Exotic Golden Ages and Restoring Harmony with Nature: Anatomy of a Passion

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It’s exotic, right?

The website for the Ubuntu Linux distribution announced that Ubuntu is “an ancient African word” meaning humanity to others. It announced how it carried forward the torch of a Linux distribution that’s designed for regular people to use. And this promotion of “an ancient African word” has bothered a few people: one South African blogger tried to explain several things: for instance, he mentioned that “ubuntu” had been a quite ordinary Xhosa/Zulu word meaning “humanity,” mentioned that it had been made into a political rallying cry in the 20th century, and drew an analogy: saying, “‘Ubuntu’ is an ancient African word meaning ‘humanity'” is as silly as saying, in reverential tones, “‘People’ is an ancient European word meaning, ‘more than one person.'” There is an alternative definition provided in the forums of Gentoo, a technical aficionado’s Linux distribution: “Ubuntu. An African word meaning, ‘Gentoo is too hard for me.'”

The blogger raised questions of gaffe in the name of the distribution; he did not raise questions about the Linux distribution itself, nor would I. Ubuntu is an excellent Linux distribution for nontechnical users, it gets some things very much right, and I prefer it to most other forms of Linux I’ve seen—including Gentoo. I wouldn’t bash the distribution, nor would I think of bashing what people mean by making “ubuntu” a rallying-cry in pursuing, in their words, “Linux for human beings.”

The offense lay in something else, and it is something that, in American culture at least, runs deep: it was a crass invocation of an Archetypal Exotic Culture’s Nugget of Profound Wisdom. It is considered an impressive beginning to a speech to open by recounting an Archetypal Exotic Culture’s Awesome Nugget of Profound Wisdom: whether one is advertising a Linux distribution, a neighbor giving advice over a fence in Home Improvement, or a politician delivering a speech, it is taken as a mark of sophistication and depth to build upon the Archetypal Exotic Culture’s Nugget of Profound Wisdom.

At times I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that the Archetypal Exotic Culture’s Awesome Nugget of Profound Wisdom is the mouthpiece for whatever is fashionable in the West at the time. Let me give one illustration, if one that veers a bit close to the Archetypal Exotic Culture’s Nugget of Profound Wisdom:

One American friend of mine, when in Kenya, gave a saying that was not from any of the people groups she was interacting with, but was from a relatively close neighboring people group: “When you are carrying a child in your womb, he only belongs to you. When he is born, he belongs to everyone.” The proverb speaks out of an assumption that not only parents but parents’ friends, neighbors, elders, shopkeepers, and ultimately all adults, stand in parentis loco. All adults are ultimately responsible for all children and are responsible for exercising a personal and parental care to help children grow into mature adulthood. As best I understand, this is probably what a particular community in Africa might mean in saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

What is a little strange is that, if these words correspond to anything in the U.S., they are conservative, and speak to a conservative desire to believe that not only parents but neighbors, churches, civic and local organizations, businesses and the like, all owe something to the moral upbringing of children: that is to say, there are a great many forces outside the government that owe something to local children. And this is quite the opposite of saying that we need more government programs because it takes a full complement of government initiatives and programs to raise a child well—becacuse, presumably, more and more bureaucratic initiatives are what the (presumably generic) African sages had in mind when they gave the Archetypal Exotic Culture’s Nugget of Profound Wisdom and said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” There is some degree of irony in making “It takes a village” a rallying-cry in pushing society further away from what, “It takes a village to raise a child,” could have originally meant—looking for advice on how to build a statist Western-style cohort of bureaucratic government programs would be as inconceivable in many traditional African cultures as looking for instructions on how to build a computer in the New Testament.

My point in mentioning this is not primarily sensitivity to people who don’t like hearing people spout about a supposedly “ancient African word” such as, “Ubuntu.” Nor is my point really about how, whenever a saying is introduced as an ancient aboriginal proverb, the Archetypal Exotic Culture’s Nugget of Profound Wisdom ends up shanghied into being an eloquent statement of whatever fads are blowing around in the West today. My deepest concern is that the Archetypal Exotic Culture’s Nugget of Profound Wisdom hinges on something that is bad for us spiritually.

The Archetypal Exotic Culture’s Nugget of Profound Wisdom is tied to what the Orthodox Church refers to as a “passion,” which means something very different from either being passionately in love, or being passionate about a cause or a hobby, or even religious understandings of the passion of Christ. The concept of a passion is a religious concept of a spiritual disease that one feeds by thoughts and actions that are out of step with reality. There is something like the concept of a passion in the idea of an addiction, a bad habit, or in other Christians whose idea of sin is mostly about spiritual state rather than mere actions. A passion is a spiritual disease that we feed by our sins, and the concern I raise about the Archetypal Exotic Culture’s Nugget of Profound Wisdom is one way—out of many ways we have—that we feed one specific passion.

The Archetypal Exotic Culture’s Nugget of Profound Wisdom is occult, and we cannot give the same authority to any source that is here and now. If we listen to the wise voices of elders, it is only elders from faroff lands who can give such deeply relevant words: I have never heard such a revered Nugget of Wisdom come from the older generation of our own people, or any of the elders we meet day to day.

By “occult” I mean something more than an Archetypal Exotic Culture’s Nugget of Profound Wisdom that might note that the word “occult” etymologically signifies “hidden”—and still does, in technical medical usage—and that the Archetypal Exotic Culture’s Nugget of Profound Wisdom has been dug up from someplace obscure and hidden. Nor is it really my point that the Nugget may be dug up from an occult source—as when I heard an old man, speaking with a majesterial voice, give a homily for the (Christmas) Festival of Lessons and Carols that begun by building on a point from a famous medieval Kabalist. These are at best tangentially related. What I mean by calling the Archetypal Exotic Culture’s Nugget of Profound Wisdom occult is that the Archetypal Exotic Culture’s Nugget of Profound Wisdom is the fruit of the same tree as explicitly occult practices—and they are tributaries feeding the same river.

Occult sin is born out of a sense that the way things are in the here and now that God has placed us in are not enough: Gnosticism has been said to hinge, not so much on a doctrine, but something like a mood, a mood of despair. (You might say a passion of despair.) Gnostic Scripture is a sort of spiritual porn that offers a dazzling escape from the present—a temptation whose power is much stronger on people yearning for such escape than for people who have learned the virtuous innoculation of contentment.

It takes virtue to enjoy even vice, and that includes contentment. As a recovering alcoholic will tell you, being drunk all the time is misery, and, ultimately, you have to be at least somewhat sober even to enjoy getting drunk. It takes humility to enjoy even pride, and chastity to enjoy even lust. Contentment does not help us escape—it helps us find joy where we were not looking for it, precisely in what we were trying to escape. We do not find a way out of the world—what we find is really and truly a way into where God has placed us.

One can almost imagine a dialogue between God and Adam:

Adam: I’m not content.

God: What do you want me to do?

Adam: I want you to make me contented.

God: Ok, how do you want me to do that?

Adam: First of all, I don’t want to have to engage in ardent, strenuous labor like most people. I don’t want to do that kind of work at all.

God: Ok.

Adam: And that’s not all. I want to have enough bread to feel full.

God: Ok.

Adam: Scratch that. I want as much meat as I want.

God: Ok, as much meat as you want.

Adam: And sweet stuff like ice cream.

God: Ok, I’ll give you Splenda ice cream so it won’t show up on your waistline.

Adam: And I don’t like to be subject to the weather and the elements you made. I want a home which will be cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

God: Sure. And I’ll give you hot and cold running water, too!

Adam: Speaking of that, I don’t like how my body smells—could we do something to hide that?

God: I’ll let you bathe. Each day. In as much water as you want. And I’ll give you deodorant to boot!

Adam: Oh, and by the way, I want to make my own surroundings—not just a home. I want electronics to put me in another world.

[Now we’re getting nowhere in a hurry!]

This may be a questionable portrayal of God, but it is an accurate portrayal of the Adam who decided that being an immortal in paradise wasn’t good enough for him.

Have all these things made us content?

Or have we used them to feed a passion?

We have a lot of ways of wishing that God had placed us someplace else, someplace different. One of the most interesting books I’ve glanced through, but not read, was covered in pink rosy foliage, and said that it was dealing with the #1 cause of unhappiness in women’s relationships. And that #1 cause was a surprise: romantic fantasies. The point was that dreaming up a romantic fantasy and then trying to make it real is a recipe, not for fulfillment, but for heartbreaking disappointment in circumstances where you could be truly happy. (When you have your heart set on a fantasy of just how the perfect man will fulfill all your desires and transform your world, no real man can seem anything but a disappointing shadow next to your fantasy.)

This is not just a point about fantasies in romance. It is also a point that has something to do with technological wonders, secret societies, fascination with the paranormal, Star Trek, World of Warcraft, television, Dungeons and Dragons, sacramental shopping, SecondLife, conspiracy theories, smartphones, daydreams, Halloween, Harry Potter, Wicked, Wicca, The Golden Compass, special effects movies, alienated feminism, radical conservativism, Utopian dreams, political plans to transform the world, and every other way that we tell God, “Sorry, what you have given me is not good enough”—or what is much the same, wish God had given us something quite different.

Why, in my life, is ______ so difficult to me about ______? (I don’t know; why has she forgiven every single one of the astonishingly stupid things I’ve done over the years?) Why can’t I lose a couple of pounds when I want to? (I don’t know; why do I have enough food that I wish I could lose pounds?) Why am I struggling with my debts? (I don’t know; why do I have enough for now?) Why did I have to fight cancer? (I don’t know; why am I alive and strong now?) Why does I stand to lose so much of what I’ve taken for granted? (I don’t know. Why did I take them all for granted? And why did I have so many privileges growing up?) Why _______? (Why not? Why am I ungrateful and discontent with so many blessings?)

Contentment is a choice, and it has been made by people in much bleaker circumstances than mine.

I write this, not as one who has mightily fought this temptation to sin and remained pure, but as one who has embraced the sin wholeheartedly. I know the passion from the inside, and I know it well. Most of my cherished works on this site were written to be “interesting”, and more specifically “interesting” as some sort of escape from a dreary here and now.

There is enough of this sin that, when I began to repent, I wondered if repenting would leave anything left in my writing. And after I had let go of that, I found that there was still something left to write. C.S. Lewis, in The Great Divorce, alluded to the Sermon on the Mount (where Christ said that if our right hand or our right eye causes us to sin, we should rip it out and enter Heaven maimed rather than let our whole body be thrown into the lake of burning sulfur): Lewis said that the journey to Heaven may cost us our right hand and our right eye—but when we arrive in Heaven, we will find that what we have left behind is precisely nothing. Continuing to repent has meant changes for me, and it will (I hope) mean further changes. But I let go of writing only to find that I still had things to write. I gave up on trying to be “interesting” and make my own interesting private world and found, by the way, that God and his world are really quite interesting.

When we are repenting, or trying to, or trying not to, repentance is the ultimate terror. It seems unconditional surrender—and it is. But when we do repent, we realize, “I was holding on to a piece of Hell,” and we realize that repentance is also a waking up, a coming to our senses, and a coming to joy.

What we don’t want to hear

I would like to say a word on the politically incorrect term of “unnatural vice.” Today there is an effort on some Christians to not distinguish that sharply between homosexuality and straight sexual sins. And it is always good practice to focus on one’s own sins and their gravity, but there are very specific reasons to be concerned about unnatural vice. Let me draw an analogy.

It is a blinding flash of the obvious that a well-intentioned miscommunication can cause a conflict that is painful to all involved. And if miscommunications are not necessarily a sin, they can be painful enough, and not the sort of thing one wants to celebrate. However, there is a depth of difference between an innocent, if excruciatingly painful, miscommunication on the one hand, and the kind of conflict when someone deliberately gives betrayal under the guise of friendship. The Church Fathers had a place for a holy kiss as a salute among Christians, but in their mind the opposite of a holy kiss was not a kiss that was what we would understand “inappropriate,” but when Judas said, “Master,” saluted the Lord with a kiss, and by so doing betrayed him to be tortured to death. A painful miscommunication is bad enough, but a betrayal delivered under the guise of friendship is a problem with a higher pay grade.

Lust benefits no one, and it is not just the married who benefit from beating back roving desire, but the unmarried as well. But when Scripture and the Fathers speak of unnatural vice, they know something we’ve chosen to forget. And part of what we have forgotten is that “unnatural vice” is not just something that the gay rights movement advocates for. “Unnatural vice” includes several sins with higher pay grades, and one of them is witchcraft.

To people who have heard all the debates about whether, for instance, same-sex relationships might be unnatural for straight people but natural for gays, it may be a bit of culture shock to hear anything besides gay sex called “unnatural vice.” But the term is there in the Fathers, and it can mean other things. It might include contraception. And it definitely includes what we think of as a way to return to nature in witchcraft.

Adam reigned as an immortal king and lord over the whole world. He had a wife like nothing else in all Creation, paradise for a home, and harmony with nature such as we could not dream of. And, he was like a little boy with a whole room full of toys who is miserable because he wants another toy and his parents said “No.” And lest we look down on Adam, we should remember that I am Adam, and you are Adam.

We have not lost all his glory, but we are crippled by his passion.

Adam wanted something beyond what he was given, something beyond his ken. An Orthodox hymn says, “Wanting to be a god, Adam failed to be god.” More on that later. Adam experienced the desire that draws people to magic—even if the magic’s apparent promise is a restored harmony with nature. This vice shattered the original harmony with nature, and brought a curse on not only Adam but nature itself. It corrupted nature. It introduced death. It means that many animals are terrified of us. It means that even the saints, the holiest of people, are the most aware of how much evil is in them—most of us are disfigured enough that we can think we don’t have any real problem. There is tremendous good in the human person, too; that should be remembered. But even the saints are great sinners. All of this came through Adam’s sin. How much more unnatural of a vice do you ask for than that?

Trying to restore past glory, and how it further estranges us from the past

When I was visiting a museum promising an exhibit on the Age of Reason, I was jarred to see ancient Greek/Roman/… items laid out in exhibits; what was being shown about the Enlightenment was the beginning of museums as we have them today. I was expecting to see coverage of a progressive age, and what I saw was a pioneering effort to reclaim past glory. Out of that jarring I realized something that historians might consider a blinding flash of the obvious. Let me explain the insight nonetheless, before tying it in with harmony with nature.

When people have tried to recover past glory, through the Western means of antiquarian reconstruction, the result severs continuity with the recent past and ultimately made a deeper schism from the more remote past as well.

The Renaissance was an attempt to recover the glory of classical antiquity, but the effect was not only to more or less end what there was in the Middle Ages, but help the West move away from some things that were common to the Middle Ages and antiquity alike. The Reformation might have accomplished many good things, but it did not succeed in its goal in resurrecting the ancient Church; it created a new way of being Christian. The Protestants I know are moral giants compared to much of what was going on in Rome in Luther’s day, and they know Scripture far better, but Protestant Christianity is a decisive break from something that began in the Early Church and remained unbroken even in corrupt 16th century Rome. And it is not an accident that the Reformers dropped the traditional clerical clothing and wore instead the scholar’s robes. (Understanding the Scripture was much less approached through reading the saints, much more by antiquarian scholarship.) The Enlightenment tried again to recover classical glory, and it was simultaneously a time, not of breaking with unbroken ways of being Christian, but of breaking with being Christian itself. Romanticism could add the Middle Ages to the list of past glorious ages, and it may well be that without the Romantics, we would not have great medievalists like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein. But it was also something new. Every single time that I’m aware of that the West has tried to recover the glory of a bygone age, the effect has been a deeper rift with the past, both recent and ultimately ancient, leaving people much further alienated from the past than if they had continued without the reconstruction. I remember being astonished, not just to learn that two Vatican II watchwords were ressourcement (going back to ancient sources to restore past glory) and aggiornamiento (bringing things up-to-date, which in practice meant bringing Rome in line with 1960’s fads), nor that the two seemed to be two sides of the same coin, but that this was celebrated without anybody seeming to find something of a disturbing clue in this. The celebrations of these two watchwords seemed like a celebration of going to a hospital to have a doctor heal an old wound and inflict a new wound that is more fashionable.

The lesson would seem to be, “If you see a new way to connect with the past and recover past glory, be very careful. Consider it like you might consider a skilled opponent, in a game of chess, leaving a major piece vulnerable. It looks spiritually enticing, but it might be the bait for a spiritual trap, and if so, the consequences of springing for the bait might be a deeper rift with the past and its glory.”

Not quite as shallow an approach to translate the past into the present…

Here is what you might do one day to live a bit more like prehistoric Grecians, or ancient Celts, or medieval Gallic peasants, or whatever. Keep in mind that this is at best half-way to its goal, not a full-fledged return to living like an ancient in harmony with nature to a day, but making a rough equivalent by using what is closest from our world:

  1. However exotic the setting may seem to you, remember that it is a fundamental confusion to imagine that the setting was exotic to those inside the experience. We not only meet new people frequently; we see new technologies invented frequently. In The Historic Setting, people most likely were born, lived, and died within twenty miles, and even meeting another person who was not part of your village was rare. A new invention, or a new idea, would be difficult to imagine, let alone point to. So, for one day, whatever you’re doing, if it feels exotic, avoid it like the plague. Stop it immediately. Don’t read anything new; turn off your iPod; don’t touch Wikipedia. Don’t seek excitement; if anything, persevere in things you find boring.
  2. Remembering that there was a lot of heavy manual labor, and stuff that was shared, spend your nice Saturday helping a friend move her stuff into her new apartment. Remember that while stairs were rare in antiquity, it would be an anachronism to take the elevator. Be a good manual laborer and do without the anachronism.
  3. Remembering how the Sermon on the Mount betrays an assumption that most people were poor enough that houses would only have one room, spend your time at home, as much as possible, in one room of your house.
  4. Remembering that the ancient world had no sense of “Jim’s trying to lose weight and is on an old-fashioned low-fat diet, Mary’s a vegan, Al’s low carb…”, but rather there was one diet that everybody day ate, go to McDonald’s, order a meal with McDonald’s McFries McSoaked in McGrease, and a sugary-sweet, corn-syrup-powered shake.If you just said to yourself, “He didn’t say what size; I’ll order the smallest I can,” order the biggest meal you can.
  5. Remembering that in the ancient world the company you kept were not your eclectic pick, spend time with the people around you. Go to your neighbor Ralph who blares bad ’80s rock because he thinks it’s the best thing in the world, and like a good guest don’t criticize what your host has provided—including his music. Spend some time playing board games with your annoying kid sister, and then go over to visit your uncle Wally and pretend to tolerate his sexist jokes.
  6. Lastly, when you head home do have a good night’s sleep, remember that a bed with sheets covering a smooth mattress was only slightly more common than a Frank Lloyd Wright home is today, go to sleep on a straw pallet in your virtual one room house. (You can use organic straw if you can find any.)

This may seem, to put it politely, a way you would never have thought to live like an age in harmony with nature. But let me ask a perfectly serious question:

What did you expect? Did you imagine dressing up as a bard, dancing on hilltops, and reciting poetry about the endless knot while quaffing heather ale?

G.K. Chesterton said that there is more simplicity in eating caviar on impulse than eating grape-nuts on principle. In a similar fashion, there is more harmony with nature in instinctively pigging out at McDonald’s than making a high and lonely spiritual practice out of knowing all the herbs in a meadow.

The vignette of harmony with nature as dancing on hilltops is an image of a scene where harmony with nature means fulfilling what we desire for ourselves. The image of hauling boxes to help a friend is a scene where harmony with nature means transcending mere selfish desire. There is a common thread of faithfulness to unadvertised historical realities running through the six steps listed above. But there is another common thread:

Humility.

It chafes against a passion that people in ages past knew they needed to beat back.

Living according to nature in the past did not work without humility, and living in harmony with nature today did not work with humility.

There is a great deal of difference between getting help in living for yourself, and getting help in living for something more for yourself, and living for something more than yourself—such as people needed to survive in ancient communities close to nature—is the real treasure. It is spirituality with an ugly pair of work gloves, and it is a much bigger part of those communities that have been in harmony with nature than the superficially obvious candidates like spending more time outside and knowing when to plant different crops. If you clarify, “Actually, I was really more interested in the spirituality of a bygone age and its harmony with nature,” you are missing something. Every one of those humbling activities is pregnant with spirituality—and is spiritual in a much deeper way than merely feeling the beauty of a ritual.

Perhaps we would be wise to remember the words of the Delphic Oracle, “Know thyself,” which does not say what we might imagine today. Those words might have been paraphrased, “Know thy place, O overreaching mortal!”

And, in terms of humility, that has much more to give us than trying to reach down inside and make a sandcastle of an identity, and hope it won’t be another sandcastle.

Should I really be patting myself on the back?

I try to follow a diet that is closer to many traditional diets, has less processing and organic ingredients when possible, and I believe for several reasons that I am right in doing so: medical, animal welfare, and environmental. But before I pat myself on the back too hard for showing the spirit of Orthodoxy in harmony with nature, I would be well advised to remember that there is far more precedent in the Fathers and in the saint’s lives for choosing to live on a cup of raw lentils a week or a diet of rancid fish.

Saints may have followed something of a special diet, but that is because they believed and acted out of the conviction that they were unworthy of the good things of the world, including the common fare what most people ate. My diet, like other diets in fashion, is a diet that tells me that the common fare eaten by most people is simply unworthy of me. This may well enough be true—I have doubts about how much of today’s industrially produced diet is fit for human consumption at all—and I may well enough answer, “But of course the Quarter Pounder with ‘Cheese’ eaten by an inner-city teen is unworthy of me—it’s just as unworthy, if not more unworthy, of the inner-city teens who simply accept it as normal to eat.” Even so, I have put myself in a difficult position. The saints thought they were unworthy of common fare. I believe that common fare is unworthy of me, and trying to believe that without deadly pride is trying to smoke, but not inhale.

In the Book of James, the Lord’s brother says that the poor should exult because of their high position while the rich should be humble because of their low position. The same wisdom might see that the person who eats anything that tastes good is the one in the high position, and the person who avoids most normal food out of a special diet’s discrimination is in a position that is both low and precarious.

The glory of the Eucharist unfurls in a common meal around a table, and this “common” meal is common because it is shared. To pull back from “common” food is to lose something very Eucharistic about the meal, and following one more discriminating diet like mine is a way to heals one breach of harmony with nature by opening up what may be a deeper rift.

If evil is necessary, does it stop being evil?

Orthodoxy in the West inherits something like counterculture, and there is something amiss when Orthodox carry over unquestioned endeavors to build a counterculture or worldview or other such Western fads. If Orthodoxy in the West is countercultural, that doesn’t mean that counterculture is something to seek out: if Orthodoxy is countercultural, that is a cost it pays. Civil disobedience can be the highest expression of a citizen’s respect for law. Amputation can be the greatest expression of a physician’s concern for a patient’s life. However, these things are not basically good, and there is fundamental confusion in seeking out occasions to show such measures.

Another basis to try and learn from the past

To someone in the West, Orthodoxy may have a mighty antiquarian appeal. Orthodox saints, for the most part, speak from long ago and far away. However, this isn’t the point; it’s a side effect of a Church whose family of saints has been growing for millennia. Compare this, for instance, to a listing of great computer scientists—who will all be recent, not because computer science in an opposite fashion needs to be new, but because computer science hasn’t been around nearly long enough for there to be a fourth century von Neumann or Knuth.

Some people wanting very hard knife blades—this may horrify an antiquarian—acquire nineteenth century metal files and grind them into knife blades. The reason for this is that metallurgists today simply do not know how to make steel as hard as the hardest Victorian-era metal files. The know-how is lost. And the hobbyists who seek a hard metal file as the starting point for their knife blades do not choose old metalwork because it is old; they choose old metal files because they are the hardest they can get. And there is something like this in the Orthodox Church. The point of a saint’s life is not how exotic a time and place the saint is from; the point of a saint’s life is holiness, a holiness that is something like a nineteenth century adamantine-hard metal file.

If there are problems in turning back the clock, the Orthodox Church has some very good news. This good news is not exactly a special way to turn back the clock; it is rather the good news that the clock can be lifted up.

There is a crucial difference between trying to restore the past, and hoping that it will lift you into Heaven, and being lifted up into Heaven and finding that a healthy connection with the past comes with it. The Divine Liturgy is a lifting up of the people and their lives up to Heaven: a life that begins here and now.

The hymn quoted earlier, “Adam, trying to be a god, failed to be god,” continues, “Christ became man that he might make Adam god.” The saying has rumbled down through the ages, “God (the Son of God) became a Man (the Son of Man) that men (the sons of men) might become gods (the Sons of God).” The bad news, if it is bad news, is that we cannot escape a present into the beauty of Eden. The good news is that the present can itself be lifted up, that the doors to Eden remain open.

In some ways our search for happiness is like that of a grandfather who cannot find his glasses no matter how many places he looks—because they are right on his nose.

Men are not from Mars!

I was once able to visit a Mars Society conference—a conference from an organization whose purpose is to send human colonists to Mars.

To many of the people there, the question of whether we are “a spacefaring race” is much weightier than the question of whether medical research can find a cure for cancer. It’s not just that a human colony on Mars would represent a first-class triumph of science and humanity; it is rather that the human race is beyond being a race of complete, unspeakable, and obscene losers if we don’t come to our senses and colonize Mars so the human race is not just living on this earth and living the kind of life we live now. The question of whether we colonize Mars is, in an ersatz sense, the religious question of whether we as a race have salvation. The John 3:16 of this movement is, “Earth is the cradle of mankind, but one does not remain in a cradle forever.”

The Mars Society holds an essay contest to come up with essays about why we should colonize Mars; the title of the contest, and perhaps of the essays, is, “Why Mars?” And, though I never got around to writing it, there was something I wanted to write.

This piece, having a fictional setting, would be written from the perspective of a sixteen year old girl who was the first person to be raised on Mars, and would provide another comparison of life on Mars to life on earth. And the essay would be snarky, sarcastic, angry, and bitter, because of something that people looking with starry eyes at a desired Mars colony miss completely.

What does the Mars Society not get about what they hope for?

When I was a student at Wheaton College, one of my friends told of a first heavy snowfall where students from warmer climates, some of whom had never experienced such a snowfall personally, were outside and had a delightful snowball fight. And they asked my friend, “How can you not be out here playing?” My friend’s answer: “Just wait four months. You’ll see.”

One’s first snowball fight is quite the pleasant experience, and presumably one’s first time putting on a spacesuit is much better. But what my unattractively cynical friend didn’t like about Wheaton’s winter weather is a piece of cake compared to needing to put on a spacesuit and go through an airlock on a planet where the sum total of places one can go without a bulky, heavy, clumsy, uncomfortable, and hermetically sealed spacesuit, is dwarfed by a small rural village of a thousand people, and dwarfed by a medium sized jail. If you are the first person to grow up on Mars, the earth will seem a living Eden which almost everyone alive but you is privileged to live in. And the title of the snarky, sarcastic, and bitterly miserable essay I wished I could write from the perspective of the first human raised on Mars was, “Why Earth?

I’m used to seeing people wish they could escape the here and now, but the Mars Society took this to a whole new level—so much so that I was thinking, “This is not a job for science and engineering; this is a job for counseling!” People were alienated from the here and now they had on earth, and the oomph of the drive to go to Mars seemed to be because of something else entirely from the (admittedly very interesting) scientific and engineering issues. Having the human race not even try to live on Mars was so completely unacceptable to them because of their woundedness.

If you don’t know how to be happy where God has placed you, escape will not solve the problem. In the case of Mars, the interesting issue is not so much whether colonization is possible, but whether it is desirable. Escape may take you out of the frying pan and into the thermite. (What? You didn’t know that astronauts do not feel free, but like tightly wedged “spam in a can,” with land control micromanaging you more than you would fear in a totalitarian regime, down to every bite of food you take in? Tough; a real opportunity to colonize Mars won’t feel like being in an episode of Star Trek or Firefly.)

This is the playing out of a passion, and what the Mars Society seeks will not make them permanently happy. Success in their goals will not cure such misery any more than enough fuel will soothe a fire.

Confucius said, “When I see a virtuous man, I try to be like him. When I see an evil man, I reflect on my own behavior.” Assuming you’re not from the Mars Society (and perhaps offended), do you see anything of yourself in the Mars Society?

I do.

A more satisfying kind of drink

I talked with a friend about a cookbook, Nourishing Traditions, which I like for the most part but where there was a bit of a burr: the author ground an axe against alcoholic beverages fermented by yeast. The stated position of the book is a report of a certain type of traditional nutrition, and the author overrode that when it came to traditions that used rum and such.

My friend said that what I said was accurate: certain more alcoholic drinks were traditional, and the principles of Nourishing Traditions did not support all the ways the author was grinding an axe against yeast-fermented alcohol, just as I thought. However, my friend suggested, the author was right about this. Lacto-fermented beverages, fermented by another ancient process that gives us cheese, sourdough, sauerkraut, corned beef, and the like, which Nourishing Traditions did promote, satisfy in a way that yeast-fermented beverages do not. People, it seems, use beer, wine, and liquor because they remind them of the satisfaction of the more ancient method of fermentation.

I’m not looking at giving up the occasional drink, but something of that rings true—and parallels a spiritual matter. People turn to a quest for the exotic, and that is illicit. But the Orthodox experience is that if you stay put, in the here and now, and grow spiritually, every year or so something exotic happens that is like falling off a cliff, when you repent. And that may be what people are connecting with in the wrong way in the pursuit of the exotic. If you give up on following the exotic, something beyond exotic may follow you.

The idiot

There was another piece that I was thinking of writing, but did not come together. The title I was thinking of was, The Idiot—no connection to Dostoevsky’s work of the same name, nor to what we would usually think of as a lack of intelligence.

I was imagining a Socratic dialogue, along the same lines as Plato: The Allegory of the… Flickering Screen? in which it unfolds that the person who doesn’t get it is someone who has great success in constructing his own private world through technology, introspection, and everything else. Etymologically, the word “idiot” signifies someone who’s off on his own—someone who does not participate in the life of civilization—and our civilization offers excellent resources to dodge civilization and create your own private world. And that is a loss.

And being an idiot in this sense is not a matter of low IQ. It is not the mentally retarded I have known who need to repent most, if at all. Usually it is the most brilliant I have known who best use their gifts and resources to be, in the classical sense, idiots.

Some adamantine-hard metal files that may hone us

At the risk of irony after opening by a complaint about words of wisdom from other lands selected for being exotic…

My mother recounted how a friend of hers was visiting one of her friends, a poor woman in Guatemala. She looked around her host’s kitchen, and said, “You don’t have any food around.” Her hostess said, “No, I don’t, but I will,” and then paused a moment longer, and said, “And if I had the food now, what would I need God for?” That woman is wise. Those of us who live in the West pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and probably have a 401(k) plan. Which is to say that “Give us today our daily bread” is almost an ornament to us. A very pious ornament, but it is still an ornament.

If we are entering hard times today, is that an end to divine providence?

St. Peter of Damaskos wrote, in The Philokalia vol. 3,

We ought all of us always to thank God for both the universal and the particular gifts of soul and body that He bestows on us. The universal gifts consist of the four elements and all that comes into being through them, as well as all the marvelous works of God mentioned in the divine Scriptures. The particular gifts consist of all that God has given to each individual. These include:

  • Wealth, so that one can perform acts of charity.
  • Poverty, so that one can endure it with patience and gratitude.
  • Authority, so that one can exercise righteous judgment and establish virtue.
  • Obedience and service, so that one can more readily attain salvation of soul.
  • Health, so that one can assist those in need and undertake work worthy of God.
  • Sickness, so that one may earn the crown of patience.
  • Spiritual knowledge and strength, so that one may acquire virtue.
  • Weakness and ignorance, so that, turning one’s back on worldly things, one may be under obedience in stillness and humility.
  • Unsought loss of goods and possessions, so that one may deliberately seek to be saved and may even be helped when incapable of shedding all one’s possessions or even of giving alms.
  • Ease and prosperity, so that one may voluntarily struggle and suffer to attain the virtues and thus become dispassionate and fit to save other souls.
  • Trials and hardship, so that those who cannot eradicate their own will may be saved in spite of themselves, and those capable of joyful endurance may attain perfection.

All these things, even if they are opposed to each other, are nevertheless good when used correctly; but when misused, they are not good, but are harmful for both soul and body.

The story is probably apocryphal, but I heard of an African pastor (sorry, I don’t know his nationality) who visited the U.S. and said, “It’s absolutely amazing what you can do without the Holy Spirit!” That is, perhaps, not what we want to hear as a compliment. But here in the U.S., if we need God, it’s been easy to lose sight of the fact. Homeless people usually know where their next meal is coming from, or at least it’s been that way, and homeless people have been getting much more appetizing meals than bread alone. Those of us who are not homeless have even more power than that.

An English friend of mine talked about how she was living in a very poor country, and one of her hosts said, “I envy you!” My friend didn’t know exactly what was coming next—she thought it might be something that offered no defense, and her hosts said, “You have everything, and you still rely on God. We have nothing; we have no real alternative. So we rely on God. But you have everything, and you still rely on God!” The point was not about wealth, but faith. The friend’s awe was not of a rich woman’s treasures on earth, but a rich woman’s treasures in Heaven. The camel really can go through the eye of the needle, and we may add to the list of examples by St. Peter of Damaskos, that we may thank God for first world wealth, because it gives us an opportunity to choose to rely on God.

Maybe we can add to St. Peter’s list. But we would do well to listen to his wisdom before adding to his list. We have been given many blessings in first world economic conditions, and if our economy is in decline—perhaps it will bounce back in a year, perhaps longer, perhaps never—we no less should find where our current condition is on the list above.

To have the words “Give us this day our daily bread” unfortunately be an ornament is rare, and perhaps it is not the most natural condition for us to be in. Whatever golden age you may like, centuries or millenia ago, there was no widespread wealth like we experience. Our natural condition is, in part, to be under economic constraint, to have limits that keep us from doing things, and in some sense the level of wealth we have had is not the most natural condition, like having a sedentary enough job that you only exercise when you choose to, is not the most natural condition. Now I don’t like being constrained any more than I have to, and I would not celebrate people losing their homes. However, if we have to be more mindful of what they spend, and don’t always get what we want, that may be a very big blessing in disguise.

Dorothy Sayers, speaking of World War II in “The Other Six Deadly Sins” (found in Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World and other essay collections), discussed what life was like when the economy was enormously productive but as much productivity as possible was being wasted by the war effort. What she pointed out was that when people got used to rationing and scarcity, they found that this didn’t really mean that they couldn’t enjoy life—far from it. People could enjoy life when most of their economy’s productivity was being wasted by war instead of wasted by buying things that people didn’t need. She argued that England didn’t have a choice about learning to live frugally—but England could choose to apply this lesson once the war got out. England didn’t, and neither did the U.S., but the lesson is still good.

A recent news story discussed how adult children moved in with their parents as a measure of frugality, where the family was being frugal to the point of planning meals a month in advance and grinding their own flour. And what they found was that living simply was something of an adventure.

An unlikely cue from science fiction?

Mary Midgley, in Science as Salvation: A Modern Myth and Its Meaning, says of science fiction and science fiction writers,

But the best of them have understood, as Wells and Stapleton did, that their main aim was imaginative. The were using ‘the future’ as a screen on which to project timeless truths for their own age. They were prophets primarily in the sense in which serious poets are so — spiritual guides, people with insight about the present and the universal, rather than literal predictors. For this purpose, it no more matters whether these supposedly future events will actually happen than it does for Hamlet and MacBeth whether what they show us actually happened in the past. The point of The Time Machine is not that the machine would work, nor that there might be Morlocks [a powerful, privileged technological elite] somewhere, some day. It is that there are Morlocks here now.

Note the last words. C.S. Lewis may quite directly and literally believe in a literal Heaven and a literal Hell, but Lewis understands Midgley’s closing point well, even if he wrote The Great Divorce decades before. He offers an introduction that ends with, “The last thing I wish is to arouse curiosity about the details of the after-world.” He may have no pretensions of knowing the details of the next life, but the reason he writes so compellingly about Heaven and Hell is not that someday, somewhere, we will experience Heaven or Hell. (Even if that is true.) He is able to write with such depth because Heaven and Hell are in us, here and now. And one of the cardinal spiritual factors in The Great Divorce is a cardinal spiritual factor here now. It is called repentance.

In The Sign of the Grail, Fr. Elijah brings George, a Christian, into the communion of the Orthodox Church. Orthodox speak of this as a conversion, but this means something beyond merely straightening out George’s worldview. Fr. Elijah may share wisdom with George, but he is interested in something fundamentally beyond getting George to accept a worldview. He is trying, in all of his various ways, to get George to wake up. It is the same as the blessed spirits in The Great Divorce who are in Heaven and keep saying to visitors from Hell, “Wake up! Wake up!” They do often discuss ideas with their visitors, but their goal is never merely to straighten out a tormented worldview; it is to open their visitors’ spiritual eyes so they will wake up to the reality of Heaven.

In The Great Divorce, visitors come from Hell, visit Heaven, keep receiving invitations to wake up and live in Heaven, and mostly keep on choosing Hell. If it is put that way, it sounds like a very strange story, but it is believable not primarily because of C.S. Lewis’s rhetorical powers, but because of the spiritual realities Lewis knows to write about. I have only heard one person claim to want to go to Hell, and then on the misunderstanding that you could enjoy the company of others in Hell. However, people miss something big about Hell if they think everybody will choose Heaven.

