A Collision of Absolutes

14 07 2014

messageinabottlesigI’m not a chemist by trade.  It just happened that nearly all of the available chemists had tried and failed.  By “failed,” I mean that they inspected the ocean by the direct method of leaning over the railing of the boat and examining it assiduously, as opposed to the intended laboratory method.  While it is true that I was able to perform the task of quantitative chemical analysis while getting banged about the insides of a lurching craft without getting seasick, I must admit that the experience was not exactly a pleasure cruise.  They told me that I would be on the boat for the first day only, and then I was to be on standby, on terra firma, while Carlos, the real chemist, carried the analysis through the rest of the study period.  As soon as he yawned, I knew he was a goner.  By the end of the second analysis, he turned to Felix, our trainer, with a pained look on his face and said, “Felix, I’m not going to be able to do this.”  At that, I was officially the new chemist.

With Carlos lying on a bench in the kitchen, dangerously close to our entire display of food, moaning and rubbing his face, I continued the work with Felix.  In his heavily Spanish-accented way, Felix tells me, “I don’t know why everybody get sick.  I do this many time and feel fine.”  Felix, I conclude, has a botched-up vestibular system, and I tell him as much.  His canals have got to be about one degree short of a full semicircle, or something.  As I’m gripping the counter, waiting for the meter to stabilize, he’s running back and forth across the room, quite literally, unable to find his balance, except on occasion when he crashes into me and grabs my arm for support.  The boss tells me that they’re trying to replace this venerable old man before he gets himself injured…again…, and I quite believe it.

Like the drug dealer I’ve become, I offered Carlos a dose of my chemical secret, but I don’t think it had enough of an effect.  He provided Felix with a moment of delight when he made his inevitable run for the railing.  Much to the old man’s disappointment, there was no feeding of the fish forthcoming.  Carlos managed, just barely, to contain himself.

So I continued the remainder of the study with Felix looking over my shoulder.  We managed to get through the whole thing with only two mistakes.  The first was the mistake made by poor Carlos, who was barely functioning, and the second was made by Felix, which I caught in time to avert any effect on our results.  Consequently, the supervisor in charge of the study approached me afterward to congratulate me and to say that I was officially the main analyst for that study once per year, every year, for the rest of my career.  I’m wondering if it’s too late to switch my line of work.

Michelle, however her name is spelled, rode with us on our last day out.  Not wanting to see her go through torment any more than the last two ill individuals who came before her, I offered her Dramamine before she even got on the boat.  I noticed that giving it to the last two seasick individuals I rode with after they got sick was not entirely effective, so I gave her a half dose, preventatively.  I wondered if she could really handle that much, wispy little Asian that she was.  She did alright, inasmuch as she succeeded in not getting seasick.  However, she’ll need to master the art of chemical analysis while sleeping, which is almost the only thing she did that trip.  She poked her head through the interior window dividing us from the kitchen, where she was, and she asked, “So, you used to talk about theology a lot with Peter?”  Peter is the fellow who performed this task, before wisely taking a severe pay cut and a pastorate in Georgia, getting me stuck as his replacement in the process.

Michelle, however her name is spelled, tells me she is a Calvinist and a member of a Reformed denomination, though, as she puts it, she does not consider herself a “five-point, T.U.L.I.P. Calvinist.”  That’s fine, I say.  I’m a monergist, and so was Peter.  I explain that a monergist is a Calvinist who gets his doctrine from the Bible, not necessarily knowing or caring what Calvin thought about the matter.  “Oh,” she says, in that intoxicated stupor, “I see.”  I begin to resume my work, when she drops a little bombshell on me.  “I’m not so sure about the penal substitution thing,” she tells me, ever so casually.

Penal substitution is this little matter of belief that some Christians have that Christ died on the cross to save us from our sins.  Oh, seriously, it’s the crux of Christianity.  Without it, there is no Christianity.  Michelle had always considered herself a Christian, and everyone knew her as one, so I paused in my work, feeling a little stunned, and I replied, “Uh, Michelle, that’s no small doctrine.”

“I know,” she tells me.  “We can talk about it later.  I don’t mean to get into it now,” and then she promptly went back to sleep.

There’s an inherent problem with absolutes.  The conflict arises whenever there is more than one of them.  We say that an absolute is something that can never, NEVER, be untrue.  It is unchanging across all times and places, and it yields to nothing, which is why it becomes such a paradox whenever one absolute runs afoul of another.  We generally avoid this conflict by saying that God is the only absolute, and there is only one of him.  In fact, it is this absoluteness that gives rise to the very idea of the Trinity.  If we say that there are three of God, then it is the same as saying that there is one of him, because all three are necessarily absolute and agree at every point.  Multiplicity and singularity mean the same thing with an absolute, such as God.  Problems only arise when we have more than one absolute and they are not the same absolute.  Even if we only have one God, we still have a God with multiple attributes, and therein lies the potential for conflict.  Normally, as humans, we frequently endure such internal conflicts.  Sometimes it’s choosing between two favorite restaurants, or choosing between writing a weblog  post or spending time with with one’s wife (speaking of which…), or some other difficult choice, but it always results in one option falling in defeat to the other.  Ultimately, for us, it is never a choice between absolutes, but it is a weighing of degrees between each of two or more options.  If God, being absolute, gets stuck in choosing between two options that are both absolutely important to him, then we have a serious problem.  He cannot reject either one, even if they are mutually exclusive.

