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.

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Sword of Damon Cleese

26 04 2012

[fiction]

Damocles was, naturally, quite enthralled with the prospect of standing in as archon of the day.  Five servants attended him in attiring himself for the evening feast.  It would have been six servants, but the sixth servant was Damocles, himself, and the ruler with whom he had traded places appointed himself to the role of waiting on tables.  It seemed that a direct and literal trade of roles was out of the question.  The real archon still had a job to do after this charade was over, and he still had a reputation to go with it.

Then, it was time.  Two heralds preceded him into the hall, and a train of attendants followed.  The doors opened, and everyone stood, as though for the bride at a wedding.  He appeared before them in his lavender robes, with real gold thread woven into elaborate patterns of what probably was supposed to be olive branches.  Stately, he walked up to the dais and took his place at the table.  Just before sitting, he had a second thought and readjusted the positioning of the salt boat.  Then, he sat, and the rest of the assembly followed.  He patted the arms of his chair with great satisfaction.  Gingerly, he leaned back into the seat, as though the back might give way at any second.  There, in the front row, instead of serving appetizers, was the real archon, Dionysus the Second, sitting on a bench and smiling at him with great satisfaction.  Had the roles been actual, Damocles would have ordered him beaten for his insubordination.  Apparently, the archon had no intention of keeping up more than half of the bargain.  At least he was dressed down for the occasion.  Dionysus locked eyes with him in a hard, unfaltering stare, until Damocles had to look away.

To Damocles’ right sat the wife of the archon, sitting as far from him as room would allow, folds forming in her neck as she held her head back like an adder ready to strike.  To his left sat the archon’s daughter, leaning away from him to talk in low tones with a friend, while surreptitiously hiding her face from him with a hand or a linen head scarf.  Opportunities for lively conversation were lacking.  Near the other end was a friendly cousin of Dionysus, with whom Damocles had chatted often.  He called out the man’s name, and the man sat there, ignoring him, staring down at the table top.

Damocles drummed his fingers on the table with irritation, until a nervous adolescent servant girl arrived with his dinner upon a silver plate.  He tried to graciously accept her service by thanking her, but she gave him a worried look in return, and her eyes, ever so briefly, glanced up toward the ceiling and then down again.  He watched her retreat, and he noticed, again, that the archon was giving him the cold hard stare.  There seemed to be meaning in his look.  Damocles had learned to read what people were trying to say by their looks, especially when there was something unusual about it.  He struggled to understand the stare of Dionysus, until he realized that it wasn’t a stare to give meaning, but it was a stare to hide meaning.  The man was fixing his gaze in order to avoid looking at something else.  He recalled the server glancing up, quickly, and he realized that she was either trying to tell him something, or else there was something up there that she was trying very hard not to look at.

Up above him, Damocles caught a glimmer of something metallic catching the light of the fire that burned in braziers about the room.  Then the object turned and became dark.  Then it turned and caught the light again.  A moment of horror fell upon him, and he dashed his wine and food to the ground in his scramble to get out from under the thing.  At a safe distance, he looked up and saw that a very large sword, possibly the precursor of what would later be known as a falchion, a sword that could double as an axe, seemed to hover high over his seat, suspended point-down by nothing but the air, itself.

“What the…?!  How…?  For the love of life, somebody take that thing down!” shouted the horrified Damocles.  He looked over at the archon, and saw a smile beginning to curl upward the corners of his mouth.  “How did you do that?”

“Don’t worry, Damocles,” said Dionysus, “I assure you, it’s very securely held in place by a single horse hair.”

Almost whimpering, the distraught Damocles asked, “Were you trying to kill me?”  It’s an important question, because if the archon wishes to kill someone, he usually gets what he wants.

