I don’t WANT to abuse your employees and be rewarded for gaming the system.
As a customer and as a member of the public, I like being treated with courtesy and respect, and it is nice if customer service employees can be gracious to me whether I am right or wrong. And if “The customer is always right!” is about being gracious and representing the company well whether the customer is right or wrong, then I’m all for that version of, “The customer is always right!”
However, if you say “The customer is always right!” as a policy that invites customers to be deliberately abusive, and treat your employees as punching bags because they know you will treat them better than customers who act like mature adults, I will take my business to places like Starbuck’s (for one example) where employees give the excellent customer service that only employees supported by their management can give.
I do, sometimes, come in with a complaint that I want help with. But even then, I’m not looking for “free hits” on a punching bag. I’m not even looking for a shoulder to cry on, although it might be nice if customer service can offer a sympathetic ear when a customer has had a rough day. What I really am looking for is help fixing a problem, and the bigger the problem is, the more an emplowered employee is my best ally. An unsupported employee who has been put out as a punching bag, and is trying to hide resentment from being put out as a punching bag by management, is not nearly so big a help to me as an empowered employee. I’ve heard that bad internal customer service never gives good external customer service, and when I need help, I want an empowered employee acting with management support, not someone management pushes forward as a doormat.
Like a lot of other people, and like a lot of other customers, I don’t like to watch someone be abused, and then treated better than those of us who try to respect your employees as humans. The message is very clear, whether or not it is one you would want associated with your organization. The message? You are willing to let us see others who are obviously acting abusive to your employees to get ahead of us when they are “just” being abusive to game the system, while people who treat your burning-out employees with respect are effectively second-class customers. Why? Because we are not gaming the system by abusing your employees.
I’ve heard of stores where the management treats employees with enough respect to call the police if a customer will not stop treating employees abusively. This happens perhaps once or twice a year; most of the time the employees are trying to make any reasonable effort to please customers. But when it does happen, the spontaneous response from the other customers is to clap and cheer. Most customers do not enjoy seeing someone be abused, even if the abuser isn’t getting rewarded for gaming the system.
I spent a bit of time in England, and one thing that really struck me there was that customer service settings seemed to quite often have a poster that said something like, “I am here to help customers. Please let me do my job. If you treat me in an abusive manner, my supervisors will put their foot down and call the police if they need to.” I was, for a very, very short while put off the first time I saw one of those posters, and then very, very impressed. And I realized that those posters went hand-in-hand with excellent customer service: not just the routine details, but deftly smoothing some very ruffled feathers when a customer was wrong and upset at not getting what he wanted.
And perhaps it stands to reason. I know the English place an emphasis on politeness, but customer service people who are treated as punching bags will probably be working hard to hide resentment. I may be missing something, but these customer service people didn’t seem to have much resentment to hide. (If any.)
I miss that customer service, and for that matter I miss the posters. Now I often get the inferior customer service that comes from employees who know that management doesn’t support them (and knowingly expects them to take abuse), not the top-notch customer support of employees who are supported by management, are not expected to take frequent abuse, and act empowered and free to help me as the customer. It’s quite a difference.
It’s a shame when “The Customer Is Always Right” gets in the way of treating employees well enough that they can deliver good customer service.
As a customer and as a member of the general public, and as a man and a human being, I would appreciate if you treat your employees as human beings who you will no more allow to be abused on your premises than a customer.
The Nor’krin are tall and strong, with thick, sandy blonde hair, deep blue eyes, and white skin that turns reddish when they go south from their frost-kissed land; the Janra affectionately refer to them as the Northern giants. They love to run across the snowy plains and up to the peaks, to feel the crispness of the air, and to drink the cold and crystalline waters of the flowing streams.
There are not very many of them; they live nomadic lives, spread out across the snowy North, carrying with them only their clothing, their hunting weapons (a large bow and quiver of arrows, an axe, and a knife), a canteen, and a handful of tools and other miscellanea.
Theirs is a culture of oral tradition and folklore, filled with a richness of symbolic thought. Their thought is expressed by storytelling. Some tell of people and actions full of goodness, love, and wisdom; some are allegories packed with symbolic detail; some are both. The evenings — from the meal onward — are times when the clans gather together, and the oldest member tells tales until long into the night, when the fire has died down to embers and the icy mountain peaks glisten in crystalline blue starlight.
(The language is one which revolves around the oral tradition; its grammar is fairly simple, sufficient for basic expression, but there is an extensive vocabulary fitted to epic poems, great tales, and the transmission of a symbol-filled body of lore)
Their experience of sense is primarily aural, centering around the communication and preservation of their tradition. The other senses all play a part in their knowing about the world around them and its enjoyment, of course, but the ears dominate.
Coming of age is very significant in Nor’krin culture. It is the event upon which a child becomes a full member of Nor’krin community, and appreciates it fully, for it is accomplished in solitude. It is the same for male and female, big and small.
Denuded of all possessions save a hunting knife and the clothing on his back, the child begins a solitary trek, south through the land of the Urvanovestilli and Yedidia, penetrating deep into the thick forests inhabited by the Tuz, until he enters a village, and, coming inside a shop, says, “Blacksmith, blacksmith, find me a task, give me a quest.”
There are as many quests as there are questions. Some are easy, some are hard; some are simple, some are complex. Whatever the quest be — be it finding an amethyst in the caves, climbing an immense mountain, answering a riddle, memorizing a book — he leaves the blacksmith shop and does not return until the quest is completed. (It must be said that, though some quests have taken years to complete, recorded history has yet to see a Nor’krin fail. A child leaves the immediate presence of his family, but remains in their prayers; they have great faith, and it is in this faith that they tread securely into the unknown.
Upon the return, the blacksmith begins to ask questions: “What is your name? What is your family? Who are you? What is your story?” — and begins to fashion an iron cross. This cross is at once a cross as any other, and a unique reflection of the person who wears it; no two are alike.
It is with this cross worn about the neck that he returns to his clan, come of age.
Nor’krin greet each other by standing opposite the other, placing the left hand on the other’s right shoulder, and lowering the head slightly; the gesture is a sign of respect.
The emotional side of their culture is not as intense or spectacular as many others, but is present and offers an important reflection of what they value. They know a deep sense of respect and appreciation; when they think of others, the first thought is, “This person is an image of God,” and there is a feeling of respect. The mountains, the trees, and the streams all bear a magnificence which they appreciate. Nor’krin worship services are filled with awe at the One whose glory is declared by tales, by lives, and by the created order. They are traditional liturgical services, where the place of the homily is taken by long tales and stories, conducted by the eldest members of the clan.
The Nor’krin homeland is named ‘Cryona’.
Many wayfarers go south, early in life, to buy equipment; they need only wait, and a blacksmith will forge a pair of iron boots which will last for life.
The people are dark and strong; their eyes shine with power and lightning. The average Tuz male is short, stout, very broad-shouldered, and built like a brick wall; a thick, straight, jet black moustache and a thick, curly beard push out of leathery skin. Women are equally short and stout, but do not have such broad shoulders, being (relatively) more plump and less muscled, and do not have the moustache and beard (usually).
Their buildings are hewn of solid granite, with iron doors. The villages are small and scattered, joined by worn paths passing through the rich, deep green of the forest. It is this forest, fertile and full of beasts, from which the heart of their meal comes. They are more than fond of spicy meat stews and bear jerky. Their beer is dark, thick, and strong, and every house has at least a little bit of khoor, a spiced rum which is occasionally used by the other peoples as a pepper sauce.
The Tuz work hard and play hard. They are often hired for heavy work in the construction of Urvanovestilli palaces, and their work rarely receives complaint. After work is over, they tend towards wrestling and general rowdiness; if they are present, Janra children (and occasionally adults) are tossed about.
For all of their rowdiness, the Tuz do possess a great deal of restraint; even after a couple of beers, they seldom give each other injuries beyond occasional bruises and abrasions, and Janra children do not receive even a scratch. (Most of them rather enjoy being tossed about).
The usual greeting is a crushing bear hug, often accompanied/followed by a punch in the stomach, some wrestling or tossing around, etc; it is generally toned down a bit for children and visitors from afar, but there is always at least a spark of rowdy play.
As much as the Nor’krin are at home in the cold, loving everything that is crisp and chilly, the Tuz love heat. Their land is by far the hottest, but that doesn’t stop them from munching on peppers and wrestling around. Blacksmiths’ shops and fire and sun-hot iron — these are a few of their favorite things.
The Tuz also build obstacle courses of stone and iron and rope, which the Janra have no end of finding new and inventive ways to use; a slack rope which Tuz climb along the underside of will be walked — or occasionally run — atop by the Janra; jumping shortcuts, backwards or inverted travel, and acrobatic ways of avoiding raw strength moves are common. Tuz, by contrast, have very slow and methodical paths.
They are, indeed, probably the most constant and unchanging of peoples; the process of maturing is a process of becoming more who they are. Their sense of order is also great; they value greatly the gift of being well ruled.
A child, at the age of ten, is presented to the village elders and the various guildmasters. They spend a day talking with the child and his parents, in order to determine his talents, interests, and personality; then they spend another day talking and discussing amongst themselves; then, on the third day, his profession is announced, along with the master to whom he will be apprenticed. The results are sometimes surprising, but always embody a great deal of wisdom, and the selection of a vocation is a gift for which the child is grateful.
Children learn a way of life filled with discipline, tradition, and respect for elders. It is quite simple, not at all ornate when compared to some other philosophies, but it has a power, a solidity to it, and love, faith, honor, friendship, and hospitality are things that they truly live by. Their families and communities are very close, and their friendships are loyal until death. They do not pay as much emphasis on verbal articulation of teaching as a way of life. There is thought, but in its expression, words take a second place to actions. That a life of faith involves discipline is declared very loudly by Tuz hands.
The are very aware of the value of solitude and prayer; it is a common practice to simply leave, taking nothing save clothing and a hunting knife or axe, and go up into the mountains for a few days of solitude, allowing time to pray and to be refocused.
Their language has, in speech, a very heavy, thick, consonantal feel, full of grated ‘h’s (which is often present in ‘k’s, ‘r’s, ‘g’s, and ‘b’s). The speech is terse and concrete.
Their experience of sense is also very concrete, centered somewhere between visual and aural. Sight tells what is around and where, and what is happening and where. Hearing tells what is happening, and where, and what is being said.
The emotional side of their culture knows such things as accomplishment, tradition, exertion, and discipline. There is an emotion that comes from a job well done and a challenge mastered; they value it. To have a heritage and respect elders as well as enjoy children brings a feeling of right order. To wrestle around, run, or laugh heartily has a pleasure. To control oneself has a joy. Things such as these are what they feel.
Tuz worship services are be short and sweet, with worship embodying a great deal of fervor.
The Tuz homeland is named ‘Rhog’.
The first thing to strike a visitor is the devices. In every house and many shops there is a tinkering room; a large workbench is covered with every imaginable sort of gear, spring, hinge, lever, chain, and shaft; the clock is only the beginning of clockwork. Two nearby cabinets — one filled with tools, one filled with parts and working materials — stand neatly closed; at the touch of a button, a drawer springs out, and shelves slowly slide up.
The craftsmanship of clockwork devices is, along with the study of diverse subjects — theology and philosophy, history and literature, science and mathematics — a hobby that symbolizes the culture. Each piece is created not only for utility, but also for artistic effect. Cuckoo clocks and spring loaded umbrellas, Swiss Army Knives and mechanical pencils, player pianos and collapsible telescopes: mechanical objects such as these fill the land.
The ornate complexity of the devices reflects the ornate complexity of thought. The language, quite possibly the most difficult to learn, allows a speaker to express detailed and nuanced thought in exacting specificity. There are twenty four verb tenses, so that there is (for example) a different past tense for a brief, well demarcated action, and one which occurred over a period of time; there are twenty four other verb forms, which are like verb tenses as to conjugation and construction, but express the verb in an atemporal manner. Their language has much room built in for conjunction and logical connectives, nesting and predicates, as well as subtlety, implication, and allusion.
They have a complex and formal system of etiquette, although it must be said to their credit that they take no offense at a wayfarer who is warm and friendly but does not know their rules; they understand how simple the heart of politeness is.
Their speech is clever and witty, and they are fond of abstract strategy games. They enjoy ornate and complex polyphony, and will spend hours exploring theology and philosophy (two disciplines which they have the wisdom not to separate).
Urvanovestilli culture places a very heavy emphasis on a facet of virtue which they call contrainte. Contrainte is a kind of inner constraint, where order is approached by adjusting conditions inside before conditions outside, and not letting oneself be wrongly controlled by external circumstance. A similar concept is embodied in the words ‘moderation’ and ‘self-control.’
Contrainte enables a man to be free and use that freedom responsibly; it enables a man to have access to drink without getting drunk; it enables him to think constantly without becoming rationalistic. The Urvanovestilli homeland has the richest natural resources in the world, and (with centuries of first rate craftsmanship and efficient work) they are by a wide margin the richest nation in the world. Despite this, they keep a very cautious eye on wealth, so as not to be enslaved by it. Theirs is not a culture of consumption; though some of their interests — art, sculpture, board oriented strategy games, tinkering — generally are pursued in a manner that involves wealth, the bulk — discussions, prayer, dance, imagination, thought — do not. Consumption as a status symbol and waste are both seen as vulgar.
In contrainte is also balance and complement. There is time in solitude and time in community, freedom and responsibility, private and public property, work and rest.
It is in contrainte that an ornate system of etiquette does not obscure love, and elaborate ceremonies do not obscure worship. Just as they do not have their sights set on wealth — they do not look to it for happiness, security, and other things that it can not provide — and are therefore able to enjoy it (among other and greater blessings) without being harmed, so also they set their sights on love and worship, and therefore do not permit rules of etiquette or liturgical forms to make themselves the focus and cause hearts to become cold and dusty.
Contrainte likewise allows them to act efficiently without becoming efficient. Off of work, life takes a calm and leisurely pace; nobody fidgets. It allows them to be very judicious in their use of money, and at the same time very generous; their hospitality is lavish, and it is unheard of for anyone — friend or stranger, native or foreigner — to go hungry in their land.
The single greatest mark of contrainte lies in that, with all of their achievements, they remain open to the gifts of God. Contrainte itself — though they work very hard to cultivate it — is not something that they try to achieve on their own power, but ask for in prayer, expecting to receive as a gift from God. Nor is it set up as the supreme context, the Supra-God to which God must bow down; they know nothing of religion within the bounds of contrainte. Contrainte does not “point to” itself as an object of worship, but rather God; it brings, in worship of God, a desire to grow in faith, hope, and love. It is like being reasonable enough not to be rationalistic.
On the surface, the Urvanovestilli culture appears to be the antithesis of that of the Shal. One is complex, and the other simple; one is rich, and the other poor; in one, people sit and talk for hours; in the other, people sit in silence for hours.
At the very heard, though, they are very much the same; Urvanovestilli, when traveling and visiting the Shal, feel that they are at home; the Shal find the Urvanovestilli to be brothers. They see beyond, rest in God’s love, and love their neighbors.
The Urvanovestilli are quiet, patient, temperate, and refined. They are classically educated and cultured; their country is a federation of republics, each one ruled by a senate in a tradition that has remained unchanged for centuries. Tradition is strong, and families remain together; come evening, three or four, sometimes even five generations sit down at one table, eating and drinking, talking and listening, long into the night. There is a great respect for age, but a respect that in no way despises youth; the oldest spend a great deal of time caring for the youngest. Indeed, one of the first sights to greet a visitor who steps inside an Urvanovestilli mansion is often a grandfather or great-grandfather, with a long, flowing white beard, sitting with a child on his knee.
Urvanovestilli names are long and ornate. The full name is rarely spoken outside of formal ceremonies; even Urvanovestilli do not often pronounce thirty syllables to refer to one entity; all the same, each one is considered important. The names are:
Family name: This is the first and foremost of names, and the most cherished; it is the most commonly used.
Maiden name: Among married women, this follows.
Birth name: This is the name given at birth, and is often used within families and when there are several people of the same family present.
Reserve name: This is a very intimate name, which is not always known outside of family and close friends; it is spoken with a great deal of affection and familiarity.
Baptismal name: This name is chosen at baptism by people who know the person well, and given a great deal of prayer; it is used especially in religious contexts.
Regional name: This tells of the city or village a person comes from, carrying with it connotations of regional flavor and culture. It is used primarily in reference to travelers or (occasionally) people far away.
Friend names: These names (some do not have any; a few have ten or eleven; the average is two or three) come according to friends; a friend can bestow a name, and it becomes thereafter formally a part of an Urvanovestilli full name. When such a name is bestowed, it will become the name used primarily by the person who chose it.
The phrases of politeness — those which would correspond to hello, goodbye, please, thank you, you’re welcome — are all benedictions; they take innumerable forms and beauties according to the people and situation. Blessing is something which they value; they often speak of good things — friends, virtue, art and music, food and drink — as so many blessings from the heart of the Father.
The traditional greeting is a hand raised, open save that the ring finger bends down to meet the thumb, or (when greeting a child) placed atop the head; the gesture is a symbol of benediction. It is followed by three kisses on alternate cheeks.
In youth, Urvanovestilli are filled with a wanderlust. They voyage to many different places, seeing different nations and lands — as well as the variety of their own cities — and enjoy experiences which provide a lifetime’s worth of memories. The wayfaring is never really complete, though, until it becomes the voyage home: the Time sometimes comes after two years of travel and sometimes after ten, but the Spirit always makes it clear. When that Time comes, each Urvanovestilli spends a little longer — perhaps a month — with the people he is visiting, and then leaves, with a very passionate and tearful goodbye.
It is Time to return home, to put down roots, to deepen, to mature; Time to wholly enter into the homeland. From this point on, the Urvanovestilli is no longer a wayfarer. The memories of his travels are cherished and very dear, a set of riches that he will always carry with him, and he will still send blessings, gifts, letters, and occasionally visits to friends in far away lands, but it is no longer time to go here and there; it is Time to grow into family, friends, and city.
Urvanovestilli writings and teaching, the means by which theology and philosophy are transmitted, take many forms — poems, riddles, parables and allegories, personal conversations, to name a few — but the predominant form is a systematic and structured logical argument: point one, point two, point three, subpoint three b, conclusion one… The structure carries allusion, nuance, and beauty; it leaves room for the speaker to make a very beautiful craft of words.
They enjoy being absorbed in thought; it is how they spend a good time of each day. They do not look down on sensation — indeed, they have a great appreciation for what is a very highly developed art, music, and cuisine — but it does not fill their world as it does that of many others. Abstraction and complexities of thought are fundamental to their experience of the world: sensation leads into perception, perception leads into concrete thought, and concrete thought leads into abstract thought. Moments of immersion in the senses are rare, Sensation, being the outermost layer, is governed and enjoyed from within. Its form is generally of aural and visual character; the aural side is shaped by words, and then accommodates the other plethora of sounds, and the visual side is shaped by the forms, the spaces, and the interactions of their devices, and sees something of springs and gears in the world around.
