Akathist to St. Philaret the Merciful

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Kontakion 1

To thee, O camel who passed through the eye of the needle, we offer thanks and praise: for thou gavest of thy wealth to the poor, as an offering to Christ. Christ God received thy gift as a loan, repaying thee exorbitantly, in this transient life and in Heaven. Rejoice, O flowing fountain of Heaven’s treasures! (Repeated thrice.)

Oikos 1

Thou hadst earthly wealth yet knewest true treasure: thou madest use of thy possessions but trustedst them never, for in thee was the Kingdom of God and thy treasurehouse was Heaven. Wherefore thou hearest these praises which we offer to thee:

Rejoice, illustrious and wealthy noble who knew true wealth!
Rejoice, O thou who were ever mindful of the poor!
Rejoice, who knew thy deeds to the poor are deeds done to Christ!
Rejoice, O thou who knew true wealth from false!
Rejoice, O thou who knew that we can take nothing from the world!
Rejoice, O thou who knew that the righteous would never be forsaken!
Rejoice, O thou who gave ever more than was asked!
Rejoice, O thou who withheld not thy last ounce of wheat!
Rejoice, O thou who gave all six bushels to one who asked for a little!
Rejoice, O thou whose friend gave thee forty bushels thereafter!
Rejoice, O thou who trusted in the Lord with all his heart!
Rejoice, O flowing fountain of Heaven’s treasures!

Kontakion 2

Thou knewest treasure enough to feed thy household for a hundred years without work: And thou wert true to thy name, Philaret or “Lover of Virtue”, even when thine own wife saw not the horses on the mountain and chariots of fire which surround the true lover of virtue. But with eyes raised to fiery Heaven, we cry out with thee: Alleluia!

Oikos 2

Thou invitedst thine own to join thy love of virtue, and thine own received not thine invitation. But thine invitation remaineth open, and we who receive thine invitation and hearken to the open door cry out to thee in praise:

Rejoice, O diadem of married life in the world!
Rejoice, O thou who knewest virtue as treasure!
Rejoice, O thou who fed a household out of the treasurehouse of thy virtue!
Rejoice, O thou who knew not the greed of Midas’s curse!
Rejoice, O thou whose gifts would yet multiply and enrich the recipient!
Rejoice, O thou who was generous when he was rich!
Rejoice, O thou who was raided by marauders yet became no less generous!
Rejoice, O thou who trusted God when he had much and when he had little!
Rejoice, O thou who knewest that riches profit not in the day of wrath!
Rejoice, O thou whose virtue profited in easy times and hard times alike!
Rejoice, O flowing fountain of Heaven’s treasures!

Kontakion 3

Many a generous beggar will give his last penny, whilst few a rich man will give to thee from his hedge of protection. Yet we behold a wonder in thee, who was rich, illustrious, and of noble lineage, and esteemed these not. Thy hedge of protection was the Lord God, and virtue and treasure in Heaven, and thou wert generous unto thine uttermost farthing. To thee, a rich man more generous than a beggar, we cry: Alleluia!

Oikos 3

Thou transcendedst the virtues of pagan philosophy: fortitude, justice, prudence, and temperance, the virtues of a well lived earthly life. But thou knewest the Christian, deiform virtues: faith, hope, and love, the virtues of a Heavenly life already present in an egg in life on earth. Wherefore we cry out to thee:

Rejoice, O thou whose fortitude sought no protection from earthly treasures!
Rejoice, O thou whose justice transcended human reckoning!
Rejoice, O thou whose prudence was the Wisdom who is Christ!
Rejoice, O thou whose temperance sought from earthly things nothing in excess of what they could give!
Rejoice, O thou whose faith trusted that Christ would faithfully provide!
Rejoice, O thou whose hope in God was never disappointed!
Rejoice, O thou whose love refrained from sharing neither virtue nor earthly possessions!
Rejoice, O thou whose joy flowed in easy times and hard!
Rejoice, O thou whose peace flowed from the silence of Heaven!
Rejoice, O thou whose generosity was perfect!
Rejoice, O flowing fountain of Heaven’s treasures!

Kontakion 4

We will forever underestimate thy generosity if we merely count what thou gavest against what much or little property thou possessesdt, for thine open hand was a shadow and an icon of the vast wealth thou heldest in the generous treasure in Heaven, and this vast treasure thou laid hold to as Philaret, lover of virtue, which is to say lover of treasures in Heaven, eclipseth thy generosity with mere earthly property as the sun eclipseth the moon—nay, as the sun eclipseth a candle! Wherefore, with thee who hoarded true treasure, we cry: Alleluia!

Oikos 4

Beseech the Lord God that we also might seek true treasure in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrodes and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherefore we cry out in wonder to thee:

Rejoice, O thou who drunk from the wellspring of Truth!
Rejoice, O thou who were fed by the Tree of Life!
Rejoice, O thou who knew silver from dross!
Rejoice, O thou who never grasped at dross because thou clungst to the Treasure for whom every treasure is named!
Rejoice, O thou who esteemed men of humble birth because thou questedst after the royal priesthood!
Rejoice, O thou who grasped treasure next to which every earthly endowment is but dust and ashes!
Rejoice, O thou who counted the poor and needy as more precious than gold!
Rejoice, O thou who cast away shadows to behold the Sun of Righteousness!
Rejoice, O thou who never forsook the Lord!
Rejoice, O thou whom the Lord never abandoned!
Rejoice, O thou who found that not one of His good promises has failed!
Rejoice, O flowing fountain of Heaven’s treasures!

Kontakion 5

Ever seeking Christ, thou becamest thyself like Christ, the source and the summit of all virtue. Wishing to imitate thee as thou imitatedst Christ, we cry unto thee: Alleluia!

Oikos 5

Every virtue is an icon of Christ, an icon not before us, but in us. Seeking after the virtues as we seek Christ, we cry out to thee:

Rejoice, O thou divine lover of virtue!
Rejoice, O thou who knew the Source of virtue!
Rejoice, O thou whose virtue was an imprint of Christ!
Rejoice, O thou who perfected the divine image with voluntary likeness!
Rejoice, O thou who teaches us virtue in the Christian walk!
Rejoice, O thou ever willing to share not only possessions but virtue!
Rejoice, O thou in whom Christ sat enthroned on virtue!
Rejoice, O thou who in virtue loved and served God!
Rejoice, O volume wherein the Word was inscribed in the ink of the virtues!
Rejoice, O thou who ever banishest passions!
Rejoice, O polished mirror refulgent with the uncreated Light!
Rejoice, O flowing fountain of Heaven’s treasures!

Kontakion 6

Eating from the Tree of Life, thou becamest thyself a tree of life, to the nourishment of many. Hungering for lifegiving food, we cry with thee: Alleluia!

Oikos 6

Sown in good soil, thou baredst fruit thirty, sixty, a hundredfold. Wherefore we cry unto thee:

Rejoice, O thou who were food to the hungry!
Rejoice, O thou who were wealth to the destitute!
Rejoice, O thou who were a robe of boldness to the naked!
Rejoice, O thou who gave abundantly out of thine abundance!
Rejoice, O thou who gave abundantly out of lack and want!
Rejoice, O thou who were God’s abundance to thy neighbour!
Rejoice, O thou who never merely gave money or property!
Rejoice, O thou who always gave with a blessing!
Rejoice, O thou who loved Christ in thy neighbour!
Rejoice, O thou tree whose shade sheltered many!
Rejoice, O thou river who irrigated vast lands!
Rejoice, O flowing fountain of Heaven’s treasures!

Kontakion 7

Blessed art thou, O holy Father Philaret the Merciful! Merciful wert thou, and thou receivedst mercy, wherefore we cry with thee: Alleluia!

Oikos 7

Feeding the hungry is greater work than raising the dead! Wherefore we ask of thee no miracle, O merciful Father Philaret, for thou shewedst the continual miracle of mercy, and we cry unto thee:

Rejoice, O thou who gave the very last thou hadst!
Rejoice, O thou who received recompense from Christ thereafter!
Rejoice, O thou who withheld nothing from him who asked of thee!
Rejoice, O thou who wherewith withheld nothing from Christ!
Rejoice, O thou who clung not to gold!
Rejoice, O thou who clung to the Light next to which gold is as dust!
Rejoice, O wise one who made blessings as abundant as dust!
Rejoice, O thou who were ever full of mercy!
Rejoice, O thou whose mercy was as a lamp!
Rejoice, O thou who firmly beheld the invisible!
Rejoice, O thou whose faith worked mercy through love!
Rejoice, O flowing fountain of Heaven’s treasures!

Kontakion 8

Rejoice, thou who wilt stand before Christ’s dread judgment throne numbered among those who hear: Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came to me. And thou wilt cry with the blessed saints: Alleluia!

Oikos 8

Knowing that no man can love God whom he cannot see except that he love his neighbor whom he has seen, thou wert ever merciful, wherefore we cry unto thee:

Rejoice, O thou who fed Christ when He was an hungred!
Rejoice, O thou who gave Christ to drink when He was athirst!
Rejoice, O thou who showed Christ hospitality when He came a stranger!
Rejoice, O thou who clothed Christ when He was naked!
Rejoice, O thou who visited Christ when He was sick!
Rejoice, O thou who came to Christ when He was in prison!
Rejoice, O thou who met the least of these and saw Christ!
Rejoice, O thou who called every man thy brother!
Rejoice, O thou who saw no man as outside of God’s love!
Rejoice, O thou perfect in mercy as thy Heavenly Father is perfect in mercy!
Rejoice, O lamp ever scintillating with the Light of Heaven!
Rejoice, O flowing fountain of Heaven’s treasures!

Kontakion 9

All the angels were amazed at the excellence of thy virtue, for thy name “Philaret” is not only “Lover of Virtue” but “Lover of Excellence”, for in thee excellence, virtue, and power are one and the same. Wherefore thou joinest the angels in crying: Alleluia!

Oikos 9

Even the most eloquent of orators cannot explain how thy virtue excelleth, for they cannot explain how in every circumstance thou soughtest out and lovedst virtue. But we marvel and cry out faithfully:

Rejoice, O rich man who cared for the poor!
Rejoice, O illustrious man who cared for men of no account!
Rejoice, O excellent in virtue in times of advantage!
Rejoice, O excellent in virtue in times of suffering as well!
Rejoice, O man who held great treasure and yet ever fixed his eyes upon true Treasure!
Rejoice, O thou who in every circumstance found an arena for excellent virtue!
Rejoice, O thou who were ever an excellent worshipper of God!
Rejoice, O thou who in the world escaped the Devil’s snares!
Rejoice, O thou who unmasked hollow Mammon!
Rejoice, O thou who found harbor on the sea of life!
Rejoice, O thou who by loving virtue loved Christ!
Rejoice, O flowing fountain of Heaven’s treasures!

Kontakion 10

Thy life wast a living manuscript of the Sermon on the Mount, for even Solomon in his splendor had not raiment like unto thy faith. Beholding thy splendor we cry with thee: Alleluia!

Oikos 10

Thou storedst up possessions wherewith not to worry: not fickle and corruptible treasure on earth, but constant and incorruptible treasure in Heaven. Wherefore we cry unto thee:

Rejoice, O thou who however rich wert poor in spirit!
Rejoice, O thou who mourned thy neighbor’s unhappiness!
Rejoice, O thou meek before thy neighbor’s suffering!
Rejoice, O thou who hungered and thirsted for justice and all virtue!
Rejoice, O thou mirror of mercy!
Rejoice, O thou who remained pure in heart!
Rejoice, O thou who made deepest peace!
Rejoice, O living mirror of the Beatitudes!
Rejoice, O thou soaring as the birds of the air!
Rejoice, O thou who wert devoted to one Master, and despised all others!
Rejoice, O living exposition of the Sermon on the Mount!
Rejoice, O flowing fountain of Heaven’s treasures!

Kontakion 11

Thou wert as the widow who bereaved herself even of her last two farthings: not only gave she more than all the others, but she who gave up her creaturely life received the uncreated, immortal, and eternal life. Like her, thou wert a vessel empty enough to fill, wherefore we cry with thee: Alleluia!

Oikos 11

Thou wert a second Job, steadfast whilst Satan tore off layer after layer of thy belongings to show that there was nothing inside. Wherefore, we cry to thee who ever persevered:

Rejoice, O thou worshiper of God in plenty and in need!
Rejoice, O thou icon of perseverance and faith!
Rejoice, O thou generous with thy coin and generous with thy virtue!
Rejoice, O thou phoenix ever arisen from thy very ashes!
Rejoice, O thou saint immobile in thy dispassion!
Rejoice, O thou who in want showed the truth of thy generosity in easy times!
Rejoice, O thou who ever blessed the name of the Lord!
Rejoice, O thou who with many possessions loved them not!
Rejoice, O thou who with few possessions loved them no more!
Rejoice, O thou who remained stalwart whilst Satan tore away what was thine, to show there was nothing inside!
Rejoice, O thou who were vindicated when God peeled off the nothing and showed there was everything inside!
Rejoice, O thou who vindicated God as did Job!
Rejoice, O flowing fountain of Heaven’s treasures!

Kontakion 12

Thou hadst no food in the house, when imperial emissaries came looking for a bride for the Emperor: thou rich in Heaven, in trust thou beganst preparations to honourably meet the imperial emissaries. And thy neighbours came and brought food, a fitting feast, and the imperial emissaries found thy granddaughter finest in virtue and modesty, choosing her for her excellence to become Empress. Wherefore we cry with thee: Alleluia!

Oikos 12

When all this had come to pass, in thy virtue, in thine excellence, thou knewest what is real treasure. In thy virtue and humility, thou refusedst all imperial rank and office, saying that it sufficed thee to be known as grandfather to the Empress. Wherefore, amazed, we cry to thee:

Rejoice, O thou who knew true Treasure!
Rejoice, O thou who were lover of virtue and excellence!
Rejoice, O thou who were rich and cared for the poor!
Rejoice, O thou who lost almost all and still opened thy hand!
Rejoice, O thou who became grandfather to the Empress whilst remaining ever humble!
Rejoice, O thou who were illustrious and noble yet cherished those of low estate!
Rejoice, O thou who were razed nigh unto the earth, and ever remained excellent as a lover of virtue!
Rejoice, O thou who were raised nigh unto Heaven, and ever remained humble as a lover of virtue!
Rejoice, O thou who sought first the Kingdom of Heaven!
Rejoice, O thou who were given all other things as well!
Rejoice, O thou who even then fixed his virtuous gaze on Christ!
Rejoice, O flowing fountain of Heaven’s treasures!

Kontakion 13

O holy Father Philaret whose excellence was virtue and whose virtue was excellence, whose power was virtue and whose virtue was power, who was ever merciful and generous out of thine overflowing virtue, ever protected by the Kingdom of God, pray for us as we cry with thee: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! (Repeated thrice.)

