The Distraction Delusion – Get Your Hands Dirty

I recently bought a pickup truck, a twenty-five year-old clunker that runs ok. I paid $600 for it and have been slowly tending to the little fixes that it requires. It’s old enough to lack the computerization that puts vehicles beyond the reach of a shade-tree mechanic. My father and his father were both auto mechanics. I had forgotten how much satisfaction I get from doing what they did.

When I was in seminary, I had an old Volvo that faithfully negotiated the winters of Chicago and the potholes of Spring. When I returned South, there was a hole or two where rust had done its worst. My little brother and a neighbor boy offered to patch the car up and repaint it. It was a bold offer from a teenager, but it ran in his blood. They did a great job. He now tends a diesel on a tugboat in the Mississippi.

In some rural towns it was not uncommon to see a “Farmer and Mechanics Bank” (there is still an institution that uses the name). It was a collective term that generally described the entire working population. Some people farmed and others fixed. Some did both. It represents a time in which our culture was “hands on.” In our time, it is often as cheap or cheaper to replace something as it is to repair it.

Of course, there are hands somewhere in the chain of events that produce the stuff of our lives. In a globalized economy, the hands may be a world away. Many items, such as clothing and electronics are rarely made in America anymore. My home county in South Carolina once boasted the highest concentration of textile mills in the world. Today, there are none.

We are a people who eat without farming and are clothed without weaving. Our lives are abstracted from the activities that sustain them. We are alienated from human existence, though we rarely notice.

I have an instinct that this alienation creates a “thinness” to our existence. We lose connection and communion and wander amid ideas and not realities. Economists describe all of this as a “service economy,” meaning that what we do is abstracted from growing and making.

There are rhythms in our bodies. The cycles of a woman’s womb follow that of the moon (it is the origin of the word “menses”). That many cultures calculated the year by lunar cycles (this is the pattern in the Scriptures) was not based on some strange reverence for the moon itself. Today, that rhythm is just as often regulated by artificial hormones.

This rhythm is not the only thing about our lives that is connected to earth, sea and sky. We belong precisely where we are. Human nature includes not only our bodies, but our bodies’ connections to creation itself. It is our home. Our ability to master, control and manipulate has made all of this less demanding. The setting of the sun might be sung about at Vespers, but the switches on our walls make it rather unremarkable.

I am not a Luddite who believes that a world with mechanical devices is inherently bad. I do believe, however, that it is possible to forget much of what it is to be human. There are always hands somewhere in the chain of events that give us what we need and use. However, when it is never our own hands, something is lost.

I am deeply appreciative that in Orthodox practice, the bread of the Eucharist is made locally, at home, either by the priest or someone who has been given that blessing. The loaves that I work with are always “less than perfect.” They lack the uniformity I see in the machine-kneaded products often found in larger Russian settings. I like them. Those who bake have to pay attention to many things – the quality of the flour, the humidity of the day, sometimes, even the altitude at which the work is done. The dough is leavened – that is to say, it is alive (just as wine is alive in its fermentation).

I have read that there is a growing split between urban and rural areas, not just in America, but worldwide. Voting maps point unmistakably towards this phenomenon. Of course, pundits have their many explanations. Most of the analyses that I have read are concerned only with exploiting these differences for their own political concerns. It is possible to read it in another way – not as a division between individuals, but as a division within the human heart itself.

We are at war with ourselves. There are currently movements (eddies in the swirl of modernity) that seek to define our humanity in terms that are disembodied. They exalt the will and treat the body as a “fluid” concept. The exaltation of the will (a feature of modern madness) is fraught with problems. To an extent, cities have always been a drive of the will towards mastery of the world. Modern cities, particularly in America, are even more abstract than others.

Even in rural areas, the urban life is constantly streamed into homes. Urban globalism is the market product of modernity. Across the world, populations stream towards the cities hoping for a new life, perhaps to live as a cast member of “Friends.”

It is not surprising that modern urbanites imagine spreading life to the moon or Mars. Though such a life would be spent almost entirely indoors in an artificial climate, or underground to avoid deadly cosmic rays. Perhaps such an existence seems similar enough to present urban lives to be plausible.

To live with tradition has come to mean far more to me than accepting what the Church has received in its teaching and practice. It is a “way of life,” or, perhaps, a “way of living.” It is the recognition that “tradition” describes the very nature of true human existence. We do not create our world – we inherit it. Obviously, many things that we inherit are harmful and draw us from the truth of our existence. That is the case with much that comes to us from the modern project. Indeed, the larger part of that project is the constant rejection of that which has gone before.

Oddly, the “creating” that we imagine ourselves to be engaged in is “handed down” to us as well – but as the content of marketing in its various cultural disguises. There was a satirical song, released in 1993 by the Rock Band, Cake. Its final verse is quite apt:

Excess ain’t rebellion.
You’re just drinking what they’re selling.
Your self-destruction doesn’t hurt them.
Your chaos won’t convert them.
They’re so happy to rebuild it.
You’ll never really kill it.
Yeah, excess ain’t rebellion.
You’re just drinking what they’re selling.
Excess ain’t rebellion.
You’re drinking,
You’re drinking,
You’re drinking what they’re selling.

How can you afford your Rock ‘n Roll lifestyle?

The “rebellion” (in its many permutations) of our modern period is marketed. Ideas, movements, mores and morals are all marketed in a version of late consumer capitalism. Words and ideologies are spouted as though they were the result of a well-considered philosophical position, and this by people who know very little history or philosophy.