“Perhaps,” Dionysus replied, coldly.  “It’s just that when you came in here flattering me like the sycophant that everyone knows you are, I felt the need to teach you a lesson.  You think the life of a wealthy man is secure and full of every happiness, but it’s not.  The more I have, the more I have to protect.  The more power I exert, the more people want to kill me.  I couldn’t let you experience all of my wealth and pleasure without giving you a sense of the danger, could I?  You wanted to know what it’s like to be me.  Even though we traded roles, no one would ever try to kill you, because you still aren’t really the archon around here.  If an assassin walked through that door right now, he would still be out to kill me, not you.  So, I added a little spice to your experience.  You want to be an archon?  Okay then!  An archon you shall be!”  Then, he called to a servant, “Take it down.  I want Damocles to have it, so he’ll remember.”

Damocles got his sword and continued to be a servant in the house of his ruler, and Dionysus went back to being a ruler, ever mindful of the constant threat that comes with having what other people covet.  By the way, does anyone know which of the two lived longer?  Perhaps Dionysus was wrong and outlived the other by several years, due to an unfortunate plague.  Perhaps he was right and died a few years earlier.  Both have been dead for thousands of years, now, so the difference in their respective times in the grave amounts to about one percent or less.  They’ve both been dead for maybe two and a third millennia, and one wonders that they ever discussed how one might be likely to die one or two decades earlier.  The difference is negligible.  Even the entire kingdom is entirely dead.  Even their lineage is lost.  The corpse of Damocles has been no safer than the corpse of Dionysus for more than a couple thousand years, already.

It’s really not just a problem for the rich, though.  Our king, God, has set us up in much a similar situation, wherein he watches us pursue and enjoy riches for a time, with the threat of our mortality ever hanging over our heads.  We all have a certain consciousness of it.  For some, it’s a jeopardy that causes us to cast all to the floor in disdain.  Who cares about such things with death barely suspended over us?  For others, it is merely the aging process, a commonplace thing that everyone experiences.  If cancer were universal, then they would be calling that a commonplace process, also.  Perhaps it is time to illustrate the extraordinary life of death, the unnatural nature.

Therefore, we shall extend this tale.  Besides, I concocted the tale years ago when I was just a kid, and it’s still bouncing around in my head.  I might as well let it out, so here it is.

Half a world away, thousands of years later, a similar sword, or perhaps the same sword, appeared once again, floating in the middle of the air.  It was first discovered by a couple of farm boys on a breezy, sunny day.  The way it caught the sunlight acted as a beacon, drawing them near.  This time, there was no horse hair to suspend it.  It hovered about four feet from the ground, over a field, near a stand of oak trees, pointing menacingly toward a nearby town, which will remain unnamed.  The two boys studied it circumspectly, doubtlessly feeling a little intimidated by it.  At first, they tried throwing rocks at it, which is, for some strange reason, always the first thing boys seem to do with most foreign objects.  They probably threw rocks at the first cat they saw, the first bird, the first rusty can and the first girl (a sister, of course).  The sword was unyielding, and they tired of the game quickly.  Next, they tried touching it, then pushing it and hanging on it.  With all of their efforts, it would not budge in the slightest.

The sword was first discovered at about noon by two kids who should have been in school.  Four hours later, the first adults heard of it.  Twenty-four hours after that the first adult  believed enough to have a look at it, when the number of kids who had seen and told of it reached critical mass, which is to say that once every kid in town said that they had seen it an adult finally took them seriously.  Two weeks later, someone from the local news agency heard of it enough times on a slow news day to go out and have a look.  By the evening news, the story had gone viral, and the whole world knew about it.  By dawn of the next day the sword was gone without a trace.

Two days after the sword’s disappearance, the world forgot about it.  Two months later the locals stopped talking about it.  It wasn’t gone long before someone found it again, on the other side of the town, twenty miles away, pointing toward the next town on the highway.  The poor woman who discovered it was lucky enough to have survived by swerving hard at the last second when its golden hilt glinted in her headlights in the predawn hours.  The sword was back on the world stage.  Experts arrived from all over the world to give opinion on it.  Someone brought a tractor to see if it could be moved by any force, which it couldn’t.  The thing just hovered there, indestructible and absolutely immovable.  On its blade was some foreign script, which, when transliterated, said, “mene, mene.”  A quick internet search (insidiously cited by the press as an expert analysis, though it was none other than that infamous site known as Wikipedia) showed that it derived from an ancient phrase, “mene, mene, tekel upharsin,” meaning, roughly, “your days are numbered, and your empire will be divided and given to the Persians.”  By itself, “mene, mene,” only meant, “your days are numbered.”  Of course, no one knew what it meant.  Some doomsday addicts made a great deal out of it.  Screenwriters were already brainstorming it into a full-feature film.

