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.





Schlaraffenland

30 01 2012

The rivers run with milk, honey and wine.  The fish that swim within them are already breaded and fried.  Anyone who wants to eat one need only open his mouth and a fish jumps right out of the water and into the hungry person’s mouth.  The birds that fly through the air are already cooked, prepared and ready to eat.  A person need only lay down a plate, and a chicken will walk onto it and lie down (they come in several breeds, including barbecue, kung pao, cashew and southern fried).  Houses are made of food.  If a person  wants ham, he need only lean over and bite a wall.  All trees provide all kinds of fruit, all of which are low-hanging, all of which will fall to the ground at a person’s wish, which is a very necessary thing, because the inhabitants of this land are always lying flat on their backs.  They probably could not rise if they wanted to.  In this land, all work is a sin, and not just on the Lord’s day.

This is Schlaraffenland, literally meaning Land of the Lazy Monkeys.  Fortunately, I can say I did not invent this fabulous land.  I should be embarrassed if I did.  The tale originated in Germany around 1494, and time has only made it worse.  Luckily, the tale never made headway into English-speaking cultures.  The point of the story is simply to satirize paradise.  We think of the evils of our world as including hard labor and a struggle to survive.  Hence, the logical extreme would be a place of absolutely no work, and no struggle to survive at all.  We do tend to think of work as a drudgery, and we do tend to think of Heaven as a permanent place of retirement.  Perhaps we ought to reconsider.

In truth, the tale of Schlaraffenland did not go far enough.  If we really need not work to survive, if we need not do anything, and if God provides absolutely everything we need at all times, then Schlaraffenland is simply an arduous place to have to spend eternity.  The real absolute zero-cost land of plenty is a brain connected to life support.  After all, if one must eat, then one must perform the task of chewing and digesting.  Then, it follows that we must do the unthinkable, which is to say that we must poop.

We are here, somewhere in the middle, between life-support, where life is absolutely effortless, and a world like Mars, Venus, the Sun, a comet, or pretty much the entire universe, minus Earth, where life is basically impossible.  One of the things I get a lot from atheists is the observation that life on this ball of dirt is not only a struggle, but an actual battle against other species and even each other for our very survival.  This is true, but the fact that a battle can be fought at all, with any hope of victory, implies that the opportunity has at least been provided, and we must seize that opportunity to yield an outcome, which just happens to be survival.  I’m not sure exactly what they expected from a created universe, but if they expected God to provided us with absolutely everything, with the food already in our bellies and the sun always warm upon our faces, then what, exactly, were we meant to do with all of our free time?  Really, if we think about it, ease of living is just a point along a broad spectrum from a dead rock to a celestial tube of life pumping directly into our brains.  If the atheist would say that the current struggle is evidence of no created design, then, likely, a much easier world could yield the same view, all the way up that spectrum, until we’re all on life-support and there’s nothing more for us to want.

Someone had to work to design and create, ship, distribute, sell and deliver that thing you’re staring at, called a monitor.  If there had been a creator, then you’d think he would have had the foresight to have monitors growing everywhere out of the ground.  Trees have a fairly complex design, but merely having masses of lumber harnessing solar energy, growing from the ground and reproducing copies of themselves hardly seems sufficient.  Trees ought to be able to connect to the internet so that they can play a game of reversi with you (a good and proper use of sophisticated technology, really).  When is it enough?

The truth of it is that the Bible never promised that Heaven would be an iron lung, a mechanical heart and some I.V. bags.  I hope that comes as no surprise to anybody.  All we were promised was much greater prosperity, better opportunity, and easier labor.  That’s all.  The truth of it is that the Bible tells that life on earth is a bit harder, because we’re not exactly little saints down here.  Take a drive down the freeway tomorrow and try to convince yourself that we’re all a bunch of nice little angels.  You didn’t scream profanities for nothing.  Life is harder, but life is not impossible.  Now that we’ve topped seven-billion people on this planet, I think it’s safe to say that life on Earth is not too hard.

