Theory of alien minds: A UX Copernican shift

There was one moment of brilliance, I was told, when a North American missionary visiting in Latin America was asked if clothing and sheets lasted longer in her first-world home. The question was not surprising and it reflected cross-cultural understanding: bedsheets and clothing in the U.S. can last for quite some time, while bedsheets and clothing in the host country wear out quickly, perhaps in a few weeks, and it is nickle-and-dime drain on none-too-deep pockets to keep replacing them. The question, perceptive enough, was a question about privilege and easy living.

The missionary’s response was astute. She thought for a minute, and then said that yes, sheets in her home area lasted much longer than several weeks if properly cared for… and continued to explain, in addition, what people wore when they were all bundled up for bitter cold. Winter clothing normally goes well beyond what is needed for modesty, and gloves, hats, and scarves (or, today, ninja masks) exist because on the very worst days every square inch of exposed skin will be brutally assaulted. The conversation ended with a slight degree of pity from people who only wore clothes for modesty realized that yes, as they had heard, bedsheets and normal clothing lasted much longer than several weeks, but there were some other price tags to pay. The missionary’s communication was in all sympathetic, human, and graceful.

Something similar may be said of the degree of IQ where you learn firsthand that being making other people envious is not a good thing, and where it happens more than once that you need to involve authorities or send a C&D letter for harassment to stop, and where others’ insecurities leave you socially skating on thin ice surprisingly often. Nonetheless, what may be the most interesting social lesson may have every relevance to “UX,” or User eXperience, and it has to do with what is called “theory of other minds. The normal conditions for developing “theory of other minds” can run into difficulties, but there is something very valuable that can happen.

Theory of other minds,
Split into “theory of like minds”, and:
“theory of alien minds”:
A Copernican shift

One classic developmental step in communication is developing a “theory of other minds”, meaning that you relate to people as also having minds, rather than as some sort of thing that emits what may be inexplicable behaviors instead of acting out of human motives and beliefs.

Part of how the normal “theory of minds” develops is that children tend to give adults gifts they would like to receive themselves, such as colorful toys rather than books. At a greater stage of maturity, people can go from giving gifts they would themselves like to receive, to giving gifts they would not want as much themselves, but another person would. However, in normal development this is an advanced lesson. For most people, the baseline is assuming that most people think like them most of the time.

For outliers in some dimensions, this simple picture does not work. People start with the same simple assumption: that you can relate to people as basically thinking like you. But if you’re different enough, you’ll break your shins with this approach. Perhaps outliers communicate markedly better if they know one person who starts on the same page, but communication is harder.

The crucial distinction I would draw is between theory of like minds and theory of alien minds. Both theory of like minds and theory of alien minds relate to others as having minds. But theory of like minds is based on the assumption that other people think as you do. Theory of alien minds also really and truly relates to others as having minds, but it is based on a realization that you are not the center of the universe, others often do not think like you, and you need to build bridges.

“Theory of like minds” says, “Other people have minds that are basically just like mine.”

“Theory of alien minds” takes a step back, saying, “Other people have minds, and they have minds whether or not they’re basically just like mine.

This Copernican shift has every relevance to “Let’s not forget the user” disciplines in UX.

So what does a “theory of alien minds” really look like?

Let me provide several examples, before getting into what it has to do with UX:

Hayward has worked long and hard to communicate well.

Many people might guess that the features of his [giftedness] would bring benefits…

…but few guess how much.

The same kind of thing goes with excellent communication. When a friend came from out of town to live in a local apartment, quite a few friends gathered to help unload the moving van.

Hayward, asked for an assignment, expecting to be asked to carry something. Instead, for reasons that are still not clear, she handed him a leash and asked him to look after a dog she has introduced as not at all comfortable around men. And the dog very quickly moved as far away as his leash would allow. But Hayward worked his magic… and half an hour later, he was petting the dog’s head in his lap, and when he stood up, the dog bounded over to meet the other men in the group.

In another setting, Hayward was waiting for labwork at a convenient care center, when a mother came in, with a four-year-old daughter in tow. The girl was crying bitterly, with a face showing that she was in more pain than she knew how to cope with, and an ugly bulging purple bloodblister under her thumbnail. Hayward understood very well what was going on; his own experience as a child who smashed a thumbnail badly enough to get a bloodblister underneath, was the most pain he had experienced yet in his life.

When the convenient care staff threw the mother a wad of paper to fill out before treatment (as opposed, for instance, to first just administering anaethesia and only after that detain the mother with paperwork), she left the child crying alone in a chair. Hayward walked over, wanting to engage the girl in conversation in the hopes of lessening her pain. He crouched down to be at eye level, and began to slowly, gently, and calmly speak to the child.

Some time later, Hayward realized two things.

First of all, his attempt to get the girl to talk were a near-total failure. He had started by asking her favorite color, and she was able to answer that question. But essentially every other age-appropriate prompt was met with silence: “Q: What kind of instrument does a dog play?”—”A: A trom-bone.” (But maybe her pain was too great to allow regular conversation.)

Second of all, she had stopped crying. Completely. And her face no longer showed pain. He had, partly by his nonverbal communication, entirely absorbed her attention, and she was unaware of pain that had her bawling her eyes out some minutes before. Hayward realized this with a start, and tried to keep up the conversation such as it was, regardless of whether he had anything to say. A rather startled Hayward did his best not to break the illusion, and did so smoothly enough that she seemed not to notice.

Some time later, Hayward was called for his blood draw. He returned to find the mother comforting her daughter, as she had not done before. The little girl was crying again, but it was a comforted crying, a world of difference from when she was alone with really quite vile pain. The mother seemed awestruck, and kept saying, “You have a very gentle way about you.”

Another time, Hayward was asked to substitute-teach a class for parents of English as a Second Language students. He was provided an interpreter who spoke Spanish and English, and the class met all objectives…

And Hayward didn’t really use the interpreter. He adapted to language and culture to bring an enjoyable class for everyone.

When studying abroad, Hayward was quite pleasantly surprised (and very much surprised) when a Ghanain housemate said Hayward had challenged some assumptions, saying Hayward was “like a white American, and like a black African, closer than an African brother…” and from that point on he enjoyed insider status among Ghanian friends. He has perhaps never received a greater compliment.

Hayward thinks at a fundamentally different level, and he needs to build bridges. But the good news is that he has been working on bridge-buildling for years and built bridges that span great differences. Being in a situation where has to orient himself and bridge a chasm doesn’t really slow him down that much.

In addition, these “super powers” can have every relevance to business work. No employer particularly cares if he can read ancient and medieval languages: but one employer cared that he could easily read bureaucratic documentation that was incomprehensible to everyone else.

No employer really cares that at the age of 13 Hayward crafted crafted a four-dimensional maze, worked on visualizing a 4-cube passing through 3-space, and looked at a data visualization in his calculus book and (re)invented iterated integration…

But some employers care a great deal that he can take a visualization project, start work along the lines suggested by Tufte’s corpus of written work, and start to take steps beyond Tufte.

No employer really seems to care that he has studied at the Sorbonne, UIUC, and Cambridge (England) in three very different fields: but co-workers have been puzzled enough that he so effortlessly shifts his communication and cultural behavior to have a colleague and immigrant ask him why he relates to Little Russia’s culture so well.

But some employers appreciate his efforts to listen and understand corporate culture. In serving like a consulant for a travel subsidiary, Hayward’s contacts within the organization that picked up he was trying to understand their language on their terms, and the Director of Sales and Marketing half-jokingly asked, “Do you want to be a travel agent?” Hayward perhaps would not be an obvious fit for personality factors, but she picked up a crystal-clear metamessage: “I want to understand what you are saying, and I want to understand it on your terms.”

Furthermore, while no employer has yet to care about Hayward’s interest in writing, one employer cared a great deal that he took a high-value document concerning disaster recovery and business continuity, valuable enough that it would be significant for the employer to file with e.g. their bank, and took it from being precise but awkward and puzzling to read, to being precise, accessible, simple, and clear.

What does this communication across barriers have to do with UX?

Everything.

I’ve had postgraduate training in anthropology, cognitive science, computer science, philosophy, and psychology, and I consider “theory of other minds” communication to be out-and-out the central skill in UX. Perhaps the most structural of these disciplines is anthropology, and a training in anthropology is a training in understanding across differences.

Once anthropologists found difference by crossing the Pacific and finding aboriginal people untainted by modern technology. Now anthropologists find difference by crossing the street. But the theory of alien minds is almost unchanged.

Jakob Nielsen has been beating for essentially forever the drum of “You are not a user”. Perhaps his most persistent beating of his drum is:

One of usability’s most hard-earned lessons is that ‘you are not the user.’ If you work on a development project, you’re atypical by definition. Design to optimize the experience for outsiders, not insiders.

What this means, in competency, is “Communicate out of a theory of alien minds.” Or, if you prefer, a theory of “outsiders”, but don’t assume that deep down inside “outsiders” are really just like “insides.” Exercise a theory of alien minds.

What Nielsen is telling people not to do is coast on a “theory of like minds,” and assume that if a user interface is intuitive and makes sense to the people who built it, it will just as much make sense to the audience it was built for. It won’t. You have to think a bit differently to build technology, and that means you need a theory of alien minds. Assuming that you are the center of the universe, even if it’s unintentional, is a recipe for failed UX. We all want better than that.

Veni, vidi, vomi: a look at “Do You Want to Date My Avatar?”

The Luddite's guide to technology
Read it on Kindle for $2.99

The preface

Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.

I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.

The Song of Songs, 4:16-5:1, King James Version

A Socratic dialogue triggered by The Labyrinth

Trimmed slightly, but “minimally processed” from an email conversation following The Labyrinth:

Author: P.S. My brother showed me the following video as cool. He didn’t see why I found it a bit of a horror: “Do You Want to Date My Avatar?”

Visitor: Oh gosh, that’s just layers and layers of sad. It’s all about the experience, but the message is kept just this side of tolerable (“nerds are the new sexy” – the reversal of a supposed stigmatization) so it can function as an excuse for the experience. At least that’s my analysis.

Author: Thanks. I just hotlinked a line of Labyrinth to Avatar…

…and added a tooltip of, “Veni, vidi, vomi”.

Visitor: (Laughs) You have me completely mystified on this one, sorry.

However, you are welcome. And I’m glad to see that you’re cracking jokes. (I think.)

No seriously, laughing out loud. Even though I don’t exactly know why.

Is ‘vomi’ a made-up word? Men… when it comes right down to it you all have the same basic sense of humor. (I think.)

Author: Veni, vidi, vici: I came, I saw, I conquered.

Veni, vidi, vomi: I came, I saw, I puked.

Visitor: Yep… the basic masculine sense of humor, cloaked in Latin. I’m ever so honored you let me in on this. If the world were completely fair, someone would be there right now to punch your shoulder for me… this is my favorite form of discipline for my brother in law when he gets out of line.

But what’s Avatar… and hotlink and tooltip?

Author: The link to “Do you want to date my Avatar?” Hotlink is a synonym for link; tooltip, what displays if you leave your mouse hovering over it.

Visitor: Oh dear, I really didn’t understand what you were telling me; I was just in good spirits.

OK, I find that funny – and appropriate.

Author: Which do you think works better (i.e. The Labyrinth with or without images):

Visitor: I have some doubts about the video showing up in the text.

Author: Ok; I’ll leave it out. Thanks.

Visitor: Welcome.

I did like the Christ image where you had it. It encouraged a sober pause at the right place in the meditation.

Author: Thank you; I’ve put it in slightly differently.

Visitor: I like that.

Author: Thank you.

I’ve also put the video (link) in a slightly different place than originally. I think it also works better there.

Visitor: Taking a risk of butting in… Would this be a more apropos place?

The true raison d’être was known to desert monks,
Ancient and today,
And by these fathers is called,
Temptation, passion, demon,
Of escaping the world.

Unless I’ve misunderstood some things and that’s always possible. (laughs) I never did ask you your analysis of what, in particular, horrified you about the video. But it seems like a perfect illustration not of pornography simple but of the underlying identity between the particular kind of lust expressed in pornography (not the same as wanting a person) and escapism, and that’s the place in the poem where you are talking about that identification.

Author:: Thank you. I’ve moved it.

In That Hideous Strength, towards the end, Lewis writes:

“Who is called Sulva? What road does she walk? Why is the womb barren on one side? Where are the cold marriages?”

Ransom replied, “Sulva is she whom mortals call the Moon. She walks in the lowest sphere. The rim of the world that was wasted goes through her. Half of her orb is turned towards us and shares our curse. Her other half looks to Deep Heaven; happy would he be who could cross that frontier and see the fields on her further side. On this side, the womb is barren and the marriages cold. There dwell an accursed people, full of pride and lust. There when a young man takes a maiden in marriage, they do not lie together, but each lies with a cunningly fashioned image of the other, made to move and to be warm by devilish arts, for real flesh will not please them, they are so dainty (delicati) in their dreams of lust. Their real children they fabricate by vile arts in a secret place.

Pp. 270/271 are in fantasy imagery what has become quite literally true decades later.

Visitor: Yes, that would be what I was missing… that fantasy banquet at the end of the video feels particularly creepy now.

However the girl I was telling you about had among other things watched a show where a “doctor” talked about giving seminars where women learn to experience the full physical effects of intercourse, using their minds only. (Gets into feminism, no?)

That’s why I was trying to tell her that “richter scale” measurements aren’t everything…

In this hatred of the body, in putting unhealthy barriers between genders, and in seeing the body as basically a tool for sexual experience, fundamentalist Christianity and cutting edge worldliness are really alike. (I had a pastor once who forbade the girls in the church school to wear sandals because they might tempt the boys with their “toe cleavage.”)

Author: I would be wary of discounting monastic experience; I as a single man, prudish by American standards, probably have more interaction with women than most married men in the patristic era.

But in the image… “eating” is not just eating. In the initial still image in the embedded version of “Do You Want to Date My Avatar?”, I made a connection. The sword is meant as a phallic symbol, and not just as half of a large category of items are a phallic symbol in some very elastic sense. It’s very direct. Queer sex and orgy are implied, even though everything directly portrayed seems “straight”, or at least straight as defined against the gender rainbow (as opposed, perhaps, to a “technology rainbow”).

Visitor: Yes, I see what you are saying. I suppose the opening shots in the video would also imply self-abuse. I was seeing those images and the ones you mention as just icky in themselves without thinking about them implying something else.

Author: P.S. My brother who introduced it to me, as something cool, explained to me that this is part of the main performer’s effort to work her way into mainstream television. She demonstrates, in terms of a prospect for work in television, that she can look beautiful, act, sing, dance, and be enticing while in a video that is demure in its surface effect as far as music videos go. (And she has carefully chosen a viral video to prove herself as talent.)

Not sure if that makes it even more disturbing; I didn’t mention it with any conscious intent to be as disturbing as I could, just wanted to give you a concrete snapshot of the culture and context for why I put what I put in The Labyrinth.

Visitor: It’s making a lot more sense now.

I’m not remembering the significance of the technology rainbow.

Author: As far as “technology rainbow”:

In contrast to “hetero-centrism” is advocated a gender rainbow where one live person may have any kind of arrangement with other live people, as long as everyone’s of age, and a binary “male and female” is replaced by a rainbow of variety that is beyond shades of gray.

I was speaking by analogy: a “technology rainbow”, in contrast to “face-to-face-centrism”, would seek as normative any creative possibility, again excluding child pornography, where face-to-face relationships are only one part of a “technology rainbow”.

It might also help make the point that internet-enabled expressions of sexuality, for most of the men, aren’t exactly straight. They do not involve same-sex attraction, nor animals or anything like that, but they depart from being straight in a slightly different trajectory from face-to-face relationships where heterosexuality is only one option.

Neither member of this conversation had anything more to say.

See the video again

On humor

A pet Owner’s rules

Technonomicon: Technology, Nature, Ascesis

Yonder

 

Browse & search: Kindle & books

TL;DR

The flagship title from this website is unmistakably,
The Best of Jonathan’s Corner (paperback $25, Kindle $3).

A shorter introduction is available in A Small Taste of Jonathan’s Corner (paperback $7, Kindle $1). Some readers will also be interested in the King James Version-style Classic Orthodox Bible (hardcover $100, paperback $25, Kindle $7, on website free).

Anthologies & collections

Novels

CJS HaywardOrthodox books online and more → Novels

This section has free online novels. Other free online books include Yonder and Hayward’s Unabridged Dictionary: A Free Online (Satire) Dictionary, or the how-to book Tinkering with Perl.

But the novels are right here, and several of them are Orthodox books. As well as these novels, you can also see short stories and other assorted creations. If you’re looking for a place to start, I suggest The Sign of the Grail.

The Christmas tales (long)
Several pilgrims speak over the Christmas meal.

A Cord of Seven Strands (long)
A novella which explores the connection between a circle of friends as they pass through harrowing experiences.

Firestorm 2034 (long)
A science fiction story about a medieval who is transported to the 21st century, and the chaos that ensues. It explores decades of shift in technology and culture. Heinlein fans will note a resemblance toStranger in a Strange Land, which I drew on—perhaps they’ll like this one, too.

The Sign of the Grail (long)

In this Orthodox book, a college freshman explores his room and finds a book, Brocéliande, and his eyes begin to open when he starts to read legends of King Arthur’s court.

The steel orb (long)
The steel orb is an Orthodox book that tells a story from a world that has been simmering in my heart for years. It concerns a young pupil who wants to be a teacher, and the struggles he goes through on the way. It is a fantasy novella based on the patristic Orthodox East instead of the medieval Catholic West.

Other articles

CJS HaywardOrthodox books online and more → Other articles

Free online articles. These articles range over a number of topics, from business communication to unexpected reasons to study mathematics. As well as these, there’s another section of miscellaneous nonfiction works. If you’re looking for a place to start, I suggest AI as an arena of magical thinking for skeptics: Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Sciece, and Eastern Orthodox Views on Personhood.

An Abstract Art of Memory (medium)
The ancient Greeks developed an art of memory that is very good with concrete facts. I wanted to see if I could adapt the principles to be more effective in storing abstractions.

The administrator who cried, “Important!” (medium)
You probably know the story of the boy who cried, “Wolf!” Here’s an updated version, with a lesson for business communication.

AI as an arena of magical thinking for skeptics: Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Sciece, and Eastern Orthodox Views on Personhood (long)
My second master’s thesis, from Cambridge. It’s theology (or what is considered academic theology at a University, which isn’t really theology at all), and touches on a number of interesting areas.

Animals (medium)
Some of us spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be human. It’s also worth thinking a little about animals.

The blacksmith’s forge: An extension to Euclidean geometric construction as a model of computation (short)

There were a few ideas that stayed with me from what I did while exploring and working for my master’s (or my first masters, at least). My masters appeared to provide a novel and rigorous approach to infinitesmals, as one benefit to using distances as numbers in something like a metric space.

Blessed are the peacemakers: Real Peace Through Real Strength (medium)
Most people—pacifist or not—would agree to the claim that violence should be avoided, and that people should study alternatives to violence. Here’s a chance to do just that.

Dark Patterns / Anti-patterns and Cultural Context Study of Scriptural Texts: A Case Study in Craig Keener’s Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (medium)
My first thesis in academic theology, looking at how the concept of dark patterns or anti-patterns may illuminate recurring tendencies in the wrong kind of advocate scholarship.

Does Augustine return to the interpersonal image of love as representing the Trinity, or does he abandon this in favour of the psychological image?(medium)
After years of being a pariah and whipping boy, the Blessed Augustine is going through a rehabilitation. This is an essay I wrote where Augustine served to me as a Church Father and as a halfway house between a Western, more philosophical approach to theology and the Eastern, mystical ocean I needed to dive into.

The essay looks at Augustine with respect but calls to task some of the silliness in people who are willing to be selective about Augustine’s own words in order to make him look better.

The Evolution of a Perspective on Creation and Origins (medium)
I wrote this for a mailing list where I felt attacked for my beliefs—by people who didn’t understand them. This post helped other list members to see why I thought certain ideas should be considered and not dismissed out of hand.

Frankincense, Gold, and Myrrh: A Look at Profound Giftedness Through Orthodox Anthropology (medium)
To be human is to have a profound gift in the first place, and one that far overshadows what psychology refers to as “profound giftedness”. But that “profound giftedness” is both human and interesting. Here’s an article looking at it from a theological perspective.

