Why Everything Is Important (but not the stuff you might imagine)

 

My Dad was an auto-mechanic, and a good one. He worked in the pre-computerized engine days. The way cars and trucks operated was pretty much the same as the airplane engines he worked on in World War II. I never learned more than a fraction of what he knew, but I learned a few things. This one is very important: “It’s usually not the carburetor.”

He would come home from work relating stories of interesting jobs he’d done that day. A common tale was of a car that wasn’t running right. Cars need gas in order to run. So, when the car’s not running right, the customer would have the bright idea that it must be the carburetor, the thing that measures and sends the gas to the cylinders so the spark-plugs can ignite it, make it burn, and power the engine. But, as Dad said, “It’s usually not the carburetor.”

What would limp into his shop was a car where the owner had been fiddling with the carburetor and made a minor problem into a real mess.

“So,” I asked, “If it’s not the carburetor, what is it?”

“It’s usually in the ignition system” (the parts of a car that work together to produce the spark to ignite the gas). The carburetor doesn’t really have many moving parts to wear out or get out of adjustment. The ignition system, though, is sending powerful jolts of electricity thousands of times as you drive. That’s where things tend to break down.

Knowing stuff like that was important when you were working on the line in Casablanca keeping bombers in repair so that they could return to their boming runs in Southern Europe. The war needed smart mechanics at least as much as it did heroes to fly dangerous missions.

So, chances are, the car needed spark plugs, points, condenser, etc. But leave the carburetor alone.

This has not come up in my life very often other than when my lawn mower starts misbehaving. I approach the offending machine whispering, “It’s usually not the carburetor.”

What I learned in listening to my father over the years, was to think of an automobile as a collection of systems (fuel, ignition, braking, etc.). They each do their part and all of them are necessary. Knowing what each did and what each needed has been an important part of caring for these expensive things we drive around.

What does that have to do with theology?

In my thought, theology is not a collection of ideas, much less a collection of unconnected ideas. Theology is a reflection on what is true, and a reflection on what is true in the light of what has been made known to us in the God/Man Jesus Christ. Because it is true, theology is not many things, but one thing (just like a car is one thing). We describe different aspects, but we should never describe them in a way that doesn’t fit with everything else. No one fact or thought exists by itself. Everything relates to everything.

And it’s usually not the carburetor.

There are those who imagine that a segment of theology here or there can be radically altered (say, a moral teaching) and the whole not be harmed. My experience over 40 years of ordained ministry has been to watch “theological machines” falling into disrepair, becoming little more than a collection of popular slogans. Looking through the catalog of present-day seminaries is to gaze at a collection of newly-deranged carburetors, as though someone’s bright new thought in specialist studies will somehow change the world, save the Church, or address the injusticies of society at long last. (This is thankfully not the case in Orthodox seminaries).

I have been chided by some for my interest and studies in systematic theology. The trope is that Orthodoxy “does not do systematic theology.” This is true – because Orthodoxy already is a fully organic system like all truly existing things in nature (and all of nature itself). It is not a human project, but a profound expression of the world as it is. A tree is its own argument and explanation. In the same manner, Orthodox theology, rightly seen in its whole form, is the whole world.

I am wary of every new thing, every fad, every keen interest.

The troubles we encounter in our lives are not nearly as complex as we sometimes imagine. When I first began reading Orthodox books, I remember excitedly ordering the one volume selections from the Philokalia. I read about it in The Way of a Pilgrim. It seemed to me, that a knapsack, a Bible, and the Philokalia, were all that anybody needed (per the book). I quickly learned that the Philokalia was way over my head, and of very little use to what was happening in my life – or, if it was of use, I had no idea what that might be.

I have written recently that “we are not saved by information.”

Matters of prayer, of pride, of shame, of love, of forgiveness, of generosity, and suffering, are much closer to that place where we live. The rest of the world (and theology) are true, but, like Quantum Mechanics, it’s not always what we need. It is said that Orthodox Christianity is a “way of life.” This is true, and means that it cannot really be read. It can be sung. It can be prayed. Mostly, it can be stumbled around in so that we learn what it means for it to be the way.

I bought a car from my Dad. I had a flat tire one week and I changed it out on the road. I felt pretty competent. A day or so later, however, the wheel began to make a noise and to shake. When Dad got home, I asked him to take a look at it. He did and he began to laugh. Big belly-laughs.