Oikos 1

Thou hadst earthly wealth yet knewest true treasure: thou madest use of thy possessions but trustedst them never, for in thee was the Kingdom of God and thy treasurehouse was Heaven. Wherefore thou hearest these praises which we offer to thee:

Rejoice, illustrious and wealthy noble who knew true wealth!
Rejoice, O thou who were ever mindful of the poor!
Rejoice, who knew thy deeds to the poor are deeds done to Christ!
Rejoice, O thou who knew true wealth from false!
Rejoice, O thou who knew that we can take nothing from the world!
Rejoice, O thou who knew that the righteous would never be forsaken!
Rejoice, O thou who gave ever more than was asked!
Rejoice, O thou who withheld not thy last ounce of wheat!
Rejoice, O thou who gave all six bushels to one who asked for a little!
Rejoice, O thou whose friend gave thee forty bushels thereafter!
Rejoice, O thou who trusted in the Lord with all his heart!
Rejoice, O flowing fountain of Heaven’s treasures!

Kontakion 1

To thee, O camel who passed through the eye of the needle, we offer thanks and praise: for thou gavest of thy wealth to the poor, as an offering to Christ. Christ God received thy gift as a loan, repaying thee exorbitantly, in this transient life and in Heaven. Rejoice, O flowing fountain of Heaven’s treasures!

Doxology

God the Spiritual Father

Maximum Christ, Maximum Ambition, Maximum Repentance

The Transcendent God Who Approaches Us Through Our Neighbor

A Pet Owner’s Rules

CJSH.name/pet


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God is a pet owner who has two rules, and only two rules. They are:

  1. I am your owner. Enjoy freely the food and water which I have provided for your good!
  2. Don’t drink out of the toilet.

That’s really it. Those are the only two rules we are expected to follow. And we still break them.

Drunkenness is drinking out of the toilet. If you ask most recovering alcoholics if the time they were drunk all the time were their most joyful, merry, halcyon days, I don’t know exactly how they’d answer, if they could even keep a straight face. Far from being joyful, being drunk all the time is misery that most recovering alcoholics wouldn’t wish on their worst enemies. If you are drunk all the time, you lose the ability to enjoy much of anything. Strange as it may sound, it takes sobriety to enjoy even drunkenness. Drunkenness is drinking out of the toilet.

Lust is also drinking out of the toilet. Lust is the disenchantment of the entire universe. It is a magic spell where suddenly nothing else is interesting, and after lust destroys the ability to enjoy anything else, lust destroys the ability to enjoy even lust. Proverbs says, “The adulterous woman”—today one might add, “and internet porn” to that—”in the beginning is as sweet as honey and in the end as bitter as gall and as sharp as a double-edged sword.” Now this is talking about a lot more than pleasure, but it is talking about pleasure. Lust, a sin of pleasure, ends by destroying pleasure. It takes chastity to enjoy even lust.

Having said that lust is drinking out of the toilet, I’d like to clarify something. There are eight particularly dangerous sins the Church warns us about. That’s one, and it isn’t the most serious. Sins of lust are among the most easily forgiven; the Church’s most scathing condemnations go to sins like pride and running the poverty industry. The harshest condemnations go to sins that are deliberate, cold-blooded sins, not so much disreputable, hot-blooded sins like lust. Lust is drinking out of the toilet, but there are much worse problems.

I’d like you to think about the last time you traveled from one place to another and you enjoyed the scenery. That’s good, and it’s something that greed destroys. Greed destroys the ability to enjoy things without needing to own them, and there are a lot of things in life (like scenery) that we can enjoy if we are able to enjoy things without always having to make them mine, mine, mine. Greed isn’t about enjoying things; it’s about grasping and letting the ability to enjoy things slip through your fingers. When people aren’t greedy, they know contentment; they can enjoy their own things without wishing they were snazzier or newer or more antique or what have you. (And if you do get that hot possession you’ve been coveting, greed destroys the ability to simply enjoy it: it becomes as dull and despicable as all your possessions look when you look at them through greed’s darkened eyes. It takes contentment to enjoy even greed: greed is also drinking out of the toilet.

Jesus had some rather harsh words after being unforgiving after God has forgiven us so much. Even though forgiveness is work, refusing to forgive one other person is drinking out of the toilet. Someone said it’s like drinking poison and hoping it will hurt the other person.

The last sin I’ll mention is pride, even though all sin is drinking out of the toilet. Pride is not about joy; pride destroys joy. Humility is less about pushing yourself down than an attitude that lets you respect and enjoy others. Pride makes people sneer at others who they can only see as despicable, and when you can’t enjoy anyone else, you are too poisoned to enjoy yourself. If you catch yourself enjoying pride, repent of it, but if you can enjoy pride at all, you haven’t hit rock bottom. As G.K. Chesterton said, it takes humility to enjoy even pride. Pride is drinking out of the toilet. All sin is drinking out of the toilet.

I’ve talked about drinking out of the toilet, but Rule Number Two is not the focus. Rule Number One is, “I am your owner. Enjoy freely of the food and water I have given you.” Rule Number Two, “Don’t drink out of the toilet,” is only important when we break it, which is unfortunately quite a lot. The second rule is really a footnote meant to help us focus on Rule Number One, the real rule.

What is Rule Number One about? One window that lets us glimpse the beauty of Rule Number One is, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to a mountain, ‘Be uprooted and thrown into the sea,’ and it will be done for you.” Is this exaggeration? Yes. More specifically, it’s the kind of exaggeration the Bible uses to emphasize important points. Being human sometimes means that there are mountains that are causing us real trouble. If someone remains in drunkenness and becomes an alcoholic, that alcoholism becomes a mountain that no human strength is strong enough to move. I’ve known several Christians who were recovering alcoholics. And had been sober for years. That is a mountain moved by faith. Without exception, they have become some of the most Christlike, loving people I have known. That is what can happen when we receive freely of the food and drink our Lord provides us. And it’s not the only example. There has been an Orthodox resurrection in Albania. Not long ago, it was a church in ruins as part of a country that was ruins. Now the Albanian Orthodox Church is alive and strong, and a powerhouse of transformation for the whole nation. God is on the move in Albania. He’s moved mountains.

To eat of the food and drink the Lord has provided—and, leaving the image of dog food behind, this means not only the Eucharist but the whole life God provides—makes us share in the divine nature and live the divine life. We can bring Heaven down to earth, not only beginning ourselves to live the heavenly life, but beginning to establish Heaven around us through our good works. It means that we share in good things we don’t always know to ask.

Let’s choose the food and drink we were given.

Akathist to St. Philaret the Merciful

Money

Prayers

Two Decisive Moments

The Orthodox Martial Art Is Living the Sermon on the Mount

Surgeon General’s Warning

This and two other works were written when I was half-drunk with Elder Thaddeus’s Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives.

There is much that is true and Orthodox in that title, and there is something to its core point, but it is the most occultic book, with strange and awesome powers given to half-conscious thoughts, that I’ve seen yet. This post is retained for archival purposes but it is not particularly recommended as the author does not particularly recommend the book that furnished its inspiration.

A look at India in relation to my own roots and formation

My live story up until now would be immeasurably impoverished if the various ways in which India had entered my life would simply be subtracted. I appreciate Indian food, even if I eat it in a non-Indian (Paleo) fashion. And that is not trivial, but there are deeper ways I’ve been enriched by that great nation. One of these relates to pacifism, where one of India’s giants, one certain Gandhi, is perhaps the best-known person in history as I know it for the strength of pacifism. Gandhi might have said with perfect sincerity, “Truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills,” but there is a certain motherlode as old as the hills that Gandhi may have mined that motherlode better than anyone else in history.

My own earliest roots, the brand of Christianity I received as mother’s milk, were in the Anabaptist tradition, and more specifically the Mennonite Church. I have never been a member of the Amish tradition, but I would contrast Amish as they are known today from Anabaptists in the time of the Reformation. Today Amish are seen as quiet, peaceful, and daft in being picky about which technologies they accept in their community.

(Amish are conservative, perhaps seen as a bit daft, and as Weird Al offensively jabs them, says, “Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1699, not seeing what on earth could be good about partying like it’s 1699.)

But Amish and other Anabaptists were originally the anarchist wing of the Reformation, the Radical Reformers who were radical even in the eyes of fellow Protestants, the Reformation’s Left Coast. That they would have been parodied in the future as “quaint”ly conservative and “please don’t point and stare” would have perhaps astonished Zwingli and his radical wing of the Reformation, and all their opponents, alike.

Before and during college, I went on a bit of a journey and a quest to bolster and advocate for pacifism. I studied the Sermon in the Mount; I read Gandhi write things that I thought only a Christian would write. Gandhi did not only say that his three heroes were Jesus, Daniel, and Socrates; he said that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for the sin of the world, a perfect act. And it was only years later that I learned why Gandhi did not become a Christian, something not given a single stinging word in a single quote I ever saw attributed to Mr. Gandhi.

I was filled with shame when I learned that Gandhi wanted to become a Christian, attended a Christian evangelist’s meeting, and was turned away from being accepted into the Christian faith, because of the color of his skin. And he gave advice to Christians on how to present Christianity to Hindus, including displaying the hard parts very clearly, but he was not willing, after that, to consider becoming a Christian.

I would not have felt shame if I heard that Gandhi simply didn’t ever consider becoming a Christian, or that he found the Hindu mystical tradition deep enough that he would content himself with Hindu roots, or that he would not have considered adopting the religion of the colonial occupiers of India, or other reasons like Hinduism as perhaps the most cosmopolitan of all world religions, or if we may permit an anachronism, Hinduism as the deep tradition that would years later establish India as a software superpower. These are all bearable. But not becoming Christian because a Christian evangelist turned him away—that is not bearable, but shameful.

In my own journey and life practices, the very oldest of the major works on my website, Blessed are the peacemakers: Real Peace Through Real Strength, was from my own search for pacifism. I don’t deny that the nonviolent power that Gandhi described in terms of “satyagraha” or hold onto Truth (from the Sanskrit), nor that satyagraha became incarnate with Indian flesh. “I am a man, so nothing that is human is alien to me,” as an ancient Roman said. The Church Fathers who quickly saw a path that meets its fruition in Christianity in philosophy or Plato is able to read of the practice of satyagraha and nonviolence, and the Indian cardinal virtue of ahimsa that recognizes you are tied to the other person and cannot harm the other without harming yourself, can be coherently interpreted without recognizing what Gandhi took, without compromise, from Christianity and the Sermon on the Mount. If Plato or Platonism can be purified, and someone Taoism can be purified, then perhaps something can be purified from Gandhi and the one nation on earth that established itself as sovereign and independent without shedding a drop of enemy blood.

I would like to briefly stop at C.S. Lewis and what is apparently an attack on satyagraha. The architect of “mere Christianity” as it is established in the West makes the only external addition to what is called “mere Christianity” that is in fact not part of Christianity as it was known then. He describes and condemns a guilt manipulation that one holds oneself hostage to make pity a weapon. And he is the only Protestant writer I have read who, in papers like “Why I am not a Pacifist,” says not only that Christians may wage war but in fact that conscientious exemption is not acceptable in any sense, and pacifists as much as anyone else should be compelled to try their best to kill men in military service. And on that point I really give Lewis an F. Ruling out even alternative service for people who believe it is always wrong to kill is FAIL, at least for someone pushing a comprehensive plan of “mere Christianity.”

A second look at my roots

I mentioned Anabaptism or Mennonites earlier as my earliest roots, and I have revisited them, not as a matter of regression but pushing a divide further. And there are some points of contact. The Anabaptist movement has three self-identified points of distinction:

  1. A “believer’s baptism”, meaning baptism only on adult profession of faith,
  2. A refusal to take oaths under any circumstance.
  3. Pacifism.

On the first point there is a disagreement between Orthodoxy and the Anabaptist tradition; what Anabaptists sought to dismantle in saying “Infant baptism is of the Devil,” is one of many continuities with Orthodoxy that some in the West has opted out of.

On the second point, there is strong agreement. Now in pastoral terms there is an issue of people’s comfort with a teaching, and it is not pastorally helpful to take a teaching someone is not ready to recognize, and ram it down that person’s throat rather than allowing that person to grow to accept the teaching. But as far as oaths go, there was one Athonite monk who refused to take a required oath before testifying in a court of law, and endured without complaint the four months of prison that he was punished with before refusing to take an oath. St. John Chrysostom, called “the moral theologian among the Fathers par excellence,” throughout every work that I have read, keeps on returning to certain moral topics regardless of perception. He keeps on hitting on the necessity of sharing with the poor, and of the theatre “in which the common nature of women is affronted” (think Internet porn, as it existed in the fourth century; to be an actress included being a member of a much older profession), and he more than once drops the hammer on the practice of taking oaths at all.

But as regards the question of pacifism, I regard my own Blessed are the peacemakers: Real Peace Through Real Strength as an interesting early step, particularly as there weren’t too many other pieces playing in the same space that I was able to find. I asked a number of other people for feedback, and I regret my own sophomoric side of dealings with mature Christians who believe in a just war and who in every sense embodied what I advocate for here. (Wheaton College president Dr. J. Richard Chase asked for a copy for his personal files; part of this was undoubtedly kindness, but the kind gesture was against a backdrop where he probably had not seen too many works like it at all, even if he searched for them.) I’ve come back to review it, and there are things I wouldn’t say now in this the very oldest and earliest of my works. But my coming back to it after all these years is not so much a matter of recognizing I was young and idealistic and thinking I am practical and realistic now, but looking again and saying that I did not go nearly far enough.

(Coming back years later deepened in the Orthodox spiritual tradition, or at least slightly less immature, my further knowledge has unlocked things in my earlier position that I could not understand in my early career as a convinced pacifist.)

But let us not demand perfection from everyone, and give one concession, at least, for lawful gun ownership.

A cue from the military that might matter to gun owners

One Orthodox faithful explained gun ownership and challenged people who regarded gun ownership as simply nothing but a passion of anger. And he explained how, as a loving and careful father, he hopes to never fire his gun “live”, but as a loving and responsible husband and father, he knows what he would do if someone broke into his house with intent to do harm. He would bring such killing to confession, but he had his priorities straight.

(Note that this is reasoning about what would happen in an imagined scenario, not what was happening, a distinction which is important in Orthodox mystical theology.)

I have heard gun control advocates talk about how tragic it was when someone heavily armed opened fire on children; I haven’t yet heard a rebuttal after a card-carrying NRA member answered, “Yes, it was tragic not only that that started, but that there was no one lawfully possessing firearms available to stop the crime. Did you hear about one of those many incidents that never appears on television, where for instance a man armed to kill a bear entered a church sanctuary with intent to do ill, and an off-duty security guard who was carrying a firearm legally and with explicit permission of her church shot and stopped a crime?”

And this may be just my observation, but the primary approach to persuasion taken by gun control advocates is to show hard-hitting images of traumatized people after an active shooter met no speed bump even, and the primary approach to persuasion taken by the gun lobby is to mount a logical argument appealing to research and statistics. Now as a mathematician I understand Mark Twain’s point that there are three types of lies (lies, ______ lies, and statistics), and I don’t put my weight onto statistics I haven’t seen investigated, but the question between gun control and gun lobby isn’t a matter of deciding which side has cooked their books. Perhaps the gun lobby has cooked their books: but it is a little sad when only one side of a discussion argues from research, evidence, and statistics.