So there it hovered, two miles from the nearest town, pointing directly at that town. The local hotels flooded with curious visitors, and the local residents cleared out as quickly as they could.  Clearly, the town was cursed.  No one knew what the sword was about, but many feared it.  One man, in particular, watching the news from his rented room in the town, did know what the sword was about, and he feared it more than anyone.  After two restless nights and a third that left him swimming in his own sweat, he packed his bags and hit the road yet again.  That night, the sword disappeared from sight and was not found for a few days.

A door to a bar opened, and an eighty-year-old man staggered into the room looking like he could just as easily ask for cyanide as ask for a beer.  He plopped his disheveled self onto a stool and regarded the patron next to him.  “I don’t know why, but it seems like the only place to meet people and talk about things is a bar,” he said.

“That’s not true,” said the other patron, a dumpy middle-aged man who had only just begun his binge for the evening.  “There’s always the confessional booth at a Catholic church.  Then, you have internet chat rooms, brothels, orgies and… I forget what else.”

“Now, I don’t feel so bad,” said the old man.  “Maybe I’ll try a confessional booth, next.  Actually, that might not be a bad idea.”

“Now, don’t go running off too soon,” said his new friend.  “I have ears, too.  Besides, I haven’t heard any good gossip in weeks.”

So the old man told him his story.  Damon Cleese, as he turned out to be, had put a great deal of effort in his younger years toward uncovering a certain cache of stolen treasure.  His friend, Danny Nice, had figured that trains of stage coaches in the area had been robbed all within a ten-mile radius of a craggy region, back during the rough days of the wild west.  The band of robbers responsible had been caught in a trap, possibly because of their predictable pattern, and all of them went to the grave, taking the secret of their stash with them.  Their stolen goods were never recovered,  but a simple analysis of terrain and distance suggested that they probably did have a hideout in the area, from which a person could ride for half a day or less, rob a wagon train and get back by dusk, without overburdening the horses.  Hence, the stolen goods must be stashed somewhere in a narrowed area, and because they were never recovered, those stolen goods must still be there.

With two months of searching, Damon and Danny finally found the cache of goods in a cave, just sitting there waiting for the return of their robber barons.  Most of it was in gold coins and moldy notes.  There were a few rusty guns and other items of interest, but the thing that caught Danny’s attention the most was a shiny, heavy sword with a gold hilt encrusted with jewels.  They counted out the coins and divided the spoil evenly, but a small boulder, not much bigger than a large sow, fell from the ceiling of the cave and landed on Danny’s arm, crushing it badly.  Damon rushed to his aid, rolling the boulder off and wrapping the poor arm in a sling and a poultice.  Danny immediately went into shock, shaking and pallid.  His friend covered him in a blanket and did his best to make him feel better.

By the next day, Danny was feeling well enough to attempt a ride back to the nearest town on horseback.  They took as much of the loot as the horses could reasonably hold, and they headed off down the trail.  A mile down the trail, Danny began complaining of his aches and pains, and eventually he became too weak to remain on a horse.  He noted that his urine was strangely brown, and later he found he had no more urine of any kind.

“Damon,” Danny told his companion, “I don’t know why, but I think I’m losing more than just my arm.  I can’t pee anymore, Damon.  I’m a sick man.  You need to go for help.”

Instead, Damon insisted that they stay where they were for a while, to allow for him to convalesce.  Truth be told, he was afraid of leading rescuers too near the rest of the stash and having to explain how the injury occurred.  By the time they returned, there might not be anything to return to.  The days whiled by, and Danny got worse.  Finally, Damon agreed to go for help, but Danny insisted that it was already too late.  He was about to die.