Their faces appear at first glance to be almost expressionless — a faint hint of a smile, perhaps — until you look at their eyes, the first window to the fire and intensity within. Urvanovestilli eyes — whether brown, amber, hazel, grey, or blue — bear an intense, probing gaze; in Urvanovestilli culture, eye contact is almost continual, and reflects a fire, an intensity, a passion, that fills their way of life. It does not take long to be reminded that eye contact is a form of touch; their eyes seem to be looking into your spirit. The gaze, in its intensity, is never cold and calculating, never the chilling, devouring stare of a steel face beyond which lies a heart of ice; at its most intense and most probing, it is the most filled with love, and most easily shows the intense fire within. They can rest — and they know calm and tranquility — but there is a great energy within, an energy that shows itself in their artwork and writings. Those who read their theologians certainly do not fail to notice the depths of wisdom and insight, but what is most striking is their love for God. The passion — of their love for God, for spouse, for family, for their neighbor; of desire to grow in virtue and knowledge, for their work — burns, and their experience of emotion — of discovery, of awe, of appreciation of beauty — is long and intense, complex and multifaceted. This emotion is the other side of contrainte; it is the same virtue that enables them to enjoy wine in temperance, and to be moved to tears by music and theater. It is not a “virtue” of stifling — that would be far too easy, but of control and proper enjoyment. Just as they find abstinence from drink to be too easy, a way of dodging the lesson of moderation, stifling emotion and crushing it would be, to them, a way of dodging the lesson of passions rightly oriented in accordance with holiness and love — not to mention an unconscionable destruction of an integral facet of being human.
Those Urvanovestilli who are the most virtuous, the most filled with contrainte, are nearly always the most passionate.
Urvanovestilli are usually short, but look like very tall in miniature, with clear white skin and jet black hair. The men have a thin and wiry frame, with sharp and angular features. They have flaring eyebrows coming out of a prominent brow, a thin, hooked nose, and tufts of fine hair flaring away from their ears. Skin holds tightly to bones, muscles, and veins, and arms end in long, thin hands with nimble fingers. Their voices are a very soft, almost silent tenor.
The women are somewhat slender, but a slenderness which is graceful and rounded. Their features, as well as their build, bear this slender, graceful, rounded character, and their movements are light and flowing. (If the men know more of passion, the women know more of calm). Their voices are high and clear, with a sound that is like silver, like cold and crystalline water, like clear, light, dry Alsace blanc.
Urvanovestilli worship services are long and complex, with ornate liturgy and ritual. The language is florid and ornate (like that of the liturgy stemming from St. John Chrysostom) and every sentence of the liturgy would embody theological truth. The homilies (although not the only part of the service which varies (much of the liturgy itself changing according to a traditional pattern dictated by a complex algorithm) from week to week) are themselves not that long. They are of moderate length, and differ from the liturgy — which presented different doctrines sentence by sentence — in being a full and well-developed presentation of one single idea, expressed in unequaled detail and eloquence.
The Urvanovestilli homeland is named ‘Flaristimmo’.
Urvanovestilli city — Capitello
Capitello is the capital of the Urvanovestilli land, and the classical Urvanovestilli city.
At the very heart lies a cruciform cathedral. It is an immense domed building, the outside in white marble, covered with statues and spires. Inside, all is dark — or so it seems to a person who first steps in.
Someone who steps in first stands in place, seeing nothing really, perhaps a few points of light in the darkness… and then, very slowly, begins to adjust. It is cool inside, and very still. The silence is a silence that can be heard, a very real and present stillness. As he begins to step into the coolness and the silence, he begins to see light — light that had gone unnoticed at first, but as he steps into it, becomes more and more visible. The light is shining through a thousand candles, each one bringing a little bit of light, a little bit of warmth, to what is around it. Then, after the candles become visible, it is seen what they illuminate — mosaics, worked with colored dyes and gold leaf… and faces.
Outside of the cathedral lies an open garden with fountains and statues. Around the garden lies a circle of seven great halls. In clockwise order, beginning south of the cathedral, they are:
Library: This collection, the largest in the world, has at least one copy of all known writings, and a scriptorium in which they are copied and transmitted.
Device museum: This is a clockwork building filled with exemplary devices (and copies in various states of disassembly).
Senate: This building is decorated with arts and crafts from the cities throughout the land; it is a place where senators (two from each city and one from each village) meet to govern the nation.
Mayorship: This is the local senate, the seat from which public affairs are run; the majority of political power is on a local level (the senate being the head of a confederation), vested in the town elders.
Forum: This is an immense amphitheater which hosts a variety of speakers, panels, and open talks. Lecture is the predominant medium and presentation, but poetry and storytelling occur not infrequently. The forum, along with the evening worship services in the cathedral, walking in the garden, attending a concert, or looking through the art museum, is appreciated as an enjoyable way to spend a night out.
Music hall/theater: This hosts concerts and recitals, theatrical performances, operas, dances, pyrotechnic displays, occasional Janra acrobatic performances, dramatic readings, puppet shows…
Art museum: Half of the space is devoted to permanent exhibits, and half to temporary displays. Most of the finest artwork ever produced by Urvanovestilli, and a good deal of the finest artwork from other cultures, may be seen here.
Outside of the seven halls lies what is called “the mélange”; outside of the mélange lie fields, pastures, and vineyards; outside of the farmland lies forest.
The mélange is a large annulus which contains mansions, shops, roads, paths, public squares, gardens, open lots, little forums and theaters, restaurants, and so on. It is where a great deal of life and culture transpires; in the little nooks and crannies, inside the parlors of the houses, a lot transpires.
The Urvanovestilli enjoy going out, but the enjoyment does not come from despising being at home. The parlors, which have the distinction of being within a person’s home and hospitality, are lavishly furnished, with couches, chairs, lanterns, some instruments, a liquor machine, some sculpture or paintings, often a fountain or clock or… and people enjoy sitting around, talking, reading, performing music…
Urvanovestilli city: Éliré
Éliré is known among the Urvanovestilli as the city of seashells. While most Urvanovestilli cities are built out of white stone, in ornately embellished classical geometric forms, Éliré is built out of sandy yellow stone, in flowing curves; buildings seem like giant seashells. The artwork and jewelry are crafted from seashells and other treasures from the sea — coral and pearls — and the public squares are filled with fountains and pools, where colorful fish swim about.
The people enjoy swimming, and often meet the dolphin population; they enjoy each other.
Urvanovestilli city: Mistrelli
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 known; 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.”
Urvanovestilli city: Fabriqué
Fabriqué is the biggest of Urvanovestilli port cities; it lies on the Tuz border, and is the site where ships — full rigs with multiple masts, many sails, and innumerable ropes — are built. They are polished and ornately carved, well suited for transport and trade as well as a work of art. The crews hired tend to be heavily Tuz — strong and sturdy workers who have no problem tying a rope as thick as a wrist in waves and storm — and set sail to other Urvanovestilli ports and ports around the world, transporting voyagers and cargo to destinations near and far.
The Yedidia culture is a culture of vibrant life. They live in buildings woven out of living trees and plants; the doorways are filled by hanging curtains of leafy vines which softly part as a person passes through.
Their manner of gardening spins out of a wonderful talent for drawing beauty out of the forest; many visitors come for the first time, do not even realize that they have stepped into a garden; they only notice that the forest’s beauty is exceptional there.
The Yedidia are very sensitive to the rest of Creation; they speak in a melodic, lilting tongue of the purest song, but even that language is not the one that is closest to them. The first language of every child is that of rocks and trees and skies and seas. They know how tot call birds out of the forest to fly into their hands; they know how to make plants flourish.
They have ears to hear the crystalline song by which the Heavens declare the glory of their Maker. They appreciate the beauty of the created order as it tells of the Uncreate with a power that can not fully be translated into words — and they use the language of Creation to speak of the mysteries of the Creator, whose fingerprints are everywhere in nature.
They look into the great and unfathomable vastness of space; it furnishes the language by which they tell of the great and unfathomable vastness of the Creator. They know the energy, the great fire out of which the sun pours out light and energy; it furnishes the language by which they tell of the energy and great fire in the heart of the Father, offering warmth and light freely and without cost. They dance in the rain, the life giving water poured out from above; it furnishes the language by which they speak of springs of living water come down from Heaven. They admire the beauty of the lilies of the field, which simply rest in the sunlight, rain, and dew showered on them; it furnishes the language by which they speak of resting in the love poured out. Their eyes are not closed when a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies…
They are sensitive to the silent beauty that is sometimes unnoticed even by the Janra. They enjoy the brilliance of the sun, and the pale blue luminescence of the moon; the gentle warmth of a summer night, and the powerful motion of a pouring rainstorm (and there are few things many Yedidia enjoy more than being thoroughly drenched). They look at the veins of a leaf, the hairs of a caterpillar, the motion of a snail; they listen to the song of birds, the sound of wind whispering amidst the leaves, the splashes of water flowing over rocks; they taste the cold freshness of water, the tartness of lemons, the sweetness of strawberries; they smell the soft fragrance of jasmine, the spice of cinnamon, the freshness after a rain; they feel the velvety softness of a rabbit’s fur, the raspiness of a rhubarb leaf, the roughness of bark, the smoothness of a worn stone, the gentle kiss of a summer breeze, the springiness of pete moss, the shimmering heat of fire long into the night, the light tickle of a crawling gecko, the fineness of a child’s hair, and the warmth of a friend’s face.
They are as intuitive as they are perceptive; the emotions of friends especially, but strangers as well, are quickly understood; be it singing together, a friendly joke, talking, listening, leaving alone, sitting together in silence, holding a hand, giving a hug — they always seem to know.
The Yedidia make wines and incense which even the Urvanovestilli do not come close to. It is, though, the Urvanovestilli who make their garments. Some are short, some are tall; some are slender, some are rounded; they tends towards being fairly short and fairly round, but there is a lot of variety. All, though, have olive skin and dark, shiny black hair; the women wear a long, flowing robe of kelly green, over which cascades of hair fall and spin, sometimes reaching to the waist, sometimes almost touching the ground; the men wear cloaks and tunics of walnut brown. The clothing is soft and light as air; it streams out in the motion and jumps of dance — like their music, smooth, soft, flowing, graceful.
“Dance, then, wherever you may be, for I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.” Theirs is a culture full of joy and celebration; it is full of smiles, and always willing to welcome a visitor. Finding something good, they look for someone to share it with.
They are very sensitive to the cycles of nature, of the day, of the phases of the moon, of the seasons in turn. They shape the regular rhythm of their songs, and provide a sense of constancy and regularity, again, which furnishes the language by which they speak of the constancy and regularity of the Creator.
The traditional greeting is a soft and gentle hug, one which often lasts a while (or a butterfly kiss, or…). That touch, as their faces and voices as they speak, bears a great deal of expression: The phrase of greeting used means, literally, “Here is a person in whom I find joy.” The words remain the same, but the music of the speech colors it to perfection.
Though each culture has its own drink — even the icy cold water enjoyed by the Nor’krin is appreciated by visiting Janra, who recognize it as a gift given without sowing or reaping — drinks are one of the first things that come to mind when most people hear the word ‘Yedidia’.
First of all are their wines. Nearly all of the finest wines are made in their land. Red and white, and a little bit of rose and green, are stored away in caves to age for years, perhaps decades, before being opened to enjoy with friends and memories.
After the wines come cider; it is served hot and well spiced; the spicing is done in many different ways, and gives a wonderful variety to a very soothing drink to warm a cool evening.
There are fruit juices of every color of the rainbow; strawberry, pear, guava, banana, apple, peach, and fig are but the beginning of a very long and flavorful list. There is, though, one strong point of commonality: the fruit is always still attached to the plant a few minutes before it is served.
(the variety of fruit juices is fermented and aged as are grapes to make wine, but that variety of drinks is reserved for very special occasions)
They also enjoy teas and infusions; the trees and herbs provide another spectrum of tastes to sip with friends.
Roots of various plants are sometimes spiced to provide another drink.
Yedidia cuisine varies somewhat from region to region. In some places, it is based on fresh fruit, and in others, on breads, cereals, thick soups and vegetable stews; the latter is spiced, lightly salted, and often has some meat for added flavor. All forms of Yedidia cuisine begin with a small salad (either garden or fruit), have a main course of some form of the local specialties, are followed by a platter with an assortment of breads and fresh fruits, and end with a dessert of cheeses or cured fruit.
Life, to the Yedidia, is one big, long party, and, to the Yedidia, song is the symbol of celebration. They sing in the morning, and sing in the evening; they sing while working, and sing a prayer — hands joined together — before meals. Thought is expressed in song; the first place to look for an expression of their perspective on theology and philosophy is in the verses of their hymns. There are many cherished songs shared across the nation, but there is also much spontaneity and improvisation; their way of speaking/singing is in metered verse, and a wealth of their wisdom is embodied in the rhythm of hymns, regular and dependable as the cycles of nature. The day, the moon, the year — these different cycles are echoed in the structure of verses.
For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies, For the love which from our birth over and around us lies: Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
For the beauty of each hour of the day and of the night, Hill and vale and tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light: Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child, Friends on earth, and friends above; for all gentle thoughts and mild; Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
For Thy church, that evermore lifteth holy hands above, Offering up on every shore her pure sacrifice of love: Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
For Thyself, best Gift Divine! To our race so freely given; For that great, great love of Thine, peace on earth, and joy in Heaven: Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears, All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres. This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; His hand the wonders wrought.
This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise, The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise. This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair; In the rustling grass I hear him pass, He speaks to me everywhere.
This is my Father’s world, O let me ne’er forget That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet. This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done; Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and Heaven be one.
The Yedidia are the most alive to sensation; each sense is valued, and each one provides something a little different.
Touch is pre-eminent; it is enjoyed immensely, and they consider it the most informative of senses. Touch tells them of texture and temperature, of moist and dry; by how things respond to pressure, they can feel what is present beneath the surface and what structure it forms; it tells much of emotion. When sensation yields perception, touch provides them with the greatest richness.
Smell is a sense of memories; to walk through an orchard is to remember seasons past. It no less bears a tale of what has happened; each person bears his own distinctive smell, and a place by its smell tells who has passed by. Many different things leave a mark on a placés scent, and to smell is to be told, as if in a far-off memory (indeed, like those that smell mysteriously triggers), what plants are present, what the weather is like and has been, who has passed by, what fruit was picked — though not all of this is perceived all of the time, the fragrance of a place often tells bits and pieces.
Sight is a sense that works by light illuminating all that it shines on (and this is something from which they draw a lesson). It tells of the color, the form, and the beauty of what is around; what is moving and what is still; it tells of what is far away and can not yet be touched. It serves as a guide to what is around, as a guide by which to move and act in an unknown situation, and it bears its own beauty; all of this provides lessons about God and about faith.
The first sound in their mind, and the one they most love, is song. The song of a friend’s voice, the song of a bird chirping, the song of a babbling brook, the silent song of silvery blue starlight — all of these are listened to and enjoyed.
The taste of food tells of the time of year and of culture. Drink and food are a kind of art, and its taste tells both of the time of year and how it was prepared.
Yedidia emotions have a fluid character; they are a sensitive people who are easily moved and who show their emotions quickly. Their celebration is filled with smiles and mirth — as is, indeed, much of life. Tears are held to be very precious — in their language, the same word means ‘tear’ and ‘diamond’ — and they know tears, not only of sorrow, but also of joy. Tears come to greet both memories and powerful music, and mark as both sign and symbol the most significant events in life — farewell and death, yes, but also a loved one regained, and birth, and marriage. Memories and hopes, also, are precious. They know sorrow, but never bitterness; however deep and angst-ridden the sorrow may be, deeper and more healing is the joy. Farewell is always marked by the thought of, “I will be able to enjoy your presence again;” on many a deathbed has been spoken the words, “We will be brought back together again in the heart of the Father. It will not be long.”
Yedidia worship services are filled with songs — celebrations in which everybody participates.
The Yedidia homeland is named ‘Syllii’.
Yedidia character: Sylla
Sylla is relatively short and rounded; she has dark, olive skin and soft, brown eyes. Her hair falls down to her waist, and she wears a long, flowing kelly green robe, as is traditional among Yedidia women; more often than not, a chain of flowers rests in her hair. She chooses to go barefoot, so that she can feel the grass, the moss, the earth, and the stones beneath her feet.
The only possession which she carries is a small harp; a slow strum accompanies a soft and gentle song. She also has with her a pet: a milshh: a small, eyeless animal, about two feet long, with brilliant golden fur that is long and soft, two large, pointed ears, eight short, flexible legs ending in large paws, and a shiny black nose which is always sniffing inquisitively. It is both shy and curious, and it is very warm and affectionate; it is usually very calm and sedate, but often becomes very excited when it smells someone familiar.
Fair is the sunlight;
Fairer still the moonlight:
Fairest of all, is the light of thy face.
The Jec life is filled with faith, humility, and simplicity. They live in small rural villages, where farmland — pastures, fields, orchards and vineyards, the village commons — outlies a few houses, some artisan’s shops, and a simple church.
They are peasants very much like those chosen to be apostles, and the carpenter who chose them. Farmers, blacksmiths, cobblers — clothed in rough, plainly colored robes, they are the sort of people one could easily overlook in the search for the spectacular. It is calloused hands and dirty fingernails that are lifted up to God in worship, and that continue to worship by placing a yoke on a pair of oxen, gathering firewood, peeling carrots and potatoes, or threshing wheat. There are many who are given great wisdom and knowledge, a faith to move mountains, or who speak in the tongues of men and angels, but they do not bear an otherworldly air or a strange electricity; they appear as men and women like any other, usually harvesting barley or carving wood.
Their thought is expressed in parables, little stories, and proverbs, the first and foremost of which are “Love Yahweh your God with all of your heart, and all of your soul, and all of your mind, and all of your might,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is a great sense of community and continuity, carrying the torch passed down by the saints who walked before.
They do not really travel; most are born, live, and die within a few miles of a single point. They do not look down on wayfarers who voyage far and wide to see the height of mountains and the vastness of seas, and enjoy the richness of the visible and invisible artifacts of the variety of cultures, but they pay a lot of attention to what is easy to pass by without noticing. They know their culture, their village, and its people very well.
Jec culture is a culture of the very small. They see the great in the small; in the Law of Love is seen all of virtue and right action; in a tiny shoot pushing out of the ground they see an immense oak whose branches will someday provide shade; in a simple gift, they see the love that gave it. They are fond of the words, “He who is faithful in little is also faithful in much.” Piety is given expression in the tiny details of everyday life, to which careful attention is devoted. They search to love God by seeing to the needs of whoever they are with.
Gift giving occupies an important cultural position; each gift serves as a little symbol, a little morsel, of love. The gifts are very simple — poverty does not permit the spectacular — but are given generously. A flower, an apple, a song, a blessing, a handshake, a prayer, a poem, a cup of cold water wood carved into a statue or a whistle, an oddly shaped pebble, a skin of wine, a walk, a story, a patterned candle — all of these are given.
