a right parenthesis (')'), and then the semicolon (';'). You can use variables and numbers as well as just strings, like this:

@Numbers = ($LastNumber, 9);

You can also put everything that’s in one list, into another list. For example, you might write:

@PeopleIKnow = (@MyFamily, @MyFriends, "Jane", "Bob");

Then the list of people you know includes everybody in the lists of your family and friends, plus Jane and Bob.

One thing you will do often is to add one element to a list. Suppose you have a new friend named Fred, and you want to add him to your list of friends. You could do it this way:

@MyFriends = (@MyFriends, "Fred");

Now, I would like to answer a question you may have == how can MyFriends be equal to itself plus “Fred” added on to the end? That is like saying that a number equals itself plus one.

The answer is that the statement should be read like this: “Let the new value of MyFriends equal the old value of MyFriends, with “Fred” added at the end. It is possible, and useful at times, to use one variable on both sides of the equals sign ('=') in this way.

See also:

Variables in generalListsStatementsAssignment of variables in generalAssignment of scalarsAssignment of hashesFunctions

Assignment of hashes

Hashes may be assigned one of two ways: one of which remembles a scalar, and the other of which is like the assignment of a list.

Recall the earlier example where John, Sue, and Mary have a dog, a cat, and a goldfish respectively. The easiest way, and the one you should probably use most of the time (until you’ve outgrown this book), is to say, “John’s pet is a dog. Sue’s pet is a cat. Mary’s pet is a goldfish.” In Perl, we write it this way:

$Pet{"John"} = "dog";
$Pet{"Sue"} = "cat";
$Pet{"Mary"} = "goldfish";

Remember that $Pet{“John”} should be read as “John’s pet.” This means that the whole statement should be read, “Let John’s pet be a dog.” Even though the computer statement looks rather funny, it really says something that is fairly close to English.

The second way makes a bunch of assignments at once — it is useful when you want to create a hash from scratch. Creating the same hash this way would look like this:

%Pet = ("John" => "dog",
	"Sue"  => "cat",
	"Mary" => "goldfish");

Now, did you notice that the statement was broken over a few lines? It’s OK to split a statement over several lines and put spaces in to format it; indeed, it is good to do so. It makes the code more readable. This is called spacing.

See also:

Variables in generalHashesStatementsAssignment of variables in generalAssignment of scalarsAssignment of listsFunctions

Input and output

One important thing for programs to be able to do, is to be able to pay attention to what people say to them, and say things to people.

There are varying ways that programs do this; here, I will address a couple of the simpler ways. They both involve the keyboard. One reads a line in from the keyboard to a variable — that is, it reads in everything the user types, until he hits return — and the other prints out some specific text.

See also:

StatementsInputOutput

Input

The way I’m going to teach to do input, is as follows: Say that you want to input some line of text from the user, and store the result in the variable $UserResponse. The following two lines will accomplish that:

$UserResponse = <>;
chomp $UserResponse;

The first line reads a line into $UserResponse. But that includes the return character at the end of the line, which we generally don’t need. The second line takes the extra character off.

In general, you should use something like these two lines when you want to input a line from the user.

See also:

StatementsScalarsInput and OutputOutput

Output

The print statement is useful for output. Let me give an example of a very famous program:

#!/usr/local/bin/perl
print "Hello, world!\n";

The first line is a line you should put at the beginning of every Perl program you write. The second line prints, “Hello, world!” It is the second line we are studying.

What’s that funny “\n”? What does it mean? Well, Perl doesn’t know by itself when a line should end. So, we put “\n” at the end of each line, to tell it to go to the next line.

Here is another example of some code using print:

print "The average is " . $Average . ".\n";

Now, what does that all mean?

Remember that, earlier, when we talked about scalars, we could concatenate two strings by putting a period ('.') between them. This takes three strings: “The average is “, $Average, and “.\n”, and sticks them all together. Let’s say that $Average is 4.5. Then the result will look like:

The average is 4.5.

The “.” in “.\n” is just a period for the end of the sentence, and “\n” means the end of line.

See also:

StatementsScalarsInput and outputInput

Flow control

In many programming languages, there is a very powerful kind of statement called the goto statement. Quite often in programming, you are at one part of your code, the list of instructions, and you need to be somewhere else. So programmers would just put a goto in, and voila! you were at that other part of the program.

Well, gotos are very powerful, but they have a bit of a problem with them. If you just use gotos in the way that comes most naturally, the result is something called spaghetti code: the program just goes in and out in one tangled mess that’s impossible to understand, just like spaghetti. This results in code that’s full of bugs, that’s impossible to fix.

Therefore, it is in most cases strongly discouraged to use gotos. Gotos are considered hazardous to your health, and many programmers consider ‘goto’ to almost be a dirty word.

But wait. A goto is very powerful. If we’re going to say “no gotos”, shouldn’t there be something else to replace them?

And the answer, fortunately, is “Yes.” There are other ways to do almost anything that you would do with a goto — but do it better, and more cleanly. These ways make things much easier to understand, and have less bugs. The bugs that do get in are easier to fix.

There are two basic kinds of structures, that can do almost all of the work done with gotos — but do it much better. These two structures are called conditionals and loops, and we will explore them. There are also subroutines and functions, which will be covered later, and are also very powerful.

See also:

StatementsBlocksIf-thenIf-then-elseIf-then-else chainsLoopsForeach loopsWhile loopsFor loops

BlocksFor both conditionals and loops, it is useful to think of a cluster of statements taken together. A block of code begins with a left curly brace ('{'), and ends with a right curly brace ('}'). It should also be indented (have a margin on the left) by two to four spaces. It doesn’t matter how far you indent, but you should indent to the same depth most of the time. Here are a few statements by themselves:

print "Type something in: "; # The lack of a \n is intentional, so that the
                             # cursor stays on the same line.
$UserInput = <>;
chomp $UserInput;
print "You typed in " . $UserInput . ".\n";

Here is that same group of statements in a block:

    {
    print "Type something in: "; # The lack of a \n is intentional, so that
				 # the cursor stays on the same line.
    $UserInput = <>;
    chomp $UserInput;
    print "You typed in " . $UserInput . ".\n";
    }

In short, to make a block, you put a left curly brace before it, type in the statements in the block, and close with a right curly brace. The whole thing should be indented four spaces.

See also:

StatementsFlow controlIf-thenIf-then-elseIf-then-else chainsLoopsForeach loopsWhile loopsFor loopsFunctions

Conditional clauses

A conditional clause is something that is either true or false. The computer needs to be able to decide if something is true or false.

There are a number of different types of conditional clauses. The one which I will cover here, to get started with, is equals. An expression like:

($UserResponse == "y")

is an example of a conditional clause.

You can build up conditional clauses by using and, or, and not, as well as parentheses. Here is an example of a more complicated clause:

(($MyPet == "dog") || ($MyPet == "cat"))

You should always use lots of parentheses with conditionals, just like you should use parentheses in arithmetic. Furthermore, the parentheses have more or less the same meaning.

Now, I can see a question. Why did I use two equals signs instead of one? The answer is that Perl uses one equals sign for assignment, and two equals signs for conditionals. If you use one equals sign, Perl will think you are doing an assignment. For example, if you type:

($UserResponse = "y")

what that will do is assign $UserResponse the value “y”, instead of checking to see if $UserResponse is already “y”. This is a very easy mistake to make; check for this when your program seems not to work.

If-then clauses, and loops, do different things depending on whether something is true. A conditional clause is something that can be true or false, which Perl can use to decide if something is true, and therefore run if-thens and loops.

Scalars can also serve as conditional clauses. A scalar that has a value of 0, or that is an empty string (i.e. a string that doesn’t contain any characters, not even spaces — it would be represented as “”), is considered false. Any other scalar is considered true. In general, we use a 1 to represent true, and a 0 to represent false.

Note: Conditional clauses don’t have semicolons after them.

See also:

StatementsArithmeticFlow controlBlocksIf-thenIf-then-elseIf-then-else chains

If-then

Remember, back when we introduced statements, how we talked about going to a friend’s house? Let me reproduce the list of what to do:

Ask your parents for permission to visit your friend.
Call your friend’s house, and ask permission to come over.
Finish getting dressed.
Walk over to your friend’s house.
Take chewing gumm off of your shoe.
Greet your friend.
Play with your friend.
Eat a snack.
Play some more.
Say goodbye.
Walk home.
Take off your shoes.

Well, this list didn’t involve any decisions — and there are decisions involved. For example, you only continue over to your friend’s house if you get permission, right?

Let’s rewrite the list using if-then logic:

Ask your parents for permission to visit your friend.
If your parents give permission to visit your friend:
    {
    Call your friend's house, and ask permission to come over.
    If your friend's parents give permission to come over:
	{
	Finish getting dressed.
	Walk over to your friend's house.
	If you stepped on some chewing gum:
	    {
	    Take chewing gumm off of your shoe.
	    }
	Greet your friend.
	Play with your friend.
	Eat a snack.
	Play some more.
	Say goodbye.
	Walk home.
	Take off your shoes.
	}
    }

What we have here is a modified list of how to visit your friend, that only does things if they are appropriate — for example, it only goes over to your friend’s house if you have permission to go over.

The syntax in Perl for this sort of thing is as follows:

if (condition)
    {
    code to execute if condition is true
    }

“if” must be spelled exactly that way, with a lowercase 'i', and the curly braces put around the code to be executed. What Perl will do when it sees that, is see if the conditional clause is true, and if so, execute the block that’s inside the braces.

See also:

StatementsFlow controlBlocksConditional clausesIf-then-elseIf-then-else chains

If-then-elseSuppose that I want to do something in a programming language. Some pseudocode might be as follows:

if (I know how to do it)
    {
    do it;
    }
else
    {
    try to find out how to do it;
    }

There is one thing I want to do if the conditional clause is true, and another thing to do if the conditional clause is false. And that is done with this exact syntax:

if (conditional clause)
    {
    block of code to execute if the conditional clause is true
    }
else
    {
    block of code to execute if the conditional clause is false
    }

See also:

StatementsArithmeticFlow controlBlocksConditional clausesIf-thenIf-then-else chains

If-then-else chainsThere is one more step to be taken with if-then-else. That is demonstrated by the following segment of code:

if ($Pet == "dog")
    {
    print "Arf, arf!\n";
    }
elsif ($Pet == "cat")
    {
    print "Purr, purr!\n";
    }
elsif ($Pet == "goldfish")
    {
    print "Splish, splash!\n";
    }
else
    {
    print "I don't know what sound the pet makes.\n";
    }

Sometimes, you have more than two choices to deal with — there are more than two (or three) possibilities for a pet. An if-then-else chain is ideal for the following; the program checks if the first condition is true, and if the first condition is false, it checks if the second condition is true, and so on and so forth. The general syntax is:

if (first conditional clause)
    {
    code to be executed
    if first conditional clause is true
    }
elsif (second conditional clause)
    {
    code to be executed if first
    conditional clause is false, but
    second conditional clause is true
    }
...
elsif (last conditional clause)
    {
    code to be executed if all but the
    last conditional clauses are false, but
    the last conditional clause is true
    }
else
    {
    code to be executed if none of the
    conditional clauses are true.
    }

The final else is optional, but recommended.

See also:

StatementsArithmeticFlow controlBlocksConditional clausesIf-thenIf-then-else

Loops

A loop is what is executed when you want to run the same code for several different things. For example, here is some pseudocode to get bundled up in the winter:

while (there is more clothing to put on)
    {
    Select another item of clothing to put on.
    Pick it up.
    Put it on.
    }

There are different types of loops for different purposes.

See also:

StatementsFlow controlConditional clausesForeach loopsWhile loopsFor loops

Foreach loops

One useful kind of loop, does something to each element of a list. For example, here is how might might code getting bundled up to go outside in the winter to go sledding:

@WinterClothing = ("coat", "snowpants", "boots", "gloves", "scarf", "hat");
foreach $ArticleOfClothing (@WinterClothing)
    {
    print "I'm putting on my $ArticleOfClothing.\n";
    }

Before dissecting exactly how this loop works, let me show you what it does. It prints out:

I'm putting on my coat.
I'm putting on my snowpants.
I'm putting on my boots.
I'm putting on my gloves.
I'm putting on my scarf.
I'm putting on my hat.

There are a couple of things going on here.

First, we assign a list.

Then we go through the loop several times — each time, the variable $ArticleOfClothing is set to equal a different element of @WinterClothing, and the block of code is executed.

In that code, when Perl sees $ArticleOfClothing, it substitutes the value of $ArticleOfClothing (which may be “coat”, “snowpants”, etc.) for the name of the variable. So, the first time through, “I’m putting on my $ArticleOfClothing.\n” becomes “I’m putting on my coat.\n”, where “\n” tells Perl that that’s the end of the line.

Foreach loops should be used when you want to do something with every element of a list.

See also:

StatementsListsFlow controlBlocksLoopsWhile loopsFor loops

While loopsA while loop is a loop used to run a block of code while a condition is true. For example:

$ShouldContinue = "y";
$NumberOfTimesThroughLoop = 0;
while (not($ShouldContinue == "n"))
    {
    ++$NumberOfTimesThroughLoop;
    if ($NumberOfTimesThroughLoop == 1)
	{
	print "This loop has been executed $NumberOfTimesThroughLoop time.\n";
	}
    else
	{
	print "This loop has been executed $NumberOfTimesThroughLoop times.\n";
	}
    print "Go through the loop again(y/n)? ";
    $ShouldContinue = <>;
    chomp $ShouldContinue;
    }

Now, let’s look at what this code does.

$ShouldContinue tells if the loop should continue. “n”, for no, means to stop; anything else means to continue. So the loop says, “While we should continue”.

The variable $NumberOfTimesThroughLoop is initialized to 0 (set up to be equal to 0) before the loop begins. Then the first thing inside the loop, “++$NumberOfTimesThroughLoop;”, means to increase the value of $NumberOfTimesThroughLoop by one. In general, the expression:

++$variable name;

where variable name is the name of a “scalar” variable, means “Increase the value of variable name by one.”

Then we have a conditional. This conditional sees if it’s the first time through the loop. Why do we do that?

The statements inside the if clause (the block immediately following the if) and the else clause are almost identical — but there is an 's' after “time” in the else clause. This is so that, on the first time through, the program will print out:

This loop has been executed 1 time.

but on the second (third, fourth, etc.) time through, it will say something like:

This loop has been executed 2 times.

Then, after that, it asks the user if he wants to run through the loop again. After doing that, it reads a line of input into the variable $ShouldContinue — if the user types “y”, $ShouldContinue will contain a “y”, and if the user types “n”, $ShouldContinue will contain a “n”.

Then, after that, it checks if it should continue (the conditional clause right after the word “while”), and if it should, it executes the loop again.

See also:StatementsFlow controlBlocksConditional clausesIf-then-elseLoopsForeach loopsFor loops

For loops

A for loop is a special case of a while loop, which is commonly used for doing something a certain number of times.

Let’s suppose that I wanted to print “Hello, world!” ten times. I could just have ten lines like so:

print "Hello, world!\n";
print "Hello, world!\n";
print "Hello, world!\n";
print "Hello, world!\n";
print "Hello, world!\n";
print "Hello, world!\n";
print "Hello, world!\n";
print "Hello, world!\n";

But what if I wanted to change the number — to five or to fifty? It would take a lot of editing.

There’s a better way to do it, though. I could have the computer count up to ten, and each time print out “Hello, world!”. If I did that, then changing it to five or fifty would only mean changing the number I have to count to.

Let me give some code to do that, and explain what it does.

for($CurrentLine = 0; $CurrentLine < 10; ++$CurrentLine)
    {
    print "Hello, world!\n";
    }

That’s all the code that it takes. And what if I wanted to print “Hello, world!” a thousand times? A very easy change — only change the 10 to 1000:

for($CurrentLine = 0; $CurrentLine < 1000; ++$CurrentLine)
    {
    print "Hello, world!\n";
    }

Now, let me explain what it does. Let’s look at the first line. It has the following format:

for(part one; part two; part three)

It has three parts, separated by semicolons (';'). Each part does something different.

The first part is run exactly once. It is used to set things up — in this case, to assign the scalar variable the value of zero.

For reasons that you will understand later when you program, you should have computers start counting at 0. So, instead of counting from 1 to 10, this counts from 0 to 9 — and still does it ten times.

The second part is the conditional clause that is tested each time you run through the loop. In this case, it makes an arithmetic assertion: that CurrentLine is less than 10. After running through the loop, the computer checks to see if the second part is still true — if it’s true, the computer runs through the loop one more time.

The third part is something the computer does each time, after running through the loop and before checking the conditional clause. In this case, it increments (adds one to) the value of $CurrentLine.

So, all together, we have the computer counting from 0 to 9, and each time printing out a “Hello world!” message.

See also:

StatementsScalarsAssignment of scalarsArithmeticFlow controlBlocksConditional clausesLoopsForeach loopsWhile loops

Subroutines and functions

When you learned to walk, it was a bit tough to learn — but once you had learned once, you learned a way of walking that would take you anywhere (within certain bounds), on any kind of surface (within other bounds). You had learned walking in general, and so you didn’t need to learn to walk each time you met something new.

For computers, there are many things you’ll want to do a number of different times, in a number of different places — but it’s really only one thing. With subroutines and functions, you can write miniature programs that do one thing — and then you have a new command that is available to you, taking only one line, whenever you want to do something.

Subroutines are powerful. Subroutines are good. Whenever you find yourself doing the same thing in more than one place, it is probably good to put it in its own subroutine.

See also:

VariablesStatementsFLow controlBlocksArgumentsSubroutinesFunctions

ArgumentsSome subroutines and functions need information to do their job. For example, you might have a subroutine to tell the price for so many apples, so many oranges, and so many bananas — but first you need to tell it how many apples, oranges, and bananas there are, so it can calculate them!

That is done by giving the subroutine or function some arguments. The way you use a subroutine/function is to give an ampersand (‘&’) before the name of the subroutine/function, then its name, and then a list of arguments. For example, if we used the subroutine I mentioned, you might invoke it like this:

&TellPrice($NumberOfApples, $NumberOfOranges, $NumberOfBananas);

We’ll see exactly how to write such a subroutine here.

See also:

VariablesScalarsListsFlow controlSubroutines and functionsSubroutinesFunctions

Subroutines

A subroutine is a miniature program that you can run from within your program. Earlier, we talked about a procedure that would tell a price for an amount of fruit. Here is how we write such a procedure. Before the procedure is used, we assume that there is some code that tells the price of the different kinds of fruit:

$PricePerApple = .25;
$PricePerOrange = .30;
$PricePerBanana = .20;

And here is the subroutine itself:

sub TellPrice()
    {
    $NumberOfApples = shift(@_);
    $NumberOfOranges = shift(@_);
    $NumberOfBananas = shift(@_);
    @RemainingArguments = @_;
    $PriceForApples = $NumberOfApples * $PricePerApple;
    $PriceForOranges = $NumberOfOranges * $PricePerOrange;
    $PriceForBananas = $NumberOfBananas * $PricePerBanana;
    $TotalPrice = $PriceForApples + $PriceForOranges + $PriceForBananas;
    print "The total price for the fruit is $TotalPrice.\n";
    }

Well, let’s look at it piece by piece:

    $NumberOfApples = shift(@_);
    $NumberOfOranges = shift(@_);
    $NumberOfBananas = shift(@_);
    @RemainingArguments = @_;

This part finds out what the arguments to the procedure are, and stores them in the appropriate variables. This should go at the beginning of the subroutine; the syntax for using the subroutine is:

&TellPrice($NumberOfApples, $NumberOfOranges, $NumberOfBananas);

The part of the subroutine that gets the arguments should be of the following form:

    $first argument = shift(@_);
    $second argument = shift(@_);
    $third argument = shift(@_);
    ...
    @RemainingArguments = @_;

where first argument, second argument, and so on are the names of the arguments in order.

After firuging out what the arguments are, the subroutine then does some arithmetic to figure out the total price, and prints it out.

One more thing… At the beginning of the program, you need to declare your subroutine, by having a line like this:

sub &TellPrice();

See also:

StatementsFlow controlBlocksSubroutines and functionsArgumentsFunctions

Functions

One kind of useful subroutine is one that does some calculations, or something like that, and gives a value as an answer. For example, suppose we wanted to be able to assign the total price to a variable in our fruit market example. This is what functions are for.

To use a function, we would do something like this:

$TotalPrice = &CalculatePrice($NumberOfApples, $NumberOfOranges,
  $NumberOfBananas);

And the CalculatePrice function is almost exactly the same as the TellPrice procedure. Here is its listing, with all of the changes in bold:

sub CalculatePrice()
    {
    $NumberOfApples = shift(@_);
    $NumberOfOranges = shift(@_);
    $NumberOfBananas = shift(@_);
    @RemainingArguments = @_; 
    $PriceForApples = $NumberOfApples * $PricePerApple;
    $PriceForOranges = $NumberOfOranges * $PricePerOrange;
    $PriceForBananas = $NumberOfBananas * $PricePerBanana;
    $TotalPrice = $PriceForApples + $PriceForOranges + $PriceForBananas;
    return $TotalPrice;
    }

Now, instead of printing out the result, the subroutine returns it. Now the part of the program that called it (above) will have the result plugged in where it was given.

Another very useful function can be used to get a yes or no answer from the user. This subroutine doesn’t itself tell the user what he’s supposed to answer yes or no about; that would be done just before calling this subroutine.

sub confirm()
    {
    $UserAnswer = <>;  # Read in the user's answer.
    chomp $UserAnswer;
    if ((not($UserAnswer eq "n")) and # If it's not a yes or a no,
      (not($UserAnswer eq "y")) and
      (not($UserAnswer eq "N")) and
      (not($UserAnswer eq "Y")))
	{
	while ((not($UserAnswer eq "n")) and # Keep going until we get a yes
	  (not($UserAnswer eq "y")) and      # or a no.
	  (not($UserAnswer eq "N")) and
	  (not($UserAnswer eq "Y")))
	    {
	    print "Please answer \"y\", for yes, or \"n\", for no.\n";
	    $UserAnswer = <>;
	    chomp $UserAnswer;
	    }
	}
    # If we've gotten here, the user has given a yes or a no answer.
    return (($UserAnswer eq "Y") or ($UserAnswer eq "y"));
    }

This procedure makes sure that the user types a y or n, then returns a conditional that says that the user said yes. So, for example, one could have the following segment of code:

print "Do you wish to continue (y/n)? ";
if (&confirm())
    {
    print "Continuing...\n";
    }
else
    {
    print "Bye!\n";
    exit 0;
    }

That segment of code asks the user if he wants to continue. If he says yes, then the program says “Continuing…”, and continues. If he says no, the program says “Bye!”, and exits.

That’s all of the bare bones rudiments of programming. Now we can move onward to looking at a few sample programs, and then begin tinkering!

See also:

StatementsVariablesFlow controlBlocksSubroutines and functionsArgumentsSubroutines

Sample programs

Here, we will look at a couple of sample programs, to get an idea of how they tick — how one might put the pieces together to make something. What I have done is a lot like showing you a number of Lego blocks all by themselves — here is a hint on how you might put them together.

We will look at two programs — one that keeps track of your friends and their pets, and another that keeps a running average of numbers it is given.

I would like for you to read over them, see the explanations, understand them — and then see what you can do with them. Can you modify them? Can you build something else from scratch? Try it!

See also:

Friends and petsRunning average

Friends and pets

Here, we will have a program that asks you about you friends and pets, and remembers them for as long as it’s running. Let me give a listing. I am trying to document it well by putting in comments. Can you tell what it does? If you can’t, look up the parts you can’t understand.

#!/usr/bin/perl -w
#
# Friends and pets — a program to keep track of your friends and their pets.
#
# Last modified 12-29-01, by CJS Hayward
#
# While you say you want to continue, it asks you for another friend's name,
# and then asks for the pet's name.  Then, it tells you all of the friends it's
# been told, and what their pets are.
#
# This is done with a while loop.
# The friends are stored in a list, and
# the pets are stored in a hash.
#
# We also use a couple of functions.
#

#
# The stuff it does in the beginning, called initialization.
#

# List the subroutines and functions.
sub Confirm();

#
# Confirm is a function that gets a yes or no answer from the user.
#
# Note that this function uses another function — ReadLine.  It is
# possible, and indeed very useful, to have one subroutine or function use
# other subroutines or functions.
#

sub Confirm()
    {
    $UserAnswer = &ReadLine();
    if ((not($UserAnswer eq "n")) and # If it's not a yes or a no,
      (not($UserAnswer eq "y")) and
      (not($UserAnswer eq "N")) and
      (not($UserAnswer eq "Y")))
        {
        while ((not($UserAnswer eq "n")) and # Keep going until we get a yes
          (not($UserAnswer eq "y")) and      # or a no.
          (not($UserAnswer eq "N")) and
          (not($UserAnswer eq "Y")))
            {
            print "Please answer \"y\", for yes, or \"n\", for no.\n";
	    $UserAnswer = &ReadLine();
            }
        }
    # If we've gotten here, the user has given a yes or a no answer.
    return (($UserAnswer eq "Y") or ($UserAnswer eq "y"));
    }

# Make the list of friends and hash of pets empty, so that they don't contain
# anything.
@Friends = ();
%Pets = ();

# Have scalars that we can use for true and false conditional clauses.
$True = 1;
$False = 0;

# Welcome the user to the program.
print "Welcome to the friends and pets program.\n";

$ShouldContinue = $True;

#
# The main loop.  This is where the meat of the program is.
#

while ($ShouldContinue)
    {

    # Read in the friend's name.
    print "Please enter the name of your friend:\n";
    $NewFriend = &ReadLine();

    # Add the new friend to the list.
    @Friends = (@Friends, $NewFriend);

    # Read in the friend's pet.
    print "Please enter the kind of pet $NewFriend has:\n";
    $NewPet = &ReadLine();

    # Add the new friend's pet to the list of hashes.
    $Pets{$NewFriend} = $NewPet;

    # Print a blank line, so that the output doesn't look too crowded:
    print "\n";

    # Now, recite the friends and their pets.
    foreach $CurrentFriend (@Friends)
	{
	$CurrentPet = $Pets{$CurrentFriend};
	print $CurrentFriend ."'s pet is a $CurrentPet.\n";
	}

    # Finally, ask the user if he wants to continue.
    print "Do you want to continue (y/n)?\n";
    $ShouldContinue = &Confirm();

    # And we reach the end of the loop.
    }


# If we get here in the program, the user does not want to continue.
# So, we say "Bye!", and leave.

print "Bye!\n";
exit 0;

#
# The program will never get here by itself, because it is after the exit
# statement.  But we can still put procedures and functions here.  We will put
# two functions here:
#

#
# ReadLine is a function that reads a line in, and gets rid of the trailing
# newline.  This does input exactly as specified earlier.
#

sub ReadLine()
    {
    $UserInput = <>;
    chomp $userinput;
    return $userinput;
    }

A sample output for this program might be:

Welcome to the friends and pets program.
Please enter the name of your friend:
Fred
Please enter the kind of pet Fred has:
furball

Fred's pet is a furball.
Do you want to continue (y/n)?
y
Please enter the name of your friend:
David
Please enter the kind of pet David has:
dog

Fred's pet is a furball.
David's pet is a dog.
Do you want to continue (y/n)?
n
Bye!

See also:

Sample programsRunning average

Running average

This program reads numbers and tells their running average:

#!/usr/bin/perl -w
$total = 0;
$number_of_items = 0;
$result = 0;
while(1) # 1 is always true.
    {
    print "Next item: ";
    $input_line = <>;
    chomp $input_line;
    $total = $total + $input_line;
    ++$number_of_items;
    $result = $total / $number_of_items;
    print "The average so far is " + $result + ".\n";
    }

See also:

Sample programsFriends and pets

Debugging

Do you have a little brother or sister? If you don’t, pretend you do—a brother, Fred, who’s just barely old enough to walk.

Imagine that your mother tells your brother to go to the bathroom. So your brother walks to the bathroom, stands there a while, and then asks why he was sent there. Or imagine that you have a potted plant in the house, and your parents come home and find that your brother dug out dirt from the tree and is playing in the dirt. They clean up the mess and explain, very plainly, that he is not to play in dirt. So your brother tries to find something better, and pulls all the leaves off the plant and plays in the leaves.

Computers are like that. They don’t understand what you mean—only the literal sense of what you said. If you say almost exactly what you mean, the computer will almost do what you mean, and the ‘almost’ can be very annoying. In this chapter, I’ll explain how to fix common bugs, and close with how science can help you debug.

Common Bugs

Many common bugs come from one of two sources:

  1. Accidentally typing the wrong thing.
  2. Logical errors.

Logical and mathematical errors are things like being off by one. Subsequent sections will tell you something about typing errors.

Syntax errors

If a programming book tells you to write something a certain way, you should do exactly what you’re told. If you’re told to write:

@a=(1,2);
foreach $b (@a)
    {
	print $b;
    }

and you write:

@a=(1,2);
foreach b (@a)
    {
	print $b;
    }

What will happen?

Something different, and not what you want.

One dollar sign is missing, so the computer will do something different, and not what you want.

Can’t the computer just do what you mean?

No. Knowing what you mean shows human intelligence, and the computer can’t do it.

What happens quite often is that you write something a little different than what you thought—something a person wouldn’t notice—but the computer can’t correct. If you’re having trouble, read your code closely to see that you typed exactly what you thought you typed.

Misspelling

What happens if you type:

$pizzas = 12;
print "$pizzzas\n";

What you’d like to happen is that it prints out the number 12. However, I put an extra 'z' in, so it prints out 0. Why? The variable $pizzas may be 12, but $pizzzas is a different variable, and it is not twelve.

If you’re having trouble, make sure that every variable and function is spelled exactly the same way every time it appears.

Forgotten semicolon

What happens if you type the following line of code:

print "Hello, world!\n"

What you’d like is for it to print “Hello, world!”. However, the program will crash. It’s waiting for a semicolon, and if it’s not there it’ll get confused. Make sure that every line, unless you’ve been told it doesn’t need a semicolon, has a semicolon.

Single and Double Equals

What happens if you run the following code:

$a = 1;
$b = 2;
if ($a = $b)
	{
	print "They're equal!";
	}
else
	{
	print "They're not equal.";
	}

What would you like to happen? It compares 1 and 2 and says that they’re not equal. However, if you run this, it says that they’re equal. Why? ($a = $b) says to make a equal to b. What we wanted was ($a == $b), which would compare them.

Use '=' to assign a value and '==' to compare. It’s easy to use the wrong one and introduce bugs to your program.

Scientific Debugging

How does the scientific method work?

In a nutshell, there’s something a scientist doesn’t understand, so he makes a guess, and then makes a way to show if the guess is wrong. After a lot of testing, a guess that hasn’t been shown wrong may become part of science.

When you don’t understand something, making guesses and then testing them (“If my program’s miscalculating, then the variables before this part will have the right values, but the variables after will have wrong values. I know! I’ll put print statements before and after to tell me the variables’ values”) can help you see why your program’s not functioning.

If you have a science teacher who programs computers, it would be very helpful to approach him sometime when he’s not busy and ask, “How can the scientific method help me debug computer programs?”

Conclusion

I hope this has helped you to begin to tinker and play, exploring what your computer can do when you speak one of its languages. When you’re ready to learn more, read good programming books, continue asking questions, and by all means, keep tinkering!

Would you like another book that will tell you more? O’Reilly publishes excellent titles. Learning Perl is an excellent next step. When you’ve outgrown that, Programming Perl, affectionately named the camel book by Perl programmers, will take you far.

And if you enjoyed this, would you like to see some of what else I’ve written? You might find some of it interesting.

-Jonathan

Glossary

Argument
Assignment
Atgry
Block
Bug
Code
Comma
Comment
Concatenate
Conditional clause
Dollar sign
Equals sign
Feature
Flow control
Function
Hash
Input
Language
Left curly brace
Left parenthesis
List
Loop
Output
Percent sign
Pound sign
Right curly brace
Right parenthesis
Scalar
Semicolon
Statement
String
Subroutine
Underscore
Value
Variable

[Certain terms are defined in the text; those remaining are:]

Definition: Atgry

An atgry (the plural of atgry is atgrynge) looks like this:

@

Atgrynge are used before variables that are lists. They are also known as ‘at signs’.

Definition: Bug

A bug is a mistake in a program that makes the program act differently than it was supposed to.

Bugs are one of the facts of life in computer programming; we all make mistakes, and figuring out and fixing bugs is an important part of creating programs.

The term ‘bug’ comes a story that, way back in the middle bronze age when computers were made with physical relays, a computer wasn’t doing something properly, and (after investigation) the people discovered that there was an insect which had gotten into the computer and was making it malfunction: the computer had a bug in it. Since then, we use the word ‘bug’ to refer to malfunctions that are caused by human mistakes as well as funny things like insects crawling into a computer.

Even when it seems like you’ve done everything right, sometimes the computer still won’t do what you want it to. One of the points of maturity for a programmer is not to blame other things, but to realize that it’s probably a mistake you’ve made, and to see what you need to do to fix it.

Definition: Code

Code is a word we use to refer to the “stuff” a program is made out of, just as ‘wood’ is a word we use to refer to the “stuff” a board is made out of. Here is an example of code:

#!/usr/local/bin/perl
#
# Print out the phrase "Hello, world!"
#

print "Hello, world!\n";

In this case, this code is all of a program; code can also be some of a program.

Can you identify the different parts of this program?

Definition: Comma

A comma looks like this:

,

Definition: Concatenate

When you concatenate two strings, you stick them both together, one after the other. For example:

If you concatenate:

"Old MacDonald had a farm. "

and

"On that farm, there was a cat. "

the result is,

"Old MacDonald had a farm. On that farm, there was a cat."

In Perl, you can concatenate strings by placing a period (‘.‘) in between them. The following code assigns $first_part the value "Old MacDonald had a farm.", $second_part the value "On that farm, there was a cat. " before assigning the concatenated value to $combined:

$first_part = "Old MacDonald had a farm. ";
$second_part = "On that farm, there was a cat. ";
$combined = $first_part . $second_part;

Definition: Dollar sign

A dollar sign looks like this:

$It is used before the names of some variables — specifically, scalars, and (in some cases) hashes.

Definition: Equals sign

An equals sign looks like this:

=It is used for assignment.

Definition: Feature

A feature is some capability of a program, something that it can do. For example, most word processors can have bold or italic text, and print things out. Some time spent working on programs is adding new features.

There is a running joke among computer people, that when there’s a bug that a customer discovers, the technical support people say, “Oh, you’ve discovered our new feature!” — they pretend the bug is really a special feature.

Definition: Hash

A hash looks like this:

#

Hashes are used in Perl to begin comments, and are also known as pound signs.

Definition: Language

There are different languages that humans use to communicate with each other — English, French, German, Italian, and so on. There are also languages for humans to tell computers to do things. Perl is one of many such languages.

Different computer languages have different strengths and weaknesses. Each one has a slightly different function — just like the tools in a tool chest (hammer, pliers, screwdriver, etc.) have different functions.

There is a difference between computer and human languages, which is this: Human languages are difficult to learn, at least for adults. Even if you can communicate well in English, you will have to work hard to be able to communicate even badly in French or German (if you have not already had experience with them). But with computer languages, once you have really learned to program, learning a new language is fairly easy.

This is part of why I am using Perl as the language for this book, instead of using the language I know best (C). Perl is a good, easy language to begin with, and I hope both that you can learn Perl, and move on to other languages that will teach you other things that Perl doesn’t teach you very well. I think, for example, that Java is a good second language. After Perl and Java, you should be able to use almost any language.

Definition: Left curly brace

A left curly brace looks like this:

{

Left and right curly braces are used to enclose blocks of code, as well as designate an element of a hash.

Definition: Left Parenthesis

A left parenthesis (the plural of parenthesis is parentheses) looks like this:

(

Left and right parentheses are used to clarify what you mean in certain arithmetic expressions, as well as telling where the members of a list and the arguments to a function begin and end.

Definition: Percent sign

A percent sign looks like this:

%

Percent signs, among other things, are used to refer to hashes.

Definition: Period

A period looks like this:

.

Periods are used, among other things, to concatenate two strings, as explained in the section of the text on scalars.

Definition: Right curly brace

A right curly brace looks like this:

}

Right and left curly braces are used to enclose blocks of code, as well as designate an element of a hash.

Definition: Right parenthesis

A right parenthesis (the plural of parenthesis is parentheses) looks like this:

)

Right and left parentheses are used to clarify what you mean in certain arithmetic expressions, as well as telling where the members of a list and the arguments to a function begin and end.

Definition: Semicolon

A semicolon looks like this:

;

Semicolons are used at the end of most statements.

Definition: String

A string is some amount of text. Examples of strings are:

"My left foot"

"436"

"A man without eyes,
saw plums in a tree.
He neither ate them nor left them;
now, how could this be?"

We enclose a string in quotation marks, to indicate where the string begins and ends. The quotation marks are not actually part of the string. (Strings can contain almost anything, including line breaks and even quotation marks — although you have to be careful with quotation marks so you don’t confuse the computer.)

Definition: Underscore An underscore looks like this:_Note that it is lower than a hyphen: here is a hyphen, followed by an underscore: -_.

Underscores, as well as letters and numbers, may be used in the names of variables and functions.

Definition: Value

A value is a specific meaning that a variable may have at once. For example, the scalar $NumberOfCats could have the value 1, 2, or 5. A variable may only have one value at a time; when it is given a new value, the new value replaces the old value. Here are some examples of values that a scalar may have:

"five of spades"

1

-2.5

Tinkering With Perl is a free book that provides an introduction to programming in Perl, as well as a basic reference for things like foreach in Perl, if-then, and if-then-else, in addition to providing a glossary where you can find definitions for concatenate and other terms.

Tinkering With Perl may be one of the most popular offerings on this site, but it’s not the only attraction. You can read a tongue-in-cheek Game Review: Meatspace, and spend a few minutes wishing your boss would read, The Administrator Who Cried, “Important!” (Not to mention that there are other things you can read here besides tech stuff, from Janra Ball: The Headache to The Spectacles.)

A Voyage in Espiriticthus

Cover for The Minstrel's Song

I was running a play by e-mail adventure in the world Espiriticthus. Basic documents for The Minstrel’s Song (the game) are on its page. The campaign is closed.

Character descriptions:

The characters are Caroline, Hood, Jeff, Xingu, and Zakhs online.


Name: Caroline Leof’degn
Race: Nor’krin
Age: 24
Gender: Female

Physical Appearance:

Caroline is 5’10” and 160 pounds. A little tall even for one of the ‘northern giants’. Her sun bleached blond hair is kept in a neat and tidy braid down her back, reaching down to the small of her back. Her clothing tends to be practical and designed to hold up in all kinds of weather. Her eyes are blue and in times of deep emotion yellow flecks seem to rise and burst upon the surface. She travels very light with a backpack of various healing tools and herbs, a bow, and a long sword. Her iron cross given at becoming an adult at first appears very plain and only with close inspection do the tiny designs show.

Personality:

Started out her life, very concerned with the law and facts. Things of practical use. Used to consider thing that were not of obvious practical use as wasteful. She was all the more shocked when at 16 her challenge for becoming an adult turned out to be learning to sing. She left to go live with the Yedidia people, since logically they would be the best ones to show someone how to sing. It was not that simple. Yedidia sing because they enjoy life, and to show Caroline how they sing, she needed to learn about enjoying life. Not enjoying a particular activity or helping someone, but life and living itself. By the time Caroline left, five years had pasted and Caroline was starting down the path to understanding and enjoying life. She had finally learned how to sing.

Profession/talents/skills:

Healing is her first vocation. The taking care of wounded and sick. She is fairly skilled and tended of the physical wounds, and is slowly learning to identify those hurt in other ways. Protecting and taking care of other physical needs is the use she puts her weapons skill too. Singing…. singing she does for joy of life, in answer to the beauty of a sunrise or rose.

Miscellaneous:

Caroline has an true enjoyment of herbal teas. While she still enjoys crisp cold water that her race normally favours, during her five years with the Yedidia one of the pleasures of the senses she learned to enjoy was tea. She has tea either hot or chilled, enjoying not only the taste but the smell as well. She remembers her time spend learning with the Yedidia with every cup.

A quote:

“Sometimes we become so consumed with what we believe we should be rushing to do, we forget to listen in silence to the voice of God.”


