Bravo: I’m not sure there is a difference between a soliloquy and a rant. Needing to get something off one’s chest is not so much an exchange of information as a medicinal purge that provides relief. Maybe like the lancing of some festering boil.
However, let’s not hope that anybody anywhere ever changes their opinion of political figures because they have heard the rant, they may however change their opinion of the ranter.
Myself and other Trump supporters find ourselves in a dark place after the election but one thing we have learned is that talking about him with non supporters is futile as we automatically write each other off as lacking in intelligence and understanding.
The only question I ask myself is ”do I care if the person I engage with continues as a friend”
From the bible I have learned that a few words can start a forest fire that cannot be controlled.
So if a relationship is worth being preserved, do not engage, do not even send clues about your opinion. The temperature is too high. It could be costly in every sense of that word.
If a continued friendship is not important then a polite rant might may serve as a relief valve, for simply medicinal purpose of course.
In that vein there are several old friends that I have contentedly let go their own way and I’m sure they feel the same.
It’s all a great shame and sad when expressing your personal opinions is an act of war.
I will certainly not however, engage in church or anywhere important.
I’m not even an American but I can see that what might be considered as the greatest and most influential nation on earth is divided so dangerously with the fault lines running through all aspects of society including the family structure.
Alpha: Thank you for information about how my post will be received.
I do not think it is a rant that G.K. Chesterton said in his “A Defense of Patriotism,”
‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’
The question of whether Donald Trump would knowingly incite violence to reverse an election against him is a question of this magnitude. It has been said that violence is in the U.S. political constitution (https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2021/01/americas-history-of-political-violence). I retweeted a tweet saying “This is the worst thing that happened in U.S. history unless you’ve read a book on U.S. political history.” Nonetheless, I see a difference between “Donald Trump, assuming he follows American political tradition of recognizing an election went against him,” and “Donald Trump, with or without civil war.”
However, I would see Confucius’s “It is useless to take counsel with those who follow a different Tao” as applying not only to “Against Donald Trump by any means necessary,” but people who will not accept that a Trump supporter says he has gone too far.
It is consonant with the verdict of history to say that the United States lost the nineteenth century civil war.
I expect that the verdict of history will be that the world lost this civil war…
It is a matter of historical fact that General Lee ceased hostilities first, and today all the states that seceded are legally part of the United States.
But talking about who won that war is a bit like talking about who won the earthquake in Lisbon that shook the Enlightenment.
Bravo: Hi again Alpha,
In calling your comments a rant I in no way meant to imply that what you said was without a thoughtful basis. However , in this day and age the stakes are much higher and with social media, opinions burn much brighter and are more widespread.
Being retired and largely independent of external pressures I am free to express whatever ideas I have. They can’t take my job away.
There is however something that needs to be addressed .The thought that corruption is alive and well at the highest levels of American society is no longer confined to some isolated extremists hiding in the mountains of Montana.
I realize that violence is an historical building block of the American experience but, the only reason that the country overcomes this violence is the belief that the democratic process is solid and largely without corruption.
Approximately half the country however, now has doubts that the democratic exercise is healthy and at the same time the judicial process is viewed with similar suspicion.
The overly technical, clumsy and drawn out voting procedures leave so many thinking, if we don’t have fair elections, what do we have? The answer is obvious.
I know that for constitutional reasons the USA population is armed to the teeth but it also may reveal that the population has always had a general distrust of it’s own institutions.
As a Canadian we have much to be concerned about in our own political process but the suggestion of widespread fraud never comes up.
But we are though so dependant on the USA for many things , democracy being number one and if you stumble and there is widespread distrust of your institutions all democracies are at risk.
The social media is of course a catalyst for all manner of social change. Some good some very scary.
Of course many of us outside your country love you and wish you well not just for your sakes but most importantly for ours.
Alpha: I agree with most of this, and am concerned about a downward spiral. Republicans and Democrats alike are contributing in large amounts.
Charlie: Good morning.
We conservatives have been struggling with an imperfect vessel of our faith, to say the least, in Trump. One common meme was that he used the same playbook they wrote to take down American culture against them. (Rules for Radicals, dedicated to Lucifer by the author Saul Alinsky, who was also a mentor of Hillary Clinton). This comes down to the game theory of the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma. The way to get someone who has been hitting you for five decades to stop hitting you is to hit them back in the same way, every time, until hitting you no longer benefits them. It was cathartic to see the weapons they forged against us turned back on them. It had a certain scriptural precedent in that Hammon in the book of Ester is hung on the gallows he prepares for the Jews. Or Gideon blowing trumpets outside an enemy camp and all the armies within the camp killing each other in confusion.
They certainly have insanely low expectations of their own morality, and embody Borderline Personality Disorder. Add to that the origins of these policies in people wanting to bring down the country and destroy it (Frankfort School, etc), coupled with globalist feudal concepts like the so-called “Great Reset”, and you can see our concerns. We’ve seen this play before where some Germanic deadbeat rants some grand plan for humanity (Karl Marx, Adolph Hitler, or now Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum) and next thing you know, we are being marched off to death camps for disagreeing. Or getting our communications channels shut down, or possibly getting our online assets frozen. In each case, we are called conspiracy theorists for reading the books where they lay out their plans in their own words.
But that’s all politics. What about faith?
I keep coming back to this verse…. “Do not repay evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.”
I suspect if we ever see another conservative leader in this nation, it will have to be someone who isolates the ideologies rather than the individuals, as Trump did following the Alinsky rules. It may also be the only way we survive this whole purge or open any communications whatsoever outside this wall. If communicating with relatives, don’t attack the relatives. Attack the ideas if you must, but present better ones in full light and let them either come to the light or run from it. They will tend to internalize and regard as “in group” people like Pelosi, who endorsed the Jim Jones cult prior to the mass suicide back when they were still in California. Jones seems to be the role model of big tech, in terms of isolating their membership and only feeding them one story, constantly, at high volume. Any attempt to question the leader or exit the compound is met with harsh threats and condemnation, just as it was with Jonestown. This won’t end well. It may involve a Pygmalian Effect of separating the person and your expectations of them from their actions and opinions, in hope of drawing them to their better angels, in a positive feedback loop. One of my best friends is a leftist atheist, who was hardcore Michael Moore and Bush Derangement Syndrome two decades ago, who now is a Trump supporter who loves Jordan Peterson. Baby steps, I guess, but certainly unexpected. I’ve always loved her dearly, accepted her confessions of past crazy things, and treated her soul like a treasure. And shockingly, she’s felt the same towards me. That should be what America is all about. It once was. For us, it still is.
Scripture makes it clear we are to present the light and let them either come or go when they see it. We should of course pray first, during, and after for the seeds to fall on good soil. But the sower isn’t responsible for improving the soil. Only scattering the seed. We shouldn’t do things, either in culture or in our own hearts and souls, that make our own soil more stony. We can cancel out of institutions that hate us. The converse of “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” is “don’t feed the mouths that bite you”. Some seeds may take time to grow, so we maintain kindness in those situations. We overcome evil with good, as we were told.
I’m feeling deeply called to re-read the New Testament to see how the church did last time a tiny group of eleven people got cut off by a global government who wanted them all dead. A big part of that was that the disciples were the only light in a world that had gotten very, very, very dark. In such a world, not everyone is blind, but all eyes are equally useless until someone comes into the caves with a lantern lifted up to get their attention and held low to show the path. That may involve shaking the dust from our clothes as we exit Facebook groups or what not. It’s been bitterly disappointing seeing people I once regarded as mentors or at least role models go full Herodian.
Tomorrow can be as dark as it dang well please, because we don’t live there yet. Each day has enough trouble of its own, as Jesus said. As a pastor once said, there is as much darkness a foot ahead of God as there is a mile behind. Prepare for what may come, but focus on the wisdom God gives you in what to do each day. The days ahead will separate wheat from chaff, so grow your wheat and starve your chaff while you still have roots to draw from and sunlight to grow in. Night is coming, when no man can work.
I also come back to a few other verses. Matthew 10:16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Do not neglect feeding your innocence, the starving of your guilt, nor observing with wisdom the things around you.
2 Chronicles 7:14 “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Alpha: Thank you. I disagree with you on many points, but I appreciate your taking the time and effort to seriously address the question.
One thing I might mention is a sort of “ethnocentric compliment” to the GOP. I haven’t pressed points against the left as much as the right, and it’s not because I think the left is better than the right (I am expecting disaster to unfold further with where Trump has placed the left, and we’re due to have a president Assume Emergency Powers), but because post-Truth Republican politics represent a greater failure to live up to conservative principles than post-Truth liberals politics fail to live up to liberal principles (unless you want to go along the same lines as Chesterton did in saying, “As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals.” or Fr. [Richard John] Neuhaus in saying that insofar as extending the franchise is bedrock to liberalism, the pro-life position is “in fact the liberal one”).
I’m also reading the New Testament and trying to focus my gaze on the Christ who is Truth.
One other thought: Kallistos Ware, in The Orthodox Church (the standard English-language introduction to the Orthodox Church) comments briefly that the position of Christians today as being perhaps more like the Early Church than anything else. (The book is a must-read for certain audiences, but I am not offering it as directly how one ought to handle the things we have been discussing.)
Orthodoxy is not really involved in reconstructing the Early Church, but you might take a cue from oca.org/saints, with different saints’ lives each day of the year and Early Christian martyrs as one type of regularly recurring figure.
Our role might not be to bring out a situation where we would be citizens of the Christian, Byzantine Empire where the society was Christian, but to be sacrifices who, like the Early Church, shone the light of one candle rather than curse the darkness (and, eventually, triumphed over the Empire that wanted them dead).
When the Roman persecutions ended, one saint complained that easy living robs the Church of her saints.
Monasticism, called “white martyrdom” where what you would ordinarily call martyrdom is called “red martyrdom,” is essentially a surrogate for in peaceful times how you can obtain the spiritual profit known in the Early Church, persecuted in the Roman Empire.
Delta: Hi all
I have been following the correspondence with interest, although not being in North America some of the allusions pass me by!
What worries me is not so much the politics as the situation. Whatever their views, when large social media companies can disenfranchise bits of the population, life is getting dangerous. When some of those disenfranchised then set up their own platform, only to have it closed by a large retailer (Amazon), then I am really worried! At that point government has become irrelevant and it doesn’t matter much who is “in power”, because they are not.
Bravo: Yes Delta,
We are entering uncharted territory. It is no joke when power is vested in totally unelected corporate entities and the government sees them as allies rather than the “robber barons“ of yesteryear.
On social media we should be very wary . How many people could be losing jobs, or more, because of incorrect positions on Facebook?
We are rapidly approaching the same system already in effect in China and elsewhere , where citizens obtain scores based on evaluation through social networks.
This system of public exposure and correction is already playing a part in a small local network used in our municipality.
We cannot even be sure that this forum will always be free and available.
Social media has put the excesses of the Middle Ages on steroids.
Keep your eyes on Jesus, Look full in his wonderful face, And the things of this world will grow strangely dim, In the light of his glory and grace.
It’s been some time that Twitter has had people seeing that at least some strains of conservative tweets (regarding LGBTQ+) were artificially censored from showing up from trending on Twitter.
Do We Have Rights? applies here. It may be helpful to see that what we have been deprived of has never been our right to begin with.
Meanwhile, in what truly counts, all of us have God’s ear, and his Providence.
To go to literal ancient history, I would like to look at economic policy under two emperors who persecuted Christians.
Decius created short-term convenience by devaluing the currency; in the ancient world, the value of (coin) currency was precious metal content, and he took in coins that were a third silver and paid out coins that were just dipped in silver.
Diocletian faced spiralling inflation, and (the one point where I remember the text expressing astonishment that an emperor thought something would work) assumed that inflation was just due to merchant greed, and placed signs by marketplaces announcing maximum prices and forbidding merchants on pain of death from charging more. Unfortunately for everyone, these prices were below cost for merchants, and legal merchants stopped selling things… which ended up driving prices even higher.
Now to more recent history in Wheaton, one move that was taken to curb Wheaton going liberal was to require professors to sign a Statement of Faith that said, among other things, that Adam and Eve were created from earth and not from hominids. I remember speaking with one psychology professor who interviewed with Wheaton and said she didn’t really believe that Adam and Eve were not made from hominids. She met with an answer of, “None of us really believe that,” and she responded with an astonished, “Then don’t sign it!”
The intent in the move was to curb liberalizing movements by selecting for people such as Wheaton attracts who believe in literal creation of humans not from any other life form but straight from earth. Unfortunately, such people exist but they are few and far between. The actual effect was to select for people such as Wheaton attracts who would perhaps openly cross their fingers in signing a major commitment to belief, which may have accelerated feminism’s becoming dominant at Wheaton.
I think, rightly or wrongly, that some of Donald Trump’s actions may accelerate things which have a nasty backswing. And that maybe going tit-for-tat won’t solve the problem.
I’m not sure my last email was constructive.
I would like to give a link to the Sermon on the Mount, which is if anything the Constitution of the Kingdom of Heaven:
I’m returning to the Gospel after an overdose in current events.
I was winding down for sleep when I had something come to mind. I am usually wary when I meet surprising cultural finds that alter the plain sense of a Biblical text significantly, but I post from Blessed Are the Peacemakers, the oldest work on my site:
Jesus said “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matt. 5:39) This is not a command to act as if you have no rights and passively let yourself be regarded as subhuman, but rather an insistence on the fact that you do have rights. In the society of that time, a slap on the cheek was not intended as a physical injury but rather as an insult, putting an inferior back in his or her place. The strength of that insult depended greatly upon which hand dealt it: as the left hand was seen as unclean, a slap with the left hand was the insult far greater than one dealt with the right hand. This was reflected in the legal penalties for an inappropriate slap: the penalty for slapping a peer with your left hand was a fine one hundred times the penalty for slapping a peer with your right hand; the penalty for slapping a better with your right hand was a fine while the penalty for slapping a better with your left hand was death. The people Jesus was speaking to most directly were, by and large, slaves and the downtrodden. A slap on the right cheek was dealt with the left hand. To turn the other cheek would leave the master with two options. The first would be to slap the slave again, but this time with the right hand (therefore declaring the slave a peer). The second would be not to slap the slave again (therefore effectively rescinding the first slap). Now, such impudence and sauciness would often tend to bring punishment, but it none the less says “Hey, I’m a human. I have rights. You can’t treat me like this.” It is not an action without suffering for oneself, nor does it inflict suffering on the “enemy”: but it does say and do something in a powerful way.
“Go the extra mile” was commanded in reference to compulsion to carry a soldier’ pack (same term in some language as would be used for military conscription), on Rome’s decisively good roads, with mile markers (in more or less the same sense as some countries have mile markers today).
A Roman soldier could conscript civilians to carry his pack for one mile but not more, and he faced stiff punishment if he required someone to carry his pack for more than a mile. The expected civilian behavior would be to carry an onerous pack until the next mile and then get away from it as quickly as possible. An entirely unexpected behavior would be to carry the soldier’s pack for one mile, and then keep on walking to try to carry it to two miles.
As Orthodox now, I have accepted communion with warrior-saints like St. George and St. Mercurius, and people who did not raise a finger in self-defense, like St. Boris and St. Gleb. Meaning that I do not get to pick and choose who is pleasing to God. I also have dropped my assumption that we have rights.