God does not send people to Hell, but the fires of Hell are nothing other than the light of Heaven experienced through the rejection of Christ. Hell appeared as a seed in the misery when, as I wrote earlier:

Adam reigned as an immortal king and lord over the whole world. He had a wife like nothing else in all Creation, paradise for a home, and harmony with nature such as we could not dream of. And, he was like a little boy with a whole room full of toys who is miserable because he wants another toy and his parents said “No.”

The Sermon on the Mount says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” But everyone will see God. God is love; his love is absolute and will flow absolutely. Because of that love, everybody will see God. And the saved will know this as blessing and as bliss beyond description. But to those who reject Christ, the light of Heaven, the light of seeing God, will be experienced as Hellfire. Hell is Heaven experienced through the rejection of the only ultimate joy that exists: Christ.

Repentance is recognizing that you are in a little Hell and choosing to leave by the one way you do not wish to leave. Elsewhere from the quotation from St. Peter, the Philokalia says, “People hold on to sin because they think it adorns them.” The woman addicted to alcohol may be in misery, but she has alcohol to seemingly anaesthetize the pain, and it is incredibly painful to give up the illusion that if you try hard enough and get just a bit of a solace, things will be OK. That’s a mighty hard thing to repent of: it’s easier to rationalize, decide to give it up by sheer willpower (perhaps tomorrow), or make a bargain to cut back to a more reasonable level—anything but wake up and stop trying to ignore that you’re standing barefoot in something really gross, and admit that what you need is not a bigger fan to drive away the stench while you stay where you are, but to step out in a cleaning operation that lasts a lifetime and cuts to your soul.

An alcoholic walking this path craves just a little bit of solace, just for now, and it is only much later that two things happen. First, the cravings are still hard, but they are no longer quite so overpowering. Second, she had forgotten what it felt like to be clean—really and truly clean—and she had forgotten what it was like to be doing something else with her life than trying to hide in a bottle. She had forgotten what freedom was like. And long after she gave up on her way of escaping life, she found she had forgotten what it was like to experience life, not as something to escape, but as something with joy even in its pain.

The gates of Hell are bolted and barred from the inside. This much is true of passion: we think our sins adorn us, and we try to flee from the only place joy is to be found. Fleshly lust disenchants the entire universe; first everything else becomes dull and uninteresting, and ultimately stronger doses of lust lose even the semblance of being interesting. Spiritual lust, the passion that seeks escape from where God has placed us is, if anything, a sin with a higher pay grade than the fleshly lust that is bad enough, but spiritual lust too is the disenchantment of reality, a set of blinders that deflates all the beauty we are given in nature. Spiritual lust is the big brother of merely fleshly lust. Spiritual lust is something really, really, really gross that we need to step out of and get clean. We need to realize that the passion does not adorn us, that the sparkle of an exotic escape from a miserable here and now is, on a spiritual plane, spin doctoring for experiencing the here and now with despair. We do not see that we need not an escape from what God has given us, but gratitude and contentment.

But what if the here and now is not the best here and now? What if it’s with an Uncle Wally who tells sexist jokes no matter how you ask him to stop? What if the people you are with have real warts? There are a couple of responses. You might also think of what your uncle has done that you might be grateful for. You know, like when he helped you find and buy your first car. Or you could learn the power of choosing to be joyful when others act unpleasantly. Or you might read C.S. Lewis, The Trouble with X, and then look at how you might stand to profit from praying, with the Orthodox Church, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Once, when things went from hard times to easy times, one saint complained, saying that easy times rob the Church of her martyrs and her glory. If we are entering hard times, that does not place us outside of God’s reach nor Christ’s promise in the Sermon on the Mount: “For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

I glorify Thee,
Who hast cast Adam out of Paradise,
That we might learn by the sweat of our brow
The joy and the life that Adam scorned
As King of Paradise.
Glory be to the Father
And to the Son and to the Holy Ghost
Both now and ever and unto the ages of ages.
Amen.
Glory forever.
And glory be to Thee,
Thou who blessest us
For better or for worse,
In sickness and in health,
In the Eternal Light and Love
Who illuminest marriage.
Glory forever.
Glory be to thee whose blessings are here,
Not in an escape,
But in the place wherein Thou hast placed us.
Glory forever.
Glory be to Thee,
Who offerest Eden,
To us men who forever dodge our salvation.
Glory forever.
Glory be to the Father
And to the Son and to the Holy Ghost
Both here and now, and in Eternal Life that beckons us
The Son of God became a man in his here and now in Bethlehem.
In your forever honored place,
From this very moment,
Become a Son of God.
Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near,
Heaven awaits with open arms,
Step out of Hell.
Grieve for your sins,
That grief that holds more in her heart,
Than discovering that the scintillating escape from Hell
Scintillates only as a mirage.
And the repentance you fear,
So constricted it seems from outside,
Holds inside a treasure larger than the universe,
Older than time,
And more alive than life.
Glory beyond glory,
Life beyond life,
Light beyond life,
The Bread from Heaven,
The infinite Living Wine,
Who alone canst slake our infinite thirst,
Glory forever.

Glory be to God on high.
Glory forever.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost,
Both now and ever and unto the ages of ages,
Amen:
Glory forever.

Alleluia!

Money

The most politically incorrect sermon in history: A commentary on the Sermon on the Mount

Plato: The Allegory of the… Flickering Screen?

Technonomicon: Technology, Nature, Ascesis

Note to Orthodox Evolutionists: Stop Trying to Retroactively Shanghai / Recruit the Fathers to Your Camp!

CJSHayward.com/evolution


Read it on Kindle for $3!

At least some bishops explicitly allow their faithful flock to believe theistic evolution, young earth creation, or any of several other options.

This article is not meant to say you can’t be Orthodox and believe in evolution. It is, however, meant to say that you can’t be Orthodox and misrepresent Church Fathers as saying things more convenient to evolution than what they really said.

Two examples of a telling symptom: Fishy, suspicious arguments

Alexander Kalomiros is perhaps a forerunner to Orthodox finding a profound harmony between the Church Fathers and evolution. To pick one of many examples, Kalomiros’s On the Six Days of Creation cites St. Basil the Great as saying, “Therefore, if you say a day or an age, you express the same meaning” (homily 2 of St. Basil’s On the Six Days of Creation). So Dr. Kalamiros cites St. Basil as clearly saying that “day” is a term with a rather elastic meaning, implying an indefinite length.

Something really piqued my curiosity, because a young earth Creationist cited the same saint, the same book, and even the same homily as Kalamiros, but as supporting the opposite conclusion: “one day” means “one day,” period.

I honestly wondered, “Why on earth?” Why would the same text be cited as a proof-text for “days” of quite open-ended length, but also a proof text for precise twenty-four hour days? So I read the homily of St. Basil that was in question. The result?

The young earther’s claim is easier to explain: St. Basil does, in fact, quite plainly claim a young earth, and treats this belief as non-negotiable. And what Kalomiros cites? The text is talking about something else when St. Basil moves from discussing the Creation to matters of eternity and the Last Judgment. One of the names for eternity is “the eighth day,” and in explaining the timelessness of eternity, St. Basil writes, “Thus whether you call it day, or whether you call it eternity, you express the same idea.” Which is not exactly how Kalomiros quotes him, not exactly.

Kalomiros offers a quote out of context, and translates in a subtle but misleading wording, leading the reader to believe St. Basil clarified that a “day” [of Creation] can just as well be an “age” [of time]. This is sophistry. This is disingenuous. What is more, I cannot ever remember following one of Kalomiros’s footnotes supporting evolution and find an appropriate and responsible use of the original text. When I check things out, little if any of it checks out. And that’s a concern. When someone argues like that, the reader is being treated dishonestly, and deceptive argument is rarely the herald of truth.

Let me quote another of many examples celebrating a harmony between patristic Orthodoxy and evolution, Vladimir de Beer’s Genesis, Creation and Evolution. He writes:

The account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis is known as the Hexaemeron (Greek for ‘six days’), on which a number of Greek and Latin Church fathers wrote commentaries. Some of them interpreted the six days of creation quite literally, like St Basil the Great who was much influenced by Aristotle’s natural philosophy. Yet the same Cappadocian father insisted that the scriptural account of creation is not about science, and that there is no need to discuss the essence (ousias) of creation in its scientific sense.[1] Others followed a more allegorical approach, such as St Gregory of Nyssa who saw the Hexaemeron as a philosophy of the soul, with the perfected creature as the final goal of evolution.

It has been my experience that for a certain kind of author one of the cheapest ways to dismiss a Father is to say that they were heavily influenced by some kind of non-Orthodox philosophy. Usually they don’t even give a footnote. St. Basil the Great is a Church Father and one of the Three Heirarchs, and if you are going to downplay whether his position is one we should believe, you should be doing a lot more than due diligence than making a dismissive bare assertion that he was heavily influenced by non-Orthodox forces.

But at least de Beer is kind enough to allow St. Basil to believe in six literal days. I am rather mystified by his treatment of St. Gregory of Nyssa, whose commentary On the Six Days of Creation is here. Are we referring to the same work?

St. Gregory’s commentary is not a allegorical interpretation, such as St. Maximus the Confessor’s way of finding allegory about ascesis and ascetical struggles in the details of the Gospel. It is if anything 90% a science lesson, or an Aristotelian science lesson at any rate, and at face value St. Gregory owes much more of a debt to Aristotle than St. Basil does. (At least St. Gregory spends vastly more time talking about earth, air, fire, and water.) St. Gregory’s On the Six Days of Creation assumes and asserts that the days of Creation were, in fact, literal days. And that’s not the end. St. Gregory of Nyssa explicitly ascribes the highest authority and weight to St. Basil’s work and would almost certainly be astonished to find his work treated as a corrective to St. Basil’s problematically literal On the Six Days of Creation; St. Gregory’s attitude appears to be, “St. Basil made an excellent foundation and I want to build on it!” On all counts I can tell, St. Gregory does not provide a precedent for treating young earth creation as negotiable. De Beers may well have a friend among the Fathers, but St. Gregory is not that friend. And if this is his choice of friends, maybe he isn’t aware of many real, honest friends among the Fathers. St. Augustine may be his friend here, but if the Blessed Augustine is your only friend among the Fathers, you’re on pretty shaky ground.

Examples could easily be multiplied, but after a point it becomes somewhat tedious checking out more harmonizers’ footnotes and finding that, no indeed, they don’t check out.

Why it matters

Have you read much creation science seeking to use science to prove a young earth? The reason I’m asking is that that’s what scholars do when they use patristic resources to prove that Orthodoxy and evolution are in harmony. The kind of distortion of facts that they wouldn’t be caught dead in origins science is the kind of distortion of facts that is routine in those harmonizing Orthodoxy with evolution.

I wrote a thesis calling to task a Biblical Egalitarian treatment of the Haustafel in Ephesians, and it is part of my research and experience to believe that sophistry matters, because sophistry is how people seek to persuade when truth is against them. And when I see misrepresentation of sources, that betrays a problem.

I myself do not believe in a young earth; I am an old earth creationist and have seriously entertained returning to belief in theistic evolution. I stand pretty much as far outside the patristic consensus as Orthodox evolutionists. But I don’t distort the Fathers to shanghai recruit them to my position.

It may well be that with knowledge that wasn’t available to St. Gregory and his fellow Fathers, the intellectual dishonesty and distortion needed to believe in a young earth may be greater than saying, “I know the Fathers’ consensus and I remain outside of it.” That’s not ideal, but it is infinitely better than distorting the Fathers’ consensus to agree with you.

It is better by far to acknowledge that you are outside the Fathers’ consensus than make them agree with you. If you are an Orthodox evolutionist, please stop shanghaiing recruiting ancient Fathers to your camp.

A helpful analogy: What are the elements?

Some Protestants made young-earth creationism almost “the article by which the Church stands or falls,” and much of young-earth and old-earth creationism in Orthodoxy, and evolution, is shaped by that Protestant “article by which the Church stands or falls.”

Today’s young-earth creationism and theistic evolution are merely positions on a ballot in single-issue voting, and single-issue voting that was unknown to the Fathers. There are other issues.

(What other issues are there, you ask?)

Let me give my standard question in dealing with young-earth Orthodox who are being pests and perhaps insinuating that my Orthodoxy is impaired if I don’t believe their position: “Are we obligated to believe that the elements are earth, air, fire, water, and maybe aether?”

If that question seems to come from out of the blue, let me explain:

St. Basil’s On the Six Days of Creation takes a position we can relate to readily enough even if we disagree:

“And the evening and the morning were the first day.” Evening is then the boundary common to day and night; and in the same way morning constitutes the approach of night to day… Why does Scripture say “one day the first day”? Before speaking to us of the second, the third, and the fourth days, would it not have been more natural to call that one the first which began the series? If it therefore says “one day,” it is from a wish to determine the measure of day and night, and to combine the time that they contain. Now twenty-four hours fill up the space of one day-we mean of a day and of a night; and if, at the time of the solstices, they have not both an equal length, the time marked by Scripture does not the less circumscribe their duration. It is as though it said: twenty-four hours measure the space of a day, or that, in reality a day is the time that the heavens starting from one point take to return there.

That’s on our radar. What’s not on our radar is how bluntly St. Basil treats his day’s closest equivalent to modern chemistry, and please note that alchemy has nothing to do with this; he does not condemn alchemy as being occult, but chemistry as atheistic:

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.

The emphatic alternative he offers is a belief in the four or five elements, earth, air, fire, water, and possibly the aether. This is something he finds in Genesis:

“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 takes the text to mean more than just that water exists; he takes it to mean that water is an element. Nor is St. Basil the only one to make such claims; as mentioned earlier, St. Gregory’s On the Six Days of Creation is not in the business of condemning opposing views, but it not only assumes literal days for Creation, but the “science” of earth, air, fire, and water is writ large, and someone wishing to understand how ancients could see science and cosmology on those terms has an invaluable resource in St. Basil’s On the Six Days of Creation. Furthermore, the view of the four elements is ensconced in Orthodox liturgy: the Vespers for Theophany, which is arguably the central text for Orthodox understanding of Creation, enumerates earth, air, fire, and water as the four elements. To my knowledge, no Orthodox liturgy ensconces the implicit atheism of modern chemistry.

What are we to make of this? Does this mean that modern chemistry is off-limits to Orthodox, and that Orthodox doctors should only prescribe such drugs as the ancient theory would justify? God forbid! I bring this point up to say that the obvious answer is, “Ok, there is a patristic consensus and I stand outside of it,” and that this answer can be given without shanghaiing recruiting the Fathers to endorse modern chemistry. When science and astronomy were formed, someone was reported to say, “The Bible is a book about how to go to Heaven, not a book about how the Heavens go,” and while it may be appropriate to say “On pain of worse intellectual dishonesty, I must accept an old earth and chemistry as worth my provisional assent,” it is not appropriate to distort the Church Fathers into giving a rubber stamp to beliefs they would reject.

Drawing a line in the sand at a young earth is a Protestant invention that has nothing to do with Orthodoxy, but casting the opposite vote of theistic evolution in a single-issue vote is also short of the Orthodox tradition. 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.” Single-issue voting here, even for evolution, is not an Orthodox phenomenon except as it has washed in from Protestant battle lines. If an Orthodox who questions the Orthodoxy of old-earthers is being (crypto-)Protestant, the Orthodox who cites the Fathers in favor of evolution is only slightly less so—and both distort the truth.

The young-earth Creation Science makes scientific evidence bow before its will. The Orthodox evolutionist makes the Church Fathers bow before his will. Which is the more serious offense? “Religion and Science” Is Not Just Intelligent Design vs. Evolution.

“When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”

One Protestant friend said that I had a real knack for insulting analogies. The comment came after I said of mainstream Evangelical “Christian art” that it worked on the same communication principle as hard porn: “Make every point with a sledgehammer and leave nothing to the imagination but the plot.” And I have used that ability here: I have said that Orthodox evolutionists writing of harmony between evolution and the Church Fathers are treating patristic texts the same way creation scientists treat scientific evidence. Ouch.The Orthodox-evolutionary harmonizers are playing the same single-issue politics game as their young-earth counterparts, and are only different by casting the opposite vote. Ouch.

Is there a method to this madness?

I cannot forbid origins questions altogether, for reasons not least of which I am not tonsured even as a reader, let alone being your heirarch or priest. At least some heirarchs have refused to decide for their flock what they may believe: perhaps people are expected to find God’s hand at work in creation, but the exact mechanism of involvement, and time frame, are not decided. But I could wish something like the theology surrounding the holy mysteries, where in contrast to the detailed, point by point Roman account, the Orthodox Church simply says that at one point in the Divine Liturgy the gifts are only (blessed) bread and wine, and at a certain later point they have become the body and blood of Christ, and beyond that point speculation is not allowed.

There are some questions where having the right answer is less valuable than not asking the question at all. Origins questions in the scientific sense do not loom large in the Fathers, and what little there is appears not to match scientific data. But this is not a defect in the Fathers. It is, if anything, a cue that our society’s preoccupation with science is not particularly Orthodox in spirit, and perhaps something that doesn’t belong in Orthodoxy. Again, Religion and Science Is Not Just Intelligent Design vs. Evolution.

But for the interim, for people who need an answer and are good enough scientists to see through Creation Science, please do not shanghai recruit the Church Fathers to rubber stamp the present state of scientific speculation. For starters, science is less important than you may think. But that’s just for starters.

Creation and Holy Orthodoxy: Fundamentalism Is Not Enough

“Religion and Science” is not just intelligent design vs. evolution

What Makes Me Uneasy About Fr. Seraphim (Rose) and His Followers

Why Young Earthers Aren’t Completely Crazy

A Picture of Evil

CJSH.name/evil

Once upon a time, there was a king. This king wished that his people know what evil was, so that his people could learn to recognize and flee from it. He issued a summons, that, in a year, all of his artists should come to him with one picture, to show what was evil. The best picture would be displayed to the people.

In a year, they all appeared at the king’s palace. There were very few artists in the kingdom, but those who were there were very skillful, and worked as they had never worked before. Each brought a picture beneath a shroud.

The king turned to the first artist who had come. “Jesse, unveil your picture, and tell us its interpretation.”

Jesse lifted the cloth. Against a background of blackened skulls was a dark green serpent, the color of venom and poison, with eyes that glowed red. “Your Majesty, it was the Serpent whose treacherous venom deceived man to eat of the forbidden fruit. The eye is the lamp of the body, and the Serpent’s eye burns with the fires of Hell. You see that beyond the Serpent are skulls. Evil ensnares unto death and outer darkness.”

The court murmured its approval. The picture was striking, and spoke its lesson well. The king, also, approved. “Well done, Jesse. If another picture is chosen, it will not be because you have done poorly. Now, Gallio, please show us your work.”

Gallio unveiled his painting. In it was a man, his face red and veins bulging from hate. In his hand, he held a curved dagger. He was slowly advancing towards a woman, cowering in fear. “Your Majesty, man is created in the image of God, and human life is sacred. Thus the way we are to love God is often by loving our neighbor. There are few blasphemies more unholy than murder. You have asked me for a picture to show what evil is, that your subjects may flee from it. This is evil to flee from.”

The court again murmured its approval, and the king began to shift slightly. It was not, as some supposed, because of the repellent nature of the pictures, but because he had secretly hoped that there would be only one good picture. Now, it was evident that the decision would not be so simple. “Gallio, you have also done well. And Simon, your picture?”

Simon unveiled his picture, and people later swore that they could smell a stench. There, in the picture, was the most hideous and misshapen beast they had ever seen. Its proportions were distorted, and its colors were ghastly. The left eye was green, and taller than it was wide. The right eye was even larger than the left, red, bloodshot, and flowing with blood; where there should have been a pupil, a claw grotesquely protruded. It was covered with claws, teeth, fur, scales, blood, slime, tentacles, and bits of rotted flesh; several members of the court excused themselves. “However it may be disguised, evil is that which is sick, distorted, and ugly.”

There was a long silence. Finally, the king spoke again. “I see that there are three powerful pictures of evil, any one of which is easily a masterpiece and well fit to show to the people. Barak, I know that you have been given artistic genius, and that perhaps your picture will help me with this difficult decision. Unveil your picture.”

Barak unveiled his picture, and an awestruck hush fell over the court. There, unveiled, was the most beautiful picture they had ever seen.

The picture was in the great vault of a room in a celestial palace. It was carved of diamond, emerald, ruby, jasper, amethyst, sardonyx, and chrysolite. Through the walls of gem, the stars shone brightly. But all of this was nothing, compared to the creature in the room.

He carried with him power and majesty. He looked something like a man, but bore glory beyond intense. His face shone like the sun blazing in full force, his eyes flashed like lightning, and his hair like radiant flame. He wore a robe that looked as if it had been woven from solid light. In his left hand was a luminous book, written in letters of gold, and in his right hand was a sharp, double edged sword, sheathed in fire and lightning.

The king was stunned. It took him a long time to find words, and then he shouted with all of his might.

“You fool! I ask you for a picture of evil, and you bring me this! It is true that fools rush in where angels fear to tread, and that, like unthinking beasts, they do not hesitate to slander the glorious ones. What do you have to say for yourself and for this picture? I shall have an explanation now, or I shall have your head!”

Barak looked up, a tear trickling down his cheek. “Your Majesty, do you not understand? It is a picture of Satan.”

The Commentary

The Spectacles

A Strange Picture

Yonder

An Open Letter to Catholics on Orthodoxy and Ecumenism

CJSH.name/ecumenism

There is an elephant in the room.But Catholics are very skilled at NOT seeing it.


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What might be called “the Orthodox question”

I expect ecumenical outreach to Orthodox has been quite a trying experience for Catholics. It must seem to Catholics like they have made Orthodoxy their top ecumenical priority, and after they have done their best and bent over backwards, many Orthodox have shrugged and said, “That makes one of us!” or else made a nastier response. And I wonder if Catholics have felt a twinge of the Lord’s frustration in saying, “All day long I have held out my hands to a rebellious and stubborn people.” (Rom 10:21)

In my experience, most Catholic priests have been hospitable: warm to the point of being warmer to me than my own priests. It almost seems as if the recipe for handling Orthodox is to express a great deal of warmth and warmly express hope for Catholics and Orthodox to be united. And that, in a nutshell, is how Catholics seem to conceive what might be called “the Orthodox question.”

And I’m afraid I have something painful to say. Catholics think Orthodox are basically the same, and that they understand us. And I’m asking you to take a tough pill to swallow: Catholics do not understand Orthodox. You think you do, but you don’t.

I’d like to talk about an elephant in the room. This elephant, however painfully obvious to Orthodox, seems something Catholics are strikingly oblivious to.

A conciliatory gesture (or so I was told)

All the Orthodox I know were puzzled for instance, that the Pope thought it conciliatory to retain titles such as “Vicar of Jesus Christ,” “Successor of the Prince of the Apostles,” and “Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church,” but drop “Patriarch of the West.” Orthodox complain that the Roman bishop “was given primacy but demanded supremacy,” and the title “Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church” is offensive. Every bishop is the successor of the prince of the apostles, so reserving that title to the Pope is out of line. But Orthodoxy in both ancient and modern times regards the Pope as the Patriarch of Rome, and the Orthodox Church, having His Holiness IGNATIUS the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, has good reason to call the Patriarch of Rome, “the Patriarch of the West.” The response I heard to His Holiness Benedict dropping that one title while retaining the others, ranged from “Huh?” to, “Hello? Do you understand us at all?”

What Catholics never acknowledge

That is not a point I wish to belabor; it is a relatively minor example next to how, when in my experience Catholics have warmly asked Orthodox to reunify, never once have I seen any recognition or manifest awareness of the foremost concern Orthodox have about Rome and Constantinople being united. Never once have I seen mere acknowledgment of the Orthodox concern about what Rome most needs to repent of.

Let me clarify that slightly. I’ve heard Catholics acknowledge that Catholics have committed atrocities against Orthodox in the past, and Catholics may express regrets over wrongs from ages past and chide Orthodox for a lack of love in not being reunified. But when I say, “what Rome most needs to repent of,” I am not taking the historian’s view. I’m not talking about sack of the Constantinople, although people more Orthodox than me may insist on things like that. I am not talking about what Rome has done in the past to repent of, but what is continuing now. I am talking about the present tense, and in the present tense. When Catholics come to me and honor Orthodoxy with deep warmth and respect and express a desire for reunion, what I have never once heard mention of is the recantation of Western heresy.

This may be another tough pill to swallow. Catholics may know that Orthodox consider Catholics to be heretics, but this never enters the discussion when Catholics are being warm and trying to welcome Orthodox into their embrace. It’s never acknowledged or addressed. The warm embrace instead affirms that we have a common faith, a common theology, a common tradition: we are the same, or so Orthodox are told, in all essentials. If Orthodox have not restored communion, we are told that we do not recognize that we have all the doctrinal agreement properly needed for reunification.

But don’t we agree on major things? Rome’s bishops say we do!

I would like to outline three areas of difference and give some flesh to the Orthodox claim that there are unresolved differences. I would like to outline one issue about what is theology, and then move on to social ethics, and close on ecumenism itself. I will somewhat artificially limit myself to three; some people more Orthodox than me may wonder why, for instance, I don’t discuss the filioque clause (answer: I am not yet Orthodox enough to appreciate the importance given by my spiritual betters, even if I do trust that they are my spiritual betters). But there’s a lot in these three.

To Catholics who insist that we share a common faith, I wish to ask a question that may sound flippant or even abrasive. A common faith? Really? Are you ready to de-canonize Thomas Aquinas and repudiate his scholasticism? The Orthodox Church’s response to the Renaissance figure Barlaam and Aristotelianism.Orthodox faith is something incompatible with the “theology” of Thomas Aquinas, and if you don’t understand this, you’re missing something fundamental to Orthodox understandings of theology. And if you’re wondering why I used quotes around “theology,” let me explain. Or, perhaps better, let me give an example.

See the two texts below. One is chapter 5 in St. Dionysius (or, if you prefer, pseudo-Dionysius), The Mystical Theology. That gem is on the left. To the right is a partial rewriting of the ideas in the style of Thomas Aquinas’sSumma Theologiæ.

St. Dionysius the Areopagite, “The Mystical Theology” Rewritten in the scholastic style of Thomas Aquinas
Again, as we climb higher we say this. It is not soul or mind, nor does it possess imagination, conviction, speech, or understanding. Nor is it speech per se, understanding per se. It cannot be spoken of and it cannot be grasped by understanding. It is not number or order, greatness or smallness, equality or inequality, similarity or dissimilarity. It is not immovable, moving, or at rest. It has no power, it is not power, nor is it life. It is not a substance, nor is it eternity or time. It cannot be grasped by the understanding since it is neither knowledge nor truth. It is not kingship. It is not wisdom. It is neither one nor oneness, divinity nor goodness. Nor is it a spirit, in the sense that we understand the term. It is not sonship or fatherhood and it is nothing known to us or to any other being. It falls neither within the predicate of nonbeing nor of being. Existing beings do not know it as it actually is and it does not know them as they are. There is no speaking of it, nor name nor knowledge of it. Darkness and light, error and truth—it is none of these. It is beyond every assertion and denial. We make assertions and denials of what is next to it, but never of it, for it is both beyond every assertion, being the perfect and unique cause of all things, and, by virtue of its preeminently simple and absolute nature, it is also beyond every denial. Question Five: Whether God may accurately be described with words and concepts.

Objection One: It appears that God may be accurately described, for otherwise he could not be described as existing. For we read, I AM WHO AM, and if God cannot be described as existing, then assuredly nothing else can. But we know that things exist, therefore God may be accurately described as existing.

Objection Two: It would seem that God may be described with predicates, for Scripture calls him Father, Son, King, Wisdom, etc.

Objection Three: It appears that either affirmations or negations must accurately describe God, for between an affirmation and its negation, exactly one of them must be true.

On the Contrary, I reply that every affirmation and negation is finite, and in the end inadequate beyond measure, incapable of containing or of circumscribing God.

We should remember that the ancients described God in imperfect terms rather than say nothing about him at all…

Lost in translation?

There is something lost in “translation” here. What exactly is lost? Remember Robert Frost’s words, “Nothing of poetry is lost in translation except for the poetry.” There is a famous, ancient maxim in the Orthodox Church’s treasured Philokalia saying, “A theologian is one who prays truly, and one who prays truly is a theologian:” theology is an invitation to prayer. And the original Mystical Theology as rendered on the left is exactly that: an invitation to prayer, while the rewrite in the style of the Summa Theologiæ has been castrated: it is only an invitation to analysis and an impressively deft solution to a logic puzzle. The ideas are all preserved: nothing of the theology is lost in translation except for the theology. And this is part of why Archimandrite Vasileos, steeped in the nourishing, prayerful theology of the Orthodox Church, bluntly writes in Hymn of Entry that scholastic theology is “an indigestible stone.”

Thomas Aquinas drew on Greek Fathers and in particular St. John the Damascene. He gathered some of the richest theology of the East and turned it into something that is not theology to Orthodox: nothing of the Greek theology was lost in the scholastic translation but the theology! And there is more amiss in that Thomas Aquinas also drew on “the Philosopher,” Aristotle, and all the materialistic seeds in Aristotelianism. (The Greeks never lost Aristotle, but they also never made such a big deal about him, and to be called an Aristotelian could be a strike against you.) There is a spooky hint of the “methodological agnosticism” of today’s academic theology—the insistence that maybe you have religious beliefs, but you need to push them aside, at least for the moment, to write serious theology. The seed of secular academic “theology” is already present in how Thomas Aquinas transformed the Fathers.

This is a basic issue with far-reaching implications.

Am I seriously suggesting that Rome de-canonize Thomas Aquinas? Not exactly. I am trying to point out what level of repentance and recantation would be called for in order that full communion would be appropriate. I am not seriously asking that Rome de-canonize Thomas Aquinas. I am suggesting, though, that Rome begin to recognize that nastier and deeper cuts than this would be needed for full communion between Rome and Orthodoxy. And I know that it is not pleasant to think of rejoining the Orthodox Church as (shudder) a reconciled heretic. I know it’s not pleasant. I am, by the grace of God, a reconciled heretic myself, and I recanted Western heresy myself. It’s a humbling position, and if it’s too big a step for you to take, it is something to at least recognize that it’s a big step to take, and one that Rome has not yet taken.

The Saint and the Activist

Let me describe two very different images of what life is for. The one I will call “the saint” is that, quite simply, life is for the contemplation of God, and the means to contemplation is largely ascesis: the concrete practices of a life of faith. The other one, which I will call, “the activist,” is living to change the world as a secular ideology would understand changing the world. In practice the “saint” and the “activist” may be the ends of a spectrum rather than a rigid dichotomy, but I wish at least to distinguish the two, and make some remarks about modern Catholic social teaching.

Modern Catholic social teaching could be enlightened. It could be well meant. It could be humane. It could be carefully thought out. It could be a recipe for a better society. It could be providential. It could be something we should learn from, or something we need. It could be any number of things, but what it absolutely is not is theology. It is absolutely not spiritually nourishing theology. If, to Orthodox, scholastic theology like that of Thomas Aquinas is as indigestible as a stone, modern Catholic social teaching takes indigestibility to a whole new level—like indigestible shards of broken glass.

The 2005 Deus Caritas Est names the Song of Songs three times, and that is without precedent in the Catholic social encyclicals from the 1891 Rerum Novarum on. Look for references to the Song of Songs in their footnotes—I don’t think you’ll find any, or at least I didn’t. This is a symptom of a real problem, a lack of the kind of theology that would think of things like the Song of Songs—which is highly significant. The Song of Songs is a favorite in mystical theology, the prayerful theology that flows from faith, and mystical theology is not easily found in the social encyclicals. I am aware of the friction when secular academics assume that Catholic social teaching is one more political ideology to be changed at will. I give some benefit of the doubt to Catholics who insist that there are important differences, even if I’m skeptical over whether the differences are quite so big as they are made out to be. But without insisting that Catholic social teaching is just another activist ideology, I will say that it is anything but a pure “saint” model, and it mixes in the secular “activist” model to a degree that is utterly unlawful to Orthodox.

Arius is more scathingly condemned in Orthodox liturgy than even Judas. And, contrary to current fashion, I really do believe Arius and Arianism are as bad as the Fathers say. But Arius never dreamed either of reasoning out systematic theology or of establishing social justice. His Thalia are a (perhaps very bad) invitation to worship, not a systematic theology or a plan for social justice. In those regards, Catholic theology not only does not reach the standard of the old Orthodox giants: it does not even reach the standard of the old arch-heretics!

Catholics today celebrate Orthodoxy and almost everything they know about us save that we are not in full communion. Catholic priests encourage icons, or reading the Greek fathers, or the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” But what Catholics may not always be mindful of is that they celebrate Orthodoxy and put it alongside things that are utterly anathema to Orthodox: like heartily endorsing the Orthodox Divine Litugy and placing it alongside the Roman mass, Protestant services, Unitarian meetings, Hindu worship, and the spiritualist séance as all amply embraced by Rome’s enfolding bosom.

What we today call “ecumenism” is at its root a Protestant phenomenon. It stems from how Protestants sought to honor Christ’s prayer that we may all be one, when they took it as non-negotiable that they were part of various Protestant denominations which remained out of communion with Rome. The Catholic insistance that each Protestant who returns to Rome heals part of the Western schism is a nonstarter for this “ecumenism:” this “ecumenism” knows we need unity but takes schism as non-negotiable: which is to say that this “ecumenism” rejects the understanding of Orthodox, some Catholics, and even the first Protestants that full communion is full communion and what Christ prayed for was a full communion that assumed doctrinal unity.

One more thing that is very important to many Orthodox, and that I have never once heard acknowledged or even mentioned by the Catholics reaching so hard for ecumenical embrace is that many Orthodox are uneasy at best with ecumenism. It has been my own experience that the more devout and more mature Orthodox are, the more certainly they regard ecumenism as a spiritual poison. Some of the more conservative speak of “ecumenism awareness” as Americans involved in the war on drugs speak of “drug awareness.”

Catholics can be a lot like Orthodox in their responses to Protestants and Protestant ideas of ecumenism; one might see a Catholic responding to an invitation to join an ecumenical communion service at First Baptist by saying something like,

I’m flattered by your ecumenical outreach… And really am, um, uh, honored that you see me as basically the same as an Evangelical… And I really appreciate that I am as welcome to join you in receiving communion as your very own flock… Really, I’m flattered…

…But full communion is full communion, and it reflects fundamental confusion to put the cart before the horse. For us to act otherwise would be a travesty. I know that you may be generously overlooking our differences, but even if it means being lessgenerous, we need to give proper attention to our unresolved differences before anything approaching full communion would be appropriate.

But Catholics seem to be a bit like Protestants in their ecumenical advances to Orthodox. If I understand correctly, whereas Rome used to tell Orthodox, “You would be welcome to take communion with us, but we would rather you obey your bishops,” now I am told by Rome that I may remain Orthodox while receiving Roman communion, and my reply is,

I’m flattered by your ecumenical outreach… And really am, um, uh, honored that you see me as basically the same as any Catholic… And I really appreciate that I am as welcome to join you in receiving communion as your very own flock… Really, I’m flattered…

…But full communion is full communion, and it reflects fundamental confusion to put the cart before the horse. For us to act otherwise would be a travesty. I know that you may be generously overlooking our differences, but even if it means being lessgenerous, we need to give proper attention to our unresolved differences before anything approaching full communion would be appropriate.

If the Roman Church is almost Orthodox in its dealings with Protestants, it in turn seems almost Protestant in its dealings with Orthodox. It may be that Rome looks at Orthodoxy and sees things that are almost entirely permitted in the Roman Church: almost every point of theology or spirituality that is the only way to do things in Orthodoxy is at least a permitted option to Roman Catholics. (So Rome looks at Orthodoxy, or at least some Romans do, and see Orthodox as something that can be allowed to be a full-fledged part of the Roman communion: almost as Protestants interested in ecumenism look at the Roman Church as being every bit as much a full-fledged Christian denomination as the best of Protestant groups.) But the reverse of this phenomenon is not true: that is, Orthodox do not look at Rome and say, “Everything that you require or allow in spiritual theology is also allowed in healthy Eastern Orthodoxy.” Furthermore, I have never seen awareness or sensitivity to those of Orthodox who do not consider ecumenism, at least between traditional communions, to be a self-evidently good thing to work for: Catholics can’t conceive of a good reason for why Orthodox would not share their puppyish enthusiasm for ecumenism. And I have never heard a Catholic who expressed a desire for the restoration for full communion show any perception or willingness to work for the Orthodox concerns about what needs to feed into any appropriate restoration of communion, namely the recantation of Western heresy represented by figures like Thomas Aquinas and not only by Mater et Magistra or liberal Catholic dissent.

Conclusion: are we at the eve of an explosion?

I may have mentioned several elephants in the room. Let me close by mentioning one more that many Orthodox are painfully aware of, even if Catholics are oblivious.

Orthodoxy may remind Western Christians of Rome’s ancient origins. But there is an important way in which I would compare Orthodoxy today to Western Christianity on the eve of the Reformation. Things hadn’t exploded. Yet. But there were serious problems and trouble brewing, and I’m not sure it’s that clear to people how much trouble is brewing.