I may be hypocritical or a freeloading parasite when I say this, but I do not personally own a gun; I never have and probably never will. I have some skill with firearms, but that is beside the point. But I feel safer now that my state has legalized carrying concealed firearms, with a few asterisks about how to opt out on your property. I would rather be in a situation where there are two guns in a room, owned by a criminal and meant for a crime, and one by a law-abiding citizen intending to stop crime in the most drastic circumstances, than only the gun carried by a criminal. I feel safer knowing that gun-using criminals do not know where there is a lawfully carried firearm, and criminals simply do not know if I am carrying a .45 with hollow-nosed rounds.

But if you’re keepinkeeping a firearm by your bed for self-defense, may I ask if you are also, for instance, investing in good night vision? Have you taken the time to install a respectable home security system? This may be slightly less “sexy” than having a powerful gun at hand, but have you established the powerful and immediate deterrent of flooding your home with light (a thief’s worst enemy) if someone approaches?

And have you considered that it may be easier, after training, to hit someone while shooting out a solid stream of pepper spray—especially in poor lighting, where at least without night vision you can’t really aim—than the few rounds in a gun’s magazine? And that the effects on your house are much easier to clean up from a vile liquid than a few bullet holes after a powerful gun has shot through an intruder’s body and hit the wall behind. Killing someone, however justified it may be, is a traumatic experience; even for trained law enforcement professionals, for instance, killing in the line of duty is trauma and good police chiefs can mandate that an officer who has killed in the line of duty get a year’s counseling. Training as a law enforcement professional or soldier does not change the fact that it is traumatic to kill another person. If I had a choice between stopping a dozen innocent men with pepper spray and stopping one guilty man with a shot through the heart, I know which one I would rather remember when I look in the mirror each day.

For a first cue from the military, snipers, who know well enough how to fire a rifle at a paper target, are given one round and only one round to keep with them, carry, hold, and move around, and then after a couple of days are given one shot to take a “hostage situation” (balloon full of oatmeal or whatever) shot. Most fail the first time. With a bit more training and preparation, it gets to one shot, one kill. But it takes some training to get there. I wouldn’t myself trust that with one shot, cold and in a panic, to hit home.

But with all that preface stated, may I ask people who look for safety via firearms to at least take a cue from the military?

Sun Tzu’s classic The Art of War c. 500 BC, adapted for the business world in sometimes flaky ways, is arguably the greatest classic in military strategy and usually considered to be less dated than the best of the best from 100 years ago.

If one were to condense the multi-faceted classic into a single sentence, it should probably be one gem taken from the text, “All warfare amounts to deception.” To put it starkly, war is not achieved by killing people, with psychological considerations in any sense being a side issue. War is about deceiving people; killing people has more of a supporting role than anything else. The terms “strategy” and “strategem” are forms of the same basic word; they amount to how to trick the opponent. You don’t win well by killing each other’s soldiers and seeing who has some left over at the end; military forces at any rate fall apart at a third (maybe less) casualties, and rank and file U.S. troops have guns and ammunition intended to seriously wound in the average case, but not kill. (Part of this is love for enemies; part of it is a tactical consideration that if you instantly kill an enemy soldier, you take one man out of action; if you seriously wound a soldier with a wound that may be treatable, you take three men out of action.)

One ancient account talks about how a military leader stripped a force of thousand down to a few hundred, and gave them torches and the shofars that one would use at the head of a host. Then they crept around the host, surrounded it, and blasted the horn. The entire enemy warhost, “like the sand at a seashore for multitude”, fell into deep panic and was routed, falling to each other’s swords (original text).

World War II might have been won under even more dire circumstances, but at least it was not the armies of second-born sons whose blood was poured out like water who won D-Day without strategem. Also contributing to that scenario was an enormous effort to build up rubber balloon versions of tanks at the like, massing to look from the air like the Allies were intending to invade from the point where the English Channel was narrowest, but sent a double agent to keep Hitler believing the D-Day invasion was just a diversion and keeping his main forces to where the channel was nearest and therefore out of the way when the breach was made on Normandy breach.

What does this have to do with home security? Everything. You’re not firing on all pistons if you stop with a gun, and I do not mean that you need more firepower, or really even more gadgets.

Jack MacLean’s Secrets of a Superthief says, on the cover:

“They said I was the best, the one the police called the ‘Superthief.’ Before I went straight I picked every lock, turned off every alarm, found every hiding place. I know how burglars get inside—and gets them out. If you’re smart, you’ll pay attention to what I have to say…”

Possibly the most valuable observation in the text is that home security should be 60% psychological and 40% physical, and it is seriously confused to think that you can win a physical arms race with a thief who wants to get in and isn’t afraid of you. If you change your doors for heavier doors and less glass then a determined intruder will just change an already big crowbar for an even bigger crowbar. Then what other options are there? the book has some options; drawn from it:

Situation: There is an intruder accidentally making sounds in your house, or at least you think it is an intruder.
You say, crossly, with irritation and as much frosty, icy condescension as you can muster, “Yes, Sweetie, I know what the machine gun will do to the walls. I don’t care. I’m going to give 60 more seconds for the SWAT team to get here, and then I’m taking care of it MY way.”

Situation: A thief is casing your back door for possible entrance.
Have a clearly scribbled note on your back door, fresh-looking note that says, “Honey, will you please talk to Billy? He’s let that stupid pet rattlesnake escape his cage again, and right now, I can’t even find that idiotic scorpion! Can you explain to him that this is UNACCEPTABLE?”

(Women have sometimes taken to putting a pair of size 17 men’s boots outside the door each evening.)

Does it work? Perhaps you may not sound entirely believable, but nerves roughened by intruding in unknown situations where you don’t know how people are armed and you could legally be killed tell a different story. (The “Superthief” tells of not being able to count how many terrifying times he heard a barking dog answered by “Shaddap, Max!”

The most implausible note he described, more humorous than believable, was a notice when he wanted people to leave him alone, was a note saying that he had a severe case of crabs, and the crabs were strong enough to break people’s fingers with their claws.

However, it was enough to motivate other convicted felons in prison to simply leave him alone.

There’s a lot that can be accomplished by violence in certain very unhappy circumstances, and Gandhi respected those who use force nobly. Seriously, he did:

The people of a village near Bettiah told me that they had run away whilst the police were looting their houses and molesting their womenfolk. When they said that they had run away because I had told them to be nonviolent, I hung my head in shame. I assured them that such was not the meaning of my nonviolence. I expected them to intercept the mightiest power that might be in the act of harming those who were under their protection, and draw without retaliation all harm upon their own heads even to the point of death, but never to run away from the storm centre. It was manly enough to defend one’s property, honour or religion at the point of the sword. It was manlier and nobler to defend them without seeking to injure the wrongdoer. But it was unmanly, unnatural and dishonourable to forsake the post of duty and, in order to save one’s skin, to leave property, honour or religion to the mercy of the wrongdoer. I could see my way of delivering the message of ahimsa to those who knew how to die, not to those who were afraid of death.

– Gandhiji in Indian Villages by Mahadev Desai

But there is more…

…and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

“Our social program is the Trinity”

Of all the brief sayings that most mystifies people, “Our social program is the Trinity” may be the most confusing. A social program includes a blueprint for some more or less vaguely Utopian social order, and how by civil war politics it is possible to influence, manipulate, coerce, intimidate, bamboozle a plan to concretely build things on earth. And given such a bulleted list of key features to a social program, it seems an extremely strained reading of the doctrine of the Trinity.

But may I ask: What about devout Christian family communities saying, “Our juvenile correctional system is parents who love each other, stay married to each other, and love and discipline their children?” That’s wordier, but the key point lies in a similar vein. If you go to a staunch Evangelical community, you may not see terribly many prisons, courthouses, correctional officers, and so on and so forth, but the purpose of a staunch Evangelical community is not that it has abundant “department of corrections” responses to a 10-year-old arrested for pushing hard drugs or a 12-year-old arrested for rape; however much there may be support for repentance, an ounce of prevention is worth a much more than a ton of cure, and an ounce of bored children in a less-than-ideal Bible study is worth years of expensive state programs to care for children who have been incarcerated.

And in that sense, prayerful life, or the entire struggle in spiritual discipline, is the Orthodox martial art. Certain threads more than others, but the discipined Orthodox life offers more than a martial art as wholesome homes offers something better than a state Department of Corrections or a doctrine of the Trinity that effectively answers social planners: “There are more things in Heaven and earth, visible and spiritual, than are even dreamed of in your ideologies.”

Orthodox have various statements of how monasticism and the laity are compared, if they should be; I am of the opinion that it is beneficial to monastics to regard laity as fully equal, and laity to regard monastics as immeasurably above them. But some things in monasticism are falsely criticized as “just because it’s monasticism:” taking passages of the Bible at face value is not, or at least should not, be a particularly distinctive feature of monasticism. And some people have said that Lent is just how Orthodoxy should be year round, and it makes sense to say that the bulk of monasticism is just how all Orthodox Christians should be.

Monasticism is privilege.

Monasticism is privilege, easily on par with a full ride scholarship at a top-notch university. But doesn’t it entail poverty, obedience, and chastity? Well, of course. Aren’t they difficult? Yes. But the vow of poverty, of never providing for your future self, is a vow of accepting the Providence who knows and loves you (past, present, and future) more than you could possibly ask. It is one of three medications that carves out a niche for abundant health. Perhaps most laity should observe chastity through faithfulness, but it is the same virtue that powers one practice and the other.

We are to be as the birds of the air, highlighted in the Sermon on the Mount:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Do you think you can add one single hour to your life by taking thought? You might as well try by taking thought to work your way into being a foot taller! And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or, ‘What shall we drink?’ or, ‘Wherewithal shall we be clothed’? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

There is something very powerful here, a something that is missed in business as usual in the U.S. Business as usual means heaping up treasures on earth, saying “God helps those who help themselves” (a quotation from Benjamin Franklin not found anywhere in the Bible), to be your own Providence. The idea that we are to do God’s job as our Providence is at times treated harshly by Christ (Luke 12:15:

And [Jesus] said unto them, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”

And he spake a parable unto them, saying, “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?’ And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.’ But God said unto him, ‘Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?’ So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

I wrote about the husband who owned a gun as a means of being responsible towards his family: but my inward wincing was less that firing a gun is not turning the other cheek, than that he responded out of a spiritual illusion. This side of the Fall, we cannot ever arrange things right, and we do not do well to oust God so that we can get back to steering the helm of our lives ourselves.

It may or may not be appropriate for Orthodox laity to arm themselves, but whatever other reasons there may be for arming yourself, shutting off risk is not one of them. It is non-negotiable that no matter what hedge we surround ourselves with, the sand we grasp will slip through our fingers, and this is actually good news: we have another option, living the Sermon on the Mount, not harmed because we do not have control, and free because we know we do not need to have control, open to a larger world than the constricted world we keep on making for ourselves.

There was a Linux fortune that said, on eloquent terms that I cannot fully reproduce, that there were a bunch of starfish clinging to rocks on the bottom of a rapidly flowing river, holding the rocks tightly and terrified they would lose their grip. Then one of them suddenly let go, was battered against a few rocks, and then finding a place in the flow. And, perhaps in a dig at Christianity, the other starfish who didn’t get it called the one starfish a Messiah and worshiped him while continuing to cling, and remaining terrified of losing their grip on the rock.

(But we are called to do both worship the Man, and imitate him.)

The Sermon on the Mount would almost speak more strongly about violence being unworthy of Christians if it didn’t address violence. The direct mention shadows the overarching theme, where silence speaks more powerfully than words.

But there are in fact words:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:’ But I say unto you, ‘Ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.’ But I say unto you, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;’ Ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

St. Paul’s empatic plea to Christians to not demean themselves and the Church by secular lawsuits against fellow Christians (Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?) is cut from the same cloth.

But there is more.

How does the Orthodox Christian martial art really work?

Returning the theme of monasticism as privilege, one aspect of the depth of monasticism is that monks are not to defend themselves by force. When they are accused, they are not to defend themselves in words, as Christ Himself remained silent before Pilate (Note:…and terrorized Pilate more than any threat could have done). And this is not exactly a mainstream approach in the West. It’s a bit of an oblong concept: something that is a common assumption between the various permutations of pacifism and just war is that, once you’ve decided what are the appropriate means for self-defense, you can and should use the most effective appropriate means to end the danger with minimal harm to yourself and others. It just goes without saying that whatever limits may be, obviously defending yourself with speech is appropriate. But the monastic interpretation of “Ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” is quite simply that we are not to defend ourselves. We are not to defend ourself by means of lethal force; we are not to defend ourselves by means of less lethal force; we are not to defend ourselves even by words; we are not to defend ourselves even in thoughts. Not a single angry thought is permitted to us, and there are two kinds of power that we wield after renouncing power.

The first kind of power, the (relatively) obvious one, is highlighted in a story from A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul:

In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10-year old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him. “How much is an ice cream sundae?” “Fifty cents,” replied the waitress. The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied a number of coins in it. “How much is a dish of plain ice cream?” he inquired. Some people were now waiting for a table and the waitress was a bit impatient. “Thirty-five cents,” she said brusquely. The little boy again counted the coins. “I’ll have the plain ice cream,” he said.

The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table, and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and departed. When the waitress came back, she began wiping down the table and then swallowed hard at what she saw. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies – her tip.

C.S. Lewis’s article, “Why I Am Not a Pacifist” which would be more accurately be titled, for what it says, “Why I Believe No Christian Should Be a Pacifist Nor Have Either Their Church Teachings or Their Conscience Respected As a Conscientious Objector,” dismissed what appeared to be Gandhi’s toolchest as a dog lying in a manger (as in “Aesop’s Fables:” which not only does not eat but also prevents other animals from eating). And it is not clear to me that all of the tools Gandhi used are appropriate: I’m not sure there is ever reason to seek out suffering, and after the Church’s decision to both canonize St. Ignatius (who brought martyrdom down on himself), and forbid future Orthodox Christians from trying to provoke martyrdom, apart from strained readings of the Sermon on the Mount, I can’t remember seeing any subsequent interpretations of hunger strike as appropriate. In other words, the Sermon on the Mount may give us tools, including a Do not resist evil that is never separate from the more foundational Truth in Do not worry, does not justify other tactics such as civil disobedience without direct provocation, or hunger strikes.

There’s plenty of reason for fasting, of course, but fasting is not a tool for straightening out God and his Providence: fasting is a tool to let God straighten you out. And in fact the Sermon on the Mount tells us that fasting, like prayer, should be as secret as manageable. Then it can reach its full power. However, Lewis himself may have furnished the most touching portrayal of Gandhi’s toolbox in Christian literature of all that I have read, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

“Hail, Aslan!” came his shrill voice. I have the honor—” But then he suddenly stopped.

The fact was that he still had no tail—whether that Lucy had forgotten it or that her cordial, though it could heal wounds, could not make things grow again. Reepicheep became aware of his loss as he made his bow; perhaps it altered something in his balance. He looked over his right shoulder. Failing to see his tail, he strained his neck further till he had to turn his shoulders and his whole body followeed. But by that time his hind-quarters had turned too and were out of sight. Then he strained his neck looking his shoulder again, with the same result. Only after he had turned completely round three times did he realize the dreadful truth.