I’m wondering, though, if there might be some pearls in the sand in Blessed Are the Peacemakers. Christ was, at least on the account I mentioned (which I heard in a pacifist church), giving an effective and unexpected outline of resistance to be used by the poor and downtrodden. Some people have said they liked the article, and one veteran I asked for feedback on it said that there are precious few articulations of a pacifist position (and I did specifically engage soldiers for feedback). It’s fairly easy to find an articulation of just war; explaining how pacifism could make sense is not so easily found.
The emperor Valens, mercilessly sending into exile any bishop who displeased him, and having implanted Arianism into other Asia Minor provinces, suddenly appeared in Cappadocia for this same purpose. He sent the prefect Modestus to Saint Basil. He began to threaten the saint with the confiscation of his property, banishment, beatings, and even death.
Saint Basil said, “If you take away my possessions, you will not enrich yourself, nor will you make me a pauper. You have no need of my old worn-out clothing, nor of my few books, of which the entirety of my wealth is comprised. Exile means nothing to me, since I am bound to no particular place. This place in which I now dwell is not mine, and any place you send me shall be mine. Better to say: every place is God’s. Where would I be neither a stranger and sojourner (Ps. 38/39:13)? Who can torture me? I am so weak, that the very first blow would render me insensible. Death would be a kindness to me, for it will bring me all the sooner to God, for Whom I live and labor, and to Whom I hasten.”
The official was stunned by his answer. “No one has ever spoken so audaciously to me,” he said.
“Perhaps,” the saint remarked, “that is because you’ve never spoken to a bishop before. In all else we are meek, the most humble of all. But when it concerns God, and people rise up against Him, then we, counting everything else as naught, look to Him alone. Then fire, sword, wild beasts and iron rods that rend the body, serve to fill us with joy, rather than fear.”
Reporting to Valens that Saint Basil was not to be intimidated, Modestus said, “Emperor, we stand defeated by a leader of the Church.” Basil the Great again showed firmness before the emperor and his retinue and made such a strong impression on Valens that the emperor dared not give in to the Arians demanding Basil’s exile.
(to Bravo:) I really appreciate how you have spoken about the U.S.
I know that Canadians can get weary of being regarded like the fifty-first state, and one Canadian roommate compared the relationship between our countries as “a mouse in bed with an elephant: the elephant does not know if the mouse is there, but if it rolls over, the mouse is squashed.”
If I had lived in the days of Whigs and Tories among the colonies, I might have fled to Canada.
Bravo: Growing up in war torn England and walking the graveyards of dead Americans gave me an appreciation for the “Yanks”. Also living within walking distance of the border and having spent considerable amount of time in the States gave me a genuine affinity for Americans and their zest for life and freedom.
Canada is also a great but somewhat different country, however to use another analogy of our relationship.
”Living in Canada is like living above an apartment one where they are having a rowdy but fun party.” Maybe you could turn it down a touch.
G.K. Chesterton wrote a letter to the editor after a newspaper requested answers to the question, “What is wrong with the world?”
His answer, “Sir, I am.” was the shortest letter to the editor in newspaper history.
St. Isaac the Syrian and St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “Acquire a spirit of peace within yourself, and ten thousand around you will be saved.”
Everybody has an opinion about what needs to change after the riot.
Fortunately, with me the one political necessity is within my power: to recognize that “It is a trustworthy saying, ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief,'” and to repent of my sins and take them to confession.
(It may be noted that a book contest to come up with the most politically incorrect book was won by a book about Orthodox priest and monk Fr. Seraphim of Plantina: Not of This World, which was pointed out to be barely political enough to be politically incorrect: but the best politics are in fact not of this world.)
But I am preparing for something tomorrow that is more political than my voting.
I am going to confession and own up to my sin as best as I can. And try to do better.
There was a private email conversation I had with a friend, when I really thought that what I had written should be adapted for public use.
What of the situation of people who may agree with me about Orthodoxy and Contraception and believe that children are the crown and glory of marital relations, but while married they are childless? Let me say a few things.
First, I feel your pain, and I am praying for you, and I have held children born to childless couples. I would love to hear of a new life.
Second, if you were married before you joined the Orthodox Church, and have not requested to have your marriage crowned, ask for your marriage to be crowned. If you have received communion together after being received into the Orthodox Church, you are married in the Church, so no question of illegitimate relations. However, crowning is a blessing on marriage that you should have.
Third, Saint Anna loves you! In the story of Saints Joachim and Anna, they reached old age without having children, and Saint Joachim was not only childless but he was jeered at because, people thought, he and his wife were childless as punishment for their sins. In fact they were not being punished for their sins; they were just childless. While repenting of sin is almost always good for all of us*, in their old age God granted Saints Joachim one single child: a daughter, who bore one single grandson for them to rejoice in: the Son of God Jesus Christ.
Today the bonds of barrenness are broken,
God has heard Joachim and Anna.
He has clearly promised them that beyond hope, they would bear a divine child,
by whom the uncircumscribable One was born as a mortal Man,
Who commanded the angel to cry to her:
“Hail, O full of grace,
the Lord is with you!”
Kontakion — Tone 4
(Podoben: “You have appeared today…”)
Today the world keeps festival
at Anna’s conceiving, wrought by God;
for she bore her who inexpressibly conceived the Word of God.
Troparion — Tone 4
Divinely-wise Anna, you carried in your womb the pure Mother of God, who gave life to our Life.
Therefore, you are now carried joyfully to the inheritance of heaven,
to the abode of those who rejoice in glory,
where you seek forgiveness of sins for those who faithfully honor you, ever blessed one.
Kontakion — Tone 2
We celebrate the memory of the progenitors of Christ,
and with faith we ask their help,
that deliverance from every affliction be granted to those who cry out:
“Be with us, O God, who in Your good pleasure glorified them.”
There is a saying in some Orthodox forums, “As always, ask your priest,” and if you want to pray one or more of these hymns in your morning or evening prayers, or something else like that, ask a blessing of your priest or spiritual father, whose prayers and blessings are ever relevant.
I was at a parish where one wonderworking icon of Saint Anna was passed from one formerly childless couple to another, and I gave a well-received birthday gift, a plastic horse with wheels, to the son of one couple that had had the icon. Furthermore, this is not specific to St. Anna, but my best friend’s wife had medical treatment that in an attempt to save her life was expected to destroy her ability to bear a child. My friend saw this as a sadness, but said, “We can always adopt.” When I prayed I only asked for her life to be spared. Since then I have held a toddler and a baby they have had; God can give children even when one would medically expect treatments to cost the ability to bear a child.
Fourth, there is a miraculous vine on Mount Athos whose raisins are given, along with ascetical instructions for their use. If you’re interested, you can read more about it here. The sample letter below is not any specific required or special form; it’s just something I wrote; but I offer it for people who wouldn’t know what to say or what the address is. One possible letter is as follows:
[Your postal address, including your country]
Monks keeping St. Symeon’s Vine
Dear Monks Keeping St. Symeon’s Vine;
My wife and I have been married for [such-and-such amount of time] but have not yet been blessed with children.
We would like to have raisins from St. Symeon’s vine and ascetical instructions for their proper use.
By way of thanks, please accept the enclosed freewill offering [Note that this is not required; it’s just a nice gesture. As far as amount, maybe $20?]
[Signatures of wife and husband.]
Fifth, and on a more minor secular note, while I classify “Natural Family Planning” as contraceptive timing for people not honest about committing contraception, the principles of “Natural Family Planning” can be used to time intercourse so as to make it less likely that a child will be conceived, but they can also be useful to time intercourse to make it more likely for a child to be conceived. On that note, if you’ve prayed and you and your priest or spiritual father think this is something you want to pursue, check with a doctor. In a word, the advice is “Try to make a baby at the times of month that it would be most delightful for her, and other times as well.”
This is submitted in respect and love, and with the hope that you may welcome a little one!
* One question which some people have is, “Am I being punished for my sins?” and there is a natural human tendency to think that people deserve what good and bad things happen to them. I don’t know whether God is chastening you to bring you closer to him, and that question is above my pay grade; it’s something a clairvoyant elder might answer. Nonetheless, I would like to offer a word of advice that is in season whether or not God is trying to bring you to a better condition. (And in any case God does not want to punish sin; he wants to heal it, sometimes through hard measures when we do not mend after gentler correction.) And there is one point I would make clear: God does not punish for the sake of punishment. He disciplines, chastises, and speaks through painful circumstances when we do not obey the gentler voice of our conscience. C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers in our pleasures and shouts in our pains,” and sometimes he shouts where we need the message but don’t hear a whisper. God may use childlessness to help you grow spiritually, to seek him and experience even greater blessings. Or he may not; Saints Joachim and Anna were childless so that God could do something that changed everything. I don’t know, if you are having trouble having children, whether God is speaking with a hammer to give you good, or whether you are just childless for the glory of God. But in any case God is not punishing you in the sense of gleefully saying, “You tripped up, sinner, and now I get to make you suffer.” God provides things so that you may grow close to him, and this is true whether this is God chastising you to help you reach higher ground, or God has some other reason,
Repentance is Heaven’s best-kept secret, and it is joyful and hopeful, an opportunity to be freed from spiritual dead weight and enjoy what it’s like to let go of one more thing that is a miniature Hell. All of us need repentance, and if we take one step closer to God in repentance, God steps a million miles closer to us.
So whether or not you are being disciplined for your sins, certain advice is always in season. Repent, for the Kingdom of God draws nigh, and repentance is a privilege. Make repentance part of your entreaties to God to bless you with little ones, a bit like you make prayers that God would bless you with little ones. Offer God ascesis. Offer God efforts to seek his heart. And you may find yourself blindsided by reward, and not just pregnancy. And this is not just a principle for childless couples; it is a principle for life and for all of us sinners, of whom I am chief.
I would like to close this section with a poem someone sent me when I was having a really rough time. It applies, I believe, for any situation where you have a holy desire to welcome a child, and God hasn’t answered “Yes” to yet:
Behind those golden clouds up there
the Great One sews a priceless embroidery
and since down below we walk
we see, my child, the reverse view.
And consequently it is natural for the mind to see mistakes
there where one must give thanks and glorify.
Wait as a Christian for that day to come
where your soul a-wing will rip through the air
and you shall see the embroidery of God
from the good side
and then… everything will seem to you to be a system and order.
And I might gently suggest that God is weaving our lives for eternal glory if we will take it, and much as in the story of St. Joseph in the Bible is a tale of one difficulty after another where Joseph is thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, thrown in jail on a false accusation… and ends with all of this putting him into place to be second only to Pharoah in Egypt, reconciled with his brothers, and saving the known world.
I apologize if this is unwelcome, but in terms of our life stories that we will have all at once in eternity, there is a deep spiritual beauty in the story of a couple who wants a child pounding on Heaven’s gates in prayer, seeking God’s face, seeking purity and holiness, and maybe or maybe not finally have a child, and that beauty might have never developed if the couple had a pregnancy as soon as they really wanted one.
O Lord, I know not what to ask of Thee. Thou alone knowest what are my true needs. Thou lovest me more than I myself know how to love. Help me to see my real needs which are concealed from me. I do not dare to ask either a cross or a consolation. I can only wait on Thee. My heart is open to Thee. Visit and help me, for the sake of Thy great mercy. Strike me and heal me; cast me down and raise me up. I worship in silence Thy holy will and Thine unsearchable ways. I offer myself as a sacrifice to Thee. I have no other desire than to fulfill Thy will. Teach me to pray. Pray Thou Thyself in me. Amen.
It is not particularly unusual for a teenager to lie awake in bed and wonder about the biggest questions: “Who are we?”, “Where did we come from?”, “Where will we go?”
What is unusual in my case, as I wondered and tried to answer questions like, “Is there an external world?”, “Can there be a perpetual motion machine?”—”If so, how can it get started?” “What does it mean to be ‘”Jonathan Hayward?'”, “Am I a being of the same class as those I observe about me?”, is that I was not a teenager. I was a little boy, too young to think about any of those questions in words. and so I worked out my idiosyncratic and even solipsistic metaphysics by thinking in pictures, and this is in fact my earliest memory.
People (some agree, some don’t) say that a person’s earliest memory can be illuminating, and it has been commented that this is an unusual first memory. I have read a number of people’s earliest memory stories, and not one that I have read is like this. The one that jumps to memory is a girl saying she remembered her Mom holding her and then passing her to another woman, and asking, “Who is this?” and being told, “That’s your grandmother.” An earliest memory is normally a story, not to mention simple and concrete. I was a bit of an outlier.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
I was born in 1975, a firstborn son to John and Linda Hayward, when my father was a grad student. My father studied physics, and my mother would go on to study the teaching of English to speakers of other languages. I was born almost three weeks overdue. A botch by my Mom’s obstetrician meant that at my birth both my mother and I were fighting a deadly infection. I spoke in complete sentences before my first birthday, and at the age of two fell down stairs and hit my head on a concrete basement floor. My eyes rolled back and I did not respond to stimuli. I survived, but spoke slowly, spoke very little, and stuttered. My Mom prayed over me and the stuttering was taken away. When my father had graduated and I was one, my parents moved to Macomb, Illinois, where my father taught at Illinois State University (their homepage shows a young woman wearing goggles that are simply inappropriate for the work she is doing, a common syndrome when photographers try to make a model look scientific). A major goal in their move was to be able to raise me outside of smog. When I was three, my family moved again, to the house where I have my earliest memory, and where my father began teaching at Wheaton College, where he worked until retirement. He had studied physics, but worked in computer science, and served both as a professor and a high-level in-house consultant at Wheaton. He introduced me to puzzles and questions relating to what we found most interesting in computer science (e.g. a question about the foundational ‘pigeon hole principle:’ “You are in a dark room and cannot see at all, and have a drawer full of mixed black and white socks. What is the minimum number of socks you can take to be sure you have a matched pair?”), and Unix computer games, which I dialed into by modem.
Schooling from kindergarten on
I have fond memories of Lowell Elementary School, where I entered in kindergarten, sometimes dressed up as a cowboy with chaps or in a suit, and attended until third grade, when school and my parents sensed that I would do better at a specifically gifted school, and I entered Avery Coonley School in fourth grade, where the headmaster bent a number of rules and awarded me 25% of the total financial aid awarded by the school for that year so my parents could afford to send me. I was initially placed in the less advanced of two math groups (one year ahead instead of two), and in eight grade ranked 7th nationally in the 1989 MathCounts competition, programmed a four dimensional maze, conducted an independent study of calculus, and (re)invented recursion in programming and iterated integration in calculus.
After a brief class in modern algebra for math whizzes at the the University of Chicago which I didn’t really get, I skipped a freshman year at a local school to enter the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, where I continued to get high ranks in math contests, ran a Unix server that did the work of a local and hard-to-use social network. and actively participated in discussions, and programmed a video game on my calculator. Someone commented later that this was the first video game they’d heard of where you lose points for shooting things, although I wasn’t trying to be original. (I was trying to implement a game I’d envisioned in gradeschool.) In order to justify a decision, my high school asked me to take an IQ test, and the psychologist scoring the test almost fell off her chair.
