Why do we so easily forget where we come from? Dr. Timothy Patitsis joins Henry again to chat about the affect of legacy on our lives through the language of standards, language diversity, being a melting pot or mosaic, legibility, Jane Jacob's tripartite society, algorithmic control and agency, sanctification and faith as an adventure. Michael Polanyi says that "a society which wants to preserve a fund of personal knowledge must submit to tradition".
Conversations may be edited for clarity. (edit)
Timothy: Yesterday was, I guess, the day after Julian calendar Christmas. So-called old calendar, which is still the calendar kept in Bethlehem. That’s where they’re celebrating Christmas. I happened to be at the Star Market here, and the guy behind the fish counter was chatting with me, was very friendly. I said, “Where are you from?” He said, “Where are you from?” I said, “Well, my dad’s from Greece.” He said, “I’m from there 7,000 years ago.” What an answer, huh?
Timothy: “I’m from there 7,000 years ago.” I said, “Whoa.”
Henry: That’s not something you would expect to hear.
Timothy: Your fishmonger. That’s an old word. But anyway, yeah. “So, tell me all about that.” He said, “Well, we’re Palestinian.” And was it Samson with the Philistines, or somewhere? The F and the PH. He says, “Well, we’re a Minoan civilization from Crete.” Which I think is older than Greek civilization. It’s not Greek. The Indo-European peoples all came from the north shores of the Caucasus, Black Sea area, Ukraine, Russia.
Timothy: Then the Greeks came through Hungary, and then they came down in different waves. And each wave spoke a different dialect and settled in different parts of Greece, and they learned from what was left of Minoan life and civilization. But that locked them into a conversation with the really old civilizations in the Middle East. But yeah, it was incredible, then, in that part of the world, somebody wants to locate their identity 7,000 years ago.
Henry: That they would even think that way. That’s true.
Timothy: I’ve learned to think that way. But I think Greeks think that they do that, but I think compared to the actual Middle East, like Syria, the persistence of subcultures is much deeper. What about Chinese, by the way? I’ve heard that, till recently, even in one city, there could be three or four spoken dialects of Chinese, even though the written language is the same.
Henry: I am probably not the best person to answer. From my understanding, there can be multiple spoken dialects in different cities. And each city has its own thing, and the written is either the simplified or traditional characters. There’s a concept called legibility that I’ve been learning about recently. But there’s a book called Seeing Like A State, and the concept is viewing culture, society from the state, the government point of view. And how that causes them to create policies, or just act in a way that is in their interest, so that it’s easier to see things from a big picture, that might not be always good. It’s just once view of how society works.
Henry: One of the examples, I think it was talking about the forestry industry, getting wood from the trees. In the regular forest, there was a diversity of different tree types, plants, animals and the whole ecosystem, and you get the wood from that. But then from an engineering point of view, because it made it efficient to get the wood, what if we started planting trees in a grid or something? This is similar to the high modernist view of cities, but it was not very resilient because disease happened, and because they were the same type of tree, they all died. It doesn’t mean it has to be a machine.
Timothy: I’ve heard that about Turkey. How the father of modern Turkey, that he aspired to create the first truly modern state in the world, by which my professor meant there’d be no fractal quality to society. There would just the individual and the state. Yeah. No middle layers. So of course, the big act there was to abolish the use of an Arabic style script for the writing of Turkish, because that meant, with the stroke of an act of the parliament, all subsequent Turks could not read anything of their own historical inheritance.
Timothy: Even to this day when I’m in Turkey with my students, and we have a local Turkish guard, although he’s an Orthodox Christian, when we’re in the ancient cemeteries, simple Turks from the hinterlands will come to him plaintively and say, “Can you help us read what’s on these tombstones?” Because it’s all in the Arabic script, and no one has learned to read that.
Timothy: It’s interesting, this. People are so worried about the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems. They say, “What cures to cancer may we lose with the loss of species?” Or whatever medicines. But languages are vanishing specifically..
Henry: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Timothy: I don’t know if we talked about that last time.
Henry: Yeah. They don’t understand why things exist in a certain way, and so they decide to destroy. Once those people are gone, and they didn’t pass that down, then we’re never going to be able to understand it. Or it’ll be very difficult.
Timothy: Their thought worlds will become… It’s like, I experience the shift from trying to shift modern Greek, what that brings out in my personality and character, versus if I’m speaking Russian or German or English. And as I go through those languages, the different side of me that comes out, I mean, that’s just four languages, but there used to be, say, 25,000 languages in the world, and we’re down to 10,000. So what are we losing? Where’s the urgency about recording those or somehow capturing?