Name: Hood Natheel
Race: Tuz
Age: 25
Gender: Male

Occupation:

Blacksmith

Appearance:

Hood is a shorth stocky fellow. He is bald but do have a large jetblack beard. He usally wears a pair of short grey trousers and buff coloured sleeveless leather vest with a sort of flap hanging down on the knees( it a kind of blacksmith protection wear that is quite common among the Tuz, also known a “Tuulth”)

Personality:

Hood Natheel got a personality similar to the iron he usally work with. He is strong willed, cold in the face of danger and if someone heats up his heart it will melt and the somewhat cold front will disappear and show the true Hood. Usally his temper is very balanced, but on occasions he will emotional outburst( either of joy or if he is really displeased with something)

Hood is a curious fellow always eager to seek answer to the questions he is confronted with. An ability that might put him in jeopardy sometimes. Usally he sort these things out.

He is also looking for solutions to his community, so his curiosity is not at all self centered. If a problem occur among the his friends neighbors or someone else he usally seek out to find an answer to the question at hand.

He is perhaps not the most intelligent being in the creation, but since he is a patient man he usally ends up with the answers in the long run.

The solutions that Hood comes up with are usally based on simplicity and he often hard to understand more complex reason. Therefor he might feel a bit uneasy with the company of scholar and highly educated men an women. As usual he tries to compensate this weakness with the usual patience. Cooperation comes before confrontaion so Hood would probably not start a confrontaion with people who does not share he way thinking.

Hood usally speaks in a laconic way. He seldom expresses more than absolutely needed. That makes him a rather bad preacher and he is not the type of person that tries to impose his ideas on others.

A typical Hood quote:

“Eeh..Wait…I think I got it!!..eeh.or perhaps not”

Background:

Hood is born in a small Tuz village called Haahem. He has very seldom left it when he entered the game. On occasions he has visited other villages. He is the eldest son of a Tuz blacksmith named Holth Natheel. Just like his father(and numerous generations before him) Hood is a blacksmith. The silent steady nature of the Natheel family has given them a good reputation in the home village and the surrounding area. For the moment the Natheel family consist of 15 persons, grandpa Oothol Natheel, Holtlh and his wife Holthina and their 12 children( among them you can find Hood).

Inventory:

  • sledge( used as a protection weapon)
  • knife
  • tinderbox
  • rope 50′
  • lantern
  • leather protection

Name: Chimera Antonio Pbrush Petra Mistrelli Charleston Jeffery Mirrorman
Race: Urvanovestilli
Age: 35
Gender: Male

Physical appearance:

Chimera is 5’3″ and weighs 101 pounds. He has clear white skin and long jet-black hair pulled back in a ponytail. When he is out in the sun, he will have a wicker hat on with a long brim that hides his face, and wears a pair of dark sunglasses. He wears all white satin clothes and carries his tools in a backpack along with several blankets that he uses when there is no place to lodge. He walks with a long metal walking stick that is wrapped with a leather strap. His shoes are made of a cotton black clothe with very thick leather souls. He has emerald green eyes and claw scar across his left forearm.

Personality:

Chimera is very quiet, but a very hard worker. When he does talk, it is with a very soft and tender voice. His love for God can be seen deep within his eyes and in the fact that he spends much time in prayer and study each day. Once you get to know Jeff, he is very friendly and very willing to offer his hand to assist others.

Profession/talents/skills:

Like his father, Jeff will one day take over the maintenance and construction of the labyrinth of the city Mistrelli. He has been brought up on the studies of Ceremonies, Clockwork Device Craftsmanship, Heraldry, History, Literature, Mathematics, Philosophy, Reading/Writing, Technology Use, and Theology. Jeff is also Proficient at Illusionism, and Moderately Skilled at Opening Locks and is more than just a Dabbler when it comes to Jury-Rigging.

Background:

My name is, Chimera Antonio Pbrush Petra Mistrelli Charleston Jeffery Mirrorman. My friends call me Jeff. I am an Urvanovestilli from the city of Mistrelli. Christ is the center of my life, for I try to live as He would have by giving all that I have and all that I am to helping others. The world is a great place, with many mysteries and wonders. I am but a young adult at the age of 35. I have been on many journeys to see the world and to meet the other cultures that God has created. In this part of my life, I am still filled with the wanderlust that is engraved upon my soul, but I find greater fulfillment when I can help others as I see the world. My family has been apart of the creation of Mistrelli, therefore, I have grown up creating many unusual devices for traps and secret passages. Some of the devices that I have personally developed were the search light for wandering around in the tunnels, and a mirroring device that allows one’s image to be projected at a distance, but my most fun device was a box with a button on it, that when pressed, entangles the holder of the box with strong wires that could not be broken, not even by a Nor’krin. Since I have been on many journeys, I have also been able to help others with minor problems such as water irrigation and food storage. Some of the virtues that I embody would be Contrainte, Faith, Forgiveness, Generosity, Gentleness, Honesty, Honor, Humility, Joy, Love, Patience, Peace, Self-Control, and Wisdom.

I search for Honesty in other people. I have only a few relationships with others, but the are very deep. I think that quality counts much more that quantity. In my spare time, I love to think about the mysteries of God and the universe. How He has created such a symphony of life with as much diversity.

I am my father’s first born, and will return one day to become his assistant, and eventually, take over for him. Even though I might look helpless, I would have to disagree. In my travels, I have been able to study and master the Martial Art form Akido, which is a very soft a non aggressive form. Although non aggressive, it is very useful when being attacked. The attacker when only get hurt accordingly to how much force he put into the attack.

I enjoy life very much. One of my favorite games is Imperial Kingdoms, a more complex version of Chess. My other hobby is creating a machine that will allow me to fly. My favorite story is about Eistinia, one of the great inventors from my town. He created a balloon that could carry a basket into the sky with several people. After his first attempt, he landed in a far away place, because he forgot to setup a way to go down. Anyway, he came across a small village that knows nothing of God and was able to share the God news with them. How exciting. I too, want to be able to help others, both physically and spiritually. I like to present others with my gifts of service, to help them in their needs.

I cherish the memory of my great grand father, because it was he how taught me that God and Science are the same, for we would not have Knowledge if it were not God’s will. I have grown much since that time, and I have helped many people because of that. But one thing has not changed, I have always wanted to know why I believe what I believe, and never just accept anything as that was how it has always been.

There is a girl back home that has also left following her wanderlust, her name is Tia Carolina Pamelita. It would be my desire to win her heart and to ask her to marry me. But before I do, I must find out who I am.

I am a typical Urvanovestilli standing at 5’3″ and weighing in at 101 pounds. I might seem very quiet, but I am really very bright and well cultured. I have studied Ceremonies, Clockwork Device Craftsmanship, Heraldry, History, Literature, Mathematics, Philosophy, Reading/Writing , Technology Use, and Theology. But I have also studied Anatomy, Biology, Chemistry, Cooking, Herbalism, Illusionism, Improvisation, Jury-Rigging, Languages, Massage, Mediation, Medicine, Musical Composition, Piano, Open Locks, Poetry Composition, Pyrotechnics, Strategy Games, and Trivia.

Ability to Learn – Good
Agility – Fair
Charisma – Fair
Constitution – Fair
Dexterity – Fair
Intelligence – Good
Knowledge – Good
Memory – Good
Perception – Good
Speed – Poor
Strength – Poor
Wisdom – Good

A Quote:

“To study what God has created and how it works is to understand who God is just a little bit more”


Name: Xingu
Race: Shal
Gender: Male
Age: 232
Weight: 135 lbs
Height: 5’5″

Xingu is, for a Shal, of medium height and weight, with soft, penetrating blue eyes. If one wished to know his age, one would be confused by the contrast of his frame – that of middle age, with well-defined muscles in his upper forearms – and his skin whose aging has been accelerated by the salt breeze of the sea; yet Xingu possesses an air of timelessness that makes even thinking of age superficial. He wears a dark green cloak and carries a walking stick of gnarled wood.

Xingu doesn’t have as much a personality as he has a presence. One can be with him, and not a word need be spoken before his presence – a feeling of warmth, compassion, love, serenity, peace, and timelessness – is felt.

Xingu lives in the Shal port village of Vis. There he was a sailor and fisherman. Like all Shal, he lives his life in serene mysticism, possessing a timeless wisdom – not exactly logic, not exactly intelligence, but a wisdom much like the Tao masters. As per his trade, he is skilled at fishing, sailing, rope handling, and navigation, the latter based more on intuition than calculation.

Like most sailors, Xingu is passable at some musical instruments, singing, and sea lore. Traditional Shal music is less outwardly joyous; it is more peaceful, serene, and inspiring of meditation.

The Shal sail largely by intuition, by becoming at peace with the ocean. While one certainly should not sail with a Shal if speed is the end goal, there’s no person better to be with should the seas get rough. Many a Shal has been known to survive storms which should have cracked a boat to bits, by holding the helm in one calloused hand, the main sheet cutting into the flesh of the other hand, muscles straining to keep the ship under control, and yet maintaining a look of utmost peace and tranquility, a lack of fear, and a faith strong enough to move mountains. The Shal sail, and weather storms, simply by staying in harmony with the sea and remaining at peace. Xingu is certainly no exception.

Xingu will always welcome a stranger into his house, or sail a foreigner to any destination. Long days and nights on a ship with guests, repeated for nearly two centuries, combined with seemingly infinite patience have made Xingu quite well-versed in the languages, customs and ways of the other cultures, and he has come to appreciate the different races greatly.

One day when withdrawing from his community and the rest of the world, Xingu felt a calling to leave his boat and travel away from Vis, which he had never before left by land. It was then that he happened upon the city of Mistrelli.

Xingu carries just enough possessions to survive – a hunting knife, a tinder box and flints, and a canteen of water. At his home in Vis is moored his simple 16 foot yawl-rigged boat with tan bark sails, his ropes and net.

Quote:

“I feel, I sense, and I live. I am, and He is, hence I know.”


Name: Xingu
Race: Shal
Gender: Male
Age: 232
Weight: 135 lbs
Height: 5’5″

Xingu is, for a Shal, of medium height and weight, with soft, penetrating blue eyes. If one wished to know his age, one would be confused by the contrast of his frame – that of middle age, with well-defined muscles in his upper forearms – and his skin whose aging has been accelerated by the salt breeze of the sea; yet Xingu possesses an air of timelessness that makes even thinking of age superficial. He wears a dark green cloak and carries a walking stick of gnarled wood.

Xingu doesn’t have as much a personality as he has a presence. One can be with him, and not a word need be spoken before his presence – a feeling of warmth, compassion, love, serenity, peace, and timelessness – is felt.

Xingu lives in the Shal port village of Vis. There he was a sailor and fisherman. Like all Shal, he lives his life in serene mysticism, possessing a timeless wisdom – not exactly logic, not exactly intelligence, but a wisdom much like the Tao masters. As per his trade, he is skilled at fishing, sailing, rope handling, and navigation, the latter based more on intuition than calculation.

Like most sailors, Xingu is passable at some musical instruments, singing, and sea lore. Traditional Shal music is less outwardly joyous; it is more peaceful, serene, and inspiring of meditation.

The Shal sail largely by intuition, by becoming at peace with the ocean. While one certainly should not sail with a Shal if speed is the end goal, there’s no person better to be with should the seas get rough. Many a Shal has been known to survive storms which should have cracked a boat to bits, by holding the helm in one calloused hand, the main sheet cutting into the flesh of the other hand, muscles straining to keep the ship under control, and yet maintaining a look of utmost peace and tranquility, a lack of fear, and a faith strong enough to move mountains. The Shal sail, and weather storms, simply by staying in harmony with the sea and remaining at peace. Xingu is certainly no exception.

Xingu will always welcome a stranger into his house, or sail a foreigner to any destination. Long days and nights on a ship with guests, repeated for nearly two centuries, combined with seemingly infinite patience have made Xingu quite well-versed in the languages, customs and ways of the other cultures, and he has come to appreciate the different races greatly.

One day when withdrawing from his community and the rest of the world, Xingu felt a calling to leave his boat and travel away from Vis, which he had never before left by land. It was then that he happened upon the city of Mistrelli.

Xingu carries just enough possessions to survive – a hunting knife, a tinder box and flints, and a canteen of water. At his home in Vis is moored his simple 16 foot yawl-rigged boat with tan bark sails, his ropes and net.

Quote:

“I feel, I sense, and I live. I am, and He is, hence I know.”


Name: Zakhs
Race: Tuz
Age: 28
Gender: Male

Physical appearance:

Zachs is of medium height and stocky build. His broad grin (his usual expression) is nestled in his thick black beard, and his eyes have a humorous twinkle. When he laughs, it is long and loud. He carries a stour walking stick made of a dark-colored wood, and his clothes are well-worn and comfortable looking.

Personality:

He is not naive, for he has seen much of the world, but he is a basically trusting person. He gives people the benefit of the doubt until they prove him wrong. He greets everyone he meets as a friend until proven otherwise, and he is a hearty and enjoyable person. His special gift is the ability to help others, and he takes great joy in this. When he comes across someone working in his travels, he pitches in and helps them finish a job. In this way he can raise goodwill as well as food and a place to sleep for the night.

Profession/talents/skills:

He is a wanderer and a pilgrim, seeking through the world in order to broaden his experience. He has the standard skills of a Tuz; Heat Tolerance, Hunting, Wilderness Survival, and Wrestling. He is also skilled in Animal Lore, Brewing, and Endurance. He is good with his hands and likes to Build and Carve.

A quote:

“Greetings, Friend! Care for some help with that?”


Mistrelli lies in the heart of the Fog Valley; a shroud of mist cloaks the ground, out of which rise trees and tall buildings with spires and towers. Inside the buildings are all manner of tunnels of tunnels, secret passages, and trapdoors; there are clockwork devices in each one. Throughout the city are spread a handful of entrances to a vast underground labyrinth, of which the better part is unknown; there are all manner of doors and puzzles inside.

The city is full of rose bushes, climbing up the sides of the buildings, over and around gates; most are yellow, but there are some of every color.

The people take a long time to get to know, and their personalities always have hidden gems. Their study of theology emphasizes mystery and the incomprehensible nature of God; Connaissance, a theologian from Mistrelli, began and ended his magnum opus with the words, “I do not know.”

Inside this city, which you have all come to for your various reasons, you are each hailed by a young Janra. He is wirily built, with deep, twinkling blue eyes and a shimmering midnight blue robe. He greets you according to your people’s way and tells you in your native tongue, “Greetings. My name is Nimbus. I would like to request the honor of your presence tomorrow, in the third hour of the afternoon, at a meeting in the public square.”

Nimbus is apparently an adventurer of some renown. He is said to have gone on many quests, although exactly what is not clearly known; no two stories are alike. He is also said to have a massive vehicle known as the Juggernaut, Nimbus’s Roving Citadel, etc.

The following day, in the public square, Nimbus divides those assembled into teams, and announces, “I have hidden three eggs, one gold and two silver, in the labyrinth. A team which returns with a silver egg I will give forty gold sovereigns and a tour of my fortress. The team which returns with the golden egg will receive a hundred gold sovereigns, and I will take them in the citadel anywhere within a month’s journey they wish to go.”


Hood belched a loud belch, and chuckled. He had had little difficulty finding something to do — it seemed that people everywhere had heavy things to carry around — but the dainty little portions he had been served were a surprise. Very cute, the strips of meat arranged across layers of cheese and a flaky bread, but not terribly filling. No wonder all the Urvanovestilli were thin as a beanpole, he mused. He tried to eat with the silver instruments he was given, but the strips of meat kept falling off of the pointy thing. At least the tiny knife was sharp — it cut with a refreshing lightness as compared to the much larger knives he was accustomed to, which assumed that you had a bit of strength.

The chef must have seen him staring in disbelief at the food; he turned the faintest shade red, quickly walked back in the kitchen, and came back holding a pot, by wooden pads, and followed by a little girl holding a miniature bowl and spoon. “I’m sorry; I am used to serving for Urvanovestilli, and forgot for a moment that you were a Tuz,” he said through a thick accent. It took Hood a little while to grasp the long sentences, but when he understood them, he smiled. In Urvanovestilli, he tried to say, “Thank you,” and took the pot, guzzling the soup from it. The warmth of the steel pot was comforting to his calloused hands, and the steaming soup filled his stomach with a pleasant heat. There was a somewhat awkward moment of silence — the cook staring in disbelief that anybody could touch the pot with bare hands, let alone drink from it, Hood realizing that they had actually intended him to eat the soup with the tiny bowl and spoon. Finally, Hood set the pot down, smiling and again saying, “Thank you,” and the cook picked it up, and said, “I hope you liked it.”

The soup had had a taste Hood had never tasted before — subtly spiced, with a gentleness to its meaty flavor and salt — and Hood leaned back and belched to express his gratitude. There was a moment of silence, as people turned to him, and the little girl giggled; Hood remembered that the Urvanovestilli had a rather odd attitude about belching. A young man said something rather loudly in Urvanovestilli, and then fluent Tuz: “Aah, yes, I have heard of how the Tuz express their appreciation for a good meal by a good, hearty belch. It sounds like our hard working friend here is quite pleased with the fare!” The cook looked as if he understood, and then tipped his head, walking away with the pot, bowl, and spoon.

Now that the situation had ended, it was far easier to see its humor. Having spent a few days in the forest, hunting his food, Hood had been out of Urvanovestilli culture, and lived much as if he were in a Tuz forest — though even then, he missed some of the tough and rowdy monsters to be found. Have a little patience, he thought, and you’ll adjust to a culture, learn to do things their way, while still remaining you — little moments like the one about the meal brought a bit of spice and amusement.

Hood had left his home village Haheem for the first time in his life. The reason was simple. 12 kids could not inhherite a single blacksmith workshop. The Tuz living around Haheem has not devloped the idea that the eldest son is the obvious heir to his fathers possesions. Ther were actually no clear rules at all regarding this matter. After a short dicussion Hood suggested that they all should solve the matter i one big wrestling match – Hood did not winn, so ther was nothing more to do for Hood than to leave his vilage and to seek his fortune somewhere else. Maybe he could start a new workshop in a nearby village one day.

Now you’re a somewhat young Tuz blacksmith and you need to get a job, what do you do? Well maybe seek employment in some of the Urvanovestilli cities. The strange inhabitants in these cities sometimes have a need for Tuz artisans. Hood had heard stories about the marvelous city of Mistrelli. A city packed with weird mazes, buildings and other strange thins…..maybe the Misterellians needed help with some new constructions.

A couple of weeks later Hood has just entred the the city of Misterelli. He has been drifting around a while studying the sites and landmark of the city when he sees a young Janra. Hood thought for himself…..

“Ahh..a Janra!…. well as we say in Haheem..where there is a Janra there is something going on….”

So now he was at the square, eagerly waiting for things to begin.

There were a few people who stopped to talk with him along the way; the most interesting was an old woman, wearing a black robe with a loose cowl and golden threads woven into its edges, who spoke entirely in questions. She didn’t speak any Tuz, but she spoke slowly, loudly, and with simple words, and repeated her questions a few times. It was very difficult to see the person behind those questions, but Hood thought that there was something there, if only he could give it enough time. There was just enough there, for Hood to know for sure that something was eluding him… As Nimbus climbed a tree and cleared his throat to speak, she handed him a piece of paper, and said, “Here’s my address; do come by.”

The first thing that the young Janra said was, “Brothers and sisters, there are people of many languages here. Please have patience as I explain things in everyone’s tongue, and please remain here until I have divided people into groups.” He said this, of course, in several languages, but it was not too long before those gathered heard in their own native tongue: that he had hidden three eggs, two silver and one gold, that a team returning with a silver egg would gain forty gold sovereigns and a tour of his Juggernaut, and the team returning with the golden egg would win not only one hundred gold sovereigns, but a trip inside the Juggernaut to anywhere within a month’s journey.

It seemed but a moment before Hood was brought together with a team, and then people began to quickly scatter into nooks and crannies. The others assembled and brought into the team were:

Zakhs, another Tuz, a stocky fellow with a broad grin, twinkling eyes, and a thick black beard. His clothing was well-worn, and he carried a thick, dark walking stick.

Xingu, a young Shal with a very peaceful gaze.

Caroline, a young Nor’krin bearing a sharp sword, a bow, and a box, with braided hair running down her back. She bears with her a slight fragrance of roses; when asked, she explained that she was savoring the roses at the rose garden, and held out her hands; her fingertips were a shade of dark pink, the color of the roses having rubbed off on them.

Hood pulled out his lantern and tinderbox, and with nimble fingers, quickly struck the wick afire. “Shall we go a lookin’?”

The square was already still, the people having departed; only Nimbus remained, perched in the tree, and a few people passing here and there.

As the group began to walk about, Hood’s sharp eyes looked in a public square and spotted a statue with a large pedestal, with a rectangular block on one side slightly recessed. He kneeled down, and felt around the edges. The block gave a little when he pressed on it, but beyond a short distance seemed to catch on something. It moved more at the bottom, where it moved back, than the top, where it scarcely moved at all. “This seems to give, but I can’t tell how to trigger it.” The statue was a statue of a thin, despairing man, clothed in rags, with hands stretched up towards Heaven.

Zakhs looked around and said, “There’s an inscription on the other side. Can anybody read it?”

Hood walked around. The script was long, flowing, and carved in the stone, overlaid with gold leaf. “Pretty letters.” He paused for a moment, and then read, “I am [pause] tall. Who will [pause] me receive something for [pause] to drink?” He paused for a second and said, “Understanding these people talking is hard; reading them… I am tall. Who will receive me something to drink? I have at least one word wrong.”

Zakhs said, “Pronounce the ‘tall’ word.”

Hood pronounced it, and Zakhs said it a few times to himself, then changed one sound, and laughed. “I am thirsty. Who will give me something to drink?”

Zakhs looked around, and saw a fountain. He cupped his hands, taking water, and stepped up onto the pedestal (with a little help from Hood), opening his hands over the statue’s mouth. There was a gurgling sound for a moment, then a click, and a sound of clockwork gears turning. The stone rectangle turned inward and upward, on hinges, revealing a shaft with an iron ladder descending into the darkness.

Xingu opened a hand, and then said, “Shall we?”

Hood hefted his massive sledge hammer, and then said, “I think I’d best go down first, in case there are any nasty critters in there.” Xingu paused in thought a moment, considering questioning that — but, given the determination in Hood’s words, decided not to. He loosened the girdle of his leather protector somewhat, slid in the sledge, took the lantern in hand, and began descending the iron rungs.

At the bottom of the pit was a short passageway, ending in an abrupt stone wall. It was dusty, with recent tracks that led under the stone wall — and there disappeared. As the other people came down, they began to inspect the wall and the surrounding areas for some indication as to how one would open the doorway.

After a time, Xingu began to say, “‘Tis said that people often pay too much attention to time and the order of things in time. I wonder…” He began to climb the ladder.

“Where are you going?”, Caroline asked.

“Wait a moment. I’m checking to see something.” He disappeared into the shaft, ascending noiselessly.

There was soon a sound of shifting stone, of gears turning and chains moving, and the stone door glided into the walls of the passageway.

Xingu calmly said, “Shall we go on?”

The passageway came to a T-shaped junction; the tracks went off one way. There was general concurrence to go the other way. As they walked through the long and twisty passageway, Hood’s heavy step brought not only the ring of his iron boot, but a slightly different thud than usual. “That stone,” said Zakhs, “is different from the others.” He knelt down, felt around a little, and then struck one of the stones with his staff. There was a faint echo, a hollow sound. “What are y—”, began Caroline, as Hood’s heavy hammer came down and slammed into the floor. There was a loud ringing sound, and the stone had several cracks.

Hood began to pull out pieces of stone, then reached into what was a hole, and pulled out a small, shiny steel box. “This shouldn’t be too hard to open,” he said, setting it on its side.

Caroline quickly snatched the box, looked him in the eyes, and said, “No.” in clearly enunciated Tuz.

“But it’ll be faster than —,” Hood began.

“No.”

“But why not?”

“Maybe fragile. Break. Shatter.”

“I don’t think —”

“No.”

Hood looked her in the eyes, to stare her down, and saw a will equal to his own. Zakhs put his hand on Hood’s shoulder and said, “Brother, it’s probably safe to open, but there’s just a slight chance that it has something fragile, that is not broken. Why don’t we be safe and wait a little while before opening it, just in case?” With that, Hood relaxed.

They went on; the passageway came to a seven way intersection.

The first path led to a circular room with a small, shallow pool in it. The water in the pool was murky, and had a stagnant smell to it.

The second path was long and twisty, but only came to a dead end.

The third path led to a dead end, but coming back, they found a secret door to a long, rectangular room with bas-relief sculpture on the walls.

The fourth lead to a winding circular staircase, heading upwards. As they ascended, they began to hear music. It came to a narrow doorway; opening it, they saw the relatively bright light of dusk, a crimson sunset slowly ebbing away. As they adjusted to the light, the music stopped; Nimbus, holding a lute, came walking up. They were at a hidden door, opening outwards, in the corner of a building in the public square.

“Greetings. How was your time in the dungeon?” He listened with interest, and then said, “I’m sorry to say that all three eggs have been located. But let me look at that box. I think I can open it, if nothing else.”

Nimbus pulled out some metal tools, and in a short time the lid came open.

Inside were several things. There was a tiny porcelain figurine of a deer, a silver bracelet, a rock with some paint on it, a small crystal phial on a necklace, and lastly, a small, curved fragment of parchment with what appeared to be part of a bard’s song:

To Rozimald’s chambers the keys are three,
They all upon the triangle mountains be.A blue sapphire key beneath a great blue sapphire set,
A black onyx key, by black onyx is met.
An emerald key among hanging emeralds does rest.

Nimbus muttered, “Rozimald, Rozimald, Rozimald… Where have I heard that name before… Aah, Rozimald. He was a wealthy Urvanovestilli eccentric long ago, with — never mind that, the tale has probably grown a lot in the telling. Some people know where his abode was, but I haven’t heard of anybody being able to get in.

“One thing I will say, though. He is thought to have had a store of a very potent fuel, made of powdered rust mixed with powdered aluminum. I don’t remember exactly how much there is, but I can find that out. At any rate, if you bring that to me, I will be glad to train you; I am currently taking a break from adventuring, to train other adventurers.

“Oh, and I almost forgot. I would like to give you something.” He reached into the folds of his robes, and produced a white candle with carvings on the sides. “Keep this with you, and may its light remind you of the hour of our meeting.”

Nimbus bowed deeply and disappeared into the shadows.


Hood said, “My UCLA Zogah always told me and my brothers never to interfere with rich mens secrets….but I am very curious about these Rozimalds chambers…..and Uncle Zogah cannot always be right…….any ideas where to start looking…eh?”

Caroline stopped her exploration of the sight and textures of the various objects including the box itself, and said to Hood “We are not interfering with Rozimald’s secrets but answering his invitation. For that is what this riddle-song is, an invitation for those who can solve it. As for were to start, the song says triangle mountains. I guess there are where his home was, so if we ask about the location of Rozimald’s home perhaps what the triangle mountains are will be obvious. Nor’krin teaches using stories and remembering the stories help me remember the lessons the stories contained. The Yedidia teach with song. The Urvanovestilli build physical puzzles and riddles as part of their teaching. Rozimald’s invitation is to learn from him, and the works he created during his life. He has even left the riddle-song with other gifts so that we know we are welcome.”

Caroline also discovered that tapping the metal box with a flicked finger can cause an interesting bell like sound.

Hood continued, “….guess your right……sounds simple enough…..although I must say that the Urvanovestilli are a bit weird…not doing this the Tuz way…much better….can’t he just tell his secret with a few simple words….does anyone have any knowledge where to find these triangle mountains?”

Caroline smiled and says “Different things work for different people. Some people lack the wisdom or faith to accept a few simple words and need to learn through trial and experience. These lessons can take a long time to learn, yet in the end the wisdom can be said in a few simple words.”

Zachs also smiled at Hood’s comments. Then he added,”I have travelled far and wide, and visited many places. I have never heard of these triangle mountains. Perhaps someone here in the city knows of it?”

Hood was a bit unsure about the next step in the research. As usual he started to set his somewhat slowstarted mind of his into motion….. It’s easy to see when Hood thinks since the skin on his forehead gets all wrinkled. He also started to pull his hand through his long beard. He was about to say something when he suddenly stopped himself from doing so. It seemed that he was awaiting the the reaction from the other team members to the newly found puzzle.

Caroline suggested “Since it is information that we need, we should ask.” She goes and tries to catch a passer by’s eye, smiles and inquired, “I am trying to locate Rozimald’s home, do you know where it is or who I should ask?”

The passerby, an old man with a white beard, said, “Rozimald. Let me think; I haven’t heard that name for several hundred years.” He closed his eyes, and a couple of minutes passed. “I’m sorry, I don’t know where his mansion is or was. At least not any more; I’ve long since forgotten it. But if you go to the library’s archives — probably here, if not here, at Capitello — and talk with the history librarian, who should be in tomorrow evening, he can look up what is available, and will know whom to talk with.

“The library is under the cathedral, in the center of the city.

“Is there anything else I can tell you about?”

Hood said, “Excuse me Sir! Sorry for my simple Tuz ways and for bothering you with my questions, but may I ask a few questions about the city surroundings?”

The man gently smiled and said, “You need not apologize for your simple Tuz ways, dear friend. The beauty of Urvanovestilli ways lies in their refinement and complexity; those of the Tuz, in their power and strength. Enjoy the blessing that God has created you as a Tuz. Now what is your question?”

“Do you know where the Triangle Mountains are, or where or how we could find out about them?”

“The Triangle Mountains are about six weeks’ walk east of north. I don’t remember the exact location, but the mapmaker can tell you.” He gave the group directions to the mapmaker. “If that is all you have to ask, I’ll be going on.”

The last rays of the dying sun painted the cathedral as the group reached it. It was intricate, dark, majestic — carved out of black marble.

Inside the cathedral, everything was cool, still, and pitch black. There were a few sounds of walking; there was a faint smell of dust.

Then, suddenly, the building was shaken by a thunderous blast of music from the organ. The sound was deep, rich, majestic; a turgid fugue of four voices played. The party could feel the vibrations in their bones.

Walking along in the darkness, they found a dry wooden door, and, opening it, descended down a circular staircase until they came to a large, open, dusty room.

Most cathedrals had crypts beneath, a reminder of the community and presence of those departed. This one had row upon row of shelves of books. It was filled by an ageless silence, and lit by the glow of candles.

Almost fearing to break the silence, they moved along until they found a librarian, sitting next to a candle, reading from the pages of an ancient volume. He slowly turned, and raised his hand in greeting, asking what he could do for them.

Rozimald, he said, was a man who had lived in the East Ridge Mountains, near the Silouni River. He produced a map which showed the region, and indicated where his mansion had been said to be located. “I think I can spare you a trip to the mapmaker, if you can memorize a map”, and showed a map of a road, with a trail branching off to a small village, beyond which lay the three mountains where the keys had been said to be located.

They went to an inn to sleep, and the next day set out early. It was good hunting, with deer or boar usually only a couple of hours’ hunting, and a pleasant trip to reach the village. Once arrived, they spent a couple of days resting, selling pelts and buying supplies, before going on.

The second day out, the day’s hunting was met by a long rainstorm which seemed to grow more and less intense. Hood, moving first, was about to strike a hedgehog, when he stepped and the ground beneath him gave.

Hood, very heavily weighed down, is sinking in quicksand.


Hood takes some dried fruit and eats…..while he is eating he starts to asking questions to the hermit, without thinking about what his mother said to him about what non-Tuz people thinks about eating and speaking at the same time:

“I very grateful for the food……You sure seem..mauwauawmm(Hood is chewing) to be a wise fellow….you see we are in need of some information….humrph(he swallows the food)…you see we are looking for a chap…a certain Rozimald…….ancient fellow….Urvanovestilli I believe….and the triangle mountains….he is supposed to have some kind of chambers there…”

Xingu, seeing Hood talking and chewing at the same time, cracks a slight grin. He hugs Hood. Slowly, Xingu says, “One cannot appreciate what one has, till one sees that it may be gone in a moment. We are dust, and to dust we shall return. Hood, you are a light among us, and we must thank Him that you are still with us.” Xingu bows his head in silence.

Time passes. Or rather, time stands still.

Xingu looks up, and his eyes meet the hermit’s. He takes some food, bows his head deeply in what is taken as a sign of sincere gratitude, and eats.

Xingu then addresses the hermit: “All of us are made in His image, and like a diamond with many sparkling facets, each culture reflects a different aspect of Him. We are on a quest in search of the answer to an Urvanovestilli riddle. My mind does not think as an Urvanovestilli, and I confess that many of their logic puzzles escape me. Perhaps you can help us solve the riddle.” Xingu turns to speak to the group, “May I see the box?”

Caroline who seems to have found the box in her presence, if only because she was carrying the lightest load and liked the noise it made responds “Of course.” Her eyes seems to twinkle with an inner happiness and she enjoys the company and the food. Offering as well to the table, herbal teas if anyone wishes to try a blend, as well as any food she carries that they wish to share.

Xingu slowly opens the box, and places on the table the porcelain figurine of a deer, a silver bracelet, a rock with some paint on it, a small crystal phial on a necklace, and reads from the parchment:

To Rozimald’s chambers the keys are three, They all upon the triangle mountains be.

A blue sapphire key beneath a great blue sapphire set, A black onyx key, by black onyx is met. An emerald key among hanging emeralds does rest.

“These are the clues to our quest. What can we make of them?”

He pauses….

“What strikes me first is a feeling that this is the trinket box of a little girl. Bracelet, necklace, little odds and ends, and a poem; all things that one would expect to find. Yet the poem is a puzzle. It could possibly be a puzzle a small child kept in a trinket box.

“Where was it found? In a labyrinth, a large puzzle. Finding the paper in the labyrinth, one would think it a puzzle. Finding the metal box in a labyrinth, one would think the box a puzzle. Finding the same metal box in the room of a young girl, one would find the box as normal, but the paper a puzzle.

“What are the keys? Something we must find on the three mountains? Are they already found, stashed in this metal box by a past adventurer and hidden in the labyrinth? Are they symbols, or metaphors, found by an interpretation of the poem, or the items within the box? Are the items in the box there by chance? Are they needed to find the keys? Are they a part of the puzzle, if not the keys themselves?

“Puzzle within puzzle within puzzle….”

He pauses.

“I also see a similarity in both the poem and the items; I sense a strong feeling of nature. Deer, stone, crystal, mountains, gems….

Xingu picks up each item, including the box itself, and slowly examines them, looking not only for clues to the mystery, but also admiring the beauty of each object. He passes them around the room to the others.

The hermit looks at the poem, thinks for a time, and then says, “Oh, so you’ve finally found a good-looking clue to Rozimald’s chambers. Let me think.”

He leans back, and then closes his eyes for a moment. “Aah, yes. One moment; I’ll be back.”

He goes into a corner, and returns with a black, frosted glass bottle with a seal on the front. “I had almost forgotten,” he says. “A Porto would be quite appropriate to this discussion.”

After serving everyone a glass, he leans back, and says, “There are many poets that I have heard of, and some of them spend a great deal of attention on drawing out the wonder in the world around. They are working to open people’s eyes, to fight off the ever threatening grey murk which threatens to cloud vision and make even the sun look dull and drab.

“Some of that group evokes the things that we most regard as precious — gold and silver, diamonds and rubies, wines and delicacies. Those things, perhaps in part because they are rare, are not so often looked at as dull and drab.

“There was one poet — I have forgotten his name — who spoke of gems, describing the world as if it were composed entirely of gems. And the fragment of song which you describe appears to be some of his work.”

He opens his mouth to say something, but you cannot hear his words due to a loud growl and sounds of a scuffle coming from outside.

Outside, as soon as your eyes can adjust to the brightness, you see a young Urvanovestilli being attacked by a bear. He is masterfully dodging, but the bear seems to be very determined in its attack.

They are both about a hundred feet away.


Hood takes some dried fruit and eats…..while he he eating he starts to asking questions to the hermit, without thinking about what his mother said to him about what non-Tuz people thinks about eating and speaking at the same time:

“I very grateful for the food……You sure seem..mauwauawmm(Hood is chewing) to be a wise fellow….you see we are in need of some information….humrph(he swallows the food)…you see we are looking for a chap…a certain Rozimald…….ancient fellow….Urvanovestilli I believe….and the triangle mountains….he is supposed to have some kind of chambers there…”

Xingu, seeing Hood talking and chewing at the same time, cracks a slight grin. He hugs Hood. Slowly, Xingu says, “One cannot appreciate what one has, till one sees that it may be gone in a moment. We are dust, and to dust we shall return. Hood, you are a light among us, and we must thank Him that you are still with us.” Xingu bows his head in silence.

Time passes. Or rather, time stands still.

Xingu looks up, and his eyes meet the hermit’s. He takes some food, bows his head deeply in what is taken as a sign of sincere gratitude, and eats.

Xingu then addresses the hermit: “All of us are made in His image, and like a diamond with many sparkling facets, each culture reflects a different aspect of Him. We are on a quest in search of the answer to an Urvanovestilli riddle. My mind does not think as an Urvanovestilli, and I confess that many of their logic puzzles escape me. Perhaps you can help us solve the riddle.” Xingu turns to speak to the group, “May I see the box?”

Caroline who seems to have found the box in her presence, if only because she was carrying the lightest load and liked the noise it made responds “Of course.” Her eyes seems to twinkle with an inner happiness and she enjoys the company and the food. Offering as well to the table, herbal teas if anyone wishes to try a blend, as well as any food she carries that they wish to share.

Xingu slowly opens the box, and places on the table the porcelain figurine of a deer, a silver bracelet, a rock with some paint on it, a small crystal phial on a necklace, and reads from the parchment:

To Rozimald’s chambers the keys are three, They all upon the triangle mountains be.

A blue sapphire key beneath a great blue sapphire set, A black onyx key, by black onyx is met. An emerald key among hanging emeralds does rest.

“These are the clues to our quest. What can we make of them?”

He pauses….

“What strikes me first is a feeling that this is the trinket box of a little girl. Bracelet, necklace, little odds and ends, and a poem; all things that one would expect to find. Yet the poem is a puzzle. It could possibly be a puzzle a small child kept in a trinket box.

“Where was it found? In a labyrinth, a large puzzle. Finding the paper in the labyrinth, one would think it a puzzle. Finding the metal box in a labyrinth, one would think the box a puzzle. Finding the same metal box in the room of a young girl, one would find the box as normal, but the paper a puzzle.

“What are the keys? Something we must find on the three mountains? Are they already found, stashed in this metal box by a past adventurer and hidden in the labyrinth? Are they symbols, or metaphors, found by an interpretation of the poem, or the items within the box? Are the items in the box there by chance? Are they needed to find the keys? Are they a part of the puzzle, if not the keys themselves?

“Puzzle within puzzle within puzzle….”

He pauses.

“I also see a similarity in both the poem and the items; I sense a strong feeling of nature. Deer, stone, crystal, mountains, gems….

Xingu picks up each item, including the box itself, and slowly examines them, looking not only for clues to the mystery, but also admiring the beauty of each object. He passes them around the room to the others.

The hermit looks at the poem, thinks for a time, and then says, “Oh, so you’ve finally found a good-looking clue to Rozimald’s chambers. Let me think.”

He leans back, and then closes his eyes for a moment. “Aah, yes. One moment; I’ll be back.”

He goes into a corner, and returns with a black, frosted glass bottle with a seal on the front. “I had almost forgotten,” he says. “A Porto would be quite appropriate to this discussion.”

After serving everyone a glass, he leans back, and says, “There are many poets that I have heard of, and some of them spend a great deal of attention on drawing out the wonder in the world around. They are working to open people’s eyes, to fight off the ever threatening grey murk which threatens to cloud vision and make even the sun look dull and drab.

“Some of that group evokes the things that we most regard as precious — gold and silver, diamonds and rubies, wines and delicacies. Those things, perhaps in part because they are rare, are not so often looked at as dull and drab.

“There was one poet — I have forgotten his name — who spoke of gems, describing the world as if it were composed entirely of gems. And the fragment of song which you describe appears to be some of his work.”

He opens his mouth to say something, but you cannot hear his words due to a loud growl and sounds of a scuffle coming from outside.

Outside, as soon as your eyes can adjust to the brightness, you see a young Urvanovestilli being attacked by a bear. He is masterfully dodging, but the bear seems to be very determined in its attack.

They are both about a hundred feet away.


Xingu starts singing, and the bear seems to be beginning to slow down — but it is not clear how quickly it will slow down. As people pour out of the cave and begin to fan out, the bear’s paw comes down on the young Urvanovestilli’s arm. He winces, and jumps back.

As he jumps back, Caroline manages a fair shot into the bear’s heavy bulk. It rears, and begins to sniff around.

Hood’s heavy armored steps ring as he runs forward. He swings a heavy blow at the bear’s chest; it connects solidly. The bear crouches down to dodge; Hood’s sledgehammer slides down a side.

Zakhs has by now run up, and swings his staff, hitting the bear on the head. The staff vibrates in his hands.