The summer after my junior year of high school I trained as an Emergency Medical Technician at College of DuPage because I was frustrated at the shallowness of what I had taken in first aid class. I was also unsatisfied with the Emergency Medical Technician training, as it seemed to me then to only teach enough medicine to package patients up and ship them to the local emergency room, but there have been a few times I’ve used my training: once two summers later, in Malaysia, where I helped provide some faint parody of suspected spinal injury management in helping a motorcycle accident victim, who had evidence of serious internal injury, get to the emergency room when he was loaded into a nearby van instead of an ambulance. I also used knowledge about heat, years after that, to get an elderly dog to stop shivering after she was taken outside for a potty break and made a lethargic beeline to the place in the yard where the wind was least bitter, and stood there, shivering, until I picked her up and carried her back inside and did what I could to raise her body temperature. (I do not think she would have survived for more than a few hours more if I had not had that prior medical knowledge.)
I mentioned that two summers later I was in Malaysia. It was wonderful and I didn’t want to leave. The rest of my family went there for a calendar year; I choosed to stay in the U.S. for my freshman year of college, but joined my family for the summer. It awakened a lifelong interest in culture and the many ways time can be experienced, but beyond that I would refer to a book on writing college admissions essays which talked about avoiding clichés that college admissions officers are tired of reading, which included pet death and The Travel Experience, which runs something like, “In my trip to _______, I met new people and new ways of doing things. _______ challenged assumptions I didn’t even know I had, and has changed me forever. [And so on and so forth about life in _______.]” Please note that this description is entirely ambiguous about what continent, island, or space station “_______” was located on. Living in Malaysia was a life-changing experience, an eye-opener, and a delight, however I try to be careful to avoid stretching social patience in talking about my cherished travel experiences. Those who have already had a travel experience know what it is like; those who haven’t don’t want to hear me gush on and on.
I entered Wheaton College as a National Merit Scholar, but ran aground on a particular community requirement which, like others before and after me, some Christians are not comfortable with. When I stopped running from my conscience, I took the unprecedented step of appealing to the Board of Trustees to give a conscientious exemption to this requirement (no lesser figure had the necessary authority), they did not pay me the courtesy of letting the item be put on the agenda for consideration (they thought the voluntary nature of Wheaton made my concerns “evaporate”). The requirement, that Wheaton students don’t drink and dance, has variously and inconsistently been defended by Wheaton leadership as “just social mores,” “like vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity,” and a strict requirement of Wheaton’s conscience. I lay on bed at night, wondering, “If this is how Christians act, do I want to be a Christian?”
I transferred to Calvin with a broken heart. I ended up being able to take all of the highest-level math classes offered at Wheaton and also at Calvin, in totall a major and a half’s worth of them. I spent a semester in Paris at the Sorbonne, where I imagined the cultures of my own fantasy world, “Espiriticthus,” a fusion of the beauty I saw in Malaysia and France. I met my first Luddite, a man who commented simply that he would look into the window to the computer lab and observe that everybody seemed to be angry as they were typing. On a larger scale, I also had a painful relationship with a girl named Rebecca. In that troubled relationship, I am not interested in stating what she did wrong. I am interested, however, in stating what I did wrong. I approached that relationship, like life itself, as a department of mathematics. Meaning, as time passed, I did not relate to Rebecca as especially human, and I did not relate to myself as especially human either. Our relationship was mercifully broken off.
I spent a summer as a camp counselor and entered as a graduate student at UIUC, where I managed to get a master’s in applied mathematics, with a thesis accomplishing one thing usually associated with a PhD: carving out a niche where I knew more than anyone else in the world, in this case opening a new subbranch of “point-set topology” whose implications included a straightforward but rigorous way to handle infinitesmals such as bedeviled the foundation of calculus, in an academic discipline where it was hard to find something new to prove. Nonetheless, my advisor, the department chair, told me in one prolific summer that he regarded my many emails (see a later writeup of one topic covered) as “mathematics fiction” by analogy with “science fiction,” and he did not regard my math awards as indicating in any way that I was adequate in mathematics. He and one other professor approved my thesis without reading the second half.
Entering the work world, or trying to
My first job out of college, at an anonymous company, told me when I was hired that I had gotten the highest score on one test of any applicant yet, and I had gotten a perfect score on the linear logic test, and I submitted the best code sample they’d seen (“reads like plain English”). Then things turned a little odd. I believe the reasons were complex, but they boasted about the computers they gave employees then gave me what was apparently a hand-me-down, and more seriously when, in the interview process, I asked if I would be able to program in what was then the darling language in IT, I was told I would program in a language they compared to a Formula One racecar, but once hired, I was told I would program in a language that had a terrible reputation (one computer science great said that its use “…cripples the mind. Its teaching should therefore be regarded as a criminal offense;” lesser wits had compared it with a sexually transmitted disease in that “those who have it tend not to admit it in polite company”). I complained, believing in good faith that its use would be harmful for me. In retrospect I do not believe they made an intentional bait and switch, but there was some ineptitude in advertising what they advertised I would work with and then assigning what I was assigned to work with. Also, I think that is the main area where I earned my “not a team player” badge.
I was brainsized my third day on the job (they refused to tell me why…), and I was later told that fellow alumni of the company blocked me from getting jobs at other companies.
A few months later, I developed a terrible manic episode and my life was again in danger. However, the manic episode is less significant in its aftermath, where I was prescribed a year-long drug overdose that destroyed my abilities of mathematician. I spent a year of my life at my parents’ house (where I am still), lying on my bed, staring at the light bulb, with nary a thought running through my mind beyond, “This is worse than watching television.” When I saw my psychiatrist, I would inevitably ask, “When am I going to get my abilities back?” and with an edge of anger in his voice my psychiatrist would answer, “I don’t know. You’ve had a major manic episode, and it can take a long time to recover from a manic episode.” After about a year of this, my Mom dragged me against my will to a patient advocate group meeting on Wheaton College’s campus where a fellow patient, without medical credentials that I know of, listened to my complaints, asked about my medication, and said, “That’s not an effect of your manic episode. It’s your medication.”
I have incidentally complained about the provider’s preferred counselor to work with a complaint I could have directed at the psychiatrist equally well: trying to get anything done better was “like a magic spell, where you have to say just the right words, and say them just right, or else it’s all for nothing.” (It wasn’t, for instance, enough for me to tell him, and have other medical personnel he was working with to observe, that I was throwing up half my medication most days for a year. I had to make a request in just the right words, and just the right way, for him to prescribe the other form of the same medication which had all of the benefits of what he prescribed me, and no added drawbacks, but would not induce vomiting on a frequent basis.)
The hardest intellectual achievement I had made in my life was not some discovery; it was, after spending six months away from mathematics (including my semester studying French at the Sorbonne), regaining competency. I was never in my life to regain competency in research mathematics. Computer programming came back, but with difficulty and imperfectly. Humanities work, which I had always been interested in, came back almost immediately.
Picking up the pieces
After being on a less destructive dose, I took stock and tried to decide what I wanted to do with my life. I had had some rough times outside of academia; I would later hold one post for over a year, but I was fired after I reported a senior manager for harassment. I asked my pastor, who was also a professor at Wheaton College and one of the most charismatic people around, advice on how to get an interdisciplinary humanities degree, and was strongly advised to pick a single field and get a doctorate in that specific field: “American Studies” PhD’s from a department he taught at, who had studied an interdisciplinary fusion of American literature and history, were incredibly hard to place. History departments wanted a straight history PhD; literature departments wanted a straight literature PhD. I applied to several schools, and Cambridge University accepted me.
In the time between employment and Cambridge, I had joined a group of Wheaton students and some alumni, close friends, meeting every Tuesday night at 9:58 PM for a reader’s theatre reading of classic children’s literature, and it was lore that students from that group would enter a tailspin after leaving England (and it seemed almost every member of the group found a way to England at some point). However, I thought that that simply did not apply to me. It was not exactly arrogance on my part; past experience had been that I simply did not experience culture shock on cue. I had experienced culture shock, but not when I was expected to, and when culture shock was predicted, I experienced nothing particularly like culture shock. I had, furthermore, already lived abroad, so this wouldn’t be my first time outside the U.S.
New directions at, and after, Cambridge
There was a major crescendo of trial and providence involved in my getting to England; there were several distractions, and after six months of red tape and difficulties getting student loans, they fell into place one business day before I left. My college told me not to come into residence. Additionally, I had a growing lump by my collarbone and was very sleepy very often. Cambridge had admitted me for a diploma, not yet a master’s, and after I arrived on faith and things started working out, I was diagnosed and treated for lymphoma. And despite all this, I succeeded. After further difficulties and prayer, I was admitted to the master’s program, where at the beginning of the year I said I wanted to study the holy kiss, meaning a doctrinal study of ideas, and after reclassifying my intent as a sociological study of kissing that was not particularly edifying, I was told two thirds of the way through the year that my announced thesis topic did not fit my philosophy of religion seminar, and I would therefore have to change topic completely. (There was also some hideous confusion where it took all but two weeks to meet with my professor and fix the topic for my second compulsory essay, which was a two month project.) I pulled out the stops, wrote a still not particularly edifying thesis in AI as an Arena for Magical Thinking, and succeeded at earning a master’s in theology as well, albeit with not quite high enough marks to enter a doctorate. I went home and had my tailspin.
Now there were several things that happened along the way; the biggest one being, during my time at Cambridge, my reception into the Orthodox Church. And I would like to tell a bit about one particular nuance.
There is a tradition in Orthodoxy for people of sufficient age to choose a patron saint, and take that saint’s name. It is believed that not only does the catechumen choose the saint, but that the saint chooses the disciple from Heaven. I wanted to be called “John Adam:” “John” after John the Theologian, and “Adam” as bearing Sources of the Self’s burden of pioneering a new way of life for others to follow. I knew at some level that this was wrong, and I should have recognized I was choosing those names out of pride. A significant struggle occurred when I was wrestling with my guilty conscience, and after long resistance on my part, I repented. This just happened to be when a priest was reading the names of people commemorated in prayer. The next name I heard was “Christos,” and my surrender was complete.
The name has had some salutary side benefits I did not even think of. One thing I have found is that whether clergy are quick to dress me down for taking Christ as my patron gives me a highly effective early warning system for how well we will end up getting along. (It seems to reflect whether I am judged for obvious pride in choosing One above all Saints, versus perhaps seeing no legitimate way I might have been right in that choice, but still refraining from judging.) Now at my cathedral clergy are not happy about my name, but that came later, after I kept bringing horrible things to confession. I give no complaint about them. But social response has offered me a powerful and useful social cue.
As an author, I have usually given my name as “C.J.S. Hayward”, and on Facebook, which is not terribly friendly to such use of initials written out my name as “Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward,” which I thought would condense to “CJSH” when people spoke of me. I have been told that on Facebook it has instead condensed to “CSH,” meaning “C.S. Hayward.” Did I mention that I’ve read every well-known work by C.S. Lewis and most of his obscurities, and he formed me as a writer?
I might also mention that there is more besides the number of times my life has been in danger and I’ve survived (I seem to have more than a cat’s nine lives, though I have rarely been accused of being catlike.) I’ve had an awful lot of being in the right place at the right time in ways I do not that I can rightly take credit for. For instance, I built my first website within a year or two of the web’s creation, although it would be over a year between when I first built a website and I ever used a graphical browser. I used Lynx, a command line tool that displays text alone. It is still a good way to check if a site appears pornographic before loading graphical view; not the reason why I made a nasty parody site called “Revenge of the Hydra,” optimized for Internet Explorer, which if you load it, nine popup windows appear, and for each popup window you close, two more appear. (People on the Megalist wanted to ride me out on a rail for that one.) My main site, started in the early nineties, would grow to be a fixture of the web; when Google still published its PageRanks, my website had a PageRank of 5, a respectable PageRank for a medium to large sized organization, and was the top site in its category in directory.google.com. (I’ve won dozens of math awards, and hundreds of web awards.) It’s grown since then, and in some people’s opinions, it has only gotten better. Now I have worked long and hard to make my website a good site, but there was from the beginning a great deal of being in the right time and choosing decisions that would prove helpful for reasons I could not have imagined. I also published on the web when the tried and true advice was to pursue traditional publication. Now I am a traditionally published author; I’ve published two books with Packt, and they’ve been very good to me and I would heartily recommend contacting an acquisition editor for IT professionals who want to write a book. (Note to such professionals: the pay you receive directly from an IT publisher is a social courtesy; Packt pays more than many publishers but hardly enough to live on. For an IT professional to publish a technical book should be seen as a marketing move that will qualify you as a domain expert who can charge over $100 per hour for expert work.) However, while Packt is built to give structure to unformed authors, traditional publishing tripped me up, and my traditionally published titles are far from excellent and lower in Amazon ratings than those I’ve self-published. The core reason is that I do my best work when I am writing out of my heart, but working with editorial requests for major overhaul has been necessarily out of my head; I cannot summon or control my inspiration or awen at will. Even this work, alongside works I consider some of my best, is not the work I set out to write, though that is grace.
I wrote in another blog post that I believed I had experienced what I would call “fame lite.” Leonard Nimoy, in I am Spock talks about how Hollywood has teachers for all kinds of skills they would need to portray that skill in movies: musical instruments, riding a horse, and so on and so forth. However, there was something that no teachers were to be found in Hollywood: dealing with fame. Nimoy learned, for instance, how to enter a restaurant through the kitchen because there would be a public commotion if Spock walked in through the front door. And on that count, I do not obviously suffer the consequences of real fame. I’ve been asked for my autograph, once. I’ve had someone call out publicly, before I entered Orthodoxy, “That’s Jonathan Hayward!”, once. I have repeatedly had pleasant meetings with people who know me through my website. And since then, the only new tarnish to my claim of undeserved “fame lite” is in recent years when a job opportunity was really a cloak for attempted seduction. If that was because of my website or reputation; I am not sure it was.
My thorn in the flesh: harassment
However, there is another shoe to drop, a scorpion in the ointment: harassment. To take one example, whenever I made a new post to my website, an acquaintance from IMSA wrote extended and intense criticism that delivered pain, took me down quite a few notches, and elevating himself even more notches socially. No matter what genre, length, or really quality I posted, he would, he would deliver trenchant criticism that covered those bases.
At one point, when I explained why his contorting and twisting of my words into an actual alleged assertion that rape is the victim’s fault, followed by his giving me the most belittling lecture in my life, I explained where rape had come close to home and I found that the most offensive thing he’d said yet. He responded with another hefty serving of criticism. I asked him not to send any further criticisms on my writing. He responded with another hefty dollop of criticism of me personally. I asked him not to send any further unsolicited criticisms on any topic. He wrote, “Ok, I will not send any unsolicited criticisms, but I will take emails from you as solicitation for response,” and responded by another king-sized industrial strength dose of brutal, judgmental criticism.
A forceful “No” cc’ed to firstname.lastname@example.org stopped his criticisms cold, or rather I think that the help desk explained to the great liberal what the word “No” means.
I have not heard from him since apart from one request to list him as a trusted contact on LinkedIn.
I also can’t say that I missed him.
This sort of thing has happened dozens of times, and not just with people who post a fantasy of their alter ego luring a boy into a car and being finished with him in under five minutes. For one couple of amateur psychologists, my months or years-long ongoing, repeated “No” was slapped down with an assertion that I was “sending mixed messages” each and every time, combined with moving forward with their attempts to help me with my (alleged) Asperger’s. This kind of thing is why I made a T-shirt saying:
Autism Spectrum, n. A range of medical conditions whose real or imagined presence in your life causes numerous socially inappropriate behaviors in amateur psychologists.)
As far as underlying social dynamics go, in the Bible King Saul wanted St. David dead and sent St. David on a suicide mission that would require killing two hundred Philistines. St. David succeeded in his quest. Then women were singing in the streets, “Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands,” which was about the worst thing they could have done for St. David’s welfare. It really would have been better for St. David’s political stock if the woman had chanted a cultural equivalent of, “David smells bad and his mother dresses him funny.”