Henry: Going back to this theme of legacy, right?
Timothy: Yeah, like the seed bank up in Norway or something. The Lake Toba eruptions 75,000 years ago, when they say it produced this thousand years of global cooling, and almost exterminated homo sapiens. Down to 1,000 of us in Africa, and they broke into two groups that didn’t know about each other, and all that. But just even from that point till now, it took us 75,000 years to develop those 20,000 languages. Then they’re going to be wiped out. And Marx was very wise on this. He foresaw there would be this extirpation of human cultural diversity.
Henry: And that we focus on the future, not really caring about preserving the past. A new interest in open source and maintenance as a concept is related to this idea of archival, and in this case, trying to preserve it forever, not just keep it around, but how do we make sure that we can continue to have access to it? We don’t really think about that, because we’re always trying to push to the next thing.
Timothy: I know there’s different kinds of emotional anxiety, but at least on some metric, Canada is a less anxious society than the United States. There, instead of the melting pot, their metaphor is mosaic. Government resources are available if your church is a German-Lutheran church and you want to establish a German book library, there’s federal resources for that. They want to keep-
Henry: Oh, okay.
Timothy: … the mosaic alive.
Henry: And in the melting pot space we’re all-
Timothy: I can’t trust anyone who’s different. I’ve got to obliterate difference, and then we’re good.
Henry: Assimilation to this ideal. But we don’t really know what that is. I would hope that’s true in the church. We all preserve our individualism, but then we all have that shared something, right?
Timothy: Right. I mean, that’s the miracle of Pentecost. And Babel, all those languages was a confusion, but in the Pentecost, it’s many languages, but somehow-
Henry: Oh, yeah. Everyone understood in their own language. Right?
Timothy: Yeah. Somehow the diversity coincided with unity, whereas in a foreign world, like the world of the state, like you said, the legibility, diversity is the threat to unity.
Henry: It’s funny that I work on a project that’s named Babel, so it’s ironic that we’re doing this. I also read that the legibility concept doesn’t have to be applied to the state. It could be applied to a market or anything. Another concept that I’ve liked is Chesterton’s Fence. Chesterton wrote about this idea, that you can apply it to any tradition, or just something that was already there, like the fence. It’s like you’re trying to go forward, and you see there’s a fence in your way. You just go through it, right? Why is this fence here?
Henry: His point is that when you want to reform something, institution or culture, instead of simply getting rid of it, you should understand why it was put there in the first place, before you get rid of it, that way, I know why this was there, and I still choose to remove it, because I’ve understood the original intent. Realizing it was there for some purpose. And maybe the negative would be that it was actually really good and you actually caused more harm than good. Maybe you could have gotten rid of the fence without knowing, and it turned out okay, but it’s out of ignorance, right?
Henry: So I guess this concept is more of an act of humility, that I might not be right. May really be careful about it before I change something.
Henry: Facebook actually used to have this phrase called move fast and break things. It’s interesting that we’ve embraced that kind of thinking.
Timothy: Creative destruction.
Henry: Maybe it’s something we’ve embraced because of the digital space that we’re in. There are no limits, unlike physical constraint, right? You can store as much as you want. Infinite disk space, that causes us to feel like we need to move faster, or imply that to people instead of just machines.
Timothy: Well, you know, Jane Jacobs, by the… In the last 20 years of her life, she hit upon this ancient idea that all societies are tripartite and that there were three modes of being, in any society, that actually had ethics were opposed, or complementary, for commercial life, or trader ethic, you should be innovative, you should not respect authority or tradition. But she felt that governments should have this countervailing impact, and certainly, then that the church was something else entirely, where hopefully religion can be enlisted almost anywhere as a force for compassion. Certainly that isn’t necessarily the case.
Henry: Doesn’t have to be the case. We would like it to be the case.
Timothy: “Wait a second here. Let’s preserve this subculture, this language. Let’s not be so hasty.” But we’ve created a system with no firewalls, and their integrity is being overwhelmed, I think. I mean, a fence against pornography, for example, right? Very hard to maintain, because there’s so much desire for it and there’s so much money at stake. Having obliterated that fence, what’s the impact on family formation and just mental health?
Henry: I guess there could be a fence that is really hard to take down that a lot of people want to. And then also no one even realized there was a fence before, because it’s been so long.
Timothy: So yeah, these things are gone now. And in what sense are we better off? It’s hard to say.