The bear swings at Hood, and hits solidly, his claws scraping across his armored chest. Hood is knocked on his back.

Caroline hits the bear again, and hits solidly.

The bear lunges at Hood, who has by now prepared with a blow of the sledgehammer, and has his ironshod feet up in the air. The sledgehammer hits the side of the bear’s head, and glances away. His knees buckle into his chest, winding him.

Zakhs swings his staff again, and hits the bear, distracting him from Hood.

Hood is gasping and struggling to breathe, but even so begins to roll towards his feet, sledgehammer in hand. He hits the bear in the back, winding it in turn.

Caroline shoots at the bear again, but misses.

Zakhs swings at the bear, and also misses.

Hood, weakening in his struggle to breathe, swings at the bear, but only grazes it.

The bear swings at Zakhs, but does not move quite quickly enough to hit it.

Hood, beginning to turn blue, swings again, and hits.

Zakhs lifts his staff from below, hitting the bear in the mouth.

Caroline shoots another arrow solidly, hitting the bear in the back of the neck. It immediately falls over.

Hood, turned a deeper shade of blue, finally manages to inhale. He drinks the air in deep gulps; slowly his breathing and his skin color return to normal.

After a little while, your attention returns to the young Urvanovestilli, who was mauled by the bear. He introduces himself.


Zakhs steps over to the young Urvanovestilli, after pounding Hood solidly on the back (to help him regain his breath). He will examine the young man’s arm and see if there is anything he can do for the boy.

“What could have riled that creature up so much?” he will wonder aloud as he examines the Urvanovestilli’s arm.

Hood cleans his sledge by rubbing it to the ground….then he comments the whole thing……..

” Tough bear….”

He turns towards the the young Urvanovestilli.

“…..you are still alive…glad to see it…..it was a close thing…..”

Caroline introduces her self to the young Urvanovestilli. She the proceeds to tell him a story about a brave young person from her tribe, while she tends his wounds. She seems to have more than herbs for tea in her pack. The story and the treatment end at the same time.

Hood brushes off some dirt from his clothes…and continues to adress the young Urvanovestilli……

“I haven’t introduced myself…..I am Hood”

Hood reaches out a hand……

“I know not what riled it up, but the poor fellow will make quite a delicious meal. Of course, we may not have enough to go around, with only one bear and two Tuz.”

Xingu, with a wide grin, gives Zakhs a friendly punch in the gut.

Xingu then walks toward the Urvanovestilli, and greets him with a raised hand and three kisses, as is the way of Urvanovestilli culture, and speaks to him in his native tongue.

“Hello, my name is Xingu. I thank the Lord that you survived this encounter without greater injury. We are a band of adventurers, following clues to discover Rosimald’s chambers. Please stay, eat, and join us; we welcome your insight in solving this puzzle.”

The little man looks as if he was coming out of his daze for the previous brush with death, then he stands up to introduce himself, but then sits back down, and says, “Greetings and salutations, you may call by the name that my friends call me, which is Jeff. I am still a little bit shaken by the whole ordeal, so I feel that I would be unable to fully express who I am in an intelligent manner, therefore, could you tell me a little bit about who you are? Just in case if you were wondering, I was sent to help you on your quest.”

The hermit walks around and begins collecting branches to make a fire; in a couple of hours, there is roast bear for all to eat their fill of (even the Tuz). Caroline has bound the wounds; the young man’s arm is set and healing, and Hood doesn’t seem to have taken any grave injury (although his chest will have some nasty bruises).

As you eat, the young man begins to introduce himself.

“Hello, my name is Chimera Antonio Pbrush Petra Mistrelli Charleston Jeffery Mirrorman, but you can call me Jeff. I am from the city of Mistrelli, sent to help you on your quest. I believe that my understanding of Illusions can help you on your journey.

“I am my father’s first born, and will return one day to become his assistant, and eventually, take over for him. But for now, I want to continue to see the world, and meet the different races and creatures that inhabit it.

“I also love to play, Imperial Kingdoms, which is a complex version of Chess. I am also working on a flying machine, although it is far from being able to work, it is a hobby that I enjoy.”

The hermit asks for the rest of the bear’s carcass (after you have taken a good chunk as food for the journey), to make jerky and a rug out of. “I’d heard from other people that there was a rather cantankerous bear around here, and I’d seen a few tracks, but I’d never met it…

“Come with me. Let’s stand in a circle around Chimera, and lay hands on him.”

As you do so, the pain in Chimera’s face begins to ease, and he sits back.

The hermit sits back, after the meal, and begins to talk about the local geography; he describes a few paths, and landmarks for you to find your way on. “Do stop back here after you have looked around, and I wouldn’t mind hearing how you mean to set about finding the keys in the forests. See you later.” After a night’s rest for all, he sees you off again.

Read more of The Minstrel’s Song on Amazon!

The Patriarchy We Object to

Cover for Yonder

Tell me what kind of patriarchy you object to. As Orthodox, we probably object to that kind of patriarchy as well.

There was one chaplain at a university who, whenever a student would come in and say, “I don’t believe in God,” would answer, “Tell me what kind of God you don’t believe in. I probably don’t believe in that kind of God either.” And he really had something in common with them. He didn’t believe in a God who was a vindictive judge, or a God who was responsible for all the evil in this world, or a God who was arbitrary and damned people for never hearing of him. And the chaplain wasn’t just making a rhetorical exercise; he didn’t believe in many kinds of “God” any more than the students who were kind enough to come and tell him they didn’t believe in God. He really had something in common with them.

There was one book I was reading which was trying to recover women’s wisdom from patriarchy. I was amazed when I was reading it, as it talked about the holistic, united character of women’s knowing, and how women’s knowledge is relational, how women know by participating. What amazed me was how much it had in common with Orthodox description of knowledge, because the Orthodox understanding of knowledge is based off an essential unity and knows by relating, participating, drinking, rather than by analyzing and taking apart and knowing things by keeping track of a systematic map.

What Orthodoxy in the West would seek to recover from the West looks a lot like what feminism would like to recover from patriarchy. Part of what may confuse the issue is that feminism lumps together two very different forces as “patriarchy.” One of these forces is classical tradition, and the other is something funny that’s been going on for several hundred years in which certain men have defaced society by despising it and trying to make it manly.

The reason that women’s holistic, connected knowledge is countercultural is something we’ll miss if we only use the category of “patriarchy”. The educational system, for instance, makes very little use of this knowledge, not because patriarchy has always devalued women’s ways of knowing, but something very different. The reason that there’s something countercultural to women’s holistic, connected knowledge is that that is a basic human way of knowing, and men can be separated from it more easily than women, but it’s a distortion of manhood to marginalize that way of knowing. And there has been a massive effort, macho in the worst way, that despised how society used to work, assumed that something is traditional it must be the women’s despicable way of doing things, and taken one feature of masculine knowledge and used it to uproot the the places for other ways of knowing that are important to both men and women. There are two quite different forces lumped together in the category of “patriarchy.” One is the tradition proper, and the other is “masculism” (or at least I call it that), and what feminism sees as patriarchy is what’s left over of the tradition after masculism has defaced it by trying to make it “masculine,” on the assumption that if something was in the tradition, that was all you needed to know, in order to attack it as being unfit for men. “Masculism” is what happens when you cross immature masculinity with the effort to destroy whatever you need to make room for your version of Utopia. What is left of the tradition today, and what feminism knows as “patriarchy,” is a bit like what’s left of a house after it’s been burned down.

With apologies to G.K. Chesterton, the Orthodox and feminists only ask to get their heads into the Heavens. It is the masculists who try to fit the Heavens into their heads, and it is their heads that split. This basic difference between knowing as exaltation and expansion, participating in something and allowing one’s head to be raised in the Heavens, and domination and mastery that compresses the Heavens so they will fit in one’s head, is the difference between what “knowing” means to both feminists and Orthodox, and what it means to masculists.

The difference between Orthodoxy and feminism is this. Orthodoxy has to a very large measure preserved the tradition. When it objects to masculism, it is objecting to an intrusion that affects something it is keeping. It is a guard trying to protect a treasure. Where Orthodoxy is a guard trying to protect a treasure, feminism is a treasure hunter trying to find something that world has lost. It is a scout rather than a guard. (And yes, I’m pulling images from my masculine mind.) Feminism is shaped by masculism, and I’d like to clarify what I mean by this. I don’t mean in any sense that feminism wants to serve as a rubber stamp committee for masculism. The feminist struggle is largely a struggle to address the problems created by masculism. that’s pretty foundational. But people that rebel against something tend to keep a lot of that something’s assumptions, and feminism is a lot like masculism because in a culture as deeply affected by masculism as much of the West, masculism is the air people breathe. (People can’t stop breathing their air, whatever culture they’re in.) For one example of this, masculism assumed that anything in the tradition was womanish and therefore unfit for men, and feminism inherited a basic approach from masculism when it assumed that anything in tradition was patriarchal and therefore unfit for women. It’s a masculist rather than traditional way of approaching society. Orthodoxy has been affected by masculism to some degree, but it’s trying to preserve the Orthodox faith, where feminism has been shaped by masculism to a much greater degree and is trying to rebel against the air its members breathe. Feminism is a progressive series of attempts to reform masculism for women; if you look at its first form, it said, “Women should be treated better. They should be treated like men.” Later forms of feminism have seen that there are problems with that approach, but they have been reacting to a composite of masculism and earlier versions of feminism. Feminism has been a scout, rather than a guard.

I say that feminism has been a scout rather than a guard, not to criticize, but to suggest that Orthodoxy has been given something that feminism reaches for, but does not have in full. It is a bit like the difference between maintaining a car and trying to go through a junkyard with the wrecks of many magnificent things and reconstruct a working vehicle. In a junkyard, one sees the imprint of many things; one sees the twisted remains of quite a few items that would be good to have. And one can probably assemble things, get some measure of functionality, perhaps hobble together a working bicycle. And if one does not have a working car, there is something very impressive about doing one’s best to assemble something workable from the wreckage. It is perhaps not the best manners to criticize someone who has combined parts to make a genuinely working bicycle and say, “But you were not given a working car!”

But in Orthodoxy, there is a very different use of time. Orthodox do not simply spend time filling the gas tank (there are many necessities in faith like filling a gas tank) and maintaining the car (which we periodically break), necessary as those may be. Having a car is primarily about living life as it is lived when you can drive. It is about being able to travel and visit people. It is about having more jobs open to you. If a car isn’t working, dealing with the car means trying to do whatever you can to get it working. It means thinking about how to fix it. And feminism is trying to correct masculism. If a car is working, dealing with the car is about what it can let you do. It’s like how when you’re sick, your mind is on getting well and on your health. If you’re healthy, you don’t think about your health unless you choose to. You’re free to enjoy your health by focusing on non-health-related pursuits.

What does Orthodoxy have to contribute to feminism? To begin with, it’s not simply a project by men. Feminist tends to assume that whatever is in patriarchy is there because all-powerful men have imposed it on women, or to put things in unflattering terms women have contributed little of substance to patriarchal society. That may have truth as regards masculism, but Orthodoxy is the property of both men and women (and boys and girls), and it is a gross mischaracterization to only look at the people who hold positions of power.

Feminists have made bitter criticism of Prozac being used to mask the depression caused by many housewives’ loneliness and isolation. Housewives who do not work outside the home have much more than housework to deal with; they have loneliness and isolation from adult company. And perhaps, feminists may icily say, if a woman under those conditions is depressed, this does not necessarily mean Prozac is appropriate. Maybe, just maybe, the icy voice tells us, the solution is to change those conditions instead of misusing antidepressants to mask the quite natural depression those conditions create. Feminists are offended that women are confined to a place outside of society’s real life and doing housework in solitary confinement. One of the most offensive things you can say, if there is no irony or humor in your voice, is, “A woman’s place is in the house!” (and not add, “and in the Senate!”)

But Orthodoxy looks at it differently, or at least Orthodox culture tends to work out differently. And, like many alien cultures, things have a very different meaning. The home has a different meaning. When people say “family” today, we think of a nuclear family. Then it was extended family, and thinking of an extended family without a nuclear family would have been as odd to people then as it would be odd today to take your favorite food and then be completely unable to eat anything else. Traditional society, real traditional society, did not ask women to work in isolation. Both men and women worked in adult company. And the home itself… In traditional society, the home was the primary place where economic activity occurred. In traditional society, the home was the primary place where charitable work occurred. In traditional society, the home took care of what we would now call insurance. In traditional society, the home was the primary place where education occured. Masculism has stripped away layer after layer of what the home was. In Orthodox culture, in truly Orthodox culture that has treasures that have been dismantled in the West, a woman’s place really is in the home, but it means something totally different from what a feminist cringes at in the words, “A woman’s place is in the house!”

America has largely failed to distinguish between what feminism says and women’s interests, so people think that if you are for women, you must agree with feminism. Saying “I oppose feminism because I am for women’s interests” seems not only false but a contradiction in terms, like saying “I’m expanding the text of this webpage so it will be more concise.” It’s not like more thoughtful Catholics today, who say, “I have thought, and I understand why many people distinguish or even oppose the teachings of the Catholic Church with God’s truth. But my considered judgment is that God reveals his truth through the living magisterium of the Catholic Church.” It’s more like what the Reformers faced, where people could not see what on earth you meant if you said that God’s truth and the Catholic Church’s teaching were not automatically the same thing.

In this culture, someone who is trying to be pro-woman will ordinarily reach for feminism as the proper vehicle, just as someone who wants to understand the natural world will reach for science as the proper vehicle for that desire; “understanding the human body” is invariably read as “learning scientific theories about the body’s work,” and not “take a massage/dance/martial arts class”, or “learn what religions and cultures have seen in the meaning of the human body.” A great many societies pursued a deep understanding of the human body without expressing that desire the way Western science pursues it. They taught people to come to a better knowledge of their bodies—and I mean “of,” not just “about”—the kind of relational, drinking knowledge that feminists and Orthodox value, and not just a list of abstract propositions from dissecting a cadaver (a practice which some cultures regard as “impious and disgusting”—C.S. Lewis). They taught people to develop, nurture, and discipline their bodies so that there was a right relationship between body and spirit. They taught people to see the body as belonging a world of meaning, symbol, and spiritual depth—cultures where “How does it work?” takes a back seat to a deeper question: “Why? What does it mean?” Orthodoxy at its best still does teach these things. But Western culture has absorbed the scientific spirit that most people genuinely cannot see what “understanding the body” could mean besides “learning scientific theories about the body.” And, in this context, it seems like a deceitful sleight of hand when someone says, “I want to help you understand the body” and then offers help in ways of moving one’s body.

But I want to talk about some things that are missed within this set of assumptions. Feminism can speak for women’s interests. It normally claims to. And women are ill-served by an arrangement when people assume that criticism of feminism is at the expense of women’s interests. We need to open a door that American culture does not open. We need to open the possibility of being willing to challenge feminism in order to further women’s interests. Not on all points, but if we never open that door, disturbing things can happen.

If you ask someone outside of feminism who “the enemy” is to feminists, the common misunderstanding is, “Nonfeminist men.” And that’s certainly part of the problem and not part of the solution, but the real vitriol feeds into jokes like “How many men does it take to open a beer?—She should have it open when she brings it to him.” The real vitriol is reserved for the contented housewife who wants to be married, have children, and make a home, and not have a professional career because of what she values in homemaking itself.

Feminism is against “patriarchy.” That means that much that is positive in the tradition is attacked along with masculism. That means that whatever the tradition provided for women is interpreted as harmful to women, even if it benefits women. Wendy Shalit makes an interesting argument in A Return to Modesty that sexual modesty is not something men have imposed on women against their nature for men’s benefit; it is first and foremost a womanly virtue that protects women. We now have a defaced version of traditional society, but to start by assuming that almost everything in the culture is a patriarchal imposition that benefits only men, sets the stage for throwing out a great many things that are important for women. It sets the stage, in fact, for completing the attack that masculism began. (The effect of throwing out things that strike you as patriarchal on a culture has much the same effect as killing off species in an ecosystem because you find them unpleasant. It is an interconnected, interdependent, and organic whole that all its members need. That’s not quite the right way of saying it, but this image has a grain of truth.) Masculism scorned the traditional place for men, and was masculine only in that it rebelled against perceivedly feminine virtue. Feminism does not include a large number of women’s voices in America and an even larger number worldwide—because feminism lumps them all together in “The Enemy.” At times feminism can look anti-woman.

So everything will be OK if we resist feminism? No. First, if the tradition is right—let us say, in the controversial point that associates women with the home—that doesn’t make much sense of today’s options that don’t really let women be women and don’t let men be men. What is the closest equivalent to women reigning in one of society’s most important institions? Is it to be a housewife with a lunchtime discussion group, which seems to work wonders for depression caused by loneliness? Is it for women to keep house and work part time? Is it to work full time, and find an appropriate division of labor with their husbands? I have trouble telling which of these is best, and it doesn’t help matters to choose an option just because it bothers feminists. I think that women (and, for that matter, men) have an impoverished set of options today. Unfortunately, some of the most practical questions are also the ones that are hardest to answer.

Second and more importantly, reacting against feminism, or much of anything else, is intrinsically dangerous. If feminism has problems, we would be well advised to remember that heresies often start when people react against other heresies and say that the truth is so important they should resist that heresy as much as they can. Reactions against heresy are often heresy.

Let me explain how not to respond to feminism’s picture of what men should be. You could say that feminism wants women to be more like men and men to be more like women, and that has a significant amount of truth. But if you dig in and say that men should be rugged and independent and say, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul!”, and women should be weak, passive creatures that are always in a swoon, there are several major problems.

The phrase “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul!” is something that nobody but God should say. Someone greater than us is the master of our fate, and someone greater than us is the master of our soul, and that is our glory. To be a man is to be under authority. Perhaps it irks feminists that the Bible tells wives to submit to their husbands as well as telling husbands to love their wives with the greatest and most costly love. (I’ve heard some first class citizens pointing out that the Bible requires something much heftier of husbands than mere submission—loving and loving their wives on the model of Christ going so far as to give up his life for the Church.) But the tradition absolutely does not say “Women are to be second-class citizens because they are under men’s authority and men are to be first-class citizens because they have the really good position of being free from authority.” To be a man is to be under authority, to be a woman is to be under authority, and to be human is to be under authority. To masculism this looks demeaning because immature masculinity resists being under authority or being in community or any other thing that men embrace when they grow up. But Orthodoxy is a call to grow up, and it is a call to men to be contributing members of a community and to be under authority. To tell men, “Be independent!” is to tell them, “Refuse to grow up!”

What about women? Shouldn’t they be passive and dependent? Let’s look at one of the Bible’s most complete treatments of what a woman should be like. I’ll give my own slightly free translation from the Greek version of Proverbs (31:10-31):

Who can find a valorous wife?
She is more precious than precious stones.
Her husband wholeheartedly trusts her, and will have no lack of treasures.
Her whole life works good for her husband.
She gathers wool and linen and weaves with her hands.
She has become like a trading ship from afar, and she gathers her living.
She rises at night, and gives food to her house, and assigns work to her maids.
She examines and buys a farm, and plants a vineyard with the fruit of her hands.
She girds her loins with strength and strengthens her arms for work.
She tastes how good it is to work, and her candle stays lit the whole night long.
She reaches her hands to collective work, and applies her hands to the spindle.
She opens her hands to the needy, and extends fruit to the poor.
Her husband does not worry about the men at home when he spends time abroad;
All her household has clothing.
She makes double weight clothing for her husband,
And linen and scarlet for herself.
Her husband is respected when he engages in important business at the City Hall.
When he is seated in council with the elders of the land.
She makes fine linens and sells belts to the Canaanites.
She opens her mouth with heedfulness and order, and is in control of her tongue.
She clothes herself in strength and honor, and rejoices in the future.
The ways of her household are secure, and she does not eat the bread of idleness.
She opens her mouth with wisdom, according to the deep law.
Her mercy for her children prepares them, and they grow rich, and her husband praises her.
Many daughters have obtained wealth, and many have worked vilantly, but you have surpassed them all.
Charm is false, and a woman’s [physical] beauty is shallow:
For a wise woman is blessed, and let her praise the fear of the Lord.
Give her the fruit of her labors, and let her husband be praised at the City Hall.

I have several things to say about this text. To open with, I’ll understand if you say this is an intimidating standard to be held up against, but if you say this affirms the ideal of women as passive and delicate, I’m going to have to ask what on earth you mean. Second, if you read the text closely, you can see hints of how important homes were to business and charity. Most business and charity were based in the home. Third, most translations use not quite the right word when they say, “Who can find a good wife?” The word used is not just “good”. It’s a word one could use of a powerful soldier. Fourth, at the risk of sounding snide, the words about not measuring womanhood by physical beauty beat body image feminism to the punch by about three thousand years. Fifth and finally, the text talks about this woman as a lot of things—as strong, as doing business, as farming, as manufacturing. But there’s one thing it does not say. It does not interpret “woman” in terms of “victim.”

There is something somewhat strange going on. If we ask what is the wealthiest nation on earth, it’s the U.S.A. If we ask what nation wields the most political clout on earth, it’s the U.S.A. And if we ask some slightly different questions, and ask what nation feminism has had the most success reforming the culture, the U.S. might not be at the very top, but it’s at least near the top. The same is true if we ask what nation women hold the most political clout in: the U.S. is either at the top or near the top. If we ask what nations women hold the most civil rights, and have most successfully entered traditionally male occupations, the U.S. is probably near the top. Now let us turn to still another kind of question: what are the women in the most powerful, and one of the most feminist-reformed, nations in the world, doing? If we’re talking about uneducated and lower-class women, the answer is simply living life as women. But if we look at educated, middle-class women, the answer tends to be simple but quite different: they are Fighting in the fray for the lowest rung on the ladder of victimization.

To be fair to feminists, I must hastily add that it’s a fray because it has a lot of participants besides feminists. The handicapped, gay, and racial minorities are also fighting, and it seems that everybody wants in. For that matter, a good many able-bodied, straight, white men also want in on the action; many middle-aged white applicants complain that affirmative action has biased the hiring process against them. To many of those who do not belong to an easily recognized victim’s group, the cry is, “When can I be a victim so I can get some rights?” It seems that fighting for the lowest rung on the ladder of victimization has become the American national sport.

It seems like I’m mentioning a lot of paradoxes about feminism. Let me mention something else that concerns me. The term “consciousness raising” sounds like something everybody should support—after all, what could be wrong with enhancing someone’s consciousness? But what does this term mean? To be somewhat blunt, “consciousness raising” means taking women who are often happy and well-adjusted members of society and making them hurt and miserable, not to mention alienated. Among feminists today, the more a woman identifies with the feminist movement, the more hurt and angry she is, the more she seems to be able to see past appearances and uncover a world that is unspeakable hostile to women. For that matter, historically the more feminism has developed and the more success feminism has had reforming society, the more women, or at least feminists, are sure the world is grinding an invisible, or if you prefer, highly visible, axe against women. Are there alternatives to this? What about feminists who say that going back isn’t an option? I’m not going to try to unravel whether there is an escape; I’m focusing on a different question, whether “consciousness raising” contributes to living in joy. If an animal’s leg is caught in a steel trap, the only game in town may be to gnaw off its own leg. The question of, “Is it necessary?” is one question, but I’m focusing on the question of, “Is it basically good?” For the animal, chewing off its own leg is not good, even if it’s the only game in town, and taking women who are happy and making them miserable is not good. You can argue that it is the only game in town, but if it’s a necessary evil, it is still an evil, and naming this process “consciousness raising” is a bit like taking a piece of unconstitutional legislation that rescinds our civil liberties and naming it the “USA Patriot Act.” It’s a really cool name hiding something that’s not so cool. The issue of whether there is anything better is one issue (I believe Orthodoxy is a better alternative), but there are two different issue going on here, and it is not clear that “consciousness raising” benefits women.

I’ve raised some unsettling points about feminism. And at this point I would like to suggest that Orthodoxy is what feminism is reaching for. What do I mean? There are a lot of points of contact between feminism’s indictment of what is wrong with patriarchy and Orthodoxy’s indictment of what is wrong in the West. (Both are also kook magnets, but we won’t go into that.) I mentioned one thing that feminism and Orthodoxy have in common; there are a great many more, and some of them are deep. But there are also differences. Orthodoxy doesn’t deliver women who are hurt and angry; Orthodoxy has a place for women to be women, and for women to enjoy life. Feminism tries to be pro-woman, but ends up giving its most vitriolic treatment to women who disagree with it: we do not have the sisterhood of all women, as feminism should be, but a limited sisterhood that only includes feminists. Orthodoxy has its own vitriol, but there is also a great tradition of not judging; even in our worship people are doing different things and nobody cares about what the next person is doing. We don’t believe salvation ends at our church doors, and in general we don’t tell God who can and cannot be saved. Feminism is a deep question, and Orthodoxy is a deep answer.

That is at least a simplistic picture; it’s complex, but I cannot help feeling I’ve done violence to my subject matter. It seems my treatment has combined the power and strength of a nimble housecat with the agility and grace of a mighty elephant. I would like to close with something related to what I said in the beginning, about knowing.

Christiane Northrup’s Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom talks about how women do not always feel the need to rush and get to the point, not because they are doing a bad job of getting that task out of the way (as necessary but unpleasant), but because to women things are interconnected, and the things a woman says before “the point” are things she sees as connected that add something to the point. This article has some of the qualities Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom finds in women, and I see things as interconnected. Beyond analysis, there is synthesis. If this article discusses many things that are connected to the point, that is not because I am trying to write like a woman would. It’s not something extra that I’ve decided to add; in fact it would be difficult for me to uproot this from how I communicate. And it’s not because I am trying to balance out my masculinity by being more feminine, or be androgynous, or because I’m trying to be woman-like out of a guilt factor. There are other reasons why, but I would suggest that it’s an example of Orthodox manhood at work. Not the only example, and certainly not the best, but my point is that there is an important sense in which Orthodoxy is what feminism is reaching for. But to immediately get to the point would give an impression that is strange and deceptive, and almost completely fail to convey what is meant by the claim. That is why I’ve been spending my time exploring a web of interconnections that help show what that claim means.

Orthodoxy is about helping us to be fully human, and that includes divinely inspired support for both men and women. It is other things as well, but part of why I became Orthodox was that I realized there were problems with being a man in Western Christianity. Orthodoxy is the most gender balanced Christian confession in terms of numbers, and I came to ask the rather abrasive question, “Does Orthodoxy draw more men than Evangelicalism because Orthodoxy understands sanctification as deification and Evangelicalism understands sanctification as a close personal relationship with another man?” I never got much of an answer to that question (besides “Yes”). And even though I’m looking for more in Orthodoxy than help being a man, one of the reasons I became Orthodox was that it is the best environment for being a man that I found. And I’m coming to realize that men are only half the picture in Orthodoxy.

Because everything is connected, if you hurt men, women get hurt, and if you hurt women, men get hurt… and if you think about what this means, it means that you cannot make an environment that is healthy for men but is destructive to women. Nor can you make an environment that is healthy for women but destructive to men. Orthodoxy’s being good for men is not something that is stolen from women. It is good for men because God instituted it as a gift to the whole human race, not only for men.

There are things that are deeply wrong with Western culture. Would you rather be working on an analysis of the problem, or learn to grow into its solution?

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Musings

Sunday, 8/13/00

It has been a while since I journalled. I kept some journals after my Journal of an Awakening, but they disappeared when my previous laptop died. I am not sure this is a bad thing; I don’t think that what I said in them was on par with my Journal of an Awakening, and certainly not stellar. It is not my talent to be able to continue to produce good writing in a genre of my choosing; writing in a new genre has often been easier than writing in one I have practice in. Or, to put it differently, my writings come to me with the genres they will be in, and if I try to force success in a style that has succeeded for me in the past, I may cause the style, but I will not always cause a successful writing.

Now writing is coming to me — or has been coming to me, I haven’t gotten it written down yet, and I fear I may have lost some of it — so it is time for me to get back to journalling, not necessarily on a day by day basis, but when the muse strikes. Tonight will be my first night in my new 1 bedroom apartment, and I will have more time — though I do not know what, or how much, will come to me.

The thing that has brought me back to journalling is as follows:

Last schoolyear, I spoke with a mystic who is a student at Pooh’s Corner (the group of people at Wheaton who meets to read children’s books aloud), and I talked about how I identify with Charles Wallace in Madeleine l’Engle’s A Wind in the Door, and Michael Valentine Smith in Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. I asked him if he knew of any other characters like that. He suggested that I read Steven Lawhead’s Merlin, where Merlin is portrayed as the last of the Druids, a Christian who has grown up with Druid lore, a mystic, and a politically active prophet. I was disappointed — I had been disappointed at his placement of Merlin with Moses and Elijah as political/leader/prophet/mystic types, because the character of Merlin reeks of magic, a reek that has as little to do with Christian mysticism as astrology does with astronomy. I did not mention this to him, because I did not want to enter a fruitless argument (I have had enough of those to last a lifetime), but I was disappointed.

Recently, wanting to read something that would give me insights into medieval culture (and having learned from another friend that Lawhead did historical research before writing), I checked Merlin out at the library, read partway through, and returned it after reading the scene in which Merlin makes the stones fly around in a circle. This was a display of pagan magic, not a Christian miracle, and I read it with a feeling of defilement.

I later waited and picked up the book again, reading it to the end. There were passages that I did not read in good conscience. There were other passages that grabbed me. As I began writing this journal entry, I realized — or, more properly, remembered — something. When I first read Stranger, I hated it — I saw its lewdness, its anti-Christian invective, its introduction of psychic powers in a context that (at least to begin) seemed as out of place, deus ex machina, as anything I could think of — and none of its strengths. I was going to say that I didn’t know if I was going to read Merlin again, but then I reflected on my actions in the past and how my emotions flow, and I realized that I will probably read Merlin again, but not now. God willing, the time of rereading will be when I know in my heart that God has given me the strength to be ready to read it without being troubled by the parts that defiled my conscience — and God has given me the strength to read Stranger — I was not polluted by it, merely angered.

What about Merlin pulls me, that I am writing about it now? I had that more clearly in my mind a few days ago, when I was thinking, walking about at a classic car show with my parents and one of my brothers, but there are three things:

  • Ynes Avalach. Ynes Avalach is the island (Ynes) castle of the Fisher King (Avalach), the wounded king who sat on a boat on his island and speared fish. It was the place of Merlin’s childhood, the place where he grew up, and in a world of shifting sands it was steady — even unchanged, a piece of another world.Ynes Avalach resonates with me; it is a symbol of Heaven, and a place that I believe can be found on earth — but that we can never control. C.S. Lewis wrote about this sort of thing in his introduction to The Great Divorce, saying that Heaven is everywhere, but not everywhere is Heaven. I have a great longing for home, a place like Ynes Avalach; the two areas where I most consistently experience it are worship, and in writing and the expectant time when I feel out what I want to write.
  • The bard’s awen. The awen is an aroused, mystical state that descends on a bard; Merlin felt it when he was close to the supernatural. Two of the times listed, he was fighting in battle and, suddenly, the world around him seemed to slow down, so that he moved rapidly and lightly amongst the sluggish invaders. Other times, it came around a miracle.The awen is also something that resonates with me. A similar state has descended on me, too, at times. It is not something that I can turn on at will, but walking has often been a precursor to its minor modes in writing.
  • When Merlin was with the fhain (the people whom other races called the baen sidhe (fairies)), he spoke of learning “that which men call magic”. I realized (partly after reading the “How to Become a Hacker” document) that I have picked up along the way a number of skills that are in our world something like magic — I thought most specifically of being able to make web pages.

I also realized that many of the things that are supporting me now are things that I picked up along the way in activities I was discouraged from as distractions from my work. I learned how to program when I wrote The Minstrel’s Song — and it has profited me far more than additional effort on coursework would have. My writings on my web page are also things I have been discouraged from doing, and in them I believe I am accomplishing far more of lasting value there than in my job. Life is what happens when you are making other plans.


Monday, 8/14/00

There was something else nagging at the back of my mind yesterday, that I wanted to remember, but couldn’t. It was the other point that motivated me to want to write in this journal.

On Saturday, my family went out to eat at a nice Italian restaurant. We were all under-dressed and over-smelly from a day’s hard work, and I was unshaven. I needed to go to the restroom in the beginning, and (after I washed my hands) I turned to find a towel dispenser to dry my hands. There was a smiling black man in a tuxedo (sans jacket), holding a roll of paper towel, and standing next to a rack of amenities (I remember seeing small cigars, and other things that looked expensive); he was complimenting me on my “PRAY HARD” T-shirt.

I was only marginally able to keep my composure then; I wouldn’t have been bothered that much by just having someone to hand me paper towel, but having a black man do it… I was not comfortable. It was patently offensive to me. It felt like having a slave. Semiotically, everything about him said, “I am here to smile and adore you, but I am only here to be treated like part of the wallpaper, to be treated like dirt if you are in a bad mood.” He looked like support staff under the mentality that makes jokes like, “Confucius say, ‘Secretary not part of furniture until screwed on desk.'” During dinner, I thought of reading about Gandhi as he was in danger and a rickshaw (a man-pulled cart which aged and wore terribly at its carriers) was offered to him… my feelings were lesser, but they were of the same kind.

After dinner, I needed to go to the bathroom, and it wasn’t until I was almost there that I remembered he was there… I had enough time using the facilities to decide that, if I could not avoid him, I could at least treat him as a peer, not as part of the furniture. So I talked with him, treating him as cordially as he treated me, and he told me that he was a Jew who grew up Baptist, but had never been to a synagogue. He asked me if I was a minister.

I think I missed a witnessing opportunity. The one person I spoke with about it thought I was being too hard on myself — I was tired and in a hurry — but there was an opportunity I missed to speak with someone who had some questions, and who was probably ready to move one step closer to the Kingdom of Light.

I have grown up in an academic context which tells us that witnessing is offensive and evil (at least when done by Christians — when done by environmentalists, it is treated differently). Sometimes it is even necessary to be offensive. But there are also many times when witness is not necessarily offensive, when it is welcome.

I think our equation of witnessing with offensiveness and disrespect for persons should be jettisoned.

8/28/00

I have been thinking recently about the origins of the word ‘obscene’. Ob-scene material is material that takes place off-scene.

As the word has developed, it has come to mean “material which should not be portrayed because it is highly inappropriate to portray.” (The meaning has narrowed further to mean “inappropriate sexual content”. I have not heard any contemporary usage having ‘obscene’ refer to violent content — probably stemming from the same reason as why there are innumerable films rated X due to sexual content, but almost none rated X due to violent content — the mentality that, in the words of one Christianity Today article, “finds massaging a breast to be more offensive than cutting it off.” Dorothy Sayers’ essay “The Other Six Deadly Sins” speaks powerfully to this problem.)

The word ‘obscene’ means “inappropriate content” to us, but placing material off-scene can serve other literary purposes. Done the right way, off-scene presentation can be more powerful than on-scene presentation. In Calvin and Hobbes, there are references to “the noodle incident”, which is never described. Watterson said that he believed it would be better if left to the reader’s imagination. For related but subtly different reasons, I am intentionally not specifying small but significant facets of my second novel — Aed’s academic discipline is never explicitly stated.

Giving just enough hints to fuel the imagination can be a powerful alternative to explicit portrayal.

9/23/00

There is a musing which I had some time ago, and never recorded.

When I was a TA in UIUC’s math department, during orientation, Prof. Weichsel told us, if we had to do something unpopular, to say, “It’s department policy,” and that he would be the complaints department for us, as well as a resource for questions and problems that came up.

I never said that an unpopular decision was department policy, but there was something that struck me about this, a sense of “You are supported in your good faith efforts.” He might suggest a different way of handling a situation if it came up in the future, but he would support us in our efforts.

I believe some of the same beauty is true of God. In terms of dealing with moral dilemmas, I have come to believe that a Christian who listens to the Spirit and makes a good faith effort to do right in a moral dilemma doesn’t have to succeed in guessing the right course of action — even if he makes a mistake in judgment, his action is holy, supported by God. There is a story — first mentioned to me, by the way, in a discussion with a Christian who believes in a just war — about one of Corrie ten Boom’s family, sheltering Jews when a Nazi soldier came and asked, “Are you hiding any Jews?” She told the truth: “Yes. They’re hiding under the table.” The Nazis didn’t believe her. They went on their way.

From the other side, there was a Christian couple, the wife pregnant and grievously ill. The doctors told her, “You cannot live and carry this child. You’re going to have to have an abortion.” After great prayer and deliberation, they decided to have the child removed from their womb and an attempt made to save his life. The child lived, and is a blessing to those who come into contact with him.

If I were asked, I would have advised both to choose differently. (At least a possibility in the first case, with my mind changing over time, and a certainty in the second case. I have heard of hard cases where not having an abortion would have been very difficult. I have not heard of a case where I would have approved of an abortion, and one person I have known was born out of one of those very hard cases.) Perhaps I am right, perhaps I am wrong; I am not raising these cases to stand in judgment over my fellow believers. The reason I am raising these cases is to say that God supported the believers in their choice. This is not an occasion for license to do anything and say “God will support me” — in both cases, people were seeking to do God’s will; it is necessary to seek out a knowledge of the right action through prayer and the Spirit — but it does mean that we are not going to land in trouble because there was a legitimate debate among believers, and we came down on one side of it, and God came down on another. (And — who knows? Maybe the lines of morality fall differently than any human system; maybe God led and specifically wanted Miss ten Boom to tell the truth about whether she was sheltering Jews, and specifically wanted Dietrich Bonhoeffer to try to assassinate Hitler. I don’t know if that is true, but it seems on a surface view to be consistent with how God works.)

Existentialism portrays a picture where we are orphans, who must make any, arbitrary choice because we are abandoned and without guidance. The place I was at for a while, where I believed you had to choose the right thing, believed there was a right choice, but saw us as in a sense abandoned in trying to pick out that choice. It had a ring of existentialism. This is, I believe, removes another layer of existentialism: there is a right choice, but God supports us in our efforts to pursue that choice; we are not abandoned in picking out the right. We are God’s children. We are supported.

9/29/00

After having a rough end of week, I was warmed by one part in particular of a conversation with my friend Heather. She and her boyfriend Josh had independently worked out an idea, which I will briefly summarize here as contrasting a Hellenistic mindset (thinking logically and constructing systems which men can piece together logically — and having difficulty with sets of statements that the thinker cannot reconcile) with a Hebraic mindset (believing that God is sovereign and accepting his sovereignty in a way that is open to paradox — and therefore not needing to fall into e.g. Calvinist/Arminian camps). (Josh wants to do a Ph.D. thesis about this, and Heather wants to write a book together, and Josh wants to have the book wait until the thesis is done — therefore I do not wish to explore details about their idea, which I think is an excellent discovery worthy of development and sharing, at this point.)

When Heather and I were walking, she commented to me that she had realized that talking with me about that idea and about the Hebraic mindset was like talking with a fish about water. I felt very warmed by that comment; it seemed to me a marker of a kind of spiritual success. It seemed to me a sign that I had become steeped in the Scriptures and Christian ways of thought.

There was a classic poster I saw at Wheaton’s Computing Services on how to become a Unix wizard. It had, catechism style, questions of “How many kernels do I have to build?” and “Which books do I have to read?” The last question was, “How can I know when I have become a wizard?” The answer to it was, “Never mind that. Keep on toiling, and some day you will look back and realize the mantle of wizardhood has been on your shoulders since you knew not when.” I had not exactly the same experience; the image describes if anything more than I really experienced, but one of similar poetic resonance; I was down, and a comment like that was a pleasant surprise. Thinking Christianly means a great deal to me, and I believe that comment was a part of God’s ministrations of grace to me that day.

9/26/00

I have been thinking about a distinction for the past couple of days, between what might be termed explicit and implicit, or perhaps strong and weak, awareness. When someone says something that you knew beforehand but didn’t have the words to say, that is a transition from implicit or weak awareness to explicit or strong awareness. When you sense something but can’t quite put your finger on what, that is implicit awareness.

There are at least two levels of explicit awareness, and two levels of implicit awareness (although they are not in parallel — the difference between levels of implicit awareness is not the same kind of thing as the difference between levels of explicit awareness). The second level of explicit awareness is the one hinted at so far — when an implicit awareness is made explicit. There is also a first level of explicit awareness, where there is explicit expression without implicit awareness. This is what you have when you read a book but don’t yet know what it means, when the material has not been digested. The first level of implicit awareness, on the other hand, is what I have hinted at; the second level of implicit awareness lies beyond implicit awareness.