There is a patience and a humility that comes in a traditioned existence. It assumes that age and experience hold the possibility of wisdom, and that the wisdom of earlier generations is a treasure. Just as our DNA is a treasure, representing countless generations of survivors, whose inherited immunity makes life possible, so the inherited wisdom of the past offers much that can only be discovered through bitter experience – either that of those who went before us or our own as we ignore what we could have learned.

Another aspect of this traditioned existence is found in a thankful life. If our life consists largely in what we have received, then it is lived most fully in gratitude. I am grateful for what I am, including the strange twists and turns that make me the man that I am.

I need to go change the oil in my truck. I will think of my father and my grandfather and rejoice in the grime of my hands. Farmers and mechanics in the Kingdom of God.

72 comments:

  1. Thanks, Father, this was beautiful. And it moves me the things you notice about the world. I think the old 60s counterculture began with a lot of these feelings and longings for rootedness, but look what happened… I sometimes wonder if church life is not a kind of LARPing. Because we also feel the longing for a rooted life, but all we can do is hang on to the divine services, and then go back out into a life that puts the lie to what we just did, in so many ways. It troubles me. For two hundred years the Machine has been growing in power and devouring culture and soul (you should read Paul Kingsnorth’s Substack; he recently converted to Orthodoxy). What can we do to keep the fire alight?

  2. Thank you, Father Stephen. This rings true for me. I just started reading James Rebanks’ book, THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE,
    a companion piece so to speak to what you share.

  3. Lupo, keeping the fire alight is the question and the goal.
    I have a robe that my late wife made a couple of years before she died. It is about 18 years old now and it will out live me. It is beautifully stitched and fits me quite well, even though she was not particularly happy with me when she made it. I looked at it this morning and saw how beautiful it is and thanked God and my late wife.

    My hands are full of arthritis these days and I can do very little any more. My wife and I keep a very small garden. We do what little we can and pray that God gives the increase.
    We do not need big things because big things are mostly delusional.

    Father, great piece.

  4. Father thank you for a thoughtful discussion. We do live in very confusing times. There is something very rewarding in building or repairing stuff. The divide between rural and urban has become very apparent. Your explanation is helpful. I wrestle with trying to figure things out so I can fix them. Then in the midst of that mental exercise the Lord reminds me that I need to trust all to His capable care, cause I cannot understand, let alone fix things that our wrong in this world.

    I am entering the seventh decade of my life and experiencing some health issues. My prayer is that I would love and trust Jesus more.

  5. Father bless! I have always loved your blog for its spiritual wisdom (and today you post lyrics from one of my favorite bands, Cake?!?!). In your post today, you mention something that has always been near and dear to my heart and seemingly so clear–the disconnect between humans and nature. So often, this often will come as a distinction between those in the city and those in the country, but the more “connected” our society becomes, this line becomes less distinct. Even as I write this, Facebook (now Meta) is in the process of marketing a “Metaverse” in which everything is virtual. So long as you have an internet connection, you too can be part of the “Metaverse”. https://www.npr.org/2021/10/28/1050280500/what-metaverse-is-and-how-it-will-work

    As for me, I value very much things like hunting, farming, and anything that I can learn to do for myself (shade tree mechanic, plumber, carpenter, etc.). These things keep me rooted to reality. Food, especially, is the real way in which we commune with nature. That burger was once a cow that was raised and slaughtered so that I could eat. The bun was once grain that was tended and harvested, then carefully milled into flour and baked into bread. But, these things are lost when we do not attend to them. When I no longer remember the life of the cow, the care for the grain, I lose something precious and critical to being a full person. I believe that it requires purposeful attention so that we do not forget our deep reliance on nature (and by extension, God). We become slothful and forgetful that we are so connected. I am grateful that I can raise my children with these things so that they, too, by God’s help, will come to appreciate what it means to be fully human.

  6. I have been reminded of the value of thankfulness recently, also the need for connection to one’s story. How rudderless and vulnerable we are to the tyranny of the present without that. How can you be thankful for something you are unaware of? Many thanks for your thoughtful and healthful reflection.

  7. Tikhon,
    I thought Facebook’s timing on the “Meta” thing to be really terrible. Here we have spent nearly 2 years suffering under separation from one another, masked, socially distanced, shamed and ridiculed (often enough), lectured from a distance, and so on, laboring under “virtual” meetings and the like, only to have one of the world’s wealthiest companies announce that they have a goal of helping us enter yet more deeply into a disembodied existence. What metaverse are they living in?

    I think it will fail – simply for the reason that we actually like contact with real people, real faces, real things. I honestly think that a benefit of the past two years is that many have come to see the concrete face-to-face-ness of reality as something necessary, desirable, even essential. Of course, time will tell.

    I have been consistently preaching (as a word of encouragement) that you always lose when you fight with gravity. The “thing-ness” of the universe and our embodied existence is part of the “gravity” of the world. So is our gender, our language, our desire to touch and hold. Games can be played with these things – but, because they are real, true, and solid, and because we are created precisely for such things, those games will pass away. Gravity always wins.

    Modernity becomes fascinated with its toys and begins to take itself too seriously. We should take heart, though. Our God became flesh. And He remains so committed to that – that He bids us eat His flesh and drink His blood. So gravity feels the eternal weight of His glory.

  8. Father, like many, I grew up being told to study hard , get a degree (or more but I didn’t) , that I’d always have to be twice as good as my competitor, etc. With the best of intentions of course. I studied, and participated a bit in sports because I needed some outlet, and that’s all. I think it was a very artificial world. I had no idea of the real world, if I may call it that, plants and animals and even machines, manual labour, etc.