That was the point where Saul went from wanting St. David dead to making him Public Enemy #1 and engaging in extended manhunts after his first outright attempt at direct murder failed.
My giftedness is not simply from my genes, even if my parents are both at the top of their game. It is actually common for profoundly gifted individuals to have birth trauma or early childhood brain injury; such insults to the brain usually push a person towards intellectual disability, but once in a blue moon they overclock the brain and cause an intensification of overgrowth. I’ve had both routes, and however astonishingly bright my parents are, um…
I had higher SAT scores in 7th grade than my father had as a high school senior, and when I took the Modern Languages Aptitude test, the UIUC linguist who scored it said,
…and here’s where it gets interesting. I’ve never seen someone complete this section before… Your mother scored in the mid 150’s, which is considered a very, very high score. You scored 172. I don’t know what to make of it. I’ve been scoring this test for thirty years, and I’ve never seen a score this high…
I was looking to avoid mentioning this, but my parents, especially in my childhood, surprisingly often dealt with me in anger.
In a moment of “I have no mouth and I must scream” after other unrelated situations of harassment and hostility from several other people, I gave my scream in The Wagon, the Blackbird, and the Saab.
My quality of life improved remarkably when I learned that a “CEASE AND DESIST” letter Cc’ed to email@example.com or other authority figure can stop harassment cold.
Schooling: Another attempt
Returning to education, in 2005 I entered Fordham’s PhD program. What I think I’d like to say about that was that it was a golden illustration of St. John Chrysostom’s “A Treatise to Prove That Nothing Can Injure The Man Who Does Not Harm Himself.” During that time, there were occasions where my conscience was extraordinarily clear and I ignored it. Furthermore, while external things may have been inappropriate, it was my own sins that gave them real sting. That a doctor took me off a medication I needed was not my choice. That I worried to the point of uninterrupted waking nausea about whether I would be able to find employment given that my work in the business world had been clumsy and my PhD “union card” to teach in academia was jeopardized, worriedly asking, “Will there be a place for me?” was my decision. Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger quoted in the NFL said, “We suffer more in imagination than in reality,” and I suffered much more in imagination than in reality then—that was my decision, and not the decision of even the most hostile member of the university. Possibly I could have completed my degree if I had not ignored a conscience at full “jumping up and down” intensity when I didn’t see a reason for what my conscience was telling me, and possibly I am guilty for failing to accept tacitly offered help. I washed out of the program in 2007. Perhaps the other thing really worth mentioning is what I intended to be my doctoral dissertation, which I wrote up in non-scholarly prose that one Roman reader called “the most intelligent and erudite” thing he’d ever read: “Religion and Science” Is Not Just Intelligent Design vs. Evolution.
The birth of a unique area of attention
Now I’d like to shift gears a little bit and talk about something else that has slowly developed over the years, incrementally and mostly imperceptibly to me.
Like others before me, I’ve bristled at the concept of “an idea whose time has come.” My main use of it, as a programmer who poked fun at tools he did not like and tools he did like, was to quote a fake advertisement for Unix’s “X Windows:” “An idea whose time has come. And gone.” When at Fordham I read Vatican II’s almost incessant anxiety to pay attention to “the signs of the times,” meaning in practice to pay attention to whatever 1960’s fads were in the Zeitgeist and take marching orders from them, I pointed out that in searching the 38 volume Ante-Nicene Fathers and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers collections, I could only find three or four references to discerning the signs of the times, and never a slavish imitation of Zeitgeist; one of them simply meant being on guard against lust.
Nonetheless, there is a sense in which Zeitgeist is real. It is a well-known phenomenon among mathematicians that a major problem will remain unsolved for ages and then be independently solved at almost the same time by several researchers: hence mathematicians are advised that if they discover something major, they should write it up and publish it as soon as possible, because if they don’t, someone else will get the credit for first discovery. And this is in what is possibly the least Zeitgeist-like academic discipline.
Gandhi has been popularly misquoted as saying “First, they ignore you. Then, they laugh at you. Then, they fight you. Then, you win!” and while researchers have traced a legitimate Gandhi quotation about how victory will develop if you apply Gandhi’s satyagraha or nonviolence in dealing with people hostile to you, this did not sound much like Gandhi to me. Nonetheless, it has some grain of truth.
When I wanted to do research on the holy kiss, at first I was bluntly ridiculed by my then current Cambridge advisor; he responded by asking cutesie questions about whether we could find reasons to only kiss the members of a congregation who were the prettiest, notwithstanding that in England there is a well-established social kiss and “Greet one another with a holy kiss” does not come across as a shorthand for all inapplicable ancient nonsense in the Bible as it might in the U.S. midwest, where hugs between friends are within standard cultural boundaries but kisses ordinarily are not.
Furthermore, when I tried to write a dissertation on it, every professor that sought to guide me took my intended doctrinal study, and reclassified it as a study of a physical detail of Biblical culture, to be studied alongside other Realia like, “When St. Paul said to put on the whole armor of God and used a Roman soldier’s weapon and armor as a basis for the analogy, what kind of physical weapon and armor would have been in his imagination?” which overlooks that the “breastplate of righteousness” and the “helmet of salvation” are the armor that God Himself wears in Isaiah. I drew a line in the sand and told my second advisor that I wanted to do a doctrinal study. He immediately pushed past that line and said, “The best way to do that is to do a cultural study, and let any doctrines arise.”
To my knowledge I am the first person who observed that the holy kiss is the only act that the entire Bible calls holy (excluding one reference to a “holy convocation” in the Old Testament where a different Hebrew word is translated “holy”), and it is called holy three or four times. This is one of the highlights that I condensed into a homily, “The Eightj Sacrament.” But then a few years later, I suddenly had people contacting me to tell me about the holy kiss, and people asked if I knew more than I had stated in the homily (yes, I did; the Ante-Nicene Fathers and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers collections contain something like a hundred references to a holy kiss, many of them boilerplate repetitions of “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” in festal epistles by St. John Chrysostom). Earlier I was rudely enough ridiculed by allies; then I was contacted in response to my website to inform me about the holy kiss by complete strangers.
At the moment I would downplay the importance of the holy kiss for active study. It is practiced in the Orthodox Church; I have said everything I want to say; I do not seek a kiss where none is offered. I have moved on to other concerns, one other concern as I am letting go as Fr. Seraphim of Plantina is in the process of canonization (one of my books, the one that’s gotten by far the most scathing reviews, is The Seraphinians: “Blessed Seraphim Rose” and His Axe-Wielding Western Converts).
I would like to say that The Best of Jonathan’s Corner is what I consider my overall best collection across my works and leave things at that, but I am rather suspecting another case of “Man proposes, God disposes.” The most important collection I leave behind (if any) may well be The Luddite’s Guide to Technology. The topic is loosely “religion and science,” but it is very different in character. “Religion and science” as I have met it, with one stellar exception, is about demonstrating the compatibility of timeless revealed truths of Christian doctrine with the present state of flux in scientific speculation. Science is, or at least was, characterized by a system of educated guesses held accountable to experiment. Orthodox gnosology (understanding of knowledge) should find this to be very, very different from how true Orthodox theology works.
With one exception, none of the Orthodox authors I hold dear know particularly much about science. The one exception is patrologist Jean-Claude Larchet, who raises some of the same concerns I do about technology, and does some of them better. Everyone else (for instance, Vladimir Lossky) shows little engagement with science that I know of. And if I may refer to the Karate Kid movie that was popular in my childhood, the sensei tells the boy, “Karate is like a road. Know karate, safe! Don’t know karate, safe! In the middle, squash like a grape.” The “religion and science” I’ve seen has a lot of “in the middle, squash like a grape,” by theologians who want to be scientific (and perhaps make what I have called the “physics envy declaration:” theologians-are-scientists-and-they-are-just-as-much-scientists-as-the-people-in-the-so-called-hard-sciences-like-physics), but who almost never bother to get letters after their name in the sciences, which are genuinely hard. My own formation, in mathematics, engineering, technology, and science, affords me the position of the blackbelt who declares, “Don’t know karate, safe!” Perhaps one blackbelt saying such things is needed!
Furthermore, my main concern from mathematics, engineering, technology, and science (all of which I was formed in, even if I’ve lost much of it) is not too much about science, but specifically about technology. I’ve experienced technology early; my life story and could largely be seen as a preparation for commenting on technology. And I have background in both studying theology academically and living it in practice.
Another dimension to profound giftedness
One reader who has studied giftedness at length commented to me that profoundly gifted individuals are often “very, very conservative, or at least populist.” I had thought earlier that my conservatism and my giftedness were two separate things. They are not, or at least there is a direct relationship.
The basic way I understand it is this. Possibly I had a contrarian spine built by requesting a conscientious exemption from Wheaton College’s requirements and leaving Wheaton College after it was not even put on the agenda. I have certainly had as much exposure to liberal recruiting, or more, than most liberals. But standard methods of recruiting gifted are less successful in dealing profoundly gifted. The university system has very effective ways of drawing in the gifted, and up to a point the more gifted someone is the better it works—but recruiting tools fall flat with some of the profoundly gifted. Much of the gifted range ends up liberal. It has been pointed out that the math department tends to be one of the most liberal, or the most liberal, department on campus, even though the author pointing this out (and I) have never experienced mathematicians trying to recruit to liberalism. I believe, apart from natural bents, that mathematics shapes the mind in a way that inclines towards liberalism. I stopped really trying to learn chess after I found myself at the Cathedral looking at my quarantine-dictated socially distanced space with regard to other parishioners in terms of what I could threaten to capture in a knight’s move. That may be superficial, and it may fade into the background with deeper study. However, mathematics does shape the character, in the direction of what Orthodox have called “hypertrophied dianoia, darkened nous,” i.e. “overgrown head and impoverished, darkened heart,” and mathematics may do this in a more concentrated form than humanities which promote the same. I certainly do not see that my successes in relating to my ex-girlfriend (there are some) were due to my bent to take a mathematician’s approach to relating.
Something that never happened in my formation in mathematics was that my advisor at Cambridge consistently tried to recruit me to Biblical Egalitarianism (he was a plenary speaker at at least one conference), for instance, by asking, “But what about Biblical Egalitarians, who believe that ‘In Christ there is no… male nor female?'” and I would dismantle the live grenade, for instance by saying that “who believe that” in English-speaking idiom means “whose non-shared distinguishing quality is that,” and second by saying that he was snuggling into the back door that “no male nor female” be cast along at least quasi-feminist lines, as opposed to recognizing that some conservatives (St. Maximus Confessor, for instance) hold that in Christ there really is no male nor female, but read it along profoundly non-feminist lines. (I think after a certain number of attempts my advisor gave up and accepted that I would not listen to reason.)
Yonder, which is a collection of works intended to answer and challenge feminism, might have been provocative when it was first published. Now there is much more than than the men’s movement, which I consider opening men to feminist-style protest. It is mainstream for women to dissociate themselves from feminism and “Like” texts that challenge it. When the U.S. Supreme Court came out in rainbow colors, I posted a response echoing First Things in the discussion at StackExchange, whose CEO is an adamant gay activist, saying, “The question is not whether gay marriage is possible in the U.S., but whether anything else is popular. It has been established that marriage has no particular roles, is dissolvable, need not be open to bearing children, and so forth. Why suddenly draw a line in the sand about marriage involving a man and a woman?” It was censored, with a comment of “Not even close!” However, in the time since then, I have seen comments not censored about the whole policy violation of turning the StackOverflow logo rainbow colors for a time and flipping it to veer in the opposite direction, and so on and so forth, was in fact not StackOverflow’s best moment.
C.S. Lewis has a tantalizingly brief remark in ?The Allegory of Love?, in reference to Spencer who alone receives almost undiluted praise in a book that is exacting of other authors, about how figures who turn out to be what some people call “ahead of their time” seem an odd throwback to the vintage past, when they first appear. Even Bach was respected in his life as a performing organist but not taken too seriously as a composer, because he composed in an area of music that had simply fallen out of fashion. I don’t want to compare myself to the famous people who populate the most obvious examples, but in regard to what Lewis said, it seems that some of my portfolio has matured.
My critiques of feminism may still not be mainstream, but they are no longer so far off the beaten path. As far as raising concerns about technology goes, we have gone past the point where one very bright friend tweeted a link to Paul Graham’sThe Acceleration of Addictiveness and commented in only three words: “SOMEBODY UNDERSTANDS ME!” For that matter, we have gotten past the point where the cover of Time Magazine presents the Facebook “Like” button as a major part of our conundrum. Things that I said that were way off the beaten path when I said them remain of particular interest, but are far less provocative to say now.
Since then, times have changed, and I am not a lone author any more. I’ve learned a good deal from patrologist Jean-Claude Larchet, and what I’ve read from him on the topic is eminently worthy of study. I asked Ancient Faith to read “Social Antibodies” Needed: A Request of Orthodox Clergy, not exactly as a candidate for their imprint to publish, but to send to other authors to answer on the record. The response I got back was not detailed, but they said that they had forwarded the questions I raised for other of their authors to answer.
Two other comments before I drop this topic.
First of all, one thing that I can agree with one devotee of Fr. Seraphim of Plantina on is a quote that Fr. Seraphim tried to tell people he was a sinner and he was put on a pedestal anyway. I’ve been wary of being on a pedestal when I realized that I already am on a pedestal; God has just shielded me from some of the downsides. Apart from harassment, I have benefitted from what appears to be “fame lite.” Possibly I may get put on a bigger pedestal, but I am neither more nor less in God’s hands if God provides that.
The second one, perhaps a tangent, is that I am not mainly writing for success in my lifetime. Certainly I am not looking for writing to be lucrative; my revenues on Amazon, possibly due to Amazon’s ongoing repositioning and reinterpretation of its contracts, has gone from about US$150-200 per month to less than US$10 per month over a time frame when more and more people have discovered my writing. I am trying to write works built to last, and I have released my books under CC0 licensing (“no rights reserved,” meaning that anybody can republish it). This is an aspect of a long haul strategy.
Now to move on.
More wonders in Heaven and earth…
I have enlisted at the Orthodox Pastoral School, about which I have only glowing things to say. After health issues compounded by provider issues, I have asked to withdraw for the rest of the semester and re-enroll next semester when I believe I have good reason to hope I will be stronger. What they say I do not know, and I am not specifically counting on the measure of grace they have already extended to me. However, one possibility that is off the agenda is that God will stop blessing me because of what they decide. I would like to continue on with them, but if God has something else in store for me, I will just try and thank them for what they have already done.
The second thing is that I have prayed for years:
Prayer from St. Symeon for a Spiritual Father
O Lord, who desirest not the death of a sinner but that he should turn and live, Thou who didst come down to earth in order to restore life to those lying dead to sin and in order to make them worthy of seeing Thee the true Light as far as that is possible to man, send me a man who knoweth Thee, so that in serving him and subjecting myself to him with all my strength, as to Thee, and in doing Thy will in his, I may please Thee the only true God, and so that even I, a sinner, may be worthy of Thy Kingdom.
I am not praying that now.
Within the past month of my writing, I sent a polite email to a nearby priest and said that I was going to ask a blessing to visit the parish, when I realized that was not then an option due to the quarantine, and then I thought of asking permission to visit him face-to-face, when I realized that would not be an option for the same reason. But, I said, I wished in gesture to visit.
