fragments of an attempted writing.


I go back to work tomorrow at the shop after a month off to concentrate on school.  I'll be working a lot more hours this summer than I have been since I was rehired back part time.  Here's a couple of lights which I make:

I have one like the one on the bottom in my youngest daughter's room.  It's supposed to be an outdoor light but it suits me fine inside.

If I could do anything in metal I would do exclusively foundry work.  I took some foundry classes at the National Ornamental Metal Museum here in Memphis and we used to do sandcasting at my shop though that has all been outsourced now.

This is the work a guy I met at the metal museum does at his shop in Ireland:

I know most shops of any size have finishers who do all the finishing and foundry men that do all the foundry work.  Usually the foundry men get paid a lot more which is a crock of shit as the real talent lies in the finishing work, but that's an old story.  Anyway, there are very few manual labors I enjoy more in this life than casting an object and then finishing it myself.  You don't really understand foundry work until you have made objects from start to finish over and over again in that manner.  But good luck finding a place which allows a craftsman to do this other than in a backyard foundry setting, or at a little foundry like they have at the Metal Museum, or at a very small shop.  I keep thinking about getting my own backyard foundry up and running, but it would take years of steady employment to get the funds needed to get all the toys involved with backyard/garage foundry work.  Maybe someday, like everything else.


  1. Does the new blog name signal a change in emphasis?

  2. Hell no capitalist pig!!!

    Just kidding.

    I think I have sufficiently scared off enough of the old readers I wanted to scare off to begin writing about some of my other interests again. At least I've heard secondhand that the effort was effective.

    But the Marxism is always lurking around the corner.....

  3. This long time lurker is curious about your link to the Morgan Bay Zendo. I recall another link to a Buddhist site, but couldn't seem to find it. If Buddhism isn't one of your other interests which you feel like blogging about, no problem; however, if it is, I'm interested in your thoughts. On account of my own interest in Buddhism while being formally situated in Orthodoxy, the possibility of monologue from, or dialogue with, someone who may be able to intelligently discuss both religions piques my interest.

  4. Hesy,

    One of the founders of that Zendo is an old friend of mine, an Irishman who taught medieval Irish lit at the U of Maine and was also a Zen monk for many years. He taught me how to pray with an image of the sacred heart of Jesus years ago, repeating the prayer, Jesus, Son of Mary and the prayer Jesus, Mercy in Irish Gaelic.

    The other link (just today I went through and thinned out the links a bit, they were getting out of control) was of the Tibetan Buddhist center right around the corner from my house. I see a nun from there at the store all the time and I know a couple guys who go there. I've never been.

    I've read the usual suspect literature on Buddhism, but am not at all competent to speak with any authority on comparisons between Buddhism and hesychasm. I know that the man at the Zendo in Maine I referred to above began his journey toward eastern religion after reading The Way of the Pilgrim, but, perhaps ironically, he expressed to me a low view of contemporary Orthodoxy and the possibilities of meditation in an Orthodox context. Haven't thought about all this since reading Scott Cairns' book about his Athos pilgrimages and his description of the treatment of the Buddhist monk by the monks on Athos. The difference in behavior between the Buddhist monk towards those he encountered and the Athonite monks who encountered him is what most strongly resonated with me when reading that book.

    If you want to email me my email is owenandjoy at bellsouth dot net

  5. Owen, It may be too late for your former blog, but this post made me aware of the risks of other people's links to dead blogs being hijacked by peddlers of inappropriate material:

  6. Re: foundry work. Although I haven't done any proper blacksmithing in years, I do still have my hammer and anvil (a mid-19th c. 150lb wrought iron one, none of your clunky cast iron; no, sir!) and am seriously thinking of making a small charcoal forge out of a metal bucket, some clay, and a pipe. There's a spot on my chimneypiece that's crying out for a wrought hook for the poker...

  7. subdeacon, I know quite a few smithies. That's why I'm into foundry work. I am not crazy enough nor do I smoke enough pot to be a blacksmith. But I highly encourage you in your pursuits. A few years back some of us in my shop were all flirting with homespun craft. That is when I bought the plans to make a backyard foundry that can at least handle decent size sand castings. Anyway, one of the guys went so far as to make a coal forge, and the heat he was able to maintain in that thing was impressive to those of use used to working with gas forges and furnaces in our shop. But like with all things, you get out what you put into it. Cheap materials keeps your sustainable temps down. This guy spent nearly a grand in materials to make his coal forge. Hell, for triple that I could buy everything I needed to have a decent gas forge. But, of course, coal is more neato and requires more skill. I'm surprised there are not more traditional blacksmiths out there selling products advertised as having been forged exclusively by coal heat. It I was a rich bastard, I would pay a lot more to know that some poor worker had to work harder and use more skill to make my toys.

