Monday, April 23, 2012

altar boy

So, Ian's an altar boy. In our parish, they can start at age nine. He wasn't interested when I initially asked him about it, but after his friend David told him how great it is, he changed his mind. Since his birthday was coming up anyway, they decided to start him during Holy Week. The original plan was to begin with the Unction service on Wednesday, but he got sick early in the week, and it seemed too soon to throw him into something new. We skipped that opportunity and started him instead on Holy Saturday.

I think he likes it. Since that first time, he's asked before every service if he was serving in the altar again. He wasn't actually scheduled until next month, but we did manage to get him a walk-on this week. They don't really do formal substitutions. If someone doesn't show up (on time), they just grab someone to fill in. Since he wanted to serve, we made sure to arrive early yesterday, and it paid off. For some reason, they finished Matins 15 minutes ahead of schedule, so in the scramble to make sure everything was ready to go for the Liturgy, I asked if they could use one more, and they took him.

I'm sure the thrill will wear off eventually, but it's nice for now. I figured he'd do better with some kind of responsibility to keep him occupied during the services, and just getting him and Jenna apart helps everyone. Once Ian settles into a routine, I'll see if I can get her to stand with the choir again. She was into it for a while, since several of the girls stand back there, but she might feel better about it if I can be in closer proximity.

Anyway, Holy Saturday. I don't think most people know what to do with it. Sure, there's Good Friday, when Jesus died on the cross, and of course Easter, when he rose from the dead. But the Gospels don't really spend much time on that day in between. It was the Sabbath, and his disciples rested as they were supposed to. As far as that goes, in one sense we can say that Jesus rested as well. He had completed his work of suffering and dying--really, he had completed his earthly life. By all appearances, he was resting. But we also think of this time as quite active. His soul was in Hades, preaching victory to "the spirits in prison."

In current Orthodox practice, the observance of Holy Saturday actually begins Friday night with the Lamentations service. But even as depressing as that sounds, it contains a great deal of hope in what will soon follow. By the time we get to Holy Saturday itself, the Liturgy is actually attached to Vespers, which really makes it the end of Holy Saturday and the beginning of Easter. So there's a great deal about salvation and victory, which culminates before the Gospel reading, as the altar party processes around the nave and the priest throws bay leaves.

Holy Saturday is also the Traditional day for baptisms. Catechumens would sometimes spend years preparing for baptism. The home stretch was Lent, with forty days of training and spiritual preparation. During Holy Week, they would finally learn about communion. It was actually kind of unusual that we didn't have any baptisms on Holy Saturday this year, but we sing "As many of you as have been baptized . . . " in any case. Guess it was a good day to "baptize" Ian into his new role in the altar.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


We moved to Maryland with the idea that we would not be here long. I was going to school, and once I finished, we expected to move who-knows-where to find a job. But school led to more school, and part-time job became full-time. We started having kids, and before we knew it, ten years had gone by, and we weren't going anywhere. With our second child on the way, we were hoping to find more space than the two-bedroom condo we were renting. We also figured it was about time to buy a place, if we could afford it.

Howard County is a nice place to live--good schools, plenty of shopping and services, and not terribly far from Washington or Baltimore--but it's very expensive. We chose to live on one income, which almost inevitably meant that we couldn't afford to buy much of anything--especially in 2007, at the height of the housing bubble. Our one real shot was the Moderate Income Housing Unit (MIHU) program:
The MIHU Program is an inclusionary zoning program that requires developers of new housing in specific zoning districts to sell or rent a portion (generally 10-15%) of the dwelling units to households of moderate income. MIHUs are sold or rented through the Department of Housing & Community Development at affordable prices and rents set by the Department. Any person or family can apply to buy or rent an MIHU, provided their household income does not exceed [80% of median income to buy, 60% to rent].
We were deemed eligible for what I think was the second drawing they conducted. As units become available, they are put into drawings. Any approved applicant who wants to participate can put their name in. If you get picked, you enter into a contract with the seller. You buy the unit outright--the county just sets the rules and prices. We were picked first for a batch of three-bedroom townhouses in Elkridge Crossing. They weren't what we considered to be ideal homes, but given the market conditions, we didn't have much choice. We signed a contract and tried to make the best of it.

