Albert Camus

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Guest Post: The Best of Jonathan’s Corner by CJS Hayward


The Best of Jonathan’s Corner, newly expanded ​ after getting five star reviews​, is a collection of varied works of Eastern Orthodox mystical theology. It spans many topics and many different genres of writing, but it keeps coming back to the biggest questions of all. It is inexhaustible: the works are independent, and you can read a few, many, or all of them to suit your taste. Fans of C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton will love it.

The Best of Jonathan's Corner is a head taller than the others. It contains all of the best works of theology from Jonathan's Corner, and there's a lot to dig through—but only if you want. If not, feel free to enjoy and read as little or as much as you like.

This book is the author's favorite title out of all the books sold from this site (n.a. author's site).

Jonathan Hayward is a remarkably deep thinker with a pronounced skill for allegory. In the tradition of C.S. Lewis, he finds ways to make extremely subtle, complex material comprehensible, and even comfortably recognizable. While the title and foreword suggest that this is for Orthodox Christians, I think any believer who thinks about the "big ideas" of Christianity will find this a treasure of valuable insight. It's a great introduction to the spirit, thoughts, and work of this multifaceted young writer.- Amazon

Christian art that doesn't suck

There was a young couple from my parish that decided to spend a year teaching English in China. As part of the sending-off, parishioners were invited to offer words of wisdom or jokes to notebooks that they had, and I wrote something which was not particularly original:

A master was explaining the nature of Tao to a novice. "The Tao is in all literature, no matter how small or insignificant."

The novice asked, "Is the Tao in the children's I Can Read book?"
The master said, "The Tao is in the children's I Can Read book."
The novice asked, "Is the Tao even in the advertising copy for USA Today?"
The master said, "The Tao is even in the advertising copy for USA Today."
The novice then asked, "And is the Tao in the Left Behind series by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye?"
The master coughed, and shifted his position slightly. "The lesson is over for today."
I asked a fellow parishioner about the author's names, and it turned out he'd helped edit the series. Oops.

What has been labeled as Christian art has usually been bad art, enough so that the first rule Franky Schaeffer gave for serious Christian engagement with the arts, and support of the arts, in Addicted to Mediocrity: 20th Century Christians and the Arts was to simply avoid anything labeled as "Christian art."

But that is in fact not the whole picture. The Eastern Orthodox tradition is not spoken for by this feature of some evangelicalism, and the tradition includes ancient​ liturgical music, so much better than 80's Christian Contemporary Music ("Christian Contemporary Music, n. A genre of song designed primarily to impart sound teaching, such as the doctrine that we are sanctified by faith and not by good taste in music.")​, ​the writing of authors like St. John Chrysostom ("Chrysostom" is Greek for, "Golden Mouth", and St. John Chrysostom knew the heights of pagan rhetoric), and a very special kind of real visual art enshrined in icons. The senses, and with them more than one kind of good art, are foundational. 

​I'm very wary of trying to place my work as above criticism or critique; I understand and do not like when in the academy people employ shady means to insulate them from fair critique. But I think that a reasonably generous reader would pay the compliment of saying that my work is worth criticizing, and some people might ​say that it is the first Christian literature from today that they have seen that is worth criticizing. Someone who read, for instance, The Angelic Letters, the work that opens The Best of Jonathan's Corner, might infer that I've learned a lot from C.S. Lewis and understand The Screwtape Letters well. Goodbye to Christian literature that works, as a friend said is an insulting analogy, on the same communication principle as hard porn: no subtlety, every point made with a sledgehammer, ​and ​nothing left to the imagination but the plot.

​A clear presentation of Orthodoxy

One reviewer wrote, "CJS Hayward's book ​[The Best of Jonathan's Corner] ​consists of a series of essays covering a variety of subjects, both cultural and religious from the perspective of an Eastern Orthodox Christian. I recommend this book to both Catholics and Protestants who are interested in Eastern Orthodoxy." And as someone who has studied theology and read apologists at length, I am very interested in understanding the Orthodox Tradition and communicating it well. Not that this is always warm fuzzies: Catholic readers tend to be up in arms, and for good reason, when they read An Open Letter to Catholics on Orthodoxy and Ecumenism and get a serious answer to "How else could it be?" when their leadership says that we agree on everything needed for reunification and full communion.​ Calvinist readers in turn might not like the heat of An Orthodox Looks at a Calvinist Looking at Orthodoxy. But in each case there is a lucid explanation of something that is perhaps hard to put a finger on, and there is more to the collection than "Good fences make good neighbors." And in the end, the most essential part of the work may not be the critiques; they are a ground clearing for something bigger. The core impulse of the book is always and only about living the divine Life, a life that is available to us today.

I remember seeing one poster at Cambridge that offered "a call to faith in an age of credulity."

I think that poster was pretty much on the mark. Well before December 2012 I had read about the Mayan calendar, which had two interlocking cycles that repeated only once every 52 years, and the point of the calendar was so people could live each day in accordance with the character of how that day would be lived. (And, as I would find in further research, the question of where the calendar began or ended was an outsider's question; when anthropologists asked where things began, the usual answer of the Mayan "daykeeper" was to start with whatever day it was and move on from there.) I had stated earlier, "If the apocalypse happens in December 2012, the Mayans will be caught completely off guard."

But in fact the Mayans do not have a monopoly on a significant calendar when each day has a spiritual significance: such is offered by the Orthodox Church, and without meaning to slight the Mayans, a real live version of the Orthodox calendar and its practices, with different saints celebrated each and every day, is much more interesting than rumor mill versions of what the Mayans may or may not have believed. Not, perhaps, that Mayans have invented a dull calendar: no one that I have read seems to find their calendar boring. But this book is not a rumor mill version of some feature of a community; it is a member of a community speaking in living and dynamic form, from someone who sees its living Tradition from the inside.

The book is an interesting book, and most readers will find themselves challenged by its perspective. Not that they will necessarily agree with it, but it offers an invitation to faith in an age of credulity, and it expresses Orthodoxy today in a fashion that people can relate to. It may not take the place of Orthodox classics: but it may well be a puzzle piece in understanding the classics.

I invite you to read The Best of Jonathan's Corner!

About the author:
Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward wears many hats as a person: author, philosopher, theologian, artist, poet, wayfarer, philologist, inventor, web guru, teacher.

Some have asked, "If a much lesser C.S. Lewis were Orthodox, what would he be like?" And the answer may well be, "C.J.S. Hayward."

Called "Jack of all trades and master of many" by one boss, he also wears many hats professionally: open source / IT generalist, front end developer, JavaScript programmer, back end web developer, Pythonista, PHP and Perl user, Django developer, end to end web developer, Unix/Linux/Mac wizard, LAMP guru, SQL generalist, Unix shell (both using existing shells and implementing a new shell), system administrator, researcher, technical writer, usability advocate, UI developer, UX/IA enthusiast, and more.

Hayward has lived in the U.S., Malaysia, England, and France, and holds master's degrees bridging math and computers (UIUC), and philosophy and theology (Cambridge).

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