Your ecumenical advances and efforts to draw us closer to Rome’s enfolding bosom come at a rough and delicate time:

What if, while there was serious trouble but not yet schisms spreading like wildfire, the East had reached out to their estranged Western brethren and said:

Good news! You really don’t need scholasticism… And you don’t exactly need transsubstantiation either… And you don’t need anywhere such a top-down Church heirarchy… And you really don’t need to be in communion with the Patriarch of Rome… And…

There is a profound schism brewing in the Orthodox Church. It may not be within your power to stop it, but it may be within your power to avoid giving it an early start, and it may be within your power to avoid making the wreckage even worse.

The best thing I can think of to say is simply, “God have mercy on us all.”

Cordially yours,
Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward
The Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt; Lent, 2009.

Archdruid of Canterbury Visits Orthodox Patriarch

Doxology

Pope makes historic ecumenical bid to woo Eastern rite Catholics

Twelve Quotes on Orthodoxy, Ecumenism, and Catholicism

Archdruid of Canterbury Visits Orthodox Patriarch

CJSH.name/druid

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The Archdruid of Canterbury appeared as head of a delegation to His Holiness THOMAS, Patriarch of Xanadu.

The Archdruid bore solemn greetings and ecumenical best wishes. He presented gifts, including an oak and holly icon, portraying St. Francis of Assisi as the pioneer of “I-Thou” existentialism. The icon was “not made by hands” (“all done by paw,” in the memorable words of Paddington Bear).

The Druidic leader spoke of the Orthodox Church with the most solemn reverence. “The Orthodox Church is not only Oriental and exotic, but has the most hauntingly beautiful liturgy achieves has what we are trying to engineer in our liturgical reform, and the Orthodox Church would make the perfect partner for the most dynamic and progressive forces that keep the C of E a living spiritual power in this world. St. Alban and St. Sergius are Anglican saints, but they are first and foremost Orthodox saints, and are only Anglican saints because they are Orthodox saints. I have personally blended the most excellent traditions of Druidic Bard and occupant of the See of Canterbury. We would be most deeply honoured if the existing profound (if invisible) bond uniting Orthodox, Anglican, and Druid were made explicit.”

After the Druid spoke for an hour, he paused in thought a moment, turned to His Holiness THOMAS and said, “But I fear I have done too much talking, while you have said nothing. Isn’t there anything you’d like to say? Don’t you have questions we could speak to?”

The Patriarch coughed, sat in silence for a moment, and began to squirm. “Have you considered pursuing ecumenical relations with the African majority in your own communion? I’ve dealt with some of them and they’re really quite solid people, with good heads on their shoulders.”

The Archdruid made no reply.

Devotees of Fr. Cherubim (Jones) demand his immediate canonization and full recognition as “Equal to the Heirophants”

Jobs for Theologians

Pope makes historic ecumenical bid to woo Eastern rite Catholics

Your fast track to becoming a bishop!

A Dream of Light

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

There is a time of rest and stillness; all is at a deep and serene peace. The slow motion of the waves, the dancing lights below and above, the supple bending of the plants, all form part of a stillness. It is soothing, like the soft, smooth notes of a lullaby.

Your eyes slowly close, and you feel even more the warm sunlight, and the gentle caresses of the sea. And, in your rest, you become more aware of a silent presence. You were not unaware of it before, but you are more aware of it now. It is there:

Being.

Love.

Life.

Healing.

Calm.

Rest.

Reality.

Like a tree with water slowly flowing in, through roots hidden deep within the earth, and filling it from the inside out, you abide in the presence. It is a moment spent, not in time, but in eternity.

You look out of the eternity; your eyes are now open because you have eternity in your heart and your heart in eternity. In the distance, you see dolphins; one of them turns to you, and begins to swim. The others are not far off.

It lets you pet its nose, and nestles against you. You grab onto its dorsal fin, and go speeding off together. The water rushes by at an exhilarating speed; the dolphin jumps out of the water, so that you see waves and sky for a brief moment before splashing through the surface.

The dolphins chase each other, and swim hither and thither, in and out from the shore. After they all seem exhausted, they swim more slowly, until at last you come to a lagoon.

In the center, you see a large mass; swimming closer, you see that it is a sunken ship. You find an opening; inside, all is dark, but you find a passageway.

After some turns, you come up in a different place. You come up through a fountain in a public garden; the bushes and ivy are a deep, rich shade of green, and sheets of water cascade down the yellowed marble of the fountain. It is ornately and intricately sculpted, with bas-relief scenes of a voyage.

As you study the pictures, day turns to night, and all that you see is bathed in moonlight. You are looking upon a statue: a delicate, slender, elfin nude, whose long hair cascades over her shoulders and about her body. She is reaching up to the sky, as if to touch the moon and stars. She is carved out of white marble, which looks pale blue, almost luminous, in the moonlight. It looks as if she was taken from the moon, and is rising up to touch it again.

The statue is on a tall pedestal of black marble. In the moonlight, the forest has a very deep color, a green that is almost blue or purple; the dark beauty of the night makes the statue seem almost radiant. Off in the distance, you hear a high, melancholy, lilting song; it is played on a harp and sung by a voice of silver. There is something haunting and yet elusive about the melody; it subtly tells of something wanted and searched for, yet not quite reached. And it is beautiful.

You sit, looking at the statue and listening to the song, for a time. They seem to suggest a riddle, a secret – but you know not what.

You walk along; fireflies begin to appear, and you can hear the sound of crickets chirping. There is a gentle breeze. The sky stands above like a high and faroff crystalline dome; the trees and grass below surround you, like little children who see a beloved elder coming, and run clamoring for a kiss. The grass is smooth and cool beneath your feet. There is a sweet, faint fragrance in the air, as of lilacs.

A round little girl, wandering through the forest, sees you and comes running. She is dark, with olive skin, and her black hair flares out behind her. She is wearing a dark green robe, the color of the forest, and her step is almost that of a dance – as if she is from a people where moving and dancing are not two different things. She is holding, in her hand, a simple bouquet of dandelions. “Look, look!” she says, “I have flowers!”

She jumps into your arms, welcoming you. Her touch is soft, and gentle. It is not near the softness of a grown woman; it has rather a … simplicity. It is hard to find the right word. Then you recognize what it is. It has something of the carefree play of a child, but there is more than even abandon. She is holding you with complete trust. You do not doubt that she could fall asleep in your arms.

She begins to talk to you about many things. She talks about the forest, about people, about the stars, about God. After a time, you realize that she is not merely talking, but singing, as if the first words she heard were the words of a song. After another time, you realize that you have lost her words completely, and are entranced by the song. Presently she stops, and says, “Spin me! Spin me!”

Little children everywhere like to be held by the arms and swung around; this one is no exception. After you are both very dizzy, she takes you by the hand and begins, leading you along a path, to show you little details of the forest that you had never noticed before. Apart from the little details, there is something else which you begin to slowly see in the forest. The song by which she speaks, the dance by which she moves – and not just her, you do not doubt, but her people – seem to be echoed in the forest… and then you realize that rather they are echoes of the forest. Hearing, seeing, feeling that beauty from another person – you still do not doubt that they come from her, but they also help you to see what was always there but you had not noticed. As you walk along, you are lost in thoughts about the genius of all great artists… and begin to think about visiting an art gallery, not so that you can see what is in the gallery, but so that you can see what is not in the gallery.

The path widens out, around a shimmering pool. The golden flames of torches around the pool glimmer when reflected in the pool. There is singing – singing like that of the little girl, but the sound of a whole orchestra as next to the sound of a beginning flute. Men and women together pour fourth a rich harmony. The air is sweet with a delicate fragrance of incense; one of them brings you a cool wooden cup. Inside is a strawberry wine. It is sweet, and sour; the taste brings back memories of earliest childhood.

A circle forms among the people, then another, then another. Soon all of the people are spinning and weaving in a joyful dance. After a time, you realize that you are at the center; they are softly singing, “Welcome, Somebody,” and listening intently. Arms and hands reach out, and sweep you into the dance. The dance is ordered, but also free; it draws you in, and, as you move, you feel that you can do no wrong.

How long the dance lasts, you do not know; still filled with its bliss, you find yourself sitting and talking with the people. One of them finds a soft seat of moss for you to sit on; another brings you a plum. Its taste is tart, and it has the texture that only a plum has — and, when you bite into it, you know that it was still on the tree when it was chosen.

The night winds on, and, after a time, you are led into a building woven out of living trees, with a bed of loam. Into it you sink; it is soft and deep…

You find yourself standing at the edge of a forest and a grassy plain. The mouth of a cave descends into the earth, and just before this is an old man sitting on a three-legged wooden stool. He is wearing a coarse grey-green robe, and has a long, flowing white beard. He is staring intently into the forest, with a concentration you have never seen before. It is like a gaze into a lover’s eyes — nay, even deeper, a probe into the soul.

He shifts positions a few times, in his sitting, and at last stands up, takes the stool, and begins to walk towards the cavern. When he was looking into the forest, you were absorbed in watching him; now, you notice another man, a young one, approach the former.

“Is it Senex?”

“I am he.”

“Senex, the great teacher?”

You see the old man’s hand move to cover his mouth, but not quite quickly enough to conceal the faintest crack of a smile. The young man stands attentively, waiting for words to come.

The old man’s frame shakes once. A second passes, and then it shakes again and again. Then sounds the laughter that he had been attempting to conceal. Soon, the old man is convulsed with mirth, and making no attempt to conceal it.

After a while, almost doubled over with laughter, he begins to pull himself up. You can see his face from a different angle, and you see a merry twinkle in his eye. He places his arm over the young man’s shoulder.

“Forgive me, brother, but it has been ages since anyone has addressed me as ‘teacher’ or ‘great’. You cannot imagine how funny it sounds to me.”

“Are you not Senex, who has traveled the seven seas, who has seen visions and been visited by angels, who has written treatises and instructed many?”

The man chuckles, and says, “Yes, I am all that, and much more. I am the image, likeness, and glory of God. I pray, and in my prayers I touch the stars and shake the foundations of the kingdom of Hell. I am a king and priest. I am a son of God. My name is written in the book of life. I am a god.”

“Then why do you find it funny that I address you as ‘great’, or ‘teacher’?”

“Because I am more than a great teacher, as are the children who dance through this field, as are you.” Here the old man smiles at the young. “Come, now. Do you doubt that you are God’s own son? What teaching, or miracles, or visions, or conquests, or exploits compare with that?”

“But if you are so great, why should you object to being called a great teacher? Surely the title is not false.”

“My dear god – and now I am not addressing the Creator, but you yourself – what is wrong with the title is not that it says that I am a great teacher. I am. What is wrong is that the title implies that there are others who are not so great,” and here the old man gave a great belly laugh, “when the truth of the matter is that the other people are so much more than a great teacher. I will not mind being called ‘teacher’ by you, if you agree to address everyone else as ‘god’ and ‘goddess’. But if you will not call them ‘god’ and ‘goddess’, then simply call everyone ‘brother’ or ‘sister’.”

The young man stands in silent reflection for a time. “I came in search of a man who could share with me profound wisdom; I see now that I have found him. So now I ask you: Give me a profound insight, that I may contemplate it for the rest of my life, and grow wise.”

“Do you not know that God is love, that God loves mankind, that we have the new commandment to ‘Love one another’?”

“All of this I have believed since I was a little boy.”

“Then I give you one more lesson, to contemplate and learn for the rest of your life.”

The young man listens, eager with expectation.

The old man bends down, plucks a blade of grass, and holds it in his outstretched hand.

The young man takes it, and waits for an explanation. When, after a time, the old man says nothing, he says, “This blade of grass is like the blade of a sword. Have you given this to me as a sign that I should contemplate spiritual warfare, and be ready with the sword of the Spirit?”

The old man says, “You should, but that is not why.”

The young man thinks for a time, then says, “This grass is nourished by the sun, and so tells of it. Grass and sun exist as God’s creation, and tell of him. Is this why you have given me the blade of grass?”

The old man says, “What you said is very true, but that is not why, either.”

The young man says, “When Christ lived on earth, he lived as a carpenter, and observed and was surrounded by the birds of the air, the grass of the field, the lilies, and ten thousand other things. Have you given me this blade of grass to remind me of Christ’s time on earth, or of his humanity, or that this is a place he passed by?”

The old man says, “You are still right, and you are still wrong.”

The young man says, “Then what profound truth can you be teaching me? What secret key escapes my grass? I asked if you had given it to me as a symbol of a profound spiritual truth, and you said, ‘no’. Then I asked you if you had given it to me that I might deduce by logic what it tells about God, and you still said, ‘no’. Then, after that, I asked you if you had given it to me as a historical reminder of what has happened about blades of grass, and your answer is still the everchanging ‘no’. What can I possibly be missing? What am I leaving out?”

The old man turns to face the young, and looks deep into his eyes. “This blade of grass I have given you,” he said, “because it is a blade of grass.”

There is a look of puzzlement on the young man’s face, which slowly melts into dawning comprehension. He steps forward and kisses the old man, with a long, full kiss on the lips, and then steps back and bows deeply – and the old man bows to him – and says, “Thank you.” When the old man has responded, “You are very much welcome, brother,” the young turns, clutching the blade of grass as if it were a diamond – no, more than that, as if it were a blade of grass – and walks back into the forest. There is a smile on his face.

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A Cord of Seven Strands
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A Cord of Seven Strands

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

There is a time of rest and stillness; all is at a deep and serene peace. The slow motion of the waves, the dancing lights below and above, the supple bending of the plants, all form part of a stillness. It is soothing, like the soft, smooth notes of a lullaby.

Your eyes slowly close, and you feel even more the warm sunlight, and the gentle caresses of the sea. And, in your rest, you become more aware of a silent presence. You were not unaware of it before, but you are more aware of it now. It is there:

Being.

Love.

Life.

Healing.

Calm.

Rest.

Reality.

Like a tree with water slowly flowing in, through roots hidden deep within the earth, and filling it from the inside out, you abide in the presence. It is a moment spent, not in time, but in eternity.

You look out of the eternity; your eyes are now open because you have eternity in your heart and your heart in eternity. In the distance, you see dolphins; one of them turns to you, and begins to swim. The others are not far off.

It lets you pet its nose, and nestles against you. You grab onto its dorsal fin, and go speeding off together. The water rushes by at an exhilarating speed; the dolphin jumps out of the water, so that you see waves and sky for a brief moment before splashing through the surface.

The dolphins chase each other, and swim hither and thither, in and out from the shore. After they all seem exhausted, they swim more slowly, until at last you come to a lagoon.

In the center, you see a large mass; swimming closer, you see that it is a sunken ship. You find an opening; inside, all is dark, but you find a passageway.

After some turns, you come up in a different place. You come up through a fountain in a public garden; the bushes and ivy are a deep, rich shade of green, and sheets of water cascade down the yellowed marble of the fountain. It is ornately and intricately sculpted, with bas-relief scenes of a voyage.

As you study the pictures, day turns to night, and all that you see is bathed in moonlight. You are looking upon a statue: a delicate, slender, elfin nude, whose long hair cascades over her shoulders and about her body. She is reaching up to the sky, as if to touch the moon and stars. She is carved out of white marble, which looks pale blue, almost luminous, in the moonlight. It looks as if she was taken from the moon, and is rising up to touch it again.

The statue is on a tall pedestal of black marble. In the moonlight, the forest has a very deep color, a green that is almost blue or purple; the dark beauty of the night makes the statue seem almost radiant. Off in the distance, you hear a high, melancholy, lilting song; it is played on a harp and sung by a voice of silver. There is something haunting and yet elusive about the melody; it subtly tells of something wanted and searched for, yet not quite reached. And it is beautiful.

You sit, looking at the statue and listening to the song, for a time. They seem to suggest a riddle, a secret – but you know not what.

You walk along; fireflies begin to appear, and you can hear the sound of crickets chirping. There is a gentle breeze. The sky stands above like a high and faroff crystalline dome; the trees and grass below surround you, like little children who see a beloved elder coming, and run clamoring for a kiss. The grass is smooth and cool beneath your feet. There is a sweet, faint fragrance in the air, as of lilacs.

A round little girl, wandering through the forest, sees you and comes running. She is dark, with olive skin, and her black hair flares out behind her. She is wearing a dark green robe, the color of the forest, and her step is almost that of a dance – as if she is from a people where moving and dancing are not two different things. She is holding, in her hand, a simple bouquet of dandelions. “Look, look!” she says, “I have flowers!”

She jumps into your arms, welcoming you. Her touch is soft, and gentle. It is not near the softness of a grown woman; it has rather a … simplicity. It is hard to find the right word. Then you recognize what it is. It has something of the carefree play of a child, but there is more than even abandon. She is holding you with complete trust. You do not doubt that she could fall asleep in your arms.

She begins to talk to you about many things. She talks about the forest, about people, about the stars, about God. After a time, you realize that she is not merely talking, but singing, as if the first words she heard were the words of a song. After another time, you realize that you have lost her words completely, and are entranced by the song. Presently she stops, and says, “Spin me! Spin me!”

Little children everywhere like to be held by the arms and swung around; this one is no exception. After you are both very dizzy, she takes you by the hand and begins, leading you along a path, to show you little details of the forest that you had never noticed before. Apart from the little details, there is something else which you begin to slowly see in the forest. The song by which she speaks, the dance by which she moves – and not just her, you do not doubt, but her people – seem to be echoed in the forest… and then you realize that rather they are echoes of the forest. Hearing, seeing, feeling that beauty from another person – you still do not doubt that they come from her, but they also help you to see what was always there but you had not noticed. As you walk along, you are lost in thoughts about the genius of all great artists… and begin to think about visiting an art gallery, not so that you can see what is in the gallery, but so that you can see what is not in the gallery.

The path widens out, around a shimmering pool. The golden flames of torches around the pool glimmer when reflected in the pool. There is singing – singing like that of the little girl, but the sound of a whole orchestra as next to the sound of a beginning flute. Men and women together pour fourth a rich harmony. The air is sweet with a delicate fragrance of incense; one of them brings you a cool wooden cup. Inside is a strawberry wine. It is sweet, and sour; the taste brings back memories of earliest childhood.

A circle forms among the people, then another, then another. Soon all of the people are spinning and weaving in a joyful dance. After a time, you realize that you are at the center; they are softly singing, “Welcome, Somebody,” and listening intently. Arms and hands reach out, and sweep you into the dance. The dance is ordered, but also free; it draws you in, and, as you move, you feel that you can do no wrong.

How long the dance lasts, you do not know; still filled with its bliss, you find yourself sitting and talking with the people. One of them finds a soft seat of moss for you to sit on; another brings you a plum. Its taste is tart, and it has the texture that only a plum has — and, when you bite into it, you know that it was still on the tree when it was chosen.

The night winds on, and, after a time, you are led into a building woven out of living trees, with a bed of loam. Into it you sink; it is soft and deep…

You find yourself standing at the edge of a forest and a grassy plain. The mouth of a cave descends into the earth, and just before this is an old man sitting on a three-legged wooden stool. He is wearing a coarse grey-green robe, and has a long, flowing white beard. He is staring intently into the forest, with a concentration you have never seen before. It is like a gaze into a lover’s eyes — nay, even deeper, a probe into the soul.

He shifts positions a few times, in his sitting, and at last stands up, takes the stool, and begins to walk towards the cavern. When he was looking into the forest, you were absorbed in watching him; now, you notice another man, a young one, approach the former.

“Is it Senex?”

“I am he.”

“Senex, the great teacher?”

You see the old man’s hand move to cover his mouth, but not quite quickly enough to conceal the faintest crack of a smile. The young man stands attentively, waiting for words to come.

The old man’s frame shakes once. A second passes, and then it shakes again and again. Then sounds the laughter that he had been attempting to conceal. Soon, the old man is convulsed with mirth, and making no attempt to conceal it.

After a while, almost doubled over with laughter, he begins to pull himself up. You can see his face from a different angle, and you see a merry twinkle in his eye. He places his arm over the young man’s shoulder.

“Forgive me, brother, but it has been ages since anyone has addressed me as ‘teacher’ or ‘great’. You cannot imagine how funny it sounds to me.”

“Are you not Senex, who has traveled the seven seas, who has seen visions and been visited by angels, who has written treatises and instructed many?”

The man chuckles, and says, “Yes, I am all that, and much more. I am the image, likeness, and glory of God. I pray, and in my prayers I touch the stars and shake the foundations of the kingdom of Hell. I am a king and priest. I am a son of God. My name is written in the book of life. I am a god.”

“Then why do you find it funny that I address you as ‘great’, or ‘teacher’?”

“Because I am more than a great teacher, as are the children who dance through this field, as are you.” Here the old man smiles at the young. “Come, now. Do you doubt that you are God’s own son? What teaching, or miracles, or visions, or conquests, or exploits compare with that?”

“But if you are so great, why should you object to being called a great teacher? Surely the title is not false.”

“My dear god – and now I am not addressing the Creator, but you yourself – what is wrong with the title is not that it says that I am a great teacher. I am. What is wrong is that the title implies that there are others who are not so great,” and here the old man gave a great belly laugh, “when the truth of the matter is that the other people are so much more than a great teacher. I will not mind being called ‘teacher’ by you, if you agree to address everyone else as ‘god’ and ‘goddess’. But if you will not call them ‘god’ and ‘goddess’, then simply call everyone ‘brother’ or ‘sister’.”

The young man stands in silent reflection for a time. “I came in search of a man who could share with me profound wisdom; I see now that I have found him. So now I ask you: Give me a profound insight, that I may contemplate it for the rest of my life, and grow wise.”

“Do you not know that God is love, that God loves mankind, that we have the new commandment to ‘Love one another’?”

“All of this I have believed since I was a little boy.”

“Then I give you one more lesson, to contemplate and learn for the rest of your life.”

The young man listens, eager with expectation.

The old man bends down, plucks a blade of grass, and holds it in his outstretched hand.

The young man takes it, and waits for an explanation. When, after a time, the old man says nothing, he says, “This blade of grass is like the blade of a sword. Have you given this to me as a sign that I should contemplate spiritual warfare, and be ready with the sword of the Spirit?”

The old man says, “You should, but that is not why.”

The young man thinks for a time, then says, “This grass is nourished by the sun, and so tells of it. Grass and sun exist as God’s creation, and tell of him. Is this why you have given me the blade of grass?”

The old man says, “What you said is very true, but that is not why, either.”

The young man says, “When Christ lived on earth, he lived as a carpenter, and observed and was surrounded by the birds of the air, the grass of the field, the lilies, and ten thousand other things. Have you given me this blade of grass to remind me of Christ’s time on earth, or of his humanity, or that this is a place he passed by?”

The old man says, “You are still right, and you are still wrong.”

The young man says, “Then what profound truth can you be teaching me? What secret key escapes my grass? I asked if you had given it to me as a symbol of a profound spiritual truth, and you said, ‘no’. Then I asked you if you had given it to me that I might deduce by logic what it tells about God, and you still said, ‘no’. Then, after that, I asked you if you had given it to me as a historical reminder of what has happened about blades of grass, and your answer is still the everchanging ‘no’. What can I possibly be missing? What am I leaving out?”

The old man turns to face the young, and looks deep into his eyes. “This blade of grass I have given you,” he said, “because it is a blade of grass.”

There is a look of puzzlement on the young man’s face, which slowly melts into dawning comprehension. He steps forward and kisses the old man, with a long, full kiss on the lips, and then steps back and bows deeply – and the old man bows to him – and says, “Thank you.” When the old man has responded, “You are very much welcome, brother,” the young turns, clutching the blade of grass as if it were a diamond – no, more than that, as if it were a blade of grass – and walks back into the forest. There is a smile on his face.

You walk off in the field, and lie down on the grass. The day is growing warm and sultry; a faint breeze blows.

The breeze carries with it a small, white feather of the softest down. It gently falls on the sole of your foot. The breeze blows this way and that; the feather catches here, rolls there on your foot, brushing ever so lightly, up and down, up and down.

You feel a finger, cool as marble, just barely touching the back of your neck. It tingles; you can feel the sensation radiating up and down your spine. The feather brushes against your foot, and the finger just barely touches the back of your neck. It is a slow, lingering, tingling sensation; as time passes, the sensation becomes more and more real, and just won’t go away. It tickles so.

A time passes, and you find yourself walking along a beach. It is almost dusk, and the rainbow colors of sunset are beginning to spill across the sky. It is autumn, and the many-hued leaves of the trees fall about, twirling this way and that in the wind. There is a smell of mist and brine in the air; the waves run and twirl about your toes.

A bird flies off to the right; its flight is light and agile. It flies to and fro, this way and that, until it disappears into the sunset.

There is a feeling of wistfulness, of a presence departed. To the left, you see a grayed swing, rocking back and forth in the wind; its rusty chain squeaks. It is in the yard of a boarded up house, with a garden long overgrown in weeds.

On a whim, you slowly walk up the path into the yard, and sit down on the swing. You rock back and forth; there is a feeling of emptiness. Images form and swirl in your mind.

A tree is felled; from its trunk are taken the staves of a barrel. Fresh and white, the staves are slowly covered with dust; each time the dust is disturbed or brushed off, the wood underneath is darker, grayer, rougher.

People are born, walk hither and thither, grow old, and die. Generations come and pass, and the earth grows older. People learn how to live – and then die. Vanity of vanities.

Everything is dreary, desolate, fleeting. The walls of your vision grow narrow and dark; your mind and imagination seem to protest the motion. It grows darker and darker.

After a time, you see a light – a little light. As everything around grows darker and more drab, the light does not grow brighter, but neither does it grow dimmer.

A voice sounds in the shadows – you do not doubt that is the voice of the light – says, “Come closer.”

You come closer, and you see that she is a flame. A little flame.

A thousand questions form in your mind. They pour forth from you – Why is it all so meaningless? Why do things wither and decay? Why does evil run rampant?

The flame listens patiently, and then speaks. “Look into me.”

You look into the flame, and you see everything you saw before, but it looks different. The boards of the cask are no less grey. But you see that inside the cask is wine – wine which grows rich and well-aged. The people still die – and now you see an even darker death for some. But you also see past the death, past the mourning and grieving, to a birth into life – a richness and a fullness that could not be imagined from before.

“Flame, can I step into you, so that I may be delivered from the unpleasant things?”

“No, dear one. That is not the way of things.”

“Then what can you give me?”

“I give you this: that you may always look into me, and that I will never be quenched.”

“Flame, what is your name?”

“My name is Hope.”

You look into the flame, and again see the outside world. There is still the sadness, but there is an incredible beauty. An ant crawls across your finger; you sit entranced at the wonder as its little body moves. Then you look at a rose bush, quivering in the wind – it is covered with thorns, but at the top of each stem is a flower that is still God’s autograph.

You get up and walk further.

You see a little girl on her knees, and standing against her, a man holding an immense sword. The man raises his sword over his head, and brings it down.

Then you see the sword stop in the middle of the air. There is a clanging sound; the man’s powerful muscles ripple in his exertion, but the sword does not move an inch further.

Then you slowly see a shimmer in the air, and there is another sword – a sword that seems to be forged of solid light. A sword that is blocking the first. As you watch, you see an angel beginning to become visible. It is powerful, majestic, and terrifying. The man drops his sword, and runs in blind terror.

You can see the angel’s sword here, a hand there, the hem of his luminous robe. But what you see is fleeting, and you cannot see the whole angel.

“Why cannot I see you? I can see the grass, and see the girl. Are you not as real as they?”

You see a little boy, walking on the beach, picking up a pebble here, a shell there, a piece of driftwood every now and then, and putting them into a sack.

Then he comes upon a fallen log. And he grabs one protrusion, and then another, trying to lift it. But it will not budge.

“Some day, you will be able to see God himself. But now, you can not see things that are too real for you to see.”

You see a diamond, slowly rotating, in light. One facet after another seems to sparkle.

As you watch, not just what appear to be the facets, but what appears to be the diamond, seems to change form, shift, and sparkle in different ways. The light itself seems to shift color, direction, focus.

Then speaks an almost silent voice: “You are looking upon the one thing which never changes, in a light that has been the same since before the creation of time.”

There is a moment of silence, and you feel a surge of power rush about you, and tear through your very being. It is like a blast of wind, throwing you off your feet so violently that wind itself is knocked out of you. It is like the liquid fire that explodes out of a volcano. It is like a flash of light beyond intense, light that is so much light that you cannot see. It bears like an immeasurable weight and presence on your mind and spirit; its might and force fills you with awe – no, more than awe, fear – no, more than fear: terror. It is a reality which lies beyond imagination.

A booming, thunderous voice commands, “Fear not!” Then a hand reaches out and touches you, and you are filled with strength. It holds and stills you; you dimly realize that you have been quivering as a leaf. You somehow find the strength to stand, and if anything see a greater glory and majestic power than before. This being before you is like a storm in solid form. His feet press into the earth with the weight of a mountain, and shine like the sun in full glory. He wears a robe woven of solid light, and at his side hangs a sword sheathed in fire and lightning. His hands radiate power; they seem by their energy as if they are about to tear apart the fabric of space. You dare not look upon his face. Suddenly, you find yourself falling at his feet.

Again booms the voice: “Do not worship me! I am not God!”

A hand lifts you up, and sets you on your feet. His touch is more intense even than his appearance – you are sure that it will destroy you – yet somehow it makes you more solid.

It is all you can do not to fall down again. Somehow the words come, “Who are you?”

“I am a spirit, formed before the foundation of the world. I am a star, who sang for joy as the world was created. I am a messenger, who stands in the presence of God himself and then flies out of the heavens to wage war against the darkness. I am your servant. I am an angel.”

Suddenly, images flash through your mind, images to which it would be merciful to call surreal and bizarre. You see chubby little boys fluttering about on birds’ wings. You see voluptuous women, suspended in mid-air, whose clothing is perennially falling off. It is as if you have all your life seen pictures of Don Quixote wearing a wash-basin as a helmet, holding a dull sword and sitting astride poor, plodding Rozinante – and then, suddenly and out of nowhere, find yourself staring the paladin Roland, with his sword Durendal drawn and the rippling muscles that have torn trees out of the ground, face to face. You find yourself babbling and attempting to explain what you remember, and suddenly see the angel shaking with a booming, resounding laughter.

“What, my dear child, you would wish me tame and safe, like a little pet?”

It would be much easier to face a creature which was safe, which one could predict. It would be a great deal less disquieting, and a great deal less disturbing. Yet, somehow, you feel a feeling deep within you that it would be an immeasurable loss.

He stretches out his hand. “Come, take my hand. I have something to show you.”

You extend your hand, and find it engulfed in a force that is like electricity. Yet somehow, you feel something else as well – a touch. The angel spreads out great, glorious, golden, many-hued wings, and with a mighty jump launches into the air.

You speed along, both of you. Colors and forms speed by. Then, suddenly, you are at a place that is absolutely still, absolutely silent, and pitch black. “Where are we?”

“That is not a question that I can answer in terms that you will understand. Only watch.”

You begin to see a pair of hands, They are together, and facing outward. Then they slowly move outward – and behind the hands is left a rainbow, in all its colors. The hands turn, move along, complete a perfect circle. It is the most perfect rainbow you have ever seen.

Then the left hand strikes the rainbow, and it shatters into innumerable miniscule fragments. The right hand takes the shards, and with a single motion scatters them across the blackness. Each piece of the rainbow glows with light, a little reflection of the whole, and then you see a faint, pale, crystalline blue glow. The pieces are scattered irregularly, and one looks almost like – here an insight comes like a flash – a constellation.

There is no horizon, no landscape, no other light. There are stars in every direction and from every view. The view is the most breathtaking view of the sky that you have ever seen.

Then the angel takes your hand again, and says, “Do you understand what you saw?”

“I think I do.”

“Good. Then let me show it to you again.”

Forms shift and move, and you see a faint, nebulous sea of matter spread about in every direction. It is not still – no, it is moving. You look deeper, and you can see that it is dancing.

Then you see a circle forming, and spinning. And another around it, and another. Soon many circles shift and melt together. The ones on the inside seem to move with more speed, vibrancy, energy. Then you can see a kind of a ball forming.

The swirling matter around it spins inward, more and more tightly, until a fire seems to light inside – and fills the new-formed sphere with radiance. Flashes of light, bursts of glowing forms, like water on a pot boiling, seethe and foment. In your silence and stillness watching it, you begin to realize that spheres are forming, coming to light, becoming stars, all around – and, just as the stars formed out of forms dancing, the stars themselves are forms dancing, in a great, glorious, majestic dance.

The strains of a Christmas carol ring in your ears: “Fall on your knees. O hear the angel voices!” Suddenly you realize that you and your host are not still at all, but swept into the great dance – and, about you, you can see shimmers of… you know not what.

After a long, glorious, blissful time, the angel again takes your hand, and again you find yourself swept away. When you find yourself at rest, you are again in pitch black.

“And why am I here?”

“To see what you have seen, for the third time.”

You wait with eager expectation, to see what could be next. Inside you, the images foam and mix. The rainbow, containing each piece and found in each piece, the colors, the moving dance, the energy… You try to push it aside, so that you may attentively perceive whatever changes may be happening…

Time passes, with still the forms fermenting in your mind. You feel serene and at rest; the place is a place of profound peace. After a time the images begin to fade, leaving behind a feeling, a wholeness, a satiety. It is like, after a vivacious dance has ended, sitting down, cooling off – and, then, at rest, finding the joy and the intoxication of the dance still in your heart, and your head floating in the air. It is like, after finishing a meal, sitting with its feeling of fullness.

After a time, you break the silence. “Why has nothing happened here? Why have I seen nothing, heard nothing, felt nothing? Am I here to wait?”

“Has nothing really happened here?”

“Nothing that I can perceive. I haven’t seen, or heard, or felt anything.”

“Really? You have perceived nothing?”

“Perhaps I have perceived something so subtle and ethereal that I can not notice it. I do not doubt that this place holds something wonderful. But I have not noticed anything.”

“Really?”

“Why do you answer my questions with other questions, with riddles, instead of telling me anything?”

“Do I?”

After a time, pondering what this could mean, you ask, “Am I here to wait, for something that will happen? If I am, can you tell me when it will happen? Or at least tell me if you can tell me?”

The angel is silent for a moment, and then says, “When you have seen one of these things, you have seen more than one thing. You have seen the shattering of the rainbow; one of its fragments is the one near your home that shines light on your fields and mountains. But the rainbow is also the one, beautiful, perfect language that was before man took upon himself a second time the quest to become gods.”

“But did not the sage say that we are gods?”

“Yes, you are gods, and more than gods, and will become more than you even are now. But the man who would exalt himself to godhood, blasphemes. Would that men could learn to be men, without trying to ascend to godhood or even be heroes.”

“Should I not learn to be godlike?”

“Learn to be a god, not in the way of the man who wills to be the highest of gods, but in the way of the God who was willing to be the lowest of men.”

After a time, the angel continues on.

“In a way, each shattered piece of the rainbow – including the language that you now speak – contains the pattern and image of the whole. But in another way, it has lost some of the colors. There are things that were in the whole rainbow, that are not in the piece.

“So I will answer your question, about waiting, with a word from another language. The word is not a word which answers the question, but rather which un-asks it. So I answer you with this word: Mu.”

“But why do you un-ask the question, instead of simply answering it?”

“That I will tell you, if you first tell me, to use an expression from the child’s’ words of your land, if the elephant in your refrigerator is eating peanut butter. Is the elephant in your refrigerator eating peanut butter? Yes, or no?”

Your mind is quite full; it is slow work, pondering and absorbing all that you have seen and heard. Finally you ask, “Before anything happens, may I wait here and ponder, and digest things?”

The angel says, “Yes indeed; that is why you were brought here.”

A time passes in the silence, the stillness, the darkness. It is the beginning of the slow growth that makes a newborn experience into a full-grown memory, and brings it into who you are. It is the rest which makes every work perfect.

This lasts you know not how long. After a time, you realize that you are in a different place. You are with a man of sorts – if ‘man’ is the correct word to use. ‘Man’ is not a wrong word, but there are many others. He seems to be of no particular age. He is fully what every simple child is; he is fully what every ancient sage is.

After a time, you begin to wonder what his age is, and how long you have been there. You see him smile, and then burst out laughing. “Come,” he says, “Let me show you what I see.” He places his hand on your head, and suddenly you see an image – of a little child, in a magnificent and wondrous cavern full of rubies, and emeralds, and sapphires, and diamonds. He is off in a corner, picking up lumps of coal.

“This place is full of diamonds; come, enjoy, take and carry off as much as you are ready to carry.”

Then you begin to look around, and see that you are indeed in a cavern of sorts. It is filled with a brilliant, powerful light; the walls and ceiling, full of irregular bulges and niches, seem to be gilded and encrusted with glowing gems. The space is full of forms magnificent and wonderful – fountains, statues, pedestals, crystalline spheres, animals. Everything in the room seems to have the breath of life.

You begin to gather gems; each one, luminous, seems to have its own particular feel, its own particular energy – you can almost hear a music when you touch them. Their cool, crystalline forms seem to be of congealed light.

After you have gathered a great many, you notice a peculiar phenomenon: the more you carry, the easier it seems to be to pick up even more. The gems embrace each other, and begin to form a vast interlocking structure about you. It forms a great, shining suit of armor – a scintillating armor of adornment, a living form that is as light as thought. As even more time passes, the gems begin to melt into you. As each flows into your body, you feel its energy and light, and soon, a high, subtle, ethereal music courses through your veins.