He responded even more graciously, and offered spiritual direction.
I asked a blessing of my confessor, and have begun receiving spiritual direction.
I have also been seeking for years to enter a monastery. That hasn’t happened yet, but I have a live conversation with a monastery now. It apparently won’t work out for me to visit again in 2020, but I have hopes of ending 2021 as a novice, possibly a “rassophore monk,” also called a “robe-wearing novice.”
A last measure in negotiations
The next thing is that in dealing with others, especially as regards difficulties with medical providers, the last measure of resistance I have offered is to let the other party have it their way and then let them decide if they like the consequences.
Earlier I came to the practice I am seen at on double the standard limit of one medication, and they decided to let me have my eccentric ways, at least for a time. But then they decided to relentlessly pursue strict standard dosing, and after a year or two’s power struggle, I let them have their way and I was in rapidly declining health. I can still remember the sad expression on my provider’s face when she realized what situation I was in: she was not in any sense happy that it looked like I would be dead within a year, but standard dosing was simply not conceivable as something negotiable, or a decision that was less important than my life. After three hospitalizations in about two months, insurance advised me to work with a doctor rather than a nurse practitioner, and the doctor found room in her heart to let me have maximum doses of two similar medications, plus another medication that would help. I returned to the even keel I had when I entered their care.
Experience has been that sometimes the only card I can play is to submit to being keel-hauled, and when I come up torn and bleeding on the other side, the other party figures out things it had not been able to connect the dots on before.
I went through that last measure again with the department recently.
I have been on a medication whose known effects include kidney damage and eventual death to kidney failure. I have been experiencing precursors to kidney failure, although not yet real quality of life issues; however, every time previously my providers tried to soften the blow to my organs by reducing my dose of that medication by one quarter, it seemed a cure worse than the disease. Kidney failure can kill me within a decade or two; the effects I was experiencing would likely kill me within a year. Every time previously, my provider did not like what my medicine was doing, but they chose maintaining my dose above causing my death in the short term.
This time, my provider decided to wean me off the medication already, which was having destabilizing effects, and furthermore to forbid me to even take a related over-the-counter medication that is dosed much lower than the prescription analogue, and furthermore does not damage internal organs, period. And I decided to offer the last measure of resistance: to submit to being keel-hauled and follow all of her changes to the letter.
After two days of feeling worse than drunk, I felt sober for the first time in ages, and have been writing prolifically.
Before that happened, my writing experienced what I can only term a death, a religious experience I have forgotten, and a resurrection. My writing was growing scantier and worse; there was something morally corrupt. Now I am still not writing perfectly, but I feel younger. Decades younger.
I have also been involved with Toastmasters, to learn to better communicate with my neighbor. I participated, albeit didn’t rise above local level, in the 2019 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking, and it is widely considered that the experience and preparation are worth it even if you do not place particularly highly, as I did not. I completed the Competent Communicator curriculum and have started on the Presentation Mastery path.
One of the things my spiritual father said in a first call or two is that we tend to think we have tried plan A (getting a doctorate in math from the University of Illinois and going from there), plan B (getting a doctorate in theology from Cambridge in theology and teaching, which would have left me saddled with over twice the major student loans I graduated with), plan C (getting a doctorate “union card” at Fordham), and are “going down the alphabet” in faint hopes…
I believe that if I had made better decisions I could have a degree from Fordham. However, I don’t believe that God has withdrawn his care. If anything, he has given me a reminder that decisions have consequences, and a powerful reminder that placing reason above my conscience is not wise. At present I do not have the brand of PhD; I do have two master’s degrees connected with Orthodox theology and technology from excellent institutions, and quite a story with them. I think I am the most blessed I have been in my life, and stand to receive greater blessings still. I would close with words offered from a friend:
Behind those golden clouds up there
the Great One sews a priceless embroidery
and since down below we walk
we see, my child, the reverse view.
And consequently it is natural for the mind to see mistakes
there where one must give thanks and glorify.
Wait as a Christian for that day to come
where your soul a-wing will rip through the air
and you shall see the embroidery of God
from the good side
and then… everything will seem to you to be a system and order.
I haven’t been able to trace my sources at all, but I vaguely remember a book like Good to Great talking about a company like Intuit making a decision for a product like Quicken, a decision, not just to have a collection of really nice tools, but to declare war on the pencil.
The core insight behind ?Intuit? declaring war on the pencil when it made ?Quicken? was that accounting and finance types using accounting software would also use pencil and paper, and possibly a calculator. The company’s decision was to do user research, find out when and why finance users resorted to using pencil and paper, and then implement improvements to eliminate the need to resort to pencil and paper.
(?Intuit? has also been credited with a similar feat in making a lighter and cheaper version that was not just a more feature-limited version of mainstream accounting software, but would make sense to non-accountants who did not know all the technical terms as one would expect of finance and accounting professionals using the version of ?Quicken? made for accounting and finance professionals. Hence the change in terms to a dirt-simple “money in” and “money out.” This is an additional feat of user research and knowing your audience.)
I am interested in what might be called a “neo-old-fashioned mindfulness,” and an older part of this project relates to looking at your watch more than is necessary, an ancestor to “phubbing,” or snubbing someone socially by looking at your phone. I do not seek a new project, but articulate how we can continue an age-old Western pursuit of mindfulness with a few nuances updated to be mindful when using technologies not around when this aspect of manners came to be.
In a martial arts class, the teacher commented, “Set your foot down because you want to, not because you need to.” This was in reference to a swinging kick that started with picking up your leg from behind you and ended with setting it down in front. And in fact there is a difference between moving so that you have to set your foot down or else lose your balance, and moving so that you set your foot down because you choose to do so.
The difference is illuminating.
Face-threatening behavior and basically rude behavior
When I was taking Wheaton College’s “linguistics and anthropology boot camp for missionaries,” one theme that was underlined was the concept of “face-threatening behavior.” The core concept in face-threatening behavior is behavior that could cause the other party to lose face, and it is normally polite to try to soften or remove the danger of causing the other party to lose face. The next time the lecturer was asked a question by someone in the audience, he pointed out the asker’s politeness behavior: before asking the question directly, he offered some kind words to the person he was addressing. The social subtext? “I am asking you a question, but not because you’re a bad lecturer, and I don’t want to make you lose face.” In other words, politeness leads people to usually try and avoid getting egg on someone else’s face.
I remember visiting with a friend of about my age, some years back, where my friend had asked me to look at a printer. I looked at it briefly, but didn’t immediately see how to fix it. I then apologetically asked if I could call my brother, who worked at a well-treated internal help desk. The social message? “I’m doing something that is basically rude, but I don’t want to be rude to you.” And this was when I was acting entirely out of concern for my friend. I had made a first approach to a difficulty he asked me to look at, and when that didn’t resolve the issue, I made a sensible second approach. However, my behavior was an example of how to maintain politeness while doing something that is basically rude: calling and talking with someone else on my phone when I was visiting him.
On another level, I remember a post-graduation visit to a well-liked professor who, as we were talking, glanced at his clock and then apologized, saying that he looked at the clock because he was surprised it was dark so soon. This was a graceful recovery from a minor social blunder: needlessly looking at his clock, which is an example of basically rude behavior. When Madeleine l’Engle briefly states that Mr. Jenkins One “looked at his watch,” this is a social shorthand to say that Mr. Jenkins One was tired with the present social situation, was wishing it would be over and he could be doing something else, perhaps anything else, and that he wondered how long it would continue to drag on and on. And the professor I was visiting, who has a profound ability to enjoy and be present to practically anyone, made a social recovery after a behavior that carries a message of “I wish this conversation were over.”
Mindfulness and manners
Mindfulness as we use the term today derives from Buddhism, where Right Mindfulness is part of what in Buddhism is called “the Eightfold Noble Path,” and what in classic Western philosophy would be called cardinal or hinge virtues. (A “cardinal” or “hinge” virtue is not just a virtue, but a virtue that others hinge on, cardinal being Latin for “hinge,” with a cardinal virtue being a sort of gateway drug to further virtue. The “four-horsed chariot” of the cardinal virtues of classical antiquity lists courage, classically called “fortitude” or today “grit,” justice, wisdom, and moderation, to which Christian Tradition has added faith, hope, and love, and perhaps implicitly, humility.) Now Buddhism’s Eightfold Noble Path may be a different list of cardinal virtues than those in Western philosophy, and the two may or may not be two equivalent ways of cutting up the same pie. This question need not concern us here.
Different traditions have different lists of virtues, and it does not take any particularly great stretch of the imagination for a Westerner interested in virtue to recognize, for instance, India’s ahimsa, or not causing at least needless harm, as a virtue, and perhaps recognize it as a profound virtue and a cardinal virtue. It has also in my experience not been particularly difficult to get Western Christians to see mindfulness as a virtue, at least in some other tradition’s way of cutting up the pie.
However, this is not because they do not see mindfulness as an obligation. It is because they see the obligation as falling under the heading of manners rather than moral virtue.
A friend I mentioned earlier talked about how decades back, when Walkmans were eating tapes, about how his mother or grandmother had commented that people running with Walkmans on were not paying due attention to their surroundings. I’m not entirely clear how much our society’s concept of manners extends beyond treatment of other people (perhaps manners covers being gentle with your friend’s pets, or at very least leaving them alone if they’re not bothering you), but there is some sense in her remark that you owe attentiveness to your surroundings whether or not there are other people in the picture, and perhaps even that “being off in your own little world” is another name for Hell.
I am not specifically interested in establishing that mindfulness should be thought of as a department of manners, nor am I interested in establishing that mindfulness is a department of virtue. In the interest of not holding my cards too close to my vest, I think it is mostly in an area where the heart of manners meets virtue, and I am inclined to regard it, as I am interested in virtues, as a virtue. However, this is not a point I am interested in establishing. It could be argued that if you owe attentiveness, meaning mindfulness, to nearby rocks and trees as well as other people, it is a virtue rather than just manners as conventionally understood, but possibly some reader will find in this article itself solid reasons to believe mindfulness is manners first and foremost and should not in the first instance be lumped in with virtues. I am genuinely not interested in the question.
However, I will remark, as curiously interesting, that while I’ve seen attention to mindfulness blanketing the air and I have been invited to share in mindfulness exercises, not one of the mindfulness practices I have seen talks about old-fashioned manners to pay attention to others and the situation. Mindfulness is discussed as a Far Eastern virtue or discipline. I have never heard it connected to old-fashioned Western manners.
Fr. Tom Hopko’s famous (to Orthodox) 55 Maxims include:
Be always with Christ.
Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.
Be polite with everyone.
Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.
Do your work, then forget it.
Be awake and be attentive.
These at least overlap with mindfulness; when I spoke to one martial artist heavily influenced by Buddhism and quoted, “Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings,” he said, “That’s mindfulness!”
Fr. Tom never uses the word “mindfulness,” but he calls for politeness to “everyone” and to be attentive, and it would at least be consistent with his call for unqualified politeness to say “When you are exercising, be attentive to your surroundings rather than using the time to be off in your own little world.” And I believe there are several maxims of his that a mindfulness practitioner would rightly interpret as being mindfulness or overlapping with mindfulness. And, while Fr. Tom is Eastern Orthodox and perhaps praying for all of us from Heaven, his 55 maxims are written almost entirely on terms the West should be able to make sense of, and the incredible number of search results for “fr tom hopko 55 maxims” attest that he has written something simple that people can connect to.
Manners are much more important, and much more than arcana about which is the salad fork. “The fork goes to the left, and the knife guards the spoon,” is a particular alphabet and language in which manners are translated. It is at the exterior of manners that, under some circumstances, you could be given a bowl of water to rinse your fingers in before eating. A much deeper glimpse into manners is afforded in that a distinguished visitor to a Queen picked up his finger bowl and then drunk it, then Her Majesty picked up her finger bowl and then drunk it, and then every person seated around the table picked up their finger bowls and drunk them.
Manners, at least according to older generations and according to our conversations about manners with prior generations, has a great deal to do with paying attention to other people. It was both manners and mindfulness if Boomers and Gen X’s teachers told us not to pass notes and throw paper airplanes in class, perhaps with exceptions for e.g. the last day of school, but the fact that this may have made life easier for the teacher is incidental to teachers using humble gradeschool arithmetic classes to teach a major life lesson, and a major life lesson that is not only for dealing with authorities. I remember talking to one friend with a spine of steel about children who do not respect adults, and the biggest takeaway I took from the conversation is not that children who do not respect adults grind down adult patience. It was that children who do not respect adults can hardly benefit from adult help, and it is far easier to do something that will benefit a child who respects adults than one who is hostile and disrespectful.
In Madeleine l’Engle’s day, needless attention to a watch or clock was the go-to device to avoid practicing mindfulness for a time. It changed and told you where you are. This pint of beer that Boomers tried not to drink too many of has been replaced by a pint of rum in the smartphone, and a pint of weed in the smartwatch and its successors. Mr. Jenkins One looked at his plain old pre-digital watch, probably one without a second hand, while kids now enjoy (or are bored with) a virtual acid trip quickly surfing from one smartphone app to another.
If we care about mindfulness, an excellent starting point is to drink deeply of what we can learn about manners especially from Boomers while we still can.
My own rather counter-cultural technology choices
Some people seek great merit in being counter-culture. I do not think counter-culture is too great an index of merit, and not just because I believe some countercultures, such as the Klu Klux Klan, are evil incarnate. I have sought, even if I have so far not achieved my goal, to reach life on Orthodox turf where I will not be working out a private heresy in counterculture. None the less, I believe that many of my most helpful technology choices amount to counterculture, whether or not I have the faintest desire to be counter-cultural.
When I was in high school, and for far longer, I made it a matter of pride not to wear a watch. It helped me evade, for a certain age, the tyranny of the clock. Since then I have worked professionally where late is unacceptable, and I’ve been bitten by the personal information management and logistics bug; I have my own system for keeping track of calendar appointment, tasks, etc., so at a glance I can see a month or more of scheduled events and when they are scheduled for. And now I own an Apple Watch.
Any freedom I have from compulsively checking phone, email, or watch is a freedom on the other side of needing to deal with logistics.
But a funny thing happened along the way.
I’ve almost exclusively used the solar watch face because, while it may be beautiful, it is less distracting than the face of my industrial strength Pathfinder watch, which changes every second and shows patterns in the numbers (to a mathematician, 11:23:58 looks familiar). I have it set to a smaller analog clock face display within the solar face because from childhood I’ve found analog clocks harder to read than digital. (If analog clocks were easier for me, I would have the digital display, and if I had the option to turn off the inset clock besides the outer solar display, I would turn it off.)
Taking a cue from Humane Tech, I have dug around in “Accessibility” settings and set the watch face to grayscale. It’s beautiful, and the analog clock face’s second hand, brown on blue when seen in color, blends in remarkably well. I have to strain to see it the one time I genuinely want to watch a second hand’s sweep. I also found, under “Display and Brightness,” how to turn off one of the key reasons I purchased an Apple Watch 5: its “Always on” display. It now takes just a little more work to check my watch, supplemented by wearing an oversized fleece whose sleeves tend to cover my watch face.
I’ve also turned on the hourly chime, also an accessibility feature. This reminds me to check the clock once an hour, and relieves me of having to constantly check. If I need to check email once an hour (my preference is to check it once a day), I don’t need to check either my watch or my email compulsively; my watch will remind me on the hour.