Sight, sound, touch, smell, taste — there is nothing really special about their use of senses. They notice and enjoy little details; there is not much more to say.
The language has simple rules and few words; it is one of the easiest to learn, and bears well the load of talking about everyday matters, about personality and friendship, and about God.
When two Jec meet, one is usually coming to visit the other, and something of this notion of visit and welcome is embodied in the greeting. The visitor comes with one arm outstretched and hand open, saying, “I give you my love.” The host clasps the outstretched hand, bowing slightly, and says, “And I return to you mine.” These actions are accompanied by a gentle smile.
They are fairly short, with tan skin, brown eyes, and hair that is usually brown (and sometimes black or sandy blonde).
Their emotions are the emotions of being human, the common points of feeling shared across all culture. They know at least something of laughter and peace and passion and tears and awe; if there is one point that runs strong, it is a sense of tradition, community, continuity, and place; they have a sense of unique importance and a part in the great plan (two concepts which are not really separate in their thought).
Jec worship services are simple, without any real distinguishing remarks — no bells and smells, just a week by week liturgical service presenting the Gospel message and embodying worship. The opening words of each service are, “Hear, O Israel, Yahweh your God is one. You shall love Yahweh your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind, and with all of your might. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love one another.”
The Jec homeland is named ‘Tev’.
The language is soft, gentle, simple, and calm. It is spoken slowly, as if it were a lullaby; it has few words: simple, little words with rich and profound connotations; ‘Way’, ‘Tao’, and ‘Word’ are like the nouns which are used.
Even the verbs are rarely verbs which tell of action. Rather, they describe that which is; ‘be’, ‘abide in’ ’embody’, ‘love’, ‘nourish’, ‘support’, ‘is the friend of’, ‘know’, ‘receive’, ‘is from’, ‘resemble’, ‘live’, are the essential words which a child would learn as one of our children would learn words such as ‘walk’, ‘talk’, ‘eat’. Just as our language has different words — ‘walk’, ‘run’, ‘jog’, ‘sprint’, ‘mosey’, ‘trot’, for example — which tell of the action of moving by the us of legs, so their language has at least a few different words to tell of being, or understanding, or abiding, or loving. The way of speaking sometimes does not even need verbs; there are more adjectives than adverbs.
The genius of the language is embodied in a flowing prose which is the purest poetry; words with the simplicity of a child. It does not have abruptly ending sentences, but rather slides somewhat like Hebrew; one thought gives form to the next. It has something like the feel of the prologue to John’s account of the Gospel, or his first letter; it has something like the feel of a Gregorian chant; there is nothing abrupt in their speech or music. They speak, but even more, they are silent; there is a communion.
The understanding is one which see beyond, which looks at the surface and sees into the depths. They stand dazzled by the glory of the starry vault, and worship the awesome Creator who called them into being; they look at a friend’s face and see the person behind.
Their culture is a place of perfect order. It is ordered by things being placed rightly; by God worshiped by man, the spiritual ahead of the physical, being beyond doing.
It is of this that God is known in all of his majesty, that spirituality becomes rich and profound, that there is a right state of being. This brings the lesser things to flourish. Men shine as they reflect the glory of God. That which is physical is enjoyed immensely — the warmth and softness of a friend’s touch, the sweetness of a freshly picked orange, the fragrance of a garden of flowers, the sound of a bird’s song, the colors of a sunset — all of these things are received gratefully. Being, they do; they tend the garden, and create.
The order flows from resting in the Spirit and from love; there is no one who thinks of order. The truthfulness knows nothing of oaths; the order knows nothing of rules, nor even of honor and morality.
The culture is best understood, not by looking at men, but by looking at God. God gives generously, and they receive and rest in his love.
There are many people in modern society who, when waiting in an office or at a traffic light, become agitated and begin to fidget; they are hollowed out by an excess of doing. The Shal are innocent of such hurry. They act, but it is a doing which flows from being.
Food, wine, music, incense, touch, silence, storytelling, dance, drama, puppetry — it is not often that they all get together to have a celebration (they prize greatly time spent alone with one person, and then extended families and tightly knit communities).
Shal culture does not exactly have greetings as such; their way of thought works differently.
To say ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ is an action of an instant, in two senses. In one sense, it lasts for an instant; no one says ‘hello’ twenty times or shakes hands for five minutes. In the other sense, it marks an instant, the instant where absence becomes presence or presence becomes absence.
The Shal do not really think in terms of instants; time is measured and perceived — or, rather, not measured and not perceived — by moments. A friend is present, and he is enjoyed, and then he is absent, and then there is solitude. In the place of a greeting, the Shal have a presence. With the Shal, you never get the feeling that you are alone and there is another person nearby who is also alone; you never get the feeling that there is a close group of friends nearby and they are inside and you are outside. If a Shal is nearby, he is present; indeed, the Shal have a very present touch.
Life, to the Shal, is full of moments. There is a meal with friends, and then there is reflection in solitude, and then there is a beautiful song, and then there is time with a friend, and then there is prayer, and then there is sleep, and then there is work tending to the trees… There is not interruption or haste; a moment lasts as long as it is appropriate for a moment to last.
Their 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.
This withdrawing fills them with an abundant love for other people, and gives them a renewed appreciation for nature and music; it fills them with silence, and fills their words and song.
Their perception of the world is quintessentially tactile. Sight, hearing, and smell all work at a distance; touch perceives what is immediately present. The eyes, ears, nose, and tongue are all organs of sense at one place on the body — more sensitive in some places and less in others, to be sure — and feels all of what is immediately present. Touch provides the physical side of the presence which is so greatly valued.
The emotional side of the culture is filled by peace, in which is embedded joy and contentment. It does not change very much or very quickly — though it encompasses affection, or appreciation of beauty, or a special serenity, or absorption in thought.
Their appearances have the peculiar property of not seeming to be any particular age. If you look, age is not very difficult to judge, but somehow the thought doesn’t come up. They have a rounded shape, soft eyes, and warm, soft skin.
Shal worship services are different from the others. They are characterized, not by the presence of words, but by the presence of a profound and penetrating silence where God is imminent. There are a few words, but they are not where the essence lies.
The Shal homeland is named ‘Liss’.
The Janra, unlike any of the other cultures, have no homeland; they voyage among the other lands, where they are generally well-liked and warmly received. Their wayfaring is at once literal and symbolic: literal in the sense that they know that they are passing through this earthly country for a better one. They enjoy all of the lands that they visit — they have an informal character, and always seem to be at home — but they know that none of them is really home.
It must be said that they know how to move. They can walk, skip, and run, of course, but that is only the beginning. Trees, buildings, and cliffs are climbed like ladders. Come oceans, rivers, and lakes, they will happily swim. Be it lightly skipping atop a thin wall, or jumping out of a window to grab a tree branch and swing down, or running at top speed through the twisty passages of the Southern mines and caves, they make acrobatics seem another form of walking. Somehow, even flipping through a window or somersaulting under a table, they have an extraordinary knack for barely missing collisions with hard objects; the Urvanovestilli are still debating whether this is the result of skill or luck.
The dances of the Urvanovestilli have a marvelous complexity, and those of the Yedidia are known for their flowing grace, but there is still nothing like the spinning energy of the Janra. The Janra are very adaptible, pulling bits and pieces from other cultures and setting them together in vital new combinations. In some of the dances can be seen bits and pieces — moves of strength that look like Tuz wrestling, or complexity from the Urvanovestilli — and the result is nothing short of breathtaking.
In their adaptibility, they usually speak at least a few words of each language, and usually borrow whatever form of greeting is common in the land they are visiting. They are familiar with the household objects (often enough to use them in new ways). This, combined with a flair for practical jokes, is occasionally enough to annoy the town guards, but (more often than not) their antics leave people laughing, sometimes to the point of tears.
The Janra have a remarkable talent for not remaking God in their image. Their description of Jesus is anything but boring and respectable — a firebrand with a phenomenal knack for offending religious leaders, in the habit of telling respectable pillars of society things such as, “The prostitutes and tax collectors are entering the Kingdom of Heaven ahead of you.” — and they are known for an honesty that can be singularly blunt. They know that he passed over scribes and lawyers to call, as disciples, a motley crew of fishermen, tax collectors, and other peasants — one terrorist thrown in to make matters interesting. They are, however, just as cautious not to water him into only being a social reformer who had nothing to say about sexual purity.
For all of their sharpness, for all of their ability to bring forth the most embarrassing Scriptural teaching at the worst possible moment, it must also be said that the Janra have hearts of pure gold. Love and compassion are constantly in their thought and action; they are the first to share their food with a beggar, say hello to the person who is alone, or ask, “Are you hurting?” The accusations brought against them are accusations of having too many quirks, not of being unloving.
Their language is of a force that is not easily translated into writing; of course it has nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. and respects masculine and feminine, but intonation, speed, vocal tension, and other factors tell at least as much; they carry connotation and sentiment, express the level of clarity of understanding the speaker believes he has, and many more things. There are also a number of verbal tics, on the order of two or three dozen (‘Eh?’ is, however, not included, and apparently perceived to be a mark of general silliness); in a sense, they don’t do anything, but in a sense, they add a very nice pepper to the speech.
Janra thought involves a kind of sideways logic, which is part of why their ways of speaking are difficult to describe. They take little bits and pieces from different places, and put them together in unexpected ways, making connections that can be very surprising. They are very good at reading between the lines, and sometimes perceive things which were not intentionally meant to be communicated. Sometimes they borrow manners of speech from other people — conversation, structured argument, metered verse, stories, parables, and so on — but their usual way of speaking has all sorts of sideways jumps and turns, with segues that can be rather odd, and often leaves gaps; these gaps are not a matter of sloppiness, but rather something like a joke or riddle where the hole is intentionally left to be filled in by the listener.
“When it comes to games, never try to understand the Janra mind.”
-Oeildubeau, Urvanovestilli philosopher and anthropologist
It is known that Janra sports usually last for at least half an hour, involve a ball, two or more teams, running and acrobatics, and animated discussion. Beyond that, neither the Urvanovestilli’s logic nor the Yedidia’s intuition are able to make head or tail of them. In general, the teams appear to have unequal numbers of players; the players often switch teams in the course of play; teams are created and dissolved; the nature of the activities makes sudden and radical changes; there is no visible winning or losing. There are occasionally times in the course of play when some intelligible goal appears to be being approached… but then, all players seem to be approaching it in a rather erratic manner (when asked why he didn’t do thus and such simple thing and achieve the approached goal by an inexperienced anthropologist, one of the Janra said, “Technically, that would work, but that would be a very boring way to do it,” and then bolted back into play: the extent to which game play is comprehensible heightens its incomprehensibility). Late in life, Oeildubeau hinted at having suspicions that, if the Janra believe that they are being watched, they will spontaneously stop whatever sport they are playing, and instead begin a series of activities expressly designed to give any observer a headache.
Janra come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, showing bits and pieces of other races; they tend to be of moderate to tall height and a lithe build. Most are fairly light skinned (although a few are rather dark); a fair number of them have skin spotted with freckles. They have every imaginable color of hair (black, brown, blonde, grey, white, red, tweed, shaven head, etc). and eyes (brown, blue, hazel, grey, amber, purple, etc). They wear loose clothing in a variety of colors, usually quite vivid; red, purple, and green are the most common of solid colors, and patches or stripes of some pattern or the whole rainbow appear not infrequently. Therefore, Al is a pud.
Their sensation of the world is primarily visual, and in a way patterned after their thought; visualizing and visual problem solving comes very naturally to them. They see, as well as beauty, a world to interact with, and parts to rearrange and make something new. Sound and touch serve largely to complement and extend visual image; taste and smell are enjoyed, but do not play a terribly large role. The other side of the coin (to problem solving) is observing and enjoying, which is also very much a part of culture.
Their emotional life has several sides. They carry with them, in their emotions, a little bit of every place and people they visit — the passion and control of the Urvanovestilli, the peace of the Shal, the festivities and music of the Yedidia, the respect of the Nor’krin, the enjoyment of exercise of the Tuz, the common factor of the Jec. Perhaps the most prominent side of all is laughter. Janra are immeasurably fond of banter and practical jokes, and have an uncanny knack for guessing who is ticklish. There is an element of what is carefree, spontaneous, and given to pure enjoyment of simple pleasures; there is also a large element of being immersed in sidethink, and they enjoy greatly the flash of insight when everything fits together. They are curious and enjoy discovery.
There is another side to this emotion which seems paradoxical, but fits perfectly. There is a difference between childlike and childish, and not a trace of childishness is to be found among them. They enter the Kingdom of Heaven as little children — in particular, like one little boy who stood up before crowds of thousands and asked, “Why is the Emperor naked?” Of all the skills people learn as a part of growing up, they know perhaps least of all closing their eyes and using intelligence as a tool to make oneself stupid. They are moved by what goes unnoticed, smiling at the beauty in a single blade of grass, and weeping at the death of a beggar who, homeless, friendless, handicapped and burned, explained that he was unable to drop a knife taped to his defunct hand for self-defense, but was still shot and killed outside of the White House by men entrusted with the responsibility of protecting innocent life.
There are two things to said about Janra worship. The first is that they adapt and participate in whatever is the local manner of worship (as do traveling Urvanovestilli and other wayfarers) — in that regard, they make no distinction between themselves and the peoples that they visit. The second — and this does not stem from any perceived defect in the other forms of worship, but from who they are — is that they hold their own worship services.
These services do not occur at a fixed time and place (though they occur more frequently when Janra are on the road between different locations), but at random intervals and locations, spontaneously. Anyone and everyone is welcome, and children and sometimes adults of other races are usually present.
They are a warm and informal occasions, where anyone can take the lead, and a great many activities are recognized as worship; the Janra have a particularly strong emphasis on the priesthood of the believer and the sacredness of everyday life. People sit in a big circle, and people or groups of people come to the center to present or lead as they wish.
There is no canonical list of activities that are performed at these services, but the following are common.
* Songs. The Janra sing their own songs (often improvised) or those of other peoples; those of the Yedidia are especially treasured. While singing, the people are sometimes still, sometimes swaying, sometimes clapping, and sometimes dancing with their arms.
* Prayer. One person will lead a prayer, or people will pray popcorn style, or…
* Sermons. A theologian or philosopher will preach a sermon.
* Sharing. Someone will share an insight or experience from personal life.
* Dance. The whole assembly will dance, sometimes in a long, snaking line.
* A joke is told. The Janra are fond of laughter.
* Drama. One of a few people will present a dramatic presentation, play, or skit.
* Group hug, usually in whatever is the common greeting of the land.
* Ticklefest. “Blessed are the ticklish, for the touch of a friend will fill them with laughter.”
* Silence. This is treasured.
* Reading from the Scriptures.
* Reading or recitation of poetry.
* Juggling and similar activities.
* Instrumental music.
* Non sequiturs.
* Mad libs.
* Impressions and impersonations of various and sundry people.
* Janra-ball. This occurs in a modified form such that members of other races, while still not understanding anything, are capable of participating. (Nobody gets a headache.)
* Eucharist. This is the most solemn and important moment, and occurs exactly once in a service — at the end.
* None of the above. This category is especially appreciated.
Janra character: Nimbus
Nimbus is fairly short and wiry; he has light, almost white blonde hair, deep, intense blue eyes which sparkle and blaze, and a rich, laughing smile. He wears a loose, shimmering two-legged robe of midnight blue, from the folds of which he seems to be able to procure innumerable items of Urvanovestilli make (for example: goggles (waterproof), telescope, silk rope and grappling hook with spring-loaded launcher, climbing/rapelling harness and gear/self-contained, spring-loaded belay), lantern, tool kit (large blade, precision blade, compass, wire saw, corkscrew, ruler, reamer, chisel, pliers, scissors, needle, punch, protractor, file, and sharpening stone), paper pad, mechanical pencil, supply kit (string, pencil lead, chalk, flask of oil, wire, miscellaneous device components (gears, springs, shafts, etc.), cloth), meal kit, tinderbox, mechanical puzzle, mirror, whistle…).
During childhood, he spent a lot of time in the land of the Urvanovestilli, and began to take an interest in tinkering. He has very much his own way of tinkering, from an Urvanovestilli perspective; he is fond of all manner of kludges. The resulting devices have caused his Urvanovestilli mentors to conclude that he is mad (the truth of the matter being that he is not mad, but produces and modifies contraptions in such a manner as to drive any honest Urvanovestilli tinkerer mad). When the city unveiled a new fountain in the public square, he added a pyrotechnic spark; when, in a public ceremony, the mayor celebrated his wife’s birthday by presenting a specially commissioned music box, the tune somehow changed from “Happy birthday to you” to “The old grey mare ain’t what she used to be.”
He does, however, possess a sense of what is and is not appropriate; his practical jokes never take on a mean or spiteful character, and he does possess a strong degree of contrainte. He does appreciate the variety of cultures he visits, and enjoys Urvanovestilli philosophical and theological discussions.
He is, in short, as Janra as any — left-handed and colorful, warm and compassionate, and a heart of solid gold.
A quote: “What? You think _I_ would do something like that? I’m hurt.” (generally accompanied by a wide grin)
“Not all flesh is the same: men have one kind of flesh, and beasts have another kind of flesh, fish have another, and birds another still. There are also celestial bodies, and terrestrial bodies; the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. The sun has one glory, and the moon another, and the stars still another; star differs from star in glory.”
I Cor. 15:39-41
“God does not create two blades of grass alike, let alone two saints, two angels, or two nations.”
C.S. Lewis, _That_Hideous_Strength_
This world is an exploration of good, a set of musings about cultures not fallen. The variety of cultures exists because of the nature of good.*
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all tell the same Gospel, the same message of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, crucified for the forgiveness of sins and raised from the dead.
They each, however, present this one Gospel with a distinct flavor; it is with a great deal of wisdom and respect for this one Gospel message that Christian tradition has vigorously resisted attempts to reduce the four books to one single, homogenized account. Matthew emphasizes the Kingdom of Heaven and peace; Mark emphasizes action; Luke provides a physician’s account of healing and sensitivity towards the despised; John provides a poetic and mystical account of love and intimacy. It is to faithfully represent this one Gospel that the Spirit inspired the writing of multiple accounts.
Faithfulness to a God of color and vibrancy means anything but a dull, monotonous cookie cut-out series of identical believers; just as a person is most faithfully represented, not by multiple copies of one photograph, but by many different photographs from many different angles, so images of God may faithfully reflect him by being different from each other.
This is why there are different cultures, each with its own emphasis on philosophy and way of life. (Within these cultures, though I have far from described them, should be many different sub-cultures, communities, and individuals. There is a masculine and a feminine side to each culture — or, more properly, each culture recognizes the importance of men who are masculine and women who are feminine). The differences, however, are differences of emphasis, just as the previous analogy spoke of different photographs for the sake of faithfully representing one entity.