Friendly, win-win negotiations in business: Interest-based negotiation and “Getting to Yes” (short)

A look that takes ‘Getting to Yes’ interest-based negotiation from hostile settings to win-win negotiations in a friendly setting. Examples are included.

The Fulfillment of Feminism (medium)
An essay following The Patriarchy We Object To which talks about how feminism might find its home.

A Glimpse into Eastern Orthodoxy (medium)

Eastern Orthodoxy is both Christian and Eastern. and sometimes other Christians, and the West in general, don’t pick up on what exactly this means. A Glimpse into Eastern Orthodoxy is written in the hope of creating a spark of connection.

The Hayward Nonstandard Test: An Interesting Failure (medium)
This was an attempt to think outside of the box. It failed, but there may be something very interesting in how it failed.

He Created Them Male and Female, Masculine and Feminine (short)
An essay I wrote in college about how masculinity and femininity are real, good, and part of how we are meant to flourish.

The Incarnation: Orthodoxy, Islam, and the Reformation (medium)
A look at what the Incarnation means for practical, lived life, and how it may be present or absent in Orthodoxy, Islam, and Protestant Christianity.

In celebration of Tribbles (short)

A look at cruelty-free pet keeping and an unlikely candidate for a pet where one’s living conditions would otherwise be cruel to something furry.

“Inclusive” Language and Other Debates: An Orthodox Alumnus Responds to his Advisor (medium)
A conservative alumnus answers questions posed by his egalitarian thesis advisor from a minor degree.

Knights and ladies (medium)

A more recent treatment of masculinity and femininity which tries to go deeper, and voice something important that has been unspoken.

Looking at “Stranger in a Strange Land” as a Modern Christological Heresy(medium)
An Orthodox Christian reader looks at Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, originally titled The Heretic, as a Christological heresy.

Meat (medium)
A look at ethical issues connected with icons, Theophany, Creation, animals, and meat from an Eastern Orthodox Christian perspective.

An Orthodox Looks at a Calvinist Looking at Orthodoxy (Medium)
One Presbyterian minister took the time to earn a doctorate from an Orthodox seminary… and wrote some reflections which left me wondering what he’d missed. I think his impressions may be a lot of people’s impressions, and I think he’s given a pretty candid take.

This note quotes the original reflections (with permission), and posts my reply to what seemed like getting a lot of details right but missing how they fit together in the big picture.

Orthodoxy, contraception, and spin doctoring: A Look at an Influential and Disturbing Article (long)
This article was occasioned by the discovery of some of what programmers ironically call, buried treasure: in this case, current Orthodox positions on contraception often are built on top of the buried treasure. Maybe this buried treasure is, as the definition in the jargon file says, “something that needs to be dug up and removed.”

The Patriarchy We Object To (medium)
A talk about some of what Orthodoxy can say to feminism.

Privilege, Pure Privilege—Extreme Privilege (medium)
This meditation looks at privilege—the privilege of celebrities, which the author does not have and has no desire for, and then other forms of privilege which make the concrete fabric of the author’s life.

Attention is paid to childhood literary heroes, and moves on to looking at what can be found in the lives of the saints.

Some thoughts about Heaven (short)
Heaven is meant to be important to earth.

Theology of play (short)
It sometimes seems easier to think about why work is important, than why play is important. This is an essay on why play is important.

A treatise on touch (medium)
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made is written by the doctor who found out that leprosy ravages the body by destroying the sense of touch. He recounts a story about getting sick, letting his foot fall asleep, thinking he had leprosy, realizing his error, and living a life alive to touch as he had never done before. This is part of that story’s impact on me.

Un-man’s tales: C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra, fairy tales, and feminism(medium)
A study of two of the greatest scholar’s works that looks at the Un-man’s tales in C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra, with eyes wide shut.

What the West doesn’t get about Islam (short)

The West doesn’t get Islam…

…and Western efforts to just understand Islam leave us further, not closer, to understanding Islam and Muslims.

Why study mathematics? (short)
Have you ever felt like mathematics was a secret game that everybody but you understood? Here’s the secret.

Why young earthers aren’t completely crazy (short)
A look at why some people insist on a young earth creation in the face of scientists’ constant claims that evolution is the only game in town—and why they’re not completely wrong.

Orthodox theology

The Best of Jonathan's Corner: An Anthology of Orthodox Christian Theology
Read it on Kindle for $3!

Go to:   Orthodox theology   Articles  Assorted creations   Journals  Miscellaneous nonfiction   Novels  Orthodox Humor   Satire   Short stories  Socratic dialogue   Technology

You can find works from several Orthodox books here, but this section itself is really one big Orthodox book: an anthology of Orthodox mystical theology.

The works in this collection span many types and genres, but overall they can be gathered into three large categories: theology articles, hymns and poems, and odds and ends, curiosities and creative works, Each of these has author’s picks highlighted; the author is personally partial to hymns and poems.

If you are looking for a place to start in these attempts to share the Orthodox Church’s mystical theology, I suggest Silence: Organic food for the soul or Doxology. Both are taken from the hymns and poems section.

Theology Articles

Suggested starting points include Creation and Holy Orthodoxy: Fundamentalism Is Not Enough, Exotic golden ages and restoring harmony with nature: Anatomy of a passion, Money, A pet Owner’s rules, and“Religion and Science” Is Not Just Intelligent Design vs. Evolution.

Amazing Providence (short)
One thing I have learned as a Christian is what it means for God to look after you.
That Beautiful Strength (medium)
A look at the hideous strength of C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, and the beautiful strength that is even stronger.
Can You Smoke Without Inhaling? Martial Arts and the Orthodox Christian(medium)
After ignoring an uneasy conscience, CJS Hayward tried to study a martial art on Orthodoxy-appropriate terms. Here is a retrospective that looks at the broader question of whether we can “smoke, but not inhale.”
A Comparison Between the Mere Monk and the Highest Bishop
Monks are told to beware of the temptation to want something better by being an abbot or even a bishop.

This is a look at why such ambition is penny wise and pound foolish.

Contemplation (short)
We were made to enjoy contemplation, in more than one sense.
Dastardly duo considered harmful: “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” and “Wounded by Love”
A look at two works that may reveal less about Orthodoxy than fashion.

Creation and Holy Orthodoxy: Fundamentalism Is Not Enough(short)

Years back, I wrote a couple of pieces about origins questions. This is a more recent piece that addresses a very specific point about bringing Protestant fundamentalism into Orthodoxy, and it moves away from origins questions towards a more important issue.

You might also read the companion piece, Note to Orthodox evolutionists: Stop trying to retroactively shanghai recruit the Fathers to your camp!.

Our Crown of Thorns (short)
Christ’s crown of thorns has every relevance to our daily lives. Is it something we can have on our own terms?
Desire (short)
A meditation on covetousness, desire, and true happiness.
Dissent: Lessons From Being an Orthodox theology Student at a Catholic University (medium)
When I was studying at Fordham, the question of dissent loomed large. This is an attempt to respond to what was “in the air” at that school.
Does God Suffer? (medium)
A grieving pastor, after the death of his son, wrote that God suffers with his Creation. This is a respectful look at his masterpiece that tries to explain why it is good news that God does not suffer.

Its central points revolve around what is called “theology proper,” or “the doctrine of God.” It responds to a powerful picture, in the masterpiece A Foot in Two Worlds, of a God who can handle creaturely suffering because he suffers with them. And it looks at what it means for God to be so great that he is beyond suffering.

Do We Have Rights? (medium)
We have a lot of rights these days. Or at least we think we do, and the list of our rights is growing longer and longer.

What if I told you that people can get along well without thinking in terms of rights?

The Eighth Sacrament (short)
In Orthodoxy, there are seven sacraments, officially speaking; but there’s a great deal of truth in saying that there is only one sacrament, or that there are a million of them. This is a look at one among many of the “other” sacraments.

Exotic Golden Ages and Restoring Harmony with Nature: Anatomy of a passion (medium)

There is a perennial cry in some quarters to reclaim former glory. We thirst for the exotic, but not always in the best places. Do we appreciate what we have?

Farewell to Gandhi: The Saint and the Activist (medium)

Years back, the author was very attentive to Gandhi’s writing, enough so that his first public speech was formed by that attentiveness. Now, years later, he has some second thoughts, and realizes areas where he was wrong.

God the Game Changer (medium)

A meditation on God as the Game Changer who responds to sin, evil, pain, and death by changing the game.

God the Spiritual Father (medium)

A collection of quotes and reflections on God the Father in light of the spiritual fatherhood in Orthodox monasticism, in its relevance to us today in an economic depression.
Halloween: A solemn farewell (short)
I enjoyed Halloween for many years, but it looks different as I begin to understand Orthodoxy.

C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength: science and magic, spirit and matter, and the figure of Merlin (medium)

A look at a slightly strange strand about science, magic, spirit, matter, Merlin, and other topics woven into the tapistry of C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength.
The Horn of Joy: A meditation on eternity and time, kairos and chronos(medium)
A meditation on eternity and time.
How to find a job: A guide for Orthodox Christians (short)
A concise summary of both the sacred and secular dimensions to an Orthodox Christian’s jobhunt. (Getting a job for Orthodox Christians calls for both.)
How to Survive Hard Times (medium)
Would you like to know how to survive an economic depression? People have survived every kind of disaster from recessions to economic collapses. The way they have survived may have had something to do with spirituality and faith. Do you want to dig deeper into how to survive a depression? You might find some answers here.
On humor (short)
A look at humor (off-color and otherwise) in the light of Orthodox Christian classics.
The Hydra
A look at a hydra whose heads include the covetousness of Romanticism’s Sehnsucht or longing, escapism, fantasy, the occult, and the freedom that comes when one rejects all of these.
Incarnation and deification (short)
An written for the Feast of the Nativity and the Fast before it, about Incarnation that unfurls in deification.
Introduction to the Jesus Prayer (short)
When we pray the Jesus Prayer, God uses it to build silence in our hearts and untangle those things we have knotted inside.
Lesser icons: Reflections on Faith, Icons, and Art (medium)
An Orthodox artist looks at art as a variety of icon.
Modus Tollens: Meandering Reflections on Life, Faith, and Politics(medium)
Loss is a part of life. In fact, loss is a part of Divine Providence: “Every branch that bears fruit, [the Vinedresser] prunes that it may bear more fruit.”

In truth, everything in life is either a blessing from God or a temptation which has been allowed for our strengthening.

Modus Tollens explores this pruning.

Monarchy (short)
A meditation of mystical theology about kings and kingdoms, monarchs and monarchy.

Money (short)

A homily touching on a subject that doesn’t get much treatment for how important it is.

Note to Orthodox evolutionists: Stop trying to retroactivelyshanghai recruit the Fathers to your camp!

Orthodox Christians may believe in evolution, but when Orthodox claim that the Fathers’ overall teaching goes hand in hand with evolution, there is something fishy going on.

You might also read the companion piece, Creation and Holy Orthodoxy: Fundamentalism Is Not Enough.

Oops… Could the Western Rite Please Try Again? (short)
There is something that is not quite right about the Western Rite in the Orthodox Church. (Really? When they are trying so hard to reconstruct the authentic Western Orthodoxy of the first millenium? Yes!)
An Open Letter to Catholics on Orthodoxy and Ecumenism (medium)
An open letter about an elephant in the room that Orthodox are painfully aware of and Catholics seem not to see at all.
Ordinary (short)
Some of us wish, or are tempted to wish, that we lived in the age of the great Christological controversies, or nineteenth century Russia, or perhaps the Middle Ages or the Baroque era.

But God has placed us here and now, and ordained for us our ordinary lives to live out. Has God made a mistake in doing so?

The Orthodox Martial Art Is Living the Sermon on the Mount (long)

One perennial debate is about war and peace, just war and pacifism, violence and nonviolence, soldiers and armies, and figures like Gandhi. Listen to the mystical theology of the Orthodox Christian Church as She listens out of the depths of Her silence.

Our thoughts determine our lives: Beyond The Secret and the Law of Attraction

A look at Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica’s title, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, as uncovering a more interesting secret than just Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret‘ and the Law of Attraction, and a secret for inner transformation—and outer!

A pet Owner’s rules (short)

God is like a pet owner who has only two rules.
The Pleasure-Pain Syndrome (medium)
A look at the pleasure-pain syndrome that for an instant crystallizes in the discussion of the Philokalia under a work attributed to St. Maximos the Confessor.

Pride (medium)

A look at the venomous hydra called narcissism and pride, by which Satan fell from being an Archangel in Heaven to being the Devil.

It isn’t good for us, either.

QUICK! What Is Your Opinion About Chemistry?

A look at “religion and science” that takes a slow, careful look at how we should receive patristic attitudes towards what is now considered to be the academic discipline of chemistry. (Note: this has nothing to do with alchemy even if there is a historical relation between modern chemistry and alchemy.)

“Religion and Science” Is Not Just Intelligent Design vs. Evolution (medium)

In my own experience, I started from a very scientific background; I have math awards and letters after my name in the sciences. And this science has been the start of a journey of repentance; it is a starting point of things that would find healing in Orthodoxy. And entering Orthodox theology, mystical theology, has meant unlearning not only the content of my knowing but what it is to know at all. Science is cut from the same cloth, or bedrock to, what it was that I needed healing from the Church as I was reconciled from the kind of background one gets in the sciences.

Repentance, Heaven’s Best-Kept Secret

Virtue is its own reward.

Repentance leads us into the rewards of virtue.

It is Heaven’s best-kept secret.

Science and knowledge: Regenerate science, philosophia naturalis, and human ways of knowing (medium)

C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man discusses a science that was born in occult ambiances, and says, “It might be going too far to say that the modern scientific movement was tainted from its birth: but I think it would be true to say that it, was born in an unhealthy neighbourhood and at an inauspicious hour.”

During that discussion of science and the enterprise abolishing Man, there are some very tantalizing remarks about a “regenerate science” that “would not do even to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself.”

This piece looks at something of a regenerate science that is closer than you might think.

A Shaft of Grace (short)
A description of an everyday religious experience.

“Social Antibodies” Needed: A Request of Orthodox clergy (medium)

An article exploring the social issues surrounding technology and faith and inviting Orthodox clergy to provide pastoral guidance, in other words “social antibodies”, for the internet, iPhones, and other features of the technological nexus that we are in.
The Swiss Army Knife and God (short)
Do Swiss Army Knives offer a lens to see God with?
Take Your Shoes Off Your Feet, for the Place Where You Stand Is Holy Ground (medium)
The Fathers see something in the Lord’s command to Take Your Shoes Off Your Feet, for the Place Where You Stand Is Holy Ground, and it has every relevance to Great Lent.

What do the Fathers see? And what does it have to do with Great Lent?

The transcendent God who approaches us through our neighbor (short)
Everything we say of God is inadequate. Yet this God who is far beyond anything we can say has a vicar on earth: not the Pope, but every person who crosses our path.
Treasure (short)
Calvin and Hobbes said, “There’s treasure everywhere!”

And really, there is.

Treasures in Heaven: The Inner Meaning of “Do Not Store Up Treasures On Earth”
“Do not store up treasures on earth,” in the Sermon on the Mount, may seem to be the ultimate strict standard of sacrificial living.

It is a strict standard, but its plain sense may be the outer shell of an important inner meaning.

Two Decisive Moments (short)

One of the moments is long ago. The other one can be right now.
What Evolutionists Have to Say to the Royal, Divine Image: We’re Missing Something
An article by someone who believes humans genuinely ARE a special flower and royal, on what evolution / revolutionary punk eek has to tell us who believe in the divine image.
What Makes Me Uneasy About Fr. Seraphim (Rose) and His Followers(short)
A look at what exactly about Fr. Seraphim (Rose) and his followers could disturb an Orthodox Christian.
What the Present Debate Won’t Tell You About Headship (short)
Among Christians, there’s a debate about “headship”. And those involved can miss something very important.
Where is the good of women? Feminism is called “The women’s movement.” But is it? (medium)
In the days of Luther, the Roman hegemony was strong enough that even Protestants had difficulties imagining how one could be at odds with the Roman Catholic Church and yet be right with God.

Feminism enjoys a similar position today for women’s interests, but “the women’s movement” is slipping, and there are signs a growing number find that “the women’s movement” is not their movement.

Work-Mystic (medium)

Work offers something of a missed opportunity for many of us: drudgery we endure to get pay, rather than an opportunity to serve and enjoy in a very high sense.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and there is in fact room for a mystical theology that encompasses work, and transforms it.

Your Own, Personal Hell (medium)
It has always been seductively easy to create your own, Personal Hell. The Fathers say that the gates of Hell are bolted and barred from the inside, that Hell is self-chosen, that there are in the end there are two types of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God ultimately says, “Thy will be done.” And some have suggested that even the fire of Hell is the Light of Heaven as experienced through the rejection of the only joy we can ultimately have, Christ Himself.

(You might also be interested in material from other sections of this website, such as Stephanos, and An Orthodox Looks at a Calvinist Looking at Orthodoxy.)

Hymns and poems

Suggested starting points include Doxology, A pilgrimage from Narnia,Silence: Organic food for the soul, and Why This Waste?.

Akathist Hymn to St. Philaret the Merciful (medium)

An akathist hymn celebrating St. Philaret the Merciful of Asia Minor, who was generous and merciful when he had much, and remained no less generous and merciful when he had little or nothing.

The Book of Thanks (medium)

All of us have a great deal to be grateful for. This is one text that looks through thankfulness at the scandal of the particular. It is part of a collection, A Pilgrimage from Narnia, that does not exactly narrate the author’s journey into Orthodoxy, but shows pictures of things that have been seen along the way.

Death (short)

We may have hospitals to hide death from our eyes, but all of us are moving towards death, even if we are in denial as a society. But there is another way; love is stronger than death.

Doxology (short)

A poem to hymn the glory of God.

Glory (short)

We thirst for glory. There is only one way that thirst is rightly slaked.

How Shall I Tell an Alchemist? (short)

A musing prayer about how to open the eyes of an alchemist.

Hymn to the Creator of Heaven and Earth (medium)

A celebration of the resplendent beauty of the natural world.
The Labyrinth (short)
A poem about the labyrinth of technology and other things that we have woven into our society.

Maximum Christ, Maximum Ambition, Maximum Repentance(medium)

A meditation on the Maximum Christ we approach and maximum repentance as the true realization of God’s maximum ambition for our lives.
Now (short)
A poem pouring forth mystical theology of eternity, time, and that precious moment we call ‘now’.
Open (short)
A poem about closed fists, open hands, and true joy.
Pilgrim (short)
A prayer and poem about pilgrimage on earth.

A pilgrimage from Narnia (short)

A poem about a pilgrimage that begins with C.S. Lewis’s Narnia and ever presses ‘further up and further in.’

Psalm picker

This was a tool I made for myself after realizing I wasn’t spending nearly enough time praying through the Psalms. This will pull up different psalms, and there is a a mobile-friendly version too.

Silence: Organic food for the soul (medium)

A meditation on spiritual discipline and silence as an organic diet for the soul reaching out to the whole person.

Why This Waste? (short)

A poem that opens when a woman opens a priceless jar of perfume and a thief asks a question that was deeper than he knew: “Why this waste?”
A Yoke That Is Easy and a Burden That Is Light (short)
A prayer.

Odds and ends, curiosities and creative works

Suggested starting points include The Angelic Letters, The Best Things in Life Are Free, The most politically incorrect sermon in history: A commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, and Technonomicon: Technology, Nature,ascesis.

The Angelic Letters (medium)

A collection of letters from a senior angel to guide a guardian angel watching over a man, as envisioned by an Orthodox Christian. Inspired by C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.
Apprentice gods (short)
A look at this life as an apprenticeship of becoming gods and time as the womb of eternal life.
Apps and mobile websites for the Orthodox Christian smartphone and tablet: Best iPhone, iPad, Droid, Samsung, Android, Kindle, and Blackberry mobile websites and apps (short)
A look at the best that’s available for Orthodox Christian app seekers with iPhone and Android smartphones and tablets.

The Arena (short)

A work of mystical theology that looks at life as a great spiritual arena and training ground.
Athanasius: On Creative Fidelity (short)
Ever hear a broken record talking about how Orthodoxy has always been a matter of creative fidelity and never a matter of parrot-like repetition?