Furthermore, I set alarms for when I need to do something. Besides appointments and things like taking medication, I have followed a practice recommended by sleep advocates and set an alarm for when I should go to bed and not when I should get up.
I would briefly pause and acknowledge one objection to the technique above, which is that doing things according to a preset timer and quite possibly stopping when you have momentum going is not as good as working on tasks for as long as they naturally take. For those no ancient or modern watch is needed. However, while I believe working on something for however long it takes to unfold naturally is often better than working for a fixed length of time set without knowledge of how things will unfold, I believe that use of intelligently set alarms is better than clock-watching. (One further aspect of intelligent use of alarms is to have two alarms for something: one five or ten minutes before, meaning when you look at your watch because of the “early warning” alarm, it’s time to start wrapping up; and one at the exact time, meaning it’s time to stop.)
I have almost completely unplugged logistic need to check my watch unprovoked, and I may have the most unobtrusive, if still most expensive, watch I’ve owned. Every non-Apple watch I’ve owned had a digital display, and most recent ones have been gadgety (I have owned three Pathfinders). However, the gadgetry is almost always there if I summon it, and I can take shortcuts by twiddling with complications.
The Apple Watch is designed and marketed as the next level of integrating digital and everyday life, and in my opinion that is not a wise thing to be wishing for at all.
However, it is also powerful enough that judicious choices mean it can be tamed into unobtrusiveness further than any previous watch I’ve owned.
I’m glad for my Apple Watch. For as long as I’ve owned a timepiece, my Apple Watch is the biggest friend of mindfulness to grace my wrist yet.
A few closing words
I would recall a few words from Seeing Through Native Eyes. The main speaker recounted a visit to Kalihari bushmen, who retain hunter-gatherer life unhindered today, and an elder asked him in reference to a device, “Is that a timepiece?”
He said, “Yes.”
The elder said, “Then I don’t like it.”
He said, “Why not?”
The elder said, “Every time you look at it, the next thing you do is rude.”
If you want mindfulness, cultivate an inexhaustible interest in manners.
(Note: Some of this is old and some of this is new. I’m not seeking to be original.)
Trust technology about as far as you can throw it, and remember that you can’t throw software or the web.
When facing a situation, ask, “What would a Boomer do?”
If your priest is willing, ask for pastoral guidance in slowly but steadily withdrawing from technologies that hurt you. (Don’t try to leap over buildings in one bound. Take one step at a time, and one day at a time.)
Practice the spiritual disciplines: prayer, fasting, generosity, church attendance, the sacraments, silence, etc.
Use older technologies.
Fast from technologies some of the time, especially on fasting days.
Use your phone only for logistics, never for games, entertainment, or killing time. (You cannot kill time without injuring eternity.)
Unplug your intravenous drip of noise, little by little. It may be uncomfortable at first, but it’s worth it.
Choose face-to-face meetings over Zoom meetings if you have a choice, and Zoom over any instant messaging.
Consider screen time, and multitasking, to be a drain on the mindfulness we are seeking from the East because we have rejected it in the West.
Turn off all phone notifications you have a live option to do.
Look at your phone when it rings or buzzes. Do not check your phone unprovoked every five minutes to see if you missed a text.
When you are reading on the web, don’t just scan the page. Read it, like a paper book, slowly.
When you type, type full words, not txtisms.
Don’t trade your adequate, existing, working gadgets for the latest and hottest gadget.
Set a fixed bedtime, and then lights out is lights out.
Keep and charge your phone in some room that is away from your bedroom.
If you use porn, stop. If you find yourself unable to stop, bring it to confession, and seriously consider XXXchurch.com.
Do not store up treasures on earth, but own and use technology only so far as it advances the Kingdom of Heaven.
Live by a Silicon Rule of, “What technologies do Silicon Valley technology executives choose for their children?” Steve Jobs, for instance, gave his kids walls of paper books and animated discussion, and so far as I am aware no iPads.
Shop in real, local stores, even a local Wal-Mart, rather than making Amazon your first port of call.
Hang the fashions. Buy only what you need.
When you want to go shopping like some feel-good sacrament, do not buy it. You may buy it after you’ve let go of coveting after it and probably let go of buying it at all, and not before.
Limit your consumption of TED talks, and recognize them along psychology as something of a secular religion. (But if you need help, get help, without fear or shame.)
Write snailmail letters, preferably with your own handwriting.
Recognize that from the Devil’s perspective, Internet is for porn—and he may have helped inspire, guide, and shape its development.
Expect Amazon and Google Books to delist priceless treasures. (This is already happening.)
Cultivate the virtues.
Cultivate social skills, especially for face-to-face.
If your conscience and applicable law permit, maybe consider owning and learning to use a gun. It’s safer for everyone to have most criminals and some law-abiding citizens be armed than only have criminals be armed.
Seek theosis in the acquisition of the Spirit.
When shopping, use a debit card before a credit card, and use cash before either if you have a choice. Giving away paper bills and wondering what to do with change is a partial deterrent to buying things you do not need.
Never form an identity around the brands you patronize, and do not adopt a personal brand.
If you have the luxury, check email once per day. If your job or obligations do not permit a literal once per day checking of email, check it as often as you must. (If that is once per hour, don’t keep checking your watch, but set an hourly alarm bell to remind you.)
Limit new technological intrusions into your life.
Drop it and pay attention to the person you’re with.
Keep good posture and take steps to avoid the diseases of civilization. Some approaches that have been taken to all be important include using Paleo diet (with fasts, eating vegetables in lieu of grain and saving bread for ceremonial purposes) and exercise, have a balanced ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids, get real sleep, have engaging activities, and have social interactions.
Do not be surprised if you live to see the Antichrist rise to power.
Learn survival skills.
Recognize that we are already in an apocalyptic singularity.
Recognize that it will be easier to get the people out of the cyber-quarantine than to get the cyber-quarantine, our new home, out of the people.
Keep a reasonable amount of cash available, at home or in a money belt.
I’m a bit unsure of how to introduce this, but I had a rough time at a university. (An appeal document was sent as follows, after I had raised questions about some things being sexually inappropriate.) One friend said a few things, including that she got a sense from what she was reading that these were “not very moral people” I was dealing with.
The specific university was one that has been treated as alarming by Orthodox. This offers perhaps a slightly fuller picture of what being Orthodox at Fordham is like and a life lesson learned in the process. If you are Orthodox and considering attending Fordham, please review this before you make any final decisions.
For what it’s worth…
1. First experience of Fordham’s care
My first experience at Fordham was arriving late at night at the address I had been given as Fordham graduate student housing, and finding a high-rise apartment building with no obvious affiliation to Fordham, with a security guard who did not expect me and did not know of a connection to Fordham, and a room number that was in a notation that the security guard did not recognize as referring to Keith Plaza. I was allowed in, and began exploring, laden with two suitcases and a laptop. I eventually found the RA’s apartment door, but no one answered my knock. The reason? After I had confirmed I was coming, she sent another e-mail asking for another confirmation shortly before I left, and because I didn’t provide a second, additional confirmation that I was still coming, she had gone to Brooklyn. It was approximately three hours before I connected with Residential Life staff; the delay included an hour’s wait after I told Residential Life that I was outside my RA’s apartment and specifically asked if I should go to outside my apartment, but was told to stay where I was. Then Residential Life went to my apartment instead of my RA’s apartment, where I told them I was, and gave up on looking for me. My phone almost ran out of power with the number of calls I made before the Residential Life staff found me and took me to a place on campus so I could get some sleep before GSA orientation. (They took me to campus as they did not have any access to my room keys: the RA in Brooklyn was the only person who could let me in.)
I believe it fortunate that I did not fall victim to crime under these conditions. Someone who was alone, white, with heavy luggage, and in general not fitting in may be very unsafe in the Bronx, and I could have taken a false step, or had my phone run out of battery power before the repeated calls I needed to get the help I needed from Residential Life.
This occurred late summer, 2005.
2. A cold room
When there was a fire in my floor in Keith Plaza, in the summer after a heat wave, I was not able to access my room. Fordham did provide me a room, but and the thermostat was set to below forty degrees; the room felt like a refrigerator, and even when I turned the air conditioning off and found that the heat was not available, Fordham gave me a light blanket not meant to provide warmth and could not find a warmer blanket. The staff knew that my room was cold, and I asked, but they provided me with nothing much better. I spent a very cold night, when my body was used to heat, and in my best judgment after training as an EMT, I was in real danger of hypothermia: being lightly clad, with no more clothing available, under a light blanket, with no heavier blanket available, in a room initially below forty degrees, can be dangerous.
This occurred summer, 2006.
3. Professor A_____.
I found the response when I tried to befriend A____ quite traumatic.
During our interactions, it seemed to me that from the first piece of work I showed him, my Cambridge master’s thesis, he dismissed my work without any recognition of merit. As a gesture of friendship, I e-mailed him asking for his comments on a draft of a homily I was preparing. The homily drew on his teaching (3/14/06).
His 3/16/06 reply, after what seemed a nicer beginning, ended: “…If you send emails like this to other teachers or other figures, they probably find it rather rude.”
During the semester, I e-mailed him requesting accommodation for a disability (4/26/06).
After that point, he pulled me aside after class, and did not give me an answer to that question. He did, however, require me to change topic drastically enough that I had to start over on my paper. This was 4/27/06, one week from the paper due date, and my entire class grade was based on that paper.
After I had completed all the classes and turned in my paper, I thought that the class was over. However, a Sunday soon after (5/14/06), A____ approached me after church, and began to question me about every single other grade I had received and how I was doing in every class for which I had not yet received a grade.
This was before he turned in my grade for his class, and he assigned about as low a grade, I believe, as would not look conspicuous on my transcript.
I e-mailed B_____ after this and asked to have A____ leave me alone (which he has almost done). Before A_____, I had never asked an administrator to help me with any difficulties with a teacher.
This occurred during Incarnation to 451, Spring 06.
3.1. No redress with acting chair B____.
I sent multiple e-mails to acting chair B____, including my full logs. So far as I could tell, no redress was given, and the later surprises from A____ occurred after I had been telling B____ of difficulties.
This occurred during and after Incarnation to 451, Spring 06.
3.2. No redress with Dean C____.
After my communication with B____ failed to resolve things, I tried to inform C____ that there was a real problem.
The one response I received was a note from her secretary telling me to go to my department chair.
This occurred during and after Incarnation to 451, Spring 06.
4. Professor D____
There were several kinds of difficulties I had with D____.
4.1. Finding reason to criticize
During the course of feminist theology, she assigned primary sources. Of these primary sources, many made claims about how history should be approached; none of them drew on or footnoted postmodern philosophy of history so far as I know, and she did not discuss postmodern philosophy of history in the course of the class. However, after the fact, she sharply criticized my final paper for making its claims about how history should be approached without engaging the current scholarly discussion of philosophy of history, in the evaluation given with my grade on the paper. I find this sort of surprise characteristic of an ongoing stream of surprises I had in dealing with her, and that made it difficult for me to identify a way to work that she would honor with a high grade.
This occurred during Feminist Theology, Spring 06, although the trend of surprises I had difficulty reasoning with occurred during Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.
4.2. Possible constraints to academic freedom.
She emphasized that I needed to have “a sympathetic reading of primary sources,” and I expended a great deal of effort later on trying to give a polite reading that focused on common ground no matter how hostile the source she assigned was to my religious persuasion.
At first, I set out to debunk sources I didn’t like; later on, I was trying not only to respond politely but to focus on the areas of the sources she assigned that I could best appreciate. However, only once during the entire second course did she credit me with “a sympathetic reading of primary sources;” otherwise, I was penalized, even though for almost all of the later assignments where I seemed to be penalized for not having “a sympathetic reading of primary sources,” I was trying to find what common ground I could, and be as positive as I could. Her parameters for “a sympathetic reading of primary sources,” more specifically sources which diverged from my religious beliefs at a very deep level, left me with no way that I could identify to be faithful to my religious tradition and at the same time give the kind of agreement with much of a source’s substance, that she seemed to mean by “a sympathetic reading of primary sources.”
In discussion of preparation for comprehensive exams, she gave directive instruction for the “method question.” For this question, a student is to be graded not on the content of the position taken in response to the question, but on the quality of reflection on theological method in analysis of how that answer was reached. She specifically directed me to be getting my bearings for thinking about this position from the set texts I was to be able to use in my answer, which seemed to have little in common with my tradition. (This was in response to a draft reflection I had sent her that drew on resources within my religions tradition).
I am not sure how thoroughly my academic freedom was respected. There were definitely points where her clarifications of “a sympathetic reading of primary sources” called for me to incorporate contrary ideas in a way that I do not know how to reconcile with my religious tradition.
This occurred to some degree during Feminist Theology, Spring 06, but mainly Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.
4.3. Improving work and getting lower grades.
D____ consistently made criticisms that required more fundamental changes, and more work to meet, than any other professor I had at Fordham. However, while I could improve my work in the area criticized to the point that a criticism was not repeated, what I could not do was improve my work in that area and get a higher grade. My work had improved by the second class I took with her so that many criticisms were not repeated, but my grades for the later, improved pieces were consistently lower than the grade based on my work before the improvements were made.
This occurred both during Feminist Theology, Spring 06, and Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.
4.4. Saying “vagina.”
D____ said “vagina” quite a lot. Her use of the word was both more frequent and more forceful than I have heard in other classes (health class and biology included), and from time to time she gave a slow and emphatic list of genitalia. (It was one of her more common ways of answering my suggestion that masculinity and femininity may be seen as spiritual qualities.)
This occurred primarily during Feminist Theology, Spring 06.
4.5. Assigned texts and sexual boundaries.
D____ periodically assigned texts which did not seem to be written with consideration for some male readers’ sexual boundaries: Luce Irigaray, for instance, or Tracy Pinchman asking the reader to be sympathetic to adults playing with children’s genitals.
This occurred during both Feminist Theology, Spring 06, and Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.
4.6. Treatment of profound giftedness.
When I was doing a paper on profound giftedness, I was attempting in part to document that the profoundly gifted can have a rough life, and that there are some difficult things people don’t realize about the experience. She told me at first that it was an inappropriate topic, because “giftedness is privilege” (she heavily emphasized, in the reading, groups of people that have difficult lives, and seemed offended by the suggestion that a particular degree of giftedness could have difficulties appropriate for discussion—N.B. some of them were like the difficulties I attempt to document here). She was not open to me saying certain things even if I could document them very well; much of my revision was not to improve the paper in the usual sense but to kowtow in areas where she did not approve of the substance of what I was saying, told me it was inappropriate, etc.
This occurred during Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.
5. Grade appeal of Theological Anthropology.
After my second class with D____, I asked her for a review of her grade. She refused. I contacted department chair E____, making an appeal based on my turning in improved work from my previous semester with her on the weekly assignments but receiving lower grades.
This occurred after Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.
5.1. Not addressing the concern of improved work receiving lower grades.
E____’s response said that the weekly paper seemed to correlate with the grades. His response in no sense addressed my claim that I had improved my work and gotten lower grades for the improved work.
This occurred after Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.
5.2. A characteristic pattern.
This interaction seemed to be characteristic of a pattern: I have not yet been able to obtain redress for any grievance with any professor within the university. The university has been able to provide assistance when I have had difficulties for which no university faculty member was at fault, but not when I am having difficulties with someone within the university.
6. Referral to counselor F____.
When I visited Fordham’s Counseling and Psychological Services, I was told I needed counseling, and referred to the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy, who assigned me to “one of our best therapists,” F____.