At last you stand, armored with an armor that is flawless. It gives, you do not doubt, a protection against blows that a man of iron would envy. Yet the armor is not dark and cumbersome; it is light and energizing. Your skin is as soft and sensitive as ever, and you feel the unfettered lightness of nudity, free as Adam – no, you realize, a greater lightness, for a nude person is only not fettered by clothing, but this armor fills you with the freedom of which fetters are but a crude attempt to oppose. Carrying this armor leaves you more free to move and dance, and fills you with a positive energy.

You revel in the fullness, the intoxicating lightness. After a time, you realize that the man is looking upon you. He is smiling.

You begin to ask how much you owe for this wonderful treasure, and he breaks forth in peals of merry laughter. “These treasures are not for sale. They are a free gift. Come and fill yourself to overflowing with these treasures as often as you wish.”

“Then they cost nothing?”

“No, they are very costly. They are more costly than you can ever imagine. But they are given freely, like water and light and breath, and a thousand thousand other treasures that no money can possibly buy.”

“Then why are they given freely? Surely such things are worth a price!”

The man laughs again. “You are beginning to grow alive – just beginning. When you are truly alive, you will dance so freely that you will need no one to tell you these things, because the answers will be in you.”

After a while, he hands you a chalice. “Here, drink this, that you may remain dreaming.” You drink it, and have a flash of insight that waking is not the only aroused state. In a moment, you reach out and touch a star.

You find yourself inside a castle of ice. It is cold, elegant, pure. It is night-time, and the deep blue of the starry sky provides the light. You walk about in a magnificent structure, through halls and archways, around pillars and doorways, all the time in a great silence. The place is majestic and massive.

The coldness of the ice fills the palace with a deep peace. There is a rest here. You cannot see, nor feel the presence of, yet you somehow sense a kinship to the resting dead, sleeping, awaiting the dawn when sleepers shall rise.

As you step, as you breathe, you hear your echoes, and then the echoes of your echoes. The silence has a presence.

It is a timeless place. There is no hurry, no rush, no clutter. The sparseness of the architecture is matched only by the stillness of the air. You stand and walk, footfall after footfall penetrating the vastness. For it is vast and large; it is ordered, and yet unknown.

Through the glassy ceiling above you see the stars, and as you look at them, you can begin to hear the faintest tinklings of ethereal music. Your ears listen with a new keenness, flowing from the crystalline armor, and you can hear, not a music breaking the silence, but a music in the silence. It is, like the palace, sparse, and simple. It has an order and structure, and yet not time; it is a music which sounds as if it has always been there.

After a time, you realize that you are singing a song – sparse, simple, crystalline, and beautiful. It would not be quite right to say that you started a song: rather, that you have joined a song – a song that always has been, and always will be – a song which is sung not by you alone, but by angels and archangels, by the living and the dead, by the rocks and stars and trees themselves. And for the tiniest fraction of an instant, you can almost see the song rising, as incense, in the presence of He Who Is.

As you walk through a corridor, a transformation begins. Tendrils of mist curl about your feet as a shroud slowly rises from the ground. The walls become the walls of tall, narrow buildings lining the sides of the road. They are like ancient, cracked vellum, and ivylike bushes of yellow roses climb the sides.

All is still as you walk the streets; the only motion you can see is that of the mist dancing about you. Every now and then, you catch, out of the corner of your eye, what seems to be the form of a person just disappearing around a corner – but you are never sure.

After a time, you come upon a massive, dark Gothic cathedral. It is carved out of black marble. As you pass through the doors, the air becomes very dry; there is a feeling of imminence.

As you step into the sanctuary, the building itself is rocked by a blast of sound. Your body vibrates as you hear the deep, rich sounds of an organ resound all about you. The song is a fugue, turgid and complex. You hear three parts playing, then four, then six – interwoven, turning about, speaking to each other. It is in the key of E minor.

The song continues for almost an hour, woven with a deep sense of mystery. Like the building, like the city, it is filled with a dark majesty. There is a strain you are listening to hear – and you seem almost to have caught it, now here, now there, but then it vanishes. The song comes to a climax, and then a thunderous resolution. Then the sanctuary becomes as silent as before.

A shaft of light falls, and you see a man walking towards you. He is tall and lean, and wearing a black robe with golden edges. He has black hair, and a thin, close beard. His step is stately and regal, but does not make a single sound. He reaches you, and, bowing deeply, says, “Greetings.”

His eyes meet yours, and you see that he has a piercing, probing gaze. It is intense, looking deep into your eyes – no, more, deep into your soul. And there is something else – you can not tell what. You begin to gaze back, and you realize what it is. His gaze is gentle.

He reads the questions on your face, and after a time says, “I cannot tell you everything that you wonder now. If I were to say the answers, answers that I am only beginning to understand, they would sound like trivia, or sound meaningless. And if I could make you understand them all, I would do you a great disservice.”

“Why?”

“Because the questions you ask are the right questions, but they are also the wrong questions.”

After a time, he begins again.

“But there is something which I can do. I can lead you to the library.”

He leads you through a twisted passageway, then down a stairwell. The stairwell alights in a room with shelves upon shelves upon shelves of dust-covered tomes.

“And,” the man says, “I can give you this.”

He reaches into the folds of his robe, and gives you a black rose.

It is a queer feeling to be alone with that many books. You reach on one of the shelves and pull one out. It is an illuminated manuscript. It tells a story deep, and detailed, and rich, and subtle. What you can read of it is like barely seeing the ripples on the surface of a lake, while untold forms move about below in the depths.

You replace it and look at another. It is a manual of philosophy and theology. It tells something about God – but it is also too subtle and complex to understand. And there is something else… It is like reading a book about arrangements and variations of color – to a man who has been blind from birth.

Then another… You can tell from its form that it has a sort of reason, or structure to it, but you cannot tell what. At first, you find what seem to be logical errors – and it does contradict itself, sharply and in many ways… and yet… you have the feeling that you are like a man, versed in logic and philosophy but devoid of emotion, poring over a joke, trying to understand it as an argument – and having no idea why others read it and then do something called laughing.

Another book, and another. Each time it seems like you understand something, you find yourself more confused than before. After a time, it becomes words upon words – and the more words are added, the less meaning there seems to be.

You sit down, exhausted and bewildered. After a time, you realize that a woman is standing some distance off. She is wearing a robe that is purple and black, with long sleeves and a long, flowing skirt. Her long hair, which falls behind her to a length you cannot tell, is jet black, and yet her skin is almost luminous.

She steps forward, and, embracing you, gives you three kisses on alternate cheeks. “Have you learned anything yet?”

“Nothing. I can’t understand anything in the books.”

“Have you thought to see what you can learn?”

“I have thought, and I do not doubt that there is a lesson, but it is seven times over too subtle and too complex for me.”

“There is a lesson that you are missing, but not because it is too subtle and too complex. You are missing it because it is too simple and too obvious.”

“I have read from two and ninety books, and cannot share with you the least shred of wisdom that is found in them. I do not understand. So in what wise am I to claim that I have learned?”

“Is there not even one thing you can claim to have learned?”

It is with frustration that you say, “Only the littlest thing – that I do not understand.”

“That is not so little as you think.”

She looks at you for a second, and now you can see, as well as a probing gaze, a hint of a smile. “Come; you are fatigued. Let me take you so that you can eat and rest.” She places an arm around you – her touch is soft and responsive – and leads you through other passageways into a room with a table.

The table is set with plates of clear glass; the table is set with bread, fish, and white cheeses, and there are two glasses of white wine. She leads you to a chair, which offers a welcome rest, and then sits down opposite you.

After you have eaten a couple of pieces of bread, you see her again gently looking upon you. “I can see the question in your eyes. You are wondering, are you not, why you were not simply told that you do not understand.”

“Yes.”

“Would you have understood that you do not understand? As you do now?” She pauses, and takes a sip of the wine. “A mouse can only drink its fill from a river, and no man can learn what he is not ready to understand.”

The rest of the meal is eaten in silence. It is a calm, peaceful, prayerful silence. The bread is flavorful and dense; the cheese is mild; the wine is dry and cool.

After the meal, you both sit in more silence. It is a time of rest… and also of community. There are no words and there is no touch, and yet you can sense a kind of attention, a welcome, from the lady.

When you feel refreshed, she leads you through another passageway, and out to a door to the street. She gently embraces you, and says, “It is time for you to go, and begin to taste some of the other secrets of this city. I do not know if we shall meet again, but I suspect that it will come to pass. Fare Thee well.”

The street is different from the one you first saw – it also is enshrouded by a cloak of mist, but it is wider, and there are people passing by. Their clothing varies some, but much of it is variation on a dark grey theme, almost seeming to be mist in solid form. A young woman passes by on the other side of the street; a cascade of ebon hair hides part of her face – yet you can still see, in one corner of her mouth, a hint of a smile.

You come across an open square, with an intricate pattern of stone tiles in the center. Two opposite corners have trees – gnarled, angular, and leafless. One of the corners has a fountain; cascading sheets of water fall between many-leveled pools, in which silvery and golden fish swim about. The opposite corner has a statue.

The statue is on a large pedestal of dark grey marble; the statue itself is of blackened bronze. It is of a man, gaunt and haggard, and clad in rags. His arms are raised up to Heaven, as is also his head, and yet his face bears a look of despair. The pedestal bears the inscription, “I am thirsty. Who will give me something to drink?”

You find a jug, and, filling it at the fountain, climb up the statue and pour water into the statue’s mouth. You hear sounds of water flowing, and then there is a click. It is followed by a whirr of moving clockwork, and, getting down, you see that one of the sides of the pedestal has turned inwards, revealing a shaft descending into the earth.

A lantern is at your feet; you light it, and begin to climb down the ladder at one side. It descends into a passageway; taking one direction, you come to a four way intersection. The left path turns into a circular room, with a domed roof, and a pool in the center. You test its depths – and find it descends below the floor.

Inside, you find an underwater passageway. You swim through it, and surface in a room with rough walls. Climbing upwards, you find the room to narrow into a shaft, which turns into a low passageway, and then opens into another room.

This room is lit by the glow of torches; it is large and rectangular. At the center is a thick, low stone column, about three feet tall, with some protrusions bulging from the top. When you come closer, you see that it is an intricate clockwork device; working with it, you find a pattern in its motions, and work with it until there is a click, and a segment of the far wall slides into the ground.

The passageway is dark, as was the room and passageway which you traversed without your lantern, and it opens shortly into another room. At first you cannot see; then, as you step in, your eyes slowly adjust to the darkness. Inside this room, you see another statue.

This statue is a male nude. It is an iron statue; it is immense, and the figure is powerfully built. It is in the middle of a stride – a long, powerful stride, one which seems almost to shake the ground. His eyes bear an intense gaze, one which seems to almost flash lightning, and one arm is raised, and hand outstretched, in a gesture of authority. The surface of the statue is rough and unfinished. There is something in this statue that seems to almost radiate power and energy and weight and light.

And yet, when you look closer, you notice something different. The eyes seem sad. And then, looking closer, you suddenly realize that the statue is bound by shackles. The shackles are a monstrosity, a violation; they threaten to wear down his energy and burden his strength. You grab at the shackles to see if you can pull them free, and feel a chill and drain run through the body. You drop them in shock.

As you stand in the room, you seem to even more be able to see – not only the forms, but the absurdity and injustice. The man’s great strength – it is straining against the binding chains. Your eyes trace the shackles to where they are engulfed by the floor.

Then you realize that there is another set of shackles, empty, open. You shudder to look at them; the touch of one of the chains sapped your soul; breathing felt as if you had been forcefully struck on the chest. You begin to back out of the room… and you see the statue’s eyes.

He is not pleading; he is not begging. If anything, his eyes say “Go far away; that these chains imprison me is bad enough, without one more.” You do not see pride, of someone unwilling to receive help, or the cowardice of one who dare not ask. It is rather the compassion, of someone who would not wish his worst enemy to feel the misery he feels. You feel a stirring inside your heart. What the man does not ask, conscience and every noble instinct demand. And you walk in.

A chill sweeps through you as you cross the threshold. You can almost see a presence that is unholy. At each step you are jolted. And yet… you have the strength to follow.

You fasten one of the open shackles about your feet; it stings like the sting of a scorpion. The other, and you feel as if you are sinking into the ground. A shackle is fastened around one hand, and it is all you can do not to fall down. You place your other hand in the last, and begin to close it…

The shackles fall from the man’s feet, and you see a surge of power ripple through his muscles. He crouches down, and then jumps up with a force that shakes the earth. He raises his hands upward, and there is a blinding flash of light.

Your sight slowly returns, and you find yourself on a grassy knoll bordering a field. A small grove of saplings is to the left, and a field of dandelions is to the right. From somewhere near come the sounds of birds chirping, and a babbling brook.

You see the man who was shackled, standing nearby. He is looking upon you, and smiling. He picks you up and gives you a hug – a crushing, invigorating bear hug that makes you feel very much alive – and a big kiss. Then he sets you down and opens a large leather pouch. He fills two large stone bowls with stew, and draws two draughts of cider from a small barrel. The stew is a piping hot, well-spiced, and hearty beef stew, but the cider is cold and mild – you could drink quite a lot without getting drunk.

He tells you of how he came to be imprisoned – he let a love of probing mysteries become a love of secrecy, and a love of the beauty in natural darkness become a love of evil, so that what was wholesome and free became perverted and enslaved – and then asks of your story, how you came to rescue him. He listens eagerly and intently.

After a time, he says, “There are many people who knew of my disappearance and do not know that I am free; it is time for me to go and tell them that I am free, and how you rescued me. But before I go, I give you this.” He raises one hand to Heaven and places the other on your head, and speaks a blessing. You cannot understand the blessing, but there is something about it that strikes you… and then you see, in an instant, not just one little fragment in the blackness, but the whole radiant rainbow. He is speaking the first language, before it was broken, and – though you cannot understand it – you are moved by its power, its love, its light.

He presses slightly harder on your head, and your spirit surges with joy. Then he runs off into the distance, bounding like a stag.

After a time, you begin to walk along, into the forest. It grows thicker, and the colors richer and deeper. You can feel warmth, and humidity, and wind.

As you walk along, the forest opens into a wide, grassy clearing, with thick, long bluegrass. A few small raindrops sprinkle on your face; thunder rumbles, and soon there is a heavy and torrential rainstorm. The rain is warm, and in it you begin to run and play.

A woman, short and with a full and rounded figure, begins to dance with you, and soon you are swinging around, and dancing in the rain. Sheets and columns of rain fall, and in the lightning flashes you can see the trees, the leaves – the whole forest – dancing and spinning in the wind.

The woman is laughing; you can hear the laughter in her voice and see the laughter in her eyes. On a whim, you reach and pinch her side; she laughs and squirms. She jumps and tackles you – it is half a tackle and half a hug – and knocks you over.

After wrestling around for a few minutes, she turns and walks towards a large, ancient, gnarled oak tree, and sits on a large bulge a little distance above the ground. As she sits, you vaguely realize that the tree’s form has almost the shape to welcome a human – your eyes did not pick it out, but she seemed to have walked to it as naturally as if she were breathing. She is leaning a little to her left; a ledge of wood forms almost a cushion for her to lean on – one might say that her body is curled into the wood.

You begin to look on her, and see how beautiful she really is. Her skin glistens with little drops of water. She is dark, with olive skin and large, soft, welcoming eyes that seem to enfold you, taking you in as the waters of a lagoon take in a swimmer. There is something that draws you about your hands.

Her hands are small, and seem to contain the beauty of her whole body in miniature. They are rounded, curved, and Rubenesque. You can see soft skin gently enfolding the inside of her hands; it has a looseness and ampleness so that you do not see vein and bone, only the rich color of skin. Her fingers are tiny and thin, with very mignonne nails and fingertips. The texture of her hands is subtle, yet gives her hands reality; you can see the strata and shapes in the tiny wrinkles on the back of her hand,the dark, faint hairs, and the many sheets of lines that twist and turn over the inside of her hand. Through her fingernails, you can see a glimpse of white, pink color which contrasts brightly with the rest of her hand.

And yet the shape is only half of the beauty that is in her hands, for they are not still, but in motion. It is a slow, still, lyrical motion, an adagio dance. It does not overpower the senses or make a clamoring demand for your attention, but it is yet deeply moving. Her fingers, palm, and thumb slowly move, in a rich harmony. You can see waves in her fingers as they wend back and forth. The motion is extremely simple, and has a periodicity that comes back to a single thing, yet somehow you do not wish it to be more complex, or do something new – at the moment, you would have difficulty understanding why anybody watching this slow undulation would want to see anyone else. It seems that she is speaking in a language with her hands, and you long to understand what her hands are saying, to put it into words. Then you look deeper, and you realize that you do understand what her hands are saying, and you cannot put it into words because it is a truth different from what words express. You rather feel and sense… peace… rest… stillness… the motion of breath… the beating of a heart… the music that lies in and beyond silence… the ebb and flow of water… day and night and the four seasons turning in cycle… the rhythm of a song that does not pulse, and yet has order… tufts of long, dry grass, resting in a field… the tops of trees, blowing in a wind… a rock, buried deep in the earth, remaining a rock, in the process of not-changing… the light at dusk, and yet not the light of dusk for the sunlight at dusk fades, and this, even in its softness, would not rightly be said to fade.

She begins to walk along a path, leading you, and takes you to a small hovel. You step inside, and as your eyes adjust to the light, you see a very old woman. She is emaciated, and in her face are etched lines of pain. She begins to try to get up, and say something, but the sounds are hardly understandable as words, and the young woman gently places her hand over the old woman’s mouth and leads her to lie down. Reaching up to the wall, she brings a flask of wine to the old woman’s lips, and helps her drink a little. After that, she goes to a chair, and picks up a wooden recorder, and plays it. It is the same song as her hands danced: soft, still, and beautiful. It has a very soft, woody sound, and the notes themselves are… like the color grey, like a gentle light, like a friend’s voice. You are lost in the music, carried away by its beauty. Slowly, the song tapers into silence, into a rest allowing the music heard to sink in. You look at the old woman, and see that she is still, absolutely still. Her eyes vacuously point into space.

The young woman gets up, with infinite gentleness, and with her hand slowly closes the old woman’s eyes. She turns to you, and, speaking so softly that you can barely hear her, says the first words you have heard from her: “She was my grandmother.” You can see the tears forming in her eyes.

It is dusk, and the last rays of the sun ebb into darkness, into a dark and moonless night.

The next day, you begin to build a pyre in the middle of the field. Some people come by from the wood and help; they are bearing little gifts, and each embrace her. There is not what you would understand to be a ceremony; they each come and go. After a time, you realize that the animals also come, and pay their respects in their own ways. Dusk comes again, and she takes a lantern and sets it at the bottom of the fire. Flames begin to lick upwards, and then touch the grandmother’s body. Then the young woman screams, a piercing, dissonant, discordant scream of which you would not have thought her capable. She begins to sob uncontrollably, and weeps the whole night long.

The woman stands up to greet the coming of the dawn, the tears still streaming down her face. The first rays begin to break over her face, and then you notice something… different. Something that you had not noticed before.

You see pain in her face; it is of no effort to see that a great hole has been torn in her soul. And yet there is something else. She is beaten, but not crushed; wounded, but not destroyed. If she is bleeding, it is because there is living blood coursing through her veins. It would not be quite right to say that she is not too badly hurt because she is a deep person; rather, she is very badly hurt because she is a deep person. And yet… you cannot quite tell what it is.

She turns to you, and sees the puzzlement in your face. She reaches, and with one hand touches your eyes; her lips move in silent prayer. Then she takes her hand back, and you slowly see something else. You see angels all around, and feel the Spirit of God. One of the angels – great, mighty, magnificent – has wrapped his arms around her. The angels are still, and… intent. It would be a gross distortion to say that one of them waves a magic wand and makes the pain go away, and yet…

You cannot quite see, and yet in your spirit you sense, prayers, around and under and in her. You cannot understand all of what is going on. The pain is not taken away, and you share the pain as well. And yet… Though you cannot say what, you can sense someone, and something happening, which is infinitely greater than the pain. And you, again, hear singing.

Sister, let me be your servant. Let me be as Christ to you. I will laugh when you are laughing. When you weep, I’ll weep with you. Pray that I might have the grace to Let you be my servant, too.

When you feel so weak and burdened, When the world is harsh to you, Know that Christ has gone before you, Felt the pain and shed the tears. As Christ has so giv’n to others, So he will also give to you.

And e’en with Christ you’re not alone, For we are Christ’s body, too. We are all brother and sister. Your burden is our burden, too. As you have so giv’n to others, So we all shall give to you.

A little boy runs up with something clutched in his hand, and kisses her. He says, “I love you. Sorry you hurt bad. Havva big gift. Look!” He opens his hand.

Inside is a blade of grass.

A Christmas gift for children

Hymn to the Creator of Heaven and Earth

The Sign of the Grail

Stephanos

Doxology

CJSH.name/doxology


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How shall I praise thee, O Lord?
For naught that I might say,
Nor aught that I may do,
Compareth to thy worth.
Thou art the Father for whom every fatherhood in Heaven and on earth is named,
The Glory for whom all glory is named,
The Treasure for whom treasures are named,
The Light for whom all light is named,
The Love for whom all love is named,
The Eternal by whom all may glimpse eternity,
The Being by whom all beings exist,
יהוה
Ο ΩΝ.
The King of Kings and Lord of Lords,
Who art eternally praised,
Who art all that thou canst be,
Greater than aught else that may be thought,
Greater than can be thought.
In thee is light,
In thee is honour,
In thee is mercy,
In thee is wisdom, and praise, and every good thing.
For good itself is named after thee,
God immeasurable, immortal, eternal, ever glorious, and humble.
What mighteth compare to thee?
What praise equalleth thee?
If I be fearfully and wonderfully made,
Only can it be,
Wherewith thou art fearful and wonderful,
And ten thousand things besides,
Thou who art One,
Eternally beyond time,
So wholly One,
That thou mayest be called infinite,
Timeless beyond time thou art,
The One who is greater than infinity art thou.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
The Three who are One,
No more bound by numbers than by word,
And yet the Son is called Ο ΛΟΓΟΣ,
The Word,
Divine ordering Reason,
Eternal Light and Cosmic Word,
Way pre-eminent of all things,
Beyond all, and infinitesimally close,
Thou transcendest transcendence itself,
The Creator entered into his Creation,
Sharing with us humble glory,
Lowered by love,
Raised to the highest,
The Suffering Servant known,
The King of Glory,
Ο ΩΝ.

What tongue mighteth sing of thee?
What noetic heart mighteth know thee,
With the knowledge that drinketh,
The drinking that knoweth,
Of the νους,
The loving, enlightened spiritual eye,
By which we may share the knowing,
Of divinised men joining rank on rank of angels.

Thou art,
The Hidden Transcendent God who transcendest transcendence itself,
The One God who transfigurest Creation,
The Son of God became a Man that men might become the sons of God,
The divine became man that man mighteth become divine.

Beyond measure is thy glory,
The weight of thy power transcendeth,
Thy power of thine all-surpassing authority bespeaketh,
And yet art thou,
Not in fire, not earthquake,
Not wind great as maelstrom,
But in soft gentle whisper,
Thy prophets wait upon thee,
For thy silence is more deafening than thunder,
Thine weakness stronger than the strength of men,
Thy humility surpassingly far exceedeth men’s covetous thirst for glory,
Thou who hidst in a manger,
Treasure vaster than the Heavens,
And who offerest us glory,
In those things of our lives,
That seem humble to us,
As a manger rude in a cavern stable.

Thou Christ God, manifest among Creation,
Vine, lamb, and our daily bread,
Tabernacled among us who may taste thy glory,
Art come the priest on high to offer thy Creation up into Heaven,
Sanctified,
Transfigured,
Deified.

Wert thou a lesser god,
Numerically one as a creature is one,
Only one by an accident,
Naught more,
Then thou couldst not deify thine own creation,
Whilst remaining the only one god.

But thou art beyond all thought,
All word, all being,
We may say that thou existest,
But then we must say,
Thou art, I am not.
And if we say that we exist,
It is inadequate to say that thou existest,
For thou art the source of all being,
And beyond our being;
Thou art the source of all mind, wisdom, and reason,
Yet it is a fundamental error to imagine thee,
To think and reason in the mode of mankind.
Thou art not one god because there happeneth not more,
Thou art The One God because there mighteth not be another beside thee.
Thus thou spakest to Moses,
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Which is to say,
Thou shalt admit no other gods to my presence.

And there can be no other god beside thee,
So deep and full is this truth,
That thy Trinity mighteth take naught from thine Oneness,
Nor could it be another alongside thy divine Oneness,
If this God became man,
That man become god.

Great art thou,
Greater than aught that can be thought,
And thus dealest thou,
With thy Creation.

For thou camest into the world,
O Christ,
Thy glory veiled,
But a few could see thy glory,
In a seed.

But thou returnest soon,
In years, or centuries, or ages untold,
A day or a thousand years, soon,
Then a seed no more.
None shall escape seeing you,
Not an angel choir to shepherds alone,
But rank on rank of angel host.
Every eye shall see thee,
And they also which pierced thee,
Thou camest and a few knees bowed,
Thou wilt return,
And every knee shall bow,
And every tongue shall confess,
Jesus Christ is Lord,
To the glory of God the Father,
As the Father triumphs in the Son.

Who mighteth tell of thy glory, thy might?
We hope for Heaven yet,
Yet the Heavens cannot contain thee.
Great art Ο ΩΝ,
And greatly to be praised.
Thou art awesome beyond all gods,
Who sayest,
Wound not my christs.
For the Son of God became the Son of Man,
That the sons of man might become the sons of God,
And the divine image,
The ancient and glorious foundation,
And radix of mankind,
Be transfigured,
Into the likeness of Christ,
And shine with uncreated Light,
The glory of God shining through his sons.

Let our spiritual eye be ever transfixed upon thine eternal radiant glory,
Our hearts ever seeking thy luminous splendour,
Ever questing,
Ever sated,
Slaked by the greatest of draughts,
Which inflameth thirst.

Glorified art thou,
In all ages,
In every age,
Thy soft, gentle whisper,
Speaking life,
In every here and now,
And today.

Let us give our lives,
To thine all-surpassing greatness,
From this day,
From this hour,
Henceforth and forevermore.

Αμην,
So be it. Amen.

Death

Hymn to the Creator of Heaven and Earth

The Angelic Letters

Why This Waste?

Hayward’s Unabridged Dictionary

Surgeon General’s Warning

This book was written by the inspiration of Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, and if that doesn’t scare you, it should.

I would say one thing that applies both to The Devil’s Dictionary and this work (which was originally titled The Devil’s Theological Dictionary). Read a page or two, and it will probably be very amusing. And it is easy to read one definition, and another, and another. But read half the work, and that don’t feel so good. One friend wrote this and started his imitation work, saying in front matter that my work “took off my rose-colored classes.” I fail to see how I rendered him any service to him.

This piece is only really being left on the web for archival purposes. If you want something interesting to read, you might read The Angelic Letters or The Sign of the Grail.

CJSH.name/dictionary

Hayward's Unabridged Dictionary
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Preface

Ambrose Bierce has created a most useful dictionary, serving the ever important function of drawing attention to that which people learn to ignore. I do not agree with all of what he says, but none the less consider it immensely valuable. It is my opinion that subtlety and wit are entirely too scarce. Sometimes this work is a bit caustic; unfortunately, gently worded points are often gently ignored. Bierce wrote that his work was addressed to people who “prefer dry wines to sweet, sense to sentiment, wit to humor and clean English to slang.” This work is written preferring subtlety and allusion to the blatant, thought to convenience, and honesty to comfort.

I would not be entirely honest to claim that this work is entirely my own. Some of the ideas are bits and pieces I’ve picked up here and there; I have done the work of a compiler as well of that of an author. The writing style is, to some effect, borrowed. And, of course, the actual idea for such a dictionary is not originally my own.

The definitions and aim are mostly theological, but occasionally dealing with some of the less agreeable aspects of American life. With apologies to Andy Rooney, there’s probably something in here to offend anybody. I am not trying to cause a sting for the sake of causing a sting; rather, my hope in writing this is to be as the gadfly whom the Greek philosophers spoke of, with a sting that stirs people to thought and action. Where I point out problems, I believe that better is possible.

I could babble on for a few more pages, but it is my opinion that a frame does best not to be terribly gaudy and detract from the painting it holds. I believe that I’ve said enough, and that these definitions will introduce themselves.


A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   X   Y   Z

Abortion Rights Opponent, n. The politically correct term for a person who holds and acts upon the conviction that an unborn child has at least a few rights which should be legally protected, notably the right not to be killed.

Accuse, v. To draw attention to another’s similarity to oneself.

Accusatory, adj. Defensive.

Acting, n. A profession as different from politics as night is from day.

A member of the one profession puts on costumes and makeup, goes before cameras, dramatically reads lines written by someone else, and pretends to be someone that he isn’t, providing unconvincing but amusing entertainment to millions.

A member of the other profession makes movies.

Administration, n. That body which is in charge of an organization, overseeing everything from personnel to organization to allocation of resources to wasting subordinates’ time in meetings. The administration cares for the needs of the organization, placing those needs second only to its own needs, desires, and conveniences.

Administratium, n. A chemical element which makes plutonium look tame.

From the news release:

The p

 

NEW CHEMICAL ELEMENT DISCOVERED

 

The heaviest element known to science was recently discovered by investigators at a major U.S. research university. The element, tentatively named administratium, has no protons or electrons and thus has an atomic number of 0. However, it does have one neutron, 125 assistant neutrons, 75 vice neutrons and 111 assistant vice neutrons, which gives it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by a force that involves the continuous exchange of meson-like particles called morons.

Since it has no electrons, administratium is inert. However, it can be detected chemically as it impedes every reaction it comes in contact with. According to the discoverers, a minute amount of administratium causes one reaction to take over four days to complete when it would have normally occurred in less than a second.

Administratium has a normal half-life of approximately three years, at which time it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which assistant neutrons, vice neutrons and assistant vice neutrons exchange places. Some studies have shown that the atomic mass actually increases after each reorganization.

Research at other laboratories indicates that administratium occurs naturally in the atmosphere. It tends to concentrate at certain points such as government agencies, large corporations, and universities. It can usually be found in the newest, best appointed, and best maintained buildings.

Scientists point out that administratium is known to be toxic at any level of concentration and can easily destroy any productive reaction where it is allowed to accumulate. Attempts are being made to determine how administratium can be controlled to prevent irreversible damage, but results to date are not promising.

-Unknown

Admirable, adj. Embodying a virtue for whose absence the speaker excuses himself.

Adult Bookstore, n. A store offering books and movies which cater to infantile fantasies.

Advertising, n. (1) The fine art of lying to consumers about what is actually being sold. (2) A notable amendment of capitalist theory, whereby the market comes to favor, not the producers who sell the best product, but those who sell the best image. (3) A substantial misallocation of economic resources, whereby a tremendous portion of the economy which could do something useful, is wasted. (This misfortune has the additional demerit of providing a substantial competitive edge to those who use it.) For example, for each packet of mixed vegetables sold at the supermarket, more money is spent to place a colored picture on the packet than actually goes to the farmer. (4) …

AI, n. Artificial Intelligence. A form of artificially generated computer intelligence which has proved remarkably successful at tasks such as playing chess as well as a grandmaster, using integral calculus to solve problems, and examining blood test results to diagnose blood disorders more accurately than most doctors, and which has utterly failed at tasks such as answering rudimentary questions about the story told in an I Can Read Book.

Allegory, n. A song whose content we find far too embarrassing to believe could actually be a part of Holy Scripture.

Alternate, adj. Unacceptable, but shielded by the aegis of political correctness.

America, n. A great nation which like a melting pot; many ingredients come together in turbulent seething, those on the bottom get burned, and the scum rise to the top.

American Catholic, n. A conflation of ‘American’ and ‘Catholic’ in which ‘American’ takes precedence to ‘Catholic’.

Amplified Bible, n. A new concept in translation theory, consisting largely of a word study crammed into a literal translation, listing possible meanings of words regardless of context. Thus the salad bar theologian is permitted to pick and choose the wording which will most emphatically support his point. Moreover, it avoids confusion by bracketed insertions, explaining what the author of the text failed to state clearly. Hence Mark 14:23 giving account of Jesus’s actions at the Last Supper, says, “He also took a cup [of juice of grapes]…”

Anathema, adj and n. Consecrated and holy. The term originally denoted a special offering hanging in a temple, and has come to mean a degree of holiness which borders on superlative.

The Supreme Being is the most holy; the angels in his presence shield their faces so that they will not see him and be destroyed. Secondary to this is a degree of holiness such that anything which touches it must be destroyed. The Ark of the Covenant was holy; it was to be carried only with poles, and when Uzzah touched it in order to steady it, he was destroyed. The book of Joshua records an entire city of such sanctity that it was anathema; Achan stole goods from it, and fierce anger burned against the whole nation of Israel until he was destroyed.

It is possible for this sanctity to be conferred by benediction; one form used contains the words, “Let him be anathema…” That is to say, a person as well as an object can be so sacred and holy as to be anathema.

Commonly, this benediction is bestowed upon other believers. The present unity of the church is so complete that it is frequently bestowed upon other Christians whose beliefs legitimately differ slightly, and almost never bestowed on heretics.

Anglicanism, n. See Catholic Lite.

Annoying, adj. Popular among companies who wish to persuade you to purchase their goods or services.

Annulment, n. The form of divorce practiced by those who classify divorce as mortal sin.

Anti-Realism, n. Any one of a number of philosophical systems whose proponents believe themselves to have established the nature of knowledge and reality to be such that it is impossible to make any definitive statements about the nature of reality.

Apocryphal, adj. Hidden.

Originally, the term denoted the writings of certain mystery religions which were hidden from all who were not part of the elite of initiates, such as the Orthodox Book of Common Prayer. Over time, the word has shifted in meaning. It is the nature of Christianity to proclaim its truths, not to hide them; thus, there was no need for apocryphal books in the first sense. The term was applied to books which were hidden for another, entirely different, reason; namely, books which were excluded due to heretical content, such as James or the book of Ecclesiastes. There may be a second connection between the two usages of the word, but it is wisely left unmentioned.

Appearance of Evil, n. A bane which people will commit evil in order to avoid.

Archaic, adj. Reflecting the best and most enduring relics of centuries gone before. Said of practices, ideas, and language which reflect a belief that wisdom may be found in thoughts of the past as well as those of the present. A pejorative term.

Arminianism, adj. The school of thought opposite Calvinism. Named after Arminius, a theologian who was taught under Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza. Arminius began to depart from Calvin’s doctrine by teaching conditional predestination, as contrasted to Beza, who emphatically taught limited atonement.

Arranged marriage, n. A marriage not chosen by the parties involved; arranged marriages exhibit far lower divorce rates than those voluntarily chosen.

That they be more successful is not really as strange as it may seem at first.

In America, you marry the girl you love; in India, you love the girl you marry.

-A man speaking in a video on Indian philosophy

There is a fundamental difference in how arranged and voluntarily chosen marriages tend to be approached. Voluntary marriages tend to be approached as “If I can just find the right person, we can live happily ever after.”; arranged marriages are not approached with any delusions of being an effortless bliss or some sort of box that one can take things out of without putting anything into. But with poorer conditions — with a bride and groom that not only have not chosen each other, but have not necessarily met before the day of the wedding — people decide to make it work. Therefore it is not the lands of arranged marriages, but America, which is the land of divorce.

The difference between expecting something to be fruitful without any effort and without any sacrifice, and expecting something to be difficult (but choosing via effort and sacrifice to make it work) is a difference between disappointment and a rewarding joy, and applies to much more of life than only marriage.

Aspirin, n. A drug used in the treatment of arthritis, commonly found in a container with a childproof cap.

Atheism, n. A religion requiring exceptional faith.

Attention Span, n. The length of time for which a person is able to maintain concentration. In most nations, a long attention span is valued as enabling understanding of well-developped, coherent, and complete arguments; in America,

Automobile, n. A transportation device hailed as the solution to the problem of providing transit without creating the pollution generated by a horse.

AV, n. Authorized Version. The Authorized Version, also known as the King James Version, is the original form of the Word of God. All subsequent paraphrases, while easier to read, are merely the word of man.

Bachelor’s Degree, n. The primary degree offered by colleges attended as happy hunting grounds, such as Moody Bridal Institute.

Ballista, n. A device useful in the adjustment of sound systems playing elevator music.

Beatitude, n. A genre of didactic statement, used in the Sermon on the Mount.

Blessed are the ticklish,
for the touch of a friend shall fill them with laughter.

-The Unauthorized Version

Beautiful, adj. Distorted and unnatural.

One of the enduring aspects of human culture is a tradition which universally establishes a single standard of beauty, one for the male body and (especially) one for the female.

There is some feature which may be attractive, and is exaggerated out of all proportion. Or, alternately, some feature which is unattractive, and is exaggerated out of all proportion.

Because a long and slender neck looks beautiful, a nice contrast to the thick bulges of a man’s shape, there’s a tribe in Africa which uses copper braces to stretch out women’s necks to be a foot long.

China, noting that men have big feet and a feminine shape involves small feet, has the practice of footbinding, using the one kind of footwear tighter than climbing boots in order to painfully keep feet from growing any larger than those of a little girl.

Recent anthropological findings report an obscure culture which has successfully made the transition from ridiculous to bombastic. It has decided that the roundness of feminine beauty should be replaced with the shape of a pre-pubescent boy, and reacted to modern technology by using the woman’s body as a repository for gelatinous capsules.