As to what that means — in a certain sense, I don’t see through the Hebraic mindset as Josh articulated it, and I don’t believe in the seven virtues or the seven deadly sins. I believe that all of the seven deadly sins are sins, and that the seven virtues are virtues, and I accept a great deal of what is said about them, but I don’t think in terms of the lists. You might say that I believe the list of the seven deadly sins, and the list of the seven virtues, are structured mnemonics that let people see a deeper structure, and I believe in the deeper structure, but not the superficial list. Or, another way of putting it would be, the lists of seven deadly sins and seven virtues are organizing lines drawn over a map, and I know the terrain and believe that it has structure, but I believe that the lines drawn (for the most part — not, for instance, the lines between land and water) are at least partially mnemonics, and not purely statements about the terrain. Lao Tze began the Tao Te Ching by saying, “The name that can be named is not the ultimate name,” (other translations being possible), and I believe that the deepest levels of awareness are beyond what one can say in words and mental structure. This is not true of God — he can express himself in a Word quite well — but, in the things they know most, such as their cultures, humans are terrible at explanation precisely because they know them too intimately to express them well. TAs are often better teachers than their professors, because they learned the material recently, and are more easily able to recall an explicit form like the way they learned.

Someone can see an explicit awareness instead of seeing through it to a second level implicit awareness. When Heather and Josh presented their thoughts on the Hebraic mindset, I saw the explicit portion — the lines drawn on the map… I think it was an explicit explanation of something I knew implicitly on the second level.

At least that’s a rough sketch; someone who saw my point might not subscribe to a number of particulars. There is a link between the first and second levels of implicit awareness, a continuum perhaps; tighter, at any rate, than between the levels of explicit awareness. Self-consciousness I associate with the second level of explicit awareness; the transition from the first level of implicit awareness to the second level of explicit awareness to the second level of implicit awareness is like the transition from simplicity to complexity to simplicity on the other side of complexity, or (in Unashamed) Abby’s transition from a free lack of self-consciousness to self-consciousness to an ease on the other side of self-consciousness.

At any rate, this insight could be applied to itself, or more properly to my expression of it; I spend a lot of time taking implicit awareness and making it explicit.

It seems a danger of writing that, when you draw lines to illustrate features of the terrain, readers will take the lines and forget the shape of the terrain.

9/27/00

The above distinction might be helpful in refuting the teaching that the real test of whether you understand a matter is whether you can explain it well to a layperson — the implication being that, unless you can do so, you don’t really understand what you’re talking about. One would never tell a sniper that, unless he can convey his skill in five minutes, it doesn’t count that he can hit shell casings from across a football field.


Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Life is worth living, intrinsically because of how God created it, but it bespeaks examination highly that Socrates would say that without it, life is not worth living.

What are the other things that a person could love so much as to say, at least poetically, that without it life is not worth living? I put that imperfectly; I could only honestly say “An unexamined life is not worth living,” if I were speaking poetically, but I believe that Socrates was speaking quite literally when he made that comment; the difference stems partly from different views of what the basic value of human life is.

I should also like to nuance this by mentioning an old distinction between “Good for all people” and “Good for me.” People make an error by going from a realization (true) that something has been highly beneficial to them, to a conclusion (false) that that something would be highly beneficial for everybody. Communion with God is good for anybody, but many spiritual practices are tremendous channels of grace through which God has blessed some people, without being beneficial for everyone. In the list, I will list things which have enough goodness that a poet could say that without it, life is not worth living. Some of these things I will list will be good for all people, and others of them will be good for some people, but not others; I will not distinguish between them.

What are some blessings of which a person who grew in them might say, “Without this, life is not worth living?” I can think of the following:

  • Worship/communion with God/glorifying him/enjoying him forever
  • Marriage
  • Family
  • Friendship
  • Honor
  • Kything
  • The aesthetic: art, music, dance, literature, mathematics…
  • Touch
  • Suffering
  • Thought
  • Rest

The list is neither definitive nor complete; it has fuzzy borders, and some parts of it might be contested. Being a good means in some sense being a deep good, and some of these goods have more in them than we commonly think. (The flipside, which I don’t know how to reconcile, is that some goods will deliver more if we do not have massive expectations of them; romance is this way, and C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves talks about how appreciation of nature can work this way: a Romantic-style worshipper of nature will be surprised by the beauty of nature less than will a Christian who goes into his garden merely to pray. I think romance is too inflated in our culture; we are to draw our sustenance from a diversity of goods, and (if not romance) I have tried to draw too much sustenance from lesser goods, like putting too much weight on a weak limb.)

9/28/00

There was something I thought of in a conversation with Heather that I want to record here. It concerns the sovereignty of God and free will.

The Calvinist-Armenian debate attests to the difficulty we have seeing both at the same time. My present insight is not exactly concerned with that question, or at least not primarily and directly concerned with it, but with the question of guidance, free will, and God’s direction for our lives. It concerns how we make decisions. The two major camps on this question are as follows:

  • God has a plan for everyone and for every believer’s life. When faced with a decision, believers should make the decision by seeking out the Lord’s will.
  • God has given us free will, and wants us to exercise that free will in the decisions we make. When we are faced with a decision between two good courses of action, God wants us to exercise that freedom in our choices.

It is the time-worn philosopher’s trick to say “the two opposing schools are both wrong because of where they both agree: …”, and I was trying to think of a less shopworn way to present where I’m going with this. I won’t exactly say “Both schools are wrong because of where they both agree,” but I am going to say “Both schools appear incomplete because of something they both miss.” I will leave it to the reader’s judgment as to whether I am saying anything different.

What do I think the two camps are missing? When two friends meet, the question of how the meeting will end is not determined a priori. It could be that one of them or the other will have some prior need that says “I have to be somewhere at 3:30,” so that that result is fixed at the beginning, but it will often be the case that the friends decide together how long to meet, and that the end time of their gathering is set by the interaction of the two people, so that the question of “Who will end the time together?” may have no fixed answer ahead of time.

The point where I would challenge both camps is that they both seem to believe that the real outcome of a decision boils down to the decision of one fixed party. Either God’s sovereignty means that we need to agree with God’s one decision in our lives, or our free will means that the decision is ours to make. As an alternative to this, I propose a metaphor of friends meeting: sometimes, God will have a very detailed, specific plan and say “I want you to do this” (Heather pointed out that God is often much more explicit and more likely to use skywriting with young believers), and sometimes, a decision will be left to us, but much of the time, we are invited to partnership, making decisions together with God, in which sovereignty and free will come together, in which seeking out God’s will is mingled with responsible exercise of our own free wills.

One might suggest as a description that, instead of saying that the decision is 100% God’s and 0% yours, or 0% God’s and 100% yours, or even stopping with a compromise that says the decision is 50% God’s and 50% yours, a decision instead that is 100% God’s and 100% yours, or perhaps 80% God’s and 80% yours. God chooses to exercise his sovereignty in a way that respects free will, so that it is possible to submit totally to God (or perhaps I should say, supposing for the sake of argument that we on earth could submit totally to God), and free will still exists and has room to breathe, and that free will, responsibly exercised to its fullest, respects God’s sovereignty. The reason I said 80-80 is that there are times when humility before God demands the sacrifice of things that free will has legitimate claim to, and because some people might argue that God lets go of things he has claim to because of people’s prayer (but I don’t want to discuss here the debate as to whether God ever changes his mind). Beyond that, I believe that the metaphor of friends meeting helps us to see a way in which sovereignty and free will can occupy the same space.


Another concept I’ve been drawing on recently involves some mathematical concepts, concerning what is called a function or a mapping.

A mapping is like a black box, where you put something in and you get something out. An example of a mapping might be the height of a person: for each person, there is a height. On the box analogy, you could put me in the box, and out comes a height of six feet. A telephone directory is an example of another mapping: you put into the box a person’s or company’s name, and out of it you get a phone number.

There are some cases where a mapping is invertible: it runs backwards. A telephone directory represents an invertible function: it is possible to make a reverse telephone directory, where you start with a phone number, and look up a person’s name.

Each function has a domain, of what you can put into the box, and a range of what you can get out of it. The domain of a telephone directory function consists of people and organizations, and the range is telephone numbers. The domain of the height function is the set of people, and the range is the set of heights.

Not all functions are invertible. If a function is not one to one — if more than one input has the same output — then it is ambiguous to say “Give me the thing the function maps to this result,” because more than one thing might map to the result. If someone says, “Give me the height of CJS Hayward,” it is a straightforward thing to measure my height. If, however, someone remembers my height but forgets my name, and says, “Give me the person who is six feet tall,” then there is a problem. There are many people who are six feet tall; if you wanted me and reached out and grabbed the first person you saw who was six feet tall, you would probably not get me. The height function is not invertible.

I was thinking, not exactly of functions, but of a related concept in the connection between thoughts and words. We know that if a thought can be expressed in words, it can probably be expressed in different ways, and that that a given set of words is usually at least slightly ambiguous as to what thoughts will correspond to. However, I am setting these observations aside for the moment, as not relevant to the basic insight, and I would ask the reader to accept (at least for the sake of argument) the assumption that a given wording will produce a single interpretation in the reader’s mind.

What I saw is this: Say that there are two functions: the function mapping ideas to wordings, and the function mapping wordings to ideas. The first function happens when a person has an idea, thinks about how to explain it, and writes it down; the second function happens when a person reads and gets ideas from it. Then these functions are not each other’s inverses, and furthermore there might be no way to express a given idea in such a way that the reader’s interpretation is what the writer intended, or (to put it differently) the most faithful expression of an idea may necessarily give rise in the reader’s mind to something else. The process might go on like this: One person (writer) thinks of a person and writes down his height. Another person (reader) takes the text and picks out the first person he sees who has the height, and thinks, “This is the person who has been written about.” There are many times and places where it works — perhaps a better analogy would be to say that the writer thinks of a person and writes down his first name, and the reader finds calls out the name and talks with the first person to answer. It works quite well, as long as you don’t have two people going by the same name. Get two Robins in the room, however, and things might be more difficult. If my friend David wants to talk about his roommate, he will say ‘Robin’, at which point I will probably think of my best friend (and his friend, too) Robin.

The first time I observed a phenomenon, or a realization, like this, was a couple of years ago. At the time, I believed in a sort of theistic evolution, and I started to write a story about a world, beginning with its creation. I envisioned that world as having been created by a theistic evolutionary process; when I thought about how to effectively describe it, I could only do it in poetry, and for that matter poetry further on a literal reading from a scientific view of the processes than the Genesis accounts are from a picture of evolution. In thinking about an idea — of God creating life through aeons and “chance” and natural forces — the best way I could think of to explain it was one that would have (on a literal level) give rise to something other than what I thought. This gave rise to the following insight:

Imagine two scenarios. In the first scenario, God creates the world in six days, about six thousand years in the past, as literally described in Genesis I. What is the best way to describe it? The text we have now.

In the second scenario, God shapes the world over billions of years through natural forces and a subtle but powerful influence over quantum phenomena — “chance”. What is the best way to describe it, with all of its majesty, glory, and wonder? Well, when I tried to do that in good faith, I came up with a far less literal account than the Genesis account. So probably, something like the text that we have now.

What this means is that the six day creation account is not as informative as it would appear at first glance in our understanding. From one perspective, a direct, naive reading of the text (and, connotations notwithstanding, naivete is often a good thing in reading a text), leads most naturally to a six day creation account, but, with this insight in consideration, the question of “How would you change the text if you were to make it reflect a theistic evolutionary perspective?” meets with an answer of “Not much.”

There is something that wants to keep me from settling there; I think it has something to do with crediting a naive understanding and believing that this philosophy does not give us a privileged understanding of the text. In the same way that I believe it misportrays the text to believe it is fundamentally about the scientific details of origins, I believe it grossly misportrays reading of the text to wield such an insight as a weapon against naive readings — God has hidden things from philosophers and shown them to children who have read a text naively. The person who reads a text naively profits from it far more than a genius with a thousand insights better than mine, who is too sophisticated to open himself to the straightforward meaning a child of ten would learn.

This is somewhat of a tangent; I meant it mainly as an example. The direction I was driving towards was to say that we have something to learn from computer tape drives, which often (after writing some information out) immediately read it back to see if what’s coming back from the tape is the same thing as what is supposed to have been written on it. I came with this basic insight when I was trying to think of how to express an insight I’ve now forgotten, and came to the realization that there was no way (so far as I could tell) for me to explain it so that a natural reading would give another person the thought I had meant to express: every way I could think of to express it, meant something else on a natural reading.

There are two directions in which this can be taken. One is, in communication, to ask “Is this idea expressible in the sense that it is what a person will think of on naively reading my text?” — and, if you go off the beaten path like I do, the answer may well occasionally be ‘no,’ or (what may be hoped) provide an adjustment for your words to let the reader know that you don’t mean the obvious interpretation. The other is, in talking with others, to ask, “What intended meanings, other than the obvious one, could have been meant when so-and-so said X?” Both might cut down on miscommunication.

9/30/00

Yesterday night I went to a square dance, and then hung out with some friends and some new acquaintances. I had some thoughts, the last of which I wish to elaborate here.

I was thinking about a similarity between dance and martial arts, both as kinds of kything, and then… connected. Not intensely, but in a relaxed manner. I was in a newer sense able to be at peace with not being in the bard’s awen — enjoying the ordinary as just the ordinary. I was thinking in part about how, in Kuk Sool, I was comfortable bowing to the instructor and other students, but not to the picture of the Kuk Sa Bo Nim (grandmaster), because bowing is to me an act so close to worship that it is fitting to bestow on a man but not anything lesser. And then —

The major debates are over an issue of substance. The Calvinist-Arminian debate exists not only because the Scriptures reflect a mystery not easily captured in models, but also because the question of how the sovereignty of God relates to free will is a big enough question to hold a debate over. Both sides know it’s important; that’s why there are two sides engaged in the discussion. The question of the relationship of faith and works is another area which is debated because both sides recognize it to be a matter of importance. (On that point, I regard it as beautiful and fitting that The Cost of Discipleship, one of the 20th century’s greatest books about works, was written by the Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and that The Ragamuffin Gospel, perhaps a lesser work, but none the less a powerful inspirational classic about grace, was written by the Catholic Brennan Manning.)

Along these lines, I think that the question of whether or not men may be called gods concerns a big enough matter that it is surprising it is not a matter of debate. There is a terrible truth, a deep magic (to borrow a Narnian image) that we are not gods, that it is blasphemy to arrogate to ourselves the title of divinity. There is a more terrible truth, a deeper magic, that we are not only gods but more than gods, and that we shall become greater still than we are now. If you take and compare a weak believer — an alcoholic living on the street, someone who doesn’t go to church because he feels ashamed to be there, but who loves Jesus, whose eyes will tear up if you begin talking with him about Jesus — and compare him with the beings the Norsemen or the Greeks worshipped as God, the failing, weak, marginal believer is to me more majestic and more worthy of worship. In him is the Holy Spirit; in him is submission to the will of God; in him is in a sense something deeper than virtue, important as virtue may be. It is not just the Marines of the Army of God — those glowing saints whom we read about, and think we can never measure up to — who are godlike. It is, in a catholic sense, every man and woman of God, those whose faith is far weaker than ours as well as those whose faith is far stronger, who is a god and (invisibly to eyes this side of Heaven, usually) is wrapped in a glory that paganism never thought to give to its gods and goddesses.

I cannot in good conscience give the Sanskrit greeting Namaste, “I bow to the divine spirit in you.” We are not God, and we fall into trouble to think that we are — and yet the Scriptures contain so many things that I would think blasphemous if they were found in any other source. We are made in the image, likeness, and glory of God. We are invited to be his sons and daughters. We will judge angels. We are invited (Ephesians 6:11-17) to enter spiritual warfare wearing, among other things, the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation — that is, the armor worn by God (Isaiah 59:17). We have been chosen to share in the divine nature.

I believe C.S. Lewis addresses this basic insight in The Weight of Glory, although I haven’t read it recently. Each person is on the way to becoming either a being a godlike creature whom, if you saw now, you would be sorely tempted to worship, or else a horror such as you never encountered in your worst nightmares. Lewis wasn’t sure whether a person should think as much as possible about his own glory, but it can scarcely hurt to think as much as possible about his neighbor’s glory.

Worship is the supreme love reserved to God alone, but man as the image of God may be given a second love that is the image of worship.

This area is addressed more fully in A Dream of Light.

10/5/00

It often happens that people’s beliefs concerning a question can be placed along a continuum. One example of this may be the question of who may legitimately be addressed as “Father,” in light of Jesus’ words about “Call no one on earth your father” etc. People wishing to persuade you to shift in their direction may point out an extreme position in the opposite direction as a means of softening you up to slide away from that extreme — such as when a Catholic, after talking about hyperbole, asks what you are going to call your literal father. After reacting to the extreme pointed out — and realizing that you do legitimately call your earthly father ‘Father’ — the natural tendency is to slide a couple of notches closer to the position being advocated, namely “It is OK to address ecclesiastical authorities as ‘Father’.” That is a temptation to be resisted. It is in some sense true that “no one on earth” does not refer to one’s earthly father, but even hyperbole is a means of emphasizing something important — and it is difficult to me at least to believe that the obvious exceptions to “no one on earth” include all pastors. The context speaks directly about what ecclesiastical authorities may be called — if ecclesiastical authorities are included among obvious exceptions, it is hard to tell exactly what the point of saying that was. Perhaps Jesus was exaggerating, but what important point was he exaggerating, if the exceptions include the most direct and obvious point of application?

Reacting an extreme position is often a stepping stone to an unnecessary shift. Reacting the position of “Do not even call your earthly father ‘Father'” softens people up to say “I guess Jesus didn’t really mean absolutely no one when he said ‘Call no one on earth your father’,” and mean by it, “When Jesus said ‘Call no one on earth your father,’ he wasn’t referring to ecclesiastical authorities.”


The story of the boy who cried wolf has something to do with warnings and legal contracts.

Implicit in a warning message is a claim of “This message says something important and non-obvious about a real danger to sensible use.” After reading a certain number of warnings and finding them superfluous, people’s trust has been violated. They don’t believe warnings are worth reading. And they aren’t — usually.

An analogous, but related principle seems to apply in legal contracts. When you have to agree to a license agreement to download free software, and there are several pages of legalese — like the warning, the contract has lost fair claim to be read by the person signing it.


“A cheap car is rare. That which is rare is expensive. A cheap car is expensive.” There are limitations on what can be done by taking reasonable-sounding propositions and working from them logically. The proposition can be basically true — and lead, through a logical argument, to a false conclusion. (I know of at least one person who does not engage in philosophical speculation because of this.) This is not always true — there are cases where logical development from given statements can bring forth highly accurate contents — but care must be taken in logical development from approximate wordings. Sometimes it is hard to tell when words mean something approximately, and when they mean something exactly. In exegesis, I wonder if at least some of our debates stem from reading as exact words which were meant to be read approximately — perhaps partially because it is easy to equate taking a text seriously with reading it exactly — and so we go to as approximate of a reading as we need to to satify some texts, but have debates because we can only give certain other texts a literal reading.

On the note of exegesis, I wish to also record that it is bad practice to take some convenient set of Bible verses, those whose literal construal leads most easily to your position, and magnify them along the lines that lead to your position, and then explain away those verses which are problematic to your interpretation. God inspired and meant one as much as another; it is better to say, “I don’t understand how it all fits together,” or “Such-and-such is as much sense as I can make out of it,” than to magnify some verses and raze others. There is a certain bad odor — of contrived explanations, of explaining things away — that is free of logical contradiction, but which signals the presence of bad exegesis. It’s kind of like an announcement of a stunning new discovery that shatters old theological dogmas (as in the beginning of Jesus de Montreal) — even before logical eyes can see exactly what is wrong here, an experienced nose can smell that something is awry.

10/9/00

The past few days have been a fertile time for musings. I can’t remember everything that I thought, but there is one that I have been thinking about that I do wish to write down.

The best way I see to introduce it is by asking if TCKs (third culture kids — to oversimplify, people who have grown up with substantial exposure to multiple cultures, where their parents’ culture was different from the culture of the surrounding people) have a culture, and giving a provocative answer of “No, at least not in the sense that most of the world’s people have a culture.” The world’s majority, people who have one culture, have a space for culture, and TCKs also have that space, and also have something in that space, but that something is not a culture.

I’m hesitant to give a definition of culture, because definitions are finite and tend to take a life of their own, but one facet of culture is that it is something shared by a community, and shaped by that community, rising out of it. There is something that TCKs share, even a TCK community of sorts, but TCKs did not come to what they had by being immersed in it as a culture when they grew up. What they have in place of a culture may draw on two or more cultures, but it is not itself a culture.

I was trying to think of what to call this genus of which culture is a species, these things that can occupy the space which is in most people occupied by a culture, and I came across a couple of terms which are conceptually related but not identical to it: worldview and personality, as well as metaculture (a concept which I do not wish to describe in detail here, beyond saying that where a person in culture fits into and naturally breathes a culture, a person in metaculture is able to shift and move between cultures, and does not occupy a culture in the same way — is never in a culture so completely as to not see how else it could be), are related, but not the same. Without having a name, I would like to summarize the concept by saying that culture is a species of the genus of things which occupy the space normally occupied by culture.

Being a TCK can provide a person with something else in the place of a culture; so can exceptional intelligence, and possibly some of mental illness/neurological disorders. I think there are other kinds of differences capable of causing this as well; mental illness is relatively well-documented as a kind of difference that has a significant darkside; differences that do not have significant darksides would not seem to draw the same exploration as differences that cause significant problems for the people that bear them. What I realized is that I have something else in the place of a culture. I thought about writing a document about what that something else is, but am waiting on that for now, until some intuitions are more clear.

One question which may be useful as a rule of thumb for whether a person has a culture or something else in that place is, “When he changes something in the culture, does he change from within or change from without?” in a sense related to the distinction introduced by C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man. There is a difference between the person who uses materials inside the box to fumblingly try to think outside the box, and the person who uses materials outside the box to fumblingly try to think inside the box.


One logician I’ve read was arguing for game theoretical semantics, where a statement under examination is considered to represent a game, and one player is the Verifier, and the other is the Falsifier. The statement is considered to be true if the Verifier has a winning strategy, and False if the Falsifier has a winning strategy. It is possible for a game not to have a winning strategy on either side, and the logician argued from this that there may therefore be statements which are neither true nor false. (This struck me as an example of bad logic — you have a terrain and a standard map, and you suggest using another map, and point out that the second map has a property which the first map did not, concluding that the terrain might have the property indicated on the second map.) If one pursued those lines, though, the definition of a game can be loosened so that a game can at least potentially be won by both parties. This would correspond to games which (in some instances) could have a winning strategy for both Verifier and Falsifier, and statements which were neither true nor false. “This statement is false” could be the canonical simple example of a game which had neither a winning strategy for Verifier nor a winning strategy for Falsifier (a statement which is neither true nor false), and “This statement is true” the example of a statement which has winning strategies for both Verifier and Falsifier (a statement which is both true and false).


Christianity is a broad thing; individual believers may own the whole, but they live in a niche. Celibacy and married life both belong to all believers, but a believer will inhabit only one of those possibilities. This phenomenon (another instance is different spiritual gifts — no gift is common to all believers) is a part of what is meant by catholicity — the whole faith is to be believed by all believers, even though not every detail will come to play in every believer’s life. It is like a culture — it takes a village to transmit a culture, because a culture belongs to all its members, but it is larger than any single member’s role in it.

10/10/00

Different kinds of writing have, in a sense, different ways of being true. A metaphor embodies or fails to embody truth along somewhat different lines from a literal statement.

Fiction, I believe, can be true or false, even though we do not speak of it much in that way. For a work of fiction to be true does not mean that the events literally happened, but… Fiction presents a world-view, and says that things happen a certain way. The truth or falsity of fiction is not measured by the literal truth or falsity of what is seen, but the effects it has on the way people see. Action-adventure movies present life as cheap and of little consequence; killing someone is not only permissible, but not that big of a deal and without serious consequences. In so far as that is true, that fiction is false, and it is as false as a report that cigarettes are not addictive and do not pose any serious health threats. Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land is a curious and powerful mix of truth and falsehood; it is a classic because it is powerfully true in certain ways — the psyche of Michael, especially at the beginning, and the interaction of cultures; perhaps also certain areas of law — but it also lies: the limitless perfectibility of man, a benign nature to promiscuity, a certain arbitrary reshapability to human culture are among its falsehoods.

It is also possible, in this sense, to have false statements that are literally true. The stories told by the Un-man(?) in C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra to the unfallen, Perelandrian Eve are false even if they are literally true. More to the point, Clinton’s electoral stories, television newscasting, or kneejerk conservative tales of welfare abuse are all falsehoods expressed in a way that is literally true. These tales are not only tales of “these details happened”, but “this is the way the world works.” On the welfare score, the tales of abuse are never tales of just “This abuse happened at this time.” The meaning of the tales extends much farther, to “This is how things work. The welfare system is a corrupt system the nature of which is to be taken advantage of by parasites who constitute a massive financial drain on hardworking, honest, overtaxed America, and it is in need of a massive overhaul and massive cutbacks.” That is not true.


There are a number of arguments in principle that are to be made for pacifism, which I will not mention here. I would like to mention one lesser, prudential, argument before I forget.

If you ask two Christian thinkers — one who believes in a just war, the other of whom is a pacifist — what they believe concerning violence and problem solving, the difference between the answers given is never going to be that the pacifist believes in constructive problem solving and the just war believer believes in killing people to solve problems. The difference will rather be something far closer and more subtle: both believe that man is the image of God, that human life is of infinite value, and that people should learn to solve conflict in ways to avoid violence. The difference is that the pacifist believes violence is never acceptable, where the just war believer, who would much rather die than be killed, accepts violence as a last resort when all else has failed, and the probable destruction caused by acting in violence is less than the probable destruction caused by any other route. So the difference is not a difference of whether violence or constructive problem solving is better, only a very small difference (among people who agree on the desirability of peaceable living) of what will be done in the last resort after every effort at a peaceable solution has failed.

What I would like to submit is that this picture is distorted. It fairly accurately captures the difference in what people say, but not the difference in what people do. Both the pacifist and the just war believer say that they believe in attempting a peaceful solution in a potentially violent situation, and that peaceful conflict resolution is vastly preferable to violence, but only the pacifist normally makes any serious effort to understand nonviolent solutions that can prevent violence. In my own experience, only pacifist churches and meetings have given any instruction in how to handle a problem solution so as to prevent violence; when I gave a speech at Wheaton on peace making, not one of the members of the audience believed in a just war. Or, to put it differently, in the whole student body at Wheaton, not one of the just war majority thought it worth an evening’s effort to attend a speech on peace making. Or, again, those who cared about peaceful resolution to conflicts consisted exclusively of pacifists, even in a student body where the vast majority believed in a just war.

In the stated just war position, the major thesis of the position is that human life is of infinite value, and that Christians should make dedicated efforts towards the peaceful resolution of problems. It is a minor clause that says that violence may be used as a last resort. I would like to submit that the pacifist keeps more of this position, more faithfully, than does the person who holds a just war position. That is to say, the pacifist not only lives up to the pacifist standards better than the one who believes in a just war; he also lives up to the just war standards better.

Sun Tzu, in The Art of War, told the general to cut off all hope of retreat from the troops, so that they are cornered and will either win a battle or die. At first this struck me as very strange: doing so limits options and prevents the troops from fighting another day if they lose. Now, though, I understand that it was a profound psychological insight that put those words in such a timeless classic on military strategy: the troops will fight to the death if cornered; they can’t fight that hard if there is a way of retreat.

On a naive model, the question of pacifism vs. just war is a question that has the same answer for most situations, differing only in that (in a small fraction of situations) the pacifist will either not act or else interpose himself in harm’s way, and the just war believer will use force. But the difference is not confined to those situations. There is also the difference that the pacifist is cornered and fights to the death in situations where the just war believer, fighting as hard as he can while still preserving a way out, doesn’t — can’t — try as hard as the cornered pacifist. And so the body count, if you will, from the two situations, cannot stop after taking into consideration the situation where the pacifist refuses to kill a murderer, resulting in his own death and that of the person the murderer set out to kill; it must also take into consideration the situation where the pacifist averted bloodshed by applying training that the just war believer did not take the effort to find out. If this is so, then even if there are some cases where use of violence will save more lives than it kills, it is still quite possible that overall allowing the option of violence kills more lives than it saves.

This ties in to a question in computer science concerning the use of goto statements, an area where I am trying to think of a nontechnical example, and finding nothing as good.

A goto statement is a part of a computer program that tells the computer to go from one part to another (go to, goto). When I was in gradeschool, I thought goto statements were the best thing since sliced bread. But it’s not. One classic computer science paper argued that the free-ranging functionality of the goto statement should be replaced with conditional statements (if A is true, then do B, else do C) and loops (while D is true, do E). This kind of discipline does wonders to control certain kinds of hidden nightmares, and all serious contemporary programming I’m aware of uses conditional statements and loops instead of gotos for the bedrock of computer programming.

The question arises, “Should programming languages allow goto statements, or not?” The reason the question is not closed is that, every once in a blue moon, a goto is out-and-out the best way to solve a problem. A good programmer never uses gotos as a first approach, and bad programmers will only use gotos in ways that are inappropriate, but once in a blue moon, a situation comes up where a goto will solve the problem better than conditionals and loops. So there is a case for allowing gotos. But many languages have chosen to leave goto statements out of the language’s functionality — not because a goto statement is never justified, but because if a goto statement is in a language, programmers will use gotos in cases which hurt program quality. So, in isolated cases, it is uncontested that goto statements are sometimes justified, but overall, it is deemed better to rule out all goto statements, including the ones that are justified, than deal with the effects on the programmer and through programming of leaving the statements in the language.

This question has implications for moral reasoning.

I would not place this argument as my primary argument for pacifism, but I would place it as something to think about — and, perhaps, as an occasion for people who believe in a just war to decide what they believe (not “Is violence ever justified?” but “Is violence undesirable enough that it is worth making a serious investigation into how one can prevent it?”), and live up to what I hope a just war position should be.


The concepts of classical and romantic, discussed in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (a second rate treatment of first rate issues), was something I originally thought of as “classical is concerned with what is below the surface, while romantic is concerned with the surface,” but I wish to revise that. Classical and romantic are both concerned with something behind and beneath the surface, but in different ways.


There is a distinction I have thought of between a logical and a practical conclusion. A logical conclusion answers the question, “What comes forth from this idea if a logician takes it and analyzes its implications?” A practical conclusion answers the question, “What comes forth from this idea if a group of people believe this idea and live with it for some time?” The two are related, but different. Sometimes there are things in a practical conclusion that wouldn’t be immediately evident to a logician.

My above musing about a prudential case for pacifism could be portrayed as teasing out of differences between the practical conclusions of just war and pacifist teachings.


There are at least two ways that a human environment can be hostile — actively and passively.

An actively hostile environment is one in which people are consciously and intentionally hostile to a person or another group of persons. I would take South African apartheid as a paradigm example of this. A passively hostile environment does not necessarily have active hostility, but there are elements in the environment which none the less make it a hostile place. I would take handicap-inaccessible architecture as the paradigm example here.

Active hostility is what is usually thought of in reference to a hostile environment, discrimination, etc. The two other examples I can think of of passive hostility are right-handed technology, and many of the things that make giftedness a burden — an educational system that breaks at both ends of the spectrum.

10/11/00

When I wrote the above material about truth, falsity, and fiction, there was something I realized was not quite on the head. Today I put my finger on it.

Madeleine l’Engle is reported to have said that if an author does not respect his characters’ free will, then the story becomes a false story. This, as well as embodiment of a false world view (perhaps moreso), is how a story can be false. Deus ex machina, at least in its bad sense, is a kind of falsity in storytelling.

A large part of the indictment of utilitarian Christian art in Franky Schaeffer’s Addicted to Mediocrity: 20th Century Christians and the Arts is that it is false art and literature. It brings to mind one interchange I read in a Christian magazine, about the relative merits of Christian and popular music. The argument one person put forth for listening to secular music was that it was better music than the Christian music, and the rebuttal was based on the fact that the Christian music had Christian lyrics. That is to say, the rebuttal to an indictment of musical inferiority was to not argue for the music’s quality, or even see it as an issue — the music was only a sugar coating for a doctrinal content of the lyrics. That is a defense and rationale for false music.

Much of the best art and literature stems from efforts at persuasion; the Aeneid and the Divine Comedy were both written by poets who wished to prove their languages weren’t inferior. The best art is rarely purely for art’s sake — but neither is it purely instrumental. Perhaps it comes from the interaction of trying to make good art and trying to serve another purpose. And perhaps the NEA-sponsored exhibits, which are often accused of making a virtue of incomprehensibility, does terrible “art for art’s sake”, falling into errors that are not possible for someone trying to persuade. But the major error in most of what I have seen is false art that violates the integrity of the artwork in order to do something useful. It kills the goose of art to get all the golden eggs of persuasion — and then bewails the fact that the goose no longer produces golden eggs. It can’t. It was killed by its creator.

Bill Watterson’s story of refusing to commercialize his comic strip, in a way that he regards as selling out his own creation (recounted, I think, in The Calvin and Hobbes 10th Anniversary Special), shows an artist’s difficult endeavor to retain the truth of his creation.


There was a connection which I made recently…

I have problems owning American culture. My heart is in a sense in Europe; partly in a romantic impression, but also and more substantially in a classical look at (especially) philosophy and other aspects of culture (friendship would probably be another).

What I realized, or remembered, was that I once had difficulty owning Western culture at all. I held some interest in Eastern thought, and resonances between Eastern and Christian thought. Part of this was rebellion, pride, wanting to be different and better than other people. But only part. Another part was recognition of the wreckage of the past 500 years of Western philosophical history — I still think the past 500 years of “progress” are mostly something that would best be erased, done over, and that even though Eastern philosophy (pagan virgin) does not measure up to Christian (married) philosophy, it provides a vastly better starting point, and even working medium, than most of contemporary Western philosophy (apostate divorcée). Another part of my difficulties in identifying with the West was that I had some awareness, albeit an unwitting, unconscious awareness that hit the very large nail not quite on the head, of how different I was from other people. I didn’t connect it with intelligence, and I did not have the clarity to put my thinking as “I am a Westerner who is more different from most Westerners than most Easterners are;” I thought of myself as non-Western in a way that roughly meant Eastern (and came to a deep understanding of one Eastern philosophy).

The second part of the realization is that I have, by whatever means, come to be at home with being a part of the West. Not like everybody else — not by a long shot — but distinctively Western. I have not, within the West, settled down to accepting being an American yet, in the sense that it naturally flows from me, but I am able to accept, with pleasure, being Western. And I had a breaking point at a square dance when I was able to look and realize that I was enjoying a distinctively American cultural beauty.

Exactly where in the geographical-historical map of the actual West my heart is, is still a little hard to say. In the West, but not at any literal place of it. Somewhere in Europe, probably France, spread out across a few centuries, with a touch of fantasy. I am using the term ‘fantasy’ in a poor metaphor because I do not see any better way to explain it, but it calls for some explanation. I do not mean the medieval-impression-plus-magic that is commonly meant by fantasy, nor the psychological sense of an escape into unreality. Rather I mean an “impression” (I mean something like what this word means, only deep rather than shallow), both classical and romantic in character (but more fundamentally classical), of a culture and a world that could be real but does not happen to be. The culture that most readily comes to mind is that of Blajeny in Madeleine l’Engle’s A Wind in the Door.

A certain element of this does not need to change. There are elements of American culture that I do not think I ever need to embody, and others that I may learn to play as a social game (I identify with the youngest star in Madeleine l’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. She tried to appear human — an eccentric old woman, outside on a terribly stormy night — and quite nearly botched it; the shawl and eating and making sheets look like ghosts was not who she was, was a game she played that did not begin to give even a glimpse of who she really was. This is a picture of an angel-like being in one sense, but in another sense is a revelation of a real, flesh-and-blood human being out of a human’s experience; it is a description not only of angels but of men). There are also a number of elements of American culture that I need to love and own.

There are a couple of things that have happened lately that I am taking as exciting indications that I am beginning to own American culture, and have the discipline to love it even when I do not like it.


Halloween is, or at least can be, a revelatory holiday.

By this I mean that it is a holiday that provides a social context for people to reveal themselves to other people in ways that would not normally occur in the usual course of interactions. For many people it’s not — the costume doesn’t say anything — but for me at least it is. My costumes say something about me.

Christmas is also, in a different way, a revelatory holiday. It is not just a revelatory holiday (such a thought makes me shudder), but it is such. Giving a gift is an act of communication; the gift says something about the person who it is given to, but also about the giver.

What other revelatory holidays could be imagined?

I could see a favorite books day, where people read a passage from their favorite books.

Something to draw on the theme of icebreakers at parties. Icebreakers are embarrassing and humiliating; every one I have examined since I made this basic observation crosses some social boundary and make people uncomfortable. I believe this is for a specific reason; pushing people across an internal boundary disinhibits them and opens the door to getting to know the other people. It takes a jolt to break the ice.

Persona day. People do not dress up in costumes, but (in normal wear) role play other people.

Prohibition day. Some common and basic activity or faculty is verboten for the course of the day. The Church does this with fasts and Lord’s day rest. I believe there are prohibitions which would force people to operate differently, but I can’t think of any (new ones) off the top of my head.


Baudelaire, in La Morale du Joujou, talks about how, in children’s play and religious artwork, the toy/art represents a reality, which it suggests but does not fully portray. When a little boy takes a small object (perhaps a spool of thread) and moves it about, making sounds, and pretends it is a spaceship, there is no need for a perfectly shaped model of what appears to be a spaceship — and, Baudelaire argues, it is better that way. It is better to have an incomplete portrayal, in which the imperfect vehicle is taken over by imagination to become what it represents, than a perfect and complete portrayal which leaves nothing left for the imagination to do.

In America, unlike many other countries, puppetry is allowed as a children’s art form but not taken seriously as a medium for adults — our loss. Some puppetry (euphemistically called ‘animatronics’ by people who do not want their use of puppetry to be known) is used in movies, albeit puppetry that has so much technical sophistication that it succeeds in appearing to be something else; we do not have puppets that appear as puppets. This is in contrast to the shadow puppet theatre of Malaysia, to take an instance off the top of my head, where there are beautiful but stylized puppets: they are meant to evoke, but not be mistaken for the real thing. Perhaps related to this, all the non-cartoon movies and television I’ve seen present as close an approximation to (a romantic impression of) a photorealistic image of what happens. There is no case where, as in child’s play, people look at an inverted garbage can and agree to make believe it’s a robot. When I watched The Matrix, after not having seen any movies in a while, I was distracted by the romantic impression; at times I had difficulty seeing through it to the characters and concepts. (This isn’t because the movie was ineffective within its genre; it’s because I had begun to lose touch with the medium, but I think there is something in my having lost touch.)

I think it would be an interesting matter to see a good movie in which there was enough to evoke images in the viewer’s minds, but not the complete substitute for imagination in detail — a shooting of a plainclothes rehearsal on an empty set. What would the experience be like?

I think that there is probably a link (both from the same source, possibly) between the fact that puppets that look like puppets are accepted by children but not adults (a sign, not of maturity, but of loss of imagination), and the fact that movies do not call on the viewer’s imagination. I know that television is criticized for rotting the imagination, but what if there was television that just showed actors on empty sets, with very crude props that suggested the objects they were to refer to? It wouldn’t be watched (see Mander’s argument for why television needs technical events and artificial unusuality in order to hold people in Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television), but it’s an interesting concept. Perhaps it would be interesting to go to pre-dress rehearsals of plays.

On a related but distinct note — all movies I can recall seeing operate on a romantic rather than a classical plane, and attempting to interact with a movie on classical grounds (thinking about the science and technology is one of a number of examples) yields frustration. The science in science fiction movies is meant to be awe inspiring and impressive — not (in my experience) for people to try to understand. It would be interesting to see a classical movie — perhaps a classical movie that just had suggestive sets, costume, and props.

10/12/00

The image I used in A Dream of Light for the curse of Babel was a rainbow being shattered and its pieces being scattered across the sky to become stars. There was a fragmentation and a diminution of language.

I do not think that the New Jerusalem will see an exact reversal of what happened at Babel. I don’t think the diversity in languages will be reversed, even to restore the language of the Dawn of Creation. I believe that we will have something deeper — even more than in Eden an instrument of communion and not just communication — something that does not have to pass through the pipe of the senses. And I believe that the diversity of human languages, past, present, and future, will be preserved in that fusion. The observation is made of idiolects, that different people will use language in different ways; different idiolects can still be part of the same language in which people understand each other when speaking. In Heaven, I believe I will speak in a way influenced, foreshadowed by, the languages I have worked with here (with various degrees of proficiency — I speak two languages well, and have dabbled in others), and a way that others will understand.