The Best Things in Life Are Free (short)

An exploration, connected with the chalice, of what it means that the best things in life are free.

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

A commentary on the Sermon on the Mount intended to unfold just how it appears to be the most politically incorrect sermon ever.
An Orthodox bookshelf (medium)
An Orthodox bookshelf covering The Orthodox* Study Bible, some of the Fathers, Neo-Platonism, and one or two works today.

“Physics” (short)

An Orthodox ‘Physics’, or study of the nature of things, designed to respond to Aristotle’s ‘Physics.’
Prayers (short)
A collection of short prayers for different occasions and purposes, offered to and for the Orthodox Church.
Public Portions of the Divine Liturgy, in Russian and in English
This is not something I’ve written (besides a preface), but something I put together from The Divine Lutirgy to help me understand the public parts of the Russian Liturgy. I offer it in the hope it may help others.
Refutatio omnium hæresium
The Refutation of All Heresies
The royal letters (short)
Three intimate letters from a father to a son about God, kings, and men.
Rules of Engagement
Rules of engagement for spiritual warfare that has always been waged, and is becoming more intense.
From Russia, With Love: A spiritual guide to surviving political and economic disaster (long)
The Russian Orthodox Church has a lot of experience living with hard times. This piece talks about not only survival lessons but the spiritual beauty that can come in political and economic difficulties.

St. John the Much-Suffering

As the text accompanying this beautiful icon begins, “St. John the Much-Suffering is a saint who fought industrial-strength sexual temptation for decades and WON in every sense of the term.”

Technonomicon: Technology, Nature, ascesis (medium)

We are entranced by technology, and yearn for harmony with nature. But there is more to life than getting technology or taking walks in the woods.
Twelve quotes on Orthodoxy, ecumenism, and Catholicism (short)
Twelve quotes to explain in particular why Orthodoxy seems to have such a cold response to Catholic ecumenical advances.

Theology & creations

Read selected works on Kindle: part of the collection, The Best of Jonathan’s Corner

This is an author’s library of free online books, centered on Orthodox books. Whether you want to read online novels, orshort stories, or theology and homilies, or other literature, why not look around here?

The most recent addition is, A Comparison Between the Mere Monk and the Highest Bishop.

Orthodox Theology

Go to:   Orthodox theology   Articles  Assorted creations   Journals  Miscellaneous nonfiction   Novels  Orthodox Humor   Satire   Short stories  Socratic dialogue   Technology

You can find works from several Orthodox books here, but this section itself is really one big Orthodox book: an anthology of Orthodox mystical theology.

The works in this collection span many types and genres, but overall they can be gathered into three large categories: theology articles, hymns and poems, and odds and ends, curiosities and creative works, Each of these has author’s picks highlighted; the author is personally partial to hymns and poems.

If you are looking for a place to start in these attempts to share the Orthodox Church’s mystical theology, I suggest Silence: Organic food for the soul or Doxology. Both are taken from the hymns and poems section.

Theology Articles

Suggested starting points include Creation and Holy Orthodoxy: Fundamentalism Is Not Enough, Exotic golden ages and restoring harmony with nature: Anatomy of a passion, Money, A pet Owner’s rules, and“Religion and Science” Is Not Just Intelligent Design vs. Evolution.

Amazing Providence (short)
One thing I have learned as a Christian is what it means for God to look after you.

That Beautiful Strength (medium)
A look at the hideous strength of C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, and the beautiful strength that is even stronger.

Can You Smoke Without Inhaling? Martial Arts and the Orthodox Christian(medium)
After ignoring an uneasy conscience, CJS Hayward tried to study a martial art on Orthodoxy-appropriate terms. Here is a retrospective that looks at the broader question of whether we can “smoke, but not inhale.”

Contemplation (short)
We were made to enjoy contemplation, in more than one sense.

Creation and Holy Orthodoxy: Fundamentalism Is Not Enough(short)

Years back, I wrote a couple of pieces about origins questions. This is a more recent piece that addresses a very specific point about bringing Protestant fundamentalism into Orthodoxy, and it moves away from origins questions towards a more important issue.

You might also read the companion piece, Note to Orthodox evolutionists: Stop trying to retroactively shanghai recruit the Fathers to your camp!.

Our Crown of Thorns (short)
Christ’s crown of thorns has every relevance to our daily lives. Is it something we can have on our own terms?

Desire (short)
A meditation on covetousness, desire, and true happiness.

Dissent: Lessons From Being an Orthodox theology Student at a Catholic University (medium)
When I was studying at Fordham, the question of dissent loomed large. This is an attempt to respond to what was “in the air” at that school.

Does God Suffer? (medium)
A grieving pastor, after the death of his son, wrote that God suffers with his Creation. This is a respectful look at his masterpiece that tries to explain why it is good news that God does not suffer.

Its central points revolve around what is called “theology proper,” or “the doctrine of God.” It responds to a powerful picture, in the masterpiece A Foot in Two Worlds, of a God who can handle creaturely suffering because he suffers with them. And it looks at what it means for God to be so great that he is beyond suffering.

Do We Have Rights? (medium)
We have a lot of rights these days. Or at least we think we do, and the list of our rights is growing longer and longer.

What if I told you that people can get along well without thinking in terms of rights?

The Eighth Sacrament (short)
In Orthodoxy, there are seven sacraments, officially speaking; but there’s a great deal of truth in saying that there is only one sacrament, or that there are a million of them. This is a look at one among many of the “other” sacraments.

Exotic Golden Ages and Restoring Harmony with Nature: Anatomy of a passion (medium)

There is a perennial cry in some quarters to reclaim former glory. We thirst for the exotic, but not always in the best places. Do we appreciate what we have?

Farewell to Gandhi: The Saint and the Activist (medium)

Years back, the author was very attentive to Gandhi’s writing, enough so that his first public speech was formed by that attentiveness. Now, years later, he has some second thoughts, and realizes areas where he was wrong.

God the Game Changer (medium)

A meditation on God as the Game Changer who responds to sin, evil, pain, and death by changing the game.

God the Spiritual Father (medium)

A collection of quotes and reflections on God the Father in light of the spiritual fatherhood in Orthodox monasticism, in its relevance to us today in an economic depression.

Halloween: A solemn farewell (short)
I enjoyed Halloween for many years, but it looks different as I begin to understand Orthodoxy.

C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength: science and magic, spirit and matter, and the figure of Merlin (medium)

A look at a slightly strange strand about science, magic, spirit, matter, Merlin, and other topics woven into the tapistry of C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength.

The Horn of Joy: A meditation on eternity and time, kairos and chronos(medium)
A meditation on eternity and time.

How to find a job: A guide for Orthodox Christians (short)
A concise summary of both the sacred and secular dimensions to an Orthodox Christian’s jobhunt. (Getting a job for Orthodox Christians calls for both.)

How to Survive Hard Times (medium)
Would you like to know how to survive an economic depression? People have survived every kind of disaster from recessions to economic collapses. The way they have survived may have had something to do with spirituality and faith. Do you want to dig deeper into how to survive a depression? You might find some answers here.

On humor (short)
A look at humor (off-color and otherwise) in the light of Orthodox Christian classics.

The Hydra
A look at a hydra whose heads include the covetousness of Romanticism’s Sehnsucht or longing, escapism, fantasy, the occult, and the freedom that comes when one rejects all of these.

Incarnation and deification (short)
An written for the Feast of the Nativity and the Fast before it, about Incarnation that unfurls in deification.

Introduction to the Jesus Prayer (short)
When we pray the Jesus Prayer, God uses it to build silence in our hearts and untangle those things we have knotted inside.

Lesser icons: Reflections on Faith, Icons, and Art (medium)
An Orthodox artist looks at art as a variety of icon.

Modus Tollens: Meandering Reflections on Life, Faith, and Politics(medium)
Loss is a part of life. In fact, loss is a part of Divine Providence: “Every branch that bears fruit, [the Vinedresser] prunes that it may bear more fruit.”

In truth, everything in life is either a blessing from God or a temptation which has been allowed for our strengthening.

Modus Tollens explores this pruning.

Monarchy (short)
A meditation of mystical theology about kings and kingdoms, monarchs and monarchy.

Money (short)

A homily touching on a subject that doesn’t get much treatment for how important it is.

Note to Orthodox evolutionists: Stop trying to retroactivelyshanghai recruit the Fathers to your camp!

Orthodox Christians may believe in evolution, but when Orthodox claim that the Fathers’ overall teaching goes hand in hand with evolution, there is something fishy going on.

You might also read the companion piece, Creation and Holy Orthodoxy: Fundamentalism Is Not Enough.

Oops… Could the Western Rite Please Try Again? (short)
There is something that is not quite right about the Western Rite in the Orthodox Church. (Really? When they are trying so hard to reconstruct the authentic Western Orthodoxy of the first millenium? Yes!)

An Open Letter to Catholics on Orthodoxy and Ecumenism (medium)
An open letter about an elephant in the room that Orthodox are painfully aware of and Catholics seem not to see at all.

Ordinary (short)
Some of us wish, or are tempted to wish, that we lived in the age of the great Christological controversies, or nineteenth century Russia, or perhaps the Middle Ages or the Baroque era.

But God has placed us here and now, and ordained for us our ordinary lives to live out. Has God made a mistake in doing so?

The Orthodox Martial Art Is Living the Sermon on the Mount (long)

One perennial debate is about war and peace, just war and pacifism, violence and nonviolence, soldiers and armies, and figures like Gandhi. Listen to the mystical theology of the Orthodox Christian Church as She listens out of the depths of Her silence.

Our thoughts determine our lives: Beyond The Secret and the Law of Attraction

A look at Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica’s title, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, as uncovering a more interesting secret than just Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret‘ and the Law of Attraction, and a secret for inner transformation—and outer!

A pet Owner’s rules (short)

God is like a pet owner who has only two rules.

The Pleasure-Pain Syndrome (medium)
A look at the pleasure-pain syndrome that for an instant crystallizes in the discussion of the Philokalia under a work attributed to St. Maximos the Confessor.

Pride (medium)

A look at the venomous hydra called narcissism and pride, by which Satan fell from being an Archangel in Heaven to being the Devil.

It isn’t good for us, either.

QUICK! What Is Your Opinion About Chemistry?

A look at “religion and science” that takes a slow, careful look at how we should receive patristic attitudes towards what is now considered to be the academic discipline of chemistry. (Note: this has nothing to do with alchemy even if there is a historical relation between modern chemistry and alchemy.)

“Religion and Science” Is Not Just Intelligent Design vs. Evolution(medium)

In my own experience, I started from a very scientific background; I have math awards and letters after my name in the sciences. And this science has been the start of a journey of repentance; it is a starting point of things that would find healing in Orthodoxy. And entering Orthodox theology, mystical theology, has meant unlearning not only the content of my knowing but what it is to know at all. Science is cut from the same cloth, or bedrock to, what it was that I needed healing from the Church as I was reconciled from the kind of background one gets in the sciences.

Repentance, Heaven’s Best-Kept Secret

Virtue is its own reward.

Repentance leads us into the rewards of virtue.

It is Heaven’s best-kept secret.

Science and knowledge: Regenerate science, philosophia naturalis, and human ways of knowing (medium)

C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man discusses a science that was born in occult ambiances, and says, “It might be going too far to say that the modern scientific movement was tainted from its birth: but I think it would be true to say that it, was born in an unhealthy neighbourhood and at an inauspicious hour.”

During that discussion of science and the enterprise abolishing Man, there are some very tantalizing remarks about a “regenerate science” that “would not do even to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself.”

This piece looks at something of a regenerate science that is closer than you might think.

A Shaft of Grace (short)
A description of an everyday religious experience.

“Social antibodies needed: A request of Orthodox clergy (medium)

An article exploring the social issues surrounding technology and faith and inviting Orthodox clergy to provide pastoral guidance, in other words “social antibodies”, for the internet, iPhones, and other features of the technological nexus that we are in.

The Swiss Army Knife and God (short)
Do Swiss Army Knives offer a lens to see God with?

Take Your Shoes Off Your Feet, for the Place Where You Stand Is Holy Ground (medium)
The Fathers see something in the Lord’s command to Take Your Shoes Off Your Feet, for the Place Where You Stand Is Holy Ground, and it has every relevance to Great Lent.

What do the Fathers see? And what does it have to do with Great Lent?

The transcendent God who approaches us through our neighbor (short)
Everything we say of God is inadequate. Yet this God who is far beyond anything we can say has a vicar on earth: not the Pope, but every person who crosses our path.

Treasure (short)
Calvin and Hobbes said, “There’s treasure everywhere!”

And really, there is.

Treasures in Heaven: The Inner Meaning of “Do Not Store Up Treasures On Earth”
“Do not store up treasures on earth,” in the Sermon on the Mount, may seem to be the ultimate strict standard of sacrificial living.

It is a strict standard, but its plain sense may be the outer shell of an important inner meaning.

Two Decisive Moments (short)

One of the moments is long ago. The other one can be right now.

What Evolutionists Have to Say to the Royal, Diving Image: We’re Missing Something
An article by someone who believes humans genuinely ARE a special flower and royal, on what evolution / revolutionary punk eek has to tell us who believe in the divine image.

What Makes Me Uneasy About Fr. Seraphim (Rose) and His Followers(short)
A look at what exactly about Fr. Seraphim (Rose) and his followers could disturb an Orthodox Christian.

What the Present Debate Won’t Tell You About Headship (short)
Among Christians, there’s a debate about “headship”. And those involved can miss something very important.

Where is the good of women? Feminism is called “The women’s movement.” But is it? (medium)
In the days of Luther, the Roman hegemony was strong enough that even Protestants had difficulties imagining how one could be at odds with the Roman Catholic Church and yet be right with God.

Feminism enjoys a similar position today for women’s interests, but “the women’s movement” is slipping, and there are signs a growing number find that “the women’s movement” is not their movement.

Work-Mystic (medium)

Work offers something of a missed opportunity for many of us: drudgery we endure to get pay, rather than an opportunity to serve and enjoy in a very high sense.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and there is in fact room for a mystical theology that encompasses work, and transforms it.

Your Own, Personal Hell (medium)
It has always been seductively easy to create your own, Personal Hell. The Fathers say that the gates of Hell are bolted and barred from the inside, that Hell is self-chosen, that there are in the end there are two types of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God ultimately says, “Thy will be done.” And some have suggested that even the fire of Hell is the Light of Heaven as experienced through the rejection of the only joy we can ultimately have, Christ Himself.

(You might also be interested in material from other sections of this website, such as Stephanos, and An Orthodox Looks at a Calvinist Looking at Orthodoxy.)

Hymns and poems

Suggested starting points include Doxology, A pilgrimage from Narnia,Silence: Organic food for the soul, and Why This Waste?.

Akathist Hymn to St. Philaret the Merciful (medium)

An akathist hymn celebrating St. Philaret the Merciful of Asia Minor, who was generous and merciful when he had much, and remained no less generous and merciful when he had little or nothing.

The Book of Thanks (medium)

All of us have a great deal to be grateful for. This is one text that looks through thankfulness at the scandal of the particular. It is part of a collection, A Pilgrimage from Narnia, that does not exactly narrate the author’s journey into Orthodoxy, but shows pictures of things that have been seen along the way.

Death (short)

We may have hospitals to hide death from our eyes, but all of us are moving towards death, even if we are in denial as a society. But there is another way; love is stronger than death.

Doxology (short)

A poem to hymn the glory of God.

Glory (short)

We thirst for glory. There is only one way that thirst is rightly slaked.

How Shall I Tell an Alchemist? (short)

A musing prayer about how to open the eyes of an alchemist.

Hymn to the Creator of Heaven and Earth (medium)

A celebration of the resplendent beauty of the natural world.

Maximum Christ, Maximum Ambition, Maximum Repentance(medium)

A meditation on the Maximum Christ we approach and maximum repentance as the true realization of God’s maximum ambition for our lives.

Now (short)
A poem pouring forth mystical theology of eternity, time, and that precious moment we call ‘now’.

Open (short)
A poem about closed fists, open hands, and true joy.

Pilgrim (short)
A prayer and poem about pilgrimage on earth.

A pilgrimage from Narnia (short)

A poem about a pilgrimage that begins with C.S. Lewis’s Narnia and ever presses ‘further up and further in.’

Psalm picker

This was a tool I made for myself after realizing I wasn’t spending nearly enough time praying through the Psalms. This will pull up different psalms, and there is a a mobile-friendly version too.

Silence: Organic food for the soul (medium)

A meditation on spiritual discipline and silence as an organic diet for the soul reaching out to the whole person.

Why This Waste? (short)

A poem that opens when a woman opens a priceless jar of perfume and a thief asks a question that was deeper than he knew: “Why this waste?”

A Yoke That Is Easy and a Burden That Is Light (short)
A prayer.

Odds and ends, curiosities and creative works

Suggested starting points include The Angelic Letters, The Best Things in Life Are Free, The most politically incorrect sermon in history: A commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, and Technonomicon: Technology, Nature,ascesis.

The Angelic Letters (medium)

A collection of letters from a senior angel to guide a guardian angel watching over a man, as envisioned by an Orthodox Christian. Inspired by C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.

Apprentice gods (short)
A look at this life as an apprenticeship of becoming gods and time as the womb of eternal life.

Apps and mobile websites for the Orthodox Christian smartphone and tablet: Best iPhone, iPad, Droid, Samsung, Android, Kindle, and Blackberry mobile websites and apps (short)
A look at the best that’s available for Orthodox Christian app seekers with iPhone and Android smartphones and tablets.

The Arena (short)

A work of mystical theology that looks at life as a great spiritual arena and training ground.

Athanasius: On Creative Fidelity (short)
Ever hear a broken record talking about how Orthodoxy has always been a matter of creative fidelity and never a matter of parrot-like repetition?

The Best Things in Life Are Free (short)

An exploration, connected with the chalice, of what it means that the best things in life are free.

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

A commentary on the Sermon on the Mount intended to unfold just how it appears to be the most politically incorrect sermon ever.

An Orthodox bookshelf (medium)
An Orthodox bookshelf covering The Orthodox* Study Bible, some of the Fathers, Neo-Platonism, and one or two works today.

“Physics” (short)

An Orthodox ‘Physics’, or study of the nature of things, designed to respond to Aristotle’s ‘Physics.’
Prayers (short)
A collection of short prayers for different occasions and purposes, offered to and for the Orthodox Church.

Public Portions of the Divine Liturgy, in Russian and in English
This is not something I’ve written (besides a preface), but something I put together from The Divine Lutirgy to help me understand the public parts of the Russian Liturgy. I offer it in the hope it may help others.

Refutatio omnium hæresium
The Refutation of All Heresies

The royal letters (short)
Three intimate letters from a father to a son about God, kings, and men.

From Russia, With Love: A spiritual guide to surviving political and economic disaster (long)
The Russian Orthodox Church has a lot of experience living with hard times. This piece talks about not only survival lessons but the spiritual beauty that can come in political and economic difficulties.

St. John the Much-Suffering

As the text accompanying this beautiful icon begins, “St. John the Much-Suffering is a saint who fought industrial-strength sexual temptation for decades and WON in every sense of the term.”

Technonomicon: Technology, Nature, ascesis (medium)

We are entranced by technology, and yearn for harmony with nature. But there is more to life than getting technology or taking walks in the woods.

Twelve quotes on Orthodoxy, ecumenism, and Catholicism (short)
Twelve quotes to explain in particular why Orthodoxy seems to have such a cold response to Catholic ecumenical advances.

Articles

Free online articles. These articles range over a number of topics, frombusiness communication to unexpected reasons to study mathematics. As well as these, there’s another section of miscellaneous nonfiction works. If you’re looking for a place to start, I suggest AI as an arena of magical thinking for skeptics: Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Sciece, and Eastern Orthodox Views on Personhood.

An Abstract Art of Memory (medium)
The ancient Greeks developed an art of memory that is very good with concrete facts. I wanted to see if I could adapt the principles to be more effective in storing abstractions.

The administrator who cried, “Important!” (medium)
You probably know the story of the boy who cried, “Wolf!” Here’s an updated version, with a lesson for business communication.