Since this was our first time buying a home, we did not immediately think of everything to ask. But we were initially surprised at the difference in price between the two sets of townhomes in the drawing. We were also concerned about resale of the unit. They try to keep units in the program, so when you're ready to move on, the County sets the pricing and holds a new drawing. Without knowing how they had come up with the price in the first place, we wondered how we would know whether they were setting a fair price years later.

Once we received the price breakdown from the County, we had even more questions. The builder had apparently been very thorough in identifying markups to the base price set by the County. They didn't get everything they asked for, but they still got a lot--more than $20,000 in markups on a $200,000 house. Some of them seemed reasonable, but many raised red flags:
  • $5000 for a garage--not a bad price, but the unit also lacked a basement
  • $3000 for nine-foot ceilings--nice to have, but they serve no real purpose
  • $150 for an ice maker, and $500 for a larger refrigerator--really? a markup for both?
  • $2500 for a deck off one of the kids' bedrooms--not very functional, and there was no reciprocal adjustment for the absence of a fenced-in backyard
  • $300 for a hardwood foyer--the foyer was vinyl
  • $1000 for taller kitchen cabinets--nice to have, I'll admit, but is it really worth a markup?
  • $150 for a gas water heater--the water heater was electric
  • $500 for upgraded carpet--I can't even fathom what would be lower grade carpet than that
  • $2000 for brick trim and landscaping--they changed the landscaping on our row of buildings so that it barely conformed with the minimum standard, but the markup remained
  • $500 for a Roman shower--i.e., no bathtub in the master suite
  • $300 for a garage door opener--yes, a garage door opener
We went back to the County and questioned several of the markups. It took a year to complete our building, but the only adjustment was a $500 refund for the obvious errors of the hardwood foyer and the gas water heater, and we didn't receive that until after we moved in. The landscaping change we didn't discover until shortly before completion of the building. The County accepted the builder's excuse that we were paying for the overall landscaping of the whole community, not necessarily what was immediately in front of our house. The other issues they completely ignored, explaining that we had no cause for concern. The resale pricing would be based on what we paid when we bought the unit.

In 2010, we contacted the County to ask once again about how resale pricing would be determined. We were told that the county kept on file the details of how our unit was originally priced, and the resale price would be comparable for the current economic conditions. Based on that, they provided a ballpark estimate that our unit would sell through the program for around $250,000. We asked for, but never received, a more detailed estimate. Building in the community had re-started, and new units on the open market were selling for less than the program pricing on our unit. We were told that, if such were the case when we decided to sell, the County would extinguish our covenant, and we could do what we wanted. But with new units available at competitive prices, we decided to wait.

A year later, building in the neighborhood ceased again. We followed up on our earlier request for a detailed price estimate, and this time they sent back a breakdown of the current pricing on new units. Instead of basing our resale price on what we had originally paid, they used a much simpler list of adjustments, including the original markups for garage, laundry, and extra half-bath, but offsetting with a $5000 cut because there was no basement. The base price was significantly lower, but there was a substantial markup to adjust for differences in the cost of homeowner's fees and other regular expenses. The total was a little over $220,000--almost $30,000 less than they'd estimated a year earlier.

Our apprehensions were fully realized, but we chose not to argue the point, because given the market conditions, we felt we'd be better off with the current pricing. They weren't likely to find a buyer through the program if they charged much more than that, and if we had to sell the unit ourselves, we'd incur a realtor commission, additional preparations to show the house competitively, and probably have to pay the buyer's closing costs. Better to take our chances selling through the program and still come away with enough return for a substantial down payment. We decided it would be better to wait out the winter and sell in the spring, so we arranged to contact them again after the pricing was reset in January.

Their response was a long time coming, and when we finally received word, we understood why. They had discovered a mistake in their calculations. The $14,000 condo fee adjustment should have been subtracted, not added. So even though the base price went up slightly, the newly recalculated price dropped to a little over $205,000. At that point we had no choice but to contest the whole pricing structure they were using. Fortunately, our earlier questioning had produced enough written documentation that they had to address the earlier set of markups. They still insisted on applying the condo fee adjustment, but even so they determined that the resulting price was too high to sell the unit through the program. We considered getting out and selling on the open market, but by that point there were too many short sales and foreclosures in the neighborhood to expect that we would walk away with enough money to buy the kind of house we really wanted. Our four months of optimism had been shattered, along with any confidence we might have had in the county program.