This occurred during Spring 06 and lasted into the summer.
6.1. Treatment of religious attitudes and practices.
F____ initially seemed to be hard to try to understand my religious beliefs, but after a certain point she told me that a religious belief was “centuries behind the times” (I had made it clear that this belief was at the heart of a well-received homily I preached, and considered normal in my community), and seemed to be trying hard to argue me out of religious attitudes, beliefs and practices, which she seemed to be holding to be guilty until proven innocent of being psychiatric symptoms (a concern she raised in so many words).
The longer therapy went on, the more of my religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices seemed to be under attack in her telling me I needed to adopt her vision of “progress.”
This occurred during Spring 06 and lasted into the summer.
6.2. Unwanted, unwelcome, and unsolicited sexual directive guidance.
As part of what seemed to be a major effort to argue me out of various psychopathologies, F____ told me that I should “use pornography and masturbate,” and in the last sessions, made me particularly uncomfortable by saying over and over again at every session after she began, “You need to be naughty.”
This occurred during the summer of 06.
Fordham had been told, and the Fordham counselor told me, that ICP would go as low as $18 for Fordham students. They in fact charged me $55 for each weekly visit, and when I asked for a fee reductions or other ways of reducing a financial burden that was difficult for me, no reduction of fees or frequency of visit was given.
This occurred during the Spring and summer of 06.
7. Referral to psychiatrist G____.
ICP referred me to G____. During the second semester in particular, I was concerned with my low energy levels and getting more energy so my work would not be hindered.
Because my then current medications were known to cause fatigue, I asked if there were alternatives that would cause less fatigue, but I tried to be very, very clear that I was concerned about side effects. I explained my concern and explicitly asked what side effects were anticipated, and when he said a rash was possible, I asked what percent of the patients experienced it.
He had what he thought might be a gentler alternative to two medications that were probably fatiguing me, and he said he wanted to try switching to one and then the other. But then without explaining why, he switched one medication and simply took me off another medication that I need: he told me I didn’t need it.
I went from where I was, to feeling a lot of stress, to experiencing stress to the point of unrelenting nausea and repeated diarrhea, whether or not I was dealing with external stressors worth mentioning. At the end, I was trying to find some food that I could get down, and was barely eating—a couple of hundred calories a day because I couldn’t really eat—and barely sleeping.
When I suspected that the medication change could be having adverse effects, I switched back to the prior medication regimen, and noticed a marked decrease of stress within days, and was able to eat and sleep at more usual levels.
The period over which this happened was the late part of my second semester at Fordham and the beginning of the summer. I was trying hard to get off academic probation, but I completed all three of my papers under stress to the point of nausea. One professor, unaware of my medical issue, gave feedback on my final paper and said that one part, treating Cyril Lucaris (he picked out the part written before the medication change) was “full and coherent,” while the treatment of other figures (dealt with in the part of my paper written under stress to the point of nausea) struck him “as impressionistic and poorly organized.” I received independent feedback from another person, before I switched back my medication, confirming that I “indeed seemed less coherent lately in your e-mails.”
This occurred during the Spring and summer of 06.
8. Professor H____.
H____, my professor for one class, mentioned that Wittgenstein put an ‘M’ in his journal every day he masturbated. I’ve lost count of how many times he mentioned this, as it became a running gag. He also used the word “tit,” always with verbal force; he introduced another philosopher as owing a considerable debt to Martin Heidegger by saying the new figure “sucked at Heidegger’s tits,” and references to an infant’s life included asking us to imagine an infant having an inner dialogue of “This must be… a tit! and this must be… Mom!” He also talked about a couple that “liked to lick each other;” lewd references to licking became another running gag, and late in the course he said that he was attracted to all kinds of people, but not to children and not to animals, although, he said, there was one dog that “liked to lick me.”
One specific running gag particularly bothered me. Fr. Klein complemented one of the male students in the class on his shirt, then a few minutes later quizzically said, “I’m sorry; I’m not supposed to do that. It’s considered sexual harassment,” before saying that he had a priest’s habit of absentmindedly complimenting women on their glasses. He never complimented a female on her clothing that I remember, but he delivered compliments to men on their shirts like the other running gags, and I got more compliments on my clothing than others, as well as the most involved such compliment: “I like the green in your ring; it really color-coordinates with your shirt.”
I say, with reservations, that the class was an introduction to queer culture. The other LBGTQ people I know have sometimes asked me to understand them but have never made me uncomfortable; he seemed willing to repeatedly introduce queer concerns in a way that could make some uncomfortable; hence a story of an old Cardinal talking about the adoration of Christ in the Eucharist, and rhetorically asking what Christ is saying in the Eucharist, and answering that Christ was saying (here Fr. Klein’s voice slowed and became even raspier, sounding almost like a gasp), “Eaaaat mmeeee!” For those who missed the painfully obvious point of the raspy “Eat me,” he drove home that in gay culture, “Eat me!” is an extremely erotic thing to say.
The readings included a discussion of how close to erotic, or perhaps erotically tinged, St. Anselm of Canterbury’s friendship was with his monk friends, and an essay mentioning “the solar anus” and criticizing other scholarship for treating the erotic but still not being sexy enough.
As with feminist theology, I believe my grade might have been higher if I were not sexually uncomfortable.
This occurred during Philosophy and Contemporary Theology, Spring 07.
9. Disability concerns.
I have more than one disability which affects my energy level and the number of waking hours I have available for work. This made things particularly difficult for the first semester, when my doctor needed to make sure I could tolerate a lower dose of my medication before going to a therapeutic dose.
9.1. No disability referral from B____.
After my first semester, I told B____ that I had several significant difficulties: when I wrote her and said there was “a monkey on my back,” she said, “You had a tiger on your back!”
She tried to support me, but she never did one thing a department chair might have done, refer me the Office of Disability Services when I asked her about talking with my professors about my difficulties. She also said she would speak with my professors second semester and ask for an extension, but when I later asked her, she could not recall if she had asked more than one professor to give me an extension.
This occurred during and after Spring 06.
9.2. A blunt refusal of accommodation.
Second semester of my first year, I told all three of my professors that I was dealing with difficulties, and did not immediately make any requests for accommodation.
At the end of the semester, I asked for extensions, and was surprised at how bluntly one of the professors declined to provide any accommodation.
This occurred during Spring 06.
9.3. No adjustment to major portion of workload.
The Office of Disability Services, when I registered, offered limited accommodations: I could turn in semester assignments late, but they found no appropriate adjustment for weekly assignments, and when they asked for me about a reduced courseload, Associate Dean I____ said that was not possible.
I was left, given a disability combination that has me needing to sleep around 40 more hours per week and therefore having one workweek less time per week to do my work, with no accommodation to the brunt of a full load of weekly assignments.
This occurred Fall 06.
10. Medical expenses.
My conditions make for ongoing medical expenses, and with Fordham’s graduate student plan, Administrative Concepts Incorporated, I’ve had more trouble getting payment than any other plan in my life. Before Fordham, I had never maxed out prescription drug benefits on any plan; at Fordham, I maxed out those benefits in months. I did what I could to take care of expenses, but the medical expenses kept me strapped enough for cash that I had to choose between paying for medical needs and buying books.
This was an issue for the entirety of my time at Fordham.
11. Fatigue after a dubiously treated ear infection.
I came into the health center shortly after Martin Luther King day during my last semester, having what I suspected was an ear infection. The nurse said she would treat it with both oral and topical antibiotics, but ended up only giving me an oral antibiotic.
That ear infection became a major problem: it lasted for over a month, and took four visits to a specialist otolaryngolist and something like three or four courses of antibiotics to treat; the otolaryngolist used topical antibiotics as being “6000 times stronger” than oral antibiotics like I had been given.
That infection had me more fatigued than I had been in a long time, and I still have doubts about how well I had recovered by my end of semester duties after spending much of the remaining semester trying to catch up.
12. My experience.
I entered Fordham as a survivor of religious harassment, sexual harassment from men, and sexual abuse from a woman that caused pain I don’t know how to put into words. This has not been at all easy for me to write.
My experience has been traumatic. It has been traumatic in more ways than one. The long times I tried to reach out to A____—I wanted so much to befriend him—and the retaliation I met for my gestures of friendship, were infuriating. So were several other things where I felt like I was getting pushed down again and again. I’m really not sure how to describe how traumatized I was, or either the fears or the continued frustrations. I can certainly say that if I had the choice of repeating my experiences at Fordham over the past two years and repeating my chemotherapy and radiotherapy when I had cancer, I would repeat my cancer treatment, hands down.
I have been under duress every semester I’ve been at Fordham. Despite several things which I believe have impaired my study, I’ve still managed a rising cumulative GPA, reaching 3.4 by last semester, and with my last semester non-cumulative GPA reaching 3.5.
I am profoundly gifted. To those not familiar with the psychology, it means, for instance, that I ranked 7th nationally in a math contest, or that I’ve read the Bible in a total of seven ancient / medieval / modern languages, or that I am deeper an author than C.S. Lewis, or, as one psychologist debriefed me, “The average Harvard PhD has never met someone as talented as you,” or that I am “smarter than most geniuses” or whatever. There are people who would give me heavy odds of being the most talented student in school history for Fordham, kind of like The Immortal Bard. That I was allowed to wash out, even after appeal, is simply ridiculous.
However, I only mention this in passing, because I want to get on to something more important.
What is truly sad
I would ask you to stop and “listen” very, very closely to this point:
As far as I am concerned, there is one, and only one, thing that is sad about this story.
I insist that in my side of the story there is one, and only one, thing that is sad.
It’s not that I am not normally called “Dr. Hayward.” I’m called “Christos,” eh? That’s kind of bigger, even if it is only a name.
It is not either, more seriously, that in my opinion Fordham’s negligence could have killed me. Possibly I am right, but I survived. And if Fordham really had killed me, God would have had every ability to allow me to pass away, in C.S. Lewis’s phrase, “between Aslan’s paws.” As it is, I have been given something Orthodox positively crave: more time to repent.
If it is not a matter of my life, neither is it my career. While technically one can teach on an advanced degree, including a master’s, I’ve never succeeded landing such a job, and informally speaking a PhD is a “union card” and American universities as a whole expect a PhD. I’ve been told that if I want to teach at an Orthodox seminary, a good step is to get a degree from an Orthodox seminary, and I am studying at my Archdiocese’s pastoral school, where the faculty love the students tremendously and I have the upsides of academic study without the downsides. It might have been God protecting me from a career fighting academic bullies just a wee bit intimidated at my intelligence. (Did I mention that the seminary leadership has extended a lot of grace to me, including full tuition?)
Meanwhile, whether I have appreciated it or not, God has been moving forward with me. I am an author, and while Amazon is paying me less than 10% of what they used to, the single most lasting work I have hoped to leave behind is a collection of edifying books, and my expenses are met for now (I’m retired on disability). As far as writing goes, I have had a whole lot of being in the right place at the right time, and built a website to showcase and share my works that started before I ever heard of Netscape.I also have a bookshelf on Amazon, and I don’t believe Amazon is being cheaper with me than with anyone else. I also have (mostly) what I have called “fame lite.” I Am Spock talks about the real and profound cost of playing a celebrity character on TV. I’ve had a hieromonk tell me that other people have told him he should read me. So my writing enjoys some success, and I’ve invented things by computer: Grandfather Clock with Westminster Chime and a Soothing Tick-Tock—Steampunk Style which will sound like a grandfather clock if you keep it open in a browser window on a laptop or desktop.
Then what do I consider sad for me in all this: only one thing. I attended Fordham through spring 2007.It took me through Wednesday, November 24 2020 for me to forgive.
I have written earlier, decades earlier, about an idea for a film. It would start in standard action-adventure movie format, have the hero try to sneak in quietly and rescue a good guy, Plan A fails and all Hell breaks loose, and one of the villain’s henchmen comes out after the good guys get into a helicopter, and the hero makes one parting shot into the villain’s knee with a hollow-nosed .45.
Then the pace shifts to that of a European art film and follows the henchman for the remaining forty years of his life, as he remains crippled, and far worse than this, is crippled by a grudge that never lets go of desiring vengeance.
I wrote it, but I never imagined I would be writing of myself.
As far as what is really my due in a career as a scholar, I would like to pat myself on the back in quoting Stranger in a Strange Land:
“Ben does not speak for me. I am not interested in this lad’s so-called rights. His claim to Mars is lawyer’s hogwash: as a lawyer myself I need not respect it. As for the wealth that is supposed to be his, the situation results from other people’s passions and our odd tribal customs; he has earned none of it. He would be lucky if they bilked him out of it—but I would not scan a newspaper to find out. If Ben expected me to fight for Smith’s ‘rights’ you have come to the wrong house.”
And indeed, a judge might offer me a tissue but would unlikely conclude that Fordham has done me legal wrong. Which it hasn’t. My present regret is not that I am not long a professor; it is that I am not long a monk, or perhaps my own impatient chafing of the proto-monastic obedience of “Stay at home for a while.”
Why am I telling all this if I have forgiven?
Fordham has made a big deal about its embrace to Orthodox. It’s not as big a deal as it makes about its cura personalis that cares for every aspect of the person, but it’s still a big deal, and Fordham seems to find it natural to expect that Orthodox will agree with “The Church must breathe with both lungs” along the same lines as Roman ecumenism. I do not remember ever meeting acknowledgment that some Orthodox consider ecumenism the ecclesiological heresy of our day, or wrong on a lesser scale. At Fordham, ecumenism reigns.
Also, at Fordham, the gender rainbow (or whatever it is called this month) reigns, and a Fordham that sees Orthodox as simply being Catholics (and on a liberal understanding o “Catholic”), is not in particular a Fordham well-poised to understand why it is problematic to Orthodoxy to strongarm an Orthodox seminary into accepting a hieromonk who married another man. (It’s perhaps more important that the seminary in question needs to stop sucking Fordham’s dick, but that is another conversation.) It is true that the “Orthodox” Students Studies Center received something like a million dollar grant to study Orthodoxy and “sexuality,” but Fordham does not grasp or does not accept some very basic rules about what is allowed to Orthodox.
I write to offer a third, if perhaps lesser, piece of the puzzle. Fordham makes no end of a big deal about its cura personalis. They also try, in their best Roman ecumenism, to roll out the red carpet to Orthodox whose schismatic status is gently overlooked. And, in my opinion, Fordham has a heart of ice. I do not say that my experience will be every Orthodox student’s experience, but I do say, “Know what you’re getting into” at least, and possibly “Get your bishop’s blessing.”
C.J.S. Hayward, perhaps more honored by a Fordham washout than a Fordham PhD
Epilogue on Roman Ecumenism
Rome continues to make a big deal out of restoring full communion with the Orthodox Church.
It took me longer to forgive the many Roman authorities I wrote who did not even respond to my cry for help, with the exception of one priest and journalist who said it is futile for an outsider to interfere, and whose journal has not yet reviewed any of the books I submitted.
To my parents John and Linda— I owe you more than words can say.
The state of psychology
Martin Seligman, a giant in the psychological community, kicked off a major TED talk by talking about how a TV station wanted a sound bite from him, and it should be one word. He said, “Good.” Then they decided that as the president of the American Psychological Association he was a figure of such stature that they would let him have two words, and he said, “Not good.” Finally, they decided he was of such stature that he would be allowed three words, and his three words were, “Not good enough.”