It is in this same substance that people of other cultures look at each other and immediately see human beings; the differences are a source of heightened enjoyment between brothers and sisters. It is in this same substance that they love God with their whole being, and love their neighbors as themselves. That there is one God, the Father, the Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth, of all that is, visible and invisible, that God is holy, possessing all authority and all wisdom, that there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, God from God, Light from Light, Love from Love, the Word made flesh, perfect God and perfect man, crucified for the forgiveness of sins and raised from the dead to be the eldest of many brothers and sisters, that there is the Holy Spirit, a fire of love and energy shooting between the Father and the Son, the new structure of obedience, that the fear of the Eternal is the beginning of wisdom, that God created the sky, the earth, the seas, the plants, the animals, and saw that it was good, and then created man in his image, and saw that it was very good, that the order of the universe is spiritual as well as physical, that God loves man and has given him the Law of Love, that man has as facets cultas and culturas, individual and community, that he created them male and female, faith, hope, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control — things such as these are the reality unequivocally confirmed by all men. Cultural differences provide richness and variety that enhances understanding between brothers and sisters who love one another.
When a character is developed, with a cultural and personal flavor, do not overlook that which is to be common across all cultures and people, the same identity which holds culture and personal uniqueness.
One brief note, in the interest of clarity to avoid unnecessarily offending people: I am a white, male American who has lived in South-East Asia and Western Europe. I find cultures to be objects of great beauty, but make no pretense to be well-versed in all of them, nor to have included each of them in this world. The absence of some cultures is not meant as a statement of “My culture exists because of Creation and your culture exists because of the Fall;” I tried to envision a world not fallen, and began to create it with a background that certainly includes my theological knowledge, but also includes my cultural background and my own personality. If some members of other cultures would like to make a similar creation based on their knowledge, go for it; if you send it to me, I’ll enjoy reading it. I have not, however, myself gone out of my way to include other cultures; I am not ashamed of this. I am grateful to God for the personal and cultural fingerprints that I have left on this creation, and hope that other people, other images of God to whom it is given a slightly different manner of reflecting God’s glory, have been able to read it in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
* Careful readers will have noticed some things — ergo, meat eating, rebuke, the Cross (a symbol of redemption from sin), which do not correspond to Eden. The cultures exist, not always as what sinless cultures might have been in Eden, but sometimes what sinless Christian culture might be today, were such a thing possible. To state some things more precisely: it is a world in which physical evil exists, but not moral evil. I would request that the reader overlook the indirect marks of sin, as the cultures were designed around other concerns primarily.
I remember meeting a couple; the memory is not entirely pleasant. Almost the first thing they told me after being introduced was that their son was “an accident,” and this was followed by telling me how hard it was to live their lives as they wanted when he was in the picture.
I do not doubt that they had no intent of conceiving a child, nor do I doubt that having their little boy hindered living their lives as they saw fit. But when I heard this, I wanted to almost scream to them that they should look at things differently. It was almost as if I was speaking with someone bright who had gotten a full ride scholarship to an excellent university, and was vociferously complaining about how much work the scholarship would require, and how cleanly it would cut them off from what they took for granted in their home town.
I did not think, at the time, about the boy as an icon of the Holy Trinity, not made by hands, or what it means to think of such an icon as “an accident.” I was thinking mainly about a missed opportunity for growth. What I wanted to say was, “This boy was given to you for your deification! Why must you look on the means of your deification as a curse?”
Marriage and monasticism are opposites in many ways. But there are profound ways in which they provide the same thing, and not only by including a community. Marriage and monasticism both provide—in quite different ways—an opportunity to take up your cross and follow Christ, to grow into the I Corinthians 13 love that says, “When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me”—words that are belong in this hymn to love because love does not place its own desires at the center, but lives for something more. Those who are mature in love put the childish ways of living for themselves behind them, and love Christ through those others who are put in their lives. In marriage this is not just Hollywood-style exhilaration; on this point I recall words I heard from an older woman, that you don’t know understand being in love when you’re “a kid;” being in love is what you have when you’ve been married for decades. Hollywood promises a love that is about having your desires fulfilled; I did not ask that woman about what more there is to being in love, but it struck me as both beautiful and powerful that the one thing said by to me by an older woman, grieving the loss of her husband, was that there is much more to being in love than what you understand when you are young enough that marriage seems like a way to satisfy your desires.
Marriage is not just an environment for children to grow up; it is also an environment for parents to grow up, and it does this as a crown of thorns.
The monastic crown of thorns includes an obedience to one’s elder that is meant to be difficult. There would be some fundamental confusion in making that obedience optional, to give monastics more control and make things less difficult. The problem is not that it would fail to make a more pleasant, and less demanding, option than absolute obedience to a monastic elder. The problem is that when it was making things more pleasant and less demanding, it would break the spine of a lifegiving struggle—which is almost exactly what contraception promises.
Rearing children is not required of monastics, and monastic obedience is not required married faithful. But the spiritual struggle, the crown of thorns by which we take up our cross and follow Christ, by which we die to ourselves that we live in Christ, is not something we can improve our lives by escaping. The very thing we can escape by contraception, is what all of us—married, monastic, or anything else—need. The person who needs monastic obedience to be a crown of thorns is not the elder, but the monastic under obedience. Obedience is no more a mere aid to one’s monastic elder than our medicines are something to help our doctors. There is some error in thinking that some people will be freed to live better lives, if they can have marriage, but have it on their own terms, “a la carte.”
What contraception helps people flee is a spiritual condition, a sharpening, a struggle, a proving grounds and a training arena, that all of us need. There is life in death. We find a rose atop the thorns, and the space which looks like a constricting prison from the outside, has the heavens’ vast expanse once we view it from the inside. It is rather like the stable on Christmas’ day: it looks on the outside like a terrible little place, but on the inside it holds a Treasure that is greater than all the world. But we need first to give up the illusion of living our own lives, and “practice dying” each day, dying to our ideas, our self-image, our self-will, having our way and our sense that the world will be better if we have our way—or even that we will be better if we have our way. Only when we have given up the illusion of living our own lives… will we be touched by the mystery and find ourselves living God’s own life.
Against (crypto-Protestant) “Orthodox” fundamentalism
If you read Genesis 1 and believe from Genesis 1 that the world was created in six days, I applaud you. That is a profound thing to believe in simplicity of faith.
However, if you wish to persuade me that Orthodox Christians should best believe in a young earth creation in six days, I am wary. Every single time an Orthodox Christian has tried to convince me that I should believe in a six day creation, I have been given recycled Protestant arguments, and for the moment the entire conversation has seemed like I was talking with a Protestant fundamentalist dressed up in Orthodox clothing. And if the other person claims to understand scientific data better than scientists who believe an old earth, and show that the scientific data instead support a young earth, this is a major red flag.
Now at least some Orthodox heirarchs have refused to decide for the faithful under their care what the faithful may believe: the faithful may be expected to believe God’s hand was at work, but between young earth creationism, old earth creationism, and “God created life through evolution”, or any other options, the heirarchs do not intervene. I am an old earth creationist; I came to my present beliefs on “How did different life forms appear?” before becoming Orthodox, and I have called them into a question a few times but not yet found reason to revise them, either into young earth creation or theistic evolution. I would characterize my beliefs, after being reconsidered, as “not changed”, and not “decisively confirmed”: what I would suggest has improved in my beliefs is that I have become less interested in some Western fascinations, such as getting right the details of how the world was created, moving instead to what might be called “mystical theology” or “practical theology”, and walking the Orthodox Way.
There is something that concerns me about Orthodox arguing young earth creationism like a Protestant fundamentalist. Is it that I think they are wrong about how the world came to be? That is not the point. If they are wrong about that, they are wrong in the company of excellent saints. If they merely hold another position in a dispute, that is one thing, but bringing Protestant fundamentalism into the Orthodox Church reaches beyond one position in a dispute. Perhaps I shouldn’t be talking because I reached my present position before entering the Orthodox Church; or rather I haven’t exactly reversed my position but de-emphasized it and woken up to the fact that there are bigger things out there. But I am concerned when I’m talking with an Orthodox Christian, and every single time someone tries to convince me of a young earth creationism, all of the sudden it seems like I’m not dealing with an Orthodox Christian any more, but with a Protestant fundamentalist who always includes arguments that came from Protestant fundamentalism. And what concerns me is an issue of practical theology. Believing in a six day creation is one thing. Believing in a six day creation like a Protestant fundamentalist is another matter entirely.
A telling, telling line in the sand
In reading the Fathers, one encounters claims of a young earth. However, often (if not always) the claim is one among many disputes with Greek philosophers or what have you. To my knowledge there is no patristic text in which a young earth is the central claim, let alone even approach being “the article by which the Church stands or falls” (if I may borrow phrasing from Protestant fundamentalist cultural baggage).
But, you may say, Genesis 1 and some important Fathers said six days, literally. True enough, but may ask a counterquestion?
Are we obligated to believe that our bodies are composed of earth, air, fire and water, and not of molecules and atoms including carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen?
If that question seems to come out of the blue, let me quote St. Basil, On the Six Days of Creation, on a precursor to today’s understanding of the chemistry of what everyday objects are made of:
Others imagined that atoms, and indivisible bodies, molecules and bonds, form, by their union, the nature of the visible world. Atoms reuniting or separating, produce births and deaths and the most durable bodies only owe their consistency to the strength of their mutual adhesion: a true spider’s web woven by these writers who give to heaven, to earth, and to sea so weak an origin and so little consistency! It is because they knew not how to say “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Deceived by their inherent atheism it appeared to them that nothing governed or ruled the universe, and that was all was given up to chance.
At this point, belief in his day’s closest equivalent to our atoms and molecules is called an absolutely unacceptable “spider’s web” that is due to “inherent atheism.” Would you call Orthodox Christians who believe in chemistry’s molecules and atoms inherent atheists? St. Basil does provide an alternative:
“And the Spirit of God was borne upon the face of the waters.” Does this spirit mean the diffusion of air? The sacred writer wishes to enumerate to you the elements of the world, to tell you that God created the heavens, the earth, water, and air and that the last was now diffused and in motion; or rather, that which is truer and confirmed by the authority of the ancients, by the Spirit of God, he means the Holy Spirit.
St. Basil rejected atoms and molecules, and believed in elements, not of carbon or hydrogen, but of earth, air, fire, and water. The basic belief is one Orthodoxy understands, and there are sporadic references in liturgical services to the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water, and so far as I know no references to modern chemistry. St. Basil seems clearly enough to endorse a six day creation, and likewise endorses an ancient view of elements while rejecting belief in atoms and molecules as implicit atheism.
Why then do Orthodox who were once Protestant fundamentalists dig their heels in at a literal six day creation and make no expectation that we dismiss chemistry to believe the elements are earth, air, fire, water, and possibly aether? The answer, so far as I can tell, has nothing whatsoever to do with Orthodoxy or any Orthodox Christians. It has to do with a line in the sand chosen by Protestants, the same line in the sand described in Why Young Earthers Aren’t Completely Crazy, a line in the sand that is understandable and was an attempt to address quite serious concerns, but still should not be imported from Protestant fundamentalism into Holy Orthodoxy.
Leaving Western things behind
If you believe in a literal six day creation, it is not my specific wish to convince you to drop that belief. But I would have you drop fundamentalist Protestant “creation science” and its efforts to prove a young earth scientifically and show that it can interpret scientific findings better than the mainstream scientific community. And I would have you leave Western preoccupations behind. Perhaps you might believe St. Basil was right about six literal days. For that matter, you could believe he was right about rejecting atoms and molecules in favor of earth, air, fire, and water—or at least recognize that St. Basil makes other claims besides six literal days. But you might realize that really there are much more important things in the faith. Like how faith plays out in practice.
The fundamentalist idea of conversion is like flipping a light switch: one moment, a room is dark, then in an instant it is full of light. The Orthodox understanding is of transformation: discovering Orthodoxy is the work of a lifetime, and perhaps once a year there is a “falling off a cliff” experience where you realize you’ve missed something big about Orthodoxy, and you need to grow in that newly discovered dimension. Orthodoxy is not just the ideas and enthusiasm we have when we first come into the Church; there are big things we could never dream of and big things we could never consider we needed to repent of. And I would rather pointedly suggest that if a new convert’s understanding of Orthodoxy is imperfect, much less of Orthodoxy can be understood from reading Protestant attacks on it. One of the basic lessons in Orthodoxy is that you understand Orthodoxy by walking the Orthodox Way, by attending the services and living a transformed life, and not by reading books. And if this goes for books written by Orthodox saints, it goes all the more for Protestant fundamentalist books attacking Orthodoxy.
Science won’t save your soul, but science (like Orthodoxy) is something you understand by years of difficult work. Someone who has done that kind of work might be able to argue effectively that evolution does not account for the fossil record, let alone how the first organism could come to exist: but here I would recall The Abolition of Man: “It is Paul, the Pharisee, the man ‘perfect as touching the Law’ who learns where and how that Law was deficient.” Someone who has taken years of effort may rightly criticize evolution for its scientific merits. Someone who has just read fundamentalist Protestant attacks on evolution and tries to evangelize evolutionists and correct their scientific errors will be just as annoying to an atheist who believes in evolution, as a fundamentalist who comes to evangelize the unsaved Orthodox and “knows all about Orthodoxy” from polemical works written by other fundamentalists. I would rather pointedly suggest that if you care about secular evolutionists at all, pray for them, but don’t set out to untangle their backwards understanding of the science of it all. If you introduce yourself as someone who will straighten out their backwards ideas about science, all you may really end up accomplishing is to push them away.
Conversion is a slow process. And letting go of Protestant approaches to creation may be one of those moments of “falling off a cliff.”
A lawyer, one Dr. Sandburg, wrote The Legal Guide to Mother Goose, doing his professional best to rewrite “Jack and Jill went up the hill” with the full precision of a legal document:
The party of the first part hereinafter known as Jack
And the party of the second part hereinafter known as Jill
Ascended or caused to be ascended
An elevation of undetermined height and slope
Hereinafter referred to as hill,
And it must be conceded that the English of legal documents is rarely held up as an example of how to communicate to people without extensive legal training. However, there is one point where we would do well to pay close attention to legal English.
“Enjoy” is a word frequently used in contracts, appearing like:
4. ________ will enjoy an unlimited right to sell, redistribute, publish, make derivative works to…
And “enjoy” means something that is alike powerful and beautiful here. It does not mean—one is tempted to say “has nothing to do with”—an agreement that someone will have pleasure. Contracts like this, even when they say “enjoy”, really do not have much to say about how much fun and pleasure either party will take from the agreement. “Enjoy” is a technical term that means something like “derive the full benefits from”, so that:
4. ________ will enjoy an unlimited right to sell, redistribute, publish, make derivative works to…
means something like:
4. ________ will derive the full benefits from an unlimited right to sell, redistribute, publish, make derivative works to…
And with that view in mind, let’s take a look at the opening question of the Westminster Catechism:
Q: 1. What is the chief end of man?
A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
There is something in Protestant missions I would like to look at and then deepen.
Among devout Protestants who care most deeply about mission, there is a saying, “Mission exists because worship does not.” The premise of this emphatic saying is that God has never created anyone for the purpose of missions. Every man who ever has been created has been created for one goal only: worshiping God. Or in the language of the catechism, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him together.” And some are quick to point out that these are not two separate things: glorifying God and enjoying him are the exact same thing. No one is created for mission; everyone is created for worship. But there is a tragic reality. Some people are not in a position to fulfill the purpose for which they are made. And because some people are deprived of the glorious worship they are made for, and there is this gap in worship, the Christian Church as a whole, and some Christians in particular, should serve in missions.
There are differences between Orthodox and Protestant understandings of mission: Protestant training, such as Wheaton College’s Institute for Cross-Cultural Training, give a kickstart in both anthropology and linguistics, training people to learn languages and communicate well in cross-cultural situations. The Orthodox history of missions does not ignore language or culture, but its best mission work is to have monks who are trained in holiness go out among people and let their holiness itself speak. If one reads of a St. Herman of Alaska, whose mission work is still bearing fruit in Alaska today, the story is overall not of an endeavor to understand language and culture, but of a man pouring himself out in love for God and having successful missionary activity precisely because he followed the maxim, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his perfect righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you as well.” I’ve attended courses at Wheaton’s Institute for Cross-Cultural Training and every person I spoke with was devout. But the content of the training itself, focused on language and culture, is by Orthodox standards a secular idea of how to succeed as a missionary. The Orthodox idea that the best missionary is a monk pursuing holiness as fully as he can, and that missions work when you live among people and seek first the Kingdom of God.
Ascesis exists because contemplation does not
Ascesis, meaning the spiritual disciplines of the Orthodox walk, means an open-ended list that includes prayer, fasting, church attendance, giving to the poor, spiritual stillness, and other things. It is profoundly important in Orthodoxy. But in an even stronger sense than we can say, “Mission exists because worship does not,” we can say, “Ascesis exists because contemplation does not.” And the observation here is not that there are others who are missing the glory they were made to share. The observation is that we have fallen short of the glory we were made to share, and we need the purifying fire of ascesis. We and others need ascesis, but this is the point. We were not created for ascetical toil. We need ascesis because we have fallen away from the contemplation we were made for, the contemplation which is another name for enjoying God.
And I have wanted to speak of contemplation but find myself falling short. Of our sins and our need to be polished in ascesis it is easy to say something adequate. But for contemplation, words fail me, or at least my command of words. Contemplation is a joy and other things pale in comparison next to it: yet even to speak of it as a joy is misleading, as misleading as reading a contract and think that “enjoy” means nothing more than assuring that someone will experience pleasure. Better, perhaps, is to say that I thirst for honor, I want worldly accolades and am too ungrateful to be satisfied with the worldly honors I have. But when I taste contemplation, such honors grow strangely dim and I find myself wanting what is really good for me, thisting and sated for real honor, real achievement, real love of others, and the debris I chase after in temptation looks like… in Silence: Organic food for the soul I wrote:
…is that we are like a child with some clay,
trying to satisfy ourselves by making a clay horse,
with clay that never cooperates, never looks right,
and obsessed with clay that is never good enough,
we ignore and maybe fear
the finger tapping us on our shoulder
until with great trepidation we turn,
and listen to the voice say,
“Stop trying so hard. Let it go,”
and follow our father
as he gives us a warhorse.
And so I am left saying that enjoying God in contemplation is beautiful beyond beauty, and words fail me, and ideas too. I want to tell of God and contemplation above all else, and nothing I can say fits them.