The MIHU program was great to have available at the time that we needed to buy our first house. It may not be as useful now, with lower market rates, but it will probably be just as helpful to others in the future. But the County seems to have got off to a bad start. Between the two builders with units in our drawing, one seems to have got away with using a downgraded unit for the program, while the other inflated the price with every markup it could get. The County should have called them on these tactics.

In the first case, they shouldn't have let them use a downgraded unit at all. From what I understand, it was a converted two-bedroom model with the basement adjacent to the garage serving as the third bedroom. Any family that needed three bedrooms would be faced with the choice of which child to put on the ground floor by themselves. The units were also visibly smaller than those sold on the open market, which would easily identify program participants for anyone who was looking. If they did allow it, they should have enforced a significant price cut for the lack of a distinct basement.

In the second case, the County should have cut the price for lack of a backyard or basement and omitted some of the petty markups requested by the builder. They also should have forced the builder to refund the markup for the landscaping when it became apparent that they had completely changed it in the newer rows. It was nice to see that in the most current breakdown they seem to have adopted a better strategy (still no backyard), but the change highlights a bigger problem--that there really is no good system for ensuring that unit owners will get a fair resale price, consistent with what they paid in the first place. We were assured repeatedly that the County would use consistent standards in determining the resale price, but it only took three years (not the 30 that I was envisioning) for them to replace the original pricing scheme with--albeit one more sane--but radically different nonetheless.

I like to think that our input had some positive effect on the program--it seems, at least, that the new pricing breakdown has incorporated some of our recommendations. But the process was more often frustrating than not. We sometimes waited months for a meaningful response to some of the simplest questions. We got our most important answers only by involving our County Council representative. If they did adjust the pricing structure in response to some of our advice, they never expressed any intention to do so or any appreciation for our input. So the other area I would recommend for improvement is definitely communication with the unit owners. I have little expectation that any of them have been made aware of any of these issues, unless they have done the work themselves to demand some answers.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


A while back, I tried to determine whether matches or a lighter would be a more environmentally friendly way to start fires. (I don't smoke, but I do use oil lamps, candles, and occasionally burn blessed items to dispose of them properly.) I couldn't find a conclusive answer at the time, so I settled on a mixture of options.

Over time, though, some other priorities came into play. I didn't like the idea of throwing away disposable lighters, and for my most frequent uses, most of the wood in a kitchen match would be wasted. (When I started, I was also burning incense, and letting the match burn out in the censer actually helped.) I also wanted my use of fire starters, as with other things, to reflect my preference for buying local.

I realized that the least disposable option was a classic Zippo lighter. It's designed to be refueled and refurbished, and the manufacturer will perform more complex repairs for free under a lifetime guarantee. They're based in Pennsylvania, which is just about close enough to call "local," and there are plenty of local retailers that stock supplies.

The main drawback is that it uses a petroleum-based fuel. The amounts are small enough that the difference in environmental impact between any of the available options is probably negligible. But I try to live by the assumption that we will eventually run out of the stuff, with the final stage probably involving Mad Max-style skirmishes over whatever dregs remain. What good, then, is a lighter designed to last forever, if the fuel won't?

But I think I figured out a solution to that problem. From what I can tell, you actually can run a Zippo on ethanol. So as long as there's a gap-toothed hillbilly making 190-proof moonshine (surely a growth industry in any post-apocalyptic wasteland), I should have something to burn--something locally made, no less!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I realize I'm a bit late to this rant, but in my defense it's about holding onto the past. Why shouldn't it start by delaying the complaint itself?

My son was born in 2003, my daughter in 2007. I can only assume that they will never know a world in which Sudafed can be purchased off the shelf. When I was growing up Sudafed, or pseudoephedrine, was ubiquitous. It was pretty much unmatched in combating sinus congestion. But that was before the war on methamphetamine escalated to the point that in 2005 this potential ingredient disappeared from store shelves. It was locked away behind pharmacy counters, and something else came out to take its place--phenylephrine. This placebo-like substance made its way into products like Sudafed PE and NyQuil, until we forgot what it was like to actually treat a stuffed nose.

