An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
I'm down in Southern California collaborating with and training at City of Hope's Cancer Immunotherapeutics & Tumor Immunology group. While here I am staying at a hotel and this affords me the rare opportunity to watch commercial television. I'm not sure how long it's been, but at least two years I'd say, and apparently since that time things have taken a significant turn for the more stupid. I'm sure it's not happened overnight and it's certainly not like stuff on TV wasn't comparatively stupid when I had it piped into my house, but having done some channel surfing this week, I have to say: wow.
I can remember when A&E actually had some programs on it that could be considered "art" in any sense or by anyone's definition. Now the channel is dominated by shows detailing the lives of folks like Gene Simmons' family, a group of people who apparently make a career of bidding on abandoned storage units in the hopes of making a profit, people suffering from a serious malady that has the rest of us feeling good about the messes in our house, and then there is some show called "Parking Wars" which I can only assume is about people trying to argue their way out of parking tickets. Astonishing.
And then there is the station that was a favorite of mine: the History Channel. I was pleased to turn it on one evening and watch a couple of good programs about the civil war. But then these were followed (as we hit prime time) by a show called "Swamp People" which is another of those reality shows that in this case follows the day to day life of people who live or make their living in...yes you guessed it...swamps. It looked to me like it was porn for people who want to maintain all their perceptions and stereotypes of rednecks. Then came "Ice Road Truckers" and "Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy." Sigh. Well at least they have SOME history still left on the "History" Channel.
The take home lesson this week so far with regards to television: I'm not missing much.
Life online gives us 'Popcorn Brain.' Is it JUST online? Take a look at television today as compared to television 30 years ago...or God forbid...television before there was television.
Am I the only one to think of aspergers when I read this:
Clifford Nass, a social psychologist at Stanford, says studies show multitasking on the Internet can make you forget how to read human emotions. When he showed online multitaskers pictures of faces, they had a hard time identifying the emotions they were showing.
When he read stories to the multitaskers, they had difficulty identifying the emotions of the people in the stories, and saying what they would do to make the person feel better.
Now don't get me wrong, I do understand that aspergers and autism are very serious disorders, but they absolutely present with symptoms like this and it makes me wonder when we start diagnosing people later in life. Does our TV and internet lifestyle LEAD to diseases like this? Before you balk at the idea, keep in mind that MANY environmental things lead to disease...UV light from the sun leads to melanoma for example. And in that youthful stage of brain development, who can say that raising a child on MTV, Facebook, XBOX, iPhone, iPAD, and Windows Messenger etc etc doesn't lead to our youthful inability to concentrate, relate outside the comfort of a screen or keyboard, focus, or be QUIET for any remotely lengthy period of time. Have we reached the very pinnacle of that state the Father's have warned us against? Are we unable to suffer the quiet and solitude of our own thoughts? Must we be perpetually distracted? I think so. I really think so.
A battle in the great culture war is brewing in NYC where they named a street "Seven in Heaven" after seven fire fighters who died on 9/11. As the link indicates, atheists are upset. Here's the fun quote of the day from the atheists:
All memorials for fallen heroes should celebrate the diversity of our country and should be secular in nature.
Ummmm...anyone else see the irony here? The only way to express our diversity is to be secular. Really?!? In other words, we must fully appease the worldview of atheists. I live on a street called Diamond Drive and I find that to be a pretty secular name. And if I had to guess, the odds are YOU who may be reading this probably also live on a street with a completely secular name. So, how does ONE MORE street with a secular name celebrate diversity? Sorry it's a nice appeal to PC by the atheists, but it simply does not fly.
I am personally weary of atheists slamming their religion of secularism down the throats of the rest of us in the United States who do not subscribe to the religion of secularism. Why is a government endorsing nothing but secularism not also an endorsement of religion? I think it is.
To give some context: the principle investigator I work for had a fully functioning lab down in California before moving up here to start a whole new Center at SCRI, and my job has been to duplicate here the work that was being done there. Initially we felt that this could be done by simply following the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) that were written down in CA, coupled with visiting a nearby collaborating lab that is doing similar work. This has not worked out so well.
First off, the SOPs were not in standardized format and thus lacked many details. But even if they had been in a proper format, my experience with SOPs has shown that hardly ANYONE who has not had direct experience with the particular method is able to sit down with even the best written SOP and duplicate results. After a fair degree of trial and error the method can usually be worked out, but SOPs I've found cannot replace the much more valuable input of a human training another human. Once that is done, the SOP becomes an invaluable resource. But alone...well...not so much. Thus, I will be going down to the lab in CA in order to receive person to person training on some of the methods we've been struggling with here.
In all of this, I am reminded of parallels with Christianity. Consider Scripture, Tradition, and Discipleship.