It’s the case of the irresistible force that meets the immovable object.  One cannot be stopped, and the other cannot be moved.  If God loves absolutely, then he will do everything he can to save us from our demise, but if God has absolute justice and an absolute demand for sinlessness, then he cannot reward us with Heaven nor deny us the punishment of Hell if we are sinners.  On the one hand, he must absolutely save us, if he can, and I might add that it would seem foolish to suggest that he can’t,  and on the other hand, he absolutely must judge us as we deserve.  We put him in an impossible spot.  What happens next is the collision of absolutes.  God, the absolute judge, collided with God, the absolute savior, and he self-destructed, right there on the cross.  It was a cosmic traffic accident, the collision of the irresistible force with the immovable object, the deliberate self-destruction of God.  That is the essence of penal substitution, and it’s the reason we can have hope in salvation through Christ’s work on the cross.  Infinity was divided by infinity, giving one-hundred percent for anyone added to that expression.

Michelle looks up at me in awe, nearly cross-eyed with sleepiness, and replies with an almost drunken slur, “That is so beautiful.  I’ve never heard that before,” and then she falls back to sleep.

dustysig





Death by Convenience

12 08 2012

You’re driving down a local highway in your Dodge Ram, and it’s raining.  We could argue about your choice in vehicles, but that’s not really important.  It just happens that a Dodge Ram is parked in a bad and annoying place right now, and I had the time and audacity to go outside and take its measurements, for want of a more amusing pastime.  Did you know that the side door is two and a half feet high, and four feet long?  You don’t care.  Of course you don’t care, because you’re too busy trying to steer through the rain.  It doesn’t help that your tires lost traction, and you barreled down an embankment right in front of a bridge, landing you in the river.  Naturally, your first inclination is to open the door and escape your rapidly sinking vehicle.  What’s that you say?  You can’t open the door?  Oh, yes, well, that brings us back to the dimensions of your door.  Did you know that water weighs about 62.4 pounds per cubic foot?  Please don’t yell at me; I’m only trying to help.

Well, fortunately for those of us who never found use for calculus beyond our college years, your door is roughly rectangular.  Otherwise, we’d have to go back and re-learn all that…stuff.  This should help in making the calculations simple.  With the waterline sitting just below the level of the side window, the average depth of the submerged part of the door is about a foot and a quarter.  Because water weighs 62.4 pounds per cubic foot, a depth of one and a quarter feet gives an average pressure of about 78 pounds per square foot (62.4 lbs/ft3 × 1.25 ft).  Because your door is four feet long and two and a half feet tall, giving you an area of 10 square feet, that pressure comes out to 780 pounds.  Fortunately, your hinge takes half of that weight, so you only need to push with the force of 390 pounds.  You can do that, can’t you?  You shouldn’t say those things!  Children could be listening!

If your truck were turned on its side, and you had four and one-third 180-pound men standing on the door, the effect would be the same.  At least, the effect of trying to open the door would be the same, not including the problems associated with hanging sideways.  Never mind the psychological effect of having that third of a man sitting on the door.  I think, now that I imagine it, if I had four men and a third of a man standing on the door of my overturned vehicle, I might consider staying inside and taking my chances with the water, but I digress.  Most people don’t have enough strength in their left arm and left leg to open a door at 390 pounds of force.  That’s about 860 kilograms, for the few of you out there who actually use the metric system…all 6.7 billion of you.  Well, your real problem is that your door opens outward, against the water.  If your door opened straight up, like a Lamborghini, then it wouldn’t be a problem, except for the electrical short-circuit preventing your door from opening at all.

Then, there’s the problem with your second avenue of escape, the side window.  Did you get the option with the motorized window?  You did?  Sorry to hear that.  Well, it was certainly nice while it lasted.  You push the up button, and the window goes up.  You push the down button, and the window goes down.  It’s so much more convenient than having to turn a crank.  Besides, people look at you funny when they get in your car and see that medieval thing hanging off your door.  Next thing they know, you’ll be going outside to start the car with a crank on the front of the grill.  Granted, it doesn’t do you much good, now.  The water shorted the circuit, and the window won’t go down.  It wouldn’t be so bad if your window happened to already be “rolled” down, but people usually do most of their sliding off of roads during storms and freezing weather, which is the least likely time for them to be driving with their windows rolled down.  Although, there was a guy whose door latch froze solid in cold weather, and the door wouldn’t stay closed unless he held it closed, so he drove around with his arm out the window, hanging on to the outside of the door to keep it from taking out a motorcyclist during a curve to the right.  That must have been fun for him, but you’re not him.  You had no problem getting the thing shut.  Now, you just have to get it open, and soon.

Blame the auto manufacturers.  All of their cleverness produced the unsafe situation.  In fact, ironic that it is, they would have needed to be less smart to do the smarter thing, which is to make you crank your own blasted window down.  Then, they would probably sell fewer cars, because the number of customers lost to competition would be less than the number of customers lost to the Susquehanna River (and others), if they had used the electric version.  I don’t know what you’re thinking right now, but I bet it isn’t “Man, I’m glad I have electric windows.  They were so worth it!”  What’s that you say?  No, I can’t write that in my blog.  I’m trying to keep this PG-rated.

Well, we’ve killed so many of our own babies for the sake of convenience, that I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that we’d occasionally even kill ourselves for it.  Look behind you at the rear window.  Oops, I guess this model doesn’t come with a little rear window for you to attempt to squeeze your fat torso through.  If it had, then you’d still be stuck, because, for the sake of convenience, you may have dined at a few too many fast-food joints.  Oh, yeah.  I forgot.  You’re big-boned.  Well, it doesn’t matter, anyway, because I just looked outside and checked for myself.  You don’t have a little rear window.  What you really needed was a sunroof to escape through.  What’s that?  It would have been an electric sunroof?  Yes, I suppose it would have been, and if it had been a convertible, you wouldn’t have to get out and manually fold it back, either.  That would have been too much trouble.

I’m looking out my living room, now, and I’d say you’ve still got a few seconds to go.  I suppose I’ll call for emergency assistance.  I’d go out there and try to play the hero for you, but…it’s just so much more convenient to make a phone call and let someone else take care of it.