Henry: It’s easier to see things always black and white, but even the changes that have occurred in society, there’s always finding that reason. Not that everything’s always all good or all bad, but trying to present a positive approach forward. Because we can’t really go back to the past, right? With technology. Even though a lot of us are realizing the downsides of it. It doesn’t mean we should get rid of it entirely. In some sense, we can’t. It’s all there in the infrastructure, in our minds, in our habits, and how we use it in daily life.
Henry: Do we need to help people develop better self-control, discipline, virtue, that thing? Or do we create technology to help us not use technology? Maybe we need all those approaches.
Timothy: Traditionally, Christians have had, whether they were Calvinists, or certainly Roman Catholics, or Orthodox Christians, to go back, Lutherans, they had… Whether or not they used the word asceticism, everyone knew that you had to train yourself in self-denial, or self-restraint. You were just a shipwreck if you didn’t. Where is that training to come from?
Henry: It is very difficult now, because there’s that aspect of, do what you want to do, which is good, it’s the freedom to choose, but then, that has it’s own anxiety. There’s so many choices. You don’t know what to do, and then you don’t do anything. You get paralyzed. Maybe it’s just hard to think about what self-improvement means in this modern life.
Timothy: Or repentance. But certainly parents and educators, we’re not looking at these things in the abstract, we just know that if they cannot discipline themselves, that they’ll crack up.
Henry: I think, for the modern day, we need to understand the outlets for the now, to be able to-
Timothy: Outlets for self-discipline?
Henry: Or not, I guess. Where it’s not showing up. It’s hard for parents to understand anything that’s going on, because they’re not immersed in what are kids doing in the day-to-day? Easy example would be, maybe, video games. Why are these kids wasting their time doing this thing? They did grow up with it. It’s like, why are they turning to this? How do we explain that there’s reasons for why that’s happening? Because of a negative, and then using that to move forward.
Henry: Part of it might be that you create other games that help you with these types of things, or learning to have self-control. I guess it’s difficult to relate between generations. How do we connect?
Timothy: Reading this Edwin Friedman, The Failure of Nerve. He says what we’re addicted to, and what we’re hiding behind so we don’t confront ourselves, is data and information. We just want more information to make the decision for us.
Henry: That’s funny. I’ve been thinking about that a lot too.
Timothy: But it really doesn’t, you know?
Henry: Have you seen this? In this internet age, we have these recommendation systems from all the companies, Netflix, every movie we watch, it helps the algorithm tell us what to watch next. It’s like, are we even making the decision at that point? That’s legibility too. They only know what movies we watched. That doesn’t mean they know us. Does that represent who we are? Over time, everything is just a recommendation. They were doing that before, but now we feel like it’s some extreme.
Timothy: They’re not even showing me the movies that I might be interested in, because the algorithm, Netflix is junk. It’s funny, though, how I will find surprising things. Like this TURN, about spies in American war of Revolution, that wasn’t recommended to me but there it was, and I just couldn’t stop. It was great. And then I just binge-watched recently Cheer, about this community college 10-time national champion collegiate cheering squad.
Timothy: The legibility obstacle there is I would not only have to watch that, but explain what I’m seeing. To me, it’s a drama about kids’ families of origins, and it’s a story about discipline. It’s a story about leadership. But someone might think it’s an interest in cheerleading or something.
Henry: But that’s not why you wanted to watch it. We have our own vocabularies, and machine learning, is interesting, because that is a black box. The engineers that work on the algorithm, they might even say, “I don’t want to be responsible for what happens.” They can just be like, “Oh, it’s the data, and it’s tracked.” But now I think people are arguing now that the people that make the algorithm have their own bias. We’re all biased in some way. It’s all the way down.
Henry: I don’t know if you can pretend this thing is objective. This is the right way. When you’re saying that we want more data, right? Because it feels like then we can make a better decision. Now, in order to buy something, you need to be sure it’s a good one. It could be something as simple as a pencil or a toothbrush. It doesn’t even matter if it was an expensive one or not. You don’t need a smart toothbrush, right? Everything is like, you need to spend a whole day on, right? Do all your research. I’m going to be informed.
Timothy: I mean, that’s true, but is it a bad thing? Maybe that will drive the evolution of better toothbrushes, or something.