Apples are a powerful symbol in Orthodoxy. It is not just that the Song of Songs has a lovesick bride say, “Refresh me with apples.” Apples appear again and again in the spiritual treasure housed in the lives of the saints. The saints are refreshed with apples; a priest prays to see what paradise is like, and St. Euphrosynos appears to him in a dream and invites him to take whatever he desires. He chose three apples, and the cook Euphrosynos wrapped them up. The priest awoke from the dream and was astonished to find three apples, wrapped as they had been in the vision, fragrant beyond all measure. (When he told what happened, the cook ran to flee from worldly honor.) Another story tells of an abbess, at the end of her life, being given three apples from paradise. It is perhaps a reminiscence of this that in The Magician’s Nephew, Digory is sorely tempted to steal a Heavenly apple, comes clean about his covetousness, is told of all the evils that would have flown, and then to his astonishment is commanded to take such an apple as he desired to his ailing mother. And he returns home from Narnia and its garden:
…so the fruit of that mountain garden looked different too. There were of course all sorts of coloured things in the bedroom: the coloured counterpane on the bed, the wallpaper, the sunlight from the window, and Mother’s pretty, pale blue dressing jacket. But the moment Digory took the Apple out of his pocket, all those things seemed to have scarcely any colour at all. Every one of them, even the sunlight, looked faded and dingy. The brightness of the Apple threw strange lights on the ceiling. Nothing else was worth looking at: you couldn’t look at anything else. And the smell of the Apple of Youth was as if there was a window that opened on Heaven.
Such apples are no concoction that began in a fantasy writer’s imagination, however creative. There are saints who have tasted them. But what makes the apple so astonishing is that such apples are a bit like contemplation.
Memories flitted through Martin’s mind as he drove: tantalizing glimpses he had seen of how people really thought in Bible times. Glimpses that made him thirsty for more. It had seemed hours since he left his house, driving out of the city, across back roads in the forest, until at last he reached the quiet town. The store had printer’s blocks in the window, and as he stepped in, an old-fashioned bell rung. There were old tools on the walls, and the room was furnished in beautifully varnished wood.
An old man smiled and said, “Welcome to my bookstore. Are you—” Martin nodded. The man looked at him, turned, and disappeared through a doorway. A moment later he was holding a thick leatherbound volume, which he set on the counter. Martin looked at the binding, almost afraid to touch the heavy tome, and read the letters of gold on its cover:
ON THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS
IN ONE VOLUME
CONTAINING A CAREFUL ANALYSIS OF ALL CULTURAL ISSUES
NEEDFUL TO UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE
AS DID ITS FIRST READERS
“You’re sure you can afford it, sir? I’d really like to let it go for a lower price, but you must understand that a book like this is costly, and I can’t afford to sell it the way I do most other titles.”
“Finances will be tight, but I’ve found knowledge to cost a lot and ignorance to cost more. I have enough money to buy it, if I make it a priority.”
“Good. I hope it may profit you. But may I make one request, even if it sounds strange?”
“What is your request?”
“If, for any reason, you no longer want the commentary, or decide to get rid of it, you will let me have the first chance to buy it back.”
“Sir? I don’t understand. I have been searching for a book like this for years. I don’t know how many miles I’ve driven. I will pay. You’re right that this is more money than I could easily spare—and I am webmaster to a major advertising agency. I would have only done so for something I desired a great, great deal.”
“Never mind that. If you decide to sell it, will you let me have the first chance?”
“Let’s talk about something else. What text does it use?”
“It uses the Revised Standard Version. Please answer my question, sir.”
“How could anyone prefer darkness to light, obscurity to illumination?”
“I don’t know. Please answer my question.”
“Yes, I will come to you first. Now will you sell it to me?”
The old man rung up the sale.
As Martin walked out the door, the shopkeeper muttered to himself, “Sold for the seventh time! Why doesn’t anybody want to keep it?”
Martin walked through the door of his house, almost exhausted, and yet full of bliss. He sat in his favorite overstuffed armchair, one that had been reupholstered more than once since he sat in it as a boy. He relaxed, the heavy weight of the volume pressing into his lap like a loved one, and then opened the pages. He took a breath, and began reading.
At the present time, most people believe the question of culture in relation to the Bible is a question of understanding the ancient cultures and accounting for their influence so as to be able to better understand Scripture. That is indeed a valuable field, but its benefits may only be reaped after addressing another concern, a concern that is rarely addressed by people eager to understand Ancient Near Eastern culture.
A part of the reader’s culture is the implicit belief that he is not encumbered by culture: culture is what people live under long ago and far away. This is not true. As it turns out, the present culture has at least two beliefs which deeply influence and to some extent limit its ability to connect with the Bible. There is what scholars call ‘period awareness’, which is not content with the realization that we all live in a historical context, but places different times and places in sealed compartments, almost to the point of forgetting that people who live in the year 432, people who live in 1327, and people who live in 1987 are all human. Its partner in crime is the doctrine of progress, which says at heart that we are better, nobler, and wiser people than those who came before us, and our ideas are better, because ideas, like machines, grow rust and need to be replaced. This gives the reader the most extraordinary difficulties in believing that the Holy Spirit spoke through humans to address human problems in the Bible, and the answer speaks as much to us humans as it did to them. Invariably the reader believes that the Holy Spirit influenced a first century man trying to deal with first century problems, and a delicate work of extrication is needed before ancient texts can be adapted to turn-of-the-millenium concerns.
Martin shifted his position slightly, felt thirsty, almost decided to get up and get a glass of water, then decided to continue reading. He turned a few pages in order to get into the real meat of the introduction, and resumed reading:
…is another example of this dark pattern.
In an abstracted sense, what occurs is as follows:
Scholars implicitly recognize that some passages in the Bible are less than congenial to whatever axe they’re grinding.
They make a massive search, and subject all of the offending passages to a meticulous examination, an examination much more meticulous than orthodox scholars ever really need when they’re trying to understand something.
In parallel, there is an exhaustive search of a passage’s historical-cultural context. This search dredges up a certain kind of detail—in less flattering terms, it creates disinformation.
No matter what the passage says, no matter who’s examining it, this story always has the same ending. It turns out that the passage in fact means something radically different from what it appears to mean, and in fact does not contradict the scholar at all.
This dark pattern has devastating effect on people from the reader’s culture. They tend to believe that culture has almost any influence it is claimed to; in that regard, they are very gullible . It is almost unheard-of for someone to say, “I’m sorry, no; cultures can make people do a lot of things, but I don’t believe a culture could have that influence.”
It also creates a dangerous belief which is never spoken in so many words: “If a passage in the Bible appears to contradict what we believe today, that is because we do not adequately understand its cultural context.”
Martin coughed. He closed the commentary slowly, reverently placed it on the table, and took a walk around the block to think.
Inside him was turmoil. It was like being at an illusionist show, where impossible things happened. He recalled his freshman year of college, when his best friend Chaplain was a student from Liberia, and come winter, Chaplain was not only seared by cold, but looked betrayed as the icy ground became a traitor beneath his feet. Chaplain learned to keep his balance, but it was slow, and Martin could read the pain off Chaplain’s face. How long would it take? He recalled the shopkeeper’s words about returning the commentary, and banished them from his mind.
Martin stepped into his house and decided to have no more distractions. He wanted to begin reading commentary, now. He opened the book on the table and sat erect in his chair:
1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
1:2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.
1:3 And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
The reader is now thinking about evolution. He is wondering whether Genesis 1 is right, and evolution is simply wrong, or whether evolution is right, and Genesis 1 is a myth that may be inspiring enough but does not actually tell how the world was created.
All of this is because of a culture phenomenally influenced by scientism and science. The theory of evolution is an attempt to map out, in terms appropriate to scientific dialogue, just what organisms occurred, when, and what mechanism led there to be new kinds of organisms that did not exist before. Therefore, nearly all Evangelicals assumed, Genesis 1 must be the Christian substitute for evolution. Its purpose must also be to map out what occurred when, to provide the same sort of mechanism. In short, if Genesis 1 is true, then it must be trying to answer the same question as evolution, only answering it differently.
Darwinian evolution is not a true answer to the question, “Why is there life as we know it?” Evolution is on philosophical grounds not a true answer to that question, because it is not an answer to that question at all. Even if it is true, evolution is only an answer to the question, “How is there life as we know it?” If someone asks, “Why is there this life that we see?” and someone answers, “Evolution,” it is like someone saying, “Why is the kitchen light on?” and someone else answering, “Because the switch is in the on position, thereby closing the electrical circuit and allowing current to flow through the bulb, which grows hot and produces light.”
Where the reader only sees one question, an ancient reader saw at least two other questions that are invisible to the present reader. As well as the question of “How?” that evolution addresses, there is the question of “Why?” and “What function does it serve?” These two questions are very important, and are not even considered when people are only trying to work out the antagonism between creationism and evolutionism.
Martin took a deep breath. Was the text advocating a six-day creationism? That was hard to tell. He felt uncomfortable, in a much deeper way than if Bible-thumpers were preaching to him that evolutionists would burn in Hell.
He decided to see what it would have to say about a problem passage. He flipped to Ephesians 5:
5:21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
5:22 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord.
5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
5:24 As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.
5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
5:26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
5:27 that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
5:28 Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
5:29 For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church,
5:30 because we are members of his body.
5:31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
5:32 This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church;
5:33 however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
The reader is at this point pondering what to do with this problem passage. At the moment, he sees three major options: first, to explain it away so it doesn’t actually give husbands authority; second, to chalk it up to misogynist Paul trying to rescind Jesus’s progressive liberality; and third, to take this as an example of why the Bible can’t really be trusted.
To explain why the reader perceives himself caught in this unfortunate choice, it is necessary to explain a powerful cultural force, one whose effect cannot be ignored: feminism. Feminism has such a powerful effect among the educated in his culture that the question one must ask of the reader is not “Is he a feminist?” but “What kind of feminist is he, and to what degree?”
Feminism flows out of a belief that it’s a wonderful privelege to be a man, but it is tragic to be a woman. Like Christianity, feminism recognizes the value of lifelong penitence, even the purification that can come through guilt. It teaches men to repent in guilt of being men, and women to likewise repent of being women. The beatific vision in feminism is a condition of sexlessness, which feminists call ‘androgyny’.
Martin stopped. “What kind of moron wrote this? Am I actually supposed to believe it?” Then he continued reading:
This is why feminism believes that everything which has belonged to men is a privelege which must be shared with women, and everything that has belonged to women is a burden which men must also shoulder. And so naturally, when Paul asserts a husband’s authority, the feminist sees nothing but a privelege unfairly hoarded by men.
Martin’s skin began to feel clammy.
The authority asserted here is not a domineering authority that uses power to serve oneself. Nowhere in the Bible does Paul tell husbands how to dominate their wives. Instead he follows Jesus’s model of authority, one in which leadership is a form of servanthood. Paul doesn’t just assume this; he explicitly tells the reader, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The sigil of male headship and authority is not a crown of gold, but a crown of thorns.
Martin was beginning to wish that the commentary had said, “The Bible is misogynistic, and that’s good!” He was beginning to feel a nagging doubt that what he called problem passages were in fact perfectly good passages that didn’t look attractive if you had a problem interpretation. What was that remark in a theological debate that had gotten so much under his skin? He almost wanted not to remember it, and then—”Most of the time, when people say they simply cannot understand a particular passage of Scripture, they understand the passage perfectly well. What they don’t understand is how to explain it away so it doesn’t contradict them.”
He paced back and forth, and after a time began to think, “The sword can’t always cut against me, can it? I know some gay rights activists who believe that the Bible’s prohibition of homosexual acts is nothing but taboo. Maybe the commentary on Romans will give me something else to answer them with.” He opened the book again:
1:26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural,
1:27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
The concept of ‘taboo’ in the reader’s culture needs some explanation. When a person says, “That’s taboo,” what’s being said is that there is an unthinking, irrational prejudice against it: one must not go against the prejudice because then people will be upset, but in some sense to call a restriction a taboo is de facto to show it unreasonable.
The term comes from Polynesia and other South Pacific islands, where it is used when people recognize there is a line which it is wiser not to cross. Thomas Aquinas said, “The peasant who does not murder because the law of God is deep in his bones is greater than the theologian who can derive, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ from first principles.”
A taboo is a restriction so deep that most people cannot offer a ready explanation. A few can; apologists and moral philosophers make a point of being able to explain the rules. For most people, though, they know what is right and what is wrong, and it is so deeply a part of them that they cannot, like an apologist, start reasoning with first principles and say an hour and a half later, “and this is why homosexual acts are wrong.”
What goes with the term ‘taboo’ is an assumption that if you can’t articulate your reasons on the drop of a hat, that must mean that you don’t have any good reasons, and are acting only from benighted prejudice. Paradoxically, the term ‘taboo’ is itself a taboo: there is a taboo against holding other taboos, and this one is less praiseworthy than other taboos…
Martin walked away and sat in another chair, a high wooden stool. What was it that he had been thinking about before going to buy the commentary? A usability study had been done on his website, and he needed to think about the results. Designing advertising material was different from other areas of the web; the focus was not just on a smooth user experience but also something that would grab attention, even from a hostile audience. Those two goals were inherently contradictory, like mixing oil and water. His mind began to wander; he thought about the drive to buy the commentary, and began to daydream about a beautiful woman clad only in—
What did the commentary have to say about lust? Jesus said it was equivalent to adultery; the commentary probably went further and made it unforgiveable. He tried to think about work, but an almost morbid curiosity filled him. Finally, he looked up the Sermon on the Mount, and opened to Matthew:
5:27 “You have heard that it was said, `You shall not commit adultery.’
5:28 But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
There is a principle here that was once assumed and now requires some explanation. Jesus condemned lust because it was doing in the heart what was sinful to do in the hands. There is a principle that is forgotten in centuries of people saying, “I can do whatever I want as long as it doesn’t harm you,” or to speak more precisely, “I can do whatever I want as long as I don’t see how it harms you.” Suddenly purity was no longer a matter of the heart and hands, but a matter of the hands alone. Where captains in a fleet of ships once tried both to avoid collisions and to keep shipshape inside, now captains believe that it’s OK to ignore mechanical problems inside as long as you try not to hit other ships—and if you steer the wheel as hard as you can and your ship still collides with another, you’re not to blame. Heinrich Heine wrote:
Should ever that taming talisman break—the Cross—then will come roaring back the wild madness of the ancient warriors, with all their insane, Berserker rage, of whom our Nordic poets speak and sing. That talisman is now already crumbling, and the day is not far off when it shall break apart entirely. On that day, the old stone gods will rise from their long forgotten wreckage and rub from their eyes the dust of a thousand years’ sleep. At long last leaping to life, Thor with his giant hammer will crush the gothic cathedrals. And laugh not at my forebodings, the advice of a dreamer who warns you away from the . . . Naturphilosophen. No, laugh not at the visionary who knows that in the realm of phenomena comes soon the revolution that has already taken place in the realm of spirit. For thought goes before deed as lightning before thunder. There will be played in Germany a play compared to which the French Revolution was but an innocent idyll.
Heinrich Heine was a German Jewish poet who lived a century before Thor’s hammer would crush six million of his kinsmen.
The ancient world knew that thought goes before deed as lightning before thunder. They knew that purity is an affair of the heart as well as the hands. Now there is grudging acknowledgment that lust is wrong, a crumbling acceptance that has little place in the culture’s impoverished view, but this acknowledgment is like a tree whose soil is taken away. For one example of what goes with that tree, I would like to look at advertising.
Porn uses enticing pictures of women to arouse sexual lust, and can set a chain of events in motion that leads to rape. Advertising uses enticing pictures of chattels to arouse covetous lust, and exists for the sole reason of setting a chain of events in motion that lead people to waste resources by buying things they don’t need. The fruit is less bitter, but the vine is the same. Both operate by arousing impure desires that do not lead to a righteous fulfillment. Both porn and advertising are powerfully unreal, and bite those that embrace them. A man that uses porn will have a warped view of women and be slowly separated from healthy relations. Advertising manipulates people to seek a fulfillment in things that things can never provide: buying one more product can never satisfy that deep craving, any more than looking at one more picture can. Bruce Marshall said, “…the young man who rings at the door of a brothel is unconsciously looking for God.” Advertisers know that none of their products give a profound good, nothing like what people search for deep down inside, and so they falsely present products as things that are transcendent, and bring family togetherness or racial harmony.
It has been asked, “Was the Sabbath made for man, or was man made for the Sabbath?” Now the question should be asked, “Was economic wealth made for man, or was man made for economic wealth?” The resounding answer of advertising is, “Man was made for economic wealth.” Every ad that is sent out bears the unspoken message, “You, the customer, exist for me, the corporation.”
Martin sat in his chair, completely stunned.
After a long time, he padded off to bed, slept fitfully, and was interrupted by nightmares.
The scenic view only made the drive bleaker. Martin stole guiltily into the shop, and laid the book on the counter. The shopkeeper looked at him, and he at the shopkeeper.
“Didn’t you ask who could prefer darkness to light, obscurity to illumination?”
Martin’s face was filled with anguish. “How can I live without my darkness?”
Profoundly Gifted: You did some amazing things and some impressive actions when you were a child prodigy; have you been up to anything since then?
Maximos: Quite a lot, really; I’ve settled into work as a usability / user interface / user experience professional with a humble boss. And I’ve gotten married; my wife Mary and I have seven daughters, all of them with the middle name of Abigail, or “Father’s Joy.”
Profoundly Gifted: That’s it? You haven’t studied languages, for instance?
Profoundly Gifted: So you’re not just a husband and father: you’re also a philologist—how many languages do you know?
Maximos: You are paying attention to trivialities if you gloss over my fatherhood to ask a question about my love of languages that I really can’t answer.
Profoundly Gifted:What can’t you answer about how many languages your love of languages includes?
Maximos: You aren’t a philologist when you speak two languages, or four, or twelve, or eight. You’re a philologist when someone asks you how many languages you know, and you have no idea how to answer.
Profoundly Gifted: Then what is it? What should I make of it?
Maximos: If I may shanghai an opportunity to follow the words, “If there is an elephant in the room, introduce him…”?
Profoundly Gifted: Yes?
Maximos: Asperger’s Syndrome.
Profoundly Gifted: It’s kind of like profound giftedness, no?
The root problem, which I will get to in a minute, is that when people who are happy to have an Asperger’s diagnosis and happy to offer half the people they know an Asperger’s diagnosis, there are superficial similarities between profound giftedness and Asperger’s traits, things that a competent diagnostician should see far past.
Early in the title, Attwood says that when he diagnoses someone with Asperger’s, he says, “Congratulations! You have Asperger’s!” But then it goes downhill. Atwood argues that the obvious social impairments one would associate with Asperger’s are guilty as charged; Asperger’s people don’t know (without counseling and / or training) how to hold an appropriate social conversation. However, the strengths one would associate with Asperger’s are all but eviscerated. Asperger’s children may have a monologue that sounds like a competent adult discussing the matter, but this “knowledge” is a hollow shell, without much of anything of the deeper competency one would associate with an adult capable of such monologue. The common stereotype of Asperger’s patients portrays a slightly odd combination of strengths and weaknesses; Attwood’s book is less generous and really only ascribes real weaknesses.
The standard symptoms of Asperger’s have a perhaps 50% overlap with standard symptoms of profound giftedness; while it is certainly possible to be a member of both demographics, the profoundly gifted characteristics resemble Asperger’s characters for quite unrelated reasons. The similarity may be compared to the common cold, on the one hand, in which there is an immune response to a harmful invader, and environmental allergies on the other hand, in which there is a harmful response to something otherwise harmless. Or for those who prefer an example from Charles Baudelaire, there is an image of two females, one an infant too young to have teeth or hair, and the other a woman too old to have teeth or hair. (The coincidence of features is close to being due to diametrically opposed reasons.)