“You put the nuts on backwards!” he howled.

I didn’t know they had sides. Pointy side goes in – flat side goes out. I was embarrassed. But now I know something about tires (and I’ve never forgotten).

I also remember that it’s usually not the carburetor.

 

 

57 comments:

  1. Thank you Father!
    So many ‘parts’ of our world are broken.
    Can we recover from the cumulative damage, can the this damage be stopped, let alone reversed? The Godlessness is all encompassing…
    Only returning to God can help, but even the difficulties the world is experiencing are not bringing people back to Him, as it happened in the past.

  2. Thank you for my heartfelt chuckle for the day. “Newly-deranged carburetors” indeed! God is good!!

  3. Agata,
    We have cross some boundaries, no doubt. Also, we’re undergoing one of the most significant technological shifts in human history (not unlike the invention of the printing press, etc.) so it is disruptive. But, regardless of that, human beings have not changed (we think we have, but we have not). Indeed, since we only live 70-90 years (or less), no one accumulates any wisdom greater than that allows. But, in that we do not change, we can be sure that the world will ultimately have to return to fairly practical answers in our lives. Of course, if we begin living in the “meta world” (where daily life is essentially a video game) it’ll add to the weirdness. God is the same, we are the same. I also suspect that this present age will have a significant collapse at some point (all ages do). God is good and will take care of us even in that.

  4. Many people have a fondness for cars. Seems that that has been the case in your family Father Stephen. Carrying memories. And joy and health in the hands on physicality of dealing with them.

    That said, if it hadn’t been cars in your family it could have been something else. Something better for the environment and better aesthetically as well. Yes, perhaps the horse and carriage. An insensitive point? Perhaps. You wouldn’t have needed an automobile metaphor for how it’s all holistic, interconnected, systematic. Nature tells us this with, naturally, a more natural and supernatural enchantment. Sadly, the experience of that is only squeezed into pockets of nature for many of us in industrial-posindustrial hybrid environments.

    Mass ownership of the car had been a mistake. The change in technology towards motor cars and bikes should have been reserved for emergency services and for public transport only.

  5. Thank you Father.
    What do you think the current “technological shift” is? The only one I see is that the brainwashing of minds is shifting to the manipulating of the human nature itself. That seems to be biggest accomplishment of science and medicine of the recent years: that we can “turn” a man into a woman, and vice versa. Where are the great accomplishments of science in energy (to make it cheap and plentiful), environmental sciences (to keep the air and water clean), transportation (something shorter than 9 hour flight to Europe), agriculture (food to feed everyone), health (to win the battle with cancer)? None of it happened, we are regressing in most areas, rewriting history, instead of learning from it (and living long does not guarantee that people will become wise, just look at all the old people in power!!).

    Honestly, I am more and more depressed the more I think about it all. If I did not have my hope in God, all would be pointless.

    But I don’t agree with James about the cars, he must have never lived where public transport is the only option, and especially in winter. I have.

    Why always swing to extremes, why can’t we find some “middle road” for everything?

  6. James, don’t be a Luddite. My father was an actual homesteader who lived with his parents snd his older brother in a sod hut when they first moved onto their claim in western New Mexico in 1910. He rode horses a long time.
    He oft told the story of his aunt who ran their first car through a fence because whe she approached the gate and pulled back on the steering wheel and yelled “whoa”.

    Yet throughout his life my father was an earlier adopter of technology because he was fascinated with human beings and the way we think and make new things.
    As much as I don’t care at all for the dehumanizing of much modern technology, I have to remember that our human ability to create is a gift from God. When we return to God in thanksgiving and repentance, it puts proper boundaries around all of our God given abilities.
    Lord, forgive me a sinner. May the Joy of the Lord be with you.

  7. James,
    There was an expression in the 19th century and earlier of “farmers and mechanics.” It meant farmers and those who maintained the equipment for the farm (which goes back quite a long way). My family, through the generations, did both.

    The point (which was indeed insensitive and unnecessary) is quite correct. We really made a mistake with how we managed our machines and economies. Of course, it pretty much has nothing to do with the content of article.

  8. The current technological shift is a reference to the computer (in all its forms). It’s changing things. But technology in the modern world has been “managed” mostly for profits – which seems to a fairly blind way to run anything. So, what we’re really good at doing is creating wealth (but not distributing it). Mammon is a very blind god and makes slaves of his worshippers.