AI as an arena of magical thinking for skeptics: Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Sciece, and Eastern Orthodox Views on Personhood (long)
My second master’s thesis, from Cambridge. It’s theology (or what is considered academic theology at a University, which isn’t really theology at all), and touches on a number of interesting areas.

Animals (medium)
Some of us spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be human. It’s also worth thinking a little about animals.

The blacksmith’s forge: An extension to Euclidean geometric construction as a model of computation (short)

There were a few ideas that stayed with me from what I did while exploring and working for my master’s (or my first masters, at least). My masters appeared to provide a novel and rigorous approach to infinitesmals, as one benefit to using distances as numbers in something like a metric space.

Blessed are the peacemakers: Real Peace Through Real Strength (medium)
Most people—pacifist or not—would agree to the claim that violence should be avoided, and that people should study alternatives to violence. Here’s a chance to do just that.

Dark Patterns / Anti-patterns and Cultural Context Study of Scriptural Texts: A Case Study in Craig Keener’s Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (medium)
My first thesis in academic theology, looking at how the concept of dark patterns or anti-patterns may illuminate recurring tendencies in the wrong kind of advocate scholarship.

Does Augustine return to the interpersonal image of love as representing the Trinity, or does he abandon this in favour of the psychological image?(medium)
After years of being a pariah and whipping boy, the Blessed Augustine is going through a rehabilitation. This is an essay I wrote where Augustine served to me as a Church Father and as a halfway house between a Western, more philosophical approach to theology and the Eastern, mystical ocean I needed to dive into.

The essay looks at Augustine with respect but calls to task some of the silliness in people who are willing to be selective about Augustine’s own words in order to make him look better.

The Evolution of a Perspective on Creation and Origins (medium)
I wrote this for a mailing list where I felt attacked for my beliefs—by people who didn’t understand them. This post helped other list members to see why I thought certain ideas should be considered and not dismissed out of hand.

Frankincense, Gold, and Myrrh: A Look at Profound Giftedness Through Orthodox Anthropology (medium)
To be human is to have a profound gift in the first place, and one that far overshadows what psychology refers to as “profound giftedness”. But that “profound giftedness” is both human and interesting. Here’s an article looking at it from a theological perspective.

Friendly, win-win negotiations in business: Interest-based negotiation and “Getting to Yes” (short)

A look that takes ‘Getting to Yes’ interest-based negotiation from hostile settings to win-win negotiations in a friendly setting. Examples are included.

The Fulfillment of Feminism (medium)
An essay following The Patriarchy We Object To which talks about how feminism might find its home.

A Glimpse into Eastern Orthodoxy (medium)

Eastern Orthodoxy is both Christian and Eastern. and sometimes other Christians, and the West in general, don’t pick up on what exactly this means. A Glimpse into Eastern Orthodoxy is written in the hope of creating a spark of connection.

The Hayward Nonstandard Test: An Interesting Failure (medium)
This was an attempt to think outside of the box. It failed, but there may be something very interesting in how it failed.

He Created Them Male and Female, Masculine and Feminine (short)
An essay I wrote in college about how masculinity and femininity are real, good, and part of how we are meant to flourish.

The Incarnation: Orthodoxy, Islam, and the Reformation (medium)
A look at what the Incarnation means for practical, lived life, and how it may be present or absent in Orthodoxy, Islam, and Protestant Christianity.

In celebration of Tribbles (short)

A look at cruelty-free pet keeping and an unlikely candidate for a pet where one’s living conditions would otherwise be cruel to something furry.

“Inclusive” Language and Other Debates: An Orthodox Alumnus Responds to his Advisor (medium)
A conservative alumnus answers questions posed by his egalitarian thesis advisor from a minor degree.

Knights and ladies (medium)

A more recent treatment of masculinity and femininity which tries to go deeper, and voice something important that has been unspoken.

Looking at “Stranger in a Strange Land” as a Modern Christological Heresy(medium)
An Orthodox Christian reader looks at Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, originally titled The Heretic, as a Christological heresy.

Meat (medium)
A look at ethical issues connected with icons, Theophany, Creation, animals, and meat from an Eastern Orthodox Christian perspective.

An Orthodox Looks at a Calvinist Looking at Orthodoxy (Medium)
One Presbyterian minister took the time to earn a doctorate from an Orthodox seminary… and wrote some reflections which left me wondering what he’d missed. I think his impressions may be a lot of people’s impressions, and I think he’s given a pretty candid take.

This note quotes the original reflections (with permission), and posts my reply to what seemed like getting a lot of details right but missing how they fit together in the big picture.

Orthodoxy, contraception, and spin doctoring: A Look at an Influential and Disturbing Article (long)
This article was occasioned by the discovery of some of what programmers ironically call, buried treasure: in this case, current Orthodox positions on contraception often are built on top of the buried treasure. Maybe this buried treasure is, as the definition in the jargon file says, “something that needs to be dug up and removed.”

The Patriarchy We Object To (medium)
A talk about some of what Orthodoxy can say to feminism.

Privilege, Pure Privilege—Extreme Privilege (medium)
This meditation looks at privilege—the privilege of celebrities, which the author does not have and has no desire for, and then other forms of privilege which make the concrete fabric of the author’s life.

Attention is paid to childhood literary heroes, and moves on to looking at what can be found in the lives of the saints.

Some thoughts about Heaven (short)
Heaven is meant to be important to earth.

Theology of play (short)
It sometimes seems easier to think about why work is important, than why play is important. This is an essay on why play is important.

A treatise on touch (medium)
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made is written by the doctor who found out that leprosy ravages the body by destroying the sense of touch. He recounts a story about getting sick, letting his foot fall asleep, thinking he had leprosy, realizing his error, and living a life alive to touch as he had never done before. This is part of that story’s impact on me.

Un-man’s tales: C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra, fairy tales, and feminism(medium)
A study of two of the greatest scholar’s works that looks at the Un-man’s tales in C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra, with eyes wide shut.

What the West doesn’t get about Islam (short)

The West doesn’t get Islam…

…and Western efforts to just understand Islam leave us further, not closer, to understanding Islam and Muslims.

Why study mathematics? (short)
Have you ever felt like mathematics was a secret game that everybody but you understood? Here’s the secret.

Why young earthers aren’t completely crazy (short)
A look at why some people insist on a young earth creation in the face of scientists’ constant claims that evolution is the only game in town—and why they’re not completely wrong.

Assorted creations

This is a “grab bag” of assorted creative works. Other sections have longer fiction and short stories; this offers a colorful collection of things you can’t find other places. If you’re looking for a place to start, I suggest A dream of light.

Christian koans (medium)
A koan is a unique kind of story that is both short and powerful.

A dream of light (medium)

Dreamlike images flow throughout this narrative.

Espiriticthus: Cultures of a Fantasy World not Touched By Evil
An exploration of seven different cultures in a world of pure goodness, a world without evil. This comes to mean seven forms of goodness which are sharply different from each other.

Game review: Meatspace (medium)

It is, in a sense, a description of the ultimate game.

Fingerprinted collects (short)
A short collection of prayers, in French and English.

The grinch who stole Christmas (short)
A twist on the classic Dr. Seuss story.

I learned it all from Jesus (short)
A poster in the tradition of “How To Be An Artist” and “I Learned It All In Kindergarden”.

Janra ball: The headache

A marvelously silly game from planet Espiriticthus.

Jobs for theologians (short)

An irreverent look at jobs available in theology.

The modern baccaulaureate (short)
You’ve heard of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Modern Major-General”? Here’s an update.

The Portal (medium)
The Portal is an interactive story. You’re the hero.

Profoundly Gifted Magazine: An Interview With Charles Wallace Murry of A Wind in the Door
When I was young, I emulated to an arguably toxic extent Charles Wallace from Madeleine l’Engle’s A Wind in the Door: it was through Charles Wallace that I learned to identify with a character in literature.

Late in her life, Madeleine l’Engle said she was waiting to see where Charles Wallace was, but passed on before she could complete a novel about where the adult Charles Wallace was. There is much that I gained from that author, including Within the Steel Orb, and I hope a tribute may stand here from someone who identified closely with the character, enough to see the novels’ faults from the inside.

Romantic Impressions (medium)
A set of vignettes trying to capture romantic impressions like the 19th century Romantics did.

The Way of the Way (medium)
An “early work” collection of poems underscoring something I sensed in Christianity that can be hard to see from the West.

Journals

Here are two journals I’ve kept. If you’re looking at a place to start, I suggest Journal of an Awakening.

Journal of an Awakening (long)
A journal of a spiritual awakening.

Musings (long)
A journal of ideas I wished to record.

Miscellaneous nonfiction

Another section has Articles. This section is a “grab bag” of other nonfiction works. If you’re looking for a place to start, I suggest Actually, to Me, It Is a Very Good Day.

Actually, to Me, It Is a Very Good Day (medium)
This is from a lecture and “reading aloud by the author” session.

Amos and Andy: Meet Barack Obama! (short)

Amos and Andy represent a low point, a shameful low point, in U.S. race relations and politics as a whole.

Some have said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. This is a look at, so to speak, something in today’s political arena that seems reminiscent of Amos and Andy.

Join a new Amos and a new Andy as they discuss politics, Republicans, prejudice, and Barack Obama!

An Author’s Musing Memoirs: Retrospective Reflections, Retracings, and Retractions (medium)
A letter to the reader about God, some of my flaws, and God’s work even in a flawed person such as Yours Truly.

The case for uncreative web design (medium)
Many people think good web design means making a design that’s different from other websites. This article argues another perspective.

“Concept demo” awards program (medium)
A carefully thought-out resource for reviewers for web awards program, on how to best present their programs to the web.

Jonathan’s Canon (medium)
An annotated bibliography of works that have influenced me, that I would like to pass on.

On Kything (medium)
Excerpted from the Journal of an Awakening.

Memory and prayer (short)
Do you believe that prayer is a good thing, but struggle to enjoy it for more than two minutes? I did for a long time; then something clicked.

On mentorship (medium)
A description of mentorship that has more than technique.

Not Stressed? (medium)
This is something I wrote about spiritual discipline and stress. I went to a Bible study that talked about dealing with stress, and when I heard the discussion, I realized that I was living at a much lower level of stress than what was assumed. I thought about how to explain why I experience less stress, and I realized that stress was the tip of the iceberg.

An open letter from a customer: I Don’t WANT to Abuse Your Employees and be Rewarded for Gaming the System (short)

The phrase “The customer is always right!” heralded in good customer service in an age of bad customer service.

Now some companies take “The customer is always right!” in a way that rewards customers who burn out their employees. This is a call to treat employees as human beings and perhaps free them to offer better customer service.

An open letter to spam patrons (short)
Do you hate spam? Here’s a letter you can send to business owners who don’t understand why spamming is bad.

Seven-Sided Gem (medium)
This lecture was given at Mensa’s Chicago Regional Gathering, and was meant to share several facets of interesting personal experience.

Tinkering with Perl
Something I wrote when my brothers were twelve to introduce them to programming. It tries to be very simple—just enough so kids can start tinkering.

The Way I Think (short)
There was something I missed in school, and had to invent myself. This book is for bright young people, and their parents, who would want to know what I’ve learned about thinking.

Novels

Go to:   Orthodox Theology   Articles   Assorted creations   Journals  Miscellaneous nonfiction   Novels   Orthodox Humor   Satire   Short stories  Socratic dialogue   Technology   Toastmasters speeches

This section has free online novels. Other free online books include Yonderand Hayward’s Unabridged Dictionary: A Free Online (Satire) Dictionary, or the how-to book Tinkering with Perl.

But the novels are right here, and several of them are Orthodox books. As well as these novels, you can also see short stories and other assorted creations. If you’re looking for a place to start, I suggest The Sign of the Grail.

The Christmas tales (long)
Several pilgrims speak over the Christmas meal.

A Cord of Seven Strands (long)
A novella which explores the connection between a circle of friends as they pass through harrowing experiences.

Firestorm 2034 (long)
A science fiction story about a medieval who is transported to the 21st century, and the chaos that ensues. It explores decades of shift in technology and culture. Heinlein fans will note a resemblance toStranger in a Strange Land, which I drew on—perhaps they’ll like this one, too.

The Sign of the Grail (long)

In this Orthodox book, a college freshman explores his room and finds a book, Brocéliande, and his eyes begin to open when he starts to read legends of King Arthur’s court.

The steel orb (long)
The steel orb is an Orthodox book that tells a story from a world that has been simmering in my heart for years. It concerns a young pupil who wants to be a teacher, and the struggles he goes through on the way. It is a fantasy novella based on the patristic Orthodox East instead of the medieval Catholic West.

Orthodox Humor

This section has Christian jokes and humor, and the lighter side of Orthodoxy. If you are looking for a place to start, I suggest Archdruid of Canterbury Visits Orthodox Patriarch. But free to check out the Orthodox books section too.

1054 and All That (short)
The confused person’s guide to being even more confused about Orthodoxy.

Archdruid of Canterbury Visits Orthodox Patriarch (short)

If you don’t know what this refers to, do a Google search for “Archbishop of Canterbury becoming a Druid.” The issue is more complex than it looks, but not that much more complex.

Communities of Mount Mathos Release Another Open Letter to Ecumenist Patriarch

They certainly appreciate precision!

Devotees of Fr. Cherubim (Jones) Demand his Immediate Canonization and Full Recognition as “Equal to the Heirophants” (short)
They’re at it. (Again.)

Evangelical Converts Striving to Be Orthodox (short)
You may have heard of the Evangelicals who studied hard, tried to re-create the Early Christian Church, and rediscovered the Orthodox Church. Here’s an update.

Pope Makes Historic Ecumenical Bid to Woo Eastern Rite Catholics (short)
Hot off the trail of the Pope’s offer to Anglicans comes a new historic bid, this time aimed at Eastern Rite Catholics(!).

Your Fast Track to Becoming a Bishop! (short)
The most convenient way to become an Orthodox bishop.

Satire

Satire. If you’re looking for a place to start, I suggest Religion Within the Bounds of Amusement. You might also like Orthodox Humor.

Hayward’s Unabridged Dictionary: A Free Online (Satire) Dictionary(long)

Ambrose Bierce wrote a classic of wit and satire, called The Devil’s Dictionary. This book follows in that tradition, and comments on any number of things in American life.

Inclusive Language Greek Manuscript Discovered (short)
There is a considerable buzz among New Testament scholars among the discovery of a nearly complete manuscript to the book of the Bible called Romans.

Religion Within the Bounds of Amusement (short)

Inspired by a visit to a “seeker service.” To those unacquainted with Christian lingo, this means a church service which tries to reach out to people seeking God—but “reach out to people seeking God” really means, “put on a circus.”

A Strange Archaeological Find (medium)
Read a 26th century historian as he extols the poetic beauty of a light bulb, praises Darwinism as a truly great myth… and analyzes a rather strange archaeological find.

Unvera Announces New Kool-Aid Line (short)
A leading nutriceutical supplement MLM announces a line of Kool-Aid for its distributors, containing some of the most powerful plant toxins available to humankind.

Short stories

Here are short stories you can read online for free. Besides the short stories, there are some works of fiction in the assorted creations and free online novels. If you’re looking for a place to start, I suggest Unashamed.

The commentary (medium)
This is a piece of wisdom literature about a man who has been searching for the Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, in One Volume, Containing a Careful Analysis of All Cultural Issues Needful to Understand the Bible as Did Its First Readers… and why he is so veryunhappy when he finds what he desires.

A glimpse through a crystal (short)
A dream about another world.

The metacultural Gospel (medium)
A fictionalized Gospel account set in contemporary America. It tries to convey how genuinely shocking a person is described in the Gospels—and how he’d still be stunning, today.

The Monastery (short)
The story of a traveller moving deeper and deeper into a monastery—in more ways than one.

A picture of evil (short)
What, exactly, is the nature of evil? Read about three painters who tried to show it.

The spectacles

There is more to this man than meets the eye. He appears quite ordinary; he’s learned that skill well enough…

Stephanos (short)

Stephanos begins when a boy enters a temple to get away from his sister…

A strange picture (short)
Why was a picture of beauty so disturbing?

Unashamed (short)

Abigail loves to sit down at a keyboard and improvise with her father. Why is she afraid one day?

The voyage (medium)
A disillusioned young man wants to escape into another world, a magical world, and finds an old man who might help him.

The Wagon, the Blackbird, and the Saab (medium)

There’s more connecting these three items than you might think. But the differences are more than meets the eye, too.

A wonderful life (medium)

It really doesn’t matter if the situation is ordinarily bad or extraordinarily bad. Not for what really counts.

Socratic dialogue

Socratic dialogue: philosophy with more than a dash of drama. If you’re looking for a place to start, I reccommend The Watch.

The damned backswing (short)
A dialogue about a “damned backswing” that keeps coming up in life and society.

How Shall We Live at 2:30:44 PM, Tue Jan 26 2016? (medium)

Humans have long lived as hunter-gatherers, then in a geological eyeblink adopted the agricultural revolution, and then in an eyeblink even compared to the agricultural revolution, spin out in a cascading, coruscating, coruscating succession of technologies.

The Law of Attraction: A Dialogue with an Eastern Orthodox Christian Mystic (medium)
In shaky times, many people look to the Law of Attraction. Orthodox Christianity has a way to delve deeper.

The Martian Human Complete Set of Working Instructions to Happiness: Life, the Paleo Diet, (Paleo) Orthodoxy, and Other Things (medium)
A Socratic dialogue between a fan of Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and an Orthodox theologian about Martian and human life, happiness, and the Paleo diet.

The mindstorm (medium)
A dialogue which has a brilliant alumnus return to his school and discuss philosophy of education with its founder.

Plato: The Allegory of the… Flickering Screen? (short)

A slightly updated look at Plato’s Allegory of the Cave… or perhaps not really an updated look at all. Should the most famous piece of Socratic dialogue have been called the Allegory of the Television?

Singularity

A Socratic dialogue about the present cultural singularity emanating from the West and reaching across the globe.

The dialogue is between Merlin, chrismated John, and Herodotus.

Spirit (medium)
God is spirit, and he invites us to be spirit too.

Veni, Vidi, Vomi: A Look at “Do You Want to Date My Avatar?” (short)
“Do You Want to Date My Avatar?” is a viral music video that is funny and demure by music video standards. At first glance, at least…

The watch (medium)

On the surface, it’s about a watch that has another way of telling time. Under the surface…

Within the Steel Orb (medium)

Does Einstein’s theory of relativity say anything that relativism does not? Or does relativism say anything that Einstein’s theory of relativity does not?

Is there a difference that matters?

A sleek car under starlight, a different kind of information technology, a deep, blue-robed host, and the wisdom of a Socratic dialogue in a science fiction world.

Yonder (long)
Yonder is a science fiction story that starts in a world where mind and body are separate. Or at least that’s one way of looking at it. You could also describe it as a miniature Divine Comedy, a journey which begins in Hell and ends in Heaven, but uses none of the traditional imagery: Hell is a place where you can have any pleasure you want, while Heaven is a place with intense suffering.

Technology

Here are a collection of works about technology, programming, web design, and hackerdom. You may also be interested in the open source software projects section and possibly Technonomicon: Technology, Nature, Ascesis. If you’re looking for a place to start, I suggest The Luddite’s guide to technology: Fasting from Technologies or Passwords maker.

Ajax without JavaScript or client-side scripting (short)

It’s common knowledge among front-end web developers that Ajax is not necessarily “Asynchronous JavaScript and XML”: XML can quite well be replaced by JSON. But JavaScript and client-side scripting languages aren’t strictly necessary, and here is a proof of concept.

All I Really Needed to Learn About Programming, I Learned From Java(short)
As I look back on my programming experience, the most important things were not writing low-level serialization routines, or stunning optimizations that drew on deep theory. All I really needed to learn about programming, I learned from Java.

The blacksmith’s forge: An Extension of Euclidean Geometric Construction, as a Model of Computation
What is a computer? This looks at how high school Euclidean geometric construction may be seen as a model of computation, and then looks at an extension that opens the door to many more constructions that can give a powerful extension to Euclidean construction.

It allows quick construction for three problems classically considered to be insoluble.

The case for uncreative web design
Many people think good web design means making a design that’s different from other websites. This article argues another perspective.