So, exactly how well-tailored to our existence must life be for us to conclude that maybe things were engineered that way?  For the skeptic, intelligent design will always seem a little lacking, here or there.  The fact is that the human may be very intelligent, but we’re built like wimpy, hairless, defenseless bipeds.  Well, the Bible says we’re built in the image of God, which essentially means that we were designed more for what we look like than what we are capable of.  It’s a priority of form over function.  Fur, claws venom and fangs are all very good for survival, but they don’t contribute much toward making a man look more like God.  Yes, I know that many think of God as an amorphous blob.  One person’s fancy is as good as any other’s, so I suppose the claim that God has a humanoid form is no less valid than the claim that he’s shaped roughly like an amoeba.  Christians make an exception for the form of a person.  The intelligence of this design is a little more artistic and a little less utilitarian.  Now, if we had really evolved from apes, or whatever simian beast they haven’t yet debunked, then we might expect to be fully loaded with all of the latest weaponry.  Evolution is always strictly utilitarian, with no exception, so I’ll leave it to them to explain how the heck a smart monkey who looked like he just got let out of Auschwitz after being de-fanged, de-clawed and cleanly shaven could survive on his wits alone.  We’ll experiment by taking some fool off the street, or the reader, if he wishes to volunteer, and dropping him naked into the middle of a forest with nothing but his wits, and we’ll see how long he survives.  A well-trained survivalist might make a year, but I’ll give it a couple of weeks at best before the average chump finds himself on his face sucking dirt.  If the early human survived strictly by wits, and if those wits were so far superior that he could cast off every natural advantage in favor of wits, then I must say that he must have been way smarter than Einstein.  I can’t imagine Einstein lasting naked and alone in a forest, though it may be that I have trouble imagining Einstein naked in the first place (man, what a thought.  I should have left that one alone!).  Then, we would have a very intelligent early human who was even more keenly aware of his doom than our poor naked Einstein ever was.

Your smart phone can make phone calls, send text messages, play games, browse the internet and take pictures, but it can’t give you a sponge bath, double as a cereal bowl or brush your teeth in the morning.  Dang, what a lame rip-off!  I could have created as much by smashing two rocks together!  Right?  If I can find something that it can’t do, then it must not be intelligently designed, right?





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….





Of Anchors and Ships

10 10 2011

Occasionally, we might encounter the avid gossiper, who always seems to have some nasty tidbit of information about someone, and our ears are itching to hear.  Sometimes, that gossiper is clever enough to choose the right people to gossip about, and sometimes that individual is left quite lonely and wondering why no one wants to talk.  For example, a good target is some jerk whom no one likes and always seems to be stepping on other people’s toes.  A bad target is someone who gets a lot of attention, the sort of person whom everyone seems to like and everyone wants to be.  The insecure gossiper usually aims at the second target, if only because of pure envy.  While the aim may be a simple matter of bringing down a person of higher esteem, boosting one’s own rank in the process, the result is usually quite the opposite.  The gossiper is ground under a thousand heels, and the hero, the person of high esteem, is loved all the more as an undeserving victim.  The fact is simply that some people cannot effectively have their characters assassinated by certain other people, no matter how hard those people try.

Therein lies the principle of the ship and the anchor.  Both are enacting an opposite tension to the anchor line.  We might call it a battle, or a tug-of-war.  To some extent, the ship may move the anchor, but for the most part, the anchor has the advantage.  While the anchor is firmly nested into the floor of the bay, the ship is not-too-firmly nested in the water of the bay.  It’s not too hard to see why the anchor holds the greater influence.  Its place is more firmly grounded.  In any given conflict, some people are more like anchors, and some are more like ships.  Take, for instance, a certain co-worker of mine, who happens to be great friends with my boss’ boss.  I hardly ever talk to that boss, but he has been to her house, to parties and a funeral with her.  He’s not just an anchor.  The man is a cleat on the dock.  Let’s just take a hypothetical situation, which, thankfully, has never happened.  Let’s say that boss calls me into her office and asks me what I think of my coworker, who happens, I might add, to be very new to our group.  I’ll admit that I can’t stand the fellow.  He’s an irascible fool.  I’ll admit it, I say, to anyone but her.  She has already made up her mind about him.  Anything I say can and will be used against me.  Anything I say will be used by the listener to shape her opinion of me, and it will have absolutely no effect upon her opinion of my coworker.  The effect is guaranteed.

Now, a wise audience can always discern truth from lies, and a wise audience could take the word of a stranger or even an enemy against that of an ally, if the evidence and reasoning demanded it.  Even a wise audience would still be tempted toward bias, and I’m still unconvinced that I’ve met more than a handful of wise people in my entire life.  No matter how true or virtuous or obvious my campaign, my standing with my audience versus my opponent will, more often than not, determine whether my argument gets my opponent trounced, or whether that argument gets me lynched.