“Forget about dividing the stash,” Danny said, “You can have the whole thing.  Just promise me you’ll bury me with the sword.  Just give me the sword and you can have everything else.”  Then, he died.

At first, Damon tried to carry the body back, but in the heat of the day it began to smell bad.  He couldn’t just leave it for the vultures, so he opted to bury Danny where he was.  After digging the hole, he was about to place the sword over the body, when he began to think about it pragmatically.  In truth, the dead body could never care what happened to the sword, and it was, after all, quite beautiful and would probably fetch a couple thousand dollars, should he choose to sell it.  Why bury a perfectly good relic like that?  It would be a shame!  So, he kept the sword and buried the body.

“Seems reasonable to me,” said the dumpy man at the bar.  “I would’ve done the same.”

“Anyone would have,” said Damon, “but it would have been a terrible mistake.”

As Damon was turning to repack his things, he heard the voice of his old companion speak to him from the grave.  “I said you could have everything, didn’t I?”

Damon turned around and saw the sword hovering there, pointing right at him.

“Take the whole thing, I said.  Just bury me with the sword, I said.  Was it really too much to ask?  I couldn’t have just this one thing?  Are you so bent on wealth that you would rob a dead friend?!” the voice scolded in rage.

With that, Damon jumped on his horse and rode away as fast as he could.

“Ah, I see.  You’re saying this all has to do with that freaky hovering sword that’s been on the news lately,” the other patron said with a slight slur to his words.

“Yes, that’s the one.  That’s Danny’s sword,” said Damon.

“So why don’t you go back and bury it?” suggested the patron.

Damon eyed the man skeptically.  “I don’t know, but I think it would kill me.  Would you try to take a weapon from a ghost?”

“Have you tried an exorcist?” the patron offered.

Just then, someone stormed into the room, shouting, “The sword!  I just found it, about a mile up the road, pointing this way!”  The bar cleared in seconds, everyone being in a hurry to go find the sword or to get far away from it as fast as possible.

Damon gripped the edge of the bar tightly and whispered, “It’s getting closer.  It’s almost here.”  He looked to the side and found his companion still sitting there.  They and one unconscious fellow in the back of the room were the only ones left.

“Interesting,” remarked the other, “So this thing has been following you all these years.  How long has it been?”

“Fifty-five years,” Damon answered without even having to calculate it.

“Fifty-five years?!  The blasted thing sure is taking its time, isn’t it?  How old are you, anyway?” asked the other patron.

“Eighty years, last June,” replied Damon.

The other patron roared with laughter.  Damon was obviously upset by his reaction. “Sir,” said the other, “You’re not going to die by the sword!  You’re going to die of old age!”

Damon got to his feet and replied in anger, “You might think this is funny, but once it’s done carving me up, it might come for you, even if I have to haunt it myself!”  Then he stormed out.

That night was the worst of his life.  The mysterious hovering sword had, apparently, been covering miles and miles of uninhabited and rugged terrain, slowly approaching him unnoticed for all of these years.  Finally, it happened upon civilization, and nothing anyone did to the sword could stop it, and nothing Damon did to get away from it could increase that distance.  After leaving the bar, he journeyed for five hours to a roadside motel, where he attempted what he figured would be his last chance at sleep before the sword arrived.  Somewhere out there, a mile away or less, the sword was still coming.  He could only guess how much time he had left.

Damon miscalculated.  The sword, like death, does not come by a human schedule.  We can see it coming and estimate the end to some degree, but sometimes it arrives much earlier than anticipated, and it makes no apology for its impolite punctuality.  The door to the room crashed open, split down the middle, with the blade shining in the moonlight that streamed through the window opposite the door.  Damon screamed in abject terror.  Even then, it just hovered in place, stationary, like it never intended to advance further.  The movement was slow, like the movement of shadows cast by the sun.  If Damon moved to the other side of the room, though, it repositioned itself quickly to maintain its aim at his heart.  Needless to say, it was a long night, and he could not get past the sword and reach the door.  Every time he moved, it cut him off.