Beer Commercial, n. The reductio ad disgustum of advertising’s image of women.

Bible, n. A work high on the tolerant people’s list of books to be burned.

We live in a pluralistic, multicultural society where young people raised according to the tenets of Hinduisn, Islam, or the humanist philosophy of Bertrand Russel must feel as welcome as young people raised on the Bible. Our solution to this challenge is ingenious. Knowing that the vast majority of young people are profoundly ignorant of the Bhagavad Gita, or of the Koran, or for that matter of the philosophy of Bertrand Russel, we have decided in the interests of tolerance and pluralism to leave them equally ignorant of the Bible. Our young people enjoy a perfect democracy of ignorance.

-Literary critic Peter Marchand, commenting on the removal of the Bible from public school classrooms

Billboard, n. An eyesore which possesses the additional demerit of being a distraction to drivers.

Drivers who take their eyes off the road to read billboards should make sure that they’re sufficiently insured.

Just a thought.

-A billboard seen in Holland, Michigan

I think I shall never see
a billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall
I shall never see a tree at all.

-Ogden Nash

Blind, adj. Possessing eyes that do not see. The prophet Isaiah spoke of people having eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear. That prophecy has had numerous fulfillments; of chief contemporary relevance is current underinterpretation of Biblical teachings on wealth.

Bombastic, adj. Of, from, or pertaining to the PC-USA.

Boot, n. An ingenious device used to keep astronauts on the moon from floating away in space.

Brainwashing, n. A cold Big Brother’s constant barrage of propoganda to people under his thumb.

One American who recently visited the People’s Republic of China said that at first he wondered how people could tolerate the constant barrage of slogans on walls and radio telling everybody what to think. Then he realized that his own society reels under nonstop messages just as inane.

-Doris Janses, Living More with Less, on advertising

Budweiser, n. A headache in a bottle. The dog of beers.

With most beers, if you drink too much, you get a headache the day after. With Annheiser-Busch, you get a headache as you drink it.

-A German student, spring ’95

Bumber Sticker, n. A tool to present the ludicrous as unassailable. One bumber sticker, for instance, reads:

PRO-CHOICE, PRO-CHILD
EVERY CHILD A WANTED CHILD

This form of deep compassion is perhaps inspired by satirist fantasy author Terry Pratchett:

Give a man a fire and keep him warm for a day.
Light a man on fire and he will be warm for rest of his life.

Busy Signal, n. An elegant sound designed to prepare the ear to listen to country and western.

Cafeteria, n. A refectory instrumental in the building of fine and upstanding young students. The meat builds muscle, the milk builds bones, and the rest builds character.

Friend: We’re going to the cafeteria for dinner. Wanna come along?

Student: Sorry, but I’m trying not to lose weight.

Canada, n. See Northern Wastes.

Canadian, adj. and n. An anti-American American.

Capital Punishment, n. A form of sentence found in the most dangerous of first world nations, used by the government to intimidate criminals who have been taught that violence is the way to solve their problems.

Category Mistake, n. An assumption embodied in an inappropriate question, inquiring about an undefined attribute, such as, “Is yellow square or round?”, “Is the doctrine of the Trinity calm or excited?”, or “What was the point of that speech?”

Catholic, adj. and n. United, universal. Hence the Nicaene Creed, shared in common by nearly all believers, says “I believe in one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Today the term denotes one of three distinct branches of Christianity, the other two being Orthodox and Protestant. All present believers are members of one branch and forbidden to receive communion with members of the other two.

Catholic University, n. An institution of higher learning that welcomes Orthodox students with open arms on the theory of, “The Church must breathe mustard gas with both lungs!”

Causality, n. The mechanism by which cause brings about effect, thoughtfully provided as a reminder to philosophers of who is in Heaven and who is on earth. The latter have responded by deciding under what bounds the former is permitted to operate.

CD, n. Compact Disc. Used to record musical works in accordance with the popular taste, the compact disc is a small, round plate made out of the same material as bulletproof windows. This is believed to be in anticipation of more sophisticated reactions to the material they contain.

Ceremonial Law, n. As established in the Pentateuch, an elaborate system of rules and regulations. Ceremonial law contained, of course, exacting detail governing the administration of rites and ceremonies, but also contained an intricate calendar of holy days, told which foods were clean and unclean, talked about objects which were consecrated and objects which were profane, described what haircuts were and weren’t acceptable, and so on. Paul spoke of this in many places; in his epistle to the Colossians, he describes all of these things as shadows of the reality found in Christ. Christ nailed it to the cross, and the Church has raised it from the dead.

Chalice, n. A vessel used to hold drinks, which were sometimes augmented by various poisons.

Lady Astor (to Churchill): Winston Churchill, if I were your wife, I would put poison in your cup.

Churchill: Lady Astor, if you were my wife, I would drink it.

Chaotic, adj. Embodying chaos; uncontrolled and unpredictable. A chaotic situation is one in which presence of mind is good and absence of body is better.

Checks-and-balances, n. A system of government with power divided between different branches, so that no one man or branch can hold too much power. This is accomplished by providing each branch with “checks” on the power of others, to maintain a “balance”, in order that (once the government has grown sufficiently corrupt) the amount of good that one honest man can inflict is kept within tolerable bounds.

Cheese, n. The most important ingredient in good pizza and successful television programming.

Childproof Cap, n. A safety device preventing parents from opening certain containers without their children’s assistance.

Chivalry, n. A time-honored code of conduct which, at a time when most men treated women as chattels, demanded as central to a man’s honor that women be accorded deference, protection, and respect. Considered by modern feminism to be a bane.

Christian Contemporary Music, n. A genre of song designed primarily to impart sound teaching, such as the doctrine that we are sanctified by faith and not by good taste in music.

Christian Film, n. A mode of expressing Christian doctrine which uses the same essential communication strategy as hard-core porn, in that the form of storytelling leaves nothing to the imagination but the plot.

Christian Science, n. A system of doctrines with a name carefully chosen, word by word, in honor of the accuracy with which it describes the world.

Christmas, n. A yearly holiday celebrating the coming of the chief Deity of Western civilization: Mammon.

Church, n. An early substitute for America and the GOP.

Circular Definition, n. A definition which is circular.

Civilization, n. The state of living where people abide in cities rather than roam planes, conferring a respect for the value of human life not found among savages.

Reporter (To Gandhi): Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of Western civilization?

Gandhi: I think it would be a good idea.

Classic, n. A work which everybody wants to have read but nobody wants to read.

Closed-Minded, adj. Possessing a mind which, like a pipe sealed on both ends, does not permit ideas to enter and leave. Contrasted with an open mind, which permits ideas to flow, like water through a pipe, entering and exiting without leaving any trace. There is perhaps a third prospect, of weighing and examining most ideas against a higher standard to grab firm hold of what is meritorious and worth keeping and reject what is twisted and mistaken, but this idea does not occur sufficiently often to merit its own word. Promoting open-mindedness is perhaps the single greatest achievement of current thought.

If Jesus Christ were to come today, people would not crucify him. They would ask him to dinner, and hear what he had to say, and make fun of it.

-Thomas Carlyle

Coconut, n. Positive proof that plant life has been affected by the Fall. See also: Pistachio, Cashew.

Coffeehouse, n. A location symbolic of the fake intellectual scene, where people sit over a cup of coffee and talk about how open-minded they think they are.

Coin, n. The smallest unit of currency. The coin generally bears something symbolic of the nature and perspective of the people who create it — what they value, what they think of. The highest coin in the United States bears a picture of a human being; the highest coin in Canada bears the image of a loon.

Coincidence, n. In television, a kind of event that happens to happen as often as people need it to.

Collateral Damage, n. Blood that flows like a river.

Comedian, n. An entertainer possessing every faculty relevant to amusement save the ability to be funny.

Commentary, n. A multivolume explanation of the meaning of a book, chapter, or (occasionally) single verse, such as Ecclesiastes 6:11.

Commitment, n. [N.B.: definition pending upon completion of a search for relationships which are not viewed as temporary and disposable]

Committee, n. The divine model of speedy application of resources to the point of need.

For God so loved the world, that he formed a committee, that whosoever attendeth on it should not perish, but have everlasting life in which to await a decision.

-The Unauthorized Version

Common Sense, n. An exceedingly uncommon commodity.

Communist, n. One of the money changers Jesus drove out of the temple.

Company, n. The associations a person is seen with, as a reflection of character. Keeping good company is one area where many Christians have gone above and beyond the example of Christ.

Computer Error, n. The juxtaposition of at least two purely human errors, one of which is attributing the problem to the computer.

Congress, n. A body of men whose sole purpose in existence is to pile law upon law upon law.

The fundamental belief embodied in this philosophy is that a nation at peace with itself is ordered and held together, not by love and true religion, nor by honor and morality, nor even by a minimal attempt to act according to Confucious’s simple words, “Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you,” but rather by the brute force of edicts issued by the sovereign.

Therefore, when the nation was first formed, and not only did held together but actually built itself up by leaps and bounds, the legislators believed it their duty to create laws. When the nation’s growth began to slow and problems to increase, the legislators believed it their duty to attempt to improve the situation by creating laws. And now, as the nation is crumbling, when it is common for a mere child to carry a .45 caliber handgun because he does not feel safe at school, it is by the force of tax laws hundreds of pages long and penal codes which the lawmakers themselves could not hope to read that the legislature seeks to stem the ever advancing tide of chaos.

The greater the number of laws and enactments, the greater the number of thieves and robbers.

-Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Conscience, n. An early artifact formerly serving the purpose now fulfilled by harsh penalties assigned as punishment for getting caught.

Conspicuous, adj. Trying to act inconspicuous.

Consumer Oriented Services, n. Religion within the Bounds of Amusement.

This fundamental category mistake places church meetings not within the category of religious services designed to help people worship and grow, loving enough to give a gadfly’s sting, but rather action-packed spectacles designed to attract people who are seeking amusement. Seminaries, far from warning against this, are actually promoting it.

This is, unfortunately, not a novelty. Like schools, and USA-TODAY, and so on and so forth, just one more segment of society in need of a swift kick in the pants from Neil Postman.

Copyright, n. A legal protection acquired for a piece of information, commonly used by the author or publisher of a book, program, et cetera, to secure benefit$ from its use. While it is possible to be more lenient in what a copyright permits, that option ranks to many as an extremely gnu concept. Most commonly, all rights are reserved. Without the express written consent of the owner, n. part of the work may be be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or biological.

Corporate Ladder, n. An awe inspiring structure which reaches to the clouds and leans against the wrong building.

By working hard for eight yours a day, you may get to be a boss and work hard for twelve hours a day.

-Mark Twain

Crash Test, n. A simulated collision, used to prove the safety superiority of larger and heavier cars by showing that they provide partial protection in an accident that a more maneuverable car would be able to avoid.

Creativity, n. An attribute which is admired and praised in figures of the past.

Cult, n. An aberrant group whose bizarre practices deviate from what is established and considered normative. Etymologically, the word signifies worship.

Cybertechnology, n. Technology which enters into the body, such as an artificial heart or robotic arm.

At present, a surgeon has access to books upon books of procedures designed to restore function to a hand injured, and yet not one procedure designed to improve the function of a hand uninjured. Cybertechnology which is not remedial — a replacement for a defective heart or severed limb being examples of remedial cybertechnology — is essentially the property of science fiction writers, who allow all manner of incredible technology to enter the body.

The prime exception, if it is to be counted as such, is chemical. There exist drugs which exert special impact on the body. Most are used in medical fashion — an antibiotic or some other such function — but there are a few which act to improve the function of a person in health. It was observed that smoking cigarettes causes people to breathe more deeply. Realizing this, and understanding the importance of oxygen to a developping child, doctors advised pregnant women to smoke. There are many other drugs which bring a similar improvement. The use of cocaine is a wonderful way to deal with depression, and the use of massive amounts of anabolic steroids brings an unequalled boost to athletic prowess.

This present lexicographer looks with great anticipation to the day when the cybertechnology described in novels may become commonplace.

Dance, n. An activity of joy and celebration given numerous references in Scripture (none of which are negative), now considered by staunch Christians to be demonic if enjoyed in community.

Dark Sucker, n. Supposedly, an alternative understanding of a light source.

This jesting theory states that darkness is something which obscures vision; we are able to see when the darkness is sucked out. Eventually, the dark suckers become full of darkness and themselves become dark; this explains why incandescent bulbs, fluorescent tubes, and candles universally turn dark when they cease to function.

The theory was probably devised by an electrical engineer, who wanted to do something silly while taking a break from drawing circuit diagrams.

Dating, n. A sequence of miniature marriages, complete with miniature sex, ending in miniature divorces.

Democracy, n. [Gk. demos, people, cratein, to rule. No connection to the etymology of ‘demon’] A Utopian form of government based on the twin assumptions that the majority will generally do what is noble, just, and true, and that mass persuasion techniques cannot be used to set aside good judgement.

Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.

-Reinhold Niehbuhr

It has been said that television is an example of democracy at its ugliest; there is no accountability, and people tend to watch something other than what they would publicly be seen as associating with. It is a degenerating morass, increasingly portraying sexual sin as harmless and bloodshed as an amusing sport; recent years have seen the network television premiere of America’s first made-for-TV war. It was wrong of the Evil Empire to define a just war as anything which advances the cause of communism; we know that a war is only justified if it makes the world safe for freedom and democracy. Were that war not to have been fought, Kuwaiti refugees would still be stranded in the surrounding nations’ disco parlors. We would not have been able to restore the tyranny and human rights violations of the Kuwaiti ruling family, nor, more importantly, implement important alterations to the infrastructure of Baghdad to better deal with the problem of overpopulation. All of this is necessary to be able to listen to a child’s shattered dreams, and then explain why Daddy isn’t coming home.

For the majority to oppress the minority is perfectly democratic; the condition for democracy is the desire of the majority, a consideration independent of right and wrong. In perhaps the most spectacular debacle of all, Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany, through means which can only be described as unimpeachably democratic.

Eloquence, n. The art of persuading fools that white is the color that it appears to be. It includes the gift of making any color appear white.

-Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary.

Demon Rum, n. An unfortunate by-product of Jesus’s first miracle.

Denomination, n. A group of schismatics whose conduct we find to be in accordance with Scripture.

Department of Defense, n. A Ministry of War continually involved in operations which have little or nothing to do with the integrity of national borders.

Deus Ex Machina, n. [Lat. deus, god, ex, out of; from, machina, machine] (1) In fiction, an unrealistic solution to a problem, which miraculously works. For example, a poor family’s financial struggles finding resolution in the death of a hitherto unknown relative who willed them his wealthy estate. (2) In nonfiction, an unrealistic technological solution to a problem with its origin in the evil within the human heart, which miraculously fails. For example, infanticide on demand as a solution for the contempt for children which causes child abuse.

Dictator, n. An evil man who maintains power by intimidation and force, refusing to obey the United States.

Dinosaur, n. An immense prehistoric beast with a mental capacity lower than that of a field mouse. Figuratively, the term is used in a very pejorative manner by computer scientists, in reference to annoying machines which have miniscule capabilities and take inordinate amounts of time to do anything useful. Dinosaurs typically make obnoxious noises, and are bulky eyesores with glowing green against a somewhat darker but none the less nauseating background. For all the disagreeable things in American culture, we have learned the importance of teaching computer literacy to young children.

Disclaimer, n. A kind of publisher’s preface accompanying books, advertisements, et cetera, for the edification of any lawyers who may happen to read the work. Most disclaimers are either patently false, as the disclaimer by cigarette manufacturers that colorful advertisements sporting cartoon characters are not meant to attract the attention of children, or blatantly obvious, as the following words found before many novels:

This is a work of fiction. The characters and plot of this story are solely the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to the personality or actions of any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Dishonesty, n. A condition which is considered a vice until it is channeled into the virtuous and proper bounds of tact.

Dispensationalism, n. Systematic theology as an excuse for lack of faith.

Divorce, n. A legalized form of child abuse.

DOS, n. Disk Operating System. A set of programs offering crude disk operations, frequently confused with a complete and robust operating system.

A master was explaining the nature of Tao to one of his novices, “The Tao is embodied in all software — no matter how insignificant,” said the master.

“Is the Tao in a hand-held calculator?” asked the novice.

“It is.” came the reply.

“Is the Tao in a video game?”

“The Tao is even in a video game,” said the master.

“And is the Tao in the DOS for a personal computer?”

The master coughed and shifted his position slightly. “The lesson is over for today.”

-Geoffrey James, The Tao of Programming, 4.3

Doubt, n. The cornerstone of the four cardinal virtues of classical modernity.

DoxaSoma, n. The Christian spiritual practice of meditative prayer through exercise, balance, and body posture. (Minimum 85% recycled from Hindu spiritual practices.)

Driver’s License, n. A form of identification required in order to legally purchase alcoholic beverages.

Dystopia, n. Utopian theory in practice.

Easter, n. The highest point of the Christian calendar, named after the Babylonian whore goddess.

Edifice, n. A building antedating the advent of the Bauhaus aesthetic.

Educated, adj. Unemployed with a degree.

Education Party, n. The party which nominated for important office a man lacking sufficient training to spell personal names or those of common household items.

Eh?, tic. See Like.

Eighteen, n. In the eyes of the United States government, the number of years which constitute the age of accountability. At this age, a person is no longer treated as a child, but as a mature adult with sound judgment. Eighteen years is old enough to give a signature that bears legal weight without the approval of a legal guardian, old enough to decide the fate of a human life or nation by serving as a juror on a capital case or by casting a vote, old enough to enlist or be conscripted to military service, old enough to kill enemy soldiers and old enough to die in combat, but too young and immature to visit a restaurant and enjoy a glass of wine with dinner.

Eisegesis, n. Reading one’s meaning into a text, as distinguished from exegesis, drawing the meaning out of a text. It is interesting to note that the people most skilled in eisegesis, particularly as it pertains to Scripture, do not generally understand the distinction.

Electricity, n. A modern convenience which, when combined with running water, is capable of making life very inconvenient.

Element, n. The basic building blocks of which all matter is built. According to the ancient Greeks, there were four elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Science has progressed beyond that; matter generally consists of atoms, the ultimate, indivisible unit. Atoms in turn are built of more fundamental and elementary particles, and the elementary particles combine in various ways to generate the forms of matter we know of — Solid, Liquid, Gas, and Plasma.

Embarassment, n. The one fly in the ointment that it is hoped that opponents won’t notice. In general, attempts are made to discredit embarrassments, the results of which can frequently be very amusing to watch. Fortunately, there is an exception if the embarrassment comes from Scripture. Holy Scripture is recognized to be God-breathed, and any embarrassing passage is taken very seriously; exegetes attempt to discern the passage’s true meaning through careful reading and detailed word studies.

Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick himself up and continue on.

-Winston Churchill

Enlightenment, n. The beginning of the fall of Western civilization and thought.

Environmentalist, n. One devoted to a particular political agenda, regardless of its impact on the environment.

A recent project at Argonne National Laboratory was working on a new generation of nuclear reactor which would be in many ways a dream come true. Its design would be such that meltdown would be physically impossible. It could run on nuclear waste from other plants, not only generating power but reducing them to material which would become harmless in a matter of roughly a century, rather than millions of years. It could run on nuclear warheads, thus not only providing a safe and permanent manner to dispose of some of the most appalling and destructive devices ever created, but so doing in a manner which would provide useful energy to hospitals and families; a beautiful picture of what it means to beat swords into ploughshares.

However, it is still nuclear, and, in the eyes of environmentalism, all nuclear power is evil and must be stopped at any cost. This project was, most definitely, stopped at any cost. It was terminated at great monetary cost; it was nearing completion, and, now that it was ready to be tested on different materials, those materials must be disposed of, at a cost of ninety-four million dollars more than it would have cost to complete. It was terminated at great environmental cost; those materials are dangerous nuclear wastes, and, though they were going to be made harmless, they must now be disposed of in established manners; that is to say, function as the nuclear waste that environmentalists so adamantly oppose. However, they stopped something bearing the dirty ‘n’ word, so environmentalists are now happy.

It is at least fortunate that environmentalists do not yet have the means to extinguish the sun.

Episcopalianism, n. A most interesting combination of Catholic and Protestant, quite effectively combining the worst of both worlds.

Euphemasia, n. In writing, choice of words and phrases that skillfully dance around what they mean. This avoids offending people, and puts any alternative certainty of the work being taken seriously out of its state of being differently happy.

Evangelical, n. A believer who is devoted to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and verse by verse study of Scripture. The Great Commission is at the center of their ethics, and they believe in proclaiming Christ by deed as well as word. Thus many of them wisely abide by prohibitions, against dangerous things such as the following: card games, drinking, dancing, movies, swearing… While none of these are technically outlawed by Scripture, they are thought to be good ideas entirely in accordance with its essential teaching, as reflected in verses such as the following: Ps. 149:3, Eccl. 9:7, II Cor. 4:6, Gal. 1:6-8, 3:1-2, 5:1, 12,18,22-25, Eph. 2:15, Col. 2:8,13-14,16,20-23, I Thes. 5:19, I Tim. 4:1-5.

Evil, n. That which is twisted, depraved, and wicked.

Once upon a time, a king wished that his people know what evil was, so that his people could learn to recognize and flee from it. He issued a summons, that, in a year, all of his artists should come to him with one picture, to show what was evil. The best picture would be displayed to the people.

In a year, they all appeared at the king’s palace. There were very few artists in the kingdom, but those who were there were very skillful, and worked as they had never worked before. Each brought a picture beneath a shroud.

The king turned to the first artist who had come. “Jesse, unveil your picture, and tell us its interpretation.”

Jesse lifted the cloth. Against a background of blackened skulls was a dark green serpent, the color of venom and poison, with eyes that glowed red. “Your Majesty, it was the Serpent whose treacherous venom deceived man to eat of the forbidden fruit. The eye is the lamp of the body, and the Serpent’s eye burns with the fires of Hell. You see that beyond the Serpent are skulls. Evil ensnares unto death and outer darkness.”

The court murmured its approval. The picture was striking, and spoke its lesson well. The king, also, approved. “Well done, Jesse. If another picture is chosen, it will not be because you have done poorly. Now, Gallio, please show us your work.”

Gallio unveiled his painting. In it was a man, his face red and veins bulging from hate. In his hand, he held a curved dagger. He was slowly advancing towards a woman, cowering in fear. “Your Majesty, man is created in the image of God, and human life is sacred. Thus the way we are to love God is often by loving our neighbor. There are few blasphemies more unholy than murder. You have asked me for a picture to show what evil is, that your subjects may flee from it. This is evil to flee from.”

The court again murmured its approval, and the king began to shift slightly. It was not, as some supposed, because of the repellent nature of the pictures, but because he had secretly hoped that there would be only one good picture. Now, it was evident that the decision would not be so simple. “Gallio, you have also done well. And Simon, your picture?”

Simon unveiled his picture, and people later swore that they could smell a stench. There, in the picture, was the most hideous and misshapen beast they had ever seen. Its proportions were distorted, and its colors were ghastly. The left eye was green, and taller than it was wide. The right eye was even larger than the left, red, bloodshot, and flowing with blood; where there should have been a pupil, a claw grotesquely protruded. It was covered with claws, teeth, fur, scales, blood, slime, tentacles, and bits of rotted flesh; several members of the court excused themselves. “However it may be disguised, evil is that which is sick, distorted, and ugly.”

There was a long silence. Finally, the king spoke again. “I see that there are three powerful pictures of evil, any one of which is easily a masterpiece and well fit to show to the people. Barak, I know that you have been given artistic genius, and that perhaps your picture will help me with this difficult decision. Unveil your picture.”

Barak unveiled his picture, and an awestruck hush fell over the court. There, unveiled, was the most beautiful picture they had ever seen.

The picture was in the great vault of a room in a celestial palace. It was carved of diamond, emerald, ruby, jasper, amethyst, sardonyx, and chrysolite. Through the walls of gem, the stars shone brightly. But all of this was nothing, compared to the creature in the room.

He carried with him power and majesty. He looked something like a man, but bore glory beyond intense. His face shone like the sun blazing in full force, his eyes flashed like lightning, and his hair like radiant flame. He wore a robe that looked as if it had been woven from solid light. In his left hand was a luminous book, written in letters of gold, and in his right hand was a sharp, double edged sword, sheathed in fire and lightning.

The king was stunned. It took him a long time to find words, and then he shouted with all of his might.

“You fool! I ask you for a picture of evil, and you bring me this! It is true that fools rush in where angels fear to tread, and that, like unthinking beasts, they do not hesitate to slander the glorious ones. What do you have to say for yourself and for this picture? I shall have an explanation now, or I shall have your head!”

Barak looked up, a tear trickling down his cheek. “Your Majesty, do you not understand? It is a picture of Satan.”

Exaggerate, v. In satire, to tell a frog, as if it were the present, a plausible description of what the water may be like in a few minutes.

Excuse, n. A statement which serves as evidence of a guilty conscience.

Explanation, n. An account of a situation which does not threaten the speaker’s prejudice.

In George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin, princess Irene gets lost in her mountain home and finds a mysterious grandmother, who gives her a silver ring attached to an invisibly fine strand of spider-silk, and tells her that if she follows the thread Irene will find her grandmother’s room. One time, Irene gets lost and follows the thread out of the house, in and out of all kinds of dark and unfamiliar caverns deep inside a goblin-infested mountain. She finds the imprisoned miner-boy Curdie and brings him to her grandmother. Curdie follows along, but cannot believe her strange account: even in the room where Irene claims to be speaking with her grandmother, Curdie sees only a dark and dirty garret. A bitter argument ensues, and Curdie returns home, vexed.

His mother coaxes the explanation out of him:

Then Curdie made a clean breast of it, and told them everything.

They all sat silent for some time, pondering the strange tale. At last Curdie’s mother spoke.

“You confess, my boy,” she said, “there is something about the whole affair you do not understand?”

“Yes, of course, mother,” he answered. “I cannot understand how a child knowing nothing about the mountain, or even that I was shut up in it, should come all that way alone, straight to where I was; and then, after getting me out of the hole, lead me out of the mountain too, where I should not have known a step of the way if it had been as light as in the open air.”

“Then you have no right to say what she told you was not true. She did not take you out, and she must have had something to guide her: why not a thread as well as a rope, or anything else? There is something you cannot explain, and her explanation may be the right one.”

“It’s no explanation at all, Mother; and I can’t believe it. Darwinism is the only game in town.”

Fallenness, n. The defining characteristic of the present human condition. C.S. Lewis spoke wisely:

There are two types of people in this world:
those who say to God, “Thy will be done,”
and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.”

Herein may be found the explanation for most of human history.

Familiar, adj. Considered to be safe and good.

Fashion, n. The progressive self-revelation of the imago dei.

Fast, n. A New Testament practice which most current-day Christians have quickly disposed of.

Fast Food, n. An enterprise which pioneered the use of disposable polystyrene packaging, which was useful and convenient to the customer on the go. Now, due to consumer pressure, the fast food industry is genuinely concerned about the environment. The packaging presently used is biodegradable. The contents, unfortunately, are not.

Fat Free, adj. See Taste Free.

Feminism, n. Like most philosophical and ideological currents, truth gone mad.

Feminism at its heart embodies a substantial truth — that women have historically been treated as second class citizens (if even that), and that no society can call itself just while conducting business as usual — and its development tells many other truths: love, nurturance, and cooperation are foundational virtues in the life of a society; emotion is an integral part of being human; human relationships and community are important; porn degrades women and children, and promotes rape; no means no.

However, both first wave feminism (which sought equality on existing terms) and second wave feminism (which seeks to completely redefine the terms of equality) make statements that, if carried to their logical conclusions, are absolute madness. (To which many feminists would reply that logic is a tool of male oppression.)

At the root of this is a failure to identify the moral structure of the universe as ordered by a God who is the ultimate of masculinity — more Yang than Yang — and a failure to recognize femininity as a created good which, by its very nature, does not and should not order the universe. First wave feminism did not understand the differences between masculine and feminism; the second wave sees all good in terms of the feminine and all evil in terms of the masculine.

Thus is embarked upon a project to remake society (which consists entirely of male oppression) into a world of feminine good. The results vary from the comedic to the destructive — and end up to be at least as baneful to women as men.

To be swept away are all of the classics of literature and philosophy: their purpose is to justify the exploitation of women. Men’s languages are to be replaced by feminine tongues; they revolve around logic rather than emotion, and are cruelly imposed on little girls before they can learn to communicate by their own natures. Never mind that women talk more than men, or that the study of languages is dominated by women. Our languages are oppressive. Newton’s Principia Mathematica, the landmark work which laid out the foundations of calculus, is “Newton’s rape manual.”

Of course, nearly all movements have a lunatic fringe, but it is unnecessary to look at feminism’s fringes to see the destructive. Many, many women are told to regard every man as a potential rapist. Trust is essential to every human relationship; it is a building block as foundational as love and honesty. Yet feminism believes it in the best interest of women to regard every moment with every man as potentially turning into one of the deepest and inhuman violations possible; this means that they are to spend every moment with every man in unending fear.

Furthermore, at least a certain form of feminism, like multiculturalism, relativism, etc. in that they form a core of orthodoxy which the herd of free thinkers is shocked and indignant to see someone go against. Never mind, for example, that early feminism and the present black womanist movement found and find abortion to be unacceptable; anyone who stands against the legality of abortion is an abortion rights foe (just imagine what would happen if anyone used language that loaded in reference to a liberal…) who stands in the way of what can only be seen as a woman’s private rights over her own body. Never mind that other cultures — even those which have had substantial impact from other peoples — are not multicultural and do not see the multiplicity of existant cultures as suggesting that everything is arbitrary, no one way of thinking or acting to be preferred over any other; the existence of other cultures which see things differently is proof that everything is an arbitrary matter for which there can be no standard of judgement. (Never mind that there are a great many things, such as the Natural Law and the absence of our optimistic belief in human progress, which remain remarkably constant across various cultures and ages.) And relativism, of course, means relativism on some very specific points — namely, everything that forms a part of this core of orthodoxy is something that no open-minded person could seriously question, and every belief which could substantially challenge the core of orthodoxy is a relative and subjective opinion which anybody may hold on condition that it is not actually believed to be true. Upon even a few minutes of inspection, it would appear that these beliefs are not only furnished by a zeal not matched by thought, but are not even internally consistent.

But all of this doesn’t really matter, because feminism and its cousins are not meant to be thought about; only fought for.

With allies and a supporting movement like this, what woman needs enemies?

Filiopatros Clause, n. An exceedingly poor excuse for a schism.

Flag, n. See Idol.

Flashlight, n. An instrument of imperception which obscures vision by producing a concentrated glare at one point which is sufficiently intense to prevent the user from seeing anything else. Environmentalists have brought the cleverness of this device one step further by producing the solar powered flashlight.

Foetus, n. A very young child whom it is deemed expedient to consider to be otherwise.

Form, n. A piece of paper used as by administrations to deter people from using their services. It is the opinion of this lexicographer that the following form could be of the utmost assistance in helping bureaucracies more effectively serve those under their care.

 

Form to Request Information in the Form of a Form

 

Section 1: Personal Information

Name: ___________________________ Sex: [ ]M [ ]F Date of Birth: __/__/__
Social Security Number: ___-__-____
Driver’s License Number: ____-____-____
VISA/MasterCard Number: ____-____-____-____
Mailing Address, Business:
Street:_____________________________ City:________________ State:__ ZIP Code:_____
Mailing Address, Home:
Street:_____________________________ City:________________ State:__ ZIP Code:_____
Telephone, Work: (___)___-____, Ext. ____
Telephone, Home: (___)___-____
Telephone, Car: (___)___-____
Beeper: (___)___-____ Chicago High School: [ ]Y [ ]N
E-mail Address: ____________________________________________________ (if address is in domain aol.com or webtv.net, please explain on a separate sheet of paper)
Height: _’, __” Weight: ___# Hair: ______ Eyes: _____ Blood type: __ IQ: __
Political Affiliation: [ ]Federalist [ ]Republican [ ]Democrat [ ]Libertarian [ ]Monarchist [ ]Socialist [ ]Marxist [ ]Communist [ ]Nazi [ ]Fascist [ ]Anarchist [ ]Other (Please specify:_____________)
Citizenship: [ ]United States, including Canada and other territories [ ]Mexico [ ]California [ ]Other (Please specify:_____________________)
Race: [ ]Caucasian/Pigmentally Challenged [ ]African [ ]Asian [ ]Hispanic/Latino [ ]Amerindian [ ]Heinz-57 [ ]Other (Please specify: __________________) [ ]An athletic event where people run around an oval again and again and again.

Page 1 * End of Section 1 of 3

Section 2: Form Description

Length of Form, in Characters: _____
Number of Questions or Required Data: ____
Expected Time to Complete: __ Hours, __ Minutes, __ Seconds.
Expected Mental Effort Required to Complete: __________________________ (if form would insult the intelligence of a senile hamster, please explain on a separate sheet of paper)
Expected number of questions judged to be annoying, unnecessary, and/or personally offensive: __
Expected time wasted on questions judged to be annoying, unnecessary, and/or personally offensive: __ Hours, __ Minutes, __ Seconds.
Expected blood pressure increase while filling out form: __ mmHg systolic, __ mmHg diastolic.

If further contemplation has led you to believe that some of the questions asked are not strictly necessary to provide the service that you offer upon completion of said form, please enclose revised prototype here.

Page 2 * End of Section 2 of 3

Section 3: Essay Questions

Please explain, in 500 words or less, your philosophy concerning the use of forms.

Please explain, in 200 words or less, why you designed this form as you did.

Please explain, in 300 words or less, why you believe that this form is necessary. If you are in a service oriented sector and desire to require the form of people you serve, please explain why you believe that requiring people to fill out forms constitutes a service to them.

When this form is completed, please return to the address provided. The Committee for Selecting Forms will carefully examine your case and delegate responsibility to an appropriate subcommittee.

Please allow approximately six to eight weeks for the appointed subcommittee to lose your file in a paper shuffle.

Page 3 * End of Section 3 of 3

Formal Equivalent, n. The style of translation favored by those who hold the highest view of Scripture. The philosophy of formal equivalence justly realizes the secondary place the transmission of ideas, themes, and sagas holds to the importance of direct renderings of individual words and the preservation of the original word order. Even those who attempt to render thought for thought pay due homage to formal equivalence in their renderings of metaphors in that most highly respected of books, the Song of Songs.

FORTRAN, n. See BASIC.

Free, adj. Complimentary with your purchase of an item overpriced by more than the value of the gift.

Freedom, n. One of the foundational aspects of the Christian walk. Its proper understanding is one of the pivotal themes of Galatians, a book which refutes a heresy that shocked Paul so greatly that he skipped the usual pleasantries in beginning his letter. There are two major historical interpretations, both of which (in some form or other) can claim many orthodox adherents.

The first, the libertine interpretation, states that, due to grace and forgiveness, there are really no behaviors a Christian should avoid. Hence the believer is free to participate in orgies, free to have conduct dictated by an addiction, free to touch molten iron, and so on.

The second, the Judaizing interpretation, states that grace and forgiveness make sense only if there is such a thing as sin, and have an extensive list of sins to avoid. At the same time, the essence of their teaching is freedom. Hence the believer is free (at least one day in seven) to drop an article of clothing once every few steps, free to have conduct dictated by a written code of rules, free to become castrated, and so on.

Both of these emphasize freedom as the center of their walk. There is rumored to be a third interpretation, but it does not claim enough adherents to be worth explaining.

Gadfly, n. A sage who speaks with honesty which is universally appreciated and rewarded with unequalled travel opportunities.

Gang, n. A group of armed cowards found in major cities, fighting for control of streets and drug money, and intimidating and beating up whoever they think they can get away with, beating up whoever they don’t like, and so on, as contrasted to the activities of the police department.

Garrotte, n. An early predecessor to the modern necktie.

Gay Theology, n. An abhorrent system of supposed interpretation, which serves only to excuse away the Word of God and abridge the moral requirements of the Gospel in order to permit a lifestyle which is a perversion of nature and a stench in God’s nostrils, as contrasted to the beliefs and practices of good, prosperous, normal American Christians.

Gentleman, n. A man. The term embodies a degree of respect, and reflects a particular ideal of manhood.

Perhaps best summarized in the words, “A gentleman is a gentle man,” this ideal did not hold that manhood was to be measured by the ability to carry a Gatling gun, demolish buildings, and kill people. The ideal rather had something to do with being gentle.

It is perchance because of this that the term is increasingly considered to be an archaism.

Geometry, n. [Gk. geo, earth, metros, measure] A branch of mathematics flowing out of the ancient Greeks’ desire to measure the earth. It was adopted by the medieval Scholastics as a means of preparing the mind for the study of theology; their study of geometry often found its culmination when the student crossed the Bridge of Asses. Followers in this tradition held the ancient, Euclidean development of geometry to be God’s geometry. They refused to accept as legitimate other axiomatic systems, vigorously attacking Riemannian geometry, which has axioms describing curved rather than flat surfaces.

Gerrymandering, n. In modern democracy, the fine art of manipulating certain parts (known as districts) of an ancient artifact from the days before computers, called the Electoral College. Properly done gerrymandering will increase the weight of some votes and nullify the effect of others, in order to ensure with near certainty that elections will yield the outcome desired by the incumbents.

Golf, n. A sport so named because all of the other four letter words were taken.