I wrote about fantasy above. I wish to — not quite explain that theme more (I am having difficulty thinking about it clearly enough to say anything significant) — but talk about related material.

Fantasy is in our minds associated with another era; this is not because people invented a forgotten world, a faroff age and invested it with magic, but because people living in a then-contemporary world saw magic operating on their world. The fantastic element was not conceived to be fixed to their time, and the profession of woodcutter in fairy tales was originally as contemporary and as ordinary as a mechanic in our world. This is why, when C.S. Lewis wrote fairy tales for grown-ups (That Hideous Strength), he did not give people occupations from yesteryear; he set them in the contemporary world. The same is true of Madeleine l’Engle’s Time quartet. The fact that ‘fantasy’ means ‘pseudo-medieval’ is in some sense a matter of historical accident.

When writing A Cord of Seven Strands, or more properly when thinking before writing it, I was thinking over the question of whether not to write fantasy. I was sure of a contemporary setting, and I did not want magic in the story. What I was debating was a cultural and geographical bifurcation, something that would feel like our world but be different.

It was a related but different sense of ‘fantasy’ that I meant above. When I am trying to express something, I sometimes see a visual symbol before I can think of words; the visual symbol I saw was two along rays at a very acute angle. Both rays come from the same source. One ray ray represents the way things actually happened, the real world. The other represents the fantasy: it is nearly the same in orientation, but it is displaced, and the further you go, the further apart they are. Something similar may be said for Australian, English Canadian, British, and U.S. culture. They are all bifurcated (albeit interacting) lines from the same source, in a sense almost parallel. Complementary to the usual intuition of Britain being on its historical path and the colonies branching off or doing the same thing, it may also be said that these four countries represent alternate historical and cultural developments of the British culture that existed several centuries ago. To someone with a historical sense who had grown up in one of these four contemporary cultures and been transported to another, each provides an answer of “This is how it might have been but is not.” The direction of the angle I see is different — not a “This is how it might have been but is not” of historical and cultural development, but of the different feel brought with intelligence, the part of intelligence that is not connoted or implied by the popular understanding of the word ‘smart’. That isn’t quite it, or perhaps you could say that that is one facet but not all; at any rate, it is the only one I know how to concretely describe.

I was thinking about the direction of Madeleine l’Engle’s fantasy — breaking off from our world (though she would not view it that way) in the direction of (some) non-human characters, of kything and under-hearing. I regard it a valuable question to ask how my fantasy would break off. A part of it is in the direction of pseudo-fantasy, material that reads like fantasy while consisting exclusively of events I could believe happened. Other parts I can’t describe.

10/14/00

Recently I found out that a person whom I have been talking with (I won’t mention his name) was looking at an area of thought in a way that was fundamentally distorted (I won’t give the details on that, either). What I regard as significant is that my reply to him was emotional, only partially logically coherent, and probably not nearly as persuasive as most of what I write.

I was thinking about this, in large part because I was disturbed that I hadn’t given him a better answer, a better explanation — I was aware that I was explaining things badly as I wrote, but I couldn’t do better. It wasn’t because this was an obscure question that I knew little about; anything but. The reflection I had coming out of this was analogous to aesthetic distance: if an issue is too far out, then you do not know it well enough to talk about it effectively, then as it moves closer you can start to talk about it, but if it comes too close, then the lack of distance prevents effective discussion. These are some of the things you know best, but you can’t start talking about them.

If this is true, this may mean that on the handful of issues that a thinker becomes emotional and incoherent in argument, the incoherence is not because he doesn’t know what he is talking about, but because he knows it so intimately that he cannot discuss it effectively — it is when he is least persuasive that he may be voicing something far more important to him than what lets him be carried away on the wings of eloquence.

10/14/00 and subsequent days

There is a classic Reader’s Digest in which a married couple, building their dream house, tells their decorator that they want an authentic early American bathroom. The decorator hesitates, and says, “Ok. Exactly how far away from the house do you want it to be?”

It has occurred to me in thinking about that joke that I have been ungrateful to my own era. Perhaps I am in an era that doesn’t really have a place for me, but the Middle Ages wouldn’t necessarily have had a place for me either, even if my metacultural perspective is spiritually closer to medieval than modern or postmodern. So I would like to list twenty things about my historical-cultural perspective that I appreciate — partly out of discipline and contrition, but also to draw others (especially those who feel the legitimate pull of metaculture and the recognition that other historical-cultural milieux have legitimate and probably richer spiritual climates, who see in modern progress an illusion and are appalled by the literal and figurative 20th century body count) to an appreciation of the good things our climate uniquely holds. This is a bit like the 100 ways of kything in that I don’t know at the outset what all the entries are:

Things I like about my historical-cultural placement:

  1. Medical technology. I do not approve of worshipping technology, but it is not worship to note that medical technology has saved my life more than once, and that if I had lived in another era, then (barring supernatural healing) the bone infection I had in my ankle in eighth grade would have killed me, and I wouldn’t have produced any of my writings. In a significant sense, my writings are a ministry; the question is not whether I would have produced my writings, diminished, in the theological crampedness of my age, or produced them on the strength of a stronger age; the choice is between my struggling, fighting uphill, swimming upstream to think clearly and produce my writings (perhaps even doing a better job because I could not simply go with the flow), and being dead before I could mature enough to produce any of them.
  2. The internet. In previous technological environments (hand copying and then print), the expense and scarcity of writing materials meant that you had, to share writings, to convince someone with scarce resources that your writing was worth the allocation of scarce resources — and, even now, getting a book printed is more a matter of salesmanship than of writing. (And I am not an expert salesman.) The internet is the first means in history where a person like me can concentrate almost wholly on the quality of his writings and then, almost effortlessly, without any jumping through hoops, make them available worldwide. There is a kind of sharing and connection, community, made possible by the internet that wasn’t possible before. Many great writers of the past were discovered posthumously, by accident. The internet provides a place where writing is far less restricted.
  3. IMSA. The Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, the magnet school where I went to high school, is a world unto itself. Culturally, and in the way people think, it is one of a few homes to me; the last time I visited campus, there was a shared bond and a rate of connection that affected me as one of those moments that leave you wondering how you could have gotten used to its absence. IMSA has its many flaws, but even with them — it is on the strength of notesfile discussions at IMSA that I learned to write, and if I was able to later read the Bible repeatedly and perform a mental housecleaning to expunge myself of worldview/teachings from IMSA (i.e. the premise that math and science will solve our world’s problems), even that mental housecleaning used discipline acquired at IMSA. But IMSA is not to me just the place where I learned to think; it is a place where I met kindred spirits, and (even in its flaws) an Ynes Avalach to me, more of an alma mater than any of the four colleges and universities I attended. I am grateful to my era, and to the state of Illinois and its taxpayers, for letting me have that opportunity.
  4. Computers. Computers do not need to be an object of worship or another enhancement to corporate abilities to generate wealth. They can also be seen as a triumph of human culture, and an opportunity for interaction unlike anything any previous aeon has seen. Where else can you interact with a being that can do arithmetic and logic flawlessly but has no intelligence, not even common sense? There is something in interacting with something logical to show you that you are not logical; programming computers provides a new facet to a thinking man’s self-understanding.
  5. Religious volunteerism. The idea that one belongs to a given religious affiliation because he chooses to belong is, historically speaking, far from universal. There are imperfections — religion as a private choice, religion as something tamed — but they are imperfections in carrying out a great thing.
  6. The concept of tolerance. Most readers will know of hypocrisies and imperfections in how this is carried out, the equation of “racist = white”, and the problems that have been caused in the name of diversity. I would recall the words, “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue,” and say that the respect for personhood embodied in diversity concerns is a great thing.
  7. Breadth/specialization/academia/diversity. In terms of level of specialization, the present world has quite a few niches that wouldn’t exist in most other societies. (This is a mixed blessing, but a blessing.) My choice of professions is better now than in most historical-cultural contexts; in a small village, the selection of available professions (even without any cultural restrictions) would probably not have allowed me anything as thought-oriented as I have now.
  8. The value given to an individual life. One person’s life is held to be of tremendous value — not just VIPs, but everyone. This is far from a cultural universal.
  9. Creature comforts and good thinking environments. Creature comforts and a special place have a great influence on how well a person is able to perform abstract thought; creature comforts are nice in themselves, but they also allow people to ignore the absence of discomfort and sink into thought.
  10. A native language that is lingua franca throughout the world. This is something very few people in world history have enjoyed. There are any number of arguments that have been made about the dark side of American English steamrolling through half the world’s linguistic bases, and I don’t mean to make light of that — but to speak the language as your native tongue, and never need to learn another, is a rare privilege.
  11. Cheap books. Before the printing press, books were hard to come by; a library of sixty books was quite respectable in the Middle Ages. Books have since then become cheaper and easier to make, which means not only that books are easier to acquire, but that a broader selection of material is liable to be printed. True, much of this material is trash, but there is also material that is not trash.
  12. Roads and Other Transportation. Roads take a heavy and non-obvious toll; the Amish do not drive cars because it is their considered judgment that the use of cars tends to degrade the community. That stated, roads provide access to people, more diverse acquaintances than one would have in a small village. I consider my job options to be much better than if I had to choose from positions I could walk to — in which case I’d probably go bonkers.
  13. Psychology. Psychology, as all academic disciplines, has its own special way of being ridiculous. It also has generated an understanding of human nature with some strengths that many cultures do not have. I would hesitate to say that academic psychology has surpassed the insights of other cultures on their own terms, but on its terms psychology has provided us with some good understandings of human nature.
  14. Hallowe’en. Every age has beautiful holidays; I like Halloween: not the ghouls and witches and warlocks, but the opportunity to be someone else, to reveal yourself in a different way.
  15. Role play. This element of cultural wealth is something that has always been around — in the form of children’s make-believe. I am not aware of another cultural context that carries this into adulthood.
  16. Recognition of childhood. The non-universal concept of childhood, whose present disappearance Neil Postman explores and laments in The Disappearance of Childhood, is of benefit to both children and adults.
  17. Lex, Rex. The rule of law — the idea that everyone, even the highest governing officials, is subject to the law — is far from common in time and history. Many people from other nations had trouble understanding when Nixon was impeached: how could the highest official of the land be on trial for breaking the law? It struck them as it might strike us to see a family where the parents were grounded — grounding is something parents hand out to children, not something parents are themselves subject to. The rule of law is imperfectly followed — as I write, the chaos surrounding the 2000 American presidential election is just beginning to subside — and the concept has flaws. Yet, even with an imperfect implementation of imperfect ideas, attempts to follow the rule of law reduce arbitrariness.
  18. Bureaucracies. Now I know that some readers are probably wondering why I would put bureaucracies on the list — ‘bureaucracy’, like ‘mother-in-law’, carries strongly negative connotations. Do I like pushing through red tape? No. But, to an outsider, working with an American bureaucracy is a positive luxury. One Brazilian student was stunned when he applied for a scholarship without knowing anyone who could pull strings, and then received it; a friend at home couldn’t believe him when he explained what had happened. The reason is simple: in Brazil, like most countries across most of time, you need an inside connection to get anything out of a bureaucracy. In the US, it doesn’t hurt, but you have reasonable chances of getting a lot of things out of a bureaucracy — enough so that this can be taken for granted, and we can ungratefully grumble about how inefficient bureaucracies are.
  19. The concept of genius. The concept of genius is far from universal; while there are problematic developments (the “exceptional man” exposed in Crime and Punishment), the boundary between genius and normal (or even just gifted and average), like that between children adults, is one that benefits people on both sides.
  20. Mechanical devices to tinker with. When I made a fantasy world, one of the races had tinkering as a national hobby. It’s delightful and fascinating to tinker, to fix things MacGyver style, and to have intriguing gadgets. It’s not one of the greatest things in life — not up there with faith and friendship — but Legos and knicknacks (Legos being one of my favorite thinking toys as a child) are an enjoyable part of local color.

10/18/00

There is a sense in which I think we’ve swapped the meanings of asceticism and hedonism. On the surface, at least, and as far as we usually look, asceticism is drab and unpleasant, and hedonism is really enjoying things. But this is the inverse of the reality. Hedonism is one of the pessimistic philosophies of life, trying to enjoy sensory pleasures as someone would enjoy his last meal before an execution. Some forms of asceticism are indeed joyless, but others make small sacrifices in the pursuit of something big. In so far as devout Christians live abstemeniously, it should not be a rejection of joy, but embracing a bigger joy than comes through hedonism.


When I came back to my [original] A Luddite Guide to Technology, I was amazed at the level of goofiness I had been blind to. I had spoken about the importance of love and forgiveness to all, and in almost the same breath poured out anti-Microsoft invective. Why is it easier to see another’s goofiness than one’s own?


Democracy is not coterminous with good government. It is associated with good government in at least one cultural context, and quite possibly others, but the assumption in e.g. TV newscasts that democracy is the one form of government that is best to all countries, and that the political health of a country can be measured by how democratic it is becoming, is worthy of question.


Earlier I spoke of us as gods. I might want to suggest another helpful picture, that of us as apprentice gods, where this life is an apprenticeship to full godhood in Heaven.


Zen emphasizes living in the now. I was thinking about that for a time, and came to realize that in some sense I live best when I am spread out over a time, when I am present to a moment that includes but is not limited to the present. A painter may momentarily only be brushing a small area of the painting, but he is throughout time present to the whole painting, in a way that is structured according to the painting rather than according to the path the brush tip may take (he may even forget what the brush tip took). In the same way, through time I have found a magical way of fitting in to time something that doesn’t fit into linear time, kind of like a mathematician’s Peano curve, where continuous twisting of a curve fills space.

Some theologians have spoken of eternity being without the flow of time as we understand it, where we will no longer have our existence rationed out to us. The Zen approach, where one is totally present to the moment, approximates this in one sense, but in another sense, the perspective I have become aware of (in failing to be exclusively present to the present, and understanding why I failed at it) is something that seems to reflect another aspect of eternity. What I have is something-embedded-in-time, a something that is more than time, and whatever unimaginable thing eternity will be, it will be more, not less, than what we have now. I believe it will be a more natural medium for what is snuck in to time — somehow, probably in a way that we cannot reason out, we will have all of our existence at once, and yet not be limited to a single instant, “ever changing from glory to glory.” (God has all of his existence at once, but he at very least interacts with time; his eternality is not a less-than-temporality.)


In A Wind in the Door, the Murrays’ having given up money and prestige to work in an obscure stone lab is something I identify with in my present stage of life. What I have is not so much a noble giving up as a loss, it has been a less voluntary moving from heavy-thinking, recognizable academic work to software engineering (which I am not doing as proficiently as well as I expected), and a quiet apartment to write in. But I am at peace. I have thought about (after a couple of years’ work) going back to school in cognitive science, and I have gone from enduring it’s-only-a-couple-of-years to being able to enjoy and cherish this time writing — something like the Zen koan that set my thinking, where a monk runs from a tiger, jumps over a cliff, and grabs a thin branch holding him above spiked rocks below. What does he do? He cannot climb up the cliff (the tiger — the past — makes this impossible), and he cannot let go and fall down (the spikes — the future — make this impossible). So he grabs and enjoys some strawberries next to him. I do not think it possible to be happy if both past and future are lethal, but I am enjoying the present without being able to go back to the past, or know or control the future. I am looking forward to the hope of cognitive science work, but I am also genuinely enjoying the present.

10/23/00

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance says that there are two types of welders. One is not necessarily better than the other, but it is important to know which one you need, and have the right kind. (I’ll transpose the ordering from Pirsig’s.)

The first kind prefers to do familiar welds, and dislikes having to figure out a new one. The second kind regards figuring out the weld as part of the fun, and resents having to do a job over again.

What I pieced together is that I’m at least a notch or two past the second kind of welder — in my writing, where a new piece usually comes in a new genre, in riflery and martial arts (as Robin pointed out), in other things.


I also realized a strange similarity (or perhaps ‘similarity’ is too strong a word — ‘comparable character’, perhaps) between the attitudes of an agnostic Jew towards religious ceremony and my own.

Agnostic Jews participate in certain ceremonies that they don’t believe in in a religious sense, as a matter of preserving and keeping alive Jewish identity. The ceremonies do not mean, in a sense, the glory and worship of God. At least not primarily and not directly. That is, the agnostic Jew does a ceremony but doesn’t believe its direct meaning.

I realized a parallel between that attitude and my own attitude towards religious ceremony. I participate in religious ceremonies, but I do not believe that a given structure is the necessary form that worship takes, any more than the specific words of a given conversation are necessary to conversation between two people. They are to me the outer shell that worship took in that one case; they are not part of the substance of worship.


The most common use I hear of the term ‘semantic’ is as in “They were just arguing semantics,” meaning that people were having a pointless argument that existed, not because they disagreed over something substantial, but because they were using words differently.

That is in a sense a true use of the term ‘semantic’, but it is disappointing (especially as the primary way in which the term is used). An unnecessary argument because people didn’t know they were using words differently is the pocket lint of things semantic; there are so many greater things that can be referred to by ‘semantic’, of what people mean and what texts mean. Syntactic knowledge is shallow, surface knowledge (the connection of the letters l-o-v-e with the concept of love); semantic knowledge is real, deep knowledge (the conceptual wealth that is evoked by l-o-v-e). In computer programming, people who are trying to fill jobs are usually measuring by what syntactic knowledge is possessed (or, more properly, what buzzwords the person can claim); it is semantic knowledge (theory, the knowledge that is not searched for but is the most important knowledge a programmer possesses) that makes for real success.

I like semantic discussions that are something deeper than an unnecessary conflict because people did not understand how each other were using language.

11/2/00

I have spoken with Josh about disclosing his thoughts about Hebraic and Hellenistic mindsets. (It is Josh’s and Heather’s idea, but Josh had said something that made me want to ask him before distributing it.) Josh has given me permission to disclose it; my thoughts are a little fuzzy, because it’s been a little while since he and Heather explained the concepts, and I only have the one sheet they wrote things down on, but I’ll try to reproduce:

Josh began by saying that, with a couple of arguable exceptions, all the books of the Bible were written by Hebrews, operating from a Hebraic mindset, but subsequent Christian thought has largely followed a Greek mold, and that, if we are to understand the Scriptures, we should understand them as seen by the mindset in which they appeared. He then delved into one area where there is a discrepancy between a Hebraic and a Hellenistic mindset.

In the beginning of the explanation, Heather drew a line down the center of a sheet of paper, and began to write words in pairs, one on either side of the line:

 

works faith
predestination choice
sovereignty free will
truth love
law grace
thought emotion
rhythm rhyme
line color
power meekness
words music
logic intuition
left brain right brain
man woman

Heather then asked me to imagine that I did not know about law and grace, and how they fit together, but only that God was righteous and cannot abide sin, that each transgression demands judgment, and at the same time that God is merciful, and desires to save men. Responses to such a situation show a divergence between the Hebraic and Hellenistic mind, especially in cases where a neat resolution is not known.

The Hebraic mind does not understand everything and does not expect to understand everything, but has a trust and room for paradox that enable them to believe both in God’s justice and mercy without having a knowledge of how they fit together. The Hellenistic mindset does not understand everything either, but it expects that it should. As such, and holding both the usual strengths (keenness of analysis) and the unnecessary but usual weaknesses (limiting oneself to it) of logic, it tries to create rational systems accounting for as much of the data as can be cut to fit into a consistent logical system. It is probably due to this phenomenon that people who forget the explanation/principle where perfect law meets perfect grace feel the need to cut one down to make room for the other: legalists cut down mercy to preserve their unyielding law, libertines cut down justice in order to prevent anything from bumping into their cruel mercy, and both sides become more aggravated and more extreme by trying to run away from the excesses of the other side.

This much happens with a paradox to which a logical reconciliation has been revealed in Scripture. It is not much better with Calvinism and Arminianism — both of which live in a mental system that takes certain passages, magnifying them and declaring them to be fundamental, and then play awfully fast and loose with inconvenient others. The same God who inspired one set of verses inspired the others; where the Hellenist needs to have an interpretation cut down enough to fit inside his head, the Hebraist can believe the whole without being able to know how it all works out. Although Josh didn’t mention it, there is something here reminiscent of a G.K. Chesterton quote, about how a poet merely wants to get his head into the Heavens, but a logician wants to get the Heavens into his head, and it is his head that splits.

I remember one time when I was talking with another friend (a graduate student in philosophy) and I made a fairly simple argument from Scripture, and he gave an it’s not that simple, saying that what I was saying was true under the thought-forms that clothed the message of the Bible in its original cultural context, but was not necessarily true if one took the intellectually responsible step of translating the Bible, not only from original to contemporary languages, but from original to contemporary languages. (This argument contains a real and significant kernel of (distorted) truth, but it springs from the same poisoned well as the perspective that dismisses Biblical arguments for traditional gender roles by saying that the Bible was written in a patriarchal culture. Beyond saying that, I do not wish to analyze either argument here.) The reason I mention this is to say that the language of the Bible is in a sense an outer husk that need not be a focus of attention, but the mindset, the mentality, is considerably less husk-like. The mentality is at times part of the core of what is communicated.

My initial reactions (and here is where I will begin to depart from Josh and Heather), apart from a mild-mannered acceptance (I reacted less than most people because it is an embodiment of something that I breathe — what I have to offer here are refinements, not correctives to something massively flawed), were to think of two things. One was to say that the list was a cultural artifact, meaning that it is a way of codifying truth that can be helpful to most people, but also that it is not an attribute of reality and not something that I happen to describe to — much like the list of seven deadly sins I spoke of above. That observation is trivial. The other one, though, is not, and it is one I would like to develop.

I began to articulate an alternative, in its beginning form, by talking about a chapter in Jeremiah or Ezekiel (Josh’s favorites, it turns out) in which the Lord tells Israel, “I did not pick you because you were worthy, because you were mighty or attractive. When I found you, you were a babe rolling in salt and blood…” and then narrates how he raised her to a woman of beauty and grace before she became unfaithful to him. Robert Heinlein, in cult classic Stranger in a Strange Land, tells the story of “a Martian named Smith”: a man raised by Martians, inculturated into Martian culture and then transported to earth. It is culture shock writ large, the story of an alien culture coming into contact with, coming into, human culture. That provides a helpful perspective for looking at the Bible and especially the Gospel accounts — in both, there is material that is stunningly countercultural to a reader who understands certain details of cultural context (e.g. how Jesus broke social norms in every recorded encounter with women). If Hebraic culture is a holy culture, it is so not because it (or any human culture) is worthy to be so, but because of uniquely prolonged and deep context with the divine forces. It is like a pet in a human house, tame out of a world of feral kin — its suitability to be with children stems from human contact, not because a feline is intrinsically more man-like than an opossum.

I coined the term ‘metaculture’ (partially explored in The Metacultural Gospel) out of seeing a similarity of phenomenon between third culture kids and people who are astronomically intelligent. Both of them are to some extent capable of entering into a culture, including whichever one they’ve grown up in, but cannot breathe it in the un-self-conscious way of the monocultural majority. One biological principle is that a creature which is particularly adapted to one specific environment will be poorly suited to others; a metacultural is not especially suited to any one environment, but has a certain flexibility. (There are other qualitative differences which escape me at the moment.) I have thought here about whether to use that term or make another (one denoting a kind of metaculture, the kind hinted at in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”), and I will stick with metaculture.

A metacultural isn’t exactly in any one culture; he’s in something else, and incidentally in a culture. That, I believe, provides a substantial alternative/refinement to the Hebraic mindset: the step after being in the Hebraic mindset is being in God, and being shaped by the same forces that shaped Hebraic culture. The solution to being in a darkened cavern is not to move into a cavern that someone has brought a light of, but to climb out of the cavern into the sunlight.

I spent some time thinking, because the metacultural mindset as I originally formulated it seemed accessible only to a minority, not a catholic possibility and therefore not a full solution. I think that the italicized wording, indicates a sense in which the metacultural mindset may be catholic.

That, and in particular the italicized phrase, is a mishnah that requires a Talmud, probably a Talmud with parts that vary from host culture to host culture. I believe it is, in core form, an insight that refines Josh’s, perhaps worth further exploration (although I have no further thoughts on it now).


An “It’s not that simple.” is when person A says something basic, and person B says, “It’s not that simple.” What that means, invariably in my experience, is “It really is that simple, in a direct and obvious sense, but person B has found an elaborate way to convince himself otherwise, probably (cognitive dissonance) because there is some advantage or cherished position that is threatened by an acknowledgment of straightforward observation.”


There is an insight I had when reading Em Griffin’s A First Look at Communication Theory and what it says about persuasion. The text describes the mechanics of persuasion, with an intended development of more effective influence in persuading others. Those basic mechanical principles can also be used to affect how one is influenced by others — to be more easily persuaded when one should be persuaded and less easily persuaded when one shouldn’t be persuaded.

Knowing the communication principles behind, i.e. people losing their faith at school, could be a step towards preparation. Knowledge of psychological principles does not nullify them, but it does give people a greater degree of control in how they act.

C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man talks about an outward direction/inward direction distinction. It’s easy (and sometimes appropriate) to desire outward influence in persuasion. It also strikes me as desirable to have inward influence with regards to persuasion.


In Matthew 10:30, Jesus says, “As for you, every hair on your head has been counted.” This is something that someone in love does.

11/13/00

Last night, a friend and I spent a long time trying to use the GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) to perform a simple task (swapping colors in a two-color submit button). I came away from the frustrating experience with a new appreciation for what Unix’s arcane interface is like to a newcomer.


Technical support people (and sometimes other hackers) have an acronym PEBKAC, short for Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair. From the jargon file:

PEBKAC /peb’kak/

[Abbrev., “Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair”] Used by support people, particularly at call centers and help desks. Not used with the public. Denotes pilot error as the cause of the crash, especially stupid errors that even a luser could figure out. Very derogatory. Usage: “Did you ever figure out why that guy couldn’t print?” “Yeah, he kept cancelling the operation before it could finish. PEBKAC.”

With a great many apparently technical problems, the problem exists between the keyboard and chair. The question I was thinking about is, which keyboard and chair?

On Mac and Windows computers, and to some extent on the web, an alert box will pop up with some snippet of text and a button. The messages that pop up are often not very important — something like the warning labels attached to many products — and, as such, alert boxes carry a nonverbal message of “I am interrupting your work because I have something to tell you, probably not very important, and you can’t use your computer until you click my button. Once you have clicked on this button, you can go about your business.” When there are a great many alert boxes like this, it is not a stupid thing at all to habitually click the button when the alert box appears… except that, on a small minority of such boxes, the habitual response cancels your print job. The problem with this system exists between keyboard and chair, but not the user’s keyboard. The problem with this system exists between the designer’s keyboard and chair. A great deal of stupid user errors are not stupid user errors at all, but the results of bad interface design by software developers who did not design with human-computer interaction factors in mind.

That’s the thing about people who think they hate computers. What they really hate is lousy programmers.

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle in Oath of Fealty

PEBKAC.


I’ve thought of a hacker’s game. Here’s the core idea: Alice writes a program. Bob modifies the program in such a way that he can tell the difference between them. Alice wins if she can discern which is which. Bob wins if Alice can’t tell, but he can tell. The round is a draw if they both can’t tell.

This basic idea is in need of refinement and rules for both parties, roughly speaking in order that there are no obvious and cheap ways for either side to win. (Neither of them should be able to perform direct tests on the compiled programs, for instance, and things like “Click on the upper lefthand pixel of the applet window, and then hold shift and click on the bottom righthand pixel, and a smilie face will appear” aren’t the kind of cleverness that is desired.”) If such rules are formed, it will take a community’s work over time. But I think this could be a good programmer’s game.


I was saddened to learn of the demise of Canada’s Rhinoceros Party, a satirical political party with platforms like “Coast from coast to coast!” (after your car has been raised to the top of a giant, Canada-wide ramp), “My platform is the one I’m standing on,” and “Legalize pot. And pans. And spatulas. And other kitchen utensils.” It’s defunct as of the last two elections, and learning of its demise (when doing a web search, because I wanted to show Rhinoceros Party information to some of my coworkers) was saddening, like a child’s finding that all the fairies were dead — a learning that a shining part of the world has gone out.

The U.S. still has Dave Barry and his year 2000 presidential campaign (I’m taking an educated guess, as I’m waiting to hear the results of the Florida recount in the U.S. 2000 Presidential Elections, that the final difference between Bush and Gore will be less than the number of votes Dave Barry received), but that was saddening news.


There is an image I’ve had (partly from my own experience, partly from other sources) of someone very bright who is off in his own little world, and when he talks with other people, he tries to answer as faithfully to his own world as he can, and people just don’t get it. What I realized in my Gospel reading a few days ago is that this happened with Jesus. He spoke from his world, and people tried to interpret his words as what they would have meant from their world, and there was a glaring absence of connection. Examples of this are threaded throughout John’s mystical gospel account in particular; one conspicuous example is where Jesus is on trial before Pilate and they are talking about whether Jesus is a king. Jesus is trying to bring Pilate up to his plane, and Pilate is equally trying to understand Jesus’s words without leaving his own plane, and there is conflict.

Seeing this in the Gospel accounts, and having things click, gave me a feeling of being in good company.

11/14/00

Make-believe is a kind of illusion that implicitly depends on being recognized as illusion. I was thinking about this basic phenomenon in some matters related to my Halloween costume this year. My fun was spoiled when I realized that at least one of the children had literally believed I was Blajeny, that the illusion of my costume had not been recognized as illusion.

11/16/00

A while ago, I was having a conversation with Robin (techie) and another friend (Bob, non-techie). We were talking about making custom modifications to software, and I mentioned that a few decades ago, it was common to have computers with their own instruction sets. Robin immediately saw the point I was trying to make; to translate for Bob, I said that for each computer to have its own instruction set would be like each book having its own alphabet.

In places where we’ve gotten used to standards, breathing them is second nature. There are rare exceptions where it is desirable to break good standards — off the top of my head, I can think of the beautiful Elvish script in J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy — but, in certain areas, standards can be quite helpful. The computer industry is moving towards increasing standardization at higher levels of abstraction — and this is a good thing. Dealing with a locally suboptimal standard solution twenty times involves, among other things, significantly less cognitive strain than dealing with twenty locally optimal nonstandard solutions.

Where I see this argument as applying (technical areas, and human cognitive strain), this is not a death penalty on nonstandard approaches — many of the best technical ideas have been highly nonstandard approaches. I do believe, however, that things should be done in a standard manner unless there is good reason to do otherwise. For something meant for humans, doing something nonstandard means potential confusion and a probable learning curve.

Web pages that are not designed with a first-time visitor in mind are a prime example of material that breaks this principle.

12/2/00

I have been occupied recently, and have several ideas jotted down, but not taken the time to write them down. I wrote a letter and received an invitation to join a very high-intelligence mailing list; I spent a good deal of the past week worrying about whether I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Today, I felt that still, small voice saying, “Get back to writing your musings.”

The musing I’ve been carrying around for a while, has to do with the monoglot and the polyglot (the person who speaks only one language versus the one who speaks several). I debated whether it was worth writing down, and decided for a while that it wasn’t worth writing until I came across something in George Steiner’s Errata. He mentioned the distinction, talked about his own polyglot background, and then poetically and emphatically argued that polyglot is the condition to be in — at one point, he said that the monoglot does not know even his own language.

That bothered me; to explain what bothered me, I would like to bring two brief images to mind: an American who is devoted to his country and holds the kind of patriotism Lewis extolls towards the beginning of The Four Loves, and the American who is devoted to his country and considers the natives of other countries to be unfortunate second-class world citizens. The first is laudable (and compatible with respect for the patriotism of other nations); the second is not. It is the second condition which parallels Stiener’s exaltation of the polyglot condition and (unnecessary) denigration of the monoglot condition.

To explain where I stand on this question, I would like to begin with a lunchtime conversation with my best friend (Robin), and an old friend of his (Morris). I surprised Robin by saying that I preferred to read texts in English translation when I had the option — preferably a free translation — rather than reading them in a non-English original.

It’s not that I’m afraid of learning another language. There have been times when I found thinking in French to be easier than thinking in English, and there has been a span of several years where my French sounded closer in relation to a typical native French speaker than my English sounded in relation to a typical native English speaker. If one counts mathematical and computer languages, I’ve worked with more languages than the number of years I’ve been alive, and this will probably remain true for the rest of my life. I’ve had the experience of not recognizing which language a text was written in, but still being able to read it. I’ve lost count of how many languages I’ve dreamed in, and I occasionally have dreams where my mind makes up a new language on the fly.

Why, then, would I prefer to read texts in English? In a single word, comprehension. I came to realize at one point that my knowledge of French at its best has been a rough equivalent to a native proficiency, but that I will never speak another language as well as I speak English, not if I am immersed in it for the rest of my life. The proficiency I have in English is something beyond what is normally meant by ‘native’. There is an additional cognitive strain — so I am spending energy trying to interpret the text (in the direct and mundane sense) rather than on interacting with its meaning (in a deeper sense). I’ll understand a good free translation a lot better.

More broadly, proficiency in multiple languages takes mental energy that could be used to other purposes. There are people that can afford that expenditure of mental energy, and there are definite benefits to knowing two or more languages — the ability to compare (“The better you know another world, the better you know your own.” — George Macdonald, Lilith), the ability to communicate with more people, the improved ability to pick up other languages. For all that, there is a consolidated energy that comes of having spent your efforts on learning one language and learning it well — and there are a great many people in the world who do not have the excess mental energy to have spare room to learn extra languages.


Bloom, in the introduction to his translation of Plato’s Republic, argued for making strictly literal translations. The essential argument is that the translator, however great a scholar he may be, must have the humility to realize that the student who reads his text may be a greater mind, capable of deeper understanding. As such, the translator should provide the student with what the words say, rather than confining the student to his interpretation. He proceeded to give several quotations from free translations of the Republic which, in trying to make the text accessible to a contemporary reader, succeeded in producing something accessible, albeit inappropriate as renderings of the text. I forget exactly what they were, but they would be comparable to portraying Martin Luther’s crisis of faith as a postmodern midlife identity crisis.

I do not believe that choosing between literal and free translations is a choice between a flawed and a near perfect rendering model; a student who wants to really understand a text (which is written in a language he cannot read well) should probably peruse several translations, varying in how literally/freely they render the text. And, if I want to know a short text or excerpt well, my rendering of choice will be a heavily footnoted literal translation.

For large-scale reading — for the kind of reading comprehension that can be sustained for numerous pages — there is a different phenomenon. The danger in free translation is that it can confine the reader to the translator’s interpretation. The danger in literal translation is that it can confine the reader to not understanding the text at all. A woodenly literal text, one that’s read for dozens or hundreds of pages, brings a cognitive strain and consumes energy that could be used in thinking about the text. And, for that reason, if I can only choose a single translation, I’ll take my chances with a free translation.


I read a book recently called Please Understand Me. It was a valuable resource to read, but it’s something I’d prefer to give to others with a complimentary grain of salt.

It’s about different personality and temperament types, and one of the central theses is that people have fundamentally different natures, but engage on a Pygmalion project to reshape others into copies of themselves. It is written in such a way that a reader who is persuaded of the legitimate point (that temperaments are not right or wrong, just different, and it is inappropriate to try to change a person to a temperament that he’s not) will (in a similar fashion to the Green Book in C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man) come to the unjustified and illegitimate conclusion that there is not right or wrong in much of anything, and that it is wrong to try to change a person on any score. It never draws this conclusion in so many words, but a transposition of key takes what Lewis said about the Green Book and fits it (quite well) to Please Understand Me.

The book is worth reading, if you can resist the conclusion that the flow of the text pulls you towards.

12/16/00

There is a distinction I have periodically been thinking about: it is a conceptual distinction between a gentleman’s duel and an assassin’s duel.

Both represent a kind of contest between two people, but contests of two different sorts. Don Quixote refers to knightly duels in which both parties were meticulously careful to make all things equal: both swords the same length, both parties standing at equal angles to the sun so that neither one would have the sun in his eyes more than the other. This is an extreme form of the basic idea of the gentleman’s duel. At the other end, there are no rules and no concept of fairness; an assassin might accept another’s challenge, and then arrange to have him shot by archers. Wesley’s battle of wits with Vizzini in The Princess Bride represents the quintessential assassin’s duel.

The two frameworks for a contest, or a test, offer distinct conceptions of how a person’s ability may be measured. I have seen a number of gentleman’s duel IQ tests, for instance; I am not aware of any established tests that operate like assassins’ duels, and the ability to function effectively outside of external structure (the cliche is ‘think outside the box’) is one of the distinctive features of intelligence.


Catholics speak a great deal about the primacy of Peter among Christ’s disciples, but there is also a primacy to John. Peter had a unique place in the nurture of the church (“Feed my sheep,”), but it was John who was closest to Jesus, John the mystic, who had a stunningly brilliant mind and probably understood him best. In a technology corporation, Peter might be compared to the CEO, and John to the prize research scientist.


My apartment is a sparse place, slightly messy and having no television. It is not really decorated; an outer austerity conceals an active life of the mind.

People’s homes can give insight into those who dwell there. My apartment does not exude the same romantic warmth as many other places, but that is because my attention is elsewhere.


I have a different perspective on aging than what I have seen about me. It always makes me slightly sad when I hear my father saying, “We’re getting old,” not because it is false, but because he says it as a confession of weakness. I view aging as getting closer to Heaven, (as described in Hebrews) as approaching the finish line of a great race. My way of holding this belief has a dark side — I sometimes look on life as enduring time so as to be past it and into eternity — but I still think I am better off not to be approaching my thirtieth birthday as when I will become a has-been.


I wrote about two types of welder above. I realized a certain affinity between the apostle Paul and myself, especially as regarded the welder distinction. Paul, as an apostle, skipped from place to place and culture to culture, with a veritable rainbow of activities: planting churches and writing were just the beginning. He certainly travelled more than I have.

Seeing a sort of kindred spirit (even if separated by millenia), and in someone whom I greatly respect, was warming to me.


I have thought that the entrenched numerical scale of IQs are unfortunate. The numbers corresponding to a person’s weight are proportional; one person who weighs 200 pounds has as much body-stuff as two people who weigh 100 pounds each, or four children who weigh 50 pounds each. It is simply not true, in a corresponding sense, that one person with an IQ of 200 has exactly twice as much thinking-stuff as two people with IQs of 100 each. A programmer with an IQ of 150 is quite possibly capable of doing feats that could not be accomplished by any number of programmers with IQ 100. There are not just quantitative differences (for which an exponential scale might be preferable), but qualitative differences as well.

The other critique I have of the concept of IQ is that it equates (for children and adults) higher intelligence with functioning at a more advanced mental age. This is true, in a sense, and brilliant adults grow out of precocious children, but there is an important mental dimension that is well-developed in most children and atrophied in most adults: mental flexibility/openness/creativity/curiosity. Experiments have found gradeschool children to be more creative than professional engineers; it is a rare mind that can enter adulthood without losing childhood creativity. A child with a high IQ, one would hope, is not simply at a cognitive level normally associated with people a few years older; he may be capable of tasks most people cannot complete until a few years older, but he retains the mental flexibility associated with his chronological age — perhaps a younger age. “A more intelligent child mentally functions like an older person” is a good rough take on the matter, but the basic concept of “older [up to mental maturity] = better” has room for further nuance.


The mathematical model used of the four dimensions of the Meyers-Briggs Personality Indicator is one-dimensional: one is introverted to the extent that one is not extraverted. So being more introverted is always at the expense of being less extraverted, and being more extraverted is always at the expense of being more introverted. The structure of the personality test reflects this perspective: each question is a forced choice between two preferences, and each point that a person scores for one preference is a point he didn’t score for the opposite preference.

That seems to me to be acceptable as a rough model, but on further reflection, a two-dimensional variant seems preferable. So, instead of the following scale:

+—+—+—+—+—+—+—+—+—+—+
0  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10 Introversion
10 9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1  0 Extraversion

I would suggest something more like the following:

I 10 +
n 9  +  A                       B
t 8  +
r 7  +
o 6  +
v 5  +              C
e 4  +
r 3  +
s 2  +
i 1  +  D                       E
o 0  +—+—+—+—+—+—+—+—+—+—+
n    0  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10
     Extraversion

On this scale, most people would likely fall somewhere between A (introverted, not extraverted) and E (extraverted, not introverted), but it is also possible to be at D (neither introverted nor extraverted — but not what is meant by ‘X’, namely half-and-half — that is ‘C’), or ‘B’ (both introverted and extraverted, but again not half-and-half).

When I first took the Myers-Briggs, I had difficulty answering the thinking-feeling questions — because I embodied both of the qualities which the test portrays as opposites. I had equal difficulty answering the judging-perceiving questions — but for a different reason: I was not familiar with, and did not identify with, either modus operandi. On a two-dimensional scale such as I drew above, I would be around point B for thinking-feeling, and point D for judging-perceiving.