  9. Agata,

    We pray in the Liturgy “Put not your trust in princes in sons of men, in whom there is no salvation” (Psalm 145). For myself, I watch what’s happening, try to have faith and trust in God, pray, attend the Liturgy, and try to be the best I can in the interactions I have with those around me and in the choices I make.

    I try to keep in mind the words of St. Seraphim: “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved”

    I am far from acquiring the spirit of peace, but I try, I figure it’s the best I can do.

    Alexis

  10. Hi Michael,
    What you have written hasn’t changed my mind but I do agree with you that our ability to create is a gift. Mass ownership of cars is quite something. Father Stephen makes me think discussion could be more centred on the content of his article so let’s leave the digression there, best wishes. James.

  11. One thing I learned from my Dad was that people are more important than things or bureaucracy. Late in his life he took a job at an attending physician at a plasma bank. He was there just to screen out the folks who should not give and “keep the line moving” He got cautioned and eventually fired because he took the time to get to know the folks who came in because people and their stories were fascinating to him.
    Somehow, he knew that the people, in and of themselves, were not the carburator.
    It has become increasingly simple to me over the past year. If I don’t allow God to change me, then no matter how much fiddling I do with “the carburator” the engine will still not run right.

    Mt 4:17: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand is a literal statement of reality, not just figurative.
    Even as the physical pains and other struggles remain Joy is always present I can’t outgive God so I can never ” make things right” except in that still, small, simple place within by letting Him do the work. For some unknown reason, He seems quite intent on doing that, no matter what barricades I erect.

    The Morning Prayer of Philaret of Moscow gas one sentence that I always struggle with: ” Teach me to greet all that come to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your Will governs all.”

    The reverse of the modern curse. ” The Triumph of the Will” as the 1935 Nazi propaganda film put it. A masterful film.

    Lord, for give me.

  12. James,
    I apologize for being gruff in my answer to you. Learning to honor my father and his skills was not automatic for me growing up. I learned it later in life. This week is the 11 anniversary of his falling asleep and so I feel it very poignantly. So, the digression was not so much insensitive, as it was a kind of painful dismissal of men like him who did the hard labor and dirty work so that everybody could enjoy their conveniences. Like most blue-collar workers, he never imagined himself to be a manager of culture. He did the best with the skills he had and the opportunity available.

    My use of the image was not an homage to our automobile culture – but a recognition of a father’s wisdom gained in a shop that was largely unheated and un-airconditioned, with low pay, surly customers, and little respect.

    But, our culture is disease-ridden. There’s no argument from me on that. However, I try not to write as a “manager.” We will not change the world. My question is how can we rightly live in the broken world for which Christ died? And that’s the content of the article.

  13. Hi Father Stephen,
    I did re-read the article after your previous message and got a richer experience from it and clearer sense of the family connections and humour. On first reading I zoned in too much on the blight of cars.
    There is no need to apologize. It’s only good that your perception of your parents would grow with age. The 11th anniversary makes my comment bad timing. My knowledge of orthodoxy is scanty but I pick up some of its holistic beauty from you so thank you. One thing I pick up is the sense of connection through generations, even with our ancestors. Probably not a conversation to open up here now. Also not sure to what extent the generational connections are important as in, how central or peripheral. The one other time I contacted you on here your response was very much the kingdom that matters is not of this world.
    I definitely don’t dismiss men who do hard labour/blue collar work. Not at all. I live 800 meters from Heathrow Airport. Where there used to be hamlets there are now flight paths, motorways , warehouses. That’s gonna inform my views somewhat. One reads local history to learn of loss.
    Your image was a good one.
    I think we can try to change a small part of the world.
    PS i did once say sorry on Twitter because I said I would send you two editions of Fracture magazine and then I didn’t. I’ve learnt that twitter isn’t really where you interact and I won’t tweet at you.
    All the best,
    James

  14. Haha, these days it’s a safe bet to say it’s never the carburetor (I think they stopped being used around 1990), but the car is still a whole “one thing”. I wonder if there’s a theological analog for that…

  15. James,
    Thank you. You’re right abaout Twitter. I do publish a link to the blog on twitter, but I can’t bring myself to actually use it for conversation. I am profoundly aware with the passing years of our generational connections. My father was the son of a sharecropper (my grandfather has lost his farm in the collapse of the cotton market in 1928) and was working in the cotton fields by age 4. He was a simple man, with more complicated problems than he understood, but he grew over the years and became, I think, a truly great soul. He and my mother became Orthodox at age 79. I think of them often this time of year (Thursday is Dad’s anniversary of falling asleep) and September 14 is my mother’s.