    In middle age, I’ve discovered manual labour, gardening, basic construction, etc., and I’ve found that this matches our Tradition where our Fathers always recommend manual labour as being essential for soul. I would have heard this before, but now I understand it, I think.

  9. Father Stephen. Happy birthday. A good topic for such a day. “I am grateful for what I am, including the strange twists and turns that make me the man that I am.”. Indeed. And so are we.

  10. Happy birthday Father! Many years!

    I love this piece. It resonates deeply with me. My husband and I are currently trying our luck at urban farming (there are 50 meat chickens in my backyard!😂) while we look for a place in the county to have actual land for farming. I used to think I was too lazy to farm, while that hasn’t changed the reality and the very real need to be connected to our world in nature has made me go for it anyways. Some things I’m not quite willing to throw in the towel with (washing machine for example😂) but there are so many things I can do even on my tiny property. Making food from scratch, getting a herb garden going, hanging laundry to try, sewing by hand, knitting, etc. All bring me to be grounded in the how and why things are made. It makes a push back against consumerism.
    Anyways thanks for continuing to articulate things that I feel deeply but can’t say.

  11. Vera,
    I grew up in a suburban neighborhood (lower middle class next to an airbase). But even there, my parents, who had grown up on farms, kept a small plot that produced an amazing abundance of vegetables. My first “job” was helping my mom gather vegetables. She would have me bag the surplus and I took them from house to house selling them (well below market-value) but I got to keep the money. We also had a large pecan tree that could be wonderful in its productivity. So, my autumns were filled with memories of eating fresh pecans off the ground like the Garden of Eden. They were also gathered and I spent wonderful hours cracking nuts and getting them ready for pies and brownies.

    My present yard doesn’t allow for such suburban farming, alas. But we remain very connected to seasons. We wait for the Carolina peaches (SC) to appear in early summer – there are always roadside stands that bring them here to Tennessee. My wife graded peaches one summer in mid-state SC when we were in college. Also, a nearby county in E TN is famous for its tomatoes, and we welcome them each year.

    Of course, it’s not the sort of connection that my parents knew. They not only grew stuff, but pickled and canned every year as well.

    It’s very interesting to me in my parish how many families have begun keeping chickens. We are frequently gifted dozens of eggs. Another parishioner brings us fish he’s caught, filleted, and frozen. I suppose it like the Elijah story – “there’s still 7000 who have not bowed their knees to Baal.”

    I walk every day in the local arboretum – and generally do my prayers while I’m there.

    The urban landscape is not as a-seasonal as we might imagine…if we only pay attention.

  12. My kids were born in 1980, 1983, 1987, and 1991. I tried to pay attention to them. But, I think I’m the one who bought that album. Heard the song, Rock’n Roll Lifestyle, and thought it was a wonderful piece of youth culture for talking with youth in Church. It stayed with my memory.

  13. Father, Bless.

    I am a long-time reader, and I am grateful for your book and this blog. It has been a blessing to help me “unlearn” many things.

    I did want to ask/comment about such Distraction and Delusion within the Church. I remember as a Catechumen that I got “spun up” in books, reading about the lives of Greeks and Russians in the 19th and early 20th Century, books about laypeople who are secret ascetics, et al. I remember worrying about what I now realize are trivial things, but this “LARPing” (which is what critics dismissively call it) is a real temptation, I would say more so than ever in the difficult times we live in. I was blessed to receive a monastic spiritual father, but I remember thinking how “disappointed” I was at first, in that it was nothing like “the books.” His advice was very practical, and down to earth. Nothing like what I imagined “an Elder” to be. Now I realize after a decade in the Church what foolishness that was, and that he was (and still is) the right guide for me. I came to the Church with a very “modernist” mindset (not the caricature, but the true “modernism” that you have spent years unmasking), and it is only now after 10 years that I can finally say that I am beginning to learning how to BE Orthodox, as opposed to “LARPing.”

    What would you say about this form of distraction in the Church?

    I’m grateful.

  14. I had to look LARping up to get its meaning. I have met some very fine actors in my life, none of whom have graced stage or screen with their performances.
    This has led me to wonder; how much do film, tv, popular music, etc reflect life and conversely, how much does life reflect what people see and hear through these mediums of popular culture? The lines are blurred, ranging from mild to extreme delusion. I am not immune to delusion, having very much been influenced by popular culture myself.

  15. Indeed Father, we are “drinking what they’re selling”.
    Sounds like a type of new communion where we partake of the evil the world has to offer. Image and likeness of God it is Not!

    I remember a One Republic song that made an impression on me back in the day called “All Fall Down”. The refrain/chorus was “Whenever your world comes crashing down, that’s where you’ll find me”….

    Today certainly feels like we are heading for some kind of disaster, and I’m not talking about any wars or global warming or disease, although these also play a huge part in our coercion into accepting unholy things that take away our freedom and humanity.

    Even Elon Musk blatantly stated that we are already turning into cyborgs. This is evident with the way we currently function. The goal is to become an online virtual entity, and unfortunately we are well on our way.
    They speak of an interface that has or is currently being created to be compatible with our brain receptors. The real “Matrix” is almost here. You will eventually be able to download your consciousness into the system.
    All that we see and experience today are pre-cursers to that alternative reality.
    It will be sold on the lie that this way you will live forever and there will never be any pain. They will claim to take the pain out of your existence.
    In short: Fake Lives, Fake Reality, Fake Happiness. In that kind of world you will do whatever you like, whilst with the flick of the switch you will do whatever they like.

    May the Lord have mercy on us. This is when great trust in God is needed.
    Even though I have many failings, the small things in life help me stay rooted in Christ:
    How to be more gentle; how to improve my relationships; How to be kind.
    And to question myself every day about my behaviour, do I follow Christ or the world.
    We travel down many roads that lead to anywhere but Christ.
    Getting back to nature as sacrament and being the best person one can be in their community is where we ought to be. Naturally, coming face to face with my horrible self first and doing something about it must be the number one priority.

  16. David,
    I think we bring lots of things into the Church. I had not heard of “LARP” until just now (googled it). I have described coming to know God as similar to learning to ride a bicycle. We learn by getting on and falling off and getting on and falling off. LARP is apparently just another bizarre bump in the road. I always pray that when I see others headed for a fall, that God will be gentle with them and help them get back on the bike.

    Over time, I have come to see that it is mostly unattended shame within the soul that presses us towards various mistaken paths. The shame of “not knowing,” the shame of our own sin, the shame of our half-hearted modernized way of life, the shame of not being like those people in the books, etc. But they became saints by being whole – by being where they were at that time and bearing the small shame in their lives – and doing the next good thing.

    The problem with “being Orthodox” can be subtle. One of the inner games our soul plays is “role playing.” Identity is largely a shame issue – a way of avoiding the nakedness of the soul in the presence of God. “Orthodox” is, or can be, a very attractive “identity.” And, as such, it is no different than all the other “identities” that people hide behind. As such, we see our “Orthodoxy” or want others to see our “Orthodoxy” but they never actually see us (nor do we see ourselves).

    To be Orthodox, in the last analysis, is just becoming truly human. Orthodoxy is a word for the path towards union with God – true union. The various things I advise in the blog are all pointed towards remembering what it is to be human in the presence of God. Our spiritual fathers (the good ones) keep helping us learn to drop the fig leaves and stand naked before God (at least for a small space of time).

    What we do not realize is that only the truly human can bear the enormous weight of transfiguring glory. Every sort of false identity and (LARPing) would be crushed or become a distorted way of sin. Saul wanted to put his armor on the boy David. David just wanted to be David. That’s how it works.

    God give us grace!

  17. Mario,
    I watched a documentary some years ago in the UK; may during the 1990’s. It was about computers and the the Resurrection, that ultimately everyone the living and the dead would able to be downloaded onto computers and thus would be the Resurrection, eternal life?

    I wonder what is consciousness? We are not our thoughts and materialists deny the soul and thus the nous. Is it possible to download any aspect of our consciousness and awareness onto computers?

    Anyway, as I was pondering while watching this documentary I heard within myself and not outside of myself a voice, that said not to worry about such things you will be coming with us. I do not know or cannot say who or what said that?

  18. Your reflection, today, has hit a spot in me that resonates.

    A rarity in this age, I actually work a job in a “productive” industry (mining). It has been fifteen years since I began work here at the mine. Further, it has been twenty-five years since I entered the industrial workforce (again in production, not services). That may not seem like a long time to some. My love affair with my work is second only to my love for my wife. But, unlike for my wife, my love for my job is fading. I am contemplating a “divorce,” so to speak. What you discuss here is a lot of what is going through my mind. However, I don’t know what that would look like, and there are a few things I need to finish beforehand. Even so, God has taken care of me for these past decades, he has shown me great mercy and faithfulness through my vocation. I cannot say I regret any of it, even the hard times and lessons I needed to learn. Being dirty and working in “earthy” conditions has provided me a perspective on life that is not available to the cubicle-dweller.

    Going along with my work, I too maintain my own vehicles–even in their modern, computer- controlled form. I cut my own firewood. I mow my own grass and rake my own leaves. I take my children hunting. We camp and fish all summer. I only say this to support what you say, here, that these things are life, and keep us grounded in a rhythm and relationship with God and my neighbors. You don’t have to live a frantic, task-filled existence, like my urban family and friends, to be alive.

    While the pandemic and its effects taught many around me to be fearful about what they cannot see or control, it taught me to realize and see what I already have been given and to find contentment in it–God has been there all along.

    Great reminder, Fr Stephen.
    –Justin

    P.S.–The vintage of your pickup makes me wonder if I had a part in manufacturing it… if so, it is a very small world indeed. I hope it serves you well.

  19. Andrew,
    It is interesting and yet not suprising how much technology has advanced:
    Ai, cyber are advancing at phenominal speed. Whilst I don’t have all the answers, it is evident that this is the way science wants to move forward, but I would agree that conciousness cannot be captured. Those attempting to do that would require god-like abilities, which is what the evil one has been trying to do from the beginning.
    The question is with whom our allegiance is with, and to whom we freely give ourselves to.

    I once attended a talk by one of the sisters from my local monastery. One thing she mentioned has stayed with me till this day, that is “As Christians we must beware and be aware lest we be deceived….” This was in the context of magic and the new age movement and the mix of occult practices, science and politics, the same ingredients that created destructive dictatorships in the past.
    The gift of discernment is helpful in our struggle to avoid deception.

    Also, trying to describe conciousness is difficult. Is it awareness of being a concious human? Is it our identity? Is it the nous? Is it our whole being? Could it be the soul? I wonder whether the Church Fathers say anything about this. No doubt image and likeness of God have something to do with this. However, I guess disecting too much our human nature, can be dangerous.
    Perhaps Father can help us.

    A repentant life will keep us in the hands of our Lord.

  20. Mario,
    you raise some interesting questions there. I agree with you that dissecting our human nature could be a dangerous thing. It can lead to fragmentation and inner division and not to the wholeness and healing, which only God can give us. Also it puts the focus on the self more than on God. I believe that we can only find the truth of ourselves in Christ anything else is delusion.
    The deception and the mix of occult practices, magic, science and politics, which as you mention led to destructive tyranny in the past are still alive and kicking today in some areas These forces haven’t gone away.
    It is useful to beware and aware, but without getting too caught up with it and to allow our focus to be distracted away from God.
    I have encountered Christians (not Orthodox; I have not encountered any Orthodox Christians in person yet) clergy, religious and laity, that seem to know a lot about what they see the devil to be doing, more than they know about what God is doing.
    It is not any easy path to walk, but as you pointed out, ‘a repentant life will keep us in the hands of our Lord.’

  21. Andrew Roberts,

    Exactly. What is the logical conclusion of such a belief in needing to “be aware” of evil? It is training the mind in the occult, experiential “study” of sick sin, and the complete enrapturing of the soul in the demonic. I wonder if the monastic statement was not misheard: we need to understand goodness. And the most important awareness we need is the awareness of Jesus Christ. It is only through knowing the truth that we can spot the lie, and only by living the truth that such a thing even matters—what good is it if we solve all the “problems”, gain the whole world, and then lose our soul (Mark: 8.36)?

  22. Andrew,
    Absolutely agree with your comments.
    We can easily lose our focus on Christ if we are over obsessive and extreme in our views. Thank you for your insights.

  23. Mario, two hallmarks of the occult vs true Christian mysticism: 1. Occult seeks power; true Christianity does not. Humility is key. 2. Occult is profoundly disembodied; Christianity is Incarnate. Even the angels have bodies with discrete boundaries. The saints are unique persons. The more I disembody myself the less human and the less Christian I am.
    God, in His mercy has provided me in the ending chapters of my life many hands on duties that also tend to break my pride as well.

    Issac Asimov wrote on the dilemma on humanoid robots extensively im his “Foundation” series in which he promulgated the Three Laws of Robotics in his book I, Robot published im 1942.

  24. Mario, et al
    Thinking about “downloading” you consciousness. First, they’re watching way too much Star Trek. We don’t even know what consciousness is…nobody…period. There’s a lot of money chasing nothing in this stuff. Some of it is science chasing grant money. Every year. All the time.

    We do not need to be experts in sin, as JBT says. We need to do the simple things.

  25. Beautiful article and comments, thank you all. By no coincidence, I started helping a fellow do some masonry/stonework repair today and saw this article. Having been either in a classroom or a cubicle virtually my entire life, it is very refreshing (if a little sore on the back muscles) to work “getting my hands dirty”.

    There is something that feels so much more enjoyable and refreshing about manual labor compared to staring at a screen and clicking buttons all day…why, even monkeys can do that. (No offense intended to any office workers reading this…or to monkeys either.) But myself, I think I never want to work in an office again…

    May God grant us all to do the difficult-yet-easy, “dirty work” of repentance in the simple and small things of the lives He has given us to live, Amen.

  26. Mario, JBT,
    about a two years ago a friend of mine from the UK, who I hadn’t heard from for some time started to email me out of the blue. He began telling me that all the history being taught in the UK was a lie and how he had made connections about the truth, using scientific thinking and what were dualistic beliefs in opposites; light and dark, etc and how the figure of baphomet encapsulated all of this. He also referred me to some articles by historians, one of whom was an Arthurian expert (that speaks for itself).
    I had a look at some of the things he had recommended. Some of the stuff was of the conspiracy theory type and some of the other stuff was pretty reasonable historical research from what I could understand.
    A problem arose after I pointed out that some of this conspiracy stuff was complete fantasy and that the more reasonable historians were not saying what my friend believed them to be saying. I sent him an article by a Harvard professor, who had written about the difference between proper historical revision and false historical revision and conspiracy theories. The response I got was astounding. My friend said that he did not understand the article because the writer had written it to purposefully to hide any knowledge and truth from him.
    I won’t bore with the rest of our dialogue, but it descended into my friend writing personal insults to me and claiming I was an idiot because I read the Bible and didn’t have clue what it was about. Thankfully he stopped contacting me.
    The majority of people I have known throughout my life are not practicing Christians of any denomination, even though many of them have been baptised. So the the beliefs and ideas I have encountered in my life are quite bizarre generally. I too lived in this bizarre reality at one time.
    I won’t go into new age spirituality, only to say that it had quite a big impact mostly on women in the UK.
    I am of the opinion that it is useful to know about this stuff, but more importantly to know our Lord and our faith more, because when I have talked to family members, friends and other people who are influenced by, conspiracy theories, the occult, new age, etc there is an underlying anti Christian vibe going on.

  27. The facebook monstrosity and people living *inside* the moon only again makes me think of That Hideous Strength.
    Father, partly for the same reason you are working on that truck, I have been heating our home with firewood that I (and my boys) split myself. Basic, grounded work steeped in God’s generosity.

  28. Luke, et al.,

    I too heat with wood, have been for 30 years. Wood from my own land or my neighbor’s land – it hasn’t traveled more than a quarter mile from where it grew. Where I live, and with my kind of woods, it’s estimated that an acre of forest puts on 3 cords a year. So 45 cords on my 15 acres. I use 4 – the rest just puts carbon in the ground and builds up the soil. Fun things to think about while splitting wood 🙂

    I also have been gardening here for 30 years. One thing you will totally come to understand if you garden in these bony New Hampshire hills is… just why everyone headed for Ohio as soon as they could! No rocks out there!

    Father Stephen, you are absolutely right about no one knowing what consciousness is, much less how one might go about ‘downloading’ it to a computer. Nothing, nada, zip, zilch. I went through a misspent period of my life where I read just about every serious book with the word ‘consciousness’ in the title. They talked about a lot of things, pretty much everything except consciousness.

    The king of the blowhards IMO is Daniel Dennet, who wrote a book with the absurd title ‘Consciousness Explained’. It did absolutely no such thing. A close second would be Ray Kurzweil, who in many ways is a pitiable figure. But don’t worry, AI will figure it all out, and then we will have The Singularity. :-/

    Gotta run – need to put some wood on the fire…

  29. Michael, yes, what you have said os very true.
    Thank you for the Asimov reference. Very interesting, I shall look it up.

  30. Mario in the Asimov series–might be “That Hideous Strength” there is the attempt to “upload” human consciousness. It failed both in human terms and robot terms.

  31. Of course, science fiction and much of modernity’s dream projects are ver similar…they’re both just fiction. We tend to live in make believe worlds with make believe problems which make us sick. It is good to live where we are, when we are, how we are, in union with God. God is not make believe. Grace is real but there is no grace for dealing with make believe, because it has no reality.

    Keep your hands dirty with real dirt. God is there.

  32. Michael,
    Very interesting. Well before his time, not suprising that he recognised it to be an impossible task.
    Current science is theorizing and attempting to a degree on digitally duplicating the human brain, in order to create “conciousness”.
    Another impossible task.

  33. Dear Father,
    Your blessing
    That’s most likely what had triggered my responses to your brilliant article. The fantasy world we escape to at the first sight of discomfort, and the mention of facebook’s recent virtual project, which I find quite alarming.
    Your article really hit home especially since the pandemic began, we have physically been doing less and less.
    Especially when we were unable to go to Church. In UK Churches thankfully are open again.

  34. Father, belatedly–happy birthday and many years. Reading this article has given me both a better appreciation of the jobs I do now on a daily basis and a certain impetus to undertake more. Thank you.
    Asimov is fiction but he raised in a stark way impossibility and the danger of trying to combine humanity and AI technology both ethically and spiritually. A clear hierarchy must be maintained. He also dealt with the temptation toward the type of “reality” that Zuckerburg is attempting.
    It is all a lie on its own terms proposed by people who fundamentally despise themselves and their own humanity.
    God forgive us.

  35. Michael,
    I understand the point. I simply want to encourage people not to focus so much on what “might” be going on and what the empty rich are talking about. Zuckerburg had a bad month after the whistle blower stuff and wanted to change the conversation. He’s investing 10 billion in it over the next year – an indication of his moral bankruptcy, not unlike another man who goes into space and thanks his customers for paying for it. They are arguing with gravity, and they will fall and collapse. Scripture describes such things as a “puff of wind.”

    Encourage one another. The things that matter are solid, and eternal, and cannot be shaken.

    Our present difficulties will pass in time. If governments exceed their God given reach, they’ll fall, too. What matters in life abides. 2,000 years of Orthodox Christianity, much of the time under persecution, and it abides. Modernity is something to be discerned…it’s only a heresy. It will ultimately fail because it’s not the truth.

    Be at peace.

    Also, I ask for prayers. Seems I’ve caught the Flu. Not a bad case it seems, but it has me racked out here for a few days, I suspect. I may not write as much for a couple of days…

  36. Hi all
    Just want to clarify something about some of the comments I have made, in case of mis-understandings.
    In regards to the comments where “aware” or “being aware” has been used, it is in the context of being vigilant, guarding our mind and way of life in Christ. Guarding ourselves from certain influences incompatible with our faith.
    This in NO WAY means we engage with the occult and such practices, or study it or be obsessed by it. I have not said that.
    Please forgive me if I was not very clear.
    Saint John Chrysostom speaks of such things more clearly.

  37. Mario,
    I did read your comments as you intended; ‘watch and pray.’ ‘Be vigilant, because the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’ Are two things that have come to mind. It’s foolish to enter the battle unprepared. Whether we like it or not if we live the Christian we cannot avoid spiritual warfare, however this manifests itself.
    I keep half an eye on current trends of thinking, especially in regards to what people in general are being influenced by and what beliefs are being pushed. An attempt to read the signs of the times and to avoid getting drawn into the zeitgeist.
    As I have said earlier, my only concern is that I don’t spend too much time focusing on this. I have done so in the past and it is a great distraction and source of confusion and needless worrying.

  38. Andrew,
    Thank you for getting back, I thought I may have generally and inadvertantly given out the wrong vibe.
    Appreciated.
    Anyhow, on a lighter note Father’s article has reminded me of a very funny British sitcom called “The Good Life”. About a couple who give up the rat race to be self sufficient in suburbia. Some of the scenes are priceless, but plenty of food for thought too.

  39. Mario,
    I haven’t seen an episode of the Good Life for a long time. I had a look at when it was aired on tv originally; 1975 – 1978. I was a young teenager then, still in secondary school. I only have vague memories of what it was about.

  40. Hey, I even know of The Good Life. Its on Brit Box TV. My wife and I are gonna watch it.

  41. For those who like British Comedy, Count Arthur Strong is funny. I will add that don’t find most comedy funny, but Count Arthur Strong did get a lot of laughs out of me. It may not suit most tastes.

  42. Wonderful piece . . . writer Mathew Crawford, coming from a very different starting place, makes similar (or perhaps parallel) observations in his books: “Shop Class as Soul Craft,” “The World Beyond Your Head,” and “Why We Drive.”

    In each, Crawford expounds on the deep human need to actually physically connect with both other people and with physical objects . . . as we move into a world ever more mediated by software and “virtual” depictoins of reality, we loose something . . .

  43. Father Stephen, with the body dysmorphia seems to run throughout history if it is not a relic of shame from the fall. Then there is the phrase “Being at home in your own skin” applied to people who are at peace with themselves.
    The longing to be “out of the body” is a passion involved with many occult practices and certain types of drug abuse too.
    Recognizing that the focal point of Unseen Warfare is one’s own body can be disorienting at first.
    The lack of a concrete focal point in much spirituality always made my Dad suspicious. Yet he knew from his experience high plains of eastern New Mexico that with that focal point all life was present and interconnected.

  44. Father, within my parish, there has been quite a bit of discussion about what “might” happen. In general, that discussion has centered on the possibility of increased persecution and how one should respond.

    Most of the time, it has sounded to me like fearfulness, though from a Christian perspective. But on the other hand, I’ve gotten the impression that my priest believes such thinking may aid one in responding rightly if such a situation does occur. Maybe similar to the teachings of the fathers on remembering death?

    Is there a place for such speculation? If so, how do we also stay grounded and anchored in our current lives and what “cannot be shaken”?

  45. Abigail,
    It’s clear to me that different priests have different understandings about various things. Generally, I tend to stay away from speculation about what might happen. We can never imagine the grace that would be available in a situation. Thus, we tend to imagine things, but without the grace. We should, as the fathers teach, remember death. But I think it easily becomes unhealthy if we spend time imagining what our death will look like.

    Providence, which is a universal teaching of the Fathers, would have us focus on trusting God, day to day, for whatever is going on. Even if terrible things lie ahead, that, too, is in the good hands of the good God. This does not mean that we do nothing – but what we should do is to keep the commandments of Christ.

  46. I think one of the temptations of modernity is for me to think 1. I can know the future, and 2. I am responsible for everything and everyone else. I think, in some ways Christians are easy targets because we have prophecy don’t we?
    I am learning I cannot know the future and I am responsible for living the commandments of Christ Mt 22:37-40: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. The second is like it; You shall your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
    I find that I cannot do that without His Grace and mercy (Providence). I have found that I can only begin to access His living mercy in repentance. Mt 4:12 “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

  47. Father Stephen,

    A long time reader of your blog here; your words have been an inspiration and an anchor in my decade or so as an Orthodox Christian. I can’t thank you enough for your ministry.

    I read this post as very much in tension with your last one. On the one hand, we are to develop an Orthodox mind and trust in the Providence of God despite the troubling times; on the other hand, the world we live in has become deeply inhuman, with our consumerism and technological dependence creating an artificial mode of being that is more and more eroding our God-made connection to the earth and to each other. I love your use of “gravity” as a metaphor for the natural limits that could work against that which is inhuman and insane in our technologically-fueled consumer existence – but I’m not so optimistic. It seems to me things are going to get a good deal worse – natural resources more and more exhausted; the earth more and more full of our discarded, toxic junk; human beings and families more and more turned into shadows of full human beings via their Amazon/metaverse powered existence – before they get better; and I don’t actually think there’s any way to close pandora’s box on these trends….

    My wife and I are find ourselves more and more seriously considering trying to escape the fetters of this modern, urban, industrialized, consumerist life (to the extend that God allows us): perhaps buy some land, heat our home with hand-chopped wood (as some of your other readers here do!), and live as simply and as deeply connected to the land and, hopefully, to the community around us as we can. A Wendell Berry/Paul Kingsnorth inspired escape. I can’t help but wonder, though, whether doing so would be to go against the counsel of your previous post (even while it seems to agree with the wisdom of this one!). Were we to leave the city and the community and work that God has given us here (in a major US metropolitan area), would we not be acting out of fear, a desire to control our own destiny, or a desire to escape the “troubling times” – a desire that would be foreign to the first generation of Christians? Would we not furthermore be going against Jesus’ counsel to take no thought for the morrow? Is it possible to possess the peace of Christ and yet to read the signs of where our “civilization” is heading and try to build an alternative, simpler, saner, more human life elsewhere?

  48. PS – I posed my question as a personal one, based on my own family’s situation. Perhaps it would’ve been more helpful for the blog to pose it more broadly: would it not in fact be the most Orthodox thing one could do to attempt to escape the trappings of modern “civilization” for the sake of a more human life? Or is this acting out of the fear you cautioned against in your previous post?

  49. John, good question. My wife and I live on two and 1/2 acres surrounded by trees and then wheat fields. A couple of miles away is my wife’s family business-a winery. But just south of the winery is a casino. When it went in, our property taxes got cut in half. Plus there is a fire/rescue station there too. That came in real handy when my wife fell in the shower a couple of years ago. A lot to consider for sure.

    Shameless plug: the winery is Wyldewood Cellars. Their wines have won numerous awards.

  50. John,
    I see no wrong in living a simple, sort of semi- monastic existence, even in marriage and family. You have a free choice.
    Money, if you have enough of it can buy freedom from the world as much as is possible. I think to be able to buy a piece of land and a home and not having to be in debt would be quite a good thing. It’s not possible for most of us.

  51. John,
    I don’t think of the two posts as “tensions” – but simply two aspects of our present reality. Of what I am certain is that, no matter where we are, circumstances will work towards our salvation (as we are faithful). You can be saved in the city or the country. Christianity, interestingly, began as primarily an urban phenomenon, the rural areas remained pagan much longer in the Roman Empire, so we should not think of the faith as anti-urban.

    First, there is no salvation without challenges (it’s just part of the package – Jesus promised them to us). What there will be is enough grace wherever we are. The grace for one will differ from the grace for the other. What we cannot see (however) is what the grace will look like ahead of time. Grace is never imaginary.