My office had a Secret Santa gift exchange, and I got one of my co-workers a boxed set of Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. I was warmed to find out that she’d been wanting to get that series for a couple of years.

Monarchy

Buy Mystical Theology on Amazon.

I wanted to give a meditation on the mystical theology of kings and monarchs.

As a starting point, I would point out that bishops rightly wear the regalia of the Byzantine Emperor, and the government of the Orthodox Church is monarchical: her bishops are monarchs. And I would like to make a few observations about my own bishop, for whom I am grateful: His Grace Bishop Peter of Cleveland and Ohio (ROCOR). He offers a point of departure for understanding monarchy.

His Grace Bishop Peter’s public bearing is quite regal, and he receives honor publicly. But privately he acts differently, and in quite the opposite way as a Hollywood celebrity who is sympathetic and modest in front of the camera and haughty in private. Quite the opposite, His Grace Bishop Peter is a monk, and like a good monk he tried to run away when he found out he was going to be made bishop. He sleeps in a chair, in a modest apartment. One gets the impression, not so much that he is a bishop, but that he is a monk fulfilling the obedience of serving as a bishop when he would rather live as a more ordinary monk—the kind of monk who may be the best kind of bishop!

All this is in accord with the Philokalia, which prescribes that monks who are in authority publicly act as their office requires, but privately not see themselves as any greater than anyone else. Perhaps some may covet the office of bishop because they see in it a chance to see themselves as greater. But that is something that cannot exist. In a certain sense Bishop Peter’s fine robes are meant for others to see and not him: I may admire how great he is, and be edified, but he may not do so, and it is spiritual poison if he does. There really is something great about being clergy, or bishop, or king, but that greatness should be invisible to the person in the office. It is a trustworthy saying, and worthy of all acceptation: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” Being a bishop or king is no exemption to this rule; if anything, it is a greater demand. Being in office does not make it legitimate to see yourself as better; it just makes this spiritual poison harder to avoid and a greater threat. I may admire how fine His Grace Peter looks in his vestments, and be spiritually nourished by it, but to him it would be poison: there exists no legitimate spiritual license for self-admiration, not even if you are a bishop or a king!

I have coveted the status of being a knight; when Google AdWords advertised “English titles of nobility”, I wish my eyes had not lingered. But this is folly. Wishing a title without responsibilities is like hoping to be married without a spouse. And I think that confusion is a sign of our times: perhaps people have always coveted honor, but if men covet honor when they are taught to be humble, what will they do when schools teach “self-esteem” and pastors encourage “Godly self-respect”? Now to enter a role of service, as servant leader, is another matter: ordination is not at its core about acquiring the honor of a title as entering a role of service (the whole “servant leadership”), and the title that is conferred is for the benefit of others; the honors conferred are a gift to those the candidate is to serve. To be clergy or monarch is privilege, but the privilege is for others, not for oneself. The question, “Is the king for the kingdom, or the kingdom for the king?” is rhetorical: the king is for the kingdom. The reason the Orthodox practice is to have bishops selected from among monks is not an indictment of marriage; St. Peter the Apostle, the Rock upon whom Christ built his Church, had a mother-in-law, and every bishop today is less than him. That monks are to be chaste is one part of a deeper reality: a monk is to be a whole burnt offering without remainder, and the reality in the Orthodox Church is that married men may be among the clergy, but its highest rank in particular is chosen from the monks who are peculiarly called to die to the world and be a whole burnt offering without remainder.

The Akathist to the Theotokos tells of the Magi, “The sons of the Chaldees saw in the hands of the Virgin Him Who with His Hand made man. And knowing him to be the Master, even though He had taken the form of a servant, they hastened to serve Him with gifts, and to cry to Her Who is blessed… Rejoice, Thou Who didst enlighten the initiates of the Trinity!” There is a a link here. The sons of the Chaldees came bearing gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Each of these gifts is an emblem: gold of royalty, frankincense of divinity, and myrrh of suffering or sacrifice. And in this trinity of gifts, you cannot rightly pick up one without picking up the others. Every Christian must bear his cross, and if you read the lives of the saints, those who are fragrant with Heaven’s incense are fragrant after a life with deep suffering: they are fragrant with myrrh as sacrifices. And if the question is, “What is a king?” one answer would be, “One whose spirit is gold, but gold that is of one substance with frankincense and myrrh.” It is confusion to want to be a king, but have gold without myrrh. Better to recognize that kingship, divinity, and suffering are of the same substance as they appear in the great hymn to humility:

Let this mind be in you,
Which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the form of God,
Thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation,
And took upon him the form of a servant,
And was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man,
He humbled himself,
And became obedient unto death,
Even the death of the cross.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him,
And given him a name which is above every name:
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
Of things in heaven,
And things in earth,
And things under the earth;
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
To the glory of God the Father.

Here is humility. Here are gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Mystical theology to live out

There is something we are missing if we understand monarchy only as a system of government. The Orthodox Church has words about how oil is used to anoint kings and priests, but these words are from when all the faithful are summoned to be anointed in Holy Week. The image we are made in is not only divine: it is royal. Myrrh is the emblem of sacrifice, of human approach to the divine; oil is the emblem of the divine approach to humans, and it is no mistake that anointing chrism is for all Christians: from ancient times Christ, which is to say the Anointed One, was understood to be anointed with the sacred oil that made prophet, priest, and king. And from ancient times the Church sees that anointing as given to Christians too. It is fashionable to claim a Facebook profile religious affiliation that over-modestly says, “Follower of Jesus”; I have wished it would be appropriate to answer with a stated affiliation of, “Alter christus: ‘follower of Jesus’ means ‘another Christ’!” But that could be over-forceful.

If we are kings, what are we kings of? One chief answer is that we are kings over our work. Whether we be working professionally, or homemaking, or learning how to grow up, or job hunting, or retired and volunteering, all of us are called to work and to work is to reign in the activity of the royal image. Secondly, we are called to rule over ourselves in ascesis. The “Sol Invictus” claim of “I am the master of my fate, I am the master of my soul” is an obscene parody; in quite a different way, in the ascesis of our lives, God summons us to serve as bishop and monarch over ourselves and our passions, conquering them and ultimately being God’s co-worker as they are transfigured. He who says “stewardship” says “royal reign”: if we are to be careful stewards of our time, treasure, and talent, we are to reign faithfully in these, and in other areas of life, in our relationships and in our solitude, we are to reign. And this is real reign.

When I was a graduate student in theology, I winced when people tried to pay me a compliment by saying that by my obscure sources and scholarly rigor I had a real, serious understanding of the Bible, and they merely had a lightweight, devotional understanding of the Bible. I respected the humble appreciation, but this was an entirely backwards understanding. The Bible in its real and dynamic form is used liturgically and devotionally; my difficult scholarly commentaries had a place but were something dead compared to the living devotional use of the Bible. “In humility consider others better than yourself” is spiritually sound, but I winced that people could say that my academic exercises were serious Bible study and their devotional reading was second-rate and fluffy. And in like fashion, monarchy is misunderstood if it means only that one person out of many exercises a political reign. It is a basic spiritual reality, and God summons all of us to be prophet, priest, and monarch.

A potent warning

I have written elsewhere:

Seekest thou a mighty deed,
Our broken world to straighten out?
Seek it not! Knowest thou not,
That the accursed axe ever wielded in the West,
To transform society, with a program to improve,
Is a wicked axe, ever damned,
And hath a subtle backswing, and most grievous?
Wittest thou not that to heal in such manner,
Is like to bearing the sword,
To smite a dead man to life therewith?
Know rather the time-honeyed words,
True and healthgiving when first spoken,
Beyond lifesaving in our own time:
Save thyself,
And ten thousand around thee shall be saved.

In our time and place, this warning is one well worth heeding. One poster I saw showed a picture of Hitler and said, “Politicians. The best argument for monarchy yet.” I find it awfully hard to say that we live under an optimal government. But it’s an impulse shared with a Western half-converter to organize a manifesto to restore monarchy. A manifesto is an axe to depose kings; it is a fundamental error to try to approach monarchy through political activism as promulgated by the West for when you really care and want to make a difference. The fundamental error is almost:

Category Mistake, n. An assumption embodied in an inappropriate question, inquiring about an undefined attribute, such as, “Is yellow square or round?”, “Is the doctrine of the Trinity calm or excited?”, or “What was the point of that speech?”

To those who are convinced that kingship is ordained by God, I would recall Christ’s sharp question: “Which is greater, the gold of the temple, or the temple which makes that gold sacred?” The gold of earthly kingdoms may be sacred as liberal inventions are not. But the temple of the Kingdom of Heaven is greater, and that is a Kingdom that is established in us. Perhaps it is best to have both the gold and the temple that makes the gold sacred, but that does not mean we should leave the temple so we can bring some gold to be made sacred in it. The Sermon on the Mount bids us, impels us, commands us, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.If there is to be a God-ordained restoration of monarchy, it will be one of “all these things” that “shall be added unto you.” It is a matter of “Save thyself, and ten thousand around thee will be saved.” If you leave this to be practical, you are picking up an axe that cannot but lay waste when its backswing hits.

There may be said to be two archetypes, the saint and the activist. The saint lives to contemplate God; even if this means a life of Ascesis (as one monk described monastic life, “We fall and get up, fall and get up, fall and get up,”), and never reach contemplation in its pure sense, laity in the world live for contemplation. By contrast, the activist lives to change the world, and the activist impulse is like a hydra: cut it off once, and it resurfaces in two other places. But it is not lawful to Orthodox. Many Orthodox saints have changed the world, but this was only because their goal was the goal of contemplation. Orthodoxy has no saying, with the activist, of “Try to make a plan a reality, and you may save ten thousand people.” She only says, and can say, “Save yourself, and ten thousand around you will be saved:” Orthodoxy is not served by the activist, only by the saint.

And be advised that the wicked axe, ever damned, works just as well when people try to recover past glory as when people try to create something new. The Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, neo-Paganism, are but reincarnations of one single phenomenon: people trying to recover long past glory, break off continuities with the immediate past, and separate themselves in a schism further from the recent and ancient past alike. If you reconstruct monarchy, be ready for a backswing that will leave a society further, not closer, to the glory of human monarchy.

But there is another option. Save thyself, and God will change the game.

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Meat

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I was sitting at a table with my classmates, and there was one part of the conversation in particular that stuck in my mind. One of my classmates was a vegan, and my professor, who was Orthodox but usually was not as strict as some people are observing Orthodox fasts, said that he was challenged by that position. He talked about Orthodox monasticism, which usually avoids meat, and its implication that meat is not necessary. I wanted to contribute to that discussion, but my sense was that that wasn’t quite the time to speak. When I explored it after that meal, it seemed more and more to be something that was part of a deep web, connected to other things.

What is Theophany? And what does it have to do with meat?

When I became Orthodox, one of the biggest pieces of advice the priest who received me (my spiritual father) gave me was to take five or ten years to connect with the liturgical rhythm. Now in the Orthodox Church advice from spiritual fathers is like a doctor’s prescription in that what is given to one person may not be good at all for another: like a prescription given by a doctor, it is given to one person for that specific person’s needs, and should not normally be seen as universal advice that should be good for everyone. However, that doesn’t mean that advice is perversely designed to be useless to everyone else. I believe this was good pastoral advice not because of something ultimately idiosyncratic about me—something true of me but no one else—but because of something I share with a lot of other people, especially other Westerners.

In the Orthodox Church, there are days, weeks, and years as in the West, but what they mean is different. In some respects the similarity is deceptive. The biggest difference is less a matter of linear vs. cyclical time, as that in the West time is like money: people will say, “Time is money,” and if it is a metaphor, it is none the less a metaphor that captures people’s outlook very well. Time is like a scarce commodity; it’s something you use to get things done, and you can not have enough, and run out of time. Language of “saving time” like one would save resources is because the way people treat time is very close to how one would treat a commercial resource that you use to get things done. This may be deeply rooted in some Orthodox, especially Western members of the Orthodox, but instead of time being like a limited supply of money, time is like a kaleidoscope turning. There are different colors—different basic qualities held in place by worship, prayer at home, fasting from certain foods, feasting, commemorating different saints and Biblical events, and being mindful of different liturgical seasons—and they combine in cycles of day, week, and year, given different shades as people grow. Again, this is much less like “Time is money.” than “Time is the flow of colors in a kaleidoscope.”

One of those seasons is called “Theophany,” and it is defined by the third most important feast in the year. I am writing in that season, and it seems an appropriate enough season to write this piece. It fits Theophany.

“Theophany” means “the manifestation of God.” That word does not refer to icons or animals. But the way that God was manifest in Theophany has every relevance to icons and animals.

Theophany is the celebration of the Lord Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan, and at one point this was not celebrated from what we now celebrate in Christmas. At that baptism, the Father spoke from Heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” the Son was baptized, and the Spirit appeared in the form of a dove. The Trinity was made manifest, but more to the point, the Trinity of God was made manifest to and through material Creation.

The Fathers have never drawn a very sharp line between Christ the Savior of men and Christ the Savior of the whole creation. This isn’t something the Fathers added to the Bible: the Son of God has entered into his creation so completely that the Bible itself says that Christ is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”

When Christ was baptized in water, he blessed the whole creation. Yes, he set a precedent for his followers. I wouldn’t want to diminish that. But if you draw the line and say the story is relevant to our being baptized but nothing more, you have cut off its fundamental relevance to the whole Creation. The Orthodox liturgy never forgets the rest of the created order, and the liturgy for Theophany crystallizes this in the service for the blessing of the water:

Great art thou, O Lord, and wonderful are thy works, and no word doeth justice to the praise of thy wonders; for by thy will thou didst bring out all things from nonexistence into existence; and by thy might thou dost control creation, and by thy providence thou dost govern the world. Thou it is who didst organize creation from the four elements, and crowned the cycle of the year with four seasons. Before thee tremble supersensual powers; thee the sun praiseth, the moon worshippeth, the stars submit to thee, the light obeyeth, the tempests tremble, the springs worship thee. Thou didst spread out the heaven like a tent; thou didst establish the earth on the waters. Thou didst surround the sea with sand. Thou didst pour out the air for breathing. Thee do the angelic hosts serve; thee the ranks of the archangels do worship, the many-eyed cherubim, the six-winged seraphim, as they stand in thy presence and fly about thee, hiding with fear from thine unapproachable glory…

And shortly the water is blessed, opening a season of blessing in which people’s houses are blessed, icons are blessed, people are blessed, and so on. To be human is to be created for worship, but it is not only humans; every material creature and every spiritual creature (the “supersensual powers”, the “many-eyed cherubim”, and other figures in the liturgy quoted above) are not only created to worship but have a place in what could be called a united organism.

People today are seeking a harmony between man and nature, and some people may wonder if Orthodoxy has a basis for such a harmony. The answer is a yes and no. Let me explain.

If we ask a different question, “What would harmony between humans and technology be? What would a society look like?” then there might be an image of people caring for machines, adapting themselves to them, and so on and so forth. And that image, or that projection, would lead to a deceptive image among societies today. If we are talking about the kind of technology in the first world today, then the first world today not only is better attuned with technology than the second or third world, but has done something with technology that is simply without parallel in the first 99.999% (literally) of the time humans have been around. Although some other nations like Japan may have a slight edge over my native USA, I’m going to focus on the USA for the simple reason that I know it better.

In the USA, which has something about technology that exceeds what has been done in the same vein in the first 99.999% of the time humans have been around, there are people who develop technology and are carefully attuned to it. And the culture is optimized to support technology in a way that I didn’t appreciate until I lived in the second world. You may be able to count on your fingers the number of societies that have ever managed, in the entire history and prehistory of the human race, to be more attuned to technology. And yet the society is not what one would imagine if one tried to imagine a society in harmony with technology.

This is a society with a minority current making Luddite arguments about why computers are bad (and to me the arguments have more weight than some might suspect). There are also people who have no academic axe to grind about the sociological effects of video games, but hate learning new programs. The predominant computer operating system is the most insecure operating system, the one that most exposes its users to viruses and worms—better operating systems are available, at very least from a security and privacy perspective, for free in some cases, but the industry standard is the one that leaves its users most vulnerable to malicious software. Furthermore, people do not hold technology as objects of reverence, or at least most people don’t. Not only is it not a big deal to dispose of no-longer-wanted technology, but “planned obsolescence” means that technology is made to be thrown away. When technology is broken, it will probably be replaced instead of being repaired. You can be very educated and know very little about technology. And the list goes on.

Now I ask: Is this attunement with technology? And the answer is “Yes,” but it is the kind of attunement seen in real society (perhaps more perfectly in Japan and other places), not what one would imagine as “harmony with technology.” The difference between the two is like the difference between romantic relationships—the kind you have with another flesh-and-blood human who has things that your imagination didn’t put there—and romantic fantasies. In fact people don’t think in terms of “harmony with technology;” to ask if American culture lives in harmony with technology is a question few Americans would ask.

Does Orthodoxy have a key to harmony with nature? Let me give one clue. No single technology—not SUVs, not environmentally incorrect inks, not styrofoam—dictates a heavy environmental footprint. Even if there were no soy inks, the printer in itself need not dictate environmental damage. What dictates environmental damage is waste. And Orthodoxy never tells a society what technologies it may and may not use—when someone ran an anti-SUV advertisement asking, “What would Jesus drive?” Orthodoxy may well agree with the archaeologist who in essence said, “Speaking as someone who’s done excavations in the Holy Land’s rugged terrain, you basically need an SUV, and Jesus with his twelve disciples would have driven a Hummer.” (This does not mean that we all need Hummers. I get rides from people but don’t own a car myself.) Even if Orthodoxy does not give a list of what technologies its people can’t use, Orthodoxy does join voices with many other Christians in saying that part of the walk of virtue is living simply, meaning using what you need but being willing to ask “Do we need what we can afford?” instead of just “Can we afford what we need?” This simplicity is not lived consistently in the first world, but the classical virtue of living simply, formulated at a time when people simply were not thinking in environmentalist terms, has implications for appropriate stewardship of the earth. Living simply has usually been conceived as something that deals with rich and poor—almost all people in the first world who have a home would be considered rich—but it is part of a right ordering that will rightly orient people and society to the material world.

But there is another side to the issue. In the Western way of looking at it, there is a fundamental opposition between harmony (shaded by equality) and domination (shaded by inequality). Harmony, by definition, does not include domination. But the way the Eastern Church approaches it fits neither into the Western boundaries of harmony nor the Western boundaries of domination. The link between man and nature needs harmony, but it is incomplete if it cannot include domination and even destruction. The PETA position, admittedly extreme for people who have animal rights sympathies, is that a duck is a rat is a goat is a boy. To them, meat is murder, not just as a way of exaggerating something deep, but in a literal sense. And I cannot agree with that. If I could kill a goat and save a girl, I would do so. And beyond that, I eat meat, more than most people (at least before low-carb diets came in vogue, and perhaps after).

The smock

When I was a boy, my art teacher told the class to get smocks, and my father gave me an unwanted shirt—but he would have given me his best shirt if I needed it. I used it and it kept me from getting clay and paint on my other clothing. (In other words, I destroyed it.) That wasn’t the only thing of my parents’ that I destroyed. I destroyed the meals my mother cooked for me (usually by eating them and throwing away as little as possible—you wouldn’t want them when I was done). I destroyed things that weren’t working by taking them apart to see what was inside. I destroyed clothing that my mother brought for me, usually by wearing it out. If my parents had back every penny they spent on something that I destroyed, they would have a good deal more money.

However, my parents did not raise me to be a destructive man. The smock is an example of justified destruction. The fact that my father gave me one of his shirts to destroy as a smock does not mean that it didn’t matter if I destroyed his shirts. He would have been quite bothered if I had rubbed red clay onto all of his shirts. Quite a lot of the destruction I did was appropriate. It was justified destruction within a context, and I believe it illustrates what it means to say both that destruction can be permissible, and that destruction matters. To speak of justified destruction is both to say that destruction can be justified and that justification needs to be justified: it is acceptable to destroy a dress shirt when a smock is needed, but destroying a dress shirt needs to be justified, and is not appropriate when it is not justified.

The concept of “raw materials” applied to the natural world isn’t a very Orthodox concept, for much the same reason that it would seem strange to interpret our house as merely a bunch of raw materials for me to destroy at will. The examples above notwithstanding, my parents did not want me to be destructive, and the fact that I was permitted to destroy things was not the central truth of the matter. It would be much closer to the truth to say that I was in that home to grow into a Christian and a man, and be a member of that family. There was also a footnote that said I could destroy some things in some circumstances. But even the things which I was permitted to destroy were not “raw material”. A shirt has value in itself, as a shirt, even if it is used as a smock.

The problem with considering the items in my parents’ house is raw material is that they have both status and value independently of what I might get out of destroying them. It might matter that I would benefit from destroying the shirt by using it as a smock, but the heart of the matter is that “potential for making a smock” is neither the only status nor the only value of a dress shirt.

An icon, a picture painted to help make spiritual realities manifest, has value as the emblem of a view of the Creation where science and materialism do not tell the whole story, where matter has spiritual qualities above the legitimate observation of scientists, and where saying “Nature is simply what science describes” is as fundamentally erroneous as saying “Your value as a human being is simply what you get when you subtract your financial liabilities from your assets.” If an icon is spiritual, if it is part of God manifesting himself through matter and restoring matter to his circle of blessing, then there is something inadequate if the only meaning to “matter” is “what science describes.” Matter is a part of the treasurehouse of God, and the icon is spiritual not as an exception to inert matter and raw material, but as the crystallization of something at the heart of Creation. Seeing the natural world as raw material is almost as strange from an Orthodox perspective as seeing people in terms of their financial net worth. It’s the same kind of error.

Of the possessions in my parents’ house, not are equal, and it makes a difference whether I am destroying a plastic cup or a landscape painted by my mother. In God’s own house with his treasures, not all are of equal value. There are some of these treasures that exist, in their way reflecting a God who is existence itself: rocks, for instance. There are some possessions which exist in a deeper sense, having an existence that is alive, a reflection of a God who is not only Being itself but Life itself. Then, beyond these oaks and roses, there are treasures which exist and even live in a way that moves: gazelles and badgers. As the pinnacle of material creation and the microcosm that brings together the material and the spiritual, are creatures that exist, live, and move in out of rationality—on a richer and more interesting understanding of “rationality” than most people would associate with the word today. That would be the realm of men. Lastly, there are bodiless rational spirits. rank on rank of angels.

We can destroy treasures that exist, live, and even move, and some people think that in dire circumstances we may destroy the highest of material treasures, the ones that are rational. But that does not mean that it’s all the same to destroy rocks, plants, and animals. Destroying a plant—to make a vegan’s meal, for instance—is more serious than smashing a pebble. (Unfortunately, you can’t live off of a diet of rocks.) Destroying an animal is far more serious, and there are sources which suggest it is more a concession than what we would think of today as a right. You can find people arguing that meat is more of a condition to weakness and medical concerns than something healthy people should need to resort to.

Kosher meat

In Judaism, “kosher” is not only a matter of whether the meat comes from a clean animal like a cow or a sheep or an unclean animal like a pig. It also is a matter of how the animal was slaughtered.

The butcher says a blessing over the animal and then makes a single motion with a knife that has to be sharp, and is specified so that the animal dies as swiftly and painlessly as possible. Its lifeblood is also to be poured out as thoroughly as possible—because the animal’s life belongs to God, not to us, and even if we may kill it, Judaism at least frames acceptable slaughter in a way that shows respect for the animal killed.

If we look at a Jewish shepherd with his flock of sheep, under second temple Judaism, and a contemporary (to him) pagan Greek swineherd with his flock of pigs, they (or at least the Jew) would have seen themselves as complete opposites, at least after taking into account that they both raise a group of animals. There may have been a difference in whether all the animals were being raised for meat, but let’s ignore that for the sake of argument. The Greek swineherd might have found the comparison rather insulting: to Greeks, Jews were these antisocial people who wouldn’t mingle in polite company and for some reason treated one of the most delicious meats (pork) as if it were something revolting and putrid. In other words, Greeks perceived Jews as rather a bit weird, a beer or two short of a six-pack. The Jew, however, would have certainly found the comparison insulting to the extreme: not only was this figure a goy, a heathen dog, but he was raising pigs. Saying that he was like a swineherd is offensive in much the same way it would be offensive to tell a UPS delivery driver who is proud of helping the business world and contributing a little to help the economy run smoothly, that that she is like a gang’s drug runner because they both deliver packages, whether the packages are productive business documents or street drugs. The Jew would have been more offended by the comparison, but for people who raise flocks of animals, the Jew and Greek would have seen themselves as very different.

But let’s compare them to how pigs are raised today, in today’s factory farming. Pigs spend almost their entire lives in tiny cells, with an hour of artificial light a day—the rest of the day being surrounded by darkness—constricted in cells too small for them to turn around, deprived of a herd animal’s normal contact with other animals from its herd, traumatized not only by sounds but by the unending stench of rotting feces. The workers who treat them come down with atrocious respiratory diseases—and they are exposed to the vile air for a few hours a day instead of 24/7 as the pigs are. I don’t believe that feeding animals antibiotics is innately wrong, but with pigs it serves as an inappropriate band-aid for the damage caused by a dungeon—if that is a strong enough word—which is such a toxic environment that feeding the animals constant antibiotics actually makes a marked difference in the number of pigs killed by the life in their dungeon.

If we compare the Jew and the Greek herd-keepers, suddenly they look the same, and some things take on a new significance. Both allowed their herds to graze at least some of the time. Both allowed their animals to have natural contact with other like animals as part of a herd. Both raised their animals in daylight. Both raise their animals in places that gave them not just room to turn around, but room to move about normally. And now I’d like to ask what the Jewish shepherd (at least) would have thought of the factory farming way of raising (in the example above) pigs. Or, if you prefer, a rabbi.

Do you know how when you step on a tack or stub your toe, you feel tremendous pain, immediately, but if you get in a car accident and really need to go to the emergency room, it takes a while for the pain to register? My suspicion is that kosher slaughter techniques leave an animal unconscious and possibly dead before the pain has had time to register. Even if it is not painless slaughter, the specific rules are motivated by a principle that reduces suffering in a timespan of only a few minutes. And non-kosher slaughter, unless people go out of their way to cause suffering, cannot come anywhere near the suffering which factory farming inflicts on pigs. For that matter, it’s not clear how one would go about creating a torment-filled slaughter technique that would come anywhere near the lifelong suffering animals experience in factory farming. My suspicion is that people who are criminally convicted of cruelty to animals (at least in the U.S.) cause nowhere near the suffering before the animal is dead that factory farms do. To the best of my knowledge, Orthodox Judaism has not made rules about how an animal must be treated for its entire life to provide kosher meat, but if the rules were being articulated today, I suspect that the rules would recognize that lifelong torment is more of a problem than failing to kill an animal quickly and with a minimum of pain (as well as pouring its blood out as a reverent recognition that the life of an animal belongs to the Lord).

Before further discussion about factory farming’s evil side, I would like to explain what it has allowed. Raising animals the traditional way is expensive, requiring a lot of land and a lot of manpower. Factory farming—stacking animal cells in warehouse-like fashion and in general treating animals like mere machines—is a way to automate and mechanize the production of both meat and animal products like eggs and cheese. It is a tremendous way to cut corners, and the result is that things that come from animals are drastically reduced in price, drastically cheaper.

It is difficult, at least in the first world, for people to understand that for most of history people have not been vegetarians but neither did they eat meat every day. There have been a few hunter tribes that had a meat-based diet. For most people whose food came from farms, bread or rice has been the staple food. Meat was for special occasions or a seasoning; eating meat every day would seem strange to most people, like ordering lobster every time you feel like a snack, or drinking Champagne with every meal. Meat, being an expensive thing to produce, was something people didn’t have as the basis for normal meals. If you are an American adult—and you have not made a conscious choice early in your life to drastically reduce or eliminate meat from your diet—then you have almost certainly eaten much more meat than Jesus did. This does not automatically mean that we shouldn’t eat meat ever, or that we should eat meat rarely, but it does suggest that eating meat every day is not really the traditional way of doing things, even if most people were not vegetarians. A lot of people today love lobster and Champagne, but that doesn’t mean it’s normal in my society to have them every day. It might be telling that the “Our Father” Jesus gave doesn’t say, “Give us today our daily meat,” but “Give us today our daily bread.” That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t eat meat, but it seems not to assume, as people sometimes do, that meat is the main food.

Three American rules

I’d like to point out something more about American culture. Where I was growing up, I heard that a restaurant, Dragon West, had been closed down for improper use of domestic animals. For those of you who don’t have X-ray goggles, “improper use of domestic animals” is an opaque bureaucratic euphemism for the fact that they were serving dogs as food. The reason the restaurant was shut down has to do with the fact that eating dogs is culturally offensive to much of American culture, and there is a reason for that.

There’s a rule in America that if you keep a particular type of animal as a pet, you don’t eat that kind of animal’s meat. The rule is not absolute, and part of it is that most kinds of pets (carnivorous cats, for instance) would make poor livestock, and most kinds of livestock (behemothic bovines, for instance) would be hard to keep in a suburban home. And the rule isn’t absolute. Aside from rabbits, people swallow goldfish, although they seem to do that precisely because it crosses a line. But once you acknowledge a jagged border, it’s not just true that we happen not to eat the most common pets; many Americans would find the idea of eating a dog or cat to be nauseating. And it’s deeply seated enough to close down a restaurant.

You can, at some restaurants I’ve been to, order fish head curry. That doesn’t get a place shut down, but it breaks another rule. More specifically, it breaks the rule that meat shouldn’t give obvious clues that it came from an animal. Fish, which look the least like people, can be sold with their heads on. But unless you go out of your way, chickens are sold without head and feathers, and red meat and pork (which are from non-human mammals) is sold with even fewer clues that it’s some of the flesh of a slaughtered animal. Not that a detective couldn’t figure it out, but meat is sold in a form that hides where it came from, and people buying or eating beef would probably be grossed out by having a cow’s severed head nearby. Surely some of this is for economic reasons, but Americans who eat meat tend not to want to be reminded where it came from.

Lastly, people can be disturbed by the idea of eating certain kinds of “gross” things, things that creep and crawl—eating a tarantula or scorpion would be disturbing. (Interestingly, this rule seems to have a clause that says, “except if it came from the sea,” so the tarantula’s watery cousin the crab is fair game, as is the scorpion’s cousin the lobster.) That observation aside, the animals used to evoke horror in movies are generally not used as food.

My point in this is not to say that we all have rules, or think that only Orthodox Jews and Muslims have dietary rules. Even if the last rule has a strange exception, these rules are not random.

A devout Muslim will not eat pork and a devout Hindu will not eat beef, but the reasons are opposite: to the Muslim, a pig is an abomination, while to the Hindu, the god Shiva’s steed is a cow, and it would be an affront to Shiva to kill his steed for food. So we have abstinence out of disrespect and our of respect.

In the last rule I gave, “Thou shalt not eat anything creepy,” is an abstinence out of disrespect: spiders and lizards are dirty things that aren’t clean enough to eat. But neither of the first two rules is like this. The rules against eating animals that could be used as pets, and meat that looks too much like it came from an animal, are not rules of disrespect but rules of “Don’t remind me that an animal was killed for this.” The average suburbanite would rather be fed by meat from a kind of animal he has never interacted with closely—i.e. a cow—than think, “This came from a dog like the one I had growing up.”

This adds some complexity to the picture of “America is a place where people eat lots of meat and that’s that.” It suggests that, even if we eat lots of meat, there is something residual, a reticence that tries not to know that meat comes from slaughtered animals. (That is even without adding any knowledge of what it means for livestock to be raised under factory farming, which in my mind far outweighs the slaughter itself.)

Two things animal rights activists won’t tell you

Not all meat is created equal.

I had a bear of a time learning what specific conditions animals are raised under. Animal rights activists tend to want to treat animals as people, and only tell about what is inhumane, never what is humane, and so they will never tell you that beef cattle are raised under much nicer conditions than pigs. The people involved in factory farming seem not to advertise what they are doing. This makes not the easiest conditions to find out how much cruelty is associated with different things. (Or maybe I was just looking in the wrong places.)

What I was able to find—or the impression I was able to get—makes for a sort of ascending scale of cruelty, moving from least cruel (no more cruel than traditional animal husbandry) to most cruel. This scale isn’t perfect, but it’s the one I use.

Before we get on the scale, there is soy milk (which I’ve found to be available at grocery stores, and the chocolate is easiest to get used to), soy cream cheese, and so on. I still haven’t gotten the hang of liking tofu. I’ve found some other soy substitutes not to taste equivalent, but to taste good enough, and soy is claimed to have a complete protein signature.

At the base of the scale, the purest and most humane end, include ocean caught fish and seafood, and organic and free range anything. Organic food (which goes a little further than free range food—free range means that livestock can move about, free range, instead of being confined to coffinlike cells) can be found if you look for it at some supermarkets, and can be found at yuppie, granola music listening places like Whole Foods, which stacks exclusively organic produce, is pure as the driven snow, and has prompted a nickname of Whole Paycheck.

Next up the list are beef and mutton. Beef cattle do end up in fattening lots where they have little space, but they spend most of their lives growing up on open grazing land, able to move about, see sunlight, and be part of a herd.

Next up are eggs and dairy products. Because of the moral tenor of factory farming, animals can be treated cruelly even if they’re not exactly being raised for their meat, and if you order a cheeseburger, there’s more cruelty in the cheese than in the burger. Dairy cattle live much like pigs, although less of their lives (and therefore less cruelty) goes into producing a gallon of milk than a comparable amount of pork.

Last on the list are chicken, pork, turkey, and (the worst) veal. Many people know veal is cruel; pork and chicken are not much better. Chickens have a space roughly equal to a letter-sized paper folded in half, and farmers melt much of their beaks off (this is called “debeaking” by the farmers and the literature) because the living conditions cause so much fighting that the chickens would kill each other if they had their beaks and could peck like normal chickens would.

That is one of two things the animal rights crowd won’t tell you. There’s one other major thing I found that they don’t advertise.

In the Orthodox tradition, part of the story is fasting, which doesn’t mean abstaining from all foods and drinking only water, but usually means abstaining from some foods. The requirement on paper is to essentially go to a vegan diet (shellfish are allowed; oil and alcohol aren’t) and avoid most meat and animal products. This is more of a measuring stick than a requirement on paper, and some Orthodox bishops are concerned that new converts do not fast strictly. But, among people that observe fasting, most people go at least a notch or two closer than usual to a vegan diet. A little less than half the year has some fast or other, and the fast can be relaxed to some degree while still being observed. There are seasons of fasting, as well as days of the week.

What I realized in relation to fasting is that I hadn’t expected what fasting would really do. Giving up some of my favorite tastes was obvious, and I experienced that. But craving meat and not giving into that craving came up, and I don’t know that I consciously expected that, but it didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was consciousness, or more properly the effect it had on my consciousness.

Fasting quiets sinful habits and makes it easier to fight them. But at the same time, it drains energy and puts your mind in a fog. I have reason to believe that’s not the final effect, that your body responds differently over time, but fasting affects different people somewhat differently, and the effect on me is quite strong.

What I realized, that animal rights activists will not tell you, was that the main difference in giving up meat (temporarily or permanently) is not the taste; it’s not even really the craving, even if you fight a strong craving. It’s consciousness, and when one friend said he was going to cut meat mostly out of his diet as he married his mostly vegetarian fiancée, I strongly urged him to monitor his state of consciousness.

Why I’m glad I can’t eat Splenda

When I eat more than a little Splenda, it makes me sick—nothing life-threatening or anything like that; I don’t need a medical alert bracelet. But Splenda doesn’t agree with me. If I eat a little, nothing happens. If I eat a bit more than that, I feel mildly sick. If I eat a lot, not only will I feel sick but nature will call with a louder-than-usual voice.

It’s a shame, really. Every other artificial sweetener I’ve tried doesn’t taste right; it tastes like something that’s meant to taste like sugar, but fails. Splenda tastes like sugar’s cousin come in for substitute duty, instead of complete strangers dressed up to vaguely resemble sugar. And I’m not the only person who likes the taste.

Actually, I don’t think it’s a shame at all. Perhaps it has its downsides: I suddenly can’t eat most desserts, because at least where I buy desserts it’s hard to find a dessert sweetened with real, honest sugar. If you can’t eat Splenda, you can’t eat most desserts. And perhaps I will have to turn down more than a tiny serving of some hand-cooked desert made by the friend I am visiting. But there’s something to real, honest sugar, and it betrays something about Splenda.

A couple of friends in Kenya sent a newsletter trying to explain to the Western mind that people value a ring of oil as evidence of a stew’s richness, that bread lists its calories as how much energy it provides for hard work, and they underscored that the calorie is a unit of energy. This is a totally different attitude from in the U.S., when calories count as strikes against food.

It is also a healthier attitude, which underscores that food is eaten to nourish the body. Now God, in his generosity, has made it a pleasure as well, but we don’t need the pleasure, and we do need the nutrition (i.e. nourishment).

Splenda represents an effort to sever the link between eating and nourishment. It may be physically healthier to eat one ice cream bar sweetened with Splenda than with sugar, but it is not spiritually healthier, and there may be hidden consequences to the message, “I can eat and eat and not get fat.” Not only is that bad for the spirit, in that it causes you to fall short of the full stature of being human. If you think about it, it may end up being bad for the waistline.

Splenda is, in short, a very attractive invitation to become a moral eunuch.

In contrast to this, I remember a plaque with a picture of a pig, which said, “Eat to live. Don’t live to eat.” It is the same mindset as Richard Foster saying (I think quoting someone), “Hang the fashions. Buy only what you need.” Maybe he was talking about clothes, but it applies to foods too.

A private response

I try to eat animal products and meat, as much as are necessary for me be able to function. Unfortunately, I’ve found that I need a lot to function, partly for medical reasons. When I am receiving hospitality, I eat freely from what is offered to me; when I buy food, I buy a lot of beef, tuna, and chocolate soy milk. I try to get the minimum I need to function, and to take as much as I can from the lowest end of the cruelty scale. (I try. Sometimes I eat more than I need.) I also try to avoid wasting food and really try to avoid wasting meat—if it bothers me to see a pig raised in cruelty so I can eat a pork chop, it would be even worse for that pork chop to be thrown into the trash.

But there’s something wrong with that. I don’t mean that I chose the wrong private response to this dilemma. I think that as far as private responses go, it’s at least tolerable. Perhaps other people have chosen different responses, and maybe it could be better, but the problem is that it is a private response in the first place.

PETA, officially “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals” and labelled by some as “People Eating Tasty Animals,” tend to be the sort of people Rush Limbaugh would have lampooned when he wanted to give the impression that all liberals were crackpots. They made a gruesome TV commercial telling children to run from their fisherman fathers, apparently for much the same reason you’d run from a serial killer. They’ve probably done quite a lot that will prevent moderates and conservatives from taking animal welfare concerns seriously. But there is one area in which they are perfectly rational.

If, as they believe, meat is literally murder, and if, as they believe, imprisoning animals under lifelong conditions of misery is morally equivalent to imprisoning humans under lifelong conditions of misery, then it is entirely inappropriate to say “I’ll privately choose to be a vegan and you can privately eat your meat, and we can disagree without being disagreeable.” Whatever else they may have wrong, what they have right is that society’s default placement for the matter, of private decisions where people exercise their own private judgment on what if any dietary restrictions it may be. If they are completely wrong, and there is nothing wrong with veal, then maybe they have a private right to eat as if their erroneous beliefs are true, but if substantial parts of their claims are true, even the claims I have made, then there are real problems with the way American culture frames it.

I think I’m going to have to leave this approach “depracated without replacement”; I don’t see anything better that could believably replace it.

An animal lover

I’ve been told I’m good with animals. I certainly love pets, other peoples’ as well as my own: when I visit certain friends, I usually have a pet on my lap.

There was one point when a friend was moving into the area, and (for reasons I don’t understand) asked me to stay with her dog, who was afraid of men. (Even though there were women in the group of friends who had come to help her.) At the beginning, it was very clear that the dog was nervous about being at the other end of a leash from me. But after half an hour, the dog’s head was in my lap as I petted him, and when the group came, he was jumping up and down and wanted to meet the men as well as the women in the group. Part of what happened was because I knew how to approach slowly and let an animal get used to me, but part of it was probably something else.

That is probably the most exotic, or at least most impressive, story I can muster about my being good with animals. If I visit friends with pets, I usually ask to see the pets. And I believe my family’s warm atmosphere is part of why our cat is nineteen years old and still catches mice. This is not to say that we love our cat more than one friend, whose dog was hit by a car, or another friend, whose dog died of cancer. But it is to say that she might not have lived nearly so long if we merely gave her food and water, and that when she was attacked and was found curled up and not moving, she desparately needed a vet’s attention, but I’m not sure she would have pulled through if she didn’t have the love and prayers she received. (As it is, we are delighted that she pulled through and is back to being her old sweet self.)

