27 February, 2007

Chicken House Orthodoxy?

Mom and I were talking on my way to work today - talking about moving chicken houses, GK Chesterton, physics, and Orthodoxy. Yeah, our conversations usually cover a bit and a half of ground...

Anyway, the discussion came to a head in an anecdote about moving our chicken coop (from the old property to the new property on which we were building a people -not a chicken - house). This anecdote is, in retrospect, a rather neat analogy for the Chestertonian idea of the orthodox path.

Our chicken house is a big building to try to move from the backyard to the back of a truck in the front yard. It's a solidly built 9x9x10 foot behemoth that must be an amateur mover's nightmare. Fortunately, we're a family well-versed in ancient Egyptian history (what homeschooling family that's gone through the material once for every kid isn't?) So we did the obvious thing, and rolled the building up hill and down over a series of scientifically-placed logs.

The problem came when we were trying to maneuver it onto the back of my uncle's pickup truck. Eventually the chicken house was half balanced over part of the truck - my parents still holding onto it with an air of desperation- but the truck wasn't near enough to it for them to tip it onto the truck without tipping it over. We could only too well imagine the amusement of our neighbors (who were conspicuously watching us through their bay window) if the thing tipped over and smashed.

Suddenly, my uncle is telling my parents to just let the house go - it would find its own center of gravity. To get a clearer idea of the situation: the house, if they let it go, would be balancing diagonally on one of its edges. Naturally enough, we were all skeptical of the idea. Intellectually, we knew that it should work. But there was still that bit of doubt ... what if it didn't? How'd we ever be able to live that down to the neighbors? Finally, my uncle just yelled "Just trust me! Let it go!"
Believe it or not, this 360 sq. ft. box did balance on its own edge. Now read on and tell me that isn't a cool analogy for GK Chesterton's ideas.

The image which has remained most incredibly vivid in my mind since my last reading of Orthodoxy (a book by Chesterton about orthodoxy, in case you didn't already know or guess) is one he uses to describe the excitement and drama of staying orthodox. Rather than being boring or simply "conventional", he says, Orthodoxy is the most perilous course one can take in a world almost overrun by extremes. It balances precariously between extremes, and one must ultimately accept it with Faith. The thing one cannot do with orthodoxy is to try to push it one way or the other in order to make it fit in with the times, or conform to individual views.
Because orthodoxy is simply the guidance of the true Church this precariousness works: it leaves room for a thousand types of people inside it, but stays the same itself.
In Chesterton's own words: "This is the thrilling romance of orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic."

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