Goto, v. The F-bomb of programming language constructs. It has been observed, “A programmer is someone who, when told to ‘Go to Hell,’ is offended, not by the ‘Hell’, but by the ‘goto.'” See also: Pointer.

Government, n. One of several areas the subject of an insightful philosophical commentary entitled the Tao Te Ching. Composed in China by Lao Tzu in 500 BC, it paints a picture of government that is like acting; only bad acting draws attention to itself, and the best acting causes the observer to forget the fact that he is watching actors. This book is the origin of the words, “Running a big government is like frying a small fish,” popular among Republicans. (There are also statements that Democrats would like, but Democrats do not believe in reading books) A small fish is fried without being cut up or cleaned; that is to say, with a minimum of interference. Hence Republicans like to quote the words as a reason to avoid spending money on social programs and other uses that they dislike (spending ample money on programs that they do like, such as military expenditures and subsidies for environmentally destructive business, is, of course, exempt). Although this may not have been the original intent of the words, there is another significant way in which running a big government is like frying a small fish: it is very inefficient.

GIMP, n. Greatly Irritating Mystification Program. Proof that a graphical user interface can be every bit as arcane, uncontrollable, and frustrating as any text interface.

Gnosticism, n. A major Early Christian era heresy. At its root, Gnosticism contained the idea that the spiritual is good, but the physical is evil.

Perhaps the most deadly aspect of Gnostic error was the denial of Christ’s manhood. Knowing that Christ was fully divine, and believing that the physical was evil, Gnostics deduced that Christ could not possibly have been a carnal creature like you and me with real, tangible flesh. They even went so far as to declare Christ’s body to be an illusion.

Only slightly less problematic was the denial of the fact that God himself created the material word as good. The Psalms thank him for his gifts of bread, oil, and wine; the depths of the sea and the stars of the sky declare the glory of their Creator; Paul quoted the Psalms as saying, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,” encouraging believers to eat whatever was sold in the meat market without raising any question on ground of conscience. So far from believing that the material world was created by God as good, some Gnostics went so far as to state that Satan created it when God wasn’t looking; they embraced a patently false dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual. The word ‘scathing’ is perhaps an understatement in describing some of Paul’s reactions:

Now, the Spirit expressly says that in later times, some will renounce the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.

I Tim 4:1-5, NRSV

Gnostic heresy has, fortunately, been eradicated, and the church’s abstimeniousness ever since serves as an inspiration to us all.

Gospel According to Thomas, n. An ancient writing representing the full, second century development of Gnostic thought, now subject to consideration for inclusion as a canonical writing.

Grace, n. The one blessing that people strive to earn more than any other.

Grammarian, n. A person who studies the most common patterns of word order as they appear in language. After they are catalogued, the descriptions become ossified and canonical prescriptions; anyone who dare write in a manner contrary to the grammarian’s edict because such writing seems more natural or fluid is corrected, and, if impenitent, blacklisted.

Heckler (to Churchill): Mr. Churchill, you end far too many of your sentences with prepositions.

Churchill: I take all sorts of criticism in this business, but that is the sort of criticism up with which I shall not put!

Great Commission, n. A commandment of Christ taken to be central by believers who live and die in fulfillment of his words in Matthew 23:15:

All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given unto me. Go therefore, and make converts of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.

-The Up-to-date International Version

Guard, n. (1) An armed brute entrusted with the responsibility of keeping people from escaping imprisonment. (2) A complete set of rules around the insufficient set established in Scripture, given limited support in I Cor. 4:6 and Deut. 4:2. Due to the fallenness of human nature, the fact that we do not live in a perfect world, and the powerlessness of the Holy Spirit, the naive and simplistic ideas generated by God’s inferior wisdom are not enough; a guard around the law is necessary in order to prevent transgression against the moral laws. While few have managed to duplicate the exacting precision and completeness of the Pharisees’ Guard around the Law, it must be said that there are many who are carrying on their worthy tradition.

Being instated as an archangel, Satan made himself multifariously objectionable and was finally expelled from Heaven. Halfway in his descent he paused, bent his head in thought a moment and at last went back. “There is one favor I should like to ask,” said he.

“Name it.”

“Man, I understand, is about to be created. He will need laws.”

“What, wretch! you his appointed adversary, charged from the dawn of eternity with hatred of his soul—you ask for the right to make his laws?”

“Pardon; what I have to ask is that he be permitted to make them himself.”

It was so ordered.

-Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

Happiness, n. A state which is created by some wherever they go, and by others whenever they go.

Haemorrhoid, n. See Boil.

Hatred, n. The coward’s response to the unknown.

Heretic, n. One who, while appreciating the overall truth of the Christian message, is wiser than God and recognizes certain errors in orthodox theology. These errors usually occur at some point where God misinterpreted the nature of love.

Jesus summarized the Law in the commandments to love God and neighbor, and the teaching of the Apostles retained this; we are bestowed grace, the outpouring of God’s love, a love which is to transform and fill us. Love for neighbor is so important that, oftentimes, the way to love God is through obeying the commandment “Love your neighbor”; in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “If you are in the temple offering a sacrifice and remember that your brother has something against you, go, leave your sacrifice on the altar, and be reconciled with your brother.” Heretics have generally retained an understanding of the central importance of love for a neighbor, and offer a better way to do so.

It seems, as time passes, that the zeitgeist is a continual source of heresy. Of course, it is not the only one, and most major heresies have been able to claim at least a few adherents for most of time, but the spirit of the time seems to aid the most people in recognizing that the Bible is an old book, and bring Christian thought and application of the Law of Love into accordance with the most recent discoveries.

In the nineteenth century and early twentieth, the law of the jungle was understood, and lovingly applied to human affairs. In the wild, only the strong shall survive. It seems harsh, but is far more merciful than mercy. It is sad for a weakling to be killed, it is conceded, but necessary; if the weaklings survive to pass on their inferior genes, it is whole future generations which are doomed to be weakened, and experience a slow and painful death. Mercy is penny wise and pound foolish. Even when people aren’t killed, there is often something to be done to make sure that they do not infest future generations with their inferior seed; hence the involuntary sterilization of the mentally retarded. By eliminating mercy, and allowing all those who would pass genetic disease and infirmity to be preyed upon, it is possible to ensure that future generations are strong, healthy, and happy; this was believed to be the best way to apply love.

Now, even among people who believe casuistry to be the best way to adhere to moral imperatives, that misinterpretation is passe. It is recognized that people are equal and have a right to live, and that different is not necessarily evil. From this, it is deduced that being different automatically precludes the possibility of evil, and, if people are equal, then all tendencies are equally good, equally consistent with a state of health and fullness of life, equally resultant from the state of a person in good physical, mental, and spiritual health. Paul was mistaken when he, having declared redemption for sinners and a life of freedom and joy to those who submit their sinfulness to God’s grace, declared homosexual practice to be inconsonant with holy living. Past generations were wrong to burn homosexuals at the stake; we avoid their error by recognizing that homosexual practice was created by God as good, as evidenced by the words from Genesis which Jesus quoted to answer the question about divorce: “He created them male and female.”

Highway, n. A route of transit more dangerous than airplanes at the height of terrorist crises, calmly travelled by people who would never set foot inside a jet.

Hillsboro Baptist Church, n. Christianity’s biggest gift to gay advocacy yet.

Holocaust, n. One of the most revolting moments in history, when Hitler murdered six million Jews. In the midst of this horrible tragedy, we have learned lessons which will never be forgotten. We have learned to do a better job of ignoring genocide, as we have done for half a dozen other events which exceed the number of Jews Hitler destroyed, or at least use a better name, like ‘ethnic cleansing’.

Holy War, n. A war which is especially unholy.

Homo Sapiens, n. [Lat. man the knowing] The scientific name for man.

Common men seem to have no difficulty deciding, “Is that entity over there a man or a beast?”

To scientists and philosophers, though, it is not such a straightforward question. They are in pursuit of the one action which sets apart man from the beasts.

Some value technology, measuring the progress of a civilization’s culture, morality, and character by the machines it produces. Thus, the distinguishing feature between man and beast is the ability to use tools. But even some birds use twigs in order to get food.

Now, language seems to be the prime locus of attention. The distinguishing feature is the use of words, that is symbols, to communicate. But dolphins do that. So it’s really the ability to put words or symbols together in new grammatical combinations — or at least was, until it was discovered that a chimpanzee can do that, too.

This present lexicographer is unaware of any beasts which consider it necessary to spend time arguing about what it is that sets them apart from other species, let alone understand doing and being, accident and substance, well enough to confuse them.

Honest, adj. Addicted to the reprehensible habit of seeing and explaining things as they are, rather than as they ought to be. The progress of civilization and technology are rapidly advancing to the point of being able to cure this unfortunate condition.

One of the last well known sufferers of this madness was the late Ambrose Bierce, a lexicographer of singular wit and deficient sense. His appreciation for many things which hold great merit — re$ource$, the wisdom of the public nonsensus, the goodness of human nature, the American dream — was indubitably stunted by the twin vices of insight and metacognition. A few characteristic samples of his misguided ravings are here given:

Compulsion, n. The eloquence of power.

Forefinger, n. The finger commonly used in pointing out two malefactors.

Hovel, n. The fruit of a flower called the Palace.

Lock-and-key, n. The distinguishing device of civilization and enlightenment.

Mad, adj. Affected with a high degree of intellectual independence; not conforming to standards of thought, speech and action derived by the conformants of the study themselves; at odds with the majority; in short, unusual…

Palace, n. A fine and costly residence, particularly that of a great official. The residence of a high dignitary of the Christian Church is called a palace; that of the Founder of his religion was known as a field, or wayside. There is progress.

Rum, n. Generically, fiery liquors which produce madness in total abstainers.

Un-American, adj. Wicked, intolerable, heathenish.

Hospitality, n. One of many virtues lost in modern life.

Hubris, n. The attitude of one who refuses to see things my way. A popular word among relativists.

Humankind, n. Mankind, as pronounced by people who are offended at “man” ever being inclusive language.

Hymn, n. The sacred song of the Reformations, where the teachings of the priesthood of the believer and the holiness of everyday living are applied to the realm of music.

The music of the Catholic Church was and is beautiful, ancient, powerful, stately, and majestic; nobody had accused Rome of disgracing God by poor taste in music. The reason that the Reformers used different music was as an application of another part of their theology.

The Reformers held to the priesthood of the believer; they believed that a farmer as well as a missionary can and should draw close to God. To this end they translated the Scriptures into the common tongue, to reach people where they were. They also held belief in the sanctity of everyday living; prayer and study of the Scriptures are the sacred privilege and duty of the believer, but the believer also gives glory to God by eating and drinking, working and playing. Pulling these thoughts together, they used popular tunes as the medium to carry teaching in verse. Although the songs lacked any complexity — the musical equivalent of flat soda — and cannot honestly be described as embodying good musical taste, even those songs were taken and transformed. The Roman Church had slowly fallen into the error of making Christianity something far off, boring and unintelligible sermons and odd songs with prayers and incantations in a dead language, elite and aloof from the way that common people live; the Reformers wished to cleanse the Church of this error. The Holy Scriptures, formerly available only in the Latin of the Vulgate Versio, were now rendered in the vulgar tongue, and people began to sing of Christ’s love to the tune of popular drinking songs — all to reach out, and place the Gospel message before people, meeting them where they are.

This beautiful thought has not been forgotten; cherished hymns sung by the Reformers have been passed down from generation to generation, and used to keep Christian youth from becoming entangled in the Devil’s music.

IBM, n. I’ve Been Mugged. A mismanaged behemoth which has designed and engineered the line of computers which has been the industry standard in personal computing for decades. Everybody has a skeleton hidden in a closet somewhere.

Icon, n. An idol in competition with the true Christian’s devotion to the Bible.

Idealistic, adj. 1: [philosophical usage] Holding the belief that there exist minds, sensations, and thought processes within those minds, but not an external material world to which sensations correspond. 2: [common usage] A patronizing and condescending term used in reference to a person who holds unswervingly to the only moral standards there are, implicitly declaring those beliefs to be as disconnected with reality as those of a person who is idealistic in the first sense.

What the word says is that such uncompromising faithfulness to the call of conscience is not to be praised (at least not beyond half-insults of “He means well.” and “His heart is in the right place.”) but, rather, gently patted on the head and politely dismissed. What the term means is that the speaker, whose own compromised conduct has been brought to light by that of person referred to, and suddenly looks very shabby — indeed, all the worse for its whitewash coat of noble-sounding words about how “We do not live in a perfect world.” and so on and so forth — is not only justified in compromise and lowering of standards, but actually doing a better job than someone who does not compromise: the speaker is more truly on the mark, and the idealistic one has the most praiseworthy intentions but misses the goal in an excess of misguided zeal. To top it all off, the word is not recognized as a pungent insult such as ‘asinine’ or ‘idiotic’, but pleasantly accepted as a simple statement of the way things are.

See also: Admirable, Values.

Idiot box, n. An ingenious device which stimulates the senses and bypasses sense.

Ignore, v. To imitate American Christianity’s treatment of the Biblical teachings on wealth.

Illustration, n. In childrens’ Bibles, an iconoclast’s depiction of important Bible characters and stories. The difference between an illustration and an icon is that the illustration is not venerated, and with good reason. Illustrations recall characteristic moments from important stories by representing the characters involved. By so doing, they teach many important truths, the first and foremost of which is that Jesus was white.

Incoherent, adj. Lacking internal consistency; muddled and confused. An account is said to be incoherent if no sane person could hope to make sense of it. Incoherence dates back to the result of the attempt to build the Tower of Babel, as recorded in the book of Genesis:

And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”

And there was Kuhn.

-The New Revised Nonstandard Version

Incompetent, adj. Very well paid.

Those who can — do.

Those who can’t do — teach.

Those who can’t teach — administrate.

Those who can’t administrate — do it anyway.

-Author(s) unknown.

Incongruity, n. The basis for modern life.

Indescribable, adj. About to be given a very poor description.

Indicator, n. A kind of marker which, when measured or examined by a competent observer, will reveal more macroscopic information about a system. In ecology, certain species are very sensitive to environmental conditions; thus their population serves as a good indicator of the health of an ecosystem — such as red algae.

In the early days of aerial warfare, engineers understood and appreciated the delicate balance between armor and agility. They devised airplanes as best they could, and then observed the results of combat in order to make a more effective machine.

In order to accomplish this, they had a life sized picture of an airplane. Every time an airplane came back from combat, they would place a dot on the picture corresponding to each bullet hole. By so doing, they hoped to discern exactly where the most damage was sustained, and thus intelligently place armor as effectively as possible.

It was eventually noted that there were no dots over the fuel tank.

Inefficient, adj. Resembling the methods and practices currently in use.

Infallible, adj. Not subject to doctrinal error. It is believed by Catholics that the Pope is infallible, which is absurd; no single man is infallible except for me.

Infest, v. For something foreign to enter an organism and cause it to rot. For example, meditation, a practice of Eastern religions, has been carried to the west in the degenerate form of New Age. The abhorrent activity is beginning to infest nearly all facets of Christianity, and is rumored to penetrate even the purity of the Early Christians.

Inflammable, adj. Flammable.

Inhuman, adj. Acting without a shred of human decency; demonic; resembling the soldiers (and civilians) we are destroying in the current war.

Inn, n. In former times, a precursor to the modern hotel.

Once upon a time, a wayfarer came upon an in bearing a sign, “Inn of Saint George and Ye Dragon.” He knocked upon the door, and the matron came out.

“Pray have mercy on a poor and weary traveller beset by bandits. I’ve got no silver, but I can sing or tell a tale.”

“I care not about the woes of a filthy ragamuffin. Begone.” With these words, she threw a rotten apple at him, slamming shut the door.

He began to walk away, paused in thought, and at last returned, once again lifting the heavy knocker.

“What?”

“May I please speak with Saint George?”

-Reader’s Digest

Innumerate, adj. Lacking in basic mathematical (number) skills, just as ‘illiterate’ refers to someone lacking basic reading (letter) skills. The latter is recognized as a severe handicap and fought accordingly; the former is accepted because thinking hurts. There are three types of people in America: those who remember rudimentary mathematical skills, and those who have forgotten them.

In Parentis Loco, n. See Loco.

Inquisition, n. A systematic attempt to remove heretics by executing heresy.

Insomniac, n. One most prepared to appreciate the most prominent quality of the Lord of the Rings.

Institutionalized Food Service, n. A special case in which the law of gravity is reversed: what goes down must come up.

Intel, n. The company that put the ‘backwards’ into ‘backwards compatibility.’

International Law, n. Law that is violated in multiple countries instead of just one.

Intimidation, n. In American diplomatic theory, the basis for cultural sensitivity and achievement of understanding.

Wesley (to gatekeeper): “Where is the gate key?”

Gatekeeper: “There is no gate key.”

Wesley (to Fezzik): “Fezzik, tear his arms off.”

Gatekeeper: “Oh, you mean this gate key.”

-The Princess Bride

Intuition, n. A means of thought thought to be proven useless by logical people because it has not been rigorously proven according to logical methods.

Journalist, n. One engaged in the pursuit and obscurement of important facts.

Jury, n. A group of peers selected to render judgment, on a basis of inability to identify with any of the involved parties.

Kinder and Gentler, adj. Crueler and harsher.

It is obviously evil to beat or molest a child. What is less obvious, an ever so sweetly disguides sadism, consists in a manner of parenting that is always pleasant and rosy.

The basis for parenting is love, and a child is not a punching bag to scream at or hit after a bad day. It is wrong to strike a child in anger, and a spanking can only be right if it is more painful to the parent than the child.

That being true, a parent who is loving and wise must chastise and administer painful discipline as a tool of correction. He who fails to do this raises a child who is spoiled.

This child will not understand consequence on anything more than an immediate physical level; he will not burn himself by placing his hand on a hot stove only because his parents lack the power to make the action painless. In all other areas — conduct towards other people, thievery, promiscuity — he will do whatever seems most attractive at the moment. The belief that some things are worth a wait, or the idea of action bearing consequence, especially a delayed consequence that does not come by physical mechanism, is a foreign concept. And so, when the child could be entering into life, he is instead trapped in the abyss of self.

This present lexicographer wonders how long it will be until those under the ‘kinder and gentler’ mindset will be told to go to Hell — not by man, but by God.

Klu Klux Klan, n. See Klueless Klux Klan.

Koinonia, n. The life in community and fellowship shared by believers. The Early Christians lived in a world where people identified and separated themselves by race, social class, and gender; the Church astonished the world by showing Jews and Greeks, masters and slaves, males and females, who not only did not exhibit the same tensions, but were all one, together, equal, in Christ Jesus. Today in our nation Christians gather at 10:00 AM, the most segregated hour of the week.

Kneejerk Liberalism, n. Liberalism’s strand of a thread which runs through nearly all parts of society. Kneejerk liberalism is largely responsible for the “Stop nuclear power in order to save the environment.” and the “Shut up in the name of open-mindedness and free speech!” movement, among others. Kneejerk conservatism, not terribly different, encompasses most Rush Limbaugh listeners.

Of course, kneejerk movements are not limited to the political sphere. Also to be mentioned is a kneejerk following of science, which believes science to have displaced God and the appropriateness of religious faith, kneejerk openmindedness, which attacks Christian thought and any other intellectual edifice which is built on a foundation unlike its own foundation of relativism (which turns out to span most of human thought over most of time), and kneejerk spirituality, also known as New Age.

Idiot, n. A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The idiot’s activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action, but “pervades and regulates the whole.”…

-Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

Knock, v. (1) To strike a light blow which does no damage against a door or other massive object, in the hope that it will open. (2) [colloq.] To strike a light blow which does no damage against a ridiculous law or other massive object, in the hope of opening and illuminating information which is not plainly seen. In this sense, the word is almost always used pejoratively.

Know-Nothing, n. A member of an extinct political party formerly of great influence in American public life.

Labor-Saving Device, n. Any one of a number of inventions which is common among people who are busy, and scarce among people who have leisure.

Landfill, n. A storage device used in the preservation of biodegradable materials.

Lazer, n. Light Amplified by Stimulated Electromagnetic Radiation.

Lehi, n. A battle between Samson and the Philistines, when a multitude was slain by the jawbone of an ass. Its pivotal importance is recognized, so that there have been many historical re-enactments worldwide.

Lent, n. A special time of year set aside for solemn prayer and fasting. It is customary to use this time to contemplate Paul’s words about special days and seasons.

Liberal, adj. and n. A scholar desiring to correct the tendency of conservatism and tradition to slowly and imperceptibly tarnish and distort that which they attempt to preserve. The liberal scholar studies the ancient origins in their original form, and then attempts to remedy the situation by offering fresh, new heresies.

Lifeboat Ethics, n. One of many fine-sounding and respected excuses for a lack of ethics.

Lifestyle, n. That mode of preaching which espouses an alternative set of doctrines.

Like, tic. In Valspeak, a continual reminder of “Look, I’m Klueless, Et cetera.”

Light Bulb, n. An invention which permits electricity to travel through a tiny filament. The filament puts up tremendous resistance to this, using the energy to generate approximately 5% light and 95% heat. Herein lies the Western precept of illumination.

Liquor Law, n. A form of regulation found in the places most plagued by alcoholism, teaching children to regard drinking as an adult activity (the ability to drink friends under the table being the true test of maturity), and, in some states, prohibiting parents from training children in the temperate and controlled use of liquors.

Literate, adj. Innumerate.

Lottery, n. See Poverty Tax, Gullibility Tax.

Love, n. A technical detail of secondary importance to the basis of morality, the Ten Commandments.

Lutheran, n. Pertaining to a denomination in the tradition of Martin Luther, a man who avoided the error of the church in Laodicaea, accused in Revelation of being neither hot nor cold, by being both hot and cold. Luther made many adamant statements, among them an insistance of, “Do not ever name a denomination after me.”

Luxury, n. A rare pleasure availiable only to a privileged few, such as being able to walk. It is important to distinguish luxuries from necessities, such as driving a car.

MacCuisinart, n. The ultimate word processor, doing to words what food processors do to foods.

Machiavellian Politics, n. Politics.

Macintosh, n. (1) An apple distinguished for its sweetness, colorful lustre, and lack of meat. (2) A computer, with a name perhaps chosen for the acronym “Mouse Activated Computer”, sporting software designed around the central parameter of requiring the user to do nothing sufficiently complicated to confuse a mouse. A striking example of the essential identity of agriculture and computer science.

Majority Text, n. The most accurate Greek New Testament text. While it was the accepted text for over a millenium, there have been since discovered some other texts. These inferior texts reflect considerable modification and transmission errors, and sometimes have entire verses missing; they have hindered the work of translators for over a century.

Marxism, n. A system of thought named after Karl Marx, who said, “Religion is the opium of the people,”, and, coincidentally, lived before the invention of television.

Mary, n. A woman’s name very common in New Testament times. It would have been entirely credible to meet three women standing together, and find that all three of them are named Mary.

Most commonly, ‘Mary’ refers to the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is fortunate that all believers agree that she was a person of exceptional holiness, and that, as a virgin, she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit to become the mother of Jesus. Beyond that, there is considerable discrepancy, over issues such as whether she retained perpetual virginity, and to what extent it is appropriate to venerate her.

Protestants, holding to Sola Scriptura, note that there is relatively little mention of Mary in the Scriptures. They deny her perpetual virginity, and regard veneration of her as idolatrous, taking their position from Luke 1:30-31, and 42-45, particularly verse 42.

Catholic and Orthodox believers, who hold to both the authority of Scripture and Tradition, point primarily to Tradition. They venerate Mary and hold the doctrine of her perpetual virginity, and so on, in order to offend Protestants, as they have spitefully done since the Council of Milan in 391. They also refer to Mary as the Blessed Virgin or Theotokos, and occasionally quote verses such as Matt. 1:25, 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35, and Luke 8:19-21.

In a sense, both sides of the controversy have important concerns. Protestant believers fear that an overly strong Mariology will detract from a proper Christology, taking away its central glory, whereas Catholic and Orthodox Christians feel that an overly weak Mariology will detract from a proper Christology, taking away its central glory. If they both stated those concerns first, the debate, over whether to have a strong Christology or a strong Christology, would indubitably become far more intense and generate more light than heat.

As things stand, though, it is fortunate that all agree to the emphatic teaching, whether derived from Scripture alone or both from Scripture and Tradition, stated in Rom. 14:5-6, 15:7, and I Cor. 1:10-17.

Mascot, n. An animal chosen to symbolize or represent a team or entity, thought to embody those qualities that it values most. A political cartoon depicted the Democratic party as an ass, a representation which was meant as an insult, but was happily accepted. The Republican party, feeling jealousy at not having a mascot, selected as its mascot the elephant, the one remaining member of an otherwise extinct family. The other members, such as mammoths and mastodons, were big, slow, and died because they could not adapt to their environment.

Maze, n. A puzzle and test of human intelligence. It consists of an intricate system of walls, the objective being to move from the entrance to the exit. It is commonly represented on paper, as if viewed from above. Most people can solve such a puzzle quite well. If actually inside the puzzle, such as the hedge mazes sometimes found at wealthy mansions, human performance is poorer, but still comparable to that of the average rat.

Memorization, n. A filing system used by those who are too lazy to look details up.

Memory, n. A faculty that, in our culture,

Metacognition, n. That mode of thought which, among other things, permits men to think about and apply to others that which they have carefully reasoned and applied to themselves. The results of its affliction are seen in the following Biercian definition:

Christian, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor.

This vice is one of the most deadly forms of thought. It sometimes stops people from being at ease with themselves, and causes them to raise questions. It was with great discernment that the Catholic (and, shortly after breaking away, Protestant) church saw the need for Scriptural interpretation handled exclusively by the Church and not by the individual believer. Private interpretation brings with it some very real dangers. The prime of these dangers is the possibility (however remote) that a private reader may read some troublesome portion of Scripture — perhaps the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps the book of Galatians — and fall into the trap of thinking (and acting as if) they mean what they say they mean, and getting it right.

This concern, of course, is not exclusively a plague to theology. It endangers other modes of thought, even philosophy. Some might begin to question relativism or believe that there might be morals which do not really depend on perspective. Postmodernism is the great white light by which we have been able to see, progressing far beyond the benighted folly of those who lived before us and properly reshaping history so that it appears in its true nonform; there are some who even dare to suggest that it may have internal problems as bad as those of Logical Positivism.

The vice is, fortunately, a very rare one. Most people accept as infallible the nonsensus of popular opinion, or at least believe that they are not intelligent or wise enough to question it, and succeed in protecting the few areas that thought uninvitedly intrudes with an SEP field.

Micro$oft, n. The company which has produced a flight simulator which is the industry standard for testing the robustness of PC emulators. Its products are phenomenal to the extent that they are, in advertisement, something which people swear by, and, in practice, something which people swear at.

Minimalism, n. An aesthetic which avoids cluttered design by keeping detail and beauty to a minimum.

MIPS, n. Meaningless Indicator of Processor Speed. The expression was originally thought to mean Millions of Instructions Per Second, until Sega produced a video game system with a substantially higher MIPS rating than a Cray supercomputer. There are other numerical ratings thought to be of equal accuracy, but the discreet lexicographer does not name them.

Misnomer, v. An inaccurate expression, inappropriately used to refer to something which it does not describe. Ex: ‘Catholic’, ‘Orthodox’, ‘Protestant’.

Mock, v. To render the highest form of compliment due the bulk of modern philosophy.

Moderation, n. One of the four cardinal virtues of classical antiquity. In modern times, it is held in light esteem; most people wish to replace it with either the virtue of Abstention, or the virtue of Excess.

Modern Art, n. A French expression meaning ‘Art Nouveau.’

Money, n. A blessing which is appreciated and generously given in proportion to the amount possessed — inverse proportion.

Monopoly, n. A classic bored game, commonly pronounced ‘Monotony’.

Monroe Doctrine, n. A bold stance from early American history. Even in its infancy, the young democracy was asserting itself with the strength and leadership which would eventually lead to its role as the world policeman.

Monty Python, n. An anti-intellectual form of comedy which is extremely popular among intellectuals.

Moon, n. A celestial body which, after long training and observation, people learn not to see during the day.

Moral, n. That for which the unenlightened take mores, and which the ever so different enlightened take for mores.

Moral Majority, n. Neither.

Morning, n. A time of day as joyous as its homonym.

Motor Oil, n. The preferred cooking oil of institutional food services everywhere.

Motorcycle Lane, n. A shortcut to the wages of sin.

MS-DOS, n. A major medical breakthrough of the 19th century, providing modern medicine with what many doctors still consider to be the most effective known treatment for hypotension.

MtG, n. Magic, the Gathering. A commercial gaming product (legal, de$pite a level of addictivene$$ by which it mu$t be $aid that $moking i$ a comparatively ea$y habit to break) of $ufficiently fiendi$h cleverne$$ to make T$R executive$ cur$e in awe.

MTV, n. As stated by the Russian author Solzeneitsyn, “the liquid manure of Western culture.”

Multiculturalism, n. A deity offered much worship and veneration. Of all the gods of the current pantheon — Mammon, Technology, Postmodernism, Psychology — perhaps the one whom one is most persecuted for failing to bow down and worship.

Multilingual, adj. Proficient in the use of multiple languages. In certain parts of Africa, it is not unusual for a person to speak five or six languages; worldwide, the average is somewhat lower, but most places still appreciate the importance of being able to use a language other than the native tongue. A person who can speak three languages is trilingual; a person who can speak two languages is bilingual; a person who can speak but one language is American.

Mushroom, n. and v. (1) A fungus which is kept in the dark and fed an ample supply of manure. (2) To grow and expand beyond all proportion. A striking example of how much administration is able to requisition to its own purposes.

Narrow-Minded Bigot, n. Someone who is white, is male, is Christian, appreciates the heritage of Western Europe, and/or holds and speaks beliefs which cannot properly be expressed in a slightly late implementation of George Orwell’s Newspeak.

Nation, n. A country or people. In Old Testament times, the nation favored by God was Israel; now that Christ has come, the nation is America. Isaiah’s Messianic prophesies clearly predict America as Christ’s chosen nation:

Of the increase of the Federal Government there shall be no end.

-The Unauthorized Version

Natural Selection, n. The proposed mechanism, according to Darwin’s account, of evolutionary change. It states that organisms which are better suited to their environment survive and pass on their traits, whereas more poorly suited organisms do not. Its capital defect is its total failure to provide any explanation for the continued survival of Incomestibilis spammus.

NBC, n. National Broadcasting Company. One of several similar television companies, all of which vastly exceed most of public broadcasting stations in airing programming which is stimulating and edifying. Appreciation for how often such services should be used is believed to have inspired a military acronym referring to nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

Necessity, n. The mother of invention. Profit is the father.

New World Order, n. See New World Disorder.

New Year’s Day, n. In the Christian calendar based on the year of our Lord, a holiday occurring six days after Christmas.

NIV, n. Now Indispensible Version. This translation is one of the best modern English translations of the Holy Scriptures. It has achieved a wonderful balance between word for word and thought for thought, and rightly become immensely popular and widely used. All Scripture is God-breathed, and the scholars creating this translation started from scratch to give what has turned out to be, in many cases, excellent renditions of the original meanings. The donors and administrators over the scholars were sufficiently wise to avoid the temptation of telling the scholars to set aside professional judgment in favor of what they thought a Bible should and shouldn’t be. See also: Bowlderize.

Non-Alcoholic Beer, n. Beer that has been watered down until it can legally be sold as a non-alcoholic beverage.

Non Sequitur, n. Therefore, Al is a pud.

Normal, adj. What you think other people are like.

NOW, n. National Organization of Women. An organization which fought tooth and nail to ensure that women as well as men are permitted to serve in the military, but has not lifted a finger to see that women are subject to selective service.

NPC, adj. Not Politically Correct. Correct.

NRA, n. National Rifle Association. That group which is working vigorously to defend our constitutional “right to keep and bear firearms”, while recognizing the datedness of the words, “as part of a well-regulated militia.”

NRSV, n. Not Really Sure Version. The culmination of many reworked and revised translations tracing back to the King James, this translation holds several singular virtues. With the knowledge that it might be used for liturgical and other reading, the translators tried to produce a rendition with smooth assonance. Yet they knew that there is something even more important than natural sounding English. Unlike practically all other translations, this translation admirably avoids, at all costs, introducing gender bias which was not present in the original languages. For example, words in Revelation 2:23, where Christ is speaking to the angel of the church in Thyatira, is generally rendered something like “I am he [sic] who searches hearts and minds.”; it is instead rendered “I am the one who searches hearts and minds.” This avoids the possibility that Christ might be offended to hear a more sexist rendering of her words.

NSA, n. National Security Agency. The government agency responsible for ensuring that nationally used encryption algorithms are insecure.

Nuclear Power, n. A means of using nuclear rather than chemical reactions to generate electricity, which is orders of magnitude more efficient. A nuclear plant’s waste is contained in a bushel sized encasement rather than emitted ton upon ton upon ton by billowing smokestacks. It is, pound for pound, worse than any other known residue, but minute in amount, well-contained and easy to deal with; a coal burning plant incidentally generates higher levels of radioactive waste, which are not considered worth paying attention to in the shadow of the damage done through carbon dioxide, soot, and so on. The one weakness of nuclear power is expense; it costs more per kilowatt-hour than any other widely used method of generating electricity. Nuclear power is staunchly supported by most conservatives and adamantly opposed by most environmentalists.

Nude, adj. Ahead of fashion trends.

Number, n. The most common mathematical entity used to lend buoyancy to an insubstantial argument, and strike awe and gullibility into the hearts of people who lack a rudimentary understanding of mathematics. Research has shown that 73.2% of all statistics represent poorly gathered or inaccurate original data, 87.9% of all statistics are substantially manipulated and distorted in the form in which they are finally presented, and 99.5% of the remaining statistics are made up on the spot.

NutWare, n. A secure networked operating system which usually requires the proper password before granting supervisor privileges.

Oath, n. A solemn and officially recognized declaration of one’s lack of trustworthiness.

Obfuscation, n. A quality which is generally added to bolster Christianity’s natural weaknesses.

Obvious, adj. Considered to be unworthy of attention; unnoted.

“It is the first duty of intellectuals to state the obvious.”

-George Orwell

Official Endorsement, n. A highly effective means of destroying a religion when intense persecution has failed.

Oleoresin Capiscum, n. See Non-Alcoholic Firebreather.

One Size Fits All, adj. See One Size Fits None.

Open-Minded, adj. Ready to vigorously attack anyone who seriously challenges an orthodoxy of academic freedom in all areas.

Optimize, v. To produce alterations to a section of code which will decrease runtime and resource consumption without interfering with its utility.

Audience member (to speaker): “Is there a Unix FORTRAN optimizer?”

Speaker: “Yes. ‘rm *.f'”

Opulence, n. The quintessence of the lifestyle of many spiritually impoverished people who have sealed their ears to Biblical teachings about wealth. The most prominent and definitive feature of American Christianity.

Organ Donor Card, n. The flipside of a driver’s license.

Ossification, n. The universal result of administrative attempts to preserve an organization’s strength and vitality.

Painkiller, n. A drug which kills the ability to deal with pain, taken as a symbol of American culture.

Pangloss, n. In Voltaire’s novel Candide, a teacher expounding the most pessimistic and cynical of known doctrines.

Parliament, n. [Fr. parler, to talk] A form of legislature which attempts to resolve hot issues by the exchange of hot air. American government has branches with names other than ‘parliament’, apparently for the same reason that some states have names such as ‘The People’s Republic of China’.

Pascal, n. A handholding pseudolanguage whose students have insisted on dragging into the real world to abuse as a language.

Pax, n. [Lat.] Peace. This word is occasionally used to refer to specific cases of peace, such as the Pax Romana and the Pax Americana. It also has meaning within a religious context, in reference to the kiss of peace.

The language used in the New Testament in reference to the believers is not one of separated people who happen to share beliefs, maintaining a curtain of isolation and afraid to come near each other; it is instead a family. The picture painted is one of an intimate community; language that referred to the believers as brothers and sisters was used in Scripture, and repeated in the words and lifestyles of the Early Christians.

In this sense, it is not at all surprising that the Apostles wrote their letters to the churches, and, along the practical instructions usually included towards the end, included personal greetings, by name, and commanded a warm embrace. “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” “Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus.” “Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.” “Greet those who love us in the faith.” “Greet all your leaders and all God’s people.” “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” “Greet the friends by name.”

The kiss of peace began to be formalized as a part of the liturgy. The Scriptures certainly do not forbid a greeting within such a context, but the kiss of peace is never mentioned in connection with any ceremony. As centuries passed, it somehow seemed not to occur too much outside of the ceremony. After a few centuries, in order to avoid impropriety, the practice was modified so that only men were permitted to greet men, an only women were permitted to greet women. But that still involved touching, and so there appeared a most interesting invention: an object called the Pax.

The Pax was a small pendant or amulet, worn for the sake of services. It was held out to be kissed.

And so, the troublesome command to “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” was thus dealt with, in an ingenious manner which obviated any occasion for people to touch each other.

It is fortunate that this manner of dealing with the wisdom laid out in Scripture has not occured anywhere else.

PC, adj. Politically Correct. Political Correctness is avoidance of certain words judged to embody closedmindedness and prejudice (and ostracism of anyone who does). For example, ‘m-nk-nd’ is deemed an inappropriate word to use to refer to all members of Homo sapiens, because the word ‘m-n’ (which originally did not specify gender) has come to sometimes mean a perbeing who is specifically male. Thus, the only reason anyone would say ‘m-nk-nd’ is out of spite towards every womyn. Political Correctness is a wonderful thing; many people have it to be an excellent substitute for actually removing prejudice.