It’s not just a matter of opposing people, either.  Sometimes it’s a matter of opposing ideas.  For example, in this day and age the idea of creationism is weak and Darwinism so widely accepted, that, more often than not, any randomly selected person or group of people will disregard anything further that I have to say if I suggest that the popular one is a fable and the unpopular one is truth.  It’s a nepotism of ideas.  Never mind that Darwinism really is a glorified Aesop’s fable.  If I promote what you’ve already embraced, then you will think highly of me, and if I denounce what you love, then you will disregard anything else I say.  If the roles were reversed, say, and I were the anchor and the ideology the ship, then I could sway your opinion on the ideology.  That would require you to already hold me in high esteem and have a weaker, less firmly formed, opinion on the ideology.  What are the odds of that?  Most people reading this are going to be strangers to me.  The others won’t even realize they know me.  The effect is that anything I say will do more to affect how people who read this think of me than it will affect how people think of the topic at hand.  To remedy this, I could use the bully pulpit to send that point home, maybe speak from the authority of a scientist…and then I could lose my job.

The first rule of speech-making is to always know your audience.  In this case that is impossible.  Recklessly, I throw my thoughts, in all their naked honesty out for the world to see.  I do it because, by chance, some people will discover it with the prompting of God already at work in their lives, and this will be just another of the many ways that God uses to bring that message home.

More often than not, it will earn me a boatload of ridicule.  It is what it is.  Sometimes the anchor gets dragged through the mud.

The weakness of thinking in our culture is this propensity to let the experts do our thinking for us.  The experts will not suffer the consequences of our choosing to follow them.  We will.  For thousands of years, humanity has been led like sheep by the experts.  The experts were pagan priests, mollifying the many polytheistic gods.  Then the experts were Catholic priests, killing Christians for trying to build their own faith directly from the Bible, or, like that one famous Christian named Galileo, threatened with death for claiming that the Earth was round.  The experts love their power, and they fight like mad dogs to hold on to it.  Today’s experts are the Darwinists.  It’s the same story as always, just a different fable.  They show you a bone and tell you a story and all is well; only now, we are no longer expected to kiss that bone.  Perhaps even that will change.

Fighting the experts, today, is the same as always.  They are the anchor and we are the ship.  They carry more weight, and their reputation is more firmly grounded.  All we can do is struggle as we might, perhaps moving that anchor a little.  In the end, those of us left unsullied and unabused are simply not trying hard enough.

Sincerely,





Alive in the Land of Statues

21 08 2011

[A parable]

Sybil glanced up nervously at the dark silhouette above her, eclipsing the sun, a great beam supporting the many thick plexiglass panes that separated her from the great and deadly vacancy above her.  The glare of the sun was like a bare bulb hanging from the celestial ceiling, a bright point that cast a harsh light on everything.  Without any atmosphere beyond that transparent barrier, the sky was still pitch black, even in broad unobstructed daylight.  Beneath that ceiling, a vast garden grew.  Sickly carrots lived their puny lives in a line along a long planter box.  One planter box over, a mulch of dead leaves marked an attempt at kale.  The next row contained a relatively successful box of legumes, sprouting from their minimal supply of dirt.  It was a bumper crop this year.  It would be enough to supply a single person with enough food to live, provided she survived long enough to eat it.

Around the perimeter of the solarium, and staggered throughout the farm, were various statues of mythic gods and demigods, carved from native stone,  here an image of Perseus, holding aloft the head of the hated Medusa, there a carving of Neptune, sitting on his throne with his trident in hand.  Sybil’s deceased fellow colonists had carved the images of a former world.  Over the course of a mere two years, she had forgotten her comrades and abandoned her sanity.  The statues were her only companions, now, and her madness forbade her to accept the stark truth of her isolation.  There was no one left in her world, now.  There never would be.  Jupiter was her father, and Mars was her lover.  Venus was the pretty girl in the room, whom she hated with a venomous jealousy.