Profoundly Gifted: Is the question “Asperger’s or profound giftedness?” the sort of question you’d rather un-ask than answer?
Maximos: It is indeed. Or at least I’m drawing a blank to see what a three-cornered discussion of normalcy, Asperger’s, and profound giftedness has to add to the older discussion of normalcy and profound giftedness. If we can overcome our chronological snobbishness says that only now could we say something worthwhile about XYZ and giftedness, Leta Hollingsworth decided as a counterbalance to a study of mental retardation a study of some who turned out to have an IQ of somewhere around 180 or higher. She wrote an insightful and descriptive, Children Above 180 IQ Stanford-Binet, much more insightful than the treatment of profoundly gifted scoring “Termites.”
Furthermore, and here I am less concerned with the relationship between profound giftedness and Asperger’s than improperly read research, there is a consistent finding that IQ-normal, autism-normal children do markedly better at what are unfortunately lumped together as “theory of other minds.”
A much better interpretation of Attwood’s data might come from splitting the theory of other minds into a separate theory of like minds, and also a theory of alien minds. A theory of like minds works with one’s homeys or peeps; hence someone IQ-normal and autism-normal surrounded by IQ-normal and autism-normal classmates will coast on a theory of like minds. But, except in how it may be refined by practice, a theory of like minds that comes virtually free to everyone isn’t in particular reserved to a majority of people (not) affected by XYZ condition. With some true exceptions like Tay-Sachs, everybody gets along with their peeps. Gifted and profoundly gifted click with their fellows; Asperger’s people click with their fellows; to pick a few many demographics, various geek subcultures, codependents, addicts, and various strains of queer should click just as well. Everybody gets a theory of like minds virtually free; the breadth of usefulness depends on how rarely or commonly one encounters like minds, and this heavily loads the dice for Attwood’s approach.
The comparison Attwood makes in interaction with autism-normal people loads the dice in a way that is totally unfair. The comparison is autism-normals’ theory of like minds to Asperger’s theory of alien minds; he never, ever tests autism-normals on their ability to relate to alien minds, nor does he ever test Asperger’s patients on their ability to relate to like minds. And while being unsure about how far this applies to IQ-normal Asperger’s patients, Asperger’s patients often make herculean and lifelong efforts to develop “theory of alien minds” aptitude, and the result is not just that they connect, perhaps clumsily, with people of the same age and socioeconomic status; they make very close connections across age, race, and gender, and for that matter animals who may start off by being afraid of them. The theory of alien minds is finely honed, even if it is not a valid substitute for a theory of like minds, and once it is honed, this theory of alien minds reaches much, much further than autism-normals resting on a theory of like minds.
Profoundly Gifted: So your parents’ policy of non-interference and the Law of the Jungle was too romantic to teach you to be safe?
Maximos: More romantic than real life, perhaps, and putting me into a regular kindergarten, sink or swim, is neither more nor less realistic as putting a rabbit in the midst of coyotes, sink or swim. There was a real solution, but it was more romantic, and I fear being misunderstood. I certainly found it by accident.
Profoundly Gifted: What is it?
Maximos: A woman has kept a goldfish for years longer than goldfish usually live, in a fishbowl, just by talking to it in Mommy-to-baby love. Years back, hospitals which were ever concerned with sanitation witnessed a dramatic drop in infant mortality when they took the “unsanitary” step of having old women cuddle them.
Profoundly Gifted: And how does this relate to bullying?
Maximos: Let me raise and address another question first. We raise and send constant signals which are often met with escalation. When we are angry with someone, or wish for a way out of our job, or anything else, we war against others in our thoughts. That warfare is powerful. Often it comes back amplified; we can feed a corrective to the loop by responding meekly and with meek thoughts to a blast of anger. Some martial artists have talked about how few people really want to fight; such people are much less common than people who want to be the unchallenged tough guy. It does happen that there are some people want to do wrong; however, much more common are people who are disarmed when all three claims in Anger slays even wise men; yet a submissive answer turns away wrath: but a grievous word stirs up anger. The submissive answer to domineering anger is difficult, but it is possible, and it is a route that a quest for life by the Law of the Jungle will never find.
And bullying isn’t just for in the classroom. It’s also in professional life. The top quality I search for in a boss is humility. There is something aggravating about high talent. It is common practice to have sent multiple C&D letters, or equivalent, when harassment has continued after being repeatedly told, “No.” This is unfortunate, but it is a non-negotiable feature of the landscape.
And, like other things that are never the victim’s fault, harassment is never the victim’s fault; no matter how good or bad a person’s social skills many be, it is never justified to continue harassment until the person being harassed says, “CEASE AND DESIST.”
It is possible, in good faith, to do one’s best work as the privilege of the inferior before the superior to be praised, in the purest thoughts of respect, and instead be met with anger and retaliation to a perceived challenge. But if this is a live danger if we meet our bosses with thoughts of peacefulness, what on earth is to be done when we throw down work with warfare in our thoughts?
Profoundly Gifted: But don’t we all do best to avoid needlessly stepping on other people’s feet, especially our bosses’?
Maximos: Yes and NO.
Profoundly Gifted: Yes and NO?
Maximos: Have you ever spent a winter in the Midwest, perhaps Illinois? And drove after a heavy snowfall, three to four inches of packing snow?
Profoundly Gifted: Yes; it was a bit harrowing, but I made a bit of extra effort and was overall pretty safe.
Maximos: What made you safe?
Profoundly Gifted: I drove slowly, left plenty of space, and made allowances for skidding. That was enough to have me relatively safe.
Maximos: Ever driven in that kind of snowstorm in Georgia and the US South? The same three or four inches?
Profoundly Gifted: Not really; it never snowed like that when I was there.
Maximos: Years back, Georgia responded to a snowstorm three or four inches deep, and decided, “We will not be caught off guard like this again.” And then the next snowstorm the slowplows were rusted to the point of being unusuable, and you would have been sharing the road with people who don’t have even an Illinois familiarity with driving under heavy snow. Would you consider yourself safe all the same, because you need to drive in snow?
Profoundly Gifted: Aah.
Maximos: Get used to driving in a blizzard with other people not used to driving in any snow, if you want to be profoundly gifted. The approach that is usually safe sharing the road with drivers who can handle snow, more or less, does not even compare to trying to be safe hanling a road with people who just don’t know how to drive heavy snow.
And it feels awfully good to be told more than once, “You are the most brilliant person I’ve ever met,” but suppose you are so bright that the average Oxford PhD has never met someone as talented as you? You may be trying to drive safely yourself at least, but you’re sharing the road with people who are driving on a complete snow-packed terra incognita to them.
Profoundly Gifted: This sounds like a lonely and sad life.
Maximos: That was not my point at all, but what life is sad and lonely when one is searching for humility?
But let me give another detail.
You know, probably ad nauseum, about Leta Hollingsworth’s conception of “socially optimum intelligence”. The top end of the range varies somewhat depending on who you ask, but it runs something like 120 to 150. At that point you have powers to speak of, but you’re still running on the same chassis. And people who are properly above the range are rare, enough to really be exotic or a purple squirrel or something else few people have seen. The powers that come seem almost magical, but the price tag is hefty; the real advantage and the real privilege is at the heart of the gifted range, not the upper extreme.
I found James Webb’s Guiding the Gifted Child to be a treasure chest and a gold mine. One part of it says that children with an IQ above 170 don’t have peeps; the way that the book says this is that “children with an IQ above 170 tend to feel like they don’t fit in anywhere…”
…But there is another shoe to drop. There is another level, exact IQ unknown, where people are able to make peeps out of anyone. They develop a theory of alien minds so far that the distinction between the theory of like minds and the theory of alien minds no longer matters so much…
…And that is how I have found employment as the local usability and user experience guru. One of the first things people are taught for usability research is “You are not a user,” meaning that however much theory-of-like-minds knowledge you have of how software is meant to be used, you need to grasp a theory-of-alien-minds understanding of how everybody but the software developers understands it…
…Maybe you think I should be doing something more exalted in academia, and maybe I should be, but a humble and gentle boss is a treasure worth gold, and turf wars are just a little less than with academic bullies. Right now I have my wife and our seven daughters, and a steady job, and godliness with contentment is great gain.
Profoundly Gifted: Well, that about says it.
Maximus: Or not.
Profoundly Gifted: Or not?
Maximos: Or not.
Sweet lord, I have played thee false.
You don’t know how I was at a rich kids’ school, and the one and only chapel message I heard on theology of play was students who had gone through internships in third world nations, and theology of joy and play was writ large: a girl asked how you talk about germ theory to a runny-nosed little girl who offered you a lick of her lollipop. And really, how can you to people who are poor enough to be happy?
Jack Kinneer, an Orthodox Presbyterian minister and a D.Min. graduate of an Eastern Orthodox seminary, wrote a series of dense responses to his time at that seminary. The responses are generally concise, clear, and make the kind of observations that I like to make. My suspicion is that if Dr. Kineer is looking at things this way, there are a lot of other people who are looking at things the same way—but may not be able to put their finger on it. And he may have given voice to some things that Orthodox may wish to respond to.
Orthodoxy is difficult to understand, and I wrote a list of responses to some (not all) of the points he raises. I asked New Horizons, which printed his article, and they offered gracious permission to post with attribution, which is much appreciated. I believe that Dr. Kinneer’s words open a good conversation, and I am trying to worthily follow up on his lead.
A Calvinist Looks at Orthodoxy
Jack D. Kinneer
During my studies at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, I was often asked by students, “Are you Orthodox?” It always felt awkward to be asked such a question. I thought of myself as doctrinally orthodox. I was a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. So I thought I could claim the word orthodox.
But I did not belong to the communion of churches often called Eastern Orthodox, but more properly called simply Orthodox. I was not Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, or Antiochian Orthodox. As far as the Orthodox at St. Vladimir’s were concerned, I was not Orthodox, regardless of my agreement with them on various doctrines.
My studies at St. Vladimir’s allowed me to become acquainted with Orthodoxy and to become friends with a number of Orthodox professors, priests, and seminarians. My diploma was even signed by Metropolitan Theodosius, the head of the Orthodox Church in America. From the Metropolitan to the seminarians, I was received kindly and treated with respect and friendliness.
I am not the only Calvinist to have become acquainted with Orthodoxy in recent years. Sadly, a number have not only made the acquaintance, but also left the Reformed faith for Orthodoxy. What is Orthodoxy and what is its appeal to some in the Reformed churches?
The Appeal of Orthodoxy
Since the days of the apostles, there have been Christian communities in such ancient cities as Alexandria in Egypt, Antioch in Syria, and Corinth in Greece. In such places, the Christian church grew, endured the tribulation of Roman persecution, and ultimately prevailed when the Roman Empire was officially converted to Christianity. But, unlike Christians in the western half of the Roman Empire, the eastern Christians did not submit to the claims of the bishop of Rome to be the earthly head of the entire church. And why should they have done so? The centers of Orthodox Christianity were as old as, or even older than, the church in Rome. All the great ecumenical councils took place in the East and were attended overwhelmingly by Christian leaders from the East, with only a smattering of representatives from the West. Indeed, most of the great theologians and writers of the ancient church (commonly called the Church Fathers) were Greek-speaking Christians in the East.
The Orthodox churches have descended in an unbroken succession of generations from these ancient roots. As the Orthodox see it, the Western church followed the bishop of Rome into schism (in part by adding a phrase to the Nicene Creed). So, from their perspective, we Protestants are the product of a schism off a schism. The Orthodox believe that they have continued unbroken the churches founded by the apostles. They allow that we Reformed may be Christians, but our churches are not part of the true church, our ordinations are not valid, and our sacraments are no sacraments at all.
The apparently apostolic roots of Orthodoxy provide much of its appeal for some evangelical Protestants. Furthermore, it is not burdened with such later Roman Catholic developments as the Papacy, purgatory, indulgences, the immaculate conception of Mary, and her assumption into heaven. Orthodoxy is ancient; it is unified in a way that Protestantism is not; it lacks most of the medieval doctrines and practices that gave rise to the Reformation. This gives it for many a fascinating appeal.
Part of that appeal is the rich liturgical heritage of Orthodoxy, with its elaborate liturgies, its glorious garbing of the clergy, and its gestures, symbols, and icons. If it is true that the distinctive mark of Reformed worship is simplicity, then even more so is glory the distinctive mark of Orthodox worship. Another appealing aspect of Orthodox worship is its otherness. It is mysterious, sensual, and, as the Orthodox see it, heavenly. Orthodox worship at its best makes you feel like you have been transported into one of the worship scenes in the book of Revelation. Of course, if the priest chants off-key or the choir sings poorly, it is not quite so wonderful.
There are many other things that could be mentioned, but I’ve mentioned the things that have particularly struck me. These are also the things that converts from Protestantism say attracted them.
The Shortcomings of Orthodoxy
So then, is this Orthodox Presbyterian about to drop the “Presbyterian” and become simply Orthodox? No! In my estimation, the shortcomings of Orthodoxy outweigh its many fascinations. A comparison of the Reformed faith with the Orthodox faith would be a massive undertaking, made all the more difficult because Orthodoxy has no doctrinal statement comparable to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Orthodoxy is the consensus of faith arising from the ancient Fathers and the ecumenical councils. This includes the forty-nine volumes of the Ante- and Post-Nicene Fathers, plus the writings of the hermits and monastics known collectively as the Desert Fathers! It would take an entire issue of New Horizons just to outline the topics to be covered in a comparison of Orthodoxy and Reformed Christianity. So the following comments are selective rather than systematic.
First, in my experience, the Orthodox do not understand justification by faith. Some reject it. Others tolerate it, but no one I met or read seemed to really understand it. Just as Protestants can make justification the whole (rather than the beginning) of the gospel, so the Orthodox tend to make sanctification (which they call “theosis” or deification) the whole gospel. In my estimation, this is a serious defect. It weakens the Orthodox understanding of the nature of saving faith.
Orthodoxy also has a real problem with nominal members. Many Orthodox Christians have a very inadequate understanding of the gospel as Orthodoxy understands it. Their religion is often so intertwined with their ethnicity that being Russian or Greek becomes almost synonymous with being Orthodox. This is, by the way, a critique I heard from the lips of Orthodox leaders themselves. This is not nearly as serious a problem in Reformed churches because our preaching continually stresses the necessity for a personal, intimate trusting, receiving, and resting upon Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Such an emphasis is blurred among the Orthodox.
Second, the Orthodox have a very inadequate understanding of sovereign grace. It is not fair to say that they are Pelagians. (Pelagius was a Western Christian who denied original sin and taught that man’s will is free to choose good.) But they are definitely not Augustinians (Calvinists) on sin and grace. In a conversation with professors and doctoral students about the nature of salvation, I quoted Ezekiel 36:26-27 as showing that there is a grace of God that precedes faith and enables that human response. One professor said in response, “I never thought of that verse in that way before.” The Orthodox have not thought a lot about sin, regeneration, election, and so forth. Their view of original sin (a term which they avoid) falls far short of the teaching of Paul. Correspondingly, their understanding of Christ’s atonement and God’s calling is weak as well. Their views could best be described as undeveloped. If you want to see this for yourself, read Chrysostom on John 6:44-45, and then read Calvin on the same passage.
Third, the Orthodox are passionately committed to the use of icons (flat images of Christ, Mary, or a saint) in worship. Indeed, the annual Feast of Orthodoxy celebrates the restoration of icons to the churches at the end of the Iconoclast controversy (in a.d. 843). For the Orthodox, the making and venerating of icons is the mark of Orthodoxy—showing that one really believes that God the Son, who is consubstantial with the Father, became also truly human. Since I did not venerate icons, I was repeatedly asked whether or not I really believed in the Incarnation. The Orthodox are deeply offended at the suggestion that their veneration of icons is a violation of the second commandment. But after listening patiently to their justifications, I am convinced that whatever their intentions may be, their practice is not biblical. However, our dialogue on the subject sent me back to the Bible to study the issue in a way that I had not done before. The critique I would offer now is considerably different than the traditional Reformed critique of the practice.
Finally, many of the Orthodox tend to have a lower view of the Bible than the ancient Fathers had. At least at St. Vladimir’s, Orthodox scholars have been significantly influenced by higher-critical views of Scripture, especially as such views have developed in contemporary Roman Catholic scholarship. This is, however, a point of controversy among the Orthodox, just as it is among Catholics and Protestants. Orthodoxy also has its divisions between liberals and conservatives. But even those who are untainted by higher-critical views rarely accord to Scripture the authority that it claims for itself or which was accorded to it by the Fathers. The voice of Scripture is largely limited to the interpretations of Scripture found in the Fathers.
There is much else to be said. Orthodoxy is passionately committed to monasticism. Its liturgy includes prayers to Mary. And the Divine Liturgy, for all its antiquity, is the product of a long historical process. If you want to follow the “liturgy” that is unquestionably apostolic, then partake of the Lord’s Supper, pray the Lord’s Prayer, sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” and say “amen,” “hallelujah,” and “maranatha.” Almost everything else in any liturgy is a later adaptation and development.
A Concluding Assessment
But these criticisms do not mean that we have nothing to learn from Orthodoxy. Just as the Orthodox have not thought a lot about matters that have consumed us (such as justification, the nature of Scripture, sovereign grace, and Christ’s work on the cross), so we have not thought a lot about what have been their consuming passions: the Incarnation, the meaning of worship, the soul’s perfection in the communicable attributes of God (which they call the energies of God), and the disciplines by which we grow in grace. Let us have the maturity to keep the faith as we know it, and to learn from others where we need to learn.
Orthodoxy in many ways fascinates me, but it does not claim my heart nor stir my soul as does the Reformed faith. My firsthand exposure to Orthodoxy has left me all the more convinced that on the essential matters of human sin, divine forgiveness, and Christ’s atoning sacrifice, the Reformed faith is the biblical faith. I would love to see my Orthodox friends embrace a more biblical understanding of these matters. And I am grieved when Reformed friends sacrifice this greater good for the considerable but lesser goods of Orthodox liturgy and piety.
Dr. Kinneer is the director of Echo Hill Christian Study Center in Indian Head, Pa.
First, on an Orthodox mailing list, I saw a copy of your “A Calvinist Looks at Orthodoxy.” I would like to write a somewhat measured response that you might find of interest; please quote me if you like, preferably with attribution and a link to my website (CJSHayward.com). I am a convert Orthodox and a graduate of Calvin College, for which I have fond memories, although I was never a Calvinist, merely a non-Calvinist Evangelical welcomed in the warm embrace of the community. I am presently a Ph.D. student in theology and went to church for some time at St. Vladimir’s Seminary and have friends there. I hope that you may find something of interest in my comments here.
Second, you talk about discussion of being Eastern Orthodox versus being orthodox. I would take this as a linguistically confusing matter of the English language, where even in spoken English the context clarifies whether (o)rthodox or (O)rthodox is the meaning intended by the speaker.