Henry: Yeah, but I think that it’s not bad to spend time thinking about these things, but I think that when it leads to the anxiety of making sure that I did the right thing, I think that’s what I’m concerned about. Now you’re worrying about it. It becomes part of your identity. “Maybe I need to show people that I’m smart and I can buy the right things.” Or for myself to just be like, “If I spend my time wisely…” I think that when it becomes very emotional, almost existential. And that seems kind of absurd, but I feel like that happens to us a lot.
Timothy: And that last seems not absurd at all. That seems exactly right. It not only prolongs adolescence, but it almost returns you to it, after you’ve left it. You go back to this state where the whole world is new. It’s just new, and things to explore, and discover. Everything’s open and indeterminate again. And it seems like maturation is about progression to determinacy, and then final determinacy of death.
Timothy: People will be watching a great show with their last eyes, they’re on their deathbed. They’ll be like, “Oh, I wish I could live another 15 minutes to see how it ends.” They’re looking for all the novelty through these channels, and it seems like the content creators are getting better at delivering it. And I think once we get to a real virtual reality experience, where I can not only study about the Himalayas, but I can smell and feel the cold, and it’s told in some compelling way, I mean, people will just refuse to die. They’ll just think, “This is too great.”
Timothy: Whereas, 100 years ago, I mean, eventually you get bored. You’ve seen it all. You’ve done it all. Just like, “Okay.”
Henry: That’s interesting. People are bored all the time now. Still. So you think that there is literally an infinite amount of things to see or… Even just learn, right? And yet people don’t know what to do. My friend was reading a book that’s called Amusing Ourselves to Death, and it was mentioning 1984 and Brave New World, and how both of those things happened, where we have this influx of information. And not knowing what truth is, because everyone’s broadcasting everything. There’s abundance of data and a lack due to the censorship.
Timothy: By the way, those two books, a student of mine pointed out that they illustrate Jane Jacob’s understanding of a tripartite society very well. One is a dystopia where society becomes nothing but guardian control, and the state is everywhere. And then, Brave New World is the opposite dystopia, where pleasure and self-gratification has absorbed everything. There is no state in the way. There is even room for research in Brave New World. You can also move to Iceland or something if you want to think freely. But everyone is a slave to the pleasure.
Henry: What was the tripartite, what are the three parts?
Timothy: The two basic parts that she noticed are, she called the trader syndrome, the commercial syndrome of innovation, and a world that’s not… Decisions are made consensually. And then the other is the guardian world, where it is a realm of force and hierarchy and tradition and authority.
Timothy: Solzhenitsyn, in his Harvard address in 1978, he had a similar idea. He thought that medieval Roman Catholic civilization had become excessively guardianized, and that since before the Reformation, we’d gone to the other extreme of anything that’s consensual is moral. Whereas, the guardian view of morality is, no, it’s the law. Jacobs thought that you need in some form at least, these two realms, these two syndromes. The definition of civilization is just a reasonable symbiosis of these two worlds. Function in government, a functioning commercial sector, that we’re not starving to death.
Timothy: She thought they could only be reconciled under the influence of love. The third force. She used words like art, gift, or creativity for that. Essentially, what I did with her work is say it’s a vision of society as if it were a wedding liturgy, and that’s why I did my dissertation about Greek Orthodox Christian Holy Week, because the whole week is cast as an encounter between the bridegroom, Christ, and Jerusalem, which is a failed encounter, but then he marries the New Jerusalem through his death, or the church, or Heaven.
Timothy: So certainly that idea of society as a wedding liturgy, the two parts getting married in front of a third, seems to be more or less a human universal. I mean, it’s everywhere. All of the Indian castes, except the Untouchables, come down to some version of those three. The priests. The warriors, the different tradesmen. Japanese society. I think it’s existential. You cannot avoid it. It just is reality.
Timothy: When I read Jane Jacobs letter about it, she said, “Well, if something’s true it should show up in many places.” Like, in religion, and myth. So, well yeah, it is. And like you’re saying, we seem to have the worst of both worlds, in some ways. We have the tax collector and the harlot, because I think in Gospel terms, your fallen guardian is the tax collector and your fallen commerce person is the harlot. And a lot of technology is driven, first of all, by the demands of porn. Porn needs this. There’s a market for porn. Soviets collapsed, the first thing that you could buy was pornography. There’s a fallen human nature.
Henry: You mentioned aesthetics. Maybe we could talk about that. Actually last time I think we talked about beauty and cultural engagement as a Christian, and how to talk about our faith, and one way is through beauty, right? In this postmodern age, we’ve been trying to talk about faith as in God’s story, and that it’s more appealing. Or presentable.
Timothy: So, what would the Christian apologetics of beauty look like, do you know? I think it has to do, too, with asking different questions.