The plan had been simple enough.  A dome had been erected on the surface of Mars (the planet), and enough room was afforded to grow enough plants to eat, and the plants, due to the natural carbon cycle, always provided enough oxygen to account for their own consumption and catabolism.  The dome was two layers thick, with a sensor in between to detect the leakage of life-giving air, so that a repair could be attempted before a complete breach occurred.  Twelve people were given the order to live upon this lifeless planet, all while exploring its surface for any sign of life.  The plan had been ingenious.  Every pot had a system for collecting excess water, preventing it from dripping to the ground and being absorbed by the planet.  Any new water needed could be scavenged from the painfully scarce crystals of ice that sometimes accumulated about a foot below the surface.  The dome provided a natural greenhouse effect, giving warmth and reflecting excess ultra violet radiation.  Human waste was to be harvested and used as fertilizer.  Cultures of useful bacteria were grown to maintain a seed stock for environmental stability.   Everything had been accounted for, almost.  The walls were perfect.  The roof was perfect.  The floor was nonexistent.  The great law of Murphy came down upon their heads like a sledge-hammer, as the necessary gasses of the dome slowly diffused through the dirt, into the planet upon which they lived.  There was nothing wrong with martian dirt, in itself, but the engineers had been so focused upon remediating the bad air, that they forgot about the bad dirt and the fact that air does, slowly, move through it.  It was a great dome.  It was a splendidly flawless dome, but it was helpless to contain the life force within it.  When its communications equipment failed, the remaining life was, indeed, in a hopeless bind.

Sybil stood from her labors and accosted the statue of Venus that stood gloating over her, surrounded by vines of squash.  Baring her breasts shamelessly, she smirked at Sybil, seeming to know that the live woman would never live up to her eternal beauty.  “What are you looking at?!” the woman of flesh screamed, “For crying out loud, at least get some clothes on!”  The statue, naturally, was unmoved by this outburst.  Sybil approached her slowly, like a cat stalking its rival, aiming for a fight.  She looked closer at this arrogant whore.  Something wasn’t right.  The whore stared back, but something was missing.

Many years previous, the Mariner 2, following up on its embarrassingly unsuccessful predecessor, made an orbit around the second planet from the sun.  The surface of this planet was extremely hot, despite having cool cloud tops.  The scientists back on Earth were sorely disappointed at this fact.  There could be no life on Venus.  Ah, but that was just one planet.  If Earth could have life, then there had  to be other living planets out there, somewhere.  Even so, they inspected every inch of the planet, just to be sure, mapping the entire planet with a later satellite.  No, the planet was still quite lifeless.

Startled by her opponent’s inertia, Sybil scrutinized the statue from head to foot, and back again.  “By Jove,” she whispered, “the wench got herself turned to stone!”  She glanced over at Perseus, holding the Medusa’s head vaguely in this general direction, with a little imagination.  She reached out a finger and tapped the stone object just to be sure.  No, it was quite lifeless.  Finding this greatly distressing, she ran to tell her father, whom she found surveying the aquifer at the other end of the solarium.  “Father!  Father, come quick!  Something’s happened to….”  She stopped mid-sentence, when she realized that her father was not responding.  He stood there with a lightning bolt in hand, as though attempting to catch one of the dead fish that rotted below the surface of the water.  She clawed slowly at her face in sudden realization.  She circled him, slowly, touching his cold hard surface.

Years before, several probes and satellites made their interception if the planet, Jupiter, taking various photos and measurements.  Clearly, there was no life on this planet.  The core was exceedingly hot, and the atmospheric pressure was too intense.  Ah, but Europa was thought to have life, or, at least, the potential for life.  Alas, none of them has any life, though some still maintain the possibility that life may have inhabited, or could eventually inhabit, one of them.

Sybil turned from her cold lifeless father, and faced the nearby statue of Europa, seated precariously on a rampaging bull.  This particular statue portrayed vividly quite a bit of life and movement.  She wasn’t as quick to disregard the possibility that this statue had some life in it.  Well, okay, maybe it wasn’t alive anymore, but it might have been alive once.  One could never be sure.  At least, there was always the possibility that it might come to life at some future date, and Europa would ride the back of the wild bull once again.  Given enough time, anything seemed possible.  It was certainly a very lifelike statue, to be sure.

Everywhere she looked, every possible life form turned out to be nothing but a cold lifeless lump of rock, just like her predecessors, who found nothing but lifeless rock, balls of gas and chunks of ice wherever they turned.  Neither she, nor they, wanted to admit that they were alone in the universe.  There had to be someone out there, somewhere.