Third, I will be focusing mostly on matters I where I would at least suggest some further nuance, but your summary headed “The Appeal of Orthodoxy,” among other things in the article, is a good sort of thing and the sort of thing I might find convenient to quote.
Fourth, the Orthodox consensus of faith is not a much longer and less manageable collection of texts than the Ante-Nicene Fathers and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, combined with the even more massive Patrologia Graecae, and other patristic sources. I have said elsewhere that Western and particularly Protestant and Evangelical culture are at their core written cultures, and Orthodoxy is at its core an oral culture that makes use of writing—I could suggest that it was precisely the Reformation that is at the root of what we now know as literate culture. This means that Orthodoxy does not have, as its closest equivalent to the Westminster Confession, a backbreaking load of books that even patristics scholars can’t read cover to cover; it means that the closest Orthodox equivalent to Westminster Confession is not anything printed but something alive in the life and culture of the community. (At very least this is true if you exclude the Nicene Creed, which is often considered “what Orthodox are supposed to believe.”)
Fifth, regarding the words, “First, in my experience, the Orthodox do not understand justification by faith:” are you contending that former Evangelicals, who had an Evangelical understanding of justification by faith, were probably fairly devout Evangelicals, and are well-represented at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, do not understand justification by faith?
There seems to be something going on here that is a mirror image of what you say below about icons: there, you complain about people assuming that if you don’t hold the Orthodox position on icons, you don’t understand the Christian doctrine of the incarnation; here, you seem in a mirror image to assume that if people don’t have a Reformation-compatible understanding of justification by faith, you don’t understand the Biblical teaching.
I wrote, for a novella I’m working on, The Sign of the Grail, a passage where the main character, an Evangelical, goes to an Orthodox liturgy, hears amidst the mysterious-sounding phrases a reading including “The just shall walk by faith,” before the homily:
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
One of the surprises in the Divine Comedy—to a few people at least—is that the Pope is in Hell. Or at least it’s a surprise to people who know Dante was a devoted Catholic but don’t recognize how good Patriarch John Paul and Patriarch Benedict have been; there have been some moments Catholics aren’t proud of, and while Luther doesn’t speak for Catholics today, he did put his finger on a lot of things that bothered people then. Now I remember an exasperated Catholic friend asking, “Don’t some Protestants know anything else about the Catholic Church besides the problems we had in the sixteenth century?” And when Luther made a centerpiece out of what the Bible said about “The righteous shall walk by faith,” which was in the Bible’s readings today, he changed it, chiefly by using it as a battle axe to attack his opponents and even things he didn’t like in Scripture.
It’s a little hard to see how Luther changed Paul, since in Paul the words are also a battle axe against legalistic opponents. Or at least it’s hard to see directly. Paul, too, is quoting, and I’d like to say exactly what Paul is quoting.
In one of the minor prophets, Habakkuk, the prophet calls out to the Lord and decries the wickedness of those who should be worshiping the Lord. The Lord’s response is to say that he’s sending in the Babylonians to conquer, and if you want to see some really gruesome archaeological findings, look up what it meant for the Babylonians or Chaldeans to conquer a people. I’m not saying what they did to the people they conquered because I don’t want to leave people here trying to get disturbing images out of people’s minds, but this was a terrible doomsday prophecy.
The prophet answered the Lord in anguish and asked how a God whose eyes were too pure to look on evil could possibly punish his wicked people by the much more wicked Babylonians. And the Lord’s response is very mysterious: “The righteous shall walk by faith.”
Let me ask you a question: How is this an answer to what the prophet asked the Lord? Answer: It isn’t. It’s a refusal to answer. The same thing could have been said by saying, “I AM the Lord, and my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways your ways. I AM WHO I AM and I will do what I will do, and I am sovereign in this. I choose not to tell you how, in my righteousness, I choose to let my wicked children be punished by the gruesomely wicked Babylonians. Only know this: even in these conditions, the righteous shall walk by faith.”
The words “The righteous shall walk by faith” are an enigma, a shroud, and a protecting veil. To use them as Paul did is a legitimate use of authority, an authority that can only be understood from the inside, but these words remain a protecting veil even as they take on a more active role in the New Testament. The New Testament assumes the Old Testament even as the New Testament unlocks the Old Testament.
Paul does not say, “The righteous will walk by sight,” even as he invokes the words, “The righteous shall walk by faith.”
Here’s something to ponder: The righteous shall walk by faith even in their understanding of the words, “The righteous shall walk by faith.”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
When I showed this to one Reformation scholar to check my treatment of the Reformation, he said that I didn’t explain what “The righteous shall walk by faith,” but my entire point was to show what the Old Testament quotation could mean besides a shibboleth that one is sanctified in entirety in response to faith without one iota being earned by good works. The Reformation teaching, as I understand it, reflects a subtle adaptation of the Pauline usage—and here I might underscore that Paul and Luther had different opponents—and a profound adaptation of the Old Testament usage. And it may be possible to properly understand the Biblical text without interpreting it along Reformation lines.
Sixth, you write that Orthodox tend to have a poor understanding of sovereign grace. I remember how offended my spiritual Father was when I shared that a self-proclaimed non-ordained Reformed minister—the one person who harassed me when I became Orthodox—said that Orthodox didn’t believe in grace. He wasn’t offended at me, but I cannot ever recall seeing him be more offended. (Note: that harassment was a bitter experience, but I’d really like to think I’m not bitter towards Calvinists; I have a lot of fond memories from my time at Calvin and some excellent memories of friends who tended to be born and bred Calvinists.)
I would suggest that if you can say that Orthodox do not understand sovereign grace shortly after talking about a heavy emphasis on theosis, you are thinking about Orthodox doctrine through a Western grid and are missing partly some details and partly the big picture of how things fit together.
Seventh, I am slightly surprised that you describe original sin as simply being in the Bible and something Orthodox do not teach. Rom 5:12 as translated in the Vulgate (“…in quo omnes peccaverunt”) has a Greek ambiguity translated out, so that a Greek text that could quite justifiably be rendered that death came into the world “because all sinned” (NIV) is unambiguously rendered as saying about Adam, “in whom all have sinned,” which in turn fed into Augustine’s shaping of the Western doctrine of original sin. It’s a little surprising to me that you present this reading of an ambiguity as simply being what the Bible says, so that the Orthodox are deficiently presenting the Bible by not sharing the reading.
Eighth, I too was puzzled by the belief that the Incarnation immediately justifies icons, and I find it less puzzling to hold a more nuanced understanding of the Orthodox teaching that if you understand the Incarnation on patristic terms—instead of by a Reformation definition—its inner logic flows out to the point of an embrace of creation that has room for icons. I won’t develop proof-texts here; what I will say is that the kind of logical inference that is made is similar to a kind of logical inference I see in your report, i.e. that “The righteous shall walk by faith” means the Reformation doctrine that we are justified by faith alone and not by works.
I believe that this kind of reasoning is neither automatically right nor automatically wrong, but something that needs to be judged in each case.
Ninth, you write, “Finally, many of the Orthodox tend to have a lower view of the Bible than the ancient Fathers had.” When I was about to be received into the Orthodox Church, I told my father that I had been devoted in my reading of the Bible and I would switch to being devoted in my reading of the Fathers. My spiritual father, who is a graduate of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, emphatically asked me to back up a bit, saying that the Bible was the core text and the Fathers were a commentary. He’s said that he would consider himself very fortunate if his parishioners would spend half an hour a day reading the Bible. On an Orthodox mailing list, one cradle Orthodox believer among mostly converts quoted as emphatic an Orthodox clergyman saying, “If you don’t read your Bible each day, you’re not a Christian.” Which I would take as exaggeration, perhaps, but exaggeration as a means of emphasizing something important.
Tenth, regarding higher-critical views at St. Vladimir’s Seminary: I agree that it is a problem, but I would remind you of how St. Vladimir’s Seminary and St. Tikhon’s Seminary compare. St. Vladimir’s Seminary is more liberal, and it is an excellent academic environment that gives degrees including an Orthodox M.Min. St. Tikhon’s Seminary is academically much looser but it is considered an excellent preparation for ministry. If you saw some degree of liberal academic theology at St. Vladimir’s, you are seeing the fruits of your (legitimate) selection. Not that St. Vladimir’s Seminary is the only Orthodox seminary which is not completely perfect, but if you want to see preparation for pastoral ministry placed ahead of academic study at an Orthodox institution, St. Tikhon’s might interest you.
Eleventh, after I was at Calvin, I remembered one friend, tongue-in-cheek, talking about “the person who led me to Calvin.” I also remember that when I was at Calvin, I heard more talk about being “disciples of John Calvin” than being “disciples of Jesus Christ,” and talk more about bearing the name of “Calvinist” than “Christian,” although this time it wasn’t tongue-in-cheek. I notice that you speak of how, “sadly,” people “left the Reformed faith for Orthodoxy.” One response might be one that Reformers like Calvin might share: “Was John Calvin crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of John Calvin?” (Cf I Cor. 1:13)
I left this out at first because it’s not as “nice” as some of the others, but I would like to invite you to perhaps leave the “faith” (as you call it) that aims for John Calvin, and embrace the faith that Calvin was trying to re-create in response to abuses in the Western Church. It’s still alive, and we still have an open door for you.
When I studied early modern era Orthodox Patriarch Cyril Lucaris, I compared the Eucharistic teaching in his profession of faith to the Eucharistic teaching in Calvin’s Institutes…
…and concluded that Calvin was more Orthodox. Calvin, among other things, concerned himself with the question of what John Chrysostom taught.
I really don’t think I was trying to be a pest. But what I did not develop is that Calvin tried to understand what the Greek Fathers taught, always as an answer to Protestant questions about what, in metaphysical terms, happens to the Holy Gifts. The Orthodox question is less about the transformation of the Holy Gifts than the transformation of those who receive it, and Calvin essentially let the Fathers say whatever they wanted… as long as they answered a question on terms set by the Reformation.
When I read Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live?, my immediate reaction was that I wished the book had been “expanded to six times its present length.” I have some reservations about the fruitfulness of presuppositional apologetics now. What I do not have reservations about is saying that there is a valid insight in Schaeffer’s approach, and more specifically there is distortion introduced by letting Orthodoxy say whatever it wants… as an answer to Calvinist questions.
To assert, without perceived need for justification, that the Orthodox have very little understanding of sovereign grace and follow this claim by saying that there is a preoccupation with divinization comes across to Orthodox much like saying, “_______ have very little concept of ‘medicine’ or ‘health’ and are always frequenting doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and exercise clubs.” It’s a sign that Orthodox are allowed to fill in the details of sin, incarnation, justification, or (in this case) grace, but on condition that they are filling out the Reformation’s unquestioned framework.
But the way to understand this is less analysis than worship.
Before I get further, I’d like to say a few words about what I drive.
I drive an Oldsmobile F-85 station wagon. What’s the color? When people are being nice, they talk about a classic, subdued camouflage color. Sometimes the more candid remarks end up saying something like, “The Seventies called. They want their paint job back,” although my station wagon is a 1965 model. All in all, I think I had the worst car of anyone I knew. Or at least that’s what I used to think.
Then I changed my mind. Or maybe it would be better to say that I had my mind changed for me.
I was sitting at the cafeteria, when I saw someone looking for a place to sit. He was new, and I motioned for him to come over. He sat down, quietly, and ate in silence. There was a pretty loud conversation at the table, and when people started talking about cars, his eyes seemed to widen. I asked him what kind of car he drove.
After hesitating, he mumbled something hard to understand, and looked like he was getting smaller. Someone said, “Maybe he doesn’t drive a car at all,” and whatever he mumbled was forgotten in raucous laughter.
I caught him in the hallway later, and he asked if I could help him move several large boxes that were not in the city. When we made the trip, he again seemed to be looking around with round eyes, almost enchanted by my rustbucket.
I began to feel sorry for the chap, and I gave him rides. Even if I didn’t understand.
He still managed to dodge any concrete hint of whatever it was that got him around—and I had a hunch that he hadn’t just walked. My other friends may have given me some ribbing about my bucket of bolts, but really it was just ribbing. I tried to impress on him that he would be welcome even if he just got around on a derelict moped—but still not a single peep.
By the time it was becoming old to joke about whatever he drove, I accepted a dare and shadowed him as he walked along a couple of abandoned streets, got to the nearest airstrip…
and got into an SR-71 Blackbird. The man took off in an SR-71 Blackbird. An SR-71 Blackbird! Words failed me. Polite ones, at any rate. The SR-71 Blackbird may be the coolest looking reconnaissance plane ever; as far as looks go, it beats the pants off the spacecraft in a few science fiction movies. But the engineers weren’t really trying to look cool; that was a side effect of trying to make an aircraft that was cool. It has those sleek lines because it’s a bit of a stealth aircraft; it can be detected by radar, but it’s somewhat harder. And suppose you’re in an SR-71 Blackbird and you are picked up by radar, and enemy soldiers launch a surface-to-air missle at you—or two, or ten? Just speed up and you’ll outrun it; the SR-71 Blackbird is the fastest aircraft ever built. Some SR-71 Blackbirds have been shot at. Ain’t never got one shot down. One of the better surface-to-air rockets has about the same odds of hitting an SR-71 Blackbird doing Mach 3.2 as a turtle trying to catch up with a cheetah and ram it. An SR-71 Blackbird is a different kind of rare. It’s not just that it’s not a common electronic device that you can pick up at any decent department store; it isn’t even like something very expensive and rare that has a waiting list is almost never on store shelves. The SR-71 Blackbird is more like, if anything, an invention that the inventor can’t sell—perhaps, some years back, one of the first, handmade electric light bulbs—because it is so far from how people think and do things that they can’t see anyone would want to use them. The SR-71 Blackbird is rare enough that few pilots have even seen it. And I saw, or thought I saw, my friend get into one.
and got into an SR-71 Blackbird. The man took off in an SR-71 Blackbird. An SR-71 Blackbird! Words failed me. Polite ones, at any rate. And probably the impolite ones, too. The SR-71 Blackbird may be the coolest looking reconnaissance plane ever; as far as looks go, it beats the pants off the spacecraft in a few science fiction movies. But the engineers weren’t really trying to look cool; that was a side effect of trying to make an aircraft that was cool. It has those sleek lines because it’s a bit of a stealth aircraft; it can be detected by radar, but it’s somewhat harder. And suppose you’re in an SR-71 Blackbird and you are picked up by radar, and enemy soldiers launch a surface-to-air missle at you—or two, or ten? Just speed up and you’ll outrun it; the SR-71 Blackbird is the fastest aircraft ever built. Some SR-71 Blackbirds have been shot at. Ain’t never got one shot down. One of the better surface-to-air rockets has about the same odds of hitting an SR-71 Blackbird doing Mach 3.2 as a turtle trying to catch up with a cheetah and ram it. An SR-71 Blackbird is a different kind of rare. It’s not just that it’s not a common electronic device that you can pick up at any decent department store; it isn’t even like something very expensive and rare that has a waiting list is almost never on store shelves. The SR-71 Blackbird is more like, if anything, an invention that the inventor can’t sell—perhaps, some years back, one of the first, handmade electric light bulbs—because it is so far from how people think and do things that they can’t see anyone would want to use them. The SR-71 Blackbird is rare enough that few pilots have even seen it. And I saw, or thought I saw, my friend get into one.
I walked back in a daze, sat down, decided not to take any drinks just then, and cornered the joker, who couldn’t keep his mouth shut. I told him to fess up about whatever he slipped me, but he was clueless—and when I couldn’t keep my mouth shut and blabbed why, he didn’t believe me. (Not that I blame him; I didn’t believe it myself.)
I ate by myself, later, and followed him. The third time, I caught him in the act.
I was red with anger, and almost saw red.
He blanched whiter than at the wisecrack about him maybe not driving a car.
What I would have said then, if I were calmer, was, “Do you think it’s right for a billionaire, to go around begging? You have things that none of us even dream of, and you—?”
After I had yelled at him, he looked at me and said, “How can I fuel up?”
I glared at him. “I don’t know, but it’s got to be much cooler than waiting in line at a gas station.”
“Maybe it is cooler, but I don’t think so, and that’s not what I asked. Suppose I want to fly in my airplane. What do I do to be fueled up?”
“Um, a fuel truck drives out and fills you up?”
“And then I’m good to go because I have a full tank, just like you?”
“I don’t see what you’re getting at.”
“Ok, let me ask you. What do you do if you want to make a long trip? Can you fill your tank, maybe a day or two before your trip, and leave?”
“Yes. And that would be true if you had a moped, or a motorcycle, or a luxury car, or even something exotic like an ATV or a hovercraft.”
“But not an SR-71 Blackbird.”
“What do you mean, not an SR-71 Blackbird? Did you get a good deal because your aircraft is broken?”
“Um, just because you can assume something in a good car, or even a bad car, doesn’t mean that it’s true across the board. When it’s sitting on the ground, my aircraft leaks fuel.”
“It leaks fuel? Why are you flying an aircraft that’s not broken?”
“There’s a difference between designing a passenger car and what I deal with. With a passenger car, if the manufacturers are any good, the car can sit with little to no fuel leak even if it’s badly maintained.”
“But this does not apply to what the rest of us can only dream of?”
“A passenger car heats up a little, at top speeds, due to air friction. One and the same part works for the fuel line when it’s been in the garage for an hour, and when it’s driving as fast as you’ve driven it. Not so with my aircraft. The SR-71 Blackbird is exposed to one set of temperatures in the hangar, and then there is air friction for moving at Mach 3.2, and there’s a basic principle of physics that says that what gets hotter, gets bigger.”
“What’s your point?”
“The parts that make up an SR-71 Blackbird are one size in the hangar and other sizes when the aircraft is flying at high speeds. The engineers could have sized the parts so that you could keep an aircraft in the hangar without losing any fuel… or they could make an airplane that leaks fuel on the ground, but it works when it was flying. But they could not make an airplane that would work at Mach 3.2 and have a sealed fuel line in the hangar… and that means that, when I go anywhere worth mentioning in my hot, exciting airplane, even I get fueled up on the ground, and I lose quite a lot of fuel getting airborne and more or less need an immediate air-to-air refueling… This is besides the obvious fact that I can’t run on any fuel an ordinary gas station would carry. For that matter, the JP-7, a strange beast of a ‘fuel’ that must also serve as hydraulic fluid and engine coolant, is about as exotic compared to most jet fuel as it is compared to the ‘boring’ gasoline which you take for granted—you can’t get fuel for an SR-71 Blackbird at a regular airport any more than you can buy ‘ordinary’ jet fuel at a regular gas station… and you think me strange when I get excited about the fact that you can drive up to any normal gas station and fill-er-up!”