The Luddite’s guide to technology: Fasting from technologies (long)
The title “The Luddite’s guide to technology” is quite deliberately ironic. The content, a work of Orthodox mystical theology, is not ironic, and is a discussion of spiritually disciplined use of today’s technology. The discussion is meant to provide a roadmap and provoke reflection.

Passwords maker (short)

It can be surprisingly difficult to make a password that is both strong and secure on the one hand, and not impossible to remember. Sure, if your password is “BQRaW3@8-i–d5bce” it is going to be a hard password for anyone malicious to guess, but that kind of password is hard to remember, and for that matter hard enough to type in!

Passwords maker makes passwords that are hard to guess but easy to remember. Curious how that is possible? Take a look!

So, You’ve Hired a Hacker (Revised and Expanded) (medium)

This is a revision of a classic guide for managers confused by hackers they’ve hired. Not the vandals who break into other people’s computers—the other kind of hacker, the law-abiding kind. Haven’t heard of them? Here’s a chance to do just that.

Tinkering with Perl (long)
Something I wrote when my brothers were twelve to introduce them to programming. It tries to be very simple—just enough so kids can start tinkering.

Usability for hackers: Developers, anthropology, and making software more usable (medium)

Programmers can easily enough make software with an interface that makes sense only to them. This is a discussion of personal attributes that many programmers can draw on to make software that is much more usable.

Usability, the Soul of Python: An introduction to the Python programming language (medium)
An introduction to Python that looks at usability as one of the most fundamental aspects of the language.

Your site’s missing error page
Think you’ve covered the bases in appropriate error pages? 404 and 500 covered professionally? You’ve still got at least one left.

Toastmasters speeches

The ice breaker: Why such harassment? (short)
If someone said, “I wish I were gifted enough that people would start harassing me,” the response may be “Huh?”

But that doesn’t make the experience any less real.

Organize your speech: iPhones and spirituality (short)
Texting while driving is dangerous; we’ve learned that texting is a strong enough technological drug not to mix with driving. But there are other lessons in life besides “Hang up and drive!” This is especially true with the technological drug of the iPhone.

Get to the Point: Humor delivers pain (short)
People see humor as joyful, but take away a joke’s pain and what’s left isn’t funny. As Mark Twain the humor wrote, “The secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in Heaven.”Orthodoxy would agree.

Et cetera

I like to create—usually by writing, but I’ve made other things as well. This is a collection of all sorts of things I’ve created (besides writing and besides a role playing game I cherish). Some are very serious; some are very silly. The most recent addition here is A Facebook portrait for Orthodox clergy. There is also a list of recent additions to this site, sorted by date.

If you are looking for a place to start, I suggest A Christmas gift for children.

Like something you see here? Don’t like something you see here? Want to write the creator/author? Contact me!

Go to: Art   Games   Humor   The minstrel’s song   Miscellaneous   Open source software projects   Web services

Art

Here are assorted pieces of visual art. As well as the pieces here, you might enjoy looking through the pictures on the homepage. If you’re looking for a place to start, I suggest Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthane?.

Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthane? (medium)

A watercolor that I made my freshman year of college. I don’t think I’ve made any other artwork that reaches the same standard.

An Enchanted Picture (short)

Watch as the picture fades and melts.

The Good Shepherd (short)
“Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” What haven’t you been told about this?

A Personal Flag
A web page set me thinking, and I decided to create a personal flag—that is, a visual symbol designed to share who I am. Here it is, with annotation.

Taberah (short)
I drew a picture of the hero of my second novel. I’m not sure it came out as powerfully as what I envisioned, but I think it captures something…

Go to: Art   Games   Humor   The minstrel’s song   Miscellaneous   Open source software projects   Web services

Games

As well as the games here, there’s another game, The Minstrel’s Song, that has its own section. Some of the open source software projects are also games. But if you’re looking for an interesting challenge, why don’t you tryA Four Dimensional Maze?

A four dimensional maze

Some years ago, I wrote a program that allowed the player to navigate a four dimensional maze. The game looks like it did on the Apple ][—a blast from the past.

Generica (medium)
This is an icebreaker board game: if you print out the printer-friendly version, you can make your own board game to play with friends.

Patterns (short)
I wrote a program to help me understand a math problem, and found it was fun to play around with: interesting things happen when you click around. This is probably one of your better bets if your mind’s fried from a hard day’s work.

Humor

Go to: Art   Games   Humor   The minstrel’s song   Miscellaneous   Open source software projects   Web services

A handful of humorous items. If you’re looking for a place to start, I suggest Procedures for the Adjustment and Repair of Televisions.

Automated Windows Tech Support (short)
I have here a personally developed automated Windows technical support system, available free of charge.

A Customer Experience Survey (short)
There’s a customer survey for everything

A Fully Functional Windows 95 Emulator That Runs Right in Your Browser (short)

Plans are underway for a fully functional Windows 7 emulator, but unfortunately are running into difficulties with IE6 compatibility.

Microsoft Offers Better “Truth in Advertising” for Windows XP Dialog Box
Microsoft has released a clarified wording for one of the most important—and most annoying—dialog boxes in the Microsoft Windows XP Operating System.

Procedures for the Adjustment and Repair of Televisions (short)

A number of methods may be used for dealing with televisions; here’s the one I think is best.

The Quintessential Web Page (short)
What is the Web? It’s a tough question to answer, perhaps because it’s so hard to define a typical web page. If you click on this link, however, you’ll be taken to about as quintessential of a web page as I believe exists.

Today, Florida Orange Juice. Tomorrow… (short)

Remember those TV commercials a few days back, where warm sunlit scenes were followed by a warm voice saying, “Florida Orange Juice. Because it makes you feel so good?” Here’s an update.

Miscellaneous

Go to: Art   Games   Humor   The minstrel’s song   Miscellaneous   Open source software projects   Web services

Miscellaneous items that you won’t find in other areas of the website. If you’re looking for a place to start, I suggest A Christmas gift for children.

A Christmas gift for children

A look at some of the peaks of CJS Hayward that would be more interesting to children, including the Tale of the Fairy Prince.

Connections
I do not live in a vacuum, but in connection with communities and other people. Here are some of their webpages.

A Facebook portrait for Orthodox clergy
Facebook is slightly insensitive to religious communities who call their priests, “Father.” Here is a tweak on one clever response to the censorship.

Favorite haunts
My site isn’t focused on links, but I’ve found some jewels on the web that I consider worth mention.

Homemade pinball machine HOWTO (short)
As a child, CJS Hayward made a number of different little pinball machines. Here’s an updated summary of how to get into the craft.

If You Want to Link to Jonathan’s Corner (short)
Here are some images, along with sample HTML, for people who want to link to this page. (Text links are also welcome!)

The “natural cycle” liturgical clock

The concept may not be obvious if you’re not used to ancient ways of thinking about a time, but there is a different way of calculating time based on the natural cycles of sunrise and sunset rather than artificial things like time zones.

UberLingua (short)
Writing is largely a copy of oral language; it does not take full advantage of visual media. Here’s an article about what some might call the next generation of human language. It is dedicated to all those web designers who believe that, if they make a web page you already know how to use, they aren’t doing their job.

Et cetera

A Christmas gift for children

A look at some of the peaks of CJS Hayward that would be more interesting to children, including the Tale of the Fairy Prince.

Connections
I do not live in a vacuum, but in connection with communities and other people. Here are some of their webpages.

Favorite haunts
My site isn’t focused on links, but I’ve found some jewels on the web that I consider worth mention.

If You Want to Link to Jonathan’s Corner
Here are some images, along with sample HTML, for people who want to link to this page. (Text links are also welcome!)

The “natural cycle” liturgical clock

The concept may not be obvious if you’re not used to ancient ways of thinking about a time, but there is a different way of calculating time based on the natural cycles of sunrise and sunset rather than artificial things like time zones.

UberLingua
Writing is largely a copy of oral language; it does not take full advantage of visual media. Here’s an article about what some might call the next generation of human language. It is dedicated to all those web designers who believe that, if they make a web page you already know how to use, they aren’t doing their job.

Connections
I do not live in a vacuum, but in connection with communities and other people. Here are some of their webpages.

Favorite haunts
My site isn’t focused on links, but I’ve found some jewels on the web that I consider worth mention.

If You Want to Link to Jonathan’s Corner
Here are some images, along with sample HTML, for people who want to link to this page. (Text links are also welcome!)

The “natural cycle” liturgical clock

The concept may not be obvious if you’re not used to ancient ways of thinking about a time, but there is a different way of calculating time based on the natural cycles of sunrise and sunset rather than artificial things like time zones.

UberLingua
Writing is largely a copy of oral language; it does not take full advantage of visual media. Here’s an article about what some might call the next generation of human language. It is dedicated to all those web designers who believe that, if they make a web page you already know how to use, they aren’t doing their job.

Open Source Software Projects

This is a set of open source projects. You may also be interested in the section of things written about technology, programming, web design, usability, and hackerdom. If you’re looking for a place to start, why don’t you look at ABSOLUTE Precision Arithmetic with Arbitrary Precison OUTPUT?

Licenses: Most, although not all, of these projects are available to you under your choice of the Artistic, GPL, and MIT licenses (see individual pages for details). If you find something you like, you are invited to consider linking to CJSHayward.com.

ABSOLUTE precision arithmetic with arbitrary precision OUTPUT
This offers something fundamentally better than arbitrary precision’s arithmetic letting you choose where the digits drop off. It stores any (computable) number exactly, and offers print-on-demand decimalizations.

If you originally calculate a number to three decimal places, and later find you need six, or want the user to be able to specify any number of decimal places you can’t know in advance, no problem. Just ask for six or a user-entered number of decimal places: no need to refactor all of your code. And if an exact number is generated by someone else’s code, you need not dig into that code to get your preferred number of decimal places.

This also does not suffer the corruption on arithmetic operation that slowly corrupts float- (or arbitrary-precision) arithmetic.

I miss Aqua: A retro-themed Maverick
The Aqua theme is gone from Mac OSX, but with a little open source pixie dust we can have an Aqua virtual machine available from Mac, Linux, or Windows.

Enjoy!

Catch the furball (Demo) (short)
Catch the furball is an ice-breaker board game intended for people to play around the computer. This page will both let you play the game, and download it to install and/or tinker with. (It’s a bit like Generica, but easier to set up.)

CFL: A truly unique distributed version control system (short)
CFL is the world’s first green distributed version control system. Inspired by compact fluorescent lights, it is at its core based on Mercurial, but builds on it in ways some would never imagine.

CJSH, a Python 3 based experimental, programmable Linux / Unix / Mac command line shell (short)
An experimental Unix/Linux command line shell, implemented in Python 3, that offers Unix strength and Python-powered Unix scripting while taking advantage of some more recent concepts in terms of usability and searching above pinpointing files in directory heirarchies.

The data mine (short)
The data mine is a search engine designed to give powerful access to a site’s contents. The interface is meant to be friendly and use keyword highlighting and link targets to allow the user to find desired material with minimal clicking and scrolling.

Fortunes (short)
On some computers, there’s a fortune cookie program that displays a short quote suitable for signatures and the like. Here are two things I’ve written, in that format.

Hayward\s free intranet employee photo directory (short)

A free, simple, powerful, usable employee intranet photo directory built with Django jQuery Ajax.

The magic notebook (Demo)
The magic notebook is a tool for storing and organizing notes that can be used for contact information, to do lists, lists to read, recipes, and whatever other eclectic collections of information you want. It is available both for personal use and as a downloadable CGI script.

The minstrel’s song
This is an extensive and somewhat nostalgic ‘roguelike’ computer game, which works best on a Linux-like system.

Mobile Web Proxy (short)

The Mobile Web Proxy is meant to be a proxy that will allow some webpages which cannot be displayed on my cell phone (and perhaps not other people’s mobile devices either) to be available for viewing.

Private logistics: Privacy-sensitive todo, calendar, scratchpad, personal information management (PIM) (medium)

This webpage provides certain dynamic services: todo, calendar, and scratchpad. However, it doesn’t store your information somewhere on a server run by someone else. It is stored on your computer, and only on your computer.

Proportional font terminal: A better Linux / Unix / Mac term
For those of you who use Unix/Linux terminals, would you like to use the same kind of proportional fonts that are used on almost every major website? This is a tool to let you do just that.

The Powered Access Bible (Demo)

The powered access Bible is a CGI script which you can use to find things in the Bible, and see what they mean in context.

Quizmaster (Demo) (short)
There are quizzes that give you multiple guess questions and tell you what you’re closest to. This is a CGI script designed to let webmasters post their own quizzes. This is a more dynamic setup than many: as you answer questions, you can see your results being calculated.

SearchLog(Demo) (short)
SearchLog is weblog meets search engine, with some cool tools thrown in to make it more powerful.

Sidebar in a Can (short)
Visitors with Firefox or other Mozilla browsers: would you like a sidebar offering Jonathan’s Corner selections? (Non-Firefox friends: I’m sorry, but the other browsers don’t access this sidebar yet.)

Webmasters: Would you like to have a sidebar that is both dynamic and low-maintenance? The sidebar powers the rotating link on my front page. Check it out.

Snippets (short)
This is the release page for a CGI script where fortune cookie meets wiki: an editable quote of the day, a way to remember people to e-mail, and other things as well.

Spaghetti Parenthesis Visualizer (short)
An in-browser tool to balance parentheses (braces, etc.) None of the code that it visually formats will be sent to the server, but the security conscious are invited to download their own copies (GPL/MIT).

Virtual Tour (Demo)
Virtual Tour is a web tool I made to allow an online virtual tour. Whether or not you set up webpages, I invite you to see the virtual tour I made of ‘Impressions of Cambridge’ at beautiful Cambridge University in England.

Web services

Web tools related to Jonathan’s Corner: A Library of Free Online Books. If you’re looking for a place to start, why not check out the Toolbar?

One Stop Shopping for Web services (short)
An easy access page for this site’s RSS and sidebar services.

Reciprocal links directory (short)
A directory of reciprocal links. Submissions are invited; please contact the author.

Toolbar (short)
A simple, slightly eclectic, and somewhat powerful toolbar linked to Jonathan’s Corner.

The minstrel’s song

A Role Playing Game

Welcome to the home page of The minstrel’s song! Here you can download and read about the role playing game, and the roguelike. The game has a very rich world, with seven detailed cultures—as you read about the cultures, you may find yourself seeing through these people’s eyes:

The storytelling of the Nor’krin
The horseplay of the Tuz
The tinkering of the Urvanovestilli
The song of the Yedidia
The simple ways of the Jec
The peace of the Shal
The pranks of the Janra.

The cultures are written out of the author’s experience on three continents, and add depth and color to game play. As one player said during playtesting:

Tuz are all action.
Urvanovestilli are all words.
Shal are all being.
Janra are all goofs.

Like something you see here? Don’t like something you see here? Want to write the author? Contact me! There is also a list of recent additions to this site, sorted by date.

If you’re looking for a place to start, why not read Janra ball: The headache?

An Example of Play

I also have the beginning of a TMS play by e-mail campaign online. Reading it might give you a feel for what play is like. The campaign is closed.

The Fantasy World

The cultures of this Christian fantasy world have been worked out in detail:The World Espiriticthus.

Playing Materials

Player’s Introduction
Game Master’s Introduction (short)
A Mathematical Model (short, optional)

Background Reading

General Comments and Theological Groundings (medium)
Further Notes (medium)

A Game Within a Game: From Espiriticthus to Our World

Here’s a piece I wrote about some of the local color in the game:

Janra ball: the Headache (short)

A Roguelike Computer Game

A “roguelike” computer game (long), very retro, can be downloaded herefor Windows, Unix, Linux, and Macintosh.

The horn of joy: a meditation on eternity and time, kairos and chronos

Surgeon General’s Warning

It has happened occasionally that something I’ve written as a lone voice has a few years later become the mainstream. Such was my academic interest in the holy kiss, one tiny snippet of which is in The Eighth Sacrament and which is a theme in The Sign of the Grail. When I proposed study, my own advisor subjected me to social ridicule until I persisted and he said, “I don’t know. It seems not to be researched.” Five years later, it entered the Zeitgeist and I had people asking if I knew more than The Eighth Sacrament (a work which was in fact intended to be a tiny crystallization of a vast body of research about the only act the Bible calls holy).

The opening paragraph to this work states, “Alchemy is a more jarring image.” No, it isn’t, or at least not any more; alchemy has been coming out of the closet for years, and aside from bestsellers, I worked once at the American Medical Association, an organization founded to shut down homeopathic occult medicine in favor of medicine that would today be seen as mostly scientific, and in the place of artwork there was a large handmade quilt by the cafeteria explaining numerous alchemical symbols. Touchstone Magazine is kind of “C.S. Lewis meets Eastern Orthodoxy,” there was an article explaining that Harry Potter is not occult sin; it’s just clean alchemical imagery that is perfectly innocuous, included just the same as other English greats, including C.S. Lewis.

Usually when I find I’ve served as a forerunner heralding the future Zeitgeist, I don’t get too puffed up. It’s more like an occasion for self-examination where I try to understand how I got things so wrong.

This piece is available. Use with caution.

Read it on Kindle for $3!

As I write, I am in a couch in a large parlor looking out on an atrium with over a dozen marble pillars, onto another parlor on the other side. I have spent the day wandering around a college campus and enjoying the exploration. I’ve gotten little of the homework done that I meant to do (reading and writing about a theologian), and spent most of my energies trying to dodge the sense that the best way to explain what I want to explain about time is to begin with a classical form of alchemy. (The other alternative to lead into the discussion would be to start talking about Augustine, but that could more easily create a false familiarity. Alchemy is a more jarring image.)

Alchemy is one of those subjects most people learn about by rumor, which means in that case that almost everything we “know” about it is false. Trying to understand it through today’s ideas of science, magic, and proto-science is like trying to understand nonfiction reference materials, like an encyclopedia, through the categories of fiction and poetry, or conversely trying to understand fictional and poetic works through (the non-fiction parts of) the Dewey Decimal system.

It is much more accurate to say that alchemy is a particular religious tradition, perhaps a flawed religious tradition, which was meant to transform its practitioners and embrace matter in the process. It may be rejected as heresy, but it is impossible to really understand heresy until you understand that heresy is impressively similar to orthodox Christianity, confusingly similar, and ‘heresy’ does not mean “the absolute opposite of what Christians believe.” (Heresy is far more seductive than that.) Perhaps you may have heard the rumor that alchemists sought to turn lead into gold. The verdict on this historical urban legend, as with many urban legends, is, “Yes, but…”

Alchemy sought a way to turn lead into gold, but it has absolutely nothing to offer the greedy person who wants money to indulge his greed. Alchemy is scarcely more about turning lead into gold than astronomy is about telescopes. A telescope is a tool an astronomer uses to observe his real quarry, the stars as best they can be observed, and the alchemist, who sought to make matter into spirit and spirit into matter was trying to establish a spiritual bond with the matter so that the metals were incorporated into the person being performed. An Orthodox Christian might say the alchemist was seeking to be transfigured, even if that was a spiritually toxic way of seeking transfiguration or transformation—which is to say that the alchemist sought a profound and spiritual good. The alchemist sought gold that was above 24 karat purity, which is absurd if you think in today’s material terms about a karat gold that was chemically up to 100% (24k) pure… but what we call a “chemist” today is the successor to what alchemists called “charcoal blowers”, and chemistry today is a more sophisticated form of what the “charcoal blowers” were doing, not the alchemists. But the desire for purer-than-24k-gold becomes a much clearer and more intelligible desire when you understand that gold was not seen by the alchemists as simply a “container” for economic value, but the most noble substance in the material world. (And a “material” world that is not just “material” as Americans today would understand it.) If you look at Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount about “Store up treasures in Heaven,” and “Do not store up treasures on earth,” the alchemists’ desire to transmute metals and eventually produce gold is much more of a treasure in Heaven than merely a treasure on earth. (Think about why it is better to have a heart of gold and no merely physical gold than have all the merely physical gold in the world and a heart of ice with it.)