By dawn of the next day, the sword was less than an inch from his flesh, and he found himself seriously imploring to God for his salvation.

The reader, at this point, will be happy to note that the poor man did not, in fact, die from the sword.  Rather, he died of a stroke, a complication of his old age, just before the sword could hurt him, and the sword had nothing to do with it.  What a relief!  All of this time, Damon feared what would happen when the sword reached him, but instead of dying, as he thought, he died before it could happen.

[/fiction]

Ah, but a mysterious hovering sword is so much more fearsome, is it not?  If we all had hovering swords threatening to take our heads off at every turn, we might consider it a fact of life, and, instead, be more terrified by death of old age.  On a serious note, though, the fact is simply that whatever ultimately kills us, that thing and its destiny are on a determined and unstoppable collision course for our lives.  Whatever it is, it definitely exists, and it will definitely get here in due time, and it will definitely kill us.  Cheery, isn’t it?  The real sickness, then, is not that we fear death, but that some of us are so consumed by our present riches that we do not notice the steady progression of doom.  Thousands of years from now, no one will care what riches we owned, no one will know who we were, and nothing will matter about the fact of our former existence.  All that will matter is whether this human soul, the thing that some people are dumb enough to insist does not exist, is in a place far better or far worse than it is now.

Salvation from death is not an issue.  There is no salvation from death.  It’s the death after the death that we might resist.  This life is just a temporary endeavor, more like a game.  We pass through it briefly, to serve a temporary purpose, and then we enter the afterlife, where the story really begins.  Thanks for playing this game with me, and I hope you find what you came here for, even if it isn’t what you think you came here for.





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?





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.





Repairing to Mr. Coffee

7 07 2011

I tell people that I repaired the church’s coffee maker, and their usual response is a look of confusion and the question, “Why not just buy a new one?”  I find this line of thinking mildly irritating.  Half a century ago, people actually tried to repair things when possible.  But a coffee maker?  The repair is usually so easy and cheap, if not free, that I cannot conceive of dumping Mr. Coffee into the waste bin too readily.  The driving force behind the continual growth of your local landfill rests in the fact that a coffee maker’s replacement is very cheap and easy.  For a few bucks, you can have a new one.  For some labor, you can have a dirty and well-used one.  Which do you choose?  It’s not a hard choice, really.  You toss that cheap foreign-made contraption into the trash receptacle and go for a new one.  When a thing is cheap, you don’t fix it.  Instead, you get rid of it.  When it is easily replaced, you don’t look for reasons to keep it.

Now, I say all of this, because Mr. Coffee could just as easily be a real person, not just an appliance with a personal name.  When relationships are cheap, we don’t invest any effort into getting them on their feet again when things go sour.  If a person is easily replaced, then that’s exactly what we do with them when they offend us.  It just happens that this is exactly where our society is heading.  We have these devices that act like social condoms, in that they allow us to interact with each other without getting anything infectious rubbed off on ourselves.  We know them as Facebook, which protects us from actually having to face people.  We know them as texting, because we can’t bear the pressure of having to talk to each other.  Oh, yes, and there’s the weblog (blog), which, in some cases, is the only way to even get through to some people, such as yourself.  The numbers of ways in which we can communicate with other people has skyrocketed just within the last decade or two.  Most of these ways would seem to bring people together, but they do, in fact, relieve us of the onerous burden of having to look into a person’s face and see a reaction when we speak our minds.  In this age, we are connected with more people than ever before.  In this age, we foster shallower relationships than ever before.  The two go together to some extent.  In truth, anyone who maintains a great number of friendships isn’t going to have the time or emotional energy to have a deep relationship with all of them.  In fact, more relationships usually translates to fewer deep relationships, with those few even being shallower than otherwise.  More than that, though, we’ve added barriers to prevent depth, for the sake of our comfort.