The moral of this story is this: if you’re going to drive a vehicle with electrically operated windows, then, for pity’s sake, do yourself a favor and take the trouble to buy a window breaker, and keep it with you and accessible (and hope a police officer doesn’t charge you with having a weapon within reach while driving).  Window breakers are razor-sharp diamond-edged double-bladed chisels, essentially.  You need them in most places on this continent, except, perhaps, southern California, where a “river” is typically nothing but a dry concrete channel.  However, if you happen to live in the city/ seasonal lake called Carson, then the storm drains are so solidly plugged by the convenience store trash of people who couldn’t bear the inconvenience of taking their own garbage home and putting it in the can, that every time it rains, you find yourself up to your neck in water, even if you stay on the road, then you might consider taking along not only a window breaker, but also a self-inflating life raft capable of holding you and whatever homeless indigent floats your way.  If you give me a ride, I’ll buy you a coffee as soon as it’s convenient.





Hunting for Mister Hyde

30 04 2012

Occasionally, an event from my past comes back to haunt me.  I find myself wondering what the heck I was thinking when I chose to do what I did.  Perhaps, I’m too hard on myself.  Hindsight is twenty-twenty, in Technicolor, high-definition with surround-sound.  If the same event comes to mind every day for more than a couple of weeks, then I suppose it merits a little mention.

It was a night in a small parking lot next to the church’s annex building, following a scouting event.  The games we played under the floodlight on the lawn and that adjacent lot made for some of the nicest memories.  I was just a kid.  On the far side of that lot was a church bus, parked as close to a chain-link fence as it could be, and on the other side of that fence was a very tall hedge.  Between the bus and the fence was a popular hiding place for games of hide-and-seek or tag, or whatever else we invented.  Justin and I had arrived there to find some other kid already hiding there, but not for the purposes of any game.  He was weeping like his best friend had just died.

We asked him why he was crying and his reply was, “I hate my father!  I hate my !@#$ father!”  What followed was mostly expletives in regard to his dad, which, though emotive, did not really explain anything.

Now, I knew his father.  He was a very kind, gentle soul who worked with us boys in the scouting meetings, which had just finished.  There’s one man who never raised his voice for any reason, and I never saw him get angry, even when I really (brat that I sometimes was) gave him reason to be angry.  My first reaction was to tell the boy that he shouldn’t talk like that about his own dad.  Seriously, the man seemed a whole heck of a lot nicer than my own father.  I figured, the kid had just been punished for doing something wrong and was getting a little hot under the collar about it.

“You don’t know my father!” the kid raved.  “You don’t know what he’s like!  He’s evil!  I hate him!”

Rather than give ear to the rants of a child against his dad, I decided to walk away and let the kid have some time to cool off by himself.  The last thing I saw was my other friend, Justin, still talking to the kid.  The ultimate outcome to this situation, I strongly suspect, was the result of his taking the time to listen.  It certainly wasn’t because of anything I did.  Knowing now why that kid was crying, I wish I had been the one to listen.  At least someone did.

We will return to that in a moment.  Years later, but only a few days ago, I found myself among friends and the children of those friends.  Among them was a fellow that I consider entirely unique and gifted beyond measure in the way of being able to work with large groups of kids and, not only be able to keep them from wandering away, burning down the house or maiming each other, he actually keeps them entertained.  On top of all of that, he finds a way to teach them a thing or two in the process.  Scott is a highly affable, sanguine and altogether likable man.  Now, being a friend, I could pick up a few hints, here and there, about how this unflappable character, in public, could lose his temper and resort to yelling and meanness in the privacy of his own home.  I’ve never seen it.  The man has perfect self-control when he’s among friends.  I could probably insult him to his face, and he likely would not break from his good nature.

Then, when we were sitting around a table, and I said to his youngest daughter, “Your dad is such a nice guy.  Is he always this much fun at home?  Is he always this happy and easy-going?”

The daughter looked down at the table and to the right.  They say that when a person glances away and to the right that they’re looking for a way to lie or tell a story, and when they look away and to the left that they’re trying to remember something.  I’m not sure I believe this, but, so far, I have only found it to be true.  There was a tense moment and a delayed response, and everyone at the table seemed to be waiting for the answer.  Then, she gave this drawn-out and guilty response, “Yes.”  It was, of course, the only response a kid would give, with the dad sitting right there at the table.  She might have well said , “No,” as unconvincing as she was.

I figured this was probably a good time to do some damage control.  I had my answer, and, at the moment, I still seemed to have my friendship with Scott.  It was time to save the poor kid, so I told about life with my own father when I was growing up.

My own father had a fuse so short that he often flew into a fit of rage for no apparent reason at all.  I still find myself reliving those moments, replaying the events in my head, as I try vainly to discover what, if anything, my dad was so angry about.  I’ve seen him throw things and get into a snit over a single spoken word of no ill meaning.  What was his problem?  I still don’t know.  I thought it might be a byproduct of his diabetes.  I figured, whatever it was, his emotional constitution was such that he had no real control over his violent reactions.  So, as his son, I found myself making excuses for his behavior, that he was permitted to act this way because he was an adult, or because he just couldn’t help himself.  He, likewise, made excuses for himself, like, “I didn’t mean to throw the glass at your mother.  The air caught it and made it curve toward her,” as they’re picking small shards from her face.  Then, there was the time when he slammed his fist through the wall.  They patched that one up quick, thinking no one would notice.  My mom got embarrassed and red in the face when I asked her why a spot in the wall was smoother than the rest.  Actually, it was a good cover-up.  I only found it because I knew what I was looking for (other than trouble).  Over-all, though, my father was a great guy, if history could be rewritten to remove his outbursts.