Newton, introduced to me as one of the greatest physicists, spent more time on alchemy than on the science he is remembered for today. He was also, among other things, an incredibly abrasive person and proof that while alchemy promises spiritual transformation it at least sometimes fails miserably, and there are a lot of other scathing things one could say about alchemy that I will refrain from saying. But I would like to suggest one way we could learn something from the alchemists:

When I wanted to explain the term “charcoal blower” by giving a good analogy for it, I searched and searched and couldn’t find the same kind of pejorative term today. I don’t mean that I couldn’t find another epithet that was equally abrasive; we have insults just as insulting. But I couldn’t find another term that was pejorative for the same reason. The closest parallels I found (and they were reasonably close parallels) to what lie behind the name of “charcoal blower” would be how a serious artist would see a colleague who produced mercenary propaganda for the highest bidder, or how a clergyman who chose the ministry to love God and serve his neighbor would view people who entered the clergy for prestige and power over others. (It may be a sign of a problem on our side that while we can understand why people might be offended in these cases, we do not (as the alchemists did) have a term that embodies that reprobation. The alchemists called proto-chemists “charcoal blowers” because the alchemists had a pulse.)

To an alchemist, a “charcoal blower” was someone merely interested in what we would today call the science of chemistry and its applications—and someone who completely failed to pursue spiritual purification. Calling someone a “charcoal blower” is akin to calling someone an “irreligious, power hungry minister.” Whether they were right in this estimation or not, alchemists would not have recognized chemistry as a more mature development of alchemy. They would have seen today’s chemistry as a completely unspiritual parody of their endeavor: perhaps a meticulous and sophisticated unspiritual parody, but a parody none the less.

This provides a glimpse of a thing, or a kind of thing, that can be very difficult to see today. “Alchemy is a crude, superstitious predecessor to real chemistry” or “Chemistry is alchemy that’s gotten its act together” is what people often assume when the only categories they have are shaped by our age’s massive scientific influence.

Science is a big enough force that young earth Creationists deny Darwinian evolution by assuming that Genesis 1 is answering the same kind of questions that evolution is concerned with, namely “What were the material details of how life came to be?”What was the mechanism that caused those details to happen?” That is to say, young earth Creationism still assumes that if Genesis 1 is true, that could only mean that it is doing the same job as evolution while providing different answers. It is very difficult for many people to see that Genesis 1-2 might address questions that evolution never raises: neo-Darwinian evolution is silent or ambivalent about all questions of meaning (if it does not answer “There is no meaning and that is not a question mature scientists should ask.”). It is a serious problem if young earth proponents can read Genesis 1 and be insensitive to how the texts speak to questions of “What significance/meaning/purpose/goal does each creation and the whole Creation live and breathe?” This may be a simplification, but we live in enough of a scientific age that many people who oppose the juggernaut (in this case, neo-Darwinian evolution) still resort to disturbingly scientific frameworks and can show a pathological dependence of scientific ways of looking at the world, even when there is no conscious attempt to be scientific. Perhaps evolutionists may accuse young earth Creationists of not being scientific enough, but I would suggest that the deepest problem is that they are too scientific: they may not meet the yardstick in non-Creationist biology departments, but they try to play the game of science hard enough that whatever critique you may offer of their success in gaining science’s sight, nobody notices how perfectly they gain science’s blind spots—even when they are blind spots that make more sense to find in a neo-Darwinist but are extremely strange in a religiously motivated movement.

This is symptomatic of today’s Zeitgeist, and it affects our understanding of time.

Time is something that I don’t think can be unraveled without being able to question the assumed science-like categories and framework that define what is thinkable when we have no pretensions of thinking scientifically, along lines like what I have said of alchemy. I’m not really interested in calling chemists “charcoal blowers”: the Pythagoreans would probably censure me in similar vein after finding I ranked such-and-such in a major math competition, did my first master’s in applied math, and to their horror studied a mathematics that was completely secularized and had absolutely nothing of the “sacred science”spiritual discipline” character of their geometry left.

I may not want to call scientists “charcoal blowers”, but I do want to say and explore things that cannot be said unless we appreciate something else. That something else… If you say that alchemy disintegrated to become chemistry, that something else disintegrated in alchemy with its secrets and something else purportedly better than what was in the open. Alchemy has a host of problems that need to be peeled back; they may be different problems than those of our scientific age, and it may make a helpful illustration before the peeling back further and cutting deeper that is my real goal, but it is a problematic illustration.

I once would have said that classical (Newtonian) physics was simply a mathematical formalization of our common sense. My idea of this began when I was taking a class that dealt with modern physics (after covering Einstein’s theory of relativity). I grappled with something that many budding physicists grapple with: compared to classical physics, the theory of relativity and modern physics are remarkably counter-intuitive. One wag said, “God said, ‘Let there be light!’ And there was Newton. The Devil howled, ‘Let darkness return!’ And there was Einstein [and then modern physics], and the status quo was restored.” Modern physics may describe our world’s behavior more accurately, but it takes the strangest route to get to its result: not only is light both a particle and a wave, but everything, from a sound wave to you, is both a particle and a wave; nothing is exactly at any one place (we’re all spread throughout the whole universe but particularly densely concentrated in some places more than others); it can depend on your frame of reference whether two things happen simultaneously; Newton’s mathematically simple, coherent, lovely grid for all of space no longer exists, even if you don’t consider space having all sorts of curvatures that aren’t that hard to describe mathematically but are impossible to directly visualize. (And that was before superstring theory came into vogue; it seems that whatever doesn’t kill physics makes it stranger.)

I would make one perhaps subtle, but important, change to what I said earlier, that classical Newtonian physics is a mathematical expression of common sense: I had things backwards and the Western common sense I grew up with is a non-mathematical paraphrase of classical physics.

One thing Einstein dismantled was a single absolute grid for space and a single timeline that everything fit on. That was something Newton (and perhaps others—see the chapter “The Remarkable Masculine Birth of Time” in Science as Salvation, Mary Midgley) worked hard to establish. What people are not fond of saying today is that “It’s all relative” is something people might like to be backed by Einstein’s theory, but relativity is no more relativism than ‘lightning’ is ‘lightning bug’. In that sense the theory of relativity makes a far smaller difference than you might expect… Einstein if anything fine-tuned Newton’s timeline and grid and left behind something practically indistinguishable. But let’s look at Newton’s timeline and not look at almost equivalent replacements later physics has fine-tuned. All of space fits on a single absolute grid and all of time is to be understood in terms of its place on a timeline. This is physics shaping the rest of its culture. It’s also something many cultures do not share. I do not mean that the laws of physics only apply where people believe in them; setting aside miracles, a stove works as Newtonian physics says it should whether you worship Newton, defy him and disbelieve him whenever you can, or simply have never thought of physics in connection with your stove. I don’t mean that kind of “subjective reality”. That’s not what I’m saying. But the experience of space as “what fits on a grid”, so that a grid you cannot touch is a deeper reality than the things you see and touch every day, and the experience of time as “what fits on a timeline” is something that can be weaker or often nonexistent in other cultures. It’s not an essential to how humans automatically experience the world.

There is a medieval icon of two saints from different centuries meeting; this is not a strange thing to portray in a medieval context because much as space was not “what fills out a grid” but spaces (plural) which were more or less their own worlds, enclosed as our rooms are, time was not defined as “what clocks measure” even if people just began to use clocks.

Quick—what are the time and date? I would expect you to know the year immediately (or maybe misremember because the year has just changed), and quite possibly have a watch that keeps track of seconds.

Quick—what latitude and longitude you are at? If you didn’t or don’t know the Chicago area and read in a human interest news story that someone took an afternoon stroll from Homewood to Schaumburg, IL, would those two names make the statement seem strange?

What if you continued reading and found out that Homewood is at 41°34’46″N and 87°39’57″W and Schaumburg is at 42°01’39″N and 88°05’32W? Setting aside the quite significant fact that most of us don’t tell latitude and longitude when we see a place name, what would that say?

If you do the calculations, you see that saying someone walked from Homewood to Schaumburg and back in an afternoon is like a newspaper saying that the President was born in 671. Schaumburg and Homewood are both Chicago suburbs, but in almost opposite directions, and to the best of my knowledge no distance runner could run from Homewood to Schaumburg to Homewood in an afternoon—even in good traffic the drive would chew up more than a little bit of an afternoon.

Do you see the difference between how we approach and experience our position on the time-grid on the one-hand, and our latitudinal and longitudinal position on the other? Setting aside various questions about calendars, I would suggest that the way most of us neither know nor care what latitude and longitude we’re at, can give a glimpse into how a great many people neither know nor cared not only what a watch says but what century they’re in. (Quick—does your country include the “turn of the century” for degrees latitude or longitude?)

There are other things to say; I want to get into chronos or kairos, and some of the meaning of “You cannot kill time without injuring eternity.” (One facet, besides the wordplay, is that time is an image of not only eternity but the Eternal One.) There are several images of time, or names of time, that I wish to explore; none of them is perfect, but all of them say something. But first let me give the question I am trying to answer.

The Question

Before I say more about time in the sense of giving names to it, I would like to explain the question I am trying to answer, because it is perhaps idiosyncratically my own question, and one that may not be entirely obvious.

There is a book on college admissions essays that listed cliché student essays that almost immediately make an admissions reader’s eyes glaze over. Among these was The Travel Experience, which went something like this:

In my trip to ________, I discovered a different way of life that challenged many of my assumptions. It even challenged assumptions I didn’t know I had! Yet I discovered that their way of life is also valid and also human.

Note that this boiled down essay is ambiguous, not only about what region or what country, but for that matter what continent the writer has been to. And thus, however deep and interesting the experience itself may have been, the writeup is cliché and uninteresting.

This, in my opinion, is because the experience is deep in a way that is difficult to convey. If something funny happened yesterday on the way to the store, it is perfectly straightforward to explain what happened, but a deep cross-cultural counter is the sort of thing people grasp at words to convey. It’s like the deepest gratitude that doesn’t know how to express itself except by repeating the cliché, “Words cannot express my gratitude to you.”

I’m from the U.S. and have lived in Malaysia, France, and England (in that order). I was only in Malaysia for a couple of months, but I was baptized there, and I have fond memories of my time there—I understand why a lot of Westerners come to Malaysia and want to spend the rest of their lives there.

One thing I changed there was how quickly I walked. Before then, I walked at a swift clip. But walking that way comes across somewhere between strange and bothersome, and I had to learn to walk slowly—and that was the beginning of my encounter with time in Malaysia. In the cliché above, I learned that some things that were to me not just presuppositions but “just the way things were” were in fact not “just the way things were” but cultural assumptions and a cultural way of experiencing time, which could be experienced very differently.

Some of this is an “ex-pat” experience of time in Malaysia rather than a native Malaysian experience of Malaysian time (there are important differences between the two), but the best concise way I can describe it is that there are people in the U.S. who try and want to escape the “tyranny of the clock,” and the tyranny of the clock is frequently criticized in some circles, but in Malaysia there is much less tyranny of the clock—I was tempted to say the tyranny of the clock didn’t exist at all. People walk more slowly because walking is not something you rush through just to get it done, even if it’s important that you arrive where you’re walking to.

Every place I’ve lived I’ve taken something away. The biggest personal change I took from Malaysia had to do with time. That experience gave me something I personally would not have gained from hearing and even agreeing with complaints about the tyranny of the clock. The first domino started to topple in Malaysia, and the chain continued after I returned to the U.S.

What I tried to do on the outside was move more slowly and rebel against the clock, and on the inside to experience, or cultivate, a different time more slowly. (I was trying to be less time-bound, but interacted with time in ways I didn’t do before Malaysia.) I still tried (and still try) to meet people on time, but where I had freedom, the clock was as absent as I could make it. And it was essentially an internal experience, in a sort of classically postmodern fashion. I wore a watch, but changed its meaning. Augustine regarded there being something evil about our existence being rationed out to us, God having his whole existence in one “eternal moment”; I equated time with the tyranny of the clock and “what a clock measures”, and called timelessness a virtue. If we set aside the inconsistency between trying to “escape” time as not basically good and digging more and more deeply into time, you have something that was growing in me, with nuance, over the years since I’ve been in Malaysia.

That sets much of the stage for why I began to write this. In one sense, this is an answer to “What can time be besides what the tyranny of the clock says it is?” In another sense it is recognizing that I took something good from Malaysia, but didn’t quite hit the nail on the head: I regarded time as basically evil, something to neutralize and minimize even as I was in it, which I now repent of. That is an incorrect way of trying to articulate something good. I would like to both correct and build upon my earlier living-of-time, beginning with what might be called the flesh of the Incarnation.

The Flesh of the Incarnation

One time several friends and I were together, and one of them, who is quite strong but is silver-haired, talked about how he couldn’t put a finger on it, but he saw a sadness in the fact that the closest place for him to be buried that would satisfy certain Orthodox concerns was a couple of states over. I said that there were Nobel prizes for literature and economics, but there would never be a Nobel prize for scamming seniors out of their retirement. In that sense the Nobel prize is not just an honor for the negligible handful of physicists who receive that accolade, but every physicist. Perhaps there are a great many more honorable professions than there are Nobel prizes, but the Nobel prize doesn’t vacuously say that physics is a good thing but specifically recognizes one physicist at a time, and by implication honors those who share in the same labor.

I said that “God does not make any generic people,” and I clarified that in the Incarnation, Jesus was not a sort of “generic person” (“I went to the general store and they wouldn’t sell me anything specific!”) who sort of generically blessed the earth and in some generic fashion sympathized with those of us specific people who live in time. God has never made a specific person, and when Christ became incarnate, he became a specific man in a specific place at a specific time. As much as we are all specific people who live in a specific place at a specific time, he became a specific person who lived in a specific place at a specific time, and by doing that he honored every place and time.

“The flesh of the Incarnation,” in Orthodox understanding, is not and cannot be limited to what an atheist trying to be rigorous would consider the body of Christ. The Incarnation is a shock wave ever reaching out in different directions. One direction is that the Son of God became a Man that men might become the Sons of God. Another direction is that Christ the Savior of man or the Church can never be separated from Christ the Savior of the whole cosmos, and for people who are concerned with ecology, Christ’s shockwave cannot but say something profound from the Creation which we must care for. Sacraments and icons are part of this Transfigured matter, and the Transfiguration is a glimpse of what God is working not only for his human faithful but the entire universe he created to share in his glory.

To me at least, “the flesh of the Incarnation” is why, while the Catholic Church is willing to experiment with different philosophies and culture, because they are not part of the theological core, the Orthodox Church has preserved a far greater core of the patristic philosophy and culture. It is as if the Catholic Church, getting too much Augustine (or even worse, DesCartes), said “Spirit and matter are different things; so are theology and philosophy. We must keep the spirit of theology, but matter is separate and can be replaced.” An Orthodox reply might be “Spirit and matter are connected at the most intimate level; so are theology, philosophy and culture. We must keep the spirit of theology without separating it from the philosophy and culture which have been the flesh of the Incarnation from the Church’s origin.”

If Jesus was not a “generic person”, and I am not supposed to be a “generic person”, then the place in time he made for you is to be transfigured as the flesh of the Incarnation. What I mean by “the flesh of the Incarnation” is that Christ became Incarnate at a specific time and place, and by so doing he honored not only your flesh and mine—he is as much a son of Adam as you and me—but every time and place.

There is a major Orthodox exegesis which looks at the Gospels and says that when Pilate presented Christ to the crowd and said, “Idou ton anthropon.” (“Behold the man”, Jn 19.5), he was prophesying like Caiphas and (perhaps without knowing it) completing the Genesis story; when Christ on the cross said, “It is finished,” he announced that the work of Creation which was begun in Genesis had come to its conclusion—not, perhaps, the end of history, but the beginning of the fulness which Creation always needed but is only found at the cross. There are theologians today which answer the question “When did God create the earth?” by giving the date of the crucifixion: not that nothing existed before then, but then it was made complete. 25 March 28 AD is, in commercial terms, not the beginning of when prototypes began to be assembled and plans began to be made towards a product release, but the date that the finished product is released and thereafter available to the public. The Cross is the axis of the world, so that the Incarnation is not simply the central event in history but the defining event, not only in the time and place that we falsely consider remote which Jesus lived in, but your time and mine.

A Paradox: Historical Accuracy and Timelessness

I read a cultural commentary on the Bible cover to cover (IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, New Testament), and in one sense I’m glad I read it, but in another sense, I think I would have been better off reading the Bible cover to cover another time. Or, for that matter, creating computer software or pursuing some other interest outside of the Bible and theology.

Years earlier, I said I wished I could read a cultural commentary on the Bible, but reading it drove home a point in a Dorothy Sayers essay. The essay suggested that “period awareness”, our sharp sense of “That was then and this is now” that puts such a sharp break between the past and the present, is a product of the Enlightenment and something a great many periods do not share. When one reads the Canterbury Tales and asks what they thought about cultures, the answer is that though the stories begin in classical times there is no modern sense of “These people lived in another time so I need to try to be historically accurate and keep track of lots of historical context to take them seriously.”

What I have realized, partly in writing my first theology thesis in Biblical studies, was that a lot of cultural commentary is spiritually inert when it is not used as a tool to manipulate or neutralize the Bible for contradicting what’s in vogue today. Even when the sizeable “lobbyist” misuse of cultural context is ignored, there is a big difference between scholarly cultural and historical inquiry and a cultural sermon illustration—and it’s not that less scholarly pastors do a half-baked job of something “real” scholars do much better. Cultural sermon comments are selected from a vast body of knowledge specifically because they illuminate the text and therefore at least can enhance how the text speaks to us. “Serious”, “real” scholarship tends to bury the text’s meaning under a lot of details and result in the same kind of loss of meaning that would happen if someone asked what a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel meant and the answer was to explain try to explain everything about how the novel came to be, including how the author’s food was prepared, how the editing process was managed, and perhaps a few notes on how a Pulitzer Prize novel, after the award is received, is marketed differently from novels that haven’t received that award.

I would like to suggest that in this piece my opening historical illustration did not detail everything a “historical-critical” study would get bogged down in, and showed independence from the historical-critical version of what scholarly accuracy means precisely as it challenged a popular historical misunderstanding of alchemy.

How does this fit together? There are two things. First of all, I disagree with most scholarship’s center of gravity. “Historical-critical” scholarship, in a bad imitation of materially focused science, has a material center of gravity, and almost the whole of its rigor can be described in saying, “Look down as carefully as you can!” There is a painting which shows two philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. You can tell them apart because Plato is pointing up with one finger, and Aristotle is pointing down to material particulars with one finger. The problem with “historical-critical” scholarship in theology—and not only “historical-critical” scholarship—is that it asks Aristotle to do Plato’s work. It asks the details of history to provide theological meaning. (Which is a bit like using a microscope to view a landscape, only worse and having more kinds of problems.)

Dorothy Sayers points out that up until the Enlightenment, people producing Shakespeare plays made no more effort to have the actors dress like people did in Shakespeare’s days than Shakespeare himself felt the need to dress ancient characters in authentic Roman styles of clothing. Shakespeare’s plays were produced because they had something powerful that spoke to people, and people didn’t have this rigid historical dictate that said “If you will produce Shakespeare authentically, that means you go out of your way to acquire costumes nobody wears today.” In the Globe Theatre, people were dressed up like… well, people, whether that meant Rome or the “here and now”. And now theatre companies will be provocative or “creative” and change the setting in a Shakespeare play so that things look like some romanticization of the Wild West, or classy 20’s gangsters, or (yawn) contemporary to us, but if you exclude people who are being a bit provocative, the normal way of putting on Shakespeare is not by having people dress the way people normally dress, but by doing research and putting people in exotic clothing that clearly labels the characters as being From Another Time.

Shakespeare’s plays are produced today because they speak today, in other words because they are timeless. Being timeless doesn’t mean literally being unrelated to any specific historical context (“I went to the general store and they wouldn’t sell me anything specific!”). It means that something appears in a particular context and in that context expresses human-ness richly and fully enough that that human fingerprint speaks beyond the initial context. It means that there is a human bond that can bridge the gap of time as beautifully as two people having a friendship that simultaneously embraces and reaches beyond the differences of culture that exist between their nations. And it reflects a center of gravity that the important thing about Shakespeare is not that his English was hard to understand even hundreds of years ago, nor that people dressed a certain way that is different from any country today, but a human, spiritual center of gravity that not only speaks powerfully in the West centuries later but speaks powerfully outside the West. Shakespeare’s center of gravity is not in this or that detail, but in a human pulse.

Wind and Spirit

Let me look at something that appears to be unrelated.

The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit. The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is every one who is born of the Wind. The Spirit Spirits where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.

