"The flaming sword withdraws from Eden's gate."

COME, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord,
As we sing of this present mystery.
The wall which divided God from man has been destroyed.
The flaming sword withdraws from Eden’s gate;
The Cherubim withdraw from the Tree of Life,
And I, who had been cast out through my disobedience,
Now feast on the delights of Paradise:
For today the Father’s perfect image,
marked with the stamp of eternity,
Has taken the form of a servant.
Without undergoing change he is born of an unwedded Mother;
He was true God, and he remains the same,
But through his love for mankind, He has become what he never was: true man!
Come, O faithful, let us cry to him:
O God, born of a Virgin, have mercy on us!

– Vesperal Divine Liturgy (service for the morning of Christmas eve)

image: Holy Apostles Orthodox Church, Lansing NY, before the Liturgy.

The president leaves the White House.
(from Ran)

Not virulent enough?

I had a conversation with a friend who thinks that COVID19 is either a scam, or that a minor epidemic is being used to promote authoritarian goals. His interesting question: “Where are the funerals?” And it’s very true that for most of us there’s a big gap between the stories we read every day about overwhelmed hospitals, and the fact that many of us don’t know a single person who has died, or even gotten sick, from this pandemic.

What I tried to tell him: It’s a highly contagious disease that kills a small percentage of its victims: as of now, less than 1% of the population. But that 1% translates into a lot of people. So two seemingly contradictory things are true: In our own circle, we don’t see much evidence of the pandemic, but on the larger scale, it’s having serious consequences.

Perversely, I’ve wondered if we’d be responding better to a more lethal epidemic: if most of us had personal experience of the deadly side of this disease, we might, as a society, be responding to it more effectively.

A little update on the ultra-minimalist Light Phone, of which I’m a happy owner: Of course you can’t view photos that people include in texts, but now those photos are forwarded to your email address, so they’re not just lost. Nice.

Very cool: A coast-to-coast US bike trail!

The web crawler monopoly. I learned a few things, though I didn’t come up with a brilliant solution.

My grandson doesn’t like Mac&Cheese, and my granddaughter doesn’t like Cheerios. It’s disrupted everything I thought I knew about small children.
To confuse things further, they both love Kalamata olives.

Rise of the Nominals.

This: So, Why is Evangelicalism Not Declining? Because Non-Attenders Are Taking On the Label. “Evangelicalism” is holding steady in numbers (unlike most faith groups in the US) because more and more non-churchgoers adopt the label.
Note: There are many congregations on non-white people who are, theologically speaking, Evangelicals. But neither the media nor (I think) they themselves are prone to using the label. If trends continue, “Evangelical” may come to mean “white people who don’t go to church but want to identify as Christians.”

(From Ryan Burge’s always interesting Religion in Public blog.)

The two parties. Anyone who discerns Donald Trump, Ibram X. Xendi, Xavier Becerra and Rush Limbaugh as members of one party is OK with me.

Then there are days with this kind of mood.

Somehow, being angry makes people feel good. I mean, makes people feel that they are good. Hard to understand, but it helps to explain some things.

Labyrinths.

Shirley du Boulay’s The Road to Canterbury has a section on medieval mazes/labyrinths as metaphors for spiritual pilgrimage, which led me to read about the famous labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral (12th c. – see image).
These days, a religious interest in mazes feels a bit new-agey, the kind of thing you’d find at a “spiritual retreat” for post-Christian Episcopalians. But labyrinths* were part of Gothic church architecture for centuries, so they’re worth a look.

As I studied the Chartres labyrinth, two features struck me:

  • When you enter the maze, a short path quickly takes you almost to your destination – then veers off on a long and winding path. Those of us who have experienced the “high” that often comes early in the life of conversion will understand the metaphor all too well.

  • The maze is unicursal (new word for me!): it doesn’t branch. To reach your goal, all you have to do is get on the path, stay on the path, and keep moving, even if you seem to be moving away from the goal. Encouraging. The Way is the Way.

* Apparently some people use “labyrinth” to refer to a unicursal maze, “maze” to refer one that branches. There isn’t much justification for that, as far as I can see, so I’m using the terms interchangeably.

On why social media self-policing isn't possible

It is because a universal public square cannot be a community that the parameters of the online speech debate are stuck. The conflict between the “marketplace of ideas” framework and the “communal norms” framework seems irresolvable because it is irresolvable. At least, this is so for the platforms we have now, which are an experiment with no obvious historical precedent: forums for discourse and information discovery that are not communities, or at best are failed communities. It is only in a forum that is a community that these two viewpoints can be reconciled, even mutually sustaining.

Why Speech Platforms Can Never Escape Politics

Blogging, email newsletter? Not enough! Start a printed magazine not available online. This article is fascinating in so many ways, maybe the starkest example of New Media repentance that I’ve read.

I had a tele-medicine doctor’s visit today. Neither of us wore a mask, so in an odd way it felt more human than my last “real” visit.

The Sower.

The many homilies that I’ve heard about Christ’s Parable of the Sower usually focus on the symbolism of the types of ground on which the Seed falls. That’s fine, especially since Christ himself explains the parable this way.
But reading the story today, what struck me is the profligacy of the Sower: willing to scatter a lot of seeds on the chance that one might take root in unpromising places like ourselves.

(image source)

Angels.
I came across this amazing painting, Angels Appearing before the Shepherds, on Gracy Olmstead’s Granola newsletter. It’s by the American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner, who ought to be better known.

Techie! I’ve been shifting toward using the Brave browser, and today did something pretty technical for me (don’t laugh): set up my computer so that images and PDFs open in a browser window by default. Pathetically pleased with myself.

"Christianity is not an intellectual system, a moral code, or a political stance."

Here are perhaps the three most widely held interpretations of Christianity: Christ as the spokesman for a new morality, a plan to improve the world, or a teacher of religion. Those who interpret Christianity along these lines do not lack evidence for their views, and these views tend to soften the scandal of the true Christian claims, but in doing so, they miss the only thing that makes these claims worthy of consideration.

– Gil Bailie, via this post.

Stuff

From this interesting collection of statistics on how much stuff we own, I’ve picked out a handful:

  • The average size of the American home has nearly tripled in size over the past 50 years.
  • The average American woman owns 30 outfits—one for every day of the month. In 1930, that figure was nine.
  • The average American family spends $1,700 on clothes annually.
  • While the average American throws away 65 pounds of clothing per year.
  • Americans spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches ($100 billion) than on higher education.

All of these are backed up by links in the original article.

Trend: Neo-feudalism.

COVID19: Many approaches, all failures.

The Economist maintains a chart of cumulative COVID19 deaths in countries around the world. The scariest thing about it (for me) is that there seems to be little obvious relationship between a country’s “foolish” or “enlightened” policies and how that country is faring. The US is doing badly of course, but look at the many countries where per-capita deaths are rising much more rapidly. Again, Belgium leads the pack, for reasons that are completely mysterious to me.

(Be sure to click the “Per 100k People” button to make bigger and smaller countries comparable.)

Prayer and common-sense hygiene (e.g. masks in public places) are good; praising or blaming containment strategies doesn’t seem to me to have much support at this moment.

A good trend. A few news news sites offer plain-text versions of their content, stripped of the CLICK ME stuff. May this prove to be a trend. Examples so far: NPR, CNN. If you know of others, please let me know. (Thanks @toddgrotenhuis)

Front Porch Republic is a site you might want to look into if you care about sustainability, modest technology, community, etc. Wendell Berry won’t sell out and make a web site, so I like to imagine that FPR tries to do it for him.

A sizable portion of the American public appears to crave enemies.

– Damon Linker, “America is Buckling”