February 24, 2009

Leaning In

After some searching I finally found the blog that Anna picks at from time to time. Being a fairly new friend I spent a few extra minutes looking over what topics appeal to her in the hopes that I might learn something new about her. I was somehow comforted at the end of my perusal to not know anything new.

Anna is a beautiful person whose eyes are constantly sweeping through a room, awaiting a place to land. (at first this habit made me think she was shy, but now I think she is simply a person who drinks in her environment slowly through a deliberate search.) She is a bit shorter than I, but her movements are long, leisurely, with almost a bit of a hop or a skip to them. I've noticed that she flips her hair over her right shoulder more than her left.

These are the things I've learned about her from being around her about once a week for more than three years. It is possible that I could count for you the number of times we have had a personal conversation, but she is still in my heart.

When I think of Anna, I see her in my mind: leaning in. She might be in the kitchen hugging the blue counters close under her folded arms as she listens and sweeps through the room. Anna could be standing just to my left, but I catch her silhouette in my vision; she is angled forward looking always for what it next.

I would rather get to know a person through years of proximity, than months of digital conversation. I confessed to Joe and David on Saturday night that I feel somehow voyeuristic reading the blog of a person I do not know well, or looking at the facebook page of a friends friend.

Here I am blogging, so I obviously see the live journal as a valuable tool, but if I am not known to a person through the sharing of physical space, I am afraid my writings will not make much sense to them.


February 20, 2009

Some Conclusions

Last night we got together for our Disputation. There was a good mix of folks, and, even though we all agreed that we are pretty new to the practice of sustained discussion about serious topics, we did all right. Rather than try to summarize everything that was said during the evening, I thought I would share with our readers some of the conclusions that emerged from the discussion.
1.Technology is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. For sure, there is a whole lot of it; not only that, but, nowadays, it comes at us pretty fast, and most of us are only familiar with the very basics of these devices that play such an increasingly big part in our lives. Nevertheless, we could all give lots of examples of the good things that recent technologies have enabled us to do.

2.However, we also agreed that there are many aspects of these technologies that bring out the worst in people. In the book, Bauerlein talked at length about how these technologies foster and support perpetual adolescence. But we also discussed the economic pressures that these technologies produce, and the other evils they suborn, such as gambling, pornography, and anonymity.

3. We spent a good deal of time considering what impact these technological and social dynamics will have on the Church. Everyone who participated in the discussion was Orthodox, and everyone expressed relief that the Church does not automatically embrace each new technological development and the social configurations that emerge from those developments. But many of the people present voiced concern over how the Church would be changed even when apparently benign technologies are adopted for apparently good motives.

4.While everyone agreed with Bauerlein's analysis in regards to our culture, no one was especially impressed with his solution—basically, he calls on older people to encourage younger people to interact with the larger culture and to find their identity within the greater traditions of our culture. However, as several of our disputants pointed out, that involves suffering—delayed gratification, hard work, and humility—and one of the main characteristics of adolescence is an aversion to any sort of suffering.

5.In spite of our pessimism about Bauerlein's solution, the overall tone of the disputation was positive. Just about everyone present agreed that we are being inundated by a wave of technology and that a good deal of the energy behind that wave is coming from what Holy Scripture calls 'the world'; eventually, that wave may, in fact, wash us away, but we all agreed that greater is He that is in us and in the Church than he that is in the world.

If you weren't able to participate in the discussion in person, then please join us on-line (and, yes, we are completely aware of the irony in that invitation; but, then, part of the joy of the Faith is embracing the absolute and irreducible absurdity of our life in this world). We would love to hear what you think about all these issues, and we would love to have you show up in person for our next disputation. Check the web-site calendar because we'll be posting the date there in the next few days. Or just wait until your spring issue of The Lamp Post arrives; we will be putting the finishing touches on that number in a week or so.

fr. aidan

February 17, 2009


This coming Wednesday night, February 18th, we are going to have our first Disputation. The subject will be this winter’s featured book, The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein. One of the most interesting sections of the book is Bauerlein’s discussion of the Flynn Effect. James Flynn is a political scientist from New Zealand who has pointed out that IQ scores have been climbing consistently over the last seventy years. So, Bauerlein asks, why haven’t we arrived in “an era of genius”?