Several years later, we somehow came back to our senses and realized that life was too short to throw money away on worthless drugs. We started standing in the 21st-century bread-lines and submitting to the humiliation of a body-cavity search so we could breathe again. (OK, some of that might be unconfirmed.) But it wasn't free air we were breathing--it hung heavy with the stench of government oppression. Even then, I didn't wake up to what was going on. My wife did most of the shopping and kindly spared me the details of just how far she had to go . . .

Until last night. Wanting to make sure I had a decent supply for my first day back to work after a bad cold, I walked across the street to our neighborhood pharmacy. I thought I knew what I was in for. I went to the shelf, found the card that matched the product I wanted, walked up to the counter, averted my eyes, and silently handed the card to the official. I held my breath. They didn't have the size box that matched my card, but they did have a larger one available. A sigh of relief. I'm going to make it through this. Then . . . "Can I see your ID?"

I realize that in places like Imperial Russia it used to be commonplace that you couldn't travel anywhere without the proper papers. But this is America, where I don't even need ID to vote. As far as that goes, I can't recall showing ID any other time I've used the pharmacy. I can pick up prescriptions for someone else with just their name and birthdate, but apparently not a $5 box of generic, four-hour Sudafed. Well, I wasn't driving, so I didn't have my driver's license, and I wasn't going to work, so I didn't have my employee badge. I was going to the store, so I had $19 cash and one credit card.

But I knew I had to play their game, so I turned around and walked back home. I figured they were assuming a driver's license. You get one so you can operate a large, exploding machine at high speeds, and apparently that's something we're all expected to want to do. So it becomes almost synonymous with "ID," and naturally everyone thinks you'll have it all the time anyway. But I don't go to the store with a hunting license pinned to my jacket, and I don't flash my employee badge at the Post Office, and I don't carry a driver's license to walk across the street. Since they didn't specify, I grabbed my passport (paid for it--may as well get some use out of it), employee badge, and yes--my driver's license.

I realize the pharmacy employees are just doing their job. And it's not even the pharmacy that makes up the rules--they're as much under the thumb of government as their customers. I didn't want to make life extraordinarily difficult for them--just make a statement, that there's more than one way to play their game. So I showed my passport. Apparently they can just scan a driver's license (the default ID), but despite the various options for scanning a passport, they're stuck manually keying the information. I felt kind of bad putting the tech through that, but he needs to learn. This is how the revolution starts, and my passport won't be the last he sees. Still, I did wince just a little bit when at the end he asked for my address, and I offered him my driver's license. (I didn't realize that the address could be given without formal verification--it was actually handwritten in my passport.) He politely explained that in the future it would be easier just to use my driver's license.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

a preterist view of the zombie apocalypse

To me, one of the more fascinating events in the Gospels is Matthew's account of what happened when Jesus died on the cross:
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (Matt 27:51-53)
The NIV rendering, given here, includes in a footnote an alternate translation of the last sentence: "They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people." The Greek text is ambiguous, but this minority reading doesn't seem very popular. It shows up in Wycliffe and the Good News Bible, but not in most mainstream English versions.

Perhaps it would seem a bit too ominous if the tombs broke open on Friday and nothing came out until Sunday. It might also make more sense, as St. Chrysostom suggests, that the death cry of Jesus raised them:

And together with these things He showed Himself also by what followed after these things, by the raising of the dead. For in the instance of Elisha; one on touching a dead body rose again, but now by a voice He raised them, His body continuing up there, on the cross.
This is an interesting parallel to contemplate. He refers here to the incident recorded in 4 Kingdoms (2 Kings) 13:21, in which a corpse inadvertently touches the bones of the prophet Elisha and is raised to life. St. Chrysostom is saying that this popular proof-text for saints' relics also prefigures the effect of Jesus's cry on the cross. So much greater than the greatest Old Testament prophets, no physical contact is necessary, but merely his final shout of victory breaks open the ground and calls forth the saints of old.