There was one evening, though, when I began to think that his emotions were not really his master.  He was at the business of a client, working on a renovation project, when that client was clearly driving my father well past the breaking point.  The client seemed to think he knew more about my father’s work than my father did.  I could feel the anger building up inside of my dad, and I thought for sure he’d let loose on the guy, any second.  At home, he went into a rage over far less.  The man bossed my dad around and even fired him, and my dad took it all quite graciously and left fully in control of his wits.  Apparently, complete strangers are afforded more grace and mercy than loved ones and family, especially when money is involved.

In another incident, with a number of friends and our family seated at a table in a Mexican  restaurant, a woman told my father, “Vic, you are the gentlest, mildest man I know.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen you lose your temper.”  I’m glad I wasn’t drinking anything at the time, because I would have sprayed it all over everyone.  My father didn’t correct her error.  I couldn’t believe anyone would say that about the man.  He was, positively, the most temperamental person I knew.  It was then that I fully realized the extent to which he managed to hide the darker part of his nature from the rest of the world.  No one outside of our household saw him the way that we did.

Two weeks was the magic number.  Actually, to be precise, it was thirteen days.  That was the length of time a person had to live under his roof to see him lose his temper.  My brother went to college and came back for the summer.  On his return, he was treated gently, like any other outsider.  Thirteen days later, the firework stand opened up, so to speak.  He returned home after his wife left him, and my father treated him sympathetically for about thirteen days.  Then, I wondered if my brother was better off taking abuse from his estranged wife.  Now that I’m my own man, I never see him lose his temper.  I’m tempted to think that he finally reformed himself, but, then, I haven’t stayed under his roof for that long in a very long time.  After thirteen days, I might see Doctor Jekyll turn to Mister Hyde.

A person’s family gets a strange and unwanted insight into his true nature.  It’s the paradox that the ones who love us most get treated with the least patience and forbearance, the least gentleness and the least politeness.  For me, it was a little of the reverse.  I’m a little sociopathic that way.  I had to learn to treat friends and acquaintances with some of the kindness that I always showed my own family.  I strive to be Doctor Jekyll and Mister Jekyll, and, with friends and others, I always find myself hunting for Mister Hyde.  It’s not that I’m trying to bring out the bad in them or to condemn them, it’s just that, as a friend, especially as a close friend, I feel the responsibility to hold people accountable.  In American culture, especially more now, with the rise of technology, people expect a greater deal of distance between them.  No one ever digs too deeply into the personal affairs of others, even friends, even close friends.  What hides in the darkness never comes to light.  Evil remains safe within the walls of a home.  A father is the dungeon keeper of his home, and his wife and kids are the inmates.  People don’t dig.  Mister Hyde is never found.

In our time, “privacy” is our banner, but what we really champion is secrecy.  Privacy does nothing to hide the facts of the matter.  For example, no one doubts (I hope) what happens between my wife and I in the privacy of our bedroom.  It goes without saying.  It’s not a secret.  However, that doesn’t mean people can enter our home at will.  No one is invited to watch (good grief, now that would be awkward, wouldn’t it?).  Secrecy is the sort of intercourse that happens between people when it really ought not to.  It’s what we don’t want people to know about, and usually for good reason.

That kid hiding behind the bus was a victim of secrecy.  His father was in the regular habit of raping him and his brother.  Mister Hyde was hunted down and thrown into prison, where one can only wonder with horror what befell him.  I did not discover the crime, because I did not look.  Someone else found him out.  Since then, I’ve learned to hunt for Hyde.  Therefore, it is without shame that I look for clues to the inner workings of families that I care about.  I’m not going to leave that kid crying behind the bus again.

It is better to uncover those dark secrets while there is still time to act.  People can take their secrets to the grave, but they cannot keep them there.  In the end, all secrets will be made known, and every dark deed, every thing done in private, will be made known to all the world on the Last Day.  God promises (or threatens) it.  It will happen.





Brush Your Heart?

7 03 2012

I was a scrawny awkward teenager, and he was a strapping muscular man of his sixties.  We were at one of those bay-side parks in San Diego, with a large flat lawn at the edge of the still waters, dotted with palm trees and picnic tables.  It was one of those church potlucks, where you set down your cup of punch to get a little more food, and when you get back, there are two identical cups of punch in the same place, and there’s no knowing which is yours.  So you have to get another cup, and the event repeats itself.  Incidentally, it turned out that a boy was deliberately going around placing half-filled cups of punch next to other cups of punch, wherever he found them, for the express purpose of confusing people into abandoning their beverage for a new one.  A sixty-something man was tossing a football back and forth with someone half his age, as he told me of his plans to participate in the Iron Man marathon event in a couple of months, or so.  Apparently, he was a regular participant of these sorts of things.  I’m watching him catch and toss that football, and I’m thinking how amazing it is that he can do that.  Usually, when I tried to catch a football, I got it in the face, and throwing it was slapstick comedy.  He tried to explain to me that if I stayed active and healthy that I could still look as good as him when I was his age.  Yeah, I would have been thrilled to look even half as fit in my teens.  There was no question of “staying” healthy and active.  I’d have to get there, first.  I glanced over at my dad, with his pot belly and chronic health problems, and I look at this guy, and I’m thinking, “Man, he’s going to live forever.”

As it turned out, that healthy strapping man died a couple of weeks later of a heart attack.  Meanwhile, my dad, all these years later, is still alive for all of his unfathomable tenacity.  In all fairness, my dad nearly died more than once of a heart attack, so it wasn’t his great health habits that gave him the edge.  In fact, he’s the only person I’ve ever known who was paralyzed, broke his back, was wheelchair-bound and yet still made a full recovery to unassisted walking.  The truth is, I just don’t get either of these men.  The one who should have been healthy was dead, and the one who should be dead is still alive (not that I’m complaining).  This was not an isolated case, though.  Recent history has a few health pros who died of heart attacks.  The excuse is always the same, that these people obviously had some kind of genetic predisposition that made them more vulnerable to heart disease.