    Blessings!

  16. One of my father’s chuckles of bygone days. ” If you think this town is a one horse town, talk to the street cleaner.”

    and
    years ago also, Someone wrote to the editor of The Living Church,, an Episcopal magazine,
    “Do you think that motors have spirits?” The editor replied, “Yes, because I try and try to start my lawn mower and it won’t start. I load it into the car and take it to the mechanic and he pulls the rope and it starts right up.”
    It knows its master.”

  17. Thank you for sharing some of your family history Father Stephen. Likewise Michael earlier on.

  18. One of my favorite ironies from my Dad’s stories is that they always had difficulty with their wells on their homestead in New Mexico. So when their 4th well went dry, my grandfather and his family decided to move to a farm in Oklahoma. Near the town of Nowata.

  19. Dear Fr. Stephen,
    My Dad also passed away on August 18th (this coming Thursday, it was in 2009 at the age of 69). We will serve the Memorial Liturgy on Thursday, please tell me his name and we will pray for him also. ❤️

  20. The “theological analogue” to the carburetor might be authority. A single carburetor controlled the fuel-oxygen mixture for the entire engine, whereas now each cylinder has its own, individual fuel injector.

    Similar to how we have elevated personal conscience in religious matters?

    Father Stephens, if it’s not too personal and private, perhaps you could share some details as to how your parents came to Orthodoxy at 79.

  21. Mark,
    The year was 2003. They had become Episcopalians in the years before (when I was an Episcopal priest). They left in 2003 when the Episcopal Church voted to ordain a practicing homosexual man as a bishop in New England. They seemed to take to Orthodoxy like ducks to water and were pretty much at the Church whenever the doors were open. I would describe them as simple “pietists” of a sort – not particularly knowledgeable or interested in doctrine – but the sacramental life of the Church became very important to them (confession, communion). After their deaths, their parish priest said to me, “Your mother was a mystic and your father had the gift of tears.” My mother certainly had her experiences – very vivid dreams and such. My father was likely to burst into tears just asking a blessing over the food. Very tender hearted and generous.

    We tend to think in very doctrinal terms in the denominational mix that is the modern world. This group believe this, and that group believes that. Orthodoxy can be described (somewhat) by its doctrine – but the term “Orthodoxia” would best be translated as “right worship” (glory). We believe what we pray, and our prayers (worship) are a tabernacling of the fullness of truth among us. The “doctrine” of the Church could be memorized and mastered. The worship of the Church is so vast that you can only stand within it. You could never encompass it.

    That is what I would say of my parents. They had clear and traditional moral views and found a formal deviation from that on the part of a denomination to be intolerable (apparently). What they embraced was the inner life of the Church.

    My mother reposed in 2009, 6 years to the day from her Chrismation. On her last day, she woke up and told my Dad that she was going to die that day. When he asked her how she knew she said, “God told me. He said He was going to ‘take me home’ at about 7.” She suggested that they spend the day talking about their lives together and anything that needed clearing up. My father humored her and that is how the day went. At around 5 to 7, she said, “Jim, I love you but I have to go home.” Then she sat down and was gone. Just like that.

    My father passed in 2011 on the Feast of the Transfiguration (Old Style). Now they are both home.

    Thanks for asking.

  22. Fr. Freeman,

    I do believe there is a systematic theology in Orthodoxy.

    “There are those who imagine that a segment of theology here or there can be radically altered (say, a moral teaching) and the whole not be harmed.”

    It’s impossible to alter piety or morality and not alter theology because one necessarily derives from/is networked to, the other. I think this is your point. Bad piety works backwards on soteriology. There is an inherent logic/mindset in our theology that excludes alteration – because it changes what is true but also – because it changes what is practiced (the piety, the method for healing).

    But I think if there were something of a bare-bones systematic theology/soteriology in the everyday imagination – if it was intentionally instilled – the logic/mindset would prevent alteration. Most systematic theologies start with either the knowledge of God or with a broad soteriological outlook or an overarching “attribute” of God that is seen to be the priority – like when love or sovereignty become the main thing about God we use to interpret other things or actions in God. A Calvinist will emphasize sovereignty or Lordship and maybe a Universalist will emphasize love, and this will become a hermeneutical rule – and doing this is surely dangerous as it can be very subjective and anthropomorphic. But could we have the equivalent of the Westminster Shorter Catechism? Yes. Makes me want to attempt it – in the children’s version. “What is the chief end of man?” I think, instead of, “To glorify God and enjoy him forever,” which is surely partly correct, something like, “The chief end of man is to be in the perpetual, unbroken, communion of love with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and with all the angelic and terrestrial creatures made perfect by faith.” Later, “How are creatures made perfect by faith?” “Faith is acting upon the belief and holding to be true in the heart with sure confidence, that Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

    That was off the top of my head, but it could be done. But once you get to death, “How is sin motivated?” “Sin is motivated when death or the demons have acted upon the consciousness, either knowingly or unknowingly, so that we would act against faith in Christ’s and our own Resurrection. Death acts upon the mind creating anxiety, fear, and tries to overwhelm the mind to the point that it seeks relief. The relief can be found by retreating to Christ in prayer, Saints for intercession, distraction through the blameless passions, or by patience. If the relief is sought from outside Christ and His Family, or outside the warranted means available, it is sin, and the sin is primarily unbelief that God’s care and Providence is real enough or sufficient to meet a real or perceived need in the time or the way expected.” Not perfect or even good maybe, but again off the top of my head.

    Since Western theology does not credit death but depravity (and others, social conditioning) as the main motivation for sin, it cannot prescribe methods Biblically or from Christian Tradition to deal with death, and therefore misdiagnoses and usually does not help heal sins – and for those who are being healed – it is largely in spite of their systematics (however they are communicated – whether by preaching or catechism, etc. Systematics come before catechisms). If Orthodox Christians, who would wish to negotiate with who knows what, in the name of love, would remember that death and demons are the motivators for the blameworthy passions, who could logically argue for alteration? I mean, if my sin’s source is largely to be found in my death, the seemingly logical suggestions from demons, my lack of faith, and having not repaired unto Resurrection, since I am already dead and raised with Christ, and therefore abstinence or redirection of passion’s energy is the method of believing in Christ Resurrected – then I see contradictions more readily. Many people seem to think you can mess with the means of controlling passions (in order to avoid suffering) without realizing it’s illogical, and that is a fault of bad or misinformed/non-informed soteriology. If I am saved to be selfless, I automatically identify many selfish, not from faith, things. But if that’s not on the radar, death and selfishness/survival, then belief in Resurrection as a cure for sin’s motivation with the gifting of the Holy Spirit as I apply/work the means to faith/faithfulness by abstinence, patience, self-giving, these are also not on the radar. The avoidance of death, uncured/unmedicated by Resurrection, becomes self-identity, and later anyone who disagrees doesn’t love you.

    To me, alterations are heresies at the “gospel” level. The same was true for Paul. It was the practice of circumcising converted Gentiles that raised the question of what was the “gospel” for the Judaizers. Piety (it seems) alerted to the false soteriology. St. Peter was hanging with circumcizers embarrassed by his Gentile friends. How to fix? Fix the soteriology first. I don’t know if that’s the carburetor or a solenoid or the ignition – I tend to think it’s the ignition. But that’s what he does next in Galatians, showing the Law’s role in soteriology was not salvific but instead faith, as he had died to the law via crucifixion with Christ, and now lives again, but not just him, but Christ in Him.

    My overall plug here is that if both, some Orthodox systematic treatment of soteriology was already known, it would necessitate a certain piety, and would make vivid contradictions between the two. Paul believes Babel to over following Pentecost. The old Pentecost was the celebration of the giving of the Law to Israel. The New Pentecost is the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit on all flesh. Going back to the Law negates the Holy Spirit and the Gentile. If we used that same sort of reasoning in cultural debates, and in informing the laity, one, at least we would be consistent with our theology. and wouldn’t have to appeal to something deistic like Natural Law (though there’s a place for this secondarily). All comes back around with 2 ways to live, life or death.

  23. Matthew,
    In the years that I was teaching inquirers – much of what I worked on was to lay the foundations (firmly) that could be safely built on. A large part of that was soteriology – with a thorough treatment of thinking ontologically (and I did it over and over and in accessible languages an images). My book, Everywhere Present, grew out of my work with Inquirers.