I can count on my fingers the number of points where I would gripe about the best English translations (if a euphemistically mistranslated Song of Songs only counts as one gripe). You don’t need to study ancient languages to know the Bible well. But there are occasional points where a language issue cuts something out of the text.

One particularly Orthodox gripe about Western translations is that they use the word “Christ” for the Son of God and “anointed” to have a range of meanings and include kings priests, objects that were considered sacred, and the whole religious community (this latter in both Old and New Testament). This is not because of what is in the original language. People may hear—I heard—that Messiah or Christ means, “Anointed One”, but the English translations I know introduce a sharper distinction than the text supports, and really drains the realization of verses that show another side of the New Testament’s language of us being called to be sons or children of God. I remember the shock I had when I was reading the (Latin) Vulgate and David, refusing to call Saul, called him “christum Domini” (“the Lord’s christ,” but the Latin, like Hebrew and Greek before it, did not distinguish i.e. “Christum” from “christum”.) I John 2:20 in the RSV says, “But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all know.” That obscures a dimension to the text that legitimately could be replaced by a different part of speech and clarified, “But you have been made christs by the Holy One, and you all know.” (If you don’t like changing a part of speech, you could look at texts like Sometimes you get C.S. Lewis saying “Every Christian is to become a little christ. The whole purpose of being a Christian is simply nothing else. The Son of God became a man that men might become the Sons of God.” But something of the knowledge of who we are to be in Christ is crippled when translations split up XPICTOC or its Hebrew equivalent because they are afraid to let people see that not only is Christ the Son of God and the Christian son of God, but one who is in the Christ is a christ.

That is the translators’ fault. In the text cited above (Jn 3.8), from Jesus’ discussion of flesh and Spirit/spirit, the same word in Greek (ΠΝΕΥΜΑ) carries the meaning of “Spirit”, “spirit”, and “wind” in the broader passage. I was tempted to write that ΠΝΕΥΜΑ carries that range of meanings, but that’s a little more deceptive than I’m comfortable with. It would be more accurate to say that neither “spirit” and “wind”, nor “Spirit and spirit”, represented sharply distinguished categories. In a way Jesus is punning but in a way he is making an observation about spirit/wind that does not rest on the distinction.

Let me quote the RSV for the longer passage (Jn 3.1-12):

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicode’mus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicode’mus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, `You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicode’mus said to him, “How can this be?”

Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

This is a rather big passage to try to unravel, but let me point out one thing. Jesus is dealing with a spiritual leader, and that leader’s question, “How can a man be born when he is old?” is probably not just a failure to recognize that Jesus was speaking figuratively (especially if “figuratively” means what it means today, i.e. “a consolation prize for something that is dismissed as not true, at least not literally”). Besides saying that Nicodemus might not be stupid, I might suggest that his failure to understand underscores that he was being told something that’s difficult to understand.

I’m almost tempted to write ΠNEYMA instead of spirit or Spirit because that forces a distinction that isn’t there at all in the Greek New Testament and often may not belong in good theology. With that noted, I’m going to write Spirit with the understanding that it is often not meant to be read as separated from spirit and often not distinguished.

A group of people misunderstood this and other Spirit/flesh texts to mean that we should live in the part of us that is spirit and the part of it that was flesh, and they made a number of theological errors, and unfortunately some Christians have since treated the Spirit/flesh texts as a “problem” that needs to be “handled” (and, one might infer, not quite something that was put in the Bible because it would help us). This reaction makes it harder to understand some passages that say something valuable.

We are to become all Spirit. This does not, as those Gnostics believed, mean that our bodies are evil, or that any part of God’s Creation is created evil. To become Spirit is to begin to live the life of Heaven here on earth. That doesn’t mean that what is not-God in our lives now is eliminated; it means that our whole lives are to become divine. It means that the whole cosmos has been in need of salvation, and Christ comes as Savior to his whole Creation and his whole Creation is to be drawn into him and made divine. If you buy a gift for a friend, let us say a watch, and delight in giving it, that watch is no longer merely a possession you can horde, not just something a machine spat out. It is part of your friendship with that friend and it has been drawn from the store aisle into that friendship. To use an ancient metaphor, it has been drawn into the body under the head of friendship. (And now it means something a factory could never put into it.) If you have begun to believe that things don’t boil down to a materialist’s bottom line, the watch has become more real. In the same sense, not just our “souls” or “spirits” misunderstood as opposite to our bodies, but all of us and all of our lives are to become Spirit, or in the more usual Orthodox terminology become deified or divinized.

To say that the here and now that God has placed us in is “the flesh of the Incarnation” is not intended as some kind of opposite to Spirit. That fleshis spiritual; it is the whole Creation as it becomes Spirit and as it has become Spirit.

That much is generic; it is legitimate to say about time, because it is legitimate to say about almost anything. I would now like to turn and say something more specific about time.

I don’t like to put things in terms of “synchronicity.” For those of you not familiar with synchronicity, it’s an idea that there is more to causality and time than isolated particles moving along a linear timeline, which is well and good, but this is a body missing its head, the Spirit. It’s kind of a strange way of being spiritual while not being fully connected to Spirit.

“That which is born of flesh is flesh; that which is born of Spirit is Spirit. The Spirit Spirits where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.”

To live in the Spirit, and to become Spirit, is for one and the same reason the proper footing for synchronicity, synchronicity done right, and moving beyond “subjective time.” Let me talk about subjective time before talking more about synchronicity.

Subjective time is what some people have observed when people have realized that a watch is a poor indicator of how we experience time. Time flies; it can drag; but whatever watches can do, they don’t tell how fast it seems like time is moving. In other words, subjective time at least is not what a watch measures. Now this is good as an answer to the question “What can we call time besides ‘what a watch measures’?” but doesn’t go far enough. Subjective time is the subjective time of a “me, myself, and I”. It is the time of an atom, that cannot be divided further. And that limits it.

Time in the Spirit is an orchestrated, community dance. Not that the specific person is annihilated, but the specific person is transfigured. And that means that what is merely part of the private inner world of a “me, myself, and I” is in fact something vibrant in a community. Liturgical time, which I will talk about later, is one instrument of this sharing. But it is not the only one. God is the Great Choreographer, and when his Spirit orders the dance, it is everything in synchronicity and everything in subjective time and more. What was eerie, a strange occult thing people try to mine out in Jungian synchronicity becomes a pile of gold out in the open. If Jungian synchronicity is a series of opportunities to shrewdly steal food, the Dance is an invitation to join the banquet table.

Dance, then, wherever you may be, for I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. (Old Shaker hymn)

Immortalists and Transhumanists

I was reading a novel by one of my favorite authors in which some troubled characters constantly waxed eloquent about a movement, the “Immortalists”, which struck me as rather far-fetched, too preposterous a motivation for literature… until I found a group very much like them, the Transhumanist movement, on the web.

The idea of Transhumanism is that we have lived in biological bodies so far, but we are on the cusp of making progress, and “progress” is improving on the human race so that we humans (or transitional humans—”Transhumanism” abbreviates “transitional-human-ism”, and transhumanists consider themselves transhuman) can be replaced by some “posthuman” (this is supposed to be a good thing) creatures of our own devising which are always as high as if they were on crack (or higher), can run and jump like superheroes, and in general represent the fulfillment of a certain class of fantasies. (It’s like disturbing science fiction, only they’re dead serious about replacing the human race with something they consider better.) It’s the only time reading philosophy on the web has moved me to nausea, and that broad nexus of spiritual forces is something I tried to lampoon in Yonder.

Setting that obscure movement aside, it seems a lot like the progress of technology has been to achieve watered-down transhumanist goals while we live in the bodies God gave us. I read an interesting article describing how before electric lights even though there were candles most of society seemed to shut down at sundown. Now people tend to kind of sleep when it’s dark and kind of sleep when it’s light, but we have made ourselves independent of something most humans in history (let alone before history) were tightly attuned to. I can also buy pills to take to subdue pain, or slightly misuse my body and not feel as much of the natural pain. If I don’t care either about my health or breaking laws that are there for our good, there are illicit pills that could make me colossally strong: I’m moderately strong now but I could become stronger than most professional athletes. As a member of my society I have space-conquering tools—a telling name—which mean that I can move around the world and I can email and talk with people without knowing and perhaps without caring if they are next door or a thousand miles away. I can also take other pills when I get much older and defeat the normal limits age puts on lust. There are a lot of limits humans have lived with time out of mind, but we’ve discovered how to push them aside.

I heard of a dialogue where one person said, “I don’t have enough time,” and received the answer, “You have all the time there is.” In many cultures people experience time more as something that surrounds them but they’re not terribly aware of, like the air they breathe, than a sort of scant commodity one cannot have enough of. And that is a clue to something.

However much we’ve figured out mini-transhumanist ways to push back limitations, the limitation of “all the time there is” is one we can’t eliminate. We can fudge a bit with coffee or buy into some time management system, but there is a specific significance to time in our culture that wouldn’t be there in other cultures where people rise at sunrise and go to sleep at sunset. Compared to how much we can neutralize other limitations, the limitation of “all the time there is” is a limitation that resists most neutralization.

That sounds terrible, but I would draw your attention to what Transhumanism is really after. I heard one professor refer to a centuries-old Utopian vision of turning the sea into lemonade (among other things) as “une Utopie des enfants gaspillés” (“a Utopia of spoiled children”). The Transhumanist vision, which has already happened in miniature, is the ability to pursue “bigger better faster more” of what spoiled children want. What it is not is a way to grow into what a mature adult wants.

I’m not saying we should get rid of medicine, or anything like that. Medical knowledge has done some impressive things. But I would pointedly suggest that the kind of things technological advances give us give us much more what spoiled children want than what a mature adult would recognize as an aid to maturity. There are exceptions, and I would not argue any sort of straight Luddite position: I try to moderate my use of technology like I try to moderate a lot of other good things, but I am very glad for the opportunity to live in an age where webpages are possible, and to have gotten in at a good time. But the “all the time there is” limitation is in fact the kind of boundary that helps mature adults grow more mature, and if we are willing to take it there is an occasion for maturity because we can’t take a pill to have all the time we want.

From the Fifth Gospel to Liturgical Time

The Gospel According to Thomas isn’t the Fifth Gospel. (At least, in ancient times when Christians said “the Fifth Gospel” they didn’t mean the Gospel According to Thomas. No comments from the peanut gallery about the Gospel According to Thomas being the Fifth Bird Cage Liner.)

If a couple of people meet, become acquainted, become friends, start dating, become engaged, and get married, when does the marriage begin? In one sense, the wedding is a formal threshold: before then they aren’t married, afterwards they are. But in another sense the engagement becomes part of the marriage, as does the courtship, the friendship, the acquaintance, even the first meeting and possibly things in their lives that they would say prepared them for the meeting. The marriage moves forward from the wedding date but it also reaches backwards and creates something in the past. What may have been an improbable or forgettable first meeting is drawn into the marriage; the same thing is going on as with the watch which becomes not simply matter but part of a friendship.

John Behr has provocatively suggested that the worst thing that has happened to Christianity in the past 2000 years has been the canonization of the New Testament so it is placed as Scripture alongside the Old Testament, and becomes the second and final volume in a series. What he means by that may not be obvious.

The relationship between the Old and New Testament is misunderstood somewhat if the New Testament is simply the final chapter of the Old Testament. It would be better, if still imperfect, to say that the New Testament is Cliff’s Notes on the Old Testament, or the Old Testament was a rich computer game and the New Testament was the strategy guide that we need to unlock it’s secrets. It is no accident that the first people we know of to put the New Testament alongside the Old Testament, and make commentaries on both Testaments, were Gnostics who tried to unlock the New Testament when orthodox Christians let the New Testament unlock the Old.

Quick—which Christ-centered Gospel did Handel use in the Messiah to tell of the Messiah or Christ? The answer is the Fifth Gospel: Isaiah. The passages cited in the Messiah are not a few prophetic exceptions to a non-Christ-related Old Testament; they are part of the Old Testament unlocked, and that same reading is how the earliest Christians read the Old Testament Scriptures.

Now it was Mary Mag’dalene and Jo-an’na and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emma’us, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.

But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

And he said to them, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad.

Then one of them, named Cle’opas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.”

And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”

And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.

They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?”

There’s a lot going on here; I’m not going to address why Mary Magdalene was known as the Apostle to the Apostles, but I would suggest that instead of saying today what a feminist would be tempted to say, that the men were sexist and wouldn’t believe a woman when she bore the glad tidings, there was a veil over their minds, much like Paul describes in II Cor 3. If a woman’s witness did not suffice, Jesus standing with them in person and talking with them still had no effect until the very end. And there is something going on here with a number of resonances in our lives. They couldn’t see Christ in the Scriptures (which were then the Old Testament, because the Gospels and Epistles had never been written), and they couldn’t see Christ appearing before them, even literally. And that is not because they are imperceptive and we are perceptive. The story is a crystallization of how we often meet Christ.

What is the point of all this? The most immediate reason is not to say that the Bible is 80% documents produced by Judaism before Christianity came around and 20% Christian documents, but transformed, transmuted if you will, into 100% Christian documents. When the book of Psalms opens with, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the council of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of cynics,” that refers first and foremost to Christ. I myself have not gotten very far in this way of reading the Scriptures, but I hope to, and I believe it will pay rich dividends.

And there is something going on here that is going on in when a marriage reaches backwards, or a watch becomes part of a friendship. It is connected with what is called “recapitulation”, which I think is an unfortunate technical theological term because the metaphor comes across as in “Ok, let me try and recap what we’ve said so far,” which is a wishy-washy metaphor for something deep. Orthodox talk about deification, and for us to be deified is a specific example of recapitulation in Christ. Recapitulation means “re-heading”, and while in a sense very consistent with how recapitulation works, I’ve somewhat indistinguishably talked about how we can be Recapitulated or Re-headed in Christ, becoming body to his head and connected in the most intimate way, thereby becoming Christ (i.e. Recapitulation with a big ‘R’), and how something can become part of the body of something that can itself be recapitulated in Christ (recapitulation with only a little ‘R’). Perhaps that sentence should be dragged out into the street and shot, but when I talked about the gift of a watch becoming part of a friendship, the head of its reheading is something created, but both the watch and the friendship can be Recapitulated in Christ with the re-heading of the watch to be part of the friendship is itself part of what is Recapitulated in Christ, i.e. which is not merely brought under a head but connected to Christ as its head.

Let’s move on to clearer language and a clearer example—one that has to do with our time. The head of the whole body of time we live is our time in worship, liturgical time. This both that there is a liturgical rhythm of day, week, and year, with different practices that help us connect with the different liturgical rhythms (by the way, the first major piece of advice my spiritual father gave me was to take 5-10 years to step into the liturgical rhythm), but that’s not all. It means that our time in worshsip, which is not just time in a funnily decorated room with our particular club, sets the pace for life. It means that what is crystallized and visible in worship is perhaps hidden but if anything more powerfully manifest in a whole life of worship. It means that not just going to Church but working and playing are themselves worship, and they fulfill worship. It means, and I write this on the Sunday of the Last Judgment, that our worship is hollow and empty when we sing hymns to God on Sunday and then turn away in icy silence when someone asks our help—for it is not that someone we have icily turned away from, but Christ (see Matt 25:31-46). In the discourse at the Last Supper, Christ did not say that all would “know you are my disciples by this, that you have the most beautiful services,” but that all would “know you are my disciples by this, that you love one another.” (Jn 13.35) That is something that happens outside of Church first and foremost. Liturgical time is the basis for time in our lives.

Liturgical time is (or at least should be) the head of time in a life of worship (if “head” is used in the sense of “recapitulation” or “re-heading”), but it is not its own head. The head of time in worship is eternity in Heaven, and that means that just as life is the concrete manifestation of worship, in time but in other matters as well, but liturgical time is not people gathered in a room for an interval but people transported to Heaven in what is not exactly a time machine, or not merely a time machine, but an “eternity machine”. The head of eternity in Heaven is the Eternal One whose glory shines through Heaven on earth.

What does this concretely mean for our experience of time? It means much the same as whether the material world was created good by God or evil by someone lesser. Pains and physical pleasures, to give a superficial example, will be there whether we believe the material world is good or evil. But it makes a difference whether you believe the sweetness of honey is a touch of love from God or a hatefully baited barb from Satan. Now part of really coming alive is being more than pleasure and pain and letting go of pleasures that they may be recapitulated or re-headed and drawn into what is Spirit. But even then, the Christian ascetic who lets go of a good is very different from a Gnostic ascetic who hatefully rejects it as evil. Pleasures and even pains, and joys and sorrows, are fuller depending on their basis.

Augustine has been accused of inadequate conversion—maybe he became Christian, but he continued being too much of a Manichee. I am sympathetic to that view, and it makes good sense of Augustine’s sense that there is something violent to us about being in time, with our being stingily rationed out to us, infinitesimal bit by bit (some have said the present “barely exists” because it is an instantaneous boundary where the future rushes into the past without stopping to rest), while God has its being all at once. I was sympathetic to that view until not long ago; I thought of time as an evil thing we endure to get to the good of eternity—which is the wrong way of putting it.

Time is a moving image of eternity and is recapitulated in Christ. We miss something fundamental if we simply say that it is less than eternity; it participates in the glory. Furthermore, there is a case to be made that we misunderstand eternity if it is “frozen time” to us, if it is an instant in time which is prolonged, or even worse, is deprived of a moving timeline. Whatever eternity is, that can’t be it. That is something fundamentally less than the time in which we grow and learn and breathe. Eternal life, which begins in this world, is God’s own life, greater than created being but something that projects its glory into time. I once asked a friend if the difference between Maximus Confessor and Plato on Ideas was that for Plato there was one Idea that covered a bunch of material shadows (what we would think of as “real”, but the Ideas were more real), and he waved that aside without really contradicting me. He said that the Ideas, or ΛΟΓΟΙ (logoi), were static in Plato but dynamic in Maximus Confessor.Logoi are ideas loved in the heart of God from all eternity, and you and I only exist because we each have a logos in the heart of God which is what we are trying to become. And I don’t know how to reconcile what I know of dynamism with being outside of time, but eternity is not the deprivation of time, but something more time-like than time itself. Time becomes eternal when it is recapitulated in Christ.

Kairos and Chronos

Bishop K.T. Ware began one lecture/tape by saying that at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy, there is a line that is very easy to overlook: the deacon tells the bishop or his deputy the priest, “It’s time to get started.” Except that he doesn’t say, “It’s time to get started,” but “It is time for the Lord to act.”

He pointed out both that the liturgy is the Lord’s work, even if both priest and faithful must participate for it to be valid (he said that the pop etymology of liturgy as “lit-urgy”, “the people’s work”, may be bad etymology but it’s good theology). But another point tightly tied to it is the exact Greek word that is translated “time.”

There are two words that are both translated time, but their meanings are very different. Translating them both as time is like translating both genuine concern and hypocritical flattery as “politeness” because you are translating into a language that doesn’t show the distinction. Perhaps the translators are not to be blamed, but there is something important going on in the original text that is flattened out in English. And when the deacon says “It’s time to get started,” it does not mean “My watch says 9:00 and that’s when people expect us to start,” but “This is the decisive moment.” In the Gospels, when Jesus’ own brothers and sisters failed to grasp who he was just as completely as the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he tells them, “My kairos has not yet come, but your kairos is always here.” (Jn 7.6).

Orthodox do not have any kind of monopoly on this distinction, but we do have a distinction between what is called “chronos” and what is called “kairos.” Chronos is ordinary if we take a harsh meaning to the word, instead of “everything is as it should be”. Chronos at its worst is watching the clock while drudgery goes on and on. If chronos is meaningless time, kairos is meaningful time, dancing the Great Dance at a decisive moment. It is putting the case too strongly to say that the West is all about chronos and Eastern Christianity is all about kairos, but I do not believe it is putting the case too strongly to say that East and West place chronos and kairos differently, and kairos is less the air people breathe in the West than it should be.

I don’t think that chronos needs as much explanation in the West; chronos is what a clock measures; the highbrow word for a stopwatch is “chronometer” and not “kairometer”. The distinction between kairos and chronos is somewhat like the distinction between I-Thou and I-It relationship. But let me give “ingredients” to kairos, as if it were something cooked up in a recipe.