I was at a gathering of friends recently, where a dentist went into his lecture mode, when his eyes got a little glazed-looking, and he told us of  his own personal weltschmerz against the American Medical Association.  According to him, the atherolsclerotic clot that stops blood flow to the heart, inducing heart attack, is actually sixty percent, by weight, bacteria of dental origin.  This, of course, blew me away.  We’ve always been taught that atherosclerosis was the buildup of cholesterol on the lining of the coronary arteries.  That’s the story being promoted everywhere.  We’re told to eat food low in fat, and especially cholesterol, and to get plenty of exercise.  I had to do some internet searching before I could convince myself enough to write about it.  Some authoritative sources do back up this idea, but it still isn’t the version being promulgated publicly.

Now, let’s take this from the simple uneducated perspective.  The clot in my artery is mostly dental bacteria, and possibly it might still contain quite a bit of cholesterol.  I ask myself, is the bacteria primarily responsible for the clot, or is the cholesterol mainly to blame?  Well, I can say with certainty that while blood cholesterol levels maybe should be lower than what they are, blood cholesterol is still essentially a normal constituent of my body and even my blood.  Bacteria, on the other hand, absolutely do not belong in my body.  My blood is supposed to be sterile.  So, when I look at the clot in an artery, I might suppose that the cholesterol is part of the problem, but the bacteria is most likely the real source of trouble.

Atherosclerosis, then, is really just a biofilm, just like the white crud (plaque) that grows freely on your teeth.  You can brush that garbage off your teeth, but I haven’t found a way to brush it off of your arteries.  Physicians have known for years that the gums were an easy access point for blood-borne infection.  Hence, you really do not want a dentist with bad hygiene or an infectious disease.  The relationship between heart disease and tooth decay is unmistakeable, though.  It’s not just that both are caused by bacteria, but that both are caused by the same bacteria.  If the two are related, then it stands to reason that the bacteria in the mouth traveled to the heart, and not the other way around.  Hence, your dentist may have more to do with saving you from a heart attack than your family doctor, and brushing and flossing your teeth daily may be quite a bit more important than diet and exercise.  The validity of this claim still remains to be seen, assuming that anyone ever takes the time to reassess some long-held ideas about heart health.

The connection between diabetes and heart disease starts to make sense, now.  Diabetics have always been more prone to heart attacks than the average Joe, and the reason seems a little clearer, now.  One major symptom of diabetes is poor saliva production.  Normally, the constant flow of saliva in the mouth has a cleansing function, and the disruption of saliva flow leads to a higher incidence of tooth decay, because food and bacteria are able to take up a more permanent residence in the mouth.  If the mouth loses the battle, then the bacteria, apparently, are better able to make the jump from there to the bloodstream, and from there they manage to form a slimy layer coating the arteries.

For those people not familiar with biofilm, it’s simply a layer of bacteria adhered to more bacteria, and so on, and ultimately stuck to some solid surface.  If you want to see some, for example, just remove the drain stopper in your bathroom sink and scrape off some of that dark slime that has been slowing the drain flow.  That is biofilm.  The pink stuff growing on your shower walls is biofilm.  The white stuff that came off of your teeth is biofilm, and the clot clogging your arteries is biofilm.  Traditionally, the field of microbiology has been obsessed with the study of pelagic bacteria, the microorganisms that float through the water.  Recent studies suggest that the bacteria stuck to the sides of your drinking glass actually outnumber the ones swimming through the water.  Hopefully, we all run our glasses through the dishwasher every day, rather than use the same glass day after day without washing.  The strangest form of biofilm I’ve seen, yet, came to me in the laboratory in the form of a pumice stone covered in a fleshy film.  It actually looked like a lump of flesh covered in human skin.  It was the result of a couple month’s worth of sewage flowing over rocks.

Now that we know that atherosclerosis is, in fact, a biofilm, then it stands to reason that the sheering force of fast fluid flow probably diminishes it.  Bacteria that try to cling to solid surfaces always have more trouble when the fluid surrounding them is flowing rapidly.  Hence, there may actually be merit to exercise for heart health.  Also, if diabetes is largely the result of bad eating habits and sedentary lifestyle, then it stands to reason that exercise and good eating habits really are part of the equation for a healthy heart.  All of this is not to encourage people to stop eating right and exercising, but no french fry and no day of sitting around the house explains the existence of dental bacteria in the blood, where there really should be no bacteria.  Eating that fry won’t make microorganisms spontaneously form out of nothing and begin to colonize your heart.

While we’re on the subject, it does bring to mind the matter of a cousin to the coronary clot, the calcification and hardening of the arteries, a condition known as arteriosclerosis.  In my own sophomoric mind, I find that there also seems to be a dental parallel in the form of dental calculus, commonly known as tartar.  If atherosclerosis is really dental plaque, then it stands to reason that arteriosclerosis might actually be dental calculus of the arteries.  As far as I know, this comparison has not yet been explored, though.

To wrap this up, then, the key to sufficient heart health begins with the mouth.  Those who read this blog regularly, if “regularly” is the right word for it, will probably already be looking for the spiritual truth behind the matter.  I wasn’t going to have one, originally, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the condition of the mouth affects the health of the heart, both spiritually and physically.  A habit of complaining, slandering and bad-mouthing does, actually, have a deleterious affect on the spiritual heart.  Hygiene and cleanliness of the mouth is absolutely necessary for a healthy heart, both in a physical sense as well as a spiritual one.