“I am confounded,” said Reepicheep to Aslan. “I am completely out of countenance. I must crave your indulgence for appearing in this unseemly fashion.”

“It becomes you very well, Small One,” said Aslan.

“All the same,” replied Reepicheep, “if anything could be done . . . Perhaps her Majesty?” and here he bowed to Lucy.

“But what do you want with a tail?” asked Aslan.

“Sir,” said the Mouse, “I can eat and sleep and die for my King without one. But a tail is the honor and glory of a Mouse.”

I have sometimes wondered, friend,” said Aslan, “whether you do not think too much about your honor.”

“Highest of all High Kings,” said Reepicheep, “permit me to remind you that a very small size has been bestowed on us Mice, and if we did not guard our dignity, some (who weigh worth by inches) would allow themselves very unsuitable pleasantries at our expense. That is why I have been at some pains to make it known that no one who does not wish to feel this sword as near his heart as I can reach shall talk in my presence about Traps or Toasted Cheese or Candles: no, Sir—not the tallest fool in Narnia!” Here he glared very fiercely up at Wimbleweather, but the Giant, who was always at a stage behind everyone else, had not yet discovered what was being talked about down at his feet, and so missed the point.

“Why have your followers all drawn their swords, may I ask?” said Aslan.

“May it please your High Majesty,” said the second Mouse, whose name was Peepiceek, “we are all waiting to cut off our own tails if our Chief must go without his. We will not bear the shame of wearing an honor which is denied to the High Mouse.”

“Ah!” roared Aslan. “You have conquered me. You have great hearts. Not for the sake of your dignity, Reepicheep, but for the sake of the love that is between you and your people, and still more for the kindness your people showed me long ago when you ate away the cords that bound me on the Stone Table (and it was then, though you have long forgotten it, that you began to be Talking Mice), you shall have your tail again.”

On an immediate level, this is what nonviolent resistance may seem to have. But the “big picture” realization was one that I realized in discussion with one friend about “What will you do in situation X [which had not, and has not, happened]?” and I told a joke:

A young man who was a prospective captain of a ship was being quizzed about how he would handle difficulties.

The person quizzing him said, “What would you do if a storm came?”

“I’d drop an anchor.”

“OK; suppose that the anchor gets stuck and won’t come up, and later on another storm came up again. What would you do?”

“I’d drop another anchor.”

“Ok, and if that gets stuck and won’t come up, and later on you see another storm, what would you do?”

“Where on earth are you getting all these anchors from?”

“From the same place you’re getting all these storms from!”

Fr. Thomas Hopko’s 55 Maxims says, “Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis, figuring things out,” and connects with “What would you do in situation X?” and the point I tried to make in Treasures in Heaven: The Inner Meaning of “Do Not Store Up Treasures on Earth. We are not to store up treasures on earth only in things external to our bodies; we are not to store up internal treasures on earth, things that exist in our minds.

One of these kinds of false treasure exists in terms of our perceived need to map everything we do out in advance. One teacher talked about how some scholar claimed to map out what St. Irenaeos would have said in various circumstances that hadn’t happened: “What would St. Irenaeos have said if Adam and Eve, with their immediate children, had not sinned, but their grandchild did?” And regardless of the content of such scholarship, it is imposing on St. Irenaeos something utterly foreign to his mindset. As I have seen the academic community today, it is natural both to ask, “What is …?” and “What would …?” when trying to understand something. In patristic writers, only one of the two basic kinds of questions is valid for understanding something: “What is …?” And no real saint that I am aware of announces that we must have a plan that anticipates every possibility before we act. Part of the point in the Sermon on the Mount is that there is no need for planning. It is as if this dialogue plays out:

God: Will you trust me on this?

Us: I don’t know. I’m trying to trust you, but I really don’t understand what you are trying to do with me here.

God: I know you don’t know. That’s my point. As your Spiritual Father, I am not asking you to do my thinking for for me. I am asking you to trust me. Do you trust me?

Us: I’m trying to fit things together, really I am, and maybe can work together if I am able to work out a plan. Could you work with me on this?

God: I am very interested in working with you. Do you trust me?

It is not my point—and probably not my position—to try to tell fellow Orthodox what saints’ footsteps they may follow. There are warrior-saints, and then there is St. Acacius, mentioned in St. John Climacus’s Ladder of Divine Ascent, who obediently served an abusive elder for nine years until he died, and when asked at his grave, “Brother Acacius, are you dead?” called out from beyond the grave, “No, Father, how is it possible for an obedient man to die?” And there are many others of various stripes, a kaleidoscope to the glory of God.

It is not my point—and probably not my position—to tell other Orthodox Christians whether they should join the military, or under what (if any) conditions firearm ownership is appropriate, or other questions regarding violence. I have a hunch that a good set of bright lights that turn on instantly whever someone approaches your house may, at least by itself, provide a more effective deterrent than a gun for when an intruder is already in your house. And it may be a mistake to assume that the real “I’m taking it seriously” way to address threats is something that starts with weapons. However, at least for the sake of argument, I do not wish to give a prescription for how others may relate to violence. But it is my direct wish to challenge the main assumption that keeps popping up when Christians regard violence as the real practical power.

One point regarding the Sermon on the Mount is that this side of Heaven, control that you plan out is simply impossible. The task is not to God’s thinking for him; it is to accept his Providence as intended to bless you entirely, and trust him with the complete trust that the Sermon on the Mount cries out. This may mean being with the birds of the field and the lilies of the field, and being so with (in some cases) or without openness to using violence. And, though this is a lesser point, I’m a little wary of a second assumption that lurks under the covers: “Pacifism is idealistic and appropriate for an ideal world, while sometimes using force is what works in the non-ideal world that we have.” But there is confusion for people stressed and worried to give that line to “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” I’ve had times with more stress in my life, and times with less, and it may more be true that in an ideal world, we wouldn’t need “Each day has enough trouble of its own, but in the rough circumstances in which we live, we need to take things one day at a time, and we need it much more than we would if we were in Paradise.

One ex-military person I spoke with talked about how top brass would keep on waking everyone up at very late night / early morning, sound the alarm, say the USSR was invading NOW, and everybody had to get up and go out to the tanks. And so soldiers would grudgingly walk out, dragging their rifles by the muzzle, and get into the tanks, and the live question in everyone’s eyes was whether the officers would call off the exercise before they got the tanks out and into mud. The live concern here is whether the soldiers would have to clean the mud off the tanks for moving into the field the next morning. And he talked about idealistically believing that if only he and his colleagues trained hard enough, no one would attack anyone else.

I remember hearing a missionary’s kid who grew up somewhere on the African continent saying, “You can’t defeat people who have nothing to lose!” and thinking that that sounded awfully idealistic, something I really wanted to believe but couldn’t, but that was over a decade ago, and since then the U.S. has been involved in multiple wars against third world nations and perhaps won none of them. World War I proudly paraded a mechanized army down to California for a sort of extended field training exercise where the entire mechanized army failed to apprehend the one single Mexican bandit that they were searching for. In Vietnam, the U.S. strategy was, “Our cool gadgets will win this war for us,” the Viet Cong’s strategy was to maximize the war’s unpopularity back home (“ballbuster”: a non-lethal anti-personell mine used by the Viet Cong, just powerful enough to crush testicles), and the present strategy in the present conflict of shooting at ISIL from the air and arming jihadists to fight ISIL jihadists is really less of a military strategy, properly speaking, than an all-American marketing strategy.

Having control this side of Heaven is not possible, and believing that firearms can be a way to opt-out of the conditions Sermon on the Mount addresses in its prescriptions. In that sense gun ownership is dangerous, because even if you accept 100% of what NRA advocates say, you have effectively closed your eyes to some of the bedrock of what the Sermon on the Mount says. In another matter, that of finances, the Fathers are quite clear: “That robe, hanging in your closet, belongs to the poor;” “Feeding the hungry is greater work than raising the dead.” If your firearm costs you the ability to live the Sermon on the Mount, drop it off at the police department; it is better for you to enter eternal life as killed where a firearm would have let you stop a crime, than to have your whole body (and your gun with it) cast into Hell.

I might briefly comment that I have brief experience with martial arts, and I have consistently noticed that they had become the driest portions of my spiritual life. Firearms and martial arts, if they are to be useful, depend on constant practice and preparation. As the banner for every school but one of Kuk Sool Won, “We need more practice!” At the grandmaster’s school, the banner says, “You need more practice!” The common concensus is that with martial arts, you fight noticeably better within months, but real mastery takesyears, and years, and years. And even then you don’t have a money-back guarantee; any martial arts instructor worth anything will make it clear before you reach black belt level (arguably before you reach anything above white belt) that martial arts instructors will make it abundantly clear that martial arts are no silver bullet; you may be safer in a conflict but not safe against every threat; someone testing for black belt can, if arrogant enough, wind up with a hole in the head. There have been attempts to make something simply easier to learn and remember—Goshin Jitsu is meant to be simple and effective—but keeping up on a martial art just because it might be useful in a fight is a bit like spending a few hours a week practicing a spare profession so that if you happen to lose your job you have a spare profession ready and waiting for you. It’s a lot of work, and it’s no more of a guarantee at that.

And there is a spiritual toll for practicing violence over and over and over. You sink in a lot of time that might be better spent sharpening your skills in your own profession. Aiki Ninjutsu talks about becoming a compassionate protector of others, and talks about building great compassion to offset the incredible destructiveness of the techniques. With all due respect, I need to give all the compassion to others that I can give, without preventably siphoning it off to offset other considerations. Perhaps you can numb or ignore what it feels like to practice violence on others and have others practice violence on itself; and martial arts have an occult ambiance; the concept of ki / qi / chi is a Buddhist practice, not really Christian, and there is a good case to be made that it’s magical, even without taking a common sense look at the philosophies Eastern martial arts draw on, which are almost invariably laden with an occult dimension.

…and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

Thoughts Which Determine Our Lives

Much of what I wrote in Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: Beyond The Secret and the Law of Attraction relates here. After Providence, here is perhaps the core payload for what is the Orthodox martial art.

The English word “practice” has two senses. One is, as a musician says, “I’m practicing,” meaning, “I am taking time to make dry runs at this skill and sharpen it as much as possible.” Or one speaks of a doctor “practicing medicine,” meaning “I am exercising and doing the proper live activity in my profession.” I will use the terms musician-style-practice and doctor-style-practice to distinguish the two meanings

With both firearms and martial arts, you need to practice to keep an edge, practice in the sense of the musician-style-practice. Competence requires an ongoing time sink. But live doctor-style-practice, comes very, very rarely.

One communication textbook talked about what your odds were for being assaulted on your way home: 1 in 10, 1 in 100, 1 in 1000, or 1 in 10,000. The point was that the more TV you watch, the more you overestimate the chances of suffering a violent response. The heaviest TV viewers expected a 1 in 10 chance of assault. The actual figure was the 1 in 10,000 per night figure. Notwithstanding shows glamorizing a highly romanticized view of law enforcement—when did a police show ever depict an officer filling out an hour of paperwork, or spending a day doing a daily grind of dull responsibilities—police officers draw their weapons (excluding training) perhaps once every few years.

In the musician-style-practice, you only practice very, very rarely, even including officers. No matter how much preparation it takes to keep a sharp edge, live doctor-style-practice is, and should be, very rare.

The discipline of nepsis or spiritual watchfulness over thoughts, has more than one relevance, but a nepsis that watches for and cuts off warring thoughts at the first is invaluable. Though this is a different meaning than when I last saw it, “They say that if you must resort to violence, you have already lost.” Read my article Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: then read Elder Thaddeus’s original Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives and learn to appreciate your warring thoughts in deeper ways.

It may seem almost “sexist” that the blame, or at least attention and corrections, should be placed entirely on one side, yours; but this dark cloud hides an astonishing silver lining. If the correction is only put on one side, so is the power to change and make the situation better. Perhaps most (not all) conflicts include a feedback loop of escalating anger (and one that most or all truly good martial artists know how to shut down, by for instance meekly saying, “You’re the tough guy”—and this was a third-degree black belt who meekly and submissively opted out of having to be the tough guy). There is a classic enlightenment exercise where a group of sailors stand in a ring, with instructions to touch the shoulder of the soldier exactly as yours was pressed. And someone touches one of the sailors lightly, with one light finger press. The “equal to what happened to me” results in a heavy finger press, and before too long at all the light touch has become a meaty, and nasty, punch. It is very hard at times, but love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who despitefully use you: but you have the power, many times, to shut down the escalating unmerry merry-go-round that others will not step off of. Not that this is only for pacifists; I have seen soldiers beautifully live out of this power, and people who weren’t specifically soldiers but believed in a just war (a western concept that never really took in Orthodoxy even though Orthodoxy never really places an expectation of becoming a pacifist). If Elder Thaddeus’s sage advice could be summed up in a single maxim, it might be Proverbs 15:1: “Anger slays even wise men; yet a submissive answer turns away wrath: but a grievous word stirs up anger.”

Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye only ends by making the whole world blind.” each day and practicing our nonviolent thoughts (doctor-style-practice) a watchfulness in thoughts that is alert to snuff out smoulders when it is small rather than heroically deluging a burning house, is harder up front, but far easier down the road.

It sounds small, but the results down the road are anything but small.

Holy and blinding arrogance

Elsewhere in The Art of War, Sun Tzu writes:

It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.

And this is far from what the Orthodox Church has to offer. Do we need to know the demons? No. The Philokalia may say as much about demons as any Orthodox writing may have, but we are allowed arrogance such as Sun Tzu would have considered a fatal weakness. As regards the demons, we are to be really, properly, truly, and blindingly arrogant, like the Orthodox elder who was speaking with a novice about a strange clatter the novice heard in a courtyard and told the novice, “It is only the demons. Pay it no mind.” This is cut from the same cloth as the liturgical references to “the feeble audacity of the demons.” The mind takes the shape of whatever it contemplates, hence St. Paul’s words, Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. We should look at Light, not darkness; live the Sermon on the Mount, and then, and not before, will we understand that the Light knows Himself and the darkness; the darkness knows neither itself nor the Light. If the spiritual eye receives things that make an impression on it, it matters what items it receives impressions from. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light: “single” in this context is cut from the same cloth as the Beatitudes that Orthodox chant in Liturgy, confessing in abbreviated form the entire Sermon on the Mount.

It has been said, “You can choose your options, but you cannot choose the consequences of your actions.” You can choose whether to look at Light or darkness: in so doing you may choose, by gazing on the Light, to be filled with peace, or to gaze deeply into darkness (and have darkness gaze into you) by training your eyes on the whirlpool of circumstances all of us face. The option is not presented to try to do God’s thinking for him, and analyze and work out how we will handle the future, and instead of darkness have all of the joys of peace that beholds the Light of God.

O that we could reach far enough into overreaching arrogance that we could, like saints old and new, look upon good and bad people and only see the beauty of the image of God in each!

Conclusion

A lot has been covered here; the past few paragraphs narrate what, in a very specific sense, can be done as the Orthodox martial art. Broadly and in a deeper sense, holiness matters.

We live in turbulent times, as did Elder Thaddeus, who wrote, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, a gift given to me by a friend who gave a very modest recommendation: “It’s not terribly deep, but I find it helpful.”. After reading it and writing, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: Beyond The Secret and the Law of Attraction, I came up to him and told him he’d undersold it. It wasn’t long before he agreed.

We live in turbulent times, and probably more turbulent and rougher as time goes on. But there is an alternative to being whipped out in the vortex of our times and surroundings. (Elder Thaddeus had many sufferings and was repeatedly taken prisoner by Nazis.) We have a choice about whether we will be sucked into it. It might not seem like it, but we do. Psychologists advising addicts say that you have more power than you think. If we are attentive and refuse to consent to thoughts, perhaps praying to God to save us from this temptation, and if we are in anger, praying for God’s every blessing. This is not a quick overall process: it may be something that is a minute to start, and a lifetime to master. But though it may take years and years and years to master, but improvement may start much faster than months.

In Treasures in Heaven: The Inner Meaning of “Do Not Store Up Treasures on Earth”, I try to unpack a small mystical slice of Blessed are the poor in spirit. There is bodily poverty, and monastics are blessed when they let go of physical possessions. But we have many false treasures in terms of ideas in our heads, and the letting-go of these false interior treasures is in step with why my previous parish priest said, “When we are praying, we should not have very good thoughts; we should have no thoughts.” And this has a poverty that is hard to come by. But once you have tasted it, earthly treasures taste suddenly flat. You’ve drunk something purer.

Beyond the Deep Magic of violence

When aggression and violence are met only with meekness and love, what results can be truly powerful. Evil is not always stopped from harming and killing no matter where you fall: witness Satan’s defeat in the martyrs, who are not in any sense killed because they are not good enough as Christians. Martyrdom is implemented by the Devil’s work, but the victor in martyrdom is always and ever in the Lord and in the triumphant martyr entering Heaven in glory as a son of God. What happens in martyrdom, but quite a few other places as well, happens when the Deep Magic of violence runs its course, but when it has run its course, the Devil’s work is transfigured into something immeasurably far beyond anything that the practical nature of violence can hope for. And its primary application is not reserved to the most extraordinary moments in a well-lived life, but the warp and woof of the daily living of those who practice it, be it on ever so small a scale!

Seeing as are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
And such and heavenly treasures are set within our reach,
Let us ever reach,
Further Up and Further In!

Ordinary

CJSHayward.com/ordinary

O Lord my God,
Who hath placed me here and now,
Not in the ages of Christological councils,
Nor in Russia in the 19th century,
But here and now,
Sovereign Master and Lord,
Help me be at peace,
With where thou in thy sovranty hast placed me,
Help me to desire for my ascesis,
What thou in thy sovereign love hast ordained for me.
If I seek harmony with nature,
Let it not be with Protestant heart,
Seeking to reconstruct some romantic golden age,
But let it be the harmony with nature,
Whose radix is virtue,
And a virtue that is found,
In the things that thou hast given,
For there is more harmony with nature,
In contented use of everyday technology,
Loving people and using things,
Self-forgetting in humility,
Than a heart filled with wonder,
In forest glen enthralled,
Self-impressed at return to harmony with nature.

O Lord our God,
Who hast ordained that I might be saved in hesychastic stillness and silence,
Let me beware of technologies whose raison d’être is to deliver noise,
And provide an alternative to ascesis:
Let me not look my thirst to slake,
In broken cisterns that cannot hold water,
In this new technological world forever extended,
For if technology may be used in ascesis,
We may not ask it to slake our thirst,
For asking technology to deliver from boredom,
Is like asking wine to deliver us from the thirst drunkenness creates,
Or narcotics to deliver us from the addict’s low.
Boredom is a passion,
And escape from the ordinary feeds it;
Its cure is repentance,
And serving God here and now,
Our thirst slowly reoriented,
From the mirages of broken cisterns,
To living water,
Which we seek in vain when we seek to escape,
And find given in what we sought to escape from.
We seek to escape a despised here and now,
And so long as we escape,
We close our eyes to the beauty of Heaven,
Unfolding in the here and now:
Paradise is wherever God’s saints are;
The bad news is that we cannot escape,
And the good news is that there is no need:
The bad news is that mirages can never slake our thirst,
The good news is that what we have disdained in chasing after mirages,
Holds a fountain of living water.

O Lord our God,
Help us to respect the ordinary which thou hast ordained,
Help us to be grateful for the here and now,
Whether that is a here and now of first world luxuries,
Or a here and now of suffering increased,
A here and now for spiritual athletes’ to strive,
Let us answer,
Glory to God in all things,
In easy times and in hard,
Whether luxuries are placed within our grasp,
Or we grow ever closer,
To being offered the crowns of confessors and martyrs,
Glory to God in all things,
Let us confess,
Let us pray,
Let us glorify,
Thou who art Lord and God and King,
Thou who reignest,
In all places and all times,
The God sovereign over the Christological councils,
The God sovereign over nineteenth century Russia,
The God sovereign over every age past,
The God sovereign over every age present,
The God sovereign over every age future,
Who hast placed us where we are,
In thy sovereign wisdom,
For our ascesis,
For our growth,
For our struggle,
For our contemplation,
For our glory.
And if we consider ourselves wiser than thee,
As we do if we think we are in the wrong age,
And we would better have been placed in another era,
Let us repent,
And be grateful,
For where thou hast placed us,
And the terms of the ascesis,
Which thou hast ordained for our theosis,
The ordinary terms,
Of ordinary things,
And ordinary work,
And ordinary activity,
And ordinary needs,
And ordinary responsibilities,
For monastic and faithful living in the world,
Alike find their salvation,
In what are their ordinary circumstances,
Anchored in the ordinary,
For when their energy is not spilled out in self-seeking,
Then they are freed to soar to Heaven,
Working in and through a course ordained,
For their salvation.

To thee belongeth glory,
To thee belongeth praise,
To thee is due right ascetical use,
Of every circumstance,
To the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost,
Who hast ordained what is ordinary,
In every place and every time,
And to whom is due,
Right use of the present thou hast given us in the present,
Gratitude expressed in ascesis,
For the terms on which thou hast offered us theosis,
To the Father and to the Son and the Holy Ghost:
Glory to God for all things!
Amen!

Doxology

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

Incarnation and deification

Now

Now

CJSHayward.com/now

Now.

Eternity is now.

Eternity is now,
And Paradise is wherever the saints are.
Forever we are dispersed,
Our minds’ concentration diffused,
Wishing it were a later time,
When something we are waiting for arrives,
A false hope.

Hope abides, with faith and love,
A hope things eternal to wit,
Earthly hopes do not deliver:
“Earthly things cannot give Heavenly comfort,
And in the end earthly things cannot give earthly comfort,
Either:
Heavenly comfort is the only comfort to be had.”
Hoping for change on earth will disappoint:
This is the key to the riddle:
“Two great tragedies in life:
Not to get your heart’s desire,
And to get it.”
The desire for comfort in earthly hopes,
Is a vortex,
Sucking the energy out of life.
But there is another way.

To a thief crucified in torture,
To any man in circumstances dire,
Hear the word of the Lord:
“This hour you will be with me in Paradise.”
And listen to its heart:
Paradise is not when we get some earthly wish;
Paradise is now,
A scattered mind,
Brought home as a dove in peace,
To an earth lifted up to Heaven.

He who wants peace and paradise,
And worries about how to arrange the things of earth,
Is rightly compared,
To a man who wants to swim and clap his hands.

Multitasking is a way to grasp at more,
And let more slip through your fingers,
So you end up grasping less,
And dissipation with it.

“What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
What is the peace achieved by worry?
What is the contentment achieved by acquiring something?
If your desire is frustrated,
Perhaps God wishs to free you to greater goods:
Treasures on earth give only illusory security,
But treasures in Heaven feed us today.
And if you cannot see how God could provide,
Perhaps God is waiting,
To give you something bigger,
To see with the eyes of faith.

Be in your mind,
“A garden locked,”
“A fountain sealed,”
Not dispersed in every direction,
For when we abandon this NOW that God gives us,
And wish a handhold on controlling the future,
Our hearts spill out in every which way,
Losing living water by grasping for an earthly water supply,
“Take no thought for tomorrow,”
And let Living Water enclose Himself,
In the cistern of your heart.

The time for eternal life is now:
The time for obedience is now,
If you procrastinate,
Choosing not to obey now,
Saying, “I can do it later,”
When that “later” becomes “now”,
It will be harder to do now,
Because you have already rejected doing it now.

“Take no thought for tommorow,”
You will more have eternity now,
If your heart is not dispersed,
Dispersed into “What if this?”
Dispersed into “I want that,”
Than if you attend today to what God has given today,
(“Each day has enough troubles of its own.”)
You will be better rested from one night’s sleep,
Than trying your hardest to sleep for a week at once,
You will be better nourished by eating one nourishing meal now,
Than trying to get a head start by eating ten nourishing meals at one sitting,
And leave this now for other imagined moments.

Tomorrow does not come,
As a worry, or a plan, or other distraction:
God has not given it yet,
But when he does give,
He will give it as now.
A now where we will remain in the summons,
To gather ourselves into our heart,
To dismiss thoughts that disperse us,
Present to God,
Present to neighbor,
Present to surroundings,
And Paradise present to us.
When the time comes,
When we will sink or swim,
We will swim,
Because swimming is easier than you think,
When you are only trying to swim,
And not also clap your hands:
“My yoke is easy and my burden is light:
Come to me, all who are weary,
And I will give you rest.”

There is no other time we can obey,
But:
Now.

Now.

Death

Open

Silence: Organic food for the soul

Why This Waste?

Do We Have Rights?

CJSH.name/no_rights


Read it on Kindle for $3!

As we [Paul and Silas] were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by soothsaying. She followed Paul and us, crying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days. But Paul was annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I charge you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the rulers; and when they had brought them to the magistrates they said, “These men are Jews and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs which it is not lawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

The crowd joined in attacking them; and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and every one’s fetters were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”

And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and said, “Men, what must I do to be saved?”

And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their wounds, and he was baptized at once, with all his family. Then he brought them up into his house, and set food before them; and he rejoiced with all his household that he had believed in God.

Acts 16:16-34, RSV

As he [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Silo’am” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar, said, “Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he”; others said, “No, but he is like him.” He said, “I am the man.”

They said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”

He answered, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, `Go to Silo’am and wash’; so I went and washed and received my sight.”

They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” There was a division among them.

So they again said to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight, and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”

His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if any one should confess him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age, ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give God the praise; we know that this man is a sinner.”

He answered, “Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you too want to become his disciples?”

And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”

The man answered, “Why, this is a marvel! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if any one is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of man?”

He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”

Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you.”

He said, “Lord, I believe”; and he worshiped him.

John 9:1-38, RSV

The Gospel today deals with physical blindness, but it is about much more than physical blindness. In this passage, the man who was blind from birth received his physical sight. That is an impressive gift, but there’s more. The passage deals with the Pharisees’ spiritual blindness, but the Church has chosen to end today’s reading with the blind man saying, “Lord, I believe,” and worshipping Christ. When he did this, the blind man demonstrated that he had gained something far more valuable than physical sight. He had gained spiritual sight. The Bible actually gives a few more chilling words about the Pharisee’s spiritual blindness, but the Church, following the Spirit, is attentive to spiritual sight and ends its reading with the man demonstrating his spiritual sight by adoring Christ in worship.

What is spiritual sight? We see a glimmer of it in the passage from Acts, where we read something astonishing. We read that Paul and Silas were stripped, savagely beaten, and thrown into what was probably a dungeon. And how do they respond to their “reward” for a mighty good deed? Do they say, “Why me?” Do they rail at God and tell him he’s doing a lousy job at being God? Do they sink into despair?

In fact none of these happen; they pray and sing to God. Like the man born blind, they turn to God in worship. As should we.

That is advanced spiritual sight. I’m not there yet and you’re probably not there either. But let me suggest some basic spiritual sight: Next time someone cuts you off on the road and you almost have an accident, instead of fuming and maybe thinking of evil things to do the other driver, why don’t you thank God?

What do you have to be thankful for? Well, for starters, your eyes work and so do your driver’s reflexes, you have a car, and your brakes work, and probably your horn. And God just saved you from a nasty scrape that would have caused you trouble. Can’t you be thankful for some of that?

In the West, we think in terms of rights. Almost all of the ancient world worked without our concept of rights. People then, and some people now, believed in things we should or should not do—we should love others and we shouldn’t steal, cheat, or murder—but then there was a queer shift to people thinking “I have an entitlement to this.” “This is something the universe owes me.” Now we tend to have a long list of things that we’re entitled to (or we think God, or the universe, or someone “owes me”), and if someone violates our rights, boy do we get mad.

But in fact God owes none of the things we take for granted. Not even our lives. One woman with breast cancer responded to what the women’s breast cancer support group was named (“Why me?”), and suggested there should be a Christian support group for women with breast cancer called “Why not me?”

That isn’t just a woman with a strong spirit speaking. That is the voice of spiritual sight. Spiritual sight recognizes that we have no right to things we take for granted. We have no right to exist, and God could have created us as rocks or fish, and that would have been generous. We have no right to be free of disease. If most of us see, that is God’s generosity at work. He doesn’t owe it to us. Those of us who live in the first world, with the first world’s luxuries, do not have those luxuries as any sort of right.

I am thinking of one friend out of many who have been a blessing. I stop by his house, and he receives me hospitably. Usually he gives me a good conversation and I can hold his bunny Smudge on my lap and tell Smudge that my shirt is not edible. This is God’s generosity and my friend’s. Not one of these blessings is anything God owes me, or for that matter my friend owes me. Each visit is a gift.

It isn’t just first world luxuries that none of us are entitled to. We have no right to live in a world where a sapphire sky is hung with a million constellations of diamonds. If there is a breathtaking night sky, God chose to create it in his goodness and generosity. Not only do I have no right to be a man instead of a butterfly or a bird (or to exist in the first place), I have no right to be in community with other people with friendships and family. God could have chosen to make me the only human in a lonely world. Instead, in his sovereignty, he chose to place me in a world of other people where his love would often come through them. I have no right to that. I’m not entitled to it. If I have friends and family, that is because God has given me something better than I have any right to. God isn’t concerned with giving me the paltry things I have a right to. He is generous, and gives all of us things that are better than our rights. We have no right to join the seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, powers, authorities, principalities, archangels, and angels—rank upon rank of angels adoring God. Nor do we have any right to live in a world that is both spiritual and material, where God who gives us a house of worship to worship him in, also truly meets us as we work, garden, play, visit with our friends, and go about the business of being human.

Isn’t it terrible if we don’t have rights? It’s not terrible at all. It means that instead of having a long list of things we take for granted as “Here’s what God, or the universe, or somebody owes me,” we are free not to take it for granted and to rejoice at God’s generosity and recognize that everything we could take for granted, from our living bodies to the possessions God has given us to God placing us at a particular point in place in time and choosing a here and now for us, with our own cultures, friendships, languages, homelands, sights and sounds, so that we live as much in a particular here and now as Christ, to a world carpeted with life that includes three hundred and fifty thousand species of beetles, to the possibility of rights. Every single one of these is an opportunity to turn back in praise and worship God. It is an opportunity for joy, as we were created for worship and we find our fullest joy in worshipping God and thanking him. Would you rather live in a world where you only have some of the things that can be taken for granted, or in a world where God has created for you so many more blessings than he or anyone else owes you?

There is, actually, one thing that we have a right to, and it’s a strange thing to have a right to. Hell. We have a right to go to Hell; we’ve earned a ticket to Hell with our sins, and we’ve earned it so completely that it cost God the death of his Son to let us choose anyone else. But Hell is not only a place that God casts people into; it is also where he leaves people, with infinite reluctance, after he has spent a lifetime telling people, “Let go of Hell. Let go of what you think you have a right to, and let me give you something better.” Hell is the place God reluctantly leaves people when they tell him, “You can’t take my rights away from me,” and the gates of Hell are barred and bolted from the inside by people who will not open their hands to the Lord’s grace. The Lord is gracious, and if we allow him, he will give us something infinitely better than our rights. He will give us Heaven itself, and God himself, and he will give us the real beginnings of Heaven in this life. The good news of God is not that he gives us what we think we have a right to, but that he will pour out blessings that we will know we have no right to, and one of these blessings is spiritual sight that recognizes this cornucopia as an opportunity for joyful thanksgiving and worship.

When I was preparing this homily, there’s one word in the Greek text that stood out to me because I didn’t recognize it. When the blind man says that Christ must be from God and have healed him as a “worshiper of God,” the word translated “worshiper of God” istheosebes, and it’s a very rare word in the Orthodox Church’s Greek Bible. Another form of the word appears in Acts but this is the only time this word appears in either the Gospels or the books John wrote. It is also rare in the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint. It occurs only four times: once in IV Maccabees 15:28 where the mother of seven martyred sons sees past even her maternal love “because of faith in God” (15:24) and is called “the daughter of God-fearing [theosebes] Abraham,” and three times in Job where the blameless Job is called a theosebes, or “worshiper of God.” In Job, this word occurs once in the book’s opening verse, then Job is twice called a “worshiper of God” by God himself. The Maccabees’ mother is not even called theosebes herself, but “the daughter oftheosebes Abraham.”

What does this mean? I’m not sure what it all means, but John didn’t use very many unusual words. Unlike several New Testament authors, he used simple language. In the Greek Old Testament, this word is reserved for special occasions, it seems to be a powerful word, and it always occurs in relation to innocent suffering. Job is the very image of innocent suffering and the Maccabees mother shows monumental resolve in the face of innocent suffering—the text is very clear about what it means for a mother to watch her sons be tortured to death. The Gospel passage is about innocent suffering as well as spiritual sight. When the blind man calls Christ a “worshiper of God,” he is speaking about a man who would suffer torture for a miracle, before Paul and Silas, and this little story helps move the Gospel towards the passion. But Christ says that the blind man suffered innocently, and I’m not sure that we recognize all of what that meant.

People believed then, as many people believe now, that sickness is a punishment for sin. The question, “Who sinned? Who caused this man’s blindness?” was an obvious question to ask. And Jesus says explicitly that neither this man nor his parents sinned to bring on his blindness. Jesus, in other words, says that this man’s suffering was innocent, and he was saying something shocking.

What does this have to do with spiritual sight?

Spiritual sight is not blind to evil. The Son of God came to destroy the Devil’s work, and that includes sin, disease, and death. Sin, disease, and death are the work of the Devil. The woman who survived breast cancer who suggested there should be a Christian support group called “Why not me?” never suggested that cancer is a good thing, and would probably never tell a friend, “I wish you could have the sufferings of cancer.” When Paul and Silas were beaten with rods, being spiritual didn’t mean that they didn’t feel pain. I believe the beatings hurt terribly. Sin is not good. Disease is not good. Death is not good. Spiritual sight neither ignores these things, nor pretends that they are blessings from God. Instead, God transforms them and makes them part of something larger. He transformed the suffering of Paul and Silas into a sharing of the sufferings of Christ, a sharing of the sufferings of Christ that is not only in the Bible but is written in Heaven. I’ve had sufferings that gave terrifying reality to what had always seemed a trite exaggeration that “Hell is a place you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.” My sufferings are something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and it is terrifying to realize that Hell is worse. So why then is spiritual sight joyful?

C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce describes a journey. This journey begins in an odd place, and one that is not terribly cheerful. Anyone can have anything physical he wants just by wishing, only it’s not very good. The ever-expanding borders of this place are pushed out further and further as people flee from each other and try to get what they want.

A bus Driver takes anyone who wants into his bus, which ascends and ascends into a country that is painfully beautiful to look at, where not only are the colors bright and full but heavy, rich, and deep. It is painful to walk on the ground because the people who got off the bus are barely more than ghosts, devoid of weight and substance, and their feet are not real enough to bend the grass. This is in fact a trip from Hell to Heaven, where Hell is mediocre and insubstantial, and Heaven is real and hefty beyond measure, not only beautiful and good but colorful and rich and deep—and infinitely more real than Hell. One part that really struck me was that when Lewis’s Heavenly guide (George MacDonald) explains why a woman in Heaven, whom MacDonald said had gone down as far as she could, did not go so far as descending to Hell:

“Look,” he [MacDonald] said, and with the word he went down on his hands and knees. I did the same (how it hurt my knees!) and presently saw that he had plucked a blade of grass. Using its thin end as a pointer, he made me see, after I had looked very closely, a crack in the soil so small that I could not have identified it without his aid.

“I cannot be certain,” he said, “that this is the crack ye came up through. But through a crack no bigger than that ye certainly came.”

“But—but” I gasped with a feeling of bewilderment not unlike terror. “I saw an infinite abyss. And cliffs towering up and up. And then this country on top of the cliffs.”

“Aye. But the voyage was not mere locomotion. That buss, and all you inside it, were increasing in size.”

“Do you mean then that Hell—all that infinite empty town—is down some little crack like this?”

“Yes. All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World. Look at yon butterfly. If it swallowed all Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or have any taste.”

“It seems big enough when you’re in it, Sir.”

“And yet all loneliness, angers, hatreds, envies and itchings that it contains, if rolled into one single experience and put into the scale against the least moment of the joy that is felt by the least in Heaven, would have no weight that could be registered at all. Bad cannot succeed even in being bad as truly as good is good.”

Bad cannot succeed even in being bad as truly as good as good is good, and spiritual sight knows this. To have spiritual sight is not to close your eyes so tight they don’t even see evil, but to let God open your eyes wider. Our eyes can never open wide enough to see God as he truly is, but God can open our eyes wide enough to see a lot. Why were Paul and Silas able to turn from being viciously beaten and imprisoned to singing and praying to God? For the same reason a butterfly from Heaven could swallow all of Hell without it even registering. In that image of Heaven, not just the saints but the very birds and butterflies could swallow up Hell. This is just an image; the Real Place, real Heaven, is far more glorious.

Death is swallowed up in victory. Let us let spiritual blindness be swallowed up by spiritual sight that begins to see just how much God’s generosity, grace, mercy, kindness, love, and 1001 other gifts we have to be thankful for. Let us worship God.

Our Crown of Thorns

Exotic golden ages and restoring harmony with nature: anatomy of a passion

How to Survive Hard Times

A Pet Owner’s Rules

A Pilgrimage from Narnia

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Read it on Kindle for $3!

Wardrobe of fur coats and fir trees:
Sword and armor, castle and throne,
Talking beast and Cair Paravel:
From there began a journey,
From thence began a trek,
Further up and further in!

The mystic kiss of the Holy Mysteries,
A many-hued spectrum of saints,
Where the holiness of the One God unfurls,

Holy icons and holy relics:
Tales of magic reach for such things and miss,
Sincerely erecting an altar, “To an unknown god,”
Enchantment but the shadow whilst these are realities:
Whilst to us is bidden enjoy Reality Himself.
Further up and further in!

A journey of the heart, barely begun,
Anointed with chrism, like as prophet, priest, king,
A slow road of pain and loss,
Giving up straw to receive gold:
Further up and further in!

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner,
Silence without, building silence within:
The prayer of the mind in the heart,
Prayer without mind’s images and eye before holy icons,
A simple Way, a life’s work of simplicity,
Further up and further in!

A camel may pass through the eye of a needle,
Only by shedding every possession and kneeling humbly,
Book-learning and technological power as well as possessions,
Prestige and things that are yours— Even all that goes without saying:
To grow in this world one becomes more and more;
To grow in the Way one becomes less and less:
Further up and further in!

God and the Son of God became Man and the Son of Man,
That men and the sons of men might become gods and the sons of God:
The chief end of mankind,
Is to glorify God and become him forever.
The mysticism in the ordinary,
Not some faroff exotic place,
But here and now,
Living where God has placed us,
Lifting where we are up into Heaven:
Paradise is wherever holy men are found.
Escape is not possible:
Yet escape is not needed,
But our active engagement with the here and now,
And in this here and now we move,
Further up and further in!

We are summoned to war against dragons,
Sins, passions, demons:
Unseen warfare beyond that of fantasy:
For the combat of knights and armor is but a shadow:
Even this world is a shadow,
Compared to the eternal spoils of the victor in warfare unseen,
Compared to the eternal spoils of the man whose heart is purified,
Compared to the eternal spoils of the one who rejects activism:
Fighting real dragons in right order,
Slaying the dragons in his own heart,
And not chasing (real or imagined) snakelets in the world around:
Starting to remove the log from his own eye,
And not starting by removing the speck from his brother’s eye:

Further up and further in!

Spake a man who suffered sorely:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time,
Are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us,
and:
Know ye not that we shall judge angels?
For the way of humility and tribulation we are beckoned to walk,
Is the path of greatest glory.
We do not live in the best of all possible worlds,
But we have the best of all possible Gods,
And live in a world ruled by the him,
And the most painful of his commands,
Are the very means to greatest glory,
Exercise to the utmost is a preparation,
To strengthen us for an Olympic gold medal,
An instant of earthly apprenticeship,
To a life of Heaven that already begins on earth:
He saved others, himself he cannot save,
Remains no longer a taunt filled with blasphemy:
But a definition of the Kingdom of God,
Turned to gold,
And God sees his sons as more precious than gold:
Beauty is forged in the eye of the Beholder:
Further up and further in!

When I became a man, I put away childish things:
Married or monastic, I must grow out of self-serving life:
For if I have self-serving life in me,
What room is there for the divine life?
If I hold straw with a death grip,
How will God give me living gold?
Further up and further in!

Verily, verily, I say to thee,
When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself,
And walkedst whither thou wouldest:
But when thou shalt be old,
Thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee,
And carry thee whither thou wouldest not.

This is victory:
Further up and further in!

Money

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Today the biggest symbol of evil is Hitler or Naziism; there is almost no bigger insult than calling someone a Nazi or a comparison to Hitler. The Old Testament’s symbol of evil that did the same job was a city in which the Lord God of Hosts could not find fifty righteous, nor forty-five, nor forty, nor thirty, nor twenty, nor even ten righteous men. It was the city on which fire and brimstone rained down from Heaven in divine wrath until smoke arose as from a gigantic furnace. It was, in short, the city of Sodom.

Ezekiel has some remarks about Sodom’s sin that might surprise you. Ezekiel 16:49 says, This was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, more than enough food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

These are far from the only stinging words the Bible says to rich people who could care for the poor and do not do so. Jesus said something that could better be translated, “It is easier for a rope to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25). It would take hours or perhaps days to recite everything blunt the Bible says about wealth, if even I could remember so much.

But who are the rich? The standard American answer is, “People who have more money than I do,” and the standard American answer is wrong. It takes too much for granted. Do you want to know how special it is, worldwide, to be able to afford meat for every meal you want it and your Church permits it? Imagine saying “We’re not rich; we just have Champagne and lobster every day.” That’s what it means for even poorer Americans to say “We’re not rich, just a bit comfortable.” The amount of money that America spends on weight loss products each year costs more than it would cost to feed the hungry worldwide. When Ezekiel says that “your sister Sodom” had more than enough food but did not care for the poor, he is saying something that has every relevance to us if we also fail to care for the poor.

I would be remiss not to mention the Sermon on the Mount here, because the Sermon on the Mount explains something we can miss (Matt 6:19-21,24-33):

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also… No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Money.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Do you think that by worrying you can add a single hour to your life? You might as well try to make yourself a foot taller! And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the Kingdom of God and his perfect righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.

This includes a hard saying about wealth, but it is not only a hard saying about wealth, but an invitation to joy. “Do not store up treasures on earth but store up treasures in Heaven” is a command to exchange lead for gold and have true wealth. It is an invitation to joy, and it is no accident that these sharp words about Money lead directly into the Bible’s central text on why we never need to worry.

Elsewhere we read, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” (Luke 12:15), which is not a statement that spiritual people can rise so high that their lives aren’t measured by possessions. It is about everybody, great and small. If money doesn’t make you happy this is not something specially true about spiritual people; it’s something that’s true of everybody. But Jesus’s entire point is to direct us to what our life does consist in. The words about storing up treasures in Heaven prepare us for the “Therefore I tell you,” and an invitation to live a life that is fuller, richer, more vibrant, deeper, more alive, more radiant with the light of Heaven than we can possibly arrange through wealth.

What will we leave behind if we spend less on ourselves? Will we leave behind the Lord’s providence, or hugs, or friendship, or banter, or worship, or the Church, or feasting? Will we leave behind the love of the Father, or Christ as our High Priest, or the Spirit? Will we be losing a Heaven whose beginning is here and now, or will we be pulling out our right hands and our right eyes? If it seems that way, we may adapt C.S. Lewis to say that living the life of Heaven through our finances today may seem like it will cost our right hand and our right eye, or in today’s words an arm and a leg, but once we have taken that plunge, we will discover that what we have left behind is precisely nothing. Or perhaps we could say that we are leaving behind a false Savior who never delivers, but only distracts us from the true Savior in Christ, and the treasure that is ours when we lay our treasures at his feet.

Is there a luxury you could give up in this invitation to joy?

Akathist Hymn to St. Philaret the Merciful

God the Spiritual Father

Maximum Christ, Maximum Ambition, Maximum Repentance

A Pet Owner’s Rules

Monarchy

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I wanted to give a meditation on the mystical theology of kings and monarchs.

As a starting point, I would point out that bishops rightly wear the regalia of the Byzantine Emperor, and the government of the Orthodox Church is monarchical: her bishops are monarchs. And I would like to make a few observations about my own bishop, for whom I am grateful: His Grace Bishop Peter of Cleveland and Ohio (ROCOR). He offers a point of departure for understanding monarchy.

His Grace Bishop Peter’s public bearing is quite regal, and he receives honor publicly. But privately he acts differently, and in quite the opposite way as a Hollywood celebrity who is sympathetic and modest in front of the camera and haughty in private. Quite the opposite, His Grace Bishop Peter is a monk, and like a good monk he tried to run away when he found out he was going to be made bishop. He sleeps in a chair, in a modest apartment. One gets the impression, not so much that he is a bishop, but that he is a monk fulfilling the obedience of serving as a bishop when he would rather live as a more ordinary monk—the kind of monk who may be the best kind of bishop!

All this is in accord with the Philokalia, which prescribes that monks who are in authority publicly act as their office requires, but privately not see themselves as any greater than anyone else. Perhaps some may covet the office of bishop because they see in it a chance to see themselves as greater. But that is something that cannot exist. In a certain sense Bishop Peter’s fine robes are meant for others to see and not him: I may admire how great he is, and be edified, but he may not do so, and it is spiritual poison if he does. There really is something great about being clergy, or bishop, or king, but that greatness should be invisible to the person in the office. It is a trustworthy saying, and worthy of all acceptation: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” Being a bishop or king is no exemption to this rule; if anything, it is a greater demand. Being in office does not make it legitimate to see yourself as better; it just makes this spiritual poison harder to avoid and a greater threat. I may admire how fine His Grace Peter looks in his vestments, and be spiritually nourished by it, but to him it would be poison: there exists no legitimate spiritual license for self-admiration, not even if you are a bishop or a king!

I have coveted the status of being a knight; when Google AdWords advertised “English titles of nobility”, I wish my eyes had not lingered. But this is folly. Wishing a title without responsibilities is like hoping to be married without a spouse. And I think that confusion is a sign of our times: perhaps people have always coveted honor, but if men covet honor when they are taught to be humble, what will they do when schools teach “self-esteem” and pastors encourage “Godly self-respect”? Now to enter a role of service, as servant leader, is another matter: ordination is not at its core about acquiring the honor of a title as entering a role of service (the whole “servant leadership”), and the title that is conferred is for the benefit of others; the honors conferred are a gift to those the candidate is to serve. To be clergy or monarch is privilege, but the privilege is for others, not for oneself. The question, “Is the king for the kingdom, or the kingdom for the king?” is rhetorical: the king is for the kingdom. The reason the Orthodox practice is to have bishops selected from among monks is not an indictment of marriage; St. Peter the Apostle, the Rock upon whom Christ built his Church, had a mother-in-law, and every bishop today is less than him. That monks are to be chaste is one part of a deeper reality: a monk is to be a whole burnt offering without remainder, and the reality in the Orthodox Church is that married men may be among the clergy, but its highest rank in particular is chosen from the monks who are peculiarly called to die to the world and be a whole burnt offering without remainder.

The Akathist to the Theotokos tells of the Magi, “The sons of the Chaldees saw in the hands of the Virgin Him Who with His Hand made man. And knowing him to be the Master, even though He had taken the form of a servant, they hastened to serve Him with gifts, and to cry to Her Who is blessed… Rejoice, Thou Who didst enlighten the initiates of the Trinity!” There is a a link here. The sons of the Chaldees came bearing gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Each of these gifts is an emblem: gold of royalty, frankincense of divinity, and myrrh of suffering or sacrifice. And in this trinity of gifts, you cannot rightly pick up one without picking up the others. Every Christian must bear his cross, and if you read the lives of the saints, those who are fragrant with Heaven’s incense are fragrant after a life with deep suffering: they are fragrant with myrrh as sacrifices. And if the question is, “What is a king?” one answer would be, “One whose spirit is gold, but gold that is of one substance with frankincense and myrrh.” It is confusion to want to be a king, but have gold without myrrh. Better to recognize that kingship, divinity, and suffering are of the same substance as they appear in the great hymn to humility:

Let this mind be in you,
Which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the form of God,
Thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation,
And took upon him the form of a servant,
And was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man,
He humbled himself,
And became obedient unto death,
Even the death of the cross.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him,
And given him a name which is above every name:
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
Of things in heaven,
And things in earth,
And things under the earth;
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
To the glory of God the Father.

Here is humility. Here are gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Mystical theology to live out

There is something we are missing if we understand monarchy only as a system of government. The Orthodox Church has words about how oil is used to anoint kings and priests, but these words are from when all the faithful are summoned to be anointed in Holy Week. The image we are made in is not only divine: it is royal. Myrrh is the emblem of sacrifice, of human approach to the divine; oil is the emblem of the divine approach to humans, and it is no mistake that anointing chrism is for all Christians: from ancient times Christ, which is to say the Anointed One, was understood to be anointed with the sacred oil that made prophet, priest, and king. And from ancient times the Church sees that anointing as given to Christians too. It is fashionable to claim a Facebook profile religious affiliation that over-modestly says, “Follower of Jesus”; I have wished it would be appropriate to answer with a stated affiliation of, “Alter christus: ‘follower of Jesus’ means ‘another Christ’!” But that could be over-forceful.

If we are kings, what are we kings of? One chief answer is that we are kings over our work. Whether we be working professionally, or homemaking, or learning how to grow up, or job hunting, or retired and volunteering, all of us are called to work and to work is to reign in the activity of the royal image. Secondly, we are called to rule over ourselves in ascesis. The “Sol Invictus” claim of “I am the master of my fate, I am the master of my soul” is an obscene parody; in quite a different way, in the ascesis of our lives, God summons us to serve as bishop and monarch over ourselves and our passions, conquering them and ultimately being God’s co-worker as they are transfigured. He who says “stewardship” says “royal reign”: if we are to be careful stewards of our time, treasure, and talent, we are to reign faithfully in these, and in other areas of life, in our relationships and in our solitude, we are to reign. And this is real reign.

When I was a graduate student in theology, I winced when people tried to pay me a compliment by saying that by my obscure sources and scholarly rigor I had a real, serious understanding of the Bible, and they merely had a lightweight, devotional understanding of the Bible. I respected the humble appreciation, but this was an entirely backwards understanding. The Bible in its real and dynamic form is used liturgically and devotionally; my difficult scholarly commentaries had a place but were something dead compared to the living devotional use of the Bible. “In humility consider others better than yourself” is spiritually sound, but I winced that people could say that my academic exercises were serious Bible study and their devotional reading was second-rate and fluffy. And in like fashion, monarchy is misunderstood if it means only that one person out of many exercises a political reign. It is a basic spiritual reality, and God summons all of us to be prophet, priest, and monarch.

A potent warning

I have written elsewhere:

Seekest thou a mighty deed,
Our broken world to straighten out?
Seek it not! Knowest thou not,
That the accursed axe ever wielded in the West,
To transform society, with a program to improve,
Is a wicked axe, ever damned,
And hath a subtle backswing, and most grievous?
Wittest thou not that to heal in such manner,
Is like to bearing the sword,
To smite a dead man to life therewith?
Know rather the time-honeyed words,
True and healthgiving when first spoken,
Beyond lifesaving in our own time:
Save thyself,
And ten thousand around thee shall be saved.

In our time and place, this warning is one well worth heeding. One poster I saw showed a picture of Hitler and said, “Politicians. The best argument for monarchy yet.” I find it awfully hard to say that we live under an optimal government. But it’s an impulse shared with a Western half-converter to organize a manifesto to restore monarchy. A manifesto is an axe to depose kings; it is a fundamental error to try to approach monarchy through political activism as promulgated by the West for when you really care and want to make a difference. The fundamental error is almost:

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

To those who are convinced that kingship is ordained by God, I would recall Christ’s sharp question: “Which is greater, the gold of the temple, or the temple which makes that gold sacred?” The gold of earthly kingdoms may be sacred as liberal inventions are not. But the temple of the Kingdom of Heaven is greater, and that is a Kingdom that is established in us. Perhaps it is best to have both the gold and the temple that makes the gold sacred, but that does not mean we should leave the temple so we can bring some gold to be made sacred in it. The Sermon on the Mount bids us, impels us, commands us, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.If there is to be a God-ordained restoration of monarchy, it will be one of “all these things” that “shall be added unto you.” It is a matter of “Save thyself, and ten thousand around thee will be saved.” If you leave this to be practical, you are picking up an axe that cannot but lay waste when its backswing hits.

There may be said to be two archetypes, the saint and the activist. The saint lives to contemplate God; even if this means a life of Ascesis (as one monk described monastic life, “We fall and get up, fall and get up, fall and get up,”), and never reach contemplation in its pure sense, laity in the world live for contemplation. By contrast, the activist lives to change the world, and the activist impulse is like a hydra: cut it off once, and it resurfaces in two other places. But it is not lawful to Orthodox. Many Orthodox saints have changed the world, but this was only because their goal was the goal of contemplation. Orthodoxy has no saying, with the activist, of “Try to make a plan a reality, and you may save ten thousand people.” She only says, and can say, “Save yourself, and ten thousand around you will be saved:” Orthodoxy is not served by the activist, only by the saint.

And be advised that the wicked axe, ever damned, works just as well when people try to recover past glory as when people try to create something new. The Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, neo-Paganism, are but reincarnations of one single phenomenon: people trying to recover long past glory, break off continuities with the immediate past, and separate themselves in a schism further from the recent and ancient past alike. If you reconstruct monarchy, be ready for a backswing that will leave a society further, not closer, to the glory of human monarchy.

But there is another option. Save thyself, and God will change the game.

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

Frankincense, gold, and myrrh: a look at profound giftedness through Orthodox anthropology

The Royal Letters

What the Present Debate Will Not Tell You About Headship

Modus Tollens: Meandering Reflections on Life, Faith, and Politics

(P→Q)∧¬Q ⇒ ¬P

“‘P implies Q’ and not Q” implies not P

Modus Tollens in Propositional Logic

In the pursuit of knowledge,
Every day something is added.
In the practice of the Tao,
Every day something is dropped.

The Tao Te Ching, 48

Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἄμπελος ἡ ἀληθινή, καὶ ὁ πατήρ μου ὁ γεωργός ἐστιν· πᾶν κλῆμα ἐν ἐμοὶ μὴ φέρον καρπὸν αἴρει αὐτό, καὶ πᾶν τὸ καρπὸν φέρον καθαίρει αὐτὸ ἵνα καρπὸν πλείονα φέρῃ.

I am the true Vine, and my Father is the Vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

John 15:2

Tolle, lege.

Take, read.

A child, to the Blessed Augustine

In the steps of logic, interestingly claimed by both the disciplines of mathematics and philosophically (or perhaps, disowned by both disciplines), the proof of any great theorem has something paradoxical. Step by step, you go from one statement to another that is more general and asserts less, until at the end you reach a significant and quite specific conclusion at the end. At each step of the way, there is something you lose and something you give up. But when all the blocks are in places, you have a conclusion that is far more substantial than any of the losses ensued.

Modus tollens, for which this piece is named, is one of two prominent “inference rules” in logic. Modus ponens, the way of adding, powers such syllogisms as, “If all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, then Socrates is mortal.” Modus tollens, by contrast, is the way of taking away, and it powers such syllogisms as, “If all men are mortal and the Archangel Michael is not mortal, then the Archangel Michael is not a man.” Now symbolic logic does not deal too much in concrete syllogisms; it is often concerned with more abstract pursuits, but these provide at least slightly concrete of an illustration of two of the major workhorses in symbolic logic. And they are not mutually exclusive to use; I may take modus tollens as my point of departure for this work, but please understand that it would be absurd to say that a logician who agrees with me would stop using modus ponens in proofs and argument.

Blinding light

When I was young I enjoyed night and darkness, and the beauty that things have once your eyes are accustomed to the night. When driving at night, I loathed headlights: I used them in full accordance with the law, and I was glad that other drivers would see me, but I was painfully aware of something I am much less aware of now: headlights effectively limit my vision to where they are pointing; if I want to look to the side of the road, I see far less than my eyes can see when they are accustomed to darkness. I wrote in my cynical dictionary,

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

It was much later that I would learn that as far as core insight goes, I had reinvented a basic building block of ninjutsu. Ninjutsu recognizes that we see optimally in the dark when we have not seen strong light, such as that produced by cars and flashlights, for at least 20-30 minutes (some would prefer longer). The optimal condition from a ninja’s perspective is to retain such night-optimized vision, while any opponents would see bright lights enough to lose that vision. And there are many layers of insight in that basic perspective: a flashlight is not simply, as a naive user would expect, something that lets us see where we could not see. It works in a way that shuts down our natural night vision, the vision that not only ninjas but a million years of our human race had as the only, and best, way to see in the night. If I may put it in these terms, the ninja preference for “natural night vision” should not be seen as a distinguishing feature that sets ninjas apart from other people today, but a retained continuity with the only game in town for well over 99% of the times humans have walked the earth. I don’t want to downplay or diminish the achievement represented by the whole suite of ninja stealth skills, but trying to retain one’s natural night vision is not so much a matter of “Wow, what insight and skill!” as “They have a clue!”

A supreme instance of a universal law

In the Arthurian Torso, C.S. Lewis makes a point about vicarious salvation: “He saved others, himself he cannot save,” the wicked barb of sarcasm unleashed as Christ hung on the Cross with nails through his wrists and labored breaths piercing his lung, is a definition of the Kingdom. All salvation, everywhere and in every place, is vicarious. Every man may paddle his neighbor’s canoe but not his own. And as regards Anselm, who argued that the race of men owed a debt that could only be paid by a man and simultaneously could only be paid by God, so only God made man in Christ could pay the debt, did not describe a fundamental exception that is irrelevant to the workings of the universe, but the supreme instance of a universal law. “He saved others, himself he cannot save” is written lightly in small letters in our lives and deeply engraved on the most monumental scale in Christ, but we participate in what Christ has offered.

I have referenced Western symbolic logic, the Tao Te Ching, and ninjutsu in connection with “Every branch that bears fruit, [the Vinedresser] prunes that it may bear more fruit.” But the intent is not syncretistic. It is to point to the supreme instance of a universal law. A ninja instructor teaching stealth, I would imagine, might tell someone eager to use a flashlight, “Let me show you what things look like if you put that flashlight away for 20 or 30 minutes.” Robb Wolf, in advocating a neo-Paleo human diet that consists of the same sort of things people ate for a million years before the extremely recent agricultural revolution, says, “Put down that donut. For that matter, put down that organic whole wheat bread, even if it’s not modern wheat but spelt. Would you please try eating just the fuel the human body is made to run on?” But this is not with an intent of syncretism to write some hymn that begins praising Christ and melts into praise of Krishna. The universal law is a law that plays out in many places and is recognized in many ways outside of the Church. For that matter, quite a lot of the Church’s wealth is to be found outside of its proper boundaries; at one place Chesterton defends the Church against things it is charged with simply by calling on The Witness of the Heretics. The boundaries of the Church may rightly be retained, but the Church found Christians before Christ among the pagans as well as among Israel. And pruning is at one stroke a treasure of God in the Church and something forever to be found across the realms of men, who are in any case made in the image of God.

The age of the damned backswing and modus tollens

The Damned Backswing is a real phenomenon, but it need not be the last word; every thing that is taken away can be a cutting of the Vinedresser.

Since ninjutsu decided that it is better for a ninja to have real night vision, artificial light, even of fire, was treated as something that would quench natural night vision. But in our time the pure organic light of incandescent bulbs has been progressively phased out in favor of the plastic light of fluorescent bulbs, whose buzzing is a nuisance even to the blind. There are further steps away from the organic white of incandescent bulbs; LED lights offer a lunar white which is not helpful if you wish to pick out an outfit where the colors fit with each other instead of clashing; lunar white looks white but it provides a greyscale vision with colors barely discernible. (And is there a hint of the future in that lunar white light bulbs have no mercury and take a fraction of a CFL’s power draw?) Once conservatives balked at the brightness of new (incandescent) light bulbs, offering vision comparable to sunlight at any time and any place. But the stern hand of a government that believes it knows better than us may be wielded by one who knows better than government. This One who knows better than government might use the pest of the fluorescent light to draw people to use the day as day and the night as the night. And that may be gain and not loss. We may lose the organic light of incandescent light sources to gain the Organic light of the Sun.

The many ages of modus ponens

Reading, on a doctor’s advice, The Paleo Solution rumbled with a few implications. Probably the biggest change in perspective was that I viewed the New Testament as incredibly ancient, and the Old Testament as even more ancient. The Paleo Solution suggests that the most profound change in the time humans have been around has been the agricultural revolution, which took place after 99.5% of the time people have been around. While Genesis may place nomads alongside builders of cities, Exodus fairly clearly assumes the agricultural revolution has taken place. And even on purely secular grounds the New Testament exists in a closer-to-modern era. Historians may note that people in the U.S. made a very conscious technological decision to have roads connecting places. In the time of the New Testament, there were Roman roads which vastly outstrip any transportation technology in the Old Testament, and the spread of the New Testament, which includes letters to diverse cities, was partly affected by the Roman roads.

And all of that is to look without enlightenment at the Old and New Testaments as well-preserved signposts to where we are technologically today. But let us continue without enlightenment for a moment.

Plastic for breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner

The book It’s Getting Better All the Time could helpfully be placed alongside Nourishing Traditions. The “Publisher comments” on It’s Getting Better All the Time states:

Publisher Comments:

There has been more material progress in the United States in the 20th Century than in the entire world in all previous centuries combined.

Book News Annotation:

This work by economist Julian L. Simon (d. 1998) was left unfinished at his death but was completed and prepared for publication by his colleague, Stephen Moore. The title states the bias, which is further explicated in the introduction: “…there has been more improvement in the human condition in the past 100 years than in all of the previous centuries combined since man first appeared on the earth.” In support, 100 trends pertaining to the health and welfare of, mainly, US inhabitants are presented in graphs, with interpretive text that maintains the “getting better” thrust (and the conservative orientation of the author and the publisher). Interestingly, Simon’s wife injects an alternate view in a brief foreword in which she discusses her reservations about describing the 20th century in the positive terms used in the book, and she tells of her conversations with her husband on the subject. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Synopsis:

There has been more material progress in the United States in the 20th century than in the entire world in all previous centuries combined. Almost every measure of health, wealth, safety, nutrition, affordability and availability of consumer goods and services, environmental quality, and social conditions indicates rapid improvement. With over 100 four-color figures and tables, this book shatters the myths about progress that are often perpetuated by doomsayers in the media and academia.

Nourishing Traditions takes the agricultural revolution as a healthy starting point, but it offers something, even to someone following the Paleo diet, that The Paleo Solution does not. It discusses progress that has been made, and what comes clear is that this is progress from a corporation’s perspective, not progress from a human health perspective. Factory farmed milk, for instance, is not the natural health food it is presented to be. Never mind the question of whether milk represents a part of the Paleo diet. Factory farmed milk has such substances as pus mixed in with the milk from the unnatural condition the cows are under, and 2% milk has its skim portion mixed in from powdered skim milk, and on this point Nourishing Traditions effectively says, “Cholesterol is your friend. Oxidizedcholesterol, such as that produced in powdered skim milk, is your enemy.” I remember one time taking the claim that organic food tastes better as one more marketing ploy to justify Whole Paycheck’s heavy costs. Then, after a time of eating only organic strawberries when I ate strawberries—out of a dutiful sense that it was better for me—I ate a conventionally farmed strawberry and wondered, “What is this that I have bitten into?” My concern here is only incidentally about pleasure, which really does not help us as much as we think. It is something deeper. If you want a rough, unscientific but accurate gauge of how nourishing fruit is, taste how sweet it is. It’s that simple. The taste is not simply a pleasure delivery system; it is also a signal about how nourishing things are for you. And I remember commenting to one parent who was concerned about his children’s sweet tooth, “That sweet tooth is a God-given aid. It should be rewarded, not with candy, but with sweet fruit.” And candy is as bad as nutritionists say it is, but you’d be amazed how sweet the best organic fruit tastes.

I remember picking up a bottle of Aldi’s “Fit and Active” French dressing to read the ingredient list, and stopping at the first ingredient because the first ingredient was corn syrup. This may be progress from a corporation’s perspective, to sell a product consisting large of corn syrup as a health food; it is not progress from a health-oriented savvy consumer perspective.

What has happened with all foods where I live, unless you specifically know what you are doing and are looking for exceptions and are willing to pay noticeably more, is that food is manipulated by chemical wizardry much like a plastic replica. It may be obvious to the discerning that “cherry flavored XYZ” does not exactly has the taste of cherries. The reason why this is the case is that if anything is produced on a mass scale, the engineering process for food finds out what the chemicals are that combine to give a cherry its flavor, and then the cheapest way is found to add these chemicals so that there is a cherry-like taste, but one that heralds none of the health benefits of eating cherries.

And this is, if anything, the subtle objection to It’s Getting Better All the Time. It is the objection that moving from something flavored with cherries to something engineered to taste like it was flavored with cherries is a negative amount of progress. The more obvious objection is not to point to plastic-like engineered foods—or plastic-like engineered pop culture—but to say that we are in an unmistakable global financial crisis, and none of the upward trends discussed in the book are enough to take away the quite bleak economic picture in the U.S., which less than twenty years into the third millenium, is quite drastically failing to retain the prosperity and security of the twentieth century heralded in It’s Getting Better All the Time. If the twentieth century brought more change than anything before, it may be the change that precedes the damned backswing. I know that there are people who like to put a positive face on things, especially with the current president Barack Obama, but I have yet to see a journalist say that the present employment picture and number of people out of work is better than in the 50’s and 80’s. As far as journalists go, I have seen the shift from a war in Afghanistan under Bush that was something we should never have gotten into, to one Nobel Peace Prize later, a war in Afghanistan under Obama with vile enemies who cut off the nose and ears of a woman portrayed on the cover of Time Magazine, because she ran away from an abusive husband. Now I have little doubt that the Taliban did all that and worse, but it was doing all that and worse when the war in Afghanistan was Bush’s war. And with the shift from Bush to Obama, significant progress has been made in reduced jobless statistics, with perhaps the exception of your family and those people you know who are trying to find a job. Not that this is all Obama’s responsibility, regardless of the charge some people make that he wants to make America into a third world nation. The U.S. economy would presumably also be in hard times if McCain had won the election, and it was really quite nasty before Obama took office. ButIt’s Getting Better All the Time champions “change,” and President Obama champions “change,” and both seem to invite multiple aspects of the damned backswing.

In my early work The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, I wrote a story, not of a Grinch trying to kill Christmas by stealing presents, but of a Grinch trying to kill Christmas by overwhelming it with more presents than people would imagine. It tells a story of taking away by giving, and the real story of the twentieth century may not be the logician’s proof that gives away more and more until something substantial is proven, but the opposite story of receiving more and more until true poverty comes, both on a spiritual and on a material level.

Embracing modus tollens

There are many layers to things; there is at least one material layer to the U.S.’s economic condition, and at least one spiritual layer, and the best picture is one that recognizes what is going on materially but recognizes that the outer shell has an inner sanctum and in this struggle we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Politics is important, but even with the best candidates in high political positions the struggle is not about flesh and blood, or about logistics and voting trends. On that score I would quote an Orthodox priest who said, “Whatever happens, I will vote and go to confession.”

And in an age of modus tollens, Satan is nothing more than a hammer in the hand of God. There are layers to events, but not only a material and a physical layer. St. Joseph’s words to his brothers, As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. has more than one dimension, and one dimension is that what Satan means for evil, God means for good. That is the entire point of God the Spiritual Father and God the Game Changer.

We tend to think of God’s Providence in terms of what he gives, but the same Divine Providence that gives also takes away. St. Job lost all of his possessions and then rid himself of the one outward possession the Devil could still take from him, and said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” He lost massive wealth, but the story in its end is not of the Devil’s victory, but of God’s victory in St. Job. Perhaps St. Job never on earth knew what we are told from the beginning, that Satan, the Accuser, the Slanderer who stands before God slandering his saints day and night, found no one he considered worthy of temptation and God allowed his property and his health to be taken away, not as punishment for his sins, but as a champion who held fast to worshiping God no matter what happened to him. By the end of the book, the Devil is made ridiculous and is all but pushed out of the picture; his slanders against St. Job were just that, slander. God changes the game in speaking out of the whirlwind, but the St. Job who lost everything is the St. Job who gained a place standing before the throne of God in glory. God wins, and God wins in and through St. Job.

St. Paul writes of “want” or lacking things, Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. The Providence of God is not only in what we think we need; it also comes with modus tollens, when God takes away what we think we need. St. Paul elsewhere says, There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. That’s a much shorter list of what we consider essentials even for the poor; those who give of their own to care for the poor would generally like to see the poor have housing, for instance, with heating and air conditioning. The general list of things one may have around the poverty line are much longer than “but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” And some of our luxuries are less edifying than they may seem to us; in some sense the Providence of modus tollens may be God taking away a bottle of wine and saying, “You’ve had enough.”

The prophetic word

In Malaysia, one cartoon portrayed Americans at a lavish banquet with half-eaten plates of food set aside casually, while a television showed an emaciated child holding out a hand to give. And where America stands now is a place which the prophetic voice has much to speak to. (Note that by saying this I am not claiming to be a prophet; merely restating what the prophets would have said based on what is on the public record.) We encourage, foster, and nourish narcissism, with each generation more proud than the last. We use our money for ourselves when we could give much more to the poor. We have a number of abortions that exceeds the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust, not to mention embryonic stem cell research. We have the Internet as a porn delivery service, so that a basic household utility now includes unsolicited pornography. We have accepted sodomy as normal, as an alternate lifestyle that others rarely speak out against. It is considered normal for a Christian to practice (Hindu-derived) yoga, and such things as alchemy (celebrated in a patchwork quilt at the American Medical Association headquarters) and Freemasonry increasingly come out, too. Any one of these things would be grave enough; taken together they represent a fall off a moral cliff. And it is old news at best that we patronize sweatshops and otherwise enjoy comfort at the expense of preventable human misery. And God does not let such things slide forever; he gives opportunities to repent, perhaps, and then judgment so that under an iron hand people may learn what they refused to learn by the law of grace. Perhaps, or perhaps not, “[E]ven if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, says the Lord GOD… Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, says the Lord GOD, they would deliver neither son nor daughter; they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness.” applies to our situation. The righteous may be saved by their faith in any case. “The righteous shall live by faith” is originally a quote from the Old Testament when God’s judgment was about to be unleashed.

In any case, after we have gone apostate under modus ponens, it looks as if we shall experience the refining fire of modus tollens, of God providing as he chastises. Not that Barack Obama is devoted to doing the Lord’s will; Buckley’s quote, “I would rather be governed by the first two thousand people in the Boston telephone directory than by the two thousand people on the factory at Harvard University,” applies in full force, and if you say that it seems an extremely uncharitable reading, and unreal, to say that Barack Obama wishes to make the U.S. a third world nation, I would say that you do not understand Harvard Ph.D.’s. Wishing the U.S. were a third world nation is nothing strange for a graduate of Harvard. When he announced that health plans could no longer discriminate on the basis of pre-existing conditions, my first thought was, “He is banking on the premise that Americans can’t do basic math.” Speaking as someone who has worked briefly in the insurance industry, one of the basic rules if you are going to run a profitable insurance business is that you exclude bad risks: if you are an auto insurer, you want people who have few accidents, if any, on their record, and not daredevils with a stream of one accident after another. And you charge less for people with a squeaky-clean driving record than you do to someone who you’re willing to take on but has a few accidents. It may be a wonderful thing in the short term for people with pre-existing conditions to now be able to get coverage, but unless insurance is going to cost vastly more, it cuts away the ability of non-government insurers to do business—as has already started to happen. Fewer businesses are offering health insurance plans.

But this is almost a side point, a distraction. Let us assume the worst, that the President holds no love for America and is re-elected at the next election. The same rules apply.

Tools of God

C.S. Lewis said that all do the will of God, Satan and Judas as instruments, Peter and John as sons. And it is a fundamental mistake to think that Barack Obama is too bad to be an instrument of the Lord’s action. No one, not Satan, is too bad to do the will of God. I’m not sure how to put this delicately, but it is not at all clear to me that it is to the U.S.’s edifying benefit to be a first world nation. Some have said that across history powerful nations have played the role of gangsters and weaker nations have played the role of prostitutes. In The Last Battle, enemies push true Narnians to a stable said to be devoted to the demon-god Tash, and we read:

“I feel in my bones,” said Poggin, “that we shall all, one by one, pass through that door before morn. I can think of a hundred deaths I would rather have died.”

“It is indeed a grim door,” said Tirian. “It is more like a mouth.”

“Oh, can’t we do anything to stop it?” said Jill in a shaken voice.

“Nay, fair friend,” said Jewel, nosing her gently. “It may be for us the door to Aslan’s country and we shall sup at his table tonight.”

Jewel spoke only a guess, but none the less spoke words of truth. It is through that door they meet Heaven, and God’s providence will not be thwarted by leaders who are questionable in their pursuit of goodness. God’s providence is not just for when we have good presidents; it is equally true if we have not-so-good presidents. It has been twice or thrice that modern medicine saved my life, first-world medicine that I doubt I could afford if the present economy worsens and worsens and worsens. But this will not be responsible for my death: all of us die, save one or two like Elijah; mortality is total in every generation. My death may be sooner if good medicine is denied me, but it is inevitable by some means, and as one Orthodox priest said, “There’s nothing that goes wrong in Orthodoxy that a funeral cannot solve.” We will be judged by how we live with the hands we have been dealt, not whether we could have been dealt a better hand, or rather a hand that was more to our liking.

Everything that happens is either a blessing from God, or a temptation that has been allowed for our strengthening

Still God reigns sovereign. Still he rules. Persecutions may come, but only if God allows it, and only the degree that he allows. Persecutions have been one of many ways God has strengthened the Church, and the normal condition of Orthodoxy is to live under hardship, with such things as fasting and voluntary self-deprivation existing as surrogate hardships. And if God’s Providence comes by taking away one thing we think we need, this is not a failure of his Providence but as much a success of his Providence as when he answers our prayers. We may lose artificial light and find our true night vision. All of this is a Providence that whispers in the way of adding, modus ponens, and shouts in the way of taking away, modus tollens.

It has been said, “Whatever you focus on, that is your God.” We are not to focus our attention on the demons; the ?Ladder? says that the proper use of arrogance is towards the demons. Focus on God, and the demons themselves will be ministers of trials and temptations that make you stronger in the sight of God. And while I intend to vote, in one of the most monumental elections in U.S. history, it is a mistake to believe that God will only provide if the election goes as I would wish it to; God’s providential love is not so fragile, nor near to being so fragile.

God the Spiritual Father ever provides, is ever loving, ever Light.

That Beautiful Strength

The Damned Backswing

God the Spiritual Father

Maximum Christ, Maximum Ambition, Maximum Repentance