I hesitated, and then asked, “But besides one or two details like—”
He cut me off. “It’s not ‘one or two details,’ any more than—than filling out paperwork and dealing with bureaucracy amounts to ‘one or two details’ of a police officer’s life. Sure, on television, something exciting happens to police officers every hour, but a real police officer’s life is extremely different from police shows. It’s not just paperwork. Perhaps there is lots of paperwork—a police officer deals with at least as much paperwork and bureaucracy as an employee who’s a cog in a big office—but there are other things. Police officers get in firefights all the time on TV. But this is another area where TV’s image is not the reality. I’ve known police officers who wouldn’t trade their work for anything in the world. Doesn’t mean that their work is like a cop show. When police officers aren’t being filmed on those videos that make dramatic shows, and they aren’t training, the average police officer starts firing maybe once every three or four years. There are many, many seasoned veterans who have never fired a gun on the street. And having an SR-71 Blackbird is no more what you’d imagine it was like to have a cool, neat, super-duper reconnaissance plane instead of your unsatisfying, meagre, second-rate, dull car than… than… than being a police officer has all the excitement of surviving a shootout every day, but only having to fill paperwork once every three or four years if at all!”
“Um, what else is there?”
“Um, what’s a typical trip for you? I mean, with your car?”
“My wife’s family is at the other side of the state, and—”
“So that’s an example of a common trip? More common than shopping or driving to meet someone?”
“Ok; often I’m just running some errands.”
“Such a boring thing to do with a station wagon. If you want things to get interesting, try something I wouldn’t brave.”
“Go for the gusto. Borrow my vehicle! First, you can fuel up at home, as any fuel that had been in your tank is now a slippery puddle underneath the vehicle you wish you had. Then start the vehicle. You’ll have something to deal with later, after the hot exhaust sets your trees on fire. And maybe a building or two. Then lurch around, and try to taxi along the streets. (Let’s assume you don’t set any trees on fire, which is not likely.) Now you’re used to be able to see most of the things on the road, at least the ones you don’t want to hit? And—”
“Ok, ok, I get the idea! The SR-71 Blackbird is the worst, most pitiable—”
“Perhaps I have misspoken. Or at least wasn’t clear enough. I wasn’t trying to say that it’s simple torture flying an SR-71 Blackbird. There are few things as joyful as flying. And do you know what kind of possibilities exist (in everything from friendship to work to hobbies) when the list of things you can easily make a day trip to the other side of the globe? When—”
“Then why the big deal you just made before?”
“An SR-71 Blackbird is many things, but it is not what you imagine if you fantasize about everything you imagine my vehicle to be, and assume almost everything you take for granted in yours. There are a great many nice things that go without saying in your vehicle, that aren’t part of mine. You know, a boring old station wagon with its dull room for a driver plus a few passengers and some cargo, that runs on the most mundane petroleum-based fuel you can get, and of course is familiar to most mechanics and can be maintained by almost any real automotive shop, and—if this is even worth mentioning—can be driven safely across a major network of roads, and—of course this can be taken for granted in any real vehicle—has a frame that gives you a fighting chance of surviving a full-speed collision with—”
“Ok, ok, I get the picture. But wouldn’t it have helped matters if you would tell people these things up front? You know, maybe something about avoiding these confrontations, or maybe something about ‘Honesty is the best policy’?”
He said, “Ok. So when I meet people, I should say, ‘Hi. My vehicle leaves Formula One racecars in the dust. It also flies, can slip through radar, and does several things you can’t even imagine. But don’t worry, I haven’t let any of this go to my head. I’m not full of myself. I promise I won’t look down on you or whatever car you drive. And you can promise not to feel the least bit envious, inferior, or intimated. Deal?’ It seems to come across that way no matter how I try to make that point. And really, why shouldn’t it?”
I paused. “Do our vehicles have anything in common at all?”
“Yes—more than either of us can understand.”
“But what on earth, if we’re so different? My vehicle is a 1965 model; your vehicle sounds so new you’d need a time machine to get one—”
“My vehicle is a 1965 model too.”
“If you want to lie and make me feel better, you could have told me that your vehicle was years older than mine.”
“I meant it. There is something about our vehicles that is cut from the same cloth.”
“How can you say that? I mean, without stretching? Is what they have in common that they’re both in the same universe? Or that they’re both bigger than an atom but smaller than a galaxy? Or some other way of really stretching?”
“If you want to dig deeper, have you read, ‘I, Pencil‘? Where an economist speaks on behalf of a common, humble pencil?”
“A speech from a pencil? What does that have to do with our vehicles? Are you going to compare our vehicles to a pencil?”
“So you’re stretching.”
“In I, Pencil, a cheap wooden pencil explains what it took to make it. It talks about how a diamond in the rough—I mean, graphite in the rough—crosses land and sea and is combined with clay, and a bit of this and that to make the exquisite slender shaft we call pencil ‘lead’. The wood comes from the majestic cedar—do you know what it takes to make a successful logging operation—and then a mind-boggling number of steps transform a hundred feet of tree into something that’s a little hard to explain, but machined to very precise specifications, and snapped together before six coats of laquer—oh, I forgot, before the cedar wraps around the slender graphite wand, it’s also adorned by being tinted a darker color, ‘for the same reason women put rouge on their faces’ or something like that. Its parts come through a transportation network from all over the world, and the rubber eraser—which wouldn’t erase at all well if were just rubber; it needs to be a cocktail of ingredients that perform at least three major tasks if it will work as an eraser. Try erasing pencil with a rubber ball sometime; it will erase terribly if it erases at all. Your erases is not mere rubber, but a rubber alloy, the way airplanes are made, not with mere aluminum, but with an aluminum alloy, and—”
“So the parts of a pencil have an interesting story?”
“Yes. And the quite impressive way they are put together—pencils don’t assemble themselves, and a good machine—for some steps—costs a king’s ransom. And the way they’re distributed, and any number of things necessary for business to run the whole process, and—”
“Then should I start offering my daughter’s pencils to a museum?”
“I wouldn’t exactly offer one of her pencils to a museum. Museums do not have room for every wonder this world has. But I will say this. The next pencil you forget somewhere wouldn’t have been yours to lose without more work, talent, skill, knowledge, venture capital, and a thousand other things than it took to make a wonder like the Rosetta Stone or the Mona Lisa.”
As usual, she was dressed to kill. Her outfit was modest—I can almost say, ostentatiously modest—but, somehow, demurely made the point that she might be a supermodel.
I had a bad feeling about something. During our conversation on the way over, I said, “You have an issue with Saab drivers.” He replied, “No. Or yes, but it’s beside the point. Saab drivers tend to have issues with me.” I was caught off-guard: “That sounds as arrogant as anything I’ve—”
He asked me to forget what he had said. For the rest of the conversation, he seemed to be trying to change the subject.
She greeted us, shook his hand warmly, and turned back. “—absolutely brilliant. Not, in any way, like the British Comet, which never should have been flown in the first place, and was part of why jumbo jetliners were dangerous in the public’s eye. The training for people who were going to be in that jumbo jetliner—the Comet—included being in a vacuum so that soldiers would know what to do if they were flying in a sparse layer of the atmosphere and the airplane simply disintegrated around them and left them in what might as well have been a vacuum. This sort of thing happened with enough jumbo jetliners that the public was very leery of them. For good reason, they were considered a disaster looking for a place to happen.
“And so, when Boeing effectively bet the company on the Boeing 707—like they did with every new airplane; it wasn’t just one product among others that could be a flop without killing the company—they gave the test pilot very careful instructions about what to do when he demonstrated their new jumbo jetliner.
“At the airshow, he was flying along, and after a little while, people began to notice that one of the airplane’s wings was lower, and the other was higher…
“The Boeing 707 test pilot was doing a barrel roll, which is extremely rough on an airplane. It’s like… something like, instead of saying that a computer is tough, throwing it across the room. This stunt was a surprise to the other people at Boeing, almost as much as to the other, and it wasn’t long before Boeing got on the radio and asked the pilot, ‘What the [Bleep] do you think you’re doing?’ The pilot’s reply was short, and to the point:
“‘Why, selling airplanes, sir.’
“He told a reporter afterwards, ‘And when I got done with that barrel roll, I realized that the people weren’t going to believe what they just saw… so I turned around and I did another one!'”
A moment later, someone else said, “What does ‘Saab’ mean again? You’ve told me, but—”
She smiled. “It took me a while to remember, too. ‘SAAB’ stands for ‘Svenska aeroplan Aktiebolaget,’ literally ‘Swedish Aeroplane Limited.’ It’s a European aerospace company that decided that besides making fighter jets and military aircraft, they would run a side business of selling cars, or at least the kind of car you get when you combine a muscle car, a luxury vehicle, and more than a touch of a military jet. It’s like an airplane in big and small ways—everything from, if you unbuckle your seatbelt, a ‘Fasten seatbelts’ light just like an airliners’, to the rush of power you feel when you hit the gas and might as well be lifting off… I’m not sure how you would describe it… It’s almost what Lockheed-Martin would sell if they were Scandinavian and wanted to sell something you could drive on the street.”
He said, “It sounds like a delight to drive.”
She said, “It is. Would you two like me to take you out for a spin? I’d be delighted to show it to you. What kind of car do you drive?”
He paused for a split second and said, “I needed to get a ride with him; I have nothing that I could use to get over here.”
I told her, “He’s being modest.”
She looked at me quizzically. “How?”
“He flies an SR-71 Blackbird… um… sorry, I shouldn’t have said that just as you were taking a drink.”
He seemed suddenly silent. For that matter, the room suddenly seemed a whole lot quieter.
She said, “You’re joking, right?”
No one said a word.
Then she said, “Wow. It is a privilege and an honor. I have never met someone who…”
He said, “I really don’t understand… maybe… um… I’m not really better, or—”
She said, “Stop being modest. I’d love to hear more about your fighter. Have you shot anything down?”
He looked as if he was thinking very hurriedly, and not finding the thought that he wanted.
“The SR-71 Blackbird would be pretty useless in a dogfight. It is neither designed or equipped to fight even with a very obsolete enemy aircraft; it’s just designed to snoop around and gather information.”
She said, “Um, so they get shot down all the time? Wouldn’t you tend to get a lot of missiles fired by enemy fighters who aren’t worried about you shooting back? What do you do when you run out of countermeasure flares?”
He paused for a moment, saying, “The SR-71 Blackbird doesn’t have anything you’d expect. Flares are a great way to decoy a heat-seeking missile, but the SR-71 Blackbird doesn’t have them, either.”
I turned to him and said, “You’re being almost disturbingly modest.” Then I turned to her and said, “An SR-71 Blackbird can go over three times the speed of sound. The standard evasive to a surface-to-air rocket is simply to accelerate until you’ve left the rocket in the dust. I’m not aware of one of them being shot down.”
Her eyes were as big as dinner plates.
She said, “I am stunned. I have talked with a few pilots, but I have never met anyone close to an SR-71 Blackbird pilot. I hope we can be friends.” She stood close to him and offered her hand.
The three of us ran into each other a number of times in the following days. She seemed to want to know everything about his aircraft, and seemed very respectful, or at least seemed to be working hard to convey how impressed she was.
It was a dark and stormy night. He and I were both on our way out the door, when she asked, “What are you doing?”
He said, “I want to try some challenges. I plan on going out over the ocean and manoeuvering in the storm system.”
She turned to him and said, very slowly, “No, you’re not.”
He turned to me and said, “C’mon, let’s go.”
She said, “Are you crazy? A storm like that has done what enemy rockets have failed to do: take down your kind of craft. I’ve grown quite fond of you, and I’d hate to see you get killed because you were being stupid. Think about 61-7969 / 2020.”
He said, “May I ask why you know about that?”
“I have been doing some reading because I want to understand you. And I understand people well enough, and care about you enough, to tell when you are acting against your best interests.”
He grabbed my arm and forced me out the door. Once in the car, he said, “I’m sorry… I needed to get out before saying something I would regret.”
“‘So you know just the perfect way to straighten me out, and you don’t even need to ask me questions. Walk a mile in my shoes, to a place you can reach in a car but not my aircraft, and then we might be able to talk.'”
I watched him take off, and I came back to pick him up, after waiting an hour. I could tell something that seemed not quite perfect about his flying, but I do not regret that I kept my mouth shut about that.
The next day she surprised us by meeting us first thing in the morning.
She gave us a stack of paper. “I care about you quite a lot, and I don’t want to be invited to your funeral in the next year. Here are detailed aviation regulations and international laws which are intended for your safety. I could not get an exact count of the number of crimes you committed, either for last night or for your reckless day-to-day flying around. I am sure that there are many responsible ways a vehicle like yours can be used, and I have inquired about whether there are any people who can offer some guidance and free you to…”
He turned around, took my elbow, and began walking out to the parking lot. We got in my car, and she raced for hers.
I saw her go to the mouth of the parking lot and then stop. The one Rolls-Royce in town had broken down, of all places there, and the owner and chauffer were both outside. I had thought that the person who was chauffered in a Rolls-Royce was a peaceful sort of man, but he was yelling then, and before she got over the owner positively erupted at the chauffeur and waved his arms. She had gotten out and wanted to talk with them, but you can’t get a word in edgewise at a time like that.
Now I’d like to clarify something about my car. I’ve only seen a vehicle like mine in a demolition derby once, but I was surprised. I wasn’t surprised, in particular, that the wagon was the last vehicle moving. What I was surprised at was that over a third of the derby had passed before the ugly wagon started to crumple at all.
And one other thing: one April Fools’ Day, a friend who drives a sleek, sporty little 1989 Chrysler LeBaron gave me a bumper sticker that said, “Zero to sixty in fifteen minutes,” and then acted surprised when I challenged him to a short race. When the race had finished, he seemed extraordinarily surprised, and I told him, “There is a question on your face. Let me answer it.” Then I opened the hood on my ugly, uncool station wagon and said, “Your sleek little number can get by on a 2.2 liter engine. Do you know what that is?” He said, “Um, the engine?” And I said, “That is a 6.6 liter V8. Any questions?”
Ok, enough clarification. I looked around, turned in the opposite direction, and floored my car, blasting through the hedges and getting heavy scrapes on the bottom of my car. I got shortly on the road, and had a straight shot at the airport. She did eventually catch up to me, but not until there was nothing left to see but some hot exhaust and the fuel that had leaked when he tried to take off. (I still get the occasional note from him.)
Besides worrying about him, I was also much less worried about my car: tough as it is, cars don’t like getting their undersides scraped on gravel, and I decided to take my car to the garage and have the mechanic take a look at it and tell me if I broke anything.
I was surprised—though maybe I shouldn’t have been—to see the Rolls-Royce in the garage when I pulled in. I intended to explain that I might have scraped the bottom up, and after I did so, my curiosity got the better of me. I asked something about Rolls-Royces breaking down.
The mechanic gave me the oddest look.
I asked him, “Why the funny look?”
He opened the hood, and said, “Rolls-Royces do break down easily… and it’s even easier to break down if you open the hood, jam a screwdriver right there, and rev it as hard as you can.”
It appears in Orthodoxy that the outside of the chalice is all feasts and beautiful liturgies, even during Lent: but on the inside is all repentance, deprivation and hardship, and being blindsided by rebukes. All of this falls under “The Best Things in Life are Free,” the one as much as the other.
But this is not all. The outside of the cup is beautiful and its beauty is true and real. But the real treasure is inside. Repentance is a spiritual awakening; it terrifies because it seems that when we repent we will lose a shining part of ourselves forever, but when we repent we suddenly realize, “I was holding on to a piece of Hell!” and are free to flee the stench. What feast compares to the grandeur of real repentance?
We may approach the outside of the chalice first, but it is a loss to stop there. We need the joyful sorrow of compunction and all that is within the chalice, and then what is on the outside of the chalice will be clean, and what is more, will reach its proper stature.
Every day take a little less, and pare down a little more. The Fathers do warn, “Do not engage in warfare beyond your strength,” and the praxis is to crawl before we try to walk. But The Way of the Ascetic pares down, little by little, in humor, in luxury, in eating for a purpose other than nourishment, and aims to have none of it left.
The cutting of of one’s own will is free. And it is the experience of monasticism that this is one of the best things in life: a monk’s will is cut off, not for the primary benefit of his brother monks, but for his own benefit. And the voluntary and involuntary cutting off of one’s will extends far outside the monastery. It is one of the best things in life, whether we accept it as a blessing or resent it because we do not wish to grow up in the spiritual life.
Perhaps we are entering a time of struggle. (Entering?) Perhaps we are seeing the end of exceptionally prosperous and easy days we have no right reason to expect. The same truths apply. The same God who reigns in easy times, reigns in hard times.
The arm of the Lord is more visible, not less, in hard times. God’s providence is stronger when you know you need it.
The chalice offered us indeed looks easy on the outside but is full of pain within. But the sufferings are part of the treasure. And the best things in life reach deeper than the golden ornaments that belong on the outside, but extend to the joyful sadnesses within. Those who shed at least some entertainment and seek repentance and compunction for their sins find repentance an awakening and compunction to be joyful and cleansing. And that is not all. Everything inside the cup runs deep. And everything inside the cup is free.
The divine sovereignty is never purchased at the expense of human freedom. Human freedom is limited, but this is not where divine sovereignty comes from. The divine sovereignty has the last word after every creaturely choice has been made, and the divine sovereignty shapes joy after every draught of the inexhaustible cup.
The joy of the best things in life is not purchased at the expense of the chalice of suffering. Suffering is limited, but this is not something the divine sovereignty is purchased from. The divine sovereignty has the last word after every creaturely suffering has been entered, and the divine sovereignty leaves people in a better place than had they not met their sufferings.
The divine life is now. The divine energies are now. Not later, once some difficulties are resolved, but now.
In ancient times the holiday of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection were celebrated together; even now there is not a separation between them, and we speak of a three-day Pascha. There is no real separation between bearing a cross and being crowned with a crown, even if it takes time to gain the eyes of faith to see such things.
Orthodox are iconodules, but God is both iconodule and iconoclast: he takes things in our life and makes them icons of himself, and he also keeps on destroying and removing things to make us more free to breathe. Heaven and Hell are both inside us, and God seeks to inhabit Heaven inside of us and uproot Hell.
God the Father is the maker of all things visible and invisible. God is spirit, and even among created things the first excellence belongs to the invisible. Who can buy or sell invisible things? This is one reason the best things in life are free.
If you covet something and you gain it, it will bring misery once the pleasure melts away, and the greater the covetousness, the greater the misery. Covetousness is the inverse of what is inside the cup.
We want to have things our way. But the Lord has other plans. And what we will find if we yield is that he has other plans for us that are not what we would have chosen, but are far better. This is at once an easy and a hard thing to do.
In the Bible a chalice is both a cup of suffering to drink and a cup which fills with excellent joy. The suffering is as bad as we fear—no, worse— but if we drink of it we will be drinking of the very best things in life. The divine life in the chalice immeasurably eclipses the gilt ornament outside of it. Rememberance of death, compunction, and repentance dig deeper than the music of liturgy.
The best things in life are not just an ornament for when our material needs are well taken care of. It is true ten times more that they are lifeblood in hard times and harder times. And the chalice is inexhaustible.