The mouth is the rudder of both the body and the soul, apparently.





Stony Soil; of Love and Listlessness

4 02 2012

Alda is the nicest little old lady I know, and, honestly, I have trouble even calling her a little old lady, even though she is little, and she is, technically, old.  She’s got the liveliness of someone years younger.  One day, while we were in the kitchen chatting, she told my wife and I that though she had loved her late husband for many years, she never was really in love with him.  They treated each other lovingly, but the emotional appeal wasn’t really there.  She told us that she wanted to remarry, to have a chance to be deeply in love with someone.  She said she wanted a marriage like ours.  Now, my wife and I have been married for years; we are definitely not newlyweds, but I would certainly say that we are still very much in love.  It’s really just a matter of emotion.

Some couples are just married and some are just married.  Either they’re just married, as in recently married, or they’re just married, as in not living life to the fullest, content with just being married.  It’s a rotten stereotype, and it’s not always true.  While I’ll grant that the happiest married couples are generally the ones who still have rice in their hair, marriage really does get an unfair treatment.

First comes the infatuation, then the disillusionment, and then comes the “mature” love, which essentially boils down to treating each other fairly and raising kids together, without all of that emotional impetus that got them together in the first place.  In other words, marriage has a nasty habit of turning into something more like a business agreement.  It’s a convenient way to have a warm body in bed, and it’s a stable arrangement for rearing children.  It would seem that romance was nothing but a bait-and-switch trick of the hippocampus.  Does marriage always follow this course?

You see, I have to ask, because the relationship of the church to Christ is that of a bride.  The nature of a marriage parallels our relationship with our savior.  Consequently, Christians often go through the same stages in their pursuit of the faith that many couples endure over their years as spouses.  Jesus likened faith to a farmer casting seed around his land.  Some of the seed landed on the path and never took root.  Some landed on the stony soil and sprouted quickly but never took deep enough root to survive.  Some seed grew among thorns and got choked out by the weeds.  Then, there was the successful seed.  In the application to marriage, the seed that lands on the path is the unrequited love.  You courted her, but she was not interested.  You flirted with him, and he moved on to greener pastures.  Likewise, God courts some of us, and he is shunned outright.  The love is never reciprocated.

Then, there is the seed that lands among the thorns.  You fell in love.  You married and raised a family.  Then, the effort of raising kids, maintaining two incomes, maintaining outside relationships, maintaining the house, etc. all worked toward alienating you from the one you married.  The weeds, the distractions, grew between you, and you found yourself married to a stranger.  Similarly, the act of being a Christian and doing Christian things, coupled with all of the other distractions of life can add up to finding yourself a stranger to God.  You find that you’re still going through the motions, but that romance, the initial emotion that drew you into a relationship to begin with, is gone.

And then…there are the stony marriages.  The infatuation is there.  The feeling is intense, but it goes no deeper than a feeling.  After the initial thrill wears off, there’s no substance to hold the marriage together.  It withers and dies.  This is, really, the three-step marriage cycle most commonly described by the psychologists.  Just because you found a way to get along and keep the marriage going, doesn’t make it a success.  The romance is dead.  You love, but you’re no longer in love.  The common belief is that this is truly mature love.  This is correct.  It is mature love, but that doesn’t make it ideal love.  The common parallel to spiritual life can be found among charismatics.  The charismatic church is, by far, the best at evangelizing, at bringing unbelievers into the fold.  The non-charismatic or even anti-charismatic church seems more largely composed of those who either grew up in that kind of church or switched over from a more charismatic church after becoming disillusioned.  Their view of the charismatic faith is that such faith is shallow, lacking in substance, development, commitment and wisdom.  Very often, they’re absolutely correct.  Charismatic faith is saturated with feeling and emotion, and it is very often not backed up by anything more substantive.  The seed fell on the stony soil and sprouted rapidly, but it never found any depth.  They fall in love, and then they get bored or fall out of love.  Then, very often, they leave.

Contrary to the anti-charismatic opinion, though, the emotional appeal of charisma is not a weakness.  That’s actually the strength of it.  The weakness is the lack of depth.  The seed was not faulty because it sprouted quickly.  The seed was faulty because it never gained any depth.  Charismatics are not to be faulted for their emotional drive.  The lack of emotion is the weakness of the other side.  We ought not to curse the stem for the lack of roots, when the stem is the only thing going right.  Similarly, disappointed and cynical failures at romance ought not to criticize the young lovers for being  infatuated.  The young lovers are the ones who really have a good thing going.  There’s really no reason to aim for unfeeling marriage.  The real fault of young love is that it often does not have the depth to remain in the beautiful and glorious state that it’s already in.  Emotional love is the goal, the thing to be aimed for.  It is not the error of the immature.  Falling out of that state is the error of the immature.

The real aim of a successful marriage is to sprout that romance and grow it, keeping it alive and well by developing the depth necessary to weather good and bad days, the ups and the downs in life, and yet never cease to be in love, not just loving.  The aim is to be permanently infatuated.  After all, some seed does fall on the fertile soil.  It sprouts up like the seed among thorns and the seed among stones, but the difference is that it stays that way.  The other two don’t.  The former charismatic looks back on the emotional thrill ride of that former life as an empty shell.  He thinks he is wiser, and he’s right.  He is wiser, but he lost the romance in the process.  His marriage to the faith is still loving, but he is no longer in love.  He went through all of the stages of marriage, from infatuation, through disillusionment, to “maturity.”  But he is now a cynic.  Those three stages are the phases of the stony soil faith.  He won’t pray for healing.  Why?  Because he no longer believes.  He won’t seek out prophecy, because he no longer believes.  It’s in the Bible, quite clearly, but he still rejects it, and he rejects it on the basis of being a Bible-only believer, ironically.