Of course the obvious first parallel asks: How is Scripture like an SOP? Well not much at all really, but a huge proportion of Christians today believe it is in fact exactly like an SOP. A long time ago, I wrote a sort of mythical story about a long lost lab that produced a great deal of data and that modern labs today were trying to duplicate that data, but really only had the data itself with precious little information on how that data was produced. Obviously an impossible task. I was contending in this little allegory that Scripture is much more akin to data than an SOP - of course there are aspects of an SOP in Scripture, but it is undeniable that those sacred epistles of the New Testament were never intended to be the end-all informer of how to DO Christianity. And so trying to reconstruct the Christian faith from Scripture alone is not unlike trying to repeat experiments when you do not have a proper SOP. And as I've noted, even if you do have a proper SOP this doesn't mean you are going to be able to do the experiments properly.
St. Paul wrote to the Church in Thessalonica: "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (2 Thess. 2:15). As you well know (if you've been here long), Protestant dominated translations of this verse frequently alter its meaning by changing the word "traditions" to "teachings" when in fact the Greek is clearly paradosis which is defined by Thayer & Smith as "A handing over, which is done by word of mouth or in writing, i.e. tradition by instruction, narrative, precept, etc." Further St. Paul wrties to St. Timothy describing to him the means by which the great experiment of Christianity was to be duplicated by future generations: "And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2).
In a healthy laboratory you will find excellent SOP's, but you will neccesarily find people who have experience and extensive skills in performing the functions of the laboratory. As newcomers enter the lab they are given the SOP to read, but they also OBSERVE the procedure being done by the experienced technicians - perhaps numerous times. And then they will themselves perform the method under close supervision of an experienced technician. In time the new technician will gain the skills and experience that no SOP can provide alone. It is, in a way, the same form in Christian discipleship. In the lab there is in fact an ongoing oral tradition on how to do certain things...details that should perhaps be included in SOP's but in my 15 years of scientific experience never seem to make it therein. Indeed there is always something left out such as some minute detail on a brand to use or a certain media color to look for when a particular cell line is not ready for transduction.
At the end of his Gospel St. John notes that "there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (John 20:25) and I would suggest the same is true of SOP's in a lab. You simply cannot include all the details even though we in the lab certainly try to do so. In Christianity, however, this was never the purpose behind the New Testament. Instead, they banked on an ongoing and living Tradition passed down from generation to generation of new believers, preserved by the Holy Spirit. And in that context, to whatever degree the Bible is an SOP, it fits quite nicely.
I've found in my lab that nothing can replace good old fashioned person to person training. That's the way Jesus ministered as well. One might suggest it's a part of why the Incarnation is so important. Like the Koran, God could have simply dropped a book out of the sky, but chose rather to have a lviving community be His witness and outside of that community His sacred text is largely uninterpretable data.
Everyone needs one. Or perhaps I should say that everyone feels their particular ideology/cause needs one. They can be found everywhere. Really it's why we have celebrity product endorsements - advertisers would not waste their dollars if they were not effective. Of course you and I are immune to the appeal of having champions, right? Well, not really.
I was reading through some science blogs recently and (inevitably) stumbled upon another flame war between Darwinists, Creationists, and ID'ers. Now I've done my rounds in that debate, but my opinion on the matter isn't at issue here. What was interesting in the argument I found was that the entire issue focused upon the beliefs of one man who dies in 1975. In scientific circles he is well known: Theodosius Dobzhansky. You can read about him here and from a more Orthodox source, here.
There is no greater champion than one who switches sides...or appears to play on the team not typically played on by such champions. This is particularly the case when the competing sides are in religion or politics...all one needs to do to make a career in speaking and writing is to first gain some degree or prominence (or perhaps even not so much) on one side of the culture war and then switch sides! BANG! You double your star power!
So on this particular blog (I'm not going to link to it because I don't want the argument meandering over here) we have people debating the personal beliefs of this scientist because apparently both sides believe it is critically important to have poor old Dobzhansky on their side. Interestingly the debate centers on that one quote that can be found in the Wikipedia article above about not believing in a personal God. Contrast this with the stories briefly relayed in the other link. It's absurd in the end because who can really say what this man believed? You could go in circles forever digging up obscure quotes and looking at his life: trips to Mt. Athos or the fact that he was cremated. But does it really matter? Is it worth the effort to try and win the argument? I think it speaks to the overall quality that frequently exists in internet arguments.
I do find it interesting that science apparently needs their champions as much as religion. As I often note, there is unfortunately sometimes little difference between the two.
God does not need important people (by worldly definitions) to go to bat for Him. In fact, God in His rich wisdom has a history ridden with having the most unexpected of people go to bat for Him. Of course this is not always the case (we surely have a few Kings and Queens thrown into the mix, right?), but even then...God doesn't NEED these witnesses...we do. Curious that I opt for the word witness, eh? For in truth the greatest champions we Christians have are not those of prominence who have switched sides and go on speaking engagement/book tours to make a living, but rather those who literally lay down their lives as a witness to the faith.
Our true champions almost always suffer, and they stand at odds with the champions most of the world seeks to uphold. Some champions are busy holding out their keyboards to spill electrons online, but ours hold out their arteries to have their blood spilled. Even still today.