When I left to study, I moved to an apartment where pets were not allowed—not dogs, not goldfish. (And even if they were allowed, I wouldn’t want to buy a pet that I wasn’t reasonably confident I could care for properly with vacations, moves, etc. I wouldn’t want to put a pet to sleep because it was no longer convenient to me.) So, I thought, I knew the perfect creative solution. I would buy a Furby—a furry stuffed animal that talks and moves, due to the technology inside. (In other words, a pet that wouldn’t make messes or upset the powers that be.)

So I tried to convince myself that I could enjoy it as a pet, and for a while I thought I was successful: the Furby spoke its own language, and I learned a few words, being fond of languages. It would respond to my commands at least some of the time. The perfect pet for my situation… and it took a while before I acknowledged that there was something creepy about it. It wasn’t creepy when it just stood there, looking like a stuffed animal and adding color to my room. But when it opened and closed its eyes, the technology seemed different from what I was expected. It almost seemed like the unnatural un-life of a vampire. I knew, of course, that it would run according to technology, and having done a master’s thesis about artificial intelligence running into a brick wall, I knew that it wouldn’t be truly intelligent. Yet I didn’t count on the creep effect. Now the Furby stands as a decoration in my room, one I like looking at. But it isn’t really to conserve battery power that I don’t activate it very often. I recognize it as an impressive technical achievement, but not as a pet.

There’s a spark of something that is there in a real animal that isn’t there in a robot dressed in a stuffed animal costume, and it was driven home to me when I tried to pretend that it didn’t make a difference. There is something special about existing, and there is something more special about living as a plant does, and something about the moving force that is an animal. Something that I can enjoy when I am with pets.

What is the point of this? Am I saying that being an animal lover is an obligation? No. I do not believe that the minimum acceptable requirement is being an animal lover. I don’t think there is any moral imperative to learn how to deal with animals or have the faintest desire for a pet. But I would say that it is part of the spectrum of things that are acceptable. Not everyone needs to be a big animal lover, but it is an appropriate exercise of freedom. Not everyone needs to be a wine afficionado, but it makes sense to savor subtle differences in flavor and aroma for good wines that doesn’t make sense with Mountain Dew. Slowly savoring a tiny taste of different years of Mouton Cadet rouge is not incongruous; slowly savoring a tiny taste of different years of Mountain Dew is absurd. It might me good for making a delightful lampoon of wine snobs, but Mountain Dew does not merit a treatment ordinarily reserved for wine. For the same reason, there is something that fits about luxuriating on a waterbed that does not fit about trying to luxuriate and savor a sleeping bag on a hard floor. There is no moral obligation to seek out a waterbed or even a bed, but there’s a difference between a waterbed and a floor. Similar things could be said about painting with oil paints versus trying to paint with SAE 10W-40 motor oil. There’s something there to animals that means that they make much better pets than shampoo bottles, so that being an animal lover is a fitting response whether or not it is a moral obligation. And that “something there” is present whether or not you are an animal lover.

There’s something there. The “something there” of animals undergirds the possibility of people enjoying pets as some of us do, a “something there” that is not human and is less than humanity, but is something more than almost anything else in nature. There is also “something more” than machinery, and while there are not ethical problems about cruelty in how we treat machinery, there is a dimension to a farm animal that isn’t there for economic assets in general. That means that there are ethical concerns surrounding meat and animal products even after some of us acknowledge that God has given us authority to slaughter his creatures.

Animal rights activists tend to think animal rights means treating animal rights as human. When people have treated me as human, they have given me a bedroom and made other rooms available. They have spent time with me, and made good food available—not raw unless there was good reason to serve it raw. They have given me Christmas presents and a million other signs of respect that animals do not merit. If I looked at things in terms of rights (I don’t), I would draw a much narrower and much more modest list of rights for animals: being part of a herd, moving about out doors, seeing sunlight during the day, and so on. Nothing about beds and cooked foods, but treated like an animal, which is much less than being treated as human, but it’s also different from being treated like a mere piece of machinery.

This leaves loose ends untied. I haven’t explained why the breeding that went into the breed of 96% of turkeys sold in America (which causes an ungodly amount of meat to grow on a skeleton and beast that really aren’t built to carry anywhere near that much weight—imagine the frame of a compact car supporting the bulk and weight of a full-fledged SUV) is cruel, and the breeding of housecats (which also introduces profound changes that some animal rights activists call out-and-out cruel) is appropriate stewardship with regard to God’s creation. And this article is dense enough without exploring all of those. Environmentally conscious readers may not be pleased to note that my ranking of cruelty encourages people to buy foods that have some of the worst environmental footprint—a pound of beef is said to require 4000 gallons of our scarce water. You can make meat with less impact on the environment if you are willing to cut corners, not only economically but morally. But I would argue that cruelty concerns are heavier than even environmental. And those are presumably not the only loose ends I’ve left. But there are a couple of points I would like to underscore.

First, thinking in terms of “raw material” is inappropriate. Destruction may be justified, but if so it is justified destruction of items that have something to them besides what economic use we might be able to find. The whole system of factory farming treats animals as mere economic assets who cannot suffer or whose suffering is not as important as making the most money. That causes terrible, usually lifelong suffering. Cruelty to animals matters.

Second, cause as much cruelty as you need to, but not more. Try to have the lightest footprint that doesn’t cause trouble to you—trouble meaning something more than “A cheese and bacon omelet would really hit the spot.” (In my case trouble meant difficulty concentrating on my studies, and since then I’ve learned what my body can handle.) Eat to live. Don’t live to eat. Remember that not all foods are created equal. Aside from soy, organic animal products and meat, and sea-caught fish and seafood are by far the least cruel; beef is more cruel than these, but less cruel than animal products like milk, cheese, and eggs; dairy and other animal products are less cruel than most meats, including turkey, pork, chicken, and especially veal. If you are eating meat because it tastes good and not because your body needs its nutrition and energy, that is unnecessary.

Third, caring about the living conditions of farm animals has been framed as a liberal thing. That may be because there’s a problem which arose, and liberals have been better at waking up to something conservatives should have been noticing. If you are dubious of my credentials as a conservative, I invite you to read Our Food from God, published in a Christian journal that argues long and hard against even the more moderate forms of feminism. It’s not just liberals who have a strong moral ground to criticize factory farming. It’s just that liberals have been quicker to wake up and say, “Houston, we have a problem.”

Seeing animals only as financial assets whose suffering is not important, instead of God’s treasures which may be judiciously destroyed but have value independent of their economic usefulness, is the same basic error as seeing a person in terms of financial worth. The error is more grievous in seeing a person in terms of money, but that same basic error—as opposed to keeping a light footprint and trying to keep to justified destruction—has caused terrible animal suffering. Consider ways in which you might limit suffering you cause, and consider emailing a friend a link to CJSH.name/meat/. And maybe visit the store locator for Whole Paycheck, er, Whole Foods.

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Game Master’s Introduction

Cover for The Minstrel's Song

Section I: Initial comments.

The game master should know and understand the material in the general player’s section, and in addition the material in the game master’s section.

The game master is the referee and the “everyone else”, the one who designs adventures and governs the pretend world play occurs in.

Section II: Designing play

There are several components which should shape play. A proper mixture and balance of these different elements, like a balanced diet, provides the most enjoyable passage of time.

Role play, personal interaction, acting — this is (especially) when characters talk and do things in a way that shows their personality. This is perhaps the most central part of play; it is at least the one which this genre of game is named after. This lies more with the players than with the game master in that it is something the players do; the game master’s role here is just to encourage and to provide opportunities conducive to good role play. (Ergo, a quest more robust than two riddles, a logic puzzle, three locked doors, and a maze leading to a chest of gold.)

Challenge, problem solving, puzzles — bring situations where players have to think. The key to keep in mind here is that it is not the game master versus the players, but rather the game master providing puzzles that are difficult but not insurmountable — puzzles which will yield to thought and effort. More information is provided in section III, puzzles.

Skill use — situations which bring into play the characters’ skills. Locks for a scout to pick. A wilderness trek for a woodsman’s wilderness survival skills. A maze to map out. Hidden doors to discover. A quest which brings characters into other lands and requires them to use an interpreter. Et cetera.

Word pictures and stories — role playing is, in a sense, a narrative in the second person, and one attribute of good literature is skillful and beautiful use of words. A description of situations which is beautiful and moving is preferable to one which is dull and mechanical.

Divine action and intervention — points where characters come into contact with God. Gifts of the Spirit at work. A dream in which a character is warned that he will be badly needed by far away friends. A moving worship service. An angel’s appearance to give a party a quest.

Exploration and wonder — a sense of penetration and discovery, venturing out into the unknown, and a sense of surprise, is another color on the game master’s palette which is necessary to a good painting.

Rewards — rewards of various sort can be worked in for good and successful playing, and set after significant accomplishments. Good role playing, and puzzle solving, are in a sense their own rewards. Other rewards include experience (the characters becoming better at some skill or skills, or learning new ones), Urvanovestilli devices, friendships and alliances, information, the discovery of wonders…

Faith and morality — Espiriticthus is a world where faith is a part of life and life is a part of faith. Sometimes the motion of God is plainly visible; sometimes it takes more subtle forms, as in the book of Esther, where God is not explicitly mentioned even once. But God moves. Faith, and moral virtue, should be a part of the campaign — the setting in which the adventurers move.

Section III: Puzzles

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, and the glory of kings to search it out.”

Proverbs 25:2

The following are suggested examples of puzzles:

Riddles: These could be posed by a gatekeeper as a requisite to crossing a bridge etc.; alternately, a door could have a riddle engraved on it, the answer to which would tell where the key may be found, or what button to press, or…

Logic puzzles: See Raymond Smullyan, _The_Lady_or_the_Tiger?;_ a good library, in that section, should have other books with other appropriate puzzles.

Mazes: twisty passages, secret doors…

Cryptogram: On this point, I would issue a strong warning, from personal nbobi experience, that the objective is *not* to protect information, but to es”Ni provide a puzzle which can be solved in a reasonable amount of time. er”nt Ergo, simple and relatively easy: substitution ciphers, something where eeytl the direction is reversed and the vowels are deleted, a creative ntofe rearrangement where “Ninety nine bottles of beer” becomes the contents of the square to the right, a text where the first letter of each word spells out the message, etc. It is very easy to make something which is too hard and frustrating to the players, but care and moderation should make something enjoyable.

Word game: Give a text with one rather bizarre feature — a void to perceive, or an odd pattern — which, when noticed, will be helpful to the party.

Strategy games: Something simple, but different. Examples of such games may be found among mathematical puzzle books in a library.

Spatial/three dimensional puzzles: Sokoban, various disassembly/reassembly puzzles which may be found in shops, Towers of Hanoi… if these can not be acquired, it’s not the end of the world, but they should add something.

Guess the rules: A very simple strategy game, with a (non-optimal) algorithm to play against… but the rules are not initially given, beyond a yes/no answer to the question of, “Is this legal?”

Tesselation puzzles: Fit the pieces in place and/or assemble to make a certain form.

(Explicit) mathematical problems: If there’s a good way to put them in play, math contest problems of the sort that can be found in books are a lot of fun to solve.

Section IV: Urvanovestilli devices, etc.

Urvanovestilli devices may be very useful to players. Devices may include anything which could plausibly be made given a mind like that of Leonardo da Vinci, finely machined gears, levers, springs, etc., and the dexterity of a microsurgeon. (Be creative.) The price of devices should take into account materials cost and amount of skill and labor; in general, they should be rather expensive.

Sample devices include a sewing machine, a Swiss Army Knife, a hang glider, a device which (when pulled along on a leash) leaves an ink trail on a floor to indicate where players have been, a Babbage-style analytical engine, a collapsible ladder, a spring loaded automatic belaying device which (once the springs are pumped up) will shoot up a grappling hook and then automatically pull in slack in a rope (until a certain button is pushed and held, at which it will feed out rope at a slow rate (given over 50 pounds pull — well below the weight of any adventurer) and reset the springs)…

(Unacceptable devices would include a mechanical thinking person, a machine to turn lead into gold, or something else which could not plausibly be made under the technology parameters given.)

The Urvanovestilli also have a knowledge of chemistry which allows the creation of many chemicals — pyrotechnics, glues, acids, chemical (phosphorescent) lights, and drugs being among the more useful to adventurers. (Drugs, if combined with the fruits of Yedidia herbalism, would be rougly on par with what exists in the modern world — for example, medicinal drugs would include antibiotics, antishock drugs, etc., but would not include something to make a third degree burn instantly heal — only the gift of healing can do that). Chemicals in general are expensive. Hormones exist, but are prohibitively expensive, as they can only be gathered in minute amounts each day at butchers’ shops, and require a degree of skill and labor to extract. Much of the more powerful drugs and hormones, as well as being extremely expensive, have side effects or potential to backfire — ergo, anabolic steroids having the same problems as in real life, adrenaline speeding up reflexes, increasing strength greatly, etc., but unpredictably causing either a fight or flight reaction — so a calm and controlled adventurer injected with adrenaline could start running as fast as possible away from all danger.

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He Created Them Male and Female, Masculine and Feminine

Cover for Knights and Ladies, Women and Men

God is the Creator and Origin of all. Leaving out of address the Problem of Evil, there is nothing good which does not issue from him.

That stated, God does have the power to create something which is both new and good, a good which is not in himself. That is an implication of the extent to which he is the Creator.

I would point to the material, physical world as a prime example of this. We are created as carnal creatures, and that is good. It is a gift given to us, and any spirituality which shuns or disdains the physical is a lie.

The physical, though, was wholly created. In history, after the Creation in Eden, God the Son became incarnate by the virgin Mary, but now (God the Father and God the Holy Spirit) and then in the three persons of God, God (was) an aphysical spirit.

When I speak of God as being masculine and not feminine, I am not asserting that femininity is an evil characteristic, or unreal, or something else of that order. Femininity was created as good. I am simply speaking of God as being masculine and not feminine.


I think that the Chinese concept of Yin and Yang (although not perfect for this purpose — look far enough in writings, and you will find lots of weird mysticism that wanders from truth) is capable of illuminating the matter a great deal. (I will, rather than refute, simply leave out what is inconsistent with Christian teaching)

First of all, the thought of Yin and Yang is greatly present. Something highly similar is embodied in that the structure of most languages intrinsically speaks of masculine and feminine; if I were writing this in French, at least half of the words would be masculine or feminine. It is not another superficial detail; it is a manner in which the world is seen.

Yang is the masculine, active principle; Yin is the passive, feminine principle. In a landscape, Yang is the great mountain which thrusts out and stands because that is the nature of its solid presence; Yin is the flat land or the valley whose quiet nature is there. Yang is rough and solid, the might and majesty of an organ played sforzando, the deep echo of tympani, the firmness of a rock. Yin is the soft and supple, the peacefulness of an organ (key of F) played gedekt, the sweet resonance of a soprano voice, the pliancy of velvet and water. Yang is constant and immutable; Yin is conformant and polymorphic. Yang gives; Yin receives.

The relation between God and man is the relation between Yang and Yin.

God is HE WHO IS, the rock and foundation. In God is such power and authority that he commanded, “Let there be light,” and it was so. It is God whose mere presence causes mountains to melt like wax, at whose awesome presence the prophet Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me, for I am destroyed.”

God created a garden, and placed man in it, telling him to receive; he forbade eating one of the two trees in the center of the garden (the other was the Tree of Life) only after telling them to enjoy and eat freely of the trees.

Again to Noah, God gave salvation from the flood.

Abraham, God called.

Moses, God bestowed the Law.

David, God promised an heir.

Israel, God sent prophets and righteous men.

In the fullness of time, God sent his Son.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth. Yahweh Sabaoth is with us; The God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Righteousness is not something we earn; it is something Jesus earned for us when he offered one perfect sacrifice for all time. Works come because “we are sanctified by faith and faith alone, but faith which sanctifies is never alone.” The forgiveness of sins is a pure and undeserved gift; the power to obey, by the motion of the Spirit is a gift. All who accept and abide in these gifts will be presented spotless before God the Father, as the bride of Christ to feast with the bridegroom in glory, joy, and peace for all eternity. Christ, like the phoenix who dies only to shoot forth blazing in new glory, afire with the power of an indestructible life, offers this life to us, that we also may receive it.

The thread running through all of these things, through the words “Ask and receive, that your joy may be complete,” indeed through all of Scripture from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation, is, “I love you. Receive.”

To ask if God is more like a man or more like a woman is a backwards question.

The answer instead begins by looking at God.

God is the ultimate Yang.

“All creatures embody Yin and embrace Yang.”

-Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Man, next to God, is Yin. It is only in comparison with each other that the human male is Yang and the human female is Yin; both are very Yin in the shadow of God.

It is something of this that is found in the passages that most explicitly speak of the imago dei:

“God created man in his image; In the image of God he created him; Male and female he created them.”

Gen. 1:27

“With [the tongue], we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, made in God’s image.”

James 3:9

“…[the man] is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man…. In the Lord, however, man is not independant of woman, nor is woman independant of man. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.”

I Cor. 11:7-9, 11-12

Now, before I proceed, let me issue a clear statement that this does not bear an implication of murder of a woman is no big deal, men are moral entities but women are chattels, or some other such nonsense. The Golden Rule is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” not “Do unto other males as you would have them do unto you;” indeed, the Sermon on the Mount, Paul’s letters, etc. were addressed to women as well as men. I could devote space to a detailed explanation of why it is wrong to treat women as subhuman, but I do not think that that particular problem is great enough now (at least here/in formal thought) to need a refutation, although it certainly merits a sharp reproof when it does appear.

The picture painted is one of the male being a Yin-reflection of God, and (here in a manner which is not nearly so different, and is essentially equal) the female being a Yin-reflection of God and man.

It is all humanity to which obedience means being Yin to God’s Yang, being clay which is pliant and supple in the hands of the potter. It is, in my opinion, one of the great graces, along with becoming the sons and daughters of God, that the Church is/is to be the bride of Christ. (Note that in the Old Testament and the New Testament alike, the metaphor is quite specifically bride, not ‘spouse’ in a generic sense and never ‘husband’.)
The relation between God and man is the relation between Yang and Yin; God is more Yang than Yang. The difference dwarfs even the profound differences between human male and female. There is a sense in which the standard is the same; even in the passages in which Paul talks about this order, there is nothing of a man having a macho iron fist and a woman being a nauseating sex toy. Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as if to the Lord,” comes immediately after some words that are quite unfortunately far less cited: “Believers, submit to one another in love,” and the following words to husbands make an even higher call: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up to her.” Elucidation elsewhere (“Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them,” Col. 3:19) speaks at least as plainly; the passages addressed to wives telling them to submit are quite specifically addressed to wives, and not to husbands. The words, “Husbands, here is how you are to impose submission on your wives and keep them under control,” do not appear anywhere in Scripture.

To have a man who is macho and dominant, whose ideal of the ultimate form of manhood is Arnold Schwarzenegger carrying around a Gatling gun, or to have a woman who is wishy-washy and insubstantial, who is “so wonderfully free of the ravishes of intelligence” (Time Bandits), is disagreeable. It is, however, not at all disagreeable because “All people are essentially identical, but our phallocentric society has artificially imposed these unnatural gender differences.” It is not anything close to that.

It is rather that macho and wishy-washy both represent an exceedingly shallow, flattened out (per)version of masculinity or femininity. It is like the difference between an artificial cover of politeness and etiquette over a heart of ice, and a real and genuine love.

The solution is not to become unisex, but to move to a robust, three dimensional, profound, and true masculinity or femininity. There is a distinctly masculine, and a distinctly feminine way to embody virtue. It is like eating a hot casserole as contrasted to eating a cool piece of fruit: both are good and solidly nourishing, but they are different.

[note: I handwrote this document, and decided to type it later… a part of this next paragraph will have the same effect as Paul’s words, “See what large letters I am using as I write with my own hand,” in the tiny print of a pocket NIV… I am choosing to leave it in, because its thought contributes something even when the script is lost]

I know that I am not the perfect image of masculinity — there is a good deal of both macho and effeminacy in me — but there is one little thing of myself that I would like to draw attention to: my handwriting, the script in which this letter is written. It should be seen at a glance by anyone who thinks about it that this was written by a male; rather than the neat, round letters of a feminine script, this script bears fire and energy. I draw this to attention because it is one example of (in my case) masculinity showing itself in even a tiny detail.

A good part of growing mature is for a man to become truly masculine, and for a woman to grow truly feminine; it is also to be able to see masculinity and femininity.

Vive la différence!

Read more of Knights and Ladies, Women and Men on Amazon!

Favorite Haunts

Institutional Pages:

The Bible Gateway
A powerful and easy to use interface permits visitors to look up passages and perform keyword searches in several Bible translations (in English and other languages).

Christian Classics Ethereal Library
The Christian Classics Ethereal Library, available on CD-ROM, is a collection of numerous classic Christian public domain e-texts, a lifetime’s worth of reading. G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy is a good place to start. This site also has links to other sites hosting noteworthy Christian content.

First Things: A Journal of Religion and Public Life
After long and frustrated surfing through innumerable web pages looking for serious Christian thought, and finding pages that are among human thought what MacDonald’s is among foods, I found a First Things article entitled Abortion: A Failure to Communicatethat was a breath of fresh air and then some: it was serious, thought-provoking, and drew attention to facts that were important but not obvious. First Things is a good place to go if you want to chomp on conceptual meat.

Freefind
Free Find is a free search engine, and powers the search functionality on this site.

The Gutenberg Project
The Gutenberg Project makes numerous classic books available online. It is the place I go if I want to read something on my computer and the Christian Classics Ethereal Library doesn’t have it.

iTools
A collection of research tools for searching web, newsgroup, dictionary, encyclopedia, phone directory, biography, quotation, …

Leadership University
Leadership University is a massive compilation of articles from First Things and other sites; it’s a good place to go and read and think. It was actually the place where I first found Abortion: A Failure to Communicate.

The Onion Dome
The Onion Dome is an online journal about the funnier side of Orthodoxy.

Orthodox Church in America Saints: The Prologue
The links in the Prologue are an excellent way to get a daily taste of the Orthodox tradition of biography as theology.

Orthodox Circle
This is an example of what community portals should be: practical, friendly, and a work of art. This one is for Orthodox Christians.

Vote Smart
For reasons elaborated by Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in an Age of Show Business, present American political discourse is a matter of show business, sound bites, empty phrases, and hard-hitting images — not rational arguments and positions — to the effect that most of what reaches us from the candidates is not helpful in choosing who to vote for.

When I asked around for websites that would cut through the circus and tell where candidates stand on issues, Vote Smart was reccommended to me. I am mentioning it, not to say that it’s better than other sites in the same category, but in hopes that people may use resources like this to get past TV showmanship, and vote based on where the candidates stand on the issues.

Personal Sites

This category is for personal sites, including those of friends and acquaintances who publish real content, that I like. At the moment, it’s small (my best friend Robin’s site, for instance, has little besides a resume and some links), but I’m hoping that it will grow over time.

Josh Wibberley’s Wolfhawke
Wolfhawke is on this page because it contains fiction and some nonfiction — as well as having a nice look and feel. Josh is an American who grew up in Turkey and has lived in Germany, and we mesh well.

On Kything

0
Nota bene: Before the reflection, I have included a couple of journal entries which are alluded to and whose content contributes to the discourse. People not interested can skip down.

I was walking outside and met Robin, and we talked. When he asked me how I was doing, I didn’t have much to say, but mentioned a few thoughts I’d had. Then I asked him how he was doing, and he said that he had been feeling really close to God, and more aware of other people.

I hadn’t mentioned, because it had been around so long, the emptiness I was feeling, and I became more acutely aware of how dry my own spiritual life had been, how mechanical of an exercise my Bible reading was.

That night, I was walking over to Wheaton’s campus for Pooh’s Corner (a group of people that meets to read children’s books aloud). A long and slow-moving freight train was crossing the tracks. While I was standing and waiting, I thought about the conversation and my own dryness, and decided to work on my spiritual state when I got home.

—No, not when you get home. Now.

—Not now! I’m waiting for a train.

—Now.

I decided to do something then and there. But what? Iniative and power are all on God’s side; there was nothing I could do that would accomplish closeness between God and me. So I prayed a simple prayer.

That moment, I was filled with joy and peace, deeper than I had known in a long time. I paced back and forth in that joy and peace waiting for the train — enjoying through them the simple little things: the walking, the sound of the train. Whatever I did, there was God.

I thought about Thérèse de Lisieux’s little way (as depicted in the movie Household Saints), about resting in God’s presence, and of being in God’s will in even the most simple places — even waiting for a train. At a low spot — when I medically can’t work above half-time, and have an intermittent job not related to computers — and when used to thinking about serving God in spectacular and heroic ways, it was good to realize that. I went on to Pooh’s corner, and enjoyed things there a great deal more. There were milk and cookies, and I enjoyed them in a different way than I usually enjoy food. I usually eat good food slowly and in little bites, to consciously savor its flavor — but I do not completely engage, or rather I am not able to let go of my disengagement. This time I was able to engage, and not just with the milk and cookies; I was also able to engage with the camaraderie and silliness.

When I create something (even something little), there is a first conception of the idea, then an incubation period where I let the idea ferment, then a time of implementation. The fermenting period is one which I cherish, and one which I had rarely experienced since a loss of creativity associated with my medication (the creativity has returned after an adjustment of the levels of those medications). I experienced it then. I also spent time worrying about the loss of the joy and peace, although I tried not to.


At Pooh’s Corner, I was distracted for a good part of it, wanting to get up and write about the posting on the forum wall, but still trying to enjoy it, as that would be all the Pooh’s Corner I would have for the week. Pooh’s Corner meets in the lobby of Fischer dorm, where I stayed my freshman year. It is a place full of distractions and people passing through. There is a piano there, and partway through I realized in a flash that I had been drinking the music in the same way that I drink wine.

What I mean is this: Wine, as contrasted to e.g. milk or juice, is something you can only take a small amount of. You can drink water until your thirst is quenched, or have several glasses of milk, but with wine it is different. If you are having one drink, then that translates to a 5 ounce glass — not even a full cup. If you drink it the same way you drink Pepsi, you are going to find yourself holding an empty glass before you know it.

Consequently, when I drink wine, I sip it very slowly, and I consciously savor it in a way that would never occur to me if I could drink an indefinite quantity and remain sober. What I realized last night as I was thinking about my realization was that I taste wine in a way that I do not taste milk. I drink milk, and like it, and vaguely and absently taste it, but do not taste it wholly. With wine, the realization that I only have a little amount and it will soon be gone keeps me from absently quaffing glass after glass; when I have a glass of wine, I sometimes close my eyes and am able to taste it so intensely that I am not aware of anything else.

That is what happened with the music, and which I realized afterwards. I have no control over the music that is played, and the most beautiful passages seem to be over so quickly. At one point in the music, I was doing the same thing as I do when I hold a sip of wine in my mouth, close my eyes, and savor it — I was concentrating on it so intensely that I was not aware of anything else (in a busy room with many voices talking and people passing through), and when it was over I had a feeling of having drunk it to the dregs.

It was somewhat strange to realize that I had learned such a thing from wine. My attitude towards alcohol is European rather than American, and (without trying to trace the argument here) I regard alcohol as a symbol of moderation, and learning to enjoy things in a temperate manner (the Puritan attitude towards alcohol). I had not, though, expected that in drinking I would learn something of this nature. I think that what I did is close to what goes on in empathic listening — a drinking in with your whole being. At the beginning of this journal, I talked about not being able to engage. This is a point where I have learned to truly engage in one area, and it may well help me to engage in others — it has helped me to enjoy music, at least.


I was also thinking, Tuesday, about a point related to chapter 4 of G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. Specifically, many things imagined as magic and psychic phenomena are exaggerated and cosmetically altered versions of things God has given us. For example, teleportation (to be able to move instantaneously from point to point) is less astounding than being able to move from point to point in the first place, and there are many creatures which live without any such faculty (such as trees). Telekenesis is not that much more astounding than having hands with which to move things. Mental telepathy is quite similar to speech, and the surprise we would have at seeing mental telepathy is nothing like the surprise an animal (with a sufficiently anthropomorphic mind) would have at discovering that once one of these creatures learns something, the rest know it. It would be like what reaction we might have upon first learning certain things about Star Trek’s Borg, multiplied tenfold. If it is thought of in this manner, the concept of speech is far more impressive than the concept of altering speech by changing the channel through which the mind-to-mind transmission occurs. It might be also pointed out that, in the past few millenia, we have found another channel for mind-to-mind transmission to occur: reading and writing. When one pair of Wycliffe missionaries was working with some tribesmen, they were trying to persuade the chief of the advantage of writing. One of them left the other room, and the other one asked the chief’s mother’s name, and wrote it down. When his partner returned and read her name, the chief almost fainted.

There are a couple of things that come from this.

The first is that God’s creation really is magical, in the sense of being something awesome, and something we should be amazed that we have. It is in our nature to become blasé; our eyes become glazed over at magnificent things. If we can somehow let scales fall from our eyes, we would be dumbstruck at what we have — for example, music.

The second is that, if we can become blasé at what God has given us, we would probably also become blasé at the things we fantasize about. When I was a child, I absolutely loved to swim, and I wished that I could breathe underwater… but that (after a little while) would have held nothing for me than being able to breathe air, hold my breath, and swim underwater. I have fantasized about all of the special powers that I would like to have, and when I do that I do not much enjoy the gifts I have, not only as a human being, but personally — my sharp mind and so on and so forth.

Also related to this insight was kything… In A Wind in the Door, Madeleine l’Engle uses the word ‘kythe’ to describe a beautiful communion beyond communication. It is the whole cherubic language, of which mental telepathy is just the beginning. It holds a similar place to ‘grok’ in Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, and the meanings of the two words are similar. I am not going to try per se to describe its meaning further, but simply refer the reader to that excellent book.

What he had actually seen she could not begin to guess. That he had seen something, something unusual, she was positive.

This is the same sort of feeling I felt about kything.

There is something in that word that strikes a deep chord in my spirit; it is the primary reason why that is my favorite book out of the series, and at times been one of my favorite books at all. In conjunction with the above musing, l’Engle’s portrait of kything has a beauty that is not an ex nihilo creation, that shows forth a beauty that is really in this world but which we do not see. I would very much like to kythe — but I can’t do what’s in the book without sinning. What is in this world that embodies the beauty of kything?

As I was thinking and praying, I realized several things that may, in a sense, be called kything, that are beautiful in the same way. I felt a Spirit-tugging to list a hundred such things. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that, or if so where I’ll come up with a hundred, but I will none the less try.

100 Ways to Kythe
1: Prayer. Prayer allows a kind of communion with God that (at least this side of Heaven) we can’t have with anyone else. With God, prayer is not limited to words; we can pray with words, or with images, or with music… Prayer has the same opportunities for exploration as kything.2: Holy Communion. God speaks to us through that.

3: Martial arts sparring. It takes time (I’ve studied martial arts for a little over a year, and I’ve only begun to taste this), but there is something martial artists call ‘harmony with opponents’ that is a deep attunement. I’ve had one sparring match where I knew everything my opponent was going to do about a quarter second before he did it. A good book to read to get a little better feeling for this is The Way of Karate: Beyond Technique.

4: Flow, as described in Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence.

5: Empathic listening. This is listening in which the listener is completely attuned to the speaker. I don’t know any books to reccommend for that topic.

6: Drinking as I drink wine, or as I drank music.

7: Improvising musically. Music is an alien language, not symbolic, not logical, and yet speaking powerfully. When you can really let the music flow through you, you are kything.

8: Making love. The subject of the Song of Songs is not just a physical act, but a total communion between a man and a woman, united for life.

9: Stillness. There is a way of being still that is kything.

10: What I did at Pooh’s Corner the first night described.

(Well, there’s ten at one sitting… I expect to come back to this later.)

11: Mathematical problem solving. I won’t even begin to explain this, beyond saying that to those who have experienced it no explanation is necessary. Just remembered — there’s a good book on this topic for non-mathematicians, entitled, The Art of Mathematics.

12: Musical improvisation with another person. I have never done this, but I remember, at Calvin, being fascinated by my friends Bruce and Janna talking about when they improvised together at the keyboard. It worked. I believe, from conversations, that the Spirit was guiding them, and it was a communion with the Spirit and each other.

13: Singing prayers in tongues. I don’t pray this way very often, but when I do, it’s very uplifting. It is a praying, not with the rational mind, but with the spirit, and it receives what to say moment by moment from the Spirit.

14: Non-sexual touch. It’s going to be hard to say something brief here, as I’ve written a whole treatise on this point, but to try: Non-sexual touch can be deep, and express something words cannot. It is the nature of love to draw close; touch is an incarnate race’s physical means of communicating love, and for babies the first and foremost way of knowing love. Beyond that… if what I am saying doesn’t resonate within you (or if you’d just like a hug), ask me for a hug — a real one. It took me a long time, but I have learned how to touch, and at times to drink touch as I drink wine.

15: Dancing. Wheaton alumnus Alan Light wrote a beautiful letter about how he had adopted a code of duty, honor, and steadfastness, and a folkdancing class had opened his eyes to joy, peace, and freedom. There is something beautiful of those things that can be learned in dancing, something that it’s easy not to know you’re missing. (For all that, I don’t dance very well. Before a knee injury, I had something to do with my feet that looked impressive, but I haven’t learned to dance (to commune with others, to connect in a merry, moving hug) as I have learned to touch.)

(Coming back after a time) I can recall one occasion when I really danced. At the last Mennonite Conference I attended, both youth and adult worship were religion within the bounds of amusement, but the youth worship was at least honest about it, and I preferred it to the adult sessions. Before a Ken Medema concert, there was a group of high schoolers playing a dance game, and I joined in. It lifted me out of sorrow, and there was a vibrant synergy, a joy and connection and communion. It’s something that everyone should experience at least once. He who dances, sings twice.

16: An I-Thou relationship. An I-Thou relationship differs from an I-It relationship as kything differs from mental telepathy. I only got halfway through Martin Buber’s I and Thou before setting the book down, because it was too hard to concentrate on, but it says a lot about how to kythe. As pertains to prayer and kything with God, I would pose an insight in the form of a riddle: how is it that the saint and mystic refers to God as `I’ without blaspheming?

17: Dreaming. One story in a marvelous book, Tales of a Magic Monastery by Theophane the Monk, ended with a character saying, “While you tend to judge a monk by his decorum during the day, we judge him by the number of persons he touches at night, and the number of stars.” Dreaming has always been special to me; it allows access to a different, fantastic world. It can be a way to kythe. What if there were a culture that regarded dreaming rather than waking as the aroused state?

18: Praying with another person. Where two or three are gathered, he is with them. When they are praying, there is not only an individual bond between each one and God; there are connections within the group. There have been some people who hold that a man and a woman who are not married to each other should not pray together; I do not agree with that, but the fact that such a position has been taken by levelheaded believers seems to underscore that there is a communion between people who pray together.

19: Artistic creation. When I create something, it fills my mind, my musings; I kythe with it as I give it form.

20: Children’s play. Children’s play can be timeless and absorbing, and Peter Kreeft, in Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing, says that the activity of Heaven will be neither work, which is wearying, nor rest, which is passive, but pure and unending play, an activity which is energetic and energizing. Playing with children is entering into another world, a magical world, and entering into it means kything.

21: Listening prayers; listening to the Spirit. Ordinarily we think of prayer as speaking to God, but it is also possible to listen to him. And dancing with the Spirit — there are so many adventures to be had.

22: The Romance. There is a sacred Romance described in, for example, C.S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress, and Brent Curtis’s Less-Wild Lovers: Standing at the Crossroads of Desire. You do not come to the Romance; the Romance comes to you, although you may respond. Being in that is kything.

(I thought I might be able to think of 20 ways of kything… I’ve already gotten past that, by God’s grace.)

23: Silliness. When some friends are doing something silly — tickling or teasing (without going too far — this is something I’m not very good at), for example, it is not thought of in terms of something serious (as ‘serious’ is misunderstood to mean ‘somber’). None the less, there is in the lightheartedness a bond being forged or strengthened, a connection being made. Kything at its best is communication that needs no symbolic content, that has something that can’t be reduced to words. So is grabbing your friend’s nose.

24: Friendship and family relations. This differs from the above items, in that it is not an instantaneous experience resembling an instant of kything. It is rather a bond over time that is more than communication, where hearts touch each other. It is a bond where two people know each other, and in the time spent together a connection accumulates.

25: Agape love. There is a vain phrase, “To know me is to love me,” that might fruitfully be turned around as, “To love me is to know me.”

One of the stories in Tales of a Magic Monastery goes roughly as follows:

The Crystal Globe

I told the guestmaster I’d like to become a monk.

“What kind of monk?” he asked. “A real monk?”

“Yes,” I said, “a real monk.”

He poured a cup of wine, and said, “Here, take this.”

No sooner had I drunk it than I became aware of a small crystal globe forming about me. It expanded until it included him.

Suddenly, this monk, who had seemed so commonplace, took on an astonishing beauty. I was struck dumb. I thought, “Maybe he doesn’t know how beautiful he is. Maybe I should tell him.” But I really was dumb. The wine had burned out my tongue!

After a time, he made a motion for me to leave, and I gladly got up, thinking that the memory of such beauty would be well worth the loss of my tongue. Imagine my surprise when, when each person would unwittingly pass into my globe, I would see his beauty too.

Is this what it means to be a real monk? To see the beauty in others and be silent?

There have been times that I have been able to see beauty in other people, sometimes beauty that they were not likely aware of. Robin and Joel might not think in these terms, but they have the sight that comes of love. The words, “I never met a man I didn’t like,” bespeak this kind of love. Love is the essence of kything.

26: Passion. When we are filled with passion, we are singleminded and undistracted. Someone said that hate is closer to love than is apathy; if anything is the opposite of kything, it is apathy. Kything need not be associated with intense emotion, but passion has something of the spark of kything.

27: Tears. Crying is cathartic, and comes unbidden at the moments when something comes really close to our heart — be it painful or joyful. My ex-fiancée Rebecca commented that she was impressed at one time she saw me crying in public. My friend Amy, after reading my treatise on touch, said that she wished I had written a treatise on crying — something that is well worth writing, but I don’t have it in me to write. To cry is to kythe.

28: Don a mask. Putting on a mask can be a way of revealing; in role-play, I have through characters found ways of expressing myself that I couldn’t have done otherwise, and many people learn more about themselves through acting. Temporarily putting on a mask allows you to kythe through that mask in a way that wouldn’t occur otherwise.

29: Stand on your head. With familiarity, we don’t really see the things before us; we become Inspector Clouseaus. This is why some painters stood on their heads to look at landscapes — to see afresh what was familiar. Standing on your head is not exactly a way of kything, but it does open up ways to kythe that would normally be overlooked.

I just had a change of perspective… I thought about soliciting others’ insights as to ways of kything, but with some guilt, as if thinking about not doing my work. Then I remembered what I was writing about — a connected communion — and that it would be very appropriate to have this be not my isolated work but the work of several minds. So I will solicit and seek the help of others.

30: Stop hurrying. Our culture is obsessed with doing things quickly, and rushes through almost everything. Carl Jung, heretic as he may have been, had rare moments of lucidity; in one of them, he said, “Hurry is not of the Devil. Hurry is the Devil.” Removing hurry, and letting a moment last however long it should last by its own internal timing, is not exactly kything, but it is a removal of one of the chief barriers we face to kything. Kything is a foretaste of the eternal, timeless joy that is to come, and in kything five seconds and five hours are the same. One good idea before trying to kythe is to take off your watch.

31: Walks. I have just come back from a kything walk. It was warm, the ground was moist after rain, the sky was mostly covered by pink clouds, and it was silence — there was even silence in the sound of cars going by. Summer nights, with fireflies and crickets and a crystalline blue sky, are excellent for kything walks. In thinking about this, I realized that what we have is an incarnate kything — spirit moving through matter — while l’Engle portrays what is essentially a discarnate kything — spirit moving without regard to matter. It is also interesting to note that (to me at least) touch is more kything than sight — with sight potentially working at almost any range (we can see stars billions of light-years away), and touch having no range at all. I’m glad that I can absorb the grass around me in a way that I cannot absorb the grass a thousand miles away.

32: Grace. Up until now, I have written about what you can do to kythe, but there is a lot of kything that God initiates and provides. Having a vision is a kind of kything, and that is not anything you can do. My time with God by the railroad tracks was a kything with him that I had no power to create.