The former charismatic says she was not saved because of the charismatic church, but in spite of it.  That’s like saying she didn’t get married because she fell in love, but in spite of it.  This is patently false.  She could blame the charismatic church for not giving her the tools to become strong in the faith, but she could never claim that the passion and excitement of faith, of real mountain-moving faith, repelled her from that faith.  We all come to Christ by falling in love.

It’s not common, especially these days, to find an old married couple, still holding hands and casting adoring sidelong glances at each other after half a century of marriage.  It’s not common, but it happens.  I wish it would happen to us all.





Dipolar Christianity

9 01 2012

For those who weren’t paying attention, over the years the Christian faith has largely split into two camps, the highly charismatic, and the cessationists.  It used to be that we identified ourselves along the lines of protestant and Catholic, but in places where that battle has come to a truce, more or less, we’ve come to divide ourselves along the line distinguishing ourselves between those who expect God to work miracles every day and those who think that all miracles died with Jesus and failed to rise again.  Unbelievers like the first group, because they’re easy to mock, and they like the second group, because that form of Christianity is so dead that it poses no real threat to secular normalcy.

Before the old protestant-Catholic battle, there was the Catholic-orthodox conflagration.  Before that, it was the Christian versus the Jew.  With the earliest split, the Jews were the persecutors, and the conflict ended when a third party, Rome, trampled all over Judea and made the Jewish divine privilege look like a bankrupt gentleman’s club.  Then the Catholics split from the Eastern Orthodox, and the Catholics became the persecutors during the crusades.  Then the protestants split from the Catholics, and the Catholics were still the persecutors.  We can thank Napoleon for confining the Vatican to a tiny little plot of apolitical territory.  Since that emasculation, we’ve only found our nemesis in the Anglican Church (the other papacy), which persecuted people as power in England shifted back and forth between the Catholics and the Anglicans between the times of Henry the Eighth and Queen Elisabeth, and the Episcopalians (the other Anglican church), which brought us the glorious Salem witch trials.  Are we done yet?

One would think that we could be done with dividing ourselves into fundamental opposition.  Here, in the United States, the Catholic church has no power to persecute.  The Orthodox barely exist.  The Jews control the media (just kidding).  Actually, Jewishness has lost its cultural identity to such an extent these days, that they could hardly be considered a social force at all, anymore.  These should be the golden days of Christendom, but we apparently seem addicted to culling the herd and refining our social set to the true faith.

On the one hand, we have the Vineyard, the Assemblies of God, the Foursquare Church, etc., along with some really wild charismatic offshoots, doing their best to promote glossolalia, prophecy and miraculous healing.  On the other hand, we have all of the old-school mainstream churches such as the Methodists, Wesleyan and the Northern Baptists taking the tamest and safest route to faith, which is to say that God ignores you until you die (until he kills you), and then suddenly he becomes your benefactor and your very best friend, ushering you into Heaven.

If I had no clue which were true, I would have to say that I would rather be a Charismatic and be wrong than be a cessationist and be wrong.  I would rather live with the hope and faith that God still intervenes in our lives and performs encouraging miracles along the way, even if I’m wrong, than believe that Christ abandoned us when he ascended into Heaven, and be wrong.  At least, if I’m a charismatic, I have hope.  If I’m a cessationist, then I lean upon the arm of an apathetic God.  I would least want to be a cessationist and be right.

If nothing else, at least the charismatics have the guts to stick their necks out and make themselves an easy target.  The other extreme believes in little more for this life than does the unbeliever.  It’s easy to say that we can expect nothing miraculous until after the grave, because it can never be tested or verified.  This is really just a lame excuse for faith.  The faith of the believer approximates the faith of the unbeliever, and that’s nothing to live by.

On the other hand, because the charismatics do stick their necks out and stand for the miraculous, the result is that we’ve had a lot of rolling heads over the years.  We have the miraculous speaking of other languages (glossolalia), and those languages often don’t exist, and often, just based on what’s being articulated, the person could hardly be speaking more than repetitive gibberish, anyway.  We have notorious cases of miraculous “healing” that did little more than prevent the victim from seeking conventional medicine, even to the point of death.  We’ve had outrageous preachers who blaspheme, distort and self-aggrandize.  In short, charisma has come to be synonymous with sensationalism.

The truth of the matter is that in a side-by-side comparison, the charismatic movement will always provide plenty more fodder for debunking.  They get it wrong and they blunder several times a day, globally.  The cessationists never prove wrong, because they never stand for anything.  Claims can’t be false if they’re never made.  The positive assertion is always the riskiest assertion.  The skeptic’s position is the easy one, in all respects.  It’s always easier to sit back and poke holes in the opponent’s claims than to stand up and make a positive assertion about anything.  Ambitious people fail more often than the lazy, because they try more often.  Professional sportsmen fail more often than the armchair quarterback, because they play more often.  Hence, charismatics make fools of themselves, and the cessationists do not.

If we take the Bible at its word, then miracles do still happen.  It’s exactly as the charismatics say, but it is not necessarily as often, or under the same circumstances.  Of a thousand prophecies, one may actually be true.  Of a hundred-thousand speakings of an angelic language, maybe one is genuine and useful for teaching a person of the gospel.  All it takes is one example of a genuine miracle, and the cessationist is proven wrong.  He is not proven right every time the charismatic offering comes to naught.

Personally, I understand both sides, and I respect both to a great degree.  One is hopeful, and the other is rational.  One runs blindly, and the other convinces himself that he sees nothing.  I would love to see both sides in the same church, waiting patiently and expectantly for the move of the Holy Spirit, not daring to make it happen by their own will, and not daring to condemn it out of hand.