Henry: I like that because we’re always looking for the answer, right? Maybe that has to having so much data, that we must have the answer.
Timothy: It’s a compulsion. It’s an addiction. It’s maladaptive.
Henry: Seeing knowledge a little bit differently. We keep talking about Michael Polanyi, but his work is around personal knowledge. One thing I liked was trying to see that knowledge in his view, always from the perspective of somebody. Whether it’s you or someone else, meaning it’s always personal. And most of us would say that is a negative because subjectivity is biased. It might not be true because it’s just your belief. He’s just saying, “How can you ever claim certainty?” And that truth has to be embodied and lived out through people, rather than this abstract. And then the more real it is, the more complicated it gets.
Henry: Knowledge is just a bunch of pieces of data in a list that you add onto. You might think that the more you learn, the less there is to know. This finite. You know something is true when you’re able to see all the possibilities that come out of that truth. More knowledge expands the universe. It only gets exponentially greater, and you feel a sense of even humility. Maybe that pairs with this idea of asking more questions, because once these possibilities come out, you might feel overwhelmed, when you start asking these questions.
Timothy: Yes. In the Orthodox church, they don’t look at theologians as of particular importance to the doctrine of the church. They think that really comes down to the saints from Abraham forward. It really is. Because it is so personal. What kind of person believed this? It’s not the smartest kid on the block-
Henry: Integrity, right?
Timothy: Yeah. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. That’s who your theologian has to be.
Henry: Imitate me, right? It’s not enough to just have it all in your head.
Timothy: It’s an impulse to imitate me, as well, right? There’s a chain of imitation. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have, also, immediate access to God. Many times, it’s not so much that you learn from the tradition as that you have the immediate experience of God, and then traditional helps you either to interpret it, or to filter it. It’s canonical.
Henry: Yeah. Even though I usually think that tradition is the thing that holds us back. But as in science, and in any institution, it’s actually the thing that makes us move forward. Going back to legacy. It’s like, without the past, we’re just going to make the same mistakes over and over. Having a stable base allows people to experiment. And maybe there’s a sense of reformation. I think in Reformation they had that phrase, like semper refurum, always reform, right? It doesn’t mean that every single new thing that someone comes up with, we have to figure it out and see, or just start over and completely destroy the thing, but the opposite would be you never change, right? You still change, but I don’t think you could, I don’t know, I guess go back and forth all the time, right? What are you any more, right? At that point.
Timothy: Luther’s self-understanding was that he was trying to recover something that he’s lost. He wasn’t inventing a new religion, but he was trying to recover something that, well, from an Orthodox Christian perspective, we would say really was in danger of being lost. We certainly though there was something going on over there in the Latin church. It was just become unmoored. But forgive me, Roman Catholic listeners.
Timothy: I think for tradition to mean something, there has to be a personal experience. That repentance is both a return and a progression. That, “Okay, here I am at age whatever I am now, and repenting of my sins today, or my sins this past year, then in a sense I’m recovering some purity I had a year ago, but now I’m also developing. I’m maturing and I’m ready for the next adventure.” Whereas if I don’t, you know? So I think people need to have that existential experience, that repentance is somehow the path forward. But there’s some development possible, you know?
Henry: Yeah, like the sanctification.
Timothy: Sanctification. Certainly, and you develop wisdom. You develop better instincts. New spiritual life. You develop, and you have experience that you didn’t have.
Henry: Yeah. I think it’s the marrying of theory and practice as one, right?
Timothy: And intuition and conscience. A lot of things are getting purified and refined, and you’re not the baby in the faith that you were. You’re something more.
Henry: Right. Yeah. Like what does maturity look like, where we’re talking about also having childlike faith, but then being mature, and not needing the spiritual milk or whatever. Yeah. I think about how, I mean, you get older in any sense of that word. You get jaded, right? I gave a talk here in Boston with some college students. It’s really great to talk to younger people, just because they see the opportunities. They are motivated and excited, and just full of wanting to learn.
Henry: You can say that’s naïve, or something, but that’s from the jaded point of view, I think it’s important to remember that. Because after you work, or you are in school for a long time, and then everyone around you just doesn’t want anything any more. Not looking for what’s next. Where is your hope coming from, right? Why do you wake up every day? Those questions.