We might also surmise that if the raising was meant primarily as a sign of Jesus's own pending resurrection, it would need to show some manifestation beforehand. St. Chrysostom again:
Again they said, “He saved others, Himself He cannot save,” but He while abiding on the cross proved this most abundantly on the bodies of His servants. For if for Lazarus to rise on the fourth day was a great thing, how much more for all those who had long ago fallen asleep, at once to appear alive, which was a sign of the future resurrection. For, “many bodies of the saints which slept, arose,” it is said, “and went into the holy city, and appeared to many.” For in order that what was done might not be accounted to be an imagination, they appear, even to many, in the city.
Still, I have to wonder: what were these raised saints doing for three days in or among the tombs? Were they such scrupulous observers of the Sabbath that they sat quietly and waited until they could travel forth on Sunday? Or were they just wandering aimlessly among the tombs like so many zombies, lacking the intelligence to find a way out? Or did it take them three days to reach Jerusalem at some slow, stilted pace? Perhaps many of them came from great distances, and they mustered at some staging location outside the city before entering on Sunday.

Whichever translation one prefers, it still must have been a shocking event. We're given no details of their appearance. Presumably people knew whom they were seeing, but how? Period clothing? Accent? Did they have accurate depictions of them to compare? Or did their appearance somehow betray that they were recently raised from the dead? Blessed Theophylact, in his Explanation of Matthew, doubts that this was a final resurrection. If they were raised only temporarily, to return to their graves a few days later, what kind of bodies would they have had?

In the debates surrounding interpretation of the Apocalypse, the Preterist view is that which sees many of the images fulfilled in the first century--in the events surrounding Jesus's death and resurrection, the ministry of the Apostles, and the destruction of Jerusalem. Might we not take Matthew's account here as favoring a Preterist view of the Zombie Apocalypse?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

a chronological note

Although I don't know whether I'll be posting anything between now and Easter, it occurred to me that whatever I do post may be confusing to non-Orthodox. What follows is typically tedious, but it may help clarify things. If you start to get drowsy, just skip to the last paragraph.

To my knowledge, all Christian traditions agree on the basic scheme for scheduling Easter. According to the Gospels, Jesus rose from the dead on the first Sunday after Jewish Passover, which always fell in the middle of the lunar month Nisan, which was always the first month of spring. In keeping with this, Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of spring. This system, incidentally, incorporates the three major features of our calendar--the spring equinox for the solar year, the full moon for the lunar month, and Sunday for the seven-day week ordained by God. Where the traditions differ, however, is in the determination of spring.

According to the system set down at the first Ecumenical Synod of Nicea (AD 325), the start of spring for purposes of calculating Easter was fixed at March 21 of the Julian calendar, which at that time was the universal calendar of the Roman Empire. Up until around this time, the Jewish month of Nisan was determined by observation, much like Muslim Ramadan is set to this day. The difference was that the Jewish calendar adjusted for the solar year by adding a leap month if various indicators suggested that it was not yet spring. Christianity, however, did not follow a lunar calendar, so a calculated date for Easter made more sense. Also, because Christianity ended up preceding Easter with several weeks of Lent, it was necessary to know when to start the movable cycle long before the first moon of spring could be observed.

The system worked fine until the sixteenth century, when the Latin Pope Gregory XIII approved a reform of the Julian calendar. Scholars had noted that the calendar was growing increasingly out of sync with the astronomical data and would continue to do so as long as the solar year was not precisely 365.25 days long. Instead of every year divisible by four being a leap year, they proposed that century years no longer be leap years, unless they were divisible by 400. This would shorten the calendar by three days every 400 years and align it more closely (but still not precisely) with the actual solar year. To correct the divergence that already existed, they went back to the year 100 and adjusted accordingly. This means that right now the Gregorian calendar lags behind the Julian by 13 days. After 2/28/2100, the difference will increase to 14 days.

The Gregorian calendar was not accepted all at once. The newly Protestant countries of Europe were not keen to accept a papally-decreed reform. The British Empire didn't come around until the eighteenth century, just a few decades before the American Revolution. Eastern Europe was even slower, waiting mostly until the twentieth century to change its civil calendar. By that point, much of Eastern Europe was coming under Communist control, and Christians resisted any meddling with the ecclesiastical calendar. After failure to adopt the full Gregorian reform, a compromise was enacted in some Orthodox churches, called the Revised Julian or New Calendar. It accepts the Gregorian system for the fixed calendar but continues to reckon Easter by the Julian date of March 21. The result is that, with few exceptions, Orthodox churches celebrate Easter and Pentecost according to the Julian calendar, while on fixed holidays like Christmas and Epiphany they are divided between Julian and Gregorian. (Loosely, one can say that Greeks follow the New Calendar while Slavs follow the Old, but this leaves out a lot of important nuances.)