    St. Philaret of Moscow wrote a catechism. I tend to not like catechisms in that the form itself can create certain mistaken ideas. But I’ll not belabor that. For what it’s worth, the OCA is in the process of completing new catechetical materials which I contributed to. I’ll be interested to see what it looks like when the project is released.

  24. Thank you for sharing that, Father Stephen. (Eventually I will quit mistyping your name!)

    I’m not sure mine is a gift, but my daughter can attest I tear up very easily as well. Your description of your mother’s farewell is just the sort of thing that I would have trouble speaking of without at least my voice catching.

  25. Mark,
    I think one of the aspects of my parents (for me), is that I have this span of years, including their ends, to consider and ponder. Their earlier years, I only know by their stories. Our lives went through enormous changes – from life in the Jim Crow South – to the advent of the computer age (though neither of them ever touched a keyboard). They endured the Great Depression, the Second World War, etc. Things were hard (after a fashion) in my childhood – including problems with alcohol and lots of unresolved issues. When people ask me about transformation – I saw a lot in their lives – after a fashion. But I’m deeply aware of how intertwined and enmeshed our lives are. I can see their parents’ stories and issues in them, and I can see theirs in me, and mine in them. All of it together. It is said that “a monk saves his family for seven generations.” I’m not a monk, but a priest. And I have no idea whether the “saving” works only forwards, or in both directions (I suspect it is both and perhaps for more than seven). Each of us inherits so much. The spiritual life, they say, consists in how you deal with what you’ve been dealt. I also think that I am “playing my hand” not only for myself, but for generations before and some yet to come.

  26. Father Stephen,

    I believe I understand you, but the acceptance of that twining and meshing comes to most of us only gradually. The best parents don’t want their children to forget their roots, but, at the same time, they want something better for their children than the parents themselves had. At least they hope the next generation won’t have to make all the same mistakes.

    If so, can that saving propagate backwards? I don’t know either, but it’s a beautiful thought, because as you say, we do inherit much.

  27. Father,
    I will pray for your Father, with all my heart. Memory Eternal to James! May God grant all our departed relatives blessed repose. And some day allow us to join them. And all future generations that will come, with God’s blessing, after us. I pray for my own departed self, my children, my grandchildren already now…

    I loved how Fr. Tom Hopko said our prayers reach backwards and forward in time, as God hears them outside of time.

  28. I ask prayers for healing. I has surgery on Tuesday to replace my left knee (the right was replaced in 2018). It went very well and I am far further along at this point of the process than I was back in 2018. But there is some ways to go yet. Please keep me in your prayers. God is good and I am very thankful for how things have gone so far.

  29. Praying for your healing dear Byron! May our Lord Jesus Christ grant you rest and healing.

  30. Thank you Father for this very interesting article.
    May I begin by asking, who or what does the carburetta represent? Is it God, the Church or the theology of the Church. With humility my thoughts are all three, and that if we change the meaning or function of any of those three, then we have a distortion of the truth.
    Unfortunately, we live in a world where our Orthodoxy (just as in the past) is challenged by many and various factors and indeed compromised to meet the “needs of the world”. Is the carburetta perhaps being tweaked here?
    Ordinary lay people become deeply confused when they see splits in our Church i.e. Russia and Ecumenical Patriarchate; or the issue of whether the Council of Crete was canonical; or whether certain bishops should be commemorated.
    Also, what about the modern ecumenism that we see and hear of today? Evidently, someone is definitely tweaking that carburetta to the degree that our theology in practice produces fruits of division and confusion especially amongst the lay people.
    Having said all that, we are to trust in the Living Christ who constantly transforms and saves in a way we do not fully comprehend, I am lost for words.

  31. Mario,
    I think the lesson of the carburetor is perhaps one of caution. We tinker with things, change things, at our own peril. The Church is not a human invention – it is the gift of God. The modern temptation is always to tinker, to be “improving” things. Ours is an age of arrogance and pride – we cannot seem to bear the shame of our ignorance.

    I have long meditated on the apparent “dysfunction” of Orthodoxy in the modern period. The mess of jurisdictions and such that we wring our hands over and complain bitterly that it’s “not canonical,” etc. What I have concluded, though, is that God allowed our dysfunction during this period to protect us from our own worst inclinations. Many of the denominations have used this period to steer their churches onto the rocks of various heresies and insane notions – many of them verging on total disappearance. Orthodoxy is so dysfunctional that we could not successfully hold a “Council” (as the attempt in Crete) or even agree if one had taken place. It meant that we could not “solve” certain problems – but it was likely that the solutions would be worse than our present dysfunction. I am encouraged in that meditation to remind myself that God is protecting the Church – even from itself.

