When our character is distorted by vice, we seek these goods—and they are genuinely good things—in a misguided or even idolatrous manner: in the wrong way, at the wrong times and wrong places, too intensely, or at the expense of other things of greater value. That’s what makes the vices evil. Our values are out of whack—or in Aquinas’s Augustinian terms, our loves are “disordered.” Our desire for and pursuit of these goods does not respect the right ordering of values. When children start grabbing fistfuls of cookies off the serving plate, their desire for the pleasure of sweets trumps their desire for others to have their fair share. Love of pleasure trumps love of neighbor. Yet most of us would concede that food and pleasure are genuine goods, in their due place and appropriately sought. When an employee tells subtle untruths to make himself look good to his coworkers, he values the approval of others more than truth or trust. Respect and acceptance from others is a genuine good within human social relationships. The problem is his manner of pursuing it, which subverts other goods in order to achieve it (or a semblance of it). When good things are wrongly pursued, sin happens. And when sin accumulates, our character becomes warped and misshapen as well.

— Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies

Confused? If you are, it may be because of the football-game image with which we sometimes try to figure the doctrine [of the Trinity’s involvement in history]. As a figure, it’s a bit thick in the flitch. It produces only fat-headed understandings of the Incarnation. Witness:

God the Father plays the first half of the game all by himself: The Son and the Holy Spirit sit on the sidelines from the dawn of creation right through to the end of the Old Testament. But then, in the fullness of time, the Father puts himself on the heavenly bench and sends in the Son for the third quarter. At the beginning of the last period, however, he decides he’s got enough of a lead to risk using the rookies, so he pulls the Son and puts in the Holy Catholic Church to finish the game, now and then sending in the Spirit to kick field goals.

Put that baldly, of course, it sounds silly. But it, or something only a little less gross, is in many people’s minds. And not without some justification. After all, that’s the way it seems to have happened: The dispensation of Grace occurs historically, by degrees. And biblical phrases like “in the beginning” and “in the fullness of time” are extremely patient of “game” interpretation. Indeed, there is probably not a third-grade Sunday School teacher in the world who doesn’t do it just that way. And since the church has a poor record of getting its members very far past the third grade, that’s about the level of understanding of most of the membership.

But it won’t wash. Scripture won’t support it, and the Faith of the church won’t touch it with a barge pole. The Word and the Spirit, as we said, are in on the act of creation, and Christ is in the Old Testament, and the Spirit of the Lord is in Isaiah, and Jesus is before Abraham was, and he had glory with the Father before the world existed. And as far as the church is concerned, whatever “three Persons in one God” means, it cannot mean three parts or three divisions, or three separable anythings. There is only one divine individual.

So if it’s a game at all, it’s got to be another ball game. One in which the whole team is in there all the way, working mysterious plays in which each takes turns carrying the ball, while one or both of the others block, run interference or just plain go invisible.

— Robert Farrar Capon, Hunting the Divine Fox

We are constantly distracted not just because there are so many things vying for our attention, but because we also cram in distractions between each of our activities. … I struggle to walk upstairs without opening my phone to see what the latest news is. Calvin Seerveld described this condition and its causes in 1980, in what probably seems like a quaint passage today:

As human time is geared to machine time to save time to give us “leisure,” the pace of human life becomes inhuman. There is less and less slack time because the machines go so fast—conveyor belt-elevator-telephone-taxi vacuum cleaner-printing press—they begin to set the over-all tempo and kind of lickety-split, clickety-click kind of time, machine-time, for our lives. And if there should perchance be an instant break somewhere, an enterprising fellow is certain to fill it with something for somebody to “consume”—coin operated candy machine, billboard, jukebox, transistor radio.

Oh, for the days when we only had to worry about enterprising fellows filling our time with candy machines and transistor radios! A practical, achievable step we can take toward reclaiming our attention and creating some space for reflection is to cut down on filler distractions. Make dinner without listening to a podcast. Use the bathroom without bringing your phone. Walk upstairs without checking Twitter, Alan. Stop seeing “unproductive” time as a problem to be solved and instead open yourself up to the possibility of undirected thought.