Timothy: I think Hanukkah, the first Hanukkah, wherever that was, 187 BC, 170, I don’t know the years there, but it was the Greeks, since the time of Alexander, had controlled Palestine, and Hellenized everything. And lots and lots of people spoke Greek, and the elites were becoming… They said even in the time of Christ, [Coperna 00:28:29] they were doing the plays of Aesculus and stuff like that. It was so Hellenized. And then [Titus 00:28:37] or whoever it was, he tried to take it all the way. Just completely obliterate the local worship, and people just… What if they hadn’t rebelled? What if they hadn’t… Where would the Messiah have come from?
Timothy: The Greeks weren’t going to produce the Messiah. They produced a lot of things, but, you know. So it is just such a danger of that, where that globalization makes us legible, everyone spoke Greek or whatever, it was the language of the day, but where’s the local diversity that could potentially spark a new path of evolution and development that will save the world? Yeah. I don’t know. It’s hard to see what’s happening to our world. I mean, you see in something like political correctness, it’s like a modern day inquisition. Have you thought, have you spoken in a way that offends the dogma of today? And you have to be burned at the stake and fired from your job, and all that.
Timothy: It doesn’t seem like a human thing. Because on a human capacity to make diversity and unity coincide, that has to be an act of the Holy Spirit. Or this paradox of how the return of repentance, becoming more childlike, is actually the key to adulthood. I’m not saying that a true adult is a baby. What we’re saying that a truly mature adult has recovered a certain purity-
Henry: Softness. Yeah. Purity. Okay.
Timothy: … of heart, openness of heart, or whatever. Softness of heart. Vulnerability. So all these coinciding of opposites don’t seem to be merely human achievements, at least for most of human history, they’ve thought to be miraculous, or-
Henry: Faith itself is dependent on the spirit anyway. So it makes sense. And maybe all of the gifts we’ve been given, everything reminds us, is telling us that we can be self-sufficient I guess. Right? The technology. We will have come back to technology makes us limitless, right? We can get whatever we want. So all your desires are answered in that way.
Henry: But then, I guess, because of all the issues that we have, we have everything, and then we still feel empty. I guess that’s where there’s something there. I mean, I’m sure people talk about the… I guess we might say the God-shaped hole in their heart, right?
Timothy: Look, I think this has been the mistake and apologetics. The mistake has been that we are trying to-
Henry: Fit in.
Timothy: … create an artificial doubt.
Henry: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Timothy: And then provide an artificial certainty. An artificial doubt about your salvation, an artificial certainty about its solution. But what the real question of it, of faith, is something much more like the chaos or boredom or meaninglessness of your own life, and then is there an adventure? Is there an adventure that lies ahead of you that is only accessible through faith? And is there a journey that’s possible? Is there something beautiful about that thought, or something beautiful that you want to get to through that adventure?
Timothy: This is the issue. People, instead of trying to look at, okay, I said the sinner’s prayer and now I’m on the safe team, and what I’m safe to do is condemn those who haven’t said it, but no one’s inspired by this. Everyone-
Henry: It’s very forced. Yeah.
Timothy: I’m momentarily inspired to-
Henry: In that moment.
Timothy: Yeah. I’m terrified. And then I say it, and there’s a certain certainty, and peace. But it hasn’t launched me in any direction. I think it could if the right person were saying, but in the right church, in the right context.
Henry: But it’s not a guarantee.
Timothy: But it’s not really intrinsic. It really is an intellectual problem. It’s an intellectual solution to a problem that you have to first create in the person.
Henry: Okay. I see what you mean. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s not the… They have that existential problem that’s not being answered.
Timothy: No. That’s a whole nother thing. I mean, death I think is enough.
Henry: Or suffering.
Timothy: Suffering. Loneliness, or… Your awareness of your own sin, or just getting disgusted with your own-
Henry: Guilt and meaninglessness.
Timothy: Or you have this adventure, and that produces all these crazy paradoxes and diversity, like freedom and obedience. To find your fate and your total freedom at the same time.
Henry: Responsibility and having agency, right?
Timothy: Yeah. So these things are-
Henry: Yeah. I like that because it acknowledges that each person has this… I mean, they’re all different wants, or desires, or something that they’re, need help with. And they on their own are seeking something. Right? Some desire. And that could be a journey to finding something that can change how they’re looking at life, right? Different perspective, or something.
Henry: I’ve been telling people that I was reading about how knowledge, or certain knowledge, specifically some kind of insight that you can get, about anything, can be similar to having a conversion experience. Which is a very interesting way of thinking about learning. But his point with that was saying that new knowledge… Basically just saying that knowledge is a lens to which to view the world. And each piece of thing doesn’t have to be a individual data point, but it’s colors, how you see life. So maybe that’s a similar thing.
Henry: It’s like, well, you can literally have the conversion where it’s like, “Oh, now I know who God is, and now I can see life and my life and the universe differently.” But just learning something new, right? Discovering something has that similar kind of feeling, potentially. And when someone else says it, it’s similar to also getting a joke, too. Before those words that someone said, it’s just a bunch of words. When once you understand that joke, it’s like, it means something, right?
Henry: Also, you can’t go back, too. You can’t be like, “I don’t get it,” and say… No. You just get it now, right? You can’t not see it that way, which I think is interesting.
Timothy: Do you have a favorite joke?
Henry: No, I don’t have a favorite joke, but I think that’s a good analogy.
Timothy: Well, jokes are nice in the lowest sense, that they’re often-
Henry: Humor in general.
Timothy: Yeah. They often have a creative resolution of tension or something.
Henry: Right, because they give you certain expectations and they don’t match what you thought, and that’s the surprise.
Timothy: Yeah. Like you’re more of a person for having gotten it, because you can see it’s multiple… Can I tell you my favorite joke?
Henry: Yeah. Go ahead.
Timothy: It’s from 1968.
Timothy: No, ‘69. It was, I think, a few months after we put a man on the moon, and Bob Hope was addressing American troops, maybe in Vietnam, or something. And his joke about the moon landing, the Space Race with the Soviet Union and all that, and the whole world wanting to know who’d get there first, and apparently they did shoot… They landed on the moon with robots or whatever.
Timothy: But he said this. “The moon landing proves once and for all, to the entire world, that our German scientists are smarter than their German scientists.”
Henry: I see.
Timothy: You know, because it kind of, by making light of… I mean, talk about existential struggle. We were threatening to destroy all life on Earth with all these-
Henry: The World Wars. Yeah.
Timothy: … tens of thousands of nuclear warheads. We each had 20,000 warheads. I mean, and it’s humbling. These two big powers, I don’t know, these feet of clay or something, but I think there’s a reason why the late night shows do the comedy, right? You can go to sleep, now. It’s about handing things over to God, or to a force greater than your conscious mind can understand. The world has paradoxes, and surprises, and okay, that’s reality. Let’s just go to sleep. It’ll be okay.
Henry: Actually, yeah. I mean, sleep is interesting. That’s, in some sense, a liturgy of helping us depend on God, right?
Henry: I a lot of times don’t appreciate, but, man, we are very vulnerable. We can’t do anything of knowing what’s going on, and just have to just hope that tomorrow will still be there. The world will still be there.
Timothy: An image of death, you know? Just dying. Putting into thine hands, I commend my spirit.
Henry: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I think in some sense it’s funny, it’s like a habit that we have to have. God, I guess, put that in place for us, right? For us to have to sleep, and yeah, I think about phrases like FOMO, fear of missing out, and it’s like, well, you have to sleep, you’re going to miss out on something, right? And maybe that’s why those spiritual practices of silence, and just prayer, and being alone, can be helpful for us, because we are too connected, or loud, or whatever is it. And sleep is always there.
Timothy: What do you think is it that makes people not… Why do people not conceive of faith as an adventure? Or do they?
Henry: That’s a good-
Timothy: I mean, in contemporary Orthodoxy, you have this concept of an elder, or some holy person, so you’re like, “Oh, that person has a way of looking at the world that is not accessible to someone who hasn’t really grown in faith.”
Henry: Got through it. Okay.
Timothy: And so that’s an adventure. Yeah, that suggests a possibility, like, “Oh, that’s-”
Henry: Okay. Just from that, I mean that would mean that there aren’t people in their lives that they look up to that are of faith. Or they don’t know. That’s one too. And then maybe I also think that maybe in people’s minds, faith is the end of the search rather than the beginning, right?
Timothy: Right, right, right.
Henry: That makes sense to me, I think.
Henry: It’s like, “Oh, I’m certain.” And then I think, “Maybe people of faith, for us, we need to admit that there is no certainty, and we’re starting on this journey.” We’re still on this journey. Yeah. There’s no sense of joy, or anticipation.
Timothy: I think Bonhoeffer, for me, is a saint of… What I like about him is the feeling that I will never equal him.
Henry: Okay. Yeah.