    At present, the world is in the throes of terrible passions. The social order is simply failing by almost every measure. At the same time there are more ideas and projects to “fix” it than at any time in history. Everybody is a carburetor expert! and can’t leave things alone.

    That being the case, we should not despair (that is itself a passion). Instead, we should turn our hearts to God, work daily to calm the passions, center our thoughts on the providence of God, and ignore the storm around us except when we pray for mercy. It is the reason I continue to urge people to live “small,” to “do the next good thing.” When you have gathered the family into the shelter of a safe place, and there is a raging hurricane going on outside, the main question is how to mark the time usefully while you wait for the storm to blow itself out. The worst thing to do is to imagine yourself to be able to manage the storm.

  32. From outside of N America. I am an interfering busybody I know but things have been worse than they are in the past. I remember the Cold War. Now we look at newspages and think the reports are important forgetting that thei news media’s primary importance is to sell advertising, Therefore they emphasise what is frightening or amusing or titillates unworthy interests.

    ps. Horse drawn vehicles in cities create a health hazard as horses do not care where they deposit their manure. This was the problem in 19th century cities and the horseless vehicles are an improvement on that.
    Motor mechanics are not credited enough for our clean streets and comparatively fresh air. We need more public transport, though.

  33. I saw this quote from Wendall Berry and thought it apropos:
    “The language we use to speak of the world and its creatures, including ourselves, has gained a certain analytical power (along with a lot of expertish pomp) but has lost much of its power to designate what is being analyzed or to convey any respect or care or affection or devotion toward it. As a result, we have a lot of genuinely concerned people calling upon us to “save” a world which their language simultaneously reduces to an assemblage of perfectly featureless and dispirited “ecosystems,” “organisms,” “environments,” “mechanisms,” and the like. It is impossible to prefigure the salvation of the world in the same language by which the world has been dismembered and defaced.”

  34. Wonderful quote from Wendall Berry.

    In real life, Public Transport tends to be a sink hole and to make it in anyway actually practical requires a high population density and that alone brings more refuse and other social problems, etc., etc., etc.
    Technology invariably creates as many problems as it solves most of which are neither anticipated nor well managed. Etc., Etc., Etc.
    Humility, Repentance and Forgiveness in Jesus Christ are what gives us real progress.

  35. Just here in the San Joaquin Valley of CA., we have a real public transportation quagmire. A high speed transit train was going to be built between San Francisco and Los Angeles. But because of huge cost overruns it will now only be built between Merced and Bakersfield (hardly great metropolitan areas!) Currently over 24 billion dollars have been spent. Still no train. And because of real poverty here in the Valley ridership will be low…no doubt subsidized.

  36. You’re right, Father. I need to keep stumbling around in Orthodoxy, the true way, and get off the phantom train!
    I do like this note you struck of stumbling around. Most of what I’ve encountered in life as being true has come through lots of hard knocks and failings, stumblings. This surely includes my Orthodoxy. But all the bruises are worth it if I only stay on the way…through what you always stress…prayer, repentance, generosity, kindness, worship through the sacraments, etc.

  37. “Dear Everyone,
    I promise you this article is not about automobiles.”
    🙂

    We prayed for your Father yesterday. Today, Memory Eternal to beloved James and all his departed family.
    (I will send you a link to the video stream later)

    I think this article is about the issue described by this quote I found today (apparently from John Gray’s “Seven Types of Atheism”):

    “There has been no adequate replacement for God among the Godless, who tend to take their consolation in Reason and in Science. Yet if men were rational no one would have to believe in it. The record of history does not bear out a preference for logical and evidence-based reflection amongst our species. Man is flawed, not perfect nor perfectible. There have been many attempts to create some religion of science or other and their persistent failure is no deterrent to the fanatics. Science is a way of asking questions that can never close the fact-value gap. It is silent on how to live.”

    Byron, get well soon! You are in my prayers.