My brother, a charismatic preacher, once asked me if my church was the kind where the Holy Spirit moved, or whether it was one that didn’t believe in the work of God.  I said, “Neither one.”  Then he asked me if it was the kind that believed in the work of the Holy Spirit, but was essentially dead, waiting around for something that never happened.  He believed it to be the saddest kind of church.  Oh, but it was not that at all.  It was the most honest kind of church.  It was the kind that refused to prevent the work of the Spirit either by faking it or by dismissing it before it even happened.  It was a church that remained on the verge of something big.

What the church needs today is not a hyper-rational sect of witch-hunters tearing down the charismatic movement.  It would be better to die young than to discourage and dismay the body of Christ, first.  What the church needs is not a three-ring-circus miracle roadshow, condemning the cessationists for their lack of faith.  The only thing worse than a lack of miracles is disillusioning believers through exposed farce.  Personally, I would love to see more miracles in the church, today, but I want it to be real, and nothing less.

What we really don’t need is another religious split, but that’s what we might get if we don’t treat each other with gentleness and respect, not for having perfect theology, but for being a child of God.





Cornucopia from Hell

12 12 2011

My sister has it made.  She’s got her six-figure income, her two kids, her three-story house on a hill, her luxury vehicles and a fantastic high-profile career.  Anything she wants, she buys, which makes Christmas a little tough on anyone, such as myself, who might try to buy her family presents.  Her kids have more toys than they can fit under the bed.  She makes so much money that her husband’s income was dwarfed, by comparison, so he stayed home to raise the kids and maintain the house.  My sister has everything but happiness.

I wish there were an easy answer.  So much depends on one person, her husband.  Why hold a job, when the income is superfluous?  By the same measure, why clean the pool, when they can easily hire someone to do it?  Maintaining the yard, and cooking breakfast, and nearly every household chore could be outsourced to hired help without putting a dent in the budget.  In fact, that’s exactly what they ended up doing.  It’s no wonder, then, that my brother-in-law spends so much time at home in a state of depression.  It’s no wonder that he cannot make her happy, when he, himself, cannot find happiness.

So he started a hobby.  He bought a very nice toy to play with.  Then, he bought a few more like it.  By now, I think he’s cornered the market on that line of toy.  He filled the walls of his office with these things, on shelves and hanging from pegs.  Then he made a makeshift partition and filled that, too.  Then he started hanging them from the ceiling.  His office now looks much like a beehive, covered in bees, except that instead of bees, they’re toys, and only one kind of toy.  He used to spend his hours playing with them.  Now he lies around feeling depressed.

I think of it as the principle of the new stick of gum.  When I put that gum in my mouth and chew it for the first time, it gives me a burst of fresh flavor.  It makes my mouth feel minty and fresh.  I should probably be chewing on one, now, to rid myself of the aftertaste of coffee, actually.  After about twenty minutes, the flavor is gone.  If I add another fresh stick of gum to the wad, it does, indeed, bring back much of that initial freshness, but the second stick never has the same effect as the first stick.  Twenty minutes after that, the double wad of gum is as vapid as the first ended.  We add a third fresh stick to the wad, and we bring back a little of the freshness, but not like the second stick, and nothing like the first.  Nothing beats the experience of the first.  Eventually, I choke and gag on the large rubbery disgusting ball of gum wedged firmly in my maw, and no more gum can do anything to make it any better than what it is.  There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Similarly, nothing beats the first love.  We, in the western world, appreciate the folly of polygamy, if only for the unfairness to the woman.  What’s most ironic about the situation is that the polygamist thinks himself rich for having so many wives.  If one wife is good, then two wives must be better, right?  The fact is, once that man marries a second wife, both of them put together can never equal the joy he might have had from just one marriage.  Every wife added only makes a family into a herd.  The freshness of true love dies to the staleness of mere numbers.

The paradox of attainment is that, believe it or not, most of the fun is in the anticipation, rather than the acquiring.  The planning and expectation of a reward is, possibly, less intense than the pleasure of buying that new toy or going on that vacation or having that party, but the planning lasts longer.  Twenty-five glorious days leading up to Christmas, filled with lights, eggnog and parties would seem far better than Christmas, itself.  By the day after Christmas, at least one toy is broken, and the others are already less interesting than originally expected, even if we get everything we hoped for.  And that tree is just a dead tree.

Kids used to get excited about simple toys, some fruit and nuts.  When I was a kid, we were overjoyed to get a box called an Atari, which made little squares move on the television.  Oh, that was so much fun playing games with those little icons that didn’t really look like anything.  Give one of those things to your kids and watch them cry for joy.  Well, maybe it wouldn’t be joy.  I’m not sure how, but I think they would find a way to ground you for life.  Every year, society makes fancier and fancier toys for us to play with.  Truth be told, the new toys don’t really make us any happier than the old toys did.  They just make it impossible for us to really enjoy the old toys anymore.  Sure, we can still afford all of the same stuff now that our parents could buy us back then, but no one wants that garbage anymore.  Just knowing that something better is out there makes us hate what we already have.  It’s the cornucopia from Hell.

Oh, I know how a rich man can be happy with his wealth.  Typically, the attempted solution is to spend that wealth into oblivion.  Michael Jackson would be a prime example.  No, the key is to be poor in spirit, if not reality.  You don’t buy it, just because you can.  You make it yourself, maintain it yourself and live like you can’t afford to do otherwise.  You afford yourself a few nice things, and live without the rest.  Limit yourself to a small portion of your own wealth.  Then, and this is the best part, you buy a Christmas for a family that can’t afford anything.  That one good thing is better than a pile, or a mountain, of such things.  Give yourself that one thing, and then give someone else one, too, who cannot afford it.  Life can be a series of first sticks of gum, and never a large tasteless wad.

Besides, it might give your brother a chance to buy you something that you like, something that you don’t already have.

I’m just saying….