    Thus, I think people should think about what is possible, how it is they prefer to live, and choose accordingly. No matter what you choose, at some point you’ll think it was a mistake (which will be as challenges come along). But, regardless, His grace is sufficient for us.

    It is in this sense that we should be always confident of God’s providence, His good grace always working, everywhere, and always for our salvation.

  52. Father: “Grace is never imaginary.”
    Unfortunately it seems modernity is pretty much 100% it seems.

  53. Michael,
    Yes, modernity loves imaginary things, has an imaginary history of the world, an imaginary description of itself, etc.

    Thus, it is important for us as Orthodox Christians not to live an imaginary life. A life carried out in the imagination would be the height of delusion. Again, it is a reason I stress the “next good thing” and keeping the simple commandments of Christ. When people change the subject and want to speak about managing the world, or how we respond to the “present crisis,” the bulk of what is being discussed will not be what is at hand, what I need to do right now, what is begging for my attention at the present moment, or what do I need to do tomorrow. Most of it will just be imaginary.

    Are we coming to the end of the world? That is a question of the imagination. Plain and simple. On and on and on.

    I am not a Quietist (as some accuse). I am a Christian realist (a Hesychast). We should avoid imaginary problems (no matter how likely they might be). There is no grace for imaginary things. Just real things. Do real stuff. Think real thoughts. Etc.

    Blessings!

  54. Fr. Stephen,
    what you say is very interesting. To live in the imagination is truly a delusion, as is verified when we act upon it and then have to live with the reality and consequences of what we have chosen to do. I have learnt this from experience l!!
    Being a hesychast? That is something I am just getting to grips with. Prayer and liturgy are work, if my understanding is correct in regards to it?
    Coming from a no Christian background, and then from an RC background, it would seem to me that prayer is seen not as work, but an added extra?
    We are not here on this earth to devote our lives to make others rich and to give ourselves to the upholding of the status quo, as Protestantism and certain strains of RC though would have it. As I think a misrepresentation of St. Paul. Too much concentration of obedience to authority and don’t feed anyone who does not work, in a capitalist understanding.
    There is I think too much political thought from both left and right in the Christian denominations, which is causing so much division. People be polarised and taking a self righteous stance.

  55. “…people should think about what is possible, how it is they prefer to live, and choose accordingly. No matter what you choose, at some point you’ll think it was a mistake…”

    I had to laugh at this because it is so true. I find that many (including myself) worry about what in some circles is called “God’s perfect will for our lives” in such a way that if we were to choose wrongly, it will somehow make our salvation impossible or our lives irreparably miserable. But as long as we are keeping God’s commandments, He gives us a very wide birth of freedom. And even if we do make mistakes He watches over those who are His. I think of Abraham and Isaac both saying to the rulers of the lands in which they sojourned about their wives, “She is my sister” (Genesis 20 & 26).

    My mother often said, “No matter where you go, there you are.” By this she meant that although there may be times when it is appropriate to ‘escape,’ we should remember that no matter where we escape to, we have to take ourselves with us.

  56. My husband and I did “go back to the land”. Such a process does have various degrees of transition from urban life. Nevertheless, Father, it is exactly as you said, change your life in this way only changes the problems, and not eradicate them. Despite attempting a simpler life, sometimes it just seems we have made it ever more complicated. We wondered whether we made the right decision countless times. We also learned that others, such as ourselves, just bring into their “new” lives, their “former” spirit, including enviousness, covetousness, elitism, churlishness, hatefulness, and competition. And such a hubris is made even more blinded by the delusion that they are somehow better people for their lifestyle choices. And this begs the question where humility went (if ever it was had) in the first place.

    However, when we are on our hands and knees picking out the weeds by hand between carrot seedlings, getting dirty clothes with silt that coats the skin regardless of our clothing–that does seem to do something to your body and spirit after a day or two of such work. At the very least, prayers to the Lord become more fervent!

    And then there is beekeeping. Honeybees are quite cute and friendly in early spring but try to take their honey later in the season and they become different, daunting little animals. They are very good at teaching humility—another form of the Lord’s messengers.

    Dear Father thank you for your ministry. And for these words:

    Thus, it is important for us as Orthodox Christians not to live an imaginary life. A life carried out in the imagination would be the height of delusion. Again, it is a reason I stress the “next good thing” and keeping the simple commandments of Christ. When people change the subject and want to speak about managing the world, or how we respond to the “present crisis,” the bulk of what is being discussed will not be what is at hand, what I need to do right now, what is begging for my attention at the present moment, or what do I need to do tomorrow. Most of it will just be imaginary.

  57. Dee,
    At a certain point in my life, I realized that I had made a terrible series of decisions…and that I would not be in the wonderful place in my life that I am now in had it not been for those “mistakes.” What a waste of time that I ever longed to have some “do-overs.” In truth, my mistakes have shaped me as much or more than anything. God was shaping me for precisely what I am now doing. I meant it to myself for evil (I made mistakes), the Lord meant it to me for good.

  58. Dee, I can now so relate to what you’re saying about prayer becoming more fervent during tedious labors…shoveling gravel today became a wondrous opportunity to practice the Jesus prayer (1 per every shovelful)…something I’ve been neglecting but needing to do for some time now. 🙂

  59. Dear Father,
    I sincerely needed your story about mistakes, and how the Lord means them for our good and our salvation. In another sphere of my life I’ve made some mistakes of late. Ironically, it looks like the Lord is using such mistakes to forge new and unexpectedly healthy relationships.

    Glory to God for my mistakes!

    Dear James Issac your comment made me smile. Thank you for that! It brightened my day.

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