Even her dear lover, Mars, turned out to be nothing human.  She cried herself to sleep at his feet.  He stood over her, with a shield in one hand and a spear in the other, as though to protect her.  In the morning, she awoke to find him equally lifeless, but was he non-living, or was her lover dead?  At his feet, she found a strand of her own hair.  “Mars, my sweetheart!” she exclaimed,” You have shed a hair!”  She was ecstatic.  Mars clearly had been alive, once.

Years before, explorers in Antarctica discovered a brown rock (yes, a brown rock).  Somehow, they found a bubble within that rock that they were certain must have been a fossil of a single-celled organism.  Not only that, but they were certain that this rock had been knocked from the very turf of Mars and sent through many long, vast, miles of space to land safely on Earth, only to be stumbled upon by the rare individual who seemed to have enough education to realize that this was no ordinary Earth rock.  That’s one rock, over vast distances, to one tiny planet, somewhere in the vast expanse of an uninhabited continent, discovered by one solitary expert.  That’s one massive coincidence, that and the fact that a single-celled organism managed to leave a microscopic little fossil, despite all odds, and, greater still, that someone managed to find that fossil.  That would have been one lucky rock.

Sybil was, of course, overjoyed to learn that she was not crazy.  All of these statues might have been living at one time.  Somehow, they had been turned to stone.  At least, this one statue was alive at one time.  Perhaps, it could be made alive again?  Perhaps, she could marry it and have children by it?

Five years earlier, the Genesis IV module safely landed upon the martian surface.  Twelve brave scientists set out to prove, once and for all, that life on Mars was possible, and that life on Mars had once existed.  Their mission was a perilous one, fraught with hardship, but through human ingenuity, and a great supply of the necessary elements of life, they managed their first year on another planet.  Half of their time was invested in their own survival, and half of their time was invested in exploring their immediate area for any possible sign of prior life.  However, their fate, ultimately, was a slow attrition.  They were like too many fish in a small fish bowl, and the water was slowly evaporating.  They continued to die until there were few enough people to be sustained by their artificial environment.  Then, when that environment diminished a little more, they died a little more, until there was only one person left, not counting her statues.

Brave Sybil consoled herself, initially, with the pretense that the statues might have had life.  Then, when reality glared back at her, she consoled herself with the possibility that the statues might have had life once, before being turned to stone.  Then, she tried, vainly to have children by one.  Finally, she surrendered to the futility of it and consoled herself that there might be some previously overlooked person somewhere in the compound who had not yet been turned to stone.  She even hoped against hope, that one of these inert things might eventually spring to life on its own.  Lastly, but not by any means least, she convinced herself that she had been a stone statue, once, before spontaneously coming to life.  She was surrounded by human figures, and she was a human figure.  They had no life, and they didn’t even have former life (death), but she did.  In her insane mind, she reasoned that she must have been one of them, once, before happenstance turned her into a living human.

Back on the equally insane planet Earth, people looked out over the vast universe, finding only one non-living planet after another.  They weren’t even dead.  The Earth was quite alone as a living planet.  Against all reason, the people of Earth suggested that some of them might have been alive, once.  No bit of evidence was too meager to stretch.  They even made a futile attempt to bring life to one of these wastelands, as was her own failed colony.  They would have had more luck trying to impregnate a statue.  Having found that too difficult and too expensive, they consoled themselves with the possibility that there might be some other undiscovered rock out there with life on it.  The prevailing thought on Earth was that their planet was just another rock like all of these others, and that it had been a lifeless lump of dirt, once, as were these.  Somehow, by strange chance, this dirt clod sprang to life and became the happy little planet that it now is.  Never mind that the other planets were no more living than statues, and Earth, being one of them, had as little chance of coming to life as a statue might have of turning into a human.  Literally, the comparison is astonishingly quite valid.  The difference between a living planet and a non-living planet is like the difference between a human and a statue.

Of course, Sybil was shocked out of her wits when, while crying at Mars’ feet, Venus turned around and yelled at her, “Oh, will you shut up, already?”  Of course she was shocked.  Statues don’t turn into humans.  They don’t turn into humans after five years, five million years or five quadrillion years.  By that time, they’ve turned to dust, and people stop thinking of how much they resemble a living thing.

Life on Earth is impossible.  Despite the fact that it exists, its coming into existence was impossible by mere physical means.  That’s why we call it a miracle.