PC-USA, n. Politically Correct, USA. A church in which there is neither heterosexuality nor homosexuality, monotheism nor polytheism, orthodoxy nor heresy.

Peace through Strength, n. Establishing peace, according to your own terms, by ensuring that your nation has superior military powers to those of its neighbors. With the advent of nuclear weaponry, peace through strength has taken a new step forward and now also bears the title of mutually assured destruction.

Paradoxically, this is actually not as absurd as it initially sounds. It works remarkably well due to an essential unity of spirit among the nations. Peace is desirable. That is the almost unequivocal consensus. Military strength is the best way to achieve this — again, the nations’ consensus.

Thus each nation attempts to establish a military that is a safe margin greater than the forces of its neighbors. This helps prepare for the resolution of any misunderstandings that might arise. In addition, the resulting friendly competition does wonders for the economy, especially on the poorer end.

Pejorative, adj. Embodying a low opinion; said of words. ‘Pigheaded’, as contrasted to ‘resolute’. The word ‘dog’, when used in reference to human beings, is an extremely pejorative term, embodying more contempt than most obscenities. It is in this sense that the word was used by Moses in reference to male shrine prostitutes, and by Paul, in reference to men who took it upon themselves to supplement the ordering force of the Holy Spirit with additional rules.

Penitentiary, n. An academy whose expenses are paid by state scholarships, improving select pupils’ skills in the clandestine arts and reinforcing their impenitence.

Pentacostalism, n. A movement which remembers and believes in the gifts of the Spirit as described in the New Testament, while demonstrating a remarkable forgetfulness for New Testament instructions as to how those gifts are to be used.

People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, n. One for four.

Perception, n. That by which we see (and hear, feel, smell, taste) a combination of the world around us and what we expect to see. Most people, of course, believe that we only observe the former, and this is very useful for practical jokes.

…it is necessary to pay close attention to the most minute detail.

-Inspector Clouseau

Perfect World, n. A hypothetical situation vastly removed from the reality we live in. For the past 1700 years, it has been fashionable to assume that the inhabitants of a perfect world are the only (hypothetical) people to whom the Sermon on the Mount is addressed.

Pesticide, n. A chemical agent used to increase the population of pests by making them immune to poison and by destroying their natural predators.

Peter Principle, n. A piercing insight into the function of American business.

The Peter Principle states, in essence, that individuals in an organization will rise to their level of incompetence. That is to say, a person who demonstrates competence in one field will be “promoted”. A promotion consists of an increase in pay, and hours of time expected to complete responsibilities, combined with a shifting of responsibilities to another field requiring a different skill and talent. This philosophy of promotion holds that the various functions within an organization — which may be likened to parts of a body — are to be ranked and ordered, so that when one part excels at being itself, it is considered to be evidently good at being the next part up. A bicep muscle which proves its strength and stamina is surgically removed from the upper arm and reattached to the end of the wrist and expected to grasp and do fine manipulation; a nose which keenly picks up faint odors is transplanted to the eye socket and expected to see. Thus, the more competent an individual demonstrates himself in handling one set of responsibilities, the more likely he will be to be reassigned to another field where he is incompetent. See also: Incompetent, Promotion.

Pharisee, n. A member of an extinct religious sect frequently mentioned in Scripture. Most churches have recognized the importance of presenting the whole of the Gospel in modern and accessible terms rather than those obscure and ancient. They thus mention Pharisees and what Christ said to them far less frequently than they hold seminars on how to use technicalities and loopholes to minimize the financial inconvenience caused by income tax.

Philosopher, n. [Gk. philos, love, sophia, wisdom] A man who loves wisdom and truth. The philosopher pursues these matters with all of his mind, striving to be united to truth, to know her most intimately and completely, and, like a jealous husband, does his best to prevent others from doing the same.

Phonetically, adj. A word which isn’t spelled that way.

Photobiodegradable Plastic, n. Photobiodisintegrable plastic.

This substance consists of an ordinary plastic film mixed with a small fraction of biodegradable material such that, given time and sunlight, it will disintegrate into innumerable microscopic particles. The particles are then engulfed by microbes, causing them to die in a way that a nonbiodegradable film could not come close to.

The substance is made to be environmentally friendly.

Physics envy discipline, n. Any academic discipline in which one is oriented, in the plagiarized first sentence on the first page of a textbook, to say that practitioners ‘are scientists, and they are just as much scientists as people in the [open scare quote] “hard sciences” [close scare quote] like physics.

Examples include, for instance, psychology which perpetually pines for a “Newton” who would “lead them into the promised land” of being a full-fledged science, a pining in blatant unseen contradiction to the claim to have already reached the promised land as fully as physics.

This claim is in particular strange as Newton helped found and frame a de-anthropomorphized way of understanding inanimate objects, and the idea of seeking a de-anthropomorphized understanding of ανθροπος (anthropos, meaning man in the broadest sense) is beyond strange: but the strength of the impulse may be seen in the “where do we go from here?” school of behaviorism, a school in which we emit behaviors but have confused minds if we believe that we have minds at all, even if we have confused minds if we believe we have confused minds.

Pipe, n. A feature of UNIX, enabling the output of one process to be the input of another. Purgamentum init, purgamentum exit.

Pocohontas, n. G-rated porn.

Poison, n. An elemental or chemical agent which, when introduced to an organism by contact, inhalation, or ingestion, induces reactions which are harmful or lethal. Poison has historically been associated with assassins, an extremely dishonorable lot which refuses to rely exclusively on firearms to commit murder as civilized men do. There are many known poisons. Most of the heavier elements, such as lead, mercury, selenium, administratium, and so on, are poisonous. The biological world has produced hosts of organic poisons; industry observed this, and realized that it might be able to gain substantial profits by providing assassins with a superior variety of products. This prospect was successful beyond all expectation, and now provides millions of jobs, forming a stable and respected pillar of the economy. Realizing that openly advertising products for use in assassinations could be a potential legal liability, poisons are effectively concealed behind a front that markets them as fertilizers, fuels, cleaning agents…

Political Correctness, n. See Newspeak.

Pop Psychology, n. Nonsense.

Pope, n. (1) The bishop upon the See of Rome. In the Apostolic Succession, the Pope carries the torch handed down from Peter, the rock upon whom Christ built his Church. He acts as the capstone of the College of Bishops and his infallibility is established in Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, ii.11, and affirmed by Tradition. (2) As used in several early English translations of the Bible, designed to avoid the Catholic Church’s monstrous tendency to hide or distort Scripture to suit its purposes, an alternative rendering of a word frequently translated ‘Antichrist’.

Popular Taste, n. See Popular Distaste.

Postmodernism, n. The cadaver left over after philosophy has committed suicide.

Pride, n. A substance whose foul and bitter taste we do not fully realize until we have swallowed it.

Priest, n. A man of special sanctity, imbued with the authority to serve as an intermediary between man and God.

The priestly office is very clearly outlined in the Old Testament, the priests uniquely holding the authority to offer sacrifices, to enter into holy places, and to consume sacred foods. The highest priest, once each year, was permitted through the blood of a sacrificial victim to enter into the most sacred of places, the Holy of Holies.

The New Testament speaks also of priesthood. The Old Testament sacrifices were a shadow anticipating the things to come, for Christianity is to know priestly office in its fullest. Christ is the ultimate priest, having a priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, both priest and victim, who offered the one perfect sacrifice for all time. By the most precious blood he entered into the Holy of Holies, and has not merely permitted but called all believers in him to enter with him to the Holy of Holies also. He calls all believers, offering to them the most sacred of sacred foods. And, in the greatest mystery of priestly mysteries, orthodox Christianity sets aside some believers set aside as especially holy to hold the authority to act as priests, performing duties and rites not permitted to the laity.

Priority, n. An objective which is taken to be of prime importance. A person or nation’s priorities can be very revealing.

We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.

-General Omar Bradley

Professor, n. In the modern academic world, a researcher whose performance is evaluated primarily on a basis of the amount of unnecessary articles he publishes.

Progress, n. Noted advancement in one area combined with unnoted retrogression in many others.

Promotion, n. A financial incentive offered by corporate mismanagement to an employee who has demonstrated competence in one set of responsibilities to assume another, in the hope of finding a field of incompetence.

Prophet, n. An unauthorized preacher whose message is offensive to the guardians of orthodoxy. See also: Martyr

Prostitute, n. A wretched woman created to help us appreciate the security of our own spiritual position. See also: Pharisee

Protest, n. A check on abuse of power emphatically protected in the Bill of Rights, granting freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble. The people who established these most pre-eminent and vital of amendments to the United States Constitution realized that corrupt regimes shield themselves from correction and reform by making speaking out against the government a punishable offense. Thus one of the Founding Fathers declared the importance of freedom of speech in the words, “I disagree with what you say, sir, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.” Today the torch is honorably carried by the Democratic Party and the American Civil Liberties Union, who vigorously defend the rights to freedom of speech and peaceable assembly, provided that they are not exercised in a manner that involves protesting an abortion clinic.

Protestant, adj. and n. A believer who is not Catholic or Orthodox. Unlike the other two, Protestants do not have a continuous line from the beginning. Rather, they broke off (sometimes voluntarily, sometimes involuntarily) from the Catholic Church, believing that the adherence to Tradition was inappropriately obscuring Scriptural teaching, such as James’s doctrine of salvation by faith and faith alone. They held to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, meaning that they would not take Tradition as a basis for doctrine, but instead only use the Scriptures which supported their views. Today, still holding strongly to Sola Scriptura and other important traditions, they have seminaries (attendance to which is requisite to clerical positions) which teach the faith from extensive creeds and confessions, designed to remove the confusing task of directly interpreting the Scriptures.

Puppetry, n. A form of art appreciated in most of the world. It is shunned in America, and relegated to children. Only a child would have the imagination to succeed in believing that a couple of pieces of cloth are characters woven into a story. Mature adults do not watch puppet shows, but rather respect and demand movies with exquisite lighting, sets, acting, and special effects; oftentimes, they are so well done that they are difficult to distinguish from real life. This, also, explains the complexity, sophistication, subtlety, and depth to be found in plots.

Puppy, n. A warm and soft animal handled and enjoyed by people who are afraid to touch each other.

For an infant, touch is every bit as important a need as food and protection from the elements, if not moreso. A baby deprived of touch will, quite literally, wither and die.

If a puppy is taken into some place with a lot of people, there will be a shower of people wanting to pet it. Part of this is due to how cute it is, and it must be said that there is nothing which feels quite like a puppy’s fur. At the same time, there is another factor also at play.

Handling a puppy, purring cat, guinea pig, or some other agreeable furball, is one of a few situations where social mores are actually willing to interpret an innocent touch as an innocent touch. There are allowances made for exceptional circumstances, such as moments of great sorrow and the handling of young children, but even these are not entirely steady; it is actually illegal in some states for a kindergarden teacher to give a student a hug, so fervent is the legal zeal to avoid sexual misconduct.

Thus, we have embraced the age old style of solving problems, so greatly concerned with respecting people’s space and, as touch rightly plays a vital role in marital union, avoiding what could possibly be taken to be unwanted sexual advances, that human contact is deemed expendable and unnecessary, a frying pan which we must jump out of at all costs. See also: Pax, Purity, Victorianism, Wealth.

Purity, n. A virtue to be found in that which is free of any taint of evil. Purity should pervade not only actions but thought. Its relentless pursuit is perhaps best illustrated by the following story, which has come to us from Buddhist folklore:

There were two monks, finally returning to their monastery at the end of a long trip. They were passing through a wooded region, forest with scattered paths and villages.

Walking along the road, they came to a large clearing. Cutting through the clearing was a river, with stepping stones across. There had been a great storm the night before, and the river was flowing swiftly, sweeping over its banks and the stepping stones.

There was a young woman standing on the near side of the river, holding a bundle of firewood, clearly wanting to cross the river, but terrified to do so, not trusting her light frame against the currents.

The older of the two monks, who was a tall and very stout fellow, set down his walking stick, and walked over. He picked the girl up.

Slosh. Slosh. Slosh. He still had to try to maintain his balance, but he got to the other side and set her down.

Slosh. Slosh. Slosh. He picked up his staff, and then continued walking with the other monk.

After about an hour, the younger monk spoke.

“I know that you are older and wiser than I, and perhaps I should not be speaking. But there is something that I wonder.”

“Speak, my child.”

“To be a monk means to take a vow of celibacy. Perhaps I do not understand, but was it right for you to hold a young girl like that?”

The older monk walked a few steps, and then drew a deep breath. Finally, he spoke.

“Oh, my child. Are you still carrying her?”

Quebec Separatism, n. A political movement distinguished from the Rhinoceros Party chiefly by its inability to recognize when it is being hilariously funny.

Qwerty, adj. and n. A keyboard layout created in the nineteenth century, with many the most frequently used letters under the weakest fingers. The qwerty layout was used when primitive typewriters would easily jam, in order to slow down typists and keep them from typing too quickly, cutting typing speeds by over 40%. Now, even the crudest keyboards are capable of handling any typing speed without jamming, but the rule is still qwerty, kept for over a century by secretaries and other typists who can’t be slowed down by taking the time to learn another keyboard design. See also: MS-DOS

Rabbi, n. See Reverend.

Racism, n. Egotism taking the form of a delusion that one’s own race is less depraved and idiotic than the criminal tendencies and gross stupidity exhibited by another.

Random Number, n. In computer science, the output of a deterministic algorithm carefully designed to produce output according to a specific distribution, deemed far too important to leave to chance.

Rank, adj. and n. (1) A numerical rating of a person’s skills — “Better than him, not as good as her” — taken as a measure of worth. (2) Possessing a putrescent stench.

Rationalism, n. The first step in the flight from reason.

Rationalist, n. One who holds an irrational faith in the human mind.

Recursion, n. An extremely powerful concept (or non-concept, depending on perspective), whereby the set of functions and procedures potentially invoked by a function or procedure includes itself. See also: Algorithm, Function, GNU, PINE, Procedure, Recursion.

Red, adj. and n. The color of roses, sunsets, and many ideologies.

Red Russian, n. One of the followers of the regime that made for Stalin, and supported an implementation of a somewhat altered version of communism (an economic system which has functioned at its best at monasteries, nunneries, and other religious communities to which a vow of poverty is requisite) which tried to keep religion under tight control. The implementators of the Russian and Soviet implementations of communism were masters in the use of symbol; an even more notable addition to the communist implementation of Utopian ideals was captured in the color of the flag.

Redundancy, n. (1) Repeated statements of the same thing. (2) Saying the same thing over and over again. (3) Language or wording which is repetitive. (4) Something which is cherished by many orators. (5) Phrasing which duplicates its meaning many times over. (6) …

Regurgitate, v. (1) To expel from the mouth material which has entered the stomach and been found unsuitable to retain. (2) To expel from the mouth material which has not entered the brain.

Relationship, n. A kind of box that people expect to take treasures out of without placing anything of value into, first.

Relativism, n. The philosophical system of those who have finally come to realize that all truth is entirely a matter of perspective.

Religion Within the Bounds of Reason, n. The thinking man’s way of remaking God in the image of his mind.

Renaissance, n. A time of intellectual rebirth, when many things — from philosophy to art — were rethought and infused with new energy.

The movement in art is perhaps most striking. On one level, there was an awesome mastery of technical detail, from the use of perspective to da Vinci’s subtle use of blue to create distance in the Madonna of the Rocks.

The skill which they used succeeded in creating more convincing illusions than ever before. The term “Renaissance Masters” is quite justly applied to these artists, but the most profound rethinking of Renaissance art was not on a technical level.

Jesus was a Middle Eastern peasant, with calloused hands and skin darkened by years’ beating in the sun. The Renaissance Masters invariably showed him to be a soft and fair skinned Caucasian, who most definitely did not look Jewish; the Jews (in the rare instance that they were painted) were a symbol of conniving, greed, and rejection of everything that is good, and so they knew far better than to paint Jesus as a dark-skinned Jew.

Jesus was a carpenter by profession, and he completely violated people’s expectations of a rabbi. He chose disciples, but not from the scribes and lawyers, the educated and literate. Instead, he chose a very motley crew of manual laborers — fishermen and whatnot, even one terrorist thrown in for good measure. The Renaissance Masters, in painting the disciples, knew that Jesus would only choose men attired in dignity; his disciples are invariably painted as Greek philosophers.

His birth was announced to shepherds, in one of the great images of the last being first. A shepherd was crude, dirty, smelly, and uncouth; he could outswear a Roman soldier, and his testimony was not legally valid in a court of law. They might be described as the ancient equivalent of used car salesmen, except for the fact that the modern used car salesman does not have quite that bad of a reputation. From the Renaissance onwards, the image of the shepherd has been used as an image of the pastoral, to symbolize everything that is calm, serene, peaceful, and idyllic; the angels are painted as joining this beautiful scene to sing of the newborn Messiah because of how perfect it is.

An angel, as described in Scripture, is invariably majestic, awesome, and terrifying. Their first words are almost always “Fear not!”, to calm the great fear that comes in response to such a magnificent creature of power and light; when they appeared at the Resurrection, their presence was sufficient to make soldiers faint from terror, and John, after seeing all things in Revelation, fell down at the angel’s feet to worship him. The Renaissance Masters had the skill of brush to capture something of this majesty, and painted angels as voluptuous women whose clothing is always falling off.

The Renaissance Masters would be pleased to see the wonders of television news reporting.

Repair, n. A polite word meaning ‘kludge.’

Duct tape is like the force. It has a light side and a dark side, and it holds the universe together.

-Carl Zwanzig

Repeat, n. To render greater persuasive force to a weak argument.

In advertisement, the most ridiculous claims — AT&T is preferable to MCI because it is only slightly more expensive, if you drink our beer, you will be surrounded by models in bikinis, our dish soap is superior because it contains real lemon juice, our car is accompanied by a woman in a miniskirt, whenever there’s fun there’s always Coca-Cola, women flock to a man who wears our underwear before having a chance to guess what brand it is, smoking cigarettes will make you strong and healthy like this cowboy, if you buy our camera you will have a consort almost wearing a very interesting outfit, you will have an orgasm while eating our ice cream, and so on — are rendered persuasive by the force of repitition. The force is so powerful that, costs being passed to the customer, consumers purchase these more expensive products rather than generic brands, and do so with frequency that makes multimillion dollar advertising expenditures pay for themselves several times over. At least the mindless repitition of risible nonsense provides a relaxing diversion from watching political speeches.

Responsibility, n. The long-lost twin of freedom.

Revere, v. To hold in a high degree of respect and affection. For causing people to feel as if they are thinking, one is revered, and for causing people to think, detested.

Revolutionary, n. A person attempting to establish a Utopian society by wading through blood. If this attempt to remove corruption and oppression succeeds, the insurrection becomes a revolution. The revolution is like a point on a wheel, slowly rising out of the muck and mire as it revolves around its axis.

Rock, n. (1) In the natural world, a stone. (2) In the musical world, a form of entertainment enjoyed by those who wish to become stone deaf.

Rose, n. A flower of singular beauty, holding a unique place in romance and some celebrations. The rose has a stem covered with sharp thorns, and, with full knowledge of the thorns, people still appreciate its breathtaking beauty enough that it is said that a rose is God’s autograph. It is exceptional in more ways than one.

RSV, n. Revised Standard Version. In the first edition, a dangerous mistranslation heretically discordant with the authority of popular opinion.

From the reactions it received one might be tempted to think that they gave an accurate rendition of a comment Paul made in Phillippians. Paul listed many reasons he had to be confident on his own, without need of grace: born into the tribe of Benjamin, circumcised on the eighth day, perfect in maintaining ceremonial law, flawless in Pharisaic legalism, ad nauseum. A couple of verses later, he commented on their real value: “Furthermore, I consider everything a loss next to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them all ——, that I may gain Christ.” He was perhaps contemplating the rebuke of the Divine through the prophet Malachi:

And now, O priests, this commandment is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, says Yahweh Sabaoth, then I will send the curse on you; truly, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. I will wither your offspring, and spread —— on your faces, the —— of your solemn feasts, and drive you out of my presence.

or perhaps the words of the prophet Isaiah, who compared righteous acts to a used tampon.

A like reaction might be be generated by rendering the crowd’s words about Jesus “Crucify him!” in words the same hate took over a millenium later: “He is a faggot. Burn him at the stake!” Perhaps there were footnotes explaining that the word stauros (in its various forms) was not merely a pejorative term, but an obscenity.

Or perhaps a dynamic equivalent of the Song of Songs, rendering the sexual metaphors and double entendres in fresh English. Perhaps they might have rendered “His banner over me is love.” in a less literal manner, more understandable to the modern reader, so that Sunday School teachers would be less sorely tempted to set it to an annoying tune and teach it as a song to young children. Perhaps they departed from the Victorian classic describing that which is described between the legs and belly and likened to a rounded goblet flowing with wine: the woman’s navel.

But they did none of these, choosing an error far worse.

In Hebrew, the word meaning ‘young woman’ was spoken with the implicit understanding that the young woman is a virgin. The prophet Isaiah recorded the word of Yahweh, “Behold, the young woman shall be pregnant and shall give birth to a son, and call his name Emmanuel…” RSV in its first edition not only rendered the word as ‘young woman’ (with a footnote saying ‘or virgin’), but placed in footnotes (rather than the main text) various verses which are not found in the most ancient and reliable manuscripts, preceding the editing work of Erasmus in creating the Textus Receptus.

As a result, the RSV became a banned book. It was held up and waved around as the latest Communist-Marxist-trying to subvert the doctrine of the virgin birth-heretical-Catholic-infiltration. En masse.

This prompted the creation of RSV Second Edition, a work less offensive to such staunch Christians.

Rule, n. The shuffled off husk of morality.

Russian Orthodox Church, n. A church in which, the higher you go up in the heirarchy, the less faith there is — right up to the top, where requisite to membership in the Ministry of Religion is a profession of atheism.

Sacred Cow, n. A ridiculous superstition which benighted fools dare not give five minutes’ serious re-examination, protected by a careful line of Things You Do Not Question, as contrasted to the incontestable wisdom of our own feminism, lesbigay movement, multiculturalism, relativism, humanism, progress, materialism…

Safe Sex, n. In modern times, a second rate (not to mention dangerous) substitute for the original safe sex.

Safety, n. Avoiding or minimizing the risk of human injury. For example, during Operation Desert Storm, safety was such a high concern in operational procedures that U.S. forces achieved a kill ratio of better than 100:1 of Iraqi civilians to U.S. soldiers.

Salad Bar, n. A conglomeration of circles, lines, cylinders, rectangles, fractals, and so on, serving a function which, in centuries past, was served by the formal study of geometry.

Secure, adj. Replete with undiscovered security holes.

Seminary, n. An academy devoted to the study of the highest sacred truths, and to the integration of faith, learning, and life.

Time is fleeting. Resources are short. In the best of all possible worlds, we might be able to make any compromises, but we do not live in the best of all possible worlds. Constantine taught us that.

In an experiment conducted by some psychologists, a class of divinity students, one by one, was sent off (belatedly, due to bad planning) and told, as a final exam, to hurry over and give an expository sermon on the meaning of Luke 10:30-37.

The experimenters, in order to test them, had placed certain distractions in the way of the students — even a person who was made to appear injured and in need of medical assistance. Practically none of them shirked their true duty, but went on to give the sermon without wasting any of their professors’ time.

Truly, if the head of the house embodies such unimpeachable character, we need not hold any doubts about the spiritual condition of those living within the house.

Sensitivity, n. One of the prime concerns of administrators and directors, who desire to use their power and authority in such a manner as to benefit those under their authority. In order to effect this proper use of power, it is important to be attuned to the needs and desires of those people; it is an administrator’s business not to be aloof. This quality is best demonstrated in an immortal story from hacker folklore:

In the beginning was the Board of Directors. And the Board of Directors formed the Administration. And the Administration formed a Committee. And the Committee formed the Plan.

The Board of Directors believed that the Plan was good, but wished to be sensitive to the Hackers. They did not wish to use the Plan, except that the Hackers Approved.

So they sent Memos explaining the Plan, and Low Level Administration summoned the Hackers to set aside their Work and attend Meetings, to find what the Hackers thought of the Plan.

“You, the Hackers, are our life’s blood. Our strength as a Corporation depends on you; you are the source of our Success, and we hold the highest Regard and Appreciation for your Wisdom. Now, you have had time to read and meditate upon the Plan. What do you think? Is the Plan a good or a bad Idea?”

“It’s a crock of ——, and it stinks!

Then Middle Level Administration summoned Low Level Administration to set aside their Work of wasting the Time of the Hackers, and attend Meetings, to explain what the Hackers think of the Plan.

“You have spoken with the Hackers. The Hackers are very Intelligent, and have many good Ideas. What do they say of the Plan?”

“It is Manure, and the Stench thereof is Great.”

Then Upper Level Administration summoned Middle Level Administration, to set aside their Work, and attend Meetings, to explain what the Hackers think of the Plan.

“You have spoken with those who have condensed the wise and good Ideas of the Hackers. What do the Hackers say of the Plan?”

“It is Fertilizer, and it Smells of great Power.”

Then the Board of Directors summoned Upper Level Administration, to set aside their Work, and attend Meetings, to explain what the Hackers think of the Plan.

“You know the Wisdom and Understanding of the Hackers, and what they believe of the Plan. Our Time is scarce, so we are certain that you can explain their Reactions briefly. What do the Hackers say of the Plan?”

“It promoteth Growth, and the Vigor thereof is exceedingly Great.”

Whereby the Board of Directors was greatly Pleased, to learn that the Hackers appreciated the Value, Efficiency, and Wisdom of the Plan.

And the Plan was Approved, and made Action.

Sermon, n. A speech used in a church service to instruct believers in sound doctrine and holy lifestyle. This ecclesiastical function is very important, enough so that it is occasionally misunderstood to be the focus of a worship service.

Sometimes, to make a sermon easier to remember, the preacher will center it around a certain number of points. Hence there will be a sermon on the four spiritual laws, seven points of effective prayer, the three ‘P’s of resisting temptation, and so on. There is some controversy over how many points a good sermon should contain; the best have at least one.

Sesame Street, n. Education within the bounds of amusement.

Settler, n. Someone who goes to inhabit land already inhabited by other people who are of a different race and whose lives are thus considered worthless.

Sex, n. One of the God-given blessings of which different cultures are most universally intolerant.

The most obvious example of this is found in the most ridiculously idiotic monument of Victorian culture. Victorian thought held that, because the marriage bed is private, it is to be an object of shame. While claiming to be Christian, Victorian thought flaunted a blatant disregard for the Song of Songs, an extended commentary on the words in Genesis, “Male and female he created them.” and “Two shall become one,” and utterly ignored Paul’s words, commanding that the husband and wife should yield to each other’s conjugal rights. The Victorian mind found sex to be, at best, an unfortunate but necessary evil in order to produce children. Hence, in a letter to a newlywed bride, a minister commanded that she give occasionally, give sparingly, and give grudgingly; what they were to have as sex precluded the possibility of seeing each other’s bodies, and, if the husband began to fondle or kiss anywhere not strictly necessary in order to produce children, the wife was suddenly to excuse herself.

Current American culture, by contrast, considers sex to be a faceless, underclothed, and underweight model holding a product in an advertisement, or, taken further, still little more than a cheap thrill, to toy with when other forms of amusement become boring. Sex is not a cherished bond, a union of body, mind, and soul that encompasses conversation and silent walks as well as foreplay and intercourse, best described by the word ‘know’; this present lexicographer is reminded of monks who used pieces of the oldest known Septuagint manuscript to start fires.

People who have cohabited and quickly introduced intercourse to romance wonder why sex after marriage seems a contradiction in terms; along with adulterers, they are befuddled at why it is so difficult to keep a marriage together. Even the people who recognize certain limits are inclined to ask, “How far can I go?” rather than, “How much do I want to have left?”

The harm stemming from a culture using pornographic magazines and casual sex is not that its people experience too much sex, but that they experience too little.

Herein lies a very illuminating glimpse of American culture.

Sexual Harassment, n. (1) In a court of law, an unwanted sexual advance. (2) Under educational administration and corporate mismanagement, any statement, supportive hand-on-shoulder, door opening, gesture, facial expression, et cetera, which could possibly be misinterpreted as having sexual overtones. (3) In the future, any handshake, polite greeting, eye contact, presence in the same room, et cetera, which cannot positively be proven not to have any sexual overtimes.

Sexual Misconduct, n. A charge which must be taken seriously if the accused is conservative, but should be carefully examined if the accused is liberal.

Sharp’s, n. Flat’s.

Shock, n. The state of any sane person upon seeing how far our world has fallen. Something which people learn to ignore to retain their sanity.

We have lost the invaluable faculty of being shocked.

-C.S. Lewis

Shoot, n. The most common mispronunciation of ‘——’. Used by people who desire the force of an expletive, while retaining a sense of self-righteousness at refrain from language which refined people do not use.

Sight, n. A faculty of perception which permits us to forget that we have four others.

Your ambush would have been more successful if you bathed more frequently.

-Worf

Sin, n. An expert remodeler whose services are in great demand for the maintenance and preservation of institutions and traditions. His competitor has some very satisfied customers, but is generally considered far more difficult to trust.

Sinister, adj. Shadowy; mysterious; dark; abysmal; in short, evil. Etymologically, the word signifies left-handedness.

People who are left-handed tend to be intuitive, original, and creative; in short, different. And so, historically, most of them have either been taught to be right-handed, or mercifully burned at the stake.

It is a rare society which does not declare at least some of what is harmless to be evil, and some of what is evil to be harmless.

Sit Com, n. Situational Comedy. A form of televised annoyance in which the placement of flat and predictable characters in stupid and embarrassing situations is confused with comedy.

Skin-deep, adj. About as far as most people look.

Sleep, v. To “celebrate with appropriate ceremony” the content of a political speech.

Opposing speaker (to Churchill): Winston Churchill, must you sleep while I am speaking?

Churchill: No, it is purely voluntary.

Small Talk, n. The fine art of having nothing to say and saying it anyway.

Smoking, n. A legalized form of suicide.

Snob, n. A man made arrogant by money, looking down on normal people as if they were urchins, and possessing more wealth than I do.

Sociology, n. The enlightened liberal’s way of reducing everyone to a collection of stereotypes.

Sola Scriptura, n. [Lat. sola, only, Scriptura, Scripture] A momentous doctrine of the Reformation, holding that only the Scriptures are to be used as a basis for teaching.

Scripture has held an important role in church history; it is God-breathed and profitable for teaching and rebuking, in its entirety. If a belief contradicts the unambiguous teaching of the Scriptures, it is an error; only a heretic would hold so low of a regard for these sacred writings as to hold even one out and say of it, “It is a letter of straw. Burn it.”

If the Scriptures are to be magnified beyond being seen as a final resolution as to which doctrines are and are not acceptable, and declared to be the only acceptable source of teaching, then it is important to see what they are and what they do and do not say.

The Scriptures are an anthology of a wide variety of sacred writings. A definition is not the place to quote a thousand pages of truth, but there are a few points which are notable here. The Scriptures do say that God himself speaks through the lips of prophets, and the Creation declares the glory of its Creator. They do not, at any point, give a listing of which works are to be considered canonical.

Sophia, n. [Gk.] Wisdom, which, along with knowledge (gnosis), was considered by Gnosticism to be the route to salvation. The Gnostic understanding of wisdom — of attaining the spiritual by shunning the physical, of balancing and then moving beyond good and evil, of a Christ whose prime purpose was to offer knowledge rather than to offer grace, and so on — was harshly attacked by the Apostles and Early Fathers. Recent thought has found that some of these ideas are perhaps better than they were thought to be, and bits and pieces have slowly been brought into Christian thought. The work is far from complete, of course, but there have been many steps to follow in the path of the Gnostics and wholeheartedly embrace a system of ideas worth its weight in gold.

Sorceror’s Bargain, n. A classic pact with the Devil, who offers, “I will give you power if you give me your soul.” But there is a problem (aside from the obvious difficulty of the power having no value near that of the soul): if you make the deal, it isn’t really you that has the power. Once the deal is made, it is a lose-lose situation.

In the contemporary Western world, the sorceror’s bargain is frequently made with two very attractive looking twin demons, named Mammon and Technology.

Both of them woo people with the sweetest promises, never speaking of any price to be paid. And both of them somewhere, somehow, find the most creative ways to extract payment (and deliver more of an illusion than a reality of what they promised). . It is notable that, in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ’s warning was not “No man can own two slaves,” but “No man can serve two masters.”

Calvin: I had a dream last night in which machines had taken over the world and made us do their bidding.

Hobbes: That must have been scary.

Calvin: It sure wa—holy, would you look at the time? My TV show is on!

-Calvin and Hobbes

Sorcery, n. The study and practice of spells, evocations, incantations, gestures, and so on, in an attempt to divine the future and manipulate unseen forces to produce supernatural effects. Out of sorcery the practice of science has sprung. Science then began to spurn even the most remote trace of magic, and has now progressed to the point of being indistinguishable from it.

Sore Loser, n. A very poor sport whom I will only play if he is the only one I can beat.

Sound Bite, n. In contemporary life, the basis for public miscourse and the illusion of thought.

Source Criticism, n. The proper scholarly response to texts that are clearly the result of incompetent editors attempting to interweave entirely distinct sources, as evidenced by the fact that the texts are not written according to the standards that a modern scholar would use.

Sovereignty Association, n. All of the benefits of being a part of Canada combined with none of the costs.

SPA, n. Software Publisher’s Association. An association of software publishers which seeks to stamp out the problem of software piracy by the use of intimidation, and coercion when people do not surrender, to extract ransoms from anyone unfortunate enough to cross their waters.

Speed Limit, n. A maximum speed, assigned by laws which prohibit cars from moving more than ten miles per hour less than the average road speed in the country, or faster than ten times the average road speed in the city.

Spherical, adj. Appropriate for consideration in physics calculations.

Splinter, n. A small fragment of wood, which often manages to work its way into the hand. A splinter in the thumb has never been popular, but nothing matches the swiftness of a person trying to deal with the true sting caused by a splinter in the eye.

Once upon a time, a man came to a psychiatrist.

“Doc, wherever I go, whatever I look at, all I can see or think of is sex, sex, sex. Can you tell me what’s going on?”

“I think so, but I’d like to run a few ink blot tests first. I’m going to hold up some sheets of paper with colored spots, and I want you to tell me what you see.

Walking over to a shelf, he pulled a binder, and, opening it, began to hold up sheets of paper.

“What’s this a picture of?”

“Sex.”

“Ok, what’s this a picture of?”

“Sex.”

“What about this one?”

“Sex.”

“Can you explain how?”

“Yes. Right here, you can see that the…”

Thirty, forty, fifty ink blots. Always the same response — “Sex.”, “Sex.”, “Sex.”

Setting down the binder, the psychiatrist opened his desk drawer, and pulled out two sheets of paper from there — one 8 1/2 x 11″ blue lined sheet of notebook paper, and one blank 8 1/2 x 11″ sheet of typing paper.

“All right. Those images are somewhat old, and perhaps all look more or less the same. I want you to clear your mind of all thought, and then I’m going to hold up two more sheets of paper, different from any of the ones before. Could you please tell me what you see?”

The psychiatrist, with one swift motion, lifted both sheets off the desk, holding them up in the air for the patient to see.

“They are both graphic sexual images, like all the rest.”

Even after profesional training, the psychiatrist was somewhat taken aback; he wasn’t expecting that reaction. Caught off guard, he said, “Well, um, I see. You do seem to have a one track mind.”

“Hey, Doc! You’re the one who’s drawing all of the dirty pictures.”

Standard, n. Any one of a number of officially endorsed options, enabling the individual a wide variety of options.

Statistician, n. A skilled advertiser with at least a BS in mathematics.

There are three types of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.

-Mark Twain

Statue of Liberty, n. An immense and awe inspiring statue, a powerful symbol of all that is American, beautiful but hollow. The Statue boldly proclaims the magnificent words, “Give me your tired, your hungry, your poor, your wretched masses yearning to be free,” and stands over Ellis Island, the site of immigration offices which, at a time which is seeing a growing gap between rich and poor and (quite possibly) seen more large scale genocides than the rest of history, enforces strict maximum quotas on the number of immigrants who are permitted to enter the country.

Stupidity, n. See Drive-Thru Liquor Store.

Subliminal Message, n. William H. Everston’s new theory, helping/enabling commercial organizations’ ugly new traps. Richard Y. Inglenook stopped this hideous, rastifarian outrage. What next? In no trick observed, children have acted or served, potentially, as truly rational. Inglenook observes that idiots seldom muse. It should be obvious right now.

Subtlety, n. [obs.] An attribute of good writing, where the meaning is not immediately obvious, requiring thought to understand.

Suggestion Box, n. An unusual garden set up by administrators. They till the soil, spreading an ample amount of fertilizer, and then allow others to come and plant whatever seed best expresses their sentiments. The administrators then come, weeding out those plants which are troublesome, and nourishing and exhibiting those which are compatible with the administrators’ goals and plans.

Suntan, n. A precursor to wrinkles and melanomas, deemed to be highly attractive by a culture whose models of beauty are almost never born with dark skin.

Supercomputer, n. A computer which is a few years behind the needs of industry and research, combining the latest in hardware with the most primitive of software.