All of which is to say that, in any given year, Orthodox Easter might coincide with Western Easter, or it might come a week or even a month later. (The variance is because shifting March 21 by 13 days may also affect by a couple of extra weeks how long it is until the first full moon.) It seems to be least confusing when they coincide or fall far apart. This year, they are separated by a week, so when you're thinking Easter, we'll be thinking Palm Sunday. But just to keep things interesting, we'll both be ending Lent at the same time. In Eastern reckoning, Lent is counted every day and precedes Holy Week; in the West, Sundays aren't counted and Lent includes Holy Week.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Introverts of the World Unite! (well, maybe in a newsgroup)

I believe it was through Google+ (not surprisingly) that I first discovered Susan Cain. The brief article was enough motivation to request her book from the library, and several months later (so many introverts using libraries?) I finally got a chance to read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking.

It was not exactly surprising that, of the 20 questions designed to suggest whether one's personality tends more toward the introvert or extrovert end of the spectrum, I answered "true" every time. I already knew why I was reading the book. But it didn't take long for Cain to reveal some interesting connections in my own psyche--again, not earth-shattering surprises, but worthy of reflection nonetheless.



Extroversion is in our DNA--literally, according to some psychologists. The trait has been found to be less prevalent in Asia and Africa than in Europe and America, whose populations descend largely from migrants of the world. It makes sense, say these researchers, that world travelers were more extroverted than those who stayed home--and that they passed on their traits to their children and their children's children.
This is an interesting observation as it tries to explain why Americans favor extroversion, but more interesting to me was the general consideration that extroverts are more likely to migrate, while introverts stay put. A fairly defining trait in my life has been my affinity for staying put, but I never really thought much about its possible connection to introversion. I don't suppose I would, considering that my prime counterexamples are my parents and maternal grandparents, none of whom would I categorize as extroverts. But throughout most of my adult life I've struggled with this migratory tendency in my family, and in the past few years I've come to hold as a fundamental value the love of place. For me, rootedness just seems more naturally human, which is not to say that there aren't other, competing impulses that deserve attention, or that it doesn't sometimes take a lower priority. But in general, I view placelessness as an anomaly, whose popularity has come only in the past century or so. This has an interesting coincidence with the next connection:



[Dale] Carnegie's journey reflected a cultural evolution that reached a tipping point around the turn of the twentieth century . . . . America had shifted from what the influential cultural historian Warren Susman called a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality--and opened up a Pandora's Box of personal anxieties from which we would never quite recover.

In the Culture of Character, the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private. . . .

But when they embraced the Culture of Personality, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them. They became captivated by people who were bold and entertaining. . . .

The rise of industrial America was a major force behind this cultural evolution. The nation quickly developed from an agricultural society of little houses on the prairie to an urbanized, "the business of America is business" powerhouse. . . .

Americans found themselves working no longer with neighbors but with strangers. "Citizens" morphed into "employees," facing the question of how to make a good impression on people to whom they had no civic or family ties.
Along with my developing conviction that humans are better off attached to a place, I have tended to favor the ideal of a more agrarian life. As Cain notes, the major shift came around the beginning of the 20th century, which is not precisely when industrialization took hold, but still marks a watershed in the development of American culture. I would suggest that increased mobility played a critical role in this shift, as well as the apparent wealth generated by industry of the previous generation. Once people had the disposable income to buy and industry had the increased capacity to produce consumer goods, salesmanship became the new driving force behind cultural norms--a trend that Cain highlights as crucial in the rise of Personality, or idealized extroversion.

The Culture of Character, on the other hand, seems to have no particular origin. I would say that "serious, disciplined, and honorable" are traits favored by just about every traditional society--certainly those we would characterize as European, whether Christian or Classical. I realize I'm probably biased here by my introvert tendencies, but my gut reaction is that it would be downright immoral to deny these qualities their place in society. I'm not trying to impugn the masses of people who have bought into the Culture of Personality, but it's hard for me to imagine anyone, when faced with the two Cultures in the stark contrast of their ideals, favoring the shift toward Personality.