His answer is, in part, that IQ tests focus primarily on “abstract problem-solving ability” and not on “learned content” such as “vocabulary, math techniques, and cultural knowledge”, and we are thus not actually getting any smarter. However, I got a completely different perspective when I read Neil Postman’s book Technopoly (it was a Christmas present). Postman has this to say about intelligence testing:
After a lifetime of working in the field of intelligence measurement, EL Thorndike observed that intelligence tests suffer from three small defects: “Just what they measure is not know; how far it is proper to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and compute ratios with the measures obtained is not known; just what the measures obtained signify is not known”. In other words, those who administer intelligence tests quite literally do not know what they are doing.

Bauerlein admits that “IQ tests are controversial”, and his discussion of the Flynn Effect is reserved and appropriately skeptical—and, as I noted, he doesn’t buy into it anyway. But Postman’s outright rejection of such testing has left me thinking about the assumptions that our culture makes and how much work it is to continually counter those assumptions.

But work is easier in groups, and that’s why we are going to have our Disputation. I hope many of you can join us.

fr. aidan

February 14, 2009


I’ve been thinking about community and everything that concept implies. Community is going to be the subject of this fall’s theological seminar, and we’ve already started working on that, but I got a real-life example of someone who just makes community happen this week when Cynthia and I were up in Ft Worth, and we went to visit our Albanian friends, Anesti and Rifi.

Which actually always leaves us exhausted because, even though ‘Nesti and Rifi are a few years older than we are, they are full of energy and constantly on the move and always talking and unbelievably gracious hosts—Would you like something to drink? Would you like something to eat? Please sit over here; this chair is much more comfortable. Would you like to lie down and rest—I can turn down the bed for you?

It has been a couple of years since we had seen our friends, and so they showed us their home—which ‘Nesti had remodeled (he’s a plumber) and Rifi had decorated (she works at Target). ‘Nesti then proceeded to tell us about all his neighbors; he and Rifi have only lived in the house about a year, but ‘Nesti knows everyone on the street, and he’s already done free plumbing for several of them.

This is how he described one of those encounters.
“Ah, this man, he is good man, I think, but he knows nothing about the plumbing, you see, so he ask me if I can look at his bathroom. I look and see right away what is the problem; I go and get my tools and (here there are several swift gestures, a big smile, and then arms raised in the air) all done. This man, he want to pay me money, but I say, No, No, we are neighbors. I love you. And he look at me funny, but I tell him I do it for the God and for him.”
‘Nesti sometimes has trouble with the language, but his inability to speak well often means that he cuts to the heart of the matter. Like saying ‘I love you’ instead of ‘I care about you’ or ‘We’re friends’. Which is what community is finally all about. People loving each other and loving ‘the God’, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
fr. aidan

February 12, 2009

The Dumbest Generation

On Wednesday, February 18th, we will have our first-ever Disputation. We will gather in the bookstore at 7pm; we brew up some tea; we’ll spread out some refreshments, and then we will have a real, old-fashioned, face to face, person to person, discussion. And the topic of our discussion will be this winter’s featured book, The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein. The book is about the impact that technology is having on our culture—and, in particular, on the youngest people in our culture. I thought it would be fun to go ahead and kick off the discussion on-line. This approach may simply prove Bauerlein’s thesis, but I’m hoping it will help us identify some issues that we can zero in on during our time together.

For example, I thought one of the most interesting ideas in the book was Bauerlein’s take on cultural warfare:

Culture wars break down the walls. They don’t stop sectarianism, and they can aggravate group commitments, but they also pierce the insulation of each group. Insiders may grow more polarized, but they have to face the arguments and strategies of outsiders. If they ignore them,keeping to themselves and shoring up turf, not articulating values, they lose the war, for the theater has spread to the public square, and combatants can’t rely on the rhetoric that sufficeswithin familiar niches. (p. 220)

That’s not exactly the way most people feel about cultural warfare—in fact, the recent election was supposed to be all about ‘transcending’ these sorts of divisions. But Bauerlein maintains that cultural warfare is an important democratic dynamic, and he worries that we will soon be incapable of generating that sort of interaction or participating in that kind of conflict.

For example, a week ago, our parish community participated in the annual March For Life through downtown Austin. As the march formed up, a small group of counter-demonstrators appeared, and one of them climbed up on a bike rack and began to address the crowd. But the marchers wouldn’t even let him speak—they began to chant slogans in order to drown him out. When I think of culture wars, I think of this sort of clash—either that or those ridiculous television show where commentators and guests interrupt each other and shout at one another.