  8. Commenting on Buddhist parallels to Orthodoxy. I studied this at depth for a couple of years, after being taught in St. Stephen's House of Studies that the key to Orthodox Spirituality was Apophatic Theology. In essence, Apophatic Theology suggests that as God is beyond comprehension, the only way to "know him" is to "not know him" (abandon all pre-conceived concepts and just experience). I could find not one in Orthodox circules who cold reallyh explain this to me, The Orthodox monks had access to were very suspect. However, there were legitimate Buddhist monks so I talked and studied with them.

    There are different schools Buddhism. I deiced to study sTheravadan (Sri Lankan, Thai or South Vietnamese) and Zen (Chinese or converts vis Japan). I avoided Tibetan, as their third way (Tantric) methods, Guruism, etc. I thought too suspect. they also tend to identify with Gods as a way to transform personality, which seemed to clash with Christianity.

    I found Buddhist mediation practices very useful, with the instructions much clearer and more down to earth than Christian mysticism. These groups are also very much against guruism, and are into the person using there own mind to figure out their problems. Practice is very liturgical, and shares many experiential simularities with Orthodoxy. As far as co-participating, I never found I said a single thing as I meditated or practiced with them that violated Christianity.

    However, most Buddhists would consider the typical Christian view of God and Jesus as a distorted image of true reality. Also, the law of karma, views on heaven and hell afterlife, and eschatology are different. Also, most important, striving to reach heaven as a goal in Buddhism will not break the cycle of suffering, instead, heavenly joy will prevent the individual from breaking the cycle of dependent origination, and doom the individual back to suffering at a future date. - I found this to be the biggest clash between the two. In Orthodox Christian mystical tradition, the purpose of examining self in light of reality is to release oneself from the traps of sin, and to help the person to become more Christlike. In Buddhism, the ultimate purpose is self examination and to remove delusion.

    If you want to compare the two, the best Orthodox comparative religion text on Buddhism is in "Seeds of the Word" from SVS press. My Vietnamese abbot friend read the buddhist section and thought it was perfect. I also found Thomas Merton's "Zen and the Birds of Appetite. I found after studying Buddhist the Philokalia made sense to me, not something I would claim before my Buddhist investigation.

    Hope this helps.

  9. Owen,

    Thank you for your comments. I'll keep an eye out for Scott Cairns' book. Your mention of the treatment of a Buddhist monk by Athonite monks is interesting; elaboration would be welcome. This anonymous coward may email you at some point, so thanks for the address.


    Thank you for your comments on Buddhism and Orthodoxy. Overall, I find myself much in agreement with your sentiments.

    Apophatic theology is indeed an interesting aspect of Eastern Orthodoxy. There is an interesting book which discusses the apophaticism of Dionysius the Areopagite and Soto Zen Master Dogen called: Denying Divinity by J.P. Williams. Unfortunately this book fetches a steep price, but being a scholarly sort of publication you may be able to find it at a university library.

    To date, my foray into Buddhism has been a self-directed endeavour comprised of reading and appropriating elements of the eightfold path into my own practice. I've been reading the Philokalia and Dogen's Shobogenzo (Nishijima and Cross translation) in parallel, but have found Shobogenzo to be far more cryptic. The bulk of my study has been focused on the Theravada and Mahayana traditions. I find that the Theravada tradition has valuable insights into the passions and how to deal with them on a very practical level (Thanissaro Bikkhu is a contemporary favourite of mine). The Rinzai and the Soto Zen traditions seem more iconoclastic, and perhaps on account of that, less metaphysically laden so as to present fewer clashes with the Orthodox metaphysical outlook. The idea of God as koan is something that intrigues me. In my study of contemporary Zen, Jeff Shore is a favourite Rinzai source and Gudo Nishijima a Soto source.

    One of my unresolved dilemmas at this point is whether to contextualize the Orthodox mystical experience as a subset of the Buddhist samatha and vipassana practice, or vice versa, considering the range of Buddhist experience to fall short of theosis.

    I struggle with the metaphysics of both systems. Rationally I'm drawn to agnosticism, but perhaps I'm hedging on a best case metaphysic. It seems problematic that most advice for resolving my great doubt appears to boil down to either fabricating belief or experience in a manner that seems unauthentic.

    Thus far I've encountered a few Orthodox who share at least some of my questions and concerns, but have yet to find someone who I trust for full disclosure and resolution.

    Onwards and inwards...

  10. Hesy - I post anonmously because I have found by experience comparative religion to be a dangerous topic to be discussed in the open. Some Orthodox will foolishly attack anything that doesn't fit a rather narrow personal view. So I post anonymously to protect myself and loved ones, based unfortunately on previous personal experience.

    Nice to be able to chat about this with someone though. I personally found Theravadan writing and explanations most useful, but yes, their metaphysics is more restrictive. Zen I found a little more vacuous, but seems to have parallels with "true Buddha nature", a Zen idea, and Theosis. Somewhere in there it feels like they are discussing "acquiring the Holy Spirit".

    I think the metaphysics are different because the two faiths are talking a different language. I think in comparative religion, ideas grow in cultures, and formal doctrinal systems grow within those cultures. When you start dealing in the parts less immediate from experience (eschatology, cosmology, etc.) then that seems to be where disagreements happen - speculation plays a bigger part. In day-to-day living and goals they all seem more similar. I have concluded that practice is the key, and not judging another because they are different than you.

    For instance, in meeting a Pureland Buddhist practicing nun, who continuously prayed to remember the Amittabbha Buddha so he would transport her to his realm after death and prepare her for Nirvanna, she radiated the same joy I have found radiates from practitioners of the Jesus prayer. The descriptions of what happens in higher Jhanna states seems to parallel hesychast experiences (Read "Meditation, Mindfulnss and Beyond" by Ajahn Brahm vs. Philkalia. Both groups will warn you not to let apparently miraculous experiences go to your head. I have also been told by a very experienced Orthodox priest that if you dig into the writings of the Fathers deeply, they will also caution about actively seeking Heaven. Never found warning though. I think best fit to commonalities are in practices, not in explanation. Actually, you can find most practices described without the metaphysics in "Meditation for Dummies". Combine that with St. Seraphim's instruction to use whatever you need to acquire the Holy Spirit, and your probably fine. I think we in the west have a tendency to overly rationalize. In the end, practice is more important than the rational explanation, which I personally think a lot of is man-created. That same Priest I mention above also taught me that, first and foremost, the mystery of the Trinity is experiential, not rational in nature.

  11. Anonymous,

    Just to clarify, when I mentioned the "anonymous coward" in my prior post, I was referring only to myself. I understand your concern for anonymity as I too have encountered some hostility towards Buddhism, or at least the common caricatures of it.

    I agree that much of the metaphysical difference may be chalked up to significant variance within the cultural and linguistic milieus in which Buddhism and Christianity developed. Only a naive Christianity denies the significant influence Platonism and Neoplatonism on the formulation of Christian theology and their role in shaping the enunciation of mystical experience. On the other hand, I want to be cautious about engaging in unwarranted syncretism.

    I enjoyed the book: Christ the Eternal Tao by Hieromonk Damascene. Lao Tzu's philosophy found in the Dao De Jing is valuable as an enunciation of the *what*, but I suspect Buddhism, and in particular Zen, provides the *how*.

    I agree that the ineffable experience is king; the dualistic rational enunciations best serve as provisional but important scaffolding.

    The safest course does seem to be a healthy questioning and hypothesizing which won't fall into mistaking bliss or other transient states for anuttara samyak sambodhi or theosis.

  12. Thanks for the clarification. I think I looked at Christ the Eternal Tao. Is it based on Seraphim Rose's writings from a Chinese teacher he had? The problem with the book I read was the translation is very different than any other translations of the Tao Te Ching. Very different. It almost reads like the Chinese teacher's personal interpretation with a very free flowing commentary mixed in. It was a beautifully written book, but intellectual rigor was weak, as it was a bit like reading a bible commentary where the quotes don't match any body's generally accepted translation - and you don't read Greek to check it. I wouldn't have known about this, except one of my Buddhist friends, monk Ati Panno, pointed it out to me. Then I checked it out and confirmed it.

    I find this conversation with you enjoyable, and would like to do this more. However, I have been through Owen's blog, and am not sure if this direction is where he wants to go. I was referred here by a friend who was a regular reader of the ochlophobist when your comment was posted. I am also not sure how to create a profile that you can get an email from off line. So if Owen wants to keep this up, that's fine. But maybe would it be better to take this elsewhere? Or are we OK or intruding?


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