33: Looking. I am allergic to cats, and my family has a wonderful grey tabby named Zappy. I usually don’t touch her, but I do sometimes sit and gaze at her for a while. (I just realized that looking at Zappy for a while has the same effect on me as stroking a cat has on most people.) I can recall being warmed by the same gaze as an expectant mother in my small group, Kelly, smiled at me as I stroked Lena’s head (Lena being the 5 year old daughter of the group leader). In medieval culture, beholding the body and blood of Christ at mass was in a sense almost more held to be a receiving, a partaking, than eating and drinking them. The kything power of sight is attested to in Augustine’s words: “See what you believe; become what you behold.”

34: Absorbing poetry. Here is an example of a poem I wrote which I think is effective for the purpose:

Beyond

Beyond doing, there is being.

Beyond time, there is eternity.

Beyond mortality, there is immortality.

Beyond knowledge, there is faith.

Beyond justice, there is mercy.

Beyond happy thoughts, there is joy.

Beyond communication, there is communion.

Beyond petition, there is prayer.

Beyond work, there is rest.

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

Beyond appreciation, there is awe.

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

Beyond law, there is grace.

Beyond even wisdom, there is love.

Beyond all else, HE IS.

35: Mirth. The one line from all of C.S. Lewis’s writing that most sticks in my mind comes from Out of the Silent Planet, where he wrote, “…but unfortunately, [name of villain] didn’t know the Malacandrian word for ‘laugh’. Indeed, ‘laugh’ was a word which he didn’t understand very well in any language.” I debated about whether to put laughter in, as it has many forms — some of which, as the cynic’s scoff, are corrupt, and some of which are lesser goods — but there is at least one form of laughter that really is kything. It is mirth. It can be found, for example, where old friends are sitting around a table after a hearty meal; the laughter is not just a reaction to isolated events, but a mood that has little eruptions over things that aren’t that funny in themselves. It is mingled with companionship and fellow-feeling, and is a mirth that is the crowning jewel of forms of laughter.

36: Becoming good. Websters Revised Unabridged Dictionary 1913, p. 877, has:

Kythe
(Kythe, Kithe) (ki&thlig;), v. t. [imp. Kydde, Kidde (kid”de); p. p. Kythed Kid; p. pr. & vb. n. Kything.] [OE. kythen, kithen, cuden, to make known, AS. cydan, fr. cud known. &radic;45. See Uncouth, Can to be able, and cf. Kith.] To make known; to manifest; to show; to declare. [Obs. or Scot.]

For gentle hearte kytheth gentilesse.

Chaucer.

Kythe
(Kythe), v. t. To come into view; to appear. [Scot.]

It kythes bright . . . because all is dark around it.

Sir W. Scott.

The latter meaning of ‘kythe’ is the reason Madeleine l’Engle, after a search, chose that word to carry her meaning.

C.S. Lewis said that the process of becoming good was like the process of becoming visible, in that objects becoming visible are more sharply distinguished not only from objects in obscurity but from each other; becoming good is becoming more truly the person you were created to be (being Named).

Becoming good is kything in the dictionary sense, and it is why I put it here. It is also a kind of kything, and an aid to kything, in l’Engle’s sense — a stepping into the great kythe, into the great dance. It is like learning vocabulary to speech, or a conversation in which one learns vocabulary.

37: Comforting those in pain. Pain can isolate, but it can also bring down the walls around a person. I can remember now one time at a retreat when I was in the long, dark night of the soul, when I drank in a friend’s silent presence and touch like a lifeline. The worst comforters offer words to fix everything with clichés and pat answers. The best often feel somewhat helpless, enduring an awkward silence as if they don’t have anything to offer to so great a pain, but none the less offer something deep, more than they could have put into words, more often than they realize.

38: Presence. This facet of kything is perhaps best portrayed not directly, but in its stark silhouette, painted by Charles Baudelaire in his poem “Enivrez-vous”: <<Il faut etre toujours ivre…. Pour ne pas sentir l’horrible fardeau du Temps qui brise vos épaules et vous penche vers la terre, il faut vous enivrer sans treve. Mais de quoi? De vin, de poésie, ou de vertu, à votre guise….>> — “You must always be drunk…. to not feel the horrible burden of Time which crushes your shoulders and pushes you towards the earth, you must ceaselessly get drunk. But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you please….”

Against this silhouette, of seeking something, anything, to flee into, stands out another facet of kything: that of being present, and giving undivided, focused attention. The kind of person you’d like to be around, the kind of person you’d want to have as a friend — isn’t hepresent?

39: Digesting experience.

As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.Luke 2:19, NJB
A book is best understood, not just after being read once, but after being gone over several times. The same thing goes for experiences — they can be contemplated and pondered. This does not have instantaneous effect, but in a certain way it makes the experience contemplated a more complete experience, one that is more fully grasped.40: Riflery. Riflery, I discovered, is not a macho thing, and someone who comes in with a macho attitude won’t shoot very well. It has much more do do with concentration, stillness, and patience. In riflery, I learned how to hold at least parts of my body so still that the biggest cause of motion was the beating of my heart. Riflery is not so much a kything with, as just a kything.

41: Brainstorming. I think I do not need to say much here.

42: Step into other people’s worlds… Tonight my father, Joseph, and I went to play ping-pong. I didn’t realize one thing I had been doing — playing Joe’s way, Joe’s rules — until I saw Dad make Joseph rather upset by insisting that he play a standard, official rules game of ping-pong. (To his credit, Dad later started playing Joe’s way.) Then I realized that I had been stepping into Joe’s own little world, and meeting him more completely than had I insisted we stay in the public space that all ping-pong players share. Joe didn’t exactly mean to play ping-pong; he wanted to spend some time together, play around, goof off in a way that happened to make use of the framework of ping-pong. Part of the time, he was doing silly things that weren’t ping-pong (such as hitting the ball around the room), which our father frowned on, and I commented were a little bit of Janra-ball (see below), a compliment which Joe said he really appreciated. People invite you into their worlds all the time, but the invitations don’t have much fanfare and can be hard to notice. I’m glad I accepted Joe’s invitation.

43: …and invite others into your own. In one letter, when cherished abilities were beginning to return in the healing, I wrote:

The other thing which I have to share now is something which happened during the Gospel reading at the mass. I had my first theological musing in a while. That touched a greater frustration — that of reading some of the richest passages of the Scriptures, and learning almost nothing from them. There had one text that I read and was able to appreciate, if not being able to think much at all (Isaiah 60: “Arise, shine, for your light has come…”). This bleak dryness was broken both mentally and emotionally (there is a distinct and deep pleasure I have in theological reasoning), as I mused over the words: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places [or rooms, or mansions, in other translations].”

The most obvious interpretation of this metaphor is to think of a physical building, and that is surely appropriate. But I began to think of another interpretation of the dwelling-places, and that is this: our souls and spirits.

We have a temptation and a culture which defines happiness and sadness almost purely in terms of what is materially external to us: our possessions, the way others treat us, etc. That is certainly relevant — in that such blessings are to be gratefully received as a part of God’s grace and provision, and pains are a real suffering to work through — but even more important and more central is what is internal to us and our interactions and relationship with God. Being an alcoholic is a worse suffering than being in prison. It is something related to this insight that is behind many Eastern religions defining Heaven and Hell to be defined almost purely by your internal state. One Zen koan tells us:

A Samurai came to a Zen master and said, “Show me the gates of Heaven and Hell.”

The Zen master said, “Are you a Samurai? You look much more like a beggar. And that sword — I bet it is so dull that it could not cut off my head.”

The enraged Samurai drew his sword, and raised it to strike the master down.

The Zen master said, “Now show me the gates of Heaven.”

The Samurai sheathed his sword, bowed to the master, and left.

A person’s bedroom is a place that has flavor and detail; it is an interesting place to explore, especially as compared to the sterility of a classroom or some other public place. A person’s soul, too, has something of this color and distinctiveness; there are interests, memories, stories, and other things even more vital but which I have more difficulty describing — the particular virtues and vices, the particular tendencies, which cause a person to act unlike any other. A soul, like a house, is a place of hospitality — a guest is invited into a host’s house, to enjoy his comforts, his foods, and a friend is invited into another friend’s soul, to enjoy it in a deeper form of the way in which we enjoy a friend’s house. (In Heaven, there will be very much opportunity for hospitality; it will be the final place of community and celebration, and therefore our dwelling places can hardly be places of isolation.) For many years, I thought of this passage in terms of something of a more ornate, perhaps almost magical, physical edifice that would be nothing more; now, I see what is in retrospect obvious: when the old order of things has passed away and behold, all things are made new, our dwelling places will not simply be better purely physical buildings, but better than purely physical buildings. This is just as our bodies, which are dwelling-places of the Holy Spirit, will not simply be better purely physical bodies, but pneumatikon, spirit-bodies, better than purely physical bodies. I thought before of these rooms as physical rooms which we would decorate with artistic creations — and those artists among you will know what it means, and what a room means, when you are able to fill it with your artwork. I still do believe that — and I realized another form that will take. By our faith, and by our works, we are doing with our spirits what an artist does with a room when he toils over artwork to adorn it with. We are shaping the dwelling places we will have for our eternal play (and one of the images painted of Heaven is one of neither work nor rest, but pure and unbounded play). God is shaping us to become gods and goddesses, but he is not doing it in a way that bypasses us and our free will; we are working with God in the work that will shape us forever.

Our souls, like our domiciles, are special places, far more than public places that anybody can enter without asking permission, in which to receive other people.

44: Nursing. The natural focal distance for an adult’s eyes is twenty feet and on; the natural focal distance for an infant’s eyes is eighteen inches, the distance between a woman’s nipple and her nose. (Infants look at, and remember, noses rather than eyes.) Feeding, important as it may be, is only the beginning of what is going on when a mother is nursing a child. To put it another way, the necessity of physical feeding provides the occasion for a kything of love that provides even more necessary spiritual feeding.

45: Pregnancy. A fortiori.

46: Timeless moments. One person, speaking of singing a worship song, suggested thinking not so much in terms of “We start and stop this song,” as “This song always has been going on and always will be going on; we just step into it for a time.” In this spirit, there are moments of kything, often unsought and unattempted, which do not so much start and stop as are a stepping into the Eternal Kythe.

47: Parenting a child with a severe disease. At a bioethics conference, Dr. C. Everett Koop said, “There is a special bond that forms with a defective child, often far moreso than a normal child.” He told a story from the practice of a Jewish pediatrician and colleague. A father lost a second child to Tay-Sachs, a degenerative disease whose people do not live to the age of four. Grieving, he said through tears, “He never gave me a moment’s trouble.” I am not sure why this is, but it may have something to do with why I enjoy a small glass of wine more than a bottomless cup of Coke.

48: Corporate worship. Worship is a foretaste of Heaven, and it plays a focal role in the Eastern Orthodox emphasis on bringing Heaven down to earth; they describe their worship as stepping into Heaven. Worship is also the highest form of love. In these two aspects, at least, worship is kything. Corporate worship is a kything not only with God, but with the others you are worshipping with.

49: Janra-ball. This is a game I devised, and has been described as a Zen NOMIC. To excerpt the ingredients list:

Springfield, Monty Python, Calvin-Ball, body language, Harlem Globetrotters, sideways logic, Thieves’ Cant, Intuition, counter-intuitive segues, spoon photography, creativity, Zen koans, Psychiatrist, adrenaline, perception, tickling, urban legend Spam recipe, swallowing a pill, illusionism, NOMIC, modern physics, raw chaos, F.D. & C. yellow number 5.

I originally hesitated to put this in, on the grounds that it is difficult to play, at least in a pure state. There’ve been a couple of times I’ve gotten together a group of people willing to play, and it didn’t work. I thought it would require players with more of something — perception, intuition, creativity, spontaneity, etc. — but in thinking recently, I have come to believe that it’s something, like empathic listening, that can’t just be turned on at will, especially by someone inexperienced (which would be everyone now). Joseph’s behavior at the game last night persuaded me that it is indeed possible, perhaps best started at in small increments from a more structured game. (Maybe Pooh’s Corner will be able to play. Who knows?) I will say this: It’s a difficult game to play, but if you can play it, it’s anawesome kythe.

50: Synchronicity/attunement. As treated in The Dance of Life, people have rhythms about them — outside of conscious awareness — and when people are together, these rhythms can become attuned (and, if so, the people themselves are more attuned). This is something that is not as well appreciated in our culture as in others. The easiest example or analogue I can point to (I’m not sure which) is in walking together and holding hands. When I was dating Rebecca, it took me a long time to learn to get in step, and stay in step — but things were smoother when I did.

51: A kind of openness. There is a kind of openness where you perceive something but can’t put your finger on exactly what. If you can listen, be opening, look, then there is a sort of listening kything. I checked out a copy of A Wind in the Door yesterday, and when I was reading through to find insights for more ways of kything, I came on something that I felt was significant to what I’m writing, but I couldn’t say what. I sat then, open, thinking, waiting to see what it was — and then realized that it was not the heart of a way of kything, but something to put at the beginning:

What he had actually seen she could not begin to guess. That he had seen something, something unusual, she was positive.

This is the same sort of feeling I felt about kything.

This is part of how kything is to Charles Wallace:

Meg said sharply, “Why? What did mother say?”

Charles Wallace walked slowly through the high grass in the orchard. “She hasn’t said. But it’s sort of like radar blipping at me.”

This kind of listening kythe is how I get a lot of the ideas for these items.

52: Introspection.

Then [Blajeny] sat up and folded his arms across his chest, and his strange luminous eyes turned inwards, so that he was looking not at the stars nor at the children but into some deep, dark place far within himself, and then further. He sat there, moving in, deeper and deeper, for time out of time. Then the focus of his eyes returned to the children, and he gave his radiant smile and answered Calvin’s question as though not a moment had passed.

Introspection is a kything with oneself.

53: Forgiveness. Forgiveness is a spiritual act, a restoration of broken communion.

54: Artistic appreciation. In high school, I made a silver ring, designed to hold a drop of water as a stone. When I started to paint, I learned a new way of seeing. After a painting in which a pair of hands played prominently, I was captivated by the beauty of people’s hands all around me; for the first time in my life, I saw in them a beauty as great as that of faces.

What an artist does is allow you to see through his eyes. When you look at a friend’s watercolor, you are seeing the beach through her eyes, as you would not have perceived it yourself. When you read this list, you are thinking about the word ‘kythe’ through my mind.

55: Talking. This one is so obvious I overlooked it completely. The magic of symbols that allows mind-to-mind communication is one that is appreciated, for instance, when trying to work with someone who doesn’t speak a common language with you.

56: Looking into another person, and telling him what you see. I have always enjoyed other people telling me what they see in me. For a time, I thought that was vanity, and vanity certainly played a part. But recently, I have come to see a deeper reason for asking this of other persons.

I have for a while enjoyed asking foreigners what they think of American culture, and probed a bit not only for the appreciation they will voice, but criticisms. Most foreigners can articulate the character of American culture better than can most Americans, and they have insights that wouldn’t occur to an American. They see things that have become invisible to Americans. They have a distance, like aesthetic distance, that allows them to see what is too close to be visible to us.

For the same or analogous reasons, having another person tell you what he sees in you is another variant on introspection, like using a mirror in looking at yourself to see parts you can’t look at directly. Different people who have known you for different amounts of time can see different parts of you.

When you tell another person what you see in him, you provide this sort of introspection; your words fuse with his knowledge of himself to form a deeper self-knowledge, and say more to him than they would mean to anyone else. They connect. They kythe. It is like the story of the crystal globe — only you can tell people how beautiful they are.

57: Driving. In the car this morning, after having to take my brother to school and my mother to work, I was thinking about the podracing in Star Wars: Episode I — one of the most Jedi/Force parts of the movie — and I realized I was really enjoying driving for the first time in years. (I started late in driving, and have a fear of it. I had enjoyed singing while driving, but not driving itself.) I was very aware of my surroundings, and connected, and entered flow. Though I stayed within the speed limit and there were no hazardous conditions, it was in a very real sense podracing. It was a kythe with my surroundings and especially with my car, which was as an extension of my body. It is entirely possible to kythe with technology (and I was seeking an example), to have your hands on a steering wheel or a keyboard so that you are thinking through them, and your thoughts are not on your hands or fingertips, but where the car is moving, or what letters are appearing on the screen. Technology (techne, art + logos, logic, reason, domain of knowledge) is part of the creation of the imago Dei, and therefore has a role in God’s order. There is a tendency for the sort of people interested in kything things to be Luddites, but this need not be. If you can kythe with God, with another person, with a shaggy dog, with the grass, with ideas, with experiences, then you can also kythe with a car, with a computer.

58: Pain. This one will probably be difficult for most Americans to understand, and I’m not sure I can explain it well — here I will probably be talking around my point mostly. We live in a painkilling culture, one that attemps to delete that entire region of human experience, and therefore neither understands nor profits from it.

A place to begin is to say that leprosy ravages the body through one very simple means: it shuts off a person’s ability to feel pain. Exactly how shutting off pain causes such severe damage is left as a valuable exercise to the reader’s imagination. Pain is an awareness of your body’s state, and of what you can and cannot do without aggravating an injury. I very rarely take painkillers, because I want to know exactly how my body is doing. (Sunday night was the first time in memory of taking a painkiller not prescribed by a doctor.)

In addition, pain is a present sensation; it is not in our nature to not notice. Intense pain can fill consciousness. (Some mentally ill people self-mutilate because the sensation of physical pain, if only momentarily, can take them out of their mental anguish.) If all our kything is as real as pain, we are doing well.

59: DeathWhat was said about pain and our culture applies, mutatis mutandis, to death and our culture. (I don’t know any good books on pain; a good, deep book on death is Peter Kreeft’s Love is Stronger Than Death.) In other kythes, you kythe love, or ideas, or listening; in this kythe, you kythe yourself. The art of dying well is an art of letting go of a world you’ve known for years and giving yourself fully to God. That’s about as full of a message as you can send.

60: Gift-giving. A good gift is at least three messages: a statement about the nature of the person giving the gift, a statement about the nature of the person receiving the gift, and something else peculiar to the character of the gift. None of these messages are symbolically encoded, and the result is that they can say things inexpressible in normal words. A gift is not worth a thousand words; there is no exchange rate between gifts and words.

61: Reminiscing. Reminiscing is a kything with memories.

62: Local traditions. There are traditions, like Pooh’s Corner or Club Pseudo (a tradition at my high school, similar to an open mike at a coffeehouse). These traditions have a unique local flavor and personality, and create a special bond among participants. Janra-ball, if it works, would be another example.

63: Community. Community is like friendship, but it does not reduce to friendship. A community is more than a set of friendships, as a friendship is more than two isolated individuals.

64: Ellis lifeguarding. This entry should not be written by me; it should be written by my high school acquaintance Chuck Saletta. American Red Cross lifeguards are taught to respond to problems; Ellis lifeguards are taught to see them coming. Chuck has written that he knows ahead of time when a swimmer is going to be in distress, and also that on the highway he watches the cars ahead of him and is usually able to tell whether or not they’ll turn on an exit — before they put their turn signals on. That has to involve an attention and attunement to the situation that is noteworthy.

65: Gathering.

“Has Mother actually told you all this?”

“Some of it. The rest I’ve just—gathered.”

Charles Wallace did gather things out of his mother’s mind, out of meg’s mind, as another child might gather daisies in a field.

This is another passage that sticks in my mind as an insight into kything. I gather when I muse, when I have certain intuitions. I gather passages from the book. Where do you gather?

66: Firing a ballista at your television. Television is a crawling abomination from the darkest pits of Hell. It is a pack of cigarettes for the mind. It blinds the inner eye. It is the anti-kythe.

When I was in fourth grade, we read The Last of the Really Great Wang-Doodles, and then drew pictures. My teacher commented that she could tell from the pictures who watched TV. A home without television is like a slice of chocolate cake without tartar sauce. Get rid of your television, and you will find yourself living life more fully, and kything more deeply.

Two good books dealing with this topic are Neil Postman’s concise and lively Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in an Age of Show Business, and Jerry Mander’s in-depth Four Arguments For the Elimination of Television.

67: Boundaries. Boundaries are an important part of friendship; the boundaries of a message give it shape; drinking a certain amount of wine and then stopping enables you to enjoy it without becoming drunk. Boundaries are a kind of kythe, and also a part of other kythes; a hug is best if it is neither too short nor too long.

68: Thunderstorms. Imagine that you are a child, outside in a thunderstorm at night, with the rain warm and heavy, the wind blowing about, the trees dancing, everything suddenly illumined by flashes of lightning. Wild nights are my glory. This is a night to connect with, to drink in.

(Idea taken from Robin Munn.)

69: Using a knack. I am adept at finding pressure points on the body — not just the ones I know, but the ones I don’t know. I can tell from looking if a person will say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a hug. More fallibly, I can sometimes guess if a person is ticklish (hi, Ashley!).

I don’t know how I do any of these things, but these knacks are a form of kything.

70: Trying to kythe. I think it was Richard Foster who said that the very act of struggling to pray is itself a form of prayer. Last night during Pooh’s Corner, my fear of driving began to act up, and I walked out of the building thinking, “I won’t be able to kythe now. I’m not in the proper frame of mind.” Then I realized — no, I could kythe. I couldn’t produce the same end result, but I could put myself into it. A small child’s crayon drawing of a five-legged dog whose head is larger than its body is a beautiful thing, and it is made beautiful not by the performance criteria that a commercial product would be judged by, but by the love and effort that went into it.

I have attention deficit disorder. I can hyperfocus at times (exactly which times being largely out of my control), but quite often I haven’t connected with Pooh’s Corner. I haven’t been in the silliness, drinking it in even as an observer. What I have realized in writing this entry is that that doesn’t matter nearly as much as I thought it did, just as the crudity of the above described drawing doesn’t matter very much. It doesn’t matter if I often don’t succeed. I try. I kythe.

71: Weight lifting. The amount of force coming from a muscle is the result, not only of the muscle’s size and condition, but the amount of nervous impulse coming from the brain. People can normally summon only a small fraction of the total possible muscle impulse. One case where there can be full or near-full exertion is when people are terrified; they can possess something called hysterical strength, where it is entirely possible for a small, middle-aged woman to lift the back end of a car. Another is an epileptic seizure; in my EMT class, we were told not to try to restrain someone having a seizure, because bones will snap sooner than muscle strength will give out.

I trained with weights for a few years, and doing so was largely on will. I had pencil-thin arms and legs as a child, and worked to the point of having a Greek figure. (I now have a Greek figure plus a paunch, but we won’t get into that.) I got to the point of being able to lift the full stack (as much resistance as a machine designed for football players can give) on the better part of the machines, and (in moments of being macho and trying to do something I could brag about) walked a couple of short steps while carrying over 400 pounds of weight, and injured my hand by punching through stone tiles. I didn’t get much bigger after a certain point. Only a small portion of my doing those things was muscle. The rest was mind.

Many of the items above have been kythes of drinking in. This a kythe of putting out.

72: Doing something new and difficult. When you are skilled at something, you don’t have to put much of yourself into it to succeed. In high school, I put a lot of effort into trying to learn how to balance on a slack rope. I never really succeeded at what I aimed for, but I learned a couple of things. My balance improved a lot. One person watching me said it was like watching the sensei catching flies with chopsticks, in The Karate Kid. Even if I didn’t succeed at my intention, I learned to put my whole self into it.

73: Going through a difficult experience together. Meg and Mr. Jenkins came to know each other in a way that never would have happened had things been light and sunny. It may not be seen for the pain at the moment, but afterwards a growing-closer has happened.

74: Intuitions. Being attuned to, and using, your intuition is another way of kything.

75: Knowing others.

[Meg:] “…Did you know it was one of Calvin’s brothers who beat Charles Wallace up today? I bet he’s upset—I don’t mean Whippy, he couldn’t care less—Calvin. Somebody’s bound to have told him.”

[Mrs. Murray:] “Do you want to call him?”

“Not me. Not Calvin. I just have to wait. Maybe he’ll come over or something.”

One form of communion comes from knowing another person so well that communication is unnecessary. There is something more in this passage than if Meg had called Calvin — far more.

76: The useless. Many of those areas of human intercourse which are cut out by American pragmatism are the areas of speech which most embody kything. Within speech, talking about how to get something done is not a kythe — certainly not compared to a discussion which conveys love or insight or theory. Kything is something that’s not in Pierce’s and Dewey’s practical world.

77: Culture. Culture, often invisible to us, is a shared kythe across a group of people. It is the framework for communication, a kythe that gives other kythes their shape.

78: Wordless knowledge. When I was at Innes’s house, she asked me if I thought my twin brothers Ben and Joe were introverted, extroverted, etc. My first response, after a bit of a pause, was, “I don’t know.” I thought some more, and realized that the truth was slightly different: it had never occurred to me to think about them in those terms.

After I read Stranger in a Strange Land, I began to realize that many of my deepest thoughts were not in English, not for that matter in anything like verbal language. When I write them down, it is usually a translation, and sometimes matter a far more difficult translation than between English and French. It is more like trying to translate a song into a poem. These thoughts are of a wordless thinking, like the kything of the fara.

Personal Knowledge, a profound book and an excellent cure for insomnia, deals with those facets of human thought and interaction that do not reduce to words.

79: Being underwater. I felt that this was a kythe, but couldn’t put my finger on how. I still can’t fully articulate it, but it has a similar feel to a visual kythe. The beginning of A Dream of Light provides a good description of an underwater kythe:

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

There is a time of rest and stillness; all is at a deep and serene peace. The slow motion of the waves, the dancing lights below and above, the supple bending of the plants, all form part of a stillness. It is soothing, like the soft, smooth notes of a lullaby.

Your eyes slowly close, and you feel even more the warm sunlight, and the gentle caresses of the sea. And, in your rest, you become more aware of a silent presence. You were not unaware of it before, but you are more aware of it now. It is there:

Being.

Love.

Life.

Healing.

Calm.

Rest.

Reality.

Like a tree with water slowly flowing in, through roots hidden deep within the earth, and filling it from the inside out, you abide in the presence. It is a moment spent, not in time, but in eternity.

You look out of the eternity; your eyes are now open because you have eternity in your heart and your heart in eternity. In the distance, you see dolphins; one of them turns to you, and begins to swim. The others are not far off.

It lets you pet its nose, and nestles against you. You grab on to its dorsal fin, and go speeding off together. The water rushes by at an exhilarating speed; the dolphin jumps out of the water, so that you see waves and sky for a brief moment before splashing through the surface.

The dolphins chase each other, and swim hither and thither, in and out from the shore. After they all seem exhausted, they swim more slowly, until at last you come to a lagoon.

In the center, you see a large mass; swimming closer, you see that it is a sunken ship. You find an opening…

80: Becoming ancient. Most entries so far have focused on what you do when you kythe. This is an entry about who you are. When you are ancient, you have had ages to let God work with you. You have had time to grow mature. You have gained experience. You have lived through many events and circumstances. You have smiled on generations. You have experienced change, both without you and within you. You have learned what is constant, both without you and within you. You have grown wise. You kythe with depth, with reality. You are like Senex (whose name means ‘aged’), like the fara — deep, rooted, moving without motion, sharing in the age (however faintly) of the Ancient of Days. Become all this, and you will kythe.

81: Becoming a child. When you are a child, you look with wonder at every bit of the world God has made; you do not know jadedness. You do not know guile; it would never occur to you to wear a mask. You play. You are never afraid to come running for a hug. You stay out in the rain. You always want to grow. You always want to know, “Why?” You bear a peace no storm has troubled. You can believe anything. You are like the little farandolae, dancing, swimming. Become all this, and you will kythe.

82: Doing something for its own sake. Someone said that a classic is a book that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read. There is a big difference between reading a book because you want to have read it, and reading it because you want to read it. The former is something to endure, the latter something to enjoy. For a while, when I drove, I would often drive five or ten miles under the limit, and when I started driving at the limit, it was mainly as a courtesy to not stress other drivers, and because I started driving on streets with heavier traffic where it would be hazardous to drive that much more slowly than the flow of traffic. I do not generally get tense (for reasons other than my fear of driving, and blunders I make as I still learn to drive), have nervous fidgets, get angry, or experience stress at red lights, slow traffic, and other delays that shoot some drivers’ blood pressure through the roof. The reason is that I am operating within a mindset of “I am driving; I am in the process of getting there; I will be there,” as opposed to “I need to be therenow, and I am tolerating this drive because it is the least slow means of getting there, and— Hey! That’s another second’s delay. Ooh, that makes me mad!” Pirsig treats this point at some length in the section of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that deals with climbing and his son’s ego climbing.

Of course many activities are means to other activities, and we would be in a bad state if we couldn’t do one thing to get at something else. But even then, intermediate activities that are trampled on are not good to do. Really wanting to do something, and doing it for its own sake, is a kythe with the activity that is better for both you and the activity.

83: Silence.

Through [Mr. Jenkins’s] discouragement she became aware of Calvin. “Hey, Meg! Communication implies sound. Communion doesn’t.” He sent her a brief image of walking silently through the woods, the two of them alone together, their feet almost noiseless on the rusty carpet of pine needles. They walked without speaking, without touching, and yet they were as close as it is possible for two human beings to be. They climbed up through the woods, coming out of the brilliant sunlight at the top of the hill. A few sumac trees showed their rusty candles. Mountain laurel, shiny, so dark a green the leaves seemed black in the fierceness of sunlight, pressed towards the woods. Meg and Calvin had stretched out in the thick, late-summer grass, lying on their backs and gazing up into the shimmering blue of sky, a vault interrupted only by a few small clouds.

And she had been as happy, she remembere, as it is possible to be, and as close to Calvin as she had ever been to anybody in her life, even Charles Wallace, so close that their separate bodies, daisies and buttercups joining rather than dividig them, seemed a single enjoyment of summer and sun and each other.

That was surely the purest form of kything.

When I was in France, Rebecca wrote a letter about some of the moments she valued most with me. There was one moment when we went into the fine arts center, and I improvised on the organ for her,

and then we sat

in the silence

in the dark

not saying anything

not doing anything

just being.

Other people had talked with her and done things with her. I was the first person to be in the silence with her, and it profoundly affected her.

84: Dodge-ball. When I thought of this during a slow, back-burner brainstorm, I initially wanted to put it in because of pride and boastfulness: I wanted to impress you with how talented I am. Then I realized what I was thinking, and realized that was entirely out of place, and decided to definitely leave it out. But I still had some idle thoughts about it mulling about… and I mused… and realized something amazing. This definitely belongs in.

In dodge-ball, I couldn’t throw worth beans. Still can’t. But, in a lock-in for sophomores at IMSA, I joined a game of dodge-ball, and hid around in the back… and noticed that there were fewer and fewer people left on my team… and then I was one of two… and then the only one. Then, for five minutes, i dodged the whole other team throwing at me, sometimes four or five balls at once, and then a ball brushed me. When I stopped and began to slow down, I realized that the soles of my bare feet were burning hit from the friction of my jumping. After another game like that, people decided that if it got down to the other team versus me, the game was a draw.

One of the upperclassmen supervising, Paul Vondrak, was a great thrower; he was able not only to throw accurately, but to throw much faster than anyone else. He would stand, wind up slowly, and throw like lightning. I think it only took him about five throws to nick me.

I was thinking about this latter item, and (examining the memory) realized that I was paying very close attention to him… then realized that I was attuned to him… then thought that it was almost like a martial artist… and then realized, in a flash of insight, that in the one game I was doing the same thing a Samurai does when he defeats ten men. I do not understand exactly why I was able to do this without any special training or experience, although it does lend some corroboration to the puzzling fact that as a karate white belt I was able to defeat two out of three of my blackbelt instructors in sparring. Now I know that I have had an experience I would not ordinarily expect to have access to. I guess I would chalk it up to an unusual talent for certain kinds of kything.

I was trying to analyze my state of mind in (especially) the five minute dodge at the end, and the first thing I realized was that I don’t remember that state of mind too well — not as well as I remember feeling that my feet were hot afterwards. From what I remember, my state of mind differed from normal consciousness. A hint of an explanation would be to say that the perceptual processing alone would have severely overloaded my conscious mind. It could also be described as flow or podracing. I know there’s more, but I can’t get at it. If I can better process this memory, I think I will better understand kything. As I mull over this, I think that those five minutes may qualify as the most intense kythe of my life.

85: Reading another person’s body languages and emotions. As telekinesis is really moving things with your arms and telepathy is really talking, Charles Wallace’s awareness, without being told, of what’s going on in meg is really a perception of others’ emotions. This is the origin for the spark of beauty in that facet of Charles Wallace’s kything, and it is an area where I’d like to grow.

86: Withdrawing.

[The Shal’s] moments of community are profound; their moments of solitude are even more profound. `Withdrawing’ is what they call it; it is a time of stillness, and an expression of a love so profound that all other loves appear to be hate. It is a time of finding a secret place, and then withdrawing — from family, friends, and loved ones, from music and the beauty of nature, from cherished activities, from sensation — into the heart of the Father. It is a time of — it is hard to say what. Of being loved, and of loving. Of growing still, and becoming. Of being set in a right state, and realigned in accordance with the ultimate reality. Of purity from the Origin. Of being made who one is to be. Of communion and worship. Of imago dei filled with the light of Deus. Of being pulled out of time and knowing something of the eternal.

Espiriticthus: Cultures of a Fantasy World not Touched by Sin.

87: Zoning out. This is one of the last places one would look for kything; Robin observed that one of the central themes tying these entries together is presence, and this would seem to be the essence of absence. For all that… I found myself spacing out, and left the spacing out for introspection, and realized that my mental and emotional state was that of kything. A start of an explanation is that if it is an absence, it is entirely devoid of the Baudelarian flight urged in Enivrez-vous. It is a present absence; it goes into It is an egoless sliding into enjoyment. It is still and peaceful; it is quite restful; it is a good. Being in a similar attitude will help other kythes.

88: Playing Springfield. Springfield is a game with very simple rules: two people alternate naming state capitals, and the first person to name Springfield wins.

What makes it interesting is that it’s not a game of mathematical strategy. It’s a game of perception. The real objective is to win as late as possible, and that means reading the other person and seeing how far you can go: from nonverbal cues, you need to read his mind.

Springfield is probably comparable to poker.

89: Thinking deeply, prolongedly, and intensely about a question. I realized today that I had been thinking pretty hard about kything for several days, and thought I should take a sabbath from it: I would record ideas that I had, but not intentionally give conscious thought to the question. It was after I did that that I began to realize how deeply I had been kything with the idea of kything.

The first thing I noticed was that it was hard to stop thinking. The second thing I realized was that I was still thinking of ways of kything. I probably don’t have to devote any more conscious effort to thinking to complete the number of entries.

When you think in that manner, for a sufficient length of time, your thought acquires the momentum of a frieght train. Mathematicians solve some of the most difficult problems after long and intense thought, and then cessation of conscious thought, usually to the point of forgetting it — and the solution comes. If it can be solved by continuous thought, it is not among the most difficult problems; the mathematician is not exercising his full abilities. When the storm ceases and the surface of the ocean stills, then the Leviathan stirs in the deeps. Deep calls to deep. This is perhaps the most profound kythe with an idea.

90: Experience. Experience in a domain constitutes and enables a kythe with that domain. My Mom asked me if I had a universal adaptor for her tape recorder, and I pulled one and said, “Is this the right jack? If it isn’t, I have another.” She said, “I don’t know, let me see.” A short while afterwards, she called me over to look at it, because “it seems to have two prongs.” I looked at, and instantly realized that it didn’t need an adaptor. It needed a power cord.

I was mildly irritated, and was finally able to put my finger on something I’d felt. Answering her help requests with technology has the same feel to me as explaining things to a small, naive child who doesn’t understand how the world works. She sees technology as this mysterious, unpredictable black box which works by magic.

I thought a little more, as my mother is neither naive nor childish. She is an intelligent and well-educated woman. What I realized was that I was not appreciating my own experience. Experience enables a person to look at the surface and see the depths — and a port for a power cord does not look fundamentally different from what a port for an adaptor might be. I see a computer as having definite inner workings which work according to understandable principle; when the computer is malfunctioning, I think I have a chance of understanding why. If my Mom thinks that the computer is a black box (you can see what it does, but not what’s inside it), I think of it as a white box (you can see what’s going on inside, and try to fix it if need be). The way I look at computers might be compared to the topographical anatomy I was taught in my EMT class, where you look at skin and see the underlying organs.

You kythe more when you’re interacting with a white box than with a black box, and that comes with experience.

91: Closing your eyes.

[Charles Wallace] closed his eyes, not to shut out Louise, not to shut out Meg, but to see with his inner eyes.

I closed my eyes when visiting my friend Innes’s house, and I realized what I was doing, and why: to focus, to connect, to concentrate. This is why couples close their eyes when they kiss; this is why we have the custom of closing our eyes when we pray. The image of a blind seer is a part of myth and literature; when we close our eyes, we momentarily blind ourselves so we can see.

92: Mental illness. Mental illness is not exactly a purely negative thing. It is a difference that is ecological in character, with positive as well as negative aspects. This very dark cloud has a silver lining, sometimes a mithril lining. This is why people with mental illness speak of a gift — something that puzzled me when I first heard it.

93: Mental health. If mental illness is a way of kything, then mental health is definitely a way of kything. Robin is a good friend and an excellent listener, and he radiates health. And Joel —

Robin once mentioned a theatre professor saying of his predecessor that with most people, they walk into a room and it’s “What about me?” His predecessor walks into the room and it’s, “What about you?”

I remember thinking, “I’d like to have a friend like that,” and then, “I would like to be like that.” A day later, I realized that I do have a friend like that: Joel. With Joel, it’s “What about you?”

Joel is probably the best kyther I know.

94: Watching or studying a kythe.

[Meg] found herself looking directly into one of his eyes, a great, amber cat’s eye, the dark mandala of the pupil, opening, compelling, beckoning.

She was drawn towards the oval, was pulled into it,

was through it.

My brothers were playing, and I was watching Ben and Joe play. I became aware of an energetic character to the play, and then I recognized a kythe a split second before remembering the entry about play as kything. So I decided to watch — and then I realized I was in the kythe.

95: Nature. To be out in the woods, or looking at night at the sapphire sky and crystalline stars, or listen to the sounds of a forest, or to play with an animal, or wade barefoot through a cold, babbling brook — these are ways of kything with nature. (Taken from Innes Sheridan.)

96: Swallowing a pill. Learning to swallow a pill was a long and traumatic experience for me; for the longest time, I tried my hardest and just couldn’t do it. The reason was precisely that I was trying my hardest: I was trying much too hard. When I finally did learn, I learned far better than most; I can now swallow several decent-sized pills on a sip of water — when I was last hospitalized, the nurses remarked at how little water I needed, and told me to drink more.

In what is for the most people a minor learning experience, I came to really appreciate how easy swallowing a pill is — to easy to force or accomplish by willpower. In this regard, it is not only an example of kything, but a symbol. Do, or do not. There is no try.

97: Mystical experiences. These are bestowed by God, and are not human doing; visions may come once or twice in a person’s life, not at all for most people. When they do happen, they are a special moment of grace, and communion with God, and they can leave a person changed for life.

98: Massage. Being able to do backrubs is a good skill to take to college campuses. When you give another person a massage, you communicate with his body through touch, and relax the flesh, the body, and the person you are touching, more fully than he can himself. It is different from many other touches, in that it is not spontaneous or habitual; it is a special time set aside to connect.

99: Saying farewell.

Parting is such sweet sorrow.

-William Shakespeare

When someone’s leaving, people say many of the things that they should have said long before but never got around to. Barriers come down. People realize how much others mean. They cry.

That is an obvious insight into saying farewell. What is less obvious is that these things can happen at any time. It is not so much that people can’t normally commune in this manner and are specially enabled to when someone leaves, as that people normally avoid this communion, and when some leaves they realize how bad it would be to them at any point. You can tell someone how much they mean to you any day. I did something like this for Robin recently, as I stopped from writing this to think about practicing what I was preaching. He and I are both glad I did. One part of the barriers coming down is that sharing yourself is inherently risky, and there is less risk if a person is leaving — if you share something that makes the other person think you are stupid, at least he’ll be away. So people share more. If you realize this, you can share on ordinary days what you would normally share when saying farewell — and grow closer. It might be a good idea to hold a farewell party for someone when he’s not going away. The same may be said for a funeral — there is something magnificent that goes on at a funeral, that doesn’t really have to wait for a person’s death.

100: Anything. Thursday night, I was at a band concert at Ben and Joe’s school. Afterwards, when walking through the mass of people, there was a moment when I was looking down into a little girl’s face, and as it passed I realized I was kything. There is a sense in which anything can be kything, if it is done in the right way.

Now we kythe darkly and through a glass. Then we shall kythe fully, spirit to spirit, even as we are fully kythed.

soli deo gloria