A habit like this can allow you to see God’s creation anew, to process experiences, to reflect on sins, to be grateful. Most important, such a habit is an embodied claim that “redeeming the time” for the days are evil means redeeming it for God, for his glory, not for profitability, productivity, efficiency, or plain busyness. How on earth can we redeem each moment for him if we are so absorbed by the next thing that we forget he exists at all?

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

Our addiction to stimulation, input, and entertainment empties us out and makes us boring—unable to embrace the ordinary wonders of life in Christ.

Kathleen Norris writes,

Like liturgy, the work of cleaning draws much of its meaning and value from repetition, from the fact that it is never completed, but only set aside until the next day. Both liturgy and what is euphemistically termed “domestic” work also have an intense relation with the present moment, a kind of faith in the present that fosters hope and makes life seem possible in the day-to-day.

Daily life, dishes in the sink, children that ask the same questions and want the same stories again and again and again, the long doldrums of the afternoon—these things are filled with repetition. And much of the Christian life is returning over and over to the same work and the same habits of worship. We must contend with the same spiritual struggles again and again. The work of repentance and faith is daily and repetitive. Again and again, we repent and believe.

A sign hangs on the wall in a New Monastic Christian community house: “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” I was, and remain, a Christian who longs for revolution, for things to be made new and whole in beautiful and big ways. But what I am slowly seeing is that you can’t get to the revolution without learning to do the dishes. The kind of spiritual life and disciplines needed to sustain the Christian life are quiet, repetitive, and ordinary. I often want to skip the boring, daily stuff to get to the thrill of an edgy faith. But it’s in the dailiness of the Christian faith—the making the bed, the doing the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading the Bible, the quiet, the small—that God’s transformation takes root and grows.

— Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

Source vices

The labels for the lists lend a clue as to why these seven were chosen: “the seven capital vices” or the “seven deadly sins.”

Each label means something quite different from the other. And each is easily misunderstood. The Latin caput or capitis means “head,” so we might initially assume that “capital” in “capital vice” means the same thing it does in the phrase “capital punishment.” In certain methods of execution, capital punishment literally cuts off one’s head and is therefore deadly. In the case of the capital vices, however, “head” indicates not the uppermost bit of human anatomy but rather a source or “fountainhead,” as it were. Traditionally, the capital vices are singled because they are “source vices,” vices that serve as an ever-bubbling wellspring of many others.

To use another picture, more common in the Middle Ages, we can think of pride as the root and trunk of a tree, which extends upward into seven main branches, each of which represents one capital vice. From those vices, in turn, grow many other branches, each of which bears poisonous fruit.

— Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies

[T[he world is, mercifully, not TV. There never has been a rerun and there never will be. Even things that repeat themselves don’t repeat themselves: Today’s sunrise is not yesterday’s—and today’s sun itself is just a wee bit colder, one small step further along the road to the home for retired stars. The world is not a film which can be re-run; it is a single impromptu performance, a piece of street theater by a pickup company who never saw each other before or since, who did what they did, tossed off whatever lines came into their heads, barged into each other, punched each other, kicked and bit, or kissed and made up, as it seemed convenient at the time—and closed to rave reviews with a rousing improvisation of New Jerusalem that made everyone go shivery all over.

— Robert Farrar Capon, Hunting the Divine Fox

Aesthetic living

The effort to live aesthetically disrupts our secular vision of the world as it is processed and packaged in the marketplace (which promotes endless stuff but not endless good) by unsettling our notions of a containable universe and the self-defined individual. There is a gratuitous quality to living aesthetically; it defies pragmatism and utilitarianism, but also greed and envy. Aesthetic living is unnecessary for survival, but it’s an appropriate goal because it reflects the gratuitous creation of the world by God. The universe itself is contingent on God for both its creation and continued being. So aesthetic living reminds us that there is always more out there, and that “always more” points definitely toward a particular God, not an absence. Done well, aesthetic living is not a burden or an obligation for those privileged with time and money. Because God created a beautiful and vast world, we don’t need wealth or an inordinate amount of time to order our lives to reflect that majesty. We need only the will to acknowledge and live openly in this world.

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness