Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | December 15, 2008

Tux, Flipper, Lego and the Church – Part One

In some places, I wonder that discussion might be enriched through better metaphors and analogies to describe our apophatic faith without judgment or attitudes unbecoming to its warmth, beauty and heart. Stumbling upon Dominic Humphries  ( writing seems to offer promise, and so I’ve endeavored a first cut at adapting it here. As no analogy or metaphor is perfect and these could equally be taken in different directions to describe a different approach… I offer these with caution as well that the limits remain clear as an understanding of transition  and overview between paradigms rather than taken as the whole.  Equally, I’d offer this more as a working paper rather than a finished piece. But the legs seem evident enough to me to offer it all the same – for comment. Note – I am on the road in Chile Phile today and unable to upload links and photos… and will add those later.

Tux of course is the Penguin logo for the less than ubiquitous Linux operating system. Elegant, cool where you are not, and fish breathed. Yes… Linux is an operating system unlike any other… and it is deeply similar to the Orthodoxy in some respects… probably the less compelling ones like “Orthodoxy is Christianity only harder”. So in a sense it’s your op system… only harder.

Conversion stories abound in Linux… and mine began with a dying Windows “Dell” and a dead iPod. One of the technicians I’ve subscribed to over the years led the way down this road suggesting Linux’s lean and light architecture was particularly well adapted to making the most out of less powerful machines. And true to the resurrection’s promise, there is life after Windows… and though good in the sense that you’re operating again…it’s maybe not all it’s cracked up to be.. unless you’re prepared to do things differently. So I keep wondering about how much longer it’ll be before I follow the advice I gave my kids and “Just get a Mac”… but for now I persist. Yeah. “Cause it’s better here somehow.” The annoying red drive light no longer spins for hours and keeps me waiting “for no reason”. But I’ve still a long ways to go to get the hang of it… I mean it’s been a long time since I put CPU’s together, “bashed” and recompiled programs…

Which brings me to Flipper… everybody’s favorite porpoise. Think of it: You’re slick, you’re smooth, you look good in the water, you laugh, you play… and you’re even a movie star with a girl friend (“Carolina Snowball”) and you’re very being suggests “poise”. Everybody wants to be you… or at least I do… and if you’re ever anywhere near the water and spotted swimming by… well… everyone feels they have a friend. So there I am, trying to figure out how I got started with Tux… I mean, yes, he’s cute and all that…but fish breath is still fish breath… and along comes Flipper.

Flipper shows up, ’cause as I’m wondering about the joys of self-administering this two-by-four to the side of my head, I stumble on this article, “Linux is Not Windows” in which the friendly porpoise is contrasted with the rather ravenous shark. Both swim, breathe air, have dorsal and guide fins, swim through the propulsion of their tails, and eat fish. Yet of course, one’s a mammal and the other’s a fish; one’s friendly and the other a predator. From the surface or from a distance, they may initially be difficult to distinguish from each other, but the way they move through the water, their social behavior, and their demeanor are so distinctive, it quickly becomes clear which to trust… and which to be wary of. Thousands of years of marine eco-system evolution brought completely different species to a remarkably similar place.. and yet their DNA remains entirely distinct.

The author’s point was that operating systems follow the same course. Thus Windows paradigm of one-user-one-desktop together with its reliance on commercial software doesn’t make just for the integration of an industry behind the behemoth, but distinguishes it wholly and completely from the network kernel-centric user-designed “free” open source software environment of Linux. This is key… ’cause for all the fit and finish of Windows programs, their design is seldom from users… and so “beauty” and “breadth” substitute for the understanding of the user that makes for the real sort of utility often wanted. My industry’s premier provider is a case in point: After 20 years they’re FINALLY beginning to make useful software that you can actually work with rather than using simply as a core around which you build the real analytics.

So some of the difficulty lies in the fact that operating systems look similar at this point, but behave completely different on a fundamental level. Of course, using programs like MS Word or OpenOffice , one sees very little actual difference… but this is like watching sharks and porpoises chase fish… the underlying reality is more than an mouth-open fish insertion experience… the internal processes are fundamentally different by design.

And this is all worth dwelling on a bit here for the simple reasons I’ve tried to ladle out along the way… because it seems to me the differences between Orthodoxy and other churches are equally hard to discern and explain; and because becoming Orthodox seems to me to be less about changing churches, less about changing theologies, hymns and prayers… and more about fundamentally changing and upgrading our spiritual operating system to one evolved from different DNA.

But we have to be fair. There is much that other churches still teach and teach quite well and much of this is quite Orthodox. In many cases, they not only do a good job for many, but they succeed in conveying the attitude and approach that from many failed accounts, finds our own inadvertently sidetracked away from by minutia of a different though well meant sort. I wonder that just as “the best is the enemy of the good” (old engineering dictum), so the whole can be over-emphasized to the detriment of its parts… key parts that may be necessary to feed to just keep the system running.

So like Linux… we have to be aware that proselytizing does no necessarily do others any special favors and may in fact risk serious spiritual harm to many in the process who may be unprepared or uncommitted to living an Orthodox life. And yet there is a job to be done, a job to which Orthodoxy is uniquely well adapted to guide its “users”. And yes, you can still get the job done with a kludge, a virtual machine, or whatever… but as any Tux supporter would ask, “Why use a 24-colors-in-one pen when a simple pencil will do?”

Why indeed.

But that’s about enough for this installment. I promise to get to the Legos… And yes, that’s Lego as in the toy…not “Leggo my Eggo”… although that’s always another thought.


  1. Very interesting post James. A lot to think about but first, the secretary in me must correct the spelling of Lego, as in plastic building blocks versus Leggo, as in “Leggo of my Eggo.” One *g* versus two *g’s*. There is a metaphor there as well, me thinks.

    What I’d like to comment on is this sentence, “…becoming Orthodox seems to me to be less about changing churches, less about changing theologies, hymns and prayers… and more about fundamentally changing and upgrading our spiritual operating system to one evolved from different DNA.”

    I would suggest that becoming Orthodox is upgrading our SOS (spiritual operating system) to the *original DNA* one that evolved from a *different* DNA. I believe it is a matter of stripping away the add-ons, the spyware, the viruses, the additional hard drive, and getting back to the skeleton of the SOS.

    This is to say that there remains a kernel of truth in many different religions. However, it is has gotten so covered up or added on to, that the building up of rust needs to be sanded away. When that happens, it takes the person back to Orthodoxy.

    My spiritual big brother believes that every soul is innately Orthodox and seeks to return to the One True Church.

    Thanks for these thoughts. They are interesting. A bit over my head in technological terms, but I got there! What is it you do for a living? It sounds very complicated.

  2. Ah… the dreaded Leggo vs. Lego spelling imbroglio. Thanks! for the correction.

    Technology… it’s over every one’s head. Sometimes even the creators are overwhelmed… and kick it out the door ’cause of competitive reasons anyway. The difference between user-designed and commercially designed software lies in the core understanding of purpose… and creation for that purpose as opposed to creation simply to make another buck or two.

  3. Nice analogy. I recall an old analogy about Orthodoxy as Unix… I think you make some good cogent points that also apply to the “Orthodox view of the non-Orthodox”… you can indeed print out a finished document using two different OS’s/software, but the process of one is more elegant and straightforward than the other. Just as you can get from L.A. to NY on a skateboard or in a Ferrarri, both have 4 wheels and you will get there.
    Looking forward to Legos.

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