  38. What I have loved about science is the practicalities in it. As Father has said, there is no arguing with gravity. Sometimes we need to be aware of our ignorance and sometimes what science reveals can be a call to such awareness—a need to learn. From my practice in science came an awareness of the reality of Christ’s Resurrection. I remain grateful of the praxis in science, for our Lord used it as a door and a way for Him to find me. And if He found me in this way, I believe He will find and has found others on this path, calling to them in the language of their science. Glory to God for all things.

  39. Dee,

    It makes sense that, if creation is sacramental, then what Mankind creates has at least the potential be the sacramental as well!

    Dear Everyone,
    I promise you this article is not about automobiles.

    But are you really SURE it’s not just the carburetor, Father? 😀 (Okay, I’m done now)….

  40. Father
    Thank you for your helpful reply.
    I agree with what you have said. I can see how caution plays a big part in our entire way of life.
    The Church is indeed a gift of God, and evidently dysfunction is not. He allows our dysfunction; the dysfunction of the Church and the dysfunction of the world at large. Perhaps we can call this the fall, the very reason for Christ’s incarnation.
    However, would it be correct to say that in one sense, since Christ Himself is the Head and Body of the Church, it cannot be dysfunctional.
    Even so, as church militants we experience our own dysfunction in the form of sin which the Lord had foreseen and permitted in the hope that we will learn and turn from our evil ways.
    Could this dysfunction that we see in the Church today be a way of seperating the wheat from the chaff.
    After all, we have been warned of such anomalies and events in the scriptures, although under a different name.
    We have also been warned not to tinker with the carburetta. I recall “Hold fast to the traditions….”

  41. Dear Father Stephen,
    If this article is not about automobiles, then perhaps these words will pop out all the more:

    Matters of prayer, of pride, of shame, of love, of forgiveness, of generosity, and suffering, are much closer to that place where we live. The rest of the world (and theology) are true, but, like Quantum Mechanics, it’s not always what we need. It is said that Orthodox Christianity is a “way of life.” This is true, and means that it cannot really be read. It can be sung. It can be prayed. Mostly, it can be stumbled around in so that we learn what it means for it to be the way.

    We have a rather vague understanding of what a way of life is, often translating the way to the things we own. wear, or manage. In contrast are your words: It cannot be read. I’ll add the Orthodox way of life can’t be acquired. Even more, it cannot be acquired through watching youtube. But if watching Divine Liturgy on YouTube is all that one has access to, it is better than nothing, perhaps.

    On living the life:
    As I read St Sophrony’s book “His Life is Mine”, my heart rests on his words as he reflects on the holy Orthodox tradition:

    “According to the ancient theological tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, mankind is but one being but multi-hypostatic, just as God is one Being in Three Persons.
    The Liturgy in its eternal reality is the Lord’s Passover permanently present with us…”

  42. Father, I’ll need to amend how I wrote the last comment unless it’s misunderstood. The contrast I spoke of is that of your words against the world’s notion of what a ‘way of life’ means.

  43. Dee

    A complimentary comment by St Sophrony to your reference of the “Lord’s Passover permanently present”, from one of his letters:

    If Orthodoxy were not so “strict”, the Revelation about God would not be preserved, and everything would be lost. The issue lies in the fact that preserving the integrity of the evangelical Truth in the practice of our lives is connected to an extreme struggle, a true crucifixion, which all people avoid. Every other way (the way of “metaphysical teaching”, the way of the intellectual ascent to the theory of the Eternal, the way of “putting off the old self” and so on), all these are known to us and are achieved with relative ease; however, the crucifixion for the love of Christ and the descent into hell, are indeed obtained “through many tribulations”.

    Father

    I translated “ἡ ὁδός τῆς “ἀπέκδυσης” καί τά λοιπά” to “putting off the old self…”, I hope this is correct.

  44. Dear Nikolaos,
    Your words strike a chord with what has been happening of late in my life. Thank you, and Glory to God.

  45. Dear Dee

    Tomorrow is the Leavetaking of the Dormition and the Synaxis of countless icons of the Mother of God. I’ll wish you the same as the Mt Athos fathers wished me to cope with my tribulations:

    Cling to Panagia the Quick to hear (Gorgoypikoos). Literally grasp her garment and don’t let go.

  46. So…since we’re talking about automobiles….. 🙂

    Father, thank you so much for sharing about your dear parents. It was beautiful to read about them.
    I hope this doesn’t sound patronizing because it’s not meant that way. As a college educated, run of the mill office worker, the older I get the more I deeply respect folks like your Father who actually worked for a living.

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