I was cruising at a high point on a Los Angeles freeway today with a coworker whom I believe to be a eugenicist.  I can’t nail him down on the subject, because he also happens to be a postmodernist, which means that he can wriggle out of any tight argument by changing what he claims to be on any given day.  I gestured at the broad urban skyline, with that sprawling metropolis before us, and I told him that, taken as a whole, humanity seems quite expendable.  With billions of people on this globe, each one seems easily replaced.  Taken individually, though, it becomes a very different matter.  Name any person you know, and that person becomes absolutely irreplaceable.  He tried to convince me that people are exactly like ants.  I agreed with him, for the sake of argument, that the society was very much like a colony of ants working together.  However, when you take a single ant and compare it with any single human, there’s really no comparison.  If the entire city of Los Angeles were wiped from the face of the earth, I doubt that many people would mourn greatly for the loss of this place.  What they would regret is the loss of individuals.  A city is nothing.  A person, even, would be nothing, except for the fact that there can never be a replacement for the specific people that you know.

Social proximity makes all of the difference.  If Mr. Coffee is just the stage name of some guy who advertises percolators, then his death might make the news, even make people pause for a couple of seconds, but few people will cry over it.  No one would be devastated by it.  However, if Mr. Coffee happens to be your father, then things are going to get messy really fast.  A new spokesman can easily be found.  A new father can never replace the old one, not by a long shot.  Social proximity determines replaceability, which determines how quick we are to discard a relationship, or even a person’s life, when that relationship or person falls into the category of things we would call broken.  On a lighter level, it means that in this age we do nothing to fix broken relationships.  If a friend doesn’t please us anymore, then we simply “unfriend” that person and move on.  New and exciting relationships are always waiting for us, just a click away.  People are disposable.  Friendships are more unlikely than ever to get fixed, when broken.

On a darker level, people who do not suit us are also quite replaceable in a physical sense, and that’s where things get really hairy.  We’ve seen it before, in the Nazi holocaust.  The next holocaust is a little bit closer, because society is a little more loosely connected.  The value of a human drops when no one gets close enough to know the individual as a unique and irreplaceable item.  As we more easily drop the inconvenient relationships from our lives, we more easily drop the inconvenient people from life on earth.  The next holocaust will be welcomed by people who don’t care much for the anthill, because, when it really comes down to it, they never really invested the time and trouble to know the ants.  When Mr. Coffee is so easily replaced by another cheap appliance or person (depending on what he is), he is more frequently buried in a landfill/cemetery, rather than spared.

Ah, but that’s the next holocaust.  The holocaust that’s going on today also follows the same principle.  If it’s still unseen in the womb, then killing it is just an abortion.  If it has left the womb and we can see it, then killing the thing is murder, deserving of harsh punishment.  The reason is simply that once we have seen it and done some face time, it ceases to be merely a baby and begins quite swiftly to become a Johnny or a Jennifer.  To see and interact personally is to develop a relationship.  The closer we get, the more human it becomes, until it seems less like the member of a species and becomes, rather, its own species entirely.  A pack of wild dogs is just a menace, but your dog, Rover, is a family member.

The further apart we drift, the closer we get to killing each other.

Every good Christian wants a deep and abiding relationship with God.  Simply put, we want to be something better than just another unit of this anthill.  We want to be something irreplaceable to the one who made us.  The fact is, we always were, and we always will be.  We already have that kind of significance to our omniscient creator.  The only variable is in whether or not we seek to reciprocate that relationship.  The less we know and appreciate God, the quicker we are to kill him.  In this is the key to our own salvation, for we cannot ever really kill God.  The more shallow the relationship, the more likely we are to put him out of our lives when convenience doesn’t suit.  We attempt to kill God by removing him from our world, and those who try generally succeed.  Such is Hell.

So, here I am, waiting for that KSD301 thermostat, so I can finally fix the church’s other coffee maker.  Hopefully, I can resist the urge to make a several-gallon pot of coffee, just for myself, simply because I can.  The next time someone asks me why I bother, I’m going to say that I really love my coffee, but I’m going to explain that I believe in fixing things when reasonably possible, rather than discarding them.  In an age where even people are swiftly becoming disposable, I find myself reacting to this trend by doing little things to repair rather than replace.