Apparently, Bauerlein thinks there is another way. Or maybe these are simply the more ‘exciting’ aspects of what he feels is a valuable cultural dynamic.

So what do ya’ll think?

fr. aidan


We’re getting ready for the Feast of the Presentation of Christ Jesus in the Temple. Our featured book this past fall was Churchly Joy, a collection of sermons by Father Sergius Bulgakov. Here’s a passage from Father Bulgakov’s homily for the Presentation:

In the nation chosen by God, a blessed elder had been prepared for the meeting with the Lord. This elder had devoted an entire life of ascesis, prayer, and faith to waiting for this encounter; and now his prayer for his peaceful departure from the world merged with his prayer for this meeting. And this prayer was heard, and it was promised to the righteous Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord…And having met the God-Man, he took Him in his arms, blessed God, and said “now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.” The hour of his departure from the world had struck, for his eyes had seen the salvation awaited by him. His farewell hymn was a divinely inspired confession of faith in the Savior, a confession that had never before been pronounced on earth, and, thus, according to the Evangelist, Joseph and His mother marveled at the things Simeon said about him.

I don’t know about you, but writing like that just makes me want to pray. It’s that good.

Speaking of prayer, the other day, I was reading a nice article in the current issue of Orion. Orion is one of the magazines that we keep on hand, so, the next time you are in the store, grab a cup of your favorite tea, pick up the January/February number, and read the piece by Anthony Doerr; it’s called “Am I Still Here? Looking For Validation in Wired World”. Here’s an excerpt:

Yesterday—and this is embarrassing—I checked my email before leaving for work and after I got to work, and I checked it every now and then during the day at work, and, after bicycling home from work, a total distance of two miles, I checked my email again…It’s disconcerting,It’s shameful… but checking email or tinkering around on Facebook or reading snippets about Politician A on Blog B is…about asking the world a very urgent question: Am I still here?

Like I said, the article is quite good—and very funny—but it starting me thinking about how Christians should validate themselves. In his letter to the Colossians, St Paul states that we are “dead” and that our “life is hidden with Christ in God”. So that means we aren’t going to get what we need from a blackberry or an iphone or the internet. Because when we ask that basic human question, “Am I still here?”, we’re not asking primarily about our presence in this world (which is only temporary, anyway); what we are asking about, what we really want to know, is whether or not we are present in the Kingdom.

And the way we gauge that is through prayer. In the Holy Gospels, Christ Jesus says we should “pray always’; in his epistles, St Paul says we should “pray without ceasing.” So I’m thinking that we should be praying at least as often as Mr Doerr checks his email.

fr. aidan

February 06, 2009

Independent Bookstores

In his recent letter to us, Eugene Peterson had this to say about books and the future of independent Christian bookstores:

I think you have a daunting task: to provide good,
solid books and at the same time keep the book-
store financially viable. American Christians
have horrible taste in literature, maybe especially
religious books. The junk is so prevalent, and the
good stuff usually requires more attention than most
are willing to give it.

He’s certainly right about the junk: All you have to do to verify that observation is stroll through the aisles of any of our local big box bookstores. Fortunately, though, we also don’t have the kind of financial pressure those operations do. We have to make enough money to pay Matt and Rebekah and Vickie, our heroic employees, and we have to make enough money to replenish our stock of good books, but we don’t have to make big profits.

As to whether American Christians have horrible taste in literature: That may, in fact, be true, but, ultimately, I’m just not sure that makes much of a difference when it comes to our mission. Because what we are doing at Christ the Lightgiver is what the Church has been doing for centuries and centuries—preserving the very best from the past, cultivating what is most beautiful in our contemporary culture, and creating a community which encourages learning, artistic expression, thoughtful discussion, and, above all, contemplation. That’s what St Columba was doing on Iona; that’s what St Aidan was doing on Lindisfarne; that’s what St Benedict was doing at Monte Cassino; that’s what St Sabbas did in the Kidron Valley—it’s what the monks are still doing at St Catherine’s on Mt Sinai, and it’s what we are doing at Christ the Lightgiver in Cedar Park, Texas. It is slow, quiet work, but it is also transforming.

So, thanks, Eugene, for taking the time to share your observations with us. We are counting on your prayers, as well.

fr. aidan