What he was getting at was essentially as follows: clinical psychology had a goal which was remarkably well accomplished: the complete classification of behavioral health conditions, along with effective psychiatric treatment and psychotherapy. He didn’t really underscore the magnitude and implications of this goal; apart from the fact that public figures know they at least need to act humble publicly, sometimes greatness brings real humility and he was trying to lead people to see there was more to ask for than just getting someone to feel OK, and he did not suggest that clinical psychology is the kind of tool that lets people of all kinds to thrive in every way. He called for a positive psychology to help people thrive, have fulfilling and delightful living, and enable high talent not to go to waste. And the point that I know him for is his calling for positive psychology.
What is systematic theology? What is mystical theology? What is positive theology?
One distinction between Eastern Orthodoxy and Rome is that in Rome, all theology is systematic theology, and in Orthodoxy, all theology is mystical theology. This much is true to point out, however it invites confusion.
Thomas Aquinas, were he alive today, couldn’t cut it for “publish or perish” academia. He is revered as one of the greatest giants in history, but he would not obviously be welcome as an academic today. While there are many ideas in his Summa Theologiae, few or any have the faintest claim to originality. Some people, including me, don’t think that a single original idea is to be found. Others think that there are a few, very few: I have not read anyone attribute even a dozen original ideas in his quite enormous work. But what he did provide was a system: an organized set of cubbyholes with a place for everything and everything in its place. And the claim that all Roman theology is systematic theology means that everything fits somewhere in the system, whether Thomas Aquinas’s or something else.
The claim that all theology in Orthodoxy is mystical theology is a different sort of claim. It says that all true theology meets a particular criterion, like saying that all true fire brings heat. It is not a claim that everything fits under some kind of classification scheme. Systematic theology as such is not allowed, and trying to endow the Orthodox Church with its first systematic theology is a way to ask the Church heirarchy for a heresy trial. “Mystical” in mystical theology means theology that is practiced, experienced, and lived. The claim to “study” a martial art can involve reading, especially at the higher levels, but if you are going to study karate, you go to a dojo and start engaging in its practices. In that sense, while books may have some place in martial arts mastery, but “studying” ninjutsu is not something you do by burying your nose in books. It is a live practice.
All theology is positive theology, and my assertion is like saying that all theology is mystical theology, and not that all theology is part of systematic theology.
As to the relationship between positive psychology and positive theology, I honestly hope for an interesting conversation with some of the positive psychology community. I do not assert that positive theology contains positive psychology as we know it, or that positive psychology contains positive theology. I do, however, wish to suggest that something interesting and real is reflected in the claim that all theology is positive theology.
A wonderful old world
I wish to make one point of departure clear in the interest of framing what I am attempting.
There is a certain sense that this work could be seen as novel; for all I know it may be the first work discussing all Orthodox theology as being positive theology, but I follow Chesterton’s footsteps here (or rather fall short of them). I am not seeking to invent a positive theology. I am in fact attempting no novelty of any sort other than a new articulation of timeless truths that are relevant to the conversation. And I am seeking to offer something better than something wonderful I invented. I want to talk about wondrous things that I believe God invented, as old as the hills.
A deliberately jarring example
What is positive in the psychology of the Orthodox Church? To get off to a good start, I would like to say “repentance from sins.” And one of my articles unfolds in Repentance, Heaven’s Best-Kept Secret.
The Philokalia says that men hold on to sin because they think it adorns them. Repentance is terrifying. It is an unconditional surrender. But once you have made that surrender, you receive a reward. You realize that you needed that sin like you need a hole in the head—and you are free of a trap. It is something like a spiritual chiropractic massage, that you walk away from in joy with a straighter spine. And in my own experience, I’m not sure I am ever as joyful as when I am repenting. And the effect is cumulative; repentance represents a rising spiritual standard of living. Repentance is like obediently showing up for your funeral, and then you get there and you have shown up for your resurrection.
Monasticism, which I discuss in A Comparison Between the Mere Monk and the Highest Bishop, represents a position of supreme privilege within the Orthodox Church. Now I love my Archbishop dearly and wouldn’t want to take him down one whit, but part of the point of the piece is that if you are given a choice between being the greatest bishop in the world and being an ordinary monk, “ordinary monk” is hands down the better choice to choose. The overriding concern in that environment is the spiritual, human profit of its members. Poverty, obedience, and chastity are all conditions to one of two routes to salvation, and however wonderful marriage may be, monasticism is even better. And as well as other terms, monasticism is spoken of as “repentance.” To live in a monastery is to work at a place that is minting spiritual money and giving all members as copious pay as possible.
The Utopia that is nowhere absent
Robert Goudzward, in Aid for the Overdeveloped West, talked about Old Testament law as representing a paradise, and part of the picture is that it represented a paradise in which it was hard to get rich. A sage in the Bible asks, “Give me neither poverty nor riches,” and there is a sense that having more and more money is not good for us as humans.
This world was created to be a paradise. The Old Covenant represented a paradise. The New Covenant represents a paradise. Marriage represents a paradise. Monasticism represents a paradise.
We were made for human flourishing, and part of what the Church attempts is to provide for each person to flourish as that person should flourish. Abbots (and everyone else) are not to colonize and clone; the authority is profound, but it is a profound authority in restoring a damaged icon—and helping the icon look like itself, not like something it isn’t. If you read the saints’ lives over time, all the saints represent Christ, but there is incredible diversity among how the saints represent Christ.
What does God ask from us?
If we look at the question of what God commands and what he requests, there is fundamental confusion in thinking God is asking us to fill his needs. God in Heaven is perfect, and has no conceivable needs except in the person of our neighbor. God makes demands of us, not to fill his needs like an incompetent therapist, but to give us what is best. St. Maximus the Confessor divides three classes of obedience: slaves, who obey out of fear, mercenaries, who obey to obtain benefits, and sons, who obey out of love. Now all obedience is in at least some sense obedience and sometimes obedience out of fear is just what the doctor ordered, but if you obey as a slave you can be saved, if you obey as a mercenary you do better, and if you obey as a son even better than that. However, none of this is a setup to fill God’s needs. The point is not that it is best for God if we obey out of love; the point is that it is best for us if we obey out of love.
A better kind of affirmation
This may come across very strangely to a psychologist who endorses affirmations, but the two main affirmations in Orthodoxy are “Christ died to save sinners, of whom I am first,” and “All the world will be saved, and I will be damned.”
Part of this stems from beliefs that I will explain but I do not ask you to subscribe to. Religion has enough of a reputation for focusing on the afterlife that it is provocative for a social gospel poster to say, “We believe in life before death.” This life is of cardinal and incomparable significance; it is a life in which inch by inch we decide whether we will embrace Heaven or Hell when our live ends and no further repentance is available. But it has also been said that birth and death are an inch apart whilst the ticker tape goes on forever, and reform is only possible before we die. What the “affirmations” (of a sort) that I have mentioned do is prepare people like plaintiffs to press forth for maximum awards in their favor. The statements are for our good, and they help before death. Furthermore, it is believed that God doesn’t do everything in our good works for us, but he allows a genuine cooperation of combined powers where we do part of it. We are told, though, that we are not to take credit for one single achievement in our life, but give all the merit to God… but come Judgment Day, all good deeds we have done our part to are reckoned as if we did them entirely ourselves and without any help from God. I do not ask you to believe this or think it makes sense, but I suggests it is a part of a picture where an overriding concern is God blessing us as much as we will accept.
Dr. Seligman’s lecture linked at the beginning of this article talked about how French vanilla ice cream tastes exquisite for the first bite, but by the time you get to the fifth or sixth bite, the flavor is gone. In the first candidate for the good life, people habituate quickly.
I have slightly opposite news about Orthodox affirmations: when you make them central to your life, the sting crumbles. Furthermore, if you see yourself as the worst sinner in a parish, or a monastery, or all prehistory and prehistory, that’s the time that real growth and even real joy appear. Orthodoxy’s affirmations unlock the door to repentance, and there is no end of treasure to be mined from that vein.
Stoicism and virtue
I’ve seen TED talks about how stoicism is being taken as some sort of ultimate power tool, and secret weapon, within the professional NFL community.
Part of my thought was, “Duh!” and with it a thought that it is a mischaracterization of philosophy to assume it’s just something for odd and eccentric people, including yours truly, who have their noses in books. Stoicism is legitimately a power tool, but it is one of many power tools that have garnished quite a following and have been as powerful to their practitioners might have been.
I have said elsewhere, “Orthodoxy is pagan. Neo-paganism isn’t,” and The Philokalia preserves the very best of pagan philosophy with its profound endowment of virtues. N.B. the same word in Greek means “virtue” and “excellence,” and if you want to help people thrive and develop giftedness, the four-horsed chariot of courage, justice, wisdom, and moderation has really quite a lot to go for it, and all the more if these are perfected by the virtues of faith, hope, and love. All of these are called “cardinal” or “hinge” virtues, meaning that not only are they good, but they are positive “gateway drugs” to other and perhaps even greater virtue.
And I would like to say one thing that the authors of The Philokalia simply can’t much of ever stop talking about. This does not seem an view of yourself that you would want to have, but I’ve had some pretty arrogant and abrasive people try pretty hard to teach me about humility. But I will say this: humility is the Philosopher’s Stone and maybe the Elixir of Life. It opens your eyes to beauty pride may not see, and I need humility in my daily living more than I need air. I’m not going to try to further argue for an unattractive virtue, but I will say that it looks tiny and constricted from the outside, and vast and spacious from the inside. And for another Chesterton name drop: “It takes humility to enjoy anything—even pride.”
If we are going to look at world traditions, the Greek term for virtue, arete also meant excellence, and arete (I both mean ‘virtue’ and ‘excellence’) represents a tradition well worth heeding. Bits and pieces have been picked up on TED talks; Stoicism is a power tool among the professional American football community, and another TED talk talks about how “grit” (also known as fortitude or courage) makes a big difference in success. But the tradition of virtue itself, and virtue philosophy, is worth attention.
I haven’t read the title, but I have read Fr. Richard John Neuhaus talk about his title The Naked Public Square, in which he argues essentially that a religiously neutral public square is an impossibility, and the attempt to produce a naked public square will, perhaps, result in a statist religion.
If serious inner work without the resources of religious tradition is a possibility, I haven’t seen it. Present psychotherapy has changed much faster than core humans have changed, and uses yoga practices from Hinduism, mindfulness of a sort (whether a traditional Buddhist would recognize Western exhiliration at mindfulness as Right Mindfulness I do not know), and a couple of other usual suspects like guided imagery (alleged to be known from Graeco-Roman times and known to some traditional medicines, although the pedigree seems to be copied and pasted across websites).
In my Asian philosophy class, I was able to sympathize with some element of almost everything that was presented. In terms of Hindu claims that inside each of us is a drop of God, I could sympathize, believing we are made in the image of God. But the one point I recoiled from is Buddhism’s anatta, or an-atman: the claim that we, and everything that “exists”, are an empty illusion. Or as Chesterton put it: “Buddhism is not a creed. It is a doubt.”
Right Mindfulness, in its context in the Buddhist Eightfold Noble Path, is a cardinal virtue, and I count that as a positive. However, I do not see the need for the West to turn to India as a maternal breast. It is a microaggression that treats Orthodox Christianity as bankrupt of resources. I also don’t like being advised to practice yoga. I am already participating in a yoga, or a spiritual path: that of Orthodox Christianity, and it is a complete tradition.
My point, however, is not to attack the medicinal use of Indian tradition (whether or not Indians would recognize their land’s spiritualities), but to say that value-free counseling is something I have never seen, and while it may be politically correct to foist Indian spirituality but not Orthodox Christian, I wish to offer a word on my drawing on my religious tradition. Whether you accept it is not up to me, but Orthodoxy is a therapeutic tradition. And the claim has been explicitly made, in a book called Orthodox Psychotherapy, that if Orthodox spiritual direction were to appear new on the scene today, it might well not be classified as “religion,” but as “therapeutic science.”
I have not been directly involved with that therapeutic science. I’ve tried to reach monasticism, and am still trying, and therapeutic science is included in monasticism. So I cannot directly speak from experience about its fruit. But other things—virtue, repentance from sin and the like, I can directly attest to as positive theology.
A few more words about humility
Humility seems at the start something you’d rather have other people have than have it yourself. It looks small on the outside, but inside it is vaster than the Heavens, and it is one of two virtues that the virtue-sensitized Fathers of the Philokalia simply cannot ever stop talking about.
Perhaps what I can say is this. I don’t know positive psychology well, but one of the first lessons, and one of the biggest, is to learn and express gratitude. And what I would say as someone who believes in gratitude is this: what gratitude is to positive health, humility is more.
Let me ask a question: which would you rather spend time with: someone horrible and despicable, or someone wonderful and great? The latter, of course. How it relates to humility is this: if you are in pride, you see and experience others as horrible and despicable, while if you are in humility, you see others as wonderful and great. Church Fathers talk about seeing other men as “God after God.” That is a recipe for a life of delight.
Eyes to see
There is more to be said; I am quite fond of St. John Chrysostom’s A Treatise to Prove that Nothing Can Injure the Man Who Does Not Injure Himself. In connection with this, there are constant liturgical references to “the feeble audacity of the demons.” The devils are real, but they are on a leash, and we are called to trample them. It has been said that everything which happens has been allowed either as a blessing from God, or as a temptation. (In Orthodoxy, “temptation” means both a provocation enticing to sin, and a situation that is a trial). As has been said, the faithful cannot be saved without temptations, and the temptations that pass are provided by God so we can earn a crown and trampling them. St. John here frames things in a very helpful way.
Here I am starting to blend into something other than positive theology, and making assertions about positive theology and how they have similar effects to positive psychology. But really, all is ordained for us by a good God, a point for which I would refer you to God the Spiritual Father. There is profound providence, and profound possibility for profit, if only we have eyes to see it and be grateful for a God who has ordained Heaven and Earth for the maximum possible benefit for each of us. Does this strain credibility? Yes, but I believe it, and I believe it makes a world of difference.
Thomas Dixon on secularism and psychology
The article form of my advisor’s thesis offered a case study for an understanding of se cularity, and his case study was in psychology. He talked about how an older religious concept of passions was replaced by what was at first a paper-thin concept of emotions which you were just something you felt at the moment, then how the concept of emotions filled out and became emotions that could be about something, and then they filled out further and you could have an emotional dimension to a habit. The secular concept remains alienated from its religious roots, but the common Alcoholics Anonymous concept of being an alcoholic has almost completely filled out what was in the older concept of a passion.
I’m not completely sure secularism is possible; it returns to Hinduism, at least for yoga, and Buddhism, at least for Right Mindfulness, as maternal breasts, and Hinduisim has something there as Buddhism does not. Chesterton comes again to mind: “The problem with someone who doesn’t believe in God is not that he believes nothing; it’s that he believes anything!” I believe the Orthodox Church’s bosom offers a deeper nourishment. I’m not sure I have much to back this claim other than by the extent by which this article does (or does not) make sense, or whether it is more desirable to pursue one virtue (giving that virtues are stinkin’ awesome things to have), or pursue a panoply of virtues. But I would hope that the reader would by now be able to make sense of my assertion that all Orthodox theology is positive psychology, even if the claim is more superficial than the assertion that all Orthodox theology is mystical theology.
For further reading without a moment’s thought to positive psychology as such, see The Consolation of Theology, a work of Orthodox theology, and one steeped in virtue philosophy.