The Angry Atheist

7 06 2011

We climbed to the top of Mt. Baden-Powell, where we found a monument, created by Boy Scouts in honor of their founder, Lord Baden-Powell.  I can only assume the mountain was named in his honor.  My first thought, as is usual when I find these things, is that some people must have hauled an awful lot of concrete, water, wood and bronze up here to make this thing.  A person doesn’t go about constructing a large concrete obelisk way up on a peak like this without considerable motivation.  Hopefully, they didn’t need to carry it through the fifteen-hundred feet of hard-packed snow that we had to crawl up to get there.

My second thought was that someone must have had an awful lot of hatred for God to have beat the word, “God” to oblivion.  Defacing the monument was not nearly as impressive a feat.  The jerk didn’t even bring his own mallet up the mountain, opting for whatever rock was handy.  Once upon a time, the idea of the Angry Atheist was a stereotype akin to the Wandering Jew, or the Thieving Gypsy.  Stereotypes only last when applied to minorities.  Today’s atheist controls the entire institution of public education.  Today’s atheist has cowed the scientific establishment.  Mainstream media tows the line.  Public monuments bear his dogma.  One might wonder what the atheist has left to be angry about.  All of the primary means of public brainwashing…yes, brainwashing, are dominated by the lexicon of atheism.  The United States was built up on a Christian foundation, and it will be torn down by the atheist rock, pounding, pounding the idea of God into oblivion.

My pet atheist seems awfully angry at something that he claims doesn’t exist.  I can imagine being angry with Santa for not delivering a certain toy, but I can only imagine a believing child being angry with Santa.  I’ve never met an adult who held a grudge against the jolly man.  It’s hard to be angry at nothing.  The world is full of these atheists, who spend their hours vandalizing a cross in the Mohave Desert, or suing to remove the cross from Mount Helix, and many more.  I can only imagine the acrimony they would cast on us if we were to demolish a bronze Buddha.

Which brings us to another point.  Christians, by and large, tend not to vandalize the monuments of atheism.  Here stands a plaque describing our simian ancestry.  There lies a monolith telling of how the Earth was formed millions or billions of years ago.  It’s just modern mythology.  I don’t like it, but I’ve never picked up a rock and blemished the word, “evolved.”  Other people have a right to say what they think.  I like to think that a group of Boy Scouts can make a monument on the one peak named after their founder, without having a self-appointed censor come along and deface it.  In fact, the dogmas of atheism (Darwinism, Big Bang theory, free love, etc.) have spread largely in the face of passive Christians who had the civility to let other people live and speak as they choose.  In societies founded upon atheism, such as China, the old Soviet Union, and the Eastern Bloc nations, Christians were not afforded this freedom in return.  Incidentally, atheism-saturated cultures are not the nicest places to live.

What is the difference?  They are insecure, and we are not.  People don’t react violently to tall tales.  They run for their guns at insults with a touch of truth.  Tell a jock that he’s a sissy, and he’ll laugh at you.  Tell that to a weak little bookworm, and he’ll hate you forever.  What is God to an atheist?  Ostensibly, God is just a word.  In truth, God is that thing that keeps nagging at the atheist, dragging him back to the Christian blogs so he can slander them on his own blog.  People don’t get angry at nothing.  The cross is not just a pole with a crossbeam.  God is not just an idea.  Something motivated someone to pick up a hammer and drive a nail through the Word of God.  Something motivated someone to pick up a rock and hammer flat the word, “God.”  They can’t get over God, because God won’t let them, because they’re still alive, and because there’s still an opportunity.  They can’t get over God, because he hasn’t gotten over them.

One day, the atheist’s goal will be fulfilled spontaneously.  The monument will erode and crumble.  The very mountain that it sits on will wash out to sea, eventually.  Long before that happens, the atheist will die, and the whole world will utterly forget that he ever existed.  Long after that, God will still remain.  You can erase the word, “God,” but you can never erase the Word of God.