  • Chronos.
  • Eternity.
  • Appointed time.
  • Rhythmic circular time with interlocking wheels.
  • Linear unfolding time.
  • Moments when you are absorbed in what you are doing.
  • Decisive moments when something is possible that was impossible a moment before and will be impossible a moment later.
  • Dancing the serendipitous Great Dance.
  • Total presence.

But kairos is not something cooked up in a recipe; chronos may be achievable that way, but kairos is a graced gift of God.

We Might All Be Alcoholics

A recovering alcoholic will tell you that alcoholism is Hell on earth. He would say that it is the worst suffering on earth, or that it is the kind of thing you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

And the point that healing and restoration begins is exquisitely painful. An alcoholic has a massive screen of denial that defeats reasoning. The only semi-effective way to defeat that denial is by a massive dose of even more painful reality that can break down that screen, some of the time. (An intervention.)

If alcoholism is Hell, why don’t alcoholics step out of it? Some people in much less pain find out what they need to do to stop the pain and leave. They take off a pair of shoes that is too tight, or ask for an ambulance to treat their broken arm (and I believe someone who’s been through both experiences would say that alcoholism is a much deeper kind of pain than a broken arm).

Surely alcoholics must have a sense that something is wrong—and that’s what they’re trying to evade. That’s what half an alcoholic’s energy goes into evading, because stopping and saying “I’m an alcoholic.” is the greatest terror an alcoholic can jump into. It may be a greater fear than the fear of death—or it is the fear of the death, a step into where nothing is guaranteed.

And that is where to become Orthodox might as well be recognizing you are an alcoholic. Not, perhaps, that every Orthodox has a problem with alcohol, but we all have a problem, a spiritual disease called sin that is not a crime, but is infinitely worse than mere criminality. And the experience an alcoholic says saying, “My name’s Ashley, and I’m an alcoholic,” for the first time, is foundational to Orthodox religion. “Here is trustworthy saying that deserves acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first.”

There is a book, I have been told, among alcoholics called Not-God, because part of dealing with the cancer of alcoholism, as difficult as recognizing a terrible problem with alcohol, is recognizing that you have been trying to be God and not only are you not God, but your playing God has caused almost untold troubles.

Repentance is the most terrifying experience an Orthodox or an alcoholic can experience because when God really confronts you, he doesn’t just say “Give me a little bit.” He says, “Give me everything,” and demands an unconditional surrender that you write a blank check. This is as terrifying as the fear of death—or perhaps it is the fear of death, because everything we are holding dear, and especially the one thing we hold most dear, must be absolutely surrendered to—the Great Physician never tells us what, because then it would not be the surrender we need. We are simply told, “Write a blank check to me. Now.”

How does this square with becoming a little Christ?

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The two paragraphs, as I have broken up Phil 2:1-11 (RSV), are complementary. What the last paragraph says is that the equal Son of God emptied himself and kept on emptying himself further and suffering further until there is nothing left to give. And this is not a sinner, a mere creature, but the spotless and sinless Son of God showing what it means to be divine. It is not in Heaven that Christ shows the full force of divinity, but by emptying himself, willingly, to death on a cross and a descent into the realm of the dead. That is the moment when death itself began to work backwards—and humbling and emptying ourselves before God is the sigil of being exalted and filled with God’s goodness. But the other side of the coin is that if we think we can become divine, or even be human, while not being emptied, we are asking to be above Christ and expecting to have something that is utterly incoherent.

When we recognize that we are not God, then we become christs. When we empty ourselves, and let go of that one thing we are most afraid of giving to God, then we discover, along with the recovering alcoholic, that what we were most afraid to give up was a piece of Hell. We discover, with the alcoholic, that what we were fighting God about, and offering him consolation prizes in place of, was not something God needed, but something we needed to be freed from.

This emptying, this blank check and unconditional surrender, is what makes divinization possible. I was tempted in writing this to say that it is the ultimate kairos, but that’s exaggerating: the ultimate kairos is the Eucharist, but if we refuse this kairos, we befoul what we could experience in the Eucharist. If we are talking about a decisive moment that is not our saying “I want to make myself holier” so much as us hearing God say “You need to listen to me NOW,” then however painful it may be it is a step into kairos and a step further into kairos. And only after the surrender do we discover that what we were fighting against was an opportunity to step one step further into Heaven.

Repentance is appointed time. Repentance is the decisive moment, one we enter into again. Repentance is simultaneously death and transfiguration, the death that is transfiguration and the transfiguration that recapitulates death. Repentance is eternity breaking into time. Repentance is one eternal moment, and the moment we cycle back to, and the steps of climbing into Heaven. Repentance is being pulled out of the mud and painfully scrubbed clean. Repentance is fighting your way into the Great Peace. Repentance is the moment when we step out of unreality and unreal time into reality and the deepest time. Repentance is not the only moment in kairos, but it is among the most powerful and the most deeply transforming, decisive moments that appointed kairos has to offer.

Miscellanea

I do not have time to write, and perhaps you do not have time to read, separate sections about some things I will briefly summarize:

  • Life neither begins at 18 nor ends at 30. Every age is to be part of a kaleidoscope. Contrary to popular opinion in America, not only is it not a sin to grow old, but each age has its own beauty, like the seasons in turn and like the colors in a kaleidoscope. And that is why I do not guiltily talk about having “hit 30” any more than I would guiltily talk about having “hit 18” or “hit 5”, because in the end feeling guilty about approaching a ripe age is as strange as feeling guilty about being born: not that there is anything wrong with being a child in the womb, but the purpose of that special age is not to remain perennially in the womb but to grow in maturity and stature until our life is complete and God, who has numbered the hairs on our heads and without whom not even a sparrow can die, come to the thing we fear in age and discover that this, “death”, is not the end of a Christian’s life but the portal to the fulness of Heaven where we will see in full what we can now merely glimpse.
  • When we reach Heaven or Hell, they will have reached back so completely that our whole lives will have been the beginning of Heaven or the beginning of Hell.
  • People make a dichotomy between linear and cyclical time. The two can be combined in spiral (or maybe helical) time, and the movement of time forwards in growth combined with the liturgical cycles makes a rhythmic but never-repeating helix or spiral. (If that is embedded in what Maximus Confessor said about linear, circular, and spiral motion.)
  • One step away from saying that time is a line is saying that time is a pole on which a living vine grows, making a richer kind of connection than a materialist would see. That is a little bit of why we are contemporaries of Christ.

The Horn of Joy

…Sandy called after [Meg], “And also in 1865 Rudyard Kipling was born, and Verlaine wrote Poèmes saturniens, and John Stuart Mill wrote Auguste Comte and Positivism, and Purdue, Cornell, and the universities of Maine were founded.”

She waved back at him, then paused as he continued, “And Matthew Maddox’s first novel, Once More United, was published.”

She turned back, asking in a carefully controlled voice, “Maddox? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that author.”

“You stuck to math in school.”

“Yeah, Calvin always helped me with my English papers. Did this Matthew Maddox write anything else?”

Sandy flipped through the pages. “Let’s see. Nothing in 1866, 1867. 1868, here we are, The Horn of Joy.”

“Oh, that,” Dennys said. “I remember him now. I had to take a lit course my sophomore year in college, and I took nineteenth-century American literature. We read that, Matthew Maddox’s second and last book, The Horn of Joy. My prof said if he hadn’t died he’d have been right up there with Hawthorne and James. It was a strange book, passionately anti-war, I remember, and it went way back into the past, and there was some weird theory of the future influencing the past—not my kind of book at all.” (Madeleine l’Engle, A Swiftly Tilting Planet.)

Madeleine l’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet immediately follows my favorite children’s book, A Wind in the Door. I wished I could visit Patagonia, and tried to find a book she mentions in Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art as seminal to the Welsh legend in A Swiftly Tilting Planet. I also looked for The Horn of Joy and was disappointed, if not necessarily surprised, to learn that this was the one fictional addition to an otherwise historical list.

It would be not only strange but presumptuous to suggest that this piece I am writing is what she was referring to. Perhaps it is presumptuous to use that title, although it may seem less presumptuous if one understands how special and even formative Madeleine l’Engle’s work has been to me. But what does not seem strange to suggest is that this work may affect the meaning of A Swiftly Tilting Planet. That would only be determined by other people’s judgment and is not my call to make, but I don’t think Madeleine l’Engle would be offended if someone said that this enhanced the value of her work, or added another layer to what she said about time. Her own words not only in that work but in Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art about how a work can be enhanced by future insights would suggest the possible. It is quite possible that my work is not good enough or not relevant enough to serve as such a key, but the suggestion is not that strange to make.

But let us move on to one closing remark.

Extraordinary and Utterly Ordinary

The Enlightenment has left us with a lot of wreckage, and one of this is great difficulty seeing what causality could be besides “one domino mechanically toppling others.”

Aristotle listed four causes: the material cause, formal cause, efficient cause, and final cause. The material and formal cause are interesting to me as something the Enlightenment would not think to include in causality: Aristotle’s Physics portrays the bronze in a statue as a material cause to the statue. If we listen to the hint, this could suggest that causality for Aristotle is something besides just dominoes falling. He does deal with mechanical, domino-like causation when he describes the efficient cause, but I remember being taken with the “final cause”, the goal something is progressing towards, because I thought it was domino causation that had the effect before the cause.

The best response I can give now to what I believed then was, “Um, kind of.” Aristotle’s four causes address a broader and more human kind of causation that looks at questions like why something happened and not just how it was produced. It is in fact an utterly ordinary way of looking at things. It’s not the only serious way of describing causality (my favorite physics teacher said in class, “If Aristotle said it, it was wrong,” and I think he was right about much more than physics), but it’s one kind of richer view. And if you think it’s something exotic, you misunderstand it. It is an utterly ordinary, even commonsense way of looking at why things happen.

And an Aristotle’s-four-causes kind of time is better than an Enlightenment-domino-causation kind of time, for a number of reasons. The best essay about time, which I cannot write, would encompass the better parts of what I have said above while remaining “normal” even when it underscored something extraordinary. Or at least would do better at that than I have.

Orthodoxy is not something absolutely unique; I have said things here which I hope resonate with some sense of home whether or not you are Orthodox. When I moved from being an Evangelical to becoming Orthodox, I did not move from absolute error into absolute truth but from something partial to its full expression. (And there are other clarifications I haven’t made, like how much of this essay is owed to Irenaeus and to John Behr helping Irenaeus come alive.) But let me close.

In Orthodoxy, here and now, there is an ordinary way to do what alchemy aimed at: be transfigured in a transfiguration that embraces the material world—and, as we have seen, time. Time is to be transmuted, or rather transfigured, until it becomes eternity.

How shall I tell an alchemist?

The “natural cycle” liturgical clock

Now

Technonomicon: Technology, Nature, ascesis

Desire

  1. All life is empty, meaningless suffering.
  2. The origin of suffering is desire.
  3. The way to eliminate suffering is to eliminate desire.
  4. The way to eliminate desire is through the eightfold noble path.

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

The Ten Commandments

I was going to title this piece “On Covetousness” and there is much to say there, but on further reflection this piece is a piece about desire.

To start with, I would like to look briefly at Buddhism. I do not wish to advocate syncretism or carelessness about differences, but the combination of similarity and difference between Orthodox Christianity and some of Buddhism is instructive. Now to be clear, when I took a course in Asian philosophy, the Buddhist doctrine of anatta was the one I met with clear recoil and not with any sympathy: for those of you who do not know the term, it immediately means that there is nothing divine inside of us, and ultimately means that the heart of reality is not a heart of reality at all, but nothingness: life is like an onion, where you peel off layer after layer and find that there is nothing inside. And for that matter, the Orthodox understanding of demons may be a nobler matter than what Buddhism makes of mankind.

But for all of this there are real points of contact between Orthodoxy and Buddhism. There is a profound contact between the silence in Orthodox hesychasm and the silence of Buddhist meditation. What Orthodox say about the Western overgrowth of the logical mind is well enough to be found in Buddhism as well. That much may be worth exploring, but it is not my concern here.

What is my concern here is the point of desire. Nine out of the Ten Commandments dictate what outward actions are required or forbidden; the last commandment in Exodus does not mention any act at all, but only covetousness, a desire, an inner state, a disposition. And the list of things we are forbidden to covet barely scratches the surface of what we covet today. St. Job says, “I made a covenant with mine eyes? Why then should I think upon a maid?” (31:1), and lust is forbidden, at very least by implication. But the other enumerations of covetousness, one’s neighbor’s house, manservant, maidservant, ox, ass, or any possession is just the beginning of the list, or at least it is today.

What else do we covet? One acquaintance talked about a Western visitor who was with a group of pastors, out on motorcycles in very rural Africa, and the visitor did not know their language, but there seemed to be one term they were using quite a lot. Finally one of them cued in to what it was they kept talking about, and it was, “the pill, the pill” which is what they were calling Viagra. I have not heard him talk about anything sexual on any other occasion (though I admit a brief acquaintance), and he talked about how Iraqui workers said that the condition they required to work with U.S. troops was Viagra, which the troops dealt with by crushing up Smarties and giving it to them as Viagra.

Years before our spam filters swelled with offers of Viagra, some observers of social culture said that it used to be that our ancestors were concerned that their desires were too strong; now we seem rather to be concerned that our desires are too weak. And “certified male urologists” handing out Viagra like candy lands us squarely in the kind of desire where orthodox Buddhism has the most to tell us.

Buddhism does not offer help fulfilling desires; it offers help in eliminating desire. And is not just Buddhists but Church Fathers who see a tie between pleasure and pain, a link between desire and disappointment. If there is suffering caused by desiring more than you possess, then seeking to acquire what you desire is not the only strategy, not the only game in town. You can also subtract from the sum of your desires.

Buddhism’s picture of suffering is wrong as its picture of anatta and emptiness is wrong: it portrays a suffering that is empty and futile, like the Roman doctrine of Hell instead of Purgatory. And while the Orthodox Church does not believe that people die and go to Purgatory before entering Heaven, there is a great case that people go through some purifying suffering like Purgatory before they die. Purgatory, called “Heaven’s bathroom” by some, is a place of cleansing and purifying suffering and it is a full suffering with Heaven inside. And the nature of suffering in the service of God is precisely opposite the nature of suffering of Buddhism.

There is much else that one can covet besides the original list, and not only Viagra. We can covet honors; we can covet a romance that will banish all unhappiness just as we can imagine; we can covet imagined worlds of science fiction and fantasy; we can covet the pleasures of movie and video game, iPhone and Xbox. Our possibilities for pleasure, and the idea that such entanglement with pleasure is the norm, are as much stronger now than in the days of the Bible as 151 (rum at 75.5% alcohol) is stronger than the 4% lacto-fermented wine that pagan Greeks recoiled from drinking undiluted. It is a provocative statement now to tell the Resident of SecondLife: “Fornicate using your own genitals!”

But the solution represents one final departure from Buddhism. Buddhism sees no way to sweep away selfishness but to extinguish the self and extinguish desire. Orthodoxy transfigures desire and attaches it to its proper end, God. Pascal, heretic perhaps, lives only centuries away from us; he lived near the occult genesis of modern science, and he has a more encompassing view of what we may drink spiritual poison of covetousness besides our neighbor’s property:

All men seek to be happy. This is without exception, whatever the different means that they employ, they all go to this end. This makes some go to war, and others do not go, and it is the same desire, which is in both of them, accompanied by different means. The will never makes the slightest deviation but to pursue this goal. This is the motive of all actions of all men, even to the point of those who go to hang themselves.

This is the motive of all the actions of all men even including those who go to hang themselves. And despite this after such a long number of years, no one ever, without faith, has reached the point that all continually have their sights on. All complain: princes, subjects, nobles, commoners, old, young, weak, strong, educated, ignorant, healthy, sick in all countries, of all time, of all ages, in all conditions.

A test that is so long, so continually kept and so uniform should convince ourselves of our powerlessness to reach goodness by our efforts. But the example instructs us little. It is never so perfectly believable that there is some delicate difference and it’s there that we expect that our expectation will not fail on this occasion unlike the others, and the present never satisfies us ever, experience goads us, and from sadness to sadness brings us to death which is an eternal pit.

What then do this avidity and this powerlessness cry out to us,except that there was once in man a true happiness, of which there no longer remains to him anything but the empty mark and trace which he futilely tries to fill with all that is around him, seeking in things absent the salvation which he does not obtain from things present, but which are all incapable because this infinite void cannot be filled except by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, by God himself?

Pensées, VII: Morality and Doctrins, 415 [ 377]

There was contact between the East and West well before the twentieth century; Pascal’s contemporary Leibniz owned a copy of the I Chingbrought by Jesuit missionaries. However, Pascal shows a singular innocence of Buddhism. And at a time when Reformers tried to recruit Orthodox, Christian West and East also had contact. However, Pascal, who evinces little if any serious contact with Orthodox hesychasm, no less has his finger on the solution.

His statement is sweeping, too much on a literal count, but this bespeaks more his experience than rhetorical exaggeration: it is a crude reading that says Pascal speaks of those who hang themselves but did not really mean his observation would apply to Buddhists. In the realm of Pascal’s experience, he saw a uniform law, where men did not obtain relief from suffering no matter how much they chased their desires, but he saw the solution: not that desire or pursuit is to be eliminated, but that they are to be fixed to their proper object, their proper end: an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, by God himself.

We think of Pascal as coming from another world. Yet I assert that historians may treat him as a close contemporary of ours; his list of things pursued in covetousness comes much closer to the traps set for us today than the list provided in the ten commandments, which lists six things in particular, seem almost like six pebbles on a beach compared to what we are enticed to covet, and chase in vain.

Not, perhaps, that we may never reach them. It can happen that we do. But something we covet brings us brief pleasure and then an even greater sadness; covetousness and desire feed our pleasure-pain syndrome, and covetousness that reaches its desire finds sorrow close on its heels. There is a common enough saying, courtesy of George Bernard Shaw, “There are two great tragedies in life. One is not to get one’s desire. The other is to get it.” This is true of anything one covets. But not of desiring God, who is the right and proper goal of desire.

Humor was once very important to me; I had, at least, a subtle sense of humor and several submissions to the highly moderated newsgroup rec.humor.funny. But in one reading of the Philokalia, I saw that they, like St. John Climacus in the Ladder, viewed humor as not at all innocent. It wasn’t just that some jokes are dirty; it is that humor, like covetousness, is not as good as it looks on the outside. And since the time that I wroteOn humor, something has shifted and I have in large measure lost my taste for humor, and am more, not less, happy for it. There is something in humor that is like a scream and is not joyful, and there is something inside covetousness that says, not really “I will be happy if I have this,” but “I cannot be happy with what God has given me now.” Except that this is hidden from us; covetousness seems a conduit of happiness when it is actually its thief.

In the Prologue, one saint says that we should desire whatever God gives to us, or as he puts it, whatever happens to us. I seem to almost never stop planning, coveting, a better future. But the only moment we can obey God is now, and the only time we can accept God’s providence is now. And the Orthodox treatment of desire, unlike Buddhism that seeks to extinguish desire, but to clear the field of distractions so we can rightly and properly desire God himself, and here monks say something to us all. Monasticism and marriage alike provide a crown of thorns; they are meant not to fulfill selfish desires but transform them away from selfishness. The married person has an icon by which to transcend himself; the monk dispenses with the icon, but marriage and monasticisms are not opposite, not here, but two paths to the same goal. The real value of marriage, like monasticism, is to free a man from living for himself, for pursuing immature covetousness instead of maturing to a desire that is greater, not less, than the desire for plans, Viagra, SecondWife, education, a pay raise, financial security, a postmodern sweep of experiences, pleasures that linger on the palate, honors, recognitions, and achievements, revenge for a wrong (or at least one that is coveted in imagination), music and media always with us, “Orthodox” humor, and any number of things Orthodox ascesis is meant to free us from. But the freedom is not a freedom to desire less and less, but more and more, a freedom that is only parodied, even obscenely parodied, in the covetousness we know today.

St. Paul said, “the love of money is the root of all evil“, and we have unleashed a Pandora’s box of it. But the path of ascesis, of freedom of covetousness, of desire freed for God, is ever open, and ever abounds.

Let us let go of more and more covetousness to be free to grasp God himself.

On humor

Now

The Pleasure-Pain Syndrome

Silence: Organic Food for the Soul