"The evangelical culture ties together faithfulness with extroversion," McHugh explained. "The emphasis is on community, on participating in more and more programs and events, on meeting more and more people. It's a constant tension for many introverts that they're not living that out. And in a religious world, there's more at stake when you feel that tension. It doesn't feel like 'I'm not doing as well as I'd like.' It feels like 'God isn't pleased with me.'"
My own thinking about place and culture developed concurrently (and perhaps a bit paradoxically) with a move away from my Evangelical roots toward Traditional Christianity. I won't deny that I always felt conflicted about this process, since in a way I was doing the very thing I criticized--looking for contentment by uprooting and settling somewhere else. Just because it was an intellectual and spiritual uprooting didn't make it any less of a contradiction. But I tolerated the move, because I was convinced that Evangelicalism itself was part of the problem. As an American movement, it was perhaps inevitable that it would embrace the Culture of Personality. But even this, I think, is symptomatic of a deeper problem. Bereft of a stable Tradition, Evangelicalism has tended to mimic whatever trends are popular in the culture at large. It earnestly tries to be biblically based, but its growth strategies, leadership models, and vision statements have long reflected those found in the business world.

I would be interested to read McHugh's book after this, since he writes as an insider. I don't think Cain exhibits a particularly precise familiarity with Evangelicalism, but I don't expect her to, either. The basic point of this brief section, which is captured in the quote above, I would consider fundamentally sound. Again, it wasn't news to me, but reading this section of the book shed some light on remarks that were made by the leadership of our former church, shortly before I began the formal process of conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy:
We sense that Trevor’s desire for conversion may well be based on mixed impulses. We don’t say this in any sense of condemnation, but just as an observation that is in accord with biblical instruction concerning human nature: Specifically, we can see how Orthodoxy appeals to both the core identity of who Trevor is (scholar, teacher, mystic (as image bearer and new creation)); but we also sense that it appeals to aspects of woundedness, both personal and generational that should be acknowledged. . . . we are concerned that Orthodox practice also has the potential to allow someone to continue to be disengaged from community life. Our sense is that God would have Trevor grow in his capacity for relational engagement (when in intimate personal settings). Historically, we have observed that Trevor is very engaging and transparent by email (and in his blog) – but fails to engage at a similar level in person. Thus, our concern expressed in this point is that Orthodoxy could be a place for Trevor to hide from necessary life change.
Five years of distance and a little more learning about personality have given me a slightly different perspective on these remarks than I had initially. They acknowledge my core identity (clumsily summarized as "scholar, teacher, mystic"), but then go on to implicate my "capacity for relational engagement" as an aspect of "woundedness." What they describe (and what they don't) are classical traits of an introverted personality--a preference for written communication, and favoring substantive discussion over small talk. The latter point isn't clear from this paragraph, but in associated discussion I was told, "there is no such thing as small talk," meaning that it is a necessary part of community life and that my failure to excel at it reflects a corresponding failure in my ability to engage. I would point out as well that how one defines "relational engagement (when in intimate personal settings)" depends heavily on one's personality and perspective. As an introvert, and without knowing what the speaker intended, I would generally assume that it refers to one-on-one interaction with someone you already know on an intimate level. But since the words were written by someone who had no way of knowing how I performed in such settings (our interactions had never risen above the level of small talk, and that very clumsily done), I'm inclined to think they met something very different here by the words "intimate" and "personal"--something more akin to "informal" and "casual"--which, as I say, would make it primarily a criticism of my introverted personality.

None of this is to say that all Evangelicals are so blatantly biased against introversion. But I would turn the argument around and charge that Evangelicalism uniquely fosters a preference for extroversion--that it often becomes "a place for [extroverts] to hide from necessary life change." The Orthodox Church (and I suspect the Roman Catholic and other forms of traditional Christianity) certainly makes more room for introversion, but I would call it a healthy balance. There is room for both extroverts and introverts each to play their own roles. Extroverts are encouraged to learn silence, and introverts are discouraged from misanthropy--neither type should give free rein to its negative tendencies. And this is precisely what we should expect from catholic Christianity--a place for everyone.

I never considered my introversion a fundamental reason for my conversion, but it certainly does play its role, as it does in my views on society. I think it's healthy to think in such terms now and then, as long as it doesn't involve reducing everything to one subconscious cause.