You can tell how far we have to go, when FORTRAN is the language of supercomputers.

-Steve Feiner

Symbol, n. A forgotten art which once represented most of Christian thought.

Systematic Theology, n. The mark of the Enlightenment on Christianity, where God is expected to bow down and worship the human mind. A part of wisdom frequently mistaken for the whole.

Ritualism, n. A Dutch Garden of God where He may walk in rectilinear freedom, keeping off the grass.

With all due respect, Ambrose Bierce is mistaken in implication. I humbly submit that it is inaccurate to make such a statement of all ritualistic traditions, and ludicrous to imply that ritualism (or, for that matter, systematic theology) has a monopoly on such things.

Tactician, n. A man skilled in the methods of persuasion most devoid of tact.

Talk, v. To exercise the strongest muscle in the body.

Taoism, n. A tradition in Chinese thought dating back to approximately 2500 BC. The tradition began as a profound philosophical system originated by Lao Tzu. From that point, it continually devolved until it finally became a generic pagan religion, complete with gods, priests, temples, altars, complicated rituals, a calendar of holy days, and everything else necessary to make a complete antithesis of all that made the tradition interesting in the first place. Much like Christianity.

Technicolor Yawn, n. The best response to the OJ media circus.

Technology, n. (1) Any device invented and used by men [ex: a lever]. (2) A result of and substitute for modern Western civilization, empowering the evil which lies inside the human heart to achieve what it could not possibly achieve otherwise.

Teflon, n. One of few plastic resins which is actually more chemically stable (and thus less biodegradable) than polystrene plastic or foam (Styrofoam). The difference between the two is that Styrofoam can be recycled into rice cakes.

Telemarketer, n. Someone who believes one of the most annoying and offensive invasions of privacy to make a customer better disposed towards a company.

Such a man would expect a bucket thrown into the ocean to yield cold and pure drinking water. Such a man would expect a thistle to yield figs. Such a man would expect a hornet to create honey.

Such a man would expect a soldier, using violence and intimidation at a superior capacity to destroy, to achieve the manifest presence of love, understanding, and respect for the rights and needs of others which is called justice and peace.

Like a eunuch trying to take a girl’s virginity is someone who attempts to achieve justice through force.

-Jesus Ben Sirach

Telephone, n. A very poor substitute for reaching out and touching someone.

In a personal conversation with a friend, the text of what is said is of course important, but there is more. Eye contact, touch, and body language are all carriers of personal presence; of such things, only tone of voice is preserved, and even that is often garbled by line static.

As such, telephone conversations are a distant and miserable rendering of enjoying another person’s presence, and it is no great surprise that a majority of them are terse and technical: taking the necessary time to say what needs to get across, but not really taking time to slow down and chat. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, fifty percent of phone calls are one way (person to answering machine), and fifty-two percent of residential phone calls do not last for more than a minute. People exchange brief messages and get tasks done, but maintaining friendships and keeping in touch with family is something which seems to happen. And, if there is any real distance between the involved parties (which is often why a phone call is used as a substitute for a personal visit), it costs money by the minute. Touch, eye contact, body language, and an unhurried and relaxed time are all vitally important, and the telephone takes away all of these. One might be tempted to forget all of this by advertising slogans that suggest touch and show the faces of family warmed by each other’s presence, but it is still true.

All in all, a quite perfect picture of how not to cultivate relationships with friends and family.

Television, n. A font of wisdom poured out upon those who do not have the time to read the Early Fathers.

Temperance Movement, n. A movement of people who reject as inappropriate Christ’s model of temperate use of alcohol.

Terrorist, n. A terrible soldier capable of striking terror into the heart of the most defensible nation in the world.

The more advanced a system becomes, the more vulnerable to primitive modes of attack.

-Dr. Who

Theology, n. [Gk. theos, God, logos, Word] A discipline now considered essentially distinct from the direct study of the Word of God.

Thermite, n. An industrial strength cleaning agent advisable in the care of hardware made by Zenith Data Systems.

Thou, pn. In older English usage, the familiar second person singular pronoun, as contrasted to ‘you’, the formal and plural second person pronoun.

In 1611, when the King James Version was translated, addresses to the Godhead were rendered as ‘thou’. This was not in any sense a denial of the glory and majesty of the King of Kings, but rather an accurate rendering of the intimacy of the original language. Mark’s account of the Gospel preserves an Arimaic word, ‘Abba’, which Jesus used to address the Father, and Paul’s writings mention that word as something which believers are to use in prayers; the best modern equivalent is probably ‘Daddy’. It was a very important element of prayer and religion which was accurately preserved when the personal, informal, familiar, intimate word ‘thou’ was used to accurately render the corresponding words in the original language; it was a very important element of Christian teaching which was preserved when that same word was not simply left in Scripture as a special case owing to the sanctity of the characters involved, but an example, to be repeated in prayers.

Now, the word has generally fallen out of use. The one exception, the one place where ‘thou’ is still used, is in formal prayer and liturgy, where it is cherished for its elegance and stateliness.

Thoughtful, adj. Non sequitur.

Thunderstorm, n. A spectacular symphony of nature in which rolling thunder complements streaks of lightning against dark and majestic clouds, droplets pour forth to clean the air and make soft ripples in puddles, staining everything a deep and rich shade, the flowers come open and children dance, and civilization dons galoshes and raincoats, muttering about what a bother it is.

Ticklishness, n. Proof that God has a sense of humor.

Tide, n. The motion of the waters in the ocean, as influenced by the moon phase. See also: Caucus.

Tobacco Industry, n. A vital and necessary force in our nation’s economy.

The tobacco industry reports that it provides jobs for 2.3 million Americans — and this does not include physicians, X-ray technicians, nurses, hospital employees, firefighters, dry cleaners, respiratory specialists, pharmacists, morticians and gravediggers.

-Quoted by Ann Landers

Touch, n. A source of information which infants naturally use to learn about objects which sight is used to locate, a vital tool to medical professionals to detect injuries and illnesses that the eye cannot see, but not considered worth learning to develop and use by the mainstream of postmedieval Western civilization.

Tourism, n. Veni, vidi, Visa.

Traffic Law, n. The system of laws governing drivers’ conduct on state owned roads, to which members of Congress are exempt. This is in accordance with Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, which commands, “No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States…” See also: Congressional Medal of Honor.

True Orthodox, adj and n. The preferred designation for a loose confederation of people and groups that consider themselves to be properly Orthodox and Novatians to be liberal ecumenists.

Trickle-Down Economics, n. A virtually seamless economic system, keeping all but a trickle of money from reaching the hands of the poor.

TV News, n. Television [tele, far, vision] News. A device which permits us to see that which is far from the truth.

Unborn, adj. Not yet born. Among other admirable groups, the Moral Majority has stood firm and uncompromising in its opposition to abortion as the slaughter of unborn children, in addition to correcting the folly of those who would waste valuable time and resources to protect the environment.

Underaged, adj. Lacking sufficient age to do some activity maturely. Commonly, the term is used in reference to a person who is deemed by the government to be too young to properly handle alcohol. This legislative attempt to protect youth from improper use of alcohol has had most interesting results in contrast to places such as England where such responsibility is delegated to parents; underaged alcoholics in America outnumber alcoholics in England.

Undocumented, adj. Without a proper description.

Undocumented Feature, bug.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke

Any sufficiently undocumented code is indistinguishable from magic.

-Some frustrated systems hacker at 3:00 AM

unix, .n the operating system designed by e e cummings

Unprintable, adj. Resembling Holy Scripture.

Up-To-Date, adj. Having fallen hook, line, and sinker for the latest fad.

UseNet, n. A massive experiment currently in progress, funded in large part by the National Science Foundation. Designed to provide decisive evidence in a hot debate involving many notable biologists, including all researchers supporting Creation Science, it is being eagerly monitored by the scientific community. Its unbelievably complex apparatus involves a million monkeys on a million typewriters, and has not (to date) produced anything even remotely resembling Shakespeare.

Randomness, n. An element playing an increasing role in the determination of political, public, and private events in American life.

Belladonna, n. In Italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly poison. A striking example of the essential identity of the two tongues.

Witch, n. (1) An ugly and repulsive old woman, in a wicked league with the devil. (2) A beautiful and attractive young woman, in wickedness a league beyond the devil.

Bierce is, again, mistaken; as with ritualism, there are at least a few ladies who are not so described, and it is bombastic to assume that women hold a monopoly on the power to delude and set aside wisdom.

Images play as focal of a role in current American culture as they did in the medieval European culture, but the manner is different. In medieval culture, images were symbols; in a cathedral, stained glass windows and statues spoke a rich language and lore, literature for the illiterate. Upon beholding images, a host of meanings would occur; a detail was all that was necessary for a single picture to tell a story. The image was a trigger to thought. Now, the image is a substitute for thought; charisma has displaced reason.

This is candidly illustrated in the outcome of a recent election, where one candidate fared poorly because, though he was a decorated and courageous veteran, his physical appearance was weak and unimpressive.

Alternately, it may be seen in a political commentator whose opinion and thought is held to be of immense weight by many Americans. It would perhaps be inaccurate to describe his figure as chiselled, but his manner and personality enable people to believe, through a scattering of sound bites and quotes out of context, that he has the monopoly on the truth.

The sound bite itself has become the modern unit of debate; in a land that once paid attention to involved political debates lasting for hours, it is now expected that any argument deemed credible must be developped in seconds. Vivid language is certainly not an evil, but neither is it a substitute for thought.

Due to these trends, it is chaos and charisma which carry the day. Once upon a time, acting and politics were distinct professions. Now… For a leader to be charismatic certainly does not preclude being an effective leader, but neither does it guarantee wisdom. In a sense, though, there is one point separating politics and public concensus from a racetrack.

One of the horses has to win.

, n. That for which there exists no adequate word.

Valor, n. The attribute, embodying bravery and courage, of a soldier who most truly serves his country, without being deterred or intimidated by any threatening menace which stands in the way of the true cause.

Once upon a time, three generals — one from the Army, one from the Navy, and one from the Air Force — were discussing and debating the nature of courage. The debate went through the day and long into the night, and, finally, agreed to visit their respective bases, in order to learn something there.

First, they visited a pier. Driving in a car, the Navy general threw his watch into shallow water, ordering a cadet to retrieve it.

The cadet looked at him in fright, and then, when the general repeated the order, dove into the water, retrieving the watch, at the expense of severe injuries.

The general said, “That is courage.”

The Army general paused in thought for a moment, and then said, “That is indeed the beginning of courage, but there is a courage yet greater.” And so, they went to an Army base.

At the base, as several tanks were driving by, the general suddenly commanded, “Private, stop that tank.”

The man immediately ran in front of the tank, and stoically stood, until the tank came and crushed him to death.

“That is true courage.”

The general from the Air Force said, “There is yet one base that we have not visited. There is a sense of courage — great courage — which both of your forces have shown, but there is a courage, and a true patriotism, which is greater still.”

There was a long time of silence, before one of the other generals finally said, “As you wish,” and drove to the Air Force base.

Here, at the beginning of a runway, the Air Force general ordered the car stopped. As a plane came in to land, he barked out, “Airman, stop that plane now!

The young cadet immediately snapped to attention, and gave the general a one-fingered salute.

The general leaned back in his seat. “Gentlemen, that is courage.”

Values, n. [singular, ‘value’, generally not used] A term/usage chosen by postmodern philosophers such as Nietzche embodying all of the genius of 1984’s Newspeak.

The term designates religious or moral beliefs, but, like a great many words, means far more than it designates. The meaning of the word is that one makes a category mistake in actually regarding such beliefs as corresponding or not corresponding to an external reality; they are rather a strictly internal state, like a person’s emotional state. One does not speak of right or wrong values; one rather speaks of a person’s values, just as one speaks of a person’s tastes and preferences, as an arbitrary and subjective attribute of that individual person. The word places such beliefs within that basic category.

Thus, from the outset, any discussion is biased — no, worse than biased; a bias presents a difficulty to surmount, while ‘values’ presents a closed door — against a meaningful consideration of God, or of the moral structure of the universe. Even the term ‘atheism’ does not quite contain what this does to the discussion; atheism says, “There is an ultimate reality to which beliefs do or do not correspond; God does not exist; beliefs in God are false.” — and this facet of postmodernism, in its definition of values, can’t go far enough to say that a belief does or does not correspond to reality. Words such as ‘good’, ‘evil’, ‘right’, ‘wrong’ ‘heroism’, ‘adultery’, ‘honesty’, ‘theft’, and so on aren’t even allowed to be wrong in what they describe; they describe not an external moral reality, but only a person’s internal state.

It can at least be said that a part of this usage’s proper meaning is dropped by some speakers, who perhaps do not think far enough to cringe at hearing the words, “our values.” But even then — this lexicographer cannot recall a single instance of someone referring to values as being right or wrong.

All things considered, a most disagreeable word.

Verse, n. An ingenious device, facilitating minute study within strict bounds concerning heterodox misinterpretation of Scripture, and most effective deterrent against quotes out of context. A wonderful set of dependable roadbumps, which the road’s paver did not have the foresight to provide. See also: Footnote

Victorianism, n. The death knell to sexual purity in Western culture.

Victorianism held sexual purity to be extremely important. All well and good, but it did not stop there. Victorianism believed sexual purity to be best approached via a Pharisaic guard around the Law. And, like every other guard around the Law, it did a trememdous amount of damage to numerous other things before destroying the very object it was meant to preserve.

Touch and community are vital elements of human health. This is witnessed in Scriptures that tell of John reclining in Jesus’s bosom and in the hands quickly extended to pets, one of the few situations where our society will allow an innocent touch to be an innocent touch. An infant who is not held will wither and die, and psychologists have a bluntly accurate term for the failure of parents to hold and cuddle their children a great deal: abuse. And of course the special kind of community that exists between a husband and wife is given a special kind of touch.

Victorianism looked at sex and did not quite see something which is fundamentally good within a certain context. It saw something which was essentially evil (but tolerable at best within a certain context). And, in progressively widening circles, encompassing different forms of touch further and further from what is necessarily foreplay, saw that there exists at least some possibility for that touch to be sexual (at least from the perspective of the younger monk), and placed on each one a label of “This is dirty. Avoid it.” Word such as “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” cease to be acknowledged as a divine command which was given for human good, and instead look like, um, an odd cultural thing which, um, shows, um, um, um…

The aim, it appears, was to end up with nothing that was sexual. The result was to make everything sexual, and create a major unanticipated problem.

God created people with certain needs, and when those needs are not met, Satan comes in with counterfeit substitutes. These things are hard enough to resist to someone whose needs are met with the genuine article; when there is an immense sucking vacuum coming from unmet needs, pushing away the counterfeits acquires a difficulty which is unbelieveable. A little girl who is deprived of a father’s hugs and kisses will grow into a young woman who has a tremendously difficult time avoiding sexual promiscuity, unsuccessfully searching in a series of abusive boyfriends’ embraces for enough love to fill the emptiness inside.

Fortunately, most of Victorianism did not quite leave a stain that dark and deep, but there is still a major problem with a culture that refuses to wholeheartedly say, “It’s OK. You may enjoy an innocent touch as an innocent touch.” There is still a failure to meet a need that God created people to have filled, and still an uphill battle to fight off the counterfeit substitutes.

In this century, Victorianism has crumbled, but, like every other evil, it fails to crumble in the ways that a sane person would want it to crumble. What disappeared was not the prohibition on friendly touch, but the belief that sexual sin is a deadly poison which should be fought tooth and nail. What appeared and took the place meant to be filled by innocent touch is something which is not innocent. Thus, Victorianism did a perfect job of making room and clearing the way for a great deal of lewdness.

Current Western culture is saturated with sexual sin, not despite, but because of the fact that it is the continuation of Victorian culture.

Villain, n. One who is positive that his actions contribute positively to the betterment of mankind.

Among people who embody some semblance of what might be termed good, there is a continual self-search, a continual question of “Am I doing good or evil?” The Apostle Paul said, “Here is a trustworthy saying which deserves acceptance: Jesus Christ died for sinners, of whom I am the worst.” Those people who act the most villainously do not ask the question, because they know that they are doing good.

Hence Nazi Germany knew that it was doing the world a favor by eradicating Jews from the face of the earth; the Jews were the source of all the world’s problems. Hitler himself did not go to eradicate Jews until after he had established himself as a national hero, pulling Germany out of a major depression, and speaking love and appreciation to the common people and farmers as the heartblood of the Aryan nation. (It is the opinion of this lexicographer that, had Hitler found a more productive use for his talents than genocide, history would probably record him as a strong leader and a hero) Other groups since them, such as the Klueless Klux Klan, are also positive of the immense benefit that their actions are bringing to America, expurgating our white homeland of foreigners and helping to gently persuade them to go back to where they came from (Africa, Asia, Europe…). The present practitioners of ethnic cleansing wear watches reminding themselves of the defeat they suffered 500 years ago, and how they are merely returning just retribution and punishment to an evil that was done to them. In wartime, in order to justify the killing, it is almost universal for one nation to demonize the people of the other country and make their dominant race subhuman, entities which should be destroyed. Hence, even after the tragedy of the Viet Nam war, there was opposition to the chosen plan for a memorial because it was designed by an Asian.

Sometimes people do a more subtle job of making their actions look good. The KKK now is not openly speaking about how other races are destroying our land; they are instead speaking of the importance of hospitality and love towards whites, the true Americans. The neighbors of child molesters and mass murderers frequently say things such as, “He seemed like such a nice man.”

There is one common thread; namely, that these people are masterfully adept at fighting the evil out there, and somehow never manage to look inside themselves to see if there might be evil in here.

Violence, n. [Lat. violare, also the root of ‘violate’] An obsolescent term used to refer to the use of force.

Violence is the last resort of the incompetent.

-Isaac Asimov

Vote, v. To submit one’s opinion to be counted as worthwhile.

America has a very strong tradition of overturning traditions, that is, of rejecting as inappropriate everything out of accord with the latest and most nonsensical fads. This is not a matter in which the common folk have a monopoly; among the intelligentsia, it is considered a mark of very poor taste to cite as authoritative anything not written within the past few decades. It is very much like George Orwell’s novel 1984 where, when the Party changed its mind, all of the people — lower, middle, and upper class, factory worker and scholar alike — immediately burned down everything of the old opinion; we have a Zeitgeist instead of a Party to tell us that we should burn books, and we burn them, not by throwing them into bonfires, but by carefully keeping them in neat little rows in libraries, making them accessible, and inviting people to read them, on condition that they are not consulted for serious consideration in academic work.

Thus, it is told to people, “I don’t care if you have studied years of wisdom, or are yourself a part of the years of wisdom. I don’t care if you took the time to write your thoughts down in a book that has endured so that I may understand your thoughts long after your body has turned to dust. You didn’t write it right now, in accordance with the present whims of the Zeitgeist, so it isn’t worth my time to read.”

However, America, in its own special way, does wish to keep a little of everything, not to leave a snippet of some obscure ingredient out of the great melting pot. There is thus one single place where the vote of a dead man is counted to be of equal weight to the vote of one who is alive, knowledgeable and wise in the way things should be run: Chicago.

Vulgar, adj. Common. The term’s general usage now denotes that which is crude and distasteful. Earlier, it was used by the wealthy, the educated, and those of high social standing to refer to the habits and persons of men who are common, uneducated, and worthless, such as those whom Christ chose to be his apostles.

Vulgate, n. Vulgate Versio. An early translation of the Holy Scriptures, by the hand of Jerome, who wished that the Scriptures be accessible to the common man, rather than only being available in ancient language and intelligible to an elite few. See also: AV

Warrantee, n. A legal document provided along with many products, in order to minimize the legal responsibility of the company which made said product to repair or replace in case of malfunction or failure to operate caused by defective workmanship. Warranty is null and void in case of damage caused by owner attempted repair, improper use, or (in some cases) normal wear.

Washington, n. The capital of one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and thus the location of the best government that money can buy.

Waterboarding, n. The fruit of a flower called the “Living Constitution” which insists that the U.S. Constitution be a dead letter.

We, pn. The consescending form of ‘you’.

Wealth, n. A universally appreciated blessing which removes certain unnecessary luxuries, such as human contact.

Weapon, n. A powerful device enabling peace keepers to deter the occurence of violence. The development of technology has produced weapons of increasing potency and efficiency.

I do not know what weapons World War III will be fought with, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.

-Albert Einstein

Willpower, n. The excruciating struggle to achieve that which needs no effort.

Windows, n. A software emulation package used by people who cannot afford to downgrade to a slower CPU.

Wonder, n. Only one of many victims which has been sacrificed to the modern god, Materialism.

Word, n. A magnificent vessel used to convey the most profound of thoughts, and to conceal their absence.

World, n. The whole of fallen, unregenerate humanity, under the power of the Evil One and waging incessant warfare against the saints.

Contact with the world brings all manner of enticement to lying, idolatry, adultery, witchcraft, homosexual practice, thieving, orgies, and the like. It is rumored that there are other temptations, but they are surely not worth mentioning.

Yellow, n. A color symbolic of urgency and haste, used to instruct motorists to apply maximum force to the gas petal.

Zeitgeist, n. The spirit of the time, made manifest in the ever more enlightened nonsensus of public opinion — yesterday, Logical Positivism, today, Postmodernism, tomorrow, who knows? They are philosophical ideas with a kernel of truth, which has been thoughtfully removed in the popular versions. The man who follows these ideas has a mind like a steel trap — snapped shut, and full of mice.

Zen, adj. and n.

Zenith, n. (1) The apex of a civilization, career, art movement, et cetera. (2) The abysmal nadir of computing.

1054 and all lhat

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

The Sign of the Grail

Within the Steel Orb

Two Decisive Moments

CJSH.name/decisive

Read it on Kindle: part of the collection, The Best of Jonathan’s Corner

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

There is a classic Monty Python “game show”: the moderator asks one of the contestants the second question: “In what year did Coventry City last win the English Cup?” The contestant looks at him with a blank stare, and then he opens the question up to the other contestants: “Anyone? In what year did Coventry City last win the English Cup?” And there is dead silence, until the moderator says, “Now, I’m not surprised that none of you got that. It is in fact a trick question. Coventry City has never won the English Cup.”

I’d like to dig into another trick question: “When was the world created: 13.7 billion years ago, or about six thousand years ago?” The answer in fact is “Neither,” but it takes some explaining to get to the point of realizing that the world was created 3:00 PM, March 25, 28 AD.

Adam fell and dragged down the whole realm of nature. God had and has every authority to repudiate Adam, to destroy him, but in fact God did something different. He called Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Elijah, and in the fullness of time he didn’t just call a prophet; he sent his Son to become a prophet and more.

It’s possible to say something that means more than you realize. Caiaphas, the high priest, did this when he said, “It is better that one man be killed than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:50) This also happened when Pilate sent Christ out, flogged, clothed in a purple robe, and said, “Behold the man!

What does this mean? It means more than Pilate could have possibly dreamed of, and “Adam” means “man”: Behold the man! Behold Adam, but not the Adam who sinned against God and dragged down the Creation in his rebellion, but the second Adam, the new Adam, the last Adam, who obeyed God and exalted the whole Creation in his rising. Behold the man, Adam as he was meant to be. Behold the New Adam who is even now transforming the Old Adam’s failure into glory!

Behold the man! Behold the first-born of the dead. Behold, as in the icon of the Resurrection, the man who descends to reach Adam and Eve and raise them up in his ascent. Behold the man who will enter the realm of the dead and forever crush death’s power to keep people down.

An Orthodox icon of the Resurrection.
An icon of the Resurrection.

Behold the man and behold the firstborn of many brothers! You may know the great chapter on faith, chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews, and it is with good reason one of the most-loved chapters in the Bible, but it is not the only thing in Hebrews. The book of Hebrews looks at things people were caught up in, from the glory of angels to sacrifices and the Mosaic Law, and underscores how much more the Son excels above them. A little before the passage we read above, we see, “To which of the angels did he ever say, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you’?” (Hebrews 1:5) And yet in John’s prologue we read, “To those who received him and believed in his name, he gave the authority to become the children of God.” (John 1:9) We also read today, “To which of the angels did he ever say, ‘Sit at my right hand until I have made your enemies a footstool under your feet?'” (Hebrews 1:13) And yet Paul encourages us: “The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet,” (Romans 16:20) and elsewhere asks bickering Christians, “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (I Corinthians 6:3) Behold the man! Behold the firstborn of many brothers, the Son of God who became a man so that men might become the Sons of God. Behold the One who became what we are that we might by grace become what he is. Behold the supreme exemplar of what it means to be Christian.

Behold the man and behold the first-born of all Creation, through whom and by whom all things were made! Behold the Uncreated Son of God who has entered the Creation and forever transformed what it means to be a creature! Behold the Saviour of the whole Creation, the Victor who will return to Heaven bearing as trophies not merely his transfigured saints but the whole Creation! Behold the One by whom and through whom all things were created! Behold the man!

Pontius Pilate spoke words that were deeper than he could have possibly imagined. And Christ continued walking the fateful journey before him, continued walking to the place of the Skull, Golgotha, and finally struggled to breathe, his arms stretched out as far as love would go, and barely gasped out, “It is finished.”

Then and there, the entire work of Creation, which we read about from Genesis onwards, was complete. There and no other place the world was created, at 3:00 PM, March 25, 28 AD. Then the world was created.

That is a decisive moment, but decisive moments are not some kind of special exception to Christian life. Christian history and the Christian spiritual walk alike take their pace from decisive moments. I would like to look at the decisive moment in the Gospel reading.

In that reading, the people who have gathered to listen to Jesus went beyond a “standing room only” crowd to being so packed you couldn’t get near the door. Some very faithful friends of a paralytic did the only thing they could have done. They climbed on the roof and started digging through it. I suspect that the homeowner didn’t like the idea. But they dug in, and lowered him, hoping this teacher will heal him.

Jesus saw their faith and said, “Your sins are forgiven.” And people were shocked—there was a very good reason for this! If I have two friends, and one owes the other money, I can’t tell the first one, “Your debt is forgiven. It’s wiped clean.” That’s not my place. Sin is not a debt, or a crime, or even a disease. It’s worse. And Christ told a man who owed an infinite debt to God that his slate was wiped clean and his sins were forgiven. And the reason people were saying, “This man blasphemes! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” was that they understood exactly how significant it was for Jesus to say, “Your sins are forgiven.” Maybe they failed to recognize Christ as God (it is very rare that anyone but the demons identified him as the Son of God), but they were absolutely right when they said that Jesus was saying something that only God had the authority to say.

They were murmuring, and Christ knew why. So he asked them, “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Arise. Take up your mat and walk.'” Everybody knew the answer, that forgiving sins was an infinitely weightier matter, but Jesus was about to give a lesser demonstration of the exact same authority by which he said, “Your sins are forgiven.” He said to the paralytic, “Arise. Take up your mat and walk.” And the paralytic did exactly that.

That is authority. That is the authority that commands the blind to gaze on the light of the Transfiguration, the deaf to listen to the song of angels, the mute to sing with God’s angels, the lame to dance for joy, and what is greater than all of these, command you and me, sinners, to be freed from our sins.

Great and rare as the restoration of one paralytic may be, everybody knew that that was less important than the forgiveness of his sins. The story of that healing is a decisive moment.

But it’s not the only decisive moment, and there is another decisive moment that may be much less rare, much less something we want to write home about, but is profoundly important, especially in Lent. I am talking about repentance.

When the Holy Spirit convicts me of my sin, there are two responses I give, both of which I ought to be ashamed of. The first response is to tell God that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Now of course I am not blunt enough to tell God, “You don’t know what you’re doing.” (Perhaps it would be better if I did.) What I say instead is something like, “I can see where you’re coming from, and I can see that you have a point. But I’ve given it a little thought and I’d like you to consider a suggestion that is much better for everyone involved. Would you consider this consolation prize?” Now again, perhaps it would be better if I were honest enough to simply tell God, “You don’t know what you’re doing.” Not only is it not good that I do that, but it is spurning the grace of God.

When a mother takes a knife or a sharp pair of scissors from a little boy, this is not because the mother wants a pair of scissors and is too lazy or inconsiderate to go get her own pair: her motivation is entirely for the child’s welfare. God doesn’t need our repentance or our sin. When he commands us through his Spirit to let go of our sin, is this for our sake or for his need? It is entirely for our own benefit, and not something God was lacking, that we are commanded to repent from sin. And this has a deeper implication. If God convicts us from our sin and asks our surrender to him in the unconditional surrender for repentance, then that is how we will be healed from our sin: it is the best medicine chosen by the Great Physician, and it is out of his mercy that the Great Physician refuses all of our consolation prizes that will cut us off from his healing love. Repentance is terrifying at times; it is letting go of the one thing we least want to give over to God, and it is only once we have let go that our eyes are opened and we realize, “I was holding on to a piece of Hell!” The more we understand repentance the more we understand that it is a decisive moment when God is at work.

The second response I give to the Holy Spirit is even more an affront to the decisive now in which the Lord meets me. I say, “Well, I think you’re right, and I need to repent of it, only now isn’t the best time for me. I’d like to deal with it at another time.” Here, also, things might be better if I were at least honest enough to acknowledge I was telling God, “Your timing is far from perfect.” God lives outside of time, and yet he has all the time there is. There is never reason for him to say with a sheepish grin, “I know this really isn’t the best time for you, but I only have two minutes right now, and I’m going to ask for you to deal with this now even though this isn’t the best time.” When he comes and tells us to repent, now, the reason for that is not that some point later on we may feel more like repenting and that is a better time; the reason is that by the time I am struggling against God’s Spirit I have already entered the decisive moment when I can choose either to be cleansed and freed of my sin, or keep on fumbling for the snooze button while God tells me, “Enough sleep! It is time for you to arise!”

Let us repent, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Creation and Holy Orthodoxy: Fundamentalism Is Not Enough

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

Now

The Transcendent God Who Approaches Us Through Our Neighbor

Death

CJSHayward.com/death

Read it on Kindle for $3!

In the time of life,
Prepare for death.

Dost thou love life?
Be thou of death ever mindful,
For the remembrance of death,
Better befits thee,
Than closing fast thine eyes,
That the snares before thee may vanish.
All of us are dying,
Each day, every hour, each moment,
Of death the varied microcosm,
The freedom given us as men,
To make a decision eternal,
The decision we build and make,
In each microcosm of eternity,
Until one day cometh our passing,
And what is now fluid,
Forever fixed will be made,
When we will trample down death by death,
Crying out from life to death,
O Death, where is thy victory?
O Grave, where is thy sting?
So even death and the grave,
Claim us to their defeat,
Or else,
After a lifetime building the ramp,
Having made earth infernal,
Closing bit by bit the gates of Hell,
Bolting and barring them from the inside,
We seal our decision,
Not strong enough to die rightly in life,
We sink to death in death,
Sealing ourselves twice dead.
Choosest thou this day,
Which thou shalt abide.

Seekest thou a mighty deed,
Our broken world to straighten out?
Seek it not! Knowest thou not,
That the accursed axe ever wielded in the West,
To transform society, with a program to improve,
Is a wicked axe, ever damned,
And hath a subtle backswing, and most grievous?
Wittest thou not that to heal in such manner,
Is like to bearing the sword,
To smite a dead man to life therewith?
Know rather the time-honeyed words,
True and healthgiving when first spoken,
Beyond lifesaving in our own time:
Save thyself,
And ten thousand around thee shall be saved.

We meet death in microcosm,
In the circumstances of our lives and the smallest decisions,
The decision, when our desire is cut off,
In anger to abide, or to be unperturbed.
Politeness to show to others, little things,
A rhythm of prayer to build up,
Brick by brick, even breath by breath,
Our mind to have on the things of Heaven or on earth,
A heart’s answer of love and submission,
To hold when the Vinedresser takes knife to prune,
The Physician takes scalpel to ransack our wounds,
With our leave, to build us up,
Or to take the gold,
The price of our edification,
And buy demolition in its stead.
Right poetic and wondrous it may sound right now,
Right poetic and wondrous it is in its heart,
But it cometh almost in disguise,
From a God who wishes our humility never to bruise,
To give us better than we know to ask,
And until we see with the eyes of faith,
Our humble God allows it to seem certain,
That he has things wrong,
That we are not in the right circumstances for his work,
When his greatest work is hid from our eyes,
Our virtue not to crush,
Knowing that we are dust,
And not crushing our frame dust to return.
Right frail are we,
And only our Maker knows the right path,
That we may shine with his Glory.

Canst thou not save thyself even?
Perchance thou mayest save another.
Be without fear, and of good cheer:
He saved others, himself he cannot save,
Is but one name of Heaven.
Canst not save thyself?
Travail to save another.
Can God only save in luxury?
Can God only save when we have our way?
Rather, see God his mighty arm outstretched in disaster,
Rather, see glory unfurl in suffering.
Suffering is not what man was made for,
But bitter medicine is better,
And to suffer rightly is lifegiving,
And to suffer unjustly has the Treasure of Heaven inside,
Whilst comfort and ease sees few reach salvation:
Be thou plucked from a wide and broad path?
Set instead on a way strait and narrow?
Give thanks for God savest thee:
Taking from thee what thou desirest,
Giving ever more than thou needest,
That thou mightest ever awaken,
To greater and grander and more wondrous still:
For the gate of Heaven appears narrow, even paltry,
And opens to an expanse vast beyond all imagining,
And the gate of Hell is how we imagine grandeur,
But one finds the belly of the Wyrm constricting ever tighter.

Now whilst the noose about our necks,
Tightens one and all,
Painful blows of the Creator’s chisel stern and severe,
Not in our day, nor for all is it told,
That the Emperor hears the words,
In this sign conquer,
The Church established,
Persecutions come to an end,
And men of valor seeking in monastery and hermitage,
Saving tribulations their souls to keep,
The complaint sounded,
Easy times rob the Church of her saints,
Not in our day does this happen:
For the noose is about our necks,
More than luxury is stripped away;
A Church waxen fat and flabby from easy living,
Must needs be sharpened to a fighting trim,
Chrismated as one returning to Orthodoxy,
Anointed with sacred oil for the athlete,
And myrrh for the bride.
And as Christian is given gifts of royal hue,
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh:
Gold for kingship,
Frankincense for divinity,
Myrrh for anointing the dead,
A trinity of gifts which are homoousios: one,
Gold and frankincense which only a fool seeks without myrrh,
Myrrh of pain, suffering, and death,
Myrrh which befits a sacrifice,
Myrrh which pours forth gold and frankincense.
And as the noose tightens about our neck,
As all but God is taken from us,
And some would wish to take God himself,
The chisel will not wield the Creator,
The arm of providence so deftly hid in easy times,
Is bared in might in hard times,
And if those of us who thought we would die in peace,
Find that suffering and martyrdom are possible,
We must respond as is meet and right:
Glory to God in all things!

Be thou ever sober in the silence of thine heart:
Be mindful of death, and let this mindfulness be sober.
Wittest thou not the hour of thy death:
Wete thou well that it be sooner than thou canst know.
Put thy house in order, each day,
Peradventure this very night thy soul will be required of thee.
Be thou prepared,
For the hour cometh like a thief in the night,
When thou wilt be summoned before Christ’s dread judgment seat.
If thou wilt not to drown,
Say thou not, I can learn to swim tomorrow,
For the procrastinator’s tomorrow never cometh,
Only todays, to use right or wrong.
If thou wilt not to drown,
Learn, however imperfectly, to swim today,
A little better, if thou canst:
Be thou sober and learn to swim,
For all of our boats will sink,
And as we have practiced diligently or neglected the summons,
So will we each sink, or each swim,
When thy boat is asink, the time for lessons is gone.

For contemplation made were we.
Unseen warfare exists because contemplation does not.
Yet each death thou diest well,
A speck of tarnish besmircheth the mirror no more,
The garden of tearful supplication ever healeth,
What was lost in the garden of delights:
Ever banished our race may be from the garden of delights:
‘Til we find its full stature in vale of tears,
‘Til we find what in death God hath hid,
‘Til each microcosm of death given by day to day,
Is where we seek Heaven’s gate, ever opening wide.

The Lord shepherdeth me even now,
And nothing shall be wanting:
There shall be lack of nothing thou shalt need,
In a place of verdure, a place of rest, where the righteous dwell,
Hath he set my tabernacle today,
He hath nourished me by the waters of rest,
Yea, even baptism into Christ’s lifegiving death.
My soul hath he restored from the works of death,
He hath led me in the paths of righteousness,
That his name be hallowed.
Yea though my lifelong walk be through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evils;
Thy rod and thy staff themselves have comforted me:
Thy staff, a shepherd’s crook,
A hook of comfort to restore a sheep gone astray,
Thy rod a glaive, a stern mace,
The weapon of an armed Lord and Saviour protecting,
Guarding the flock amidst ravening wolves and lions,
Rod and staff both held by a stern and merciful Lord.
Thou preparest before me table fellowship,
In the midst of all them that afflict me:
Both visible and invisible, external and internal.
Thou hast anointed me with oil,
My head with the oil of gladness,
And thy chalice gives the most excellent cheer.
Thy mercy upon me, a sinner, shall follow me,
All my days of eternal life even on earth,
And my shared dwelling shall be in the house of the Lord,
Unto the greatest of days.

Death may be stronger than mortal men, yet:
Love is stronger than death.

The Arena

The Damned Backswing

Maximum Christ, Maximum Ambition, Maximum Repentance

Why This Waste?