Timothy: You know, I can’t say I’m there, because I will never be there. I mean, that’s it. That’s not ever happening. And I think another thing I like about faith is that, although Jane Jacobs was not a person of faith, I feel that I am not a person of her intellect, let’s say. And that, for me, if there’s going to be any development in my connection to her, it would partly have to come from… I don’t know how to put it. I don’t even know what I mean. But somehow, I feel if I became a holier person I would understand her better.
Timothy: And certainly having met her in person, I always felt like… Like when I was with her and talking with her, or if there were other people in the room asking her questions at her house, I always felt like, the reason she’s smarter than us is because she’s purer, or more mortal than us. It was never just the intellectual insight. There was always a moment of repentance when she would weigh in on something that we all messed up, and the feeling like, not only did I not see the answer, but the reasons in my character that blocked me from seeing it. I mean, knowing is that personal. That’s a terrifying kind of thing.
Henry: I mean, you meet someone and you realize how different, or… I don’t want to say their hiring, but just how far apart you are. And you could translate that to holy and to God himself, right? It’s like when we finally realize how far we are from God. You might say, “Oh, then you’ll run away,” but in this case, it causes us to run toward them, right? That we want to understand them, or be like them, imitate them, whatever it is. Even though we know we can’t attain it. So somehow the difference in character, whatever it is, causes us to desire it.
Timothy: Funny to go full circle to this question of genealogy and things like that. I think within some qualification, it’s healthy to think about our own ancestries that way. I feel, certainly about my father, that I will never equal him. That I’ve made too many mistakes, and missed too many opportunities to ever be the man that he is. And also I live in different circumstance. He was born in the Depression. I think he was five when the Nazis occupied his village in Greece. I mean, that’s a whole nother world. Right?
Henry: Incomparable. Yeah.
Timothy: Yeah. I think that’s one reason why a person wants to think that, oh, we Palestinians came from the Minoan civilization 7,000 years ago. They want to have some sense that… I mean, I don’t even know where the man picked up that 7,000, but I’m just saying.
Henry: Right. Just knowing-
Timothy: There’s some sense that your deep ancestors, you could never equal them, and they are… Their memory is like an adventure. It’s the only way to approach them is to-
Henry: Right, because you can’t actually talk to them.
Henry: I don’t even know if I mentioned this in the beginning, but I brought this up because I was thinking about family history, and how I feel like I don’t really know any of it, honestly. And also, sometimes it’s hard to appreciate what your parents did for you. And your family conflict, and those kind of things. So when I do hear those stories, it helps me to empathize better. Like, “Okay, I understand what you went through.” You know, I can still get annoyed at what people say, blah, blah, blah, but just getting a better sense of their lived experience, and the fact that maybe, my grandparents, if they’re not around, then I can only know about them through my parents, essentially.
Henry: And then, if I don’t talk about this, record it, save it, I’m never going to get it. And just personally, it would be good for me to have it, even if it isn’t a good sharing, or anything. And yeah, I guess, knowing where you come from is someone’s… And yeah, and then we were dependent on them. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them, too. Regardless of how they are now.
Timothy: And what if it turns out that one of your ancestors was a thief, or-
Henry: Yeah, yeah.
Timothy: But they’re the reason you’re here. I think that also is humbling, because who are we to judge another human being? And we can’t judge the people around us. I mean, who knows? Maybe one of our ancestors sacked some city, and that’s how they survived, and these are terrible crimes, but all we can do in that case is repent for them. In Christ’s genealogy, I don’t know if it’s in Matthew or Luke, but didn’t David steal Uriah’s wife, and the child he had through her was the ancestor of the Messiah?
Henry: Yeah. I mean, and then also, just more generally, God uses very weak people, and people that don’t have morals, to eventually lead to Christ. I guess that should be an encouragement for us, for any of us that have… Because we’ve all sinned. And to know that God can use us for good, or even use our faults for good. And of course, the meaning of that doesn’t mean we purposely do those things, but for the things that we have done, that is redeemable. Right?
Timothy: Isn’t that the greatest of the Lutheran paradoxes? To come face-to-face with ourselves as sinners while also seeing ourselves as sanctified, loved and justified, and not to try to resolve the tension either way. And it’s not an intellectual thing.
Timothy: It is the Holy Spirit thing.
Henry: It’s a wrestling. Maybe it goes back to the answers thing. Maybe we always want these complete answers, and maybe… Not that the answer is no answer, just we’re living through it, and somehow being okay with that. Maybe that’s a good place to stop, there.
Nadia: Thanks for listening. If you’d like to continue the conversation, you can find us on Twitter, @left_pad or @nayafia, or on our website, hopeinsource.com.